Sunday, September 02, 2012

Waxing irked

Leaving debates about the extent of the atonement aside for a moment, I want to point out something else that continues to trouble me – the equation of Calvinistic soteriology with the gospel itself. I wish, for the sake of all of us, that you would abandon this divisive rhetoric, not because it’s divisive but because it’s simply untrue. The gospel cannot be reduced to a particular view of soteriology.

Now, to be fair, you consider the doctrines of grace as “the foundation on which the gospel itself is built,” not the message itself. And when you quote Charles Spurgeon’s words equating Calvinism and the gospel (a place where I believe the great Spurgeon got it wrong), you are not saying that those of us who do not subscribe to all the points of Calvinism fail to believe the gospel. Instead, you consider this shorthand for biblical Christianity.

I get what you’re saying. But please consider what it sounds like to those of us who disagree. It sounds like you are making a systematic presentation of theology the gospel. As if the gospel were a set of doctrines, not the announcement of King Jesus. Plus, it smacks of elitism and sends young Calvinists back to their churches, thinking that if their pastors haven’t parsed the petals of TULIP, they aren’t really gospel preachers.

i) I always find it silly that some people take offense at Spurgeon’s “Calvinism is the gospel” slogan. For if they were honest with themselves, those who take offense at that slogan are offended because they think their alternative to Calvinism is the gospel. Lutherans think Lutheranism is the Gospel. Arminians think Arminianism is the gospel. Heck, four-pointers think “four-point Calvinism” is the gospel. They may not admit it, but their zealotry for their own cause does all the talking.

ii) I’ve debated prominent four-pointers who regard the extent of the atonement as all-important. That’s all they ever talk about. They clearly think that’s a gospel issue. And they even resort to Roger Olson-style smears against God’s character unless he redeemed everyone.

So it’s disingenuous for a four-pointer like Wax to single-out five-pointers. He lacks the objectivity to see his own side in perspective.

iii) There are degrees of truth and error. To say “Calvinism is the gospel” doesn’t mean the alternative is necessarily a false gospel. Rather, it usually means the theological alternatives are deficient or defective. And that’s what the alternatives say about Calvinism–or worse!

iv) Moreover, to say “the gospel cannot be reduced to a particular view of soteriology” hearkens back to 19C liberals who said you don’t need a “theory” of the atonement. This eventually boiled down to Richard Niebuhr’s famous quip: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

1 comment:

  1. It seems like the limitation of atonement, being about atonement, is indeed about the gospel. Calvinists aren't the ones who particularly focus on LA. The ones who obsess about LA are the ones who wish to deny God any say about what part of atonement is limited - whatever their reason for it. As far as that is concerned, full-blown Arminians are simply more consistent in their soteriology, if marginally so, than 4-pointers. But their shtick is the same: they can't accept God's prerogative in election.