April 2, 2018

Psychology of Religion and Spirituality Religious Beliefs and Domestic Violence Myths by, Peter J. Jankowski, Steven J. Sandage, Miriam Whitney Cornell, Cheryl Bissonette, Andy J. Johnson, Sarah A. Crabtree, and Mary L. Jensen

Online First Publication, March 22, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/rel0000154

I reformat the abstract, and state what I have often said here: Calvinism is not the cause of these things but there is, according to this study, a correlation between Calvinism and domestic violence. I have said this many times: it is not Calvinism per se but mostly males who use Calvinism’s hierarchical theories and sovereignty theories to perform and justify behaviors.

  1. Religiousness has a long-standing presence in the research literature on intolerance. However, religiousness is minimally represented in the interpersonal violence myth (IPVM) literature. IPVMs comprise an aspect of the broader construct of intolerance.
  2. We heeded the call to address research on tradition-specific religious beliefs and IPVMs. As such, we examined select Christian beliefs about Divine–human relating, hierarchical relational expectations, complementarian gender ideology, and existential defensiveness as predictors of Domestic violence myth acceptance (DVMA) using a sample of 238 students from a Protestant evangelical seminary (Mage 34.06, SD 9.33; range 22 – 62 years; 41.6% female; 80.7% White).
  3. We observed positive associations among Calvinist tradition-specific religious beliefs and the 3 indicators of the latent construct of hierarchical relationality (i.e., hierarchical relational expecta- tions, gender complementarianism, and existential defensiveness).
  4. We also observed (a) a positive indirect association between Calvinist beliefs and DVMA through the latent construct of hierarchical relationality, and (b) a negative indirect association between Calvinist beliefs and social justice advocacy through hierarchical relationality.
  5. Last, we observed evidence of suppression as the significant positive bivariate association between Calvinist beliefs and DVMA became significant and negative.
  6. Findings supported the conceptualization of domestic violence myths as comprised by nonacceptance of out-group members, hierarchical relationships, and gender inequality, and that an aspect of Calvinist ideology is similarly defined.
  7. Implications included designing training programs for religious leaders and construct- ing prevention and intervention strategies that foster self-reflection on religious beliefs associated with DVMA.

Here is their conclusion:

We examined select tradition-specific religious beliefs (i.e., beliefs, informed by and consistent with the Calvinist tradition within Christianity) and beliefs about hierarchical relating, complementarian gender ideology, and specialness and certainty, and their association with DVMA. Findings suggested that DVMs are defined by nonacceptance of out-group members, hierarchical relationships, and gender inequality. Furthermore, given construct validation evidence for the DVMA scale, the scale may be used as a measure of the extent to which an individual holds stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes that blame the female victims of male perpetrated family violence. As such, the DVMA scale may be used to assess intolerant beliefs, which could then permit practitioners to tailor prevention and intervention strategies to target specific religious beliefs that support violence myth adherence.

March 27, 2017

These beliefs and practices can be examined by psychologists and, while such scholars know the difference between correlation and causation, the recent study of Stephen J. Sandage (Boston U), Peter J. Jankowski (Bethel U), Sarah A. Crabtree (U Minnesota) and Maria L. Schweer-Collins (U Oregon) offers us plenty to think about. Their article is called “Calvinism, Gender Ideology, and Relational Spirituality,” and the article appears in Journal of Psychology and Theology 45 (2o17): 17-32. Prepare yourself for the reading because it is an informed and intensive analysis of data and numbers and it is cautious and analytical in conclusion.

To read on the theological debate, I recommend:

Roger Olson, Against Calvinism

Michael Horton, For Calvinism

Psychological and sociological research articles are a genre unto themselves. So, it opens with a summary conclusion/abstract of the study and I have reformatted it for ease of reading:

Participants were grouped on the basis of theological beliefs about divine-human and female-male dynamics using cluster analysis. We then explored whether these sub-groups might differ on (a) hierarchical social expectations, (b) commitments to social justice and intercultural competence, (c) religious exploration, (d) existential defensiveness, (e) views of psychology — theology integration, and (f) perspectives on women’s leadership.

The sample consisted of graduate students (N = 227) at an Evangelical seminary in the Midwestern United States.

