Psychology

History

Science

Neurology

Christianity

MBTI

Aliens

What's New?

HomeIndexForumLinksDownloadsContact

HistoryCalvinism

I have suggested elsewhere that a distinction needs to be made between a person’s explicit image of God and his implicit image. In essence, an explicit image of God is what a person explicitly says about God, while an implicit image of God comes from the general theory which a person applies to personal identity. A person’s explicit image of God can be challenged through dialogue, logic, and quotes from scripture. An implicit image of God, in contrast, is based in the emotional structure of a general Teacher theory. Mere facts or bible verses are very seldom sufficient to alter a person’s implicit image of God. Instead, one has to approach the topic from the viewpoint of Teacher emotions.[1]

This can be done in one of two ways. The first way is to look for internal contradictions. Teacher thought looks for order-within-complexity. Teacher thought feels bad when order cannot be brought to complexity, or when some specific item violates the general order. Thus, if a person’s implicit concept of God contains an inherent contradiction, then this is a strong sign that it needs altering.

Unfortunately, pointing out an inherent contradiction in a person’s mental concept of God is often insufficient. That is because a concept of God involves both Teacher and Mercy emotions: A mental concept of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to personal Mercy identity. Thus, the Teacher pain that results from finding an inherent contradiction in a person’s concept of God can be balanced by the Mercy pleasure of assigning great emotional status to the person of God. Putting this in simple terms, “I don’t understand this aspect of God. It’s a paradox. But that just proves the transcendence of God. His thoughts are so far above our thoughts that we could never understand them. Isn’t God amazing?” This, I suggest, has historically been the driving force behind religious mysticism, because it uses Mercy adoration to make up for Teacher contradiction. If a person follows this path long enough, then the end result will be a universal un-theory of God, because the presence of a paradox will turn into a general theory, and that general theory will affect a person’s concept of God.[2]

The second way to challenge an implicit image of God is by pointing out that it is inadequate. What is an inadequate concept of God? One that is not universal. God, by definition, is a universal being. Therefore, if my concept of God—whether explicit or implicit—causes my world to shrink, then this concept of God is inadequate. This shrinking can happen in several ways: Intellectual shrinking limits reading to certain authors and refuses to look at other works or opinions. Emotional shrinking lives within restricted social circles and does not interact with people outside of these circles. Personal shrinking limits a person’s actions and the experiences of his physical world. Spiritual shrinking closes a person up inside, fills him with tension, and makes him feel imprisoned in a tiny box. All of these are symptoms of an inadequate concept of God.

Because we are looking at a finite individual exploring universality, this shrinking is not always immediately apparent. For instance, if I find myself in a large underground cavern, then it will take time for me to realize that I am imprisoned, especially if the lighting is dim. And, escaping the cavern in order to emerge in the outside world may require crawling through a narrow tunnel. Similarly, a limited concept of God may initially appear to be quite adequate until it is more fully explored. And, discovering a more adequate concept of God may require a period of personal and spiritual narrowness. In such situations, I suggest that what matters is my overall motivation. Am I searching for universality and struggling to broaden my understanding and my world, or am I content to continue existing within my limited mental and physical framework? In other words, am I using mental tricks such as mysticism to pretend that I have a universal concept of God, or am I actually searching for universality? Searching for universality does not require getting a Doctorate in Philosophy. It simply means looking for the general principles that lie behind the specific situations in which one finds oneself; it means learning lessons from life instead of blindly stumbling from one situation to another.

Applying this analysis briefly to my own thinking, I approach topics from the viewpoint of the theory of mental symmetry, and this theory has formed an implicit concept of God within my mind. Over the years, I have discovered to my relief and satisfaction that the resulting concept of God really appears to be universal. Instead of closing up intellectually, I find that my intellectual world continues to grow larger and become more free. However, I also find that my personal world remains limited. In order to deal with this personal shrinkage, I have been attempting to expand my general Teacher understanding to include Mercy universality. Using Biblical language, my hope is that in the same way that my concept of God has given me increasing freedom in the Teacher realm of words and theories, so theory predicts that an adequate comprehension of the Holy Spirit should give me increasing freedom in the Mercy realm of experiences and people.

Calvinism and TULIP

Reformed theology has both an explicit and an implicit concept of God. Traditionally, the focus has been upon the explicit image of God, using Bible verses to defend or challenge a person’s viewpoint. In this essay, we will approach the topic from the viewpoint of an implicit image of God. Reformed theology focuses upon the power, majesty, and universality of God. Does an explicit focus upon the universality and sovereignty of God lead to the mental concept of a universal and sovereign God? Does the implicit concept of God match the explicit one? Or, does this approach lead to contradiction and shrinkage?

We will begin with the collection of doctrines commonly referred to by the acronym TULIP—Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and the Perseverance of the saints. Total depravity says that man can do nothing to save himself, unconditional election states that God chooses who is saved, limited atonement means that the death of Jesus on the cross only applies to those whom God has chosen to be saved, irresistible grace says that everyone whom God has chosen to be saved will be saved, and perseverance of the saints states that anyone who has become saved cannot lose their salvation. Stating this more concisely, God is sovereign. No one can question the universal plan of God. Translating this into the language of mental symmetry, if an image of God emerges when a universal theory applies to personal identity, then TULIP describes a totally universal concept of God that applies overwhelmingly and irresistibly to every single human being.

The Reformed concept of determinism goes further by stating that every decision made by every human is also preordained by God. Thus, not only does the concept of God apply to every human being but it also applies to every detail of every human being. In other words, we have an utterly universal concept of God. Stating this in terms of mental networks, independent Mercy mental networks of personal identity do not exist. Instead, the structure of every mental network is determined completely by the Teacher mental network of a concept of God.

A general Teacher theory brings order to complexity. But, an image of God is a general Teacher theory that applies to people. When a general Teacher theory brings order to the complexity of human behavior, then we are dealing with a covenant. Going one step further, a divine covenant is a general Teacher structure that brings order to human behavior that has its source in the general Teacher structure. Covenant thinking is foundational to Reformed theology. Reformed theologians may disagree on the precise nature of this covenant, however the general approach of Reformed theology is that a single universal covenant governs the relationship between God and man, that this universal covenant has its source in God, and that all lesser covenants are aspects of this universal covenant. Reformed theology rejects the concept of dispensationalism, because this suggests that God’s covenant with man has changed through history—which questions the universality of God’s character. Again, we see the explicit emphasis upon the universality of God in his dealings with mankind.

