On theological mumbo-jumbo.

I don’t have a habit of giving myself theological labels. But I have said that, insofar as I know what it means, I am not a Calvinist. I am deeply troubled by Calvinism’s notion of predestination, whether it is double predestination or single (which, in my view, is by implication the same as double predestination). It may well be that I simply don’t understand the nuances of Calvinist thought, but, Calvinism having been explained to me a number of times, it never gets any clearer.

I’m reading an article by D. A. Carson–“God’s Love and God’s Wrath”–for a major paper due in a couple of weeks. It occurred to me as I read that I cannot deny the general notion of “election” because it’s there in scripture. Whether it is “clearly” in scripture is debatable. In fact, how we understand election is one of the foundational differences between Calvinists and Arminians. The notion is there. We’re just can’t agree on what it means.

As much as I cannot deny the notion of election, I equally feel like I am not in a place to take that notion much further than that: there are “elect”. Beyond that we start getting into the question of who’s “in” and who’s “out”, which, while not completely inappropriate, too easily devolves into sectarianism and a level of dense and nit-picky theological mumbo-jumbo that exhausts me in its sheer unhelpfulness. As if we can have any degree of certainty about who “the elect” might include. Even if we do manage to define every theological concept relevant to “election” to its finest point, so little of it (if any at all) is, in the end, in our control, that thinking about it seems like an exercise in futility.

I guess it’s a pastoral bent in me that rails against this kind of discussion. The gospel is not about who is “elect”, it’s about Jesus Christ as (and currently Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel is influencing my thought) the fulfillment of God’s work to set the world right through his covenant promises to Israel (or something like that). That leads to salvation. We can’t determine with a great deal of certainty whether or not we are among the elect who will be saved until it’s too late to do anything about it (if indeed we could do anything about it!). So what’s the point of worrying about who is “elect”? All we can do is trust in and follow the example of the one who lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, and will return. Never mind “elect”.

Maybe I’ve missed the point of Calvinist “election” entirely. Or maybe this makes me an Arminian.

Not that it matters.

4 thoughts on “On theological mumbo-jumbo.

  1. Toni

    People have a natural tendency to want to be ‘right’. In order to do this they will usually invent a scenario, usually at one polar end of a spectrum, complete with rules that they can manipulate in order to ‘prove’ that they are right. We see it in politics and we see it in religion. Calvinism and Arminianism are good examples of this, both containing elements that are likely right and both that are not. And we’ve talked about the tension that God seems to have no struggle to encompass, while we insist on seeing things from a single perspective.

    Interestingly, as part of the training I’m enjoying in order to be licensed to preach, the subject of Calvinism came up under ‘evangelical spirituality’. It was portrayed as being a spirituality that encouraged people to understand the word, to live faithful, moderate lives and to honour others – entirely admirable and desirable. I made the comment that the chap lecturing sold it very well, and he was a little horrified, proceeding to explain how it was humourless, restrictive and lacking joy. The actual base theology was barely touched, but that’s a different issue, and I feel a reflection of the Anglican church, where rubbing along together seems often more important than having a specific or detailed assurance or faith.

    To me, it seems good to have both free will and election held as a kind of tension. To share Jesus with people as if they have the freedom to choose life or death, and to treat those saved as if they are precious, chosen to be our brothers and sisters.

  2. Dixie

    I really like how you said that Toni!

    “To share Jesus with people as if they have the freedom to choose life or death, and to treat those saved as if they are precious, chosen to be our brothers and sisters.”

  3. Tim Godby

    Thanks for sharing this, Marc. And thanks for all the times when you are refreshingly transparent. It has been a joy to pray for you as you’ve traveled this path through seminary. Honestly, I started reading your blog because I loved the title. (And yes, I thought it had something to do with Isaiah until reading it came from a pub. Loved that!) We share a common faith and a love for the Word of God. I wanted you to know you may have a lot of readers who, like me, just don’t take the time to let you know. Forgive me for that, please. Keep pressing on.

  4. Marc

    Thanks, Tim. I appreciate that. It’s nice when a “lurker” finally speaks. I sometimes look at my stats and wonder, who are these people? There are a handful of people who regularly comment here, but the bulk of my readers, it seems, are silent. So thanks for saying, “Hello.”

    It feels like my blog is in transition. I’m not sure how, but it feels like it needs a new approach. Or maybe I just need new energy for it. Whatever happens, I hope I can maintain that transparency as I enter into vocational ministry. I have the feeling it won’t be so easy in that context!

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