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October 22, 2019

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How To Talk To An Angry Calvinist

How do we woo stringent Calvinists out of their echo chambers and circular arguments?

The times call for answers. An especially surly brand of Calvinism has throttled American evangelical Christianity in recent years. Its spokesmen (and, I emphasize, they’re mostly spokesmen) demand we lift aloft our TULIP (Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement; Irresistible Grace; Perseverance of the Saints) and pay homage to John Piper, Wayne Grudem, DA Carson, and Albert Mohler. This is not the gentlemanly Calvinism of John Jefferson Davis of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary or Fuller Seminary’s Richard Mouw. Both bear-hug Arminians and others outside their fold. This is an everyone-else-is-a-heretic Calvinism.

Two videos point the way. One is a confessional sermon from a former angry Calvinist pastor, Brad Saab of Missoula, Montana. A key point: Calvinists love their Bibles (as they should). Please avoid appeals to sentimentality and philosophy; just dwell on the Scriptures. Saab then demonstrates how to do that by examining Ephesians 1:1-14, a favorite Calvinist go-to text. The passage simply does not say what Calvinists claim it says. Find Saab’s sermon here.

Leighton Flowers gives the other. The former Calvinist and Director of Evangelism and Apologetics for Texas Baptists describes “The Five Points That Lead Me Out Of Calvinism.” First, don’t limit the debate to allegedly weak traditional Arminian replies; second, please distinguish total depravity (sin has infiltrated humanity in all aspects) from total inability. Even classic Calvinists agree that common grace pervades all humanity. We’re not wildebeests. Third, Calvinists often call any human act a “work” and, thus, beyond our capability. Even “humility” is a work. That’s nonsense, says Flowers. Fourth, I don’t diminish God if I refuse his gift (traditional Calvinists insist that God’s grace is “irresistible;” resistible grace renders God weak); fifth, don’t confuse sovereignty with meticulous control (Calvinists inhale and exhale sovereignty).

To emphasize: Both Flowers and Saab are former Calvinists, so they deserve close attention.

 

 

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October 10, 2019

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The Tweets Tell A Story

Once again, court evangelicals (partisans swooning before political leaders) are embarrassing fellow believers everywhere. Just follow the Twitter feeds and feel the cringe factor.

First, Melissa Moore flinched upon Robert Jeffress’ lecture to 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the pigtailed Swedish kid who spearheaded a world-wide climate strike. Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and prominent Trump apologist, dismissed her with a reference to Noah’s flood (see Genesis 6-9): “Somebody needs to read to poor Greta (the Bible) and tell her the next time she worries about global warming, just look at a rainbow …” (God’s covenant sign that the Almighty will never totally flood the Earth again — which, incidentally, no reputable climatologist is predicting).

Often, critics riff off such comments and ask, “Why do all Southern Baptists …?” But notice. Melissa Moore is the daughter of the irrepressible Beth Moore. She usually leaves the sassing to Mom, but not here: “Where are The Discernment bloggers when you need them? I would welcome outrage from pretty much any SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] entity over this nonsense from FBC Dallas Senior Pastor.”

The takeaway: Embedded in this tweet is a more complicated portrait of our religious landscape. Moore’s evangelical roots drill just as deep as Jeffress’. She’s unimpressed with his “nonsense.”

 

Another tweet portrays mindless Trump swooning — until we look deeper. Franklin Graham seems to have rinsed his brain of any critical thinking as he weds the Gospel to the GOP.  The president has been caught red-handed in a foreign government shake down as he battles for a second term, but no matter. It’s all a lefty conspiracy: “The socialist Democrats’ message to the United States of America is: 1. We’re going to take your guns, & 2. We’re going to impeach your president. Pray that God would change the hearts of Democratic leaders in Washington & that they would see the dangerous road we’re on.”

I’ll pass up Graham’s name-calling (“socialist Democrats”), inaccuracies (the vast American majority simply wants sensible gun regulation), and his hints of an NRA Jesus. Just view his feed. Many pastors and leaders were incredulous. Perhaps the Grahams and Falwells give sad testimonies: The era of evangelical dynasties should never have begun.

Graham is almost as near-sighted as Ralph Reed. Reports  tell of a soon-to-be-published book in which he says evangelical Christians are morally obliged “to enthusiastically back” the serial lying, adulterous president. The timing’s awkward. Trump virtually invited a Turkish attack in what can only be described as a betrayal of America’s Syrian Kurdish allies, who paid a heavy price while gutting ISIS of its Caliphate.  He tried to back-pedal in one of his strangest tweets yet:

It seems Turkey was unimpressed with Trump’s “great and unmatched wisdom” (who talks like that?). The warplanes dropped their bombs this week amid artillery barrages and invading troops.

I only mention Trump’s debacle to highlight Pat Robertson’s curious statement. He was “appalled” by the commander-in-chief’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria: “The President of the United States is in great danger of losing the mandate of Heaven if he permits this to happen.”

Many snidely dismissed Robertson’s assumption of Trump’s divine mandate, which is tempting: Why would God bless an abusive, adulterous, serial-lying outlaw president and curse Obama? But cavalier dismissals blind us to the intriguing implications: Will white, right-wing court evangelicals back away from Trump over the president’s betrayal? Even Congressional Republicans are outraged. Will they finally mouth the words, “We’ve been played”?

Probably not, but one never knows.

 

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October 4, 2019

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Thirteen Reasons To Go Wesleyan

We can stop the bleeding and lower the evangelical body count.

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September 21, 2019

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Signs Of The Times

Newsflash: We’re way beyond polar bears.

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September 18, 2019

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Faith Leader Statements on Climate Change

Most religious leaders grasp climate change’s peril and don’t hide in denial’s illusions.

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September 17, 2019

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Friday’s Global Climate Strike

The world is being summoned to walk out of the work places and classrooms on Friday.

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September 13, 2019

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CEOs to Senate: Enact Gun Laws

Once again, advocacy for gun regulation has popped up like a whack-a-mole, far from lefty terrain.

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September 12, 2019

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Facebook’s anti-freedom complicity

Facebook, it seems, was complicit in national sabotage.

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September 11, 2019

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Memories of 9-11: Struggling through vengeful longings

There it was: a colossal plume engulfed the Manhattan skyline.  The absent towers rendered the landscape eerily naked. 

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September 9, 2019

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The Intelligentsia needs smarts

The American intellectual elite fails to feel America’s pulse.

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