Many if not most Calvinists view the world in terms similar to Islam, in the sense that the world is neatly divided into two opposing camps: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-HarbDar al-Islam is the “house of Islam,” the theopolitical abode of the faithful; by way of contrast, Dar al-Harb is the “house of (those with whom we are continually at) war (until the Day of Judgment).”  There is no middle ground, there are no third parties, you are one or the other.

Very neat, very tidy, very binary.

For many if not most Calvinists, you are either a Calvinist or you are an Arminian (or, as many of the “Truly Reformed/New Calvinists” like to insist, a Semi-Pelagian).  To them, these two options exhaust the theological possibilities.  If you are not for Geneva, you are against her – and for at least some, that is equivalent to rejecting the Gospel itself.

I have heard countless times by my Reformed friends how my unease with the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” stem from the fact that I value humanistic philosophy over the clear teaching of the Word – the necessary implication being that if you reject Calvinism, you reject the clear teaching of the Word, and instead embrace humanistic philosophy.  I am constantly labeled an Arminian as a result.

However, the prevailing Calvinist insistence on the Calvinism/Arminianism dichotomy fails irreparably (and quite quickly) when honestly examined.

It turns out that there are quite a few theological systems which owe nothing to either Calvinism or Arminianism.

For instance, Lutheranism.

Lutherans would be mighty surprised to find that their theology owes its existence to a Dutch reformer who was born fourteen years after Luther (the putative founder of their confession) himself died.  Yet that Lutheranism is emphatically not Calvinism is beyond controversy.  It instead occupies a theological territory quite other than either Calvinism or Arminianism.

Though I am far from being Lutheran, the more I read about Lutheran theology the more impressed and appreciative of aspects of it I become.  Among other things, Lutherans handily navigate the vexing waters between the Scylla of God’s Sovereignty and the Charybdis of man’s free will.  Take, for instance, the Lutheran position on the doctrine of divine election, summarized by Josh Strodtbeck in an interview with iMonk:

Luther shied away from abstractions, and we Lutherans inherited that. Not just sovereignty, but the attributes of God in general are simply not of extreme importance. If you look at Luther’s catechisms, he actually defines God in terms of Creation, the Cross, and the Church. Compare that to Q7 in the Westminster LC. So for Lutherans, theology is done in terms of God’s relation to us. That means theology never gets away from Law and Gospel, from justification, from the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If you look at the discussion of election in the Formula of Concord, its driving concern is not maintaining God’s sovereignty, but rather how election is to be preached within the framework of Law and Gospel. That’s why Chemnitz is comfortable with basically saying that God declares our election to us in the preaching of the Gospel and admonishes against rational speculation on the inscrutable decrees of God apart from Christ, who is made known to us in the Gospel and the Sacraments. It’s also the source of the bewildering (to Calvinists) assertion by Lutherans that while election is purely of the grace of God in Christ, reprobation is purely of the obstinate will of man and against God’s desire that they be saved. This doesn’t make sense in terms of divine attributes or sovereignty, but it does if you hold that damnation is Law and election is Gospel.

{emphasis mine}

I like that.

I really like that.

To my Calvinist brothers: I still love you, my opening paragraph was purposefully provocative, in order to provoke a reaction similar to the one I and other non-Calvinists feel when your theological brethren dismissively try to pigeon-hole us into the “Semi-Pelagian” category simply because we don’t see the Canons of Dort as comporting with what we understand in Scripture.

That said, I find it beyond fascinating that the theological landscape is vastly more variegated than the oversimplistic “Calvinist/Arminian” weltanschauung prevalent in so much of the current theological conversation.

Advertisements