Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
A Calvinist Responds to Michael Spencer, Internet Monk (Part II)
04/15/2005 - James WhiteI cannot comfortably say that the reformation of the church needs to remake it into the image of what I saw in the conservative resurgence in the SBC. I support much of that reformation, but where is the humility? The generosity of Jesus? The flavor and aroma of grace? I have had enough of war metaphors, because I have seen enough war. No more.
I'm not able to look into men's hearts like you seem to be able to so as to see their humility level. But this isn't why you are not like me anyway.
I am not like you because I constantly find Jesus taking me out of the places and labels other Christians find essential, and instead showing me that he is more, greater, deeper, wider than any way I can try to limit him. He was greater than my fundamentalism. He was greater than my Charismatic phase. He was greater than my liberal, seminary student days. He was greater than my years as a youth minister on church staff. Now I am finding he is greater than my years of Calvinism.
Again, lovely words, but I reject the idea that truth about Christ is a limitation of Christ. If He is "greater" that just means you were ignorant before...not that what you believed that was true is now false, or, worse, that nothing is true or false outside of your experience anyway.
There is a visible horizon with Jesus, because there are things I can understand and affirm in the creeds and confessions.
There's a spot where we are different: where did the inspired Scriptures go?
But there is no actual horizon. His love, grace and majesty are never ending. My theology is a map, not a photograph.
"My" theology. I thought theology was His. OK. Another difference.
A sail, not an anchor. Faith is a mystery, not a certainty,
Really? Where do you get that...aside from Merton, I mean? How about someone inspired?
because I can never be certain that my mind has captured more than a glimpse of his glory. A hope, not a possession, because nothing I possess can hold the one who holds me.
Sorry, I thought the Word was given to us for a purpose, something about edification and growth in grace and knowledge?
I am not like you because I take no comfort in theological assertions. I feel little affection for most of them. I have a passionate love for the God of the Gospel, the one mediator Jesus Christ, but this love for God surely comes from God, not from me.
Wow, what language are you speaking? You love the one mediator Jesus Christ? What does Jesus Christ mean? What does mediator mean? Why just one? "The one mediator Jesus Christ" is one of those "theological assertions" you say you have no love for. Oh, I know, "I love the person, not the theological concept." How? I love my wife. I know her name. I know about her. I can't separate my knowledge of her into "assertions" and "experience." Can you? How?
When I try to think great thoughts about God, and when others propose great theologies, they are impressive, until the reality of Christ refocuses and recalibrates my vision. Then that theology becomes scratching in the dirt.
Theology. The knowledge of God. Scratching in dirt. Yes, we are different. Very different.
The defining moments of my life have come in deeper experiences of the reality of God coming to me in Jesus. I read to know that I am not alone in my experience with this God. That the glimpses of glory that have flashed upon my undeserving heart and mind are not fantasies of someone desperate to believe in something good in a meaningless world.
The testimony of those in Scripture is indeed an encouragement, but I read to know the very mind of God, revealed in His Word, so that I may know my duties before Him, and what is pleasing in His sight.
In January of 1984, I was in a class with Dr. Timothy George on "The Theology of Luther." He was lecturing on Luther's discovery of justification by faith alone. I was sitting by the window, listening, when I had what I can only describe as a deep, mystical experience, one that continues to resonate within me. In it I saw, and felt, the vast chasm that separates humanity from God, a divide so vast that it is as if there is no God at all. And then I experienced the reality of the mediation of Jesus across this divide. I sensed that all things in God, and all things in that separation, and all things in human life, were encompassed in this one being of Jesus. All was well, all was well, and all will be well.
I remember when Dr. Lyn Boliek was lecturing on apologetics in seminary...and I think I was the only one listening. He had really lost everyone else. But something was clicking, something I had never seen before. The books he had assigned, including Pascal's Pensees and Schaeffer's apologetic works, together with his lectures, all of a sudden came together in a nearly audible crash, and my entire worldview and apologetic viewpoint was altered in a moment's time. It "clicked," and I've never forgotten that moment. But more, it didn't end there. It was like turning on a light: the light shines ahead of you, illuminating new things. God's truth is like that.
