Thursday, January 10, 2013

Catholicity and Calvinism--a Way Forward

In the comments to my first post on this subject, I responded to Ben who asked "how can you say Calvinism (qua Calvinism, not the bits that ARE catholic) is catholic, when it is clearly not?"  Ben raises an important question.  And, since most people don't dig into the comments on a blog, I am reprinting a modified version of my answer here.

The short answer is that I am not saying that all of Calvinism is catholic, but as Ben concedes, there are bits (I would argue more than bits) that are.

To elaborate:  My contention is that, in far too many cases, Calvinism has been condemned by name, based on generalizations and comments taken out of context, and without adequate regard for the historical context in which Calvin's teaching arose. 

In a sense, we are doing the same thing in this conversation: using the one word, Calvinism, to apply to the whole body of a man's work, a whole theological system, and a historical movement spanning several centuries--a movement that has, at times, embraced ideas that were not originally a part of Calvin's teaching. 

To be clear, I am not saying all of Calvinism is catholic.  But, as I said to another commenter on this thread, if you accept the Canons of the Second Council of Orange (as well as the Church's earlier verdict on Angustine vs. Pelagius) then you are already 90% Calvinist (at least in regard to soteriology--and that is really the only aspect I am dealing with here.  Obviously, as an Anglican, I do not think Calvin had the right idea about church government, among other things.)

One thing I am certain of is that Calvin's soteriology (and I hope to compare Calvin's teaching with the Canons of the Second Council of Orange in a future post) is more in line with the Bible, the Fathers, and the Councils than the Arminianism that is rampant among a large part of contemporary evangelicalism and the recurrent Pelagianism (referred to by both Karl Barth and F.F. Bruce as "the British heresy") which continues to find its way into Anglican theology.

The theological method for which I am arguing ultimately means that Evangelicals, Reformed, Charismatics, Orthodox, and Catholics (Roman, Anglo-, etc.) all need to re-examine their theologies in the light of Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers and the Councils and arrive at a theology that meets the tests of ecumenicity, antiquity, and consent.  This means that each camp will have to lay aside baggage that doesn't meet the test of catholicity. 

Applied practically, that may look like getting back to a "Mere Christianity" and working our way forward again on many of the doctrines we believe, only doing it in a Vincentian way. 

This means that Calvinists will have to lay aside doctrines that do not meet the test of catholicity, but it also means that those who have not though of themselves as Calvinists will have to embrace those aspects of Calvinism that are catholic.  And, as I said, when it comes to soteriology, I believe that the Church's past decisions on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, and the Canons of the Second Council of Orange are important guideposts pointing the way.


Ryan said...

Thanks for this series of helpful, important posts. Your stress on catholicity as tested by the Vincentian canon strikes me as very similar to the work done by Thomas Oden in his systematic theology. Are you familiar with that work? And do you think it's a generally good example [I recognize you might not agree w/everything he writes]of what you're advocating here regarding applying the Vincentian canon to get back to what the undivided church held?

Robert S. Munday said...

Ryan, Yes, I know Professor Oden and am very familiar with his work. One of the first things I did after coming to Nashotah House was to nominate him for an honorary doctorate from the House for his outstanding contribution in this area. His book, the Rebirth of Orthodoxy has been an inspiration ( as well as the method he uses in his Systematic Theology. And for awhile I was involved with the Confessing Church Movement ( Prof. Oden, though that movement has been less active in the past few years as members have been distracted by developments in their own churches or denominations.