Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wonder and Rationality in Calvinism

John Piper's recent piece The Sovereign God of "Elfland" (Why Chesterton's Anti-Calvinism Doesn't Put Me Off) puts so well into words something I've been trying to figure out how to write about for a while. A taste:
It is a great irony to me that Calvinists are stereotyped as logic-driven. For forty years my experience has been the opposite. The Calvinists I have known (English Puritans, Edwards, Newton, Spurgeon, Packer, Sproul) are not logic driven, but Bible-driven. It’s the challengers who bring their logic to the Bible and nullify text after text. Branches are lopped off by “logic,” not exegesis.

Who are the great enjoyers of paradox today? Who are the pastors and theologians who grab both horns of every biblical dilemma and swear to the God-Man: I will never let go of either.

Not the Calvinism-critics that I meet. They read of divine love, and say that predestination cannot be. They read of human choice and say the divine rule of all our steps cannot be. They read of human resistance, and say that irresistible grace cannot be. Who is logic-driven?

For forty years Calvinism has been, for me, a vision of life that embraces mystery more than any vision I know. It is not logic-driven. It is driven by a vision of the ineffable, galactic vastness of God’s Word.
It's not my aim to be redundant, especially when I couldn't say it half as well as Piper has, but this observation (and you should read his whole post because it's bigger than just that one point) resonates with me. For this reason:

When I first "converted" to a Reformed view of soteriology, much of the criticism I found myself receiving had to do with how hyper-logical Calvinism appeared to be. "Don't put God in your little theological box!" was the sort of thing I heard multiple times from multiple people. That always sounded strange to me, because I had discovered in Calvinism a God much, much bigger -- "ineffeable" and "galactically vast" to use Piper's words -- than the God I had known. Coming to a Calvinistic reading of the Scriptures opened up the box, as it were (for me, anyway).

Lately, though, the criticism seems to have shifted. I hear much more these days the charges that Calvinism doesn't make enough logical sense, that it's too illogical. "How can sovereign predestination and human freedom coexist?" they say. "It's self-refuting." Which is odd, again, since previously it appeared Calvinism didn't allow for enough mystery. Now it allows too much. Ironically enough, it's typically the proponents of the "generous orthodoxy," "wider mercy" type streams of thought, the emergent-type believers in a mysterious God who bristle at the irrationality of Calvinism. For some reason there is more concern now than before that that little theological box is empty.

Just some wondering and wandering thoughts.


Adam Ford said...

Did you catch Piper's sermon last night on the live-stream of Passion 2012?

Jared said...

Adam, no, but I heard good things.

Brian said...

I'd say that those who claim that Calvinists are more "logic driven" don't really understand what logic is. In my estimation, what they probably mean is that Calvinists tend to place more value on intellectual things and wrangle with doctrine more - down to the nitty-gritty points that look silly to others.

Jared said...

Brian, I think you're right.

And in our offense :-), there are plenty of puffed-up Calvinistic eggheads who don't help matters.

But there's plenty of puffed-up eggheads in every theological stream.

Damien said...

when i was converted in the early 70s, all i knew was that god had broken into my life and mind, and brought me alive to himself. i began reading scripture and it was clear to me that the god of scripture is scary sovereign. there's just no way around that if scripture itself is our guide. here it is 40 years later and the point has only become clearer and more wonderful...what else can comfort and assure us like a sovereign god who views us favorably? why would he save a wretch like me? i don't know, but nothing comes close to being "good news" on that level.

i have always gravitated to the teachers and thinkers who embrace the exalted and scary view of god plainly presented in the bible. they've become known as calvinists but all they are is biblical. read calvin if you want a bracing and thrilling presentation of reality (according to scripture).

i can't stand hearing messages that carefully explain why the bible doesn't mean what it plainly says. i no longer have any patience for it. if you're a young christian, maybe you have an excuse. but if you've got any years on you, there's a great measure of bible ignorance or willful suppression going on.

god have mercy.

Adam Ford said...

Yeah. It was awesome. Really.