This was not an "aha" moment of theology, reformed or otherwise. It was a gripping moment of sensing the true nature of the universe and all that exists. It was a moment when scales fell from my eyes. I wrote furiously, and for months afterward, felt the power of that visionary moment. Twenty years later, I tell you that this is the God I know and the God I love. The God who is absent to us, yet ever-present, always embracing us, and our sins, in Jesus. I recognize this God in Luther. In Calvin. In Merton. In Capon. In Wright. In many, many other friends from many other traditions and theologies.
Well, none of us are infallible, thankfully. :-) You say you "recognize" the God of truth in all sorts of different expressions thereof. OK...what part of that makes one stop seeking to honor that truth in the presence of the denial thereof? I remember when the truth of the nature of the righteousness that is mine--that perfect, seamless robe of righteousness of Christ imputed to me. Believe it or not, I even had a dream once! Yes, shocking as that may seem. I saw Christ, bigger than life, standing upon the shore. And a huge wave was headed toward the shore, far larger than even the recent tsunami. And all of mankind was on that beach, and I knew, in my dream, that the only one who would be standing on that beach when the wave, representing the wrath of God, passed, was Christ. So I knew that the only way to be saved would not be to be behind Him, or beside Him, but in Him. In union with Him. A biblically accurate dream! But I never, ever, make those experiences a norm--they are normed by the unchangeable norm, the word of God.
So, aside from the fact that we all can speak of personal, spiritual experiences, the fact remains that Wright denies the imputation to me of the righteousness of Christ. His exegesis of 2 Cor. 5:21 is wrong, dead wrong, and if I am passionate about the gospel, I will never cease being passionate in my defense of it, even when it is a "nice" person, like Tom Wright, dragging it down.
Those of you who wonder why I react to some persons (Osteen) and not others (John Paul II), just go back and read the last few paragraphs. You'll still judge that I am muddled, and that is acceptable to me. But perhaps you will understand a bit better.
I understand. I just don't believe God is honored when you take the gifts He has given you by His Spirit and use them to allow His truth to be muddled. Joel Osteen has not aided in enslaving hundreds of millions to a system of works righteousness, and all the warm feelings in the world will not change that reality.
I will continue to call myself a Calvinist, albeit a poor one.
Names come and go. Personally, I happen to believe that a Calvinist, if the name means anything, is a person who is passionate about the glory of God in salvation. He or she is a person who lives out that passion (ever read Martin's "The Practical Implications of Calvinism"?). Can Calvinists be unloving? Sure--anyone can. But don't blame the theology for the sinners who, by grace, come to understand it.
I welcome you into my writing and my journey. My readers are very special and important to me. I don't mind your judgments and your critiques. (Those of you who insist it's "unloving" to critique Phil Johnson, Joel Osteen or Rick Warren are excused for the rest of the day. Go read this.)
Well, I'm sure this will lose me the last two persons in your particular realm who have read this far, but I would like to think Phil Johnson would number me as one of his friends. I sure consider him to be mine. And I happen to know that one of the men I admire most in this world, John MacArthur, trusts him implicitly, and for good reason. So you'll have to forgive my dismissing your comments about him: you don't know what you are talking about. :-)
All is ask is that you understand that God has placed me in a ministry to those much like the people Jesus ministered to, and my ministry is not a contention for Calvinism.
Fascinating: you are a "Calvinist," of some sort, which seems to mean you think that reflects what God's Word teaches, in essence? Or not? I can't tell. In any case, Jesus ministered in a fashion unimpacted by...His own truth? I'm sorry, it is this "glorying in contradiction" that I just don't get. Unless the Lord was not ministering in John 6, or John 8, or John 10, it sure seems He did minister consistently with the doctrines of grace.
