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Two Different Thabitis: The Calvinist and the Abolitionist

Two Different Thabitis: The Calvinist and the Abolitionist

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:

"There's no causal relationship, or even descriptive relationship really, between [Jonathan] Edwards' theology proper and the eighteenth century slave-holding that Edwards engaged in. There's no genetic relationship between the 'Doctrines of Grace' or a high view of Gods sovereignty that leads necessarily to the consequence of holding slaves." 1


"…good theology does not mechanically lead to good living. We need to understand this. It’s a commonplace Christian assertion that if we believe the right things we ought to do the right things." 2

Then Came Wilson...

That was before he was challenged to account for the presence of one Douglas Wilson among his fellow Neo-Calvinist brethren. He was challenged to account for Wilson's "paleo-Confederate" theology —a theology which winks at U.S. chattel slavery by hiding behind Pauline household codes. So, pastor Thabiti began his critique of Wilson's book Black and Tan. But instead of the Calvinist Thabiti, we were introduced to a second, much different Thabiti: the Abolitionist Thabiti. Now, I'm not sure if these two Thabitis have ever met one another, so my purpose in this post is simply to introduce them to each other.

Calvinist Thabiti, meet Abolitionist Thabiti:

"I would privilege all the biblical texts that command love for neighbor (Matt. 22:35-39), love for enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), and especially love for brothers and sisters in Christ. This, our Lord teaches us, is the second greatest commandment. All the Law and the Prophets hang upon this command and the command to love God above all (Matt. 22:40). Jesus teaches us that love is the distinguishing mark of true discipleship, a mark that should be so evident that the world will know we’re His disciples (John 13:34-35). The apostle John elevates love to almost a synonym for the gospel itself—”This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” He continues, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us” (1 John 3:11, 23). John tells us we have no right to regard ourselves as Christians apart from love for the brothers (1 Jn 4:20-21).

Now, lest someone think I’m trying to pull a fast one by pointing to a “general principle” to avoid more specific and toothier commands, let me hasten to point out that biblical love is a very fangy creature! It’s not mere sentiment devoid of action. Recall that love is a verb in 1 Corinthians 13. And the apostle John tells us, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). I am contending that the command to love should have been obeyed and it should have been the controlling command in the entire debate. I argue that for this reason: love is everywhere commanded and slaveholding is nowhere commanded. We must realize we are comparing a positive injunction against an arguable freedom. Before we insist on obedience to the household codes, which address a matter of Christian freedom (at best), we need to insist on obedience to the greatest commands, which are not a matter of Christian freedom but obligation to God—indeed evidence of whether or not we really know God." 3

To Summarize:

1) The Calvinist Thabiti believes that theology is abstracted from Christian practice and that slave-holding has nothing to do with one's view of God or relationship with God. He believes the whole Bible is equally authoritative for Christians and meant to be adhered to regardless of era or context.

2) The Abolitionist Thabiti, on the other hand, believes that the "evidence" of one's knowledge of God is demonstrated in one's obedience to commands from Christ, which are "privileged" among other Bible passages. The Abolitionist Thabiti practices a christocentric hermeneutic and believes that the historical context of New Testament passages matters for their application by present-day Christians.

[That awkward moment when two different Thabitis meet one another]


1. ~27:00




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Theological Graffiti is a blog written by T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, Associate Pastor @NewCityChurch of Los Angeles, sometimes web designer, writer, and theology geek. For more about me, visit my Personal Website or my Online Profile. Otherwise, enjoy the graffiti.

T. C.

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