A few months back, my parents had a lot of people over for dinner. I attended along with a preacher (and his wife) from the church of Christ. My parents must have complained to the preacher about my having converted to the awful religion of Calvinism because at one point during the conversation the preacher’s wife tried to discreetly engage me in a debate.
“I don’t understand how anyone could believe we don’t have free will”, she said…
I discreetly refused to engage.
Later, I thought of a reply for the dear lady that may work equally well for my readers (and anyone wondering about the issue).
I thought of a popular blood sport: the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Is it a coincidence that my fascination with the sport surged along with my zealotry for Calvinist dogmatics? Maybe or maybe not. At any rate, we might imagine what it would be like to admire the strategies, stamina, and fighting styles of the various athletes. Perhaps we’ve done some training ourselves and know a thing or two about rear-naked-chokes or fighting in the clinch?
…but isn’t it the wise thing to say that both men who enter the ring have lost at the outset? No matter what happens, the two of them are going home damaged. They’re risking their very lives to fight professionally trained opponents. That seems like a lose / lose scenario no matter how you frame it.
In the same way, if you climb in the ring with a Presbyterian, you’ve already lost.
I say this because, on my view (heavily influenced by my reading of Cambria Will Not Yield), theological doctrines are not the best, or even the primary, markers of a man’s faith. And while a study of church history shows various theologians battling it out in their epistles, it always seemed like they were doing so for some immediate benefit of the church.
Do we allow those who’ve deconverted back into the church? Especially if they “deconverted” under threat of execution by Roman soldiers? Or do we demand they martyr themselves? Practical considerations like this were what kicked off theological disagreement in the early church. Some view of church government and broader ecclesiology had to be formalized. I’m not sure where or how to draw a line between these sorts of pragmatic theological considerations and empty speculation, other than to say the one is done out of love for concrete people and the other is done out of love for people in the abstract?
In any case, the church of Christ has the mantra: “No creed but Christ! No book but the Bible!”
If they held to this consistently they might not feel the need to wade into the ring with Presbyterians, and yet, we get exactly that. Dedicated church of Christ adherents flock to the seminaries to try their hands at writing systematic theologies to rival the Presbyterians.
…doing so seems a lose / lose to me.
So, I suppose you could still call me a “Calvinist”, since, whenever I’m depressed and feel the need to climb into the ring, I generally stick to my Calvinist fighting styles. But dogmatics and systematic theology has fallen in my esteem. My theology and philosophy books are on the bottom shelf or in storage.
Better to look at the world poetically and examine our actual relationship with God, rather than climb in the ring and fight to the death about some esoteric model of human agency. The Bible says God is sovereign and the Bible also says man is free. That’s the end of it. Evaluating the theological models for how to reconcile the two seems pointless in hindsight.
…but I do still have the urge to climb in the ring from time to time. Maybe it’s an old habit? Or maybe it’s just that I think I’m particularly good at the game? Maybe I find it addicting? Maybe when I do climb in the ring, there are people who admire, appreciate, and value my performance? (Outside the ring, I’m a veritable nobody with nothing genuine to contribute). But philosophy and theology are just games at the end of the day, really. At least, as philosophy and theology are practiced by moderns.
I’m still working through this to be honest, and I don’t want to step on any toes. If you find yourself particularly zealous about this or that theological doctrine, I beg your pardon…
…I have better things to do than argue about it with you.
This post was motivated by recent discussions I’ve had, including a discussion through email with my friend Joe. I’ve been wanting to write about my UFC analogy for awhile and Joe’s conversation (in particular) helped prompt me to it. The “I have better things to do than argue about it with you” line is *not* directed at Joe – to be clear – it’s aimed at the ether as a way to express my general attitude at the moment. There’s no better way I can spend my time than in conversation with southern gents like Joe.