Dyeing Tulips: Calvinism, “Free” Will, & Losing Our Religion


Rembrandt-Return-ProdigalWell, this little miniseries on Calvinism has been fun.

We’ve talked through a bookthe history,  and reframed the traditional “points” of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement. Today, we will look at the final two emphases of Calvinist belief.

I hope you’ve been challenged to evaluate Calvinism in broader and deeper ways so that, if you already agreed with it, you were challenged in the complexity and nuance of the issues here; and if you did not, that you found Calvinism a bit more inviting and interesting.

For more on just how broad and diverse Calvinist thought it, I can’t more highly reccomend Oliver Crisp’s Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology or the book that initiated this whole discussion, Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. Continue reading

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Tweaking Calvinism: Universal Limited Atonement


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UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

I recently offered some proposals on some “less intense” (yet still Reformed) articulations of Calvinism (see above). The election (of a different kind) derailed those posts for a bit, but I wanted to pick it up today, by talking about the most controversial of the “points” of Calvinism: Limited Atonement.

This is the most controversial of Calvinism’s points, but it’s also the most logical. The least charitable way to explain it is to say that Jesus only died for Christians and not others. The more charitable way is that there is not a drop of Jesus’ blood that is shed in vain. God accomplishes what he sets out to do. So traditionally, the belief is that Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross was “limited” to cover only the sins of people that would become Christians.

There seems to be only two options, here, right? Limited or Unlimited? Particular or Universal? How can we approach this in a more winsome and erudite way while still calling ourselves Calvinists?

Atonement is NOT Salvation

This is really important. In my last post, I pointed out that God’s Election is more about our life here-and-now, and less about our future eternal destiny. The same can be said of Atonement.
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Philly Peeps: Join us for our Calvinism discussion!


calvinism
This month, as part of my church’s Theology Book Club, we’ve been reading Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport in order to spur a broader discussion of Calvinism and Reformed Theology. Tomorrow, Sunday 10/30, we’ll be gathering in person in Center City Philadelphia to have a discussion on this controversial topic.  RSVP at the Facebook page.

You do not have to have read the book. Just show up.

We’ll have some wine and some snacks, but feel free to ring whatever you like. Hopefully, I’ll see you tomorrow at Liberti Church, 17th & Sansom in Rittenhouse.


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Tweaking Calvinism: Unconditional Election?


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UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

As our book club is going through Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, I’m blogging some of my thoughts.

In this little Calvinism mini-series, I’ve talked about some of the things that make Calvinism hard for our modern ears, and I’ve begun articulating a broader view of these ideas, by first looking at the “T” (“Total Depravity) of the usual acronym of Calvinist beliefs: TULIP. Today we’ll look at the “U”: Unconditional Election.

Unconditional (Corporate, Vocational) Election

Traditionally, the “U” of TULIP stands for “Unconditional Election”, which simply means that when God chose us as his people, he made this choice on the basis of no condition outside of his own good pleasure. In short, God didn’t choose you because of anything you are or had done. This is true. And yet, it’s not the whole (or even the main) story.

In the Reformation’s move away from the Institutionalism of the medieval Catholic Church, and Scholasticism’s emphasis on the ability and intellect of the individual in society, much of the foundation of Calvinist doctrine was laid in very individualistic terms.

Think about it: each of the five ideas represented by the letters in TULIP are fundamentally about how individuals are reconnected and reconciled to God. I think this really distorts what the Gospel and Christianity (and Calvinism) are about.
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Calvinism: A (Humble) Proposal for Some Tweaks, pt.1


UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

[As our book club is going through Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, I’m blogging some of my thoughts.]

If you have any sense about Calvinism, its reputation, and what it believes, you probably know that it is not especially popular. Contemporary Calvinists nearly always fall into one of only two camps: irritating, uncharitable jerks that are unapologetic for their Calvinism; and kind, warm people that too apologetic about it. In other words, you have the “damn right, I’m a Calvinist” crowd, and the “I wish I wasn’t a Calvinist, but it just makes sense to me” people.