Results yielded a four-cluster solution. (1)  Individuals scoring high on both Calvinist theological beliefs and complementarian gender role beliefs scored significantly higher on hierarchical relationship expectations and existential defensiveness, and preferred a Christian psychology view of integration and a male headship perspective of leadership, compared to those scoring low on Calvinism and complementarianism.

(2) In contrast, individuals scoring low on both theological dimensions scored higher on Arminianism, gender egalitarianism, social justice commitment, intercultural competence commitment, religious exploration, and they preferred an integration view of psychology and theology and a “no restrictions” perspective on women’s roles.

(3) Findings highlight implications for theological training and spiritual formation.

They used a variety of measures. The Calvinst-Arminian Beliefs Scale (Sorenson, 1981), a 15-item measure of egalitarian and complementarian gender role beliefs (ECS; Colaner and Warner, 2005; Colaner and Giles, 2008), the Interpersonal Hierarchy Expectation Scale (IHES; Mast, 2005), the Horizontal scale of the Faith Maturity Scale (FMS-H; Benson et al, 1993), they used a 2 question scale for intercultural competence (Cronbach’s alpha was .82), the Multidimensional Quest Orientation Scale (MQQS; Beck and Jessup, 2004), the Faith Maturity Scale-Short Form (FMS-SF; Benson et al, 1993), the Defensive Theology Scale (DTS; Beck, 2004, 2006a), they queried each on their integration of psychology and theology, and the Women’s Roles Questionnaire (Eliason, Hall, Anderson and Willigham, in press; Maltby, 2007).

December 30, 2015

The Calvinism and Pantheism Connection: Upending the Good

Wesley Walker is a seminarian at the Rawlings School of Divinity at Liberty University and active member in the Anglican Church in North America.

“To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good?” asked philosopher John Stuart Mill. Unfortunately, this redefinition of God’s nature occurs as the logical consequence of Calvinistic theology. The case can be made quite clear from comparing Calvinism with pantheism.

Before detailing these points of connection, it is important to define the terms. Calvinism refers to Christian theological movements which seeks to emphasize the concept of “sovereignty,” thereby reducing God to what Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher David Bentley Hart calls, “a pure exertion of will.” Pantheism is the belief that the entire universe is an expression of God.

I am not the first to associate Calvinism and pantheism. Jonathan Edwards, preacher of the deterministic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was accused of being a pantheist. Many critics, Christian and non-Christian, have launched attacks on Calvinistic modes of theology using similar lines of thought, including one of the foundational theologians of the Unitarian Universalist movement, William Ellery Channing. What I want to focus on is how both Calvinism and pantheism redefine “good” and “evil.”

In a Calvinistic worldview, everything is as God wills it to be. For the sake of consistency, those with Reformed positions have to believe the world exists the way it does because God wills it to bring himself as much glory as possible. Therefore, in this system, the definition of “good” is relegated to whatever is because whatever is somehow brings glory to God. This is something Calvin argues in the Institutes. A pantheist has similar struggles to derive a definition of good.

A concrete example illustrates this principal. To a pantheist, things like a disease outbreak or a natural disaster which leads to mass causalities cannot be objectively bad. It can be painful from a subjective perspective but there is no basis for it to be characterized as unequivocally evil. This is because the bacteria which carry the disease or the physical elements involved in the natural disaster are just as much an expression of God as a person, a tree, or a “beautiful” sunset. In a similar manner, the Calvinist cannot say disease or natural disasters are objectively bad because they are an expression of God’s will, designed to bring him the most glory possible.

This problem is exemplified in Calvin’s own writing. While he attempts to shield God from any moral culpability for sin and evil, he also admits, “What Satan does, Scripture affirms to be from another point of view the work of God.” Works and events which seem antithetical to God’s commands and nature are automatically grafted into his will.

In fact, Calvinism’s framework bears a striking semblance to the yin and yang. This Chinese symbol is meant to show that everything is interdependent and complimentary. This concept is “Christianized” by Edwards when he argued, “There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from.” Both extremes are necessary for God to receive his due glory.

