5. 1979. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law
Lewis had brought me back to an Arminian, though militant, form of Christianity.
Rushdoony was the wedge used by a couple of dear college friends, one male, one female, to break down the Arminian delusion. The actual breach was affected by the joint assault of this book and the next one in the list.
Rushdoony has faded from the center of my thinking, but the impact at this time was… life-changing. People that write him off as “legalist” don’t understand what he accomplished. This was nothing less than a sifting of every stage, every level, every pretension of modern society under the gaze of the word of God. It it a totality-critique. What it did to this Arminian was show that Sovereignty was far more than Predestination. It paved the way to see God as the Source, and the only possible Source, of every meaning, every beauty, every norm, every project. This is the true center of Calvinism.
Oddly enough, the real problem with Rushdoony is not legalism but antinomianism. He wriggled out of the Sabbath with a finesse that would do a PCA candidate proud. But that is a discussion for another day — even as it was many years before I understood this problem.
6. 1980 Jonathan Edwards. Freedom of the Will (abbreviated title)
When I started this book, sitting in Jefferson’s cloistered gardens in Charlottesville, I was an Arminian; when I finished, I was a Calvinist.
Now that I have studied philosophy formally, I am impressed at the contemporaneity of Edwards. He anticipated, unless (as I suspect) he is simply the unacknowledged precursor, of much of the modern discussion of free will under the rubric of “compatibilism.” What he showed, basically, is the incoherence of the concept that today goes under the name “libertarian free will.” You are free because you do what you want. But how can you want something you don’t want? Peter Van Inwagen as a Christian libertarian is great because he admits he can give no coherent account of his position. It is a leap of faith for him, and he admits it.
So Edwards proved that my Arminian instincts were naive. Later, I came to realize (as Cunningham nicely explains) that Edwards only pushed the mystery back a layer or two. Now the question is, where does the disposition (to freely and inevitably choose evil) come from?
So I don’t say that Edwards answers every question. It is more that by breaking down the Arminian’s first line of defense, he shows the possibility of Calvinism as a moral framework.
Despite the tight, sustained reasoning of the work, Edwards must not be regarded as a Christian rationalist. It is more, using tight reasoning to show (1) the impossibility of reason conceived as autonomous, (2) God as the necessary starting point in every train of reasoning, (3) that revelation enlightens, but does not exhaustively explain, (4) there is no thought without that revelation, and (5) thus, we can embrace mysteries rooted in that revelation without fear. If, in contrast, the path of Christian Rationalism is taken, then one must either remain an Arminian, or become a hyper-nominalist-Calvinist. This is why Gordon Clarkism is, oddly, not very far spiritually from Arminianism. It is also very fragile. One of my dear Clarkian friends is now, in middle age, being tempted by Arminianism. And one of the great promising Clarkians of a decade ago is now chanting Hare Krishna.
Thank you, Jonathan, for rescuing me from these possibilities.