Determined to Believe: Chapter 4 - Be Bible Christians and not System Christians

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 4! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • our “isms” are not infallible
  • we all have blind spots in our theology
  • once a paradigm is in place, it is hard to question
  • Dr. Lennox is okay if we disagree with him and is not intending to make any form of adhominem attack

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the danger of mistaking our systematic theology for the Bible itself? What is the risk of viewing our “isms” as infallible?
  2. Why is it so hard to question theological paradigms once they are in place?
  3. Can you share one experience when you recognized a blind spot in your own theology? How does that help you stay humble in your approach to theology now?

Quotes

for many people it really boils down to deciding whether one takes the label of Calvinist or Arminian (or Molinist or Reformed, or…). However, I would like to suggest that the very labels themselves are a big part of the problem, and this needs to be faced sooner rather than later if reasonable and productive discussion is to be at all possible.

were I to survey the long list of eminent people to whom I am indebted and decide to call myself after one of them, I would actually be inclined to choose either Paul or Peter. I don’t think either Luther or Calvin would regard that choice as insulting.

Suppose I said to you that I was a Calvinist, how would you react? Would you have fellowship with me on that basis? If you did, I would have to ask you the question suggested by Paul’s argument: was Calvin crucified for you?

What I am more than willing to do, however, is to discuss what the Bible has to say on particular points of common interest, and then we all might learn something.”

Charles Simeon once wrote: Calvinism is a system. God has not revealed his truth in a system; the Bible has no system as such. Lay aside system and fly to the Bible; receive its words with simple submission, and without an eye to any system. Be Bible Christians and not system Christians.

genetic fallacy, perhaps encountered more frequently in statements like, “You believe that because you are a… The error lies in assuming that, if you can give some kind of causal explanation for a person holding a specific belief, you have thereby emptied that belief of any validity.

they detract people’s attention from the preaching of the cross of Christ. They focus on natural thinking rather than on the Holy Spirit, and they cause people to have their confidence and boast in human leaders rather than in God.

this does not mean that I do not value systematic theology. Indeed, my academic background is in the mathematical sciences, and the essence of science is systematisation.

Experience shows that it is often very hard to question a paradigm.

All of us are grateful – or should be – to theologians who have over the centuries systematised their knowledge in order to help us get a grasp of it. Yet, as in science, theological systems or paradigms can sometimes become so powerful that they end up defining what Scripture is or is not allowed to mean, so that “taking Scripture seriously” means accepting a particular theological system

Our “isms” with their systems and paradigms are not infallible.

We must, therefore, be prepared to ask ourselves: do I read the text in this way because of what it says, or because of the colour of the spectacles (the nature of the paradigm) through which I am looking at it?

We all, imperfect sinful men and women as we are, inevitably have blind spots in our theology

Really valuable interchange can only occur where there is mutual respect, and an acknowledgment that people with different views are very likely to be motivated by the same concern for the reputation of God, so that they seek to uphold and promote his glory and holiness.

Indeed, I recall with pleasure how, during my student days at Cambridge, I used to spend time with a friend reading and discussing Calvin’s sermons in their original French.

I also lament the loss of that sense of glory, holiness, and dignity of God in far too much of superficial, contemporary, feel-good preaching.

Indeed, I am sure that some of my readers will be persuaded that I am the one who has got it wrong. God is gracious and merciful, and sometimes even getting it wrong can serve to enrich the discussion and refine our understanding.

I simply offer to a wider audience what I have found useful in my own searching of Scripture, in the hope that it might prove of similar value to others – whether or not they agree with me in the end.

in no case should my discussion of an idea, especially one with which I take issue, be construed as an attack on the person…

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I think he explains really well the dangers of paradigms. They tend towards interpreting reality instead of letting reality interpret them.

In this discussion, we shouldn’t let our preconceived systems interpret scripture, but let scripture interpret our systems.

This is so simple, yet so powerful.