In this respect, Calvinism and pantheism each create a similar impact: they upend any stable, objective definition of good and make the reality of evil illusory. Through this disruption of the definition of evil, the definition of good becomes arbitrary and fluid.

The alternative to this problem created by these worldviews is to recognize evil as the logical consequence of sin. It is entirely separate from God on an ontological level. The opportunity to sin is a necessary condition for a meaningful relationship grounded in mutual love. The responsibility for sin lies with one who committed it and the consequences of sin are separation from God.

Calvinists and pantheists are stuck describing “good,” resigning to define what  merely “is.” In reality, the meaning of good needs to be anchored in the very nature of God.

In response to this, the Calvinist stresses an epistemic break between humanity and God, stating that we, as humans, cannot begin to understand his nature. However, this is not an accurate distinction. Out of his immense love for creation and his desire for reconciliation and intimacy he revealed himself to the world through nature, Holy Scripture, and ultimately his Son.

In order to truly and accurately begin to understand and define what is good, one must begin with the nature of God as the ultimate standard. To make moral determinations about the world, one must meticulously compare situations and events with the character of God.

If “good” is determined by something other than God’s nature, it fails what is known as the Euthyphro Dilemma. This conundrum states that either morality is entirely arbitrary (i.e. God could just as easily create a world where lying is virtuous and monogamy a perversion) or the standard for good exists independently of God which would lead to serious doubts about his aseity and justice.

In Calvinism, the definition of “moral” and “good” become arbitrary. They are those things which bring God the most glory. The reprobate are in a sense “good” because their condemnation is a prerequisite to the demonstration of God’s grace. The elect are also “good” because they highlight the mercy of God.

Only with a framework which uses God’s very nature as the ultimate measure is it possible to categorize good and evil in a stable way. This rejection of Calvinistic understandings of the world avoids the pitfalls of pantheism and the Euthyphro Dilemma.

October 11, 2015

OK, I’m not so sure this is “Calvinism” per se but it is a kind of popular Calvinism. But the article’s listing of early warning signs of adult onset Calvinism gets to common experiences (I’ve deleted a few). My experience with this sort of young theologian was an argumentativeness, a desire to turn every conversation to these issues and to get argumentative, and the development of a harsh critical attitude toward all who don’t think this way.

Anyway, this is funny more than anything else. Enjoy.

By Stephen Altrogge:

To help you navigate the treacherous waters of AOC, I’ve listed the possible symptoms you may encounter.

  • A sudden urge to correct everything and everyone all the time about every possible thing.
  • A growing conviction that every worship song you’ve ever sung is heretical and should be excised from the church catalog, including the Nicene Creed, Doxology, and most of the Psalms.
  • A strange and inexplicable ability to listen to 300 John Piper sermons in a single day.
  • A burning passion to convert everyone, especially your extremely godly parents WHO TAUGHT YOU THE BIBLE, to Calvinism.
  • Deep suspicion of anything that might cause the slightest bit of emotion in church, especially those awful worship songs noted above.
  • Deep-seated cynicism toward anyone who doesn’t take a hard stance on an issue, including but not limited to: free will, Calvinism, sports, coffee, the Trinity, capitalism, child schooling, and dating.
  • An unshakeable conviction that Tim Keller is too theologically soft.
  • The ability to bring every conversation full circle to Romans 9.
  • Frustration that guys like Piper and Sproul don’t draw more lines in the sand.
  • Inevitably arriving at the conclusion that John Calvin was not that strong of a Calvinist. At least, not as strong as you are.

  • Growing a beard, but not in a hipster way! This beard is WAY DIFFERENT from hipster beards, because it tapers to a point somewhere between the nipples, just like Calvin’s beard did.

September 4, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 3.01.09 PMThe mother of orthodoxy, says Roger Olson in his book Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church, is heresy in that it was often a heresy (or a suspicious idea at the time) that provoked Christian theologians to explain what was truly orthodox. Let us then say that it worked like this, which is a little more nuanced and a sketch Olson would no doubt approve:

First, the story that comes to completion in Jesus and his death and resurrection and ascension. Second, the apostolic faith moves from Jerusalem into the Roman world. Third, someone in the church at some level challenges what the apostles have been teaching — what is found in what we now call the New Testament. Fourth, Christian theologians — from the apostles to today — respond by articulating what is most consistent with the gospel and thus with what has been believed. This articulation is called orthodoxy. The articulations often enough are provoked by something that was soon called heresy.

