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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Is Calvinism semi-Gnosticism?

What do Leighton Flowers and Richard Carrier have in common? Let's find out... 

For anyone involved in the debates between Calvinism and non-Calvinism, a rising trend that most have observed is the accusation that Calvinism can or should be considered a kind of neo or semi-Gnosticism. This largely comes from one group of anti-Calvinists known as SBC “Traditionalists,” also called Provisionalists. They are headed up by Leighton Flowers at the anti-Calvinist group Soteriology101.

This accusation was largely born out of their frustration at being called semi-Pelagians. Flowers and company have often called this a “boogyman” term used to poison the well against their position. So Flowers, either by invention or plagiarism (it wouldn’t be his first time), started saying that it would be like if they started calling Calvinists “semi-Pelagians” in order to poison the well against the Calvinists with a term that is almost entirely historically negative in orthodox theological circles.

As far as I can tell, Flowers thankfully doesn’t make the argument that Calvinists actually ARE gnostics in any meaningful sense but is just saying that the tone of the term would be LIKE that. However, this hasn’t stopped his adoring fans from taking the argument there. So how does the argument work, is it valid and is there any precedent to it?

Provisionalism and Semi-Pelagianism

Well before we get to that, let me first show that the accusation that Provisionalists ARE semi-Pelagians is NOT the same kind of claim. So let’s really quickly walk through that issue.

First, the accusation that Provisionalism just is re-packaged Semi-Pelagianism is either true or false. I think it is true, and people like Flowers, I assume, think it is false. But then they should argue that. We have well-defined terms for sets of doctrines throughout history. Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Augustinianism, Calvinism, Gnosticism are all such terms. Whatever evaluative connotations that the terms carry is irrelevant to whether or not a position falls either narrowly or broadly under the set of doctrines that these terms historically describe. Tantruming about it being a boogyman doesn’t do anything but show that you do not like being associated with the term. But if it walks like semi-Pelagianism, looks like a semi-Pelagianism, has the dogma of semi-Pelagianism… well if the shoe fits…

Which leads to my second point. I have frequently asked Provisionalists to describe to me the substantive differences between their view and Semi-Pelagianism. I know tons of others who have asked the same thing. And the only answer we ever get…. Crickets. That’s it. We will be insulted and ridiculed and Provisionalists will rage quit, or they will start calling us semi-Gnostics, which I’ll address shortly…. But they never can give any real substantive theological difference… I usually try to disambiguate concepts as best I can – even ones that I think are false or foolish or dangerous. I have no reason to consider Provisionalism to be nearly identical, if not identical, to semi-Pelagianism unless it is. If it’s not semi-Pelagian, then great. I still would think it false, it just wouldn’t fall into that category. That is, I don’t really have a polemical reason or motivation to include them under the umbrella of semi-Pelagianism to make my case that their view is downright false. That is, nothing is really gained EXCEPT for lexical accuracy by considering them under that umbrella. So if they can demonstrate how they are not under that umbrella, great. They should do so. But they need to do so by showing the doctrinal differences between their theology and semi-Pelagianism. And so far… to my knowledge and in my interactions, that has not even remotely happened.

So what is semi-Pelagianism? Well I’m not going to go into much of the history – you can read pretty much any historical theology and get that. But in basic terms, following the nearly universal condemnation of Pelagianism in the 4th century, a small group tried to make some mediating steps from Pelagianism toward a more orthodox position. In the 5th and 6th century the movement affirmed, roughly, the following positions:

