Tag Archives: Calvinism

Cognitive Dissonance

When all the logical points have been hashed out, there are a few informal strategies that I like to employ to judge the merits of an idea. One of these is that I don’t subscribe to any view that requires me to act as though it were not true.

There are two ways this can happen. First, there are views that force you to act as though they were false simply because there’s no other possible way to act. Solipsism, the view that all reality is an illusion created by your own mind, is the best example. If you’ve established that nothing you perceive is real, how are you going to react to it? You can’t. The only way to act is as though the things around you were real (you might, perhaps, decide that you should be able to do whatever you want since it’s all an illusion, but you’d still be doing whatever you want with the things around you, as though they were real). There’s cognitive dissonance between what you believe and how you act.

The other type of cognitive dissonance arises in views that are really bundles of moral, philosophical, and metaphysical beliefs that aren’t necessarily logical conclusions from each other. Here, as you’ve probably guessed, I’m returning to Reformed theology.  There’s an aspect of the first type of dissonance to Calvinism, especially the stronger forms.  Certainly anyone who denies free will has a whole barrel of problems in this area.  However, the main cognitive dissonance sets in trying to reconcile the principles of Calvinism with its commands.

My sister reminded me of this today as she told me about semi-open theology, an intriguing hybrid view that her church holds that allows for the possibility of God changing His mind (also a view that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian).  She pointed out that every Christian acts like an open theist whether he or she is one or not: everyone prays as though God might change His mind, even if they believe he can’t.  The efficacy of prayer is always a wild and woolly issue, but Calvinists are in a particular pickle because they’re commanded to pray even though they believe in a God who preordained everything from the beginning and who can’t possibly be influenced by human demands.

Prayer isn’t the main point of dissonance here, though.  Evangelism is.  I’ve already commented on the oddity of Reformed evangelism.  In brief, they are commanded to evangelize even though it can’t possibly be efficacious, because God has already chosen who will be saved and who won’t.  Defenses can be made (and were), but even when you break away from the idea of evangelism, the mechanism of evangelism still doesn’t work.  Even if you believe that Calvinism is compatible with meaningful evangelism, there is still no way to evangelize that doesn’t involve acting as if Calvinism weren’t true.

To evangelize, you must communicate with unsaved people and try to convince them that they should accept Christ.  This action contains multiple non-Calvinist assumptions.  Unsaved people, according to Calvinism, are incapable of coming to Christ, or even understanding Him; thus, talking to them won’t accomplish anything.  People upon whose hearts the Holy Spirit has been working are already saved, or inevitably will be.  What words are you going to use when talking to these people?  “Come to Christ?”  The former can’t; the latter already have.

The answer is that you have to talk to them as though you were a humble Arminian (or subscriber to a third viewpoint) who believes that it is possible for human motive will to play a role in coming to salvation.  It’s simply not possible to act any other way.  And I think there’s good sense in believing something that is compatible with the way you have to behave.

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Calvinist Evangelism

All Calvinists are Evangelicals. This is more or less one of the unalienable truths of the universe. It is also one of the odder ones, because the most central tenets of Calvinism completely eliminate any possibility of the efficacy of evangelism. Put simply, if you’re a Calvinist, your beliefs state that evangelizing to someone will have no effect on his or her conversion.

Many Calvinists are aware of this paradox, but the most common response is “What do you mean Calvinists can’t be evangelicals? The greatest evangelicals in history have been Calvinists,” and a subsequent list of names:

This criticism seems most unfortunate to me since historically just the opposite has been the case — Calvinists have been leaders in the history of evangelism. (Luther’s Stein)

The man acknowledged as “the Father of Modern Missions” was William Carey, and William Carey was a Calvinist. (Colin Maxwell)

Names like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson and many, many more could be given. (Fundamentally Reformed)

In Calvin’s day, Geneva became a great center for church planting, evangelism and even “foreign” missions… (Christianity Today, quoted on A Defrosted Calvinist)

I’ve never actually heard anyone deny that Calvinists can be Evangelicals, and no non-Calvinist is even likely to contest that they were effective. The problem is that, according to their own views, all the sign-holding and extremely overt Bible-reading in the world could never actually accomplish anything.