This orthodoxy is rooted unequivocally in the gospel about Jesus (1 Cor 15:3-8) but is unfolded over time and in response to new issues, and this responsiveness occurs already at the time of the apostles (e.g., Colossians or 1 John). It did not arise with Constantine and Nicea. That’s such a bonehead piece of history that is somehow credible to so many today — or that is something folks today want to believe as true. It’s not.

Thus, read the rules of faith (regula fidei) or canon of faith as sorted out independently by Irenaeus and Tertullian (on creeds, see this link). E.g., Irenaeus:

. . . this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race . . .

Olson, after years of teaching theology, says the Nicene Creed teaches “one what and three whos” and Chalcedon teaches “one who and two whats” (32).

Olson sums it up with this: orthodoxy refers to the deity and humanity of the one person Jesus Christ (incarnation and hypostatic union), the Trinity (God is one being, substance existing as three distinct persons), and salvation is by grace alone and cannot be earned. He affirms as entailments at least that miracles are real and that there is objective reality in the atonement of Jesus at the cross.

The source of this orthodoxy is not the tradition but the tradition is an unfolding of what is in the Bible, and if it is not in the Bible the tradition needs to change. He has a sola scriptura approach, which is a kind of prima scriptura and not “the Bible alone.”

What heresies then become evident in the history of the church?

Gnosticism

Montanism and Marcionism

Adoptionism, Arianism, and Nestorianism

Subordinationism, Modalism, and Tritheism

Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism

And this is where Olson turns up the heat because his book is not just about historical errors but about the persistence of errors in the church, and so he examines two modern day teachings that breach orthodoxy at times and can be called heresies at times. He looks at “unofficial” heresies here, three of them. He says he could not affiliate with a church that affirms any of these. He examines here beliefs and not persons.

Making God a monster by divine determinism. [Yes, he takes a look at some forms of Calvinism here.]

Reducing God to manageable size in moralistic therapeutic deism.

Using God for personal gain in the gospel of health and wealth.

So, let’s look at the first of the modern teachings that sometimes become heresy: divine determinism. He defines it:

For our purposes here, divine determinism means belief, whether explicit or implicit, that God determines all things according to a preconceived plan and by his omnipotent power, including sin and evil (123).

In the words of one very popular Christian pastor, teacher, author, and evangelist, absolutely everything that happens, without exception, was planned, ordained, and governed” by God (123).

Augustine affirms both meticulous sovereignty and unconditional predestination (124). He sums it up:

To recap briefly, then, some Christians, following Augustine’s teaching, have believed that God exercises meticulous, detailed, “fine grained” sovereignty over everything—down to the most minute details of history and individuals’ lives (124).

Which raises the problem acutely, and if one doesn’t see it as a problem, well, then, let’s move on:

Of course, Augustine’s belief and teaching about God’s sovereignty raises to an intense pitch the issue of sin and evil: Is God the author of them? Augustine answered negatively: no, God is not the author of sin and evil. And yet, many have asked, how can that be if God controls everything including the “movement” of creatures’ wills? Augustine simply denied that this makes God the author of sin and evil as that, too, would offend the dignity of God. So he left it as a paradox—an unresolved apparent contradiction. Sin and evil stem from creatures’ rebellious wills, not from God’s will, although God wills to permit them and they, too, cannot fall outside God’s overall sovereignty (125).

Our conclusion is, then, that Augustine’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty logically implies divine determinism even with regard to sin and evil even if he did not affirm that God determines them. Colloquially expressed, “he worked it out”  (126).

Someone who did work it out was Zwingli, the most radical of all divine determinists. Calvin was more cautious and lets God off the hook not by appealing to divine permissions. Olson:

In sum, according to Calvin, everything that happens, including sinful and evil deeds, are foreordained and rendered certain by God while God remains unstained by their wickedness because he does not force creatures but only permits them to sin. But God’s permission of sin and evil is “willing permission.” God is not the author of sin and evil because, although he foreordains and renders them certain, he does not directly cause them. Zwingli was clearer (129).

