14 March 2011

Ramblings and Remorse

© Jeanne Freibert
THE CAREFUL READER will have noticed the subtitle of this blog—"ramblings and remorse." You get what you pay for here. After my last ramble ("Why I'm Not Young, Restless, & Reformed"), I have a little remorse for not being as clear as I should have been. Sacrificing clarity for the sake of pithy provocation is not the best way (accomplishing both at the same time may be, however).

Further explanation is warranted with respect to a couple of the more theological points in that post:

#2. When I wrote "Piper has exacted virtually no influence on my theological formation, save to make me a more resolute paedobaptist," what I didn't mean was that Piper is damaging to the church or that God hasn't used him in significant ways in global Christianity. I was speaking personally about my own journey. The whole "Christian hedonism" thing never did it for me; it never tugged at my heart. His sermons and teachings on baptism, however, did challenge me, and through wrestling with those I became a more resolute paedobaptist. So, it's not quite right to say he has had virtually no influence on my theological formation; indeed, he did—just by via negativa. In his regular preaching, there are a host of things he has said that I enjoy and agree with more than disagree with, but those are also things that have been said before in the church's history (he just says them, as we used to say in poetry class, "with gusto"). I have in mind here especially his missional emphases as well as his biblical expositions on God's sovereign grace.
Piper is, of course, hailed as the grandfather of the young, restless, and Reformed crowd. Not being my spiritual grandfather, I therefore don't have this in common with that crowd. It's really as benign as that. 
#6. When I admit to being "basically a hypothetical universalist," I mean nothing less than thinking the syllogism "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect" is outright biblical (I'm not at all concerned with the debates about the order of God's decrees). To my mind, it's the only way to make sense of a handful of certain passages that speak of a universal atonement. The way those passages have been handled by certain Calvinists makes me cringe (wax-nosing "world" to mean "the elect of every tribe, tongue, and nation," or something similar). 
Variations on this theme have good street cred, folks: there's Lombard, Aquinas (and again), Calvin, Vermigli, Davenant, UssherHodge, and Dabney, among others.
#7. Regarding predestination, perhaps I should've said I'm a single predestinarian according to (and articulated most clearly in) the Book of Concord (or of "Discord," as an old professor once quipped), since what the Lutherans wrote there comes closer to my concerns than what the Council of Orange was combatting. Nevertheless, I'm not left with only the Lutherans in this matter: there's always Berkouwer, I guess (if one wants to avoid Brunner, et al.). I don't think for a moment that this position is somehow more gracious than double predestination, I just think single is clearly articulated in scripture, while double is not—and that's a fearful thing to "deduce by good and necessary consequence."

Ken Stewart's recent book, Ten Myths About Calvinism, speaks to this point and is worth quoting in full:
"While a whole succession of sixteenth-century Reformed theologians had essentially reiterated the view of Bucer and Calvin that all men are predestined to one of two ends, a movement had begun before that century expired to limit the language of predestination to persons made the object of God's saving mercy. This was the conception of predestination to life. Bullinger, Vermigli—and in time—the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession themselves took the view that the ultimate end of the unsaved did not proceed from the eternal will of God in the same manner as the end of the saved. The cause of ultimate condemnation, according to this second understanding was none other than the unbelief and sin of the condemned."
Thus, those who would seek to squeeze double predestination into the Reformed consensus documents (like Dordt and Westminster) while looking suspiciously at those who demur simply don't have history on their side. Moreover, the desire to label the position defined here as "asymmetrical double predestination" will not do. The attempt ends up being a distinction without a difference. In short, Calvin's view of double predestination does not enjoy some kind of normative status within the Reformed tradition (see Carl Trueman's "Calvin and Calvinism," in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, pp. 225–226).
#8. I'm a big fan of a few puritans, but not the "precisianist strain" and moralism that developed with a vengeance in seventeenth-century England and New England. 
Turretin, while no doubt one of the most precise Calvinists ever (I've used his Elenctic Theology extensively in my own research), hardened the lines of what constitutes "truly" Reformed theology and, in my opinion, unnecessarily narrowed the tradition.
Edwards (who is an heir, incidentally, of that precisianist strain) is of course one of America's foremost philosopher-theologians, but I'm not a philosopher by training. I'm not that good at it and thus I have little patience for it. I'm not a "big fan." It means I don't take much pleasure in reading him other than as it relates to historical research.
Now, as Abraham Lincoln was known to have said: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." Ah well, so it is, ramblings and remorse.


John Schaefer said...

Oops! Teehee, you missed a couple. Not to worry, I'll help you out with one of them:

3. I’ve been a reformed hipster since 1987, but less a spiritual descendant of Norman Mailer than of REM. (That's pre-sell and a-trib reformed hipsterism, pre-sellout and disregarding any supposed tribute-album.) My soul patch should in no way be taken as an endorsement of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah or militant Howie Mandelism, although I will confess to early influence from the Church of Zappa.


Chris Donato said...

@John, you're on a roll! Cracking me up over here. And, well, spot on too.

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