The second defense Calvinists usually use is actually an offensive tactic: that Calvinist evangelism is effective because good evangelism is based on good doctrine:

The doctrine of predestination is the only grounds of evangelism. (Colin Maxwell)

Yes, that’s a nasty one. They’re saying “Calvinists are good Evangelicals because they actually believe what the Bible teaches, unlike all you guys.” We’ll let that slide, but that doesn’t change that, according to them, the Bible implies that they’re wasting their time.

As a non-Calvinist, I can at least imagine a mechanism by which evangelism would work. It goes something like: I talk to someone about Jesus. My words cause God to plant a proverbial seed in his heart. He gets interested in knowing more about Jesus, I talk to him some more, this causes the work of the Holy Spirit in him, and eventually he accepts God into his heart and becomes a Christian. Whether or not this is actually how it happens isn’t really important, because as long as that scenario cannot be ruled out, there’s at least one possible path to salvation in which my evangelism plays a key role.

Alternately, I could just claim that salvation is a mystery. We don’t know how it works and shouldn’t speculate, or at the very least shouldn’t let our speculation cause divides within the church, but we know that our evangelism helps to bring it about and that we’re called to do it.

Calvinists, of course, can’t claim either of those. My first scenario sounds nothing like the way Calvinists believe salvation happens, and they can’t claim it’s a mystery because they’ve plotted the process out in excruciating detail, built an entire movement around it, and as often as not called everyone who doesn’t believe it a heretic. Of course, they sometimes talk as though my scenario were true, as in the deuterocanonical John Piper’s sermon on the subject, but Calvinists often have to talk as though they believed things they didn’t, because their actual beliefs run so contrary to the way the world appears to operate. For instance, my earlier blog post (linked to through “deuterocanonical”) notes that my church sang “Come, now is the time to worship,” as though people could actually use their own motive force to come worship.

The parts of Calvinism that should preclude evangelism are the T, U, and I of TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Irresistible Grace. The relevant part of total depravity is that unregenerate man, without the help of God, has no capacity to turn to God and want to be saved. Combine that with election–God picks some people but not others–and you have the problem that preaching endlessly to the non-Elect will never accomplish anything because God has chosen to not allow them to come to faith.

“Sure,” say the Calvinists, “But who cares about the non-Elect? We’re called to preach to the Elect.” In other words, we are the instrument through which God’s grace acts. This is vastly the most common defense of Calvinist evangelism:

But it is important to recognize that the God of the Bible ordains not only the end (salvation) but also the means to the end (the proclamation of the gospel). (OPC)

Hyper-Calvinists believe He has ordained the end but not the means, non-Calvinists believe that He has ordained the means but not the end, Calvinists alone consistently take the balanced view that He has ordained both. (Colin Maxwell)

Furthermore, we understand Scripture to clearly teach that no one gets saved apart from the gospel, and almost always people must be involved in spreading that gospel. (Fundamentally Reformed)

[W]hen God decrees or elects a person to salvation, election does not make evangelism or prayer for that person unnecessary, it simply guarantees that the use of those means in the case of that individual will be absolutely effective. (Luther’s Stein)

But this can’t be the case if God’s grace is truly irresistible, because if it is irresistible, the person will be saved whether you evangelize or not–God’s grace is not slave to the will of the human evangelist. John Piper says that we are to “speak words of truth about Christ so that when the people’s eyes are opened, there is something to believe.” However, since God’s grace does the entire work of salvation and the will of the person being saved is never actually involved (and to believe otherwise would be that most heinous of heresies, semi-Pelagianism), it can’t be a matter of the person’s eyes being opened and then he choosing to believe the truth he sees. God is in charge of the whole process, rendering it moot whether the evangelist put anything there or not. Because the grace is irresistible, once God began to act on the person’s heart, his salvation was inevitable. That means that the information provided by the evangelist must be superfluous: whatever knowledge of God one can come to based only on God’s work on one’s heart without any outside assistance must be sufficient to be saved, now and forever.

Piper tries to avert this conclusion by adding:

The Holy Spirit never opens the eyes of the heart until there is gospel truth in the mind to believe. That’s our job.

