a side-bar issue: biblicist

A recent discussion at Mike Riley’s blog raised the term ‘biblicist’. It is a term that seem to raise the ire of some. Mike Harding, in post #5 calls it a ‘euphemistic term’ and a ‘circumlocution’. Mike Riley, responding to me in post #6 says it is ‘unhelpful’ and ‘presumptuous’.

Mike rightly pointed out that my focus on the term would distract from the subject matter of his post. But I thought I would do some thinking about the term here on oxgoad and invite the response of readers. (By the way, Mike’s post and the discussion that follows are quite interesting. You should also read Mark Snoberger’s follow-up and Mike’s response. And also, congratulations to Mike and his wife on the arrival of their first-born daughter!)

So… Biblicistwhat does the term mean and is it presumptuous or a circumlocution?

The first thing that should be said is that biblicist is an unfortunate term at best. As a defining term, it isn’t very definitive. Perhaps this is why Mike Harding prefers the term Calvinistic over the term Amyraldian, which, as I understand it, is the correct term for his position. While Amyraldian might be more correct, almost nobody knows what it means. Calvinistic might be a more definitive term.

Mike Riley doesn’t seem too willing to concede mediating positions between Calvinism and Arminianism, but the reality of Amyraldians, at least, seems to prove that such mediating positions exist. Another such term that I recently learned is Molinism, which has been described to me as ‘three-point Calvinism’. (It is named after a Jesuit monk, alas, so besides being barely known it has an added repugnance for me.)

In any case, as men have wrestled with the theological problems expressed by Arminianism and Calvinism, there have been many who hold to positions that are not identical to either extreme. It seems obvious to me that there are more than two positions on these issues, regardless what the advocates of pure Calvinism might think. I have never talked to a pure Arminian on these subjects, though I was raised in an Arminian church.

The term biblicist is related, I think, to another unfortunate term, biblical theology. Biblical Theology is a branch of theological study distinct from systematic theology whose distinctive feature is to examine the progression of doctrine as it is revealed in the Bible without making systematic conclusions that go beyond direct Biblical statements. (A bit simplistic… read the wikipedia article for more.)

The position of those who use the term biblicist can be summed up this way:

Based on past experiences and other things, I do not consider myself an Arminian, nor am I a Calvinist. I cannot accept as Scriptural views that are crucial to either position. I cannot be considered Arminian, for I consider a sinner’s response to the Gospel is a simple faith reception, not an accomplishment, and I believe in eternal security. Since I accept only the Bible and not the decisions of synods or councils, I cannot be recognized as a Calvinist.1

In my personal experience, most of my theology is the result of personal Bible study. I am not one for reading a lot of theology. I had to read various systematic theologies as a student, notably Henry Thiessen’s Lectures in Theology and Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. I have also worked through a good deal of Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology (though some would disdain this work!).

However, my theology is influenced primarily by comparing Scripture with Scripture. We must take a holistic approach to theology and attempt to encompass everything God says on a given subject, reading each passage in its proper context and relying on clear biblical statements rather than the logic of human systems. As such, I much prefer the Biblical Theological method rather than the Systematic Theological method (although the Systematic approach is not without value).

To me, then, biblicist is what you are when you simply let the Scriptures speak and discount the human logic that pervades Systematic theologies, like Arminianism or like Calvinism.

Mike Riley thinks biblicist is presumptuous and that it generates more heat than light. Presumptuous means “overstepping due bounds (as of propriety or courtesy): taking liberties”2 I take it that he means biblicist is unpropitious or impolite, that it borders on arrogance. In other words, I am thinking that Mike might have in mind the attitude of the Corinthians who in their divisiveness were superior to those who were ‘of Paul’ or ‘of Peter’ or ‘of Apollos’. These well-favoured Corinthians were ‘of Christ’. The term biblicist could be displaying that kind of arrogance: ‘I am not of the order of you low-life squabblers, you Arminians, you Calvinists, I am a Biblicist.’

