There are plenty of other proof texts for both sides that we could dig into. And I enjoy the digging. But feelings are getting a bit on edge, and I imagine we’ve tested the reader’s endurance and tolerance quite enough. Maybe we’ll come back to the topic later.
Here’s my own thinking.
* Attidues, Emotions, Etc. First, as upset as some on both sides get over these discussions, orthodox Calvinism is not a salvation issue. I know lots of Calvinists, and regardless of where a non-Calvinist may think their theology “logically” leads, most are in fact in the evangelical mainstream, live in fear of the Lord, and are every bit as active in evangelism as those Christians in Churches of Christ, if not more so. This has been true for centuries, and it’s not likely to change any time soon.
Of course, there are some kinds of Calvinists who take some embarrassingly wrong positions — such as opposing missions — but we non-Calvinists have our embarrassing elements, too — like Churches of Christ that refuse to spend a penny on missions while damning the Calvinists across the street for bad theology.
It really should be possible to talk about this stuff with getting angry. As Edward Fudge wrote yesterday,
All said, Calvinists and non-Calvinists will still have real and serious differences. Nevertheless, for the sake of the gospel and in the interest of a unified witness, surely disputants on both sides can soften their tones, lower their voices, credit with good faith those with whom they disagree, and sit down together as brothers and sisters around the table of the Lord.
I think we sometimes have our self-worth too closely tied to our views on one side or the other. That’s a mistake. Build everything on faith in Jesus — NOT Calvin or Arminius. The goal isn’t to pound the other side into submission. It’s to share the joy of what you’ve learned about God.
I don’t mind forceful, convicted argument. I do mind being called a liar or accused of denying the inspiration of scripture or of disagreeing with Jesus because I dispute someone’s interpretation. We really need to temper our words. (“We” includes me.)
But we do need to feel free to express our feelings. I need to hear how my views affect others, and they need to hear how their views affect me. We can’t communicate until we understand each other. Just don’t get your feelings hurt when I disagree — and I won’t get mine hurt when you disagree with me.
While we shouldn’t be afraid to express our feelings — there are some things we shouldn’t feel. We shouldn’t feel contempt for those who disagree. They are good people — fellow Christians — trying hard to understand and obey God. Good. Me, too.
And we shouldn’t feel anger when people refuse to be persuaded. Sometimes the other side just doesn’t agree, and getting angry never helps. Rather, we need to get past that and realize that there’s enough common ground for us to serve God together. Yes, it’s frustrating. No, it’s not grounds for anger.
Realize that in an internet forum such as this one, the person you are trying to persuade isn’t always the person you’re talking to. You may never persuade him, but you just might persuade a few thousand who are quietly lurking and reading. So don’t decide whether you’re wasting your time by the comments you read. Few people post comments — but many are persuaded.
And, yes, I know I need to take my own advice. I’m working on it.
* Election. Even though it’s not a salvation issue, I find Unconditional election/Limited atonement/Irresistible grace a troubling doctrine because of the picture it paints of God. I know that those who believe in this doctrine find it encouraging, but I can’t shake the sense that the doctrine emphasizes the sovereignty of God at the expense of the love of God.
I just can’t reconcile the character of God as revealed in Jesus with those elements of orthodox Calvinism. I’ll have more to say about God’s character as revealed through Jesus in an upcoming series (God willing), which is not at all intended to be about Calvinism, but everything fits together. You see, I think all good hermeneutics and theology must begin with the right understanding of who God is — and God’s nature is most fully revealed in Jesus. All good theology begins in Christology.
* Total Depravity. A belief in total depravity (the T in TULIP) does not require that one accept the rest of Calvinism (ULIP). I tend toward acceptance of Total depravity in the classic Arminian sense. Edward Fudge posted an excellent article saying —
Some Calvinists, for whom Neal Punt is a leading spokesman, believe that only the elect are saved, but they define the elect to include every human being — except those who personally and persistently reject God throughout this life. Other Calvinists, represented by Terrance L. Tiessen, do not define the elect so broadly, but they believe that the non-elect also have a potentially-saving encounter with God at least once during this life, at which time God enables them to believe and be saved if they will do so.
Additionally, there are moderate Calvinists who accept four-and-one-half petals of the metaphorical TULIP‘s five, but who deny that God decreed the damnation of any. Along with Punt and Tiessen, these also can point for support to Luke’s mixed account of the reaction to Paul’s synagogue preaching at Pisidian Antioch. Those who were “appointed to eternal life” believed (Acts 13:48), but Paul told those who disbelieved that they had “judged [themselves] unworthy of eternal life” (v. 46). Ultimately, there is only a human cause for anyone being lost (see the “because” in John 3:18). Ultimately, there is only a divine cause for anyone being saved (there is no human “because” in John 3:16, only a human result).
The second quoted paragraph describes classic Arminianism, that is, the view of Jacob Arminius, who rejected ULIP but accepted Total depravity and prevenient grace — the idea that humans can come to faith only by the power of the Spirit. Arminius disagreed with Calvin by believing that the Spirit works with the word on the hearts of all who hear, but taught that only some choose to believe.
Anyway, there are many variations on the Calvinist theme, just as there are many variations on non-Calvinism. And where the line is depends on whom you ask.
* Perseverance. It should be obvious to anyone familiar with the Southern Baptists that POTS (perseverance of the saints) does not necessarily lead to a weak commitment to Jesus. And so I just can’t get that upset over POTS — although I disagree.
I just can’t buy the argument that the warnings against falling away are there to assure perseverance that is guaranteed to happen. I can understand that God wants us to exhort the saints as a means of perseverance. But I just can’t accept that God wants us to warn the saints against the impossible. It would be like warning your children against monsters to keep them in bed at night. It might work, but I wouldn’t lie to my children.
* Deciding. Both sides have their proof texts. Whatever is true has to respond to Calvin’s favorite texts and the non-Calvinist proof texts. Merely tossing texts back and forth is pointless — and really tedious, at least to me. Both sides have to interact with the texts from both sides.
But it’s really hard work reconciling what appear to be contradictory passages scattered across the pages of scriptures. Personally, I don’t think they contradict, but showing how they don’t is a tremendous amount of work. You really do have to go deeper than the commentaries generally go. You have to sort through the Greek (or Hebrew).
And you have to always keep in mind the nature of God as revealed in Jesus. Always.