Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Kinder, Gentler Calvinism?

Kenneth Stewart

A Kinder, Gentler Calvinism?

Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. Kenneth J. Stewart. IVP Academic. 2011.

I have always been an admirer of the character and service of George H.W. Bush. In his speech accepting his party’s nomination for the Presidency he talked of his future “kinder and gentler” conservatism. Though it did not dissuade me from voting for him and has not diminished my respect for him, I think it an unfortunate choice of words. It was taken as descriptive of Bush’s conservatism in contrast with Reagan’s which was what – meaner, harsher?

Dr. Kenneth J. Stewart, Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College, has given us a book in which he seeks to address what he conceives to be myths concerning the Calvinistic tradition. As it turns out the book advocates what might be called a kinder, gentler Calvinism in contrast with a more rigid, less ameliorable, tougher Calvinism.

Following the introduction, the book is divided into two sections with four chapters addressing myths he believes circulate among Calvinists followed by six addressing myths he believes circulate among non-Calvinists. My intention in this review is to address the introduction and the first four chapters.

While Dr. Stewart obviously hopes non-Calvinists will read the book, he knows that he has “written a book like this for those who are already consciously Calvinistic” (p. 12). He has five reasons for addressing us, his fellow Calvinists: (1) our tendency to generate extremism on the fringes more difficult to restrain than extremism on the edges of other expressions of Christianity; (2) our tendency to a romantic primevalism that gets us hung up on Calvin and stuck in a perceived “golden age” which is the 16th century; (3) our failure sufficiently to appreciate Calvinism’s potential for diverse development, which makes us hold onto certain unnecessary distinctives, rather than being open to alternatives; (4) our failure to appreciate our own movement’s complexity with regard to such matters as polity, theology, and evangelism; (5) our failure to be as receptive as we should our opponents’ criticisms and complaints regarding our doctrine and practice.

In the chapters that follow the four myths which we Calvinists ourselves accept and propagate are taken up. The first two address Dr. Stewart’s problems with Calvin himself: Myth 1. Calvin and Geneva are determinative of Calvinism. Myth 2. We must take Calvin’s view of predestination (make that a double, not a single). Then there are two problems associated with Calvin’s followers: Myth 3. TULIP defines what it means to be truly Reformed. Myth 4. Calvinists are lukewarm if not cold toward revival and awakening.

As one reads the book, it becomes clear that Dr. Stewart has given away his agenda with his five reasons for addressing his fellow Calvinists. What Dr. Stewart wants is a Calvinism that is nicer (Reason 1), that is less dependent upon and deferential to Calvin ( Reason 2), that is accepting of a wider diversity of doctrine and practice (Reasons 3, 4), and that is more sensitive and accommodating toward its critics (Reason 5).

Dr. Stewart thinks that Calvin and Geneva are too highly esteemed by many Calvinists. This he attributes largely to an 18th century romanticizing of Calvin as the source and standard of Reformed theology and Geneva as the example of a Reformed civilization (state, church, culture). He does not think it proper that Calvin should have the authority he has in the discussion of what Reformed doctrine and practice are. Dr. Stewart is correct to make the unremarkable observation that Calvin had his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. Calvin is one among others. But Dr. Stewart is mistaken if he thinks that it is something of a quirk of history that gives Calvin his unique role. It is the historians and theologians who, whether or not they like and/or agree with Calvin,  have given the status of the magisterial Reformer and theologian among the magisterial Reformed theologians who came before, labored contemporaneously with, and have come after him. Of course, Calvin is not infallible. Of course, he made his mistakes. Who thinks otherwise? Who thinks quoting Calvin settles a controversy? But he holds the position he does simply because in the judgment of history he deserves it.

Dr. Stewart does not believe Calvin’s developed view of predestination should be accepted as the standard view of the doctrine. He regards the developed view as less pastoral and more analytical than Calvin’s earlier treatment of the doctrine. To put it simply, Dr. Stewart wants Calvinists to hold to single predestination, not the objectionable double predestination. Perhaps Dr. Stewart wants to say nothing more than something like this: The Westminster Confession reserves the word “predestinate” for God’s dealings with the elect while it uses the words “pass by” and ”ordain to dishonor and wrath” for God’s dealings with the reprobate. If so, then, when precision is required, we should observe the distinction. However, in non-technical popular usage predestine (predestinate) means to destine before hand which can be applied to both the elect and the reprobate, if we believe that God’s decision determines the eternal destiny of both. Double predestination is not dependent on whether or not the decree regards man as sinner.

But what Dr. Stewart wants is a doctrine of predestination that “has moved beyond Calvin”, that is “shorn of some excesses attached to Calvin’s own views”, that is the result of Calvin’s successors efforts “to ameliorate or modify his (Calvin’s) teaching” (p. 71). Apparently Dr. Stewart believes the doctrine should be that God takes the initiative in the salvation of the elect by choosing them but that God does not predestine the lost to eternal damnation. At the end of the day, regardless of the language we chose and whether or not it is Calvin’s, the question remains, “Did God in eternity determine the eternal state of all angels and humans?” Does God determine who are “the vessels of wrath” and “the vessels of mercy” without regard to any foresight of their worth, character, decisions, responses, or usefulness?

Dr. Stewart thinks the Five Points of Calvinism are an inadequate expression and standard of Calvinism. It has often been noted that the five points are the “five soteriological points of Calvinism.” They summarize the response of the Synod of Dordt to the issues raised by Arminius and his followers. But Dr. Stewart’s problem with the Five Points is not that, since Baptists can affirm them, they cannot be regarded as defining Reformed theology. Nor is his problem that they come nowhere near summarizing the breadth and depth of Reformed theology. His problem is with how definitive they are when it comes to the issues they address – particularly the extent of the atonement. Once it is acknowledged that there is much more to Calvinism than the five points, and that one can affirm the Five Points and not be Reformed, the question has to be asked: Can one who does not agree with the substance of the five points (if not the terminology) be regarded as holding the truly Reformed faith?

