According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, April 3, 2014

John Fyre's Review of "The Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed," Parts 1-2

Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed
Part 1

by John Frye
May 21, 2014

Young, Restless, and no longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey in and out of Calvinism caught my attention and I read it through in one sitting. I will do a two part review beginning with some observations and commentary. In Part 2 we will look closer at the book’s provocative content.

Monday, March 17, 2014, and many University of Michigan Wolverines’ fans are down in the dumps because the Michigan State Spartans won the Big Ten crown with the score 69 to 55 on March 16. Now imagine that a Young, Restless and Reformed neo-Calvinist is a rabid Wolverine fan and Austin Fischer, author of Young, Restless, and no longer Reformed, is a rabid Spartan fan. Believing as all evangelicals do that theology should inform and transform life, we would expect to see the YRR neo-Calvinist sitting motionless and silent as the Big Ten tournament game unfolds. His theology requires such a response. 

Meanwhile, Austin is beside himself with joy as the Michigan State Spartans continue play but gets very concerned when the Michigan Wolverines start a scoring streak. Similarly, the YRR guy knows that before God created anything, in the deeps of eternity past God willed an exhaustive, eternal decree so meticulous that all nano-particles do only what God’s decree contains. One nano-particle out of sync with God’s decree totally destroys (so he is taught) God’s sovereignty. The YRR cannot cheer for the Wolverines nor can he scream at the Spartans. Why? The final score (the end) and all the plays that lead to it (the means) are just as they are because God decreed them so. Did I write “God”?  The only proper response of the YRR guy is to say, no matter how the game turns out, “Glory to God.”

Watch out for Pelagianism! (sic, a follower of Pelaius who denied original sin and believed in freedom of the will)...


Wikipedia - Pelagianism

Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid. This theological theory is named after Pelagius (354 420 or 440), although he denied, at least at some point in his life, many of the doctrines associated with his name.

The teachings of Pelagius are generally associated with the rejection of original sin and the practise of infant baptism.[1] Although the writings of Pelagius are no longer extant, the eight canons of the Council of Carthage provided corrections to the perceived errors of the early Pelagians. These corrections include:

  • Death did not come to Adam from a physical necessity, but through sin.
  • New-born children must be baptized on account of original sin.
  • Justifying grace not only avails for the forgiveness of past sins, but also gives assistance for the avoidance of future sins.
  • The grace of Christ not only discloses the knowledge of God's commandments, but also imparts strength to will and execute them.
  • Without God's grace it is not merely more difficult, but absolutely impossible to perform good works.
  • Not out of humility, but in truth must we confess ourselves to be sinners.
  • The saints refer the petition of the Our Father, "Forgive us our trespasses", not only to others, but also to themselves.
  • The saints pronounce the same supplication not from mere humility, but from truthfulness.[2]

Some codices containing a ninth canon (Denzinger, loc. cit., note 3): Children dying without baptism do not go to a "middle place" (medius locus), since the non reception of baptism excludes both from the "kingdom of heaven" and from "eternal life". Pelagianism stands in contrast to the official hamartiological system of the Catholic Church that is based on the theology of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Semi-Pelagianism is a modified form of Pelagianism that was also condemned by the Catholic Church at the Second Council of Orange in 529.


... This is the most dreadful feature of human experience according to Calvinists. Not a nanoparticle of Pelagianism must contaminate the pure atmosphere of “sovereign grace.” A nanoparticle of Pelagianism is worse than the most massive and despicable evil. Yet, if all is decreed and the human will ultimately does not matter, Austin Fischer writes, “Are you are expected to act as though it [the will] does? You're supposed to run on the treadmill and pretend you’re running the race of faith. This forces you into the awkward position of seemingly suspending your theology in order to live faithfully—because living faithfully requires living with meaning - and living with meaning requires choice. You believe that God determines all things, and yet act as though your will is not completely determined” (97-98 emphasis his).

So the YRR cheers for the Wolverines. Does God really decree people to be happy and to love? This produces theological schizophrenia in the minds of Calvinists because the Trinity they worship is schizophrenic (Fischer, 47; a point made also by Gregory Boyd in God at War, see, e.g., 231-237).

I know this tension myself because like Scot McKnight, who wrote the Foreword, Austin Fischer, and I myself, were once glowing, convinced Calvinists. Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology was my devotional material. I was a mixed up Calvinist, however, because while theologically a Calvinist, I was a peddler of the Four Spiritual Laws (a dreadful Arminian document). I got so frustrated once with a person I was “witnessing to” on a Chicago commuter train that when he resisted my “gospel presentation,” I told him, “The reason you don’t believe is because you’re not one of the elect!” I shudder at having to give an account to Christ for that outburst.

Calvinists must contemplate the implications of their theology. I do not see how it does not drive them nuts. A wise theologian and excellent preacher once told me that “neurotic” is the only word he could find to describe the esteemed David Brainerd as he wrote his journal entries struggling to know if he was elect or not.

It seems one would have to hold Calvinism in suspension while going about daily life. That is, until you need to teach or debate it. The heart of Calvinism’s gospel is a view of God’s sovereignty that is not shaped enough by the mangled-lamb Savior, Jesus the Christ, and the love of God.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed
Part 2

by John Frye
May 28, 2014

We are reviewing Austin Fischer’s Young, Restless, and no longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism. I agree with Fischer’s take on the biblical and pastoral weaknesses of Calvinism. I want to focus on four of his many excellent and provocative observations.

