Sunday, January 11, 2009
"The criticism of other intellectuals is, after all, one of the most important functions of the intellectual, and he customarily performs it with vivacity. ... Because it is the business of intellectuals to be diverse and contrary-minded, we must accept the risk that at times they will be merely quarrelsome."
- Richard Hofstadter; Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1964 Pulitzer Prize Winner); p. 8
All it takes is a simple perusal of the New Testament to realize that Hofstadter's quote rings true. Paul, one of the most intellectual men to ever walk this earth, was indeed quarrelsome with those who opposed sound doctrine concerning Christ. (The word "quarrelsome" is not used here in a physical sense, but in the way that describes the battle of differing ideologies among people.) Paul argued his case with vivacity to the Jews, he withstood Peter to his face for compromising the truth of the Gospel, and he and Barnabas split during one leg of his trip because of the contention between the two. Could Peter or Barnabas have used the excuse that what Paul was doing was causing division? Most definitely. In fact, if he hadn't been so adamant in his position, the quarrels would have probably never happened. The question is not whether it was evident that Paul was causing division by being uncompromising regarding doctrine. The issue is whether he was in the right. If he wasn't, then he should have been reprimanded. If he was in the right, then trying to stifle his arguments by claiming that his arguments were causing division was actually an anti-Christian stance.
Allow me to lay out the terms simply so there is no ambiguity as to what I am saying. I believe that the soteriology (how a person is saved) that is classified "Calvinism" is what the Bible teaches regarding the subject. I do not care about the name. It could have been classified years ago as "Q-Bert", "Bob Hopeism" or "Cheesy Potatoes", and I would still claim to be "Q-Bertian". Why? Is it because I desire to worship Q-Bert? No. Is it because I wish to have a shrine set up in my room with rainbow discs as the floor tile? No. It would simply be because that's what the classifying name of what I believe the Bible teaches in regard to salvation is. Think of it like this. When we speak of multiplication, we mean that it's 2x2=4; 3x2=6; 2x0=0; and so on. We speak of wrong multiplication when we see 2x3=19, though. If you were a high school math teacher, and it was your duty to teach the class multiplication aright, would you tell them what 2x3 actually is, or would you say, "All this specification about what numbers mean is divisive. What really matters isn't the multiplication... what matters is the math." ...? If you heard of someone who did that, you'd probably think it was absurd. I'd agree. Regrettably, though, this is exactly what is happening in much of Christendom today by those who don't want to logically think through their presuppositions regarding soteriology. Where the person in our hypothetical says, "All this specification about what numbers mean is divisive. What really matters isn't the multiplication... what matters is the math.", they say, "All this specification about what the Bible means (doctrine) is divisive. What matters isn't the doctrine... it's Jesus and seeing people saved." ...Huh? Well what do we tell these people in regard of salvation? At this point, many will say, "Well, we just tell them what the Bible says (which is usually an Arminian stance)." The people we are witnessing to are obviously going to have questions, and we need something a little deeper then "Jesus died for you, and has a wonderful plan for your afterlife." That isn't much better than "Jesus died for you and has a wonderful plan for your life." It's just a matter of elapsing time between the two. No, we need to have the answers to questions if we are going to reach any kind of culture whatsoever namely the sinful culture which pretty much includes everyone.
As an aside, today, we also have a cry very often from those who claim to believe the same things that we do in regard to soteriology. They cry, "Don't worry about all this doctrine. We shouldn't be debating this. What matters is that souls are saved by believing in Jesus." Well, I agree, but believing doctrine is what saves souls so getting that doctrine right is essential. Take this for example: I tell you that Jesus was the lead singer of U2 back in the 1800's. That's doctrine. Is it true doctrine? Is it doctrine that will save your soul? What if I assert that it will? Will you debate me on this? Well, now you see the crux of the issue, and know why I believe it's imperative that while we may not be able to have perfect theology, we strive for that perfection.
Now take the doctrine of limited atonement for example. From the outset, I want to make clear that I don't believe that believing in the doctrine of limited atonement is what saves a person's soul. I believe nothing of the sort. Rather, what I'm contending is that I believe it is a biblical position, and if it is a biblical position, my contention is that those who want to not discuss the issue prove to do more harm to the body of believers as a whole than those that do. Very often Christians are regarded as not very bright people. I can vouch that from the brothers and sisters I know that this is certainly not the case. However, when there are doctrines that are up for dispute and debate, there should be a willingness to discuss them to see if these things are so rather than a stifling of talk about them or a monologue pontificating one's own views. I assert that if limited atonement is taught in the Bible, if it is true, and you truly have the Holy Spirit living inside you that leads you to all truth, you are going to at least consider the doctrine at some point in your Christian life. It may be that the Holy Spirit leads you away from this doctrine if it isn't true. If that's the case, though, surely one would want to debate the points. Monologues aren't effective means of persuasion to those who hold that consistency and logic are important issues.
It may be that you have tradition that is holding you back. It may be that I have my tradition that is holding me back from seeing that it isn't a biblical position. The difference is, though, that very often, you'll find those who adopt the same position that I do wanting to debate the issue, contend for it, and make sure that the statements that aren't consistent with it are proven to be faulty. You will also find that very often, us Calvinists are quarrelsome when it comes to defending the doctrine we hold. I don't contest this. In fact, I embrace the fact that we are, but you see, in this respect, are we more like a Pharisee who would have rather shut Jesus up, end all debate, and have a monologue, or are we more like Paul?
With all this said, those who argue that we shouldn't argue, and those who debate that we shouldn't debate are at best sincerely confused and at worst willfully idolatrous hypocrites. No, if Calvinism truly teaches what the Bible teaches and it's just a label that we put on to it, then the person who says, "Well, I just believe the Bible" also has put a label on their position. It's called "My beliefs = the Bible." The difference, though, again is that one side usually wants to see if that is so while the other calls the opposing side "arrogant" and "prideful" with no real basis for doing so. I ask you today, which side is truly prideful and arrogant?: the one who is quarrelsome like Paul regarding how he gets what he believes is true is attacked, or the one who sits back from afar and desires monologues instead of dialogues on doctrine hoping that no one comes along and proves him wrong? I believe the answer is pretty obvious. Are you going to debate that we shouldn't debate?
UPDATE: Here's an interesting video that I found the day after I wrote this. It gives a little more insight to the problem of anti-intellectualism in evangelical life specifically regarding this issue of limited atonement.