Thinking Out Loud

January 1, 2016

How to Disagree Theologically

Filed under: blogging, doctrine — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 am

As another year kicks in which is sure to bring more heated doctrinal discussions online, or even among your circle of church friends and acquaintances, I can think of no better way to begin the year with the quotation.

You know, brethren, that there is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer, I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But, my dear friends, far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none within her walls but Calvinistic Christians, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him, that while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself, I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitfield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one of whom the world was not worthy. I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ into their hearts, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist out of heaven.

– C. H. Spurgeon, The Man With the Measuring Line

Sourced at Soteriology 101

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July 30, 2013

Guest Post: An Engineer Looks at Doctrinal Systems

My guest writer today is my son Chris, who I should describe more accurately as an engineer in training. He brings a scientific mind to a study which divides people, the issue of the Calvinist doctrinal system versus the Arminian doctrinal system. He is trying to show here how each of the core beliefs of Calvinism is rooted in the belief which precedes it. To that end it is a systematic theology. Since Arminianism is historically a response to Calvinism, he contrasts each doctrinal element with the corresponding Arminian perspective. For someone not trained in such matters, I personally think he does an amazing job here, even inventing a few new words in the process.

In yet another of history’s attempts to diffuse the unending debate between Calvinists and Arminianists, I would like to summarize my experiences with the dispute.  This caused me a great deal of grief in my first years of university, and I will be quite happy if I can immunize anyone to the arguing by informing them about it before it becomes a “stumbling block” to them.

First, I have identified the most fundamental difference between the two systems of belief to be that Arminians believe that sinful humans possess “free will” or “freedom of choice,” while Calvinists believe that sinfulness precludes choice.  All further differences can be extrapolated from this one point and a few obvious observations about the world.  Therefore, the most core difference between the two theological systems is a disagreement about man, not about God.  (Total Depravity.)

The different views of choice lead to different views of the lead-up to salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer him a chance to change his ways, and the sinner willfully ceases his rebellion, consents to being changes from within, and agrees to begin working for the Kingdom;  while the Calvinist sees God selecting a sinner and going to work in him without any questions or profferings.  (Irresistible Grace)

The different views of choice also lead to different views of the lead-up to non-salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer salvation, but the sinner declines to accept it, much to God’s dismay;  while the Calvinist sees no dialogue take place, as God has already rejected that sinner for reasons he has not disclosed.  (Unconditional Election.)

The different views on the distribution of salvation are mirrored by different theories about the available supply of salvation:  Arminians believe that Jesus took up the sins of everyone so that the door might be open to everyone;  while Calvinists believe Jesus only took up the sins of those who would, in fact, ultimately be saved, because it would be pointless for Jesus to suffer for sins whose committors will carry them in Hell anyway.  (Limited Atonement.)

(The remaining Point of Calvinism is Perseverance of the Saints.  Whether or not someone can lose their salvation depends purely on how the word “saved” is applied, which is not really part of the overall disagreement.  It’s purely a difference in terminology.)

The different views of non-salvation, a topic people naturally feel strongly about, lead to different descriptions of God’s character:  The Arminian describes God as unconditionally loving and with arms always open, constantly wooing people to come home;  while the Calvinist may perhaps describe God as a mighty ruler building his kingdom, purposefully and with discernment, to glorify himself.

The Arminian’s favorite word is “love,” while the Calvinists’s is “sovereign.”  Due to differences in rhetoric, each side believes their favorite to be absent from the other’s theology, creating caricatures of each:  Calvinists think Arminians don’t take God’s rule seriously, while Arminians think Calvinists believe God holds humans to be worthless unless useful.  Any contestation that develops between the two sides serves to further polarize the rhetoric.

Both of these caricatures are sometimes correct:  There are people in the church who believe in works-based salvation (whether consciously or not), and there are others therein who think God hates them.

Calvinism versus ArminianismThe caricatures cause “straw men” in any argument that takes place between Calvinists and Arminianists:  The Arminianist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s love, while the Calvinist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s rule, when in fact the two are in agreement about both.  The argument typically doesn’t resolve, but is terminated by an exclamation of, “Well, at least we can agree that we’re both saved by grace through the blood of the Lamb!” or something to that effect.

Both descriptions of God’s character can be taken too far:  God’s love, taken too far, leads to universalism, while God’s sovereignty, taken too far, leads to fatalism.

The different views of choice stem from different individual conversion experiences:  One Christian, who came slowly to understand and accept God’s work in their past, will find that Calvinism describes the process better;  while another, who had salvation explained to them by an existing Christian and then wanted to get in on it, may find that Arminianism describes the process better.  Likewise, I imagine there are nonbelievers who have understood and rejected Jesus, and others who die without ever knowing.

You will encounter people on both sides who acknowledge the correctness of both — either believing that each correctly describes the same God with different terminology, or believing that they serve as a sort of Yin and Yang that describe God well complementarily but poorly individually — and you will encounter those who adhere fiercely to one and war against the other.