On Edwards:

In other words, Edwards said that while God does not coerce or force anyone to sin, he does design, ordain, and govern sin for a purpose. Sin is willed and rendered certain by God. At least he “bit the bullet” most Reformed Christians will not bite and admitted that God is the author of sin and evil in that sense (132).

He turns to Sproul and Piper. On Sproul:

Ultimately, then, God, the all-determining reality, determines that people will sin, but somehow without causing them to sin. It seems fair to say that for Sproul, as for Augustine, Zwingli, and Edwards (if not for Calvin, too!), sin and evil are rendered certain by God for a greater good—the full revelation of God’s glory; It’s important to say here that Sproul does not intend to make God ths author of sin and evil. He probably draws back from even Edwards’s admission that, in some highly qualified sense, God is the author of sin and evil. However, the logic of his doctrine of God’s absolute, all-encompassing sovereignty leads inexorably in that direction. One cannot be blamed for calling his view a version of divine determinism even if he does not like that language (133).

On Piper:

Piper is bold in proclaiming the absolute sovereignty of God to the point of preaching that even if a “dirty bomb” fell on a city it would be from God. Whenever a disaster or calamity happens, including one that involves sin and innocent suffering, Piper boldly proclaims that it is “from God.” He does not mean that God directly caused the perpetrators to sin—especially not against their own perverse wills. However, even their perverse wills are under the control of God’s sovereignty. Nowhere does Piper say that God is the author of sin and evil, but it seems fair to assume that he agrees with Edwards (134).

Olson’s conclusion:

In my opinion, and many other Christians’ opinions, making God the author of sin and evil is heresy. Most Reformed, Calvinist Christians do not fall into that. They are careful to keep a distance between God and evil. There is a difference between, for example, Sproul Sr.’s view and Sproul Jr.’s view. How great a difference is debatable, because it seems the son’s view is simply the “good and necessary consequence” of the father’s view. However, it’s important not to attribute conclusions to people they expressly deny believing (135).

It would seem, then, that all forms of divine determinism are on the precipice of heresy even if only calling God the author of sin and evil is outright heresy (136).

Christian congregations and denominations ought to root out divine determinism, especially the view that God is the author of sin and evil, and perhaps also the view that God designed, ordained, and governs them (136).

August 4, 2014

Screen shot 2010-11-15 at 6.20.21 AMSource:

This paragraph is revealing and over the years I’ve heard this so many times… I have italicized the words that reflect a common set of categories used to explain anyone not a Calvinist. We get no where when Calvinists — and not all are like this — claim non-Calvinists don’t have the stomach for the full counsel of God. This is a bundle of non-falsifiable logic: if they agree it’s because it’s true; if they don’t it’s because it’s true and they don’t accept it.

But several things eventually led to me reconsider the views of almost all my teachers, colleagues, friends, and heroes. The first was that an acquaintance gave me a copy of a book written by a “Reformed Arminian”. I read it out of curiosity, and though it did not persuade me in the least it did challenge my prejudice against Arminians. Scripture seemed clear about RT, so I had assumed that anyone who denied it was either ignorant or insolent. Some had not read the Bible carefully enough and others just could not stomach God as he revealed himself to be. But this book offered a clear alternative to Calvinism and intelligently interacted with its favorite proof texts. The author did not convince me, but he did give me a new category: there were non-Calvinists who had taken the Bible to heart and honestly believed that it taught God’s desire to save all…

And here he says the Bible itself tipped him over the edge:

The third thing that set me on the course to reject RT was the thing that had led me into it – Scripture itself. As a pastor I preached through books of the Bible verse by verse. Occasionally I would encounter a common Calvinistic proof text and realize that it did not necessarily say what I had thought it said. John 3 does not necessarily teach that regeneration precedes faith; John 10 does not necessarily teach that Jesus died only for the elect; Eph 1 does not necessarily teach that God ordained whatever happens; 1 Pet 1 does not necessarily teach that God elected individuals for salvation – unconditionally, effectually, exclusively. Once again, these discoveries did not shake my confidence in RT. There were too many passages that clearly taught it; I considered Romans 9 impregnable to Arminian assault. But I realized that the quantity of verses used to support my view did not matter if, upon closer scrutiny, they could not bear the weight that we Calvinists were putting on them on a case-by-case basis….

