Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Knew Review: For Calvinism (9)

The end of Horton’s book seemed to drag on a bit (much like this 9 part review!). In his final chapter, Horton evaluates contemporary Calvinism, considering a number of points of danger. He warns his fellow Calvinists to guard against intellectual elitism (so… one of the weaknesses of Calvinism is that Calvinists are too smart. This seems a bit like answering a question about your weaknesses with a response like ‘sometimes I give too much to charity’). A find it a little funny, though, that over-intellectualism is apparently associated with Calvinism, especially given its numerous appeals to mystery in the face of apparent contradiction. But I’m probably being too harsh here and should just let Horton come across as humble without questioning it.

Other dangers? Horton says that Calvinists sometimes forget the ‘heart,’ placing the emphasis, instead, on the head and/or legal perspectives. Calvinists have a tendency to caricature their theological opponents. They sometimes treat their forerunners too much as heroes (instead of the totally depraved people that they were). Horton talks about how reading Romans became almost an unhealthy obsession earlier in his life. I appreciate Horton’s willingness to point out potential dangers for Calvinists.

So I’ve responded to the whole book now. It was worth reading. I think it is important for Arminians like myself to read about Calvinism from the leading Calvinists themselves. I wouldn’t have taken the time to review the book in such detail if it hadn’t been somewhat stimulating.

Now on to Roger Olson’s “Against Calvinism.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Knew Review: For Calvinism (8)

My 8th response to Michael Horton’s “For Calvinism” is directed toward his chapter on Missions. The chapter is necessitated by the “understandable first impressions” of Calvinism which may result in people asking questions like “why pray?” or “why evangelize?” Since Calvinism emphasizes divine control to the extent that it does… does our part really matter at all?

Horton begins by showing that, no matter what first impressions Calvinism may create, the practice of Calvinists has been anything but indifferent. Admittedly, the Reformers weren’t overly mission-oriented at first, but that was mostly because they were being persecuted and/or were convinced of the imminent return of Christ. But, in time, Horton shows that Calvinists have been very active in missions throughout the world (12 pages are devoted to this argument).

So the question of whether or not Calvinists have been indifferent has been answered. But why go on the mission? Given their beliefs, WHY should Calvinists bother to get involved? Won’t God do what He wants to do with or without them? Horton believes Calvinists should be motivated because God has commanded it. They should be excited because they know that God has elected people from every nation (so they can be confident of results). They should be glad to share the announcement that God has selected certain people and done everything necessary to save them. Mission is announcement, not invitation.

All of this, it seems to me, is a way of re-stating the charge to “go” without really answering the question. I think if he were following his beliefs to their logical conclusions, he would say that the question is irrelevant because God will unilaterally place motivations within His Calvinist missionaries and they will ultimately have no choice but to go and proclaim the Gospel to other elect people.

At one point, Horton states that “God is the originally missionary,” but it seems to me that Calvinism makes God the ONLY missionary. Worse yet, God is not really a MISSIONARY because it was His election of individuals before time that is ultimately responsible for their salvation rather than the sending of the Son.

Perhaps aware that his response to the “understandable first impressions” isn’t very satisfying, Horton turns his attention to a critique of Arminianism in the area of mission. The only problem is, he switches to his most blatant straw man in the book so far to make his point. He says, “In the Evangelical Arminian view, the new birth is entirely in our hands.” What? What Arminian would endorse that statement? Arminians believe that God initiates and participates in every step of salvation.

In short, I have no doubt that Calvinists have played a pivotal role in spreading the Gospel. Praise the Lord! But it still seems to me that Calvinists do this, thankfully, in spite of their doctrinal and philosophical beliefs.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Knew Review: For Calvinism (7)

Having made it through Horton’s attempted defense of TULIP (or TUPEP), we gladly turn to the final three chapters (and a brief afterword) from his book “For Calvinism.” The first of these deals with how Calvinism relates to the Christian life. Being that Calvinism tends to put so much emphasis on regeneration and justification, it faces the charge of potentially de-emphasizing the subsequent work of sanctification. In other words, what does Calvinism have to say about the Christian life?