I counsel those whose families are dysfunctional and cruel.
So do Calvinist elders.
I pastor those who have been rejected and abandoned by parents, and those whose parents were taken away by tragedy and selfishness.
Yup, that's ministry--we all do that. I was a hospital chaplain you know. One of the most popular books on grieving was written by...you got it, yours truly. Shocking, no? All those folks running around, absolutely sure I'm a heartless automaton. Don't believe everything you read.
I pray with the sexually abused. I share Christ's gospel with students from all over the world and every religion. I open the doors of our Christian community to those whose mistakes have cost them other opportunities. I preach 20 times a month in places and to people other people don't want to preach to.
Careful, you are starting to sound like Paul doing his foolish boasting. :-)
I live for the Gospel,
Wonderful! I am concerned that we can't define that term anymore.
and I am spending my life, health and years in communicating Christ to students in word and example. To do this, I must live Mere Christianity and the truth of one Body of Christ. I am not all about defending Calvinism and I have no desire to be a promoter of Calvinism.
May I suggest, then, that you are not, in fact, a Calvinist? If you do not believe it is the truth of God, and if you do not believe He is honored in it, and if you do not believe it defines the very contours and shapes of the gospel itself, please, do us all a favor: stop talking about it. :-)
I preach and teach within the theology that I believe, but I do not make Calvinism an issue. I believe it would be unloving and foolish to do so. (I think even Spurgeon regretted the amount of attention he gave to Calvinism- by name- in his early preaching.)
I will allow Phil Johnson to address that one. :-)
Tonight I listened to a girl talk about a sexual abuse incident that happened to her just over a year ago, an incident disbelieved by her divorcing parents, and an incident that is robbing her of her normality and sanity. I shared with her the Gospel of the suffering Christ, and his power to allow us to endure evil. It is the God of the reformed faith that I am talking about when I tell her that God
allows some dark lines to be drawn into a beautiful picture. My prayer is for her to come to utterly trust and value Jesus as Lord. My Calvinism tells me to pray that God will sovereignly create such a faith. I could not counsel hope to such a person without a trust in a great, sovereign, God. I take the treasures and the weapons of the reformed faith into every battle, but only because Christ is my captain and my victory. Calvinism is the way God has brought me to one greater than Calvinism or any other attempt to outline the reality of one who is reality itself.
See, it is these kinds of words--powerful words, placed in a strong, emotional setting, that seem to overwhelm so many today who read only for impact, not for consistency (read: truth). You see, the past two paragraphs grind upon one another, not as "mystery," but as miserable contradiction, failed thinking, a broken gear crushing its dismembered teeth into itself. They mock each other, and for many today, that is exactly what is wanted. This makes one "deep." I think it just makes one inconsistent and disheveled, robbing one of clarity and the ability to speak directly to real needs. Drop the first paragraph. Run with the second. Glory in the truths you speak of. And be consistent: don't compromise.
I am not like you. Every day I wander further from the safety of Calvinism into the wideness of God's mercy.
A Calvinist knows that the door through which we walked took us directly into the ocean of God's mercy. A Calvinist is one who understands, with Job, what it means to put one's hand upon one's mouth. A Calvinist has stood with Isaiah before the throne in awe of holiness, and known the depth of sin. A Calvinst wrote Amazing Grace. Calvinism isn't safe. It's just true.
Warn me. Talk about me, but let me go. I have never been a risk-taker in life, but in this journey I want to ride far away from home. I will return from time to time, but for now I am exploring the Holy Wild.
Well, be careful. I believe God's Word functions as a hedge, a border, a wall, if you will, and it is for our safety God has given it to us. When we "wander off the reservation," so to speak, we are on our own. Personally, I will never, ever exhaust the treasures I have right here in His Word. So, while you are off in the Holy Wild, if you don't mind, I'll keep exploring the Holy Word.