Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Arminian fruit tree

Victor Reppert points his readers to an Arminian tirade:

I suppose the reason for pointing them in this direction is that Birch says what Reppert is thinking, but doesn’t have the cohones to say himself.

“At times, one must wonder why so many Calvinists are so very angry.”

At times, one must wonder why Birch imputes attitudes to thousands of men and women he’s never met. Thousands of men and women who’ve never written a word about their attitudes.

“The psychological affects of Calvinism are not so easily ascertained.”

Which doesn’t prevent Birch from playing Freud.

“According to John Piper, typically, certain types of people are prone to accepting Calvinism. ‘What types of people are these?’ you ask. These, according to Piper, are the intellectual types (quite a misnomer, given that there are many intellectual non-Calvinists).”

If that’s a misnomer, then he doesn’t think that Piper has accurately identified the types of people who are prone to accept Calvinism. In that case, why is Birch quoting Piper to establish Birch’s psychological profile of Calvinists?

“And these types of people produce negative and mean-spirited attitudes, some of whom, he admits, may not be born again (which I have stated previously as well).”

Really? Does Piper say, as a universal truth, that Calvinists produce negative and mean-spirited attitudes? If that were Piper’s actual position, would Piper still be a Calvinist? Clearly, Birth is misrepresenting Piper’s position.

Keep in mind that Birch plans to earn a doctorate in historical theology. In that event, it would behoove him to accurately represent the viewpoint of others. How can he be a church historian if he misrepresents the position of others?

“It is interesting: the gospel of Jesus Christ does not attract such types of people. I digress.”

By that logic, no Calvinist is a Christian. Is that Birch’s actual position? If those who are attracted to the gospel are other than those who are attracted to Calvinism, then all Calvinists are damned. Is that what Birch is trying to say?

“Piper, in typical, zealous-for-Calvinism fashion…”

Notice the pejorative characterization of Piper. But isn’t Mr. Birch zealous-for-Arminianism? The tone of his piece, along with the sweeping classifications, seems pretty zealous to me.

“When I abandoned Calvinism and was enlightened to the biblical truth of Classical Arminianism (to use Piper's own words concerning Calvinism), instead of arrogantly demanding that Calvinists see theology through an Arminian lens, calling theological dissenters heretics, and instead of trying to convert everyone to an Arminian understanding of theology…”

Birch isn’t trying to convert everyone he can to Arminian theology? Then why is he an Arminian epologist? And why does he have a blogroll of fellow Arminian epologists? Sure looks like he’s bent on converting everyone he can to his Arminian outlook.

Put another way, let’s assume for the sake of argument that he’s not trying to convert everyone to his viewpoint. What would he do differently than he’s doing right now?

“However, in late spring of 1999, I could no longer accept Calvinism's presuppositions because I no longer thought that they were supported by Scripture.”

So he used to be a Calvinist. That might explain why he’s so hostile to Calvinism. He writes about Calvinists and Calvinism as if he felt betrayed by his former faith.

“Did I become angry because I missed the truth of Classical Arminianism? No. Was I bitter because I was misled by Calvinist preachers and teachers? No.”

Aren’t self-serving autobiographical disclaimers of this sort a dime a dozen? If he were a bitter, angry Arminian, do you think he’d admit it?

“But did I treat Calvinists with disdain? No.”

Yes, that’s exactly what he’s doing in this post.

“Did I consider them to be sub-Christian? No.”

Yes, he does. He even says so.

“And though I have no respect for Calvinism as a system, I still continued to treat Calvinists as my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus (assuming that they have truly placed their faith in him alone).”

He does? That’s not what he said just a few sentences before. Remember what he said about the types of people who are drawn to Calvinism rather than the gospel?

“I think that this matter penetrates much deeper psychologically than what Piper or most Calvinists are willing to admit.”

Yes, we need to take special measures to shield our thoughts from his telepathic scanner.

“The reason why many Calvinists act in an un-Christlike manner has little to do with the feeling of being misled by Arminian theology.”