This, however, can’t be true, because it opposes the doctrine of the Elect. God has preordained that certain people will be saved since before the dawn of time. Therefore, it has also been preordained that the Holy Spirit will work on their hearts; He’s not just waiting around for some human to preach to them so that He can get to work. The doctrine of the Elect is what really kills the idea of Calvinist evangelism. Since they have been chosen to be saved, they will be saved, whether or not you do anything. It is impossible for your evangelism to have an effect, because that would be changing who is saved, which is tantamount to changing God’s master plan.

Tim Challies has come up with the weak defense that we don’t know who is and is not Elect, so we should preach to everyone:

It is divinely predestined that this will happen and it is impossible for it not to happen. But God has not shared with us two vital pieces of information. He has not told us just who the elect are and how they will be brought to repentance. He has decreed that we are to share the message with everyone, in every way possible (within the bounds He sets in His Word).

This doesn’t seem convincing. Our ignorance of the exact nature of the outcome doesn’t change that the outcome is set, regardless of our actions. This view makes evangelism into a ridiculous pantomime that we perform because it looks like it works from our perspective, even though it really doesn’t.

Many Calvinists point out that God tells us to evangelize, and that’s reason enough to do it:

First, my Lord Jesus Christ commands me to do so (Mark 16:15). (OPC)

Even if we had no other reason, we would still evangelize…because it is a clear command from God. (Colin Maxwell)

If we are to be messengers of the king, how can we be good and faithful servants if we do not proclaim the message we have been given? (Coffee Swirls)

Moreover, refusing God’s command would make us disobedient, stiff-necked, and unregenerate–possibly a sign that we were never saved in the first place. I suppose churches that don’t allow women to lead are used to obeying commands from God that don’t make any sense and seem pointless or even counterproductive, but common sense dictates that you should interpret God’s commands in light of the realities of the world. For non-Calvinists, that could mean evangelizing when people’s hearts appear to be open and holding off when people are being antagonistic and preaching to them would just make them angry and close their hearts even more. For Calvinists, it means never evangelizing at all. Kick back at home, safe in the knowledge that Heaven will contain exactly the same number of souls as it would have if you had been handing out tracts.

Colin Maxwell at Old Truth tries to fix this problem by saying “If we don’t evangelize, someone else rightly will.” Thus, salvation requires evangelism, but someone else will step up if you drop the ball, and you’ll appear like the lazy son who didn’t follow his father’s orders. Of course this doesn’t help because the other evangelist–indeed, every other evangelist–can make the same choice, and even if they all chose not to evangelize, the person would still be saved.

This sounds lazy, but choosing not to do something pointless isn’t lazy. It’s strategic. As a scientist, I choose what experiments to perform based on what will yield the information I want to know. I don’t perform experiments that won’t tell me anything or ones that will only tell me things I already knew. A would-be Calvinist evangelist should instead spend his time on things that God commanded that can potentially have an effect, such as helping the poor.

There’s one more tack that I hadn’t ever heard a Calvinist take until I was preparing this article and ran across it at Luther’s Stein. It’s possible to preserve the evangelist’s role as an instrument of God’s saving grace if we assert God’s sovereignty over the evangelist’s actions. In other words, just as the person you are evangelizing is compelled to be saved, so you are compelled to evangelize. It’s meaningless to ask what would have happened if you had not evangelized, because that would be impossible. Luther’s Stein follows my hypothetical argument above remarkably closely:

Calvinists believe that God, in his infinite wisdom, has planned the entire course of history and that His plan, upheld and maintained by His sovereignty, will be infallibly accomplished [the doctrine of God’s Decree]. Yet, they also recognize that God does not simply purpose things into happening — rather, God is at work in His creation in order to bring his purposes about in the world. This is where the doctrine of Providence comes in — Providence teaches us how God accomplishes what He decrees. Providence is that biblical teaching that God sovereignly superintends over everything in the world by guiding, cooperating, directing, and working with various means in order to accomplish His purposes.

I have two objections to this argument. First, by this point you have achieved such a total disconnect between what appears to be happening and what is actually happening as to make discussion pointless. For instance, it would be meaningless to talk about what someone should do, since he is incapable of doing anything other than what God wants him to do. Second, this argument actually reinforces the idea that you should not evangelize, since whatever you end up doing is God’s will, so if you choose not to evangelize, then God must not have wanted you to evangelize in the first place. God laid out the precise steps of His plan and they will inevitably be accomplished, so if you sat at home watching TV instead of being a missionary in Asia, that must have been part of His plan.