Turning now to the human side of the equation, mental symmetry suggests that there is an interaction between Server actions and Teacher understanding. In simple terms, understanding becomes more complete when it is applied in action. In religious language, when the Server actions of a person are consistent with his Teacher understanding of God, then this person is righteous. However, it is also possible to use Teacher words to state that Server actions are consistent with Teacher understanding. In religious language, this is known as being justified or declared righteous.

Reformed doctrine states that righteousness cannot be achieved; a person cannot choose to act in a way that is consistent with his Teacher understanding of God. However, if a person is chosen by God to be a Christian, then God declares that person to be righteous. Thus, God is viewed as the sole source of righteousness and not man. But, what happens when a Christian—who has been declared righteous—continues to act in a way that is inconsistent with his Teacher understanding of God? Obviously, that person needs to become sanctified; he needs to act in a way that is consistent with God’s righteousness. Reformed theology emphasizes that sanctification does not occur through human effort. Rather, it is a person’s love and gratitude to God that causes him to act in a righteous manner. In the language of mental symmetry, the emotion that is associated with a universal Teacher theory encourages a person to act in a way that is consistent with that Teacher theory. Again we see the primary role being played by Teacher thought.

In conclusion, if we analyze Reformed theology from a cognitive viewpoint, we see a consistent and total emphasis upon the universality of a mental concept of God: God decides who is saved, God controls every personal decision; all human behavior is governed by a universal divine covenant; God declares the Christian to be righteous and God gives the Christian the ability to be righteous.

Emphasizing The Universality Of God

Let us turn now to the cognitive results of explicitly emphasizing the universality of God, starting with the initial results. First, there will be a strong focus upon theology and intellectual activity. When the source of everything is a universal Teacher theory, then this will create an emotional drive to explore and extend this universal theory. Thus, people are often attracted to Reformed theology because it has intellectual content. Compare this with the typical ‘seeker friendly’ church that tries to lure the unbeliever with exciting music, feel-good sermons, and friendship with God.

Second, there will be order and structure. Teacher thought naturally brings order to complexity. When all Server actions are submitted to a universal Teacher theory, then Teacher thought will bring order to these Server actions. This will express itself in the church service as a form of high church, and it will express itself at home as an emphasis upon domestic order. Both church and home will be structured. One sees this illustrated by the stereotypical Dutch landscape with its impeccable order.

Third, there is an emotional release from the feeling of effort. When a person believes that he can do nothing to achieve salvation and that God has done everything, then he can stop trying. Instead of forcing himself to perform certain Server actions, he can rest in the belief that his Teacher understanding of God will guide his Server actions.

The Reformed position also largely avoids the basic shortcomings of fundamentalism. I have suggested elsewhere that the attitude of fundamentalism is inevitably associated with religious self-denial (I am a worm) and intellectual inadequacy (God is a mystery). That is because fundamentalism assumes that the source of truth has far greater personal status than personal identity. Notice that fundamentalism is viewing God from a Mercy perspective: I am a person with Mercy status; God is a person with much greater Mercy status; the Bible is the word of God; because God has such great Mercy status, Perceiver thought ‘knows’ that the Bible is true. In general terms, this defines the attitude of blind faith. Reformed theology, in contrast, views God from a Teacher perspective. Thus, instead of emphasizing intellectual inadequacy, there is a focus upon understanding theology, and instead of focusing upon my low personal status compared to God, the emphasis is upon how God enables me to act in a righteous manner.

Predestination

So far, we see that Reformed theology works well. But, are we looking at the expanse of the open sky, or are we dealing with a large underground cavern which looks spacious as long as one does not explore it too far? Let us see if we can answer that question.

We will begin with the concept of predestination: God chooses who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. If God is sending people to hell, then this strongly implies that God is evil. Calvin addresses this question in A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God:

“Although, therefore, I thus affirm that God did ordain the Fall of Adam, I so assert it as by no means to concede that God was therein properly and really the author of that Fall...I solemnly hold that man and apostate angels did, by their sin, that which was contrary to the will of God, to the end that God, by means of their evil will, might effect that which was according to His decreeing will. If anyone should reply that this is above the capability of his mind to comprehend, I also acknowledge and confess the same. But why should we wonder that the infinite and incomprehensible majesty of God should surpass the narrow limits of our finite intellect? So far, however, am I from undertaking to explain this sublime and hidden mystery by any powers of human reason, that I would ever retain in my own memory that which I declared at the commencement of this discussion — that those who seek to know more than God has revealed are madmen! Wherefore, let us delight ourselves more in wise ignorance than in an immoderate and intoxicated curiosity to know more than God permits. Let all the powers of our mind restrain themselves within the bounds of this reverential assurance, that God willed nothing by the sin of man, but what became of His infinite justice!”

Calvin adds, “Wherefore, I hesitate not to confess that in the secret judgments of God something always precedes, but ‘hidden.’ For how God condemns the wicked, and yet justifies the wicked, is a mystery that is shut up in that secret mind of God, which is inaccessible to all human understanding.”

Similarly, Martin Luther says in On the Bondage of the Will, “Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though he saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death.”

Thus, both Calvin and Luther state categorically that there is no rational answer to the question of how a good God could send people to hell. When faced with an internal contradiction, they state that it is a paradox and they deal with this paradox by saying that it is a divine mystery. Whenever one says that a rational answer does not exist, then this is limiting Teacher thought, because Teacher thought looks for order-within-complexity and both Calvin and Luther are insisting that it is not possible to bring order to this complexity. Thus, I suggest that we have hit the wall of an underground cavern. We started with a universal Teacher theory, but if we attempt to explore this theory, we find that we can only go so far, but no further.

Free Will

Let us turn now to the doctrine of free will. Reformed theology states that God controls every decision made by man. Let us examine what this really means. Imagine living in an environment in which everything is predetermined and controlled from a universal plan. The central plans of communism give us a partial example of what this feels like. On the Teacher side, order-within-complexity is replaced by uniformity of a. Instead of having a symphony of existence, everyone is parroting the same tune, and that tune is a toneless drone of conformity. Obviously, this monotony becomes apparent quite quickly when subjected to central plans constructed by finite humans. However, if a person were to truly grasp the concept of every single human action being controlled by a single omnipotent being, would it feel any different? Calvin warned that emphasizing the absolute freedom of God would make humans little more than balls that God juggles in the air (Calvin, Institutes, 1.17.2) And, remember that when we are dealing with an implicit concept of God, what really matters is feeling, because it is the feeling of a universal Teacher theory that supports an implicit concept of God.

