Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I serve a Fuzzy God

The title is a spoof of something one of the Puritans once said, when taken to task about all the rules and regulations promulgated by the Puritans - "Sir, we serve a precise God." I still keep my copy of Richard Baxter's 900+ page Christian Directory as a reminder of this. And as a warning.

The danger of theological overprecision is commented on today by John Armstrong. I hear echoes of Os Guinness' observations in it as well...

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Truth About Calvin

A good response to the latest IMonk piece...

"(Calvinism) has come to mean one who believes in the five points of Calvinism so-called but we must remember that those five points were drawn up as a very specific apologetic response to Arminian concerns. They were never intended by their framers to be a replacement of the gospel or some sort of codification of it. What many 'Calvinists' miss today is the surrounding theological context which those five points are set in and what that overall context has to do with them specifically.

The theology and practice of John Calvin was so much more Christ-centered than the theology and practice of so-called Calvinism today in Baptist and other circles. Calvin carried with him an incarnational catholic theology that was not merely a way to explain how salvation happened--rather it was a faith that transformed everything it touched."

Amen and amen. Frankly, I think a lot of the fanatical (c)alvinists out there would have a heart attack if they really read some of Calvin's actual teachings - particularly on the Communion table. ;-}

(The guy who wrote the quote above has his own blog, which is now linked here.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

They make their fringes long...

Two observations today.

One, an excellent piece by Doug Wilson on how Calvinists should debate with others. (Edit - here's another good one.)

Second, James White's website continues its adventures in unintended irony. They're now offering blue rubber bracelets to their subscribers to, quote, "encourage the small but dedicated band that read this blog and who seek to honor God by honoring His truth in their lives and their witness, we have ordered a press run of the very popular rubber-band style wrist bands in royal blue. And what is imprinted on them? Well, for this first run (we might do others, if these go well), I thought the best possible imprint would be, 'No Compromise.' Is that not right where the battle is today?"

Run the title of my post through your concordance, read the verse, and draw your own conclusions...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Another Brick in the Wall

Watching this war over theology and life brought to my remembrance some words spoken by Os Guinness at the first Annapolis conference of the Jonathan Edwards Insitute. I noted them with some interest at the time, but since then they have echoed truer and truer - especially now with this IMonk kerfuffle raging on. Of course, most of the Fighting Calvinist Brigade would say that Os Guinness is also theologically suspect, but as we Calvinists are so fond of saying we believe... the truth is the truth.

Remarks made by Dr. Os Guinness at a plenary address delivered to “A Passion for Truth”, the first annual conference of the Jonathan Edwards Institute, in Annapolis, Maryland, in July 1997:

“...We’ve got to clearly call for a revival of revival. But isn’t the same true of reformation? I’m Reformed. Most of you, I imagine, are Reformed. But I would say to you, gently, (that) the Reformed movement is not the best witness for reformation. Start by thinking, the Reformation has come full circle. Always in the past, the evangelicals, who were passionate for reform, were over against the corrupt, or the compromised, or the nominal, or the formal, or the dead, or whatever it was; and they represented life and return - reformation, revival. We’re the ones who need reforming today. And you do often hear Catholics and chastened liberals who look at dismay at... evangelicals, who are twice as worldly as them - and they are repenting of some of their worldliness, and they see worse in us. (The Reformed movement) is spiritually dry. Much of it is antiquarian! This is not the 16th century - we’re in the 20th, almost the 21st! Much of it is incredibly fractious. You can think of the obvious examples of Reformed brothers who talk about “intellectual kneecapping”, and do it to each other! But you can see a spirit of uptight phariseeism about truth, which has nothing to do with Jesus, or the Gospels. There’s an ugliness and a phariseeism in the Reformed movement that surely needs reforming. Revival needs reviving, but let’s be honest - the Reformed movement needs reforming. Even take one of its’ favorite notions, transformation. The Reformed movement, if you look at it closely, isn’t much of a transforming community. (It) loves its subcultures, comes out of them to its conferences, and beetles back to them - but do you have an engagement with a culture that’s actually from other parts of evangelicalism? The Reformed movement talks transformation a storm, and does anything but transformation in reality. We are not nearly as reformed as we think we are. And maybe one of the worst things of all is the lack of grace-giving. Our theology’s all that - isn’t the most startling thing about our Lord His grace? The categories He shattered, the unwelcomables that He embraced; and much of the Reformed movement is drawing its lines and putting people on the wrong side of the lines, and telling certain people (that) they’re no longer Christian! Their theology may be sub-par, but is all of this close to our Lord Himself? I suggest to you that revival needs reviving, and the Reformed movement needs reforming.”

