Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology & Perspectival Theology

I found this post by the JollyBlogger to be an extremely interesting discussion around the flaws of systematics and singular perspectives rather than reading the whole of the Bible with perspectival lenses: [read my previous post on triperspectivalism]

Frame understands that we all come to the Scripture from different perspectives and it applies in different ways from different perspectives. These differing perspectives are not in conflict, and we should do all we can to harmonize the different perspectives. But, we are not a blank slate when it comes to reading the Scripture. We all have particular bents and questions we bring to the study of Scripture. The questions we ask of Scripture will determine the answers we get.

In one of his books (sorry I can’t remember which one) Eugene Peterson argues that, through systematization we often flatten out the bible. What he means is that the bible is full of peaks and valleys, different landscapes and different points of view. There are those who think that systematic theology is the only way to approach Scripture, or that systematic theology is the “queen of the sciences.” In such a perspective, the system controls the interpretation of every Scripture. Thus, the peaks are lopped off and all of the valleys are filled and the bible ceases to become the story of God’s mighty acts in history, but becomes something along the lines of a tech manual or legal brief.

I bring all of this up in the context of a discussion of the five points of Calvinism because, though I believe the five points are clearly biblical, I think we can seek to apply them in ways that do violence to some parts of the Scripture. This goes for Calvinists and their opponents.

For example, the doctrine of total depravity basically teaches that man, in his natural, unregenerate state, cannot believe in Christ in a saving fashion. Therefore, many Calvinists will have a seizure if someone tells someone else to “choose” to follow Christ. I have been around many Calvinists who will say that we should never tell anyone to “choose” Christ because they can’t choose Christ apart from the supernatural regenerating work of God in their hearts. These Calvinists are right in their theology but wrong in their theology. If this were so, then there is much in the bible that would violate these principles. If these folks are correct, then they should fault Joshua in Joshua 24:15 for saying to the Israelites:

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

In this text Joshua makes no mention of the Israelites inability to choose to serve the Lord apart from His regenerating work. It is true that they couldn’t choose to serve the Lord apart from His work, but in God’s sovereignty, He ordained that Joshua didn’t need to say that at that time.

Similarly, I have met Calvinists who will never tell an unbeliever that God loves them. They say that God only loves the elect, and they will point to God’s love for Jacob and hatred for Esau as proof that God doesn’t love the non-elect. So, they go to John 3:16 and God’s love of the world becomes a love for only the “world of the elect.”

In my mind these things do violence to the text. I believe it was Spurgeon who said that if you come to a verse in the bible that doesn’t correspond with your system, then that’s too bad for your system. And don’t forget that Spurgeon was a flaming Calvinist. It’s just that his flame burned hotter for Christ and the bible than his system.

Non-Calvinists “flatten” those passages that teach that you can’t choose Christ apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit with passages that say you must choose Christ. Calvinists flatten calls to choose Christ with passages that say you can’t. We’ve got to find a way to let both types of passages stand. This involves some hard work. We should try to harmonize Scripture with Scripture, but we’ve got do it in such a way that one passage doesn’t negate another, rather both passages stand and keep their force.

One of the reasons I love some of the Calvinists I have read from history is that most of them had a fairly nuanced understanding of matters that many of their followers don’t. It is common for Calvinists to say that man’s will is not free, yet if you look at the Westminster Confession you will see that it has a fairly robust understanding of human freedom. It conflicts with the popular understanding of human freedom, but it doesn’t deny it the way some think it does. Also, I have already mentioned that the great Calvinistic theologian Charles Hodge begins his discussion of “limited atonement,” by talking about the universal benefits of the death of Christ.

I offer these thoughts as a precursor to my defense of the five points. I am absolutely convinced that the five points of Calvinism are biblical and you should believe them like I believe them. I’m just as convinced that I could be wrong on these matters, and I am also convinced that the five points don’t summarize the totality of Scripture.

In my opinion, some of the divisions between Calvinists and non- or anti- Calvinists could be resolved by getting a grasp of this idea of multi-perspectivalism. This won’t resolve all of the tensions. We can’t say that man is constitutionally unable to choose Christ and constitutionally able to choose Christ. But, I think we can move a little closer to one another if we keep these things in mind.

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