Home > christianity, exegesis, religion, us society > American Christianity and the pointless source of division, Part 2

American Christianity and the pointless source of division, Part 2

October 10, 2010

To recap the division was by theology, and was summed up in The Economist article in this way;

Calvinism emphasises that Jesus died only for the elect; Baptists believe Jesus died for everyone. Baptists, by definition, believe that baptism must be an informed choice by the individual, therefore limited to adults; Calvinists believe infants may be baptised. Calvinists think that God selects certain people for damnation; Baptists are more easy-going.

Jesus died only for the elect? A very restrictive sentiment can be attached to that theology. One which does not measure up when taking the Biblical text as a whole into consideration. The Calvinists and Baptists are denominations, or theological traditions of Christianity, there must be a return to a true theology of the Bible by studying it in the most scientific, logical and critical way possible. That type of reading, especially of religious documents is called exegesis, and it is underpinned by historical-critical methodologies.

The exegesis of ancient literature including the Bible helps illuminate the origin, nature, and reliability of the ancient history, people and places described. There are many criticisms differing in the types of substantive knowledge that is used to facilitate Biblical exegesis. There is philological criticism dealing with writing style and grammar, literary criticism tries to deduce original authorship and audience. Redaction criticism analyzes the way the author structures the narrative for theological goals (significantly used within Christian theology) and form criticism which presupposes the Bible as written through a revered oral tradition passed down for generations. In their cohesive form they are called Biblical criticisms. When applied in the process of exegesis incorporation of many scientific disciplines help maintain and thus constitutes a historical-critical or historical-grammatical Biblical exegesis.

The historical-critical interpretation allows the text to speak for itself and is an important way of reading ancient documents that first and foremost considers immediate contextual surroundings of a specific verse or verses in question. As scope widens study of many other historical contexts based in the authors, not readers, contemporary generation occurs. This imparts a great need for a varied spectrum of knowledge bases that can be pulled from and utilized when the comparison of the various contexts is done. This includes detailed research into the culture of the author, scientific discoveries, laws and theories, social structures as well as political and economic surroundings. In short the socio-historical contexts of the author are used by a skilled exegete or student of Scripture as a determining factor in deriving accurate interpretation. The critical investigation into the author of a text can sometimes be referred to as background studies. The ultimate goal of the historical-critical exegesis is to eliminate potential for eisegesis.

The 5 main points of Calvinism are;

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints (also called Eternal Security)

God preordained…a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation. -John Calvinreference

If harmony can be found between the particular Christian theological traditions of Calvinists and Baptists, through a historical-critical exegesis without contradicting other Scripture, then the establishments need to get their act together. I believe the harmony is found by implementing free will into the second and third points, and then determining God’s pre-ordainment. Man was not preordained into salvation, free will is the essence of the human psyche and of God’s plan for mankind, as the Bible clearly points to even in its first book of Genesis.

It is very simple!

A consistent Biblical exegesis can emerge by merely looking at it outside of either entrenched theological viewpoint. What I personally do when I survey the intellectual battlefield of Christian theological criticism, both from internal and external sources, is see if what theology is being preached is in fact Biblical. The Bible presents itself by itself, then one can easily come to a harmonious conclusion based completely within Scripture. The historical-critical exegesis I have reached in my personal studies is quite simple. It is this; Christ died for the sins every single human being alive at the time of His life death and resurrection, as well as from that point forward into the future. The elect are not chosen without regard to free will. The elect are those who have chosen to believe in their heart and minds, as well as confess truthfully by their mouth that Christ is Lord. The non-elect are those that do not and thus do not live a Christian life based on such principles. The elect are only predestined by God in accordance but not subjugated by the free will of every human being. In other words yes there are few elect, not all will come to the Father through Christ. Yet God still provided the choice of Christ’s life, death and resurrection for all. To come to any other conclusion is absolutely unacceptable and provides basis for the uselessness of spreading the Christian Gospel.