Dr. Stewart wants us to understand that Calvinism is much more open to revivals and spiritual renewal than we might think. Now, as one of a small minority who have some criticisms of “experimental Calvinism” and revivalism, but who could hold of convention of likeminded folks in a phone booth (if he could find one), I ask why Dr. Stewart thinks that we Calvinists hold to the myth that “Calvinists take a dim view of revival and awakening.” Who do evangelical Calvinists look to as the exemplars of Calvinistic treatment of the soul? Edwards. Whitefield. Piper. What historians and theologians look favorably upon revivals and awakenings? Iain Murray, Lloyd-Jones, Packer. Those such as Nevin of an earlier age and Clark and Hart of the present day seem to be assigned to the cranky edge of Reformed faith and practice. It seems to me incontrovertible that this supposed myth is no myth at all, as even those who have reservations acknowledge that at least since the Great Awakening Calvinists have been not only open to but embracing of revivals and awakenings.

In the end one wonders why this book was written. It seems it will serve to cause those who favor a broader, softer Calvinism to say, “Amen.” Meanwhile, this book will not cause those who hold a more defined and robust Calvinism to change their minds. The book does little to advance serious discussion and debate among those in the Calvinistic tradition.  

It poses another problem for confessional Presbyterians, such as ministers and elders of the Presbyterian Church in America. It really is not an academic book which would provide a better understanding of varieties of Calvinism. It rather is an advocacy book.

And what it advocates is going to a place no one bound by vows accepting the Westminster Standards as teaching the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture may go.

This review was written for the Aquila Report ( By kind permission of the editors it appears here upon its publication there.


Wes White said...

Hi Bill, thank you for your thought-provoking critique. Do you have any particular quotes that prove that Dr. Stewart wants a "single" predestination rather than a "double" view?

Thanks, Wes

D.J. Cimino said...

I'm glad I didn't buy this book. I read up on it a little a couple of months ago and something just didn't sit well with me. Not sure why, but methinks I have a better idea now.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Wes, if you have the book, the whole chapter on the myth that Calvin's view of predestination must be ours is a sustained criticism of Calvin's double predestination and thus an argument for single. There is even a curiously sympathetic treatment of Arminius. If you don't have the book perhaps this will suffice until you can see a copy. On p.56 he is dealing with Calvin's doctrine of "meticulous providence." He says, "The added difficulty, however, is that under this conception of meticulous providence, the primary cause of human condemnation is traceable back to the determination of God in eternity and only secondarily to human sin." He goes on to quote Calvin from the Institutes: "...eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death." He concludes, obviously rejecting Calvin: "For perfectly good reason,, this conception of predestination has come to be called 'double'."

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Below is a response from Dr. Stewart. He had wanted to post it here, but he ran into some technical difficulty. Hence I post it. Just one note: He misreads the review to think that he and I occupy the same ground on revival/awakening and that I believe with him that Hart, pose a danger.

Stewart, Ken to me

show details 9:42 AM (3 minutes ago)

Dear Bill:

I am grateful to you for the time and energy you devoted to digesting my book. Having read your review, I tried to use the 'Comment' feature, but as I do not seem to have the right way of entry (not Wordpress etc) I thought I would just send you a few comments directly.

I. You mistake the driving force behind the book. Contrary to what you say, it is a serious historical investigation. The many prominent church historian whose endorsements grace the cover are united in emphasizing what you deny: this is an investigative historical project. In addition, two un-named historians, employed by IVP for the purpose, combed through this book for six months prior to typesetting. So, your putting this book down to essentially a pressing of my preference for a 'kinder gentler Calvinism' misses something so obvious that you have to expect that your misjudgment will boomerang on you.

II. Consistent with the above (your downplaying the serious historical work interwoven throughout the book) you miss the point in your insistence that we hold Calvin in his current esteem because of the judgments of history, that TULIP is just fine, etc etc. In fact, I have shown the opposite - which is that there have been deserved fluctuations in the estimate of Calvin over 400 years (and that we are still riding the wave of his Victorian recovery) and that TULIP was an early 20th century American innovation. You tend to treat conventional wisdom on these subjects as if they were the judgment of history. This is to miss the point: conventional wisdom is very often wrong, and that is why historical investigation is valuable in stripping away accretions that are unhelpful

III. On the predestination question, we are both happy, I take it, with WCF III. The question is: is WCF III simply what Calvin taught? I don't think it is. It is stated more cautiously, more circumspectly in light of some valid criticisms that Calvin's view provoked. Dordt shows just the same readiness to be more circumspect. Dordt and Westminster have in common that they will not describe reprobation as being strictly parallel to predestination to life. The proximate cause for condemnation is furnished by the evil deeds of the wicked.

IV. On revival, I take it that we actually occupy about the same ground. With you, I prefer the analysis of Iain Murray to that of Darryl Hart. Where I think we disagree is in our estimation of the danger posed by Hart and his school of writers. Westminster Escondido, in a strange continuity with Calvin Seminary Grand Rapids (these schools are usually at loggerheads) are centers from which revival is disparaged. So important a church historian as George Marsden (raised in the OPC) termed Darryl Hart's book on American presbyterianism "anti-evangelical" because of its steady misrepresentation of the Great Awakening. So, while from your vantage point, you are aware of Hart, from mine - I think he and his allies represent a danger so great that it needs to be countered.


Ken Stewart, Ph.D.
Professor of Theological Studies
Dept. of Biblical & Theological Studies
Covenant College, Lookout Mountain GA 30750
(w) 706 419 1653 (h) 706 820-7146 (e)

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

A further comment from Dr. Stewart:

Dear Bill:

It was brotherly of you to print my comment. Yes, I did misread you on the Revival question.

Having done 3 years interim pastoral work in the early 90's in the CRC (with which the PCA was then still in ecclesiastical fellowship) I am aware from that context, as well as my reading of Hart, Muether, Clark, Godfrey and the re-issued Presbyterian Doctrine of Children of the Covenant (which uses Kuyper, by the way) that there is a quite wide push to discredit the revival tradition. I would have to disagree with your phone booth analogy, though. I think that the fact that these writers have been the almost solo voices on this subject in the conservative Reformed world in the USA context has created a kind of element of doubt. Who do you or I know that is aggressively pro-revival.I have simply attempted to draw attention to the copious counter-evidence.


