October 19, 2006
Essay: Calvinian Contestations – 10 theses/responses to “Redefining Arminianism”
The following essay is a response to an article entitled “Redefining Arminianism” and the corresponding discussion that ensued. The essay/discussion can be found at http://www.challies.com/archives/002139.php
Picture a Calvinist with his “Tulip,” pulling the petals off of it – “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not….”
Well, seriously and respectfully – what a great discussion! I think that these things should be talked about much more then they are at present in the body of Christ. While I celebrate the so called “Emergent” emphasis on culture and relativity – I greatly mourn it’s ongoing disregard for having any sense of a Systematic Theology. I appreciate the general attitude of civility that seems to be throughout the before mentioned article; as it seems that some of these discussions degrade to the Calvinists throwing their nose up and crying “heretics!” and stomping off; the only resultant effects being that people involved are wounded and lose hope in the greater glory of the Kingdom – which they should rightfully share with all brothers who affirm Christ and other non-negotiables but should be able to talk with responsibility when regarding ultimately adiaphorous issues. It is my contention that if there was more discussion regarding Systematic Theology in it’s nuances – there would be less disorder in the church in it’s larger proposed constructs; however – because we have ignored fundamentals; we have built systems that are fundamentally broken. There is a lot of brokenness in the church today – and turning a blind eye to it is not the solution; neither is the solution that we are indivisibly perfect in all our preconceptions either. Before we can judge other systems; we have to turn that same eye unto ourselves. But unfortunately – because we lack a systematic concern in our own theologies; there is a consequential brokenness in regards to certain doctrines and they no longer become “middle things” neither good nor bad – but rather detrimental to the whole health of the body. There are tons of heretics out in the theological world, but I think that it is a term that should be used very carefully and wisely. Mainly because a concern for Orthodoxy/Orthopraxy should inhere within our own selves. We should not be concerned about the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall down the road until we have made it a practice to ever be tearfully on our knees confessing our own brokenness and need for an ongoing reformation in our own church; ever attended to by a desire to be firm and not blown every which way by every whim of Doctrine – but to also live in the dual reality that we ourselves may be living in a time such as Luther; that because of Pride we have established ourselves in mindsets that resist corrections in things done with good intentions but with bad theological results; ones that may be as heretical as anything else perverted elsewhere. It does seem to me that Calvinists seem eager to throw the “Heresy Moniker” at Arminians rather quickly, and you don’t hear Arminians using that word as much to describe their fellow brothers in Christ. I affirm the ultimate sovereignty of God in His nature, His dynamics, and His interactions with the created – as I hope this response illustrates and will, hopefully, demonstrate that Calvinism demonizes what are in fact weaknesses within it’s own fabric of thought. I hope that I have done this respectfully and with some measure of integrity in regards to an underlying Systematic Theology that is both biblical in nature and not complete alienated from a responsible, biblically-aligned and informed philosophy of thought. I fear a theology based wholly on philosophy (liberalism) – I also fear a theology completely divorced from it (Arch-fundamentalism).
I wanted to throw some things out here, since there are a lot of very astute theological minds in the present mix no doubt more learned then my own; I would greatly enjoy reading the responses/contestations that they generate:
1) There is a danger in perpetually ‘thinking in mono’; there are theological realities that are best described as “tensively dialectic;” opposites that are only true together – throughout the world of theology. The idea that grace is both free and given without any deserving of it (re:Tillich; The Shaking of the Foundations) but not cheap and comes at the cost of repentance/change (re:bonhofferian ‘cheap grace’ notion) and that there is both Justice and Grace manifest in God at the same time are just two of these. I see the whole present discussion of this as involving this truth in many ways. If you isolate a truth from it’s tensively dialectic opposite then you put yourself into error. So called “name it and claim it” prosperity teachers do this as well, and take the truth of “by His stripes we are healed” and separate it from the sovereignty of God. Both are true – God both heals today and is resolutely and unassailably sovereign in the act.