I found it a bit odd that Horton started by saying that Calvinism faces charges of both antinomianism and legalism. It may be true, but certainly I’ve encountered the former mindset (since I’m saved/elect, I don’t need to be holy) more often than the latter (there’s a bunch of rules we must follow) in Calvinistic circles. More oddly, though, he only spends two paragraphs responding to the antinomianism threat (though, briefly, he does say the right things: There is a moral law, but it is not the way TO life, but OF life, for Christians… “There is no justification without sanctification”).

The bulk of the chapter is about how piety works in Reformed churches. The emphasis is on the group. The group is sanctified through the sacraments, impacting individuals within the congregation (which is worth noting, since this is how I think Horton should view election as well). Piety is like a stream that flows from God to congregation to individual believer to their unbelieving neighbors. Much of this material was very helpful and corrective.

A couple of statements really caught me off-guard, in a good way. For instance, near the bottom of page 138 he said, “God’s work always calls forth an appropriate Spirit-wrought human response.” The word always is key. Would that include regeneration? Or is he only talking about sanctification here? It’s a very Arminian sounding statement, in and of itself.

Since Horton emphasizes corporate sanctification, he spends a good bit of time rebuking the anti-institutional house church movement while also rebuking the practice of non-biblical traditionalism. He also talks about the pitfalls of both the Wesleyan and Keswickian models of sanctification. He concludes that the problem with the Arminian models is that in them “the Christian life is supported by grace but dependant ultimately at every stage on our activity. Human activity is not a response to God’s work as much as it is a cooperation with God’s work that actually determines the outcome of one’s salvation—at least the level of heaven that one occupies.” Switch the order of the words “supported” and “dependant” and I’d pretty much be fine with that quote, as I think God would be.

All in all, not a bad chapter. It emphasizes the corporate nature of sanctification. It alerts us to some of the dangers of individualistic piety. And it reminds us that good Calvinists really do care about sanctification (just like good Arminians really do care about justification).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Knew Review: For Calvinism (6)

We come now to the 6th installment of my thoughts on Michael Horton’s “For Calvinism.” In this chapter, he deals with the final two letters of the TULIP acronym. First, he discusses “effectual calling,” which is his replacement for the more famous “irresistible grace” (the “I” in TULIP) since “irresistible suggests coercion.” He also deals with “perseverance” and the question of whether one could potentially lose their salvation (the P in TULIP stands for perseverance of the saints). I’ll limit myself, here, to addressing two issues I deem most significant.

First, Calvinists (including Horton) are very adamant that regeneration precedes justification. In other words, God unilaterally does a work (regeneration) which makes you new and enables you to repent (bringing conversion). In his own words, “Only because of God’s one-sided act of regeneration does anyone repent and believe.” The seeming motivation for this insistence (that the new birth provokes justification rather than being the consequence of justification) is to assure that God gets all the glory for salvation.

But I must ask… how is this really different from the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace (I know there are differences, of course, but I think the similarities make my point worthwhile)? I believe that God’s prevenient grace comes before any positive move in me. God initiated my salvation. God gets all the glory for it in my Arminianism. I could have made no move toward God without God’s grace coming before-hand. The very thing that Calvinists are trying to protect is protected just as well, it seems to me, by any Arminian with a good understanding of his/her own beliefs. The only difference is that in Calvinism the beginning of the process is not genuinely relational at all (Horton seems to accidently admit this in the middle of page 111 by stating that subsequent work involving us is “genuine relationship”).

Second, and by far the most frustrating aspect of this chapter, was Horton’s insistence on having his cake and eating it too, without a real explanation on how the cake remains unified while in both his fridge and his belly. This happened so often in the chapter that I got hungry just thinking about it. 

For instance, God’s calling renews our (genuine?) freedom, but ALWAYS (in terms of getting saved) results in our choosing rightly. So people are genuinely free… but will always do what God wants… but are not mere puppets. The will is liberated (like Adam was), but will not say no (like Adam did). The Spirit’s work is MORE than persuasion, but LESS than coercion. Huh?

Or, again, Horton says that after regeneration/justification, we get our “voice” back and enter into genuine relationship in which we are partners with God, but this is still monergism because our faith, obedience, are produced in us by God. So people are partners (at least at that point), but the term synergism is still out of bounds? Horton gets to include partnership (eats his cake), but gets to keep his monergism (has it too).

