Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism’

Another reflection on providence

January 5, 2016

This covers some ground I’ve covered many times before (even in last Sunday’s sermon), but it bears repeating. This is my comment in response to a post on God’s providence by Reformed thinker Derek Rishmawy. As I tell him, I mostly agree with his post.

If you think I’m wrong about any of this, please feel free to tell me why.

Conservative evangelical United Methodist pastor here. (Sorry to modify the kind of Methodist I am, but they come in a wide variety these days, unfortunately.) Even as a Wesleyan, I really like this post. Thanks.

You write the following of our Arminian emphasis on free will and how love must be freely chosen: “More Reformed theologians typically eschew that account because their view of human freedom sees it as fully compatible with God’s eternal decree for what will come to pass in human history whether by a decision to cause or permit different, human events.”

I would only add that we Arminians wonder why God must eternally decree that these things come to pass. Why can’t God foresee that they will come to pass when free human beings (however corrupted by sin their freedom may be) exert their will in this way—and then plan accordingly? We believe strongly that God redeems and transforms evil for good.

Regardless, like you, I’m sure, I don’t see nearly so great a difference between God’s “causing” and God’s “allowing” as many Christians see—especially my more progressive clergy colleagues. If you want to start a fight with them, tell them that “everything happens for a reason” (even if, as you indicate, the reason will likely will be unknowable to us). From my perspective, this is obviously true.

If we believe that God answers prayer and grants our petitions at least sometimes (even most progressives in my denomination say they believe this), then what happens when God doesn’t grant our petition? Do we say that God doesn’t have the power to do so? Do we say “that’s just the breaks, kid” because whether God does or doesn’t is completely arbitrary? Or do we say, “God heard our petition, considered it, and chose not to give us what we asked for”—and here’s the inevitable conclusion—”for a good reason”?

But as you say, if we knew what God knows, and we were as good as God is, we would understand the reason and praise him for it.

What’s the alternative to this? My progressive colleagues end up implicitly saying (as far as I can tell) that God doesn’t really do much of anything—except, you know, be with us (whatever that means) and suffer alongside us (whatever that means). Providence isn’t real. God’s hands are tied.

Thanks again. I like your blog and the Mere Fidelity podcast. I listen to it whenever it comes out.

Arminianism, God’s providence, and suffering

March 5, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed on this blog recently, I have recovered a far more robust view of God’s providence in our lives and world—so much so that I happily say, with a sigh of relief, “God is in control.” My favorite fellow Arminian blogger, Roger Olson, won’t go that far—out of fear that saying so compromises human free will or makes God the author of sin and evil. He says, instead, “God is in charge but not in control.” He says God does not “micromanage” history or human lives.

While I have felt at odds with many of my fellow Methodist clergy over the doctrine of providence, am I also at odds with Arminianism itself? Am I becoming… Calvinist?

Thank heavens, no!

Perhaps Olson himself sensed that his quibble over words like “control” and “micromanage” had caused Arminians like me to wonder if we (or he) were outside the Arminian camp. As he makes clear in this post, however, being Arminian does not imply a weak view of God’s providence. On the contrary!

The only category of creaturely decisions and actions where God NEVER interferes with free will IN THE SENSE OF rendering them certain is sin and evil. God permits them but does not design, foreordain or render them certain. One qualification is necessary even here. In relation to creaturely decisions and actions that are sinful, God never designs, foreordains or renders certain individuals’ evil decisions and actions that would cause their condemnation.

Olson is careful above to say that God isn’t the author of evil, and God doesn’t override an individual’s free will when it comes to their acceptance or rejection of God’s gift of salvation in Christ. These are bedrocks of Arminian doctrine.

But my main concern here, now, is to say that God DOES interfere in free will in guiding and directing our lives as his people. He is not the author of our sins or failures, but he does direct our lives in terms of opening and closing doors.

My point is that for the Arminian God is not a “deist God”—uninvolved and only observing. God is intimately involved in the details of our lives—to the extent that we allow him to be. If we shut him out of our lives and tell him to leave us alone he will, saying, reluctantly, “Okay, thy will, not mine be done.” This, too, of course, is within his will—consequently but not antecedently.

This is how I understand God’s providence in my life when I sing, for example, hymns that talk about God “appointing my pathway, knowing just what is needful and best.” I never think such lyrics mean God designs , foreordains or renders certain my sins or failures. I take them to mean that God has a plan for my life and, insofar as I surrender to his will, whatever happens to me is “needful and best.”

