For and Against Calvinism 13

For and Against Calvinism 13 December 7, 2011

This will be our last in this series, and it merges with the series I began Monday and will continue later today. Michael Horton, in the last chapter of his book, For Calvinism , does a “SWOT” analysis of (high) Calvinism. A SWOT analysis is from organizations and businesses for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. I’m so out of the business world I didn’t know what this was so I’m glad he explained it. I applaud Horton’s candor and objectivity in this chp.

What are the strengths of Calvinism? What are the weaknesses of Calvinism? One rule: you can’t say a weakness without also giving a strength. (Fair enough?)

Here are his major categories for the SW, but I want to say one up front: the Calvinist movement scorches the superficiality of theology in far too much of American evangelicalism. And because it is theologically robust it attracts thinking young evangelicals, and many of them know of no other places to camp.

Intellectual boldness and cold intellectualism: education and the intellectual life, from church to community to universities, have been important to the Reformed/Calvinist movement. Horton observes that it can lead to smugness and arrogance, that heart is often neglected (sermons can seem like lectures and church services an exam), that sometimes it has caught the precision bug, and sometimes the doctrines leave people as cold as ice. And he argues the five points must not be divorced from the drama, the doctrines, the doxology and discipleship.

Love for truth and factionalism: love of God is the aim but sometimes Calvinism, Horton observes, is love for what is right and not enough for God or neighbor. Often there is a line in the sand drawn: those who get it and those who don’t, and some passionate Calvinists think they alone get it. He mentions that Clowney said Calvinists are the only ones proud of total depravity, and I have said it that they who believe most in total depravity seem to think it has influenced their system the least. Horton’s engaging in friendly fire.

Respect for tradition and traditionalism: Calvinists love their traditions. Quoting one of their greats is nearly as powerful, or more powerful, as quoting the Bible.

I would add one, and it is one that both Horton and Olson develop in their books: too much of contemporary Calvinism equates itself and its newly-found faithfulness to Calvin with the entirety of the much more diverse Reformed Church of the Protestant branch of Christianity. Not a few theologians have criticized me for doing the same thing and I stand corrected; the new Calvinists need to spend more time in the breadth of the Reformed movement. (I’ve said this before, but one young Calvinist denied til he was blue in the face that Karl Barth was Reformed.) Horton brings this up in the next point.

And these for the OT:

Revived interest in the doctrines of grace and replacing the church with a movement: The Reformed church is bigger than the five points. And Reformed theology has plenty of pietism and enthusiasm in its history. One need not go elsewhere to find those. He doesn’t have enthusiasm for new Calvinism unless it is planting churches. [This strikes me as odd, for this is what many of them are committed to. No?]

A new interest in sound doctrine and a new fundamentalism: Here Michael argues that theology must both conserve and progress. He opposes false conservatism and false progressivism.

Good book, Michael, Good book, Roger. Good series. [I don’t think we need a For Arminianism or an Against Arminianism, but maybe they are in the works.]


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