Friday, July 29, 2005


Scot McKnight is blogging on his deconversion from Calvinism.


I found two major weaknesses in Calvinism's theology (and also a disorientation in its architecture): first, the emphasis of its architecture is not the emphasis of the Bible. Its focus on God's Sovereignty, which very quickly becomes much less a doctrine of grace than a doctrine of control and theodicy etc, and its overemphasis on human depravity are not the emphases I found in the Bible. I do not dispute the presence of these themes; I dispute this is where the gravity of emphasis is found in the Bible. Yes, I know we all have metanarratives that put things together, and Calvinism is one such metanarrative. It works for some; it simply didn't work for me.


Several problems here:

i) The “architecture” of systematic theology is necessarily different from the architecture of canonical theology. But this is true regardless of whether you are reading in Reformed systematics or an Arminian systematics.

ii) What is the emphasis of Scripture? Well, in terms of raw emphasis, the accent of Scripture is on the history of Israel. A whole lot of material on law and warfare, genealogy, kingship, national apostasy and restoration. Presumably, though, this doesn’t represent his own theological emphasis or orientation.

iii) Either the Bible teaches the “five-points of Calvinism” or it doesn’t. The question is not one of emphasis, but presence or absence. If present, then these must be believed.

iv) McKnight doesn’t explain how “its focus on God's sovereignty quickly becomes much less a doctrine of grace than a doctrine of control and theodicy &c.,” or why he thinks that a doctrine of grace is in tension with a doctrine of control and theodicy.

v) I’d add that, in my own view, the architecture of Reformed theology dovetails quite nicely with the architecture of biblical theology. What we have in Scripture is a pattern of promise and fulfillment, with wide swaths of historical narrative, punctuated by type and prophecy, which suddenly converges on the NT. This assumes a God who is providentially orchestrating each and every event according to a preconceived plan.

You might say that Reformed theology is a form of reverse engineering. If Scripture moves from cause to effect (OT to NT), then Calvinism works its way back from the effect to the cause. And it does so on the basis of implicit and explicit passages of Scripture which attribute the consequence to the agency of God.


Second, the exegesis of Calvinism on crucial passages I found wanting and sometimes dead wrong. I was once standing, years later when I was teaching at Trinity, outside my door talking with two professors about my view of Hebrews, when I simply asked one of them, "Who do you think best answers the Arminian interpretation of Hebrews?" That professor said, "Philip Hughes." I had just read Hughes and I thought it was weak. In fact, what I thought was this: "If that is the best, then there is no debate." The other professor said, "I agree, Scot. Hughes doesn't answer the questions." Then he said, "I'm not sure any commentary really answers it well." (Both of these professors were Calvinists, and still are, God bless 'em.) What I'm saying is that exegetical conclusions I was drawing (in all kinds of passages) were not answered adequately by the Calvinists I was reading. I think I gave them a fair shot.


Since McKnight says that he will follow this up with his actual exegesis of Heb 6, I’ll hold my fire for now—although I’ve already read his treatment in the TrinJ.

One thing I would say, however, is that even though early Hughes was apparently a Calvinist, late Hughes was a militant anti-Calvinist (cf. The True Image), and where his commentary on Hebrews falls along the fault-line, I cannot say. I don’t know whether his defection from the Reformed faith was incremental or sudden—and, if sudden, when it occurred.


  1. For what it's worth, I've read McKnight's A NEW VISION FOR ISRAEL (Eerdmans) and was rather surpised at the amount of higher criticism. John's gospel doesn't seem relevant in discussing the "historical Jesus."

    In the same series there is a book by one Joan Taylor on John the Baptist. The infancy narratives are considered unhistorical en toto.

    What in the world has happened to Eerdmans? They even published Hans Kung's bio.

  2. Steve,
    I appreciate your blogging about my posts about my move from Calvinism to a kind of Arminianism. We differ, of course, but there is room for some dialogue.

    But let me begin with Steve Jackson's comments, which seem unfair to me. He suggests that my views on Hebrews are deficient because my views of higher criticism are wrong. This seems to me what he is doing: smearing my work by appealing to something else.

    Furthermore, he should know that "higher critics" (which is language no longer used) found my book unacceptable because I was far too conservative on historical issues. I was criticized quite roundly for accepting everything as historical. So, I'm quite curious how he could make this comment.

    And his logic is patent and unfair: somehow my Jesus book is deficient because the series has Joan Taylor (whose work and mine are different in nearly everything) and then he smears Eerdmans for publishing Hans Kung. Steve, I ask only that we be fair in our logic. This is ad hominem logic and not fair to anyone.

    Now, to your posts.

    I don't say the architecture is "necessarily" different. Unfair to what I say and to what I believe. I in fact embrace the architecture -- with appropriate refinements of emphasis.

    Emphasis in Scripture: you are right. I like this history of Israel stuff. And my theology is probably along that very line. I'm not why we need to "presume" what others think.

    On no. 3, I'm not so sure it is quite this simple. I agree that if the Bible teaches it anywhere, it teaches it. But, sometimes what we think is being said is "corrected" or modified by other texts -- in a canonical approach (as most use the canonical approach -- and I would question this leveling of ideas).

    No 4 is fair: I didn't explain myself. I don't think this is either unfair to how sovereignty is sometimes taught, but it would take more than a little space to demonstrate. Consider the point disestablished.

    I agree with #5: I believe in God's providential ordering of history. Totally. The issue is how human "freedom" fits within that scheme. I'm with Jon. Edwards on freedom and choice. We don't have a will that is free enough to do something contrary to nature. We do choose, though. How does providential planning take that into view. That is a question for the ages, I'm sure you know. And I don't think we'll every figure it out this side of glory.

    News to me about Hughes. What I know is that question I asked and the answer I got. One of my colleagues thought Hughes (at that time?) was Calvinist and offered good exegesis on Heb 6.

    So, Steve, thanks for blogging about this. I know we won't agree. I don't think Steve Jackson's comments were fair or the sort of thing that helps us with dialogue on these sorts of issues. Smearing people by innuendo isn't Christian logical persuasion.

    I also know how we all feel about these things. Sometimes I can get pretty worked up about Calvinism, though I do not dispute the Christian standing of those who take this viewpoint.

    In spite of what is being said here, your readers might be helped when thinking about my blogs to know that I find Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress one of the finest studies of the Christian life ever. I can't be too far off with that.

    If you follow Gerald Hiestad's blogs, you might see that he thinks I line up with Augustine. I wasn't aware of this side of Augustine; I have never been comfortable being called an Arminian; I'm an Anabaptist.

  3. Steve,
    One other comment: I'd appreciate a change on "deconversion" from Calvinism. I don't know what that might mean. I changed views, but it was not a conversion (and I've studied that one plenty).

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