Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write off the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, April 4, 2014

Chrisitan Orthodoxy, Fundamentalism, Conservative Evangelicals, and Emergent Faith

The Difference between “Orthodoxy” and “Fundamentalism”

What Attracts People into the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement?


by Roger Olson

The Broader History of Evangelicalism and Christian Orthodoxy

Russian Orthodox Dispute on the Confession of Faith, by Nikita Pustosviat

Too often I have felt the personal conflict of having to "chose sides" between the various branches of faith within my older days of denominational Christianity. As the chart below will show - and Dr. Olson, goes on to describe - these choices become further limited by our personal flexibility within the ecclesiastical arrangement of our doctrinal preferences, and by our participation or membership within a church, association, synod or denomination. For myself, I grew up Baptist. However, my Baptist heritage was planted strongly within the Reformed tradition making me preference that arrangement. But within that Reformed tradition my church did appreciate the strengths of Arminianism while also attempting to reconcile the TULIP doctrines of Calvinism (which for me was always schizophrenic at best). Hence my baptist church balanced between both strong views even as each were very separate in theological perspective from the other. One sees God as a God of love. The other as a God of judgment. One sees God's grace as elect for all to receive. While the other sees it effectually limited by divine election. One favors a free will creation as predestined by God. The other sees that free will as a fundamental divide that is plague-and-curse rather than divine blessing-and-gift.

One Baptist pastor once described this arrangement between the two doctrinal divides simplistically as "A Calvinist on our knees and Arminian by our witness." It was a statement based upon a hybrid of doctrinal ideas from two different church traditions that once were one before the Canons of Dort split them apart long eons ago. But this was also a statement that was conflicted in its observations and not at all as helpful as I once had thought when looking back on it. But because my dad was raised Baptist, our family was subsequently raised Baptist (and more specifically, a GARB Baptist, as a member constituent within the General Association of Regular Baptist churches). Consequently, we identified with the more conservative elements of Fundamental Baptists within the larger Evangelical tradition - a tradition that had begun several hundred years earlier though I little realized this historical fact until much later in life. What I did know was that Christian Fundamentalism was a religious reaction to early 20th Century scientism and secular modernism. And yes, I was a fundamentalist through my early adult years before becoming an evangelical one once leaving my Baptist church for a nondenominational bible church at university. And then later attending a formerly fundamental bible college that was transitioning, like myself, back towards the broader embraces of evangelicalism.

But it was a personal move that began in my university years and did not complete itself until I was married ten or twelve years later. Those were also years of great personal change and upheaval. And yet, even then, within those newer assemblies of faith, I still had the burden of processing my fundamentalist background against the evangelical predilections of my newer brothers and sisters who I thought too liberal in life and doctrine. Even so, I would later learn that fundamentalism was birthed out of the evangelical movement - and not the other way around - across the many branches of denominational churches during the Billy Sunday era of the early 1900s. While under the Billy Graham crusades of the 1960s-70s evangelicalism began to arise again. (A perceptive historian will note that each movement was birthed out of social disorder - the industrial age and depression for one; the civil unrest birthed by inequality of civil liberties and the Vietnam War for the other. Not unlike my own disorders that I was experiencing.) How curious, I thought, to have to re-learn things I thought I knew, and was so familiar with, and yet, I had the history of the event backwards!

Generally, evangelicalism tries to center itself around Jesus whereas fundamentalism will add some further do's and don'ts into the Christian life to help "sanctify" it a bit more (skirt lengths below the knees, no drinking, dancing, swearing, or going to movies with girls that do, etc). But even more curiously, the more conservative elements within today's evangelical churches are themselves moving back towards a hybridized mix of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. We would call this resulting movement a neo-evangelical movement into fundamentalism (neo = new). A movement that would reduce the breadth of evangelicalism to a stricter set of dogmatic particulars. Whereas historical evangelicalism once had spanned all Reformed denominations to even include non-Reformed church groups like Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Anabaptists, and Pentecostals. But always with Jesus at the center and church dogmas on the peripheries.

