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Life After Calvinism

May 31st, 2007
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In light of my recent post on Calvinism, I found this post on Reformed Catholicism to be timely and quite a coincidence. There appears to be a growing number of thoughtful Calvinists that are finding what I, not they mind you, what I would describe as a certain vapid sterility to the old "five point Calvinism" with its endless preoccupation with making all things "fit" into a "logical system." My only response to this kind of post is: come to Wittenberg where catholicism was never thrown out like the proverbial baby with the bathwater. We too have our own struggles with a legacy of Pietism and the influence of a generic American protestantism.

Quote begins:

My friend, R. Heath McClure, casually said something in passing that
was actually quite profound. Sitting in a coffee shop in downtown
Franklin, Tennessee, he stated, “Calvinism, at least as a system of
doctrine, wages war against the organic nature of the faith.”

Wham! Slapped me silly in the face!

I’m a Calvinist (I think), and have been one for quite some time
(Heath assures me I’m actually a Lutheran, and others have accused me
of being Catholic — so be it!). But over the last few years, my
Calvinism has been in transition as I’ve tried to account for all of
the Bible in all of life.

And one area of life that my Calvinism has been both blessing and
curse is in the area of suffering. So I’ve altered my thinking a bit. I
suppose at this point, I’m best classified as a Post-Calvinist.

Syllogisms are rarely comforting. But many Calvinists think
they are. Nonsense. Syllogisms are tidy, soapy-fresh, and completely
scum-free. But suffering (and life in general!) is bloody, painful, and
full of tears. Moreover, Calvinism fails to speak accurately about the
Sacraments, and about the language of the Scriptures.

Calvinists must account for this if it is going to have any
integrity to the church, the Bible, and to life – and if it is going to
do justice to truth, beauty, and goodness.

I’m not alone in my “Post-Calvinism.” There are many more like me.
The following are a number of thoughts, affirmations, and denials on
belief and worship that should spark some good discussion, particularly
among those that are sympathetic to my Post-Calvinism. Some
affirmations are pro “Calvinism” and some denials are pro “Calvinism.”
Others are very anti-Calvinism. But they are all pro
“fixing-Calvinism.” It is my hope that these musings will provide joy,
anger, discussion, and further clarification in the future.

On Belief
A Post-Calvinist affirms John Calvin was a wise and learned man with a great intellect that should be studied, admired, and imitated. A Post-Calvinist denies that Calvinism, as a system,necessarily represents the nature of John Calvin’s theology accurately.

A Post-Calvinist affirms the importance of Calvinism in history, theology, and the church today. A Post-Calvinist denies that Calvinism is identical with the universal faith believed always, everywhere, and by all.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that significantly deviating from the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” is asking for some trouble. A Post-Calvinist denies that deviating from the Five Points is heretical.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that the Five Points of Calvinism are a helpful expression of Biblical theology, and a safeguard to the free grace of God, especially in a polemical context. A Post-Calvinist denies that the Five Points are always helpful in each and every context.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that men are dead in trespasses and sins and do not seek after God. A Post-Calvinist denies that covenant-keepers are dead in trespasses and sins.

A Post-Calvinist affirms we all are worse off than we could ever imagine or think. A Post-Calvinist denies Total Depravity is a comprehensive enough doctrine to engage human suffering.

A Post-Calvinist affirms the secret things belong to the
Lord, specifically election, which is based on the eternal and
immutable decree of God fixed before the foundation of the world. A
Post-Calvinist denies Calvinists know the mind of the Lord or can offer him any counsel.

A Post-Calvinist affirms Jesus died to secure the salvation
of a particular people, and actually accomplished that salvation in his
life, death, and resurrection. A Post-Calvinist denies Limited Atonement teaches anything very helpful besides that, particularly in a pastoral context.

A Post-Calvinist affirms the Effectual (and “irresistible”) Calling of the Holy Spirit. A Post-Calvinist denies that the Holy Spirit is irresistible (Acts 7:51).

A Post-Calvinist affirms Scripture is the authority in faith and practice. A Post-Calvinist denies that proof-texting is always particularly helpful.

A Post-Calvinist affirms the usefulness, clarity, and
inevitability of the use of logic, reason, and syllogisms in
understanding the Bible and its doctrine. A Post-Calvinist denies that God, his Word, and his ways are
often willing to conform to syllogisms.

