There I said it!
If anyone has been following modern Evangelicalism, one of the surprising movements over this past decade is the resurgence of young Calvinists. For example, check out the Christianity Today article in September 2006: Young, Restless, Reformed; and the upcoming book with the same title.
If anyone knows me or just skims my blog, they know I’m a committed Calvinist and believe that this new wave of Calvinism is a good thing—for the most part.
Now as Calvinism and the infamous TULIP is “emerging” into the forefront of Evangelical minds, there are several reasons that I deplore aspects of Calvinism and many of its associations.
Let me explain briefly.
1. Historically Misleading Terminology
In the Christianity Today article, Young, Restless, Reformed, the author makes the claim of so many when dealing with and defining Calvinism, particular in terms of the infamous “Five Points”:
Calvinism as an identifiable theological school began with John Calvin (1509-1564). Also referred to as Reformed theology, Calvinism draws on pre-Reformation theologians like Augustine. It has taken a variety of forms over the centuries, but the acronym TULIP is still a handy summary of its distinguishing marks.
However, “Calvinism” did NOT begin with John Calvin. All “five points” were codified in the writing of Augustine, about a thousand years earlier than Calvin. If I wanted to be more accurate about a label (which I don’t) “Augustinian” would be more apropos. Additionally, all five points were pervasive throughout the early church (cf. Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton, the appendix). Even Aquinas’ soteriology was monergistic.
Moreover, Calvin himself and “Calvinists” in general did not come up with the infamous “Five Points of Calvinism.” Rather, in Holland in 1610, Arminius just died and it was his followers who formulated the famous five main points. Until this point in history, the churches of Holland—with most other Protestant churches of Europe—subscribed to the Belgic and Heidelberg Confessions of Faith. The Arminians wanted to change this position and presented their five points in the form of a Remonstrance to the Dutch Parliament.
It was then that The Five Points of Arminianism were canonized and presented to the State. A National Synod of the church that was called to meet in Dort in 1618 to examine the teaching of Arminius in the light of Scripture. The Synod of Dort sat for over 150 sessions over a period of 7 months, but in the end found no ground on which to reconcile the Arminian viewpoint with the Bible. Obviously this was a witch-hunt. Reaffirming the position put forth at the Reformation the Synod formulated their Five Points in contradistinction to the Arminian system.
Calvinism did not begin with Calvin and the Five Points did start with those holding a Reformational theology. Consequently, the term “Calvinism” is misleading on multiple fronts and since I know it will not be abandoned, I wish that such clarifications would be made whenever this topic is broached.
2. The TULIP is Hopelessly Reductionistic
The TULIP is famous primarily because it’s an easy way to remember such a system in English (and only in English), despite being both historically and theologically misleading. It is redunctionistic and vague, yet in another sense very cumbersome.
All five points misname and mislead each doctrine and 3 of the 5 (LIP), I believe, misinform and are superfluous to the real issue of monergism and type of election.
For example, limited atonement assumes its opposite of unlimited atonement. But isn’t unlimited atonement just as limited in terms of accomplishment as opposed to scope as its counterpart? So the label is not helpful. Similarly, total depravity prima facie assumes that people are as deprived as they possible could be (what else could total mean?).
Sproul’s renaming of the TULIP might be helpful at this point (see What is Reformed Theology?). For him:
Total depravity becomes Humanity’s radical corruption
Unconditional election becomes God’s sovereign choice
Limited atonement becomes Christ’s purposeful atonement
Irresistible grace becomes Spirit’s effective call
Perseverance of the saints becomes God’s preservation of the saints
But even still, I think by solely focusing on “The Five Point Calvinism” some of the main objections, questions, and most importantly, presumptions, are left untouched.
I’m convinced that the following questions must be discussed/answered even before addressing the TULIP (or whatever you want to call it). They are:
§ Can God hold man responsible for his actions if the he did not have a choice? (Or put more philosophically, is freewill define solely in terms of Libertarian freewill?)
§ Can God hold man to a standard that his does not have the ability to met or live up to?
§ Can God hold man responsible for another person’s sin?
And even more questions and topics need to be addressed, including the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism (see here), and voluntaristic nomism, all while defining the parameters of God’s justice. And that’s just the beginning point.
Solely defining, defending, and addressing the TULIP just won’t do in this debate. I get very perturb whenever the TULIP is the sole and main focus in this issue.
3. Systematic Theology Eclipses Biblical Theology in this Debate
Calvinism is primarily a Systematic Theological debate. And as it is overly focused upon, Biblical theology is too often ignored in general.
I firmly believe that if Evangelicals focused more upon the entire Biblical narrative and overall sweep and direction of the Bible (Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration), then the significance (or lack thereof) of this debate would be put in its place.
Too often I fear that in debating this issue, it borders on neo-Platonism and Gnostic speculation and knowledge. It would do much better for Christ followers to focus on the overall story of Creation first and preeminently, and then indulge in guesswork that is not central to Christ reconciling all things to Himself.
4. More Important Issues to Debate
I think debating Calvinism is important; but not to the proportion that I see others and myself engaging in it. (If you don’t think this is now a big issue and will not be so in the future please check out: Christianity Today, Baptist Press and Calvinism Conference Presentations for the discussion and focus of in in the SBC.)
There are literally hundreds of more important topics to debate and converse. Some of the most vital topics that I think get passed in light of inexorbitant amount of energy put into this debate include:
§ How can Christians most potently influence culture?
§ How do we contextualize the Gospel?
§ How do we make better disciplines of Christ?
§ How is the Gospel to be applied to the believer in every facet of their lives?
§ How do we cultivate and diffuse a Christian Worldview?
§ What is the Kingdom of God?
§ What is the Church properly defined?
§ How do we best exalt Christ in the context of our local churches and personal lives?
§ Legalism, assurance, and antinominianism.
§ What is the Gospel? (sadly enough today)
It’s not that Calvinism overshadows these vital topics. Rather, I believe that we would rather, and do, put our energies in this debate first and then focus on more important subjects if we ever get to them
So if there are much more important topics to discuss and engage in, why is this issue/topic so frequent and ubiquitous?
5. Bluntly, this Issue seldom call Believers to Obedience and Action.
This is my most important point, and if everything else I said is wrong, I think writing this post will still have (some) merit.
I know in my walk due to my own temperament and the Christian groups I mingle with, there is always a high value on knowledge to the determent of fruit in my life. It is never explicit and would be outright denied; but it was very much alive.
As I began studying Systematic Theology, the polemical ethos of this debate drew me in immediately. It was a clear either/or issue and I was determined that I was going to be right.
What really pulled me into the debate is the reality that the implications of either view did not cause me to drastically change anything in my own life. I could go around and round with this issue, feeling “spiritual” because I was discussing and debating God, all together enjoying it more because it never called me to any true repentance.
So I’m convinced, not only of my own life, but other of people that I’ve interacted with and the authors I’ve read, that this issue is such a hot topic because it demands very little of our own obedience and worship to the Lord. All while self-righteously boosting our confidence and pride in our selves and position on this issue.
All in all, I think the debate is important and should be discussed among believers. Nevertheless, I would not hate Calvinism and the whole debate if: terms were more accurately defined; core issues and suppositions in this debate were focused upon more consistently; the propensity to ignore Biblical theology would be counteracted and this debate would be argued through a more Biblical Theological lens; more important issues would be brought up in its place; and most importantly, it would actually lead to true repentance and more enjoyment of God.