2) The danger of ‘an idolatry of frameworks;’ Calvinists are very quick to retort that their system is all about the sovereignty of God: and this I agree with – it is paramount truth. The problem arises that we create a framework by which we can teach/relate/understand a given truth by creating ‘other truths’ which then positionally subvert the very truths that they propose to elevate. An example of this is Dispensationalism which was created by Scofield as a way of teaching scriptural history and then it was adopted by Darby as a way of teaching truth – and then Warfield took it a step farther with Cessationism. The framework that we create to understand truth can potentially “create truth” itself; and this is functional idolatry. My Aunt – who only had a 6th grade education – once sang Amazing Grace in flawless Korean, as was testified by a Korean lady in the church that day. Did Lucifer himself give my aunt utterance? My mom once attended an AG women’s conference where a blind woman received her sight – did the devil heal her? I don’t think so. Piper would agree with a non-cessationist position; though perhaps not the logic I have outlined here. (listen to his Lloyd Jones lecture in Men of Whom The World Was not Worthy series) (for the record I am an eschatological dispensationalist, not a pheumatologic one)
3) It is a hasty generalization/fallacy to say that God giving free will to the creature diminishes/inherently precludes His own glory/sovereignty; In the closing chapters of his book Knowledge of the Holy Tozer tries to mediate between the two camps of thought in what I find to be a greatly overlooked statement that sums up the way that I feel about the issue; that the sovereignty of God is not diminished in the granting of choice, but rather the absolute transcendence of it is affirmed in God giving the creature choice. A Calvinist will regard the notion of God giving choice as diminishing sovereignty. The sovereignty espoused by Tozer sets itself higher then that of the standard of the calvinist which could be tarnished by choice. Tozer proposes a transcendent sovereignty that transcends everything and is not afraid nor diminished by choice, rather it is affirmed by the risk that it involves. “A God less sovereign could not afford to give His creature choice.” (paraphrased, I do not have my copy in front of me at the moment) I personally believe that the Calvinian notion of sovereignty-diminished-by-choice has it’s roots in an Anthromorphological Molestation of the Divine: your sovereignty might be diminished but it’s not your sovereignty that we are talking about – it’s God’s and you cannot justifiably quantify/qualify that within the same frame of reference as you can your own; to do this offends the sovereignty of God epistemologically and ontologically. This – to me – is the biggest straw man accusation that is thrown against the Arminian position. Theologically speaking – the sovereignty of the God of Arminianism is untouched by anything. A calvinist qualifies the transcendence of the sovereignty by setting up a situation where it could be compromised. This is itself both an unscriptural and an impossible notion; God is supreme in the universe and cannot be compromised or diminished in any way in any situation. Period. If you create a situation where it is – then that situation exists only in your imagination. The sovereignty of the God of Calvinism is vulnerable to choice; that of the Arminian, impervious to the danger of choice and everything else in the universe. In the classic words of J.B. Phillips – my calvinist brothers in Christ – “your God is too small”.
4) Our ultimate created purpose is to produce Glory/pleasure to God; This is a logical outworking of point number three – that God grants His created creatures free will; because He desires our love freely and that it is in that reciprocal choice to choose Him – out of choice and not slavery – that true honor/glory is rendered unto Him. A slave would have no choice to serve – but we serve a God who is Love out of Love and not slavery. I am told that those familiar with exorcisms and/or who have actually performed them will note that one of things that a possessed individual will often speak when under the influence of a demonic agent is that “God created us this way – because without evil there is no good” Good may be contrasted with evil relationally; but the sovereignty of God is transcendent above ethical/moral positioning (Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical) as we might understand them to be. Evil is a result of an abruption from God and it is not the cleaved, oppositional result of “good” diametrically switched – God is not “good,” He is God. Demons and Satan are evil because they rebelled through choice; they were not purposely created to make God appear to be Good. This again sets itself against the sovereignty of God, making it subject in it’s apprehended state to apprehended opposites. This may be true in our mortal apprehensions (evil so that the righteous can be seen) – but they are mortal apprehensions and we have to evoke what one might consider a Van Till presupposition to understand that regardless of anything, the nature of God defines itself outside of anything else. A demon does not exist so that an angel can be an angel. Angels had a choice to rebel and they did and there is no hope for them soteriologically. We rebelled through choice and through choice God gives us a choice to chose again. I grew up in an Assemblies of God church and never did I hear anything else then it was by the sheer grace and power of the Holy Spirit that we even knew we needed God; we are too fallen to even know we are fallen until God reveals that reality to us. That we have the ability to choose comes purely from God. Calvinists make a lot of hay that Arminians supposedly go back to choice and get stuck there; but the truth is that there is an added dimension behind the choice – and that is the Glory and Pleasure rendered unto God through a choice to render oneself to God. It is my firm belief that when every soul stands before the throne and is judged, then God in His