Ken Stewart, Ph.D.
Professor of Theological Studies
Dept. of Biblical & Theological Studies
Covenant College, Lookout Mountain GA 30750

The Christian Curmudgeon said...


I tried to post a comment to your article below, but could not seem to get through the gate keeper. Anyway, here is my comment if you would like to post it.

Don Frank

I have not read this book, but is it possible that the author is attempting to distinguish between God's "eternal and immutable decree" by which He "has chosen some men to eternal life" from His passing by the rest? Perhaps he is making the distinction that all who are in Adam are in that estate, not by God's predestinating them to condemnation, but rather as the result of "our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will." All who are and abide in Christ, on the other hand, are in that estate only by God's grace working operatively to free man from his original estate, and cooperatively to enable man to persevere. This distinction permits both estates to be the effect of man's free will as the proximate cause, which I don't think Calvin or the WCF and Catechisms would dispute. The distinction hinges on St. Thomas's metaphysics of being which maintains that grace presupposes as well as perfects nature.

D G said...

But Ken, Marsden studied with Van Til who was anti-evangelical. Haven't you read Van Til's treatment of neo-evangelicalism?

Anonymous said...

Apparently Marsden, either sitting in CVT's classroom or subsequently had reason to think independently of CVT. I don't dispute CVT's anti-evangelical posture; in fact I would suggest that the influx of CRC faculty into WTS in the 1930's fundamentally shifted the young WTS away from its Princeton heritage, which had been decidedly the other way. When one stands back from this, it makes us realize that the whole conservative Reformed tradition in this country has been influenced far more by Grand Rapids theology than is generally acknowledged. I am not demonizing the CRC in this particular respect; I am simply highlighting the fact that throughout the 20th century, there have been rival versions of the Reformed faith jockeying with one another for dominance. And it was so, also, in the 19th. My general point is that the current penchant for setting the evangelical and Reformed traditions at odds with one another is rather out of character.

D G said...

Anonymous (who sounds a lot like Ken Stewart), when was the last time evangelicalism was known for Reformed theology? The doctrine of divine sovereignty does not count. And when was the last time that evangelicalism actually defended church polity? Not even the Calvinistic revivalists of the First Pretty Good Awakening did that.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

A few interactions with Dr. Stewart's responses:

(1)I do not mean to put down the book by my characterization of it. I am being forthright. I strikes me as a book having, not so much a thesis, as an agenda. And, I keep asking myself: At what academic level could such a book be used? Surely not a graduate seminar. Maybe an undergraduate course at a Christian college. But, then would I want to use it in such a class? My answer is no because it seems to me, not intended to give information and provoke thinking and discussion as to advocate a particular take on Calvinism. To use a cliche, it seems to me it is not sufficiently "fair and balanced" to be used as an undergraduate classroom text.

(2) I really don't see how you can say, given the judgment of history, that Calvin does not deserve the position he occupies. Are there those, such as you, wish he did not occupy that position, and there have been attempts to diminish him? Yes. But does he have the position and in the judgment of most rightly so? Yes. I remember Mortimer Adler saying that the scholar he failed to include but should have included in the Great Books series was Calvin. As exegete and theologian Calvin is in a class by himself.

(3)RE the Five Points, at the end of the day, it seems to me that you need to answer these questions: Is man so radically sinful (depraved) in every function of his being that he cannot respond with saving faith to the external call of the gospel and that, while he is not as evil as he could be, he is nevertheless evil in his thinking, feeling, acting? Is God's election unconditional with regard to his consideration of the sinners he choose? Did Christ die for specific sinners in such a way that he actually made atonement for their sins, gaining and guaranteeing their salvation? Is God's inner call always and irresistibly effectual? Will all those chosen by God, effectually called by the Spirit, and died for by Christ, persevere unto salvation because they are so preserved by God's grace that no other outcome is possible? It seems to me that affirmation of these truths, even if other words are chosen, is a sine qua non of Calvinism. You can affirm them and not be a Calvinist (Reformed) but you cannot not affirm them and be a Calvinist.

(4) With regard to predestination, as to virtually every doctrine there are differences between Calvin and theologians and Confessions that follow. But I do not believe the gap between Westminster and Calvin is so great as you think. It seems to me that you are doing more here than taking a side in the debate between supra and infra lapsarian views. You want a single predestination which is not entailed in either view.

(5) Re revivals, it seems to me that the Reformation was not one, as understood post-Great Awakening. I think the Reformation more Biblical and more sound and helpful pastorally. I really find it surprising that you should describe Hart,Clark, et al as "dangerous." Do you really mean that? I wonder if you do not mean to say that you disagree with them or think them wrong? Then who advocates and promotes revival and renewal in the sense of "surprising works of God"? Accepting such events as normal, healthy, to be desired and prayed for? Ian Murray, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, The Banner of Truth, TG4, J. I. Packer...The better question might be "Who doesn't?"

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Hi Bill:

I would like to interact with your recent response but I cannot master the method of replying to your blog. What method would you recommend? I do not use Blogspot, Wordpress or any of the other options you list. Isn't there some method by which I can reply simply using my name and email address?

Even if I can't do this because of these technical difficulties, two things briefly:

1. I am not aiming to diminish Calvin but to exalt the Reformed theological tradition of which he was an early major figure. Zwingli was the actual father of the tradition, and Calvin was a verybright light of the second generation. But by the eighteenth century, it seems that almost no one was reading him because he was out of print. And he was out of print because Reformed people thought that writers like Turretin were much more up to date and addressing questions of their own time. Early Princeton followed this trend and had their students read Turretin even though two Victorian translations of the Institutes were available. As is well known, Hodge did not follow Calvin on the Lord's Supper; neither did his contemporary in Edinburgh, William Cunningham, with whom he was very close. Cunningham, however, was one who praised Calvin as the greatest ever. I argue that Cunningham was caught up in the Victorian Calvinist revival.

