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My Response to “the letter”

posted by xscot mcknight

The response yesterday surprised me. I thought all I was asking for was some pastoral advice for a pastor struggling with what he perceived to be overly aggressive Calvinists. What we got was some serious expressions of differences. Here’s the letter I drafted prior to yesterday’s responses and now with just a little bit of touch up late last night when I got home from class.
Dear Friend,
You are not alone as most of us have encountered such folks. Here are my suggestions:
First, love them as Eikons of God regardless of what they believe or don’t believe. Love them by believing they are doing what they think is right; love them by knowing that we are not all likely to agree. Love them enough to learn from them. Love them enough to do a missional project with them.
Second, if they are in your local church, and you have said to me privately that they are, then I would urge you to urge them to realize that the theological unity of your church is rooted in its doctrinal statement or affirmations and that division outside of that is unnecessary. This may seem harsh, but if your community of faith has a statement of faith and they’d like it to be redefined, then they are being divisive.
Third, you will need to listen to them if you are expecting them to listen to you. And this goes with the level of the conversation. If, for instance, you want to offer to them some considerations of the warning passages in Hebrews and you think a person can abandon their redemption, then you will have to engage their own defenses of the Calvinist views of those passages. You know as well as I do that such debates are endless and not often productive. I think they are worth it under some conditions, but I’d be wise with time spent.
Fourth, the prospects of changing their minds is not good; and it is probably the case that you are not going to change your mind. Most of us don’t enter these conversations green — we have considered such issues and come to conclusions.
Fifth, if this is in your church, it might be wise for you to have some serious meetings with your leaders to see if a Sunday School class mapping the options would be a good thing to do. Know that doing such a thing might raise the stakes for many, but at least it would bring it into the open. I would urge each session begin with some serious words about disagreements, about how to converse, and about the rules for Christian civility.
Sixth, church plants like this can get off to some bad starts if one doesn’t proceed wisely yet firmly. I know you are in contact with your mentors and leaders and it is very important, so I think, to keep that contact close for wisdom.
When this is all over, you will have learned deeply from what has happened. It might not be of much use to you right now to know this, but brother I cannot tell you how many tough experiences have proven to be instructors in wisdom for me.
Blessings and the prayers from the whole Jesus Creed community,
Scot



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Anonymous

posted November 27, 2007 at 1:26 am


Denny Burk » McKnight vs. ?Hyper-Calvinism?

[...] Update: Be sure to read Abraham Piper’s “Be a Kinder Calvinist.” Also, check out McKnight’s response to the anonymous letter-writer in “My Response to ‘the Letter’.”   [...]



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Jake

posted November 27, 2007 at 1:54 am


Scot,
That is great and Godly advice. I hope it works. We attempted that at my church, too. But they couldn’t stand being around us and eventually left (a pattern that has happened several times in 10 years). The best advice I have, in addition to what you have said, is that those who are leaders practice not speaking about the issues to members of the congregation in private, except to stay close to a “scripted” biblical statement of unity and love. That includes conversations with members of their own families.



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Peggy

posted November 27, 2007 at 2:34 am


Scot,
Well said, indeed. And yes, our prayers go with yours for this pastor and church plant.
I especially resonate with your idea about a class. I was privileged to spend five years developing and teaching such a class. It was a great service to our fellowship and was helpful for those seeking to join our congregation to know clearly what we believed and why and how. And those who just couldn’t engage with us in unity (or deal with women pastors 8) ) knew they needed to move on, while those who were happy to spend some time really understanding our doctrinal stance and mission were all the more inspired to get involved, grow deeper and serve together.



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eugene

posted November 27, 2007 at 2:47 am


Scot,
Great letter.
It’s great that we can encourage folks to pause, listen, pray, and such. We should certainly take that to heart.
But as I was reading his initial letter about him feeling “killed” and all that could mean, I wrestle with when you draw the line.
No need to answer. A rhetorical question…



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Ben Wheaton

posted November 27, 2007 at 5:20 am


I think that’s a good response, Scot. It’s an interesting question: where do we draw the lines between third-tier theological issues (like drinking, etc.), and second-tier issues (e.g. Calvinism vs. Arminianism–if this is a second-tier issue)? How much disagreement on soteriology is proper in a local church? I know that when I was checking out churches to go to I always looked carefully into their full doctrinal statements to discover if I would agree with it (one result of which was me deciding not to go to a Wesleyan church). I find that on important second-tier issues like this it’s best that Christians who disagree go to different churches, thereby keeping divisiveness down.



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josenmiami

posted November 27, 2007 at 7:51 am


It is a good letter and good advice. I must have missed the part that he was planting a church yesterday. I think there are inherent problems in trying to plant a church with Christians … although it takes a lot longer in the beginning to gather a crowd, it seems to me to be both more blibical and less problematic to start a church with uninitiated, unchurched people. They will usually be much less contentionous and much more pliable.



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Bill

posted November 27, 2007 at 7:57 am


Scot,
Thanks for setting a good course. I read yesterday’s stuff and much of it seemed like sermonizing, lecturing and pontificating. Very few people got the idea. I was discouraged and I didn’t respond because I would have ended up lecturing the folks who didn’t seem to “get it.”
Your response is to the point, real and sensitive. Thanks. I have learned from it.
Peace.



