Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sovereignty vs. Majesty

I am participating in the Christian Life and Witness conference at Georgetown College on the subject of "From the Academy to the Church."  Nicholas Wolterstorff, a distinguished Reformed philosopher from Yale, was drawing a distinction between the Reformed approach to higher education and a conservative Baptist approach (Georgetown is a Baptist college).  In the course of presenting an ideal type of the Reformed approach, he was asked about what is often considered the key Reformed doctrine, the sovereignty of God.

Wolterstorff surprised me by saying that Calvin does not seem to speak of the sovereignty of God. Instead, Calvin promotes the idea of the majesty of God.

Wolterstorff thought this difference presented Calvinism in a more hopeful light, because he reads the idea of God's sovereignty as the foundation of the most notorious Reformed doctrine, double predestination.

I, however, have always favored the idea of the sovereignty of God. I do not, though, connect it with predestination.  Instead, I see it as a claim by the Reformed that all of Creation has one order, which we can investigate by reason.

We agreed that "sovereignty" and "majesty" are clearly similar ideas.  It may be that they are simply different translations of the same word.

My question to you is this: Which term you find resonates better with your understanding?  It seems to me that sovereignty is a concept better adapted to a democratic culture, whereas majesty is a more monarchical concept.

Still wrestling.  Very fruitful conference, though.


Mac said...

I'm squarely in the sovereignty camp. While God is majestic--who can behold His glory?--it seems to me that a majestic God need not be supreme. The Pharoahs and the Emperors of old were often alive at the same time and no one would sya that they were not majestic. But they were co-equals, of sorts. Our sovereign God has no equal.

Centsurgent said...

I'll go with... archetypal. Peoples' conception of god figures are shaped more by their own psychological wiring more than anything else.

gruntled said...

Are you suggesting a doctrine of the archetypicality of God? What would that mean?

Anonymous said...

Majestic implies a certain passivity. The purple mountains' majesty is inspiring, but those purple mountains do don't do much of anything. Sovereignty more accurately communicates the biblical idea of an activist God, who goes out of his way to create, nurture, and save a fallen world. Aristotle's Prime Mover is majestic, but only indirectly sovereign.

Anonymous said...

The prime mover is majestic pure act, yet impassible, uninvolved.