As I have described the term above, I don’t think that such a connotation is intended by those who use the term. I can see how those who are passionate for their systems might find it rankling, but I think the term is meant to be descriptive of method (i.e., biblical theology as opposed to systematic). I don’t think those who use the term intend for it to imply some kind of spiritual superiority. (I will grant that in these debates, no matter one’s position, there is plenty of arrogance and condescension to go around.)

There you have it… my ruminations on the term biblicist. I don’t find it that bad a term, but I recognize it has some inadequacies. I am not sure what would be a better term to describe the position. I am sure that I don’t fit either the label of Calvinist or Arminian.

don_sig2

Notes:

  1. Warren Vanhetloo, Cogitations 752, March 12, 2008. []
  2. ‘presumptuous’ Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003). []

Comments

  1. Don Johnson says:

    I realized after posting that I didn’t really deal with Mike Harding’s term, ‘circumlocution’. The dictionary defines ‘circumlocution’ as either:

    the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea

    or

    evasion in speech

    I presume Mike means the latter in using the term.

    Well, since biblicist isn’t very descriptive, I suppose it could be taken that way. I don’t think that is what is intended by its use. As I said before, I think it is meant to emphasize the method the position is arrived at rather than describe the position itself.

    The outside observe would have to be the judge whether the term is evasive or not, I suppose. I don’t happen to think so.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. First, thank you for the congratulations on our daughter. Should anything I say here be found wrong, I blame it on the lack of sleep she has allowed us :)

    Second, I think I have, in the past, argued against the term biblicist because I don’t find significant middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. I still think this is mostly right: in my experience (hardly the final ground for absolute authority), those who claim to be biblicists are often at least Arminian, and any number could be called semi-Pelagian. The points of Calvinism, as they are typically defined, don’t allow for hedging; for instance, you’re either for total depravity or you’re for something-less-than-total depravity. There’s really nothing between those points. As for allegiance to the points themselves: I do think a coherent case can be made for 4-point Calvinism. Other arrangements seem to have major consistency problems.

    But I don’t primarily object to the term biblicist for that reason. Instead, I do think that it is 1) without intrinsic meaning, and 2) an argumentative shortcut, giving one the ability to claim victory in a discussion without any work.

    The first issue is observable when we change the doctrine under discussion. I’ve used this illustration before: if I say, “I’m not pre-trib or post-trib, I’m a biblicist,” I have not said anything at all about my position.

    As for my second objection, I agree with Don when he says, “I don’t think those who use the term intend for it to imply some kind of spiritual superiority.” I agree with him about the intent of those who use the term. Nonetheless, if one person in a debate claims to be a biblicist, and I think his position is wrong, and we both claim that the Bible is our final authority for faith and practice, doesn’t it follow that I am necessarily wrong? For those who take the Bible seriously, claiming to be a biblicist is no different, in effect, from saying, “I’m not a Calvinist or an Arminian; I take the correct position.” I can’t see how (again, for people who value Scripture rightly) the force of the term could be any different, and that is why I find its use (even by those who don’t intend anything of the sort) presumptuous.

  3. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Mike

    Well, no one else has been sufficiently interested to join the party, apparently, so I’ll offer two points of response. Not sure if how much further we can take this, though.

    First, your example of post-trib/pre-trib only works if you are correct in assuming that Calvinism vs. Arminianism is an either/or proposition. I am not at all convinced of that as I find significant portions of both systems as inadequate to explain the biblical data. However, as long as you maintain an either/or view, your argument stands. I just don’t think that the case is that clear cut. The four-point view is a case in point, a position which clearly is not full-blown Calvinism.

    Second, whether I use the term ‘biblicist’ or not, in making arguments against Calvinism or Arminianism, I would still be saying the opposing view is wrong, and to the extent that it is wrong, I would still be saying it is unbiblical. So I don’t escape presumption by using different terminology, at least the way you are perceiving it.

    Third (oops, I said two points, didn’t I?), I still maintain that ‘biblicist’ is a reasonable term to describe methodology, but it appears you don’t accept that point.

