Who is on a tirade against Calvinism?
I have noticed in the past that often when I write an article critiquing Calvinism Steve Hays of Triablogue writes a response soon after in which he describes my critical analysis as a “tirade”. For example, in the past he has said ”Randal Rauser is currently on a tirade”. Other times he has referred to ”Randal Rauser’s tirade” and ”Rauser’s latest tirade” (emphasis added).
n. “A long, angry speech of criticism or accusation.”
That is a very important word choice. To describe a critique as a tirade immediately couches it in emotional, specifically angry, and thus potentially non-rational terms. And that is a way of undermining the argument because people who are prone to tirades have a personal vendetta which casts a pall over all they say. Thus, in his opening sentence or two Hays attempts to marginalize what I have written by dismissing it as a tirade (think rant or harangue).
Steve Hays is not the only one who attempts to present my arguments in personal terms as representative of an antagonism against Calvinists and their theology. But it is false to suggest that any such antagonism exists.
For one thing, some of my best friends are Calvinists. One of my good friends is Oliver Crisp, a full professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and a Calvinist with impeccable credentials. (For example, Oliver has probably written more books on Jonathan Edwards than I have read.) Another one of my good friends is Kelly Kapic, a full professor at Covenant College in Georgia, expert on John Owen, and another Calvinist with impeccable credentials (and a plenary speaker at the 2011 ETS conference; way to go Kelly!). In fact, Kelly and I are currently writing two books together for Zondervan. I have no personal antagonism toward Calvinists.
So then if I have no special antagonism toward Calvinists that could fuel a triade, perhaps I have antagonism toward Calvinism, the theology itself.
This too is mistaken. While I certainly am a critic of Calvinism, this doesn’t mean I have antagonism toward Calvinist theology. It is simply my job as an Arminian to mount defenses of my position and critiques of competing positions as part of the communal pursuit of truth. Of course I understand why Calvinists take it personally. After all, it is natural for the parents of the defendant to circle the wagons around their son and view the prosecutor as an adversary. But please remember mom and dad, the prosecutor is just doing his job. You don’t have to send him a Christmas card. But remember that like you he just wants to see justice done. If the son really is culpable of certain actions, then surely the parents should want to know about it. And if an Arminian can demonstrate certain problems with the Calvinist position, then the Calvinist should want to know about it too. Indeed, at that point you might think of the Arminian as a mechanic friend pointing out a problem with your car engine right before a long road trip. If the problem really does exist you don’t blame the mechanic. You thank him!
This may seem to make sense. But then when I make an argument against Calvinism which is considered too extreme (e.g. my recent argument unpacking its pastoral consequences) I am dismissed like a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. This despite the fact that no rebuttal to the argument is offered. What explains the attitude?
One possibility is that people don’t really read the article because they so critically misread it. And this reminds me of a controversial article that Glenn Tinder published in 1989 in Atlantic Monthly called “Can we be good without God?” (See: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1989/12/can-we-be-good-without-god/6721/) The article set off a firestorm of controversy from readers of a secular and atheistic mindset who thought Tinder was saying that you had to be “religious” or Christian to be moral. That wasn’t his point at all. His point, rather, was that theism and Christianity provide a more satisfactory metaphysical ground for morality than does secular atheism. But that didn’t seem to matter. Once Tinder’s readers had taken him to be attacking their morality and their person they completely misread the rest of his argument and thus the conversation that could have been was not to be.
I am in the midst of developing a critique of Calvinism which parallels in certain respects Tinder’s critique of secular accounts of morality. It parallels them in the sense that Calvinism, so I will argue, cannot ground an adequate concept of love of one’s neighbor in a way analogous to the failure of secular atheism to ground morality.
That’s really important to remember in the present case. The point of the argument I’m developing is not that Calvinists don’t love their neighbor. Rather, the argument is that Calvinism provides an inadequate ground for love of neighbor. Indeed, if the implications of the theology are consistently applied then it undermines love of neighbor.
And so I ask Calvinist readers not to get angry and defensive as I develop this argument. And please spare me the nonsense that I have a vendetta against Calvinism or that I’m on a “tirade”. Rather, consider the argument carefully and then offer carefully worded and dispassionate rebuttals. (Or even better, just say that I’m right!)
One final word. I have been asked multiple times by different Calvinists to exegete a certain list of biblical passages. Let’s all recognize that there are Calvinistic interpretations of those passages and there are Arminian interpretations of those passages. There are also Calvinistic and Arminian interpretations of other passages. In some cases the Calvinist has a stronger exegetical case, but I dare say that in other cases the Arminian certainly does. But when we assess the validity of various theologies we don’t simply exegete a long list of passages. We do many other things as well. Another part of the assessment process includes precisely what I’m doing here: considering carefully the full implications of the position in question. If I’m right and Calvinism does in fact undermine the love of neighbor then that surely counts against the truth of Calvinism, even if Romans 9 seems to count for it. I am not suggesting that this kind of argument would show Calvinism to be false. But I am saying that as we weigh the case for and against Calvinism an argument such as I am in the midst of developing will add weight to the scale against it.
And one last time please remember: as the argument develops there is no personal malice driving it. There is no vendetta. No Calvinist stole my lunch money when I was a child. No Calvinist beat me up by the bike racks. Calvinists are my friends (at least some are). And their theology has many admirable points. But it also has some significant drawbacks. And I’m in the midst of explaining one of them.