Of course, God does not design, foreordain or render certain OTHERS’ sins that impact my life. In that case he permits me to be impacted by their sins and brings good for me out of them. But I have no problem believing that he foresees their sinful intentions and allows me to be in the path of their consequences insofar as that [is] “needful and best” for me.

So he and I are on the same page, even though I see no harm in speaking of God’s being “in control.” I also don’t see how what he’s written above means that God doesn’t micromanage. He would at least concede that God manages very, very closely, right?

Regardless, like me, Olson rightly sees what’s at stake in the question of the doctrine: Is God actively involved in our lives and world—including answering our prayers and guiding our paths—or does God mostly let events run their course?

The liberal mainline Protestant answer, which I now completely reject, leans toward the latter: God hates that we suffer, and God suffers alongside us, but he doesn’t really do all that much about it. To be sure, this safely insulates God from being being responsible for evil in the world, but where does it leave us when bad things happen? “It’s all a mystery,” we say. God can’t possibly be allowing this to happen for a reason—to serve his good purposes. The less said about what God is up to, or even that he’s up to anything, the better.

How many of my fellow Methodist clergy, fresh out of liberal mainline seminary, would agree with the following statement from Olson? “But I have no problem believing that he foresees [other people’s] sinful intentions and allows me to be in the path of their consequences insofar as that is ‘needful and best’ for me.”

From the perspective of too many of us Methodist clergy (which, sadly, used to be my perspective), there can be nothing “needful and best” about God’s allowing us to suffer.

We Methodists are “sentimental Arminians”

September 20, 2013
Wesley was a hard-headed Arminian

Wesley was a hard-headed Arminian

In this post, Roger Olson, a Baptist who loves Wesley more than most Methodists, complains about the infiltration of Arminian-oriented denominations (including Wesleyan-Holiness denominations such as the Nazarenes) by “young, restless and reformed”-style Calvinists. (He should probably throw the UMC in there, too, but he’s probably given up on the “mother church”!) As Olson implies, it should be an oxymoron to refer to someone’s being a Calvinist-Methodist.

Regardless, I’ve seen the “young, restless and reformed” up close in United Methodist churches. In the comment section of Olson’s post, I express some sympathy with them. (I should add that they also tend to know their Bibles better than most Methodists, too.)

I’m United Methodist and evangelical. I’ve seen the phenomenon you describe in my churches. (Of course the UMC has itself to blame because for years they were theologically adrift from their Wesleyan roots. I sense that the tide is turning, in least in some parts of the denomination.) Anyway, I think what appeals to the young men (aren’t they always men?) about this extreme Calvinist theology is that, like it or not, it is intellectually rigorous. It takes theology seriously. It takes seriously the tough questions we ask of God and faith and offers comprehensive answers—however unsatisfying those answers may be.

I feel like I’m stepping on my soapbox, but honestly… It’s embarrassing how many of my clergy colleagues act as if theology hardly matters. They are sentimentally Arminian, but they can’t formulate an argument in their favor.

I don’t blame some Methodists for trying to find a less squishy, more tough-minded approach to understanding God and the world.

Suffering and Satan

July 15, 2013

In my sermon yesterday, I took a necessary swipe at that soft but pervasive form of Calvinism that says, “Everything happens for a reason.” As I said yesterday, I’ve encountered this bit of bad theology in many pastoral care situations: “I don’t know why this [bad thing] happened, but I know that everything happens for a reason”—as if, for example, God willed a child to die, although his reasons for doing so are not entirely clear to us.

When taken to an extreme, the way John Piper and our Young, Restless and Reformed friends always do, the idea grosses me out. But I understand the appeal of softer versions of this theology: it reaffirms the idea that God (in some sense) is in control. When life is out of control, it’s good to know God isn’t.

Having said that, the equal and opposite mistake—rampant among my fellow United Methodist clergy, I’m afraid—is of a “hand-wringing” God whose only response to tragedy is to suffer alongside us. Well, yes… God “suffers” alongside us—doesn’t the cross of his Son make that clear?—but God is not so squeamish about it that he won’t also use suffering for our good.

Also—just because it’s painful doesn’t mean God doesn’t cause it. In other words, sometimes God may want us to suffer, and he will cause it. On this point both the Bible and John Wesley are clear.