Dispatch from the Trenches

Over the past week, a full-blown blog war has broken out over the latest series of comments at The Internet Monk/Boar's Head Tavern.

Not only the lurkers and trolls, but such esteemed personages as Phil Johnson and James White have dived into the struggle. As I sit in my foxhole, watching the shells scream overhead, I note my observations...

I talked over some of this with my rector yesterday. He thought IMonk was saying some things worth hearing, but that his rhetoric was turning people off. He may have a point there. But the level of harsh criticism in reply to IMonk's writings seems *way* out of proportion to me. Admittedly, I'm not unbiased, but... To quote the great existentialist philosopher Han Solo, "Must've hit pretty close to the mark to get them all riled up like that, eh, kid?"

Honesty check - does yelling at someone and dressing them down for their beliefs *really* accomplish anything?

This is yet another nail in the coffin of my high hopes for the efficacy of abstract theology. And the efficacy of debating theology on the Web, for that matter...

Monday, April 11, 2005

Theology or Life?

Again, I just had to come back to this topic, especially this gem of a comment by IMonk...

"...Calvinists seem offended at having to listen to someone talk about their LIFE and not just their THEOLOGY. It is the dehumanizing of theology that is turning me out of the Calvinist camp."

I can speak from experience on this, from my own days of argumentative Calvinism. To that type, a person's life is irrelevant. The TRUTH is the TRUTH, (and of course, the Calvinist formulation is that truth), so a person's life experience is irrelevant. One must bow to the TRUTH, and to hell with emotions or whatever.

You know, it would be GREAT if people actually functioned like that! Well, probably not, actually. The point is, we aren't. We're not computers. We're not Vulcans. We're humans. And fallen humans, at that. Our emotions and our backgrounds DO impact our theology, like it or not. And we Calvinists, of all people, ought to appreciate the necessity of divine action, above and beyond human comprehension, to make the truth ring true to our tone-deaf ears. The fact that so many Calvinists get so stirred up when someone commmits an "error" is - well, you'd almost assume that they thought that it actually lay in our power to understand everything about theology! That any error on someone's part is an indicator of willful sin and stubbornness on that person's part, making them a legitimate target of our divinely inspired ire.

To me, *that* is what smacks of stubbornness and arrogance. Not to mention a deep lack of charity and compassion.

I still believe in the main tenets of Calvinism. But I don't fight over them anymore. First, people's ideas about these things don't really change because of human arguments. Secondly, there's too many shrill Calvinists out there already - no need to add another to the mix. Third, Calvinism is a good (I'd still say the best) explanation of the Gospel - but *it is not the Gospel* itself. And THAT is what is the more important.

The Trouble with Calvin(ists)

The latest article at InternetMonk is quite a read...

Even more striking are some of the responses IMonk makes to the critics of the piece. (See them here...)

I am writing some of them down here because they articulate many of the problems that I have been having with doing theology on the internet (especially the Calvinist version...)

"(T)the theological camps that war on the internet and in real life are primarily made up of people who don't care about the human journey of a person as much as they care about the theological issues and answers that person is able to articulate."

"...Calvinists seem offended at having to listen to someone talk about their LIFE and not just their THEOLOGY. It is the dehumanizing of theology that is turning me out of the Calvinist camp."

"I am not made more human or more loving or more real by the espousing of doctrine. I must live, love, choose and fail to be human."

"(T)here are those who insist (that) nothing matters more than the assertions of Calvinism, which they assume equal the Gospel. I cannot, not because I do not read their texts or know their confession, but because my life situation has made me a different person."