Tag Archives: Calvinism

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.

Is Mystery a third theological option?

ONE post in October? Mother of pearl. What has happened to the good ship The Eagle and Child?

So I took a break from reading the fascinating A Brief History of Tea (which I was reading while drinking tea and listening to CBC classical online–very refined, folks), which I bought for all of $2 at Indigo Books today, and came across a new blog post from the theologian Roger E. Olsen.

Apparently somewhere, to someone, Olsen said, “if somehow it were revealed to me that God is as TULIP Calvinism says and as its good and necessary consequences imply, I would not worship that god.” This apparently caused some controversy and his post seeks to explain his position.

I’ve never given a whole lot of thought to Calvinism or Arminianism (which is Olsen’s position). Two of my theology of professors here are Calvinists. I think there are also some Arminians on staff. But I won’t come away from my seminary studies with a detailed knowledge of either theological position. It seems to me that the difference between them comes down to how they understand divine sovereignty and human freedom intersect.

I’ve never been able to align myself fully with either position. This is no doubt largely because I know little of both beyond the notions of freedom and sovereignty (and I can almost list all of the words that make up the TULIP acronym). My non-partisan theology (in this regard) is also partially due to the fact that from what I do know of the two theologies, I agree and disagree with both on various points.

And the truth is, I’ve never seen the need to make a choice between the two.

The idea of prevenient grace–of God always acting first–makes sense to me. On the other hand, I find the notion of double predestination (it’s in Calvinism at least by implication)–that some are elected for salvation and some (again, at least by implication) elected for damnation–problematic at best and horrific at worst. Olsen argues that taken to its necessary conclusions, the Calvinist God would not be good, faithful, etc. Ah, but! A Calvinist might say, You are going by human standards of good, faithful, etc. Well, I say back to the Calvinist, so are you.

Calvinism also seems to go against the grain of Jesus’ mission during his time on earth.

On the other hand, the Arminian position seems to jive more with Jesus’ mission and activity, as well as his commands. And somehow it doesn’t seem all that irrational to think that human freedom can fall within the realm and boundary of God’s sovereignty.

But something Olsen says in his post startled me. As a counter example, he shares an argument John Piper (a Calvinist) gave him against Arminianism. According to Piper, ‘Arminians “must say” that the cross did not save anyone but only gave people an opportunity to save themselves.’ In other words, Arminianism leads to the Pelagianism, that ancient heresy that states that it is within an individual’s capacity to save him or herself.

Maybe it does. I can see how Arminianism might get you to this point. And maybe I really do need to brush up on my knowledge of Calvin and Arminius. Maybe it is important for me to make a choice–and one not based on the overwhelming personalities one sees online coming from one of these camps.

On the other hand, maybe the quest for a neat-and-tidy theology is a futile one. Calvinists and Arminians both bandy about all manner of scripture in support of their position. This suggests at least two possibilities: both sides are reading scripture incorrectly or scripture allows for both. Alternatively, my limited understanding of both is just a caricature.

Is Mystery a legitimate third theological option?