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brad

posted November 27, 2007 at 8:33 am


Scot, your response is very helpful to me and hope it is the author of the letter.
Additionally, in cases like these I like to refer to four concentric circles with “non-negotiables” at the center and ?negotiables,? ?conviction,? and ?preferences? in each subsequent circle as you work your way outward from the center.
I like to speak of the ?non-negotiables? as those things that make up the core of Christianity, usually using the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. ?Negotiables? are those things that Scripture speaks about but are not ?crystal clear.? Such things as theories of the end times, the miraculous gifts (and in my book the current issue). ?Convictions? are those things informed by Scripture but not clearly stated in Scripture. Lastly, ?preferences? are those things such as worship styles. They are usually influenced by our age, experiences, education, etc.



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Robin Rhea

posted November 27, 2007 at 8:40 am


As a calvinist who has at times been guilty of being hyper, I think that asking them to leave might really be the only option. I can have fellowship with my arminian brothers and even polite theological conversation, but I cannot sit under leadership that does not recognize that God is absolutely sovereign and man completely sinful and in need of redemption. I wish they would be nicer, but there is just something that prevents a person from sitting under leadership that teaches things opposed to basic elements of someone’s worldview. So just like Julie probably cannot sit under someone that advocates patriarchy, alot of Calvinists cannot sit under arminian teaching without getting hot under the collar



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Jim Martin

posted November 27, 2007 at 8:45 am


Scot,
I appreciate your letter. In fact, as I read through your letter, I forgot about the issue at hand and instead saw a wonderful way to approach a variety of problems that come up from time to time in congregations.
Thanks.



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Robin Rhea

posted November 27, 2007 at 8:45 am


One other thing, I would like to know how many of these people in his church are fresh converts. I am reformed, and have been hyper, and it is my experience that most people who are calvinists became Christians late in life (likely College) had no real religious baggage, and accept Calvinism because it provides a compelling way to unify most of the bible. Most of the people I have known that oppose reformed theology (in traditional churches) grew up in christian homes. The one exception might be emergent, I guess my thesis would be that while traditional arminian theology does not offer a lot to new christians in terms of a unified worldview, Reformed theology offers an attractive, complete orthodoxy, while Emergent offers an attractive Orthopraxy. THis might be why new christians seem to end up in these two camps as opposed to veering into traditional denominations.
If this is too far off topic, sorry, I will do better next time.



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Jake

posted November 27, 2007 at 8:51 am


Robin, as an Arminian, I can say without a doubt that we believe that God is absolutely sovereign and man is absolutely sinful and in need of redemption. You might try to google the word and read a wiki.



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josenmiami

posted November 27, 2007 at 9:10 am


ok … I gotta question, now we have thoroughly bashed hyper-calvinists in the previous post.
I wonder how many of the readers of this blog who were upset with brutal hyper-calvinists would be able to enjoy a friendly, non-adversarial conversation about faith with a Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, New Ager, Wiccan or Jew? Or would the same kind of intolerant “i’m right, your wrong” attitude quickly begin to emerge among “warm” and affirming Arminians, Catholics or Orthodox?
I have been an evangelical (arminian) all of my life except a short stint as a hippie and socialist in my early 20s. I have also been a pastor, church planter and missionary up until very recently. But I have to say, I am in a bit of a personal crisis right now about even calling myself a “Christian” … and yesterday and today’s posts are only reinforcing my concern about toxic Christianity.



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Robin Rhea

posted November 27, 2007 at 9:14 am


Jake,
Sorry if I offended you, but those two truths also lead me to believe that because man is completely sinful and dead in his transgressions he is not only unable to save himself, but even unable to believe in Christ without God causing him to, since believing in Christ on his own would prove that he was not absolutely sinful to begin with. So, I admit that I said it wrong, the logical conclusions (according to my logic) of those truths are inseparable from the truths themselves. So while a preacher may hold to those two statements, if he ends up at a substantially different place it would be hard for me to accept his/her leadership. Again, I apologize if you felt I was slighting your belief system, I was just trying to state how I choose my leaders without getting overtly theological. Also, I think this rabbit trail needs to stop here (or with you follow-up comment) lest Scot smite us for getting the thread off topic.



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Robin Rhea

posted November 27, 2007 at 9:15 am


Jake,
If I have said anything else that needs correction you can e-mail me at robin.rhea@uky.edu and we can discuss it without getting everyone else off track.
Robin



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Robin Rhea

posted November 27, 2007 at 9:39 am


josenmiami,
Could you explain more what you meant by that last sentence. Are you having a personal faith crisis, or do you simply not wish to align with warring factions?



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josenmiami

posted November 27, 2007 at 9:58 am


yeah, I am not having any problem with my faith in Jesus or in the Trinity. But I am having a severe crisis of faith in Christians (Calvinist AND Arminian).
Also, my temptation to cynicism is probably intensified by a medical crisis my wife is facing. I hope that helps clarify my statement.