Even so, evangelicalism began to preference Reformed dogma, and more especially, Calvinistic dogma, as its congregants have been taught to fight scientism with skepticism. To refuse any adjustments to its closed hermeneutics of inerrancy. To pretext every context, and context every pretext. To lift up, and re-define, Calvinistic ideas of predestination and election into more excluding dogmas. And to generally exclude a lot of people different from itself (the cynic in me would also add the church's cultural alignment with "white, middle class values"). Thus the importance of Austin Fischer's book on neo-evangelicalism from a provocative Arminian perspective.... He calls this movement "the young, restless, and reformed" as lead by popular pulpiteers such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, and popular religious mediums like Christianity Today, the 700 Club, and so forth.

On the other side of the ledge was my mother's faith. She was raised in Lutheranism. Her mom and dad were from the old country of Sweden and they too were deeply aligned with Old School Lutheranism (with a flair of the Swedish culture added in for good measure). During my summers as a child, mom would take us to Trinity Lutheran Church were we would be catechised for several summers into the Lutheran doctrines of Christ. However, I was young and could not appreciate the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed doctrines and fellowships except to hear mom say from time-to-time that she could actually understand the words we sung out of the hymnal at our Baptist church. And having attended a Baptist church on a regular basis I could only see the larger cultural differences between "us" and our Dutch Christian Reformer  neighbors down the street - for we had no nearby Lutheran neighbors unless my mom's relatives were included. Little did I know that both the Reformed tradition and Christian Reformed tradition were so large and well represented in our "religious" city. Both had schools, colleges, seminaries, publishing houses, media centers, and national synods in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

My only knowledge was that on Sundays, being the Lord's day, we were not allowed to hunt, shoot guns (skeet and target practice), play basketball up at the tractor barns, use the snowmobile much, or go out to eat at area restaurants. Why? Because our Christian Reformed neighbors who lived a country mile away wouldn't like that. Whereas our Christian Reformed brethren did go out to eat on Sundays so that eventually we would do the same somewhere in my early high school years. More generally, we would come home from church and dad would go kill a chicken, boil and pluck it - as a small child this was traumatic to watch  as dad lop off the head with a hatchet and set the chicken running around the yard blood-and-all until its body collapsed. Then go about the business of boiling its body and plucking off the feathers before turning it over to mom who would make a great, home-made, chicken dinner complete with dumplings and gravy. Or, sometimes we would have squirrel or rabbit. But my favorite were the pheasant meals we had shot from the day before.

Now if your head is spinning like mine about all this religious doctrine stuff - and still is - well, no matter, you're in good company. A simple reading of church history from Dr. Olson's thick church history tomes will rectify all (there may be other volumes but here's several that come to mind):


Amazon link here

But today's article is not meant to clear these religious matters up. More actually I thought it would give to us a closer inspection of the fine differences between the Christian branches of the church from the perspective of a well-versed historical theologian. Afterwards a brief outline of Dr. Olson's descriptions should visualize the distinctions he's observing. And then we'll add one more article about neo-Calvinism's religious penchant for the fundamental ethos.

More generally, you will notice here at Relevancy22 that I have mostly reacted to Calvinism's TULIP doctrine by repeatedly describing how an Arminian (not, Armenian! which is an ethnic branch of the Eastern Orthodox Church) reading of the Bible (re free will and divine Sovereignty) quite nicely dovetails into the broader theological categories of open theism, relational theism, and process theism. I like the concept of divine free will as it struggles with our own human free will and what that means for our relationship with God, each other, and creation. Even as it brings divine hope and grace into all areas of life (and death) as it was meant to be in a proper view of predestination and election (and not the excluding view of Calvinism). I also like its emphasis upon living life rather than waiting for death to come. To appreciate this life than to deprecate it as some unholy thing. To live and use it fully and not casually or inconsiderately. To see this life as meaningful, and meaningfully wrought at the hand of God.

