Saturday, September 25, 2010

Does talking about calvinism and arminianism divide the body?

In a short answer to the title of this post, one word is sufficient. Yes. This topic divides, even more than any other Christian doctrine it seems. Tempers can flare and world-views are challenged whenever this doctrine comes up. For some, the word predestination is a high and lofty theological word. Tradition gets in the way of interpreting the scriptures, so much so that even devoted Christians don't even know that the word predestine (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:5, Acts 4:28) is even in the bible. This is because people fail to identify their presuppositions when reading the Bible; so, when words like election and predestination come up, the tradition broom comes and sweeps them away. Yes, this subject divides, but does that mean that conversation stops?

Whenever this issue comes up, someone is bound to say "hey what you are doing is divisive and Jesus doesn't like it!" Notice that this is essentially a conversation stopper. No arguments are actually addressed. Discussion stops because what the synergist does is more or less throw out a red herring. When the synergist's arguments fail, they reach into their back pocket next to Servetus and pull out the ole "dividing the body" card. It should be obvious that whenever two parties disagree, there is division, one on one side and the other on the other side. That is the nature of disagreements. Division. So when that card is pulled, its like saying "stop disagreement", "move along and stop talking about this."

Now don't get me wrong, I want to be united with my brothers and sisters in Christ, but that unity is to be in TRUTH. There is a tendency in modern evangelicalism, which has been brought in by secularism, to promote love over truth. Why? Because love is easier and it's a nice, warm and fuzzy concept that everyone can agree on. I often hear "I guess in the end it doesn't really matter." This is another tactic for avoiding conversation. What it does is protect the person from being wrong, and it just puts the subject in the back of the mind. This one is especially mind boggling to me because on any other doctrine, whether it be the trinity or the deity of Christ, Christians seek to be correct. What you believe about God will change your life. Would any true Christian say "well I guess the doctrine of hell doesn't matter" simply in virtue of its divisive nature?

One other conversation stopper I frequently hear is "they are both wrong". You certainly won't hear a Calvinist making that argument. I really think this one is simply disingenuous or just mistaken, because asking about what this person believes will most of the time unveil some type of synergistic system. It also fails to take into account that Calvinism and Arminianism, monergism and synergism, are two completely different systems of thought, and that there simply is not a middle ground. Four point Calvinists are not Calvinists. You cannot hold to unconditional election and then turn around and deny limited atonement--well I guess you could if consistency isn't a matter you hold in high regard. As if the atonement could be for the elect and non-elect, in which case the words atonement, and elect would lose all meaning. This is why historically the doctrine of substitutionary atonement has been a reformed doctrine. You can't be crucified with Christ and at some point not be crucified with Him, and not gain the benefits of the atonement(Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:29-34). If someone has their sins atoned for then that means they will be justified. Early Arminians recognized this and by doing so they adopted what is called the governmental theory of the atonement, which says that Christ suffered because of sin and didn't die for it.

"You worship Calvin and not Jesus."
Absurd as this comment is, amazingly it still gets an enormous amount of use. Allow me to interpret this, " I can't answer your arguments about: John 6, Romans 9, Ephesians 1, Hebrews 7:23-25, Acts 2:32, Acts 4:28, Genesis 50, Isaiah 10, and Isaiah 46:8-11. So I will accuse you of idol worship." Calvinists don't believe that Calvin saved them. I don't quote from Calvin's institutes as inerrant scripture. I do believe some of the same things that Calvin taught especially about soteriology, and so did Luther, Augustine, Spurgeon, Edwards, and others throughout church history. Along with them I also don't agree with everything that Calvin taught. The title Calvinist carries a lot of baggage. Largely this is due to misinformation and misrepresentation. Calvinism means you believe a certain set of propositions concerning Christianity, and none of those propositions entail Calvin worship.

Another one is "hey, you're into theology and I'm not". Everyone believes something about God, especially Christians. Christians read and study their Bibles; they listen to their pastors. All of these are ways of studying God. All Christians are theologians, the only question is: are you a good one? A huge problem in the western church is, as Dr. Greg Bahnsen puts it, "anti-intellectual pietism." There is this idea about studying theology--that it is this dry, non-spiritual act. What most Christians today are really seeking after is an emotional experience, if something doesn't feel good or fair then it must be wrong, and if you think too much you are going to miss the point. Does this mean that we should think less? Is this really the message of the Bible? Or is the message of the Bible to have Christ as Lord over everything, even in our realm of thought; to have Christ as Master, as He has revealed Himself--not how we want Him to be. That is why this issue deserves so much attention; because fundamentally what we are talking about is, who is Christ? how has He revealed Himself? It totally distorts who Christ is if we sacrifice truth for some kind of illusion of unity, which is exactly what unity is if there is no foundation of truth.