On the Mercy side, communism with its central plans destroys personal meaning. First, the individual does not exist within communism, because all that matters is the group. Second, the actions of the individual do not matter within communism. Personal initiative is discouraged, unrewarded, and often forbidden. In the words of one East German proverb, we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us. If God controls every human action, then human existence becomes reduced to a similar level of pretense: We pretend to follow God and he pretends to reward us. By insisting that the actions of the individual are irrelevant to God, Reformed theology removes any possibility for human value.

In other words, the Reformed doctrine of determinism provides Teacher pleasure as long as it is only partially understood, because fully understanding this concept would lead to fatalism, uniformity, and a lack of personal meaning. Calvin and other theologians who formulated this doctrine lived in a semi-chaotic environment. Therefore, the concept of divine structure could bring emotional comfort to Teacher thought. In contrast, modern man lives in a environment that is highly structured. Therefore, the concept of determinism is not a comforting one but rather one that provokes deep terror. Being merely a cog in the machine brings Teacher pleasure if it is partially understood, but communism along with the machine of modern existence makes it abundantly clear that being only a cog in the machine is dehumanizing. Anyone who truly grasps what this means will realize in the depth of his being that this cannot describe personal salvation. Again, we find ourselves hitting a wall in the underground cavern.

Self-Determinism

R.C. Sproul, a Reformed theologian, has proposed a more nuanced version of determinism. First, he distinguishes between civic righteousness and moral righteousness. Fallen man can choose to obey the civil laws but he is unable to obey moral laws. Second, he makes a distinction between desire and free will. In his view, man is free to choose, but what he chooses will always be determined by his strongest desires, and the desires of fallen man are fatally flawed.

This suggestion is reasonably similar to what the theory of mental symmetry states, and we will examine this more closely in a few paragraphs. However, I suggest that it is does not really solve the problem. First, it limits the sovereignty of God. If fallen man can obey civil laws without the help of God, then this leads to a secular realm which is independent of the domain of God. This is not a trivial problem, because the science and technology of fallen man have now transformed the entire globe. The modern city dweller spends almost his entire existence interacting with the order-within-complexity of human created civilization. The cathedral used to be the tallest building in the city. Now it is overshadowed by dozens of skyscrapers. In the past, a person could look up at night and see the vast expanse of the physical heavens. Now, the city lights blot out all but the brightest stars. Moral law used to guide human behavior. Now, every aspect of human interaction is regulated by some civil edict. Finally, the idea that God could read the thoughts and intents of a person’s heart used to motivate people. Now, people spill their guts on facebook and other social media and the government keeps a full record of what everyone does on the Internet. Thus, instead of fearing God, we fear government surveillance.

Second, Sproul’s suggestion gives humans the illusion of personal meaning. There is free will but it is the free will of a communist election: Will you vote for comrade A or for comrade B? You are free to choose, but all of the candidates still belong to the communist party.

This is illustrated by a quote from Sproul’s Truths We Confess Vol. 2: “B. F. Skinner, in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, argued that human decisions are the result of materialistic determinism. He claimed that people have no control over their destiny and no real freedom, because their decisions are determined by the physical forces around and within. I am saying that you do have freedom in the sense that you have the capacity to do what you want to do, but that you are also subject to a kind of determinism, which we call self-determination. Self-determination is virtually synonymous with freedom or liberty. To be self-determined means that you are not forced or coerced to do something against your will; you are able to do what you want to do; you determine your destiny and make your choices, so it is the self that determines the will.”

In other words, if a communist loves communism, then he is free, even though he can only choose between comrade A and comrade B. This type of ‘freedom’ currently exists in the United States. The American voter feels free because he can vote either Republican or Democrat. But his choice is ultimately irrelevant because policies are now determined primarily by money and power. This is not freedom, but rather the illusion of freedom.

Similarly, the Westminster confession contains secondary clauses that are supposed to make allowance for human freedom: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby (1) neither is God the author of sin, (2) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; (3) nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” But, stating that there is room for some human freedom is not the same as actually giving room for human freedom. Instead, I suggest that one ends up either with Sproul’s illusion of freedom or a paradox which requires following the escape route of mysticism. Any attempt to actually invoke these secondary clauses will limit the sovereignty of God by giving real freedom to man—which open theism attempts to do and Calvinism condemns.

Problems in Presbyterianism

In a recent blog posting, Dr. William Evans talks about ‘how Conservative Presbyterianism lost its Mojo.’ Let us examine some of his comments in the light of what we have discussed.

“Presbyterians across the theological spectrum are known for their emphasis on the theme of covenant. We talk about covenant all the time, and authors know that the inclusion of the word in a book title will enhance sales. But all the ongoing to-do about covenant fails to mask fundamental disagreements within the tradition about the nature of covenant solidarity. There is no real agreement about the basic definition and implications of covenant.” We see here an apparent contradiction. On the one hand, there is a strong emphasis upon covenant, while on the other hand the concept of covenant remains poorly defined. This describes a universal Teacher theory that lacks details. When a universal God does everything and finite humans do nothing then the natural result will be universality without specifics—a universal Teacher theory that lacks details.

Dr. Evans mentions that Reformed theology focuses upon generality while ignoring specifics: “The tradition’s school-text account of salvation is pretty abstract and it has had considerable difficulty offering a coherent account of how the ongoing life of Christian nurture, faith, and obedience in the church are relevant to one’s eternal destiny.”

Moving on, he says: “I’m increasingly convinced that a major problem in the conservative Presbyterian community is a persistent conflation of apologetics and historical scholarship. The altogether proper recognition of the role of presuppositions seems sometimes to serve as an excuse for reading one’s own ideas back in time. For example, I continue to be astonished by some recent attempts to present Calvin as in full and complete continuity with later Reformed federal orthodoxy despite the clear record of opposition to Calvin at some key points.” When a universal God predetermines everything, then there is ultimately no room for growth or development because everything is following a detailed script which was written in totality beforehand. Thus, it is natural that Reformed theologians will view theology through the same lens.