2. About Hart and company, I should have said 'their _view_ is dangerous'

More in due course, I hope.

Ken Stewart, Ph.D.
Professor of Theological Studies

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

I suppose the follow up question is, What about their view is "dangerous"? And, second, "dangerous" in what sense? Soul-destroying? Or?

D G said...

Ken, how can the Dutch-American contrast between Reformed and evangelical be "out of character"? If the point of your book is to recognize the diversity of views among Reformed Protestants -- so that Calvin is not the benchmark -- then why is the Dutch-American view out of line? It seems like your understanding of diversity is theoretical, leaving your interpretation of Reformed Protestantism, not Calvin's, as the only one standing.

If you're really interested in diversity, why not let Reformed confessionalists into the club? Maybe it's because the Reformed who sympathize with revivals do prove the point about the tension between Reformed Protestantism and evangelicalism. If you're pro-revival, you have to drive the pro-church people out. Worked for Tennent.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Dr,Stewart tells me he continues to have problems posting to this site. I have checked settings to see if there is anything there that might block some from posting, and I can find nothing except the requirement that one type in the fuzzy letters and numbers which I understand is to prevent spam. But, then I am severely technologically challenged. At any rate, I have told him, should he not be able to post directly, I will post unedited any comments he sends me via email.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

From Dr. Stewart:

You have raised five main questions or issues about the book. Briefly, here are five responses.
1)The aim or purpose of the book is stated in the preface "Why _Ten Myths_?". I explain that the direction of Calvinism today is contested with many loud voices wishing to be heard and heeded. I wish to enable readers to listen to these sometimes conflicting voices discerningly, because not every claim made is to be taken seriously. The book is pitched at 3rd and 4th year college students.

2)Estimating Calvin's place in Protestant history. Bill, you try to resolve this by appealing to the philosopher, Mortimer Adler. I have made a different claim, reliant on such Reformation historians as Patrick Collinson, Graeme Murdoch, and Philip Benedict. In a nutshell, I maintain that our current adulation of Calvinism carries forward a Victorian view built up by the ignoring the significance of Calvin's fellow Reformers.

3)The Five Points. I have shown clearly enough that TULIP is an early 20th century made-in-America phenomenon that does not correlate well on a point-by-point basis with the actual Canons of Dordt. This is simply a matter of investigation of documents. I have maintained beyond that that as a Presbyterian pledged to support the Westminster Standards, I am only concerned to uphold the teaching of Dordt inasmuch as it is reflected (and it is reflected) in the Westminster Standards. The use of TULIP as a creed is both inexact and very subjective, in that the exposition of TULIP varies by expositor. You pose a number of TULIP related questions. If I answered them, I would do so with reference to our actual confessional documents.

4) About predestination. It is my argument that since the WCF does not apply the term 'predestination' to the lost and because the WCF gives prominence to the sins of the reprobate as furnishing the proximate grounds for their being passed over that it represents an ameliorated doctrine of predestination compared to what we find in the Institutes of 1559. If the moderate WCF III statement has close affinities, these affinities would be more with Bullinger and Martyr, whose doctrine of predestination was not simply interchangeable with that of Calvin. It is possible to say that WCF III teaches double predestination if one goes on to add the qualifier 'non-symmetrical', because the sins of the reprobate furnish a proximate ground for condemnation whereas the elect furnish no proximate ground for their own rescue.

5) Re. Revivals. It is not your opinion that the Reformation ought to be considered a revival. All I will say on this front is that I have shown that Reformation historians continued to describe the Reformation that way through the 1960's. I give at least three examples. Post-Reformation, I show that these events, inside the church and in the wider community, were occuring by 1600. Ultimately, the calendar for revivals is God's. My concern now is that a former Reformed habit of praying for revival and longing for revival has died, as though it was a fond relic of the past.

Ken Stewart, Ph.D.
Professor of Theological Studies
Dept. of Biblical & Theological Studies
Covenant College, Lookout Mountain GA 30750

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

A few comments:

No, I did not try to settle Calvin's place by appeal to Adler. I cited Adler as one more scholar, and one without a dog in this fight, who acknowledges Calvin's place in the history of Western thought. I am tempted to say that this whole thing is a debate among folks (including preeminently the Curmudgeon) who are not worthy to carry Calvin's jock strap to the gym. That said, it is fine with me for Dr. Stewart to contend for a less honored place for Calvin, though I think he is fighting a losing battle.

With regard to predestination Dr. Stewart and I just disagree as to how much space there is between Calvin and the Westminster divines.

With regard to the Five Points, I would be interested to have Dr. Stewart's responses using the language of the Confession and Catechisms, so long as I and/or others may ask how he understands those statements and how he believes they differ from the formulation of the Five Points. That said, I have no attachment to the Five Points as such. I think them inadequate for reasons already stated. They work to say who may not claim to be a Calvinist but they do not work to vindicate the claim. And, they are nowhere near an adequate statement of Calvinism as they do not touch on the covenant, baptism, order, worship, etc. which are addressed in Reformed (Calvinistic) theology and practice. But I do believe the doctrines summarized by the FPs.

RE the Reformation as a revival I have printed now a review of Dr. Mark Noll's book in which I quote Dr. Noll regarding the disconnect between the revivals which gave rise to Evangelicalism and the Reformation.

Don Frank said...

Seems to me that too many lines are drawn between the black and the white that no real debate can take place.

For example "If you're pro-revival, you have to drive the pro-church people out." Does that mean that pro-church people should not pray for a revival such that the Holy Spirit would add to the number of believers through the proclamation of His word, admittance to the church by baptism, and feeding on the body and blood of Christ in communion? I am certain that neither D.G. Hart nor Ken Stewart would agree with that statement.

