Theology: February 2006 Archives

Definition of Arminianism

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Several times I've noticed someone who is not a Calvinist insisting that they are not an Arminian, complaining that Calvinists call anyone who isn't a Calvinist an Arminian. I don't think most Calvinists really do this. For instance, most Calvinists will say that someone who denies Limited Atonement but insists on all four other points of Calvinism is not really a Calvinist. But they won't tend to call such a person an Arminian. As I understand the standard Calvinist use of the label 'Arminian', Arminians deny predestination except in the weakened sense that God knows what people will choose and thus elects people on that basis, and they deny irresistible grace. Is everyone who does one of those things an Arminian? Is everyone who does both of them an Arminian? These are necessary conditions for being an Arminian, but is either sufficient by itself? Are they jointly sufficient, or does Arminianism require departing from Calvinism even more? I'm not sure what most Calvinists say about that, and I'm much less sure what others besides Calvinists would say. One thing I'm sure of is that denying perseverance of the saints entails Arminianism to most Calvinists. If you think a genuine believer who has experienced the full grace of God can lose salvation, then you are an Arminian to most Calvinists. That view is sufficient for being an Arminian, as most Calvinists use the term.

So here's my question. What exactly does it take to be an Arminian? Is it really unfair to throw the word around in the ways I've just mentioned? I'm asking in full honesty. I don't know how people making this complaint think of Arminianism and why they don't consider themselves Arminians. I also don't know if the standard usage in theology today (as opposed to what Arminius himself said) fits with this complaint. Thus I'm a bit curious to see what others think about this.

Tithing

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Free Money Finance argues that the old covenant tithe command applies to Christians. I was going to leave a comment, but I decided I might as well make it a post. The topic has come up here before. Wink tried to get a discussion going on tithing last summer. Also, much of what I'm going to say has a background much more carefully drawn out in Christians and the Sabbath and More Sabbath Stuff.

One of the arguments in the post is that Abraham gave a tithe long before the law of Moses. From this it is concluded that the tithe principle must be eternal and thus not just a particular command to the people of Israel in the Mosaic law. There are a number of things that someone could say about Abraham's tithe, but one thing you can't say is that he was following any command from God that he give 10% of his income to God. He wasn't giving it to God, for one, and we have no information about any command he was following, never mind a command as to the exact amount. A gift of 10% to a benefactor was probably just a common ancient near eastern practice that the Torah adopts because the symbolism of giving firstfruits to God as representative of everything you have belonging to God needed some amount. For the particular command to the particular people of Israel to give some amount as firstfruits, God seems to have chosen the amount that for whatever reason had already been standard in that part of the world at that time, as evidenced by Abraham's gift to Melchizedek. The more important principle is that everything we have is God's, with the firstfruits we give to him standing for that.

10% isn't some magical amount. The Torah uses different percentages to determine the firstfruits amount for other things. With the tithe of time, it's 1/7 of all the days in the week rather than 1/10. With the tithe of the firstborn, it's one out of however many children there end up being, which is 100% when there's only one but less than 10% if there are more than ten).

It occurred to me recently that John Piper's Christian Hedonism is going to have a hard time dealing with two famous statements by Moses and Paul. For those unfamiliar with Christian Hedonism, see my Christian Hedonism and Wink's Why I Am No Longer a Piperite. The short of it is that Piper thinks true morality consists only and exactly in finding our eternal enjoyment in God. Consider, however, Moses' conversation with God after the golden calf incident:

The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin -- but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." [Exodus 32:30-32, TNIV]

Moses seems to be volunteering to have himself prevented from enjoying God, assuming he had some inkling of what blotting out of the book means. He must have had some, or he wouldn't have said it, even if he didn't have a full-blown concept of an eternal afterlife. He must have thought of it as involving something like a removal of God's blessing and a severing of the kind of relationship he had with God. This seems quite contrary to Piper's view of what Moses' moral obligation should be. Moses' willingness to atone for his people in this way is generally viewed as so honorable that no one should ever be expected to make such a terrible self-sacrifice. Piper has to see it as the most immoral of actions. According to Piper, he should have been seeking to enjoy God forever, and yet he's willing to violate the most fundamental obligation he has. Christian Hedonism leads to a very strange analysis in this case.

Harry at Little Geneva has been blogging about me again. (Do a Google search. I'm not linking to it.) Well, it's more throwing links around in a derogatory manner than any serious discussion of anything in my post, but that's standard procedure over there. I even responded in a comment, only to receive insults in response (oh, and what seems to be an admission that he refuses to handle the level of argumentation required to engage in reasoned discussion). It's kind of sad that Harry should have such a huge following at a blog that promotes such a reprehensible view as what he calls Kinism, which is really just racism, despite all his insistence to the contrary. Just read some of his statements all over his main page about the moral character of various ethnic groups. Whenever he links to me, I get a flurry of hits, with no one either at my end or in the comments of his post actually interacting in an intelligent way with anything I said. For a while Little Geneva was near the top of the Blogdom of God simply because so many Christian blogs link to it, until Adrian Warnock noticed it and decided that there should be limits on what sort of blog can be in the Blogdom. [I'm not sure if this is the best place to put this, but I noticed after I wrote most of this post that someone unrelatedly found my blog last night by searching for badlands little geneva. This search was performed on a computer on the house.gov network. I'm not sure what to think of that.]

But occasionally I'll see an interesting argument at Little Geneva. I noticed one yesterday in a different post lower on the page (Feb 2). He notices that many of the people who promote miscegenation (which for Harry doesn't really mean promoting it as better than anything else but simply means acknowledging that there's nothing wrong with it) will point to Gal 3:28, where Paul says that the divisions of Jew, Greek, male, female, slave, and free are broken down in Christ. Harry notes that many conservatives will insist that this doesn't mean the male-female distinction is completely broken down to the point of irrelevance. Paul was simply saying that in Christ all have the same access to salvation. It doesn't mean men and women have to be treated as if they are the same gender or as if they have no gender. I agree in large measure with all that, so it's interesting to see what Harry then concludes. He says someone who says that then has no right to use Gal 3:28 as a basis for thinking there are no morally relevant race distinctions because it mentions the Jew-Greek barrier broken down in Christ. Now I think this is a very interesting argument, even if it ultimately misunderstands what Paul is saying (and what those who think there's nothing wrong with miscegenation are saying), so I wanted to record my thoughts on the matter.

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