A Post-Calvinist affirms the comforting words offered in
the gospel of grace for those who are suffering under the weight of the
world. A Post-Calvinist denies philosophical Enlightenment categories are the best way to offer the comfort of free and sovereign grace.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that elect infants, dying in infancy, are saved (and other stoic doctrines). A Post-Calvinist denies that is a helpful way to comfort ruddy-red, tear-stained cheeks.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that justification is by the
imputed righteousness of Christ, appropriated by faith alone: indeed, a
faith that works and is never alone. A Post-Calvinist denies
that imputation is the only way to explain salvation apart from
healing, sanctification, regeneration, liberation, cleansing,
restoration, victory, and other “medicinal” words.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that qualifications are a must in the long run. A Post-Calvinist denies that qualifications are always necessary, nor always Biblical.

A Post-Calvinist affirms the use of extra-Biblical language for the sake of clarity and avoidance of error (i.e., the Holy Trinity). A Post-Calvinist denies it is ever helpful to speak against the language of the Scriptures – God’s language! (Speaking like God is a must.)

A Post-Calvinist affirms the Five Points are largely
derivative from Scripture, and their language is a result of the
historical context of the crisis at Dordt against the blasted
Arminians. A Post-Calvinist denies the Five Points should ever be the interpretive grid of Scripture, filtering “problem texts” through a Five-Pointed machine.

A Post-Calvinist affirms the Scriptures are organic, holistic, and dare we say, messy. A Post-Calvinist denies that Calvinism – as articulated today – comes close to capturing this.

A Post-Calvinist affirms there are Scriptural texts difficult to understand, particularly in a systematic context. A Post-Calvinist denies there is such a thing as “problem passages” or “Bible difficulties.”

On Worship
A Post-Calvinist affirms that Calvinistic worship should be in the beauty of holiness. A Post-Calvinist denies that
Calvinistic worship is usually done in the beauty of holiness.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that worship should bless, praise,
hallow, honor, and glorify the Lord according to the standards of his
Word. A Post-Calvinist denies the so-called “regulative principle” is very effective in doing this.

A Post-Calvinist affirms Old Testament worship “rocked.” A Post-Calvinist denies New Testament worship should suddenly “suck.”

A Post-Calvinist affirms that Christians should not make an idol of worship out of anything. A Post-Calvinist denies
that dismal sanctuaries, plexiglass pulpits, plain walls, Communion
tables with wheels, business suits or Hawaiian shirts, brown and white
color schemes, or ridiculous wall banners inherently avoid idolatry.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that worship is in spirit and in truth. A Post-Calvinist denies that worship should ignore any of our senses, particularly our senses of touch, taste and smell.

A Post-Calvinist affirms Angels worship, kneel, move their wings and body, and bow before God’s glory. A Post-Calvinist denies sinful man should do anything different.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that baptism saves (regenerates?) in a real, true, and meaningful way. A Post-Calvinist denies that this threatens God’s eternal decrees.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that the Lord’s Supper is truly administered in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. A Post-Calvinist denies that cracker crumbs and thimbles of grape juice are even close to obeying the regulative principle of worship.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that the administration of the
Supper (whether passing a plate or coming forward to receive) is
largely unspoken of in the Bible. A Post-Calvinist denies that our choice of administration is neutral or lacking in symbolism.

A Post-Calvinist affirms with Calvin, that the Sacrament is only effective when administered with the Word. A Post-Calvinist denies, with Calvin, that the Word is very effective without the Sacrament.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that forgiveness of sins, Jesus’
body and blood, and all the benefits of salvation are offered in the
Lord’s Supper. A Post-Calvinist denies that ascending to the heavens to feast by faith in our hearts sounds Scriptural at all.

A Post-Calvinist affirms that truth is clarified through syllogisms such as these. A Post-Calvinist denies that syllogisms such as these are always helpful or necessary.

