Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Seeking Disciple

The seeking disciple said...

“Charlie, you have no proof that Arminians have ever persecuted Calvinists other than debates. Not one Arminian theologian has ever argued by word or deed for the death of Calvinists.”

To my knowledge, Archbishop Laud was a militant Arminian who persecuted his theological opponents.

Therefore, if Calvin’s persecution of Servetus discredits Reformed theology, then Laud’s persecution of Puritans discredits Arminian theology.

“Again no logical Calvinist can excuse John Calvin's actions with Servetus. Simply admitting that Calvin was wrong on this issue is the only ethical way. To argue that Calvin was a product of his environment or the time period will not excuse his actions.”

i) To begin with, seeking disciple is apparently ignorant of the distinction between an extenuating circumstance and an exculpatory circumstance. An extenuating circumstance mitigates guilt rather than absolving guilt. When we make allowance for Calvin’s social conditioning, that isn’t the same thing as “excusing” him or claiming that his actions were “justified.”

ii) And the reason we take his social conditioning into account is that unscrupulous partisans like seeking discipline are try to single out Calvin and make him an example to discredit Reformed theology in particular, even though there’s nothing theologically distinctive about Calvin’s conduct.

He begins with an ad hominem argument which he then turns into guilt-by-association smear. To attack Reformed theology on such sophistical grounds is both illogical and unprincipled.

“Should we not argue as the anabaptists did that people should be free to think, act, and live what they believe.”

i) Seeking disciple is being duplicitous. He is not an Anabaptist. Rather, he’s an Arminian. At least, I seriously doubt that he’s an Amish blogger. To my knowledge, the Amish aren’t big on computer science. So he’s not entitled to co-opt the Anabaptist position.

ii) It’s also inane to say, without further qualification, that people should be free to think, act, and live what they believe.

What about suicide bombers? What about Muslims who practice honor killings, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and—what is more—try to impose their immoral customs on the rest of us?

Up to a point, people should be free to practice their faith, but that doesn’t give them a carte blanche to do whatever their religion dictates regardless of whether the practice is moral or immoral.

“There is still no justification for the actions of Calvin or any other ‘Christians’ of that era. You can argue that the state/church was one, the time period, etc. but these still are no justification for killing others in the name of Christ.”

Another absurd overstatement. I don’t think we should execute heretics. However, there are many situations in which we are justified in killing others in the name of Christ.

Christian citizens have a right to defend themselves. Christian magistrates have a right to execute criminals and wage defensive wars. This is warranted by Christian ethics.

“This is simply against the Word of God (1 John 4:8).”

That’s a ridiculous appeal. God often rains down judgment on idolaters.

“In fact, ‘Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life ab abiding in him’ (1 John 3:15).”

Another absurd appeal. The apostle John is writing against heretics. John would hardly regard Servetus as a fellow Christian.

“We are to followe Jesus' example in Matthew 5:43-48 no matter what.”

Once again, this is irrelevant to the case of Servetus. Servetus wasn’t Calvin’s personal enemy. And he wasn’t a hostile, gov’t official. Seeking disciple is ripping this passage out of context.

I agree with him that we shouldn’t execute heretics. But his prooftexts are either irrelevant or counterproductive.

The seeking disciple needs to do more seeking, and less speaking.

11 comments:

  1. Minor question:

    "However, there are many situations in which we are justified in killing others in the name of Christ.

    Christian citizens have a right to defend themselves. Christian magistrates have a right to execute criminals and wage defensive wars. This is warranted by Christian ethics."

    Would you actually call those "killing others in the name of Christ"? Or simply "killing others without warranting judgment from Christ"?

    ReplyDelete
  2. If we're acting as Christians, in accordance with Christian ethics, then we're acting in the name of Christ.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hmm... I'll have to ponder that. You have a point, but... I'm having trouble putting my finger on it.

    If I'm a U.S. judge, then my judgments are all "in the name of" the United States government. My actions are taken specifically as a representative/member of the government. There's that sense of "in the name of".

    It's not clear to me that all the actions of a Christian judge are "in the name of Christ" in precisely that same sense. I can understand how he would say, "I sentence you to 2 years of prison in the name of the US government." There's something decidedly odd about the idea of him saying, "I sentence you to 2 years of prison in the name Christ."

    Also, I wouldn't want the president ever to say, "In the name of Christ, I have decided to invade your country."

    Are there two different sense of "in the name of" at work here?

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  4. Keep in mind that I’m responding to seeking disciple on his own terms. This is how he chose to word his denial, so I’m using his own framework.

    That may or may not be the best way to formulate the issue, but that’s his framework, so I’ve chosen to play along with his framework.

    It’s often unclear what, exactly, he has in mind. He’s fond of sweeping statements that are absurd if taken at face-value. Perhaps he has a narrower target, but, if so, he fails to express himself with precision.

    A Christian magistrate will (or ought to) act within the parameters of his Christian conscience. So he’s always acting as a Christian, consistent with Christian principles.

    If his official duties require him to violate Christian norms, then he should resign his post.

    And this is not a matter of his prefacing every official act with an explicitly Christian verbal formula: “in the name of Christ…”

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  5. How does Seeking Disciple deal with this objection to the faith when it comes from unbelievers?

    If he's been around the block even once, he's heard the 'Christianity is not true because Christians suck' argument.

    There is no intellectual integrity in attempting to leverage an argument against Calvinism while rejecting this same argument from unbelievers.

    Is Seeking Disciple therefore going to give up his faith to be consistent, or drop the charge against Calvinism?

    Also:

    http://www.challies.com/archives/articles/reformed-theology/the-servetus-pr.php

    ReplyDelete
  6. Steve,

    Shouldn't we say that Calvin wasn't upholding Reformed theology in his dealing with Servetus, rather, he was enforcing the law of the land?

    Couldn't we poison the well a number of ways using various theologians throughout history for virtually any theological position?

    Mark

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  7. Mark,
    "Couldn't we poison the well a number of ways using various theologians throughout history for virtually any theological position?"

    Hah! I've out-witted you! My theological system is entirely novel in church history. So there!

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  8. Is Seeking Disciple therefore going to give up his faith to be consistent, or drop the charge against Calvinism?

    Probably neither.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I suppose I'm still in an ironic mood, for when I read this quote:

    ---
    “Should we not argue as the anabaptists did that people should be free to think, act, and live what they believe.”
    ---

    I immediately thought:

    Isn't that what you claim Calvin did?

    That is, shouldn't Calvin be free to think, act, and live what he believes, even if that means burning heretics? Why should his freedom be violated by the seeking disciple?

    Of course, I disagree with his premise too; but irony is still a wonderful thing.

    ReplyDelete
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