Where are the doctrine police when you need them? (some questions of a theological nature)

Rants from the soapbox have been pretty sparse recently through being tired, being away, getting old, but also having an ‘Key Doctrines’ exam next week on things like election and predestination, the Spirit and the Church. At this point half of you stop reading so welcome to the theology geeks. So I’ve been and am trying to study (while not playing scrabble on facebook and staring out the window or walking around a lot pretending to think), and I have a few questions.

Calvinism and election and all that.
So for the first time yesterday to my shame I read the five points of Calvinism (on a side note thank you Alastair McGrath for summarising clearly in a few pages what everyone else seems to take a book to try to do). Now I realised that I’m not a fan of limited atonement – it just doesn’t seem to square with scripture and God’s character (to me) that Jesus only died for the elect. I’d always assumed Jesus died for everyone and it was up to them to choose to accept the offer of grace and forgiveness. And the perseverance of the saints (once saved always saved in popular parlance) we had lots of discussion on in class, where the learned professor (in the Presbyterian college) suggested that we must take the warnings in scripture about not falling away seriously. I think Paul Helm said it would be immoral to warn about something that had no risk of happening. So then I came to read a book by Roger Olsen on Arminianism (as it actually is and not all the misunderstood caricatures) and found myself incredibly sympathetic to something that in various circles I’d tended to hear spoken of in a sense that ‘when Arminians grow up, or start thinking, they’ll see the light and become Calvinists’. I know I’m caricaturing a bit, and it does make me think about who people are following and Paul’s rebuke in 1 Corinthians 3.4. Is it just me or does it seem that sometimes people are more interested in following or the thought of Calvin or John Owen than Jesus? Olsen also suggested that although many churches profess Calvinism or Calvinistic tendencies, the actual default position of many evangelicals is Arminiansim or Semi-Pelagianism. Interesting eh? (that’s one for the geeks).

The Spirit
That often forgotten member of the Trinity, or the Trinity that is not Father, Son and Holy Scriptures. Apologies, I’m being facetious again. Regarding the more miraculous gifts, i’m aware there are different opinions, but it was suggested in class that theologically we must be non-cessasationist as the biblical support for miraculous gifts ceasing with the closing of the canon is so unclear. Now I’ve probably considered myself charismatic more by theology than experience but a comment by Sam Storms in his book convergence challenged me whether you can say that or if it is a bit of a cop out. Obviously recognising everyone has different gifts, but if these gifts are for today, and we are to seek after gifts, why do we see so little evidence of them? Have we been quenching the Spirit? Individually or institutionally?

I am learning and trying to think about some of this stuff, although I realise there are things we will never figure out – there is the element of God that is mystery but I appreciate all the help I can get as this faith seeks understanding.

And then there’s the church, but I better get back to the old revision… (Realising some of the flaws of Warhol’s quote below – waiting for exams definitely doesn’t make them more exciting)


13 thoughts on “Where are the doctrine police when you need them? (some questions of a theological nature)”

  1. I sometimes think my head is Calvinist but my heart is Arminian. I read a really interesting book on something similar called ‘Who can be saved?’ or something (IVP), which had some brialliant insights.

  2. I have to confess I am a Calvinist neither in my head nor in my heart. It seems to me to be a system with a certain internal logic, but a lack of something else – common sense, wisdom earthed in reality. In its logical neatness it can’t do justice either to the complexity of the biblical story or the complexity of life. It explains away some problems only by creating larger ones…

    At the very least I agree that non-Calvinist viewpoints need to be treated with more respect within evangelicalism. A friend emailed me a quote recently from a reformed magazine, where they were discussing CS Lewis (he knew it would enrage me!) – they observed that Lewis was not a Calvinist during his lifetime, “but by the grace of God, he is now.” What can you say to that kind of arrogance???

  3. Thanks WNS and anna – i’ll maybe check those out post exam.
    Jayber – i’m with you – Calvinism despite its ‘neatness’ is lacking, as are lots of the other positions.
    Barth is certainly interesting on the subject and people like Newbiggin bring a missiological and service and/or salvation slant to it all which adds a little of what seems missing…

    I’m wondering if there is a lot of the Hebrew holding things in tension instead of having neat explanations here…

  4. It is interesting to note your views on Calvinism, when the ‘Mind your head’ conference is using a quote from Kuyper in it’s adverts!

    I have read Kuypers ‘Lectures on Calvinism’ which really given another perspective to the issue. In fact, I don’t think they touch on the issue that you are discussing at all! Rather Kuyper is trying to get across a ‘life system’ or worldview, encouraging Christians to live out their faith in the realms of the arts, science, and politics. He argues that Calvinism is the best worldview for allowing people to do that, you may disagree!

    The point being is that we have got hung up on the Calvin-logic, the 5 points, whilst neglecting the bigger picture.

  5. I am a professional Calvinist, which is surely the most bankrupt of all positions. But I am one of those surprisingly rare members of the Presbyterian Church who have read Calvin. Maybe I need to do it more carefully next time, but the five points that people seem to bang on about are not a good distillation of his work.

    Of course, we know that a priori because the idea that theology can or should be broken down into numbered lists is mental. None of us would ever spend hours agonising over a numbered list of doctrinal basics…

    Calvinism as a system is quite uninteresting to me, not because it’s bad philosophy or built on bad exegesis or life-limiting (in fact I think the opposite) but because the Scriptures don’t give us permission, I think, to build systems like that on top of them. As systems go, it is magnificent. It has vast reserves of riches and some pretty glaring weaknesses (see the commentator who links to his “Calvinist site” which is really a Nationalistic site for example).

    They’ll call me immature I am sure, but for me, any package that ties up the Gospel and lets you carry it round with you is a half-truth and a full lie.

  6. Sam, glad to see someone else is on the internet instead of reading… Although it does look like you’re becoming more like one of those woolly Methodists 🙂 Do you really want the doctrine police to pay you a visit?

    I think you’re right in your comment about Storms – I wonder are we often cessationist by praxis if not by theology.

    Have fun in your Church ponderings.

  7. My aversion to TULIP Calvinism is primarily emotional and stems from a dinner-time conversation in Aberdeen about the death penalty.

    Big Jock: “They should string Mrya Hindley up.”

    Wee Jock: “Ah, you have to remember that Jesus died for her, too.”

    Big Jock: “Not necessarily.”

    Instinctively, I find the concept of limited atonement more scandalous than anything emerging from postmodern mythology.

    But I know there’s much more to Calvin than five points. It’s like reducing the Beatles to Mop-Yesterday-Yoko-Walrus-Submarine. I also need to get my head around the later chapters of Romans and any thoughts would be uber-welcome.

  8. David, thanks – i’m with you. I have a friend who wrote an MTh dissertation on those last chapters of Romans – I really must have a read at it…

  9. excellent soapbox. Chesterton isnworth a read as are Calvin’s commentaries particularly the pastoral epistles and johanine. His commentaries seem to contradict tulip and are more nuanced and preferable.

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