What would acting in an un-Christlike manner be like, exactly? Is Mt 23 acting in an un-Christlike manner?

“Like Father, like son. Ungodly Calvinists are merely imitating the concept of God that they have embraced.”

That’s actually quite flattering, although it exaggerates our state of sanctification. Would that we were that far along!

However, since he makes that connection, let’s quote some Wesleyan invective. Let’s see how John and Charles Wesley characterize their Reformed opponents:

[Charles Wesley]

Oh Horrible Decree
Worthy of whence it came!
Forgive their hellish blasphemy
Who charge it on the Lamb.

The righteous God consigned
Them over to their doom,
And sent the Saviour of mankind
To damn them from the womb;

To damn for falling short
Of what they could not do
For not believing the report
Of that which was not true.


God, ever merciful and just
With newborn babes did Tophet fill;
Down into endless torments thrust;
Merely to show His sovereign will.

This is that ‘Horrible Decree!’
This that wisdom from beneath!
God (O detect the blasphemy)
Hath pleasure in the sinner’s death.

[John Wesley]

Such blasphemy this, as one would think might make the ears of a Christian to tingle! But there is yet more behind; for just as it honours the Son, so doth this doctrine honour the Father. It destroys all his attributes at once: It overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust.

This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, "What is its true meaning then?" If I say, " I know not," you have gained nothing; for there are many scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it mean besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.

Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men? Moloch caused only children to pass though the fire: and that fire was soon quenched; or, the corruptible body being consumed, its torment was at an end; but God, thou are told, by his eternal decree, fixed before they had done good or evil, causes, not only children of a span long, but the parents also, to pass through the fire of hell, the 'fire which never shall be quenched; and the body which is cast thereinto, being now incorruptible and immortal, will be ever consuming and never consumed, but 'the smoke of their torment,' because it is God's good pleasure, 'ascendeth up for ever and ever.' "

Sing, O hell, and rejoice, ye that are under the earth! For God, even the mighty God, hath spoken, and devoted to death thousands of souls, form the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof! Here, O death, is they sting! They shall not, cannot escape; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Here, O grave is thy victory. Nations yet unborn, or ever they have done good or evil are doomed never to see the light of life, but thou shalt gnaw upon them for ever and ever! Let all those morning stars sing together, who fell with Lucifer, son of the morning! Let all the sons of hell shout for joy! For the decree is past, and who shall disannul it?"

Does Wesleyan invective manifest the fruits of the Spirit, as Birch defines it? I guess that, as a matter of fact, it should not at all be assumed that either John or Charles Wesley was a born again Christian ipso facto.

“In a nutshell, Calvinists read a verse in Scripture such as Romans 9:15 and conclude that God is communicating that he will have mercy on a few and refuse aid to the majority of humanity, merely because he decreed it.”

It’s revealing that Birch identifies himself as a former Calvinist, yet his grasp of Calvinism is so flawed. It’s all the more striking when you consider his ambitions to earn a doctorate in historical theology. How can he be a church historian if his mastery of historical theology is so woefully deficient?

i) To begin with, Calvinism has no official position on the relative percentages of the elect and the reprobate.

ii) Moreover, the notion that “few are saved” is a dominical statement.

iii) Finally, Calvinism does not take the position that God withholds mercy on some or many “merely because he decreed it.”

Rather, Calvinism takes the position that God withholds mercy on some or many to demonstrate the gratuity of grace. No one deserves it. He could justly damn one and all.

Birth needs to decide whether he’d rather be a church historian or a demagogue. He can’t be both.

He then spends two paragraphs taking issue with the Reformed interpretation of Exod 33:19 and Rom 9:14-15. Of course, this is only convincing to those who are already convinced. It’s not as if Reformed scholars like Beale, Currid, Piper, and Schreiner (to name a few) haven’t offered in-depth exegesis which defends the Reformed interpretation and counters Arminian objections.

“Unconvinced of this truth, the Calvinist constructs a worldview of God that is deficient, and he or she then begins to imitate that erroneous view of God. And because God treats human beings in such an underhanded manner (so they think), then so can they!”