Calvinist causality is dizzying, isn’t it? It reminds me of karma, where you have to do good because otherwise you will be punished by karma, but everything you do (good or bad) is justly carrying out the karma of those it affects, and therefore arguably the right thing to do. The difference is that karma is a little bit more defensible.

I’d like to wrap up by addressing some minor arguments.

Evangelism is glorifying to God:

[G]iven that my chief duty (and delight) is to glorify God, I am moved by the fact that the Father is honored whenever the Son is honored. The supreme means of honoring the Father is preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 5:22-23)! (OPC)

Just to recount the old, old story of Jesus and His love thrills our soul and leads us to praise His name. We glorify God when we proclaim the gospel. (Colin Maxwell)

I’ll give you this point. However, let’s get some crowbar separation between merely exhorting the Gospel of Christ because of its truth and power (I love to tell the story because I know ’tis true) and preaching the Gospel specifically for the purpose of saving the lost.

Evangelism fulfills our duty to the non-Elect, so that we’re not reprehensible and they are:

I know that when the nonelect reject the gospel, as they are wont to do, preaching leaves them all the more without excuse when they receive the condemnation they justly deserve. (OPC)

Is it just me, or does this sound a little…sadistic? Like maybe the author is kind of enjoying the idea of these people getting punished? Also, I think that “God made me incapable of salvation” (or, more precisely, “God decided not to make me capable of salvation”) is a pretty good excuse and your evangelism doesn’t make a speck of difference; it’s like asking a quadriplegic to walk and then insisting that he has no excuse for not walking because you asked him to. A slightly softer tack on the same topic:

Evangelism gives us the opportunity to unburden our souls for the lost. We cannot be silent while souls around us are bound for hell.  (Colin Maxwell)

Sorry, but you’re not sounding like you care about the lost–after all, you believe that they will inevitably go to Hell. You sound like you care about yourself and want to get their punishment off your chest. Evangelism gives you an excuse to say “Well, it’s not my fault they’re in Hell. I did everything I could.”

We get a prize if we convert people:

There is a great reward awaiting for soul winners (Daniel 12:3) …but even if there wasn’t, we would still labor just for the sheer joy of being in God’s work and spreading His word. (Colin Maxwell)

I’m not sure why God would reward people for being part of a foregone result, but that aside, if this is your motivation, you should admit that you’re being selfish and trying to convert people so that you’ll do better in Heaven.

It’s important for Christians to make people angry:

Evangelism gives us an opportunity to bear reproach for the name of Christ. (Colin Maxwell)

Maxwell is reaching for straws by this point. The Gospel offends, so if you’re not offending people, you’re doing it wrong.

In conclusion, I want everyone to know that I am in favor of evangelism. I am not asking any Calvinist to turn from evangelism. Not at all. I am asking you to see the disconnect in your beliefs. Calvinism and evangelism are not compatible. To embrace the latter, you must turn from the former.

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Two arguments that I saw frequently but didn’t feel the need to address above are: first, that we should pray for the lost because God acts through prayer, and second, that Calvinism should give evangelists hope because it means that people will be saved whether they seem receptive or not. I didn’t discuss these points because the first is not about evangelism and the second is really an encouragement rather than an argument.

I found almost no allies in my argument against Calvinist evangelism, but Theological Musings from an Amateur featured a short but incisive analysis here. It’s got enough good ideas that I’m adding it to my blogroll.

The full story of the sign-holder linked to above can be found here, by the way.

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Arminianism and the False Dichotomy

Someone once mentioned to me the trivia fact that “straight” and “Gentile” are the only two terms that a minority has successfully applied to a majority. I later thought of a third term. It is, of course, “Arminian.”

Of these three, I think “straight” has the best case for existence. Gender itself being a largely binary state, there are relatively few possible types of sexual orientation*, and each one can be precisely defined. “Gentile” is a little bit superfluous, since we seem to get by without a term for, say, non-Buddhists or non-Sikhs, but at least it doesn’t encapsulate any additional meanings besides “non-Jew.”

