Friday, October 31, 2014

Must All Christians be a Calvinist or Arminian? The Infelicitous Assertion by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary’s Bill Combs or When Devotion to a School of Theology Leads to Impoverished Reasoning



Most of us have seen it in one form or another. Evolutionists are a good example. I am speaking of the case in which a man or woman becomes trapped, if not enslaved, by a particular school of thought, so much so that they lose the virtue of good reason, no matter what is presented to them. Everything and anything is filtered through this school of thought. Ultimately, it (this school of thought) becomes the dictate over the rational and logical processes of a person to the point that the obvious becomes the enemy and exaggerated obscurities and unwarranted minimization become the bewildering merchandise offered as justifications for the sycophant's enigmatic intellectual/apologetic crusades.

If you are uncertain of my aim, allow me to be precise. Over at Theologically Driven, a blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (who are self-identified Baptist Fundamentalists), one of the seminary professors, Bill Combs, posted an article, Why You Must Be a Calvinist or an Arminian (and this did not stand alone, it actually augmented an earlier post by another professor, Mark Snoeberger who made a related assertion). This may seem but a blip on a radar but then a plane crashing into a building is, too. Thus, I want you to stop and consider the degree of concern which this warrants, if you consider yourself a Baptist Fundamentalist, a Christian who identifies with Calvinism via DBTS style, someone who intends on attending DBTS or simply a Christian interested in the issue, itself.

I posted a response to Bill Comb’s post at Theologically Driven which was up for a while but then taken down. Nothing rude or personal was contained in the rebuttal. I do think, however, that it shed a rather embarrassing light on Comb’s assertion(s) and consequently Mr. Combs and DBTS who would endorse such an idea, thus, its removal.

I certainly expect binary or black/white thinking to abound in Calvinistic acolytes such as this group, here. However, for a seminary professor who has demonstrated capacity for more considerate paradigms and whose profession ought to reflect it, there is a reason for real concern, especially for his students and those in his sphere of influence. Therefore, I have made this rebuttal post at my blog for all my readers and beyond because this issue is critical in how it is framed and how it affects theological discourse in the Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian community

Comb’s Assertions

Generally, Bill Combs formulates his argument somewhat the way Snoeberger did in his earlier post at Theologically Driven, namely, by way of circular reasoning combined with selective (should I say elective? – pun intended) logic. Basically put it is:

  • God saves us without help from ourselves (he uses this phraseology which is with reference to monergism, while actually referring to election)
  • Calvinism believes this
  • Whoever agrees with this is a Calvinist
And the same paradigm Combs uses for Arminian assignment with a bit of a qualifier. Basically he asserts that to disagree with his construct, which he claims is a Calvinist construct based on the U (unconditional election) of the Calvinist TULIP, is to be Arminian. Case closed, either you are an Arminian or Calvinist and no other possible taxonomy can exist (he expressly says with regard to this that it is, “the only other possibility”).

On the face of things or as Latin lovers like to say, prima facie, most people’s instinct is correct, that this is very narrow, prejudiced and inconsiderate thinking. Multiple flaws in this thinking instantly come to mind and here are but a few of them.

Quick Rebuttal Points to the Infelicitous Binary Taxonomy

Lutheranism - Let’s first consider Comb’s claim that there cannot be a third way. Enter, Lutheranism, more precisely, Martin Luther. Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses when John Calvin was an 8 year-old boy. In fact, it was not until ten years before Luther’s death that Calvin published his Institutes. While it is a significant body of work, it is quite a matter of history and now plain to see that Luther did not gain his views from Calvin. Thus, the absurd taxonomy Combs and others wish to impose on Lutherans and Christianity is laughable.

Is he not aware of this? Does he not know a large body of Lutherans and their Book of Concord, which articulates Lutheran doctrine so clearly and which was born before Calvinism, exists in robust form today? And he asserts there can only be Arminians and Calvinists? Dear Professor, how embarrassed do you wish to be?

Calvinism is more than a single postulate – Calvinism, in its true theological science, is a body of belief with all of its parts integral to one another for its rationalistically based theological system to function. All of its parts combined make up its proprietary theological identification and system.

Holding to a single postulate that a Calvinist may hold to does not make a person a Calvinist no more than agreeing with a Democrat or Republican on one point makes a person one of them. This is just as true in so many things in this world.

