Wednesday, April 30, 2008

a different perspective

Thomas McCall has written a post on Justin Taylor's blog, on 'new Calvinism' from a Wesleyan perspective. it's well worth a full read, but a couple of things stood out at me:

They have a strong commitment to the authority of Scripture, and they want to know God as he reveals himself – and not as we might like him to be. They take seriously, and defend energetically, such doctrines as substitutionary atonement and the classic Protestant account of justification. Moreover, (to understate things drastically) they care about the doctrine of divine sovereignty. Ours is a context in which these doctrines are considered unimportant – ours is also a context in which these doctrines sometimes are charged with being sub-biblical and even non-Christian. What’s not to like about seeing so many people care so much about theology? And what’s not to appreciate about seeing so many people completely committed to worshiping God as he graciously reveals himself to us?

What indeed...amen! One of the things, if not the thing i love the most about my job is the chance to sit down and open up the Bible with people. There is definitely in my experience a deeper desire among students, at least, today to get to grips with and get under the Bible. To worship the God of scripture rather than the God of our imagination.

This brings me to my second cheer: these New Calvinists care about holiness. To know God is to know that God is holy. The New Calvinists get that, and they want their lives to be in step with him. They are anything but content with a soteriology that reduces redemption to a cosmic I-pass or “get out of hell free” card. No, they know that God is holy, and they know that to walk with the Holy One is to be transformed. Thus they know that the doctrine of sanctification matters, and they pursue holiness vigorously. Some of them offer testimonies in which they describe their “discovery of divine sovereignty” in language similar to the way some Christians in the Wesleyan tradition refer to a “second definite work of grace” or “second crisis experience.” And all of this for good reason: they read the Puritans and (especially) Edwards. They know that holiness matters. They get it. And I, for one, appreciate it.

Me too, the puritans are literally terrifying at times, i can't recommend them enough. Again i guess this links to the first point. if you spend time each day reading and studying and pondering the Bible you're going to be hit full on in the face with the fact that God is Holy. And that we need to deal with that. And fast.

Furthermore, it would be good if they would set themselves to the task of coming to a better understanding of the broader Christian tradition. I know that we all need this advice (well, at least I do), but it seems to me that the New Calvinists are far more interested in reading Edwards or Owen (worthy reads to be sure) than they are in mining the riches of patristic theology or grappling with the subtleties of medieval scholasticism. This is, I fear, to the detriment of the movement, and more development in this area might go some distance toward loosening the unhealthy reliance of some of these New Calvinists on what might be called the “Neo-Reformed Magisterium” (the small group of theologians and conference speakers who are sometimes quoted as the final word on any theological topic at issue... if you doubt what I say, consult Collin Hansen’s sobering observations about “Piper fiends” and those who “worship” John Piper, Young, Restless, Reformed, pp. 14, 46).

I don't understand...he seems to suggest this is a bad thing?!

No theological tradition has cornered the market on arrogance. I have been accused of it (sometimes, I fear, with very good reason). Yet there seems to be – though I’m sure that what I say here is highly fallible – an amazing quantity of it among the New Calvinists. I’ve been told that my resistance to “the doctrines of grace” (no hubris in that label?) is a sign of my probable reprobation. I’ve had the senior pastor of a fine evangelical church tell me that although we were welcome to attend, I could not expect to be involved in any way because I was not “Reformed” – even though this particular church was not confessionally Reformed at all (their official statement of faith was generically evangelical). A friend (who teaches theology in a seminary in the Methodist tradition) told me of helping an incoming student (at a seminary in the Reformed tradition) move into a neighboring house. When the incoming student – who, if memory serves, was about to begin an MDiv – discovered that my friend was a Wesleyan, he quickly said “you guys don’t think much about things, do you?” Another friend expressed doubts about aspects of Calvinism and then was rejected by a missions agency for perceived confusion about the gospel.

That is bonkers and presents us with the danger of pride. of course every flavour of Christianity needs to deal with that. So how are we to avoid pride? By discussing issues with a soft heart and an open Bible, by remembering that no one man has everything right and ultimately by rejoicing in what we share as Christians, faith in Christ, and Him crucified.

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