 
 

 

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  1. Andrew Grams
    June 5th, 2007 at 12:01 | #1

    For the writer of that post, it is no coincidence. One of his heroes of the faith is none other than Martin Luther, who he has studied in some detail. In his replies to some of the comments on that post he demonstrates how Luther has influenced his Christian walk.
    One of the statements he made on belief struck me as a starting point for where I think a search for thoughtful believers such as the author of the post in this information age begins: “A Post-Calvinist denies that Calvinism is identical with the universal faith believed always, everywhere, and by all.” Once one starts searching for the one true faith received from Christ, and handed down in the church through the apostles, a critical examination of what the particular denomination teaches to which a person belongs. If it is not found or if major deviations are discovered from the true Gospel, the search continues to find a place where the true, orthodox teaching of the Gospel takes place in the visible church on earth.
    For me, personally, as an LCMS member from birth, as I go back and really delve into the Book of Concord, sift through Luther, and compare what I have been taught to what has been taught through the ages by the church, and the early church fathers, I become more and more convinced that Luther was right. Interactions with individuals such as the author of the post only serves to confirm that Luther sought to preserve the true, orthodox teachings of the church. And this is especially made clear in the statements on communion and worship above. It should be pointed out too that the author’s post was actually written four years ago, and it would be interesting to see whether there has been an evolution in thinking since that time if the syllogisms were rewritten today.
    “My only response to this kind of post is: come to Wittenberg where catholicism was never thrown out like the proverbial baby with the bathwater.” Many of the reformed folks I have spoken with recognize the LCMS as the most orthodox of Lutheran denominations, and find little disagreeable with its teachings, yet they are unwilling to take the plunge. No real specific reasons tend to be given, but I do find it puzzling. Is it because when you call a thing what it is — sin, sin; evil, evil; and good, good — that our sinful nature simply cannot accept the truth of what we are? Is it because God uses the law to kill and the cross to give life (after nailing His Son and our sins to it with the penalty of the law)? Is it because all I must do is come to the cross with arms open as a beggar believing in the promise of forgiveness and new life in Christ? Is it too simply for our “complex” human minds (or at least minds that love to make things complex — calling evil good)? Or do we just not proclaim the message loudly enough and boldly enough and publicly enough as Luther did in his day — and not just pastors and teachers, but us lay people too? Thoughts?

  2. June 6th, 2007 at 00:09 | #2

    Andrew,
    I have encountered Reformed people who have a lot of misconceptions about Lutheran theology. There are a lot of popularity that surrounds Calvinism, in fact Evangelicalism today is one way or another rooted in it. They may complain, but the Arminianism of present Evangelicalism is really of the same paradigm as Calvinism. Some think that there are only two of these options, which is wrong. Some Calvinist think that because we are not, we are Arminians and we know are not these either.
    For those who do not swing across, after agreement, I can only point to loyalty in a tradition. We are just too peculiar in comparison to the rest and this gives a lot of pressure. It is not easy being in a minority, this is quite a hard thing.
    You may find yourself that your former friends disassociating with you. I experienced this myself.
    Lito

  3. Andrew Grams
    June 6th, 2007 at 07:41 | #3

    Lito,
    Thanks for the insight. I have been surprised that some of those who have expressed concerns over Calvinism do indeed acknowledge the Arminian undercurrents. Tradition does seem to be the strongest pull which ironically follows the “always, everywhere, by all {insert tradition}” formulation. I haven’t studied Calvinism in depth, but it seems that, although, Luther is respected, his works are very understudied, and, where he is used, only a small portion of his teachings are used (see for example the reformed theological collection on monergism.com where portions of Luther works are used, but overshadowed by the vast amount of reformed authors). It seems to me that we have a gem of orthodoxy in our teaching that may not be being proclaimed loudly enough. Some of the speakers from outside LCMS Lutheranism in a series of lectures from the Institute on Lay Vocation from last November opined that LCMS Lutherans are not engaged in the public sphere in the same way as Catholics, Presbyterians, and certainly evangelicals. And, in fact, we seem to be a very close knit community whose members do not venture too far from home. That is a perception, but there does seem to be truth in that statement especially when you consider the number of members of Congress who are Lutheran is a very small number. Now, I’m not into the whole quota thing that because 30% of the population is X, then we always must have such proportions in every industry imaginable. What concerns me on a more personal, local level is what this says about our willingness as LCMS Lutherans to engage in the public sphere, and speak lovingly and persuasively about the faith we have received with others. My interactions with my reformed brethren and the lack of a liturgical congregation within close proximity to me, have caused me to really look at my own actions (or lack thereof) in this regard, and it is become a personal challenge of faith for me.

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