Whatever is lovely

I want to offer a couple of points of clarification on my post “Calvinism’s Bully Problem,” and then say something about the direction I want to go with this blog.

1) I don’t believe that Calvinistic theology is inherently cruel. That’s an important point because there have been and are currently many evangelicals who say otherwise. It’s true that a Reformed interpretation of issues like election and grace do not always lead to places of intellectual and spiritual ease. But the same Apostle who rebuked the clay for presuming to answer back to the Potter wrote that God in Jesus “loved me and gave Himself up for me.” It is my opinion that the deepest understanding and thankfulness for God’s love in Jesus is accessed through an understanding of sovereignty that ascribes to God his full glory and to man his full hopelessness.

2) Why, then, are some Calvinists bullies? I think the answer lies in the fact that, historically, Reformed Christians have not sought out a “least common denominator” Christianity. They have tried to formulate creeds and doctrines that made sense of the grand narrative of Scripture and have defended those creeds against those who dissented. That, in and of itself, is a good thing.

I made perhaps an unclear comment near the end of my last post to the effect that Reformed Christians should repent of their tribalism. I should have written that they need to repent of antagonistic tribalism. What most people call “tribalism” is, I believe, a healthy and unavoidable effect of communities of believers that seek to really understand what the Bible says. As long as you have people who love the Bible, care about what it says and want others to care as well, you will have theological tribes and (at least a form of) tribalism.

I think Calvinists tend to fall into the trap of antagonism because they are theologically particular in a culture that is increasingly mandating generalities. Evangelicalism has failed to live up to the intellectual and philosophical standards set by men like Carl F.H. Henry, Francis Schaeffer and Harold Ockenga. The result is that a great number of American Christians have virtually no theological knowledge and have, as Screwtape wrote of Wormwood’s patient, “a dozen incompatible philosophies floating in” their minds. Calvinists, simply by virtue of their pursuit of theological precision, find themselves at odds with much of American evangelicalism.

This is not an excuse; it is context. And it leads me to my final point in this post.

3) One of the traps that can befall amateur bloggers is the temptation to orient their content around reactive, navel-gazing narratives that are highly Tweetable and clickable. Being a good writer is often attainable in direct proportion to how ridiculous or salacious your subject is. It’s just not that hard to criticize a far-left theologian, a conservative talk show host or a New York Times writer who speaks of “stamping out” traditional Christians.

It’s not hard, but it’s not very good. It’s not healthy to always talk about what is wrong. It’s not helpful to constantly blog about how outrageously stupid someone’s recent column is. Philippians 4 says

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Usually this verse is applied only negatively, eg, “Don’t think about that because it’s not true, honorable, etc.” But I think we should apply it positively as well. Believers are commanded to think about these things. That means we have to say no to certain trains of thought and actively pursue others instead. To think about the lovely requires beholding it. So this verse is really commanding me as a blogger to pursue whatever is true, honorable, and lovely.

I am going to do more of that. I am going to be self conscious about the level of reactionary content on this site. And hopefully in the months to come I will share thoughts that are more concerned with advancing the true and good than rebutting the false.

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