In a related vein, “The prevailing theological impulse in conservative Presbyterian circles is, well, ‘conservative’; it is oriented toward the conserving of a tradition, and theological discussions sometimes seem like exercises in historic preservation. To be sure, we have a goodly heritage and one that I embrace, but are there areas where further work is needed? This is a touchy subject almost sure to raise the hackles of those who think they are in possession of the whole truth in its pristine purity.” The problem is that Reformed theology explicitly teaches that God has predetermined all truth in pristine purity. In the language of mental symmetry, when a universal theory turns into a Teacher mental network, then there will be a strong emotional drive for all other thinking to be consistent with this universal theory.

Dr. Evans says this as well: “Some in the conservative Presbyterian orbit have responded to differences within the Reformed community and to the doctrinal diversity of broader evangelicalism by trumpeting the Reformed confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth century as the solution to what ails us. But the problems here are significant. First, such a strategy of confessional positivism is, at the end of the day, little more than a bald appeal to external authority, and to a fallible one at that. This is an odd move for people ostensibly committed to sola scriptura!” Repeating this in the language of mental symmetry, when a universal theory turns into a Teacher mental network, then that universal theory will be used to explain everything, including the Bible verses which the Christian says that he believes. In other words, the implicit concept of God that comes from a universal Teacher theory will eventually override any explicit concept of God that is being verbally proclaimed.[3]

So, does the Reformed approach lead to growing universality? Apparently not. Instead of growing universality, there is fragmentation: “There has been a decided turn to intramural theological squabbles in conservative Presbyterian circles since the 1970s.” Instead of gaining more adherents, there is a struggle for students: “The last forty years have seen a significant expansion of seminary capacity, and this has meant that more schools are competing for a relatively small group of students.” Instead of building understanding, there is less scholarship: “There has been a decline in the prominence of conservative Presbyterian scholarship.” And, instead of gaining more understanding, the very basis for thought is being questioned: “There is a budding crisis of religious authority evident in at least two areas—views of Scripture and the confessions.”

Emphasizing the Sovereignty of God

Let us return to the original purpose. The ultimate aim of Reformed theology is to emphasize the Teacher universality of God. This is a noble purpose, but how can one actually achieve it? In order to answer this question, I suggest that we have to look at the matter of sovereignty and free will. Let us start with the definitions presented on one website on Calvinism:

“Those who affirm absolute free will in the open sense (e.g., open theists) have an extremely limited view of the sovereignty of God. In this view, God is really only relatively sovereign, something like an angelic being could hypothetically be if he was powerful enough. God can sovereignly control circumstances to try to achieve His plan, and by doing so He can also certainly exert some powerful influence on man’s choices, but ultimately He cannot guarantee that His plan will be achieved in each and every detail. He must rather react to man’s choices and in some cases modify His plan after these choices are made. But He is somehow able to do this in such a way that “the big picture” of His plan is guaranteed.”

“Those who affirm free will in the compatibilistic sense only (e.g., Calvinists) have the strongest view of the sovereignty of God. In this view, God’s sovereignty is absolute. God is not only able to carry out His plan with absolute certainty in every detail, but also God’s plan itself is perfect in every way and not constrained by human choices. Everything that happens is ultimately because God willed it to happen for His own good purposes. He did not will it to happen merely because it was the best of all the alternatives He could foresee given what man would freely choose to do in each circumstance; He rather willed it absolutely and unconditionally.”[4]

In simple terms, this author is saying that total sovereignty equals micro management, while ‘big picture’ management indicates a lack of sovereignty. At first glance this appears obvious, but let us explore it in more detail with the help of three situations.

Suppose that you attend two lectures. In the one, the speaker reads from a prepared text, never looks at the audience, and doesn't answer any questions. In the other, the speaker talks extemporaneously, interacts with the audience, and answers a wide range of questions. Which of these two speakers is the expert who really knows his material? Obviously, the second one. Thus, we see that determinism is actually a symptom of ignorance not expertise.

Similarly, compare the boss who micromanages his employees with the boss who gives his employees objectives and then gives them latitude in the way that they achieve these objectives. The micro-managing boss will stifle his employees, and his micro-management will be seen as a symptom of weakness and insecurity. Ironically, the boss who gives some freedom to his employees will end up accomplishing far more.

Finally, compare the communist planned economy with a capitalistic free market. The planned economy claims to be highly ordered, but in fact it is weak, inflexible, limited, and inefficient. The capitalistic free market accomplishes what it does precisely by avoiding micro-management.

In each of these three cases, I suggest that it is the presence of an incarnation that makes the sovereignty possible. In the language of mental symmetry, Contributor strategy—which combines Perceiver facts with Server sequences—is bridging Teacher universality with Mercy personal identity. The expert speaker can deviate from the script because his mind contains a vast interconnected web of Perceiver facts and Server sequences. In contrast, for the speaker who reads from a script, whatever lies off this road is terra incognita. Similarly, the boss who micromanages is afraid of losing control; he does not know how he will respond to unforeseen circumstances. However if he is an expert who knows the facts and can perform the skills, then he is able to respond to unforeseen circumstances and he can give his employees the freedom to experiment, innovate, and even fail. Finally, the capitalist economy is not chaotic. If one wants to perform a certain job, then one must meet the qualifications. Likewise, if one wishes to pursue an opportunity or start a business, then one must do it in an approved manner. Thus, what is being regulated is a web of Perceiver facts and Server skills.

This needs to be stated once more. The concept of determinism goes directly from universality in Teacher thought to personal experiences in Mercy thought, because the universal God is directly controlling every action of every human. But, Christianity clearly teaches that there is no direct connection between God and man. Instead, Jesus is the incarnation who bridges God and man. In the language of mental symmetry, Contributor thought bridges Teacher thought and Mercy thought with the help of Perceiver facts and Server sequences. Thus, I suggest that the Reformed concept of determinism reflects an inadequate understanding of incarnation.

The TULIP doctrine of limited atonement supports this analysis. God is by definition a universal being. An incarnation, by definition, is both God and man. If Jesus’ atonement has only limited extent, then this strongly implies that there is a fundamental aspect of Jesus that is not Godlike.

The relationship between God, incarnation, and universality can be seen in I Corinthians 15: “Then comes the end, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” Notice the process by which God becomes ‘all in all’—achieving total sovereignty. First, the incarnation becomes ruler over everything. Then, the incarnation abolishes all independent rule and authority by subjecting this kingdom to the universal God.

We conclude that ‘big picture’ management requires greater knowledge, greater expertise, and leads to greater sovereignty than micro-management, which implies that open theism actually describes a more sovereign God than Calvinism—but only if open theism includes an adequate understanding of the Contributor plan that ties God and man together.

