Monday, June 29, 2009

Square One

I have a certain desire in my life. I often try my best to think things through rationally, and I am concerned when beliefs I hold don't have a proper rational motivation. I have recently been reassessing my belief in a Calvinist interpretation of Scripture because of this. I respect Calvinism, and in many ways I think it certainly beats Wesleyan interpretations of the Bible. At the same time, I realize that my own motivations for adopting Calvinism were not really proper when I made the switch a few years ago.

The proper motivation for a belief, of course, is that it's true. This is why I'm not a fan of the prosperity Gospel that is commonly seen in American Evangelicalism. That kind of Gospel was best described by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters. "Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason." The implication was, of course, that the motivation for the belief can often trump the belief itself. A Christian who believes that the primary purpose of God's commandments is to show him how to live his "best life now" will tend to overlook the commands that would require some personal suffering on his part. He may genuinely believe in Jesus, but if his motivation is his own earthly benefit, he's missing the point.

My motivation for Calvinism, then, might not have been altogether proper. To a certain degree, all religious beliefs are taken on faith. The belief in some higher power is an act of faith. The belief that the God presented in Christianity is that higher power is another act of faith. The belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of that God is an even further act of faith. Orthodox theological positions can then extend from this faith, and they must be reached rationally.

One should believe in Calvinist or Wesleyan theology not because of faith, but because they logically see the Bible as proclaiming the tenets of that particular theological system. This requires a lot of devoted reason and study, which sadly is something that many Christians don't have. They either don't know anything about theology, or they simply ascribe to the tenets of the denomination they were raised in strictly because they were raised in it.

Needless to say, the origins of my Calvinist beliefs didn't really spring from rational study of God's word. They originated more from personal flaws of mine, including the desire to be "different." Looking back at the post I wrote that announced my "conversion," I realize that I based the decision on an impulsive emotional whim. It certainly didn't come from any kind of rational study, and to be honest, I think I just wanted to stand out a bit more in my mostly Wesleyan Christian circle. I suppose it was an act of rebellion.

Now, it should be noted that I respect TULIP and other forms of Calvinism. I'm not even saying that I don't believe it. I'm just saying that if I do believe it, my foundation isn't secure, and I need to work on that. My faith in Christ is absolutely secure. I believe in Him and I don't see any signs of wavering. I simply don't want to say that I am definitely a Calvinist (or definitely not one) until I have had the opportunity to study the Bible on my own and without the outside influences of culture or tradition. If it does turn out that I go Wesleyan (or go back, since I was raised Methodist), I hope none of my Reformed readers will hate me. ;-)

Beliefs held because of prejudices, backgrounds, or personal flaws are not properly motivated beliefs, even if they are true. I just want to make sure that I am strong and secure in the things I believe, and that means I must start from square one sometimes to build beliefs that were previously held for emotional, illogical, and wrong reasons.


B.T.Carolus said...

What problems (and solutions) do you see in Wesleyan theology right now?

TRiG said...

"Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

Mark Twain.

freelancer said...

Well, you know my opinion of Calvinism :)

If you want any book recommendations let me know! I'm definitely rooting for your Methodist tradition to win out! It's much more morally and intellectually feasible (in my opinion).

Norm! said...

Thanks for honestly sharing your thoughts and doubts(?).

Re-assessing my beliefs and questioning the foundations the religion I was raised into were the scariest and unsettling things I have done. Sometimes honestly admitting 'I don't know.' takes far more courage than blindly affirming someone else's statement of faith.

Good luck!

Sweeney said...

I don't know much about Calvinism, but I do know a little. I cant rememeber what all the five points are, but the one I remember the most is the one that talks about predestination and how God choses who is going to follow Him. I don't think that is right at all. Jesus says in the Great Commission that we are too "make dicipels of ALL nations". As humans, I don't think we have the right to say who is going to heaven or not and we have no way of knowing that either. If it is true that God chooses who is going to heaven and who is not, that defeats the whole purpose of missions, which is what Jesus did.

Sorry if im being a jerk but our church has had problems with this issue in the past.

MR said...


The best book I know that explains the basics of Calvinism, so that non-theologians understand, is "Chosen by God" by RC Sproul. The best book for Arminianism / Wesleyanism is uhhh, ...I don't know.

There is a story that John Wesley himself adopted Arminianism after playing "Bible Roulette". He randomly opened his Bible and happened to read a verse he thought supported Arminianism. Many people would say that is not a logical way to find the truth in theology.

I appreciate John Piper's view: "I am not a Calvinist because of John Calvin, I am a Calvinist because I am weak!" By that Piper means that without God's help we are all too weak to succeed at Christianity. It takes God's "Particular Grace" for any of us to even want to be a Christian !

Jay said...

B.T. Carolus: I really don't have any specific problems with Wesleyan theology. It's all about finding what I think has the most Biblical support and fits into the overall story of the Bible better. My main problem with Calvinism is predestination (or double predestination, to be specific), but it could simply be that I'm not understanding it well enough.

