by Brad Bell
Protestant Theology has long been plagued by one of the same problems as politics. Ironically, this problem has been around much longer in theology than our current political systems.
What is this common problem?
A two-party system.
Long before our modern governments took form, Protestant theological discussion became gridlocked by two polarized parties—the Calvinists and the Arminians.
Sadly, this two-party system continues to dominate Protestant Theology and stifle good research and edifying conversation.
I present three tragic consequences of the two-party system.
- Pre-determined theological categories
When two polarized theological frameworks dominate the landscape, it obscures the possibility that there could be other options. People tend to think in an either/or framework.
When talking with a Calvinists, the conversation goes like this:
“So, you’re not a Calvinist?”
“No, I don’t hold to any of the five points of Calvinism.”
“Then you must be an Arminian.”
As well, we often see individuals of a Wesleyan/Arminian background complain on our YouTube channel that we are Calvinists because we believe in eternal security.
Why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t we choose neither or other?
People often write off a theological concept out of hand because they identify it with the “other” party. What other option could there possibly be?
Often, one’s perception of the other party (and sometimes even their own) is not accurate. This leads to the second consequence.
- Unclear discussion
The dominance of these two groups can make it difficult to have clear theological discussion with others. While the two parties dominate theology, what falls under the labels of Calvinism and Arminianism is extremely broad. No doubt, many self-proclaimed “Calvinists” are appalled at what other self-proclaimed “Calvinists” believe. The titles are used to cover differing and often conflicting views. Conservative, five point Orthodox Presbyterian Calvinists differ greatly in their theology from self-proclaimed Baptistic, four point Calvinists.
The sweeping titles of Calvinism and Arminianism can make it difficult to get down to the level of discussing the actual concepts, and more fundamentally, the Word of God. This brings us to an even greater consequence of a two-party system.
- Following men rather than God
It’s as if the Calvinists and Arminians cry out, “vote for us, or your vote doesn’t count.” There is pressure to identify oneself, to affiliate if you want to be accepted or have ministry opportunities. This obsession with labeling oneself and others as a Calvinist or Arminian often results in greater emphasis on historical and speculative theology than Biblical theology.
I once discussed the need for ongoing Biblical exegesis and research with a self-proclaimed Calvinist. They remarked that Calvin and the Reformers had already done that work. I was aghast! The message was that the Reformers had done the work of going back to the Word of God to formulate their Theology, so we have little need to.
Calvin and Arminius were both Reformers (in fact, they were both ministers in the Reformed Church!) and the debates are still very much alive. How much more so is the need to be constantly renewed by God’s Word! Let’s scrap the two-party system and move the discussion back to where it needs to be, God’s Word.