Friday, July 27, 2012

On Alleged Misconceptions in Reformed Theology

The White Horse Inn (see: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2012/07/25/5-myths-about-reformed-theology/#comment-13193) has provided access to the "Resurgence" website where Dr. Horton alleges 5 misconceptions about Reformed Theology (see: http://theresurgence.com/2012/07/25/5-myths-about-reformed-theology).

I'm not sure that what Horton asserts as myths or misconceptions are in fact such when certain considerations are noted relative to each of the points he makes.

POINT #1.  First, (a) Horton first points out that “Calvin didn’t teach anything unique that you can’t find, for example, in Augustine or Luther." However, he made no mention to the Church Fathers before Augustine. Horton should have established if what Calvin taught were also the teachings of the Early Church during the 400 prior to Augustine. If not, then would not Calvin's teaching, thereby, be unique?
(b) It seems more is implied by the term "Calvinism", especially when the claim is made that "Calvinism is the Gospel" (a phrase coined by Spurgeon if I am correct). Unless Horton dares claim that the teachings of Calvinism are at every point in absolute agreement with the Bible, is this not putting man-made interpretations or traditions, at least, equal to if not above the authority of Biblical revelation?
(c) Calvinists seem to suggest that they alone teach "the doctrines of grace." Do the Reformed, especially Horton, really believe that Arminianism is not consistent with Biblical revelation for their teaching to be identified also as "doctrines of grace"? If not, it is Horton who entertains misconceptions about Arminianism.  If not, then how can one believe that Calvinists are being honest when they say that they believe Arminians are genuine believers?
Second, unfortunately, while affirming grace, it seems Calvinist teaching inspires an unconscious pleasure in affirming the sinfulness of believers, their state under grace as sinners (who are identified in the Scriptures as being under the law and slaves to sin) rather than as saints, and their powerlessness to overcome sin (e.g. the position Calvinists have taken on Rom 7), which effectively downplays the Biblical concept of grace (and, of course, Reformed are not the only ones to make that error).  Is it possible that any perceptions others may have that Reformed exhibit “puffed up pride” be the result of an unconscious pride in being humble on the part of the Calvinist?
Third, the perception that Reformed/Calvinists are "impatient, know-it-all, and harsh," is not entirely out of place with certain Calvinists, with the majority whom I have dealt with. In my experience, they have been quick to judge my character, insult my intellect (rather than gently correct my misunderstandings, if any), and make clear implications regarding the end of my spiritual destiny. Of course, this cannot be true in general but it is true in the majority of my discussions with Calvinists.
I'm not trying to suggest all Calvinists are arrogant but only that some have given the impression of holding up, if not Calvin, the teachings of Calvinism, at least, equal to, if not Christ, Biblical revelation.
POINT #2.  First, it seems that a denial of the allegation made that "men are robots" stems from Calvinists double-think. As Horton claims, it takes too much space here to discuss this issue, so let me just briefly say, if teachings like those suggested in the WCF 5:1-4 are not equivalent to the way a robot is programmed, it is not made clear how in Calvinist teaching men cannot be perceived as robots. Although there may be the admission that men have free will, their teachings, logically followed and “free will” properly defined, contradict such an admission.
Second, that "We exist for [God's] purposes" and Jesus "is the Lord and Savior of the world" does not seem to lend any escape from the allegation that "men are robots".
Third, the assertion that "grace is the work of the Triune God in freeing us", as far as Calvinistic doctrine is concerned, is misleading. Calvinism teaches that God determines every action of every creature, even sin, specifically and wholly; nothing happens and no man acts apart from God's decree. As such, this purported "freedom" is nothing but the inevitable movements of divine decree. Man is “free”, whether it is to righteousness or sin, ultimately to do only as God decreed he will do. How that “freedom” is explained by self-contradictory assertions is, from my perspective, double-think.  As such, Reformed affirmations of man’s possessing free-will are illusory.
In light of Calvinist theology teaching divine absolute, exhaustive, and minute control of all Creation, it is not to be wondered why non-Calvinists perceive Calvinists to teach that men are robots (in more than just "a sense").
POINT #3.  First, in my opinion, Calvinism, although affirming divine grace and love, effectively denies these essential saving attributes of God and, in addition, makes the Cross of Christ ancillary and not foundational to salvation. It does so by the Calvinistic teaching that salvation is first and foremost on the basis of divine decree in election and predestination.
Second, what contributes to the perception that Calvinism is "making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way", is the fact that it effectively teaches that it is not divine love but an arbitrary divine decision, which determines who is to be saved and who is to be damned.
The BCF, art.16, also reads: "He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves."
Again, double-think is the process that makes claim to the above propositions; for how can it be construed as "merciful" if it is solely by an "unchangeable counsel" that certain men are saved? And, how can it be construed as deserving that certain other men chosen for damnation if it is absolutely "without any consideration of their works"?  Furthermore, how can the sinner have "plunged themselves" when in both cases, their sinning and their damnation, have been decreed on the basis only of God's decision to do so?
POINT #4.  First, it can be legitimately argued that the reason why the apostle Paul "erupt[s] in praise" is because he understood the doctrines Horton mentions other than on the basis of Calvinistic presuppositions that were introduced more than 400 years after the formal inauguration of the Messianic community of Christ-followers.
Second, that “salvation belongs to the LORD” is not denied but enthusiastically affirmed. However, what is argued is whether or not Calvinism has properly represented the manner by which that "salvation belongs to the Lord", especially if Calvinists assert that in all points Calvinist teaching accurately reflects, without error, the message of the Gospel.
Regarding sections three to five under the 4th point, I will not question any Calvinist's piety. However, it is interesting that the assertion is made that "Reformed piety  [i.e. Calvinism] embraces the world" when Calvinists cannot agree whether or not God's grace and love extends genuinely to the all men.
In any case, I hope the Calvinists' affirmation of their own mission to the world affirms the reality that there are other communities and denominations of Christians (non-Calvinists, e.g. Pentecostals, Arminians, Charismatic, and, in my opinion, even Catholics) who affirm a piety that reaches out to embrace the whole world - specifically, all men without exception - for Christ's sake; this mission is not the sole province of the Calvinists assemblies.
POINT #5.  First, if election according to Calvinism is true" (a) there are those left in their sins to the effect that there is "no point to evangelism" as it will have no direct effect upon the hearing by the damned or the saved since it is by the divine decree considered "before the foundation of the world", which, apart from preaching, orders the giving or withholding of grace and faith, thereby rendering means superfluous and practically ineffectual and unnecessary. In other words, the elect believe to salvation not directly because they have believed the Gospel but because God has decreed to give them faith to believe; the non-elect are damned, not because they do not believe the Gospel but because God withholds faith to believe and hardens their heart. It is not the preaching that is effectual for the divinely desired results but an arbitrary divine act founded on an arbitrary divine decree.
Simply put, in Calvinism the basis of a sinner's faith is not the sacrifice of Christ to forgive but in God having elected them for salvation.
Second, such assertions Horton here makes has the appearsance of arrogance if it implies that only the Reformed are vanguards and exerted large influence for missions, ignoring the commendable efforts of non-Calvinists like the Pentecostals, attributed as being the fastest growing Christian community world-wide.
In addition, as commendable as the Calvinist missionary impetus is, they are shown not strangers to persecuting others if certain historical writings are trustworthy, see:http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/protestpersecute.html
"...in thy light shall we see light." - Psalm 36:9

