Friday, February 07, 2014

"Sneering Calvinists"

A blogger for TGC recently did a post on "Sneering Calvinists." I'll just make a few brief comments:

i) I had an aunt who was a lifelong Arminian. A doctrinaire Arminian. She was one of the two most saintly Christians I ever knew. So I think it's possible for an Arminian to be a very pious, very godly Christian. Just to get that out of the way.

ii) But in my extensive experience, I'd say that, with few exceptions, Internet Arminians are the most prideful, bigoted, hypocritical professing believers I regularly encounter. 

Notice I said Internet Arminians. I think that's largely due to the fact that the Internet is a magnet for militants. Ideologues. 

I don't use that as a pejorative characterization. The Internet attracts militant Arminians, militant Lutherans, militant Catholics, militant Democrats, militant libertarians, and militant Calvinists–to name a few. To state the obvious, I myself am a militant Calvinist. 

So Internet Arminians are a self-selected subset of Arminians generally. And I think it brings out the worst of the worst. 

iii) As I've said on another occasion, I think that's largely due to the fact that Internet Arminians define themselves in reference to Calvinism. They constantly define themselves in contrast to Calvinists and Calvinism. That's the invidious frame of reference against which they measure themselves. Incessantly comparing yourself to others is bound to cultivate a prideful attitude. And it renders them impervious to self-criticism. It's the team-player mentality in excelsis. They love their own. They excuse their own. 

For a current example, just spend a few months reading the comment threads at Jerry Walls' Facebook page. 

iv) Finally, there's a stock rejoinder to this: "two wrongs don't make a right!" Just because there are bad Arminians doesn't justify your bad behavior.  

However, that rejoinder is confused on two levels:

a) To begin with, the critics single out Calvinists, alleging that Calvinists have a distinctive reputation in this regard. But if that's the charge, then it's a logical refutation to note that's not distinctive to Calvinists. It's not as if there's something about Calvinism that makes this alleged attitude more prevalent amount Calvinists. 

b) In addition, the allegation is vague. From what I've read, this usually comes down to is the fact that Arminians resent Calvinists who regard Calvinism as theologically superior to Arminianism. They bristle at that attitude.

That, however, isn't a matter of Calvinists feeling superior to Arminians, but Calvinists deeming Reformed theology to be superior to Arminian theology. That's comparing one theological tradition to another, and judging one to be better than another. There's nothing wrong with that. It's unavoidable. We ought to make those comparative assessments. And both sides of the debate do that very thing. 


  1. ii) But in my extensive experience, I'd say that, with few exceptions, Internet Arminians are the most prideful, bigoted, hypocritical professing believers I regularly encounter.

    1 Cor. 8:1c says, "...Knowledge puffs up..."

    I suspect that much of the pride among prideful Calvinists and Arminians stems from a belief that they have greater understanding of the deeper truths of the Bible or can perceive theological issues more clearly than others. When it comes to the prideful internet Arminians, it stems from the unfortunate fact (IMO) that they often do see some of the implications of Calvinism better than many professing Calvinists. These Arminians do see that consistent Calvinism would require many Calvinists to have a stronger view of reprobation than they currently have (regardless of their lapsarian position). Something which many Calvinists understandably don't want on an emotional level, or aren't aware is a logical consequence of their more comforting tenets. For example, many Arminians like to pose this dilemma. How can you worship/love/trust a God who didn't save all even though it was in His power to do so? How can you call such a God loving or good? I've seen Arminians from Geisler, Walls, Brown, Olson (et al.) use that kind of argument.

    It's not new since even Erasmus (as a Catholic) in the 16th century wrote something similar in his diatribe:

    "Who will be able to bring himself to love God with all his heart when He created hell seething with eternal torments in order to punish his own misdeeds in his victims as though he took delight in human torments? For that is how most people will interpret them...." [taken from "Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation" page 41 (cf. 134 & 136) from The Library of Christian Classics]

    When it comes to Calvinists being proud about deeper Biblical truths, I think they are right in thinking they do hold to deeper truths that other Christian traditions don't see. However, that's not a cause for pride, but of humility. Since, to be consistent Calvinists should realize that whatever truths they have come to embrace is ultimately by God's grace. As John Newton explained so eloquently in his work "More Than a Calvinist."

    The Arminian on the other hand, is (in some sense) being consistent in taking pride in his deeper theological perception since, if it were true, part of his greater knowledge is due to his superior use of his libertarian free will.

  2. Each side of the theological debate seems to hurl the charge of “arrogance” (or prideful, etc.) very easily and far too frequently. I find this topic tiring at best. Usually, it amounts to little more than a pejorative charge without substance. It is slanderous and unworthy of Christian dialogue and debate.

    Instead of trying to explain why one side or the other is arrogant, I wish commentators would I reject the assumption outright. Far too often, “arrogant” is a subjective slur one levels at his opponents simply because they disagree with him. What is the charge hurled against Christians, in general? That we are arrogant. Why? Because we insist that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life and every other system is idolatrous and false. Simply asserting that something is true will often bring a charge of arrogance from those who disagree. It is an easy insult to throw.

    We believe that Calvinism is the best and truest systemization of the doctrines taught in Scripture. We believe that other systems are in error to some degree or another. We will defend our beliefs to the best of our abilities because we believe we are defending the truth. However, no matter how gracious we try to be in conduct, we will sometimes be called arrogant simply for contending that another person’s belief is in error.

    Unless someone can provide some objective standard for arrogance and show how another person’s conduct fits that objective definition, then I will continue to view the matter as unworthy of discussion.