What’s funny about this is that in the name of Arminian charity, Birch puts forward a deliberately uncharitable interpretation of Reformed motives. Because we think God deals people in such an “underhanded manner,” that authorizes us to do so as well.

Of course, this begs the question in two respects: (i) it attributes underhanded methods to Calvinists, and (ii) it links that misconduct to the underhanded methods which Calvinism allegedly attributes to God.

His allegation has another intriguing consequence. Even if the discourse of a Calvinist were impeccable by Birch’s standards, he would still fault the Calvinist because his impeccable discourse was out of keeping with his deficient theology. Hence, for Birch, if Reformed discourse is “un-Christlike” by his standards, then the Calvinist is blameworthy–but if Reformed discourse is “Christlike” by his standards, then the Calvinist is still blameworthy since his Christian discourse is at odds with his “un-Christlike” theology. So whatever tone a Calvinist adopts, Birch will still find fault.

“It is curious whether or not they understand that calling themselves Christian should not immunize them from judgmental language where appropriate as well.”

What evidence is there that we don’t understand that? He can quote anything we said to the contrary?

“As a matter of fact, it should not at all be assumed that any of the five Calvinists who contribute to blogging on Triablogue are born again Christians ipso facto.”

Once again, I never said otherwise.

“Their rhetoric cuts both ways. One may conclude that a professing Christian is truly born again when the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in his or her life. Paul writes: "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" (Gal. 5:22 NLT).

Yes, the rhetoric cuts both ways. And by that same token, Birch had better avoid cutting himself on his own serrated rhetoric.

“And while the Triabloguers believe that they have scriptural warrant for treating other professing believers with whom they disagree with invective, the Bible teaches otherwise.”

Does the Bible teach otherwise? Here’s what one scholar has to say:

“We can recognize in Jude’s rhetorical strategy the use of techniques common to vituperatio, the ‘rhetoric of slander’ (Johnson 1989: 420), which was the counterpoint to laudatio, the praise of noble character and deeds. As du Toit (1994: 403) observes, ‘Vilifying your opponent, like praising your addressees, has through the centuries been a useful persuasive weapon from the arsenal of a skilled speaker or writer.’ Vituperatio was a recognized skill that was even taught to students or rhetoric,” G. Green, Jude & 2 Peter (Baker 2008), 20-21).

“Jude’s rhetorical strategy is clearly formative as well. He wants the readers to continue in Christian virtue and avoid the vice of the heretics. He does not intend to persuade the heretics. In vituperatio, a person would employ well-known topoi in the denunciation of others…These themes were so well used that they even became part of the syllabus of rhetoric. Jewish rhetoric likewise employed vilification for similar ends…the categories used in Jewish rhetoric were quite similar to the gentile counterparts, even among Palestinian Jews (Johnson 1989:434-41),” ibid. 21.

“In light of ancient techniques of vilification, how should we read Jude’s denunciation of his opponents? Analyzing Jude along with 2 Peter in the light of speech act theory, du Toit (1994: 403) states, ‘For many a long day the performative dimension of language has been neglected in favor of the propositional. This is also true for NT studies. We have too long neglected the fact that in one way or another each of these writings seeks to persuade its readers/audience in a certain direction. To ask what a NT text is doing is at least as important as asking what it is saying.” He concludes, “Ideological literature works with contrasts; it does not seek the neutral middle-field. It creates heroes and villains’,” ibid. 21-22.

“So while the standard denunciations were employed in vituperatio, they could become specific when directed at a particular case. This is precisely what happens in Jude…Jude employs these conventional charges in ways specific to the situation his readers faced,” ibid. 22.

Moving along:

“Paul writes: ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption’ (Eph. 4:29-30 TNIV). So much for Triablogue's invective theory.”

Paul also says, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10), as well as, "God is going to smite you, you whitewashed wall!” (Acts 23:3). So much for Birch’s non-invective theory.