I am also struggling to find an acceptably broad hermeneutic (or anthropologic) to release me from my past conforming Reformed background. Hence, we have been looking into various philosophical strategies that may help from our European brethren of Lutheran and Catholic faith in France and Europe. This generally would be a form of German idealism as espoused by Kant, Kierkegaard, Hegel, and so forth, that have grown into the schools of Continental Philosophy to be recaptured by the theologian Karl Barth in his systematic tomes - which is why Barth seems to read and reflect on theology so differently than we do here in America. Opposite to Continental Philosophy is its opposing twin of Analytic Philosophy that subtends more to the Western mindset of logic and the scientific method. The first thinks about the existential and phenomenological relationships between God and man, and man to man,  and all to creation, while the second attempts to align human language and categorical thought with a mathematical precision irrespective of syllogistic import or linguistic ambiguity. Thus, Analytic Philosophy would appeal more to my Reformed background steeped in  its own systematic forms of exegetical statements about God and interpretive eisegesis of those statements into church life and practice. Whereas Continental Philosophy works better within the the newer biblical hermeneutics exploring an anthropologic-narrative theology of the bible which seemingly bridges the orthodox gaps with our sisters and brothers in the Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic faiths. Hence, one of the separators of the church is our regional philosophical differences. How we see and understand life (and perhaps try to force it upon others) to then describe it theologically into our church's life and creeds.

Recovering the Reformed Confession

The other thing we have concentrated on at this website is to describe a postmodern Christianity that is fast becoming post-evangelical and no longer either fundamental or evangelical. My more recent older term for this movement was Emergent (or Emerging) Christianity. But whether it is I who has moved more recently, or my sense of the movement's diminishment (some six months to a year ago by my count), I have taken all the good things from Emergent Christianity and am now purposely re-applying them towards a broader definition of progressive evangelicalism. Or, in my case, a post-evangelical Christian orthodoxy, with all the richness of its variegated Christian past. A past that we each must understand in order to appreciate its differences, while moving forward into a postmodern definition of Christian orthodoxy. One that might result irrespective of the many doctrinal-creedal confessions, councils, and synods across Eastern Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, denominational Protestantism, the Anabaptist or Pentecostal faiths, so that we might arrive at an orthodoxy that is broadly evangelical  and allowing for a unification of the church together with itself at its spiritual roots.

The aim and goal of a postmodern, post-evangelic orthodoxy then is to center all doctrines and dogmas, practices and traditions, in-and-around Jesus, as the Lord of our faith, and Saviour of man. Which means that restrictive doctrinal barriers and boundaries that would reduce the centeredness of that Christian faith to some other area must be recognized so that it can be re-circumscribed around Jesus, rather than the other way around. We don't wish to fit God around us, but ourselves around God. Which means a lot of stuff has to be unlearned before we can begin to re-learn a Jesus-centrism. Now an instance of this deconstructive-reconstructive effort for the evangelical Reformed faith was to reassert the Gospels of Jesus over the more popular doctrines of Paul. But, from the pen of N.T. Wright and the rise of the New Perspective of Paul movement (NPP), even that is being readily remedied so that doctrinal centrism around Paul is being properly replaced by doctrinal centrism around Jesus. This effort does also delight those Christians predisposed towards a Jewish informed Christian faith (even as it does myself), but should also temper their enthusiasms to not elicit a kind of Christian proselytism. Meaning that we are not Jewish Christians (unless by ethnicity and heritage) but Messianic Christians first and primarily. That one little distinction - Messianic - makes all the difference does it not? It sets the tone and tempo around Jesus.

Now what this means is that local church doctrines which have innocently excluded people from equality within their congregations (such as women in leadership, or inclusion of gays, or non-whites, or divorcees, into active membership, etc and etc) must expand restrictive polities and ministerial practices to be more inclusive - and less exclusive - to people. Which is a good thing. But a thing that takes lots and lots of time as congregants learn to accept the changes to their previously traditional church without thinking that its headed towards liberalism but a liberality within the body of Christ. Liberality carries a far different meaning than the word liberalism and must be the kind of distinction that can be appreciated for its distinctiveness and not feared for its wont-and-will in order for the church to move past sedentary religious folklores and undoctrinal church traditions.