That was a turning point in my life. For the first time I said, “Whatever it cost me (and I knew it could cost me everything), I want to know the truth.” I spent the next year and a half going back through Scripture, reading books on both sides of the issue, listening to debates and lectures, praying fervently, studying passages, and meditating deeply. Gradually, my questions about RT turned into doubts, and by the end of 2013 I realized that my doubts had turned into disbelief. I had not fully reconstructed my theology, but it was clear that I no longer found Calvinism coherent, much less biblical….

Finally, I lost my livelihood and have not yet recovered it. There have been seasons of desperation and even anger as I’ve asked why the Lord led me down this path that seems to lead nowhere. But he has provided for my family abundantly, and he has reminded me to worry not about how I’m going to pay the bills, but what pleases him (Prov 3:5-6; Matt 6:33).

In the end, this journey has not been about having the right answers, but following Jesus. I differ from some Arminians when I say that if, when I meet the Lord, I discover that Calvinists were right after all, I will fall on my face in worship, savor the sacrifice that covers sins committed in ignorance, and trust him for the grace to love him as he is. I am not seeking a man-centered religion more palatable to my ego, but have followed him down this path because I am zealous for his honor as a loving God, a just God, and a God who is so sovereign that he can make creatures who, like himself, are not scripted . . . but free and thus capable of loving and being loved by him. What I have found is a God that actually lives up to the glorious God preached by Calvinists.

May 17, 2013

Our recent post about IVP’s new little handbook to all things Reformed convinced me we need to to reconsider together what Calvinism means. I’m not a Calvinist, but Kenneth Stewart is. He’s a very good thinker and a clear writer and he argues there is more than one kind of Calvinism, and many don’t even know that, especially many of the most vocal New Calvinists of our day. (Nor do some of them know their history of American evangelicalism, but I digress.) We are in Ken Stewart’s debt for his enough-is-enough book, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. Non-Calvinists are not always informed about Calvinism, and are sometimes fond of pointed jabs that do not describe Calvinists accurately, and so a book like this that shows both deep commitment to Calvinism and friendly fire is one we all need. He is also concerned as well with those Calvinists who think they’ve got it figured out but don’t. What Stewart’s book will do is humble Calvinists into thinking their family is more diverse than is often supposed. As Roger Olson explained Arminian theology from the inside in his Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, so Stewart has provided for us a similar kind of volume.

For whom is this book written? Stewart says it’s for insiders, and I suppose that is especially true but I enjoyed the book and it helps me understand Calvinism. He writes so well it seems he’s writing this for all of us. One senses that this book is aimed in part at those Calvinists who are reducing Calvinism to only some of its theme or who are drawing on only one or two of its various waves. So he sketches in part one of the book those elements that Calvinists are saying about themselves that are simply not accurate.

What this book puts on the table for us all to see is this: Calvinism cannot simply be defined by one theologian, one church, or one idea but is a broad and varied theological persuasion with four centuries of historical conversation. It would be good for critics of Calvinism to read a book like Stewart’s and J.K.A. Smith’s Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition, whose book I did not review but would welcome a review. So we all need not to equate the movement with its most prominent preachers today.

I believe more critics of Calvinism need to learn to distinguish the “architecture” of Calvinism (it’s emphasis on the glory of God, it’s grasp of God’s sovereignty and majesty and beauty, it’s focus on human sinfulness etc, which themes ought to draw us together) from the more specific articulations of Calvinism, where most of the critics focus. Stewart’s book keeps this sort of distinction, though these terms are mine, in mind to remind us of the essential story of Calvinism.

A brief sketch: Stewart discusses, with ample evidence and thorough explanations, four myths Calvinists should not be circulating (but are):

1. One Man (Calvin) and one City (Geneva) are determinative
2. Calvin’s view of (double) predestination must be ours
3. TULIP is the yardstick of the truly Reformed
4. Calvinists take a dim view of revival and awakening

And six myths non-Calvinists should not be circulating (but are):

1. Calvinism is largely antimissionary
2. Calvinism promotes antinomianism
3. Calvinism leads to theocracy
4. Calvinism undermines the creative arts
5. Calvinism resists gender equality
6. Calvinism has fostered racial inequality.

