We've reached the half-way point in this 10-part series on St. Paul's first letter to the church of the Thessalonians. From here on out, each part will be topical, and we'll be covering themes that appear throughout the letter.
This week we're covering "election and grace". The reason why this subject is important is because some interpretors and commentators have viewed the entire letter through the lens of their doctrine surrounding God's saving election and grace. It is also important because there are at least two key verses which have to do with election and predestination which must be interpreted. So, how should be understand them?
In the attached document, two perspectives from the Reformed tradition are outlined: that of John Calvin and his followers, as well as that of Jacob Arminius and his followers. Then an alternative way of conceptualizing election and grace is outlined.
"Messiah Jesus of Nazareth is the Elect One, the One whom the Father loves. As we “come to him” through repentance and faith, we are added to his spiritual body, the ekklesia, the ‘called out ones,’ and we too become God’s elect. In Jesus, we are being built up into a temple in which God dwells by God’s Spirit."
There are several dialogue questions you can ask yourself or discuss with others. Download the attached document to learn more.
I've been told there is no "genetic relationship" between theologies that conceptualize God as all-controlling, all-determining, and utterly unfeeling and the political, cultural oppression of human beings in societies set up by adherents of such views.
I've been told theologies that teach God "ordains" the unjust circumstances under which some human beings suffer (while others prosper) and "predestines" those circumstances hasn't been used as justification for continued injustice and oppression.
I've been told that people can have "good theology" and yet own human beings like chattel, deem them less than human, and brutalize them. Such actions, they say, don't reflect the slave-owners' conception of God at all.
But I think we all know Thomas Paine was right when he said, "Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel [person]."
Well, I'm proud to say at least two eminently qualified Christian theologians have had the intellectual integrity and courage to make the case for just such a "genetic" link, and to refute this classic copout with a clear argument from history, sociology, and politics.
Recently, I wrote about the ruckus Christian hip hop artist Propaganda caused when he released a track called "Precious Puritans," which begins as a hard-hitting critique of the Neo-Calvinist hypocrisy of placing Puritans on pedestals while ignoring their slave-owning. Even as a Calvinist himself, Propaganda was nevertheless struck by the deep, visceral disconnect between the praise attributed to Puritans by Neo-Puritans such as Piper and Driscoll and his own outrage at their slave-owning. Unfortunately, what could have been a watershed moment in U.S. theological history was cut short by Propaganda's own self-critique which robbed that beautifully prophetic piece of nearly all its weight and sting. With the hypocrisy of Neo-Puritans in his crosshairs, he refused to pull the trigger.
Equally, if not more, complicit in the Neo-Puritan hypocrisy is Thabiti Anyabwile, the token black blogger at the Gospel Coalition (for which "The Calvinist Coalition" would be a more accurate descriptor). Several times pastor Thabiti has attempted to decouple the Puritan's theology from their practice of slave-owning, saying, for example:
Before I respond to his response, I want to say that I have no beef with TCR, in fact, I could not since I don't know him. But besides that, so far, I find him to be a quite irenic dialogue partner. Many Calvinists of lesser character have picked up on things I've written against their view and have thrown temper tantrums. By contrast, TCR's comments are mild and at least somewhat charitable. I appreciate the general respect he's extended to me, and seek to extend as much, if not more, in return. So, with that said, I'd like to respond to TCR's response to my initial post:
Being black and Reformed is hot right now. If you're a black Christian male in the U.S. and you want to be cool and sound smart, all you have to do is talk about the "doctrines of grace," God's glory, and Penal Substitution. It's not just for Christian rappers anymore! Now, there's even a black version of the Gospel Coalition.
Some black Calvinists now want to spread their gospel of predestination to the laypeople of black churches. But the problem they immediately run into is: How do we make it seem like the theology of dead, sixteenth-century, white and European men is relevant to black U.S. Americans in the 21st century—when it obviously isn't?
One entrepreneurial black Calvinist thinks he has the answer: Marketing! See, if you have an illogical idea, that really is quite counter-intuitive to the people you want to adopt it, all you have to do is come up with a slick way to package your idea so that it sounds normal and good. Jemar Tisby, a black male student at Reformed Theological Seminary, has figured out just such a solution for delivering Calvinism to black church-goers. He's calling it "Big God theology."