1.       Sin had corrupted nature and man’s environment and was a pervasive influence to evil but did not make the natural constitution of man unable to freely choose God without direct divine intervention (Contra Augustinianism – and later Arminianism).
2.       Without God’s grace this corruptive force could not be overcome by man alone (contra Pelagianism). [1 and 2 should not be confused with affirming Original Sin. They did not think it was impossible or that man was unable to choose God, but rather that the influence of external powers would be too powerful for us to not succumb to them. And so we get to #3.]
3.       The innate corruptive force over man was not so great that the beginning of faith (initium fidei) was beyond the powers of man’s native will.
4.       The increase of faith (augmentum fidei) after conversion, is dependent upon God.
5.       The justified man may of his own strength persevere to the end.
6.       The justified man may of his own sake forsake his gift of salvation and be lost.
7.       Both God and the human person always participate in the salvation process – salvation is synergistic but not meritorious.
8.       Humans, all humans, before and after conversion, make libertarianly free will choices.
9.       God aides the human will through creation, natural grace, "supernatural" grace, the gospel proclamation and restrictions on demonic invasion.
10.   God responds in grace to the human’s choice to exhibit faith in him.

Now, that is a rough outline of semi-Pelagianism. Unlike Pelagianism which easily affirmed the possibility of sinless perfection, the semi-Pelagian is uncomfortable with that prospect, however they want to persevere the natural ability of man to repent and choose God by their own libertarian freedom. And so they too, like the Pelagian, must deny original sin and total depravity. And yet they do not want sinless perfection to be in view so they say that our natural will, instead of being free from the power of sin like the Pelagian, or dead to God because of sin like the Augustinian, they say it is sick in sin and while it could always choose the good, it wont because of the external powerful influence of a sin sick creation and relations to other sinful people. But denying original sin, has it’s logical consequences. Unlike Arminians who really are semi-Augustinians who affirm original sin and total depravity, and insert Prevenient Grace as a special act of God to enable the will of man at conversion, Semi-Pelagians need no such gracious assistance to enable the will. Sure they say God needs to bring us to the water, but they still say, we freely and autonomously choose to drink.

So the question is, how much of the above set of doctrines does one need to affirm to be broadly under the umbrella of semi-Pelagianism. Unless Calvinism where the 5 points are logically entailed by the others and only work as a full system, this is not the case for semi-Pelagianism. So it becomes far more like the problem of a heap – when is a pile of mables a heap… how many can you take away before it stops being a heap?

So how many of these does the Provisionalist need to affirm to be semi-Pelagians? Well I think the ones that are distinctive to semi-Pelagianism are the denial of original sin, the denial of a kind of total depravity where the will is dead to God in sin and in dead of a special act of God (whether prevenient grace on Arminianism or regeneration on Calvinism) before it can act in faith, and yet that sinless perfection, while possible will never happen because of the external influence of sin in our environment and relationships is the core of semi-Pelagianism as opposed to full-Pelagianism or semi- and full Augustinianism.

Anyone familiar with Provisionalism will know that the official statements affirm each of these. In fact they affirm nearly every single one of the 10 doctrinal stances I listed above – with the exception that someone, once justified, can lose/give up their salvation. And even that, if we are being honest, while the official Provisionalist statement denies, I rarely meet a Provisionalist who doesn’t think that a believer can give up their salvation.

Now, if the Provisionalist can show some substantive doctrinal differences between the official Provisionalist doctrinal system and historic semi-Pelagianism, I will  be more than happy to stop including them in that group. But as of right now… I’m at a loss for how they are not doctrinally included in that group. They may not like the label – great, then argue that semi-Pelagianism shouldn’t be considered heresy anymore. But simply saying that you aren’t semi-Pelagian just because you don’t like the evaluative connotation of the term… sorry. That just does not hold water.

Now, the typical response I get to this then, is “well you Calvinists are semi-Gnostics then!” So let’s turn and explore if this tu quoque argument is a good and reasonable response.

Calvinism and semi-Gnosticism

Let’s start by first briefly stating what Gnosticism was around the time of the early church. Gnosticism was a system of pagan religious beliefs concerning the cosmos being ruled by a lesser deity (called the demiurge) and that matter qua matter was evil and to be escaped while spirit was true reality. There was a hard dualism between matter and spirit such that all matter was bad and needed to be escaped. Because of this hard dualism, the gnostics believed that the spirit (not to be confused with the person of the Holy Spirit but rather something like “the spiritual nature of reality”) was accessed via secret cultic rituals only by an elite class of worthy acolytes. And this then gained them secret and elevated knowledge (gnosis) by which they could be progressively set free from the material world.

