The Polemics of Evangelical Calvinism: Redivivus

I used to use John Piper, John MacArthur, and the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary-California, The Gospel Coalition, etc. to foil Evangelical Calvinism in Matt_Chandler_Tabletalkan attempt to highlight the kind of practical and substantial differences between the former cluster with the latter reality. I haven’t done that for awhile. Probably the main reason I kind’ve quit that is because being polemical gets old after awhile, but it wasn’t just that; it is also because I perceive that folk who follow the aforementioned antagonists of EC are highly committed to these approaches already, and thus it is vain for me to try and engage with them at any kind of meaningful level here on the internet.

The above noted, I think I am going to try and get back to this a little more. I actually think it has value; primarily because, like it or not,, a lot of these groups outside of the fold of Evangelical Calvinism, continue to make massive in-road into the North American (and abroad) Evangelical world. And so I feel some burden, at least, to offer a God who can be consistently known as Love, instead of a God who is consistent more with Law (and I mean in the way he operates, in a mechanical and impersonal way).

So stay tuned.

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8 comments

  1. Well, for what it’s worth, I vote that you do not return to your polemics against these groups. I really doubt that there could possibly be anything substantial that you have not already hammered upon over and over.

    Moreover — as I’ve belabored with you in the past — the classical Reformed position is not “impersonal” or “mechanical.” That is utterly meaningless to those who are being fed by these ministries, including very close friends of mine in the PCA. Perhaps that is partly why your past polemics have had little or no real influence changing their minds — or even challenging them — because their personal and loving relationship with Christ is doing fine.

    Also, they are supposed to be our closest allies. “Evangelical Calvinism” is supposed to be a modification — relatively slight — within the Reformed system. This means that there should be a whole lot that we agree upon, and maybe we should spend more time pinpointing those areas of agreement, while guiding them to further illumination from John McLeod Campbell or Karl Barth. And speaking of Barth, he is a model for how to constructively and winsomely engage the Reformed tradition (e.g., his repeated use of Polanus in CD II.1, his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, his lectures on the Reformed confessions, his book on Calvin, and so forth).

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  2. Kevin,

    You and I have gone round and round on this. Yes, you have asserted in the past that it is not mechanical. But I disagree with you. I think having a God with two wills, having a God who relates to me by way of absolute decrees, a God who works through secondary causation etc. is a God who relates in impersonal and mechanistic ways. And I strongly disagree with you; and actually I am not intent on changing minds, but helping some who haven’t made up their minds, and others who are struggling under the weight of a theology that they have perceived as burdensome (by way of the view of God it presents). And Kevin, I have receive numerous, numerous emails over the years from people who say the exact opposite of what you are asserting about what Reformed theology (of the kind of which you speak-classical) has provided for them.

    Actually, Evangelical Calvinism as Myk and I have conceived of it, is in line with the way Torrance conceived of it vis-a-vis Federal Calvinism. It is more disjunctive, materially (and even formally-relative to its doctrine of God), than you seem to think. Yes, I have read how Barth engages with the Heidelberg Catechism (which TFT as do I appreciate) and the Reformed tradition (in his ‘spirit’ of it!). And yes, I have read him on Polanus, and even read a really good essay on his engagement with Polanus in an essay in the book Scholasticism Reformed.

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  3. And Kevin, I have receive numerous, numerous emails over the years from people who say the exact opposite of what you are asserting about what Reformed theology (of the kind of which you speak-classical) has provided for them.

    These sort of anecdotal accounts — of which I am influenced as well (hence, mentioning my PCA friends) — can be found with any church background imaginable: Roman Catholics, dispensational Baptists, Free Methodists, Assemblies, liberal Episcopalians, and, yes, calvinistic Baptists or PCA. And this is my point: any system, any tradition can become “mechanical” and “impersonal.” Yes, even “Evangelical Calvinism” can become mechanical and impersonal — oh, how the “objectivism” of Barth’s doctrine of election is impersonal and abstract! In the PCUSA, you can see this in numerous of our more conservative pastors, influenced by Barth, who couldn’t issue a call to repentance if their life depended upon it — who repose in the objective work of Christ so much that they forgot conversion is part of our task. This is not true to Barth, but it is a mechanization and depersonalization of Barth. So, yeah, I’m not impressed because you’ve found some disaffected Calvinists. At my church, we have disaffected Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Baptists…you name it.