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John W Frye

posted November 27, 2007 at 10:01 am


Scot,
The pastoral side of your life comes out so powerfully in letters like this. You are a scholar-pastor. Thanks for helping those of us who still tend to rattle our sabers around issues like the one at hand.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 27, 2007 at 11:00 am


Scot,
Beautifully stated. Thanks for bringing grace and wisdom to this situation.



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eugene

posted November 27, 2007 at 11:02 am


i[we] should be careful in my generalizations. it’s not the theological zeal. i’ve met “hyper calvinists” that are friendly and great to talk with.
since i’m a churchplanter, you spend a great amount of time sharing your heart, theology, ecclesiology, missiology…your hermeuneutics. and almost naturally, you’re going to attract and repel folks. which i why i understand and appreciate what robin wrote in #9.



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Jason

posted November 27, 2007 at 11:28 am


Great response!!! I greatly appreciate the safety you created for the receiver.
However as a pastor I would NOT confront their theological beliefs in a debate. In my experience this rarely results in a positive outcome, as you indicated. I find it is better to affirm their position as one many hold and, as you stated, point to our unity within the affirmation of faith. Great letter, I plan to save it when I am faced with the same.
Thanks
Jason



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Richie (Old Barbarian)

posted November 27, 2007 at 12:58 pm


Scot,
Great response! I was a bit dismayed reading yesterday’s comments, and felt a bit like JoseNMiami. This letter is great and laced with the Love of Christ. Thanks for sharing it.
Jose – I can relate to your cynicism. However, more importantly bro – I will pray for your wife and her medical condition. Just remember Romans 8:28 my brother, and hang on to it. We lost a 16 year old daughter in a car crash a few years ago, and the passage kept Hope alive for us. Hang in there my brother.
In His Love,
Richie



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kent

posted November 27, 2007 at 1:06 pm


Scot,
I applaud your response. You are right we ought to love and care for them. And we must listen and give the respect are asking for. They are brothers and sisters in the faith.
In church plant strong boundaries have to be made. If a church is planted as a Covenant Church it is a Covenant church and those who come cannot try to change the culture of the church to suit their orientations. You can gracefully help in the transition or clearly explain what the theological stands of the church are. It shouldn’t be hard. it often is, but it shouldn’t hard.



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Luke

posted November 27, 2007 at 1:33 pm


Scot:
I agree that this has been an excellent post. As a lay leader of a Covenant church, I was broadsided during a congregational meeting by someone I believe fits the “hyper-calvinist” description. At first, I was pretty upset, but after a week or two, I felt strongly impelled to meet with the person, on neutral ground. We had a long discussion. I am not qualified to challenge theological statements in general, but I did question some of the judgements that were voiced. Overall, it wound up being a very civil meeting, though I am certain no positions were changed.
It seemed to me – at risk of sparking all sorts of off-topic debate – that there is a correlation between what I think of as “modern” (highly systematic theology, the Bible as a grid, right is so right that all that is different must by definition be wrong, etc.) and what was expressed by this one “hyper-calvinist.” Which leads me to the question, is there such a thing as an “emerging hyper-calvinist” or are such positions always going to be in conflict, however civil?
Please don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of labeling and thus dismissing this very human person. There is much that we agree on. But there is little room for adiaphora in this person’s understanding.
What resonated in my heart, but which I did not voice, was the question, “How did you come to choose to be a part of a Covenant church? What do we have to give that you wanted so badly, that you were willing – for years – to put up with our flawed theology?” As a lay leader, it didn’t seem to be my place to suggest that this member of the church look for another more compatible group with which to worship and fellowship. I can’t refer the issue to the pastor, at the moment, as we are between pastors.
Thanks again for a very pastoral letter.



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josenmiami

posted November 27, 2007 at 1:48 pm


#22, Richie, thanks for your encouraging words. Overall, we are pretty positive about the medical thing. Hanging in there…
Regarding cynicism…I am not quite there, but teetering on the edge … and trying hard not to be. The last thing I want to do is harden my heart.
I think contemporary Christianity is due for a major ovrerhaul, and I am not talking about refining Calvinist or Arminian (spelling better? warm loving and supportive smile) theology, but an orthopraxy that puts a Cristo-centric charity at dead-center for Christian life.
No one really responded to my question above or in the other post, but I am guessing that 90% of the people in here complaining about brutal, unkind hyper-Calvinists have often been just as brutal and unkind with non-Christians of all kinds. From what I can see as an ‘insider,’ unkind judgment permeates nearly all denominations and types of contemporary Christianity…which is very troubling since Jesus said “they will know you are my disciples by your love.”
I am not ashamed of Jesus, but I often find myself hesitant to admit I am a Christian.



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Robin Rhea

posted November 27, 2007 at 2:02 pm


For anyone that is looking for someone who combines orthodoxy and orthopraxy beautifully, from a Calvinistic standpoint I would urge you to check out Tim Keller at Redeemer in New York. He is solidly reformed, but has a tremendous burden for the city and especially for the underserved populations in that city. I have also heard good things about C.J. Mahaney, but cannot be sure. Lastly, his fans may not always be good examples of combining the two (as evidence by the letter) but I can think of no better individual combination of belief and practice than John Piper, he is a Godly soul and pours his life out for the nations, the poor, and the unborn, and he does so because of his theology. Also, his series, “Men of Whom the World is Not Worthy” is fascinating because it shows how theology has always traditionally led to praxis in men like William Carey, William Wilberforce, John Newton, etc.



