I have written on Calvinism elsewhere in this blog (Two Truths of Christianity Parts I
as well as on Mythic Environmentalism
The key element in Calvin’s theological vision is the majesty of God. Calvin used the term numinous to describe God. That term was later revived by Rudolf Otto in the classic The Idea of the Holy. A numinous, majestic, glorious, remote awe and fear-inspiring divinity.
For those with some knowledge of Christian theology, Calvin’s main theological aim is usually thought to have been double predestination. Double predestination as the name implies is the belief that one is born either fated to go to heaven or hell after death and there is nothing one can do either to prevent damnation or accept salvation. Double predestination, however, does not even occur in the original volume of Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes. Double predestination only shows up in his revised later edition.
But the majestic glory of God is the first item in the first edition. It is primary and of the most importance for Calvin.
Calvin, more so than Luther, was influenced by the third great classic theologian of the Protestant Reformation–the Swiss Huldrych Zwingli.
Zwingli argued that the Eucharist was simply a memorial meal–there was no sacramental efficacy to the act itself. In this regard, Zwigli broke even with Luther who still held to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist just not in the Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysic of substance-accidents trans-substantiation argument of the Roman Catholic Church.
Zwingli is known as the father of Reformed (or perhaps Rational) Theology. Zwingli sought to, as he saw it, de-supernaturalize Christian theology. His Criticisms of Trinitarian theology (as ir-rational) opened the door to Deism, Unitarianism, Pantheism, and Non-Trinitarian Theism.
Calvin followed in Zwingli’s footsteps. Calvin’s God is so majestic he must not in any way shape of form be “reduced” or “relativized” through intemediaries or Catholic-like devotional practices. No saints, no Mary, no subtle heavenly meditations–Calvinists, under different names in different places (Huguenots in France, Puritans in England/America, Presbyterians in Scotland) attacked Catholic and Anglican iconic establishments, believing them to have committed the sin of idolatry–much as in Judaism and Islam there are prohibitions against artistic depictions of God.
Double predestination set in motion the absolute power of this glorious God (“Glory, Glory, Glory, God of Power and Might, Heaven and Earth are Full of Your Glory, Hosanna in the Highest….”).
Double predestiation is simply the Calvinistic God’s majestic-glorious and utterly transcendent activity, as it relates to the sphere of soteriology (the question of salvation).
My understanding of Calvin places him squarely within the Western Christian theological tradition, just in a more direct, formulaic way. I believe that all Western theology since Augustine (minus Eckhart and Eriugena) holds to double predestination. I’m in a minority for saying that and many Catholic and non-Calvinist Protestants would disagree with me on this point vehemently–particularly Roman Catholics. But I think Calvin was just making explicit what is already the trajectory of Augustine. Just want to make my lens clear.
That is, if Grace is needed to say yes to accept God’s salvation–as opposed to the ancient Orthodox view that free will either accepts or denies grace–then salvation or damnation is completely in the hands of God.
This denunciation of free will is what gives Western forms of Christianity and the Western world at large its unique anxiety and guilt complexes, which reached an apex in the Later Middle Ages–particulary after the Black Death. Luther is purely in this strain of Late Medieval Anxiety. [Tillich has written brilliantly on this subject].
Medieval and Early Modern Catholicism with the traditions of pilgrimages, indulgences, and so forth I think simply acted as if its official theology did not in fact say what it was saying. Aquinas is extremely clear on this point–you can pray for salvation but nothing else, and if that we have no idea that it actually means anything.
That is why I say Calvin is just as it were a little more direct and honest in his language concenring this (to my mind) horrific view of double predestination–at least as applied to the Relative world, when referenced to the Nondual it is in fact the truth of predestination…more on that in a later post [but a key point].
Calvin jettisoned the whole subtle-sacramental-devotional viewpoint still held onto in Catholicism (and parts of Lutheranism). And unsuprisingly, given the Humanist-Bibilicism bent of Calvin, the practice of mysticism is lost. It is not found through the Humanist interpretative lens of Biblical Reformed Theology. The only “mysticism” of a sort found in Calvin was the idea that one, no matter whether heaven or hell bound should live a carefree life in the face of the question of life after death. Since there was nothing you could do, your fate was already sealed, might as well enjoy the ride.
