Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Amazing Grace The History Theology of Calvinism|
Director: James Gelet
Genres: Special Interests, Documentary
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Calvinism is not the Historic Gospel of Jesus and His Apostl
Dave Kinsella | Waterford, Ireland | 07/05/2010
(1 out of 5 stars)
"As the title suggests, Amazing Grace is a lengthy exposition and defense of the theology commonly known as Calvinism. This neatly packaged two disk DVD set is replete with quotes and commentary from history's most well known Reformed theologians, as well as interviews with today's leading Calvinistic teachers. A few of those included are Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. Stephen Mansfield, and Dr. George Grant. They, along with the narrator, attempt to answer questions that many Christians struggle with regarding the sovereignty of God, predestination, free will, and other doctrines related to deterministic theology. While many churches walk the line between Calvinism and Arminianism, this video seeks to persuade the audience to adopt all five points of the famous acronym, "TULIP" (T = Total Depravity, U = Unconditional Election, L = Limited Atonement, I = Irresistible Grace, P = Perseverance of the Saints).
The discerning viewer, however, must look beyond the superficial elements of this presentation (such as the hi-tech audio and video production, professional editing, and the parade of intellectual sounding scholars), and honestly examine the evidence. And a good place to start is by asking the right questions. For instance, is the information in this documentary accurate? Secondly, is the information provided complete? In other words, does the video omit significant facts and events from history that may otherwise change how the audience perceives the outcome? Finding the answers to these questions will undoubtedly require time and additional research, but diligence has its rewards. Knowing the facts will help you to either accept the information as true or reject it as false.
And so the reader knows where the reviewer stands from the outset, I believe Calvinism to be a false, man-made religious system that should be avoided. Augustine was its chief architect (which is why it is also known as Augustinianism; see Study Guide page 113), while Luther and Calvin later refined and expounded upon his ideas. Due to the extreme length of this video set an exhaustive written review would be impractical.
Section 1: The History of the Debate
The video begins with an appeal to examine Church History and claims to trace the origins of Calvinism. Here is a quote from the narrator;
"We'll begin in part one of this presentation with the history of this controversy -the struggle to understand God's sovereignty and grace in relation to man's responsibility and free will." (Study Guide, page 113)
After hearing the above quote, the viewer should reasonably expect this presentation to take the audience through the history of the sovereignty of God / free will controversy from the beginning. However, this is not where the documentary takes us.
The video continues;
"Now some may ask, "Why begin with the historical survey of the debate instead of going right to the testimony of Scripture?" Well, by neglecting the creeds, counsels, and other vital facets of the church's rich, 2000-year-old history, many Christians have fallen into the trap of having to rediscover what the Bible says." (Study Guide, page 114)
The comments above give the impression that church history is very important, which it is. It warns that Christians should pay attention to when various false teachings have entered the Church so that we may identify them and steer clear. As great as all of this sounds their warnings prove artificial. The narrator immediately falls into the very same trap as those whom he seeks to show are in error when he uses Arius and the Council of Nicaea as an example. Take a look;
"What many do not know is that 1700 years ago this doctrine, with a few variations, was called Arianism after its chief proponent Arius. As his rationalized version of "Jesus is not God" theology began to spread like a cancer, a group of more than 300 pastors, elders and deacons came together in the city of Nicaea to discuss his views. The conclusion of that meeting or council was the condemnation of Arius and his teaching. Thanks to the tireless labors of great defenders of Biblical faith, most notably Athanasius, within a generation the heresy was largely defeated and contained. And so it remained for many centuries." (Study Guide, page 114)
I will add to the above quote another thing many Christians do not know (and that the creators of this DVD set do not tell you); that Augustine, the hero of Calvinism, is guilty of precisely the same thing as Arius! Both of these men brought false teachings into the Church. With Arius it was the denial of Christ's deity, and with Augustine it was the denial of man's free will and personal responsibility (among numerous other things). Prior to Augustine, the Church uniformly taught free will and rejected predestination. The pagan Roman religions and the pseudo-Christian Gnostic sects are the ones that taught fatalism, or determinism, which the orthodox Church routinely refuted. Why is this not mentioned on the DVD?
Furthermore, the men who participated in the Council of Nicaea, whom the narrator calls "great defenders of Biblical faith," were hardly Calvinists! Again, like all Christians that lived before Augustine, they believed in free will and taught against things like predestination, total depravity, salvation by faith alone, and eternal security. They would not agree with any of the five points of Calvinism, so how this DVD can refer to them as great defenders of the faith is beyond me.