    Having said that, if indeed you change your approach, I will welcome that. But, I would more like to see you read outside this narrow field, e.g., maybe read some patristics, some Aquinas, some puritans, some Hegel, some Balthasar, or whatever, and then relate it to your knowledge of Torrance and Barth.

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  4. Kevin,

    But I don’t think of people as anecdotes; that’s all. I’m not trying to justify why I post what I do for you–I don’t have to. Yes, but my point about impersonal and mechanical are at a methodological/principled level, in the sense that Evangelical Calvinism and/or TFT intend to evangelize metaphysics and thus personalize things in Christ and the Spirit in relation to the Father, and thus jettison things like decrees in the way they are given to us through Aristotle. Yeah, to press objectivism w/o actualism and the particularism provided by Barth will lead people astray, no doubt! I really don’t care, Kevin, whether you are impressed or not, you don’t have to be in order for me to write with others in mind.

    Why, when you comment, are you so often presumptuous, Kevin? You act as if I’m not 39 years old, and as if almost half of my life I haven’t been consistently (formally and informally) reading and studying various things. Just because I choose to focus on Barth, Torrance and Calvin–most often (but not exclusively)–on my blog does not mean I have not read (and for years) in these other areas and with these other people that you mention. In fact I have read Augustine, Aquinas (have a paper on nature and grace where I place Aquinas in discussion with Augustine), Athanasius, Irenaeus, Cassian, Justin Martyr, Bernard of Clairvaux, Gerson, Von Staupitz, Erasmus, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, John Owen, Rutherford, Spener, William Perkins, William Ames, Richard Sibbes, Theodore Beza, Vermigli, Melanchthon, Bucer, Chemnitz, Luther, Bullinger, Campbell, Forsyth, Binning, Knox, Whitfield, Wesley, et al et al. In fact I have read these others, over the years–if we are going to simply engage noting time spent–more than I have Barth or Torrance. Anyway, Kevin, my time is short; I have a wife, two kids, work at least 40 hours a week (graveyard), and have other responsibilities. I’ll write the way I want to write here at the blog. Why don’t you spend more time putting up some posts, why don’t you? And why don’t you relate your knowledge of these aforementioned people to at least your knowledge of Barth?

    peace.

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  5. And my “anecdotes” are people too, so that’s why I am also defensive. And that is why I see something far more complex than “Aristotelian” principles at play. Reformed theology, in its classical orthodox expression, is a churchly affair that is embodied by real congregations, real people, across generations and centuries. For all of his many virtues, Barth has virtually no churchly expression (just individuals here and there). It is an academic affair. I hope that changes, but it is the case.

    More importantly, I do want to apologize for coming across as presumptuous. I didn’t mean to imply any limitations in your knowledge but just a recommendation for the blog. But, regardless, I need to show more respect and more deference to your own wisdom and experiences. I do apologize.

    I think it’s fair to say that we are both a bit bullheaded and zealous about these matters, so invariably we will collide. But, I don’t want to lose sight that you are a brother in Christ and co-laborer in the same field, given by our Lord.

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  6. I understand your passion, Kevin. My exposure to Federal Calvinists have been mostly of the antagonistic variety, from what I know of at Westminster Theological Seminary California; and they are highly polemical and antagonistic to all other theologies–even other Federal Calvinists.

    I apologize too; I definitely get too wrapped up in the moments, and lose perspective in those moments … sorry brother. Well I am reading Aquinas and about Aquinas again thanks to your prodding ;-).

    We are both bullheaded and zealous about these things 🙂 … I wish I wasn’t sometimes. Amen, we are brothers of like mind and co-laborers for the kingdom of Christ–great perspective. And thanks, Kevin. Peace.

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