~Chris Wilkinson


June 11, 2013

Calvinist Doctrinal Diatribe Continues Online

In the first place, Calvinistic Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than biblical Christianity. It follows, then, that the future of Christianity itself is bound up in the fortunes of Calvinism…

from the website Founders.org

This week I got an email which contained the following:

Over the years, I have noticed on your blog that you have obviously had some less-than-edifying contact with Reformed brothers and sisters (and I should add, publishers).

In replying, I suggested a friendly amendment, namely that my in-person interactions with Reformed people — particularly those from my local CRC church — are actually most pleasant; it’s the online persona of more militant Calvinists such as the author of the quote which leads today’s article that I find somewhat objectionable.

Here’s the full quote from Founders.org with emphasis added:

In the first place, Calvinistic Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than biblical Christianity. It follows, then, that the future of Christianity itself is bound up in the fortunes of Calvinism….

…For whoever believes in God’s redemption through Christ and recognizes his own utter dependence on God, whoever recognizes that salvation is of the Lord, whoever seeks to glorify God in his worship and life, that person is already implicitly a Calvinist, no matter what he calls himself. In such circumstances, to make the person an explicit Calvinist, all we are required to do (humanly speaking) is to show the believer the natural implications of these already-held fundamental principles, which underlie all true Christianity, and trust God to do his work, that is, trust God to reveal these implications to the person.

Chris Hubbs writes:

Did you get that? Calvinism is “nothing more and nothing less than biblical Christianity”. And if anyone recognizes salvation from the Lord, and seeks to glorify God, then that person is implicitly a Calvinist! And all the Calvinists need to do is explain it in a way that the unknowing Calvinist might understand.

Just think, reader; you might be a Calvinist right now and not know it.

A year ago it was the same people wishing that Calvinism could be the default doctrine of the Southern Baptist Convention, North America’s largest Protestant denomination. Yes, that could be a Calvinist coup!

And just last week on this page it was our discovery of Calvinist kids being indoctrinated against Arminians in the form of children’s story books.

No wonder I despair.

Ironically, the post scheduled for today was a link to an article by Russell D. Moore — an obvious graduate of the Bible’s school of peacemaking — who talks about the commonality both Arminans and Calvinists have on the subject of religious liberty.

On the one hand:

Sometimes people caricature Arminians, and those who share some convictions with them. The Arminian tradition doesn’t believe that the human will is naturally free in this fallen era. They believe that God graciously empowers human beings with the freedom to choose. In fact, much of what some Christians call “Arminianism” is instead the sort of manipulative, emotional revivalism they’ve seen or heard about somewhere. Arminians are, above all people, opposed to manipulation.

They believe, after all, that the human will must make a free decision to follow Jesus or to walk away. That means a clear presentation of what the gospel entails, with all the “cost-counting” that Jesus tells us about. This must be a personal, free decision, and can’t be outsourced to or vetoed by some emperor or bishop or bureaucrat.

And on the other hand,

Well, like the Arminians, Calvinists are easy to caricature. Some assume they believe the will is like a computer program operated by God, or that the gospel isn’t freely offered to all people. Evangelical Calvinists believe in the free offer of the gospel to all people, just as they believe in the universal command of the law of God. They believe that, left to ourselves, we will all run away from the law and we will all run away from the gospel. We see the light of Christ, and we hide because, in our sin, we don’t want to meet our God.

The Calvinist doctrine of effectual calling means that the Spirit works through preaching to overturn the power of the devil, to liberate our wills so that we can see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God doesn’t overpower our wills; he frees us from occupation by the deceiving demonic powers.

Toward the end, Dr. Moore concludes:

We will seek to search the Scriptures on everything God has told us. But we’re not that far apart. And even when we disagree, we can listen to the important emphases that each tradition brings, emphases that are grounded in God’s word and God’s gospel.

(here’s another link to Moore’s article, Why Calvinists and Arminians (and Those in Between) Can Unite for Religious Liberty)

…As someone who got to experience the tail end of the “Jesus People” era, I dream of a day when the labels won’t matter. Perhaps that day won’t happen in the present era. Still, I see a new generation moving toward a climate where the signs on the church door are a little less significant.

But I worry about the fragmentation that seems to be brewing in one particular segment of the larger Body. I worry about both how it looks and what it’s doing to us.

That’s what makes people like Russell D. Moore so vitally important. He gets both sides and also, I truly believe, dreams of a day when the sides don’t exist.

