Friday, November 21, 2008

Why Are Calvinists So Negative?

Ted clued me in to a brief commentary by John Piper titled "Why Are Calvinists So Negative?" Piper, a pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, is a self-declared "seven-point Calvinist" (!).

Read it here.

Although I think a better title would be, "Why are Calvinists Often Perceived as Negative?," I think that there's a lot of value in what he says. I think Piper's comments are apropos (yes, Olivia, there's that word again) and frank, given his own stance on soteriology. His three main reasons why Calvinists can be perceived as negative are:

1) The doctrines of grace have an intellectual coherence that attracts logic-oriented people, who tend to operater more in the realm of the mind than of the heart. Therefore they (we) can often be less people-sensitive and, consequently, argumentative.

2) Upon seeing the "doctrines of grace" in the Bible--which really are there, I believe--Calvinists can become upset that they were never taught this stuff their whole lives in the church. They're upset they missed out, and they can be angry that other pastors and churches failed to clearly set forth the wonders of dead people made alive.

3) They try to convince others of the truths they so cherish. The problem is, they're not always tactful and gentle about it, thinking that "converts" can be made by argumentation rather than by the Holy Spirit. (Piper does add, though, that others are just as sinful, that is, sinfully reluctant to acknowledge the teachings of Scripture.)

I that any way we cut it, anyone who takes a stand for his convictions--theological, political, economic, or whatever--will be unpopular. No one likes to be challenged, and ideas are easy to avoid if they're mere transient, flimsy opinions. But inasmuch as we are in fact able to know the Scriptures through the gracious breath of God's Holy Spirit interpreting his Word to us, the fact is--and it's difficult for me to admit this--we now see only "in a mirror dimly." We know the God of grace and the unveiling of his mystery only by incomplete, imperfect prophecies. Only when we are taken home to glory shall we know face to face. (See 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.) Until then, let us rest content with the tensions of Scripture--in hope!


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Humm - I really like point 3 - wonder why?

See later - and I'll feed you if you promise NOT to be argumentative.

Litl-Luther said...

Andrew wrote:
> The doctrines of grace have an intellectual coherence that attracts logic-oriented people, who tend to operator more in the realm of the mind than of the heart. They can often be less people-sensitive and, consequently, argumentative….They try to convince others of the truths they so cherish. The problem is, they're not always tactful and gentle about it…

Hey I resemble that comment! (A Freudian slip made me say resemble rather than resent.)

…I would add though, regarding Calvinist’ arrogance, that “knowledge puffs up” (1Cor. 8:1). The fact is Calvinists have gained considerable knowledge from God’s Word that others have not, and the natural result when a fallen person knows he is right is to become arrogant.

Calvinists are right; we know we are right, and that knowledge puffs up. You might think I’m joking but I honestly think this is the root cause of our problem. We have knowledge many other Christians do not have; we know we’re right, and our flesh exploits it.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good post, Andrew. I like Ben Witherington's thoughts and critique on it, here.

In early blogging I was turned off by the snipes of mostly Calvinist bloggers. As far as #3 goes, neither you nor John Piper are negative in the way you come across, as far as I'm concerned. I have seen it bad early on in blogging, and if that's all I would have found I probably would have quit.

I would challenge the assumption that Calvinists are the more intellectual and logical. Simply not true, and the TULIP defense is hardly any great intellectual feat in my opinion, I mean when people defend that. In fact I tend to look at that the opposite way. It's partly a failure to read the Bible well. But we would only go round and round here, because good people like you would say that Witherington and others are just trying to explain away what is there. Reading the Bible as story is key for me here. Of course we have to exegete passages as well, and alot of sytematic theology does not stand up well under that scrutiny. I like Witherington's point about how theology such as Calvinism can stand on a pillar which when looked at closely renders it weak.

I just wish Scripture was so clear that we could pull a fool proof systematic theology out of it, but such is not the case. Of course we need to keep working on that. (I used to be a moderate Calvinist, probably always rejecting the teaching that Christ did not die for all, but only for some of the individuals of the human race.)

In the meantime, if someone wants to debate the five points of Calvinism, they can go for it. It might be partly my age, and it might be just wanting to concentrate on what I think is important (and Calvin College here as well as the Reformed tradition in GR, certainly provides plenty of great intellectual stuff to work on, in the great Calvinist tradition of loving God with all one's mind), but I have little heart and therefore mind for such debate. -kind of like politics for me; one isn't going to get into anything more than a debate in a win-loss game, so why try? unless indeed there really is an open discussion. Though with you there is discussion which I appreciate.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I had second thoughts about having used the word, "snipes" as it's a quite nasty word, but metaphorically I'm afraid it was true- probably a more accurate way of putting it: contempt and dismissal, though even then I wonder if I'm being too hard. Probably not as this was not done directly in my exchanges, but more indirectly against the straw people out there who hold to my theological views. Not in my own recent blogging however, as I've just tried to avoid that scene altogether. I can certainly come across as rather negative myself not always in a helpful way, or one who knows more than they really do. :)

And I know there are aspects in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism that do require some intellectual rigor, such as the matter of the will, etc. In any place you find gifted people on both ends of debates. Would like to see a fellowship or community in which such could be done in grace with a time limit, and we'd be united in what really matters. Problem is we draw different lines at different places, which is why I like this
about the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we're a part.

By the way, this is Michigan week for Buckeye fans. Go Bucks! (and go State- your team, Andrew, versus Penn State later on)

Litl-Luther said...

Hey Ted,

You wrote: “I used to be a moderate Calvinist, probably always rejecting the teaching that Christ did not die for all, but only for some of the individuals of the human race.”