On this system, the great/supreme god is entirely unknowable and birthed the powers that rule the cosmos (called the aeons), as well as the creator god who also birthed the demiurge – So you have the great god, birthing the creator god, who birthed the demiurge who ruled the cosmos. Gnosticism has no concept of sin, only ignorance, and to achieve salvation you need to have secret knowledge mentioned above.

When this Gnosticism started to infect the church, it somewhat moved away from the pagan mystery cults and took on a “Christian” flavor (although nothing about it was genuinely Christian). So because of their hard dualism with regard to matter and spirit, they believed that the demiurge, who birthed the Son Jesus, sent Jesus to only appear to be human. But since matter is innately evil, they denied a true bodily incarnation – which means no actual crucifixion, no death. This was the error of the Docetics who John appeared to be writing against in his 1st and 2nd epistles. They also held onto the idea that salvation was not done by the shed blood of Christ (since he didn’t have real blood to be shed) but was done still by gaining secret knowledge meant only for the super-spiritual – the elites, the ones inaugurated into the truth and it was simply the gaining of this knowledge that saved someone.

Now, even if you do not agree with Calvinism, does any of that sound like Calvinism? No, of course not. There is literally zero doctrinal overlap between Calvinism and any form of Gnosticism, and the implications of gnosticism (such as the denial of the trinity, God as Creator, and the humanity of Christ, salvation from sin by the death of Christ on the cross, etc.) make it utterly anathema to Calvinists. We Calvinists dont think flesh is evil. We think the flesh is currently subject to the wages of sin. We are not anti-materialists. In fact, we look forward to the resurrection of our bodies! Gnostics believed that matter, all matter, was evil and to be escaped and ultimately done away with.
 So "gnosticism" is not an accurate historical theological term for the position.

In fact, something like Scientology is actually VERY gnostic. But there is literally zero doctrinal overlap between Calvinism and Gnosticism, beyond some super vague dishonestly worded phrases that would make ALL orthodox Christianity "gnostic” such as that our flesh is wicked and the spirit is good but that isn’t because of the nature of matter and spirit, but of the moral impacts of sin and righteousness! There is a dualism in Christianity between sin and righteousness but if that dualism makes Calvinism in the same dualist boat as Gnosticism, then so are the Biblical authors. So that cannot be it.

So now that we see that the label is simply inaccurate and false as a description of Calvinism, let us now ask where does this claim from the Provisionalist come from? Well the best I can tell, it comes from two faulty considerations:

1.       Calvinism is a kind of Augustinianism. There is a notion in scholarship that Augustine was influenced by his prior life in a gnostic sect known as Manichaeism. And so therefore, Calvinism is influenced by Manichaeism.

2.       Calvinism affirms that Christians are the elect of God, chosen entirely by God in eternity past. And that who the elect are is simply not revealed to us. So it is rooted in the secret will of God. This is knowledge that known only to God. So secret knowledge… Gnosticism.

So what do we make of these two assumptions?

First, the idea that Calvinism is influenced by the gnosticisim of Manichaeism because Augustine was supposedly influenced by it commits what is known as the genetic fallacy. How Augustine did or did not come to his beliefs about the teaching of the Scriptures is simply not a valid argument against if his understanding of the Scriptures is true or not. The genetic fallacy seeks to deny a claim by attacking the means or the conditions under which someone came to hold that the belief is true. This is simply a fallacious way to argue.