Depending on my coffee and/or alcohol intake, I can be either one. But I definitely think (and hope) I lean more towards the latter.

I started out my Calvinistic journey in college as I sat under a sermon miniseries on the topic that utterly convinced me of the truth of the doctrines. I’m going on over a decade now having sat with these beliefs and (in my opinion) truths, and I’ve watched then morph and shift over time in my soul.

I definitely began the journey as the arrogant, tight-fisted, dogmatic Calvinist that generally annoyed anyone that didn’t agree with me. I also hurt a lot of suffering people. I acted in good faith, thinking that changing the doctrinal minds of others would unlock such joy and security in such a big God. Sometimes this happened. A lot of times it didn’t.
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Calvinism: What it Is, and Why it’s Crazy


John_Calvin_by_HolbeinUPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

This month, our Theology Book Club is going through Richard Mouw’s remarkable book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, in which he articulates a vision for how Calvinists might understand and hold their doctrinal convictions.

But first, what is this “Calvinism” thing I’m talking about?

Every school of thought has some core foundation on top of which they build every thing else–some assumption that guides and shapes the rest. In that sense, Calvinism is a cluster of beliefs that are centered around the idea that Jesus is Lord, or (in more traditional language), that the Triune God is uncompromisingly sovereign and has no competition in this area. That is the center of Calvinism from which everything else fans out. As Mouw summarizes:

“Unlike other traditions, Calvinism rigorously guards this emphasis on divine sovereignty by refusing to allow any other theological point to detract from it. [So] when Calvinists get around to attempting to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom, we are so concerned to protect the former that we are willing to risk sounding like we are waffling on the latter rather than to imply in any way that God’s power is limited.” (p.27)

If you’re only somewhat familiar with Calvinism, you likely think it was some archaic belief mainly held by cranky medieval Christians and Puritans that said God was in absolute control of every little thing and human free will was largely an illusion. Further, you may also have some vague sense that it’s super depressing, focuses almost entirely on how bad and useless humans are, and had some role in creating the American work ethic.

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October Book Club: Un-Crazy Calvinism, with Richard Mouw


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Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport
by Richard Mouw

For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’ve been spending the Fall exploring some of the distinctive beliefs of Reformed Theology.

Well, if there’s any set of ideas Reformed Theology is most known for (and controversially so), it is surely that cluster of doctrines known collectively as “Calvinism”. That’s what we’re exploring this month through Richard Mouw’s amazing book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport.

To be clear, “Reformed Theology” is a lot bigger than Calvinism. You can agree with Calvinistic thought and not be Reformed, and you can have a huge range of opinions on Calvinist doctrines while still being Reformed. And yet, it is so connected to the thought of my church’s tradition that it deserves a deep dive.
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John Calvin on Stupid Eucharist Theology (Happy Corpus Christi)


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Yesterday was the Christian Church Holiday of Corpus Christi, where we celebrate that Jesus actually meets us in the Bread and Wine of Communion. It’s not merely a symbol to make us think of certain doctrinal ideas, but there are very real spiritual things happening in those elements. I’ve written elsewhere about this in detail.

Today, however, I want to offer you a funny little rant John Calvin goes on in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In it, he is responding to those that accused the Reformed tradition of making the Eucharist way too heady and rationalistic of an idea, sapping all beauty and mystery out of it. Here was Calvin’s response, encouraging us all to embrace the beauty and awe of Communion: Continue reading

Some Hopefully Not-Crazy Musings on Calvinism & Predestination


John_Calvin_by_HolbeinThe Christian family is large and diverse. The little corner of that family that I occupy is usually called “Reformed”, meaning they can trace a lot of their distinctive teachings back to John Calvin. Now, if theres one thing Calvin is known for (other than the burning a heretic thing) is a section of his teaching on Predestination–the idea that before everything, God “decreed” that only some people would be “saved”, and others would not be–they didn’t make the choice in that matter, He did.

