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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Together for the Calvinism?

Why No SBC Committee on Lutheranism?


Over at First Things David Koyzis has raised the question of why the Southern Baptist Convention has had to have a committee study the matter of Calvinism but has not had the need (and almost certainly never will have the need) to study the matter of Lutheranism within the Convention. His answer is that ecclesiology is much more integral to Lutheranism than to Calvinism as it has developed. When one becomes Lutheran by conviction one must join a Lutheran church (denomination), while when one becomes a Calvinist one need not join a Presbyterian or Reformed church (denomination).

Why is it that a Lutheran must be a Lutheran while a Calvinist need not be a Presbyterian? In America (and Great Britain) Calvinists have managed to isolate Calvin's soteriology from the rest of his system. Calvin devoted a great amount of space in his Institutes to the sacraments and polity, but Calvinists can ignore these and other parts of his system, yet claim to be Calvinists. 

In my view what Calvinists have done is to limit Calvin's whole theology to something even less than his soteriology. They have defined Calvinism in terms of the post-Calvin Five Points. If you accept total and radical depravity, unconditional election, definite atonement, irresistible grace, and the preservation and perseverance of the saved, you are a Calvinist. You can deny the necessity and efficacy of paedo-baptism, the real Presence of Christ in the Holy Supper, and the connectional nature of the church and be a Calvinist in good standing. There is no inconsistency in or challenge to being both Calvinist and Baptist. 

In fact Calvinism is now stretched beyond granting Baptists the right to call themselves Reformed. You can now be Charismatic and Reformed. Witness the togetherness of say Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, and C.J. Mahaney. These men and others make up a Presbyterian-Baptist-Charismatic Coalition of Calvinists. 

One is always happy when brothers can acknowledge the points of doctrine on which there is agreement. One is thankful when there are friendships and affirmations of unity among brothers. At the same time one could wish that these affirmations and relationships might result in coalitions of Calvinists (now using Calvinism as standing for Calvin's comprehensive system), Lutherans, and Anglicans. 

Perhaps it is only one part of the explanation for the alliance of Presbyterians, Baptists, and Charismatics who hold the Five Points, but I think that this unity is found historically in the Awakenings and consequentially in revivalism and experimentalism. What this means is that is that, while the doctrines (TULIP) are important, what is even more important is experience. 

It is not grace as the source and cause of salvation, but a certain form of the experience of the grace of salvation that unifies. Confessional Lutherans and Anglicans are also saved by grace, though many of them cannot identify with the "born againism" of the Charismatic-Baptist-Presbyterian Calvinists who are the heirs of the Awakenings. The difference is not salvation by grace through faith, but how one experiences salvation ("gets saved). 

This explains, too, the tension among Old Side and New Side Presbyterians. The New Side's concern about the danger of unconverted ministers is grounded not in the doctrine, profession, or practice of ministers but more in their reserve about the revivals and their not personally participating in or promoting the experientialism of the revivals. Old Side ministers and their congregations and people are viewed as orthodox in doctrine and life, but perhaps dead or nearly so spiritually. Old Side Presbyterians have an affinity for the historic piety of Lutherans and Anglicans, while New Side Presbyterians have an affinity for those who may reject the whole counsel of Calvinism but have the lively experiences associated with Calvinists who participated in the revivals. 

As Sonny and Cher would say, "And the beat goes on..." 




4 comments:

Roy Miller said...

Perhaps it is only one part of the explanation for the alliance of Presbyterians, Baptists, and Charismatics who hold the Five Points, but I think that this unity is found historically in the Awakenings and consequentially in revivalism and experimentalism. What this means is that is that, while the doctrines (TULIP) are important, what is even more important is experience.

I would beg to differ. Even to differ very strenuously.

When you consider that the common roots of Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists are all as members of the Puritan movement (and so we must include Anglicans like Bishop Ussher, a century before the Awakenings) AND when you consider the cross pollination between Scot Presbyterians, English Puritans and Dutch Reformed of the Further Reformation, all having their roots in the 1500s and their cross connectedness arising at least in the late 1500s, you must come to the conclusion that the Awakenings and the unity between the various groups is not in a shared experience but in a shared theology and praxis that long anteceded even the First Great Awakening.

Curt Day said...

What I would like to suggest, and this is from my personal experience with blogs, is this: that the more any group, but here I am referring to Calvinists, demands that their whole system be accepted, the more difficult it is for them to celebrate agreements with other groups.

The above is not a hard and fast rule but it is the tendency I have seen.

But if I can go on from here, this principle seems to apply in both religious matters and civil matters. And I think that when we can't prioritize what is essential from what is both important but expendable depending on what sphere one is working in, we are obliged to be more fault-finding, judgmental, and thus self-separating from others. And this is a human problem, not just a problem exhibited by specific Christian subcultures.

It is good when we can celebrate areas of agreement and work together. But perhaps the insistence of holding to any whole system and celebrating individual agreements are semi-incompatible.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/how-many-points/

Curt Day said...

First, thank you for the link. I added the link to the blog to my list of blogs to read.

But my concerns as both an activist on the Left and someone coming from the Reformed Theological tradition can be seen in the link below:

Why The Reformed Church Cannot Work For Peace

I very much appreciate and respect your blog here and if you have the time and interest, would appreciate your feedback on the blogpost provided.