“The problem I have with Triablogue is that not only anti-Calvinists like myself, but defenders of Orthodoxy, and Catholicism, and people who differ with them politically are treated in the same way.”
Actually, there’s no one way that we treat people. It depends on how the opponent acts. If he uses reasonable arguments to defend his position, he’s treated as a reasonable opponent. If he uses unreasonable arguments to defend his position, he’s treated as an unreasonable opponent.
“Even if Calvinism is true, isn't it at least possible that people who differ with them theological or politically are merely erring believers who still love Christ, as opposed to enemies of the Gospel.”
i) One of the problems with that ecumenical outlook is that it isn’t shared by Catholics and Orthodox. Trent classifies Protestants as enemies of the Gospel. Likewise, the Orthodox church takes a very dim view of Protestant theology, and frequently discriminates against Protestant missionaries.
Reppert is superimposing his broad churchmanship on churches which oppose his broad churchmanship.
ii) In addition, some political positions are hostile to the Gospel.
iii) One of the problems, not only with Reppert, but other critics, is a myopic focus on a subset of opponents. At one level, that’s understandable since Reppert himself has been in the crosshairs. Indeed, he’s frequently put himself in the crosshairs.
However, there are some rather obvious examples in which Triablogue is a good deal more tolerant that he and other critics suggest. Take four examples:
i) You don’t have to be a Calvinist to be a team member of Triablogue.
ii) Our blogroll includes many sites which are not run by Calvinists.
iii) I conducted and edited (with James Anderson) a series of interviews with various Evangelical scholars. A number of these scholars are not Calvinists.
iv) I recently responded to Craig Blomberg’s “Calminian” post. Yet I didn’t treat Blomberg as an enemy of the faith. And I often plug his books.
“I don't always maintain a proper tone myself, but my blog is known as a place where we try to provide open and fair discussion. People taking numerous positions will tell me they disagree with me but they enjoy the dialogue.”
On this very thread, here’s a sample of the tone of “open dialogue”:
At August 03, 2009 5:17 PM , Walter said...
“I must say that this ‘blustering Dawkinsian’ would much rather dialog with a Christian like Victor or Uncle e, than to try to hold a polite conversation with a Calvinazi that pours vitriol on anyone who does not accept his precious Augustinian theology…Maybe their bitterness is a reflection of their belief in a mafia boss God who only saves a few selct people through some divine lottery that we despicable humans are not privy to.”
Now, perhaps Reppert would excuse this on the grounds that he’s trying to provide an open forum for dialogue. But in that case he’s prepared to lower the tone for freedom of expression, even if that degenerates into the sort of invective (“Calvinazi,” “mafia boss”) which he allegedly deplores. If so, he can’t have it both ways.
BTW, “Calvinazi” seems to be a popular epithet among some anti-Calvinists:
“Out of this theological camp have come ‘Calvinazis,’ (not a term original with me, but I'm not sure of the original source, so I dont' know who to credit. Whoever coined the term had a great sense of humor!) who make it their life's mission to transform any and every potential disciple into a TULIP-lover. Their legacy is seen in lethargic or non-existent evangelism, theological ‘hair-splitting,’ and churches torn asunder by needless doctrinal controversy.”
“Dr. Vines' message screams for a response from denominational leaders who never hesitate to issue warnings to Southern Baptist Calvinists whom they label ‘Calvinazis’ and charge with being more willing to fly across the country to debate Calvinism than to cross the street to witness to a lost person.”
I think we should keep “Calvinazi” in mind when some anti-Calvinists profess to deplore the tone of Reformed discourse.
In the same vein, let’s move on to a new post by an Arminian epologist:
“Rebutting a person's statements is one thing; misrepresenting that person is quite another. My post was a meager and amateur attempt at exploring the reasons behind why many Calvinists, especially on the Internet, are mean-spirited individuals.”
In the first sentence he accuses me of misrepresenting his post. But in the second sentence he admits that his post was a “meager and “amateur” attempt to express himself.
It’s not entirely clear to me how I could misrepresent a meager and amateur attempt by my opponent to express himself. Isn’t Birch admitting that he expressed himself poorly? In that event, he can’t very well blame me for misrepresenting him if he failed to properly express himself.
“This fact is no secret. Even Calvinists have noted that what I am suggesting is true; so much so that John Piper himself was asked to comment on why he thinks this is the case. I also have Calvinist friends on campus at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary which agree with me: many Calvinists are, simply put, unChristlike in their demeanor.”
Even if we concede that allegation for the sake of argument, Arminian epologists are no exception. Indeed, Birch is no exception.
Dan, over at Arminian Chronicles, is the only Arminian epologist I’ve encountered who makes a good faith effort to be different. Other Arminian epologists employ all the same tactics that they are quick to fault in their opponents.
“I was merely quoting Piper.”
No, he wasn’t merely quoting Piper. Rather, he was building on Piper’s statement. Birch made that a presupposition of his own allegation. Yet, at the very same time, Birch took issue with Piper’s statement. So Birch is trying to have it both ways.
“Did I write that Piper stated as a universal truth that all Calvinists produce negative and mean-spirited attitudes? No, that is what Hays read into my words. Theologically, we call that eisegesis.”
