A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Can a Wesleyan Quote Calvin?

Scot McKnight has started a series of posts on his blog on his personal history of reading and evaluating Calvinism. I am looking forward to his further reflections.

Today, Scot writes the following:

I found two major weaknesses in Calvinism's theology (and also a disorientation in its architecture): first, the emphasis of its architecture is not the emphasis of the Bible. Its focus on God’s Sovereignty, which very quickly becomes much less a doctrine of grace than a doctrine of control and theodicy etc, and its overemphasis on human depravity are not the emphases I found in the Bible. The overemphasis I see of these two in high Calvinism comes more from Augustine and later Calvinists than from the rhetoric of the biblical authors. I do not dispute the presence of these themes; I dispute their narratival centrality and they are where the gravity of emphasis is found in the Bible. Yes, I know we all have metanarratives that put things together, and Calvinism is one such metanarrative. It works for some; it simply didn't work for me.

Second, the exegesis of Calvinism on crucial passages I found wanting and sometimes dead wrong. I was once standing, years later when I was teaching at Trinity, outside my door talking with two professors about my view of Hebrews, when I simply asked one of them, "Who do you think best answers the Arminian interpretation of Hebrews?" That professor said, "Philip Hughes." I had just read Hughes and I thought it was weak. In fact, what I thought was this: "If that is the best, then there is no debate." The other professor said, "I agree, Scot. Hughes doesn't answer the questions." Then he said, "I'm not sure any commentary really answers it well." (Both of these professors were Calvinists, and still are, God bless 'em.) What I'm saying is that the exegetical conclusions I was drawing (in all kinds of passages) were not answered adequately by the Calvinists I was reading. I think I gave them a fair shot. At that time I had nothing to lose and it didn't matter where I landed; I wanted to find out what the Bible said.

Scot's entire post is worth a read. What struck me as I read his post was something of a personal nature for me. I am a committed Wesleyan. That does not mean I agree with the Wesley brothers on everything, but their theology makes sense to me as that which best makes sense of the totality of the biblical witness. And while I am not a Calvinist, many of my non-Calvinist friends are surprised to find that I have read Calvin's Institutes (in toto) and that when I teach on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I draw rather heavily on Calvin. Apparently, some believe that if one is not a Calvinist, one cannot quote Calvin or like much of what Calvin wrote. To me that makes as much sense as a Calvinist not being able to consider the theology of the Wesley brothers and refer to them.

We must never forget that what is ultimately significant is not our drawing up sides into theological camps, but keeping in mind that Wesley and Calvin and Augustine and Luther and Pope Benedict XVI and Karl Barth and Irenaeus are Christians. We read and reflect upon their theology and many others because they and we are the church. Theology is done in service to the church.

Thus, this Wesleyan will continue to read Calvin, though I may disagree with him on key theological points, because this theologian seeks first and foremost not to be a Wesleyan theologian (though I am grateful for that heritage). I seek first and foremost to be a Christian theologian. I do not think that is possible apart from Wesley or Calvin or Barth or Pope Benedict XVI or Luther or Augustine....

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