However, am I not making the fallacy of attempting to apply human thinking to a transcendent God? I suggest not. First, as we have seen, the very concept of a ‘God of mystery’ is a mental trick that can be used to make up for inadequate understanding. Second, whether we officially acknowledge it or not, ‘human thinking’ is determining a person’s implicit concept of God.

Obviously, humans are finite creatures with limited knowledge and skills. Wouldn’t a universal God be able to handle all of the details without turning into a ‘control freak’? Yes, a universal God, by definition, would be big enough to handle all of the details. But, what makes a God sovereign? It is the ability to mold all of these details and fashion them into some sort of ordered plan. Suppose that God's plan is too vast and transcendent for finite humans to grasp. Then, as far as humans are concerned, there is no such thing as a sovereign God, because all that humans can see is chaos and not sovereignty.

But couldn’t a sovereign God carry out his inscrutable plan without informing finite humans? In the past, yes, but not today. A ‘God of mystery’ can be used as an emotional crutch when one is surrounded by ignorance. But, that is no longer the case. Science has discovered much of the structure of God's creation and has come to the conclusion that it is not inscrutable. Instead, the physical universe is governed by incredible order-within-complexity—and this order-within-complexity is being deciphered by finite fallen humans. However, even though finite humans can grasp the essential structure of natural order, manipulating this order in a universal fashion is entirely beyond the capabilities of finite humans. Thus, the appreciation of God's sovereignty increases, while the need for God's sovereignty remains.

For instance, all of the virtually innumerable elementary particles in the universe appear to fall into a limited number of categories which can be comprehended by finite humans: electrons, protons, quarks, mesons, and so on. And, it is possible for finite man to understand the rules that govern atomic interaction and to use these rules to analyze how a few atoms and molecules interact. However, only a universal God could comprehend, calculate, plan, or control the essentially infinite number of ways in which all atoms and molecules could interact.

Thus when a person asserts that God controls everything but says that it is beyond human comprehension to understand the details, then to the scientist this sounds like a little child saying, “My daddy knows everything.”

Again, I suggest that this is not a trivial point. That is because Reformed theologians themselves are increasingly regarding traditional doctrinal statements as akin to saying “My daddy knows everything” and are responding by embracing scientific explanations of order-within-complexity. This, I suggest, is an example of shrinkage, because a ‘universal’ God is being marginalized by a more comprehensive universal theory.

In conclusion, I suggest that the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man are not mutually exclusive. Instead, eliminating human freedom eventually ends up diminishing the sovereignty of God. However, when incarnation bridges God and man, then making room for human freedom actually adds to the sovereignty of God.

Growing up Reformed

Before continuing, let us look at the situation of the child growing up in an environment of Reformed theology. As Piaget has described and every parent knows, a child lives in concrete thought and is incapable of abstract thought. Thus, the child exists in the aspect of thought which Reformed theology says is irrelevant—human Server actions, while incapable of developing the aspect of thought which Reformed theology says is all-important—universal Teacher understanding. This problem will be most prevalent in the teenage years, because the Mercy mechanism of using emotional status to impose rules on the child no longer functions, the adult Teacher mechanism of using a general theory to guide Server actions cannot yet function, while the hormones of puberty open up a new world of pleasurable personal experiences. Thus, there will be a tendency for the teenager to ‘sow his wild oats.’

The doctrinal reaction to this type of rebellion will tend to be schizophrenic. On the one hand, Reformed theology states that personal salvation is completely independent of human effort or Server action. This will lead to the viewpoint of antinomianism, which says that humans to not have to submit to rules. On the other hand, Reformed theology also states that the universal Teacher understanding of God brings order and structure to all Server actions. This will lead to the viewpoint of legalism, which says that humans must submit to rules.

The response of the rebellious teenager will be epitomized by the Exhorter person, who loves excitement and hates to be bored. For such an individual, concrete existence is filled with new and exciting Mercy experiences which need to be explored, while the concept of a set of preordained, abstract doctrines that were set in stone eons ago defines boredom itself.

There will tend to be a short-term and a long-term reaction to this type of rebellion. The immediate response will be to continue to assert the Teacher universality of God: “It will all eventually work out. He or she will return to the fold.” But, because the Reformed concept of righteousness lacks details, this will be stated as a general principle without being able to describe exactly how it will work itself out in practice.

In the long-term, there will be a struggle to understand the interplay between justification and sanctification—between being declared righteous and acting righteous. Reformed theology may state that concrete human experience plays no role in building a universal Teacher understanding of God, but this is not what happens within the mind. First, when a person learns a skill by repeating Server actions, then his skill will warp his understanding. As Maslow said, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Second, both theory and experience lead to the formation of mental networks. As we saw when looking at mysticism, personal emotion feels like theoretical emotion. Thus, regardless of theology, living in the real world will create mental structures that influence understanding. The result will be the development of a practical theology that helps the Reformed believer to move from justification to sanctification.

Summarizing, Reformed theology leads to a discrepancy between justification and sanctification which cannot be reconciled through the use of Reformed theology. But, concrete existence combined with the Reformed emotional bias for abstract thought will lead to a practical theology of growing sanctification. This practical theology will logically contradict the fundamental abstract doctrines of TULIP, but it will also fill the experiential void that is created by verbally asserting the sovereignty of God. Saying this more bluntly, the Reformed believer will state that TULIP is true while simultaneously acting as if it is not true. But, it is only by acting as if TULIP is not true that the Reformed believer can acquire the personal righteousness that makes it possible for him to continue asserting that TULIP is true.

An Alternative

I would now like to present an alternative which places the Reformed viewpoint within a structure that maintains both the universality of God and the freedom of man. Much of this material has been presented elsewhere, such as in the essay on open theism. I will focus here upon the relationship with Reformed theology.

Revisiting Sproul’s comment on free will, he says that desire comes before choice and that choice is ultimately guided by desire. Thus, before one can address traditional Reformed topics such as righteousness, human action, sovereignty, and predestination, one must first deal with desire and the heart.

Calvinism addresses desire and the heart through the concept of irresistible grace: The non-Christian lacks the desire to obey God. However, God transforms the desires of those whom he has chosen through the work of the Holy Spirit by giving them a new heart. According to Reformed theology, fallen man is unable to change the basic desires of his heart.