Sorry for this preamble. My main point for this post is to talk about the devil—again. I’ve obviously been talking about him a lot recently. Maybe it’s penance for practically refusing to talk about him for years. I think I have a recent convert’s zeal on the subject.

But my question is this: when we attempt to defend God’s goodness in a world that often isn’t good, why do we let Satan (and his minions) off the hook? The world makes much more sense when we reemphasize the role of the demonic.

As I said yesterday:

I suppose it’s true that everything happens for a reason, but that reason isn’t necessarily God! It might very well be the devil, but it isn’t necessarily God! Brothers and sisters, we live in a fallen world in which evil is a real force—in which people, including you and me, under the influence of Satan, do evil in our world. We live in a world in which Creation itself—again, under Satan’s influence—is corrupted. We pray each week in the Lord’s Prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven because we recognize that God’s will often isn’t done here—at least on this side of the Second Coming and resurrection, when God will redeem our world and make everything all right.

These words are informed by C.S. Lewis’s words from Miracles. While he believes that the imperfection of Nature is in part by design—and that a certain degree of “evolutionism” or “developmentalism” is inherent in Christianity—imperfection alone can’t account for the “positive depravity” of Nature.

According to the Christians, this is all due to sin: the sin both of men and of powerful, non-human beings, supernatural but created. The unpopularity of this doctrine arises from the widespread Naturalism of our age—the belief that nothing but Nature exists and that if anything else did she is protected from it by a Maginot Line—and will disappear as this error is corrected. To be sure, the morbid inquisitiveness about such beings which led our ancestors to a pseudo-science of Demonology, is to be sternly discouraged: our attitude should be that of the sensible citizen in wartime who believes that there are enemy spies in our midst but disbelieves nearly every particular spy story. We must limit ourselves to the general statement that beings in a different, and higher ‘Nature’ which is partially interlocked with ours have, like men, fallen and have tampered with things inside our frontier.[1]

That last sentence is especially helpful to me: this “higher ‘Nature'” is “partially interlocked” with ours.

1. C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 196.

Methodists believe in the doctrine of election, too

January 9, 2013

I recently referred to Francis Chan’s “nearly Pelagian”—what I could rightly call semi-Pelagian—”disregard of the role of God’s grace in sanctification.” As if on cue, Arminian Baptist theologian Roger Olson has an evenhanded article about different evangelical perspectives on election (full article behind subscription firewall) in the most recent Christianity Today, which includes a discussion of semi-Pelagianism.

He helpfully describes it with an illustration:

Semi-Pelagianism is the idea that human beings take the initiative in their salvation and service to God. We decide whether to be saved or enter into God’s service completely by ourselves, without prevenient (or necessary) grace. (Prevenient grace is grace that convicts, calls, illumines, and enables. Christian theologians disagree about whether it is resistible or irresistible, but all evangelical theologians agree it is necessary for the first exercise of a good will toward God.) Some years ago, a popular television series featured angels in human disguise helping people in distress turn to God. In one episode, a beautiful young angel with a Scottish accent counseled a man to “reach up to God as far as you can, and then he’ll reach down and take you the rest of the way.” I call that “Touched by an Angel theology.” By itself, without careful biblical and theological clarification, it expresses semi-Pelagianism.

Moreover, he calls semi-Pelagianism “arguably the default view of both salvation and service among American Christians, especially younger Christians. But all branches of Christianity have condemned it as heresy, because it completely contradicts Scripture.”

Did you read that? All branches of Christianity condemn semi-Pelagianism, including us Methodists. I emphasize this because, as Arminians, Methodists are sometimes accused of being semi-Pelagian by our Reformed brothers and sisters because we affirm a limited but (we believe) necessary role for free will in the process of salvation. As Olson writes,

According to Wesley’s essay “On Predestination,” faithfully following Arminius, election (predestination) means that “God foreknew those in every nation, who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things.” He based this on Romans 8, especially verses 29 and 30. Like all Arminians (and many who do not use that label but agree with its essential doctrine of election), Wesley affirmed free will, enabled by grace, because otherwise, “[I]f man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, words, or actions.”

Free will, enabled by grace. Olson goes on to emphasize a point that can hardly be made loudly enough: “[W]hatever role humans play in their salvation, salvation is God’s work. Even Arminians, at their best and truest, believe sinners receive saving grace only because God enables them to receive it with the free response of faith.”

