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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The "Dark Side" of Calvinism According to an Arminian

When Things Turn Unnecessarily Ugly

Some General Comments
Someone recently gave me a copy of George Bryson’s book, The Dark Side of Calvinism.[1] Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, here in California wrote the Foreword to the work. In its entirety the book raises a number of questions and poses a number of problems. The problems are not so much the degree of difficulty in the theological questions raised by Mr. Bryson—they have all been asked and answered before—but rather the tone with which Mr. Bryson writes.
In addition, there are promises made in the book that, to my mind, are never realized. Moreover, there are a number of “cheap shots” contained in Mr. Bryson’s writing that you really don’t expect from a church planter who, by his own admission, took seven years and got help to write this book. Allow me to enumerate some of my concerns as one who is committed to the Reformed faith.
First, I expect rather detailed exegesis of the various texts of Scripture in question. The reason I italicized the word “detailed” is that none of the scriptures in question are actually new. They have been debated since before the time of St. Augustine. If Mr. Bryson had found something new and astounding that no one in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ had found, I would expect him to share those new findings with us. In this sense, the book is an enormous disappointment since Mr. Bryson gives citations of texts without exegeting them to point to where exegetes prior to him derailed. If you are going to accuse those who hold to the Reformed faith as having a “dark side”—and Mr. Bryson does—then it is not unreasonable to expect new insights and new light on the texts in question. In addition, it is not unreasonable to mention any new texts that have not been adequately examined in the past. Mr. Bryson does neither. This is especially disappointing in light of the fact that both Smith and Bryson promise bringing Scripture to bear on the subject. Apparently, in their book bringing Scripture to bear means something like “mention it.”
Second, Mr. Bryson explains that he is neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian. Somehow, he has escaped the surly bounds of historical Christianity and has achieved a rather unique position that he calls “Bibilicist.” Ironically, even though Mr. Bryson has written in a stringent and vitriolic manner against Calvinism,[2] he has not yet written his diatribe against Arminianism, which he claims he isn’t either. That book, no doubt, will be forthcoming very soon and will be just as scathing as his book against Calvinism. After all, he’s balanced, right? Right. Moreover, as Mr. Bryson begins to explain precisely what his “Biblicist” position is, it looks, smells, walks and acts like Arminian so we can conclude that it probably is—at the end of the day—Arminianism.
Third, Mr. Bryson sometimes employs the unwarranted and unacceptable method of “truth by declaration.” That is to say, he simply declares something to be true, proceeds on the assumption that it is true, and expects the reader simply to concur or follow him. When you’re refuting a tradition that some say reaches back to the beginning of time, it might be very helpful to substantiate your claims. Moreover, when you are attacking theologians of the quality and calibre of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Bavinck, Kuyper, and a host of others, you really should give substantive reasons why they played such an integral part in the history of the Church if they were so dead wrong.
Fourth, I cannot understand why both Smith and Bryson get so exercised about God being God and absolutely sovereign in his deity. It would seem that if God is all-powerful and all-knowing he should be able to reveal to his creature what he wants him to know. If God reveals himself as absolutely sovereign—and he does—why are Smith and Bryson upset about that?
Finally, both Smith and Bryson present us with an almost one-dimensional God. Their text par excellence is John 3:16 and it gets twisted and contorted to mean precisely what these non-Arminian Arminians want it to say. The upshot of what I’m saying is not that God is a God of love, for Reformed and non-Reformed both acknowledge and rejoice that he is (1 John 4:8, 16). The upshot for both Smith and Bryson is that God ends up being almost only a God of love and then only a God of love according to their definitions. Even when we Christians speak of the love of God, we must not—dare not—force it into our pre-conceived notions of what love must be and must look like.With these qualifications in mind, I’m going to embark on an analysis and criticism of Bryson’s book. I will, no doubt, have to run out to the garage and get my Darth Vader apparatus out so I can manifest my “dark side.” The force be with you! I’ll begin with Chuck Smith’s foreword to Bryson’s book in the next installment.
[1] George Bryson, The Dark Side of Calvinism. The Calvinist Caste System, (Santa Ana, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2004).
[2] The title of his book is The Five Points of Calvinism—Weighed and Found Wanting.


Blogger SolaMeanie said...

I tend to think (based on my own experience and wrestling to admit the truth of Reformed theology) that human pride and a misconception of God's justice/sovereignty has a lot to do with it. We just can't conceive of the idea that God has the right to do what He wills with His creation. Somehow, God exercising His right of election is "unfair" even though the Bible says plainly that those who do not believe are "condemned already."

I will be interested to see other comments on this.

2:09 PM  
Blogger magyarab said...

Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith deal with Calvinism as only having a "Dark Side". There is no attempt to dialogue with their Reformed brothers which allows them to escape the threat of having their objections answered. Once the straw man they constructed is destroyed they no longer have to deal with the subject. The problem is that for many years they never published books that attempted to deal with theology so their positions went unchallenged. Over that last few years they have been espousing the Calvary Distinctives (a book by Chuck Smith) in print for all to see. Each time something comes out there are those who seek to respond to them, as your blog is attempting to do. Only problem is that everything you say is discredited by the fact that you have gone to seminary and are a Calvinist. Please don't let this stop your review of the book I love reading what you have to say! By the way Chuck Smith has not gone to seminary, he attended Life Bible College.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Lady Poverty said...

the problem with Calvary Chapel is they take no stand on theology... But they seem to have the right to throw stones??
..oh wait... they take one stance.. RAPTURE!! they are 100% pre-tribers...
cause that is really important... ?? NOT!!

5:34 PM  
Blogger WalkingOnTheH2O said...

well done... but I have one issue.... Arminianism != (does not =) Biblicism.

Arminianism teaches that Humans are completely depraved... but that God gives all humans the ability to choose...

Biblicism says that all humans do bad things, but that humans are not unable to do good things.

Arminianism teaches that God choose based on a fore knowledge...

Biblicism says that God didn't elect anyone specifically to salvation, but elected believers as a group to salvation and that his election therefore is irrelevant to foreknowledge because it has nothing to do with forekowledge

Arminianism teaches universal atonement of the elect (remember, election is based on foreknowledge)

Biblicism teaches that God Died for all out of intent... but only saves the beleivers.

Arminianism teaches That God's grace is resistible

Biblicism teaches that God's grace is irresistable but only applied to those who ask for it.

Arminianism teaches that Saints can fall away on the basis of works...

Biblicism teaches that Saints fall away on the basis of faith and faith alone.

The Biblicist beliefs are consistent with God's sovereignty and also consistent in redemption and reprobation. Our lack of belief condemns us to hell, and God sovereignly chooses that whoever has faith will be saved. so our presence of faith saves us. The entire Bible is consistent in it's message in Biblicism... half of the Bible must be explained away by calvinism.... really if you missed those things, then you should go back and read the book again.... keep studying to show yourself approved. The Dark Side of Calvinism is quite accurate.. I've seen a few objections to it and they're so very trivial. Hopefully if you read it with an open heart and an open mind, maybe you'll rethink your theology.

10:57 AM  
Blogger BwayneM said...

I cannot seem to find the rest of your review of this book.

Please help if you can. I enjoyed your general comments and would like to read the rest of what you have to say about this particular book.

8:01 AM  

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