But for a deeply ingrained former Calvinist like myself these doctrinal distinctions will take some time to re-envisage and apply (thus this blogsite here as we work it out together). But at its heart is the older Reformed (and orthodox) idea that Jesus is the midpoint of both salfivic history even as He is the midpoint of our lives. A place where all changes because Jesus is now there - from a life lived without Jesus as Lord and Savior to a life lived with Jesus as Lord and Savior. In all things. In all doctrines. In all practices. And so, this task may not be as hard as supposed if done with a willfulness of purpose that is willing to reconstruct Calvinism (or neo-evangelicalism) to its proper subservience to its Lord. For myself, reclaiming my Baptist Arminian heritage was the answer. It was also important for me to re-work learned dogmas and doctrines towards a fuller embrace of God's grace and love. To allow that simple concept to change all my past views of Reformed church doctrine. For others it may be something else. But let it begin, and begin now, towards Christ in all things.

Peace, my sisters and brothers, in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.

R.E. Slater
April 4, 2014
updated April 6, 2014

David Crowder - O Praise Him
Passion 2013) [HD & Lyrics]

Psalm of Thanksgiving

Turn your ear
To heaven and hear
The noise inside
The sound of angels’ awe
The sound of angels’ songs
And all this for a King
We could join and sing
All to Christ the King!

How constant, how divine
This song of ours will rise
O, how constant, how divine
This love of ours will rise
Will rise!

O praise Him!
O praise Him!
He is Holy!
He is Holy!

Turn your gaze
To heaven and raise
A joyous noise
The sound of salvation come
The sound of rescued ones
And all this for a King
Angels join to sing
All for Christ our King!

How infinite and sweet
This love so rescuing
O, how infinitely sweet
This great love that has redeemed
As one we sing!

He is Holy!
He is Holy!

For a larger picture click here

Is Arminianism “Reformed?”

Excerpt from Austin Fischer’s Book, "Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed"


Introduction: Black Holes

When a big star dies, a remarkable thing happens.[i] Its own gravity crunches it until it becomes a small core of infinite density—matter squeezed together so tightly the known laws of physics cease to exist. The dead star now has a gravitational pull so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. And at this point, the dead star has become a black hole, and everything within its reach is dragged towards its center. It can swallow planets, stars, and even other black holes. Get too close and you’ve bought a one-way ticket on a journey to the center of a black hole. Its gravity is irresistible.

Gravity is an integral part of human life. It doesn’t take us long to learn that what comes up must come down. And it’s not as if anyone enforces gravity—it just is; a physical force to be accepted and not conquered. Gravity is also a spiritual force in the sense that we humans find ourselves drawn to things beyond our control. We are constantly sucked in to things—a job, a person, a hobby, an addiction. But of course if you really put spiritual gravity under the microscope, you see that the thing we are being sucked in to is ourselves.

We are black holes—walking, talking pits of narcissism, self-pity, and loneliness, pillaging the world around us in a desperate attempt to fill the void inside us. Unless something is done, you will spend the rest of your existence as a human black hole, eternally collapsing in on self in a tragic effort to preserve self. It’s bad news.

But Christians believe there is good news that is better than the bad. We believe something has been done—that through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has done what we could not do ourselves. We no longer have to live under the crushing gravity of self because where sin and selfishness abounded, grace now abounds all the more. It certainly is good news, but…

Options for the Restless

Leave it to us to take something so beautiful and other-centered and turn it into something (you guessed it) about us.

The universe-altering message of the gospel becomes a message about me: Jesus died so I could be happy and comfortable forever and ever. While this may pass for gospel in many circles, there is a growing swell of opposition to it in many others—a recognition that such thin, therapeutic, self-centered expressions of Christianity lack the gravitas to hold a human life together, much less make it thrive. A crowd of voices calls us out of consumerism, moralism, and skepticism and into sacrifice, risk, and commitment.

And for those who are restless for more, Neo-Calvinism[ii] often appears as the strongest—and perhaps only—alternative for thinking biblical people. It offers the new center of gravity that can finally draw us away from self. Such was my conviction, and I still believe Neo-Calvinism is a strong alternative to cultural Christianity.

