Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A personal note about Arminians and Calvinists

Reading over this blog, one might think one of several things about me. First, that I am obsessed with Arminians. Second, that I have a hate or disrespect for them. Neither of these can be farther from the truth.

Christ prayed that we (believers) would all be one. But this cannot mean agreeing all of the time. Heck, whatever we do we will not agree all the time. Perhaps Christ only meant agree all the time on spiritual things, that our oneness only extends when we are talking about "religion"? So might say my Catholic friends. But I see no such limitation in the text. And, as somebody has said, dividing things into the sacred and the profane is not a valid division. Holy and unholy, yes - pretty much everything in our lives is either done to the glory of God, or done against Him and His glory and will. Hard to imagine, but we are living on that (to pull in C. S. Lewis's quote) razor's edge every minute of our lives. But not sacred and profane. The most "sacred" thing in the world can be done in the most unholy manner (for example, in clown-led worship services); while the most "profane" can be done in the holiest manner (when I do something for somebody not because I want to or particularly feel good around it, but because I think God wants me to).

So, Christ prayed that we be one; but that obviously will not mean that we are all one of the same opinion. I think it must mean that we would be one in the sense that we loved one another and wanted the best for each other, and that we are working for the same overall goal. Namely, working for Christ's kingdom, for God's glory, etc. In fact, I think it means much the same as when man and wife are called to be "one." Anybody who ever thought that means "having the same opinions on every, or even, any subject" has obviously not been married. :-)

So, the fact that I take a different interpretation of Biblical passages does not, in itself, mean that I am not "being one" with my Arminians brothers and sisters in Christ. I should note, of course, that I am speaking solely of oneness with other believers; oneness with unbelievers is (as we say here in The South) a whole 'nother subject. But, as to believers, I can be "one" with them even if I hold a widely different theology than them.

One might object that we can hold different opinions on theology, but I should not talk about them. Thus, the fact that I disagree with Arminians is ok in itself; but I should not be talking about it here on the blog. That seems to me wrong on three counts. First, as long as I do it in a respectful manner - which I attempt to do - what is the problem? If you read my postings, I think you will note that I attempt to fairly portray both sides of the argument, even bringing up objections that a reader may never have thought of. In fact, I am intentionally not bringing up the kind of ridiculous strawmen often brought up by people of other theological stripes. For example, I have no desire to think of an analog to the infamous Bus Stop Analogy, or to present seriously a counter to John Wesley's statement about Calvinism stopping one from evangelizing. No doubt with free time on one's hands, a Calvinist could think up devastating-sounding equivalents that hit on Arminians. But what would be the purpose of that, except to dissuade people from being Arminians but not actually letting them consider the issues? How would God be glorified that way? If monergism is true (which I believe it is), we should not be afraid to confront the actual Biblical text; Bus Stop Analogies and clever but misguided redefinitions of words (like "Elected because I selected") are not only a waste of time, but disrespectful and thus unloving. It is these kinds of analogs and "arguments" that truly reflect a lack of "oneness."

The second reason it is wrong is like unto the first: because there is so much disinformation out there regarding Arminianism and Calvinism. See the examples above. It seems to me that some kind of antidote is called for; if I can play some small part in administering that antidote, all the glory goes to God.

Finally, there are a number of people around who claim to disdain both Calvinism and Arminian, to be "Biblicists" in place of those types of labels. If they are talking about Calvinism per se - following in lock step the teachings of Calvin - then I agree with them that Calvinism can divide people unnecessarily. (Curious how these types of people never seem to be that concerned that Arminianism divides people just as much as Calvinism.) In fact, the whole so-called "Calminian" point of view - which also divides people, I should note - deserves another post. For the time being, I should say that as long as there are folks out there claiming to be "Calminians" or "moderate Calvinists" but in reality being no such thing, an antidote is called for. Not to knock them down a notch - that is not at all my purpose. Rather, hopefully to help them think about some things they've not considered, rejected out-of-hand because of some presupposition.

As to the question of whether I have a hate or disrespect for Arminians, I have to meet this suspicion with straight denials. To borrow the old phrase, "some of my best friends are Arminians." This is totally true. Some of the men and women whom I most respect and love are Arminians and would disagree with me strongly on much of what I've written here. But that does not diminish by one iota my love and respect for these people. Most of them are better people than I will likely ever be; the best of them have a certain quality about them that is only describable as "holiness." My pastor, for instance, has a holiness about him and his entire family that I despair of ever matching. He is not holier than I wish to be, of course - but I have many years of bad habits lamentably built up in my life, and bad habits, repeated for 20 years, die hard. That's an explanation, not an excuse.

What's more, some Arminians - not all, of course - are far more evangelistic in their actions than I am. I am thinking of a certain associate pastor at our church who will share the gospel with absolutely anybody. I am asking God to change me, to help me be more like that; to be bolder about sharing the gospel. As well, I am studying evangelism training such as Way of the Master. Most Arminians, of course, do not have this kind of fervor (just as most Calvinists don't); but some do, and I love and respect them for it.

So, I pray to be like the best of them in holiness and in love for the lost and action to help unbelievers get to the point of saving faith in Christ. But that does not mean that I have to agree with them, just as it does not mean they have to agree with me.

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