Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
A Calvinist Responds to Michael Spencer, Internet Monk (Part I)
04/15/2005 - James WhiteMichael Spencer, aka "Internet Monk," wrote an article that has been linked to by a number of folks today, so I felt compelled to respond. Just to do something different, my responses are in blue.
I'm Not Like You: An Apologia to My Readers (Calvinists especially)
Michael: No, you aren't. Though we have never spoken, at least to my knowledge, you seem to have a number of folks who, even though they don't agree with your current theological...direction, still like you a good bit. I had seen something you wrote last year and found a few things I like, some I didn't. BTW, why is it that if I challenge your statements about me, I'm inviting you to a chopping block? Is that just the "Hey, I'm emotional" and therefore massively inconsistent thing?
I am not like you. That's not an attitude of condescension, it's just a fact that I need to bring to the front of our relationship. You are writing me letters and notes about N.T. Wright, my views on inerrancy, my coziness with Catholicism. Your concern is appreciated, but now it's time to stop it. We need to accept that we are different, and we are not on the same page in this journey.
That's neat. Hope you don't mind, however, if we keep reading, first of all, and secondly, when we find you inconsistent with the truth, we point it out? I mean, you do seem to be suggesting that what you say is true in some sense, and Christian in some sense, so, unless you are saying that we don't have the right to address the same issues, it is alright if we speak our mind as well, yes?
I'm not like most of you because my dad was divorced, and the legalism in my church destroyed his willingness to fellowship and worship with other Christians. In our church, divorced people were castigated weekly as the worst of sinners. Dad stayed home in shame. He was a man of prayer and the Bible, but he only heard me preach five times in his life because the church we attended had both his ex-wife and my mother as members. I'll never forget what it felt like when it dawned on me that my father wasn't enjoying the forgiving welcome of Jesus, but was living in the condemnation of legalism. He loved God, but only at the end of his life did he hear the preaching of the cross that assured him his sins were forgiven- all of them.
Since two of my best friends at my church have gone through that tragedy called divorce, and are functioning, loved members of the body, I honestly can't figure out why you'd want to paint us all with such a broad brush.
This changed me in ways I can't explain, but I can put it this way. When Jesus said of Lazurus, "Loose him and let him go," I think he was talking about my dad. Other Christians didn't hear that word, but I did, and it makes me who I am.
That's interesting, and insightful. There are passages of Scripture that mean a lot to me, too. I'm obviously not nearly as emotional as you are as a person, but that doesn't mean that I don't feel things just as deeply. I'm a Scotsman by heredity and temprament. Don't ever hug me. Don't even try, please. I interpret the "holy kiss" as the "holy nod from across the room." So anyway, there are these passages that really mean a lot to me, that have been used in my life at important times. But, I also know that what I have experienced with them does not change them or determine their meaning. What they meant they meant long before I came along. The Spirit applied them to my life in a special way, sure, but my experience does not determine their meaning. The words of Christ regarding Lazarus meant what they meant long before this century. Agreed?
I'm not like you because I believe much of contemporary Christianity has nothing to do with the public ministry of Jesus or the reality of his Kingdom.
Doesn't make you different than me---the way pseudo-evangelicalism has thrown the gospel under the bus makes me ill.
I don't see five finely honed points of reformed theology in Jesus' acceptance of sinners in the Gospels.
Not sure anyone does, actually. But, I happen to believe those five points to which you allude are true---true then, true now, true tomorrow, and since they are true, they impact my view of God, myself, my life, my world, my duties...everything.
I don't see the divisive rejection of people in Jesus' ministry, but I see it on every corner in evangelicalism.
That's odd. I see Jesus honoring God's truth without compromise, even in the face of constant attacks. Strange how we view things differently. But remember, one of us admits to reading the Scripture through the lens of our experience, and one of us, knowing that danger, works very hard to avoid it through the application of the rules of exegesis.
Jesus ministry is the Kingdom of God made actual in the here and now. I see a new Israel being created around Jesus himself. I see the covenant love of God for his people extended to the last, lost, least, little and dead. Jesus' denunciation of the religious establishment doesn't seem to register with the religious crowd today who are every bit as outraged as the Prodigal's older brother when it comes to joining the party being thrown for the son who'd been received home again.
Wow, that's...odd. Sounds great, but, uh, might it just be that your personal experience is not the standard by which to condemn entire groups of folks? The religious establishment Jesus condemned focused upon the externals without having an internal correspondence. Is that what you allege? I happen to believe both are vital: the truth, and nothing but--and the application internally that makes one like Christ. Am I missing something?
I'm not like you because I learned the value of silence from that darned Catholic, Thomas Merton. I don't think I can explain this, but I believe you can learn more about God in an hour silence than in a year of reading or listening to preaching.