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Julie

posted November 27, 2007 at 2:30 pm


Robin, I just wanted to endorse your recommendation of Keller. I listened to several of his tapes years ago when I was considering reformed theology for myself and while I didn’t come to agree with his position, his personality, style of teaching and general outlook made a very positive impression on me.
Julie, now remembered for using the word brutal… ugh. :)



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Julie

posted November 27, 2007 at 2:32 pm


josenmiami, I’ve read all your comments and appreciate them.
I certainly plead guilty to having been “brutal” in my own way, especially as a young zealous Christian. Today, though, I find that I get so much out of a diversity of points of view, I love encountering all kinds of people.
Julie



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Peggy

posted November 27, 2007 at 2:41 pm


Jose #25,
I have been pondering your questions in light of two very helpful books I have recently read. The first one is called “Humble Apologetics” by John Stackhouse. What a wonderful book! It addresses all the “crankiness” issues surrounding hyper-fundamentalist attitudes/cultures that have been bandied about the last few days here. I really recommend it highly.
The second book is called “Jesus and the gods of the new age: A response to the Search for True Spirituality” by Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson. They deal directly with your question about being able to “enjoy a friendly, non-adversarial conversation about faith with a Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, New Ager, Wiccan or Jew”. I think you (and anyone else interested) would find this book helpful as well.
Be blessed…and encouraged.



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josenmiami

posted November 27, 2007 at 2:54 pm


hey Peggy, I ‘ll check out the books. I have benefited from books by Philip Johnson in the past. I am REALLY enjoying taking my love for Jesus into the academic world and learning to ‘hang’ in an non-defensive way with all of these delightful people who are sinners and actually already know it. The kindness is what makes the deepest impact on them. And when I approach them with a listening ear and respect…I am amazed how much faith I find in them…I have decided to look for faith in their hearts and affirm it (and hopefully water it) rather than negating them and trying to “convert” them to a better set of doctrinal propositions. Jesus is able to reveal himself if I don’t get in the way too much.



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Peggy

posted November 27, 2007 at 4:07 pm


Amen, brother! I don’t think you will be disappointed…both books are very practical. Have you seen the video of Michael Frost that Alan Hirsch has recently posted over at his blog? Really inspirational….fastest 51 minutes you’ll even experience 8)



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josenmiami

posted November 27, 2007 at 4:10 pm


thanks Peggy, for telling me about the video of Frost…I have greatly benefited from the recent books by Frost and Hirsch … I’ll check it out.



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Peggy

posted November 27, 2007 at 5:02 pm

Mark E

posted November 27, 2007 at 5:29 pm


Scot,
Great response. I affirm the response as both loving but firm. I would also reiterate (maybe with a little more emphasis) about not getting into a debate. From my experience, sometimes people want to debate rather than dialogue (perhaps even to convince themselves that they are right).
Jose,
I loved the image of watering the faith that we find. I (as an Arminian) have also been in the “convince everyone that we are right” camp (which had to do more with my need to convince myself thus the above comment). Too often people either are afraid and subsequently uninformed about other faith belief systems and they attempt to “flood” the person in order to wipe out their foundation. Forgive us for we do not know what we do. Sometimes it is embarrassing to admit that I am a Christian not because I’m ashamed of Christ but of Christians (let alone to admit being a pastor).
Hang in there. I don’t have a verse that has helped our family through numerous crises but community and good friends helped us tremendously so…
Peace.
In Christ,
Mark E



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pepy

posted November 27, 2007 at 7:54 pm


Jason, #21, I agree, and I don’t like to force people into “I win, you lose” situations.



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Luke Geraty

posted November 27, 2007 at 8:00 pm


This is a very intriguing post. I am had some of the same issues, only in the entirely OPPOSITE field. Let me explain…
I serve our congregation as the lead pastor and we, as a congregation, are non-denominational of the charismatic brand. I myself, however, am also essentially reformed, of the Grudem/Piper/Sovereign Grace brand.
I say essentially reformed due to my disagreement over amillennialism, paedobaptism, and some of the extreme versions of replacement theology. Again, I am not seeking to get in the debate here, just explaining.
Here, I’ve had to deal wit the exact opposite! I’ve had the “hyper” Arminians! If you are reformed, you can understand how frustrating this can be! Much of it comes through the influences of the branch of charismatics that tend to give satan more power than he has, thus coming across as if God has no power. This is difficult to let “slip by.”
However, I have found that I have had great “in roads” through the use of what Peter Meiderlin (known as Rupertus Meldenius) said – “In essentials unity, In doubtful things liberty, But in all things love.”
Do I love to discuss the sovereignty of God and the importance of human responsibility? Absolutely! Do I feel that reformed theology is greatly misunderstood by a majority of evangelicals? Absolutely? Do I think calvinists can be arrogant “defenders of truth?” Absolutely.
As many others have noted, I do not think Piper is remotely close to being a “hyper-calvinist.” If anything, I believe his charity and kindness have been great examples to others who hold the same theology, yet forget to be examples of God’s love.
Scot’s advice is practical for any theological discussions.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 27, 2007 at 8:11 pm