Now, I know what you're thinking: That's incredibly patronizing. Yes, yes it is. But Tisby is convinced the ends justify the means (by double imputation no doubt). He's convinced black parishioners need to intellectually affirm the meticulous providence of an all-controlling deity to have biblical theology. So he's come up with this way of presenting Calvinism to make it sound normal and good. Papa Piper would be so proud!
But not only is Tisby wrong, Tisby is dangerously wrong. In what follows, I'll show that being "big" has never been a priority for God, and why exalting 'big-ness' can backfire and lead to destructive Christian practice Jesus wouldn't recognize.
Ephesians 2.11-22 is one of my favorite passages in Scripture. It's one of the passages that most inspires me to pursue the unique and beautiful Kingdom of God that transforms the world. It's also one of the clearest passages in the Bible regarding racial reconciliation—a subject about which I am very passionate. So, naturally, when I saw the title of Jarvis J. Williams' book, I was excited to read it. I was also interested because I deduced from the book's endorsements and Williams' online faculty bio that he is a Neo-Calvinist. As a highly critical opponent of that movement, I hoped that Williams could break my stereotypes and surprise me with thinking on racial reconciliation that doesn't toe the party line. Unfortunately, my hopes were thoroughly dashed and I was deeply disappointed. In this critical review, I will attempt to relate all the ways One New Man did not live up to its billing, nor adequately address the subject of racial reconciliation. An exhaustive recounting may very well be beyond the scope of this review, but I will nevertheless endeavor to highlight the most important ways this book fails.
Whenever I voice any opposition to Calvinism whatsoever, I get emails. Apparently Calvinists love to email people who disagee with their views. I've been accused of being too harsh towards Calvinism. Then, I ran accross this quote from Frank Schaeffer and I feel like I've let Calvinism off easy!
"It was no coincidence that the farther I traveled away from my fundamentalist evangelical Calvinist background the more open I became to imitating forgiving behavior. In my mind my dominating and controlling actions had been “justified” by my “call” to “lead” a family as a patriarchal practitioner of the biblical misogyny that all-too conveniently fit my selfish male primate desire to control those around me.
Calvinism is the perfect religion
for males who are real bastards
and want an excuse to stay that way
I’d been told that “God’s plan” included a directive for men to dominate “their” women and children. Calvinism — and all other forms of patriarchal religion Islam included — is tailor made by male primates for other male primates who are mean. selfish and insecure It gives them guilt-free a pat on the head to do what comes most naturally: be jerks. It is too [sic] human relations what Ayn Rand is to teenage boys and billionaires of the nastier kind: justification to never feel empathy, in other words to never grow up."
Humble Beast artist, Propaganda, who has had some recent internet fame from his viral video poem "G.O.S.P.E.L." 1, recently released a full-length hip hop album entitled "Excellent" (available for ****FREE****!!!). While the entire album is worth a listen, one track in particular is making waves all over the evangelical blogosphere. 2 Why? Because a black, Christian hip hop artist dared to denounce the racism and slave-owning of Puritans—the darlings of Neo-Calvinist folklore. [gasp!] And several of Propoganda's points are powerful!
Here's a little taste:
Pastor, you know it’s hard for me when you quote puritans.
Oh the precious puritans.
Have you not noticed our facial expressions?
One of bewilderment and heart break.
Like, not you too pastor.
You know they were the chaplains on slaves ships, right?
Would you quote Columbus to Cherokees?
Would you quote Cortez to Aztecs?
Even If they theology was good?
It just sings of your blind privilege wouldn’t you agree?
Your precious puritans.
…and, some more:
Oh, you get it but you don’t get it.
Oh, that we can go back to an America that once were, founded on Christian values.
They don’t build preachers like they used to. Oh, the richness of their revelations.
It must be nice to not have to consider race.
Theological Graffiti is the offical blog of T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, urban church planter @NewCityCovenant, designer @NewCityPro, teacher, student, and friend. Discussion is welcome, so long as it is conducted in a spirit of charity. First and foremost, this blog is for self-expression—then community. More About.Me