Questioning Calvinism & Watching the Mud Fly!

Since starting From Law to Grace in July 2010, I have published 179 posts (including this one) “discussing the intersection of law, religion, and politics in culture and Baptist life.”  With articles dealing with the Great Commission Resurgence, the new NAMB, the Southern Baptist Convention, President Obama, Islam, Hollywood, and Homosexuality, I have received my fair share of feedback and comments.

While almost all comments over the last year have been respectful (I think I’ve only moderated one or two comments which were blatantly offensive), I have enjoyed the interaction and dialogue with the readers of From Law to Grace, particularly with those folks who may not have agreed with what I wrote (you know who you are).

If you would have asked me last July to predict which posts would have been read the most, I would probably not have been able to accurately guess.  Looking back, however, it’s not too surprising that posts dealing with SBC politics — The New NAMB: 7 Years Sure Goes By Fast and The Slow Death of the Cooperative Program — were the top two posts of the past year.  I’m still somewhat flummoxed that my post, Limiting Your Audience: Janeane Garafalo and Criminal Minds, was the fifth most read post of the year.  I never thought that Ms. Garafalo would attract readers.  Who knew?

But, if you combine hits with comments, there was no contest as to which one of my posts was the most “popular.”  Coming in at number four in terms of readers, but number one for comments, was my first post on a subject that brings out the best and worst in people — Calvinism.

In SBC’s New Calvinism & Patriotic Worship: Part 1, I entered into an area fraught with many dangers, toils, and snares.  I won’t say that I was unprepared for the blowback that I received both here (and at SBCVoices), but the intensity of some of Calvinism’s defenders that was on display was eye-opening, to say the least.

It seems that discussing Calvinism, particularly as it relates to life within the Southern Baptist Convention, will often lead to mud-slinging — early and often.  Granted, the mud can come from all parties involved (including me), but from my observation, it seems that even the slightest questioning of Calvinism or the sharing of negative personal experiences or observations concerning Calvinism are grounds for a direct and swift counter-attack, often with much more force than was warranted.

The latest example of this counter-attack strategy can be clearly seen in response to an article written by SBC Plodder, William Thornton, posted at SBCVoices on Tuesday.  Entitled “Why I’m Wary of Calvinists,”   Thornton shares HIS OWN experiences with Calvinists.  These personal experiences, which he readily admits are anecdotal, have obviously shaped his view of Calvinists, leading him to his personal position of being wary of Calvinists in general.

In stating his three main observations, Mr. Thornton was careful to point out that these did not apply exclusively to Calvinists.  However, as he was obviously writing about his own personal experiences with Calvinists, his arguments were limited to Calvinists.  He concludes his OP by writing:

Perhaps my experience is atypical and an aberration. I’d be pleased to know that is the case. If not, I’ll look askance at Calvinists but still rejoice when Christ is preached and Christ is preached by every Calvinist I know.

I do not know exactly when on July 26 that William’s article was published at Voices, but it did not take too long for the defenders of Calvinism to help prove that Pastor Thornton’s observations and experiences might not have been atypical afterall.  Instead of acknowledging that the experiences and observations of William Thornton (a respected pastor and blogger) might have been true, most Calvinists commenting not only did not interact with Thornton’s observations, but they dismissed them out-of-hand.

Why is it so hard for those on opposite sides of theological issues to acknowledge that their “opponent’s” observations and/or experiences maybe true?  Just because we make that acknowledgment does not mean that we are somehow bound to then accept our opponent’s theology.  Would it hurt to say to someone like William Thornton,

“I don’t doubt that you have had bad experiences with some Calvinists, but I want to let you know that the behavior you observed is an aberration.  I’m sorry that this brother — who called himself a Calvinist — acted like he did.  He was wrong and he shouldn’t have done what he did to destroy that church.”