I’m noting a thread … so let me jump in.
The solution here, as I have indicated in my letter, is not to argue that “the other side is just as bad.” All that does is shift blame, raise hackles, and miss the opportunity for us all to learn:
The solution is to learn to treat one another with charity and civility and to see if the problem begins with us.
Do I think the Arminian side has its problems at times? Yes I do. But this is not about the Arminians — I opened up Roger Olson’s book to critique and some did. The issue here is that there are some — clearly not all or even a majority — in the Calvinist camp who have some things to learn about civility in Christian conversation. Let that be a fair and good point to make.
To blame the other side for being just as bad does two things:
1. It admits to a fault without owning it.
2. It proceeds by way of denunciation instead of improvement.



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Suzanne

posted November 27, 2007 at 11:39 pm


Just an aside to Robin and others regarding
Sovereign Grace Ministries, I went in reformed and came out confused(maybe not a bad thing). I found them insular, rigid, anti-intellectual, authoritarian and almost cultic.



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samlcarr

posted November 27, 2007 at 11:55 pm


Thanks Scot, for another thrilling discussion (2 on this letter and counting) on an everyday issue that is so destructive of fellowship, but that no one seems too keen on openly tackling! Great comments and a scintillating discussion too.
I agree with you, unity is not an option for the body of Christ and certainly “The solution is to learn to treat one another with charity and civility”.
Theology keeps dividing us and it is always an issue where essentially we are willing to elevate a summary of biblical teaching to a position that stands above scripture itself.
My personal experience, as one who started out thoroughly ‘Calvinist’ and who greatly appreciates Calvin as both exegete and theologian (though not very enamoured of his politics) is that eventually it is study of the Word and particularly study of the Gospels that cured me of my ‘hyperness’. I also realised (too slowly) that everyone else is not a fool, or blinded, or steeped in sin, or inherently illogical, or just plain mis-taught. It eventually dawned on me that my own position did not successfully explain everything biblical and in particular my ‘theology’ did not always tally with what my Lord says and does! What remains is a deep thankfulness towards those who maintained fellowship with me despite my contrariness.
Now, for the pastor or Sunday School/bible study leader who is facing acerbic and publicly humiliating attacks of irrefutable sounding logic, this is not an immediate answer, but it it important to realise the derivative nature of the philosophy, as well as the insecurity that it embodies, and to not do anything that will prematurely shake a poorly laid faith foundation.
One other thing I would suggest is that one can take a close look at the talent that God has made available to you in the congregation itself and find folks who enjoy the ‘iron sharpening iron’ sort of approach and invite them to deal (as gently as they can) with the contentious ones. Deeper study can also be encouraged by pushing them to study the issues on a primary footing, with the gospels in hand (I agree with Peter that Paul is too easy to misinterpret) and someone who is well enough grounded to actively keep the discussion on what Jesus wants us to do and be rather than on what this or that theologian/writer/author/preacher says.



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samlcarr

posted November 28, 2007 at 12:01 am


Sorry folks – way too long.



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Scott M

posted November 28, 2007 at 12:01 am


josenmiami, as far as being able to have discussions on faith with those who adhere to one or more of the religious and/or spiritual paths you describe, I find that an intriguing perspective. My childhood formation in the seventies probably would have been called “New Age” though I don’t recall encountering the term until later in life. My mom in particular was on something of a journey herself. As such I experienced many different Christian traditions (though sadly not Orthodoxy), Buddhism, Hinduism, Transcendental Meditation, past life regression, and much more by the time I entered high school. As an adult, I stood with friends at their Wiccan handfasting. And I developed my own eclectic blend of spiritual experience and understanding. To this day I have friends on a variety of spiritual paths. Hmmm. And I have Jewish family members in my extended family.
Your question does nail an important observation. Frankly, I often find it easier and more pleasant to discuss Christianity and talk about aspects of my spiritual journey with those who hold to other paths than with other Christians. And I’ve always been uncomfortable with the label “Christian” — though I accept it and try to honor it — because of the baggage I know I’ll have to work through when someone who does not already know me learns I fit under that label. It is often wearying.
I do, however, find it very odd that so many Protestants/Evangelicals/whatever seem to mentally divide their theological landscape into that of Arminius or that of Calvin. I’ve studied the two to some extent and frankly they are extremely similar. I’m certainly a 0 point Calvinist. And if I squint and look sideways I could perhaps squeeze in as a 1 or 2 point Arminian. But really they are both just variations on the theme of Reformed theology. From my own study and personal experience, I find Protestantism to be a larger “camp” than just those two. Anabaptism is really neither. Lutheranism is neither. Anglicanism is neither.
From the day (well into my Christian experience) that I encountered the terms calvinist and arminian and became curious enough to explore them, I’ve wondered why people treat them as antithetical when they are actually so similar. Is it a human fondness for binary and opposing positions? So we create them where they don’t exist? It just strikes me as odd.
I’m also not sure I agree with the idea that those who come to the Christian faith as adults are more attracted to Calvinism because it forms a nice, neat little package. I guess I don’t know many non-Christian adults looking for such a thing in the first place. I can’t really imagine any of them converting to Christianity and becoming excited over the “complete” Calvinistic theological package.
Just a few random thoughts thrown out there.



