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Failure to Launch the Calvinist Rocket

Fred Sanders, Wesleyan theologian, is interviewed by John Starke and it is interesting reading, I particularly enjoyed this bit, which I think is a fair and, frankly, knockout critique of Calvinism. (HT Marc)


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What kept you from making the leap to Calvinism?

Well, I do consider it a kind of leap, and the place to leap off of would be Romans 9. I have felt the attraction of that reading. You would have to run all the way to the end of Paul's line of argument there about the election of Israel and their role in salvation history, which in context are all historical arguments, and then decide that it applies to individual people, to all individual people, from before creation. That is, the exegetical key to the Calvinist view is that the overall drift of Paul's argument demands that the theological points involved should be transposed into a higher order. I don't mean that's how all Calvinists get to their conclusions, I mean that's where I would make the case if I were persuaded of the Calvinist view of election.

Without Romans 9 as a key jumping-off point, it seems to me that the rest of Scripture furnishes the vocabulary used in Calvinistic predestination (Exodus! Ephesians!), but not the necessary argument and demonstration. I'm perfectly comfortable with using a key text or two as guidance in interpreting the rest of Scripture: that's the kind of hermeneutical procedure that makes me a Trinitarian (with the highest possible level of certainty and commitment) and a premillenialist (with a considerably lower level of certainty and commitment). But I'm just not persuaded that Romans 9 is the place to make one of those transcendental leaps; or that it means what Calvinists take it to mean.

Without some kind of platform like that, I can't launch the Calvinist rocket. Election and predestination are awesome, revealed realities of salvation, but the Calvinist construals and constructions of them generate a web of doctrinal inferences that clash with other biblical truths. I can't do limited atonement or irresistible grace, to pluck at two of the most vulnerable petals of the tulip. I can't affirm the perseverance of the saints as part of the predestinarian package, though I could re-state the core concern as something like the irreversibility of salvation, and (perhaps being a bad Wesleyan) affirm that.

That isn't a full critique of Calvinism, but I'm responding to the question autobiographically rather than systematically. This is why I didn't make the leap.

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Let me know what you think, :-)

Comments

  1. Love the phrase "generate[s] a web of doctrinal inferences".

    I've flirted with the TULIP a couple of times but this is what keeps me an Arminian (with an increasing attraction to the theology of Torrance and Barth).

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  2. I'm not sure I find the theological gymnastics of either position totally convincing but if I had to pick I would definitely fall into the Arminian camp. For me though there is still an essential problem with the systematisation of Paul's doctrine in his letters and then the attempt to shoe horn the rest of scripture and especially the gospels into it. Christian theology needs to start with the Gospels not with Romans, with Christ not Paul - not that I am saying Paul contradicts Christ, but he often appears to in the theological ramblings on the heirs of the half baked reformation.

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