Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Permanent Value of TULIP

Happy 600th Post!!

Here are a couple interesting thoughts from J.I. Packer. Check out the link if you want to read some of the interesting discussion going on. To be honest, I am not entirely clear on some of the distinctions of what I consider an "in-house" discussion. At present, I am leaning more toward the Calvinist understanding, some have called it Classical Christianity, or Reformed.

I can't say I am completely committed to either side (the other side being Arminian), but I have gradually started heading toward the Reformed idea, particularly because I think that the sovereignty of God is far stronger than I grew up thinking In any case, I am not speaking with a great convinction of this position as I am still working through some of the details. Anyway: Here goes:

In his introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, J. I. Packer writes that Calvinism and Arminianism are “two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content.”

Packer continues, (paragraphing added)

One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself.

One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly.

The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them.

The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms.

One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it.

Plainly these differences are important, and the permanent value of the “five points,” as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.


Kwame E. said...

I am inclined to think that the divide between Reformed soteriology and Arminianism is similar to that of political conservatism and liberalism. Liberalism is in many instances oversimplistic and sentimentally-based; conservatism tends to look past utopianism and sees what is practical, pragmatic, and what truly is fair or just after dragging various ideas through the wringer of logical analysis.

You get something similar with the issues of monergism and synergism, as they are called. If a non-Calvinist Christian will take an honest look at the issues, he can justifiably turn out to be an Amyraldian or “four-point Calvinist” in a matter of days or weeks. If one is truly committed to honest exegesis of biblical texts--with all that the practice of grammatico-historical hermeneutics entails and demands--it’s really not hard to see that the likes of Luther, Calvin, Beza, et al. had a better understanding of some things than the likes of Wesley.

The only things requiring a more protracted process of deliberation are the texts which seem at first glance to contradict the teachings of eternal security and perservance of the saints (not necessarily identical). Ditto for the texts which seem to contradict Particular Redemption, or “Limited Atonement” as it is more commonly called.

What I just mentioned is enough of a chore. But no, people tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. Some people come to the table with libertarian free will or man-exhalting humanism (both being sentimental) as an unshakable assumption and starting point of their biblical exegesis. The apologists among them offer arguments for Arminianism and semi- or post-Arminianism which do not merely pertain to issues of hermeneutics: their arguments are based in general philosophy also.

D.B. said...

That seems to be a good characterization. It seems that the more I learn, the more I lean toward the Reformed positions. The difference between that and the Liberal/Conservative thing would be that I think someone can be a Christian and an Arminian. :-)

Digression: It reminds me of a conversation between Hitchens and a liberal "Christian" who said she didn't believe in the resurrection and Hitchens responded that her Christianity was meaningless. Nothing like having an atheist tell you that without the resurrection, your Christianity is meaningless.

Ok, I'm back. I am a four-point Calvinist, but I am not sure why I am unwilling to make the leap to five- I think it has to do more with my own ignorance on some of the finer details, or as you put it, the exegesis, etc..

I think part of it has been that, while my pastors have been good, largely they have not always looked at verses and tell what they mean (not what they mean for me, but what they actually mean), save the last couple.

It is hard work to dig deeper. And I am thankful that our Bible is simple enough for the child, but rich and deep enough for the lifelong learner and God's grace can fill in the cracks while we are learning. :-)

Kwame E. said...

Great. Maybe you can post some more about all this in the future.


In passing, one more comment. You wrote:

<<I think it has to do more with my own ignorance on some of the finer details, or as you put it, the exegesis, etc..>>

Well, fine details and the act or process of interpretation are not the same. Incidentally, though, they help one another. That’s when you start to notice that biblical writers and personalities did not always use certain words, phrases, or Koine-Greek-equivalents of certain words and phrases exactly as we do today; different languages have their idiosyncracies. At that time you may even begin to notice that even your own mother tongue is a language which often uses various words or phrases in ways hyperbolic or semantically-limited such that they do, in some measure, parallel the use of such phrases back in Koine Greek. Once a person makes these discoveries with satisfaction that these discoveries are true and not false, doors begin to open.

D.B. said...

I hope to post more, since this is the direction my studies are taking me.

I find the more I learn, the less I know. :-)