Continuing on, they offer this quote from R.C. Sproul;
"Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If, upon reading a particular passage, you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation." ~ Dr. R.C. Sproul The Agony of Deceit, pp. 34, 35 (Study Guide, page 115)
This is just more talk about why we should value and consult church history. On the same page of the Study Guide, Dr. George Grant and Dr. Ascol add similar comments about learning from the Christians who have gone on before us, etc. The question then remains, why do all of these scholars disregard their own advise? Why do they completely ignore what the Church consistently taught and believed for the first three hundred years of it's existence, and rather choose to uphold a man like Augustine, who, like Arius, tried to change what had been taught as Apostolic doctrine from the beginning?
The Augustinian / Pelagian Controversy
Next, the video leaps into the 5th century controversy between Augustine and Pelagius. But why are we starting our "church history" lesson in the 5th century? What happened to the "rich two thousand-year-old" history mentioned earlier? Is this when the Church first began to think about the issues of predestination vs. free will? What was going on during the four hundred years prior to this? The video leaves the viewer with the false impression that either (1) Augustine was arguing for what the Church held to be orthodox teaching up to that time, while Pelagias was suddenly trying to promote a new heresy, or (2) the Christians prior to this event had no opinion on these issues. However, neither of these could be further from the truth.
There is no need for me, or anyone else who disagrees with Augustine, to defend Pelagius. Whether he was an orthodox Christian or not is irrelevant to this discussion. Disagreeing with Augustine does not by default make a person a "Pelagian." If you want to find a good representative of the Christian Faith you need to go back further than the 5th century. Ask yourself, why doesn't this DVD mention any of the faithful Christians who lived closer to the time of the Apostles? Men such as; Ignatius (AD 105), Justin Martyr (AD 160), Tatian (AD 160), Melito (AD 170), Theophilus (AD 180), Irenaeus (AD 180), Tertullian (AD 190), Clement of Alexandria (AD 195), Hippolytus (AD 225), Origen (AD 225), Novatian (AD 235), Cyprian (AD 250), Methodius (AD 290), Lactantius (AD 305), or Arnobius (AD 305)? All of these men (as you can see by clicking on their names) left a written record of their stand on these issues, and they were all against the doctrines that Augustine introduced around the year AD 400. This is compounded by another fact that the video conveniently fails to mention; that Augustine himself was a former Gnostic teacher!
Below are a few selections from History of the Christian Church, by Reformed scholar Philip Schaff, that back up my comments about Augustine's background. Please keep in mind that the video frequently quotes from this well known work, and that Schaff himself thought very highly of Augustine and mentions him throughout his writings with glowing affirmation. Read this quote carefully;
"The anti-Manichaean works date mostly from his earlier life, and in time and matter follow immediately upon his philosophical writings. In them he afterwards found most to retract, because he advocated the freedom of the will against the Manichaean fatalism. ... These works treat of the origin of evil; of free will; of the harmony of the Old and New Testaments, and of revelation and nature; of creation out of nothing, in opposition to dualism and hylozoism; of the supremacy of faith over knowledge; of the, authority of the Scriptures and the church; of the true and the false asceticism, and other disputed points; and they are the chief source of our knowledge of the Manichaean Gnosticism and of the arguments against it. Having himself belonged for nine years to this sect, Augustine was the better fitted for the task of refuting it, as Paul was peculiarly prepared for the confutation of the Pharisaic Judaism."1History of the Christian Church, by Philip Schaff, Volume III, Pages 1012-1013
Here it is openly admitted that Augustine was a Gnostic Manichaean for nine years before becoming a Christian. Once a Christian, however, he accepted what the Church taught on the subject of human free will and wrote against the fatalism of the Manichaeans. Church historian Justo L. Gonzalez, in his book The Story of Christianity, says, "Many of Augustine's first writings were attempts to refute the Manichees. Since he had helped lead some friends to that religion, he now felt a particular responsibility to refute the teachings that he had supported earlier. Since those were the main points at issue, most of these early works dealt with the authority of Scripture, the origin of evil, and free will." Gonzalez continues, "The question of the freedom of the will was of particular importance in the polemics against the Manichees. They held that everything was predetermined, and that human beings had no freedom. Against such views, Augustine became the champion of the freedom of the will."2The Story of Christianity, by Justo L. Gonzalez, Vol. I, Page 213 But several years later Augustine ended up readopting his original Gnostic beliefs about predestination and read them back into the Bible. This is the real basis for Calvinism.