Uh, cool. I don't remember seeing that in Scripture...but then again, that is reading. Be that as it may, prayer and contemplation of God's truth is wonderful, and I will gladly grant you that Merton is going to make you very much "not like" me, and the other Reformed folks I know.
I learned that monasteries aren't monuments to Mary, but places where another dimension of life is protected and nurtured. I learned in the silence and solitude of monasticism that God is more than a concept, a proposition or a list of statements.
You could have learned that by reading your Bible. :-) But as to your monasteries, that's all very nice, too---except that when we are told to love one another, that includes service, which includes life, which includes living in this world. Oh, and many monasteries are monuments to Mary.
He is a reality that breaths life and being into every moment, every cell, every bit of matter than can not exist without him. In the silence, I learned that the voice of God is not the voice of lecturing professors or shouting preachers, but the very voice of being itself.
Again, very nice, very moving---but dishonest. No one I know has ever defined the voice of God as solely the voice of a professor (though God uses us, once in a blue moon); nor that the voice of God is solely a "shouting preacher"--though the deep disrespect shown the passionate ministry of the word by many who are showing themselves to be in, or near, your camp, is deeply distressing, and surely out of line with the description of such men as "ambassadors for Christ."
I learned that only my monastic friends seem to understand the great power and universality of this, and because I learned this, I want to be far away from all the things we do to convince ourselves we've made God real. It's not necessary. The God of the Word is found by faith in silence.
Well, if you say so. I prefer the spirituality that finds expression in Scripture, in the Church, in ministry, in the defense of the faith.
I'm different from many of you because God used that monk to show me a life lived before God. Merton wasn't a theologian, but a writer, poet and activist. He went to the woods. He loved and hated the visible church, but he came back to it every day because from it he learned who he was and in it he found Christ. His lifetime of argument with the church and his superiors has shown me my own heart and attitudes a thousand times, and reminded me that for all its faults, the church is my family, my DNA and my best place in the world. Yet, Merton also taught me that the way of God is on the other side of the mountain, where we go to find ourselves in God and God alone, revealed in Jesus Christ.
Like I said, OK. Doesn't do a thing for me, to be honest, and I don't understand how anyone can find, in non-inspired writings, anything to compare with the living Scriptures, as far as impact goes, but hey, that's why we are different, like you said.
I'm not like you because I have chosen to be part of an intentional, full-time, residential, mission-oriented Christian community. I am not bragging when I say this, because God brought me here to save my life as surely as he brought Merton to the monastery to save his. And like Merton, I have made some of my worst mistakes and arrogant errors here, and found the forgiveness of Christ here as well.
Yes, that definitely makes you unlike me.
I have chosen to bring my life, my family and my ministry to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, to a place where I live in a prefab house, receive a salary that I can't explain to my father-in-law, and nothing- absolutely nothing- is like any mega-church or typical Christian school. We worship every day. We live together and work together. And we are not all Baptists. Or Calvinists. Or conservatives. We are here to evangelize and teach students who come from every nation and every situation, but who want an education and/'or a place to start over. We are a Christian school for non-Christians.
That's interesting...how do you evangelize without unity on the evangel, I wonder?
We give opportunities to internationals, kids in trouble, expelled students, older students, kids who have been failed by the public schools and well-intentioned home schooling parents. For 106 years, God has sustained us, and I am now a vital part of the vision that birthed and nurtured this unique place.
OK, as long as that isn't meant in the sense of "and you don't do things like that, and we do."
I don't know why there aren't hundreds of schools like ours, but I suspect the poverty aspect of our life doesn't work for most Americans. Therefore, the people who come to work here are special people. They are Christians who are called to live and work out their faith in situations only Jesus would create. It's amazing, exciting, difficult and demanding. It's been a potter's house for me, and God has used it to work wonders in my life. When I came here, I knew that the experience would shape and change me, and that has been true.
Hate to say this, but do you notice the "special people" aspect to your words? I sure hope I'm wrong, but it sounds a bit like this "specialness" is a bit of a special badge, much like the monasticism of the Middle Ages where the "religious" were seen to be more "special" than the plain old folks out in "the world" or even those who ministered in "normal" ways.
Our school was founded by a Calvinist, and his confidence in God's sovereignty is part of who we are, but our school is made up of 150 staff and 300 plus students of every background, denomination and commitment....and I cannot afford to define Jesus narrowly. For the sake of my brothers and sisters, I must find him everywhere.
