Theological Coherence (Theology Matters)

I don’t know if this is a James R. White original but James has often stated that theology matters. I wholeheartedly agree. It has been said that your theology (or lack thereof) determines your faith and practice to which I also agree. I guess what I am going to say here isn’t going to be very original to some who might read this, however this whole discussion may challenge some peoples thinking.

In my last blog I briefly compared the differences between the views of John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius to demonstrate in part where ideas come from and how they develop, but also that how we interpret scripture can determine our theology. We can either arrive at our theological conclusions contextually or by proof texting.

I noted that both Calvin and Arminius drew much of their thoughts from other sources. Calvin was a big fan of Augustine and Arminius was a big fan of Pelagius. These aren’t the only sources they drew their theology from but it is fair to say that both looked at faith and theology from two clearly opposing perspectives. At some point one needs to ask the big question about which was right and who was wrong.

If you have ever cared to read the works of Francis A. Schaeffer, he notes in one of his works what he has labeled the line of despair. The line of despair looks at the devolution of thought away from antithetical thinking (if this is right then that must be wrong) to synthesis (the combining of opposing  ideas to form a mixture or blend but lacking truth or a conclusion) Schaeffer was almost prophetic in his prediction that within 20 or 30 years postmodernism would become the prevailing thought to which Christianity would need to respond. Schaeffer made this prediction in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.

The direct consequence of synthetic thinking or Hegelian dialectic resulted in the very thing that Schaeffer predicted; the idea that there is no final authority or no final truth that we call postmodern thought. Each one according to postmodernism determines their own narrative or truth. It may differ from others and may even contradict others truths but both opposing views are equally valid.

Returning to our subject of Calvin verses Arminius, if synthesis is a valid argument and postmodernism is the framework on which we now hang our theology, how can anyone determine if there is such a thing as a final truth or authority. Can any Christian who holds to this idea really proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as an authoritative source for salvation over Islam or one of the various cults parading as Christianity? The answer has to be no.

If the above is true can a Calvinists claim their theology is any more valid or consistent than Arminianism? The answer once more has to be no. This means one can choose from the franchise of popular theologies that suit the individual or group to make them comfortable. If postmodernism is true then all paths lead to god. There is no single theology that defines Christianity or the true path to salvation. Obviously I disagree  with that  whole point of  view the bible is clearly antithetical  it is a polemic against anything and everyone who does  not agree with it or live by it’s standards. The bible according  to Francis Schaeffer is a proposition from God  to man on how  live in relationship  to Him and also each other.

If the bible is a true communication from a holy and righteous God who has set the conditions  by how  we can and should live in a relationship with Him and each other, and  those conditions are based on absolutes, then there are clear limits as  to how we can   do this. In other words how we think about God and how  He has communicated His truth  to us is finite not infinite.

So returning  to  our discussion on theological coherence, if theology matters, we also have  to conclude that there is good theology and bad theology. Once more, using Calvin and Arminius as our example we have  to make a distinction  between them without compromising  on one or  the other. Both positions can’t be true. One or the other is based on a poor interpretation of the scriptures and draws faulty conclusions from  the text. We can’t reach a correct view of scripture based on false assumptions.

The most alarming thing about these false assumptions from which we form our theology is that we often make the assumption  that what we base our theology on is true. One only has  to look at the  presuppositions  underlying both Calvinism and Arminianism to see  they cannot coexist with each other. There are many  who have  tried   to reach a compromise between  the  two positions, however the basic assumption underlying both positions cannot be reconciled with each other. That assumption pertains  to  the nature of man and the fall of man through Adam’s sin.

In general discussion if  you asked both sides of this debate about how  they come  to  their conclusions on the nature of man, both will claim biblical authority. If  you ask both sides  if man is a sinner in need of  the grace of God,  they will agree. If  you ask both sides if man can please  God in  his  own strength  they will say no. Where  they begin  to differ and  go awry is when  you ask them can man make  the choice  to follow God  through Jesus Christ , does man have a free will   to choose one, will say  yes and the other will say no.

Now if  you ask the Calvinist  why man can’t freely choose  to follow God, the Calvinist  should answer because  of man’s fallen nature  he  is spiritually dead and incapable of responding  to  the call of repentance without God first enlivening us by His Holy Spirit. It  follows   that if God chooses  to save  you it is God’s choice  not ours and He may  choose whomever He pleases according  to His good pleasure and will.

Ask an Arminian that same set of questions and they will say   that man is a fallen sinner but  that  he has  free will   to choose or reject  the gospel. Man is spiritually dead  until he asks  God  to forgive  his sins and repents. Man is fallen  but is still able  to  make right choices.

One of these positions definitely paints a brighter picture of  humanity  than  the other does. Arminian’s accuse Calvinists of being fatalistic or deterministic. Arminian’s argue  that   for God  to be truly loving and merciful there must be a free choice involved in that decision. Otherwise we are simply robots and if God chooses one person over  another  that is unfair.

The Calvinist response  should be would God be unfair if He sent us all  to hell? After all  that is what we all deserve according  to the bible. If we all deserve  to  go to hell and God in His mercy chooses  to save  some and not others what  does   that say about God?

I  could go back and  forth  with  this dialogue but the point here  is  to  show that the two positions are not consistent with each other and  if  you push  the argument hard enough  you eventually get  to the premise from  which these  two positions originate. They don’t originate from  the same view of man. Even though  they both claim biblical authority there is a fundamental difference regarding  the nature of man and his ability even if  one or the other side disagrees  that  there  is a fundamental difference between  the  two. The conclusion if we are honest is inescapable  that the two positions can’t be reconciled with each other and therefore one or the other is wrong.

I do realize that within  the franchise of theological positions  that now exist one could argue that both are wrong and  some other position is correct however these two are the basis from  which many other theological positions have emerged. Calvinism or the high position of God’s sovereign Grace and His election and predestination of men to salvation for His own glorification has a long standing rich tradition that found in scripture. Arminianism also has a long tradition however it stems from an objection  to  the idea   that God will elect some  to salvation and  not others.

Pelagius believed that man could merit salvation  through good works. Although Arminius rejected this idea he still believed man could make  the right choice. That one idea begs the question which is if man can  choose  to  do right of his own free will and repent or reject  the gospel isn’t that merit on mans behalf? Arminian’s would argue no.

A basic tenant of Arminianism is that there is  enough goodness left over that man can make a  choice. In other words at the fall man didn’t completely fall from grace. Man fell enough   to deserve eternal punishment but not enough that he is incapable of doing right. Arminian’s would argue  that I am painting a false picture of them. Many would reject  the charge  that being able   to repent  of one’s own free will in obedience  to  the gospel is a work although  they then have  to explain  how  that is  not merited  to them  but is solely  the work of God. Could it be fairly argued  then   that  they cooperated with  the Holy spirit? Could it be argued  that  they were actively involved in their own salvation? I would argue  yes and  the charge of synergism can be laid  against anyone  who  holds  such a position.

So far as theological coherence is concerned  this does matter because how one arrives  at one  or the other position is dependent upon how one interprets  the scriptures. One can create a list of proof texts  that support a position but can  that position hold up under scrutiny when put in the context of the passage or passages from  which it came.

From what has been said  here and in  the previous blogs  the burden of proof lays at the feet of the one  who makes   the claim that  their view is consistent with the biblical text. I would ask  how they arrived  at their conclusion. Simply put, does the context support their assertions. Is their the view consistent with the revealed character and nature of God? Does their theology fit show  the revealed will of God?

You could ask a lot more questions of this nature but this  will  do  for now









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