Traveling Thru Here

May 7, 2011

Not Your Typical Calvinist Proof-Text

Filed under: Calvinism — Tags: , — j.hansen @ 6:58 PM

This passage is but one among the many where James addresses how people speak, and until recently, I did not associate it with Calvinism.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.  (James 4:13-17, ESV)

My conversation partner (hereafter “CP”) asked me if I would own a house one day and I casually responded: “Lord willing.” CP is a Christian and has read the passage quoted above, but did not like the lesson. CP wants to leave off the bit about the Lord willing, not because s/he is confident of the future, but because s/he thinks this verse requires Calvinism, that ultimately God is the one who determines outcomes and results. CP is a Christian, but is more comfortable with chance than with God and is not pleased with suggestions that God determines the outcomes of seemingly chance events. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).

I wondered how non-Calvinists interpret this passage. It seems inescapably to say that, at least, any future plans a human makes will only come to pass if the Lord wills those results. I never considered this a Calvinist proof-text because there is an easy non-Calvinist response: our plans only come to pass if the Lord wills them simply because he constantly keeps himself apprise of our plans and could intervene to thwart them at anytime, not that he actively controls all ends. This seems a perfectly reasonable interpretation, yet my non-Calvinist friend heard, what the Westminster Larger Catechism refers to as “God’s works of providence,” haunting every syllable in the Apostle’s insistence that we add the clause “if the Lord wills.”

More concerning is CP’s willingness to openly rebel against what s/he thought the Bible clearly taught. And for the record, I believe the Bible clearly teaches Calvinism. I just don’t think James 4:13-16 is the passage you go to to make the case.

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