But I believe we best say yes to God’s glory and sovereignty by saying no to Calvinism. I believe that I—along with many others, past and present—have found an even better option. It’s not new, and it’s not novel; indeed I would argue it is simply the historic consensus of the church. But correctly understood, it offers the greatest hope for a restless church. Unlike Calvinism, it doesn’t replace the black hole of self with the black hole of deity, making both God and the Bible impossible (more on that later); however, it does offer an infinitely glorious God, a crucified Messiah, and a cross-shaped call to follow Jesus.

Egotistical Sincerity

These are my convictions, and anyone with convictions faces a dilemma: would you rather be convincing or honest? Is it more important to get people to agree with you or to honestly present the best of worthy options? While I have certainly tried to be convincing, I think the truth is best served when we are honest, and so I have also tried to be honest. And the best way I have found to be honest is to tell you my story: a journey in, and out of, Calvinism. As Chesterton once confessed, sometimes you have to be egotistical if you want to be sincere.[iii]

In this reminiscing, something became clear: theology and biography belong together.[iv] We try to make sense of God as we try to make sense of our own stories, our own lives. As such, theology is meant for participants, not spectators. I write as a participant and not a spectator in the hopes it will help you become a better participant in your own theological journey, wherever it takes you. These things said, let the journey begin. Only it can’t quite begin without two quick detours.

Detour #1: The Wrong Girl

I once had a friend who was convinced the wrong girl was the right girl. He thought she hung the moon while walking on water and while I thought she was nice and all, I was convinced there was someone out there better for him. Whether I was right or wrong isn’t the point—the point is that when I talked with him about it, I wasn’t trying to sabotage his current relationship so much as I was trying to encourage the prospects of a new one. I feel much the same when I talk to people about Calvinism because while I think you could put a ring on her and live happily ever after, I also think there’s someone better out there. On top of that, it’s a shame to be known for what you’re against, so for clarity’s sake I’m not trying to get anyone to not be something (a Calvinist), but to be something.

Or to make the point with different strokes, the silhouette of the crucified God of Golgotha is an image chiseled into my heart. When sin within rises, chaos without descends, confusion all around lays waste to any semblance of comprehension—when I don’t feel like I understand a damn thing—I look up there and I understand enough to say thank you. I understand enough to call it love.

So when someone messes with this picture, adding a cryptic backdrop that threatens to stain the whole thing, I’m against the backdrop only because I’m for the picture I think the backdrop ruins. I’m not against the Calvinist picture of God so much as I am grieved by what that picture does to the picture I love, turning the full-truth of Golgotha into a duplicitous half-truth. The rest of the book is a description of what happened when my Calvinism was subjected to the searing scrutiny of that image, in the hopes you might glimpse the terrifyingly beautiful God of Jesus Christ.

Detour #2: Everything

The most devastating combination of words in the English language form a statement masquerading as a question: who cares? When this “question” is asked, a statement is made. The asker is expressing his apathy and disregard for the issue under discussion. It does not appear to matter, so why waste our breath? Why kick a hornet’s nest just so we can count the hornets? And it’s a good “question” to ask because many of the issues that hoard our energies and efforts are dead ends. It’s also a “question” I’ve been asked many times when debates about Calvinism and its alternatives arise.

Does it really matter if Calvinism is true or false? Does it really matter if we have free will? Does it really matter? Not at all, and yet, more than you could imagine.

No, it doesn’t matter because God is who he is and does what he does regardless of what we think of him, in much the same sense that the solar system keeping spinning around the sun even if we’re convinced it spins around the earth. Our opinions about God will not change God; however, they can most certainly change us. And so yes, it does matter because the conversations about Calvinism and free will plunge into the heart of the question the universe asks us at every turn:

Who is God?

And this is a question that has everything to do with everything.



[i] Or to be more precise, a remarkable thing can happen. For a good explanation of how black holes are formed, see Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (New York: Bantam, 1993), 103-104.