Recent statements by some Calvinists have brought again into focus kinds of sovereignty of God ideas that push double predestination to the fore, but Stewart shows that Calvin’s later and more radical views affirming double predestination were modified and toned down over time, and that Calvin’s view should not be pressed as the Calvinist view. Stewart’s sketch here is admirable.

As his examination of the (in)appropriateness of thinking TULIP is the best way to organize Calvinist theology. That chp alone is worth the price of this book. It might be healthier for us, and I include myself here, to speak of Calvinism as a tradition than of a specified set of beliefs.

And a comment about the charge that Calvinism is antinomian. My own experience is that this charge is false; Calvinists are not antinomian, and in fact have a tendency (paradoxically) toward a more legalistic framework. To be sure, an emphasis on election and final perseverance can promote antinomian ideas, but I’ve only seen such sillinesses among the immature or in the rhetoric of opponents.

However, Stewart observes that one form of antinomianism, and one not to be bothered by, is to think that Christians are not called to observe the Torah and are called to live out the gospel. But what I’m seeing today among some young Calvinists, e.g., Tullian Tchividjian, appears to me to be an exaggeration of grace theology at the expense of how the Bible frames ethical practices and injunctions. Not to mention how even Calvin talked about the law’s usefulness for the Christian. Clearly, there is no attempt with these — as has been the case at times in church history — to justify sin or to minimize sin. It has to do with the law and commands and how to frame ethics. In other words, instead of simply permitting someone like Jesus or Paul to say “follow me” or “do this” they tend to have a need to explain each and everyone of those as expressions of a grace at work in the life so that “follow me” really means “God’s grace will prompt following me.” As I view such approaches, the potency of the command and the appeal to the will are blunted. I don’t see this tendency in Calvin’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, which I’m reading now. All of this to say I was keen on what Stewart had to say about this tendency today. It’s perhaps a version of what is called Spirit-centered antinomianism or High Calvinism, but there is nothing in his book that makes me think he was thinking of this misguided recent trend among some young Calvinists.

This is a repost.

May 16, 2013

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard a thousand times. Calvinism is a hierarchical system of thought and it is hierarchical in marriage and it is hierarchical in churches. The more one emphasizes God’s sovereignty the more one can emphasize male sovereignty. Therefore, Calvinism is inherently complementarian and that means it will — for those who aren’t complementarian or who think women should be leaders in churches and pastors etc — suppress women in churches.

If you think this, you need to read Ken Stewart’s book, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition , because he has a whole chapter on that examines the myth that Calvinism rejects gender equality. Got your attention? Read on friends.

What is your experience with Calvinism and women (in the home, at work, ministry)?

“It is hard,” he says to open the chp, “to imagine that anyone would point to the movement in which John Calvin holds such a prominent place and suggest that it had helped to pioneer the advancement of women” (219). And concludes the chp with these words: “The evidence supports the conviction that he [Calvin] encouraged an enlarged role for believing women in society (on behalf of the church) and in the ministries of the church itself” (235). But… but…

… “it is necessary for us now to recognize that portions of the Reformed world today fall well behind Calvin’s own demonstrated sixteenth-century readiness to capitalize on the then-expanding influence of women in kingdom work” (235).

Two probings then suggest to Ken Stewart that Calvin was more open than many of his followers, and that means that those today who think the NeoReformed (or perhaps even better NeoPuritan) groups who are so intent on raising complementarianism in home and church to the front of beliefs and practices may not be continuing the movement Calvin himself began. Here are some elements to consider:

(more…)

November 10, 2012

Evangelical Calvinism

This post is written by Wes Vander Lugt

Featuring: Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, eds., Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Wipf and Stock, 2012).

You are mistaken if you think Calvinists are all cut from the same cloth. As Habets and Grow explain in their introduction, evangelical Calvinism seeks to chart a middle way between conservative (or federal) Calvinism and liberal Calvinism. Evangelical Calvinism is not to be confused with the new-Calvinist or neo-Reformed movement. Rather, they explain it more as a mood than a movement, one that shares a common boundary with evangelicalism in terms focusing on Christ, valuing the witness of Scripture, and making much of the gospel. They also point out that while conservative Calvinists prefer the Westminster Confession, evangelical Calvinists find most affinity with the Scots Confession and Heidelberg Catechism.