    However, having said all that, I prefer to use the terms ‘non-Calvinist’ or ‘non-Arminian’ in order to avoid the offense ‘biblicist’ seems to raise. I still think it is unreasonable to be offended by it, but it isn’t worth getting arguments heated up by terms that are admittedly a little inadequate anyway.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. tjp says:

    Don,

    Didn’t R.V. Clearwaters use the term “biblicist” to identify himself? Also, it seems to me R. McCune used the term favorably, as well. But I may be mistaken.

    tjp

  5. Let’s keep pressing here, because I think the discussion is sharpening.

    1) I think that my first point holds even if there are alternatives to Calvinism and Arminianism; in fact, the pre-trib/post-trib example works perfectly here. Claiming to be a biblicist on the tribulation might mean, for instance, that I’m mid-trib. Or it might mean that I’m amil, and deny the tribulation altogether. It is exactly this utter lack of context-relevant meaning that I think is a problem.

    2) and 3) I think both of these points end up in the same spot, with a slight turn of emphasis: the biblicist is either claiming that his conclusions or his methods are more biblical. That’s fine, and he ought to believe that he has biblical conclusions and methods. I want him to believe that.

    My reply, however, is that I think my conclusions and methods are more biblical than his (assuming we disagree). While I’m happy to concede that there are some systematicians whose first love is their system, most of the Christians that I have ever known would tell you that they hold the positions that they do because they believe the Bible demands those positions.

    What this means for this particular issue, then, is that I’m a Calvinist because I think Calvinism is the biblical conclusion of a methodology that is thoroughly biblical. So I object when my debating partner commandeers that adjective as the exclusive, primary descriptor of his own view.

    • @ tjp

      I don’t know for sure if either man used the term, it’s not uncommon.

      @ Mike

      Well, let’s see…

      I still see a difference with your example. The term ‘biblicist’ is almost always employed of a hybridized view in the C vs. A debate. In other words, he usually holds to points common to both systems. On the other hand, I don’t exactly see any way to hybridize post-trib and pre-trib, unless you consider the mid-trib view to somehow be a hybrid. It seems to me that these views are pretty well mutually exclusive, not just no middle ground but no way to hold to elements of both at the same time.

      The only other thought following on your last post is that perhaps you are confusing biblical with biblicist. By using the term biblicist, I would not be affirming that I am necessarily more biblical.

      And we could debate whether a systematic approach is ‘thoroughly biblical’, but that might carry us further afield.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Brian Ernsberger says:

    To Mike and Don,

    I have appreciated the interaction here on this topic. I think one thing is touched on and needs more voice. The term Biblicist is indeed not very descriptive by itself, but it does describe the approach we are to be taking in defining our beliefs. Calvinism, Arminianism, Amyraldianism, etc., etc., are man reasoned systems of understanding the Bible. Human reason is the sieve for understanding the Bible rather than faith. I quote from Dr. Clay Nuttall who wrote in Jan. 2010, in his Shepherd’s Staff article, “Reason has value, but faith that rests on the Bible is supreme; that is why we need the one system of interpretation that rises from Scripture. I am convinced that the root of theological and doctrinal error comes from a hermeneutic that is based on human reason.”
    As Don has touched on, our beliefs must come from the Scriptures. Most everyone claims that phrase (my beliefs come from the Bible) but reality shows us that few actually do. As I have used the term and again, as I have seen it used, it is in an effort to get us back to the Bible as our ONLY source for faith (our beliefs, doctrine, theology, etc.) and practice rather than these man-made systems of beliefs.

  7. Keith says:

    Bible believing Calvinists (like Calvin and like the Westminster Divines) maintain that they arrived at what folks call “calvinism” from the Bible.

    Bible believing Arminians (like Wesley) maintain the same.

    So do Bible believing Lutherans (like Luther).

    They’re all Biblicists — they all can’t be right in their reading/interpreting, but the don’t put any more “human logic” into developing their positions than someone who claims to be a Biblicist does. Your a human, you read, you think (logic), you make a conclusion. If that’s “human logic” then there is no escaping it in figuring out what the Bible teaches about salvation.