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@c3vanzyl 100% agree! I thought this chapter was very well written and helped us position ourselves to hear from God’s Word :slight_smile:

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Lennox does well to address the label issue.I really liked his quotation of John Bunyan:

You ask me next, how long is it since I was a Baptist? I must tell you that I know of none to him that title is most proper when the disciples of John. And since you would know by what name I would be distinguished from others, I tell you I would be, and hope I am - a Christian, And choose if God should count me worthy to be called a Christian, I believer, or other such names which is approved by the Holy Ghost. And as for those titles Anabaptists, Independents, Presbyterians and the like, I conclude that they came neither from Jerusalem, nor Antioch, But rather from hell and from Babylon, for they naturally tend to divisions. By their fruits you show know them. (p 79)

Bunyan is right. We should only call ourselves Christians, because we are followers of Christ first and foremost. Lennox adds, “The answer from these chapters in 1 Corinthians is that, far from being innocent, diversionary, peripheral issues, they detract people’s attention from the preaching of the cross of Christ” (p 79). I strongly agree with that. It’s an important insight that does not get enough attention from within the church.

I really believe Lennox’s take on scriptural paradigms is extremely important to understand for all of us when addressing this topic of God’s foreknowledge and human free will. Lennox writes,

“Theological systems or paradigms can sometimes become so powerful that they end up defining what Scripture is or is not allowed to mean, so that “taking Scripture seriously” means accepting a particular theological system and fitting on Scripture into it. (p 82)

Lennox continues,

“It goes without saying that most of those reading this book will be convinced that their systems have been derived from scripture in the first place.” (p 82)

This is important to notice about ourselves. We become the ones reading INTO Scripture instead of reading scripture in its proper interpretation in light of other passages. Think of mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. They both believe that only they read scripture correctly while everyone else is wrong. I’m not saying Calvinism or Arminianism are cults or anything. It’s just that the cults are extreme examples of reading into scripture with our own presuppositions and biases. Also think of atheists who read into the Old Testament through western eyes with a naturalistic presupposition. Don’t we get irritated when we constantly have to beat the “Context! Context! Context” drum and try to explain to them where they went wrong, only to find out they didn’t listen to you because they weren’t interested in the context (plus they have probably heard the same lecture a lot and don’t find it very convincing). I believe it is similar with this theological debate. That is why I appreciate Lennox’s plea to get rid of all labels (except for “Christian,” of course) so we can look at the scriptures together and see what God has revealed to us, which is why Lennox says this, “It is important for me as I come to this topic to realize that those who may disagree with me on some issues have just as much and maybe even more desire then myself to be faithful to scripture” (p 85).

Anyway, I am curious to know what everyone thinks about the Time magazine defining New Calvinism (Lennox quotes) as:

“Complete with utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, Sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: The belief that before times dawn, God decided who he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision” (p 86)

Lennox says “this kind of publicity is very damaging to the gospel.” I would tend to agree with that. It’s basically Christopher Hitchens’ view that God is a cosmic bully. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. (As Lennox closes the chapter, “May our search be motivated by a desire to promote the glory of God alone.”)

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Hitchen is the voice I hear.

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@Jimmy_Sellers Could you expand on that thought a little bit more? What do you think are the implications of this statement? When you say you hear Hitchen’s voice, how come?

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I found that I tended to view thing from a legalist POV. A lot like I understood Paul’s teaching to be. I was wrong on both accounts legalism and Paul. The net results is Evangelism without the pressure for results or the fear of rejection but motivated by gratitude for the greatness of the gift and undying loyalty to the Giver.

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@Jimmy_Sellers Legalism is one of those religious tendencies that is so hard to see when we’re in that mindset and so amazing to be set free from… Seeing ourselves and the world through the lens of the grace of Christ on the cross is a truly glorious experience!

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I like how Lennox uses humor to lighten the discussion - with his made up label ‘Calminianism’. Isn’t it so true that we all generally assign labels to each other, put each other in boxes using these labels.

I think the problem with labels of any kind is, once you’ve established a newcomers’ label - it kills off any meaningful conversation. You assume that a person is an xyz, and I think removes the individual person who is incredibly complex, made in God’s image (with infinite value), and for whom Christ died.

I guess we all do it, as a way of more easily making sense of the world. Christian/agnostic/atheist/… Maybe a good way to deal with labels is to ask more questions to try and keep the conversation going…

I also found interesting that labels are then used to say ‘you believe that because you are an xyz’ - which is a genetic fallacy.

When attempting to discuss these issues I am also aware that sometimes the reaction is: “But that is not what we Calminians think.” Or, “But that does not represent classic Calminianism – it is more like the new Calminianism, and we don’t accept that anyway.” There is a deeply ingrained tendency to refer to some labelled theological system, rather than getting to grips with what Scripture actually says.