[ii] Neo-Calvinism proper is a Dutch strand of Calvinism associated with Abraham Kuyper. I am using it to refer to the high federal Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards, as popularized by people like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, etc. The term was used in this fashion in a Time magazine article (March 12, 2009) and seems to have stuck. As such, I am using it to delineate the New Calvinism movement chronicled in Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed, although I acknowledge some people prefer to call it other things (for example, Neo-Puritanism).

[iii] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Simon & Brown, 2012), 3.

[iv] This idea is explored in Biography as Theology by James McClendon.

@Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. www.wipfandstock.com

continue to -


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John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, Austin Fischer, and God

by Roger Olson

by Austin Fischer
Mar 7, 2014

I woke up this morning to find John Piper has posted a video with some thoughts on my book. [Full disclosure: if you’ve read the book, you know Piper had a huge impact on my life and I still have immense respect for him. So hearing him talk about the book was surreal.]

Even though I was sure the book would convert him :) … go figure, it didn’t, and he had some sharp things to say. He was particularly miffed because he felt I had misrepresented Jonathan Edwards, claiming Edwards thought and taught God was a black hole that needs human worship. [So,] a few thoughts….

This is a tricky subject, but I feel the way Piper handled it misrepresented me more than I may or may not have represented Edwards. The nub of the issue is this: I don’t think Edwards or Piper think God is a black hole that needs human worship (a vacuum cleaner, as Piper says)—period, honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor. I worship and serve alongside many Calvinists at my church and I know they don’t think that about God.

What I said is that when I traced out Edwards’ logic and thought the things Edwards thought about God, I felt forced to believe God was a black hole that seemed to need to create in order to display all of his attributes (after all, how do you display wrath and justice without a creation?). There’s a huge difference here and throughout the book I go out of my way to make this concession: this is what I felt compelled to believe as a Calvinist and isn’t what all Calvinists believe.

So while Piper says I should be “ashamed” for misrepresenting Edwards, what I hear is that I should be ashamed for not agreeing with Edwards. And that makes me sad.

To turn the tables, most firm Calvinists I know think Arminianism (or anything that’s not Calvinism) inevitably leads to semi-pelagianism. They feel that if they were Arminians, they would feel forced to be semi-pelagian. Fair enough. I very much disagree, but I understand what they’re saying and can respect that.

I’m not going to wag the Protestant papal finger of shame at them and claim they think I think my works get me into heaven and are ignorant and have egregiously misrepresented me. They’re just saying they would feel compelled to believe that if they believed what I did. Again—fair enough. Reasonable, biblical, orthodox minds can look at the same picture and see different things. We’ve done it since Jesus walked out of the tomb. As someone who’s not a fundamentalist, that’s my conviction.

Did I say some sharp things in the book? Yes. Too sharp? I hope not, but I’m not above that criticism. But did I misrepresent Edwards? I’m under no illusion that I understand Edwards perfectly (who can!?), but I don’t think I misrepresented him. This is what I think happened and what I trace out in the book.

I sat and watched the meticulous picture of God that Edwards and Piper painted. I loved so many of the strokes and colors. They finished painting, stepped back and said, “What a masterpiece! The manifold excellencies of the glory of God, displayed in the doctrines of grace.” I stepped back and said, “I really want to see that!…but I’m afraid I see a black hole instead.”


So Dear John,

I appreciate so much of what you do and what you did in my life in a formative time. I think you’re a theological force of nature. I think your ministry brings glory to God. I think you believe in an infinitely glorious and beautiful God who loved you enough to die for you. I don’t think you believe God is a black hole—honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor.

But as much as I didn’t want to and as hard as I tried, when I stepped back from the picture of God you and Edwards painted and took it all in, I didn’t see what you saw. I saw a black hole.

I’m truly sorry if you feel I implied you and Edwards believe God is a needy black hole. I know you don’t believe that, so if that’s what you feel I said, I apologize. I’m not sorry that I (along with many others) look at the picture you paint, can’t ignore the reprobate, can’t reconcile it with lots of Scripture, can’t reconcile it with a good God who looks like Jesus crucified for the whole world, and can’t help but see a black hole. I can agree to disagree. Hopefully you can too.

Grace and Peace Brother,