A good example of this simple truth is martial arts. Many schools share various movements, both offensive and defensive, but they are distinguished by their unique developments and specialized or proprietary combat techniques and so on. And in these communities most adherents have the common and good sense to respect such distinctions.

As well, computers share common parts but also have proprietary elements which separate them. One is not the other because of what they have in common but what they have which is not common. Combs completely ignores this reality or irresponsibly dismisses it through reductionism.

Calvinism is, in reality, Augustinianism – Many of the proponents of the oversimplified binary taxonomy proposed by Combs and DBTS, argue that the two labels are warranted because of historic identification. In other words, because historically, Calvinism (at least in their minds) and Arminianism both stick out in opposition to one another, they must be the two polar ends and exist as a reasonable means for identifying others.

Wrong, and for the most obvious reason.

First, Calvinism is not even five-hundred years old while the church is two-thousand years old. If we are going to talk about history and labels, Calvinism is in the last quarter section of a two-thousand year long line.

Secondly and related, Calvin was deeply and admittedly influenced by Augustine who preceded him and dominated theology for over a century before Calvin. In truth, if we are going to argue theological history, Calvin is an Augustinian thus, are all Calvinists and if historic labels are so important then how about a bit of integrity, eh?

Everyone is now a Catholic and Dispensationalist – By way of Combs’ magical thinking in which circular reasoning rules his consideration on this matter, we now are permitted to assert the preposterous, namely, that every Christian is a Catholic and Dispensationalist (Why do I hear someone insisting, "No, really, that is a good point."? UGH).

If someone shares one point in a theological system they clearly warrant being labeled as adherents to such and all Christians share at least one or more points of Catholic theology (the Trinity to name one).  And for dispensationalism, specifically,  most every Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist agrees that we are no longer under the protocols of the Theocracy of Israel. Of course, readers can see the absurdity of this which is exactly the point.

The conspicuous absence of the pursuit of this taxonomy by non-Calvinists – Have you ever noticed who is almost exclusively attempting to force this binary theological taxonomy for all Christians? Right, Calvinists. This easily informs the average person that something conspicuous is going on. Why is this effort so exaggeratedly present with Calvinists but absent with non-Calvinists?

There are a number of possibilities but I suspect the most common one is behind much of this, namely the desire to minimize, isolate or ill-defined those with whom they disagree in order to expedite the dismissal of them in order not be forced to deal with them as peers in arguments they cannot sustain in a debate.

This is done all the time in society. If we label someone or something we or our community considers objectionable, we are then justified in dismissing them and not engaging with them or at least when we engage with them, we may hold them in contempt as inferior students, thus always wrong from the start. We are the correctors and they the correctees, always.

Why would a Calvinist want to do this?

Ego-Investment - The truth is, this is not unique to Calvinists. It happens quite often where there is ego-investment in one’s thinking. When a person buys into an idea or concept they often invest their person or ego, as well. That is a mistake in many ways and for many reasons. Not that we cannot invest our egos, at times, but such an investment must be made for the right reasons.

Theological systems are attractive to people, intellectually and then, theologically if not spiritually as well. Many systems contain many right things. but further, they appear to have all the answers or at least most of them. They do a great deal of thinking for people, thinking for which many people do not have time or capacity. Thus, when they encounter a detailed body of theology such as Calvinism or Lutheranism (just to name a couple but certainly not just these), people can be deeply impressed and mistakenly identify it as so superior to their own considerations that to all of its tenets, they must yield and further, pledge allegiance lest they offend the God who enlightened such a soul or souls who formulated and articulate a grand theological system. Thus, they buy in lock, stock and barrel without ever making the necessary effort to vet and test its major or essential views, rather their energy is spent simply validating them.

Conclusion

I have no doubt Professor Combs desires to please the Lord and serve him and it is demonstrated by his life in many ways as one can view publicly. However, impoverished reasoning is not one of those ways, particularly by one who has been academically and theologically trained to avoid such restricted considerations. It comes across naïve and reckless and ultimately needlessly marginalizes him and DBTS in the Christian community.