Now, “Calvinism” wasn’t actually a thing until after Calvin had died, and he had a lot more to say about a lot of things other than Predestination. Nevertheless, having just recently re-read the portion of his magnum opus that deals with this issue, I can say that even the most caricatured, extreme articulations of Calvinism out there have a strong kernel of truth. Calvin was definitely a Calvinist, in all its untactful, harsh, unapologetic glory.

In college, I got super into Calvinism and took it way too far (Exhibit A; Exhibit B). I hurt a lot of people. Then I went to my first seminary and mellowed out on it. Since then, I’ve just been absorbing lots of different strands of thought around this issue, and haven’t really made a concerted effort to synthesize them. I’ve sort of been sitting in the Mystery of it all.

This seminary semester, though, I have to bring together all my thoughts on Predestination and its related doctrine of Election into some coherency. This means I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And today, I want to offer some of my random, contradictory, messy thoughts and get your responses and help. Imagine my brain on this topic as a big ball of yarn, with each strand of thought existing together all at once, not being able to distinguish where one thought ends, where the other begins, and how they can all fit together.

Strand 1

First, there really isn’t any such thing as “Free Will”. I can’t “choose” to have different parents, to fly, to shoot lasers out of my eyes, to breathe underwater, what color hair I naturally have, where I was born, etc. Arguably, the most formative, important, foundational things to who we are as people are unchosen. The point in saying this is to point out that our wills are not “free”, but are bounded by nature. All our choices are limited by our nature.
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Father Abraham, had many sons; and many sons, Moses did not.


Rothko-9-White-Black-Wine-1958So…I had my mind blown this past week.

I’m taking this class on the idea of “worship” in all its dimensions, and we read a few pieces that gave me an entirely new framework to understand the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, and how God works in those stories. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abraham, and it’s a little weird, mainly because it’s entirely on God. He promises that he will be Abraham’s God. He promises he will give him many descendants. He promises to make those descendants a blessing to the world. And, most importantly, he takes all of the potential negative consequences of breaking the covenant on Himself. In essence, he makes this covenant with Himself on Abraham’s behalf.

What’s Abraham’s part in this whole thing? “He believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness”, the text says (and he’s supposed to circumcise his kids as a visible mark of his belief). This is one of the earliest and clearest depictions of the unconditional grace-driven nature of God’s relationship to humanity and the world–a relationship that would later be called “The Gospel”. In fact, the Apostle Paul would look at this moment in Genesis and say:

Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

Okay….so what?
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On Not Following the Christian Blogosphere (a plea)


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I pride myself on thinking that a large percentage of the readers of this blog have no idea of this odd subculture/alternate universe that is the “Christian blogosphere”. So for those that don’t know: there is a very large labyrinth of (largely evangelical) blogs and conferences and podcasts and websites that are dedicated to talking about “the” “Christian view” on any manner of things that (1) really don’t affect much of people’s real lives or (2) seem kind of weird to have a “Christian view” of.

It’s not simply talking about things from a Christian perspective (like this blog), but rather doing so with a particular reactive, evangelical, tribal “flavor”. I’m sure I fall into that at times here, but I’m not proud of it and I try to act against it.

the dangers of the Christian blogosphere

There are two primary things about the nature of these sites that more easily lend themselves to human weakness, I feel.
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Heidelberg (Hyper-)Calvinism? | (a celebration)


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Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

So begins the Heidelberg Catechism, a 16th-century document written under extraordinary circumstances. Long story short, after the counter Reformation, different “princes” over different regions were allowed to declare what “denomination” their region would be. The problem for Frederick III? His region was split pretty evenly between Lutherans and Calvinists. And so, he brought together some people from different traditions, and had them write a document they all agreed upon. The Heidelberg was born.

