I read an interesting article from Christianity Today’s website on the rise of Calvinism (Reformed theology) among young people. The article states that while the Emergent conversation gets a lot of press, the renewed interested in Calvinism is more widespread and profound. That brings up, of course, the continuing debate between predestination (God’s sovereignty) and free-will.
I know that Reformed theology deals with the issue of free-will. I was raised an Arminian within the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, and while I’m certainly open to correction/change, I just can’t get past what seems in the end to be our human inability to have anything to do with what happens to our eternal being – or even what I’m going to type within the next few minutes. On this issue, despite the arguments otherwise, we still end up automatons under this theological system.
Walter Bauman, the retired Systematic Theologian from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH, and the man under whom I spent a year studying Systematic Theology (far better than my course at General – sorry!), said that anyone attempting to have an integrated understanding of theology must start somewhere. While many systematic theologians begin with Creation, he said he cannot begin anywhere other than the Ascension of Jesus. That is where his system begins and from which all things flow.
If I were to attempt to develop a systematic theology, I’ve come to realize that my starting point has to be free-will. If, and it is a big if, we are created in the image of God, then I think part of that image is our potential for free choice and honest creativity within our earthly lives. I know that many things act against the realization of that potential for free choice, but I cannot move outside the possibility that it truly does exist. We, creatures made in God’s image, are free moral agents. If we do not have the ability to make honest and true choices, then I cannot get past the idea that God is the ultimate perpetuator of evil, harm, and all that is caught up within theodicy. Of course, within God’s sovereignty, He can be all those things.
I don’t think there is any conflict between TULIP and Arminianism/Wesleyanism. In God’s sovereignty, He can choose to know or not know, to give true free-will or not. To say that we have the ability to reject God’s offer of salvation does not impinge upon God’s complete and full sovereignty! It just says that God has granted us that ability.
If all things are already decided, then what’s the point?
What about “Free-will theism?”
From the article:
The theological depth attracted Harris. “Once you’re exposed to [doctrine],” he said, “you see the richness in it for your own soul, and you’re ruined for anything else.”
He notices the same attraction among his cohorts. “I just think there’s such a hunger for the transcendent and for a God who is not just sitting around waiting for us to show up so that the party can get started.”
I think he describes Anglicanism quite well! 🙂
I know a couple who are pioneering a Presbyterian Church in America church here in New York. They come to St. Paul’s (Anglican High Church – Anglo-Catholic) periodically. He said that if he ever left the PCA, he would run as fast as he could to the highest Episcopal Church he could find.
“When you first become a believer, almost everyone is an Arminian, because you feel like you made a decision,” Watkins said.
Watkins didn’t stop with election. An enlarged view of God’s authority changed the way she viewed evangelism, worship, and relationships. Watkins articulated how complementary roles for men and women go hand in hand with this type of Calvinism. “I believe God is sovereign and has ordered things in a particular way,” she explained. Just as “he’s chosen those who are going to know him before the foundations of the earth,” she said, “I don’t want to be rebelling against the way God ordered men and women to relate to one another.”
I think this is where problems arise. She states that she doesn’t want to rebel against God’s sovereign created order – for men and women. Is she willing to say that our culturally defined understanding of what constitutes men and women, their roles and responsibilities, right relationships between them, etc. might be wrong? It is one thing to say that we do not want to rebel against God’s created order and another thing to take what we believe right now (even within the long tradition of the Church) to be absolute. While I actually agree with her desire to align her life and beliefs with God’s Way of things, I know that I can easily mix up God’s will for my own. Wives, be subservient to your husbands. There can be no consideration of the possibility of gay relationships. Etc…..