For instance, Smith could be studying Romans and may mention the importance of Paul’s statements about predestination. “Ah, so Smith is a Calvinist!” Not necessarily. Smith may simply believe what Scripture says about predestination, and never would think that he has to see it within an overarching theological system.

On another occasion the very same Smith could be discussing evangelism with friends, stressing that it is important to reason with people. “Ah, so Smith is an Arminian!” Not necessarily. Smith may simply be attempting to take seriously what Paul practised in the synagogues and market places.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 77). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

Paradigms are interesting as well - are these similar to a worldview? it’s confronting to allow our own to be questioned because you are ‘inside them looking out’ so to speak?

@O_wretched_man, regarding the Lennox quote from Time Magazine, I would first ask: Who wrote it, and to what audience? Is it just a piece for the ‘confirmation bias’ of the Time magazine readers?

Seems to be David Van Biema, who I could not find much about his religious views, other than he was a religious writer for the Time Magazine, and has now quit to write a book. I’m not sure if at the time of writing, he’s an atheist having a go at religion in general, or a Christian concerned about the state of Christianity or what point he was trying to make at all the in article…?

It’s very hard to see anything positive about the article at all.

The New Calvinism, By David Van Biema Thursday, Mar. 12, 2009
http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1884779_1884782_1884760,00.html

If you really want to follow the development of conservative Christianity, track its musical hits. In the early 1900s you might have heard “The Old Rugged Cross,” a celebration of the atonement. By the 1980s you could have shared the Jesus-is-my-buddy intimacy of “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” And today, more and more top songs feature a God who is very big, while we are…well, hark the David Crowder Band: “I am full of earth/ You are heaven’s worth/ I am stained with dirt/ Prone to depravity.”

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin’s 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism’s buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism’s latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.

Calvinism, cousin to the Reformation’s other pillar, Lutheranism, is a bit less dour than its critics claim: it offers a rock-steady deity who orchestrates absolutely everything, including illness (or home foreclosure!), by a logic we may not understand but don’t have to second-guess. Our satisfaction — and our purpose — is fulfilled simply by “glorifying” him. In the 1700s, Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards invested Calvinism with a rapturous near mysticism. Yet it was soon overtaken in the U.S. by movements like Methodism that were more impressed with human will. Calvinist-descended liberal bodies like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) discovered other emphases, while Evangelicalism’s loss of appetite for rigid doctrine — and the triumph of that friendly, fuzzy Jesus — seemed to relegate hard-core Reformed preaching (Reformed operates as a loose synonym for Calvinist) to a few crotchety Southern churches.

No more. Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors don’t operate quite on a Rick Warren scale. But, notes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, “everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world” — with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle’s pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom’s hottest links.

Like the Calvinists, more moderate Evangelicals are exploring cures for the movement’s doctrinal drift, but can’t offer the same blanket assurance. “A lot of young people grew up in a culture of brokenness, divorce, drugs or sexual temptation,” says Collin Hansen, author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. “They have plenty of friends: what they need is a God.” Mohler says, “The moment someone begins to define God’s [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.” Of course, that presumption of inevitability has drawn accusations of arrogance and divisiveness since Calvin’s time. Indeed, some of today’s enthusiasts imply that non-Calvinists may actually not be Christians. Skirmishes among the Southern Baptists (who have a competing non-Calvinist camp) and online “flame wars” bode badly.

Calvin’s 500th birthday will be this July. It will be interesting to see whether Calvin’s latest legacy will be classic Protestant backbiting or whether, during these hard times, more Christians searching for security will submit their wills to the austerely demanding God of their country’s infancy.

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@matthew.western Thank you for posting the article. Reading it, the worst bit of bad press for Christianity appears to be the disunity even more so than the critique of Calvinism. As it stands, the article basically says, “We don’t like Calvinism and hey, look, the Christians are having fights about it too.” What if instead it read, “We don’t like Calvinism but my goodness these Christians really manage to love each other even when they disagree”?

I would say that Calvinists and Arminians and Calminians alike all share a worldview, but they have a different paradigm for sovereignty and free will.

A quick way to explain the difference between the two is to emphasize that a worldview is based on values and belief, and has more to do with how we ought to live, whereas a paradigm has more to do with perception and the way we acquire knowledge and what we count as knowledge. Essentially, a paradigm is a smaller version of a worldview. The assumptions that guide the way we make decisions about knowledge within our paradigms are derived from our worldview. A worldview is more comprehensive - everything can be analyzed via a worldview. A paradigm is more specific to classes of knowledge and situations

https://home.apu.edu/~jwinston/session1.htm

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@SeanO

As it stands, the article basically says, “We don’t like Calvinism and hey, look, the Christians are having fights about it too.” What if instead it read, “We don’t like Calvinism but my goodness these Christians really manage to love each other even when they disagree”?

