Who is on a tirade against Calvinism?

Posted on 01/04/12 28 Comments

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).

A tirade?

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.

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  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    Perhaps Calvinists will blame this on Randal: Edmonton is the new murder capital of Canada.

    • randal

      Latest update:

      Steve Hays has now written that “Randal Rauser is on a tirade about my allegation that he’s on a tirade.” (I read the next sentence as well in which Hays seems to assume that the rest of the article is about him. Now that’s presumptuous. These days I never read what Steve writes beyond the first sentence or two since I learned after several months of reading his articles that he has a complete inability to represent the arguments of others fairly and he has a regrettable pencahnt for deception and pedantry (as I illustrated a few days ago with my link to his Unger critique).)

      But you have to admire his consistency. Every critique of Calvinism is, by Steve’s definition, a tirade, and a rant and a harangue.

      • Robert

        “These days I never read what Steve writes beyond the first sentence or two since I learned after several months of reading his articles that he has a complete inability to represent the arguments of others fairly and he has a regrettable pencahnt for deception and pedantry (as I illustrated a few days ago with my link to his Unger critique).)
        But you have to admire his consistency. Every critique of Calvinism is, by Steve’s definition, a tirade, and a rant and a harangue.”

        Regarding Steve Hays, Hays’ life mission appears to be to defend, support, justify and do whatever it takes in the name of his idol of theological fatalism/Calvinism. He is one of the worst professing Christians that I have ever seen in my experience on the Internet. He is extremely prideful and hateful of anyone and everyone who dares challenge or question his idol of Calvinism. He gave up involvement in many possible areas of service (so he is no pastor, elder, deacon, church leader, or bible study teacher) in order to take care of his ailing mother. This in itself is commendable, however, it also means that since he is also unmarried and childless, that apart from the care of his mother, all that he does is post at his website and on the internet. This is his “ministry” and a very truncated one it is. So you have this fifty one year old guy and his **life** is blogging on the internet about his cherished Calvinism. What this also means is that he has an advantage over the rest of us due to his personal circumstances. While the rest of us have many real world commitments including local church leadership, leading bible studies in various contexts, spouses and kids, etc. etc. etc.. This guy has none of these commitments. So he spends hours and hours and hours on the Internet. This means that you really don’t want to get into any interaction with him as he can post much more than you can ever do so (unless you compromise on your other more important commitments). And when you look at his material, while he appears to be intelligent and knowledgeable (though he has an annoying habit of using a higher vocabulary than is necessary, apparently a weak attempt at establishing superiority). His ***manner of posting*** nullifies whatever positive capacities he possesses. He constantly and repeatedly lies and intentionally misrepresents people who hold other views (your statement “that he has a complete inability to represent the arguments of others fairly” is absolutely true). He is continually rude and offensive and is always ridiculing others. He twists everything and everything he touches is skewed and misshapen. The best thing to do is avoid any kind of extended interaction with him and limit yourself to considering his “arguments”. But this is difficult, not because the arguments themselves are that intelligent or provocative but because it requires lots of time as you navigate through lots of verbal garbage, for very, very little relevant content. So the best thing to do is to consider his arguments if and when he ever comes up with something substantial: but avoid interaction with the guy.

        Robert

  • Matthew Baddorf

    I didn’t know you were friends with Kelly! He was a (beloved) teacher of mine. Mind telling me what you’re writing together?

    • randal

      It is a two volume historical devotional called Everyday Saints. Kelly lists it here: http://www.covenant.edu/academics/faculty/scholarship

      Hopefully we’ll get to finishing it later this year. We got to be friends 12 years ago when we lived and studied together in England.

  • http://leadme.org Jeff

    Good old Steve Hays. I think this pretty well captures the atmosphere over at Triablogue anytime anyone dares disagree with Steve.

  • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum Gene

    It’s too bad too, cause he’s a good writer and quite funny (imo).

    And it’s not like he doesn’t have much to offer. He makes good calvinist arguments that ought to be wrestled with. But his annoying tones and quickness to pejoratives makes it quite clear, people aren’t free to disagree without being called a name. Even if a person mis-read him, couldn’t kindness be behind a response….Not with ol Hayes LOL.

    • pete

      “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 don’t think Calvinism of itself undermines love of neighbor. I think that when people see the theology as an impetus or warrant to be unloving, then they are using a sound theology for wicked purposes.

      Ironically enough, some act like the unloving reprobate that they seek to labelly apply to others.