“The absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death”

August 30, 2012

David B. Hart wrote this profoundly good meditation on suffering in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2005. A friend reminded me of it in the comments section of my previous post. It applies whenever and wherever the innocent suffer. To those glib, stone-cold Calvinist answers we often hear about suffering, Hart offers this damning riposte: “It seems a strange thing to find peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.” He continues:

I do not believe we Christians are obliged—or even allowed—to look upon the devastation visited upon the coasts of the Indian Ocean and to console ourselves with vacuous cant about the mysterious course taken by God’s goodness in this world, or to assure others that some ultimate meaning or purpose resides in so much misery. Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation; our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death, and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. For while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering, but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave. And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death; and, in such a world, our portion is charity.

As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy. It is not a faith that would necessarily satisfy Ivan Karamazov, but neither is it one that his arguments can defeat: for it has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead. We can rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes—and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Can we have some humility about suffering, Ms. Story?

August 30, 2012

Today, for the first time, I heard (or at least paid close attention to) a popular contemporary Christian song called “Blessings,” written by a prominent contemporary Christian singer-songwriter and worship leader named Laura Story. According to Wikipedia, the song was a hit in 2011 and recently won a Grammy award. As I listened to it, I thought it was nearly a great song, bravely tackling the difficult subject of faith and suffering—not a frequent theme in the happy-clappy world of most contemporary Christian music.

Upon further reflection, however, I hate it. If people in the midst of suffering and grief find comfort in it, as apparently Story herself did when her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor, to God be the glory. But I couldn’t stand beside a deathbed and share these sentiments with either a dying person or the loved ones who are left behind. I hope I’d lose my credentials as a United Methodist pastor!

The first verse sounds promising:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for your mighty hand to ease our suffering

That’s certainly true. But listen to the verse’s turnaround (emphasis mine): “All the while, you hear each spoken need/ Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.”

Lesser things”—you know, like healing, comfort, protection, and peace. Apparently, for Story, the greater things God would rather give us—for our own good, mind you—may include terminal illnesses, war, genocide—pick any evil, natural or human. We may pray against evil, as our Lord himself taught us to do, but if we receive evil in spite of our prayers, we should thank God because even these bad things—as Story implies in the song’s chorus—”are your mercies in disguise.” In other words, they aren’t really evil at all.

Didn’t I just complain yesterday about how John Piper’s hyper-Calvinist vision of God’s sovereignty attributes human sin and evil to God’s authorship—because even sin and evil serve his (at times) inscrutable purposes. How is Laura Story not saying the same thing?

Does your spouse, for example, have a brain tumor? According to the song’s theology, God gave it to him or her. Remember: If God wanted to give someone a “lesser” thing like a healthy brain, he would do so. God’s motives for giving someone cancer are blameless: “What if a thousand sleepless nights/ Are what it takes to know you’re near?/ What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?” In other words, you needed this bad thing to happen; therefore, our merciful God obliged by giving it to you. God will do “what it takes.”

To make matters worse, if the suffering person to whom Story directs these words doubts the hard truth of what she’s saying—and isn’t completely comfortable with the idea that God constantly sends evil-disguised “mercies” our way—we can be sure that God himself “longs” that “we’d have faith to believe.” Here, she says, doubt isn’t faith’s necessary correlate, as classic Christianity teaches, but is instead the opposite of faith. I should throw out every sermon I’ve preached on “doubting Thomas,” that’s for sure!

Am I being too hard on the song? After all, she asks, “What if?” As if she’s wondering aloud. But listen to the song and tell me that she means it as an open question. The most charitable reading is that Story got a bit sloppy with her words and meant to say, simply, that God takes all these bad things—including sin and evil—and uses them for his good purposes; or that God is continually bringing good out of suffering; or that God is incredibly merciful in the midst of suffering. That’s what I would like the song to say. In which case I would agree wholeheartedly! In C.S. Lewis’s masterful book The Problem of Pain, he writes that God is “mercenary” about using suffering for our good. But using suffering isn’t the same as causing it, especially when doing so makes God complicit in sin or evil.