In particular, "The Council of Dort, led entirely by Reformed Calvinists, completely rejected all five Arminian articles. A persecution of Arminians even to death ensued. Of the Arminian defendants, John Wesley wrote, 'some were put to death, some banished, some imprisoned for life, all turned out of their employments, and made incapable of holding any office, either in Church or State.' Rome's wrath had previously fallen upon the Protestant Reformers at the Council of Trent. But, when the once-persecuted Reformed Protestant Church obtained political power themselves, they became the persecutors. They behaved precisely like Rome, killing and persecuting Christians who dared express a theology contrary to the new Protestant state Church. This behavior of the Calvinists was not an isolated incident. Calvin himself had people put to death in Geneva for having the gall to disagree with his theology." 
Further, it is noted that "The Reformers themselves...e.g., Luther, Beza, and especially Calvin, were as intolerant to dissentients as the Roman Catholic Church."

See: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/03/protestant-inquisition-reformation.html.
It seems that one of the reasons for the 2nd Great Awakening under Charles G. Finney was due to the Reformed churches Calvinistic teachings, which dulled the "evangelistic impulse" for a time.

These points are brought, not to impugn the Reformed Calvinistic tradition, but to show that along with the Calvinists' "evangelistic impulse" there may be the impulse to persecute and behave arrogantly towards non-Calvinists. Of course, this can be true of any Christian community.

My main concern is that Horton's assertions seem to imply the denial of non-Calvinist efforts at reaching the world of men for Christ.

Third, regarding Horton's "difficult[y] to imagine how Reformed faith and practice could be charged with killing community", see above.

The Calvinistic teaching, taking to its logical conclusion, can very well destroy the "faith and practice" of any Christian community, as demonstrated in the history of the Protestant persecution and revivals under Charles G. Finney as very briefly mentioned above.

The truth of the matter is, as I see it, Calvinists’, in general, seem to practice their faith unconsciously in contradiction to Reformed teaching. For example, although only the elect are saved, nevertheless, they preach to all men as if all men are elect; or, although believing that sinners have no libertarian free will, they preach as if every sinner has the ability to repent, and as if their preaching is what will cause a sinner to repent (thank God for small favors).

Finally, I pray that we, as followers of Messiah Jesus, reform and are being reformed by the Word of God into accurate moral reflections of the divine image through the experiential knowledge, if not an accurate intellectual knowledge, that is grounded through faith solely on the grace demonstrated in the Cross of Christ. For I believe it is better to own both a deep conviction and lively practice that is faithful to God in the Spirit of the revelation of the Cross of Christ.

"...a workman that needeth
not to be ashamed." - 2 Timothy 2:15

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