justice will replay each and every time that He gave full knowledge of the separation between He and His own creature to the cognition of the judged and made through unwarranted, undeserved grace that same creature aware of the opportunity to reject/accept the presented choice. God will not damn you to Hell; you will have knowingly damned yourself to Hell; and if you are, when you begin to feel the flames of hell, no one in the universe will know more, in that moment, then you – all the expenses and grace of heaven that where freely dispensed and poured out upon you in an unmerited attempt to keep you from that which you are now entering – you will have been shown and made fully aware of what you had long forgotten about before the Great White Throne. An informed Arminian (at least mine, in my background) position is that when you present the Gospel, you are merely being faithful in the articulation; it is the Holy Spirit that does all the work; you do not save a single soul from Hell – God initiates the opportunity, empowers the choice, and completes the work. Unlike the angels that God created, you have captured the heart of God and He is bereaved that you are separated from Him; and just as you have somehow in the depths of the heart of God wooed Him by virtue of something that cannot be understood or explained, He is calling out to you and pursuing a relationship with you. No one who is damned to Hell will not at least at one point have felt what G.K.Chesterton called “the furious love of God.” When you respond to the Holy Spirit and choose to follow and lose yourself and your own identity in the depths of a God that loves you with a passion that you cannot fully understand or comprehend outside of the enablement of the Holy Spirit -you stoke the passions of that same God and produce Glory and Honor unto Him. The angels that stand before God and say Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, who was, and is and is to come, do so because they know that He is these things – and that outside of a relationship with Him there is no hope for any angelic nor mortal being. Satan and all is rebellion will ultimately be futile. Glory is produced when you decide.
5) Fallacy of Evil Created to Define Good (included in part 4)
6) The Barthian Soteriological Double Predestination in Christ doctrine. I only saw this briefly mentioned in the discussions – but I thought I’d bring it up as I think that it merits consideration. Barth is sometimes falsely accused of being a universalistic by way of the notion that Christ was both elected and rejected of God in our stead; and that it is for this reason that He alone is the only name under heaven by which anyone can be saved. Barth is not saying that everyone is saved by Christ – he is only laying out a soteriologic method giving substance to Christ as being more then just a substitute for man figuratively but saying that He is this also literally. That he was both elected and then rejected when He took our sin upon Him; therefore it is Christ that stands before us having accepted our rejection from God in our stead – but that we must be identified with Him in that process (a confession of faith) as to mark ourselves with His blood upon our lives.
7) Fallacy of conjoined Mortal/Divine Time In a nutshell; Einstein’s theory of relativity; a part of which is the notion that “time” is not an abstract purely mental notion, but an actual quantifiable/alterable part of the physics/(or as we would say; creation) has been proven by flying atomic clocks around the earth for hours and the theory that time would stop at the speed of light was proven as the latency between the clocks flown around at hundreds of miles an hour for days and those presychronized and left on the ground was exactly the miniscule amount proportional to the time they were flying and the closeness to the speed of light at which they were traveling. Basically – they experienced a slowdown relative to the percentage of the speed of light at which they were traveling for the duration they were moving. Though it was in nanoseconds, the reality that time could be changed; for the Christian, serves as a testament that time itself is a part of creation: that when God created you he created your time as well. Understanding that Time is a part of creation and is seen outside of Divine time perhaps might make it a bit easier to see how God can already see and foreknow what that choice that you have made might be. You can play with that all you want in your mind; but at the end of the day your time was created along with you and God sees it’s totality just like he sees you in your totality.
8) Ultimately Vain Attempts to comprehend mysteries and the “otherness” nature and dynamics of God In part 3 of this discussion I use the term a “anthromorphological molestation of the Divine” to describe the act of asserting a mortally-based framework of understanding to force the attributes of God into a mortal-based dynamic; to where God has to be like us and act like us; subordinate and vulnerable to the dynamics of our own understanding. While we all will agree this is inherently heretical; not all are willing to acknowledge that some of us gainfully employ and even indirectly assert and defend the notion in the promulgation of our doctrinal formulations. This is not some kind of a neologism that I have pulled out of my blogging hat – rather it was Kant who first made the contestation – perhaps in a larger scope but – with the same understanding, nonetheless. It was he that proposed that there are dynamics that function outside our capacity for comprehension which served as the basis for Kant’s notion of the phenomenal/noumenal states of reality. It has been said of Kant that he destroyed Knowledge to make room for faith; but today we do the opposite of that – we create knowledge with the presupposition that it will assert the validity of faith and/or our theological concepts. This subverts that barrier that Kant espoused that lies before that which we can absolutely comprehend (the phenomenal and what absolutely is, regardless of whether we can comprehend it or not (the noumenal).
