Monday, August 17, 2015

Calvinism's Determinist Worldview: a "theology of resignation"

In a previous post (link), I suggested that 5-point Calvinism and the five points of Arminianism each affect our worldview (and have affected mine, first as a Calvinist and now as a 4-point Arminian); Calvinism towards a "determinist worldview" and Arminianism towards an "evangelism worldview".

This past week I began reading Greg Boyd, God At War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict.  Chapter one includes an interesting discussion contrasting the determinist worldview (Dr Boyd calls it the "providential blueprint worldview") as held by Augustine and the later church, with the "warfare worldview" of the New Testament and early post apostolic church.

Dr Boyd shows that the determinist "providential blueprint worldview" developed largely from Augustine's reinterpretation of "the truths that God alone is eternal, that God is self-sufficient within his own triune identity apart from the world, that God is altogether omnipotent and omniscient, and thus that God is sovereign over world history".  Augustine reinterpreted these in a way that was "more in line with Neo-Platonism and the broader Hellenistic philosophical tradition than it was with the Bible.  Hence out of fidelity to Scripture, Augustine's framework for understanding these truths needs to be seriously reexamined" (p 68).

Dr Boyd writes (bold mine):
One of the main reasons why the warfare worldview was gradually compromised in the thinking of the early apologists, especially Augustine's theology, and one of the central reasons why believers have to some extent resisted it since, is that this worldview runs counter to a particular model of divine perfection--a model that did not derive principally from Scripture, nor was it required by logic. It was, rather, derived mostly from Hellenistic philosophy.
For example, from Plato, Aristotle and the subsequent Hellenistic tradition, the church arrived at the notion that God is altogether unmoved, impassible, immutable, nontemporal and purely actual. Yet it was precisely these features of the church's doctrine of God that logically undermined the integrity of the warfare worldview. On the basis of this model of God, a meticulous, sovereign, divine blueprint was postulated to encompass all temporal events, including the cosmic war.
This had the effect, however, of rendering the war a sham. For a war that meticulously follows a blueprint that has been drawn up by one of the parties involved in the war (God) is hardly a real war. It was principally for this reason that the problem of evil stopped being the New Testament problem of confronting and overthrowing the enemy and started being the intellectual problem of figuring out how this enemy (and all evil) fits into God's providential script. (p 67, bold mine).

Earlier Dr Boyd asks, "What is more, would not such a conception [that all events come from the hand of God] significantly undermine the godly urgency one should have to confront such evil as something God is unequivocally against?" (p 39, bold mine), and adds in a footnote:
Schelling (God and Human Anguish, p 59-72) speaks against a "theology of resignation," which results from the sort of implicit theological determinism reflected in many of the traditional hymns of the church. We resign ourselves to accept as from the hand of God what we ought to revolt against as from the hand of Satan. We thereby trade in biblical spiritual activism for a nonbiblical form of passivity and pseudo security. (note 12, p 302, bold mine)
(See my post, Irv Brendlinger, "John Wesley's theological challenge to slavery" for more on Calvinism's resignation and reluctance to confront evil.  Dr Boyd, who holds to an openness view, also challenges the traditional Arminian understanding --the view closest to my own--which he believes "has not removed itself far enough from classical-philosophical assumptions about God", p 48-49, though he notes that Arminian theologians "have been somewhat more logically consistent in working out the implications of the concept of freedom and have therefore significantly qualified the classical-philosophical understanding of God's omnipotence as entailing omnicontrol" and "have explicitly rejected the Augustinian assumption that the will of God can never be thwarted", p 48).

John Piper's call to "Make War!"

Thinking of this contrast, I was reminded of Tedashii's song, "Make War" (Reach Records), which begins with a quote from John Piper (a popular Calvinist preacher) exposing and confronting the same problem.  John Piper says (video below):
“I hear so many Christians murmuring about their imperfections and their failures and their addictions and their short-comings, and I see so little war! ‘Murmur, murmur, murmur, why am I this way?’ Make war!”
It is sad and unfortunate that Dr Piper's own theology leads to the very problem he identifies and, thankfully, wants to fight against. (Dr Piper, of course, has taken determinism to another level with his "7th point, the best-of-all-possible worlds", link.  For a critique of best-of-all-possible worlds, see Roger Olson "Is this the best of all possible worlds? What I would think if I were a Calvinist").

Make War

Here is Tedashii's video. Dr Piper's quote is from a 2002 sermon on Romans 8 (and full disclosure: I love Reach Records. I've listened to them since Lecrae's first album was re-released by Cross Movement Records in 2005, and Tedashii is one of my favourite artists):

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