I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Timeless theology

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It seems to me that colloquial American Calvinism can tend toward a timeless theology. In our systematic theology, we tend to think primarily in terms of static eternal-eschatological realities (think TULIP) and to neglect the equally important historical-covenantal perspective. As a result, hyper-Calvinism becomes a temptation for us over against classic covenantal Calvinism (I’ve struggled with this). Similarly, the relative stasis of amillennialism becomes appealing to us over against classic postmillennial Calvinism. And when it comes to parenting, we can focus more on bringing our children to a life-defining moment of repentance and faith, rather than training them in a life of ongoing and growing repentance and faith. We have an appropriately large category for having been definitively saved, yet it seems foreign to speak in any sense of being presently saved (1 Cor 15:2). This can easily lead to a marginalization of the work of the Spirit: everything is settled, so what pressing need is there for the Spirit to wrestle with us, or for us to be drawing strength and life from the church?

In his excellent book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, D. A. Carson has this to say about the debate between Calvinists and Arminians over the doctrine of atonement, observing a creeping tendency towards hyper-Calvinism:

In recent years I have tried to read both primary and secondary sources on the doctrine of the Atonement from Calvin on. One of my most forceful impressions is that the categories of the debate gradually shift with time so as to force disjunction where a slightly different bit of question-framing would allow synthesis.

I think his observation has broader applicability for our theological formulations. We need to be sure that we are synthesizing both eternal and historical perspectives: both God’s eternal decrees and also also their covenantal working out in time and history. For some good principles on integrating perspectives like this, I recommend Vern Poythress’s book Symphonic Theology.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 6, 2012 at 9:30 am

Posted in Biblical Theology

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