In the second chapter, “The Phylogeny of Calvin’s Progeny,” Charles Partee similarly distinguishes these three types of Calvinism according to the Reformation rubrics of Scripture alone, Faith alone, and Christ alone. Conservative Calvinists champion Scripture alone, as represented by Charles Hodge. Liberal Calvinists champion Faith alone, especially as interpreted by Schleiermacher through the lens of religious experience. Evangelical Calvinists champion Christ alone, represented by Karl Barth and many Scottish theologians. In fact, based on the theologian most often quoted in this book, it would seem that T. F. Torrance deserves the title of ‘patron saint’ for evangelical Calvinists.

There are many brilliant essays in this book that explore various aspects of evangelical Calvinism, and it would be impossible to summarize them all. Perhaps it is most helpful to list the fifteen theses offered by the editors in the final chapter. They are careful to point out that not all the contributors to the book would agree with every thesis, but this is the editors’ attempt to develop evangelical Calvinism as a “definable position within the Reformed tradition.”

  1. The Holy Trinity is the absolute ground and grammar of all epistemology, theology, and worship.
  2. The primacy of God’s triune life is grounded in love, for “God is love.”
  3. There is one covenant of grace.
  4. God is primarily covenantal and not contractual in his dealing with humanity.
  5. Election is christologically conditioned.
  6. Grace precedes law.
  7. Assurance is of the essence of faith.
  8. Evangelical Calvinism endorses a supralapsarian Christology which emphasizes the doctrine of the primacy of Christ.
  9. Evangelical Calvinism is a form of dialogical/dialectical theology.
  10. Evangelical Calvinism places an emphasis upon the doctrine of union with/in Christ whereby all the benefits of Christ are ours.
  11. Christ lived, died, and rose again for all humanity, thus Evangelical Calvinism affirms a doctrine of universal atonement.
  12. Universalism is not a corollary of universal redemption and is not constitutive for Evangelical Calvinism.
  13. There is no legitimate theological concept of double predestination as construed in the tradition of Reformed Scholasticism.
  14. The atonement is multifaceted and must not be reduced to one culturally conditioned atonement theory but, rather, to a theologically unified but multi-faceted atonement model.
  15. Evangelical Calvinism is in continuity with the Reformed confessional tradition.

It should be pointed out that both liberal and conservative Calvinists, depending on how conservative or liberal they are, would affirm many of these theses. The spectrum within these two camps means that, for example, some conservative Calvinists might only affirm a couple of these theses while others might affirm a majority. Certainly, each thesis deserves to be unpacked, but in just reading all of them listed here, I am curious to your responses to the following questions:

  • What theses are most surprising, and how does this change, if at all, your conception of Calvinism?
  • Do you see this proposal for evangelical Calvinism as a legitimate ‘middle way’ between conservative and liberal Calvinism? Why or why not?
  • For conservative Calvinists who are closer to the center but still would not endorse each thesis, which ones would cause them the most concern?
December 26, 2011

Roger Olson sketches five conundrums — something between contradiction and mystery — in Calvinism, and these conundrums Olson thinks call into question the good name of God. I shall present them as questions.

How can God have absolute divine sovereignty and humans be genuinely responsible?

How can God determine everything and anything be evil? That is, if everything is God’s will, and God is good, everything is good or at least nothing is evil. This includes rape, child abuse and hell.

How can anything injure God’s glory if God wills everything? Even unbelief, even heresy, even sin.

How can God’s saving some and passing over others and be good and loving and gracious? [Olson thinks God chooses on the basis of foreknowledge.]

How can God be good and ordain evil actions in this world?

There are often better, non-Calvinist explanations, and the Calvinist appeal to conundrum, or antinomy, masks the illogic and fails to deal with the more adequate rational, logical answer of others. Divine determinism and meticulous providence create more problems for God’s character than they solve problems. Divine self-limitation and human free will are better, more rational explanations.

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