Instead, we get full counter-attacks which not only do not acknowledge another brother’s experiences, but in fact come close to (and at times do) calling him a liar who does not know what he is talking about, even though he has shared his personal experiences and observations.  There are a few folks who will never be convinced that there are any Calvinists who have destroyed churches (just as there are those who will never be convinced that there are non-Calvinists who have detroyed churches).

I’m fully aware that this post will be misinterpreted as an assault on Calvinists.  No matter how delicately I might phrase something, there will always be the _________   __________’s of the world — the ardent defenders of all-things Calvinist — who will jump on anything that is written that is not completely, 100% in agreement with Calvinism.  As a confessing (although admittedly inconsistent) 5-Point Calvinist, I’m okay with that.  Let the comments (hold the mud) fly!

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About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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12 Responses to Questioning Calvinism & Watching the Mud Fly!

  1. Bill Mac says:

    Howell,

    I understand your points. Just a quick response. There is no doubt that Calvinists can be guilty of offenses just like anyone else. However when you take the stream of thought from various non-Calvinist authors throughout the blogosphere, you cannot help but come away with the impression that Calvinists are more prone to some offenses than their non-Calvinist brethren, e.g.: arrogance, deception, and church destruction. The first charge is not too bothersome but the second and third are quite serious. If Calvinists really are more deceptive and more likely to destroy churches than their non-Calvinist brethren, then we Calvinists would like to see some type of support for those assertions. Yes, William’s piece was anecdotal (they all are, aren’t they?), but it simply adds to the growing chorus of voices proclaiming that Calvinists are arrogant liars who destroy churches.

    Re: The fur flying. This really doesn’t bother me at all. We write to get responses. The more provocative, the more responses. Deep down, we like it.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Bill,

      Thanks for the comment. I can certainly understand how you (or anyone else) would find the charges (particularly #2 and #3 as you state) quite serious and bothersome. Something that I thought of this morning and perhaps should have included was not that the defenses are in and of themselves wrong. Depending on the charges, you might want to make rather strong defeneses. But, sometimes your best defense is either silence (which doesn’t mean you agree) or to acknowledge your opponent’s point. It seems that many (not just Calvinists) are simply unwilling to acknowledge that the other side does present legitimate arguments, even if they are just anecdotal. That makes them no less true, but perhaps just weaker. If Williams would have tried to argue that everyone should be wary of Calvinists, then a full counter-attack may have been warranted. If he was a member of the chorus that was suspect, then maybe a more direct response would be appropriate. As for the fur flying, I think for some people, they just like to argue, no matter what the issue. I don’t think they could ever acknowledge that someone else maybe right (and that’s not just limited to the Calvinism argument). Have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

  2. Marty says:

    Howell, as a Calvinist myself, I often find it difficult as well to not shoot from the hip (rapidly and barrels blazing) when people attack God’s sovereignty. The temptation was even greater to raucously defend mud-slinging in an effort to be funny. But you make a really good point. I think the reason people get so verbally emphatic defending Calvinism is due to the tendency for miscommunication to run rampant. The last thing a Calvinist wants is for anyone to misunderstand their motives or philosophy. Many take Calvinism to be cold or heartless, when any Calvinist will tell you it’s their belief in Calvinism that points them to God’s mercy, compassion and grace! Not to mention the common adage that, “a lie will travel around the world before Truth has had a chance to put it’s boots on.”. Keep up the good work!

  3. The essence of being wary of Calvinists is to declare them all as likely to exhibit the characteristics .. the aberrations, if you will .. of those with whom he takes such exceptions. Thinking them guilty, or likely to be guilty, of those same things is (it seems to me) declaring them guilty, which is the meaning of the word “judge”, which we’re commanded not to do.

    Hence the reactions, which seem to have been relatively muted in this case.

  4. I would be surprised, Howell, but am accustomed to this sort of thing. I would point out to you (and Dave Miller who said the same thing) that I haven’t questioned Calvinism at all, not a syllable of dispute about any of the tenets of Calvinism. I have attempted to assess my own feelings and views about Calvinists and explain them.