Second, it also commits a guilt by association fallacy. Even IF the genetic fallacy didn’t exist, most Calvininsts are Calvinists because we think it is the best systematic and exegetical understanding of the Scripture. I know very few Calvinists who have read Augustine, let alone got their understanding of the Bible from him. I actually cant think of a single one. What happens is that typically we come to be convinced of the system by reading the Bible, we start finding other people who have held similar views and come to find out, “oh… there is a name for this – Calvinism.” And then the further we study, “Oh... this view long pre-dated the Reformation in Augustinianism.” And that’s about it. So even IF it were a good argument that Augustine only held his view because of his prior life in Manichaeism (which is clearly fallacious) it still would be fallacious to use that as an argument against Calvinists today.

Third, was Augustine actually that influenced by his Manichaeism? I’m not going to go into that here, but I think the answer is clearly no, at least not in the sense that he affirmed beliefs because they were in line with Manichaeism. His prior life in Gnosticism clearly influenced what kind of issues he found important and how he understand the pagans around him – I mean my prior life in Atheism influences how I understand skepticism, naturalism, and atheism and what issues I choose to address and how I phrase things to atheists, and so forth. But it’s not that I have an “atheistic hangover” that causes me to affirm unbiblical things. Typically the kinds of things that people will point to in order to try an demonstrate that Augustine was still influenced by Manichaeism, is his “dualism” between the flesh and the spirit, the wretchedness of the natural man vs the righteousness of the spirit. The problem is that this just is a Biblical view. It is not that the flesh is evil because it is material, but rather it is that it is evil because it is fallen and corrupted by sin. Paul makes these exact points at numerous points in his epistles (namely Romans culminating in Romans 7). Christians the world over who aren’t Augustinian, Reformed, or Calvinistic also affirm that this just is what the Bible teaches.

So this, like most of the other reasons given for this kind of argument about Augustine, makes an equivocation fallacy by assuming that the dualism in Manichaeism just is the dualism in Augustinianism, and/or it makes another genetic fallacy that this is why Augustine believes it. It couldn’t possibly be because… well… that’s just what the bible teaches…

Ok so that was enough to show that the first assumption made to try and push this semi-Gnostic label on Calvinism is false. What about the second one? Is Calvinism built on a secret knowledge – a gnosis? No of course not. At least not in any meaningfully significant way.

Remember, on any version of Gnosticism, it was the gaining of the gnosis by the human observant which brought them into the spirit, to escape the material and be saved. And it was secret to the world – it was only for the super spiritual. So it was a personal secret knowledge of the acolyte that saved them.

On Calvinism, the only secret knowledge is God’s own knowledge of his decree of election. On literally any view of election, this is true. Flowers’ own view of corporate election would have this – unless Flowers thinks that God has revealed to him who would believe and fill the body? Does he think God has revealed to him who will and will not believe in the world God has chosen to actualize? Of course not! So… is he a semi-Gnostic? No. That would be silly.

On Calvinism, nothing about the gospel, preaching the word, or anything is secret. It is to be preached freely to all – we just don’t know who the elect are and who will eventually come to salvation. But that secret knowledge of God is not what saves us! That isn’t some secret knowledge given only to the spiritual elite, whereby knowing it, saves the believer.

On Calvinism, the gospel of Christ is public and given to all and we are saved by the finished work of Christ on the cross and given new life by his resurrection – his material, bodily resurrection from the dead which gives us the hope in a future material, bodily resurrection! Absolutely nothing about this is Gnosticism in any form.

**UPDATE 3/27, 11:18am**

It was brought to my attention that in the first draft of this article, I did not address the claim that Calvinism may be Gnostic because it is deterministic. That is, that it was the determinism that Augustine had borrowed from the Manicheans. I honestly had not forgot this, but think this is even more absurd a claim. I was trying to give the stronger of the possible ways that the argument could be made via what could be more complex epistemological considerations about beliefs. However, since several people asked about the determinism claim, let me briefly respond to that issue.  