That free spirit feeling did (and could not) last long. The Protestant Ethic, which in almost all cases refers to the Calvinist strains of Protestantism, is the Protestant-version of the Catholic devotional-indulgence realm. That is not through attending to sacraments, saying rosaries or going to confession does one “unofficially” earn salvation (or accept salvation), but through moral rectitude, not dancing, drinking, cursing, working hard and earning a privileged income, these are the Protestant Ethic ways of “unofficially” gaining salvation. [See Two Truths of Christinaity on how the Catholic Devotional-Protestant Ethic are the recurring pattern of Relvative, Self-Power Poles in Western Christian Spirituality].
Calvinism, especially in America, became a religious legitimator of secularization. It was a strong vehicle for the flattening, horizontal effect of the modern wave. When the more nuanced, cosmological hierarchical Catholic-Orthodox Medieval Vision was lost in nominalist Reformed Theology and with it the practice of religion reduced more to humanistic, ethical, and “historical” Biblical pursuits, the dimension of the mystical, the other-worldly was lost.
This flattening brought about the totalization of the Divine led, as I have argued, to movements like Deism, Unitarianism (i.e. Socinianism), Supernatural Theism, and Pantheism (as in the American Transcendentalists).
This remote God was to one camp completely removed from creation. This remote God may have either simply set the train in motion and no longer cared about it (Deism) or at times supernaturally invaded and suspended the natural law (Supernatural Theism). As Tillich said, in a horizontal, flat, depth-less world, what real meaning can there be to the notion that some outside giant Ego-like Divinity would magically descend into this realm, get killed, and then float back up to who knows where? Outside of depth, totally reduced to a 3rd-person perspective (Jesus this, Jesus that, Jesus in the morning, Jesus in the evening….ever noticed that–always 3rd person).
In other words, ever observed how “deeply” superficial most versions of modern Protestant (particularly American) Christianity are? They are totally wedded to the historical-materialist flattening of modernity and then simply hold out a belief in one very specific set of counter-exceptions to that trend. There is no connection to those events as symbols as guides to inner wisdom. They are simply, according to this view, the “facts” of an all-poweful God who has already saved us and we just sit around and enjoy the world until he comes to claim us all.
Or maybe I’m getting a little cynical here. Only in America though would churches build their ecclessiology around capitalist business models. I think my spiritual and theological prejudices are fairly clear, so take what I have to say on others fronts (critically) with a grain of salt.
And Pantheism, in smaller numbers, because this God is so powerful, so directly (non-intermediar-ily) involved that God is everything. Or God is nothing but everything we see, touch, smell, tatse. Again it is that reducdtion of Creation-God nexus to only its “gross” manifest forms, its assumption of the modernist fallacy of the Myth of the Given, that is at work in the later strains of Calvinism. Pantheism, Deism, and Supernatural (Modernist) Theism hold in common the belief that creation is nothing other than the Flatland, historical modern worldspace. They differ only to the degree whether they see God as outside this process (remanining so or entering) or the process itself.
And in a related movement, conversion-centric, emotional-laden, Evangelical Born Again Movements, again esp. in America. They too, generally hold to a very modernist concrete operational cognitive apparatus. Even any lingerning magical-mythic constructs (purple-red-blue) are heavily molded by the modernist (orange) worldspace.
The practice of the conversion of the heart in Evangelical circles has become for many a rote, patterned formula—read this passage from Romans, consider your sins, feel abymsal, call out for God, accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, etc.
Now this patterning, as such, is actually a healthy mode of injunction. But as with all spiritual practices, from a Christian perspective, they can only open us to the possibility of conversion, mysticism, whatever. They are necessary but not sufficient conditions. Often following the recipe does not bake the cake.
And it is here that the Evangelical, often concrete operational cognition-affect becomes problematic. It is de-historicized, non-contextualized, as are pretty much all modernist movements, leaving the aspirant with the notion that if the convesion does not take place immediately either A)something is wrong with them B)God doesn’t love them and/or C)they fake it.
Faked religious emotionalism is very strong in Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic groups across the denominational spectrum. In my experiences, there is often as much if not more pre-rational, egocentric emotional display than any genuine religious surrender, awe, or devotion. Again depending entirely on the persons involved, their histories, the day and time, whatever is going on in their life, God’s grace at the moment, and so on. There are genuine and faked versions, of that I’m sure.