However, there is a branch of psychology known as cognitive behavior therapy which is having some success at doing just that—transforming basic desires of the heart. CBT is now used to treat conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder which were previously considered to be untreatable. According to CBT, bad choices and unhealthy desires have their source in a nature (in the language of mental symmetry, a mental network) which must die and be transformed. In order to be transformed, a person shines the light of truth upon this nature, he gains an understanding about this nature, and then he uses this truth and understanding as a basis for choosing not to fulfill this nature. If he continues to do this for long enough, then this nature will eventually fragment and cease to motivate behavior.

Notice that we see here a different definition of free will than that given by Sproul. Free will is not ‘the ability to carry out my desires’, because a person with OCD is desperately trying to choose not to carry out his desires. We see also the limitations of free will. If the OCD individual attempts to use free will to resist his desires, then like the Calvinist, he will conclude that his condition is untreatable. However, if this person uses his free will to acquire understanding and truth, then this will cause a new nature to be born within his mind, and free will in combination with this new nature will be able to resist the old nature. And, if free will continues to choose the new nature, then the old nature will eventually die. Thus, it appears that while free will is limited and requires the assistance of mental networks, it is also real.

One could compare this to the situation of a man trying to lift a huge block of stone. Obviously, he cannot achieve this task through physical effort because his finite strength limits his free will. But, if he chooses to study the laws of nature, then he will ultimately gain an understanding that makes it possible for him to choose to build a machine. And, with the help of the machine he can then choose to lift the block of stone.

Notice also that the process of CBT sounds quite similar to the Christian message of salvation. At first glance this might lead us to conclude that it is possible for fallen man to achieve salvation without the help of God. However, it is possible to interpret this in another manner by focusing upon a mental concept of God. Stated this way, man cannot change his fallen nature through the direct application of free will. But, a mental concept of God gives man the ability to choose to follow a new nature. Thus, CBT works because, to some extent, it is forming a mental concept of God and using that concept to transform aspects of personal behavior.

This relates to our earlier discussion on incarnation. When a person insists that Christian salvation requires using the correct religious words and phrases, then this indicates that Teacher thought with its words is being applied directly to Mercy experiences. Contributor thought, with the help of Perceiver meaning and Server syntax, translates between one language and another. Thus, when a person prays to God, it does not matter what language he uses—he does not have to use Latin, or Hebrew, or Arabic. Instead, what matters is the meanings of his words and the personal sequence that he is experiencing. This does not mean that personal salvation can be achieved by using any words and following any path. Rather, the Christian plan of salvation requires that a person go through a specific sequence—which we will summarize in the next section. However, it is a path of personal salvation and not just a magic formula.

Remember that the initial purpose of Reformed theology was to teach the concept of a universal God. As we have seen, preaching this doctrine in the face of modern secular progress ends up limiting the universality of God. In contrast, the concept of God’s universality can be maintained and expanded by recognizing that all human plans of salvation only succeed to the extent that they implement aspects of the Christian plan of salvation. However, if this plan of salvation is only applied to peripheral aspects of personal existence, then only these peripheral aspects will experience salvation. Using this criterion, preaching the universality of God in Reformed fashion is itself also a partial implementation because the method of preaching and teaching the concept of a universal God is not sufficient.

One of the weaknesses of Reformed theology is that it promotes an attitude of pride and arrogance: “I’m chosen by God and you are not.” Judaism with its concept of a chosen people suffers from a similar problem. Focusing upon a mental concept of God and a cognitive path of salvation helps to break down this barrier. That is because the Christian believer may know the core of this path and may have the framework of a correct concept of God, but his emotional closeness to this message makes it much more difficult for him to understand this message or apply it. Therefore, whenever a non-Christian achieves a measure of personal salvation, then it is important for the Christian to learn from the non-Christian more clearly what salvation actually means.

Notice that the fundamental distinction between Christian and non-Christian still exists. That is because the Christian is applying the path of salvation to the core of personal identity, while the non-Christian is only applying this path to peripheral issues. In fact, this becomes the definition of a Christian: Someone who is applying the path of salvation to the core of his personal identity. Thus, modern science and technology can save the world, but they cannot save the person; modern medicine can save the physical body, but it cannot save the human heart.

And, a belief in God still remains a fundamental aspect of personal salvation. That is because a mental concept of God emerges when a general theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. Thus, whenever the secular individual takes his understanding and applies it to his personal identity, then his secular path will inevitably turn religious, because a mental concept of God will eventually emerge.

Finally, because Christian doctrine describes the path that leads to complete personal transformation, only a belief in the Christian God will lead to personal salvation. However, simply preaching this message is insufficient to complete the process, because one is mouthing the words without comprehending their full meaning. Thus, it is necessary to learn from other denominations and even other religions, because each denomination and religion focuses upon some aspect of God’s complete personal plan of salvation.

Does this mean that salvation can be achieved through human effort? The answer here appears to be consistently—and deliberately—ambiguous. On the one hand, human will cannot achieve personal salvation, but on the other hand, human will can choose to pursue steps that lead to personal salvation. On the one hand, these steps can be analyzed rationally, but on the other hand divine revelation was required to originally teach these steps. On the one hand, a person continues to make choices, but on the other hand, when a person looks back at the choices he has made, he concludes that his path was being guided by some outside force. On the one hand, a person is driven by his desires, while on the other hand, every person encounters at least some situations in which he has the freedom to choose which desire he will follow. On the one hand, the Bible clearly teaches that God tests individuals to see what sort of choices they will make, while on the other hand, the Bible also teaches that God preordains some of the paths of some people in order to carry out his sovereign plan.

Notice that this type of ambiguity is different than a paradox. With a paradox, there is no solution, while here we are looking at two possible solutions: One can interpret personal salvation either in terms of human free will or in terms of divine providence. The ambiguity arises because one is not always certain which of these two explanations applies to any specific situation.

Notice also that what I am suggesting is subtly different than semi-Pelagianism, a pejorative term which Reformed theologians often apply to other denominations. In essence, semi-Pelagianism says that while man cannot save himself, he is capable of choosing salvation. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve repeatedly found that when I am in a situation where I have to make a major choice, I consistently receive enough ‘outside help’ so that I am able to make a decision, but never seem to receive enough ‘outside help’ so that the decision is made for me. Thus, I find myself faced with real choices, forced to take responsibility for my own actions.