That is a great point. My goodness, do we church people sometimes like to bicker over secondary theology issues (think the Geisler-Licona inerrancy controversy and the McGrew-Evans realiability of the gospel of John issue).
When Stanley’s book Irresistible came out, there was a backlash over “unhitching” the Old Testament from our bibles because all we Christians are concerned about (according to Stanley) is “what does love require of me?” Stanley made it clear in an article that if anyone had problems with his conclusions, please approach him personally, not criticize him from afar. I suspect his reason is that it means the person cares for him as a person made in God’s imagine, not just his views on theology. That is what is lacking in this debate on divine determinism and free will. What comes to mind is Lennox’s story earlier in the book were he met with some Christian academics and they asked him if he was a Calvinist. Lennox tried to avoid being labeled and instead focus on what the bible had to say, but they weren’t impressed. “They were only interested in pigeonholing me, but they had failed” (p 75). Isn’t that too bad? When we discuss deep topics like this, we should be able to have a cordial conversation were everyone knows that we all have every person’s best interest in mind. (I sure hope that in Evangelism as well!)

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@O_wretched_man I agree completely - when the apostle Paul realized Peter was leading others astray by only hanging out with the Jewish crowd, he did not start a blog about the dangers of Judaizers within the Church and then label his brother. He went straight to Peter and confronted him to his face. We know that he already knew Peter, so there was an established relationship. Which is another important point in the era of the Internet - relationship is essential for rebuke. Of course, this particular issue was central to the Gospel - it was not a secondary issue like the one we are currently discussing. With secondary issues, even more grace and humility should be extended when our opinions differ.

Galatians 2:11-13 - But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

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Regarding my statement above the reference to Hitchens is was in response to @O_wretched_man 's quote from Time magazine. This is one of the planks that Hitchens uses in his rant against religion (he is an equal opportunity antagonist ) add to that his belief that religion is a culture of death and you have quite the ugly picture of the God of the Bible.
To be sure I don’t agree with his (Hitchens) view but I do agree that labels (isms) are a lot like creeds, a good place to start but along way from any real understanding of what fills in the details.
I have compared creeds to tattoos. Creeds are the frame work for a story like a stencil is the framework for s tattoo. When you look at it it has form but without the color it is only a frame. Its my understanding that it take time and patience to fill in the rest. Likewise ‘isms’ (labels)are similar they represent a framework of thought and like the tattoo waiting on color, they too
require time and patience to sort through.
My thoughts
After thoughts: I think the subject of the book is way to important to keep on track and I in no way want to appear as a naysayer.

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@Jimmy_Sellers Great thoughts! I think there is some difference between creeds and ‘isms’, in the sense that creeds are the foundations of our faith. ‘isms’, on the other hand, are our attempt to create frameworks from the story of Scripture and must be held more lightly than creeds. Appreciate your contributions :slight_smile:

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Why the rush to call ourselves anything at all? At Antioch, the disciples were called Christians, but this was a label from those outside, not a declaration from those within the Church. As Bunyan said, perhaps we would be found worthy of such a designation as “Christian”, but let the fruit of our lives declare it instead of presumptious words.

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The quote about “was Calvin crucified for you?” has stuck in my mind. Not just about factions, but for me to consider if what I think and believe about different parts of Christianity are following a paradigm (maybe just what I’ve always heard) or does it come from scripture. It’s challenged me to dig into scripture deeper and try to understand it better for myself. It’s also challenged me to think about how my own experience of church etc. lines up with what I’m actually reading, not is this just how its “always” been.

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@adam Excited to hear that you are engaging your own understanding of Scripture more deeply! Being aware of our own paradigms is one of the first steps in going deeper into the Word. May Christ bless your studies :slight_smile:

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Nice idea!! Agree, not that ‘systems’ are all incorrect, but no doubt they sure can distract us a lot from the text’s original ideas. I’d like to apply this to lots of Bible study topics—> like eschatology! Think if we took out the ‘isms our of our views and just tried see the text (with the recipients eyes as possible); we just might find hermeneutical treasure :slight_smile:

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