My Motivation: Evangelical Calvinism

I was reminded, just recently, how impacting the Calvinist and Arminian debate still is. Given the advent of N. T. Wright, and other thinkers within Christendom today, I think it is all too easy for 409115_1716122720482_1760647773_868301_1824042339_nsome of us to forget that most North American Evangelicals (of which I am one) have never heard of N. T. Wright; and more importantly ;-), most Evangelicals have never heard of Thomas Torrance or even Karl Barth. There is a whole demographic of Evangelical people (at the popular level) who are still embroiled, one way or the other, in this binary of Calvinism versus Arminianism. Indeed, within this demographic there are some who I would characterize as rather antagonistic and vociferous; it is these, who for the most part, I have no real desire engaging with anymore (a waste of time, usually). But there are many, many who are not antagonistic, and who are not vociferous, but who sit under the teaching of these aforementioned vociferous types. It is these voiceless (or timid) souls who motivate me to continue to engage in this kind of ‘fight’ for what I think is right and fruitful for those most weary among us.

There is so much confusion about who God is among Evangelical Christians. Indeed, I would suggest that this is the biggest problem we have. We don’t really know who God is. We have a view of God that comes straight to us from the pages of the scholastic Calvinist. A God who remains much more performance driven, much more Law-based, and a God who we really can find no rest in (just demands). I am not advocating that we completely evacuate all that has come before us in our Christian past, just the opposite! Instead, I want to continue to resource what is available from the Christian past for the present. I think the past (even if that is the recent past), has a rich tapestry of resource just waiting to be retrieved and redressed in a way that I would think most Christians (who are stuck in the wilderness of the scholastic God), would finally find refreshing and hope producing in regard to their own daily walk and spirituality.

So this is why I will probably always be here, posting on why people need to repudiate their classical view of God, and instead adopt a paleo-classical view that has been redressed through the articulation of people like Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and John Webster et. al.

*repost

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9 comments

  1. You’re absolutely right, Bobby. I’m one of those people who has adopted the Calvinist God, Who is much more interested in performance and “sin management” (Willard) than belonging. I’ve looked into Calvinism, Arminianism and Molinism and haven’t been completely satisfied with any of them. Of course, I’m learning about EC through your blog but think I only understand it superficially. You’re also right about finding it difficult to rest in God – especially when you know you’re missing the mark. So many of us long to “come to Him” and find real, lasting rest for our souls. I’m convinced that the resolution of much of this must be tied into a correct understanding of God’s character, especially with regard to soteriology. I’ve never read Torrance or Barth, but have read N.T. Wright.

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  2. Go through an old hymnal and read the lyrics about rest in God, nearness of Christ, grace, mercy, faith, everything done for us by Him who loves us, all of God – all of me. All these great, and some not so great, theological statements and declarations were written by both Calvinists and Arminians. It’s all there, as confusing as it might be, so we just keep going, choosing our teachers and in the end find Him who says “come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

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  3. @Eric,

    Amen. Rest comes when we know God is love! The foundation of that knowledge and reality comes when we adopt a methodology for God’s Self-revelation to impose itself upon us, instead of yielding ourselves to metaphysical schemata that morphs God into a God who is law (who acts mechanically, like Newton’s God for example).

    @Steve,

    Are you suggesting then that the old Calvinists and Arminians–the ones who wrote those hymns–are the best we can do? If so, I don’t agree. They definitely express a piety in their hymn writing that is laudable, but the theology that informs their piety, I would argue, is at dissonance with said piety. So we can certainly, in my view, use their pious hymnal language as a pretext, but then retext it in a way that not only has a purported piety, but also has a theological foundation underpinning and informing it in such a way that a consistency inheres between the informing theology and piety–as I alluded to in my response to Eric.

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  4. Ya’ll make it much too complicated. God is much more interested in my heart then my doctrinal position. Getting closer to God is about asking him what is broken in me and asking him to remove the false gods I have set up in my heart, so He can come in more fully. The theologians who were primary concerned about holiness, not as something we do, but as someone we are becoming, got it right. We are promised transformation over and over again in the N.T. We are told we are no longer slaves to sin, but most Christians choose to believe that’s not true, that their hearts are still desperately wicked and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. It’s a cycle that can only be broken by a search for heart holiness.

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  5. Wildswander,

    It is not a either/or, but both/and. God is complicated, and we are not; so in our attempt to know God, and construct a grammar that adequately allows intelligible conversation with him, we must be willing to risk complication in our attempts to know him in depth, in worship. In fact, your statements about God’s desire to know the heart, while laudable and true, presuppose upon a certain and complicated theological understanding of God. If you believe in the Holy Trinity, then your point, in the end, is really a non-starter.

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  6. Wildswander,

    My guess is that you are confusing Evangelical Calvinists with 5 point Calvinists. We are not 5 point Calvinists or even Westminster Calvinists, but Scottish in theological orientation a la Thomas F Torrance, and then swiss a la Barth and some French a la Calvin et al.

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  7. You’re right, Bobby, I don’t really what the differences are between
    Evangelical Calvinists and 5 point Calvinists. The ones I know are 5 pointers.
    I have a little trouble with the whole idea of following anyone’s doctrine, of saying, I am this or that denominational stripe, as if following Jesus requires me to pick one group of Christians to identify with. Feels to much like picking a religion form the smorgasbord of religions. But, I do tend to gravitate towards the Wesleyan position on a lot of things.

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  8. Wildswanderer,

    I don’t think we need to think of it like that though. “Labels” like Calvinist, Lutheran, Reformed, Arminian, Wrightian, etc. serve as shorthand and precision language to help quickly identify where someone is coming from theologically. It is inevitable that we are going to be predisposed one way or the other, theologically, for a variety of reasons.

    The problem I have with labeling is when it is used in sectarian ways; so that if someone claims to be a Calvinist, and then presumes that they are the only ones with the truth, then that becomes a problem and a theology of glory.

    It is an attitudinal problem, or can be, more than a conceptual problem in my mind. As you yourself identify, you lean more Wesleyan, and that’s fine, and it actually helps me to quickly understand where you are coming from theologically. Not so that I can pigeonhole you, but so that I can appreciate your interpretive points and scriptural understanding better. That admission or label should only serve as a starting point for dialogue (i.e. that you are Wesleyan, or that I am EC etc), and not a way to caricature a position. I know that within each position, theologically, there is almost infinite nuance among those who hold to whatever theological predisposition that they do.

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