The beginning of thought is in disagreement – not only with others but also with ourselves.-Eric Hoffer
Today I am addressing a post to non-Calvinists and will do the same for Calvinists on Monday. The purpose of these posts is to build understanding, if that is at all possible. Why the pessimism? It comes from the experience of writing a blog for a long time and hearing the same old, same old. Until these last five years, I had thought it possible for everyone to get along, even attend the same church. Old Pollyannas die hard.
Let me backtrack. I became a Christian at the age of 17, having been raised in Salem, Massachusetts, in what was essentially a non Christian home. My dad was Russian Orthodox, primarily because it was a cultural expectation for him. I was drawn to the faith for several years due to my reading as well as viewing Billy Graham on the television. Eventually I became a Christian during an episode of Star Trek while reading a Life Magazine article about "The Groovy Christians of Rye, New York." I recently found the article online here and it made me cry as I thought about the journey of my life since that night.
If you read it, you will most likely have a heart attack. The theology is weak. The promises are over the top. The assuredness of the approach is arrogant. Yet, somewhere after the third paragraph, this young, rudderless teen stopped reading, glanced over at Star Trek on the television, began to cry, whispered, "I believe" and crossed that final frontier from unbelief into belief.
I didn't quite understand the sin stuff. I am sure that I didn't pray correctly. But, within the week, I opened my Bible and read 1John1 and knew it was speaking about me. I had found the light. This was no emotional, short term thing. I read CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and many others. I have never doubted the existence and presence of Jesus in my life. I have gone through some crisis of the faith in which I was unsure of what I understood but I never, ever stopped believing in Jesus.
Going to church in the north during those days was different. We didn't worry so much about exacting doctrine. We were just grateful to be around other Christians. Many of us had grown up in non-Christian households and did not know many Christians. We didn't care if we were charismatic, Baptist or coffee house hippies. We were just glad that others understood where we were coming from.
Yes, some would slip away. But, as I look back, I am gratified by the number of friends who have stayed the course through the years. I was blessed to be in some wonderful, intellectually stimulating churches. These include Park Street Church in Boston with Paul Toms as pastor; Chapel Hill Bible Church in North Carolina with Jim Abrahamson as pastor and Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Dallas with Pete Briscoe as pastor. I was challenged to think, to serve, to teach and to grow. I was aware of Reformed theology and had friends in each of those churches who tipped that way. But never, ever did it raise anything except a good discussion. However, for those who believe that evangelical churches are theologically light, my church experiences would challenge their assumption.
As I was leaving Dallas, a man I did not know well approached me in church and said he wanted to correct something I had said. Apparently I made some remark that all infants who die go to heaven. He said I was wrong. He "knew" that only the infants of covenantal believers go to heaven. I noted that this man often appeared angry to me and blew him off, deciding he was dealing with something in his life. Until about 6 years ago, I never, once, had any conflict with those who are Reformed. But something has changed in the last number of years. There appears to be a loss of respect for those who are not Calvinist in their thinking.
There is a new evangelism taking place. The fervor of this movement reminds me of the early, heady days of the Jesus movement. I hear the person, "Calvin," discussed more than "Jesus." I hear the word "gospel" placed in front of all primary and secondary issues. The word "Gospel" which meant so much to me as a new Christian, now seems a bit foreign. It is used to define gender roles, the age of the earth, eschatology, and election. I always thought of it as the Good News of the death and Resurrection of Jesus which resulted in the forgiveness of sins for those of us who believe.
At first, I thought I had missed something in my Christian walk. I took to reading Calvin, Sproul, Edwards, Grudem, Piper, et al. I kept a notebook, carefully writing all of the arguments in favor of Calvinism. I had no reason not to believe. I was open. Yet, no matter how hard I tried to understand, I just couldn't get there. Unfortunately, to some, that means I may not even be a Christian. Yet why do I still love Jesus, the Bible and read so many Christian authors?
I always get a smile on my face when I get an email which calls me out on my pitiful understanding of the faith. Do you know how many people want to prove to me that they are correct? It usually starts out with something like this. "I want to have a discussion with you. You can only use Bible verses." I used try but I have given up. You see, dedicated, intelligent theologians have gone down this road for centuries and still disagree with one another. What makes anyone think that we are going to solve it in a Bible verse war?
Did you notice that I used the word "non-Calvinist" as opposed to Arminian? We are not monolithic. Arminianism answers some of questions for me, not all of them. Therefore, I wanted to keep the door open in this discussion.
What is my bottom line?
I want us non-Calvinists to figure out how to get along with our Calvinist brothers and sisters.
I am currently reading Roger Olson's book, Against Calvinism. Here is a quick bio on Olson from Wikipedia.
Roger E. Olson (born 1952) is Professor of Theology, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA.
He is also an ordained Baptist minister. He is married with two children.
He is noted for a broad view of what constitutes Protestant "orthodoxy." For example on annihilationism he commented that some evangelical theologians have "resurrected the old polemical labels of heresy and aberrational teaching" in order to marginalize other evangelicals holding the view (The mosaic of Christian belief, 2002). Olsen is one of the writers who sees two "loose coalitions" developing in evangelical theology.
Olson coined the label "Pannenberg's Principle" for Wolfhart Pannenberg's argument (1969) that God's deity is his rule – "The divinity of God and the reign of God in the world are inseparable."