This was my stumbling block too for about a decade as it is most people who’ve looked into it. But now that I have accepted limited atonement, I’m curious (without trying to get you to debate this issue) how you understand universal atonement. I’m thinking specifically about all the people, before the cross, who died as enemies of God.

Perhaps Pharaoh, Esau….really without putting names to it, you know what I mean: I’m speaking of all the people who died in the thousands of years of human history before Christ came to this earth, all those, before the cross, who are in Hell. Did Christ die for them? And if so “Why?” They were assured of damnation whether Christ died for them or not. If He didn’t die for them, then the atonement is limited, even in your view. If He did die for them, for what purpose? I think this is a legitimate question to ask of those who, like yourself, espouse a universal atonement.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I take the statements of Scripture on their own weight. Like "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Or, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting people's trespasses against them."

I'm open to Susan's idea (and other's) that God may have saved those who respond by grace to the light God gives them, even though they may have never heard the gospel themselves in this life. The only problem with that is that Scripture doesn't say. So we can't hang our hats on it. Just conjecture as a possibility. Though the normal pattern is faith coming from hearing the gospel. One passage in Romans might suggest that thought, the one that says when Gentiles follow the law they end up being a law to themselves having the law written in their hearts/consciences, and can condemn those who though having the written law, fail to keep it. That might suggest a work of grace going on in those who haven't heard. I go by memory here, and I'm sure that thought would not hold water with alot of exegetes.

There's no way the Calvinist position can get away from the false teaching that God created probably (in their scheme) the majority of humans to be damned forever. That's what TULIP does. By the way, I love the tulip festival in Holland, Michigan. It's wonderful. (never have tried the tulip beer yet, but would like to- they perhaps make it for the festival). Never once does TULIP or Calvinism come to my mind when I've been there enjoying all the tulips!

Litl-Luther said...

Ted: So are you saying Jesus died for every soul in hell who were around before Christ came or not? I'm confused by your answer.

Andrew said...

For what it's worth, I really have a hard time reconciling the fact that our Lord was named Jesus (Y'shua, "the LORD saves"), "because he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21), and the fact that people go to hell and are NOT saved. The real question is: Does Jesus actually save people, or does he merely make salvation a possibility? Matthew 1 and elsewhere lead me to believe that he actually does accomplish salvation: "It is finished" (John 19). As J. I. Packer says, the cross reveals God's power to save, not his weakness. And because Jesus actually does save people by virtue of his death, his death cannot be for everyone.

The tricky part is that I believe Scripture also teaches that the gospel is truly offered to all persons everywhere and really demands the belief of the same persons. The ability to believe is a gift from God, but rejection and unbelief is from man's own sinful nature. "Salvation belongs to the Lord" (Jonah 2:9), but damnation is from man. I think that this keeps a law-gospel distinction and prevents us from screwing this up.

Litl-Luther said...

Good thoughts Andrew. I think I agree with everything you say. The only question I have is why you would find it difficult to reconcile "he will save HIS PEOPLE from their sins" with the fact that not all will be saved. His name should have been "he will save every human being" rather than "he will save his people" for that text or his name to be troublesome.

Great thoughts after that. The emphasis on “definite redemption”, rather than on limited atonement is what is needed. The L of the Tulip offends people, but just saying "Jesus made salvation possible rather than secured it through the cross" is really what should be offensive. It weakens the value of His cross work.

You are also right that if anyone makes it to Heaven, Jesus deserves the credit, but everyone who goes to Hell have only their selves to blame. Amen.

Andrew said...

Well, Triston (and others), I actually do think that Jesus saving "his people" hinges upon the question, Who are his people? Is everyone? I don't think so. Jesus said that some people are given to him by the Father, whom he will in fact raise up on the last day (John 6:37 ff.). Other NT writers speak of people "belonging to Christ" (e.g., Mk. 9:41; Rom. 7:4; 8:9; 1 Cor. 15;23; Gal. 3:29; etc.). Many people do not belong to Christ or, rather, are not given to him by his Father. It is those whom the Father "gives" to the Son who will "come to him" and believe in him (John 6:37 ff.), actually to be saved and raised up at the last day. I think this is the hinge upon which it all turns--but it's a hidden hinge which we as humans cannot discern. As far as we know, God calls everyone to whom the gospel is preached and holds them accountable for their response.

Litl-Luther said...

I agree with you Andrew, but again with a qualification: I believe we need to make a distinction between "the gospel call", which is an invitation to all, which is often rejected and God holds people accountable for their rejection of it, and the "effective call" which is really a summons from the King of kings to His people which is not rejected.

From Romans 8:30 (“Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified...) it is clear that there is a special call that cannot possibly go out to all people. Moreover, those who do receive this summons, it guarantees their positive response. Based on the above text (though there are other indicators: 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Cor. 1:2, 9; 1 Thes. 2:12; 2 Thes 2:14; 2 Peter 1:3; Rom. 1:6-7) we must distinguish between a general call to all and a special call to the elect.

Ted M. Gossard said...

These kind of questions for me (like who are Jesus' people?) don't break down into the "pure" logic we would like.

I have yet to sufficiently hear (for my ears anyhow) just how Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I don't really think that's a hard one to handle in giving a sufficient enough answer, but I'm not insistent that every line of our human logic must be satisfied, or maybe better put, every bit of our understanding has to be satisfied. This is an inherent weakness for me in any system, if the system itself and its adherents thinks it explains everything. Of course some of it is to fall back on the inscrutability of God. But Calvinism along with some other theologies are just too confident that they have airtight answers. Whereas I'm rather sure Scripture gives us less certainty or says less than some think in some of those areas. But Scripture says enough to have all we need and a basic handle on things.

Just my thoughts for the moment.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I do commend you though, Andrew (and Triston) for taking theology so seriously. And it's an ongoing work, to be sure. And more than anything, in seeking to live it out.