The term “Arminian,” however, is misleading and contradictory to the point of being useless. For those of you not up on your church history and/or Calvinist doublespeak, Arminianism is a view created by Jacobus Arminius in response to Calvinism. It counters the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) with its own five points, which are essentially polar opposites. (If you don’t know them, you can look up the points on your own for now; TULIP is heinous enough that I intend to address it letter by letter.) The term “Arminian” would be perfectly reasonable if it were just used to refer to the followers of Arminius’ teachings, but it isn’t. Calvinists also use it as a blanket term for any Christian who is or was not a Calvinist**, past and present.

It should be obvious that, while the first usage is a subset of the second, the two terms are widely disparate and that there are plenty of ways to be the second without being the first. Simple combinatorics reveals that, assuming the five points of TULIP aren’t logically equivalent (as in, point one: I am Jordan’s wife; point two: Jordan is my husband), there should be many instances of ~[T, U, L, I, P] aside from [~T, ~U, ~L, ~I, ~P]: [~T, U, L, I, P], [T, ~U, L, I, P], and so on: 31 combinations in all, and that’s assuming that one’s position on an individual point must be a binary agreement or disagreement, which is also not necessarily true. The two meanings of “Arminian” are not the same at all.

Calvinists don’t bother to clear up the distinction because they honestly don’t believe there is one. They don’t see how there could be any way to not be a Calvinist besides being an Arminian. An altogether too typical conversation I once had with a Calvinist, whose name will be concealed to protect the guilty, went roughly as follows:

Him (referring to Catholics): …Arminians.

Me: They’re not Arminians. They’re Catholics.

Him: Oh. Well, but people who hold the Arminian view.

I wish I could say that the latter statement were uttered with the wide-eyed innocence of one who had never realized that there might be a way to disagree with a complex position other than to hold the exact opposite position (cheap shot follows: he’s also a conservative), but I must admit that it was instead uttered with the superiority of one who doesn’t see any point in splitting hairs among views that he knows are all wrong anyway. A dismissive hand gesture may even have been involved.

This is the sort of frustrating conversation, already commented on over at Slacktivist, that makes one suspect that Calvinism is less of a theological view and more of a cult of smugness. That would explain why they know all the nuances of their own position forwards and backwards and from the middle, but show no interest in whether there might be differences between other views, let alone whether any such view might have any sort of merit. You instead get half-acknowledgments like this one:

Today’s Arminians are not necessarily the same caliber as those of old. Historic Arminianism is altogether heretical. However, contemporary Arminianism is often confusing; it melds together a number of different theological ideas to come up with a theological “soup”… But for the most part, each “Arminian” must be dealt with individually in order to assess their understanding, or flavor, of theological soup. It may very well be that they are believing a damning heresy. It may very well be that they are simply confused and need help to understand the doctrines of God’s grace, or their depravity.

This Calvinist seems to be on the brink of realizing that he’s using the term “Arminian” to refer to a million different things, but in the end he collapses back into thinking that “Arminian” can only refer to two things: real Arminians, who are smart but evil, and people who are just too stupid or ignorant to realize that Calvinism is right.

In short, Calvinists have constructed a false dichotomy between Calvinism and Arminianism. There are plenty of people who were neither Calvinists nor Arminians, starting with every Christian who lived before the sixteenth century and encompassing the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran churches, among others.

I’ve never had any luck explaining this to a Calvinist, though.

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*Even the very creative have only managed to come up with polysexual, pansexual, and pomosexual, none of which itself has much of a case for existence since they’re functionally all the same as bisexual, and, for that matter, effectively the same as each other. Basically, they’re people who wanted to strengthen their social or political views by injecting them into something as immutable and fundamental-sounding as their sexual orientation, or else people who really, really wanted to be special and so invented a new sexual orientation for themselves.

**If the Calvinist is a gracious one. Ungracious Calvinists, my once-adored Mark Driscoll among them, would deny that non-Calvinists are Christians at all.

Here’s a typical case of such lumping (Romanist is, of course, a derogatory term for Catholics), found partway through this post at Christian Clarity Review:

Thus Arminians/Romanists/Eastern Orthodox are always saying things along the lines of “but you haven’t answered all my objections”: they seek to portray that their objections are founded on a commonly shared gospel as universals when they in fact are simply part of a scheme to lie.