The ultimate reason why debating Calvinism and Arminianism, monergism and synergism, is divisive, is because one side strips man of his so-called "autonomy", and emphasizes man's fallen nature. One side has God on His throne doing what He wishes with His creation (Isaiah 46:8-11), the other has God waiting desperately for man to turn His key because God has already turned His. One side has God saving perfectly (John 6:37-44), the other has God trying but failing to save. If you believe that salvation depends ultimately on your "free will" decision for God, then that will affect your life. What you believe about God has a huge impact on the way you: worship, tithe, pray, eat, breathe, live, you name it. Believing that God saves sinners by Himself, and not after you allow Him, will change you. Theology matters.

17 comments:

Atlantians said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Atlantians said...

Great Article my friend.

-Arlin

ADEWALE said...

My brother, I definitely admire your passion and I love you deeply. However, I still disagree with the idea that one must choose side argue that one side is wrong while the other is right. I'm a firm believer that Calvinist nor Arminian will be commended by Christ like you mentioned in the blog above. The most important is the Christ that died for our sins and raised on the third day, meaning that we worship a resurrection God. I am glad that you're agree that the debate of Arminianism and Calvinism divides the body - that is definitely not of Christ. One more thing, I've been seeing a lot of attitude of pride with this notion of Calvinism and Arminianism. Why can't we all recognize our theological differences (not relativism) and seek the Holy Spirit for guidance like the Lord promised and fulfilled And grow in our knowledge of Christ Himself to reach the world around us.

ADEWALE said...

I agree the Bible supports sovereignty, check out these verses:

Romans 3:21 - 26
Romans 1:18 - 23

ADEWALE said...

1 Timothy 2:3 - 6; 4:10
1st John 2:2; 2nd John 1:9
John 3:16 - 17
Isaiah 53:6

All glory to God in the highest - the Bible said Jesus died for all

ivanovich831 said...

Wale thanks for reading my post! I would really like it if you responded to some of my arguments, especially about romans 8:29-34. Also I would like you to explain a specific text you brought up, then we can talk about it. Lets get together soon before you leave!

ivanovich831 said...

You also forgot 2 peter 3:9 ,titus 2:11, and matt 23:37

Justin said...

Ivan, very cool article. I'm sure you knew sending this to me that I wouldn't agree with it all as I am one of those who claims to be neither calvinist or arminian. However, with that, I want to point out a lot of the things I really agree with you about. First, I love your argument about the need to really think about this theological issue. You argue that we wouldn't not talk about hell because it is a divisive issue, so we should talk about this one. We should be working out in our mind as we study the Scriptures and seek the Lord, what our conviction is about this doctrine. Second, I love your point that what we think about God affects our life and being in every way. A.W. Tozer argues this in the opening of his classic book "The Knowledge of the Holy". He says what we know about God affects the way that we worship, and that we can't worship a God that we know nothing about. A Christian who understands the doctrine of common grace enjoys the world in a profoundly different way than one who does not. Third, I can't express how much I agree with you on the great confusion that tends to be in the capital "c" Church concerning the study of theology. Everybody who can fog a mirror has some sort of a theology even if it is "There is no God, I just do what I want." Any Christian who reads 2 Timothy should understand that it is of upmost importance to God that we have a good theology and that we pay attention to our doctrine. I especially love some of Paul's closing words as we read 2 Timothy 4:1-5. Paul charges Timothy that he must preach the word and the reason he gives for this is that people tend to not want to pay attention to theology and doctrine.

Justin said...