To the contrary, when Birch talks about “types of people,” that’s a categorical statement. A set of individuals who belong to the same reference class.
“Having read Piper's own words, what, then, do we make of Steve Hays' allegations towards me? Have I, as he insisted, misrepresented Piper's position?”
Yet, Birch has misrepresented Piper’s statement–on two grounds. He disagrees with Piper’s characterization of Calvinists as intellectual types, yet continues to build on Piper’s statement as if he agrees with it. And he also uses it in a way that Piper would reject.
“However, he did allude earlier to something which, again, I did not explicitly state.”
Needless to say, you don’t have to explicitly state something to imply something. Drawing out the logical implications of a statement is a perfectly valid procedure.
It forces the opponent to either owe up to the implications of his statement or withdraw his statement.
“Even after admitting that mean-spirited Arminians exist, somehow I have alluded that all Calvinists are not saved.”
Let’s go back to Birch’s opening paragraph:
“At times, one must wonder why so many Calvinists are so very angry. The psychological affects of Calvinism are not so easily ascertained. 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); 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). It is interesting: the gospel of Jesus Christ does not attract such types of people. I digress.”
Follow the logic. According to Birch, the types of people who are attracted to Calvinism stand in contrast to the types of people who are attracted to the Gospel.
“Let me be crystal clear, so that no one will be able to misunderstand my position. Any individual who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and continues to trust in him has thus been born again and is saved. This includes Calvinists, Arminians, Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Wesleyans, Church of Christ, non-denominational, the homeless, the churchless, the clotheless, etc.”
So why did he single out Calvinists in the first place? Either he’s speaking hypothetically (and counterfactually), in which case his inclusive language is deceptive–or else he isn’t differentiating between Calvinists and other Christians–in which case his opening paragraph is a gross overstatement. So which is it?
BTW, didn’t he previously say that Calvinism potentially attributes the work of Satan to God? Does this mean that Calvinists potentially commit the unpardonable sin?
“Does Calvinism preach the gospel? Yes, it most certainly does.”
Well, it’s nice to hear him say that. And how does that square with earlier statements like “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, making him the author of sin and evil…” and “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”?
“Do not be fooled, friends. When I suggest that some (not all) Calvinists behave in an unbecoming manner, many of them (e.g. Triabloguers) take that as a compliment, because they are convinced that God acts in that manner as well. So, when I suggested, 'Like Father, like son. Ungodly Calvinists are merely imitating the concept of God that they have embraced,' Hays' response was, 'That's actually quite flattering, although it exaggerates our state of sanctification. Would that we were that far along!' That is a sad commentary.”
This is very choice coming from someone who accused me of misrepresenting his position. Did I agree with his pejorative characterization of Calvinism? No. I explicitly rejected his characterization.
What I agreed to rather, is that it’s a good thing if Calvinists emulate the character of the God they worship.
“I cannot and will not excuse either John or Charles Wesley for their invective against Calvinists. How could I?”
Notice that Birch is evading the issue. The question at issue is whether, by Birch’s standards, John and Charles Wesley were born-again Christians.
“I do wish, however, that Hays would have made the effort to quote from Arminius himself, since I am not a Wesleyan, nor do I often quote from the Wesley's. His search would have proven unfruitful, however. This blog was designed to offer readers primary writings of James Arminius.”
That’s another dodge. John and Charles Wesley are major representatives of Arminian theology. Indeed, I daresay they are far more influential in the propagation of Arminian theology than Arminius ever was.
So the question, once again, is whether Birch is prepare to measure John and Charles Wesley by the same yardstick he uses on Calvinists. Right now he’s ducking the issue.
Is he an Arminian chauvinist? Does he have one standard for his own kind and another standard for his Reformed opponents? Don’t Arminians believe in equal treatment for all? Surely Arminians like Birch aren’t respecters of persons, are they?
“If my grasp of Calvinism is so ‘woefully deficient,’ then one must chalk that up to the inadequate teachings of Calvin himself, not to mention A. W. Pink, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John Murray, since it was from these men that I learned Calvinism.”
i) To begin with, that’s a non sequitur. It’s quite possible to incompetently read competent exponents of a given position. You can be a deficient reader of a proficient author.
ii) In addition, it’s striking to see how many popularizers are on his list. Notice whom he didn’t study: Bavinck, Beale, Carson, Cunningham, Frame, Helm, Nicole, Owen, Schreiner, Turretin, Vos, and Warfield–to name a few.
“And since God has allegedly decreed to unconditionally save some and unconditionally reprobate the rest, since ‘few’ will find the narrow way to heaven, and ‘many’ will follow the broad path to hell, according to Jesus, then my statement concerning Calvinism's teachings are correct.”
Ironically, this is a perfect example of Birch’s woefully deficient grasp of Reformed theology. A number of Reformed theologians take the position that the majority of mankind will be saved. They arrive at that position by combining a postmillennial eschatology with a belief in the salvation of those who die in infancy (which in times of high infant morality adds up).
Consider Warfield’s classic essay on the subject: “Are they few that be saved?”
