I was recently in dialog online with a brother in Christ from the Arminian strand of the faith, one that differs in some ways from the branch I am a part of: Calvinism. The focus of that difference is how divine sovereignty and human responsibility relate to one another. He had just said hyper-Calvinism is the only logically consistent Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinists teach that all missions and evangelism are unnecessary because if a person is elect, God will save them without our help. Some hyper-Calvinists even say it it is not necessary to believe in God or Christ to be saved. Election works without any response on our part. Traditional Calvinists have always said this is a serious error. God tells us to believe to be saved and to go forth and take the gospel to the whole world. We are disobedient if we don’t. My brother said, if one believes in election, it is not logical to do evangelism. The hyper-Calvinists are just being logically consistent.
I responded as follows.
“Logically consistent Calvinism is not Calvinism. Calvinism is not seeking to be logically consistent but biblically faithful. The Calvinist believes he or she is driven to these beliefs because the Bible teaches them even if they seem contradictory to the human mind. If the biblical God is infinite and human minds are finite, it is logical to believe that certain aspects of the true God will defy human logic. This is the basis of the belief that God is incomprehensible and mysterious. The Calvinist just happens to apply this doctrine to the relationship of divine sovereignty and human free will/responsibility. That this would be an area of mystery makes sense in that it is a problem that has and continues to baffle philosophers, Christian and non-Christian alike, throughout the ages.”
“Well, you may be the exception, but many, many Calvinist critics of Arminianism accuse it of being illogical. What’s good for the goose is…. I do think the Bible presents a logically coherent message about God. Logical contradiction is always a sign of error. If you are engaging in practice that contradicts your theology you must expect to be challenged.”
“I don’t see in Scripture that God promises to always conform to human logic. If Scripture teaches something that seems illogical to me, my mind must be held captive to Scripture. In regards to the Christian theology of God, it is logical to assume it will not be logically consistent because God is infinite and our minds are finite. Complete logical consistency in the theology may in fact be a sign we have have reduced God down to make sense to our minds when God as he really is, is beyond our understanding in some ways. Hyper Calvinism is wrong because it more faithful to logic than it is to the Word of God. While human logic is a good gift of God and should be used for his glory, it is not the ultimate reality. God himself is. Human logic and rationality cannot sit in judgement on God but must bow before him when he reveals himself to be beyond their powers. Of course, this idea could be greatly abused if it was the only theological tool we had. The key is to only use it when Scripture forces us too, by revealing two things about God that our minds can’t fit together. Thus I think Calvinism’s logical inconsistencies are marks of its truth, in that it’s willing to accept God as he is in Scripture, not God as he makes sense to us. Of course, this depends on the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture being correct and on that front we must continue to humbly listen to one another and to the Spirit speaking to us in Scripture. I merely point us that logical inconsistency does not mean a theology is wrong and may in fact be a sign of its truth. To hyper Calvinism I say, “to obey is better than to be logical.”
…was a whole blog post (which he referred me too) to describe people like myself. He did not mention me by name but described my argument and then said people like me are irrational, unteachable and not open to self reflection or correction. He said my type of thinking bears the marks of a false prophet and that people should run away from me and ignore me. He said I was the type of Christian “that made people check their mind in at the door” and “sacrifice their intellect” if they want to become Christians. Finally he said, “admitting (one is) logically contradictory, whatever authority is appealed to, is demonstrating an unteachable spirit, a closed mind.”
I responded, “I read your post. I don’t think any of the things you said were true of me. In fact the character traits I value and strive for are the exact opposite of those you say people like me are guilty of. But the heart is desperately wicked and we can be self deceived. I will ask the Holy Spirit to show me if I am guilty of the things you have said. Grace and Peace”
I have prayed about it, and while I am sure I fall into the errors he accused me of at times, I don’t think they are characteristic of who I am as a person and as a Christian. To my knowledge, I was not engaging in those errors when I was interacting with him. I would make the following observations about his response.
1) I think an unteachable spirit comes more from pride and arrogance than not from one’s theory of how religious knowledge works. It is more of an issue of one’s heart and one’s character, not one’s epistemology.
2) He never deals with my rational argument that if God is infinite and our minds are finite, there might be somethings about him that transcend our rationality. He simply asserts that our understanding of God will never contradict our logic, but he provides no proof for this. I personally believe his point to be irrational because of the rational argument I just cited. The approach I am taking, right or wrong, is not anti-intellectual, but reflects a careful use and application of human logic.
3) He appears to say that human logic is a a greater authority than Scripture. He says no authority (assuming he is including Scripture here since it is the authority I appealed too) can lead us to believe anything that is contradictory to our minds. I think it is extraordinarily dangerous to say that my understanding of God is a greater authority than God’s self revelation. It is interesting that in another post, he spoke of a passage of Scripture and said, “Whatever it means, it cannot mean (this).” He had already decided beforehand what the passage could mean without dealing exegetically with the passage and letting it speak for itself. This could be because of his principle cited above: Scripture can never reveal anything that is contradictory to human logic or rationality. I believe this is setting human reason up as a superior authority to Scripture and thus to God himself.
4) He said some Calvinists claim Arminianism is illogical. On the contrary, I believe hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism are both too logical. They force God to a box that makes sense to the human logic instead of letting God be who is he, even if that transcends human reason. Now Calvinism may well be wrong because it has misunderstood Scripture. This whole exchange never dealt with that point. My point is that Calvinism is not wrong because it is willing to appeal to God’s transcendence, that is, he may well transcend our finite mind’s ability to fully comprehend him.
5) He said people who make arguments like mine are not open to correction. Even looking at this problem from a completely theoretical basis, a person like myself could be corrected by an appeal to Scripture since it is the ultimate authority. What we won’t be corrected by is an appeal to reason when reason contradicts Scripture.
6) It is never a good way to win people over to your position by calling them names and engaging in ad hominem abusive arguments. Let me encourage all Christians engaging in dialog with others to 1) listen carefully to the other person seeking to understand exactly what they mean 2) deal with their real arguments, not setting up straw men to knock down 3) patiently and lovingly seek to lead them to the truth 4) be humbly open to correction yourself 5) treat them with love, honor and respect for they are creatures made in God’s image. Resorting to name calling may be a sign you have lost the argument because you are unable to overcome them with reason or evidence. It is certainly a sign that you have lost the battle to love your neighbor as yourself.