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Wonder and Rationality in Calvinism (So-Called)

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John Piper’s 2012 piece “The Sovereign God of ‘Elfland’ (Why Chesterton’s Anti-Calvinism Doesn’t Put Me Off)” puts so well into words something I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about for a while. A taste:

It is a great irony to me that Calvinists are stereotyped as logic-driven. For forty years my experience has been the opposite. The Calvinists I have known (English Puritans, Edwards, Newton, Spurgeon, Packer, Sproul) are not logic driven, but Bible-driven. It’s the challengers who bring their logic to the Bible and nullify text after text. Branches are lopped off by “logic,” not exegesis.

Who are the great enjoyers of paradox today? Who are the pastors and theologians who grab both horns of every biblical dilemma and swear to the God-Man: I will never let go of either.

Not the Calvinism-critics that I meet. They read of divine love, and say that predestination cannot be. They read of human choice and say the divine rule of all our steps cannot be. They read of human resistance, and say that irresistible grace cannot be. Who is logic-driven?

For forty years Calvinism has been, for me, a vision of life that embraces mystery more than any vision I know. It is not logic-driven. It is driven by a vision of the ineffable, galactic vastness of God’s Word.

It’s not my aim to be redundant, especially when I couldn’t say it half as well as Piper has, but this observation (and you should read his whole post, because it’s bigger than just that one point) resonates with me, for this reason:

When I first “converted” to a Reformed view of soteriology, much of the criticism I received had to do with how hyper-logical Calvinism appeared to be. “Don’t put God in your little theological box!” was the sort of thing I heard multiple times from multiple people. That always sounded strange to me, because I had discovered in Calvinism a vision of God much, much bigger—”ineffeable” and “galactically vast” to use Piper’s words—than the one of my “Arminian” upbringing. Coming to a Calvinistic reading of the Scriptures opened up the box, as it were (for me, anyway).

But over the last few years, I’ve noticed that the criticism has shifted. I hear much more these days the charges that Calvinism doesn’t make enough logical sense, that it’s too illogical. “How can sovereign predestination and human freedom coexist?” they say. “It’s self-refuting.” Or we get the logical-ethical conundrum of how a limited atonement could complement a God of love.

I find all this fascinating, this wrangling with how the theological vision of Reformational theology is now deemed too conflicting with our sense of rationality and neat categories. Which is odd, again, since previously it appeared Calvinism didn’t allow for enough mystery. Now it allows too much. Ironically enough, it’s typically the proponents of the “generous orthodoxy,” “wider mercy” type streams of thought, the ex-emergent, “progressive”-type believers in a mysterious God who bristle at the irrationality of Calvinism. For some reason there is more concern now than before that that little theological box is empty.

I believe this is relativism (spiritual and moral) at work. It is neither logic nor wonder that drives the critique, nor even theology, but an animosity to any concept of God that challenges or convicts. May I propose that, to paraphrase one of the progressives’ own prophetesses, you can safely assume you’ve created god in your own image when he defies all the logic you defy and embraces all the emotionality you embrace?

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