Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sunday School: A Theological Survey

I taught my first Sunday School of the new semester—although not much actual teaching was required. The course is a theological survey, and for the first six weeks we are watching an introduction to Calvinism: R. C. Sproul's DVD Chosen by God, video companion to his accessible, classic book of the same name. Nothing for me to do: I can't teach the subject better than Sproul, not even close. After the video series there will be more for me to do.

This set of Sproul lectures was recorded in 1987. I first saw the VHS tapes, as a newly minted Christian, in the early 90's. At that time I thought Sproul was some wise old guy. Now he looks more like a cool young dude. Sigh.

At one point Sproul lists the contemporary marquee Calvinists. If he re-recorded the lectures today, I suspect he would include John Piper. But back in 1987 the only Baptist Calvinist he mentioned was Roger Nicole. Times they are a-changin'. There are Calvinistic Baptists everywhere.

Baptists going back to their roots should mean, roughly, two things: 1) Back to Calvinism (or "Doctrines of Grace" as Baptists are wont to refer to the theology) and 2) Back to supporting separation of church and state, and to cease meddling in partisan politics. The first is clearly happening. The second—maybe a bit, but it is definitely lagging.

In the first lecture, Sproul describes how all Christian theology falls into one of three broad catageories:
  1. Pelagianism
  2. Semi-Pelagianism (AKA Armininianism)
  3. Augustianianism (AKA Calvinism, Reformed, or Doctrines of Grace)

That's not quite right, because Sproul correctly points out that Pelagianism—essentially the denial of Original Sin, and with it the view that, while unlikely, man can at least in principle live a sinless life and redeem himself, doesn't fall in the pale of Orthodoxy. It is not Christianity. It is heresy.

Semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism is, today, the majority view. In this view grace is required for salvation, but man must call upon some small but nonzero vestigial goodness to accept the gospel in his fallen state, and upon such a decision he will then be regenerated (born again).

Augustianism is the minority report. Those of us, like Sproul, who support this view, believe it is impossible for man to respond positively to the gospel in his fallen state. He must first be born again, and then he'll have the moral ability to respond.

Sproul characterizes the debate between Semi-Pelagians and Augustianians, i.e., Arminians v. Calvinists, as a debate within the family. I agree. Then again, I almost always agree with Sproul—except, darn it, I believe he is a YEC! Bummer, that.

Sproul notes that Semi-Pelagians (which would include Catholics, Lutherans, and many Baptists, just to name a few) agree that those who are saved have been predestined. They have to. Nobody can ignore passages like:
4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…

11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, (Eph 1:4-5, 11)
Those passages, and others, demand that anyone who believes the bible has to accept the reality of predestination.

The debate is not over predestination—it is over the basis of God's selection prior to the foundation of the world.

The Semi-Pelagian views it as a choice based on foreknowledge—that is God peeked into the future and saw who would accept the gospel. He then "predestined" that group to salvation. (Seems a bit superfluous, no?)

The Augustianian view is that while God can look into the future that wasn't how he decided whom to save. Instead it was a purely sovereign choice, with no regard to what the person would ultimately do good or bad.

More on this anon.


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