Notice that this would still commit the three problems above (the guilt by association fallacy, the genetic fallacy and the inability to show that Augustine believed it because of Manicheism rather than from scriptural considerations). So the argument does not even get off the ground. Remember, not only is it entirely irrelevant about why Augustine came to believe what he did about what the Bible teaches (genetic fallacy), and unless the Provisionalist is able to raise the dead and question Augustine about what led to his belief in determinism (or be able to show some statement where he attributes his belief to his prior gnostic worldview despite repeatedly denouncing and refuting it), but also no Calvinist ever says that they believe it because of Augustine. We believe it because we think that it is what Scripture teaches and when we look through history, Augustine is one the people that we find who robustly makes the case for the same position.

Now, the Provisionalist may then say that motivations are irrelevant to their argument because, like the issue with semi-Pelagianism, it is whether we agree with doctrines of the system to be included under that umbrella. And so they claim that Gnostics affirmed determinism and Calvinism affirms determinism and so they are under the same umbrella in such a way that it is accurate to call Calvinism “semi-Gnostic.” Fair enough, but is that accurate?

Not really for several reasons.

First, it would remove all of the talk of Augustine and the Manicheans from consideration. But that is a main pillar of the Provisionalist claim. Without that, it is hard to sustain the rest of the case for their argument.

Second, the issue is what are substantive or distinctive doctrines that two systems overlap. So we would not say that Calvinism is Pelagian because they both affirm Theism, the Resurrection, and the Pauline authorship of the book of Romans for example. We could multiply a whole host of beliefs that countless views have in common – but they are not the uniquely defining doctrines of the systems. They are trivial parallels that countless views have in common. Determinism seems to be just such a doctrine. Without writing a whole new article here and making this post unnecessarily long, I am simply not convinced by the claims that the early church only and exclusively affirmed Libertarian notions of freedom and denied predestination and determinism. I find when reading the arguments for this view that they very much beg the question of what is being said like they do with the Biblical text. The argument often goes:

1.       Some early church father (ECF)/Bible passage says to make a choice or perform a command.
2.       I believe that choice and meaningful commands are only possible on an Incompatiblist/Libertarian concept of freedom.
3.       Some ECF/Bible passage teaches Incompatiblistic/Libertarian freedom.

Premise 2 simply begs the question of position that the person is trying to garner support for. As a Compatiblist, I have absolutely no problem understanding choice/command passages in either Scripture or the ECFs in the same way that as a Compatiblist, I make choise/command statements to my children, wife, friends, at work, etc. What happens then, is that because the position being argued for has been assumed, whatever text in front of us becomes a wax nose to whatever the reader wants it to be. For the record, I find that this happens when many different positions go to the ECFs to support their view. This is because often, the ECFs don’t well define or hash out their views but simply parrot the Biblical language verbatim. And so the reader is looking to support their view about what the Bible teaches from the ECFs, finds them saying the thing that they have already interpreted in the Scripture to support their position, and then comes away feeling like the ECFs support their views.

Now, continuing on, not only do I think that determinism can be clearly adduced from the Scriptures and so I do not need to go to the ECFs, I think we have at least plausible counter evidence from the ECFs affirming a kind of Augustinian notion of determinism/predestination. We can see statements such as:

·         Clement of Rome (69 CE):
o   “When he wills, and as he wills, he does all things; none of those things which are decreed by him, shall pass away,” (Epist. ad Corinth. 1:p. 64.)
o   “All therefore are glorified and magnified, not by themselves or their own works of righteous actions, which they have wrought out, but by his will,” (Clement, Ep. 1, ad. Corinth. p. 72.).
o   “Whereas it is the will of God, that all whom he loves should partake of repentance, and so not perish with the unbelieving and impenitent, he has established it by his almighty will.’ But if any of those whom God wills should partake of the grace of repentance, should afterwards perish, where is his almighty will? And how is this matter settled and established by such a will of his?” (Ep. 1, ad Cor. p. 20).
·         Ignatius (110 CE)
o   Ignatius speaks of two sorts of persons, signified by, “two pieces of money; the one belongs to God, and the other to the world; which have each their own characters upon them, and every one shall go to his own place,” (Ignat. Epist. p. 32).
o   In predestination, “…there was such a difference between the infidels and the elect,” (Apud. ib. 50:4, c. 15, p. 134.)
o   “They that are carnal,” says he, “cannot do the things that are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual do the things that are carnal, as neither faith the things of unbelief, nor unbelief the things of faith,” (Ep. ad Ephesians p. 22.).
·         Justin Martyr (150 CE)
o   “The great things, which the Father hath in his counsel appointed for all men,” that are or shall be well-pleasing to him, and likewise those that depart from his will, whether angels or men, he only (Christ) hath most clearly taught, Matthew 8:11, 12, and 7:22, 23; and in other words, when he will condemn the unworthy that shall not be saved, he will say to them, “Go ye into outer darkness, which the Father hath prepared for Satan and his angels,” (Dialog. cum. Tryph. p. 301.)
o   “Mankind by Adam fell under death, and the deception of the serpent; that ‘we are born sinners;’ and that we are entirely flesh, and no good thing dwells in us; he asserts the weakness and disability of men either to understand or perform spiritual things, AND DENIES THAT MAN, BY THE NATURAL SHARPNESS OF HIS WIT, CAN ATTAIN TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF DIVINE THINGS, or by any innate power in him save himself, and procure eternal life,” (Epist. ad Zenam, p. 506.).
o   “Jesus died for men of every kind, not all men. “As Jacob served Laban for the cattle that were spotted, and of various forms, so Christ served even to the cross, for men of every kind, of many and various shapes, procuring them by his blood, and the mystery of the cross,” (Dialog. cum Tryph, p. 364.).
o   “Do you think, O men, that we could ever have been able to have understood these things in the Scriptures, unless by the will of him that wills these things, we had received grace to understand them,” (Dialog. cum Tryph. p. 346.).
·         Minutius Felix (170 CE)
o   “For what else is fate, but what God says of every one of us? Who, since he can foreknow matter, even determines the fates according to the merits and qualities of every one; so that not our nativity (that is, as depending on the position of the stars) but our natural disposition is punished.” (Min. Felix. Octav. p. 397. Ed. Elmenhorst. p. 39; ed. Oxon).
·         Irenaeus (180 CE)
o   “God predetermining all things for the perfection of man, and for the bringing about and manifestation of his dispositions, that goodness may be shown, and righteousness perfected, and the church be conformed to the image of his Son, and at length become a perfect man, and by such things be made ripe to see God, and enjoy him,” (Irenaeus adv. Haeres. 50:4, c. 72, p. 419.)
o   “God is not so poor and indigent as not to give to everybody its own soul as its proper form. Hence, having completed the number which he before determined with himself, all those who are written, or ordained unto life, shall rise again, having their own bodies, souls, and spirits, in which they pleased God; but those who are deserving of punishment shall go into it, having also their own souls and bodies in which they departed from the grace of God,” (L. 2, c. 62, inter Fragment. Graec. ad. calcem).
·         Clement of Alexandria (190 CE)
o   “According to the fitness which everyone has, He, that is, God, distributes his benefits both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; and to them who are predestinated from among them, and are in his own time called, faithful, and elect,” (Ibid. 50:7, p. 702, 703.).
o   He comments on Jeremiah 1:5, 7, (Do not say, I am a child; before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee, etc.,) by saying this, “this prophecy intimates unto us, that those who before the foundation of the world are known by God unto faith; THAT IS, ARE APPOINTED BY HIM TO FAITH, are now babes, because of the will of God lately fulfilled, as we are new-born unto vocation and salvation,” (Paedadog. 50:1, c. 7, p. 111.)
·         Origen (230 CE)
o   “Upon casting lots the inheritance is distributed to the people of God, and the lot moved, not by chance, but according to what is predestinated by God,” (In Josuam Homil. 23, fol. 173, H.).
o   “…but by the goodness and love of God to man, and through wondrous and divine grace, the knowledge of God comes to them who were before comprehended in the foreknowledge of God; or, according to the version of Gelenius, who to this were predestinated,” (Contra cells. 1. 7, p. 361, 362.).
o   “All these things look this way, that the apostle may prove this; That if either Isaac or Jacob, for their merits, had been chosen to those things which they, being in the flesh sought after, and, by the works of the flesh, had deserved to be justified; then the grace of their merit might belong to the posterity of flesh and blood also, but now, since, their election does not arise from works, but from the purpose of God, from the will of him that calleth,” (In Rom.l. 7, fol. 195, G.).
o   “We are they “upon whom the ends of the ages have met, having ended their course.” We have been predestined by God, before the world was, (to arise) in the extreme end of the times.”(On the apparel of Women–Book II, Chapter 9)
·         Novatian (250 CE)
o   “For, says he,112 if he is said to be glorious in predestination, and predestination was before the foundation of the world, the order must be kept, and before him there will be, a large number of men appointed to glory,” (Novotian, de Trinitate, c. 24, p. 755.).
·         Athanasius (350 CE)
o   “The apostle, says he, in the first place, gives thanks to God for his piety, and signifies that faith in Christ was not a new thing, all, but that this was from eternity prepared and promised by God,” (Synops. Sacr. cript, vol. 3. p. 51.).
o   “Upon casting lots the inheritance is distributed to the people of God, and the lot moved, not by chance, but according to what is predestinated by God,” (In Josuam Homil. 23, fol. 173, H.).
o   “How therefore should he choose us before we were, unless, as he has said, we were before delineated in him? how verily, before men were created, should he predestinate us,” (Athanas. Contr. Arian. Orat. 3, p. 245, 246, vol. i.)