I’m not trying to say that a person is always providentially given free will. I’m also not suggesting that free will by itself is sufficient to overcome the mental networks of fallen nature. However, it does appear that every person at some point in his life is given sufficient grace so that he has the free will to make decisions that will alter his personal character in major ways. Even in the classic case of ‘God hardening the heart of pharaoh,’ the story begins with pharaoh choosing to mistreat the Jews, choosing to kill all the male Jewish babies, and then reiterating this edict when faced with evidence that he is fighting divine providence.

This is consistent with what Paul says in I Corinthians 10: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” Notice the interplay between providence, free will, and mental networks. Childish mental networks are driving a person to make unwise choices. Enough providence is being given to reinstate some aspect of free will. Free will should be used to reprogram childish mental networks. The context implies that childish mental networks will overwhelm free will—and will be permitted by divine providence to overwhelm free will—if a person does not take advantage of the opportunities that he does receive to reprogram these mental networks.

Reformed theology states that God rules over every aspect of human existence, leading to the concepts of covenant, predestination, and determinism. Saying this another way, Reformed theology says that human ‘software’ is determined completely by God. The result is the concept of a universal God, but this mental concept lacks details and leaves no room for human freedom. Mental symmetry suggests, in contrast, that it is human ‘hardware’ that is determined by God, and that this human hardware puts major constraints upon the content and operation of human ‘software’. Saying this another way, the Bible is a programming guide for the human computer written by the designer and builder of that computer.

The goal is for humans to develop mental software that uses mental hardware to its full capability—to become mentally and spiritually whole. The problem is that living in a physical body in a physical world causes the mind to develop mental software that uses the mental hardware in a partial and fragmented manner. Thus, every individual is born in sin and has a sin nature. Analyzing Biblical and secular history leads one to the conclusion that individuals and societies are being guided to greater wholeness. Therefore, God is carrying out a plan of salvation. However, this path to greater wholeness is not a smooth, gradual, evolutionary slope but rather one that leads through chasms of personal and societal fragmentation. And, if one analyzes the path of history in more detail, it appears that a major development often occurs in one of two possible ways. First, there is an opportunity for change in which humans can use free will to carry out God’s plan. If this fails, then it is followed by societal and individual trauma in which circumstances and people are manipulated so that they have no choice but to carry out God’s plan. I describe three possible examples of this in my essay on open theism.

Finally, it appears that God recognizes that human free will is limited and does not expect individuals to make choices that go far beyond the abilities of their culture. In other words, God does not expect a primary student to do calculus, but he does expect a primary student to do arithmetic. Likewise, he is not satisfied when a high school student continues to do only arithmetic, but expects the high school student to do algebra. What brings unity to this educational process is the common mental hardware possessed by all of the students. However, as Piaget’s stages of development make clear, students of different ages are at different stages of cognitive development.

If God’s ultimate purpose is to lead humans and society to mental wholeness, then mental ‘hardware’ and the process of reaching mental wholeness is actually acting as a sort of meta-covenant that brings theoretical unity to God’s relationship with mankind. Covenant theology emphasizes the theoretical unity of this relationship, while dispensationalism focuses upon the stages of human and societal development. Just as a parent treats a young child differently than a teenage child, so God interacts with a tribal, group-oriented, iron-age group of Jews differently than he does with today’s individualistic, professionally trained, technically oriented individuals. However, the underlying purpose in both cases is the same, which is to encourage the mind to reach greater mental and spiritual wholeness. For, even though the mental software is vastly different, the mental hardware is still the same.

For instance, the Bible says that when Abraham believed God it was counted to him for righteousness, because he was acting in a way that was consistent with his concept of God—but he was doing so within the immature context of a tribal society. However, Abraham is an example for everyone, because he broke free of the demands of his society and was able to respond in a way that reflected a higher level of cognitive development. Saying this another way, he was a Grade 3 student who was doing Grade 4 work—and he was able to solve Grade 4 level problems under great personal stress. And, because Abraham personally went beyond the level of his society, God could use him as the seed for the formation of a higher level society.

The Three Stages Of Personal Salvation

I suggested earlier that Reformed theology emphasizes the second stage of a three-stage path of personal salvation. We will finish this essay by using the theory of mental symmetry to describe these three stages.

The first stage uses truth to build an accurate concept of God. Remember that a mental concept of God emerges as a universal Teacher theory applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. However, the mental networks of childish identity naturally cause a person to reject Perceiver facts that make personal identity feel bad. Thus, instead of being rational, the sinful nature causes a person to rationalize. Therefore, what is needed at this stage is a combination of verbal revelation and personal atonement. Verbal revelation programs Teacher thought with words and theories that are rational, universal, and consistent with wholeness. The result is a Teacher mental network of theology that is incompatible with the Mercy mental networks of childish identity. A doctrine of personal atonement makes it possible to apply this Teacher mental network to childish personal identity. In cognitive terms, the emotional Mercy pain of being honest about myself is balanced by the emotional Teacher pleasure of understanding myself. In religious terms, if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. If this process continues, then the mental networks of childish identity will eventually fragment and be replaced by a set of new mental networks that are consistent with the concept of a universal God. Saying this another way, there will be an old nature and a new nature—flesh and spirit.

Evangelical Christianity emphasizes this first stage. However, it knows the Mercy side of the equation much better than it does the Teacher side; it focuses upon God’s relationship to the individual more than it does upon the universal nature of God. Reformed theology, with its focus upon the universality of God, rightly sees this as deficient.

The second stage is to build righteousness by using a concept of God to guide action. Reformed theology emphasizes this second stage, but largely skips the first step. Instead of building a universal concept of God, Reformed theology starts by proclaiming one. The result is an abstract version of personal salvation which does not really apply to the human heart. The first stage leads to the birth of a new nature that makes it possible for a person to want to obey God. Reformed theology defines the old nature out of existence and focuses upon the new nature. When a person has a new nature and an old nature, then he can use free will to choose between the two. By jumping straight to the proclamation of a new nature, Reformed theology skips the previous step of making human will possible by building a new nature. And, by moving directly to the righteousness of God, Reformed theology ends up with an inadequate concept of what righteousness is.

When the first step is skipped, then aspects of childish identity will remain undigested to warp the second step. Childish identity idolizes the expectations of the group. Similarly, Reformed theology places a strong emphasis upon the expectations of community and family. Childish identity naturally divides people and groups into us vs. them. This remains intact in Reformed theology with its immutable division between the saved and the unsaved. Childish identity resists learning facts that make it feel bad. Likewise, there is a tendency in Reformed theology to reject facts from those who are outside of the fold.

