Those of you who have followed my recent posts on Calvinism (this and this) and even my exposition on Origen and the literal sense of Scripture know that these have elicited a vigorous rejoinder by Robin Jordan of Anglicans Ablaze. With the responses from same and now his own blog post on the “slippery slope” it’s time for yet another extended response.
Let me start with some “close to home” factual issues from his blog post:
On Positive Affinity Don C. Warrington, a former Pentecostal, now with the Church of God…
In addition to messing up the blog name, his unfamiliarity with certain parts of Christianity comes through. Perusal of both my own odyssey and the Church of God’s Declaration of Faith should make it clear that he has made a distinction without a difference. (Note to myself: if my novel At the Inlet is ever made into a movie, I should attempt to retain Jordan as a technical advisor for the role of the Anglican bishop, especially for scenes like this, if the link doesn’t take you halfway down the page, scroll to the horizontal rule).
Turning back to his responses on this blog, I have responded to some of these but not all. So let’s take a look at three important topics, starting with the matter of Charles Finney:
Charles Finney has been roundly criticized for asserting that humankind did not need the help of God’s grace to be saved. Indeed he has been described as the father of easy decisionism…A correction–I meant easy believism, not easy decisionism. Finney’s revivalism would produce “converts” whose “conversion” lasted little longer than the revival at which in midst of the excitement that typically accompanied such gatherings they made “a decision for Christ.”
Believism? Maybe. Easy? Hardly! The best way to see this in action on a long-term basis is to look at the churches which are the direct heirs of his revivalistic tradition, the Wesleyan Holiness and Pentecostal churches. Until fairly recently, these have been strict and demanding of their members. The whole business of “go down, shake the preacher’s hand and join the church” without any significant examination of converts is a later change.
The reason Finney ends up on many Reformed dartboards is because he a) succeeded where “traditional” churches did not and b) he upended Reformed theology in the process. One of the major gaps between European and American Protestanism is the Americans implicitly or explicitly rejected a purely predestination-driven dynamic of salvation.
As a matter of opinion, I think that Augustinianism’s (and all Reformed theology is a part of this) noblest attack on “easy believism” was the Jansenists conflict with the Jesuits. It’s hard to get Anglophone Reformed people to go along with this because the Jansenists had the bad taste to be a) French and b) Roman Catholic.
Now let’s go to the issue of Patristics:
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, while well acquainted with the Patristic writers, preferred to defend his views from Scripture. Bishop John Jewel in his handling of the Patristic writers followed these guidelines:
- He cited only an opinion of the Patristic writers on a matter where several Patristic writers were in agreement. He never cited the isolated opinion of a single Patristic writer.
- He then cited their opinion if he himself from his own reading and study of Scripture was convinced that their opinion was agreeable to Scripture. It could be clearly read out of Scripture and was consistent with the plain and natural sense of the text.
- He never cited what a later Patristic writer’s opinion of what an earlier Patristic writer believed, only what that earlier Patristic writer himself had written.
- He recognized the views of the Patristic writers for what they are–opinions. He did not credit them with an special inspiration, as did the Roman Catholics and subsequently the Anglo-Catholics..
- He gave greater weight to the opinions of the earlier Patristic writers than to the latter ones, particularly to those who wrote in the first three to five centuries of Christianity.
First: the reason I went though Origen’s exposition on the allegorical interpretation is because his development of the concept was extremely influential for the later Church Fathers (including Augustine) and through the Middle Ages, and needs to be considered when evaluating the Fathers’ weight to the literal senses. It was the Reformers within Christianity (the Jews had a running start on this) which turned away from it, and I’m surprised that a Reformed stalwart like Jordan missed that.
Nevertheless the Anglican which discounts the Patristic witness does so at his or her own peril, because the Anglican enterprise is a complete waste of time without it. Why? The basic reasons are two: the monarchial episcopate and liturgical worship. Neither of these has direct sanction in the New Testament; without some regard for development during the Patristic era, their existence cannot be justified. In that respect the Scots (and guess where they got their theology and ecclesiology from)? are more consistent; perhaps that is what Jordan would like to end up with.
Jenny Geddes would be proud…
Finally let’s take a look at yet another attack at the universalism issue:
Are you extrapolating to outside North America what you are asserting happened in North America? If so, on what basis? Have you considered the other factors that contributed to the development of universalist thought in North America such as Socianism?
As an engineer, I understand the dangers of extrapolation. No, I’m not trying to extrapolate anything. Neither am I trying to say that Calvinism is the only way people become universalists. What I’ve tried to say is that Calvinism’s view of election is a weakness in the system that makes universalism an easy solution to those who are uneasy with its implications. I, as Morey noted for many Evangelicals, believe that Finney’s solution is the best way out of this dilemma, as distasteful as it is to Reformed theology advocates.
Readers who are interested in more of my rationale re Reformed theology in an Anglican context can find it here.