And on and on and on. I could list hundreds of more passages dealing with predestination, determination and other doctrines that we now consider to be part of Augustinian and Reformed theology.  Now, the Provisionalist and others may want to nitpick some of these, but the point is that to claim that Augustine invented this doctrine whole cloth because of his prior life in Manicheism, is just flat out false. There is a very robust tradition in the ECFs prior to him that was working with these very same ideas. And if this doctrine existed prior to this, it existed in the Eastern Church, in the Western Church, in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries prior to Augustine, then the parallel between a gnostic concept of determinism (which is actually far more a kind of materialistic fatalism rather than a divine determinism) and that of Augustinianism and later Calvinism is a trivial parallel at best with no real substantive impact or connection between the two.

As an aside, I find arguments from the early church to be problematic in another sense as well – they are often super over-selected. What I mean by that is that we like finding our view in the early church, but we also have no problem saying that the early church got things wrong, was underdeveloped, was mired in countless problems dealing with Platonism, and so forth. I’m curious if the Provisionalists (almost exclusively Southern Baptists) are going to start baptizing their babies and believe in baptismal regeneration because those were almost the universal view of the church for several centuries. I highly doubt it.

**end update**

What this does is the same kind of slippery word play and absurd parellelomania that Jesus Mythicists play when they say that Jesus was a solar messiah just like Horace, Osiris, Mythra, etc. Jesus didn’t have a natural birth from a human father… but neither did Osiris, Mythra, Zoaraster, and so forth… therefore… they all have virgin births and are the same kind of solar messiah myths!!!!

Again, not even close. This equivocation flattens out concepts, trumps up extremely vague and superficial similarities, and simply intentionally and deceptively omits all the countless substantive conceptual, historical, and Biblical differences between the concepts in order the axe grind and ram through an absolutely absurd claim of parallel concepts.


Insofar as Provisionalists continue to push through the “Calvinism is semi-Gnosticism” kind of rhetoric (on top of the "Calvin murdered Servetus nonsense), then they should not be surprised when serious minded and reasonable people, consider them to be ridiculous, dishonest, and about as reputable as Jesus Mythicists. 

If you want a better reputation outside of the Flowerpatch echo chamber, then the solution is simple:

Make better arguments.