Barth’s notion of the “otherness of God” echoed Otto’s assertion of the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans (the fascinating, fearful mystery of God). You may or may not like Barth in the totality of his theology; but his “Wholly Other” notion is one that must inform all of the process of our theological doctrine building. John Franke, in Barth for Armchair Theologians writes of Barth’s Otherness affirmation in eloquent and telling words.
Barth’s dialectical approach to speaking about God meant that standard assumptions concerning theology in both liberal and conservative traditions, had to be rethought and reconstructed. Hence, Barth tended to be wary of straightfoward propositional statements about God, revelation, and truth which would suggest that we as human creatures are in a position to speak knowingly about things that are of neccessity, because of the Creator-creature distinction, known only to God in spite of revelation. Propositions are too static for speech about God. Yet he also wanted to affirm, indeed felt compelled to affirm, that God had indeed been revealed and made known in Jesus Christ. Hence it was neccessary to do two things: first, to recognize and acknowledge the inadequacy of human langauge with respect to God; and second, given the necessity and responsibility of human beings to bear witness to their Creator, to rethink and redeploy patters of theological speech that were dynamic and more reflective of a God who cannot be pinned down, contained, or put in a box” (Pg. 48) Barth for Armchair Theologians. John Franke
Barth’s theology in this regards represented an ongoing struggle to reassert what he felt had been completely lost in the liberal German theological world that he was immersed in. His book Epistle to the Romans marked his break with the tradition and set him on a collision course with both liberal and conservative traditions of thought; put forthrightly – any tradition that sought to impose anthromorphologically-centric apprehensions of Divine dynamics.
9) An abuse created in reaction to an abuse is still an abuse Lest I be held as a staunch and indefatigable defender of Barthinian theology – let me assert this. I agree with Tillich that Barth’s radical otherness tended to put God into an ivory tower and impose a harsh separation of Creator and Creature. Tillich responded to his German counterpart by insisting that Culture and Faith are not mutually exclusive, placing Tillich in what is referred to as the school of “Mediating Theology.” Tillich was – however – very insistent that we could not base our understanding of ourselves upon anything inherent to our own capacity to comprehend. Tillich felt like God was balanced between the physical and natural worlds of apprehension; but it was man who was torn between the dynamics as a result of his own brokenness (though I cannot affirm nor deny that Tillich would have used the term Adamic Sin – as I would here) Tillich did side back with Barth in articulating that “the Ground of our Being” could not be based upon anything in this world – but only on a God outside of this universe. Tillich’s theology does -however – serve as a reaction against the Barthinain isolation of God – but itself, in the response, is guilty of overemphasizing the opposite. It is an theological abuse that is born out of a reaction to another, in this case oppositional abuse. Other examples of this include the reaction of feminism to abusive patriarchalism, prohibition against the alcohol abuse, and counter racism in reaction to racism. People who work in social services will testify to the pervasive reality of the abused who grow up to abuse their own family; this is a cultural reality that echoes the nature of theological formations as well. The Pelagianism that Augustine reacted against was a legitimate target; but the Calvinism of today that Asserts that Christ did not call nor present himself to the entirety of the Lost of Humanity is an abuse that grieves the heart of God just as much as what it was a reaction to.
In part 1 of this response, I outlined the conceptualization of Tensive Dialectics; ideas that have to be held in tension with one another lest we fall into error on either side; it is again – the failure to hold truths in tension – and rather think only in singularities devoid of their natural-to-our-mortal-minds polar opposites that give us doctrinal problems of false apprehensions. Sovereignty and Liberty may not be able to live within your mortal constructs but it is heretical for you to force divine dynamics to follow the same pathways of your own mind. In God, there are many polar things that operate just fine (as Tillich also pointed out) but that, in your comprehension, tear you apart. In creating a theological response to an abuse that is more often then not a result of a failure to take these realities into consideration; you may, out of you own efforts to “fix the beast” – in failing in the same manner – create a monster of even greater heretical portent.
