More on handling theological differences between brothers in Christ

In a recent conversation via Google Buzz between a couple of Reformed brethren and myself I was told the following:

Nathan White – Wes-
I don’t see Calvinism starting with philosophy because it starts with what scripture explicitly says, that we were chosen, predestined, and even that God created vessels of wrath and mercy for His specific purposes, and then moves on from there and forms compatibalism based upon statements of God’s love, and inferences that God holds men accountable for their actions. Molinism cannot exegete a text in context and form a doctrine, and let that doctrine help interpret other tough passages, but Calvinists can easily do so with the explicit statements of Romans 9.

Scripture says that God is sovereign completely, and that man is held responsible for his and Adam’s sin. Those are two seeming contradictions, but not so in the mind of God. Molinism, at the end of the day, leaves sovereignty in the hands of man…completely.

Aaron Sauer – Only the Holy Spirit will open Wes’ eyes to the deep truths of scripture. Lord willing, one day he will realize that salvation is 100% of the Lord

Here’s my reply:

Aaron, come now. Please don’t be so disingenuous as to place foreign words into my mouth. I have never said that salvation is not 100% from the Lord nor will I. As Nathan has rightly stated, our differences lie not necessarily in our commitment to Christ or the truth of Scripture but in philosophy.

Nathan, I don’t see how you can claim philosophical immunity for your theological system and I don’t see how quoting Scripture we both agree is Holy and inspired helps your case any.

Molinism is built (as the Calvinist Alvin Plantinga states) on the twin notions of sovereignty and the limited free will of humans. I know it is popular to claim that Calvinism holds to a higher view of sovereignty than any other theological system (including Molinism) however I ask that you do Molinists like myself the charity of not redefining our words for us and simply accept it when we say that we in fact do hold to God’s complete soverignty over all of His creation.

Again, the issue here is in how we define sovereignty and what philosophical presuppositions we bring to bear on the texts. You seem to think (along with most Calvinists) that Romans 9 is wholly unanswerable from anything short of a hard causally deterministic view. I believe men like Geisler and Yarnell have done an excellent job of pointing out how, while the Bible does teach and confirm the doctrine of election, Romans 9 is not an apt text to use for God’s willful violation or robotic control of mankind’s will (which was given to him by God as beings created in His image).

I think a helpful place for us to start from would be to acknowledge and accept that Calvinism is built on a particular (no pun intended) philosophy (which I would argue is closely related to the Stoicism that Calvin wrote his doctoral dissertation on).

The question then is how well the underlying philosophy which guides the exegesis from a Calvinistic point of view answers all the questions raised by Scripture vs competing theological systems such as Molinism. The question is not, however, which one is “based on philosophy” vs “based on scripture” as the notion of a theological system devoid of philosophical input is simply incoherent.

The bottom line is that we really have to learn how to disagree and fight strenuously but fairly if we want to see the broken body of Christ healed in a real and meaningful sense.

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5 responses to “More on handling theological differences between brothers in Christ

  1. Your defense of Molinism here makes me proud to a Molinist. If this is the best they can do (little more than veiled insults, really), then we are in great shape. No offense to Calvinists who don't use those sorts of "arguments" is intended.

  2. Nice job defending middle knowledge from these guys. I noticed that there arguments were not so much arguments as personal attacks. I think you handled that well.

    • Why thank you, I've also been trying to use my encounters with my reformed brethren as training ground for more intense debates with non-believers. Better to mess up here, I figure, than there 🙂

  3. It is Amazing to me how many of my "reformed" brethren have no problem with a system of hermeneutics/theology that makes God responsible for evil. Might does not make right. Perhaps they place what is in the heart of man (if i were all powerful and Sovereign nothing would happen outside my will) onto a maximally perfect being, our loving GOD! Shame I say.

  4. I don’t see Calvinism starting with philosophy because it starts with what scripture explicitly says, that we were chosen, predestined, and even that God created vessels of wrath and mercy for His specific purposes, and then moves on from there and forms compatibalism based upon statements of God’s love, and inferences that God holds men accountable for their actions.

    It's amazing that the church fathers did not get this from what Scripture "explicitly says". I guess the church did not have a correct theology until the 16th century.

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