This document is one of the main doctrinal statements of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America (RCA), and my church. I’ve read little bits and pieces of it in the past, but I recently sat down and read the whole thing. And I was pretty surprised.
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Confessions of a Lapsed Charismatic, pt. 1


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{summary: Though rooted in a Reformed tradition that usually spurns this, I am very much a theological charismatic. I believe in the full, contemporary exercise of the Holy Spirit through his Church, including all of the manifestations this has had throughout Church History. And yet, though I “believe” these things, over the past few years, they’ve played a smaller and smaller part in my life. In this piece, I reflect on that.}

UPDATES: Part 2 is up, where I go through a brief history of tongues in a corporate church context. I’ve also posted Part 3, where I focus in on the why and how of individual praying in tongues.

Several days ago, the New York Times had a wonderful Op-Ed piece called “Why We Talk in Tongues“, by a researcher who is exploring this phenomenon. (It was also appropriate, as it is still sort-of, but not really, still Pentecost.) The piece seems to have been pretty popular. Playing around with Google Trends a bit, it seems that this article made the topic of talking in tongues more popular than it has been since “Speaking in Tongues” by Justin Bieber popped up on YouTube a few years ago. This article made the topic more popular than even Megan Fox’s revelation that she speaks in tongues (and is still a practicing Pentecostal).

It got some play all over my Facebook feed, and a couple of friends asked for some of my thoughts. That they asked for my opinion was both flattering and dismaying; it reminded me of how little I talk about this part of my spirituality among my church community.

I remember years ago, when I first found my church in Richmond, Virginia, right at the end of my first semester in college. I walked into this special evening service and I immediately knew this was where God wanted me. I joined the church and was exposed to a beautiful display of charismatic theology.

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When easy & simplistic proof-texting trumps the nuance & complexity of wrestling pastorally with the text


On Tumblr, a very, very dear friend posted this earlier, in support of the Doctrine of Double Predestination, which says that in eternity past, God predestined not only who would be saved (apart from their own works), but also those who would not be saved (apart from their own works):

“They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” 1 Peter 2:8

Double predestination

#it’s biblical

In one of the most widely used Bible commentaries in existence, I found these words written about this verse, starting with commenting on the word “also” (which isn’t found in my friend’s translation of the verse). I’ve changed some formatting and some grammar to make it easier to understand. Enjoy:

“also” [as in “as they were also destined to do”;  this is in the Greek, though Revelation 19’s translation doesn’t have this]—[this is] an additional thought; God’s ordination; not that God ordains or appoints them to sin, but they are given up to “the fruit of their own ways” according to the eternal counsel of God. The moral ordering of the world is altogether of God. God appoints the ungodly to be given up unto sin, and a reprobate mind, and its necessary penalty.

The phrase “Were appointed,” (Greek, “set,”) is an answer to the “I lay,” (Greek, “set,”) found in 1Pe 2:6.

God, in the active, is said to appoint Christ and the elect (directly). Unbelievers, in the passive, are said to be appointed (God acting less directly in the appointment of the sinner’s awful course) [Bengel]. God ordains the wicked to punishment, not to crime [J. Cappel].

“Appointed” or “set” (not here “FORE-ordained”) refers, not to the eternal counsel so directly, as to the penal justice of God. Through the same Christ whom sinners rejected, they shall be rejected; unlike believers, they are by God appointed unto wrath as fitted for it.

***The lost shall lay all the blame of their ruin on their own sinful perversity, not on God’s decree; the saved shall ascribe all the merit of their salvation to God’s electing love and grace.***

(from the “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible)

What are your thoughts on this issue? How important do you think it is in the grand scheme of the Gospel?

Wright, the Neo-Reformed, & Unity in the Church (If you read one thing all day, let it be this)


easterDon’t worry, the title is not referring to this very blog post you are reading right now.  It’s actually referring to this article at Christianity Today by Brett McCracken:

Wrightians & the Neo-Reformed: ‘All One in Christ Jesus – A dispatch from Together for the Gospel and Wheaton’s Theology Conference with N.T. Wright

The article compares and contrasts the general ethos of two very different conferences that occurred very close to the same time.  One conference was the Together for the Gospel Conference and Wheaton College’s Theology Conference with N.T. Wright.

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