10) The Inescapeability of God’s Purpose and Design – The Sovereignty of the Order of God. A second and just as tensively-dialectically neglectful notion (point 1) is one that also damningly involves the Anthromorphological Molestation of the Divine (point 3): the assumption that free will somehow controls and manipulates God. Again, as Tozer himself said, the God of Calvinism is a weaker less sovereign God then that of the Christian that holds to a theological view that states that God is both sovereign enough and strong enough to give His created creature free choice without his own strength, plans, and sovereignty being impinged or diminished. The idea that such that would hold true for us would also hold true for God: the subsequent understanding of God as being governed by like in kind to our own reality principles; subjecting the infinite to the limitatons finite – is spiritual insanity. If anything – the story of salvation is the story of the adoption of the finite by the infinite; the manifestation and affirmation of the ultimate transcendence of the Divine. It was God who first chose to humiliate himself that the Creature might be justified. We somehow then feel that we therefore have the right to humiliate God in our own theological undertakings and understandings. This is a gross and profound mistake. Whereas God is both our father and desires and – in the Christian’s life – enjoys the maintenance of a relationship between the one He first loved and called (us); for us to break the Soteriological (tensively dialectic) linkage between a loving father and an awesome “wholly other” God by falsely assuming that because He manifests himself as a father metaphor, we can also force the whole of the rest of His divine dynamics also into our own metaphors, risks breaking the image of God altogether that we have been given and simply creating a substitute God of our own invention in it’s stead. And this is exactly what we do when we think that our own free will decisions somehow create God’s destiny and force His hand. Whether you reject God or accept him – you are still subject to His plan and he does not abandon you to some sort of structural entropy in relation to His celestial plan. You will be used as a vessel fit for destruction or a vessel fit for celestial destiny and regardless of which – God will be Glorified either in your salvation or in your destruction. (being ADD, as I am, I’m a vessel fit for distraction) But seriously – Pharaoh chose and was used of God in that choice. God does not create evil intentions; He is merely sovereign over evil principalities and the logical outworking of that sovereignty is that – to their perpetual frustrations – they merely serve His own eventual purpose and not their own. They are free – but they are not absolute; and this is a key concept. We are free creatures- but we are not absolute creatures; we are finite. It was Barth that posited that we were never supposed to know of our finiteness. We were always supposed to be in complete communion with an infinite God and always find the whole of our identity and substance in Him. It is a result of our divorce from God that we, as revealed unto us through the Holy Spirit, come to realize the limitedness of our own created state outside of our creator.
Concluding Thoughts – Pelagianism is a heresy in it’s own right; and it is unfair to characterize all Arminians of having or possessing all the errors inherent to Pelagianism; just as it is unfair to characterize all Calvinists as being stuck up & judgmental snobs who think they are better then everybody else. I disagree with some of the “framework truths” of Calvinism, such as Limited Atonement because they are attempts to build truths to explain and defend other truths such as the foreknowledge and sovereignty of God – and they replace truths that are sometimes opposite of what we want to hear in order to make sense of the mysteries of God. This is the Theologians Conundrum: to present truth that may not always be readily understandable or explainable in such a way as to not add to the truth or molest other existing scriptural truths. A tremendous amount of doctrinal foolishness and division goes on in the Body of Christ for the express reason that this point is ignored by somebody, somewhere, somehow.
May we all be reminded of Paul’s words that “we see through a Glass darkly;” and my cessationist friends; for what it’s worth; “that which is perfect” is not The Cannon – it will be you – standing before God the Father, made blameless and fully justified through Christ in your exalted body – for all eternity. There will be no more mysteries. All will be known. All will be understood. For all eternity.
“knocking rust off swords; and off mine own as well”
Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity. Moreover, it is worthy of remark that when a poet really was morbid it was commonly because he had some weak spot of rationality on his brain. Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem. He avowedly preferred the black discs of draughts, because they were more like the mere black dots on a diagram. Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin. Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets.
– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 2, The Maniac (http://www.dur.ac.uk/martin.ward/gkc/books/orthodoxy/ch2.html)