“Paul continues: ‘Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Eph. 4:31-32 TNIV).
Paul further instructs: ‘Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful’ (2 Tim. 2:23-24 TNIV). And concerning unbelievers, Paul writes: ‘Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:25-26 TNIV).”

So where does that leave the Pauline invective? Would Birch now say that, as a matter of fact, it should not at all be assumed that Paul is a born again Christian ipso facto? If, as Birch defines it, invective is antithetical to the fruits of the Spirit, does he thereby define the Apostle Paul as a hypocrite?

Or does he think that NT discourse represents a double standard–like cult members who have remain celibate while the cult leader can sleep with a different woman every night. Is that his position?

“The reason why theology matters so much is because much is at stake. How we view God affects how we think and act. I believe that Calvinists are in serious theological error. Their view of God is, in my opinion, deficient and dangerous. Not only does Calvinism retain the potential to fallaciously attribute the work of Satan to the divine, determinative will of God…”

So he thinks that Calvinists are committing the unpardonable sin? Is that his idea of charitable discourse?

“If you have been duped by the likes of John Owen, that God hates the alleged non-elect, you have bought into a lie. God does not love and hate by decree. Nothing could be farther from the truth. My heart is tender towards those who have been hoodwinked by the repercussion of Calvinism.”

So Reformed believers have been “duped” and “hoodwinked” by Calvinism. No doubt that’s another example of charitable discourse, right?

“Most versions of Calvinism where God's character is concerned are so reprehensible that it is likely to incite the baser parts of one's humanity.”

If this is his notion of charitable discourse, I’d rather not be within earshot when he resorts to uncharitable discourse.


  1. So we're told "it should not at all be assumed that any of the five Calvinists who contribute to blogging on Triablogue are born again Christians" and yet, to my knowledge not a single one of us icky, ebil five Calvinists have ever questioned whether those Arminians are saved, and we're the uncharitable folks?

  2. I read the article too. I don't know about the psyche of calvinists and I don't care. I'm rather interested what people do with the scriptures and here Calvinists simply fail to rightly divide the word. The article mentions Calvinism making God the author of sin and some proponents even plainly admit that (eg. Sproul). Such hair-raising conclusions can only stem from the easysolutionistic mindset underlying the religion of Calvinism -- the desire to find easy solutions to every question. What is worse, God is not the author of sin, neither in a "primary" nor "secondary" sense. And easysolutionistic thinking patterns won't help you out here.

  3. For someone who doesn't care about the psyche of Calvinist, you psychoanalyze a great deal.

  4. No. But I haven't found any Calvinist who would be able to defend his house of cards called the doctrines of grace based on the scriptures alone. They all have to refer to their reformed fathers as the authoritative interpreters.

  5. A. Helmet,

    I find that last assertion almost impossible to believe.

    Then again, it may be true, you may have successfully avoided those people.

    May I introduce myself. Hi, I'm Daryl.

    By the way, McArthur, Piper and Dever...just three guys you may have heard of, in case I don't make the grade for you.

  6. Not to mention Beale, Carson, Currid, Schreiner, &c., as well as a many up-and-coming Reformed Bible scholars.

  7. Indeed. A Helmet why don't you try to run your view of John 6:35ff by James White by calling the Dividing Line personally. Seriously, if he runs to "the Reformed Fathers" I think we'll all be very surprised. In fact, as I recall, he's the one who challenged Ergun Caner to a public discussion in his own classroom using only the Greek text of John 6 and no other commentary.

    Oh, and while you're at it, since you reject the Greater Good Defense, are you a proponent of the Free Will Defense? If so, please demonstrate libertarian action theory from the Scriptures alone without reference to any other material.

  8. No, I'm not a proponent of the Free Will Defense. That doesn't make the Greater Good Defense any better. Two wrongs don't make a right.

  9. Mmm...I'm a few days behind here, but I suppose what's good for the goose...

    Since some of the Triabloguers here seem to like pointing out typos, I just want to let you know I spotted quite a few. Might want to clean those up. ;-D

  10. May I ask what the reference is to the Wesley quotes?