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Sue Van Stelle

posted November 28, 2007 at 12:50 am


As a Calvinist, I have followed this discussion with great interest. I’m more in line with those who have alluded to the fact that this couple has more of a personality disorder than a theological disorder.
Since no one has mentioned it yet, I’d like to point out that Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw has written a book called “Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport” which explores the idea of TULIP from a decidedly “kinder, gentler” perspective. I would challenge everyone to read it. For those of you who have been hurt by Calvinists, you might want to give each of your Calvinist buddies a copy of this book. Mouw also advocates living “gently and respectfully” with others who hold opposing views.
And as a Calvinist, I also want to point out there is a difference between “Calvinism” and John Calvin. Read John Calvin. Reply to your Calvinist friends with what John Calvin actually said.
And don’t let the annoying people destroy Reformed theology for you. At the true heart of Reformed theology is “all of life is discipleship.” It sounds dangerously emerging.
I have a nagging suspicion that we have moved beyond a paradigm where Calvinism vs. Arminianism makes much sense anyway. If I were smarter and had more time, I would write a book about that.
In the mean time, I have gotten in trouble with everyone, Calvinists and Arminians alike.
Oh, well, most of you seem like the kind of people it’s fun to get in trouble with.
Sue



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mariam

posted November 28, 2007 at 4:35 am


Good letter Scot. I liked the points in your first paragraph, which are useful in dealing lovingly with any one with whom we have profound disagreements, not just Calvinists.
God calls us to love those who don?t seem to love us, to include those who don?t want to include us and to avoid judging those who seem to be judging us. The four points you express provide some ways of doing that.



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josenmiami

posted November 28, 2007 at 8:33 am


#41 Scot M: yeah, it blows my mind. The world is so big, and the whole Calvinist vs. Arminian fight is so narrow … people need to get out of the ghetto and get around a little more.
#42 Sue: I agree. We need a new paradigm … a Christ-centered charity paradigm for starters …



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John W Frye

posted November 28, 2007 at 10:34 am


I recently talked to a good friend who has been burned by a robotic, Reformed-informed Piperite pastor. My friend, a Trinity EDS grad, was told that he was personally “weak” for empathizing with people who are suffering. God apparently is above feeling anything. To condescend and suffer with others is a sign not of Christlikeness, but of personal deficiency. I know my friend and he is a deeply committed, intelligent, gifted and mature follower of Jesus. He has a strong character. But put up alongside a Reformed template of God and Christianity, he is judged deficient. When I hear heart-breaking stories like this, I seriosuly want to put civility aside and punch out some lights.



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John W Frye

posted November 28, 2007 at 10:37 am


PS
My friend was fired from his pastoral position for his “deficiency.”



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John W Frye

posted November 28, 2007 at 10:43 am


Scot,
I’m sorry. If you want to delete the two comments (# 45, 46), go ahead. I just am sickened by the vigilantism of wacko-Reformed practice.



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Robin Rhea

posted November 28, 2007 at 11:20 am


John Frye,
I am sorry, I do not know the specifics of your friends situation, but I do not believe that Piper can in any way be identified with not empathizing with those who are suffering. Piper, more than anyone else I am aware of, has shown through his teaching that the bible teaches that the essence of Christian ministry is suffering with those who are suffering, or bearing in our bodies the suffering of Jesus. This is seen throughout his series “Men of whom the World is not Worthy”, you can hear it in every sermon he preaches or book he writes on missions, and in the countless sermons where he talks about empathizing with people who have lost children or other family members. John Piper preaches, vehemently, that Christians should bear with those who are suffering and that christian suffering advances the gospel. If someone is teaching a different message he certainly did not get it from Piper and I do not think it is fair to charge him with something like that.
I had a friend a couple of years back from a hyper-charismatic background that believed her continual sickness (she had seizures and other conditions) were a result of her sin and if she were holier she would never get sick, and I learned again and again from Piper teaching through Job how to deal with her false beliefs. If you can only listen to one sermon, I would suggest “Doing missions when dieing is gain” and then still believe that John Piper does not empathize with those who are suffering.



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Robin Rhea

posted November 28, 2007 at 11:26 am


On a similar not to John Frye’s comment, when I continually hear my belief system (reformed or Christian in general) continually assaulted as the root cause for the sinfulness of people who profess it, I too want to put up my dukes, but then that just makes me part of the problem doesn’t it.



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John W Frye

posted November 28, 2007 at 11:51 am


Robin Rhea,
Please note that my friend was not fired by John Piper, but by a devoted Reformed, Christian Hedonist type who reads a lot of Piper. It’s like many present day Calvinists need to go back and actually read John Calvin. I have read many of John Piper’s books and have been deeply blessed by them. What I am sick of is a wacked-out version of Reformed theology working its way through pompous, I’m in charge and feelings don’t count types who do what they do in the name and character of their vision of God. Come to the metro-Grand Rapids, MI area where the majority of those attending charismatic churches are former CRCers fleeing from a robotic vision of God and finding new life in a caring, loving, highly interactive non-Reformed vision of God.