Or, even more annoyingly, Horton says that “apostasy… actually happens” (because of all the verses that make it sound like it does), but goes on to argue that nobody that REALLY had IT apostatizes, only fakers. So, again, Horton plays with language so that he can admit the Bible speaks of real apostasy… and yet not really admit that it is real apostasy. How can Horton lose!?!?

Horton also argues, in the chapter, that “eternal security” is actually an Arminian doctrine as it is practiced. I won’t take the time to respond to that, but it is another piece of evidence that Horton resorts to an awful lot of rhetorical technique in this chapter. Yet even with “eternal security” dismissed, believers are… umm… secure… umm… eternally because “the believer’s perseverance is guaranteed by God’s perseverance.” Actually, for Horton, the believer’s perseverance IS God’s perseverance.

Do I sound frustrated? Frustration is fitting at this point because I have now responded to all 5 of Horton’s defenses of TULIP (TUPEP). Each layer is built upon the previous foundation, so it is to be expected that if I thought the layers were getting increasingly unstable, the final layers would cause a tumbling tower. Or maybe its more like a cake… and by the end I can just no longer swallow what he’s trying to sell me, nor do I think it deserves to be saved for future enjoyment.

At least there are 3 more chapters! Perhaps we can end on a better note :)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hey Mike!

Thanks for Visiting!

Knew Review: For Calvinism (5)

Part 5 of my review of “For Calvinism” by Michael Horton responds to his chapter on atonement (the L in TULIP stands for Limited Atonement). Horton prefers “Particular Redemption” and says the Reformed Faith believes that, “Christ’s death is sufficient for the whole world, but secured the redemption of the elect.” At face value, I don’t necessarily have any problem with that definition (of course, Horton and I wouldn’t agree about the theological meaning of “secured” or “elect”). But his application is pretty haunting (Jesus intended to die just for certain people).

Horton wants to talk about atonement theories here (HOW does Christ connect the elect to God?). Calvinists are known for their allegiance to the penal substitution theory of the atonement (we deserve punishment for our sins, but Christ took the punishment as our substitute). Horton admits that this theory is at the heart of Reformed theology, but he also wants to be clear that the other theories have merit as well. Christ’s saving work “cannot be reduced” to just one theory.  

He speaks favorably of recapitulation theory (Christ’s entire life serves as a re-start for humanity… Christ is the 2nd Adam). He also notes the truth behind Christus Victor models (though he fears they are too often defended as alternatives to penal substitution). Anselm’s satisfaction theory receives a mixed review (true that God has been offended by sin, but it’s His justice and not so much His dignity at stake). Moral influence theory (That Christ’s simply sets a good example for us to follow) is rebuked for not taking sin seriously enough. Nor does he have anything good to say about Hugo Grotius and the governmental theory (that the New Covenant brought a new government with lower standards, allowing us to succeed in keeping them).

In the end, Horton believes there is some truth in all the theories discussed: “Reformed theology has always encouraged a richer and more integrated understanding of Christ’s saving work that encompasses his incarnation, obedient life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection. Christ’s sacrificial love is also an example for us to imitate and establishes God’s moral government.” He simply thinks penal substitution is at the core of the atonement (I tend to think recapitulation is). 

For Horton, there are three possibilities: Christ’s death saved everyone (Universalism), Christ’s death made salvation possible (Arminianism), or Christ’s death saved some people (Calvinism). He says Universalism should be dismissed out of hand. The Calvinistic view is superior to the Arminian view, he says, because in it Christ’s death actually (rather than merely potentially) saves people and because in it Christ is the focus (rather than the believer’s choice). I think both of these arguments are insignificant. Arminians don’t deny that Christ’s death “actually” saves them. It is certainly not their “choice” which saves them, the choice only gives them access to the saving power of His death. And whether we focus on Christ or self is a matter of volition too.

Horton admits that the Bible sometimes makes it sound like God loves and died for the whole world, but we are supposed to take that not to mean every single individual, but individuals from every part of the world. Jesus died for all kinds of people, not every person. He died for the world, not just the Jews. To use Horton’s own words from the previous chapter, though, I think “this view is to be faulted not for what it affirms but for what it denies.”

It was a bit of a strange chapter, to be honest. Why so much discussion of the different theories of the atonement (especially since Horton thinks they've all got some truth in them). Was this a way to avoid focusing on the brute fact that, in Calvinism, no matter HOW the atonement works... it was only meant to work for a limited amount (or particular group) of people?