September 7, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Another collection of things my web history says I visited this week:

  • The Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit simulcast happens for Canada September 29th to 30th with the rebroadcast of  speakers from the U.S. event plus Canadians Tim Schroeder and Reginald Bibby. 
  • Clergy, or people doing the work of clergy, are entitled to IRS tax breaks in the United States including a generous housing allowance. But this doesn’t get applied in denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention that don’t offer ordination or equivalent credentialing.  So as applied by Baptists the housing allowance becomes a sexist issue.
  • And speaking of tax issues, is this another case of the head of a charity being overpaid? I refer to the case of lawyer Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.
  • New blog of the week — except it’s over a year old — is More Christ by K.W. Leslie where you’ll find some serious devotional articles, but, inexplicably, also a Jesus Junk page where you can purchase the t-shirt at right.
  • With the school year in full swing, Jon Acuff asks, When should you let your kids use Facebook?  130+ comments and counting.
  • Like most of you, I always keep a Salvation Army Captain or two on speed dial, and mine also happens to blog at Il Capitano Inquisitore. This week, he’s dealing with the contrast between the S.A.’s statement on gay and lesbian issues, and what it doesn’t say about when those same ‘welcomed’ people want to step into a leadership role. He tells me the comments pale in comparison to the off-the-blog mail…
  • Juanita Bynum updates Pentecostal and Charismatic distinctive theology by introducing typing in tongues on her Facebook page.  To which I say: fsdgklhs ddtowyet scprnap.
  • “…The man told me in the letter that he had seethed in a quiet fury and then picked up his Bible and walked out…”  Russell D. Moore tackles the thorny issue of “closed communion” or “fencing the communion table” in a piece at Touchstone appropriately titled, Table Manners.
  • Meanwhile, back at his own blog, Moore looks at the internet debates between people of different denominational and doctrinal (D&D) stripes as not much different than the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) club debates of his high school.  “The Dungeons and Dragons clubs came to mind because those guys, at least in my junior high school, seemed to be obsessed with something that seemed to have no relevance at all to their lives, or to anyone else’s. But D&D became their identity.” Read more, or rather, read Moore.
  • Glen Scrivener has written a poem that takes three minutes to read and contains 106 phrases that the King James Bible introduced into the language. He calls it a King James-themed something or other. (It may turn up here in full on a slow day, but you can read it now!) It’s also a video which you can watch here, or literally watch it here in the comments section.
  • Shawn Stutz offers his rant about Bible Gateway’s ‘sanctified’ version of Farmville.
  • Are you ready for “The Great Atomic Power?”  That’s the theme of a bluegrass/country song by the Louvin Brothers.  But as Darrell at SFL informed me, Ira Louvin’s story is a little checkered.
  • This one stretches all the way back to late July, but I guess this really hot breaking Christian news story took a little longer to reach us here.
  • This week’s cartoon — in keeping with our green t-shirt theme — is from No Apologies Allowed, which describes itself as “Weekly apologetics cartoons and quotes for the faithful, the faithless, and the full-of-its.” The blog consists recently of responses to atheists and Mormons.

October 10, 2010

“He Will Not Give Me Children” — A Cry for Help

Reposted from October, 2008

Every married couple knows that sometimes marriage involves compromise. But what do you do when the will of one spouse trumps the deepest longings of the heart of the other?

If my wife and one of my sons wants KFC tonight, and my other son and I want Chinese, there are various solutions. Have one tonight, and the other tomorrow night. Go to a food court. Declare a draw and go out for burgers.

But what was I to do with the woman who suddenly blurted out after a dozen or more years of marriage, “He will not give me children.” She didn’t say, “I can’t get pregnant;” or “He can’t father a child;” she said “will not,” in a way that almost intoned, “Help me! Do something.”

Or the woman who came in my store and complained about her husband’s lack of sexual response — albeit caused by a major illness — and said, “A woman’s got needs, you know.” Or the woman who told me, “We haven’t taken a vacation in ten years.” Or the man who wishes his wife would spice things up a little in the bedroom. Or cook something other than Kraft Dinner. Or the woman who is stuck at home all day because he won’t buy an inexpensive second car. Or the man who has a chance at a job on the other side of the country, but she wants to be close to family.

There are times when one person’s desires and goals totally and completely triumphs over the other’s for an entire lifetime. It could come under the heading of compromise, yes; but with a clear winner and a clear loser. “Losing the battle, but winning the war;” doesn’t really describe the situation properly. If an individual desire of the one person is so central — such as the desire to have children — it’s more like a hurt that never goes away. You don’t get Chinese food or KFC the next day.

The question I want to ask the “HWNGMC” woman, but have always been afraid to is, “Did you know this before you got married?” Sigh.

This section was added today, October 10, 2010

Sometimes it seems areas of life end in a draw.

Around the same time as I wrote this, a local church was going through the issue of whether or not to have women as church elders.   The pastor was wise, and brought in two guest speakers for Sunday night workshops to discuss their side of the issue.

I sat there uncomfortably and finally decided to ask the second one what he felt the scriptural precedent was for resolving this kind of issue when both sides were presenting strong arguments.   He nicely dodged the question by saying it went outside his mandate, and that this was the whole purpose of our discussions.

It’s the same question in theology and doctrine in local churches as it is in marriage:  What do you do when you don’t know what to do?  When the debate seems to end in a draw?

Life does involve compromise and as it turned out today, in a similar food debate to the one that introduced part one of this post two years ago, we ended up going out for burgers.   (Actually it turned out they also had fish and chips and Greek gyros, but that’s another story…)

How do you resolve “draws” in your marriage, or your church?

 

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