Rather than simply drawing lines and castigating huge numbers of people, perhaps a dialogue can begin based on points of agreement. I know that sounds simple,but I think our Lord commands it.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

A few questions:

(1) What at the end of the day is Calvinism or Reformed theology? Is there any definition other than "having some historic connection to the theology that is popularly (though incorrectly?) thought to be associated with and descended from Calvin"? It appears to me that on Dr. Stewart's view Arminius is a Calvinist - that is, he held a view within the Calvinistic tradition that, while a minority view, is nevertheless a legitimate aspect of the tradition.

(2) What in Dr. Stewart's view is the difference (beyond the decision to chose two different words)of cause and effect between "predestinate" and "foreordain" in this statement? "By the decree of God...some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting life" (WCF III:3. Does foreordain in some way give away that the divines did not hold to double predestination? What distinction does Dr. Stewart see here beyond the decision of the divines to use "predestinate" of the elect only?

(3) What does Dr. Stewart think of the divines' view of divine permission when they state that providence "extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a mere permission...yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature..." (WCF V:4)?

(4) Does total depravity mean something other than what the divines say at WCF VII:4)?

(5) Does unconditional election mean something other than the divines say at WCF III:5?

(6) Does limited atonement mean something other than what the divines say at WCF III:3 and VIII:5,8?

(7) Does irresistible grace mean something other than what the divines say at WCF X:1?

(8) Does perseverance of the saints mean something other than what the divines say at XVII:1,2?

(9) In other words, whenever the five point come into usage, is there daylight between what the five points assert and what the WCF asserts?

(10) To borrow from George II who is the Decider of what is "Calvinistic"? Is there any confessional and/or ecclesiastical authority? Does Dr. Stewart in effect by his chapter "Recovering our Bearings" mean to say something other than it is Dr. Stewart and those of like mind who decide? I would prefer not to have either Dr. Stewart or Dr. Hart, to choose two, decide. It seems to me we need some more objective standard.

(11) I ask, would anyone, other than someone who wants to advocate that the Calvinistic road is exceedingly broad and the Calvinistic gate exceedingly wide, chose Dr. Stewart's book for an undergraduate class to introduce students to Calvinism?

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Don, I think your spirit here is right, one I would want to have and emulate. But, I think what you describe is not revival but the Spirit working his his ordinary way through the ordinary means of grace. What you describe is something which I as an Old Sider can accept completely.

Ken Stewart said...

I solemnly pledge that this will be my last response to your original post. I say this primarily because things have reached the point at which we are talking past one another. I have made sufficiently plain in my chapter on TULIP that there are correspondences between TULIP (as popularly held) and the WCF. But my point (which has eluded you)is that the TULIP terms are not confessional language. We may not know why the Westminster Divines did not choose words like 'Total', 'Unconditional' etc. but they didn't. It is my contention that the TULIP terminology frequently makes abrasive what the WCF states in a more measured way. The best example would be 'L' which neither Dordt nor Westminster uses. Dordt, in particular, uses language which is capacious to describe the value of Christ's death.
So, as much as you care to wrap yourself in the flag of Calvinism, it is apparent that the Calvinism you prefer is the abrasive Calvinism of the twentieth century. It is a free country. You get to choose. But it need not be so.
Your blog is your own property. But I have not found it a place for inquiry or for discussion, but for hectoring. Your are determined to keep people from bothering to read my book. I will let them decide. Adieu

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Ken, for the record, I have no desire whatsoever to keep people from reading your book. I reviewed your book at the request of Dominic Aquila. You have had an opportunity to respond by posting at my blog. I feel certain the AR would post a response from you. I hope folks will read your book. They can make their own determinations regarding your book and my review.

I would be the last one to want to identify with 20 century Calvinism. I much prefer to identify with the 16th and 17 century Calvinism.

Thanks for your responses and engagement in discussion. God bless and establish the work of both our hands as he sees fit.

D G said...

Ken, in case you are still reading, in your effort to make your case by wordsmithing, has it occurred to you that none of the Reformed confessions, Westminster included, use the word conversion as the later revivalists do? If you had, you might also have more reason for questioning the co-extensiveness of Reformed and evangelical.

Don Frank said...

Bill, thanks for acknowledging that the spirit of my comment is right. Obviously so since it is the Holy Spirit who made that comment, not me. Old Side, New Side, Old School, New School -- I'm very familiar with all the terms and some (not all, who can ever be that knowledgeable)of what is behind and involved with them. My point was that it is so easy to bind the Spirit by the letter when we ascribe a monolithic view to a single word or string of words. Take, for example, one of your barrage of questions to Ken: Does irresistible grace mean something other than what the divines say at WCF X:1?

How do you answeer a question like that? If you say "no," does that mean that the divines have said it all? If you say "yes," does that mean that I am non-reformed.

what if I say, the divines understood that the question itself implies the greatest of mysteries that can never be limited by our feeble minds or words, but can always be plumbed to an infinite depth because the words are only the faltering attempts of a finite mind remade in the image of God to experience, participate in, fellowship with, love and obey an infinite God.

The divines are very clear about conveying the mystery of irresistable grace when they acknowledge the coexistence of man's free will (as they come most freely) and God's inscrutable being (made willing by His grace).

The WCF must never be thought of as a scientific formula that one must either agree or disagree with, but rather as guard rails for constraining one's thoughts to God's mind as revealed in His Holy Word.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Don, I am not sure I get you. Are you saying your comment came from the Holy Spirit? Then, I do not know what you mean by "bind the Spirit by the letter". Is the letter the Word written or the Confession, or what? At any rate I think the Spirit and the Word say the same thing. Then, I am not sure how you want the Confession treated. For me, as an office bearer, it is the Confession of my faith, what I believe the Bible teaches. I voluntarily took the the vow noting any exceptions or clarifications. My view of the Confession is that it sets forth the system of doctrine taught in Scripture. As to a barrage of questions, this is the kind of thing that occurs in my experience often in presbytery exams and other settings as clarification is sought concerning a person's views or what he is saying/teaching. I think this is how understanding is obtained. I trust you know that to ask questions is not the same as to have ill will.

Don Frank said...

