Monday, April 14, 2008

Avoiding the "Pitbull for Calvinism" Pitfall

I recently read an interesting article on Conservative Reformed Mafia, a blog from a Calvinist perspective. Despite their "tongue-in-cheek use of tough images, they seem to have a gentle heart. The article was about avoiding becoming abusive about Calvinism. Like my post on "netiquette," borrowing John Newton's perspective, hopefully shows, I also seek to avoid that trap. Calvinism has a horrible rap concerning compassion, and I have known a few guys who fit the rap perfectly.

I don't really like the term "Calvinism," not just because of the recent connotations with the word, but because of its inaccuracy. The viewpoint we call Calvinism is a perspective that has come down to us from the Apostle Paul, from Augustine, from Luther and Calvin, from William Perkins and John Owen, and even from Jonathan Edwards. Those who are devoted to Calvinism are those who generally see men as morally incapable of a sinless state. They see men as dependent on God for life, faith, and salvation. They see God as sovereign. Why should this give any man (or woman) cause for arrogance? Rather, if these people are consistent, they should be more compassionate than any, and be more devoted to prayer for God to reach the lost.

It is my most sincere hope that I may not be found lacking in love and compassion, first for my fellow brothers of many stripes, and second, for my fellow human beings of all types. My natural tendency is toward the bombastic, but I find myself praying frequently that God would direct my viewpoint and my responses so that I might win my fellows to what I have come to believe, rather than abuse them. I hope that you will see more of Christ, and less of me, on this blog. If I ever dishonor him through my writing or responses (to my everlasting shame), I hope that you, my readers will quickly and lovingly point out my sin.


Timothy L. Decker said...

Couple things for you, Steven. I am not a Calvi. THe problem with saying that is that I am not Arminian. Since I have moderate views what can I label myself? Geisler calls it moderate Calvinism. I'd rather be known as a Calvi than an Armi. But I am not a fan of any of those titles.

I think you make a good point. The very core teachings of Calvinism comes from Augustine (of course I disagree w/ Paul ;-D ). The entire logic of mans incapability to believe w/o the regenerating power of the Spirit first is all Augustinian. Calvin just built from that tradition.

Maybe if you guys clung to a title after Augustine (not known for killing like some other theologian I have read about), you wouldn't have the lack of compassion problem. Just a thought.

Let me ask you this while I am thinking it. You make a good point in that some Calvi's are arrogant to the point of lacking compassion. Do you think that is because it is the more academic view and thus anything else is ignorance? Does it carry with it some form of elitism? THat is what I have observed. Do you get the same sentiments or am I just way off on this.

Steven Douglas said...

Back in Bible college I was called "the resident Calminian," a term I detested. Part of the problem, though, was that I knew very little about both standpoints. I just thought that I "should" be a Calvinist and was actually an all-out Arminian/Semi-Pelagian.

After spending years studying both, I find myself a solid Calvinist, but one who now braces at that term. I have not become a Calvinist because I thought I should, but because I believe the view exegetes and links texts better than the alternative views. I have also come to appreciate but not enjoy Geisler, precisely because of his almost artificial half-way stance. (I should note that I am not accusing you of artificiality).

While I would certainly agree that there were some real problems with Calvin himself, we must be careful in our accusations. There are many Arminians, Catholics, and others who like to describe Calvin's murderous nature, especially as it pertains to Michael Servetus (the "theologian" you are likely referring to).

The truth, however, is that Calvin corresponded with Servetus (Who was a doctor of medicine, dabbling in theology, and who was a complete heretic) for years and tried to pursuade him of his error. His letters which in some cases could only be described as loving were sent back with ridicule, insults, and "corrections" all over them. After Servetus escaped capture in France by the Catholics (who also wanted him burned), Calvin traveled there to talk with him and win him to Christ, risking his own life (there was a substantial bounty on his head), Servetus stood him up.

When Servetus eluded Catholic capture a second time, he traveled to Geneva, where Calvin was lawyer and head of the Reformed church. He was captured and the Magistrates wanted him burned. Calvin visited Servetus in jail numerous times to try to get him to repent, but he wouldn't. He appealed to the Magistrates to lessen the sentence to beheading, but they had sent letters to the other protestant churches and all said to burn him. Calvin could not do a thing. He, as chief lawyer of the city had to prosecute Servetus and had to do his best, according to Scriptural mandate. In the end, Servetus burned. Calvin only played a part, but generally gets all the blame. Calvin had a compassionate heart that most refuse to see.

I cannot pinpoint the exact reason for the bad rap. Calvinists have always seemed to be ridiculed (some rightly, some wrongly). The Puritans of England were considered bland and haters of fun, yet they enjoyed life and even (gasp!) drank strong liquor. They only sought to honor the Lord's Day and rejected the debauchery of the surrounding culture, clinging to Scripture.

I think the major cause, however, comes from the period of the Second Great Awakening (SGA) in North America. In the SGA, Charles Finney and George Whitefield preached a form of ecstatic revival, in which certain actions were performed that were designed to channel the presence and blessings of the Holy Spirit. These were (IMHO) solely emotional extravagances. At the same time, The Harvard/Princeton theologians were following a cold, philosophical Calvinism that was started by Jonathan Edwards, Jr., the son of the great American Puritan theologian. The wide gulf between these two camps has probably done the most to label Calvinism/Calinists as merely academic, even amongst some Calvinist groups! Sometimes we fit ourselves in with stereotypes because we think that is how things are supposed to be (like me in college).

I know plenty of academic Arminians, and quite a few relatively uneducated Calvinists. If we are smart, and faithful to Scripture first, we should look at the Biblical warrants and the writings of the men themselves before passing judgment. I am a believer in Scripture. I see the links and have adopted the view that I believe applies Scripture to philosophy/life best. But that is something that each person should figure out on their own.

You have found a middle ground, and if you feel that that best applies Scripture to life, then I am most pleased. We will find (and have found) areas of contention, but as we have already demonstrated, that should not end fellowship in our Lord, who alone knows all truth.

Thanks for the great and challenging comment!!!

(P.S. It makes me wonder if my article did any justice to the topic at all if my response to your comment/question is longer than my post! =;}