This is another rambling theological post that won’t interest some people. It continues thoughts from my recent post: I’m a Calvi-minian! You’ll notice I have a category section entitled “God-centered vs. man-centered theology.” I came up with those descriptions on my own, having not heard them used before. I have a point…
As the aforementioned post mentions, I spent about 8 yrs in a church distinctly in the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition. I never quite agreed with the theology, and my disagreement grew stronger over time. During these years, I also gradually became a more informed Christian. I personally challenged myself to learn more about Christianity and read more academic books. Eventually, I decided to enroll in seminary. I chose a seminary that I’d long been familiar with, and that was more in line with my childhood/family beliefs. It was educational whiplash…going from a Wesleyan/Arminian church to sitting under professors who were Calvinist! haha. But the distinctive differences in theology were glaring.
A friend of mine at the time was going through something similar, and we were getting together for discussion and support. I remember at lunch one day, I said to her something like “ya know, the theology of the Arminians just seems so man-centered or self-centered, and the theology of the Calvinists seems God-centered.” This point had become really apparent to me all of a sudden. Then, not long after this, I noticed that other people were also using these phrases (or similar) to describe the differences in these 2 theologies. So it was not only me. Others clearly perceived it this way as well.
However, of course, Arminians will defend themselves as not being man-centered. And there is some truth in their defense. In my seminary class on soteriology, we carefully looked at the teachings of John Wesley – specifically something he wrote clarifying Arminian beliefs and defending it against Calvinist criticism. We also considered a book by Roger Olson entitled Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I was left scratching my head in class the one day. Everyone knew my aversion to Arminian theology (haha) yet I didn’t find all that much to disagree with in the excerpts we looked at that day by Wesley and Olson!! Their positions were more moderate than I’d thought, and my disagreement was definitely more mild than extreme.
The problem is this: How theology plays out among the everyday people can be different than what the theology itself actually teaches. The nuances of belief can get lost. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “folk theology”? Unfortunately I think too many churches are filled with folk theologians. People whose beliefs are based more on cliches, than on reflective thought and study. Their beliefs are simplistic. There is nothing wrong with simple belief, but there is something wrong with simplistic belief.
My aversion to Arminian theology is more with how I experienced it played out among the everyday people. Arminianism can end up looking more like Pelagianism. The hopeful focus on the potential to live a holy life can become narcissistic with pop-psychology tendencies. The emphasis on man’s free will and his decisions can lead to methodology taking precedence over the message, with more of a focus on our role than God’s role. Does true Arminian theological teaching (as in Wesley and Olson) actually endorse such things? No. Arminianism is not Pelagianism, and to say it is is inaccurate, polarizing, and unfair. Etc.
Calvinism, of course, has weaknesses too! Nevertheless, I prefer the weaknesses of Calvinism over the weaknesses of Arminianism. Truly, the weaknesses of Arminianism are more alarming and concerning to me. As I said in my Calvi-minian post, I appreciate the high and exalted view of God, and the realistic view of human sinfulness that Calvinist theology emphasizes.
*END of this 2-part series.*
Note I have a series from 2011 with a similar title, but it is a different emphasis and focus.