First, no one becomes a Calvinist from just reading the Bible. To the YRRs who say, “Calvinism is on every page of the Bible,” I would like to see the concordance on that. On the other hand, the relational interplay between God (divine will) and people (human will) is almost on every page of the Bible. People have to be taught an interpretive, systematic grid based on a handful of beloved Calvinist texts that, like Kool-Aid in water, color the whole Bible. No one doubts that the Calvinist system is pristine, even intoxicating. It’s like a theological creation of Lego pieces, so intricately interlocked. I do remember as a new Calvinist being deeply humbled by the system’s definition of “sovereign grace.”

Second, when you take away the Calvinist fig leaf which is woven with terms like “mystery,” “passing over,” and “antinomy,” the naked God of the eternal, meticulous decree is not a God Who loves everyone; he  [loves] / selects only his elect.

I like the way Austin dismantles the Calvinist two kinds of love (24-25). My opinion is that the game of arranging the ordo salutis is a task of presumptive humans trying to read the mind of God in eternity past.

Many people are waking up to the “unblinking cosmic stare” (Dallas Willard) God created by any version of TULIP.

I remember riding a tour bus in Mumbai, India, and seeing literally thousands of people up and down every street. I was in a city of millions of people who in the minds of many are reprobate, eternally damned to hell; decreed so by the God I worship; predestined to hell for God’s glory. If that’s so, then glory sounds like a treacherous word.  Fischer suggests the God of Calvinism becomes One Who is so turned in on himself for his own glory that he becomes the cosmic Black Hole (14-15).

Third, many texts used to create systematic Calvinism have been shown to be misused. I think Fischer does a good job poking back at the Calvinist misuse of Romans 9 (and Gregory Boyd reclaims many misused texts in God at War). Austin’s section on the Bible made impossible is provocative (33-35). The hermeneutical and theological gymnastics that Calvinists use to diffuse “the plain reading of Scripture” is laughable, if not so seriously twisting the sacred text. Fischer suggests that these differing views of the same texts are traceable to bliks (or theologoumenon - a theological statement deriving from an individual opinion and not doctrine) - interpretive lenses through which everything is understood (81-82).

Fourth, and for me most convincingly, Fischer makes clear that the Calvinist God is not the God we see in the face of Jesus Christ. Fischer writes, “… [T]he crucified Jesus is both the foundation and criticism of all Christian theology. … And so, plainly, does the God on the cross look like the God of Calvinism” (45)? 

Fischer makes a good case for the answer “no.” When we start with Jesus on the cross and work back and forward through the Bible, we do not meet the Platonic-concept-of-perfection-God espoused by Calvinism.

Are there godly, kind Calvinists? Yes, I know many. Are there pesky Arminians and irritating open theists? I imagine there are. I like this from Fischer, “I think Calvinists are right on some things, kind of wrong on some things, and really wrong on some things” (90-91).

Some years ago the senior pastor of a large Assembly of God Church told me this story. He met with the denominational leaders of the Christian Reformed Church to discuss church growth in West Michigan. The Assembly’s pastor thanked the Reformed leaders for filling his church and many other Assemblies churches. The Reformed leaders were a little taken back, asking, “How did we do that?” The pastor said, “By preaching your view of God so faithfully. Thank you. People from your churches flock to ours to escape a wrathful, unpleasable God and they find in our churches a God who so ravishingly loves them that he chases them down with passionate desire.”

We can argue Pelagianism, Arminianism, semi-Pelagianism, Open theism, and Calvinism ad infinitum. Yet, people, ordinary people, just want to know “What kind of God is at the center of the universe?” At the center of reality is there a meticulously determined decree or a “Lamb, looking as it if had been slain”?

I appreciate Austin Fischer and his book for sparking a fair and amiable conversation on such a vital topic: what is the nature and purpose of God?

Select Comments

messytheologyComing from a strong Calvinist background, I would and still do answer that question with the Westminster catechism's "for His glory!" However, having been beaten up by life and having wrestled with the Word, my understanding of what brings Him glory has radically changed from subservient worship to relational delight. I deeply appreciate Calvinism's emphasis on His total sovereignty and His supremacy over all, but I secretly suspect that Calvinism's image of an aloof, severe, meticulous schoolmaster is more the product of left-brained, middle-class, northern European values than one of Scripture. Try reading the Bible as an untouchable Eastern woman would. There's a reason that reformed churches are packed with white, middle class engineers and philosophers, while charismatic churches attract the socially marginalized, wounded, and spiritually sensitive.

deanI would like to add something that I think I heard Austin say in his debate with James White, which is that "people have no reason to trust the Calvinist God. If all God cares about is his glory, and he is willing to create billions of people in his own image to suffer eternally for the express purpose of revealing his glory to a certain select few, how can you trust him to ever look out for your interests?"

This kind of God, as Calvinists like to say, thinks of human beings as fungi, we're completely dispensable and subject to his sovereign whims. This God can do anything he wants, even to cause people to do evil, is not bound by any moral duty, and in fact, we can never even understand the rules by which he might interact with us.

The Calvinist will respond that you look to the Bible for revelation of God's love, but that really applies only to the Elect, the reprobate are god-forsaken in every sense of the word, and if he can treat the reprobate like trash, how can anyone be certain that they will always be in his good graces?

In real life, no one trusts people like that, we look to how people treat others to determine their character and whether or not we think they are trustworthy. The arbitrariness and capriciousness of the Calvinist God is not trustworthy in any sense of the word, you placate this kind of God, you don't worship him.

I find it hard to understand how Calvinists can be so flippant about the fate of the reprobate, if there is one message that the Bible teaches about the heart of the Christian God it is that he consistently sides with the marginalized, the outcast, the downtrodden, the poor, basically the dregs of societyHow ironic is it that there would be followers of Jesus who would embrace a theology that fundamentally rests on a caste system foreordained by God where they happen to be the ones who are "in" and everyone else is "out"?

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