Thursday, August 07, 2008

Gentle Conversation about Calvinism?

Well, as always on various sites around the Christian blogosphere, there are interesting debates taking place. Unfortunately, theological discussions can often turn ugly, uncivil and unbecoming in their witness to an unbelieving world. I think of the unfortunate Silva/Abanes controversy, in which one blogger accused the other of writing a libelous article about him, and instigated actions that eventually had the ISP remove the offending blog off the Internet (though the blog has now returned under another web host). Abanes, a writer who frequently addresses controversial topics in Christianity, and Silva, a pastor-teacher whose blog is known for taking strong stands against heresy in the church, might actually agree on many things. But it seems to me that they are so sharply divided over whether Rick Warren and his teachings are a boon to the church or a horrible deception, that a certain animosity developed between them, leading to the extreme situation. I hadn't written on the whole controversy because I didn't want to get dragged into debate on the whole topic of whether Abanes was justified in taking the actions he did, or whether Silva was correct is saying that Abanes' actions were uncalled for and set a bad precedent for freedom of speech on the Internet. But suffice to say that part of the issue is perhaps, that we Christians must learn to better frame our opinions; to present them in a way that doesn't unnecessarily antagonize.

For example, the challenging issue of whether man has "free will" to choose God, a topic that is often part of contentious Arminianism versus Calvinism debates, is being discussed over at Parchment and Pen. C. Michael Patton recently posted an article that presents a Calvinistic approach to the topic, titled What do You Mean By "Free Will", which in turn launched a stimulating yet polite conversation (which I'm involved in).

Like the conversations at Theologica, the online community Patton created, comments at his Parchment and Pen blog tend to be, for the most part, respectful, though passions do get intense. Patton, an advocate for an irenic approach to theological discussion, does a good job of leading by example in this, managing to keep the conversation civil and gracious most of the time. He teaches this style of theological interaction through The Theology Program he established, and has also written on this topic, most recently in articles titled, Theological Conversation to the Glory Shame of God and What Part of Gentleness and Respect don’t You We Understand?.

Given that conversations around the blogosphere, in religious forums and in theological communities often degenerate into mean-spirited arguments in which no one is listening to one another (this certainly does not reflect well on Christianity), Patton's observations and suggestions are both timely and helpful.

Getting back to Calvinism, Phil Johnson has a series of excellent articles he's written sometime back but now has re-posted at Grace to You, on Why I Am a Calvinist. In these articles Mr. Johnson, though making a strong argument, strikes a conciliatory tone. A gentle Calvinist- who would have thunk it?

P.S. I am working on the follow-up article in the healing article series, and will post it as soon as possible.

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