Schaff continues in a later volume from the same set;
"The Augustinian system was unknown in the ante-Nicene age, and was never accepted in the in the Eastern Church. This is a strong argument against it. Augustine himself developed it only during the Pelagian controversy; while in his earlier writing he taught freedom of the human will against the fatalism of the Manicheans."3History of the Christian Church, by Philip Schaff, Volume VIII, Page 542
Did you catch that? The Augustinian system was "unknown" before the Council of Nicea! Mr. Schaff is certainly right when he says this is a strong argument against it. I would go further and say that it completely destroys Calvinism! Schaff admits that Augustine "developed" this system only "during" his debate with Pelagius. Are we really supposed to accept this as the true Christianity? I don't think so. Instead, we can rightly credit Augustine with polluting the Church with Gnostic beliefs. At least Mr. Schaff was honest enough to mention these little details in his work, which is more than I can say for this DVD set. The accompanying footnote from the above quotation goes on to mention that Calvin recognized Augustine's change of mind regarding the topic of free will;
"Calvin was well aware of Augustine's change on this point. "Origen, Ambrose, and Jerome," he says, "believed that God dispenses his grace among men, according to his foreknowledge of the good which every individual will make of it. Augustine was also once of the same sentiment, but when he had made a greater proficiency in scriptural knowledge, he not only retracted, but powerfully confuted it."4History of the Christian Church, by Philip Schaff, Volume VIII, Page 542
Henry Chadwick, in his book The Early Church, commenting on the origins of Gnostic belief systems says, "The influence of fatalistic ideas drawn from popular astrology and magic became fused with notions derived from Pauline language about predestination to produce a rigidly deterministic scheme. Redemption was from destiny, not from consequence of responsible action, which was granted to a predetermined elect in whom alone was the divine spark."5The Early Church, by Henry Chadwick, Chapter II, Faith and Order, Gnosticism, Page 38 Wow, that sounds a lot like Calvinism, doesn't it? Again, this is the real origin of Augustine's interpretation of Scripture. It did not derive from the Apostles or from the early Christians.
After the Pelagian controversy the documentary takes another wild leap into the Reformation era. So much for the church history lesson! In reality, Calvinism rests upon the shoulders of a former Gnostic teacher of rhetoric from the 5th century and a few reformers from the 16th century. This cannot be considered the Apostolic Faith, but rather a perversion thereof. This video is truly a history of "Calvinsim," and not a history of "the faith once delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3)
1.History of the Christian Church, by Philip Schaff, Volume III, Pages 1012-1013
2.The Story of Christianity, by Justo L. Gonzalez, Vol. I, Page 213
3.History of the Christian Church, by Philip Schaff, Volume VIII, Page 542
4.History of the Christian Church, by Philip Schaff, Volume VIII, Page 542
5.The Early Church, by Henry Chadwick, Chapter II, Faith and Order, Gnosticism, Page 38"
An argument against Arminianism, not a history of Calvinism
Bob | 07/08/2010
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Contrary to the title of the video, this is not so much a "history and theology of Calvinism" as it is a polemic against Arminianism. The history that the video does present is incomplete and at best slanted--at worst revisionist. Most of it regards the usual arguments in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate: Augustine & Pelagius, the Remonstrants & the Synod of Dort, etc., with little or no discussion of Reformed theologians such as Ulrich Zwingli, Theodore Beza, George Whitfield and Charles Spurgeon (other than a few anti-Arminian quotes); nor other historical topics such as Calvinism's development and rise to orthodoxy in Geneva, the struggles (and oppressions) as Calvinism spread through Europe, the Puritans, and Calvinism's growth in America. The video also makes several dubious historical claims such as "...most all of the historic orthodox church has been [Augustinian]...", "the greatest world mission enterprises have all been initiated in the past by men who believe ... the Reformed faith", and "...[the United States'] greatest revivals...were produced...by people who were committed to the doctrines of [Reformed] faith." It credits Calvinism as the source of American-style republicanism and not too subtly implies that Arminianism is to blame for the evils of modern society (two more debatable claims).
The questionable treatment of history has the effect of also casting doubt on the theological arguments the video presents. The video describes Arminianism from a purely Calvinistic viewpoint with seemingly minimal effort to fairly represent Arminian beliefs. The description is one that I suspect Arminians themselves would not profess. The video is decidedly anti-Arminian, making statements such as "... the Arminian gospel is no gospel at all" and calling Arminianism a "...perversion of Biblical teaching by the fallen mind of man." Many of its descriptions and caricatures of Arminian theology are juvenile and pejorative (such as the skit of a book sale at a graveyard). In the end, the video comes across as an insincere (or at least unsuccessful) attempt to fairly present the Calvinism/Arminianism debate and Calvinist theology.