Thursday, October 25, 2018


Years ago, John Frame wrote a provocative essay on the infighting within Calvinism:

That raises the question of whether Calvinism is more prone to internecine warfare than other theological traditions, and–if so–why that's the case.

i) Calvinism is polemical theology because it was birthed in a setting of political and theological unrest. It had to fight for a seat at the table. 

ii) There are factions within freewill theism, viz. Arminianism, Molinism, open theism. And of course, Protestants disagree on a wide range of issues, viz. eschatology, inerrancy, worship, the atonement, the sacraments, evolution, hell, inclusivism/exclusivism, cessationism, law and gospel, church and state, &c. 

iii) At the risk of overgeneralization, some theological traditions are more concerned with orthodoxy while other theological traditions are more concerned with orthopraxy. In liturgical churches (e.g. Catholicism, Anglo-Catholicism, Lutheranism, Eastern Orthodoxy), there's an obsession on right ritual. 

Now, a critic might object that Eastern Orthodoxy, to take a prominent example, is centrally concerned with orthodoxy. Take furious historical debates of the Trinity, the person of Christ, the Filioque clause. 

Yet liturgical churches typically split over innovations in the liturgy. In that regard, orthodopraxy is more central. Orthodoxy supplies the backstory for liturgy. The sacraments translate doctrine into practice. Since our relationship to God is mediated through church and sacrament, orthopraxy takes center stage. In a sense, orthodoxy exists for the sake of orthopraxy, because orthopraxy is the business end of Christianity. Orthodoxy is a means to an orthopractic end. 

Rabbinic Judaism provides a Jewish counterpart. A Talmudic religion, centered on ethics and ritual. And Islam provides a Muslim counterpart. The fanatical obsession with sharia. In both cases, what you do is more important than what you believe. 

By contrast, because Baptists and Presbyterians deemphasize church and sacraments compared to liturgical churches, doctrine takes center stage. That redraws the battle lines from orthopraxy to orthodoxy. Of course, rival Protestant traditions still haggle over the sacraments, because those function as boundary markers to distinguish rival Protestant traditions, but church and sacraments lack the centrality in those traditions which they occupy in liturgical churches because your salvation is about right belief rather than right ritual. 

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