Bill, I was simply saying that the spirit of my comment which you said was right, and one that you would want to have and emulate can only be right if it agrees with (comes from)the Holy Spirit. We both know that the Holy Spirit commands brothers and sisters to agree with each other and not to split into opposing groups, but to be united in our understandning and opinions. (1 Cor 1:10).

I will address your other questions, but now have a meeting to run off to. More later.

D G said...

Don, and what do you do when the person who claims to be filled with the Holy Spirit is calling you unregenerate because you don't agree with him? Church history is filled with such examples. The First Pretty Good Awakening is one of them, with Gilbert Tennent leading the charge -- "The Danger of An Unconverted Ministry."

Don Frank said...

My point with regard to binding the Spirit by the letter is an analogy to Israel's binding of the Spirit by thinking that the law could be precisely codified in the Torah. I am suggesting that it is very easy, in the same way, to think that we have precisely codified, or can bind the Holy Spirit and His Word with a formulation (like WCF, etc.) that may look very precise, but, in fact, does not begin to scratch the surface of the Mystery. I suggest we do the same thing when we lump people into groups like reformed versus evangelical, or excluding someone as a Calvinist if they don't subscribe to a particular way of viewing TULIP.

Our Christian duty is to agree with each other and not to split into opposing groups. What I tried to point out is that you can't do that by asking questions that imply that there is only one right answer. Using the question about irresistable grace, I tried to show that I could argue both that it is resistable and irresistable without disagreeing with the WCF.

With regard to your barrage of questions, I thought that this was a forum for discussion, not a presbytery exam. Of course I agree that asking questions is not the same as to have ill will, but no one can deal with a barrage of quesitons, any one of which one could write multiple volumes of books in order to fully convey one's thoughts.

I am simply suggesting a more constructive way to ask questions in such a way as you have just done with me, whereby you reveal a little bit about how you think on the issue, ask the question, and then let your brother respond. I know it will take a lot longer to come to closure on an issue, but it is one way to slow things down a bit and interact more charitably.

D G said...

Don, if you read Bill's other post in which he reviews a book by me you might have a better sense of what my own views are. But if we followed your logic that our Christian duty is not to split into opposing groups, we would not be Protestants (assuming you are).

D G said...

Don, sorry, I meant to say Bill's post of a review of Mark Noll's book in which he interacts with a book by me.

D.J. Cimino said...

Can anyone point me to some printed material explaining the older understanding of conversion (old side) vrs the new side understanding. I'm not sure it was in The Lost Soul... or not. Thoughts?

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

DJ, others can better point you to printed materials, but the newest post might be of some interest to you.

D.J. Cimino said...

Just reading it (and loving it)! Thanks! And I certainly do welcome anyone's recommended resources...

Don Frank said...

D.G.,I have read the reviews and am somewhat familiar with both your's and Noll's perspectives on evangelicals. Though I am a member of a PCA church, I completely agree with you and Nevin about the fundamental incompatibility between revivalism and the historic branches of the Protestant Reformation; and that the former was subjective, individualistic, and didactic, while the latter was objective, corporate, and sacramental.

However, I suggest, as does Stewart, that this view does not require us to treat evangelicals and reformed as though they are "opposing groups". As Noll points out, The core ingredients of the evangelical movement are not at all opposed to historic reformational views.

In an earlier post, I referred to a proposition by Aquinas that grace presupposes as well as perfects nature. History clearly reveals the winnowing effect of the Spirit whenever the Church veers to either extreme of cold hearted liturgicalism (I guess this is not a word, but maybe it should be) and loosey-goosey experientialism. Nevertheless, the wheat and the tares continue to grow up together in the visible church.

Anonymous said...

Interesting debate, however just from an outsider's perspective the questions seems to me turns on what an evangelical is. Once you define that, the question as to whether or not Reformed folk (those who subscribe to one or more of the confessions of the 16th and 17th century) can be properly considered.

I tend to include Reformed folk as Evangelicals because of my reading of folk like Marsden, R. Scott Clark, John Bolt, Richard Muller, Michael Horton, etc... I base this on the historical prescident concerning the diversity amoung the Puritans over church government (Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Errastians, and Congregationalists), the nature of saving faith ( primacey of the intellect, will, or affections: see Ames v. Owen), and issues of conformity (some like Sibbes could conform more than Cotton-granted dif. time period but point stands). All of them considered each other Refomred and calvinistic and produced the some great confessional material. But the kicker for me was when I learned that they preached outside the normal congregational setting. They were willing to challenge the salvation of their opponents at times (pre Tennant); they preached on other days of the week besides sundays; they worked outside the normal ''ordinary'' ways of doing things. I do not see how Whitefield preaching in a field is that far off from Perkins preaching in a prison.

The funny thing is that no church has ever existed as DGH describes in his postings. I do not know him, but it comes accross that he is just bitter at his fundamentalist upbringing and he is bashing the current Reformed Status and is nothing more than a conservative Brian McClaren, always finding something at which to be angry. He had a golden illusion about what being ''truely Reformed'' is and NAPARC churches arn't like what he read in books, so he strikes out online on a pretty decent website.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

I don't think this is all that complicated, at least not for a simple minded curmudgeon like this one. I Catholic in the I confess the ecumenical creeds that determine what bodies and individuals even have a right to claim to be Christian.I am Evangelical in that I confess the truths held in common by the Reformers, Lutheran and Calvinistic. I am Reformed in that I confess the truths that are held in common by all the Calvinistic confessions.In particular I confess the truths that are stated in the WCF and Catechisms to which I am bound by vows. Now none of this is original or remarkable in any way. But, if I am asked what I am, this is my answer in terms of the confession of my faith.

D G said...

Don, I don't understand your point. If two groups are not in ecclesiastical fellowship, they may not be opposing but they aren't fraternal either. Are you saying that Presbyterians and Methodists are really on the same side? And what side exactly is that?

But if you think that a certain practice in the church is biblical, or that a certain practice is unbiblical, and another church goes against biblical teaching, that seems like grounds for some kind of opposition. Again, the Reformation comes to mind.