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Freudian Slips

This week, people at my church made two telling choices of wording, one unintentional, the other intentional.

The unintentional one took place during one of the impromptu Scripture readings that Sovereign Grace encourages between songs. A woman came to the front and announced that she was going to read something from “the book of Piper, where it says–I mean, where Piper says…”

When the sermon began, our pastor, Ron Boomsma, who consistently defies all the negative associations I have with Calvinism, explained graciously that, while John Piper is a good writer and theologian, our church does not in any way believe that his writings are as authoritative as Scripture.

Ron is right and represents both our church’s and the greater Reformed movement’s positions correctly.  However, there is an oddly canon-like solidarity to the Reformed attitude towards Reformed writers:  Reformed writers are treated with a loyalty that evokes the idea of scriptural inerrancy (though no Calvinist would actually say that those writers were inerrant), and non-Reformed writers are looked at dubiously, as if they couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to say.  They’re outside the canon.  I’ll devote a whole post to this idea when I have a chance.

The second choice of wording came during worship, in the song “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship.”  The worship team had chosen to modify the lyrics slightly.  The original goes:

Come, now is the time to worship

Come, now is the time to give your heart

Come just as you are to worship

Come just as you are before your God

Come

One day every tongue will confess You are God

One day every knee will bow

Still the greatest treasure remains for those

Who gladly chose You now

For those of you from the high church: yes, that’s the whole thing.  But I’m not here to analyze the original song.  The interesting part is that our worship team found not one, but two parts that were objectionable and needed to be changed.  Their version went:

Come, now is the time to worship

Come, now is the time to give your heart

Come, come by the blood to worship

Come, come by the blood before your God

Come

One day every tongue will confess You are God

One day every knee will bow

Still the only treasure remains for those

Who gladly choose you now

Why the changes?  While the latter isn’t theologically objectionable in any way, neither was the former, so why the changes?

The latter is pretty straightforward: the original wasn’t Calvinist enough because it wasn’t a strong enough confirmation of the elect.  Of course, the change only throws into stark relief that the song still references “choosing” God, so the revision job wasn’t complete enough.

The former change had me puzzled, but after some thought, I decided it was another Calvinist modification.  Since they don’t believe it’s possible to want God except by divine grace, they needed to correct the whole implication of human will in the command “come,” so they inserted a clause that obliquely implies that God is the cause of your ability to come to God.  You may wonder what the point is of telling someone to do something if they’re incapable of controlling whether they do it or not, but in this case, I think the song is absolved because it’s intended to be hortatory, rather than commanding; it’s encouraging you to do something, but with the full knowledge that you were going to do it whether it told you to or not.

The problem with changing the lyrics to a familiar song is that you’re making two equally prominent statements: you’re affirming the new lyrics and you’re denying the old ones.  So, whether or not the worship team intended to, they are rejecting the idea of coming to worship “just as you are.”

The most curious question of all is:  Why bother changing the words at all?  Why not just write a new song?  Our worship leader composes his own songs all the time.  It isn’t like this is an old standard of the church; it was written in 1998 for WOW Worship.  It’s got eight lines and 33 distinct words.  Hardly seems worthwhile to change one-sixth of them.

Since, as I mentioned, there is nothing objectionable about the new lyrics, there’s nothing wrong with the change per se.  It is a curious and revealing choice, though.

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From Bad to Worse: The Manhattan Declaration’s Non-Signers

I am completely opposed to the Manhattan Declaration.

From its first word to its last, I believe that it is nothing but a self-righteous attempt for the signers to put themselves on a pedestal as the victimized last bastions of American morality while demonizing anyone who disagrees or disobeys, all wrapped in transparently faux-pious language.

I’m not going to go into a longer explanation of why I’m opposed to it, but I encourage you to read Ellen Haroutunian‘s explanation of why she didn’t sign.  An excerpt:

My theory is that it is easier to write a document or pass a law than to get your hands dirty by actually moving into a poorer neighborhood and making friends and having a direct and yes, sacrificial but real impact on people’s lives. I know that even speaking that way freaks people out but that’s what God did. He went slumming – He moved in and actually became one of us and gave up quite a bit of His entitlement. We already know that story. So, why do we think we can hide behind a document or law when it comes to people’s lives and call it Christian?