    Saying that one is a biblicist doesn’t do a thing to answer the question of what one thinks the Bible says about soteriology.

    As to there being more positions than Calvinism and Arminianism — of course there are. Lutheranism, Romanism, and more. It’s not that there aren’t other positions (like Molinism) or modifications of the positions (like Amyraldian Calvnism). It’s that you can’t “split the difference between the Calvinist understanding and the Arminian understanding to come up with some sort of via media.

    Calvinist and Arminian soteriologies are deliberately expressed in opposition to one another. Each has five points. The Remonstrants came up with the five points of Arminianism first (Arminius was gone) and the Synod of Dordt composed the five points of Calvinism (Calvin was long gone) in direct and deliberate opposition and rejection of the Remonstrants’ points. The two soteriological systems are intentionally antithetical.

    That intended and clear antithesis has led people who aren’t really in either tradition to use “Calvinist” and “Arminian” as a soteriological short hand for “God definitely saves the people He chose” and “God makes it possible for people to choose him and be saved.” You can’t split the difference between these two (even by quoting Bible verses). However, you can express the matter in an entirely different way that will likely have overlap with one or both.

    Of course one can say, “I’m not playing their little Dutch game, here is my soteriological system that I developed from the Bible independently of them.” That’s fine — just don’t call it Biblicist because that doesn’t tell anyone anything.

  8. Hi Keith

    Well, you are saying essentially what Mike said. A few comments:

    They’re all Biblicists — they all can’t be right in their reading/interpreting, but the don’t put any more “human logic” into developing their positions than someone who claims to be a Biblicist does. Your a human, you read, you think (logic), you make a conclusion. If that’s “human logic” then there is no escaping it in figuring out what the Bible teaches about salvation.

    Saying that one is a biblicist doesn’t do a thing to answer the question of what one thinks the Bible says about soteriology.

    As I understand the difference between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology, I don’t think this is true. Biblical Theology attempts to keep human logic out of the equation and simply state accurately what the Bible says and to go no further. At least, that is what I understand of it.

    The Remonstrants and the Dordtians were definitely setting up opposite systems. But that is not to say either was correct in everything they said. And that is not to say there are not mediating positions between them that can’t fairly be described as either.

    Amyraldians, for example, are significantly removed from Dordtian Calvinism. And theirs is not the only mediating position.

    Anyway, I get it that Calvinists in particular are antagonistic to the term ‘biblicist’. I think there antagonism is unreasonable, but since it bugs them, I try not to use it.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  9. Keith says:

    Don,

    First off, my comments were primarily intended to add something to the conversation not to oppose you or anyone else. I know that the position stated may actually be opposed to another position, but it seemed like this discussion was still in the clarification of terms phase not the argument phase. The following comments have the same primary purpose.

    You say, “Biblical Theology attempts to keep human logic out of the equation and simply state accurately what the Bible says and to go no further.”

    Well a few quick thoughts:
    (1) There is no way to keep humans from using logic in this equation. To even read the Bible aloud requires a human to use logic — the logic of language. To do more than read it aloud (I’m assuming you mean something at least a little more by “simply state accurately what the Bible says”) requires even bit more logic.

    (2) Those who are going to use terms like “human logic” need to clarify what they mean. Do they mean “faulty logic” (worldly thinking) or do they mean “Non-comprehensive logic” (due to human finiteness)? Not all “human logic” is faulty but it is all limited — even the logic of simply stating accurately what the Bible says.

    (3) “Biblicist” and “Biblical Theology” are not widely used as interchangeable terms. If what you mean is that you prefer “Biblical Theology” to “Systematic Theology” then it would be more widely understood if you were to say “Biblical Theology” not “Biblicist”.

    (4) Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology are not mutually exclusive. It would be a category confusion to maintain that Calvinists and Arminians are Systematic Theologians and there is some other group that is made up of Biblical Theologians. Some of the leading Biblical Theologians are Calvinists.

