Friday, October 14, 2005

The Biblical Nature of Calvinism: A Response to Jacob

About two months ago I wrote a post complaining about people who call themselves “Biblicists” in the debate between monergism (Calvinism) and synergism (Arminianism and other similar positions). I admit it was a rant and the tone of the post wasn’t the best that I’ve written, but it is what it is and I won’t edit it to make it sound more measured (I’m sure it’s pretty tame for some people, but not for me). It actually generated more response than any post I’ve written in a while, which is not surprising considering the subject matter.

The most substantive comment came from
Jacob, who then expanded his critique on his own blog, Via Crucis. I surfed around Via Crucis for a while, and I like some of what Jacob has written. I particularly enjoyed "The Sharlet Letter", his analysis of Jeff Sharlet’s article “The Young and the Sexless” that came out in Rolling Stone a few months back. I imagine I’ll go back from time to time for a visit.

I must take issue, however, with some of his comments about my post. He criticizes me for holding that it is wrong to be ignorant of “supra-scriptural ‘theology. The point of my original post, however, was that in holding to Calvinist soteriology I do not believe myself to be holding to a supra-scriptural theology. Calvinism is, in my opinion, scriptural. This point will rear its head again later.

Jacob correctly states that I believe that one can be either a synergist or a monergist with no other option. He then goes on to talk about a phone conversation he had to make a point:

Duncan begins by saying that ”…you can either
be monergistic of synergistic with no third option available”, and for the sake
of proving a point, I contacted a Christian friend of

Me: Hey, I’ve got a question.

Friend: shoot

Would you classify your beliefs as monergistic or
What does that

Case in point. Now, you may be asking yourself, “What do these terms mean?” or “Where do my views fit into this?” Therein lies my concern with Duncan’s claim. The importance he places on theological systems implies that ignorance of such systems is in some sense wrong
I’m not certain what this phone conversation is supposed to prove. Is it that one can be a Christian without knowing whether you’re a synergist or monergist, or even what the terms mean? If so, that is something I would grant without debate. A little further in the paragraph below the phone conversation, however, Jacob begins to deliver the meat of his first objection:

The importance he places on theological systems
implies that ignorance of such systems is in some sense

Here again is the assumption that Calvinist soteriology is “supra-scriptural,” a claim which I deny. I hold that Calvinism is Biblical, and therefore ignorance of it is ignorance of Biblical truth, which is never a good thing. However, the heaviest objection comes next:

To say that ignorance (or avoidance) of such issues is unacceptable is to argue against the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures.

He uses 2 Peter 2:13 as support:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…

Of course, I disagree quite strongly with Jacob’s point. As I study the Bible, reading verses that pertain to the manner in which God brings salvation, I realize that each verse must be brought into harmony. If the Bible is to be inerrant it must be internally consistent. As a result, I have found that God enacts salvation monergistically; that is, He does all of the work from beginning to end without human assistance. The question is, how can a theology taken directly from the pages of the Bible cut against the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures, as Jacob claims? If Jacob or anyone else does not believe Calvinism is taken directly from the Bible, that is fine. We can discuss that point, but by painting Calvinism as “supra-scriptural” Jacob has short-circuited that discussion.

Jacob later insists that it is possible, contrary to my contention, to not be a part of the debate. To that I say, “yes and no.” It is possible to drop out of the debate by simply refusing to discuss it. However, there is no possible way that anyone who studies the Bible thoroughly cannot hold a position on this topic. Ask any Christian what Ephesians 2:8 means:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is
not your own doing; it is the gift of God

If the Christian says, “it means that even our faith is given to us by God,” then he or she is likely a monergist. If the Christian says something like, “it means that we exercise faith because of God’s gift of grace,” he or she is likely a synergist. With enough study, we will all arrive at one position or another unless we consciously choose to avoid it. But why should we make such a choice? Why choose not to dig deeper into God’s word to find out just what Paul was saying in Ephesians 2:8?

The rest of Jacob’s response misconstrues some of the things I said in my original post. I think this may have been due to the tone with which I wrote it. First, he questions why I call myself a Calvinist if I do not believe that Calvin was right on everything. He states that “By his name you have either (1) studied any and all of John Calvin’s doctrines and found them to be inerrant, or (2) have not studied all of Calvin’s doctrines but have faith that they are inerrant. Those are the only two options, and both are dangerous.” This is a false dilemma because there are certainly options other than the two Jacob presents. At what point did calling one’s self a Calvinist mean that one held Calvin to be inerrant? I call myself a Calvinist for the sake of discourse (the aforementioned third option). I quite happily confess that I believe everything written in the Bible, but people who disagree with Calvinism make the same claim. Since we both hold ourselves to be “Biblicists” we must find some other means of distinguishing between the positions we take. “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” have worked well for hundreds of years, and no one to my knowledge has ever seriously insisted that either Calvin or Arminius were inerrant.