The Evangelical Born-Again experience has its seed in Luther’s Tower Experience. In the American Christian scene, it was carried during the Second Great Awakening (1830s) principally by the Methodist churches. As mainline Methodism itself has dwindled the born-again evangelical movement nevertheless has continued the main themes and merged with the mostly Calvinist American theological overlay. That explains why I argue that the Evangelicals, often though by no means exclusively, are wedded to a modernist-Calvinist theological frame.
Though important to mention that there are strongly “green” postmodernist, liberal born agains. And their influence in terms of human rights campaigns, environmentalism, and social justice-enculturated missiology is gaining a great deal of traction and strength.
Those mostly positive movements aside, there is still the deeper question for the Born Again (and Protestantism generally) movemetn of what happens after you are Born Again? What about deification-sanctification? What about mystical union with God?
The typical pattern I have noticed through my observations, friendships, and dialogues with individuals in the larger Evangelical-Pentecostal-Born Again frames (of whatever denominations) is that some, maybe many, initially have very positive responses to the injunctions of personal conversion, moral praxis, Biblical study, and the new identification as a “Christian”. Many in fact even have a genuine convesion experience as prototypically outlined in the literature.
Again this experience is quite open to anyone. In a post-metaphysical frame, we note that injunctions open up worldspaces. It helps relativize the issue. One can go through the Christian path without ever having such an experience–I would be hard pressed to say I ever have in the exact way described by those movements. There absolutism obviously being a huge problem. In concrete operational cognition, one size fits all–a very cookie-cutter approach to God. Not particularly nuanced.
But even after such positive moral conversion and emotional sense of being redeemed, what happens then? For some this change happens rather quickly–a year or less. Let’s say the person is 35 years old. What are they going to do for the next 50 odd years of their life., spiritually speaking?
And here these movements are completely silent. A famous (and very good) text in this camp is Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life…….how’s that title for an extremely masculine-type, modernist-wave, adoption of discipleship and mystical theology? Anyway, it it what it is and it has helped many people, so God bless him.
Nevertheless in The Purpose Driven Life, Warren suggests his readers also pick up Br. Lawrence’s classic mystical (3 fold, unitive) mystical text, “The Practice of the Presence of God.”
Br. Lawrence was a 17th century French monastic brother; he was the community cook. How’s that for humility? He was a very quiet man and only after having a spiritual visitor to the monastery ask him how to pray did he write his short genius treatise, showing him to be one of the greatest 3-fold Christian mystics.
So Warren has interestingly identified the next step for people beyond conversion—I’m reading the Evangelical-Born Again injunction as the Protestant-ish version of purgation, if you’re keeping score. But Warren’s own remarks on the text show he has really no idea what the book is about, insofar as the correct data only arise in certain states or stages of consciousness. Br. Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God is classic causal state-stage injunctions.
Sit quietly, open the heart, focus only on in the interior experience of the mind-stream. Let go of all thoughts and emotions. Do not pray for special consolations, visions. Only state repeatedly that you wish God alone. And that you will wait forever, if needs be, for God to come and unite “himself” to you.
And that practice, though historically united to the Catholic-Orthodox morphogenetic streams is by no means in a post-metaphysical construct, relegated ONLY to such paths. Any baptized Christian can experience the grace of mystical union with God.
One of the all time great Western Christian mystics was a Methodist named William Law. Law’s books include A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life as well as The Spirit of Prayer and The Way to Divine Knowledge—all profound causal state-stage unitive treatises. They fall easily within the general Catholic mystical fold. And as I will show in a later post, towards the end of his life, Law became an admirer of the theosophist Jackob Boheme who is the greatest, I would argue, Protestant Christian Nondual Mystic. Protestant in a very generic sense for him, given that he was considered rather heterodox by many. But the point being, Law moves from the relative (purgation, illumination, union of spirits) to the Absolute (indistinct union).
So the possibility is certainly out there. But as I will show in the next installment on Protestantism, covering Liberal Modern Prot. theology and modern conservative Prot. thoelogical movements, we see no real theological backing for these experiences in the main Prot. movements. No appreciation of its place in the Christian life, no clear practice of injunction, communal fact-checking, no theological vocabulary to interpret, identify, and explain these occassions.