D G said...

Anon., do you have a therapist you can recommend, or do I have to wait for more analysis from you?

Randy said...

This review completes misses the point of the book and the thesis (not agenda) that Dr. Stewart has proffered based on massive amounts of historical data. The reviewer is exactly the type of Reformed thinker who needs to read this book, yet you have shut off any discussion from the start by ignoring the wealth (and I do mean wealth) of historical data. Instead of citing counter-historical data you have simply stuck to the typical conservative Reformed responses and ignored the evidence before you. This is actually agenda driven and unscholarly and is unbefitting of the excellent resource that Dr. Stewart has provided.

It seems to me that you are narrowly defining the Reformed tradition in a way that it has not historically been defined and yet you provide no historical evidence for your thesis; this shows that you have instead become agenda driven and not Dr. Stewart. What is the profit in narrowly defining what the Reformed tradition is, especially in the face of a varied and multifaceted picture of Reformed theology? Further, who has made you the gatekeeper of Reformed theology over against the multiplicity of confessions? You know what I call posts and response of this type: fundamentalism.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

I approached the book in two ways: (1) As an ordinary reader. It is as an ordinary reader that I found myself quite underwhelmed with the book as a piece of scholarship. The book had a an agenda from the get-go. It seemed to me not the sort of book one would use a an academic setting to teach historical variations on Calvinism. Frankly, it struck me a a book meant to produce a certain point of view on Calvinism in students at the college of my denomination. (2) As a minister of a confessional denomination. I am bound, as are all the other ministers of my denomination, to the Westminster Standards as containing (not in the Barthian sense of "contain") the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. The form of Calvinism taught in the Standards and accepted by me is a decidedly more robust and defined Calvinism than Dr. Stewart advocates. Were I to become convinced of the sort of Calvinism Dr. Stewart advocates I would be duty bound to inform my Presbytery. Now, it is quite fine with me for Dr. Stewart, Randy, or anyone else to think that I am wrong, that my appreciation of the scholarship reveals my lack of scholarship, that my Calvinism is meaner and harsher, or whatever. But, what is not OK is to get so worked up about someone's disagreeing about the value of and stance of the book.

Randy said...

I'm definitely not worked up because of the stance you take but because of the lack of substantial backing you provide for your stance. All scholarship is argument to some degree for one position over against another and thus in some sense "agenda driven." The issue becomes filling out this phrase "agenda driven" a bit more when you level it against someone or else it is simply an uninteresting proposition in the realm of scholarship since it is all more or less on a generic level "agenda driven."

Here is how I see your proposition becoming more interesting and a potential conversation starter rather than stopper as you've used it. There are different types of academic writings, some that we would call substantial scholarship and others that I would agree can be called "agenda driven."
What differentiates them? I would say that for something to be called scholarship it contains a thesis that is substantiated by the historical, theological, and biblical evidence provided (or whatever evidence depending on the area). To be agenda driven I would say that something must clearly be pressing its thesis as valid in spite of the fact that the evidence marshaled does not provide a clear or semi-clear undergirding for it.

If, we apply this schema to Dr. Stewart's work and your review, it becomes clear that your review is agenda driven while Dr. Stewart's work is clearly not. In what substantive ways have you provided historical, theological, and biblical evidence that are a counter-argument for your position over against Dr. Stewart's wealth of information? (on any reading Dr. Stewart has provided a sheer wealth of resources for his position and if you deny this I don't know that you've read his book well or generously) You have not provided much, if any evidence to justify your sweeping generalizations about the book, while Dr. Stewart's evidence clearly offers warrant for his thesis.

Instead of scholarly rebuttal, you have reverted to hallmarks of fundamentalism: shutting off conversation by attacking another's position, yet providing no counter-arguments to substantiate your own viewpoint and further you attempt to be the "gatekeeper" for Reformed theology at large. It would be perfectly fine in my mind for you to critique Dr. Stewart's work if you had provided some type of argument that merited the criticisms. You have not done so and definitely not to the level and degree that Dr. Stewart has in his work. Dr. Stewart lists source after historical source that augment his position clearly and cogently; you have failed to do so in a pithy and vitriolic review.

If you want to make the broad (and incorrect in my mind) statements you have, I'd recommend going through the book chapter by chapter and offering counter-historical arguments and evidence in favor of your position. This would further the conversation and if done correctly, I believe would disallow you from making the negative statements you have above. There simply is an overwhelming spate of evidence against what you are arguing for above.

Facts are facts and even though we want to press our own interpretations upon them, when all is said and done, they are still facts. To deny them as you have is as I've said above fundamentalistic and agenda driven.

Randy said...

One more issue I have with what you've said: what is so "robust" about the Westminster Standards? Why are they more robust than the other confessional documents of Reformed theology? Robust is defined as strong and healthy or vigorous and for you to claim that what you adhere to is more "robust" than what Dr. Stewart has sketched is question begging and again, agenda driven.

For readers of this blog, I'd ask that you read the endorsements on the book and further, find other more generous and even-handed reviews (non-agenda driven reviews) before you decide whether or not to read this book. This is coming from someone who is not PCA and who doesn't necessarily agree with everything that Dr. Stewart has sketched in the book. Yet, it is a fine piece of historical-theological scholarship and should be required reading for all on Reformed history and theology.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

How narrow are the broad? I once wrote for an evangelical Christian worldview publication, advocating the sparing by Gov.Bush of Carla Tucker the death penalty, and, while the writing was praised, the risk could not be taken of confusing the readers by publishing it. The review of the Nevin Bio posted in the next blog was rejected by an e-mag serving the whole Reformed world because of the risk of confusing younger men and because poor Nevin was a depressive and suicidal, though you would never hear anything from the same folk but sympathy and admiration for Cowper who actually attempted suicide several times and died in despair. And,now here the broad Calvinists have got their underwear in a wad because of one critical book review by an inconsequential person. Personal emails have been even more accusatory and condemning. Broadness, tolerance, openness seem to be honored in the breach. For my part, I am happy for anybody to say anything they want to say wherever they can get published, including here. BTW, Randy says I am a fundy - though one who comes eating and drinking and associating with sinners like D.G. Hart. Go figure.