And as to theological taxonomies, we ought to find a generous paradigm which both identifies larger schools and their influence while respecting other schools with their own proprietary views and development. I prefer to use and articulate a global theological taxonomy, a three-dimensional one, which I do understand some might have trouble picturing in their brain. However, just get out a globe (if you still have one) and use that as your method of developing a taxonomy or map. In the meantime, when you encounter this kind of thing, deal with it for what it is, which isn’t much other than a gimmick for constructing theological arguments to the Calvinist’s imagined advantage.

8 comments:

Don Johnson said...

Hi Alex,

These folks seem somewhat touchy if we dare to use the term Biblicist, as if that is a problem. They suggest the motive of using the term is to say no one ever thought as well as me till now... (Hey, I thought we weren't supposed to judge motives?)

In fact, I think that every effort should be spent in grounding our theology in the actual Bible rather than the Bible seen through any other human's lens.

I've had that debate with Mark S many times, he just doesn't seem to get it.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Don

You said a mouthful. I believe the term Biblicist frustrates those who wish to force labels that do not fit. I like the term for the most obvious, it tells me the person isn't devoted to a school of theology but sound interpretation even if it is st the expense of a school of theology he may prefer. Thanks for visiting and God's grace to you.
AG

Charles E Whisnant said...

Reading as carefully as I can with the mind that the Lord has given me to understand, the articles by Bill Combs and Mark Snoeberger I agree with them.

Of course it is easy to say I am an Biblicists so that I don't have to say I am of either camp.

From my reading of the Bible over the last 1/2 a century I have to say that God is God, and He does make the chooses as to whom will be saved and who will not.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Charles

Thanks for the visit. I certainly would not deny you the use of Biblicist as a personal descriptor. I don't presume that everyone using such adjectives will or must agree.

As to agreeing with Combs and Snoeberger on whether God chooses who will be saved (consequently who will not, at least passively) again, that is your freedom.

However, you offered nothing with respect to any arguments as to why they are correct, why you believe what you do or any rebuttal regarding the arguments I raised in my own rebuttal on the matter of theological taxanomical binarism other than your stating the obvious, simply that you agree.

Feel at liberty to engage in robust debate. This is how we test our views and reveal our weaknesses.

AG

Steve Martin said...

I also believe that God chooses.

Jesus said it himself.

"No man CAN come to me unless the Father d raw him." ("draw" is more precisely translated as 'compels')

Jesus say the same thing, basically, to Nicodemus.

St. Paul argues for it in Romans.

The Gospel Of John says it flat out, also, ""..who were born not the will of man…"

Our wills, as Luther rightly stated, "are bound in sin". We are incapable;e of choosing the things of God UNTIL He chooses us and gives us the "gift of faith".

Thanks for letting me chime in.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Steve,

You are more than invited to chime in and in fact are invited to challenge me at every point if you feel the need. The only thing that can occur is we get closer to the truth or move further away, thus hardening our hearts thereby inviting the chastisement of God which will ultimately get our attention. So chime away.

As to your brief comment allow me to address it.

Your reference is to John 6 and one of two passages in the chapter. Either it is

John 6:44 - "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."

or

65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

I believe you referred to verse 44 but verse 65 is a reference to verse 44 by Jesus regarding his own statement which brings me to my point.

While you are right in observing ἑλκύσῃ (helkysē) has the property of compelling in its definition exactly how one is compelled is not revealed in that text, it only says they are compelled.

Thus, we have to look at the context which states immediately in the next verse, 45, "Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.".

What compels them? The Word.

Further, let's look at verse the context surrounding verse 65 and see what Jesus, our Lord, says about the intent of his own earlier words. He states, "“Does this offend you? 62Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

What does Jesus identify as the enabling means? The Word which is full of the Spirit and life. It says nothing about God picking who will and will not believe, rather that it is through the Word, which is accompanied by the Spirit, one is enabled/drawn. That is the context of both verses.

I believe you have isolated a passage without thoroughly examining its context.

As to Paul, I am not sure where in Romans you believe he argues for, "it" and am not sure what, "it" is.

I like Luther for many things but his idea of a gift of faith is a rational conclusion he made not an exegetical one as I have read him.

Thanks again for the visit.

AG

Lance Ketchum said...

Good article Alex!

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Lance,

I appreciate your taking the time to stop by and read. God's blessings to your ministry.

AG