Michael Horton, a Calvinist, did the forward to the book. I liked that. Olson made the point that it was his goal to represent Calvinism in a way that Calvinists would agree with his characterizations, if not with his conclusions. Horton made it clear that he did not agree with all of Olson's assertions. However, he presented Olson as a man of good will. That also struck me and started me thinking.
Olson has occasionally been accused of heresy for not adhering to the current YRR view of doctrine. In his opening chapter, he discussed an incident (this has happened more than once) in which a Baylor student, who had attended the church of a well known northern Calvinist, informed Olson that Olson was not a Christian. Why? Because he did not adhere to the beliefs of his well-known pastor. Once again, I was struck by Olson's response. Although occasionally hurt by these accusations of heresy, he responds like a gentleman. His attitude impresses me. He does not back down on what he believes, yet responds to such denunciations with a gentle manner. He is a loving man in spite of the baloney flung his way.
So, in that manner, I have some suggestion on how to view Calvinists as a non-Calvinist.
Accept that they believe in a God of love even if you do not know how they get there.
It is a goal of this blog to extend the dialog to include Calvinists and even find areas with which we can agree. I also want to learn to be a bit more like Olson, showing kindness in the midst of disagreement. That means doing it even when the other person does not reciprocate. Recently, Julie Anne Smith, of the Spiritual Sounding Board, had a bit of a crisis in dealing with Calvinism. She discussed the abuse that she has been subjected to in her life. It caused her great pain to contemplate the Calvinist belief that God had ordained for her to be abused in such a manner.
She called me and we had a good talk. I told her that I disagree with John Piper's take on this situation. I told her that we, as non-Calvinists, have to move beyond what we believe is the logical conclusion of their argument (God orchestrating evil and pain) and try to understand that somehow Calvinists, who suggest a God who allows for abuse, is actually a God of love. I know. I can't get there either on the basis of the argument (I have heard it all and tried). Instead we have to accept that we don't understand their paradigm and choose to believe that they love God and believe that they are faithfully serving Him.
Accept that Calvinists find peace in trusting that God has orchestrated even the specific tragedies in life.
They do not understand why this brings others great pain. They find it sustaining. John Piper truly had no idea why his tweet from Job 1 caused an uproar. He said he found comfort from it. In response to the devastation of a hurricane:
@JohnPiper: “Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” Job 1:19
@JohnPiper: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20
Tell others that such thinking hurts you but do not expect them to understand. This is a corollary to Julie Anne Smith's story above.
Accept that many Calvinists have never experienced a doctrinally rigorous, non-Calvinist church.
I have come to understand that my experience in some great non-Calvinist churches is not the norm. I got a taste of this by spending a couple of years in Ed Young Jr.'s church. Ed was not so big on doctrine. Both my husband and I knew the difference at this point and began to look for another church in Dallas which we found in Bent Tree Bible Church. We bumped into a former leader from Ed's church at Bent Tree. He referred to our mutual, former experience as Bible light. That was not the case with Pete Briscoe as pastor.
So, when some folks finally get into a Calvinist church that teaches sound doctrine, they believe that they have found a system that has answers for many questions that had troubled them. They do not understand that there are alternative answers by good non-Calvinist theologians as well. There is a reason there has been a debate for centuries.
Understand that they think we are as illogical as we think they are illogical.
TWW received a comment from one of our nice Calvinist readers. He remarked that our theology was illogical. Why did I smile? He beat me to the punch. I had planned to say the same thing to him. I don't get him and he doesn't get me but we can still try to love and respect one another.
Turn the other cheek when your salvation gets called into question.
When you get called a heretic, "barely a Christian" or whatever, think of it this way. The person who said this will one day stand before God and have to explain why he pronounced you, a child of God who is now standing with the throngs of heaven with a crown on your head, a non-Christian. Would you want to answer that one? Pray for him. Tell him how much you love the Lord and live out your Christian life. Tell him you love him anyway. That should be enough to cause him to squirm.
Do not expect to win the argument, no matter how logical and "winsome" you are.
Instead of debating, try to learn from the other person. Ask a lot of questions. Study some good books that present the non-Calvinist point of view. It is perfectly fine to disagree and to contend for our view of Scripture.
In spite of the current emphasis on Neo-Calvinism, it is still a minority position.
In other words, there are plenty of people who are not part of this movement. That means you should be able to find other believers who view the faith as you do. You do not have to stay in a church that does not respect your point of view.
Unity is possible in many areas.
Many problems in churches and society should transcend doctrinal biases. These would include pedophilia, domestic violence, poverty, natural disasters, racial strife, etc. These are things that we can work on together, no matter our view on election. For example, we should never, ever turn our backs on child sex abuse because the pastor in the church where it happened is one of our good buddies. If we do, we must hang our heads in shame.
Unity where possible
Finally, we must work together whenever possible. Deb and are are well aware of the criticism we are receiving from some non-Calvinists because we feature sermons by Wade Burleson. We had the opportunity to spend the weekend with Wade and his family. Wade is one of the most loving pastors that we have ever had the joy to meet.
We have a question for you? How many blogs do you know that feature writers or pastors who have significant differences in soteriology from the blog owners? It must start somewhere and with those who are willing to give up their cherished arguments for the sake of something better. We know that some of you disagree with us. We are glad that you do. It means you are thinking for yourself and we encourage you to continue to be the loyal opposition. All we ask is that you pray for us when you get mad at us. We really, really need it.
Lydia's Corner: Ezra 3:1-4:23 1 Corinthians 2:6-3:4 Psalm 28:1-9 Proverbs 20:24-25