      I would hope that the consumate Calvinist exegete puts the same pastoral thought into “The Great Commandments” as they do Romans 9.

  • http://www.retheology.net Jared

    “some of my best friends are Calvinists”

  • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/ PM

    Randal, you forgot to mention me. I am flattered at not wanting to put Crisp and Kelly in the same category as me, but really, enough with the complements! :-)

    • randal

      Don’t take it personally Paul. I’ve known Kelly and Oliver for years. You, on the other hand, I’ve only known through blogging and book reviews for the last several months. But if I ever meet you at a conference I’ll be more than happy to buy dinner.

  • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/ PM

    I don’t take it personally, I was just messing around. I’ll be happy to take you up on dinner, only if you promise to not get offended if I order a bloody, juice steak :-)

    • Robert

      Hello Randal and Paul,

      Can I come to this lunch meeting too?

      I know a great BBQ place where we could go. In that way, Randal could order some really great Chicken. Paul could order a really great steak. And I could order these really great baby back ribs that I like.

      In that way we could also prove our view of free will as every alternatiuve possibility would be available and accessible to each person. Each person would be choosing freely and choosing what they want. And none of our choices would be necessitated. We could then discuss how even our lunch meeting itself proves one view to be superior to the other.

      Robert

      • randal

        That could be a bit awkward unless you two smooth things out a bit first. And your suggestion that eating lunch would be sufficient to prove your position does not make things look promising.

        • Robert

          Randal my job/ministry during the week requires that I get along with and work with the worst kinds of people. So I don’t think I’d have a problem with Paul as long as he behaves himself. :-)

          Regarding the lunch meeting being **sufficient** to prove our view of free will. I don’t think just one line of evidence tends to prove it. Rather it is multiple lines of evidence (including proper interpretation of scripture)that converges and supports our view.

          And regarding the daily experience of having and making choices I do see that as a strong one as it involves universal human experience. Akin to our daily experience of our individual self, our sense perceptions, the fact we have a mind, the reality of the external world. We experience these things daily and all of us do, so this line of evidence actually provides tons of evidence in our direction. Now of course the skeptic can deny it, but even in making his denial he engages in language use and ordinary language use presupposes all sorts of choices that we have and make. So the daily reality of having and making choices is so ubiquitous that even in denying it we inescapeably involve ourselves in it. It is like when the skeptic denies that he has mind. In making that denial he of course uses the mind that supposedly does not exist.

          Robert

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  • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com THEOparadox

    It is sad that *some* internet Calvinists fail to show grace in theological discussions. But I’ve interacted with plenty of my fellow Calvinists in the last few years, and I can assure you that the vast majority of them are nothing like one you mentioned in the post. Most are thoughtful, nuanced and willing to discuss differences with Christian charity. But the same goes for most of the Arminians I’ve met, too.

    • randal

      I have no reason to think that Arminians are on balance nicer than Calvinists. What really surprised me when I visited Paris was how nice the French were. Sure they had a bit of an edge, but I found they were remarkably kind to ignorant tourists.

    • Robert

      “It is sad that *some* internet Calvinists fail to show grace in theological discussions.”

      Have you interacted with some of the more nasty Internet Calvinists?

      To take one obvious example, have you interacted with the Triablogers?

      That group constantly engages in sinful and inappropriate postings. And who is holding them accountable? Are you? Why haven’t other calvinists supposedly interested in civil and rational dialogue held them responsible?

      And what about all of these calvinists who go by goofy monikers and do not post by name? This allows them to post anonymously and take their shots with no accountability whatsoever.

      “But I’ve interacted with plenty of my fellow Calvinists in the last few years, and I can assure you that the vast majority of them are nothing like one you mentioned in the post.”

      I disagree with you here. While there are **some** calvinists whom you can have civil and rational discussions with on the internet. Most are rather nasty and quite sinful in their manner of posting. And some of the more nasty individuals will not only frequent their own blogs but will also frequent other blogs as well. A good example of this is Steve Hays often posting at Justin Taylor’s blog. Now Justin is a respectable calvinist who maintains a great blog. But it gets messed up whenever Hays enters the picture.

      “Most are thoughtful, nuanced and willing to discuss differences with Christian charity. But the same goes for most of the Arminians I’ve met, too.”