Don’t misunderstand: I am not even arguing that God never sends suffering our way. That wouldn’t be biblical. I haven’t changed my mind since last week, when I wrote the following:

The Bible teaches that sometimes God punishes people in history for their sin—whether by not sparing them from the natural consequences of cause-and-effect or even by actively afflicting them with discomfort, disaster, or disease. Moreover, God’s purpose in doing so is good. I’m happy to report that, at least in the tiniest of measures, God has let me suffer for my sins—at least enough to bring me to repentance. I consider this kind of punishment an act of severe mercy on God’s part.

What I’m arguing is that when it comes to human suffering, there are things we can say with theological certainty—based on the Bible and two millennia of Christian thinking on the subject. But there is also a great deal of mystery, especially as it relates to God’s involvement and agency in suffering. We owe it to those who suffer to speak with circumspection and humility. Unfortunately, this song fails to do that.

Hell and “optimal grace”

September 7, 2011

Gotta love that cover illustration. It looks really hot in there!

One book I read to prepare for our two-part sermon series on heaven and hell is Methodist theologian Jerry Walls’s fun-sounding book Hell: The Logic of Damnation. In it, he seeks to overcome the most important objections to hell and damnation on moral grounds. And unlike our hyper-Calvinist brothers and sisters, Walls isn’t content to say, “God is perfectly good, even though our human understanding of God’s ‘goodness’ bears no apparent relationship to God’s goodness”—that God is good, in other words, even if our account of that “goodness” makes God out to be a moral monster.

In the real world, skeptical people of good faith do raise honest objections to Christianity on moral grounds. Let’s assume for a moment that they are doing so of their own free will, and that God isn’t simply making them be that way. We Arminian Christians, who live in that same world with them, should try to answer their objections. Hence Walls’s book.

In his chapter “Hell and Divine Goodness,” he brings the problem in sharp relief by discussing a few hypothetical scenarios, one of which I excerpt below:

Next, consider the case of two young women, both of whom have been taught the Christian faith, but have rejected it. Both are involved in an automobile accident in which one is killed while the other lives. Let us say the second is eventually converted and becomes a saintly person, whereas the first is damned. Suppose God knows the first would also have become a saintly person if she had lived to a normal age before dying.

What all these cases suggest is that it is very odd, to say the least, to think that salvation and damnation might hinge in some way on such factors as the circumstances of one’s birth or the time of one’s death. If this is actually possible, it seems to raise doubts about the claim that God, in perfect goodness, desires to save all persons.1

In other words, doesn’t our salvation or damnation often depend on circumstances over which we have no control? And if so, doesn’t this reflect poorly on God’s goodness?

After all, I was brought up in a Christian home. I grew up going to Sunday school and church. I saw many Christians role-model the love of Jesus for me. I had one opportunity after another to respond positively to the gospel, which I eventually did. Clearly, the vast majority of people in the world today—and who have ever lived—have not had those same opportunities, to say the least. Would God damn them to hell without giving them a fair chance of hearing and responding to the gospel? (This was a primary objection to Christianity raised by Bertrand Russell in the early 20th century, and Walls frames his argument to meet Russell’s objection.)

Walls doesn’t think so, and neither do I. In fact, I think this opinion represents a consensus on the rightward side of the mainline Protestant spectrum in which the United Methodist Church finds itself (which is to say the leftward side of evangelical Protestant spectrum). I have believed (or hoped) for years that an equal opportunity exists for people to respond positively to the gospel, even after death if necessary.

Before Walls’s book, however, I’d read no writer who had explained in a plausible way what this might look like. Walls argues that God gives everyone an “optimal measure of grace” to enable a “decisive response” to the gospel. So, getting back to the hypothetical case above, Walls writes,

I am inclined to say the one killed had not decisively rejected God. Although her initial response to grace was negative, she would have become a saintly person had she lived longer. This suggests that her initial negative rejection to God was not really a settled response. If God knows this, it may be the case that God will give her the grace at the moment of death to begin to become what she would have become if she had not died. Further spiritual growth could occur after death.2

Walls concedes that this notion would involve some form of purgatory. Stripped of its medieval Catholic excesses, he doesn’t believe there’s anything inherently un-Protestant about the idea. Indeed, many Protestants of Lutheran and Anglican extraction (including my man C.S. Lewis) believe in some form of it.