When one goes through the first stage before entering the second stage, then these traits will be transformed. Instead of focusing upon the cultural group, the focus will be upon the people who are like-minded, or in psychological terms a Community of Practice. Instead of dividing between us and them, a division will be made between allowing emotions and personal status to determine truth and realizing that truth is independent of emotions.[5] Instead of rejecting facts that come from ‘them’, the goal will be to question facts that are based in personal status in order to discover eternal truth. Instead of viewing righteousness as following the decrees of a book or community that proclaims a sovereign God, righteousness will be defined as acting in a manner that is consistent with the concept of a sovereign God.

One final point of a historical nature. I am a Mennonite by background. Mennonites did not have the systematic theology of the Calvinists, but they emphasized the sovereignty of God in a more practical way, by turning away from the power of the secular state in order to live the kingdom of God—no matter what the personal cost. Ironically, Calvinists—those who claimed to be righteously implementing the kingdom of God—were prone to using or appealing to the secular power of the state to denounce and persecute Mennonites. See here for a brief description, here for more details, and here for a more moderate view. Thus, history shows us that when one skips the first stage of Christian salvation, then there is a tendency to continue following aspects of the kingdom of fallen man while at the same time proclaiming that one is following the kingdom of God.

That brings us to the third step, which is where the real dying to self occurs. During this third stage, understanding combined with righteousness makes it possible to completely digest the old nature. This does not mean that one no longer sins. Rather, it means that all of the human mental hardware is now functioning; the person is now mentally whole. In essence, the first two stages could be compared to building a vehicle, while the third stage makes it possible to use this vehicle to drive somewhere. The goal is not to build a vehicle and then place it in a showroom, rather the goal is to build a vehicle in order to be able to drive and explore.

I suggest that the effectiveness of the third step will depend upon how thoroughly the first two steps were followed. In other words, the extent of my personal transformation will be determined by the universality of my concept of God combined with how completely I apply this understanding of God in action. Simply saying that God is universal and that God makes me righteous is not enough; rather a universal concept of God must both be constructed and applied. Putting this another way, where I am able to drive—or fly—will depend upon the vehicle that I have constructed.

Because we are finite humans living in a fallen world, experiencing total personal transformation is essentially impossible. Thus, what seems to matter to God is how far individuals progress beyond the immature aspects of their society and to what extent they internalize the standards of their society that are mature. It is this internal character which makes a person valuable. And, when an individual succeeds in moving sufficiently beyond the level of society, then it appears that God will use such an individual to help accomplish his plan. One thinks, for instance, of Job and Abraham.

Does God’s plan require the cooperation of such individuals? Apparently not. However, God’s plan is much less painful when people cooperate than when they have to be dragged kicking and screaming from one societal crisis to another. One thinks of Jesus’ words in Luke 19: “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.’”

Conclusion

In brief, I find myself attracted to aspects of both open theism and Calvinism: I suggest that open theism is correct in suggesting that God gives humans some freedom when it comes to the details of his plan. While this freedom is limited, it also appears to be genuine. Thus, when God tests a person, it is a legitimate test and not just a foreordained pretense. However, I am deeply troubled by the way in which open theism downplays the sovereignty of God.

Like Calvinists, my image of God is that of a universal being of order and structure who interacts with humans in a rational manner that can be described through a systematic theology. And, the more that I understand human nature, the more I realize that many of the statements of Calvinism are perceptive: Humans really are ‘born in sin.’ It is almost impossible for people to break free of the emotional shackles of their fundamental desires. It is very difficult to escape the mindset of one’s culture and even more difficult to escape the worldview of an age. The concept of a universal God really is required to transform personal identity. And, some universal being seems to be manipulating history with a sovereignty that is fearsome in its totality.

Ironically, both Calvinism and open theism agree that the activity and experiences of fallen man are unrelated to an understanding of God’s universal plan. Calvinism asserts that this plan exists but has nothing to do with fallen human activity, while open theism focuses upon fallen human activity and states that it is independent of God’s universal plan. In other words, in both cases there is a cognitive disconnect between abstract theory and concrete experience.

In contrast, it appears that the cognitive model of mental symmetry can be used to decipher both fallen human nature and God’s universal plan. As I show in God, Theology & Cognitive Modules, it is possible to use this cognitive model to explain Christian doctrine, the character of a Trinitarian God, and the path of Christian salvation in considerable detail. But, this same cognitive model can also be used to explain scientific thought as well as both childish and mature human behavior. This makes it possible to explore the concept of a universal God and not just proclaim it and then retreat to mysticism when running into problems.[6] Finally, this cognitive model allows one to embrace the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit without abandoning either theology or theological rigor.

In summary, developing the theory of mental symmetry has made it possible for me to deeply appreciate the universality of God and not just proclaim it as a doctrine, while applying this theory has opened my eyes to some of the ways in which a finite being might be able to cooperate with the sovereign plan of a universal God.

For those who want to look at this in more detail, an analysis of Beyond the Bounds can be found here, a book written by a dozen Reformed theologians in response to open theism.


[1] The mental distinction between actions and words plays a major role in keeping these two concepts of God apart.

[2] There’s a difference between saying ‘God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts’ and ‘God is a mystery.’ The first recognizes my own inadequacies, while the second makes my inadequate understanding a characteristic of God. The first motivates a search for greater understanding, while the second basks in ignorance.

[3] That is why it is imperative to explicitly compare scriptural truth with universal understanding while one still is mentally capable of doing so.

[4] Edward A. Morris, 938 Pendleton Ave. Longmont, CO 80501 (USA) emorris@noble-minded.org

[5] Truth may trigger emotional experiences, but truth itself is separate from emotional experiences. For instance, learning that I have cancer will make me feel bad, but the fact that I have cancer is independent of these feelings.

[6] Neo-Calvinism attempts to come up with a universal meta-theory that covers all of existence by subdividing existence into different domains each governed by its own set of laws. This general concept makes sense; however simply jamming together different domains does not constitute a universal theory. The neo-Calvinist Dooyeweerd ‘solves’ this problem through the use of mysticism—which completely violates the Calvinist notion of a universal God of law and order. In contrast, it appears that mental symmetry really can bring unity to these various domains without having to abandon rational thought. In simple terms, each domain contains elements that are compatible with the structure of the mind, but each domain arranges these various elements in a different fashion. This is explored in more detail in my essay on Dooyeweerd.