Theological Comfort Foods
by Mason Slater
January 12, 2012
Over the holidays I read through For Calvinism and Against Calvinism, by Michael Horton and Roger Olson respectively. Both authors were thoughtful, persuasively argued for their given position, and showed a rare level of graciousness towards their theological opponents. You could hardly ask for better guides if you are set on wrestling with the theology of Calvinism.
I couldn’t help but think, however, that the entire Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate increasingly seems like a sort of theological comfort food.
It’s a foray into a classic argument with well worn arguments, nostalgic turns of phrase, famous theologians, and most importantly everyone is playing by more-or-less the same rules. We know this argument, and although it may seem intractable, that is almost a part of the charm now as the two Titans battle it out endlessly in college dorms, classrooms, pulpits, and pews.
That predictability, that comfort in the familiar, draws us in and reminds us of simpler days. Because, no matter how heated it gets, the history of the Calvinist and Arminian debate usually plays out by a well defined set of rules and keeps us far from the troubling questions raised in contemporary debates over evolution, sexuality, the New Perspective (or post-New Perspective), postmodernism, and gender roles: questions like “What sort of book is the Bible actually?” or “How do we go about reading the text after assuming for so long our lens is objective when it has now proved to be anything but?” or even “What does it mean to take the Bible seriously in its historical context and narrative instead of seeing it as a repository of timeless doctrines?”
Those questions of contextualization and hermeneutics, raised by everyone from N.T. Wright to Christian Smith, play out in every area of theology and are some of the most pressing discussions facing the church today.
One glance down that path and it is easy to see the potential for it to lead towards a significant rethinking of many areas of theology, and so, wary of even beginning, we revert to the comfort of bashing the heartless Calvinists or theologically inept Arminians – because they’re not really the enemy, just the opposing team in a game we’d really prefer to keep playing.
In other words, it is theological comfort food.
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