Walls even addresses one objection I have to the idea: If God were to give people an opportunity after death to respond (because in this life they failed to decisively accept or reject the gospel), who could possibly say no? Wouldn’t it be rather obvious what the correct “choice” would be? I put the word in scare quotes because at that point, it would fail to be a choice. It would be coerced. Walls responds:

[I]t might be suggested that perhaps God cannot extend grace to persons at the time of death, or after death, without destroying their freedom. After death God’s reality may be so evident that it would be impossible to make a free response to him. In the face of his majesty and power, persons would feel compelled to submit out of fear. Such a reaction would not be out of faith and love so it would not count as genuine acceptance of grace and commitment to his will.

In response to this, I see no reason to assume God’s existence must be more evident after death than it is now. Surely God could reveal himself only to such an extent as would enable a free response. Perhaps God may even continue to use human creatures as messengers on his behalf. The situation  after death may be similar to this life in the sense that persons may learn about God from their fellow humans and respond in faith to what they learn.3

Or maybe not… It’s obviously highly speculative. But I’m glad Walls is at least making the effort to explain it.

As I said in my sermon on Sunday, what we know for sure is this: We have this time now, this moment now, to respond. Everyone who has life still has the opportunity to find salvation. This should give urgency to our mission. Moreover, along with Walls, I believe our choices in this life can have eternal consequences. I believe people can decisively reject the gospel. I also fear that if we continually fail to respond to the gospel, we may harden our hearts such that we can no longer respond, in this life or beyond. (This, I believe, is the “unforgivable sin” Jesus mentions.)

One thing is also for sure: We don’t know the mysterious ways in which God works in the human heart. We don’t know how the Lord might move in that liminal place between life and death. Could it be that Jesus meets everyone, arms outstretched, as he met the two criminals on the cross beside him?

Will we, like the first criminal, reject him? Or will we, like the second, ask him to remember us when he comes into his kingdom? The choice will be ours.

Footnotes:
1. Jerry L. Walls, Hell: The Logic of Damnation (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 86.

2. Ibid. 90.

3. Ibid., 100.

Getting drunk on God’s sovereignty

September 6, 2011

These New Calvinists are a weird bunch. They take the most unspeakably evil tragedy and say not merely that God allowed it, not merely that God will use it to bring good, but that God caused it. They remind me a little of conspiracy theorists: the very lack of evidence for—or evidence directly contradictingtheir point of view is further proof of their belief. The more incomprehensible the evil—the more reluctant any sane person would be to say, “The God revealed to us in Jesus Christ must be the author of this”—the more satisfied they are that “God is in control” and “God’s will is done,” so praise God!

I try to give them the benefit of the doubt from time to time, but then I read something like this post from Trevin Wax. If I’m misinterpreting what he’s saying, please tell me how.

My favorite part is this:

Is it worth it having free will just so God can be loved without force? Isn’t there something bigger than our love for God?

I would ask that Wax refrain from using the word “love” because without freedom the word has no meaning. Coerced love isn’t love.

Good, evil, love, hatred, indifference… From Wax’s point of view, what’s the difference? A sovereign God wills what God wills, so praise God. In many ways, this extreme form of Calvinism isn’t much different from Hinduism: Whatever happens is really good, because it’s all God. What you see is what you get. If you don’t like what you see, that’s your problem, not God’s.

I would also recommend that Wax read David Bentley Hart’s Doors of the Sea. Christian thinking on this subject didn’t begin in the sixteenth century.

Methodists are supposed to be Arminian

August 30, 2011

In other words, we strenuously disagree with our Calvinist brothers and sisters that God’s grace is irresistible, that God chooses who gets saved and who gets damned, and that Christ died only for the elect. While no one can have saving faith apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, the decision to say yes or no to God’s gift of eternal life is completely free and un-coerced. We don’t talk about Arminianism very much anymore, but Wesley did! He wrote and published a periodical called The Arminian and exchanged many harsh words with Calvinists in his day.

Given how Romans 9, which we covered the past couple of weeks in Vinebranch, is a major Calvinist proof-text, I thought my sermon on Sunday—dealing with Pharaoh and the “hardening” of his heart and the potter and clay—was relatively free of polemics. I didn’t want to argue against anyone; I simply wanted to share what I honestly believe is the meaning of the scripture. I didn’t even use the word “Calvinist” or “predestination.”

Still, other smart Wesleyans, like Jerry Walls, are certainly free to be argumentative, as this 10-minute video clip makes clear. He takes on popular neo-reformed pastor John Piper. This appears to be part of a debate. This clip may give you a deeper appreciation of our differences. Enjoy!