Sunday, 25 May 2014

Responses to Austin Fischer's book

Austin Fischer has written a book about how he left Calvinism. It is not a treatise on Calvinist and non-Calvinist theology, rather his story and focus an a few Calvinist beliefs he wishes to push home and get a response to. Kevin DeYoung wrote a review; Austin responded to the review; and Steve of Triablogue responded to his response. There may be posts elsewhere, these are just what I have come across (Hat tip: Arminian Perspectives).

I wished to comment on a few things that were mentioned in these posts.
Kevin: Fischer suggests that Calvinists believe that when people are raped, maimed, murdered, and tortured that God ultimately did those things to them (21). What’s missing here is an awareness of the distinction between remote and primary causes. No Calvinists I know would say God rapes people. God is never the doer of evil. Arminians may not find the distinction compelling, but Reformed theologians have always made clear there is a difference between God ordaining what comes to pass and the role of human agency in actually and voluntarily performing the ordained action.
The point is that while Arminians acknowledge that Calvinists point to remote causes and deny the distinction is meaningful, Austin was a Calvinist. He was aware of such distinctions (he acknowledges in his response) as a Calvinist but eventually found the position lacking.
Kevin: Fischer makes much of the fact that in Jesus we see a desire to love at all costs, not a desire to glorify himself at all costs (58), as if the high priestly prayer in John 17 was not chiefly concerned with the glory of the Father and the Son.  
The key term is "at all costs." John 17 emphasises glory, but it not glory at all costs; and how is that glory manifested? Thru love. Which is the point: that love is a higher focus than glory. Jesus left glory for the sake of love, not to maximise glory.
Kevin: No doubt, Paul is trying to explain in Romans 9 how the promises to Israel have not failed. But to make his point, he argues that not everyone descended from Israel belongs to Israel (9:6), which leads him into an explanation of election and reprobation. And Paul’s thinking must include the idea of individual predestination, for he uses the example of twins who were set apart for different purposes by the plan of God (9:9-13). The point in “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” is that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy and hardens whomever he wills (9:14-18). Fischer’s comments on Romans 9, like his comments on most passages, are true enough in broad strokes, but fail to engage the particularities of the text. To settle for the exploration of big themes at the expense of verse-by-verse exegetical work is to enjoy the wonders of the forest and ignore all the trees.
Except that quoting "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" from Malachi Paul is referencing nations and not individuals. The Calvinist insistence on words and verses taking precedence over paragraphs and books means that they have constructed a tree out of Romans 9:20 that does appear to have any place in the forest of the Bible.
Austin: I do think God causes suffering. I think the Bible teaches me that God does, often for purposes such as discipline (Hebrews 12:4-11). But I find it very difficult to look at the way Jesus interacts with suffering in the Gospels and then sit comfortably with the doctrines of Calvinism where God ordains the most terrible suffering imaginable on the majority of humanity.
A helpful comment here would have been to note the difference between suffering and evil. There is no problem in God ordaining suffering; if may be in the context of needed consequences, or punishment. The problem is when God is described as an author of evil.
Austin: I don’t think that if salvation is by grace, through faith, and faith itself is a gift from God, and yet I have to respond to this gift in some way, this means I was the decisive factor in my salvation (of course lots of this hinges on what is meant by “decisive”). That math will never add up for me. So if the math of salvation has to equal 1, with no room for human boasting, then I’m just fine saying the equation I see in the Bible is 1 (God) + 0 (Me) = 1, and that while my 0 contributes nothing, it is still necessary. I think this tends to be the way the Bible handles this, admittedly, mysterious issue of divine grace and human repentance/discipleship/faith.
I am not certain that faith is a gift. Faith is what we have. As to the boasting complaint, this is a non-starter. Calvinists are simply wrong. Nor is it usually helpful to appeal to mystery. This was a complaint by Kevin: that Austin replaces Calvinist mysteries with Ariminian mysteries. Mysteries reflect a lack of knowledge (due to incomplete revelation by God) and to limitations of our reasoning. But that we reason incompletely does not mean we reason incorrectly. We can know what we know.
Steve: Then there's his simplistic claim that God wanted "evil and sin and hell to exist." But, of course, that doesn't mean God wanted them to exist for their own sake, as if that's good in itself. Rather, they serve a purpose. Keep in mind that the Arminian God wanted "evil and sin and hell to exist" more than he wanted them not to exist, for it was within his power to prevent it. God "permitted" them because that's offset by the compensatory goods. So the Arminian must also resort to a greater good defense.
It depends on what the greater "good" is. For God to create hell and men to be placed in that hell to maximise his eternal glory may not be so "good." God doesn't want evil and sin to exist at all. He permits them if that is a risk in love. And he does not permit hell, he created it.
Steve: He doesn't say what "euphemisms" he has in mind. But while we're on the subject of euphemisms, about about the Arminian's euphemistic appeal to divine "permission"
Permission is not a euphemism. Parents understand the concept. It may seem a euphemism if one is trying to understand Arminianism on Calvinist terms, but not on its own terms.
Steve: The Bible in general has many "hard edges" and "hard doctrines." There's something in Scripture to offend everyone. Since Fischer thinks people ought to be consistent, why doesn't he become an atheist? 
This is a problem that Austin identifies with Calvinism. It does not disprove Calvinism, nor is it universal, but the arrogance among the young Calvinists is frequent enough that they form a distinct category even alarmingly noted by other Calvinists. Really, should a Christ follower tell a fellow traveller to become an atheist? Even if we ignore the fact that atheism is not consistent. Perhaps this is some sort of Galatian-type response to Judaisers: Austin is a false teacher. Consistency is hardly a false gospel. It does not cause men to abandon Christ. Or does Steve see Calvinism synonymous with salvation excluding Catholics, Orthodox, and large portions of Protestantism including Pentecostals? One is always going to be in relationship with Christians that have different beliefs than oneself. This is not a good thing, but it is and will remain. One should be saddened if someone who once held to orthodoxy becomes heterodox yet,
Steve: The moral of the story is that intellectually lightweight ex-Calvinists like Fischer make the best Arminians. 
And in the comments we read,
Steve: Since I don't think Fischer is a loss to Calvinism, I don't feel "bitter" about his defection from Calvinism.
I want all people to believe the truth, intellectual lightweights included. I am pleased when anyone renews his mind and thinks more like Christ, and saddened when he abandons the truths of the Bible. Moreover, the kingdom is full on people who the world considers nobodies. It is this arrogance which I think is dangerous in Calvinism. We don't read: Speak the truth to God's glory whoever may be damned; rather we are to speak the truth in love. Words of rebuke are appropriate for false teachers to protect the sheep, especially if the person is a wolf (which means that they are not a sheep and not in God's kingdom). Nevertheless, we should desire that all join the kingdom and be saddened if any leave.

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