Academic Short Paper Samples

SUBJECT: PROVIDENCE & UNIVERSALISM

[By Paul E. Momoh]

In the recent history of Christianity, the doctrine of providence generated much controversy on several fronts. Not least of which is the dialogue on the ultimate Salvation of all people, otherwise called ‘universalism’.

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Reference: Calvin, J. (1845). ‘First’ Book: The Institutes of Christian Religion, Christian Classics. In Beveridge H. (trans.) Ethereal Library. Retrieved from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.i.html (accessed 5/5/2015)

Forum Posts

Is Providence a problem at the very heart of the Christian understanding of Salvation?

In their volume on Modern Christian Thought, Livingston & Fiorenza (2006) attempts to examine the works of Gerrit Cornelius Berkouwer, who argues and acknowledges openly a belief in God’s providence in relation to Salvation. Berkouwer states that, the reality of evil is not only a mystery but ‘more importantly, it is a religious confession of faith and not a philosophical problem’. He argues that, God’s election is at the very heart of the good news of the Gospel, and that, it must not be understood outside of the grace of God in Christ Jesus (p. 398).

Livingston & Fiorenza (2006) also states that, Berkouwer and Karl Bath are one on the subject of God’s sovereignty, as both argue likewise that, God’s sovereignty cannot be divorced from his love, nor can his election be separated from Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Berkouwer rejects Barth’s understanding of Election in which Barth speaks of it as something of a theological speculation. Rather, he argues that, Election can only be fully understood in the context of faith, and as a call and summons (p. 398-399).

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Reference:

Livingston, J.C. & Fiorenza, F.S. (eds.) (2006). Evangelical theology: Gerrit Cornelius Berkouwer. In Modern Christian thought. Vol. 2, the twentieth century. Minneapolis, Fortress.

 

Providence, Salvation And ‘Universalism’

Gerrit Cornelius Berkouwer [cited in Livingston & Fiorenza (2006)] suggests that, ‘universalism’ (ultimate Salvation for all) bothers on emotionalism by people who abhor the idea of hell and eternal damnation. For, as he argues, the Scripture speaks clearly of both grace and salvation, as much as it does speak of judgment and rejection.

Livingston & Fiorenza (2006)) states that, ‘universalism’ does closely link to the doctrine of divine election which is, in itself, inextricably linked to the doctrines of salvation and reprobation (or rejection). These doctrines, in turn, link to eschatology, or the last days. In this regard, Berkouwer further suggests that, biblical eschatology does not exist in isolation and need not be taught as distinct from, or independent of, faith.

While Orthodox Calvinism argues that, divine election invariably implies reprobation (or rejection), Berkouwer argues otherwise, and states that, God’s reprobation or rejection is only a holy response by God to human sin and is not, as orthodox Calvinism teaches, a ‘logical corollary of election’ whereby in their relationship, there ought to be a necessary symmetry (p. 399).

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Reference:

Livingston, J.C. & Fiorenza, F.S. (eds.) (2006). Evangelical theology: Gerrit

    Cornelius Berkouwer. In Modern Christian thought. Vol. 2, the twentieth

century. Minneapolis, Fortress.

Forum Responses

(1) Hi Elizabeth.

Thanks for your thought-provoking post on Calvin.

I find Calvin (1845) to suggest a basic doctrine of the providence of God that appears to link to your interesting post. This doctrine is the existence of a God who finished his creative work once and for all, and left it in a set order (sec. 1).

Calvin (1845) suggests that, the presence of God is conspicuous by the sheer view of the sky and the earth, such that even when wicked men turn to the word of God through faith, they “understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God…” (Hebrews 11:3 NRSV).

However, in the context of Salvation, the concept of “concurrence” suggested by Berkouwer G.C. [and cited in Livingston & Fiorenza (2006)], may suffice. It states that, the acts of God and the acts of humans (in accepting salvation) do coincide (p. 398). Anyone else to take this dialogue further?

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References:

Calvin, J. (1845). ‘First’ book: The institutes of Christian religion, Christian classics. In     Beveridge H. (trans.). Ethereal Library.

Livingston, J.C. & Fiorenza, F.S. (eds.) (2006). Evangelical theology: Gerrit

 Cornelius Berkouwer. In Modern Christian thought. Vol. 2, the twentieth

Century. Minneapolis, Fortress.

 

(2) Hi Diana,

Thanks for the interesting points raised in your post. I will like to engage with the first part of your conversion: the dialogue on God as Creator with oversight for his creation, and in relation to Salvation.

Calvin (1845) offers one of the basic doctrines of the providence of God in the ‘First’ book which this post will draw upon. It is on the role of the Creator as Governor and Preserver (sec. 1).

Calvin (1845) suggests that, by a special providence, as Creator and Preserver, the Creator is able to cherish, sustain, and take oversight of all the works of his hands, to the very least, even the Sparrows which he created. Calvin goes further to cite a psalm of David as an example, in support of his claim, where David not only links God to creation but also presupposes a continual oversight of the same as:

“The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth” (Psalm 33;13-14 NRSV).

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References:

Calvin, J. (1845). ‘First’ Book: The Institutes of Christian Religion, Christian Classics. In  Beveridge H. (trans.) Ethereal Library. Retrieved from     http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.i.html (accessed 5/5/2015)

 

(3) G’day.

Calvin (1845) suggests that, by a special providence, as Creator and Preserver, the Creator is able to cherish, sustain, and take oversight of all the works of his hands, to the very least, even the Sparrows which he created. Calvin goes further to cite a psalm of David as an example where David not only links God to creation but also presupposes a continual oversight of the same as, “The Lord looks down from heaven;
he sees all humankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth” (Psalm 33;13-14 NRSV).

Nevertheless, in the context of Salvation, we turn our attention to the concept of “concurrence” suggested by Berkouwer G.C. [and cited in Livingston & Fiorenza (2006)], which states that, the acts of God and the acts of human beings (as in accepting God’s gift of salvation) do coincide (p. 398).

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References:

Calvin, J. (1845). ‘First’ Book: The Institutes of Christian Religion, Christian Classics. In  Beveridge H. (trans.) Ethereal Library. Retrieved from

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.i.html (accessed 5/5/2015)

Livingston, J.C. & Fiorenza, F.S. (eds.) (2006). Evangelical theology: Gerrit Cornelius Berkouwer. In Modern Christian thought. Vol. 2, the twentieth

century. Minneapolis, Fortress.

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