So you’d think that I would be happy to find out that some prominent Christians (aside from Ellen and Fred Clark of Slacktivist, in my blogroll) had refused to sign it.  So would I.  And we would both be wrong.

The one and only positive part of the Manhattan Declaration was that it was ecumenical: it called Christians to unite towards a goal, albeit a lame goal.  The most prominent person who refused to sign was R.C. Sproul.  You may already see where this is going.

Does R.C. Sproul think that documents decrying abortion are a poor way to defend human life?  Does he think that, even if gay marriage were wrong, it has never been our job to enforce others’ morality?  Does he think that championing our religious rights is the exact opposite of our Biblical call to take up our crosses?  Of course not.  He agrees wholeheartedly with the issues in the declaration.  His disagreement is based on something else entirely:

The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them.  While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.

Translation: He didn’t sign it because Catholic and Orthodox people did.

The Manhattan Declaration states, “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s Word,” and it identifies “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelicals” as “Christians”…Without question, biblical truth must be proclaimed and the gospel preached prophetically to our nation. But how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian?

R.C. Sproul thinks that the Catholic and Orthodox churches are not Christian and what they teach is not the Gospel.  By this, he means that they are not Calvinists, because he believes that only people who embrace the correct mechanism for salvation can be saved.  Moreover, he believes that he knows exactly who does and does not believe the correct salvation-bringing doctrines, and that anyone who says otherwise or postulates a different definition of Christianity is just plain wrong.

He tries to soften it up a bit, but only comes across as insulting:

I believe there are true and sincere Christians within the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. But these people are Christians in spite of their church’s official doctrinal positions.

In other words, there are people in these churches who believe in R.C. Sproul’s understanding of the mechanism of salvation, and are therefore saved.

So why does he care so much about this document?  If he agrees with all the points the document is trying to make, why does he say things like “I have dear friends in the ministry who have signed this document, and my soul plummeted when I saw their names,” and feel the need to actually clear their names:

Nevertheless, I remain in fellowship with them at this time and believe they are men of integrity who affirm the biblical gospel and the biblical doctrines articulated in the Protestant Reformation.

In this quote lies the answer.  Notice that the Biblical gospel is “articulated in the Protestant Reformation”–not in the Nicene Creed or even the Bible itself.  For R.C. Sproul, the Reformation is the gospel.  We are called, not to preach Christ crucified, but to preach TULIP.  Thus, Catholics are the same as heathens who put babies on spikes.  I will definitely elaborate more on this point later.

R.C. Sproul has a slippery-slope sort of mentality.  Any statement or action that could possibly be construed as implying the legitimacy of another doctrinal position would leave him with no choice but to commit seppuku.  Signing a document implies solidarity with the other signers, which in turn could imply doctrinal agreement, and is therefore absolutely unacceptable.

If you’re keeping score, the R.C. Sproul/Reformed order of priorities goes:

  1. Asserting doctrinal superiority over the Catholic and Orthodox churches,
  2. Preventing gay marriage and abortions, and finally
  3. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for widows and orphans, etc.

This passage and others have lead me to the conclusion that R.C. Sproul is a self-righteous, bigoted hypocrite who believes he holds the key to salvation and gets a self-satisfied pleasure out of saying who’s in and out.  I hope I get a chance to meet him some day so I can tell him so to his face.

A brief Google search reveals some additional people (both among the original 150 invited signers and not) who didn’t sign the Manhattan Declaration: John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Mike Horton, and Douglas Wilson.  There’s also Niel Nielson, who did sign, but only with great reluctance.

Every one of these men (side note: I’ll bet you my life savings that not one name out of those original 186 was female) is Reformed.  And every one didn’t sign the declaration because Catholics and Orthodox signed it.  Some of them went so far as to suggest that we Protestants should put together our own declaration with the exact same content, but without all those Catholic and Orthodox signatures.

These people make me ashamed to call myself a Christian.

(Addendum:  I found a third sort of non-signer: David Bayly, who agrees with the content of the declaration but thinks that it will mostly serve as a tool to stroke the egos of the signers and that the people who sign are unlikely to actually do anything about these issues.  Obviously I disagree about whether trying to save Terri Schiavo was the best use of his time and resources, but I respect him for living out his faith humbly and actively, rather than bombastically.)

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