    You say: “The Remonstrants and the Dordtians were definitely setting up opposite systems. But that is not to say either was correct in everything they said.”

    Amen

    You say: “And that is not to say there are not mediating positions between them that can’t fairly be described as either.”

    Perhaps this is merely a quibble, but I don’t think that there are “mediating positions” if that means positions that split the difference. There are positions that are different from both, and can’t fairly be described as either, but those positions (if they are coherent) aren’t the result of mediating these two. Amyraldians are not thorougoing Dordtian’s but they aren’t any kind of Arminian. Amyraut wasn’t trying to answer Arminians and he wasn’t trying to meet that system half-way.

    You say: “Anyway, I get it that Calvinists in particular are antagonistic to the term ‘biblicist’. I think there antagonism is unreasonable . . . ”

    My antagonism to the term “Biblicist” has nothing to do with my reformed position. In theological dialogue and debate, it strikes me as a form of begging the question and assuming the high ground. It comes across as either ignorant, smug, or lazy (I am not saying that all who use the term are ignorant, smug, or lazy, I am saying that in discussion/debate that’s how it comes accross. It either doesn’t see the work or it avoids the work of the contested point). It struck me as such long before I was a covenantal presbyterian.

    Here’s what I mean: Are you dispensational or covenantal? I’m a Biblicist. Are you credo baptist or paedo baptist? I’m a Biblicist. Are you congregationalist, presbyterial, or episcopal? I’m a Biblicist. Are you an immersionist or a non immersionist? I’m a Biblicist. Are you Premil, Amil, or Postmil? I’m a Biblicist. Etc. It just doesn’t communicate anything other than “I’m right.”

    • Hi Keith

      On your points 1 and 2, I will concede that the Biblical Theology approach is not devoid of logic. But the difference between it and the Systematic approach is that it doesn’t attempt to form conclusions that are not directly revealed in the Scripture. The ‘ordo salutis’ comes to mind as one example.

      On point 4, I am not saying that Calvinists or Arminians cannot be Biblical Theologians, but that Calvanism and Arminianism are Systematic Theologies, not Biblical Theologies. In other words, the positions are the consequence of taking a Systematic approach to soteriology, not a Biblical Theological approach.

      I agree with you about point 3.

      Here’s what I mean: Are you dispensational or covenantal? I’m a Biblicist. Are you credo baptist or paedo baptist? I’m a Biblicist. Are you congregationalist, presbyterial, or episcopal? I’m a Biblicist. Are you an immersionist or a non immersionist? I’m a Biblicist. Are you Premil, Amil, or Postmil? I’m a Biblicist. Etc. It just doesn’t communicate anything other than “I’m right.”

      Some of these topics can fit with the way I would use the term biblicist and some cannot. Dispensational vs. Covenant? These are systems, and as such mediating positions can be derived that can agree with points of either view without being identical with either one. Credo vs Paedo? mutually exclusive positions… not much middle ground. Polity? Mostly exclusive positions, you can’t really hold to elements of the opposing views and have any kind of coherency (although some Baptists practice episcopacy, if you know what I mean). Immersion vs. non-immersion? again mutually exclusive.

      I understand the perception of ‘smug’ etc. I am just suggesting it is a misplaced perception and isn’t hearing what the ‘biblicist’ is trying to say.

      Finally… I noticed in one of your quotes of me a typo… I said ‘there’ when I meant ‘their’. It reminds me of something one of my sons said to me in an e-mail yesterday…

      I did not proofread this e-mail. If you see any they’res that are over there not their, well…you will know who wrote this note then, eh?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  10. Roger Carlson says:

    I haven’t been blogging much lately and I just read this article. I tend to agree with Mike and Keith on this. I know many who use the term, don’t intend to be arrogant – Don and Brian come to mind. I know MANY that do use it as a slight and are arrogant. The term really doesn’t say anything though.

