I remember my early days and years after becoming a Christian. I came to Christ through quite a radical new birth on 30 January 1997, or sometime that week (I just realised it’s almost my birthday!).
In those early years, one of the major things discussed amongst us young adult Christians (and many older Christians as well) is the whole Calvinism-Arminianism debate. I was part of a Southern Baptist church where most held to 3 or 4 points of the 5 points of Calvinism. Most could accept just about everything, albeit the BIG L, or limited (particular) atonement.
Within that church, though of a minority, I found myself embracing a more Calvanistic-reformed soteriology. Goodness me, I remember some of the debates. I don’t think I personally spent a lot of time in huge debates, but I did get involved in deep (maybe emotionally) one-on-one or group conversations.
And I do remember one situation back in the day.
Our quite famous pastor (who had authored a few books) came to speak at our college ministry’s Bible study. That night, the room was packed with somewhere approaching 100 attendees. Everyone awaited to hear what pastor had to say, though I think we already knew his conclusions would not fully embrace Calvinism.
Lo and behold, within a few week’s time, the director of the university’s Reformed Christian Fellowship (RCF) wrote a response paper to our pastor’s teaching. My understanding was that this was not done as an attack, but rather some of the RCF students had been given a tape copy of our pastor’s teaching and they were hoping for some teaching as a counter-response. (I don’t doubt that, somewhere in all of this, things started to flow out of wrong motivations.)
Then, to top it all off, as our college minister’s wife had also begun a study on Romans with the female student Sunday school class, the whispers began to circulate that some of the reformed-Presbyterian or RFC students had made their way into that class to hear what was being taught. And there were even mumblings of outright arguments in the class.
I know! Sounds like something from Dawson’s Creek, or an even younger age.
To think about it now deeply saddens me.
To be honest, I keep asking – When are we going to move on from these things? Sometimes I feel like we have moved on to more important things (yes, there are more important things than this debate). But every once in a while, this ol’ debate rears its head once again, now with the added discussions of Open Theism and the re-entrance of semi- and full-Pelagianism. We sure know how to call names at one another and affix labels (including myself).
I remember when I sensed God’s leading that it was time to move on from that Southern Baptist church. There, I had grown so much with regards to salvation and the foundations of our faith. My passion to study the word of God, reach non-believers, and even move into some form of church leadership was established there.
But, as I said, one day God moved me from the 25,000-member church to that of a smaller, 60-person interdenominational church. And major shifts took place in my life and theology over the next few years. I mean a re-arranging. If it weren’t for my still Calvinist leanings, I might classify it as another rebirth. Anyways….
I really never moved away from some of my more reformed-Calvinistic leanings (that has happened more in the past couple of years). But, remember. I said there are much more important things than the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. And in those early years within my new church community, I learned what some of those things are, even learning of the most important.
What is it?
The kingdom of God.
I learned that this was God’s ultimate intention and the message Jesus came proclaiming – that God’s rule was here and that we are called to proclaim that good news. What better good news to proclaim than that of which Christ proclaimed.
Please know I don’t say this arrogantly, as if I am the enlightened one. God’s rule is not in that kind of thinking. But as I became gripped with the reality of the kingdom rule of God as a reality now in the life of the church and even beyond, many other things fell to the wayside, including the Calvinist-Arminianist debate. I still had to deal with it here and there, i.e., studying some stuff in my soteriology class in seminary. But it just became less and less important. So un-important that this might be the first time I have talked about it in a couple of years.
In all, what I long to see is that more and more leave behind the debates of Calvinism and Arminianism and Pelagianism and Open Theism. Not that I am saying that we lay aside theology and theological study. Nor do I believe healthy theological debate is bad. It’s good when it stays healthy and gracious and focused.
But my hope and desire is that we continue to move away from this overall debate that seems ready to be shaken one day (see Heb 12:27-28) and take up the passion that the Christ himself had – living and proclaiming the good news that God’s reign is here. And from that great truth we will see the captives set free, the sick healed, the blind see, the oppressed liberated, and this group of re-created people prepared for the recreation of the whole cosmos one day.
It’s time to move on.
Calvinism and Arminianism try to bring what they consider important ideas to perspectives on biblical faith, and it will always be appealing to ecumenically oriented folks to look for some sort of bilateral solution to the debate. But what I’m seeing is that new scholarship and developments in current theology could be refocusing us and driving us beyond these classic stand-offs into an incredibly new theological perspective that is opening up right in front of us.
I can understand how people will be defensive when someone tells you that your beliefs are wrong and heretical. When it is presented that salvation is on the line, then people tend to overreact because it introduces doubt into their belief system.
That being said, I too have a desire to move past the debate. Anymore both sides are so entrenched that only harm is done. Now on to eternal security.
Great post. It is high time were broken from the created and healed by the Creator.
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I’ve been interacting with Scott (and others) on this topic on Scott’s “sister blog” @ Theologica.
Where jimhoag wrote –>“Calvinism and Arminianism try to bring what they consider important ideas to perspectives on biblical faith, and it will always be appealing to ecumenically oriented folks to look for some sort of bilateral solution to the debate. But what I’m seeing is that new scholarship and developments in current theology could be refocusing us and driving us beyond these classic stand-offs into an incredibly new theological perspective that is opening up right in front of us.”<–
On new scholarship and developments in theology: In 2003, N.T. Wright referred to himself as a “good Calvinist” (New Perspectives on Paul, here). When I read that, I was both ‘taken-aback’ (*shocked*) and exceedingly curious as to: in just what sense did he mean this? I thought, “Isn’t Wright’s theological opponent, John Piper, the ‘Calvinist’ in this discussion?”
To try to clarify the issues and unravel things I read Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, keeping an eye open for any new developments.
Then last November, Wright spoke at ETS, the theme being: ‘Justification by Faith’. I found a good overview/analysis of Wright’s and Tom Schreiner’s presentations on Justin Taylor’s blog (btw, Schreiner took John Piper’s place, as Piper was on sabbatical then). Link: What N.T. Wright Really Said.
Am I trailing off-topic? Hmmm, well, as far as I know, Wright is the only “good Calvinist” who sees Romans 9 like Arminians do. That is, that Paul was writing about “God electing Israel (Jacob): to serve His purposes”–as opposed to the ‘standard’ Calvinist interpretation that Paul wrote about “individual-election-to-salvation”.
I’m not sure how this plays out, or will play out, in Calvinist-Arminian dialogue. But I also haven’t been hearing much from the ‘traditional Calvinists’ on what Wright said and has been saying.
In any event: What Jim(hoag) said!
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Late to this discussion, but as a five point Arminian I wanted to say a hearty “Amen”. It’s all about building the Kingdom of God folks. How it all works for sure I will find out some day in Heaven. But for now, I am content to say that I love Jesus and he loves me. And my Calvinist friends can say the same thing.
My concern is that when we say it’s ‘all about the kingdom’, we are not certain what that means. We don’t know what it means to see the rule of God a reality. You know what I mean – more of just a spiritual-mental assent with no concrete grasp.