I like being right.
I mean, I REALLY like being right.
Which might explain why I was drawn to Calvinism. To quote Ben Witherington:
Calvinism seems to feed a deep seated need in many persons for a kind of intellectual certainty about why the world is as it is, and what God is exactly like, and how his will is worked out in the world, and most particularly how salvation works and whether or not one is a saved person.
It’s come up in dozens of conversations with friends: a sense that many Calvinists come across as arrogant. (An odd trait for a theology that starts with something called “total depravity.”) Even some Calvinists have observed with concern a tendency toward theological arrogance.*
All I know is I did little to challenge the stereotype.
Among Calvinists (or anyone who values theological certainty), there’s a strong pull to look on competing views as “theology lite.” Easy answers for those who can’t handle “red meat” doctrines like predestination.
That’s how I felt about Calvinism’s chief rival, Arminianism. The classic Arminian view of predestination says that God looked down the corridors of time, saw everyone who would someday put their faith in him, and predestined them on the basis of his foreknowledge. Also known as “individual election based on foreseen faith.”
Anyway, it felt like a copout to me. Besides, then open theism came along and unhelpfully pointed out that if God foreknows something with certainty, then there are no real alternatives. Anything he foreknows might as well have been predestined beforehand. It comes to the same result.
But there’s another way to read the predestination texts: something called the “corporate view of election.” I was introduced to this perspective by a college mentor who studied theology at Asbury. He was someone I looked up to, despite our differences of opinion. And luckily for me, no amount of theological arrogance on my part could change that.
The corporate view affirms the idea of election (or predestination) without trying to redefine it as simple foreknowledge. But it insists that election as described in the Bible is primarily corporate, rather than individual.
That is, when the Bible speaks of predestination, it speaks of a group of people — God’s holy people, the body of Christ, etc. Calvinism thinks of election primarily in individual terms, as if God were playing a cosmic game of duck, duck, goose.
The corporate view says that election only applies to a given individual if and when he or she chooses to join the elect group. In other words, God elected that there would be something called “the body of Christ.” He elected to pour out the blessings of salvation on this group. But anyone can join up with this group and so become part of “the elect.”
Not that I was convinced. Not immediately, anyway. It would be another six years or so before I gave the corporate view a fair hearing . . .
Part 4 of this series can be found here.
*That’s not to say all or even most Calvinists are arrogant. I’ve known some who are and others who are anything but. I have Calvinist friends who are incredibly kind, generous, and humble. But in my experience, Calvinism — particularly the neo-Reformed variety — lends itself to theological arrogance more readily than other systems of belief.