Monday, January 18, 2010

Setting the Record Straight...

“Within orthodox Christian beliefs two approaches consciously attempt to do justice to the twin biblical doctrines of divine sovereignty and divine permission by simultaneously affirming both. They are INFRALAPSARIAN CALVINISM and MOLINISM. Both affirm that GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IS METICULOUS AND OVERARCHING. Both affirm the concept of permission and agree that God did not cause the fall, nor is He the cause of evil, but He permits sin. The real problem is, as always, the problem of evil. As it relates to the issue of election, the question is how humans came to be viewed in the eternal mind of God as sinners in the first place. The debate concerning predestination is over the role that permission plays in God’s decrees” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 140).

Usually when I write a post, the goal is to examine statements and quotes and point out the inconsistencies. Today, though, I intend to talk about “unspoken words” in theology that the average person will hardly (if ever) hear.

In my environment, I’ve observed just how few people know much about theology. At the seminary I attend, those who are Master’s students must take three semesters of theology; yet and still, when some students leave these classes, they know very little about theology at all. One friend noticed I was reading a book on Calvinism and he remarked, “Well, I don’t know what I am, but I’m not Arminian.”

I’ve gotta confess: this statement really shocked me. I’ve heard people “put their foot in their mouths” with their own words...but I’d never heard someone sound so ill-informed about their own conversation before. This gentleman clearly believed he had made a profound statement when he said that he wasn’t Arminian. Now I’ve always been taught that when a person examines an issue, he or she should consider MORE THAN ONE SIDE of the issue itself. Every single voice must be examined (and heard) before the individual comes to a conclusion. For instance, Open Theism is not my cup of tea...but I’ve read John Sanders’ “The God Who Risks” and I’ve read Clark Pinnock’s chapter on “Open and Vocational Election” in Brand’s book titled “Perspectives on Election: Five Views.” I’ve also read a bit of Pinnock in his edited book “The Grace of God and the Will of Man.” Neither is Calvinism my cup of tea, but I’ve read at least twenty books on the subject, and can name some of them here: “The Five Points of Calvinism,” (Palmer), “God’s Greater Glory” (Bruce Ware), “Election and Free Will” (Robert Peterson), “Our Secure Salvation” (Robert Peterson), “No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong With Freewill Theism” (R.K. MacGregor Wright), “Why I Am Not An Arminian” (Peterson and Williams), as well as Luther’s discourse titled “The Bondage of the Will” and the Luther-Erasmus “Discourse on Free Will.” The material supplied here in regards to Calvinism is only a small “snippet” of what I’ve actually read (see my posts under “Theological Readings”). Anyone who examines these posts will find that I’ve done my homework over the last eight months on this issue. In addition, I own a copy of Calvin’s “Institutes” and have read through it quite a bit in regards to the issues of sovereignty and responsibility (free will). I’ve quoted numerous statements here at CTS as proof of my commitment to honest theological investigation and contemplation.

And I sincerely wish with all my heart that those around me would do the same; but I’m very sad to say that I am convinced they have not. And, as a result, such believers will continue to claim that they are “Calvinist” even if they believe much of what Calvinism espouses is unbiblical and against the nature and character of God. And why? Because, “Who wouldn’t wanna be Calvinist,” right?

I think the sad thing is that, at least in Baptist life (since I am Baptist), I’ve found that being Calvinist is the basic position. If a person desires to be considered “orthodox,” they have to hold to some form of Calvinistic theology---otherwise, they are considered to be “evangelical heretics” (however that works) and are told, “I will pray for you about your theology.” It seems as if everyone’s got a bad thing to say about a theology they’ve never studied. How can one claim to be knowledgeable about something he or she is ill-informed about? The only thing such a person can know is that he or she DOESN’T KNOW ANYTHING!

I wanna take time here to say that I applaud Dr. Ken Keathley for mentioning the “Reformed Arminian” (Classical Arminian) position in his book (in the chapter on “Singular Redemption”). It is a rarity to find Reformed Arminianism even mentioned in a book that is non-Arminian (whether Molinist or Calvinist). However, Reformed Arminianism isn’t mentioned enough as a viable position. According to Dr. Keathley’s statement above, Reformed Arminianism does not match up to infralapsarianism and Molinism because it is not committed to a God who has meticulous sovereignty over all things. However, I would say that Classical Arminianism is as valid a position as any and should be studied more.

As a Classical Arminian, I have read many works of Calvinists; in fact, today, I spent time searching for books on “,” the site dedicated to Reformed literature (and only Olson’s book on “Arminian Theology”). I added the Reformed website to the links here at CTS in the hopes that you would read Calvinist literature and see for yourself the things that I’ve been discussing here for the last year. I want you, the readership, to become convinced in your own minds that Calvinism is wrong---not because I said so, but because you’ve done your own investigations and come to your own conclusions.

I want theologians and believers everywhere to stop discriminating in their theologies...and sit down and read Arminius’s “Works” and Olson’s “Arminian Theology” and Thomas Oden’s “The Transforming Power of Grace” (a beloved Arminian soteriology). As a Classical Arminian, I have a copy of Calvin’s “Institutes,” but I’ve met maybe one or two proclaimed Calvinists on campus who even own Arminius’s “Works.” I want believers who are Calvinistic in their theology to spend time reading the works of Classical Arminians and show us where we’re wrong. Show us where in our exegesis we falter. Show us why our system is not valid...and please, say anything EXCEPT “your system does not include the sovereignty of God”!

In the next several posts throughout the semester, I will deal with the misconceptions of Arminianism. To sum up though, I want Classical Arminianism to be considered as a viable position at the theological table---not just discarded because it is perceived to take away from the sovereignty of God. And last but not least, Classical Arminianism needs to be distinguished from Open Theism. Many Calvinistic theologians lump both Classical Arminians and Open Theists together; but if Arminius himself was alive, he would be offended...and in the here and now, Roger Olson (and all other Classical Arminians) are just as offended. We are not like them; we are different and should be acknowledged as such.

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