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Robin Rhea

posted November 28, 2007 at 12:06 pm


John Frye,
I think when you say CRC you are referring to Christian Reformed Church. I find it interesting that you lump people in this traditionally reformed denomination with people attracted to reformed theology by men like Piper and Keller. I am “reformed” but do not give a rip about the CRC, do not pay attention to any of it’s founders or historic authors, and really do not even consider it in the same ballpark with Piper and Keller. In my mind it is like the Southern Baptist Convention in the south, it has dominated the religious landscape for generations, its churches are mostly full of Christians in name only, and a lot of the time, people that actually do come to love Christ flee it, the only difference is that down here (KY) when they are fleeing this institutional church which is predominantly Arminian (and mostly lifeless) they are fleeing to churches that are either reformed, charismatic, or still arminian with some life.
I think the thing I am having a hard time with on here is that people seem to be equating
Piper=CRC=reformed
when there should be more distinction. It is kind of like me saying Southern
Baptist=Methodist=Anglican=Lutheran=Emergent=Arminian=Liberal
There is a world of difference between people coming to reformed theology through Piper and people who grew up in the CRC church, just like there is a world of difference between Emergent folks and people who were born into the Episcopal church.



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fjs

posted November 28, 2007 at 12:06 pm


I have experienced this Calvinist/fundamentalist ideology as I am also from MN. All I can say is this… it is painful. I have empathy for anyone experiencing such divisiveness in their church.
It helped me a little to read Janet Hagberg and Robert Gulich’s book, The Critical Journey. It explaines the various phases of spiritual development. The discipleship phase often produces zealous disciples of a particular teacher and they conform rigidly. Sometimes they are divisive in the way the letter revealed.
I also found help from literature on Family Systems Theory applied to church families. It is indeed less about theology and more about spiritual and emotional maturity. There is security in being “right” and power and intimidation in aserting one’s rightness. One thing that helped was learning about the non-anxious presence, staying in touch relationally but confronting the divisive spirit. I would be careful about placing divisive people in leadership positions… knowledge does not always mean emotional maturity.
I think that in a denomination that has room for freedom, one must explain constantly what that means in terms of community and belief and how we engage together. Someone who continueally disrespects that core value may need to find another church home or begin his/her own church. The anxious converting behavior can breed a split.



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John W Frye

posted November 28, 2007 at 2:13 pm


Robin Rhea (#51),
I think I am the only one who brought up the CRC in this discussion about “pesky Calvinists.” You are right that the CRC history, mentality and culture (some strongly Dutch) here in W Michigan is a thing in itself. This thread of comments, however, has morphed into a concern about a mutant form of Reformed theology that reserves the right to not ever be criticized because it and it alone is “biblical” and yet retains the right to blast anyone (and fire pastors) who dares question, let alone oppose it. That, my friend, is sick. Wouldn’t you agree?
And to respond with “Well, other expressions of theology are guilty of that, too” is not an answer; it’s a diversion.



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josenmiami

posted November 28, 2007 at 2:26 pm


how does one access the smiley faces in this blog so that I can insert a “rolling my eyes” smiley face?



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Robin Rhea

posted November 28, 2007 at 3:29 pm


John Frye,
I would agree that is sick, I would also agree that pointing out the failings of other forms of theology is a diversion given the topic of this thread and the fact that Calvinists need to admit their failings. However, whether we do it on here or on another thread, I will not admit that the “sickness” is limited to Calvinists, or even worse among them. I do not understand the culture in Michigan is like, but down here in KY I will tell you very bluntly that admitting publicly that you are a Calvinist is a ministry death sentence in 95% of all churches here. Outside of our Calvinistic “circles” it is something you keep secret if you want to keep your job, and even if asked point blankly what you believe, you talk in shrouded terms. As to argumentativeness down here, there really isn’t that much, because we have to keep a low profile and most arminians down here don’t discuss theology enough for it to ever come up unless we take the initiative. I think that might be why we tend to connect over the internet and at conferences.
With all of that said, I humbly acknowledge we are guilty of everything you accuse us of, it is something I have to work diligently on, I have been guilty of attack and defensive attitudes, and coming on here may even make it worse, but I am going to go read the sermon on the mount and ask Christ to make me more like him.
I think I am in danger of representing everything people hate in “pesky Calvinists” in my attempts to defend my brethren and belief system, so if it is alright with you I need to bow out after this post. Thank you for the discussion.



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fjs

posted November 28, 2007 at 3:38 pm


Regarding use of the word “biblical” in dialogue about strands of reformed theology etc…
My son wrote a paper on labeling theory and how it is used to define groups as devient. Sometines the word Biblical or more likely defining someone or some view as unbiblical is kind of like labeling theory.
It stops discussion and dialogue.



