Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Those pesky Calvinists (Jesus Creed)

Scot McKnight threw up a letter from a young pastor asking for advice about how to plant a church riddled with Calvinists who
...are relentless. Absolutely no discussion or compromise. I have had the life kicked out of me at my church this past year by some of these people. For them, it just isn’t good enough to be a solid evangelical who really loves Jesus and wants to serve him. It has to be all about reformed theology.
The ensuing discussion is lengthy (over 100 comments so far). I found myself drawn in.

Many posters are taking this chance to express their painful encounters with reformed Christians. Then there are parties who doubt that the encounters represented are actually talking about true Calvinists (natch), that Calvinists shouldn't be picked on more than other strident groups, that they have never seen this behavior in their own experiences (of course!), that it's not the theology, it's the misbehavior of sinners, and so on.

When this kind of back and forth didn't get too far, a third strain joined the discussion: "Well, we all think we're right, no matter what the topic. It's just that some people are more persistent than others and that offends them, but it shouldn't." There is a defense of "being right," "believing you are right," "having the right to assert your right-ness" and so on. It's almost as if the attitude is: "Well, we all think we're right so we're all meanies and not interested in listening to others."

But not so fast, Wile E. Coyote. One of the cultural factors in the reformed and fundamentalist camps that creates this stereotype of obnoxious argumentativeness is that it is believed that being right gives people the right to disregard other viewpoints while contending for their own. Lip service is paid to "Well I understand what you're saying BUT...." and then the "right" view is reasserted with new vigor. These debaters are tireless. Until agreement is reached, they assert they have not been properly understood (which makes sense if you actually do believe that you are leading people to the logical, spiritual, Holy Spirit inspired truth).

Here's the rub. Not everyone is up for arguing, not everyone feels compelled to win all points of view to one point of view. Moreover, some people have legitimately rejected the reformed point of view and aren't open to being shown its truth-value any more.

The justification that we all believe we are right therefore our conversations will be hostile, intractable, painful and at times downright unfriendly is a fallacy though. There is a way to interact over difference that allows dignity to all parties and leaves open the possibility of learning. I'll post my ideas in the next entry. What are some of yours? What has worked for you?


julieunplugged said...

Let me quickly add that I've encountered plenty of atheists, scientific materialists and even postmodernists who are tireless debaters. This specific post at Jesus Creed was shining a light on reformed Christians hence the discussion here.

r. michael said...

I think we get so wrapped up in our point of view and our "rightness" that we can't divorce it from being valued... i.e. "if you don't value my point of view then you don't value me." I see this in the marriage relationship.

No particular divine revelations here that are not painfully obvious...but the key here is to be able to listen (which most people don't do well) and see value in the point of view from the other person's perspective...even though our perspective may be radically different. We are not particularly good at putting ourselves in someone else's shoes but I think it can be as simple as that.

I have experienced the kind of treatment described on McKnight's blog with rabid Calvinists (the foaming of the mouth the result of ingesting TULIPS). It never ceases to amaze me that they are given to think that after hundreds of years of theological discourse and debate they have finally arrived at "the answer"...I have been told to my face that if I did not have a Calvinist point of view on the Scriptures that my eternal destination was in jeopardy...the apparent paradox of the lack of any concern for my eternal dwelling juxtaposed with the teachings of Jesus did not even cross his mind...I have found that many are in love with Calvinism and well Jesus...he's OK too.

my15minutes said...

I like what r. michael said. I don't have anything great to add, but if you come upon a solution, my marriage would love to hear it. :-)

Luke said...

Julie, I'm a recovering Calvinist myself. I've had learn "discussion skills" from my wife who never could understand why people feel the need not only to be heard, but also to get the opposition to agree. Now that I'm an Arminian and on the other side of the fence, the tendencies are only slightly easier to control. I'm glad for that soft hand that squeezes my elbow every once in a while to remind me of who I am and what I should be. Sometimes that hand is my wife's, and other times it's the Spirit's. But usually it's both.

Drew said...

It's all about how you frame the debate and how you relay the framework for the other's argument.

I deconstruct. I dig deep into the assumptions of what the person is making in the argument. Often this means using a lot of reflection in order to get them to unpack their own unfounded assumptions - since we all have them at different degrees.

Once those assumptions are unpacked I try to connect it back in a logical manner to their conclusions. Then they have an ultimatum to revise assumptions, or reconstruct them. So I like to work towards reconstruction. I do the same with my students - and my own perspectives.

So the question for a hard-core Calvinist that I always try to get down to is this: Why is an absolute decree an effective premise on which to base one's reading of scripture, and how does that translate into giving and receiving the good life for ourselves and neighbors?

brian said...


As a self-declared heretic, I find I get hit with a lot of questions from those more fundamentalists than I am. Consequently, I usually am on the defensive. I try to answer their questions with reason and with tact. But, what I will also do at times is turn it around and begin asking them questions, challenging their assumptions.

I also try to remember what it was like when I was of the same mindset and how challenging it would be to hear the things that come from my keyboard now. I realize they feel threatened by my position and try to be as non-threatening as possible.

Kansas Bob said...

These days my primary mindset when bantering ideas around is that these are just ideas.. some are worth a second thought and some are not. Unfortunately many of my ideas (past and present) fall more in the "no second thought" pile.

I was glad to see Brian comment.. I love reading his stuff and think that he is one of the kindest bloggers around.. though we often disagree, I always come away from our dialogs more informed and sometimes re-evaluating my thinkings on the topic of our interhange.

Wish all of blogdom debate could be as civilized.. especially those religious in nature.

julieunplugged said...

Brian is an irenic conversationalist! I agree. I'm going to link to a terrific discussion he had on his blog with a fundamentalist. It models what you speak of, Bob.