TRiG: "Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God's fool, and all His work must be contemplated with respect." -- Mark Twain

Freelancer: The only book I'm looking at in all of this is one that I have several copies of. It's best to go straight to the source, I'd say. :)

Sweeney: Although I certainly have problems with predestination, I think that's a bit of an unfair assessment. The Great Commission is still relevant according to Calvinism because missions are what God uses to make His predestined will a reality.

MR: I do like that Piper quote, and I agree that I'm not looking to follow John Calvin or John Wesley, but what I think is true in Scripture.

MR said...

I found a little more information on Wesley. He was alleged to have "cast lots" (not necessarily randomly opening the Bible) before deciding to take his public stand on Arminianism by publishing his sermon "Free Grace". Here is a link:

Jay said...

Norm: Sorry I missed you in my first comment! I wouldn't say these are doubts, nor am I evaluating something I was raised into (I was raised Methodist).

I'm just making sure that the beliefs I hold have the proper basis, and that their foundations don't come from flaws. The is certainly no shame in "I don't know," but I am seeking answers here, not perpetual doubt.

Richard said...

Jay, I rejoice you desire to think Biblically about all areas of life in order to have an ever deepening knowledge of and love for our Savior and Lord. I am praying God give you a wise and a "hearing" heart as you reflect on these issues and that He lead you in His Truth.

freelancer said...

Hmmm. I don't know. Since Calvinism and Arminianism are invented you can't approach the Bible looking to see which of these too beliefs it supports. You can make the Bible fit all sorts of beliefs. There is no right way to interpret it (despite what "Orthodox" implies).

Of course, this is all coming from a heathen apostate. ;)

freelancer said...

Gah! I said "too" instead of "two". FAIL!

Brandon said...

I do not envy you beginning this journey. Once you begin questioning your beliefs it can be kind of a rocky ride.

For a little over a year now I've been questioning a lot of my Christian beliefs. Some of the reason for this is that a good friend of mine converted to Catholicism and has been telling me a lot about it, and then I also had a Christian Beliefs class last fall where many different views were presented by the teacher.

To be honest, there are a lot of things I've come to believe in that I previously didn't. But then there are other things that I've been reaffirmed in. I've sort of seen how Catholics are probably right when it comes to the sacrements, but I can't see any reason to believe as they do about Mary. Nor do I believe in Purgatory. I believe in those two regards they have simply taken theories and presented them as fact. I tend to believe one or two other theories are a little more probable.

All that aside, I think it's good that you've decided to find out what you truly believe in. I hope you'll be able to develop a deeper faith and a closer relationship with God by doing this.

Some words of advice though: try not to get frustrated or impatient with yourself, or God, or others, if or when you may become confused about a few things. It'll all work its way out in the end.

God bless. :)

Anonymous said...

Truth comes to those that search.

Joshua Cookingham said...

Ah yes, the struggle to find out what kind of protestant you

I've always been non-denominational, If I had to pick, I would say I lean more towards Calvinism than Arminianism, but ultimately, I don't follow either. I follow God's word.
Glad to see you do too :)

Rachael Starke said...

Jay -

GAH! I have no DSL for almost a week and this is what I read now that it's all fixed??!! Forget it dude. You start making friends with Armenians and I'm unfriending you on Facebook.


I often wonder sometimes what Mr. Calvin would make of the many who seems to equate his name with orthodox Christianity, rather than Jesus' name. I'm thinking Calvin wouldn't be happy.

Not sure what specific approach you're taking, but I'd recommend going to the source - passages like Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2. It will help tremendously that you know a thing or two about grammar. Even though these passages were originally written in Greek, translators have always been painstakingly careful to match the Greek grammar with, in our case, the English. Active and passive verbs sometimes have have eternal significance.

My .02

A. Friend said...

You are correct. I only knew you were considering it. I did not know you had switched.

I am not a Calvinist by any stretch. It is daunting seeing as how it seems to be on the upsurge all around but ultimately I think it is built on a flawed premise which opens up God to some serious anthropomorphisms.

A. Friend said...

MR said...

The best book I know that explains the basics of Calvinism, so that non-theologians understand, is "Chosen by God" by RC Sproul. The best book for Arminianism / Wesleyanism is uhhh, ...I don't know.

That would be the Bible.

I just had to do that...

I appreciate John Piper's view: "I am not a Calvinist because of John Calvin, I am a Calvinist because I am weak!" By that Piper means that without God's help we are all too weak to succeed at Christianity. It takes God's "Particular Grace" for any of us to even want to be a Christian !

And any Arminian would agree with that.

In the end, I am not sure this is salvific.

TRiG said...

Brandon: I can't see any reason to believe as [Roman Catholics] do about Mary. Nor do I believe in Purgatory. I believe in those two regards they have simply taken theories and presented them as fact.

Well, of course. Taking theories and presenting them as fact is what all religious people do. The Catholic Church is just a bit more honest about it than most. They don't even bother to pretend their beliefs have a basis in a book. It's tradition!

My main problem with Calvenism is not that it's untrue (that's a given) but that it is completely devoid of morality.


Marc said...

WOW, I admire your courage/ability to (so often) not be afraid to drop a match onto the puddle of gasoline. LOL