Marilynne Robinson, God and Calvin

Andrew Brown interviews Marilynne Robinson.

There are two remarkable things about Marilynne Robinson, who won the Orange Prize for fiction: she’s a very good writer, and she’s a very serious Christian. Her two most recent novels. Gilead and Home, have retold the story of the Prodigal Son from different viewpoints, set in a small town on the Iowa prairie in 1956. “Retelling” is not what you think when first you read them; then the overwhelming effect is of being told a story, and hearing a voice, for the very first time.

But both are, in fact, books about the workings of grace in human life, just as Brideshead was. But they are Calvinist, not Roman Catholic, and their pleasures are very much more humble; also, I think, more vivid. Towards the end of Gilead an old pastor talks about the world around him:

“I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word “good” so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing. There may have been a more wonderful first moment “when all the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy” but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout and they certainly might well. Here on the prairie there is nothing to distract attention from the evening and the morning, nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or delay. Mountains would seem an impertinence from that point of view.”

Gilead is one of my favorite novels (and Home is next on my reading queue.)  It is such a breath of fresh air compared to what passes for fiction in the Christian market today.

(ht:  Justin Taylor)


Kinds of Calvinists

Jason Robertson posts a very helpful chart on the different strains of Calvinism.

Amyraldist or “Low” Calvinists believe that God decreed for Christ to die for all of mankind and then God chose who would be saved. Thus “Low” Calvinist can be called “Hypothetical Universalist” because they believe that it is hypothetically possible for all men to be saved, but since they will not choose Christ, God elected some to be saved. The greatest weakness in this view is that Christ died for the unelect but the atonement was of no effect, actually wasted. It is sometimes called “4-Point Calvinism” because of the universal atonement discrepancy. In other words, the “Low Calvinist” does not believe in Limited Atonement.  Nevertheless, this view still believes that only the elect get saved.

Supralapsarianist or “High” Calvinists believe that God chose to have an elect and thus decreed that which would make it happen, thus holding to the harshest form of double predestination. Homer Hoeksema, a High Calvinist, noted that according to this theory history unfolded exactly opposite of the order of God’s decrees, because God’s first decree (the elect) is His ultimate goal. There are two logical weaknesses with this view. One weakness in this is how can God elect out of that which doesn’t necessarily or potentially exist yet. High Calvinists have no answer for this.  The second weakness is how could God choose to elect and reprobate out of a non-fallen human race. But the High Calvinist appeal to Romans 9:11, noting that Jacob and Esau “had not done anything good or bad.” Also, the High Calvinist appeal to a purpose of giving the greatest glory to God by teaching that election and reprobation are based on nothing but bare sovereignty. Not all “High” Calvinist are hyper-Calvinist (anti-missionism, reject “Duty Faith”, and deny common grace), but all hyper-Calvinist are Supralapsarian. By the way, J.R. Rice and Norman Geisler were harmfully incorrect in claiming that all Calvinist are Hyper-Calvinist.

Infralapsarianist or “Moderate” Calvinists believe God chose His elect from among Fallen mankind prior to the atonement decree, thus Christ only died for the elect. They appeal to John 15:19, “I chose you out of the world.” Also, they point out that the lump of clay in Romans 9 is obviously a “fallen” lump of clay. And they point out that if God had elected from an unfallen mass of humanity as the High Calvinist propose then that would not be grace, and the decree of reprobation from an unfallen mankind would not be just. All major Reformation Creeds are infralapsarian.

Read the whole post here.