D.J. Cimino said...

The F word (fundy) in Christian circles is meant to be the equivalent of the F word out in the secular world... Good thing your a curmudgeon or you might have gotten your feelings hurt.

D G said...

Randy, so you don't care for Bill's view of the Westminster Confession. Then how about Calvin's catechism? Oh, but wait, we're not supposed to follow Calvin slavishly either.

Where is a Reformed Protestant to turn? Lookout Mountain, Georgia?

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Not a bad formula from Bud Powell:

Generic and formulary response to any theological demurrer;
First: You didn't understand me [I am smarter than you].
Second: How do you know so much? [You are arrogant]
Third: You are not loving. [If you loved me you could not disagree.]

Don Frank said...

D.G., This thread is now a week old, which in the world of blogging makes it as stale as a loaf of bread left at room temperature for the same amount of time. However, I am not a typical blogger with regard to my frequency of monitoring or responding to blogs, while, at the same time, am convicted of a form of courtesy that obligates me to respond to questions sincerely asked of me. Therefore, as I am now in a position to answer the questions posed in your last post to me, I take fingers to keyboard in an attempt to respond, even if we are so far beyond that thread of discussion that you may never return to that stale bread. At least my conscience will be clear 
Before answering your questions, however, I think it necessary that you better understand my theological perspective, since your perspective is much better known to me through all that you have written. Yet, I will try to be as brief as possible. First off, I am not a scholar, though an avaricious reader of theology and commentaries from the beginning of the Church age to the present. I was raised in a nominally Christian setting and habitually observed the Lord’s Day in accordance with the evangelical Lutheran liturgy. After high school, I became a prodigal son until the age of 40 when I began a daily regimen of reading scripture, and understood for the first time what repentance really means. From then, until my present age of 55, I devoured anything that would assist me to better appreciate Scripture, gravitating quickly to a reformed understanding. Of course this included much time in studying Calvin’s ICR, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and many other reformed writings, confessions, and commentaries. I suppose this upbringing has indoctrinated me to think of the WCF and catechisms as a magnificently comprehensive, yet rudimentary guide or guard rails for penetrating the majesty and mystery of the Holy Trinity as revealed in God’s Word.
I have told you all of this so that you may appreciate that my theology has not been developed through a formal, disciplined approach as a seminary student’s or biblical scholar’s, and, consequently, while fully appreciating and relying on systematic constructs of scripture, I value systematics more as a means to experience the Mystery of God, which I believe is expressed equally well, if not better, by poetic constructs.
Now to your questions: 1.) “Are you saying that Presbyterians and Methodists are really on the same side? I say, absolutely, and would quote Paul to the Corinthians when he mocked them saying “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas” to which, today we could add Calvin, Wesley, Machen and Van Til; 2.) “And what side exactly is that?” I would again quote Paul to the Corinthinians asking “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”; 3.) if “another church goes against biblical teaching, that seems like grounds for some kind of opposition.” Here, I would quote our Lord when He responded to John’s statement that “we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. Jesus said unto him, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against you is for you.”
Now, I would like to ask you two questions. What kind of “opposition” are you thinking of? What are the “grounds” to which you are referring?

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Don, you are right that in the blogging world this is very old. I am surprised it still has any life at all. But out of 410 views to date, 35 have occurred in the last 24 hours, so it is not dead yet but surely on its last legs. Of the blogs I have written over the past month and a half or so, this has received the second greatest number of hits. Perhaps it scratches an itch of interest.

D G said...

Don, the kind of opposition I am referring to is that practiced by any number of the Reformed theologians you have read for encouragement. Calvin's polemics are notable and he opposed Anabaptists and Roman Catholics (obviously). Also, Machen was a polemical writer and opposed union efforts that would compromise Presbyterian teaching and practice.

And that would be the standard for such opposition -- what the Reformed churches profess and teach, not because it is Reformed but because Reformed Protestantism is what the Bible teaches.

Don Frank said...

D.G., Thanks - that really helps me to understand your position better. I suspect I might throw the reformed net a bit wider than you, but if we all perfectly agreed, how could we possibly continue to reform (I mean this rhetorically, not as another question to keep this particular discussion going)? :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

from a letter to Stewart before publication

The best book published by IVP on Calvinism so far has been “No Place for Sovereignty” by McGregor Wright. Since then, books like “Why I am not an Arminian” have been rigidly infra-lapsarian. It’s like an echo of Piper and Carson: “hey, we are Arminians also!”

Of course I do remember that IVP published Packer’s “Knowing God” which has that great line in it about Arminian atonement having the potential of a loaded gun which merely needs somebody to pull the trigger.

I see two main problems with the idea of “development”. One is an implicit assumption that the trajectory is going in either a good way or a bad way. Like you, the more I know about the history, the more I know this is too simple. Even when I see that Nevin was more right about what Calvin wrote about the eucharist than Hodge was, even when I am shocked by what Hodge really wrote about the atonement, none of this causes me to think now is better or that the past was that good.

Pluralism means that there’s a big difference between Scott Clark’s idea of covenant and Robert Rayburn Jr’s. And neither of them sound very much like the Crossway guys who quote each other (Piper, Carson, Grudem, Driscoll). So how can we talk about the development of Calvinism? Which Calvinism?

I can talk about this without a political interest. I don’t have a job which depends on me being the right kind of “Calvinist”.or still being also an “evangelical”. I am on the margins. Because I fervently believe in the Christ whose death actually saves the elect, I am even a baptist and a pacifist.

I also like to expose myths internal to Calvinists. John Owen and Toplady, who were somewhat less "aplogetic" than you, would think that the real myths here are the answers given by today’s Calvinists.

To avoid myths, the complicated and messy past (and present) cannot be ignored. Where are the margins? Where are the boundaries between what’s real Calvinism now and what used to be but is no longer?

mark mcculley