    For instance, I am lean towards the Doctrines of Grace pretty strongly. Yet, I came to those views studying the Scripture. Before I started pastoring the churcht that I am at, I had read only Theissen and parts of a couple of other systematic theologies. As I preached through the Romans and Ephessians the Holy Spirit convinced me of these truths. Since then, I have read more Systematic Theologies. I became a Calvinist before I ever knew who John Piper or Mark Dever were.

    My point, Don, is that Biblical Theology is the method that I attemped to employ as well. Even those who are wrongly (in my opinion) getting swept away by the current Keswick trends believe they are Biblicists. This is where labels are unhelpful. Maybe we should all become hyphinated Christians? “I am a Biblicist-Calvinist-leaky dispensationalist-Keswick-seperatist-culture engaging-Christian.” I think you get my point. :)

    Moderation Note: I added 15 minutes to your time of posting so that your post would appear after my reply to Keith. We were writing at about the same time.

    • Hi Roger

      I’m all for the hyper hyphenated descriptors. It reminds me of the joke about the guy standing on a bridge thinking about suicide and another guy comes along and tries to dissuade him. As the conversation goes, they find that they agree on many different points of theology (a whole list of hyphens), except they finally come to a point of disagreement, where the helpful guy pushes the contemplative suicide off the bridge, saying ‘die, you heretic!’

      I would contend that you can’t really be a Calvinist or an Arminian without going beyond Biblical Theology to a form of Systematic, since certain points of the system cannot be derived directly from the Scriptures. You end up attempting to come to logical conclusions that the Scriptures don’t reveal. As examples, I would cite the ordo salutis on the one hand and prevenient grace on the other. These are attempts to solve problems in the systems that aren’t directly answered by Scripture.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  11. Keith says:

    Quick lunch break comment. Then, no more time for this.

    Don, you say, “I would contend that you can’t really be a Calvinist or an Arminian without going beyond Biblical Theology to a form of Systematic.”

    Ah, I agree with you there.

    You say, “Since certain points of the system cannot be derived directly from the Scriptures. You end up attempting to come to logical conclusions that the Scriptures don’t reveal.”

    Here’s where I think you start down a different path from some of us. Systematic Theology doesn’t attempt to come to logical conclusions apart from Scripture. Rather, the Scriptures reveal language that we must engage logically. It is unavoidable. Some of your fellow Canadians, the band Rush, expressed it well years ago, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

    You say, “As examples, I would cite the ordo salutis on the one hand and prevenient grace on the other. These are attempts to solve problems in the systems that aren’t directly answered by Scripture.”

    Actually, the problems are raised by what Scripture says (for example Romans & James) — not by the system. The solution to the problem is not stated explicity in Scripture, so the systems take what the Scriptures do say and attempt to infer the solution. Good an necessary inference (I think that’s how Westminster puts it).

    Again, I think this comes down to grappling with the nature of logic. Is logic something man made? Or, is logic something from God. Is it in creation because “in the beginning was the logos”? If logic is from God, then the question is not “how can we circumvent logic?” The question is, “Is my application of logic here valid and true — is my conclusion the same as God’s?”

    • Hmm… well, first of all, I have to assert that I consider myself almost totally separated from most of ‘my fellow Canadians’. My ‘fellows’, my eye! A bunch of drunken louts, if you ask me!! (Of course, we love them and are trying to convert them, but…)

      I would agree that Biblicist Systematic Theologians (hah!) are all attempting to exercise logic biblically. The problem I see is that they then seem to preach their logical conclusions as if it is the same as revealed truth.

      My preference is to hold apparent Scriptural paradoxa (paradoxoi?) in tension. God is sovereign and man is responsible. How do we bridge that divide? Do we need to? I don’t think so.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  12. Keith says:

    “God is sovereign and man is responsible. How do we bridge that divide? Do we need to? I don’t think so.”

    That’s just what a good calvinist would say. You’re just a compatiblist calvinist (the best kind). Welcome to the club.

  13. Keith says:

    What? I’m being serious. Really! Real calvinists are not fatalists, they’re compatibilists. Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, they’d all say Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both true — they are compatible.

