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.