Now, to the defense of those who don't want to worry about theology, I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and perhaps point out an undergirding motivation for what they say of which all could benefit from. I think most Christians who says they are not into theology don't exactly mean that. I think they have a narrow definition of theology. I think they are imagining some guy with a long beard who simply reads and writes books all day about the Bible, but doesn't ever obey it and doesn't ever let it hit his heart. I also think about the Pharisee's. These dudes were total theologians. If there was an olympics for theologians, they would win. Many of them had entire books of the Bible memorized and their lives were literally devoted to studying Scripture and forming theological views which they held to be absolutely biblical. You know as I, that these were the people that Jesus has the biggest problems with, even over the lady who slept with all of her neighbors, or the man who stole extra taxes from poor families with starving children. Paul points out this fact in Romans 2:17-24 as he speaks about the overzealous religious Jews. He says that their sin is that they have a lot of information in their brains, but it hasn't quite made it to their hearts yet. When they study the Bible and see that it says not to commit adultery, they say not, "Search my heart oh God" but instead they assume it is not them. The Scriptures for them are only information and not transformation. This, I believe, must be a working theology of theology if you would. I quote Henry Thiessen, "Merely intellectual acceptance of a set of doctrines is insufficient to produce spiritual results, and unfortunately, many people have nothing but an intellectual loyalty to the truth. But true belief, involving the intellect (emphasis added), the sensibilities, and the will, does have an effect on character and conduct" (p.5 Lectures in Systematic Theology - Ch 1. The Nature and Necessity of Theology). Or as you said, what we believe about God will change us. I love that. I think there is a big difference between the person who considers God's sovereignty and worships, and the person who considers it, and formulates an argument to prove someone wrong. Theology should put us in awe of God. It should, like you said, change us. All of that is to say, that I firmly believe that these people who say they don't like theology should not "throw the baby out with the bath water". Just because some people are hypocrites and worship intellect instead of Jesus, doesn't mean that we can't study theology in a biblical and Spirit filled way.

Justin said...

Concerning Calvinism, I would like to express a few of my views. Before I do so, I would like to also respond a little bit to your point about theology becoming divisive. First, I want to say that such conversations should be had with humility. Augustine said that Pride is the mother of all sins. I sometimes wonder if Satan can't get a man to commit adultery, if he would make him a proud theologian instead. So with that I hope to express some of my thoughts in a humble, God glorifying manner. Second, I firmly believe that although all of theology is important, that there are certain aspects which should be in the closed hand (not up for debate) and others in the open hand (up for debate). I borrow this concept from Mark Driscoll. In other words, if a Christian wants to argue about the Doctrine of the Trinity or the Divinity of Christ, I will fight to the death. If they want to argue about the GAP theory or the timing of the rapture, I will have a discussion with them, but I won't consider them less of a Christian than me because of their views. I do believe that this topic, generally speaking, belongs in the open hand. However, I do not believe the doctrine of God's Sovereignty belongs in the open hand. I think it is a very dangerous idea to start questioning whether God has the power to do whatever He wants, for when you do so, you may end up as an Open Theist, who I generally would put on the same shelf as Oprah and Joseph Smith - that is the "heretic" shelf. Ok, now down to business. It is a basic hermeneutical principle that one must interpret scripture with scripture. When one reads Luke 14:26 is bound to enter a great state of confusion as Jesus proclaims that we cannot be Jesus' disciple if we don't hate our mom, dad, wife and kids. However, if you apply this hermeneutical principle, you begin to find that Jesus has much good to say about marriage and family. He says that the marriage covenant is to be highly respected and is not to be broken except in certain circumstances (Matthew 5:31-32). Jesus also loved little children and saw them as an example to us as Christians (Luke 18:15-17). With this, we come to the understanding that Jesus does not mean that we should abandon our responsibilities as children, husbands, or parents. Husbands are also given Jesus as an example of how they ought to love their wives. So then what does it mean? Many argue it means that Jesus is saying He needs to be our most important relationship and although we may love family members, when we compare them to Jesus the difference should be as wide as love and hate. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that Jesus doesn't want us to hate our wives and children.

Justin said...

Applying this hermeneutic to calvinism, one cannot deny that words such as predestination and election are in the Bible. I would even argue, that one cannot deny that these are biblical and essential doctrines. Where we divide though, my friend, is the interpretation of these words and the definition of them doctrinally. I believe as you do, that God is sovereign, God elects people to become Christians, that one cannot come to know Christ UNLESS God initiates, God knows the future, God determines the future, and that I am utterly lost in my sins without Him. Because the phrase "free will" is associated with Arminianism, I choose to use the phrase "human responsibility." No man can have complete free will anyway, for there are countless forces, push factors, pull factors, law enforcement, laws of nature and science, so that we cannot do whatever we would like. We live with a limited amount of choice (and I know that you have cringed that I have spoke this word) which we can practice. I cannot, in a true conviction and good conscience, read through the Scriptures and not see a God who begs people to make decisions, obey laws, treat others with respect, preach the Gospel, etc. Peter 2:22 quotes Isaiah 53:9 that there is no deceit in Jesus' mouth. When Jesus says something, He means it. I have a hard time believing that God would encourage so many actions if we did not have a choice. Would he not be in a sense lying to us? Is not even Genesis 3 about when the first man and women choose not to obey God?

Justin said...