      Again I disagree with you here when the context being discussed is the internet. While you say **”most”** are thoughtful, nuanced, etc. My observation is that while **some** are thoughtful, nuanced, etc. **most** are not. I will trust in your observations when I see ***any*** evidence of calvinists policing their own. What some of these internet calvinists do when posting is both sinful and embarrassing. It is embarrassing being a Christian when you see these anonymous posters with goofy monikers posting their hostile, aggressive, and inappropriate comments. The internet which could be a very useful and good place for Christians to engage in rational and civil discussions instead usually becomes . . . Well you know what I mean if you have spent any time on the internet.

      Robert

      • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com THEOparadox

        Robert,

        My real name is Derek Ashton (which, btw, is listed openly on the sidebar of my website). More often than not, I sign blog comments using my real name. (I didn’t catch your last name, btw).

        You said: “And who is holding them accountable? Are you? Why haven’t other calvinists supposedly interested in civil and rational dialogue held them responsible?”

        I have personally confronted certain people at Triablogue regarding their ungodly behavior. James White has also pointed out certain issues with Mr. Hays.

        If you’d like to see the results of my attempts, go to Triabloge and search for “THEOparadox.” Also, see the long and interesting string of comments here: http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2011/10/phil-on-phreedom.html#comments

        I wrote about all of this on my overtly Calvinistic website and went so far as to recant my previous recommendations of Triablogue.

        But before I get all self-righteous about the situation, I need to admit that I shot plenty of venom back at them before getting convicted by the Holy Spirit and having to publicly ask their forgiveness on their blog. We are all susceptible to sinful responses and in need of God’s mercy (whether preventative or restorative) each time we open our mouths. The tongue is a fire indeed.

        You said: “I will trust in your observations when I see ***any*** evidence of calvinists policing their own.”

        Okay. If you follow the link above you will find you have just committed yourself to trusting my observations.

        My comments were about my own experience after engaging in many discussions with Arminians and Calvinists on the internet over the last few years. Your disagreement doesn’t change my experience. I have met some real nasty folks along the way, to be sure. But as I said, *most* Calvinists and Arminians I’ve interacted with have been hospitable and kind, even in disagreement.

        Blessings,
        Derek Ashton

        • randal

          The blogosphere needs more Derek Ashtons to keep us all honest.

          Thanks for sharing!

        • Robert

          Hello Derek,

          I really appreciate your honest and candid post and thank you for sharing your experience.

          “My real name is Derek Ashton (which, btw, is listed openly on the sidebar of my website). More often than not, I sign blog comments using my real name. (I didn’t catch your last name, btw).”

          I have good reasons for only posting by first name when posting publically; I will fill you in if you like in another post.

          “You said: “And who is holding them accountable? Are you? Why haven’t other calvinists supposedly interested in civil and rational dialogue held them responsible?”

          I have personally confronted certain people at Triablogue regarding their ungodly behavior. James White has also pointed out certain issues with Mr. Hays.
          If you’d like to see the results of my attempts, go to Triabloge and search for “THEOparadox.” Also, see the long and interesting string of comments here: http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2011/10/phil-on-phreedom.html#comments”

          I went and checked out your discussion with the Triablogers which you link to here. How sad and frustrating the whole thing must have been for you. You admitted that you had lost your cool, and worked for a better relationship with the Triablogers. In response none of them admitted they had done any wrong (which is so typical of them, standard operating procedure for them = to attack others with sinful and inappropriate comments and then when challenged on the comments to justify and rationalize their sinful conduct). Sorry that you had to go through that, none of us, whether non-Calvinist or Calvinist ought to have to deal with that kind of garbage on the internet. Their actions show again that they are more interested in presenting what they believe to be good arguments for their views, than in having healthy or proper relationships with other believers.

          [Randal you should go and check out the link that Derek provided as well, you will see that this interaction that took place a mere three months ago, shows again that Manata is the same guy that he has always been at Triablogue. Manata was much more interested in arguing his points than in having a proper relationship with Derek. And that again is what these guys are into, argument **uber alles**. Because of this perverted perspective, biblical admonitions and instruction regarding how believers ought to interact with one another go out the window for these guys when they are “arguing.”]

          “I wrote about all of this on my overtly Calvinistic website and went so far as to recant my previous recommendations of Triablogue.”

          Spread the word, no one should recommend Triablogue as long as they continue to engage in their inappropriate manner of posting and interacting with others. I missed your interaction with them; hopefully others are making attempts to hold them accountable as well (though I have not seen it).