    Bob, I disagree with your reasoning. If I am wary, I don’t declare guilt but am more careful and cautious. There is a considerable difference.

    • Howell Scott says:

      William,

      I didn’t think that you were questioning Calvinism itself and hope that my post did not come across that way (even though the title was “Questioning Calvinism . . .”). In a general sense, my observation and experience is that whenever anyone (like you did) questions anything to do with Calvinism — in this case those who call themselves Calvinists — that this is seen as an attack upon Calvinism that must be responded to with a full counter-attack. In a series that I did several months ago regarding Calvinism and Patriotic Worship, I never attacked the 5 Points of Calvinism. In fact, from a theological perspective, I agree with the 5 Points, athough in my methodology, practice, and preaching I am inconsistent and am not consumed with preaching and teaching on the 5 Points. For that, I was called a liar by one commenter who shall remain nameless and others simply threw the kitchen sink. Now I know. I’m comfortable with that. I think Marty, commenting here, had a good point when he said, “ Many take Calvinism to be cold or heartless, when any Calvinist will tell you it’s their belief in Calvinism that points them to God’s mercy, compassion and grace! Of course, Calvinists or non-Calvinists or inconsistent Calvinists would do a lot better if we (and I include myself in this) showed much more mercy compassion, and grace to those we theologically disagree with. But, that’s a post for another day. Hope all is well in GA. Have a blessed day,

      Howell

  5. Les Puryear says:

    I find it interesting that Marty says that to attack Calvinism is to “attack God’s sovereignty.” Calvinists aren’t the only people who believe in the sovereignty of God.

    Les

  6. Howell,

    Thanks for the post. When I started blogging in 2006, to my recall not a single Southern Baptist blogger of note was a convictional non-Calvinist. None. Calvinism owned the entire city block. The truth is, Calvinists still very much rule the domain. Hence, when I hear about all the “misrepresentations” about Calvinism apparently indicative of unchecked attacks on “Reformed” faith by uninformed non-Calvinists, I have to wonder where all these ignorant bloggers are.

    With that, I am…
    Peter

    • Howell Scott says:

      Peter,

      Hope you are doing well. It would be interesting to see the breakdown of SBC bloggers relating to theology. I know that SBCVoices, where I contribute, has mostly Calvinist contributors. Even though I believe the 5 Points, I would not describe myself as a Calvinist (although I have in the past and don’t object to the term). What William’s article at Voices has proven once again is that some Calvinists will not allow even someone’s experiences to go unchallenged, even going so far as to call folks “liars.” The same happened to me (by the same person) when I wrote on Calvinism and Patriotic Worship. No one disputes that there are non-Calvinists who are arrogant and who have caused churches to split. However, no matter how carefully you phrase something in the great Calvinist debate, there will always be those defenders that love to employ a bazooka when a pea shooter would have worked just fine. Have a great weekend and God bless,

      Howell

  7. Stephen Fox says:

    I have left two comments at SBCPlodder blog on this topic. I hope Dave Miller and others will take a look at the point I make about Calvinism and a Pulitzer prize winner.
    Please note also The Tea Party Senator from Upstate S.C. Jim Demint of SBC Frank Page’s recent precinct of Upstate South Carolina is a PCA Calvinist of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C. easily googled.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Stephen,

      Thanks for stopping by. I just read Balmer’s OP on Land at EthicsDaily.com. While I would not go so far as Balmer (just yet), there have been some disturbing words and actions coming from Dr. Land, particularly with his relationship with Glenn Beck and Beck’s Restore America movement. As to the Tea Party and Calvinism link, I am unaware of that, but it would not surprise me at all. I am not a Tea Partier and, to paraphrase William Thornton, “I am wary of the Tea Party.” The debt ceiling “crisis” is but one example of how the Tea Party is influencing Washington. And, I’m not sure in a good way. Take care and God bless,

      Howell

  8. Pingback: » Questioning Calvinism & Watching the Mud Fly! | From Law to Grace Church Leadership

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