What I have just laid out by addressing point 2 specifically of the five points of Calvinism, is a universal Christian doctrine with little room to argue when using the text. For every counter-argument brought by Calvinists regarding Scripture of Him only dying for many and not all, that is true, He died for all yet only few accept it. So it is consistent within the biblical doctrine I have derived that Christ did die for all, yet its manifest truth is only for few who accept. So could I not say that Christ died for all and yes Christ truly died for the few who accepted Him? There are two truths at play, He died for all and He died for the few that ultimately will accept Him. Baptists I am sure, since their position requires little maneuvering to fit into the biblical theology I have shown, will find little to argue with. Christ dying for all yet few accept, supersedes any complaints. The counter-arguments to my doctrine of salvation may stand if that is their fate, but let them stand against an even taller, far more inviting nature and thus theology of Christianity and God. For all of mankind, as the essence of the act of Christ’s resurrection. Again Christ did not die only for those who accept Him, but those who must. It is up to the Church that survives in Christ to give all a chance to come to salvation by planting the seed, by spreading the Gospel. God is not slow as some count slowness but careful to fulfill His promises. The salvation doctrine I have laid out is fully encapsulated by John 3:16 (and 1 John 2:1, Luke 19:10, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Hebrews 2:9, John 1:29, Mark 16:15-16, Romans 1:16). It sums up my statements beautifully;

16“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.17“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.18“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

God does not just love His select few that have chosen to manifest His will in their life, but those who cannot and those who should. Those who choose not to manifest God’s will through Christ in their life, are those that when in death go into eternal death and sin. Instead of the Calvinist quibbling over who Christ was meant to die for based on it being preordained by God without regard for humankind, I think they would best pursue a better exegesis of John 3:16-18. Harmony is so very clear if theology is grounded in Scripture and the out-of-place hierarchical arrangement of what is either subordinate or complimentary theologies remain in proper order. If they don’t then logical/textual contradictions arise which are explained away by specializing the atonement of  Christ. I do not believe John 3:16-17 would be highlighted when explaining the second and third point of Calvinism. If it is the Calvinist exegete has to face directly that he/she has to explain the contradiction of the utterly superior and established doctrine of John 3:16-17. In other words, how could a specific elect be preordained into salvation by Christ’s sacrifice, if His sacrifice is intended for the world? As a Christian, I would say that yes, casually all can be saved, and that is why we are to preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.

You can also look at Christ’s salvation as a cause and effect. This can be likened into a logical argument if you look at the purpose of a book. A book has a fundamental superior cause or purpose. Its purpose is to be read, by well, everybody in the world. I don’t know a single author that wouldn’t want that! Similarly Christ’s sacrifice is to be considered truth, for well, everyone! Will the book be read by everyone? No. But attempts can be made, by say for instance putting it on the Internet so that it maybe accessible to anybody who wishes to look at it. Likewise will Christ’s sacrifice or the effect of His purpose be chosen as truth by all? No, but the effect does not change the original purpose. The Christian church for Christ, much like the Internet for the book, can spread His Gospel far and wide enough so that all may have a chance and choose by free will to accept. The Calvinist might say that the original purpose was obviously only for the few that will ultimately choose for Christ, this is acceptable, but MUST remain dependent upon the free will of man. God did not determine the elect outside of the consideration of the totality of every mans free will.

Now, do you see what happens when we delve a bit deeper instead of hovering on the surface of statistical division like The Economist did? How many people will do what we have just done with that article? I fear very few.

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  1. October 11, 2010 at 8:23 am

    As a Presbyterian and therefore a Calvinist, I find your arguments very interesting. The concept behind an unconditional elect is really rooted in Predetermination rather than quibbling over the elect as some of us Calvinists are wont to do. I do not believe that Calvinist and Baptist Theologies are really as different from each other as, say Creatonism and ID or TR and Supernaturalism. They’re two sides of the same coin, and it is a little bit disappointing that many will come off of the economist thinking that as Christians we cannot put up a united front.

  2. October 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    You are very level-headed in your faith, and that is rare. I applaud you for that. To me, I just want to believe what the Bible says, I guess you could say my denomination is Biblicist, hehe. I never really cared much for the denominational aspect of Christianity, because I feel there is more then ample harmony for us ALL through Scripture to come together.

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