    Now (to be funny) we’ve just got to trick you into saying something Neo.

    • Yeah, that BG, he’s my hero!

      Well, I won’t argue the Calvinist point on this one, it’ll take us off track I think.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  14. Brian Ernsberger says:

    Keith,
    You stated, “Actually, the problems are raised by what Scripture says (for example Romans & James) — not by the system. The solution to the problem is not stated explicity in Scripture, so the systems take what the Scriptures do say and attempt to infer the solution.” This is where the rub is, I believe. The -isms attempt to answer the “tensions” with human reasoning (usually going to one extreme or the other, like the sovereignty of God for Calvinism and the freewill of man for Arminianism, as an example). A Biblicist accepts those tensions, with the thought that they do not always need human explanations and continue to seek answers from God in His Word accepting by faith not human reasoning the truths in His Book.
    Using the sovereignty of God/freewill of man tension, I will sometimes use this illustration. These two truths are like the rails for a train (the train being our faith). The standard gauge for railroad tracks in America (and 60 percent of the world) is that they are to be 4 feet 8 ½ inches apart. Any change in that distance will derail the train causing a wreck. Going back to our tension, when we (man using human reasoning) try to reconcile these two truths we change the gauge of the track and cause problems. The Calvinist emphasizes the sovereignty side, the Arminian, the freewill side with the results being a distortion of two truths that ends up adversely affecting the rest of our beliefs. I accept the sovereignty of God as it is revealed to us in Scriptures. I also accept that as a human, responsible to God, that I have the ability to choose and will be held accountable for those decisions I make. There exists a tension in those two truths that I leave in God’s hands, understanding that God made that tension and has not revealed to us in His Word all the inner workings of how that tension works. I accept by faith that both truths exist and have not tried to explain how they exist in union to each other because, as you stated, “the solution to the problem is not stated explicitly in Scripture.”

  15. Keith says:

    Brian you say: “The -isms attempt to answer the ‘tensions’ with human reasoning (usually going to one extreme or the other, like the sovereignty of God for Calvinism and the freewill of man for Arminianism, as an example). A Biblicist accepts those tensions. . .”

    Actually, well instructed Calvinists don’t emphasize God’s sovereignty over man’s responsibility. And, well instructed Arminian’s don’t emphasize man’s responsibility over God’s sovereignty. They both accept the tensions between these two truths here. However, they believe that the Scriptures address/define these two truths differently. They disagree over what the Bible says about these truths.

    Yes, we must — as the Bible does — maintain that God is sovereign and that man is responsible. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree. The argument isn’t about the necessity of both “rails” (in your illustration), or about both “rails” being connected. The argument is over the definition and nature of each rail and how they are connected.

    You say: “Using the sovereignty of God/freewill of man tension . . .”

    As you speak of it here, you speak as if everyone means the same thing by the “sovereingty of God” and the “freewill of man.” However, this is exactly where the discussion sits — what does the Bible say about these things? What do you mean by “freewill”? Do you mean the same thing as “responsible”? Not everyone does. What do you mean by “sovereign”? etc. Accepting tension does nothing to define these terms.

    I have no problem with someone saying, “I reject Calvinism and I reject Arminianism, here’s what I believe . . .” However, it does no good to say, “I’m a Biblicist because I hold Calvinism and Arminianism in tension.” That statement just reveals a misunderstanding of both Calvinism and Arminianism and it uses the term “Biblicist” to mask the misunderstanding.

    • Hi Keith (and Brian)

      As you speak of it here, you speak as if everyone means the same thing by the “sovereingty of God” and the “freewill of man.” However, this is exactly where the discussion sits — what does the Bible say about these things? What do you mean by “freewill”? Do you mean the same thing as “responsible”? Not everyone does. What do you mean by “sovereign”? etc. Accepting tension does nothing to define these terms.

      That’s true. But see, even when we have more concrete terms than Biblicist, we still have problems communicating because we mean different things by them. The theology wonks have created the terms “compatibilist free will” and “libertarian free will” in order to distinguish meaning, but it extinguishes the meaning of “free will” by itself in any common sense approach (my opinion). We can get very pomo about all this and find that no terms have any meaning if we carry on like this.

