This week there was some discussion amongst the members of the Society of Vineyard Scholars, of which I am a member. Someone asked a question regarding how the Vineyard stands regarding Calvinism and Arminianism, and there were quite a few interesting responses, including mine. Interestingly, one of the last comments was that this is a “theologically useless debate.” This type of attitude is reflected in a lot of people’s reaction to such topics, especially when swinging swords about “eternal security” or “losing one’s salvation.”
Part of me wants to agree, and another part of me wants to push back on that type of thinking. I guess I just think statements like that need to be fleshed out a bit more.
I’m in 100% agreement with the fact that often times the subject of God’s sovereignty and human choice are so polarized that fruitful discussion does not take place. The “discussions” quickly become “debates” and sometimes name-calling and judgmental statements are made that simply do not build up the Body of Christ. Such “debates” are probably adequately described as “useless.”
But that’s not how these discussions need to be handled. First of all, to suggest that the subject is not important is to reveal that one does not understand some of the issues related to these doctrines. As a pastor, I can speak from a great deal of experience regarding the need to address subjects related to Assurance of Salvation or Perseverance or evangelistic methodology. So let’s not simplify these topics into the realm of unimportance simply because a lot of people turn into jerks when they discuss these things.
And for the record, philosophy and logic are certainly important issues to think through when discussing theology, but exegesis needs to be the main “battle ground.” Of course, that’s my opinion, but it’s one that Protestants have agreed upon for a number of centuries (Happy Reformation Day on Monday!).
If anything, we should joyfully discuss these issues and interact on them to the glory of God! And we should do so graciously and humbly with a desire to grow and learn.
Last night I was reading Paul Manata’s review of Roger E. Olsen’s new book Against Calvinism (Michael Horton wrote the response, For Calvinism). Manata goes to great lengths to demonstrate that having an exegetical debate with Olsen will not prove fruitful because Olsen has already reached the conclusion that the Bible cannot teach what is called “Calvinism.” Thus, as the addage goes, where you begin determines where you’ll end up. If you refuse to allow for Scripture to lead in a certain direction, it won’t. This is true for every theological discussion too, not just this one.
I’m not sure if Olsen actually means what Manata shows, but it’s good to remember that Scripture has the final authority, not our preconceived judgments. And I’m not willing to concede that issues that arise from Scripture are not important for the church to work towards reaching unity on, especially when done with love, grace, humility, and patience.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
wonderful article Luke, but in Short I must say while I agree that a debate with Olsen would prove to be fruitless, the same is true for a debate with Piper or any of those person considered his protege. I have Piper on more that one occasion say that Armenian think lacks scholarship and is juvenile. so on both side of the discussion their needs to be grace.
Let me push back just a little bit… but first agree with you. Ha ha!
I agree with you 100% that there needs to be grace. Absolutely, 100%. Pointless without it!
But regarding Piper, doesn’t he tend to be a good example of keeping the discussion exegetically based? I haven’t listened to all of his sermons and I could very well be wrong about his attitude, but he’s always struck me as one who was willing to engage in exegesis over and above simple opinions, etc. That was demonstrated to me in his The Justification of God… exegesis, exegesis, exegesis.
So, maybe I’m just showing MY presuppositions here! I guess I just find exegesis as the battle ground, versus philosophical reasoning… and I don’t say that to minimize the importance or the role of philosophy and logic and reason when reflecting exegetically. But if one predetermines that a text cannot mean what it actually says, we have a problem, right?
I’m a Calvinist, so maybe I’m just a little biased 😉
What do you think? I have just always found guys like Olsen and Piper completely different in how they engage biblical subjects. Olsen tends to think along the lines of reason and philosophy whereas Jack Cottrell, also an Arminian, seems to engage these issues exegetically (or someone like I. Howard Marshall!).
Hey Luke, it would be dishonest to say none of us have biases, and yes Piper does keep the debates exegetically centered but as you mentioned about your position, it’s with biases.
I am what I call Cal/Arm ( will explain another time ) I believe the truth is in the tension between the both positions.
Yes I love Piper, the point was to be fair in showing that I have heard Piper state the stuff I mentioned before. So both Clavinist and Arminianist are guilty.
No doubt! I think the goal is to have what is called “informed biases,” meaning opinions that are not held just because, but based off of the best evidence we find…
That can be hard work though, haha!
I was a Carminian for quite some time too, and I think maintaining the tensions of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are super important! Great reminder!
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