Uh---who gave you the right to "define" Him in the first place, I wonder? I don't define Jesus. You don't define Jesus. Jesus defines Jesus. His Word defines Him and informs us about who He is so that we can grow in His grace and in knowledge of Him. And when folks mis-define Him, well, we need to talk. And when the insist upon continuing to mis-define Him, I do not grant their mis-definition, nor do I dismiss it as a non-essential. How can worship be pure when the object of worship is different? And how can evangelism take place with different evangels? Or is the gospel now so small, so little, that it can be fit into "Jesus" repeated three times? I sure don't think so. Romans is still in my Bible.
You see, I have to love my brothers and sisters with different theology because we labor side by side in the trenches of ministry together.
Why can't that be true of your Mormon brothers and sisters? Your Jehovah's Witness brothers and sisters? And before you throw the Trinity out there, please, let me state: the Bible's witness to the specifics of the gospel, and their cursing of those who would pervert those truths, is just as clear, and just as compelling, as its testimony to the Trinity, so, despite how unpopular and "old fashioned" it is, lets try for some consistency here.
I can't spend my lunch hour or my chapel messages debating the finer points of Calvinism.
If you mean "every day," then neither can I. Nor would I desire to do so. But if you mean "ever," well, no, for if those things are true, they are worthy of being taught.
I can't separate from everyone over anything or everything.
You know what's odd? I co-labor with Presbyterians all the time, and others, including one fellow who just loved this very article, lambasts the Presbyterians for doing so (says they really aren't Presbyeterians anyway). Odd. Well, if you are going to divide over something, isn't the gospel a good thing to do it over? I mean, do you really think Paul wrote Galatians about folks he was having lunch with at a joint ecumenical council?
We are in battle on this hill, and like fellow soldiers taking ground under fire, we must look out for one another, sacrifice for one another and bind up the wounds we all endure.
Agreed. We just disagree about the battle and who is on what side.
If you want to know why this theologically minded writer gets so disgusted with theology, then come walk alongside of me for a while. Listen to the stories of broken and dysfunctional homes. See the poverty of these mountains. Come and experience the worst poverty of all: the poverty of the Gospel that goes that is everywhere in the mountains. Go into the modest homes and Christ-adorned lives of my fellow servants; watch, listen and you will see that the ministry of Jesus to our students and neighbors is not the propagation of Calvinism, but a daily living out of the love and mission of Jesus.
Isn't it odd...again, powerful words, but, they are just that: words. Not a shred of Scripture there, is there? All emotion, all experience I don't have. I could respond in kind--but my theology won't let me. Paul wrote Galatians with tears in his eyes, but the point is, he still wrote it. Who is honoring him?
I am not like you because I have seen the theological battle for the Southern Baptist Convention up close, and I realize that both sides-all those involved- are capable of being right and wrong. I entered The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1979, the height of the controversy. I was on campus when the conservatives forced a Bible Conference onto the campus, led by evangelist James Robison, to take a stand for inerrancy. I watched the angry reaction of the professors, many of whom were members of my congregation.
Wow, you are ancient. :-) Fascinating, especially since James Robison now does infomercials for some kind of vitamin goo on the shopping channel after going charismatic. Very odd indeed. I haven't a clue why that makes you different from me, but that's OK. I may be asking way too much here.
Years later, I watched conservatives take over my seminary, and while I agreed with much of their theology, their methods- especially in the treatment of people- left much to be desired. Sometimes, it was unavoidable. Other times, it was simply cruel and stupid.
You are not the only person who has ever seen, or been the object of, mistreatment in such contexts. It has nothing to do with Reformed theology, I assure you.
The moderates were driven from the school, and conservatives occupied the chairs of theology. The school's theological confession was reinstated as a meaningful part of the institution, and I applaud the accomplishment. But the treatment of people- the thing I suspect Jesus would have looked at as a measure of true faith- was shabby.
Always easy to judge such things as an outsider, even a close outsider.
I was left with a nagging sense that the liberals were never as terrible as I'd been told, and the conservatives were never as wonderful as advertised.
Suggestion: the important thing is what liberalism is, and what "conservatism" is in any given context. :-)
Many of my professors in the "liberal" seminary were men and women of great faith, commitment to Christ and concern for his church. Both sides played loose with the truth. Both could be cruel to those in the middle, both were "parties" that thought in herds, and both saw their mission as much in terms of conflict within as missions and evangelism without.
I hate politics. Has nothing to do with why we are different.
This nagging sense of the flaws, agenda and group-think that pervades theological controversy among conservative Calvinists has not left me.
Major logic flaw: when did you your personal experience become a universal indicator of all "theological controversy"?
As I grow older, I much prefer the study of Biblical theology to the doctrinal debates that currently rage among conservative evangelicals.
Me too. I'd love to follow Calvin to the library in Strassbourg. But Farel keeps getting in my way, that rascal.