Next Jacob says,I call myself a Christian – and a Christian only – because I do not question Biblical teaching. Do you consider that claim “pseudo-humble arrogance”?”

The answer is no. This question also stems from my lack of clarity. Whenever I wrote this post, and particularly this bit about “pseudo-humble arrogance” I had specific individuals in mind. Jacob was not one of them, and he still is not. I should have been clearer regarding the sort of person at whom I leveled this criticism. I was thinking more of the “fighting fundamentalist” types. I am not comfortable naming specific names at this time. I will think on it and I may later if I think it is appropriate.

Moving on, we find what is probably the most fundamental claim underlying this critique. “Simply, the term “Calvinism” would be unnecessary if it did not go beyond what the Scriptures teach.” (emphasis in original) This is certainly false, and I think I can demonstrate why. Let’s look at this sentence, but change a key word:

“Simply, the term “Trinitarian” would be unnecessary if it did not go beyond what the Scriptures teach.”

Obviously this is not what Jacob said, and I suspect he affirms the doctrine of the trinity, but I think it demonstrates a good point. Theological terms often exist to differentiate correct theology from false theology. In my opinion, “Calvinism” and “monergism” are simply words that describe correct theology, just as “trinitarianism” is a word that describes correct theology. So you see, it is not as cut and dried as Jacob makes it out to be. There are causes for the use of theological terms other than the one Jacob asserts.

In his final few paragraphs, Jacob again accuses me of following the teachings of men over the teachings of the Bible via 1 Corinthians 1:10-14:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that
you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported
to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I
mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I
follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for
you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

As I showed above, calling myself a Calvinist does not demonstrate that I am following a man over Christ. If the Word of God convinced me that Calvinism is false I would abandon it that moment, even if John Calvin himself were sitting in the room with me.

Ultimately, my ire was not directed at all people who claim to stick to the Bible, because that is what I do myself. Rather, my ire was directed at those who, in a caustic spirit of arrogance, deny me the ability to claim that I stick to the Bible. Again, I admit that I was somewhat caustic myself in my original post, and I am sorry for that. In venting my spleen I was ungodly, but I still maintain that I am both a Calvinist and a “Biblicist.”

UPDATE!!!!! Jacob has asked if I would be interested in debating the fact that Calvinism is entirely Biblical, and I accepted. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but we'll see!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

NaNoWriMo Returns!!

I just got my e-mail informing me that NaNoWriMo is starting up again. I participated last year but didn't finish. I did, however, write a lot more than I ever had before, so I'm hoping for a victory this year.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for "National Novel Writing Month." The idea is that during the month of November you write a short novel. 50,000 words, to be exact. It's that simple! That breaks down to 1,666.67 words a day, though you might want to go ahead and throw that 1,667th word in there just to get ahead of the game.

Last year's novel was a bit of a tragic tale about a man and how he copes with the fact that his wife was left brain damaged in a swimming accident. I enjoyed writing it, and wouldn't mind getting back to it some day. I ended with a paltry 20,188 words, but that's just 4,912 words short of halfway!

My novel this year is going to be TOTALLY different. I'm going to write a fantasy novel. I love the idea of inventing my own little world. I've already got a map drawn up and some ideas with where to take portions of the story. I need to settle on exactly what the larger conflict of the book will be though. But, chin up! I have the rest of October to think of that stuff.

Three cheers for NaNoWriMo!! Whee! I'm already giddy with excitement.

Some advice to first timers:

1. Don't worry if it's not an spectacular. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to hit 50,000 words. You can edit and tweak all you want later.

2. Have a plot in mind. You need a basic idea of where you're going or else you won't know how to get there. Things go a lot more quickly if you're not wandering aimlessly.

3. Have fun! Yeah, yeah, I know it's a lame thing to say, but that's what this is all about. Enjoy your time writing, and when it's all over you can truthfully claim to have written a novel!! And who knows, it might actually be good!

4. Visit early and often. They can give you much better advice than I can, you can commiserate if the need be, or even look up writers from your area. Plus, visiting the site gets you into that crazy, whimsical NaNoWriMo frame of mind.

By the way, be sure to check out my awesome "NaNoWriMo Participant" pic to your right. Oh yeah. You know you want that pic. Sign up!

Monday, October 03, 2005

New Link

I just added "Dead Christians Society" to my blog links. I have an interest in Church History, so it promises to be a fun blog to read. It's run by Chris Armstrong, Bethel professor and managing editor of Christian History Magazine. Enjoy!