Reformed Theology

In which Rachel Held Evans likes N.T. Wright so much she concludes he must not be a Calvinist

Rachel Held Evans, author of Evolving in Monkey Town, is blogging through N.T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God. In her most recent entry in the series, she asserts, “I don’t like the word sovereignty because it’s the word that Calvinists use to explain why God predestines people for hell.”

This is a fallacy. It’s like saying she doesn’t like air because it’s what bad people breathe when they do bad things. Or she doesn’t like the sun because once Hitler went outside and it shined on him.

For Calvinists, God’s sovereignty is the ultimate truth in the universe, and has little to do with reprobation. Furthermore, most Calvinists don’t hold to the idea of someone being predestined to hell. Predestination refers specifically to the election of the saints. The state of people who are not saints is not covered in the doctrine of predestination. That’s a different chapter in the Calvinism book (see, for instance, the Fall of Man, or Original Sin.)

Rachel continues,

And so, in a sense, I have surrendered the word “sovereignty” to the Reformed camp. Sovereignty is their thing, I tell myself, not mine.

But N.T. Wright is not a Calvinist, and he seems to like the word well enough…so why shouldn’t I?

Uh, yeah… “not a Calvinist?” Where did she get that idea?

N.T. Wright considers himself a Calvinist. Is it really your place to tell him otherwise? After all, he seems pretty smart.

The “New Perspectives on Paul” conversation, of which Wright is a leading thinker, is regarded as a movement within Reformed theology in reaction to specifically Lutheran views on justification. See this 2003 address in which Wright identifies himself as Calvinist and Reformed, and argues for the compatibility of New Perspectivism with the Reformed tradition.

(Most of those who disagree with Wright’s views on justification also call themselves Reformed, which backs up my claim that this is an intramural controversy within Calvinism.)

I’m sorry if this sounds harsh. I enjoy Rachel’s writing, because I, too, am politically liberal, theologically progressive, and don’t think scientists are devil worshipers. But Rachel needs to understand that just because someone is liberal, progressive, and accepts the truth of evolution, doesn’t mean one can’t also be confessionally Reformed at the same time.

Update 1:54 PM: Rachel got the message and received it gracefully. She’s admitted when she thinks “Calvinist” she typically thinks of Mark Driscoll and his friends. So we Presbyterians have a lot of work to do!

Update 7:56 PM: I am a little bit embarrassed by my tone. Rachel seems to have received it as “gentle criticism,” and my tweet to her might have helped in that regard. When I posted this I wasn’t expecting such a wide audience, so the tone is directed towards people I know, the half-dozen Facebook or Twitter followers who might click through when I cross-post or whatever. I don’t mean to sound like an ass. I’m a straight-forward kind of guy who’s seen the world in black and white most of his life, and only in the last couple of years have I been trying to see the shades of gray instead. So please bear with me if some of the old “absolutes” come out from time to time.

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2 thoughts on “In which Rachel Held Evans likes N.T. Wright so much she concludes he must not be a Calvinist

  1. mike says:

    Im learning on the fly as to who’s playing for what team….but I can say your latest update was very classy. It’s nice to see in the oft overwrought world of christian discussion.

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