      So… back to the term at hand, if Biblicist describes a position (like Calvinist or Arminian), I agree it communicates very little. If it speaks to a methodology, I think it says something.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  16. Keith says:

    We may mean different things by words. That’s the nature of language. When we discover that we mean different things by the same word, we should add clarification (like compatibilist or libertarian). That’s not pomo that’s avoiding confusion.

    Words don’t mean anything by common sense. They have meaning by stipulation or by usage. When we discover that we are using the same term to refer to different things and that there is no current or historical agreement on the use of that term — like with “free will” — we should clarify and/or stipulate.

    Some words/terms, though, do have historically stipulated meanings — like Calvinist and Arminian. They refer to historical positions/groups. Therefore, one can appeal to the history in defense of a definition/understanding.

    Of course, even here, when we discover that we are using these terms differently in a discussion, we need to clarify.

    Anyway, I guess I see you final point. But, I still think that Biblical Theology is a better term for what you’re getting at.

    • Man, we’re coming to agreement! Better be careful or we’ll be going neo…

      Well, I think the term biblicist isn’t really adequate. I know what I would mean by it, but you are right that it doesn’t of itself communicate what I would be trying to say with it. Usually, in these discussions ‘non-Calvinist’ is more descriptive.

      I tend to value Biblical Theology over Systematic because I have more confidence in the ‘thus saith the Lord’ nature of its conclusions … although there are disagreements over interpretation in this field also, as we well know. But while Systematic has value, it’s weakness is that parts of its conclusions are not revealed, but arrived at by human understanding. Thus it isn’t ‘thus saith the Lord’, but ‘thus saith Calvin’ or ‘Arminius’ or ‘Amyraut’ or ‘Don Johnson’. (Just thought I’d put my name up in light there….)

      I am cautious about fully embracing any system of theology in consequence of this view.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  17. Keith says:
    • Have I ever mentioned how much I am against hyphens? The trend du jour is to call oneself a xxx-xxx Christian. I personally think the hyphens do a lot of pointing at ME. Look at me! Look at what kind of a Christian I am! Somehow I think they deny the point they are trying to make.

      But maybe that’s just me.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.

  18. Keith says:

    So, you’re an old-time-religion, pro-BJU, non-Bauderian, non-Calvinist, anti-hyphen Christian eh? (like that little bit of Canadian?)

    If you don’t like hyphenated words ending in ing, then you must go crazy reading Piper.

    I’m not the biggest fans of the hyphens myself (although read Piper and friends enough and it rubs off on ya). However, that wasn’t my point. My point was that he explained what he means by Calvinist. He doesn’t assume common understanding or usage.

    • I like the little bit of Canajan, eh? It beats ‘huh’ all hollow!

      I don’t read much of Piper. The hyphenated word thing is a bit distracting, to say the least. No doubt it is his personality, but it seems to call attention to him rather than to what he says. He ought to try to break himself of that habit.

      Yes, it was interesting that he takes the time to explain his views. We can’t always do that and to some extent the labels do help, but it is helpful to explain what you mean, especially as you are working through an argument on the topic.

      BTW, he would seem to be more on the Amyraldian side from that description. It sounds like he doesn’t hold to a limited atonement, exactly, from that description.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  19. Keith says:

    Piper says, “He had an invincible design in his death to obtain his chosen bride, namely, the assembly of all believers, whose names were eternally written in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.”

    Seems like standard “limited atonement” to me. That was never the best term for the doctrine, though. But it worked for the acronym. A better term is “Definite Atonement”, but what’s a TuDip?

    Keith

    • You left out this part: “Christ died as a substitute for sinners to provide a bona fide offer of salvation to all people”.

      If the atonement is limited, the substitution is only for the elect, not for all people.

      As for the acronym, TuDip might be better… cause it’s kind of a Dippy doctrine!

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3