As a man who plans to be a church historian, specializing in the Calvinist/Arminian controversy, Birch ought to know that.
“This is a blatant contradiction. Or perhaps an outright lie. Everything has been decreed. Everything. In what manner, then, can my assessment of Calvinism be inadequate? If everything has been strictly decreed, then that includes the salvation of a few and the damnation of the majority (few and many are percentages). Hays appears to be intentionally dishonest here. Perhaps he does not appreciate the implications of the system which he has embraced. If that is the case, we will gladly receive him into the Classical Arminian fold, as long as he leaves his jeremiad (angry harangue) at the door.”
This is a good example of why Birch is temperamentally unsuited to be a church historian. He lacks critical detachment.
i) To begin with, his allegation about the chosen few is demonstrable false. (See above.)
ii) In addition, did I take issue with the notion that, according to Calvinism, everything is decreed? No. My objection was far more specific.
You can’t be a decent church historian if, like Birch, you’re temperamentally unable to accurately represent positions you personally disagree with. A church historian must be able to present a variety of opposing viewpoints in the course of church history. That requires a faculty for critical detachment and even critical sympathy which is conspicuously absent in Birch’s case.
In fact, in the next paragraph, after accusing me of outright lying and intentional dishonesty, Birch then admits that “more than likely” my objection was more specific.
“While Hays reserves every right to dissect any one of my posts with the most careful scrutiny, including pointing out my errors and inconsistencies, what he does not have the right to do is misrepresent my intent, or place aberrant ideas into my words, as if what he has concluded is what I intended to convey.”
Of course, my only access point to Birch’s intent is through the meager and amateurish way in which, by his own admission or subsequent disclaimer, he chose to convey his intent.
“Moreover, if I objectively state something concerning Calvinism but it happens to be a negative aspect of the system, I am called a hypocrite using ‘uncharitable discourse’.”
Of course, what he does is to cloak his intemperate language under the tendentious guise of an “objective” description–as if there’s anything objective about his characterization.
And if he wants to use that out, then a Calvinist could use the very same out. I wasn’t uncharitable. No, I was objectively stating something that just so happens to be a negative aspect of the Arminian system.
“They take the invective they find from New Testament authors used against heretics and find license to use invective against other believers, completely ignoring the audience of the invective in Scripture.”
To the contrary, I’ve discussed the original audience on several different occasions.
“They then suggest that just because one calls him- or herself a Christian does not make it so…”
And Birch takes the identical position–repeatedly.
“When it is suggested that just because the Triabloguers call themselves Christians does not make it so, the person is called uncharitable.”
Really? Compare this depiction with the actual response:
“[Birch] It is curious whether or not they understand that calling themselves Christian should not immunize them from judgmental language where appropriate as well.”
[Hays] What evidence is there that we don’t understand that? He can quote anything we said to the contrary?
“[Birch] 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.”
[Hays] Once again, I never said otherwise.
Did I accuse Birch of being uncharitable in response to his statement? No. I accused him of failing to document his accusations. And notice that he has yet to do so.
“Hays, offering absolutely no commentary on my quoting Ephesians 4:29-30, quotes Acts 13:10 and 23:3 as proof-text for using invective against believers, completely ignoring context and audience. He then concludes: ‘So much for Birch's non-invective theory.’ I suppose that Acts 13:10 and 23:3 somehow trump Ephesians 4:29-30. Or is it that the audience and context are entirely different in Acts and Ephesians? The latter is the truth of the matter.”
i) To begin with, I didn’t comment on his prooftext because I don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time I address an opponent who raises stock objections that I’ve already dealt with in the past.
ii) In addition, Birch simply uses buzzwords like “audience” and “context” as a substitute for actually exegeting the passages in context, according to the original audience.
“I pointed out that not only does Calvinism retain the potential to fallaciously attribute the work of Satan to the divine, determinative will of God, but 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, thus giving rise to ungodly attitudes among many Calvinists. Hays, playing the martyr, responds: ‘No doubt that's another example of charitable discourse, right?’”
Was I “playing the martyr?” No. I was holding Birch to his own standards. It betrays a lack of maturity on his part when he gets all bent out of shape just because I expect him to be morally consistent.
“And yet, such expressed opinions are also meant to protect undecided Christians. For there are many persons who are "on the fence," so to speak, concerning Calvinism. These undecided individuals deserve to know the truth about the implications of Calvinsitic theology, for they will certainly not be told of these things by Calvinists.”
Of course, that’s how John and Charles Wesley would defend their invective regarding the blasphemous and diabolical character of Reformed theology.
Since Birch, along with some other Arminian epologists, likes to frame his attack on Calvinism in terms of how we lack the fruits of the Spirit, it’s worth pointing out that their constant resort to double standards is, itself, spiritually symptomatic. One mark of sanctification is a capacity for self-criticism and spiritual self-examination. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Their moral blindness.
Yes, except for Dan, the Arminian critics whom I’ve encountered are chronically hypocritical. Total chauvinism when it comes to one of their own.
Doesn't that reflect rather poorly on their state of sanctification? Their own spiritual harvest? Fruit inspection is a two-way street. Their produce dept. is pretty wormy and rotten, if you ask me.