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John W Frye

posted November 28, 2007 at 4:22 pm


Robin Rhea,
Thank you for being a respectful, conversational, yet firm and honest Calvinist who brings a Christlike spirit to this topic. As others have pointed out, earnest, irenic theological discussions have moved on past these worn Arminian/Calvinist debates. Even as a blog conversationalist, you bring hope to these sometimes tedious discussions. I feel for you being in an area of the country where your heart-felt convictions could jeopardize your attempts at a meaningful Christian ministry.
God bless you.
I, too, am bowing out of this topic.



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Jake

posted November 28, 2007 at 8:40 pm


Kentucky must have changed while I was gone. I’ll spare you the stories.



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Peter in England

posted November 29, 2007 at 5:51 am


Dear Scot
The advice you gave your friend was good advice. As a calvinist myself (small ‘c’), as I don’t follow Calvin but Christ I hope, I have been shocked and amazed at many of the posts on this issue.
The original purpose of your post Scot was, I believe, to ask for advice/guidance on how to deal with some theologically overbearing people in your church. What we got was mainly a ‘rant’ from Arminians and others against Calvinists.
“The Arminians doth protest too much, methinks”. And it seems to me are guilty of the very same error they accuse the Calvinists of!
Perhaps what lies behind so much of this problem is, too many churches, too many ‘Christians’ in America.
In England, in the city where I live, there are probably no more than 4 or 5 what I would call proper churches where I could attend, and that is in a population of millions! Therefore we have to get along with one another, while personally holding to our beliefs. Also real Christians are few and far between. I worked in a factory of 700 people and as far as I know there were only 2 or 3 ‘born-again’ Christians. As we worked on different shifts, I lived out my Christian life at work virtually alone for over 18 years at this particular job. It made me very grateful for any Christian fellowship!
In America I fear that much ‘Christianity’ is either head knowledge or just following the family/community culture. Perhaps this is where so much of the arrogance and harshness is coming from. Their hearts have never been truly softened by God’s Spirit, to weep for their sins and to want to genuinely help their neighbour?
Please excuse the length of this.
Peter.



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steph

posted November 29, 2007 at 11:21 am


Wow.
The only thing I have to add to this conversation is this:
Sovereign Grace Ministries writes and produces the best – THE BEST – worship music of our day and time. If you want your congregation to sing music that exalts Christ, appropriately abases self, and humbly asks for transformation, this is the stuff. Anything by Bob Kauflin, Steve and Vicki Cook, Mark Altrogge, and others on their site is absolutely as good as it gets.
For what it’s worth.
http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org, look under ‘music’.



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VanSkaamper

posted November 30, 2007 at 3:32 am


I often attend an urban, Calvinist church in which John Piper’s books are revered in such a way that it motivates one to re-read articles on the subject of different theories and degrees of inspiration.
It’s a losing game to enter a theological conversation where the unstated goal is to see which participant has a “higher” view of God or Scripture.
That said, it’s nothing with which you can’t co-exist until a Sunday school teacher gets in trouble for naming a teddy bear Calvin.



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mariam

posted November 30, 2007 at 4:25 am


#59, Peter
I have to agree with you. To someone outside the reformed tradition, the theological differences between Calvinists and Arminians don’t really seem that huge – in fact I’m still trying to figure out what they are. I am a liberal Anglican (so perhaps not your definition of real Christian:) from Canada and unexpected and spontaneous fellowship with other Christians of whatever flavour, whom I meet outside of church, is almost always enjoyed. In my workplace I’m not sure if I know too many “proper” Christians as you would define them, but one of my workmates is a devout Catholic, another is a liberal-mystical-zen-yoga-lapsed-Catholic and both enchange prayers and little Christian love messages with me. Then I have several Jewish and Muslim friends – in a very secular and increasingly atheistic society they actually look pretty faithful to me as well. Even proper “born-again” Christians, even those I know with “reformed” theologies greet me with a kiss and the knowing look that we share the same author of our lives. Perhaps there are two many “Christians” in America.



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Scott M

posted November 30, 2007 at 7:10 am


Mariam, Calvinism and Arminianism are not very different at all. They are simply flip sides of the same Reformed theology. I guess I had been a Christian for six years or so before I encountered the terms at all. I spent most of those first years “trying on” various beliefs about Scripture presented by the Baptist church where I landed and studying the history of Christianity and the Church. When I had encountered them several times, I actually took the time to figure out what both systems proposed. And basically they start from the same ideas and take them in slightly different directions. I’m not really sure what I would be called, but I tend to be suspicious of labels anyway, so that’s ok. ;-)



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Jake

posted November 30, 2007 at 9:08 am


We Baptists are always right, even when we disagree, Scot. Repent!!



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Eugene

posted December 3, 2007 at 2:54 am


Thanks Scot for this reply. I came here following a link off Sivin’s blog. I’m Malaysian by the way, and can vouch that the attitudes which the letter writer described has also been imported into Malaysian soil by a small number of Piperites, who unfortunately are very vocal.
I loved Reformed Theology but I have a problem with the attitude that these few carry with them.
Of course, it is not helped when my non-reformed friends who knows that I’m a Calvinist (now somewhat soft; deficient?) keeps poking at my beliefs so I should say, it takes two to tango. :)
There’s a Chinese saying, “You can’t clap with one hand.”



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