          “But before I get all self-righteous about the situation, I need to admit that I shot plenty of venom back at them before getting convicted by the Holy Spirit and having to publicly ask their forgiveness on their blog. We are all susceptible to sinful responses and in need of God’s mercy (whether preventative or restorative) each time we open our mouths. The tongue is a fire indeed.”

          You are absolutely right that we are all susceptible to sinful responses. The problem with the Triablogers (and others of their ilk) is that they provoke the worst responses out of others and when these things happen, there is just division, hostility, confusion, frustration, and increasing friction. Again, all of the bible verses on properly interacting with other believers go out the window with these folks. And on top of their sinful posting they then compound it by their attempting to justify and rationalize their wrongful actions (e.g. the Triabloger “rules of engagement”). None of it is Christian, it is an awful testimony to the world and gives people reasons to attack and reject Christianity (which is ironic because in “defending” the faith in their manner they are acting counterproductively by turning off others to Christianity: the only people who are built up by this stuff are their “fans”, a group of likeminded persons, most who post anonymously with strange monikers, who have the same warped perspective that they do).

          “You said: “I will trust in your observations when I see ***any*** evidence of calvinists policing their own.”

          Okay. If you follow the link above you will find you have just committed yourself to trusting my observations.”

          I am glad to see that you made such an attempt. I greatly respect you and your efforts and it is encouraging to see a fellow Calvinist try to correct these nasty internet Calvinists. What is sad is that your attempt apparently made no impression upon them. There was no hint of any change of heart whatsoever on their part. And the usual suspects continue to do the same things over and over.

          “My comments were about my own experience after engaging in many discussions with Arminians and Calvinists on the internet over the last few years. Your disagreement doesn’t change my experience.”

          Well Derek I genuinely hope that your experience has been better than mine. I think that part of the difference may be that I keep seeing these same individuals spewing their stuff all over the internet. Perhaps you post at different places where you are accustomed to having rational and civil discussions with others with whom you disagree. I wish that on us all.

          “I have met some real nasty folks along the way, to be sure. But as I said, *most* Calvinists and Arminians I’ve interacted with have been hospitable and kind, even in disagreement.”

          Again I hope your positive experiences continue. Wouldn’t it be great if people posted by name and you never saw these monikers that allow anonymous attacks? Wouldn’t it be great if the discussions among Christians would be according to biblical instructions rather than by the perverted perspectives of those who consider presenting arguments more important than being obedient to scripture?

          Robert

          • randal

            Robert, in a number of your comments you have written in a rather sweeping manner against all Calvinists. People like Derek remind us that affable people are to be found on all sides of a theological issue.

            • Robert

              Hello Randal,

              “Robert, in a number of your comments you have written in a rather sweeping manner against all Calvinists. People like Derek remind us that affable people are to be found on all sides of a theological issue.”

              Randal let’s start with your second line here. I am quite aware that with Calvinists (as with any groups you wish to focus upon) you will find both good and bad people, good and bad representatives of the espoused views. So I heartily agree with your second statement. I have friends across the theological spectrum (including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, various protestants, Baptists, etc. etc.). And I enjoy discussions with others who hold different views, as long as they are undertaken in a rational and civil manner.

              I disagree with your first statement however. I have not made “sweeping comments” against ALL Calvinists (show me where I have made a statement that “ALL Calvinists . . .”). I am quite aware that some Calvinists are good people who are strong and committed Christians (e.g. one of my early mentors was a Calvinist, he is a very godly man, which proves to me at least, that a professing Calvinist can be a godly person of very strong Christian character, his existence and example also demonstrates what Calvinists are capable of when it comes to good Christian character). I do not make statements of a sweeping manner against all Calvinists. Earlier in this thread speaking of my own experience on the web I said that MOST Calvinists have not been the “affable people” like Derek. But most is not equivalent to all. And if **most** are one way that also means that **some** others are not. Do you need a Venn diagram to see it Randal? :-)

              Robert

          • Giles

            Hi, you should know that over at the White Horse Inn, I along with other open theists and Arminians have been having a civil respectful dialogue with Calvinists on the potentially incendiary topic as to whether Calvinism makes God a monster. One of my interlocutors was raised in a hyper Arminian sect that got rebaptised every time they sinned and “lost salvation”. His Calvinism brings him peace from striving. It helps to know where people are coming from

      • pete

        I’m a Calvinist whose rebuked them on their blog for being jerks.

      • pete

        I’m a Calvinist who rebuked them on their blog for being jerks.

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