Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Theology Devoid of Love

A sort of squabble has erupted in the comment section over at Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds over snobbish, prideful Calvinists foisting their theology onto others. That was not the intent of the article, but that is the brawl that has taken place none-the-less.

For full disclosure as a Calvinistic guy, I want to heartily agree with some of the commentors and affirm that Calvinists are indeed a prideful, snobby, and sometimes elitist brood. I also want to heartily affirm that this is true of everyone, regardless of your understanding of the atonement and regeneration, which is precisely why we are in need of the grace of Jesus Christ in the first place. So I confess my guilt and humbly beseech my dissenting brethren to search their hearts as well.

So why is it that folks can be so vindictive, divisive, and hateful over theology? Undoubtedly, all would agree that there are errors that are deal-breakers such as disagreements over, The Triune Nature of God, the full deity of Jesus Christ, the true of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, the need for Christ's atonement, the veracity of Scripture, and etc. When I say "deal-breaker", I mean that if you mess up one of these you have strayed into heresy so deep that your soul is in peril.

The truth is that Arminian and Calvinistic theology both fall neatly between the orthodox ditches, and while the disagreements are real, there is ample room for charity. Indeed, both sides should hold the other in high regard, and I pray that the Lord God make it so. So why is there such division?

For one, I think the problem is that too many Christians have nothing to lose. Who is causing the trouble? Many would say that it is the Young, Restless, and Reformed. So let's analyze who these folks are. They are probably youngish, well-read folks who have waded in to the deep end of theology but are still in the baby pool concerning love. The reason, perhaps, is that while they are to be commended for taking the doctrines of Christianity seriously, they probably have little deep regard for brothers and sisters as they are. In other words, they have fallen so deeply in love with their understanding of the 'ideal' church that they are unable to function in the church as she is.

Here's my meaning. Let's say you have a single, romantically minded young man who desperately wants a wife and he really wants to be a good husband. So, he reads up on it in the Bible and he comes across the magnificent Ephesians 5:22 that teaches wives to submit to their husbands. So on every date the young man goes on, he queries his potential mate and evalutes her potential as a wife by asking, "Are you going to submit to me in all things as you would to the Lord Jesus? If you don't, I can tell you that this isn't going anywhere." What do you suppose is his likelihood of finding a wife?

The guy is right about a wife's call to submit to her husband, but his ignorance concerning the rest of the beauty of marriage makes him an idiot. Plus, he's really got no emotional attachment to the deal, he generally runs all prospects off on the first date. The only reason he invites them to dinner is because they looked attractive until they were put off by his Biblical mindset, so he thinks. Indeed, he probably gets a bit of a matyr complex and bemoans the condition of a world filled with women unwilling to submit to men as to the Lord.

Let's say, by the grace of God, this guy actually does get married. Let's pretend also that, shockingly, he actually turns out to be a tender and caring husband. Over the course of time, he feels that the Lord God is calling him to pack up and take a job in California, far from family and home, and well, his wife is not too keen. Do you suppose that he should take out Ephesians 5:22 and pound her over the head with it until she throws up her hands in surrender and moves to California? Theologically, he's got it in the bag, right? Ideally, she trusts in the Lord and moves to California. Realistically, it may take time for God to overcome doubt and refine the heart to love His call and Word.

That's my rough analogy for why Calvinists and others act so idiotically over their theology. They have nothing to lose because they are just flirting around with the church and the people in it, and if it does not immediately conform to their ideal, they puff out the chest and go someplace else. Isn't it true that it is possible to "understand all mysteries and all knowledge" and still be nothing? (1 Cor. 13:2).

As a special point to the most zealous of the divisive theologs, I have to wonder if where you are now theologically is where you began? Did you get here without struggle and honest questions? And what truth do you have now that God did not grant you to have? Do you think that you figured things out because you are smarter and wiser and less sinful than other men and women? If you are truly enlightened, then you owe it to both the wise and the unwise to be patient, gentle, forebearing, long-suffering, and kind. If not, we poor rubes may never see the glory of God as clearly as you see it, and that would be a lousy stewardship of the gift that God has given you, wouldn't it?


Anonymous said...

"The truth is that Arminian and Calvinistic theology both fall neatly between the orthodox ditches, and while the disagreements are real, there is ample room for charity".

Absolutely, the problem is that there isn't any charity. I go to Greg Boyd's church, I assume you know who he is since you are somewhat involved in this debate. I can handle disagreement in theology. It's when the Calvinists (in my case) talk about my immature faith or actually know that I'm going to hell, that my feathers get ruffled. Regardless, I hate it when I let my feathers get ruffled like that. Arrrgh!

Thanks for this thoughtful and in my opinion correct post.

Tim L
(came over from EO)

Brad Williams said...

Tim L,

I'm glad you stopped by, and would be interested in talking with you about theology. Would you consider Greg Boyd's views to be Arminian? My understanding is that he is an "Open Theist" which denies that God can know the future since it does not yet exist. Is that correct? Most of what I know is admittedly second-hand, and so I would really appreciate your understanding as one in his congregation.

Brad Williams said...

Tim L,

If you'd rather not get into it here, I'd be happy to get an email at hespeaksatyahoodotcom.

Even So... said...

Well said, Brad, and I have been guilty of it, for sure...I do hope and pray it is becoming less and less as I mature in Christ...

St.Lee said...

Brad, you said "Calvinists are indeed a prideful, snobby, and sometimes elitist brood"

As a Calvinist myself, I won't argue that, but isn't it just a crying shame that a right understanding of the doctrines of grace should lead us to be the least prideful, the least snobby and the least elitist of all Christians?

Brad Williams said...

In my opinion, a good Arminian understanding of salvation should lead to pride-killing, Christ-exalting humility. So should good Calvinism. Why we do not wind up there as the people of God indicates how easy it is to stoke the pride of a fallen man.

So the Calvinist says to the Arminian, "You must be so proud of yourself for choosing God!"

He responds, "No indeed! I came as a beggar responding to God's prevenient grace. I can not boast in my response. You, on the other hand, must be so proud that God picked you over other men! How special you must feel!"

The Calvinist responds, "Oh no, it is a mystery to me as to why God would save me. I am completely unworthy of His affections."

So each probably leaves thinking the other is very proud because of their erroneous view of election and quite proud that they haven't botched theology like the other guy did. Pride is pride is pride no matter where it comes from. If one is too humble to boast in personal conversion, pride will seek opportunity to boast in theology.

Keith said...

Great post!

chaz said...


I'm glad you are keeping everyone on their toes and I agree wholeheartedly. Wish you were down here, we missed ya on our last fishing trip.