I believe one of the key verses to understanding the doctrine of soteriology is Matthew 12:31 in which Jesus tells us the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Spirit. Contextually, Jesus is rebuking Pharisee's who contributing His casting out of demons to power from Satan instead of the Holy Spirit. He is rebuking them for blaspheming the Spirit who anointed Jesus. He is rebuking them for blaspheming the Spirit who was seeking to convict these Pharisees of their sin and show them who Jesus really was (John 16:8, 13). The sin that Jesus spoke about and that which the Pharisees committed was the resisting of that pursuing of the Spirit in their hearts. Or, as Jesus put it, "How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but YOU WERE NOT WILLING!" (Matthew 23:37). It is my conviction that the Bible clearly teaches human choice and responsibility, and that grace is resistible. Jesus in these verses clearly speaks of His will (to gather the children of Israel to Himself) and then identifies the obstacle to this (their stubborn wills rejecting his pursuing of them). Although, we do read much about God's sovereignty in the Bible, we must not also ignore that God asks us to make choices throughout all of Scripture. Why would He ask us to make choices if we could not? Although I highly respect John Calvin and his legacy, I would disagree with him on these points. I think Calvin was an excellent Bible teacher who did much for the Kingdom of God. I do think however, he does make the mistake of trying to explain the Unexplainable with a human mind. He tries to describe the Infinite with a finite mind. This is why I personally come to the point where I theologically accept both God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility by faith, even if there be a great tension. If God was easy to explain, He would not be God, and I know that you would agree with me on that point. Finally, the reason I am not a Calvinist or an Arminian is because as Moses says, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law" (Deuteronomy 29:29). I really do believe that a lot of this stuff is still God's secrets. We will never know everything about God until we see Him one day. We know now only in part, as Paul would say. God has also revealed much to us which we can know about this subject as discussed.

Justin said...

I hope all of that is not something that comes off in pride or in a tearing down fashion. I hope this also helps you to understand my position a little bit better. I know we will disagree on some things, but we are still brothers in Christ, as I believe the aspects we disagree on are generally open handed issues. As far as the practical implications, work like an Arminian and trust like a Calvinist. Blessings to you bro.

ivanovich831 said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response. This is the type of discussion that I think is needed. I don't think you are being prideful. People tend to think someone is prideful just because they think they are right and others are wrong. I don't take that route. I think that your objections are genuine. I think their also might be a little confusion as to what the reformed position is as it pertains to mans choice. The reformed stance is that men make choices, but that they only make choices according to their nature. It is objected that God would not command us to do what we cannot, because that would make God unfair. To which the reformed respond by saying that if God gave humanity what was fair then He would give them Justice. You do not want fairness, you want free mercy and grace. I hope you continue to follow my blog JB you have demonstrated what this discussion should look like. I will post a longer post on the issue of fairness and Gods commands. As well as an exegesis of matt 23:37, since that passage I think has been misunderstood by many.

Justin said...

Ivan, absolutely. I had fun thinking about all of this stuff. It is really cool to see how beautiful God is. I think you and I would stand united in that God is the one who pursues, and not us. However, where we divide is that I think when the Spirit is bringing God's grace to us, that it is indeed resistible, unlike the Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace. Unlike limited atonement, I would argue that God pursues all men, but some reject Him in their free choice, making my position a sort of limited/unlimited atonement. Lastly, concerning fairness, I do not hold God to have to be fair, as that would be justice. However, I do hold God to be honest as there is no deceit in Him as I mentioned.

justjo said...

Hey Ivan!
Super good post! I especially liked what you said in the second to last and last paragraph about the importance of theology. I see people turning away from it a lot because they think it's "beyond them", but if they're a Christian it's actually the closest thing to them. Which means they better start paying attention. Also your last few sentences really hit me. The way we think about these things, theology and even philosophy, definitely affect the way we live. It might not make the world of a difference, and it may just be a nuance, but it still matters. I would say that bad theology can be disastrous if bad enough. This does concern me though because if it affects aspects of our spiritual life what does that mean for someone who doesn't know yet. It's probably just all of the Lewis I've been reading, but I am starting to see the real value that is free will. I do understand the compatibility view (I don't know if it really has a name) that reckons free will and divine determinism as long as you redefine what you mean by "free will". But I'm not so sure about that. What about honest to goodness free, free will? Does it really just not exist?

-Jo

P.S. My metaphysics teacher looks ridiculously similar to you, it makes me chuckle every once and a while.

ivanovich831 said...

Jo, so good to hear from you. Thanks for reading, I hope you are edified. I am working on a post about freedom and responsibility. I will send it to you when i am done. And yes the compatibility view is called compatibilism.