Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Two Calvinisms....

An interesting trend in Fundamentalism today – at least in young Fundamentalism – is the leaning towards Calvinism. I’m not complaining about this, nor am I opposed to it given the fact that I tend to lean towards Calvinism myself. However, I think that there are two “types” of Calvinism or, at the least, two reasons behind it…. One is the genuine article, whereas the other is shallow and will ultimately give way to something else. These two types of Calvinism are what I refer to as reactionary Calvinism and convinced Calvinism. I’ll explain what I mean by those terms beginning with the latter.

Convinced Calvinism is the Calvinism of men like Charles Spurgeon who penned these words in his article, A Defense of Calvinism: “We [Calvinists] can run a golden line up to Jesus Christ Himself, through a holy succession of mighty fathers, who all held these glorious truths; and we can ask concerning them, 'Where will you find holier and better men in the world?' No doctrine is so calculated to preserve a man from sin as the doctrine of the grace of God.” Convinced Calvinism is that place at which men arrive after careful study of the truths of God’s Word. Convinced Calvinism is not merely a matter of identity, but one of deep conviction. It’s the real deal. I won't spend any more time on this one, because we all likely understand it.

Reactionary Calvinism is the Calvinism that, I fear, has taken hold of the hearts of many young men. It comes not from careful study, but from a “buying in” (I don't mean that to sound derogatory) of a seemingly logical response to some poor teaching regarding salvation. When I first began to embrace Calvinism, it was quite reactionary. I began reading what intelligent writers were saying in regards to this doctrine that I had grown up holding in such contempt. I had grown up despising Calvinism for reasons that I still do not fully understand. I had been taught that Calvinism was a doctrine that had been berthed in hell and that it was responsible for sending thousands and thousands of poor, hapless souls there. I never questioned these things until 5 or 6 years ago in the midst of my “awakening”. As I began studying the Scriptures to determine what I believed and why, I came to realize that, as I was studying some of the great theologs of days gone by, Calvinism wasn’t quite as sinister as I had always been led to believe. My first reaction was to boldly profess that I was a Calvinist! The logic appealed to me on an intellectual level and it appeared to be much more scholarly than the Arminianism that had been such a part of my childhood. So I claimed it as my own with no true understanding of it. It was nothing more than a reaction to the faulty teaching I had endured for many years of my life. For a short time I even trumpeted Calvinism loudly and often – it become my “pet subject” if you will. One character trait that most reactionary Calvinists have is that it’s really all they seem to talk about.

Quite frankly, I find myself somewhat suspicious of the Calvinism that has become so "faddish" amongst the younger ranks in Fundamentalism today. Many of us seem to place a bit more weight in what John Piper, John MacArthur, and Charles Spurgeon have to say about something than is safe. Don't get me wrong, I've benefited much from the writings of these three men, but their writings are no closer to inspired than mine are.....well maybe their's is a bit closer.... Before I chase that rabbit trail too far, let me bring this little article to a close.

I have no problem with a man claiming to be a Calvinist. For that matter, I have no problem with a man claiming to be Arminian (insofar that said man doesn't cross over into the heresy that is inherent with full-blown Arminianism). What I do have a problem with is when this particular identity becomes the "end all". I've been part of too many conversations where a self-proclaimed Calvinist will arrogantly declare that his opponent (a non-Calvinist) is ignorant, deceived, and quite possibly a heretic. Unfortunately, in many of these conversations I've witnessed, the arguments being offered are nothing more than "Google Theology"...that is to say, the participant(s) in the arguments have no more grounding in truth than the last thing they happened to read.

I enjoy debates on this subject. I enjoy reading as learned, gracious, charitable men debate the finer points of soteriology. Many such debates have been extremely profitable in whetting my appetite for a deeper study and understanding of Scripture. I just wish that people would come to a better understanding of things before they begin lobbing bombs at one another.

If you find yourself saying, "I wonder if I should enter this debate" at some website, ask the following questions first:
  1. Is my position defensible with Scripture?
  2. Have I properly studied all sides of the subject at hand?
  3. Am I going to begin one of my defenses with the words, "I don't really understand it, but (insert big, important name here) said_______"?
  4. Will this conversation be profitable to me?
  5. Will this conversation be profitable to the cause of Christ?
Obviously, I am posting this in response to a fiasco of a "debate" on the C/A argument that I just had the misfortune of reading. I won't link to it's really not a very good read......


Marty Colborn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellis Murphree said...

What you mention is another type of "reactionary thinking" - the type where one is so loyal to an institution or a personality that they absoultely swallow everything that comes from that person / entity without every studying it themselves. "If __________ believes it, it must be true."

This has been a typical and fatal flaw in much of Fundamentalism for a number of years.

Bob Hayton said...

I was going to say "good stuff", but that's already been said!

You are absolutely right that many convert to Calvinism, and then sneer at the non-Calvinists. Um, weren't they of that number just a year or more ago? So why are they so mean and spiteful to them?

I'm convinced of the truth of Calvinism, but that doesn't make me think more narrowly than before. Its freed me to see God's hand at work in Christians of all flavors and types. I'm happy for those who love Jesus, even if there's too much baggage associated with the term "Calvinism" for them to really give the argument the time of day.

We all can tend to a pride in our positions and so reminders like yours are helpful.

Blessings from the Cross,


Ellis Murphree said...

Well said, Bob. Thanks for the comments.

Robert Talley said...

Thanks for the post. There are too many who are convinced to Calvinism by the books they read. One reads to rarely (in the comment threads of the blogs) of someone who is convinced solely by the Scriptures of their Calvinism or, to take another example, of whatever form of millenialism to which they hold.

Should we read these books? Yes, but let us be convinced by the Scriptures and not by great logical arguments from great men. Let their arguments temper our judgment but let us hold in practice to the sufficiency of the Spirit through the Scripture to reveal to us the truth.

Ellis Murphree said...

Thanks for commenting, Robert.

In my opinion, this is a problem that is more prevalent on the internet than in "real life". On the internet I see a number of folks making comments on both sides of the debate that are not very informed. I've said often that the Calvinism I see attacked most often on the internet is a Calvinism that is completely foreign to most Calvinists! However, the "copy and paste" Calvinists are just as prevalent on the internet.