According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - 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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Calvinism (Still) Isn't Beautiful. It Sings for Divine Power not for Divine Weakness, Suffering, and Sacrifice


“Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed” a Year Later:
Calvinism (Still) Isn’t Beautiful

A Guest Post by Austin Fischer
by Roger Olson
February 2, 2015

“They’re not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing.”[1]

-John Piper

One of the more persistent myths regarding art (broadly defined) is that the artist understands what he or she is creating. It is, as it were, a half-truth. You understand parts of it, catch glimpses of its deeper meaning, shape it toward certain ends. But you certainly do not understand all of it. As Madeline L’Engle says,

“The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver…each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am. enflesh me. Give birth to me.’”[2]

Two years ago, I started writing. I didn’t intend to write a book so much as [to] document a journey I had taken in and out of Calvinism, with the hope it could help people in my own church who were treading similar paths. It ended up becoming a book and has helped people, and for that I am grateful.

But as I look back—now two years removed from when I started writing and a year removed from its publication—I feel as though I only now understand the deepest intention of the book. Bear with me if this seems indulgent....

 Back when I was a Calvinist, I came across the above quote from John Piper: “They’re not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing.” And while I didn’t fully understand it at the time, I knew what it was about. I embraced Calvinism, not just because I found its exegesis and inner logic compelling, but because it made my heart sing. It was true, but also (and perhaps more importantly) good and beautiful.

Christians believe that truth (sic, "being grounded in God") is not only, well, true, but also good and beautiful. Beauty is “a measure of what theology may call true.”[3] Because God is infinitely good and beautiful, theology must be good and beautiful or else it’s not true. When properly understood, the truth invites not only the mind’s assent but the heart’s affection. The truth should make your heart sing.

This notion of the truth’s beauty is not an invention of secular humanism or some other boogey-man, but belongs to the deepest intuition of biblical Christian sensibilities. As the various psalmists never tire of telling us,

“Great is the Lord and highly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable…

The Lord is gracious and merciful;
slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.

The Lord is good to all,
and his mercies are over all his works.”

- Psalm 145:3, 8-9

God is infinite power but also infinite grace, so beauty “qualifies theology’s understanding of divine glory: it shows that glory to be not only holy, powerful, immense, and righteous, but also good and desirable, a gift graciously shared.”[4]

John Piper understands this better than most, and his brilliant attention to the aesthetics of Calvinism (channeling Jonathan Edwards) is one of the (if not the) primary reasons for the tremendous surge of Calvinism among young evangelicals. Simply put, plenty of people have argued Calvinism is true. Piper’s particular genius has been in arguing that Calvinism is also beautiful.

Many young evangelicals have been convinced and their hearts sing for Calvinism. My exodus from Calvinism was set in motion when I came to believe Calvinism was not beautiful—indeed, when I realized that Calvinism (consistent Calvinism at least) was, at best, cold and brutally enigmatic (which is, perhaps, why many cannot be consistent Calvinists).

This realization then forced me to further reconsider its veracity. The heart of the book, then, was a challenge to the aesthetic of the New Calvinism. The New Calvinists attempt to paint a ravishing picture of the manifold excellencies of the self-glorifying, all-determining God of Calvinism, expressed primarily through the doctrines of grace.

  • I say that picture is a false veneer that only works when you ignore the reprobate.
  • I say that picture cannot contain, as its central image, a crucified God who would rather die for sinners than give them what they deserve.

Using the Bible as my measure of beauty, I say Calvinism isn’t beautiful. People have asked if I could ever see myself “going back” to Calvinism—a little less young, a little less restless, and reformed again, perhaps?

It’s a question I occasionally ponder. Depending on my mood, I can still find some of the exegesis and inner rationale for Calvinism compelling. As I’ve stated numerous times, I think Calvinism is one way to make sense of the teachings of the Bible (though as I also always state and many of my Calvinist friends have a hard time hearing, I think there is a better way to make sense of the Bible’s teachings that has far deeper ecumenical and historical roots).

And yet while I suppose I could again entertain the possibility that Calvinism is true, I don’t think I could ever again believe that Calvinism is beautiful. To my mind, calling Calvinism beautiful is to subject the very concept of beauty to so ruthless an equivocation that it loses any intelligible meaning.

So I agree with Piper: theology needs to make our hearts sing. That’s not a “strategic” statement about how to make Christianity more persuasive in its use of pathos. It’s a statement about truth. In terms of a quick (and perhaps overly simplistic) syllogism, I submit:

1 - Christian truth is (by biblical, theological and rational necessity) good and beautiful
     (as measured by the Bible).

2- Calvinism is not beautiful.

3- Calvinism is not true.

I’d imagine my Calvinist friends would accept premise one (unless they adhere to an extreme voluntarism and absolute equivocation between God’s aesthetic and/or moral sensibilities and ours) and reject premise two, arguing that Calvinism is indeed beautiful, but sin has crippled our aesthetic sensibilities to the point that we wouldn’t know beauty if we saw it. And of course I agree.

That’s precisely what Isaiah says in his cryptic words about the suffering servant: the beauty of God is not something we naturally appreciate (53:1-3). We’re far too intoxicated with power and status to appreciate the unforeseen majesty of deity suffering and despised.

But it is the very measure of beauty given us by the Bible (gratuitously aggressive and kenotic, self-giving love) that threatens to burst the wineskins of Calvinism. The good news of God’s beauty is too good and beautiful for Calvinism to contain. And it is the very intoxication with raw power that blinds us to God’s true beauty that fits so snugly within the Calvinist vision of God.

So instead of retreating to shopworn quips (“Well if you just trusted the Bible more than your ‘feelings’ and ‘aesthetic sensibilities’ then none of this would be a problem”), I hope more of the New Calvinists will allow themselves to grasp the gravity of the dilemma Calvinism faces when it comes to biblical, Christian aesthetics. It is not a blemish of the surface, but a chilling abyss at the very heart of God.



[2] Madeline L’Engle, Walking on Water, 18.

[3] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 3.

[4] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 17.



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