Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reconsidering Tulip - by Alexander Renault

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From the book.

Preface
Once upon a time I was a Calvinist. It was a happy time. It was a
time of enormous growth and learning. And having come from an
evangelical tradition that emphasized individualism and emotion, I
found that Calvinism now presented me with a veritable feast for the
intellect. I met many other Calvinists who loved the Lord their God
with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind—Christians whose faith
and piety continue to inspire me to this day.
I felt like the Bible was making more and more sense every day.
I saw things I never saw before. I learned that Christianity was far
bigger than I had originally suspected, having grown up in an isolated
evangelical bubble. The Reformed doctrines of predestination, which
before seemed abhorrent and strange to me, now became crystal clear.
I read Reformed materials voraciously—everything from Calvin
and Luther to Berkhof and Warfield; from John Owen and Jonathan
Edwards to N.T. Wright and John Piper; from Boettner, Van Til, and
Spurgeon to Sproul, Wilson, and Leithart, not to mention the countless
articles, debates, and podcasts I found online. I studied the works of
dispensationalists, premillennialists, amillennialists, postmillennialists,
preterists, futurists, theonomists, reconstructionists, presuppositionalists,
Federal Visionists, and any other “ists” that had a voice in
the world of Reformed Christianity. And in addition to memorizing
many of the Bible verses that supported Calvinism, I even spent a year
memorizing the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism while in training
to be an elder at my local Presbyterian church.

Something else that I found to be new and exciting in my Reformed
journey was the respect that they seemed to have for the early Church
Fathers. I would occasionally hear preachers quote from some ancient
saint who actually lived before the Reformation. I had always just
assumed that once the ink dried on the book of Revelation, the Church
fell apart and went completely apostate until Martin Luther recovered
the truth in the 16th century. I would hear Reformed teachers say that
there was a “thread of consistency” that reached from the Reformation
all the way back to the earliest Christians. This gave me a degree of
comfort I never had before as a modern evangelical, when I suspected
that my faith looked absolutely nothing like the faith of those “early
Church Fathers,” whoever those guys were anyway.

It was around this time that Dan Brown wrote his infamous book,
The Da Vinci Code. The premise of Brown’s book was that the early
Christians essentially invented their faith—that the divinity of Christ
wasn’t even developed until the council of Nicea in 325 AD. No sooner
did Brown’s book make the best-seller lists than a slew of apologetic
articles appeared on the Internet. And of course, wanting to defend
my faith and encourage those who were being negatively influenced
by The Da Vinci Code, I read several of these articles. I found out
that there were a bunch of people called the “early Church Fathers”—
genuine Christians who lived during the first few centuries of the
Church.
I heard names like Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Irenaeus, and
countless others that were new to me. I read what they had to say
about the divinity of Christ. I read about how they were influential in
the early Church, and how so many of them were martyred for their
beliefs. Slowly but surely, I started to like these guys.
And that’s where all my trouble began. I had absolute respect
for the Reformers and for the confessions they created, especially
the Westminster Standards, which were particularly important to
my Presbyterian denomination. I also had absolute and unshakeable
respect for the Holy Scriptures. And now I was beginning to have a
growing respect for the early Church Fathers. These were the three
different spheres of influence in my Christian life: the Westminster
Divines, the Bible, and the early Fathers.

The problem, however, was that I couldn’t get all three spheres
to line up! I was beginning to realize that the early Church Fathers
taught things that were vastly different than what my Reformed faith
was teaching me. Yes, there were certainly disagreements among
them on minor doctrinal issues, but by and large, the early Fathers
were all in agreement on things that I had just assumed were Roman
Catholic inventions: things like the salvific efficacy of the sacraments,
the necessity of works for salvation, the ever-virginity of Mary, the
importance of tradition and apostolic succession, the rejection of
sola scriptura, etc. But the big kicker was that virtually every early
Church Father taught against all five points of Calvinism (summed up today by the acronym TUL IP: Total Depravity, Unconditional
Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of
the Saints). So, of these spheres that I so desperately wanted to hold
onto, I realized I could only pick two out of the three. It was either the
Divines’ interpretation of Scripture or it was the Fathers’ interpretation
of Scripture. I simply couldn’t have it both ways.

I suppose many Calvinists would say at this point, “What’s the
problem? Simply accept the Divines’ interpretation of Scripture and
throw out the Fathers. What did they know anyway?” And that was
exactly the question that began to haunt me: What did they know
anyway? When I read little bits and snippets from the Fathers during
my time as a Calvinist, I sensed deep down that they had a fervor
and a zeal that the Reformers seemed to be lacking. They spoke
with authority, like people who had genuinely experienced a direct
encounter with Almighty God."


To read the rest please buy the book.


I'm halfway through the book and most of what I read so far is really good. I've noticed a few areas where I would differ or disagree, but over all I think this is a great effort by Alexander Renault. It's the first book of it's kind that I am aware of. And this is something we need. And so I would like to thank Alexander Renault for taking the time to write something like this.

6 comments:

Wesley said...

I just purchased the book and read the preface. Looking forward to reading the whole thing. Thanks for posting.

Isaac said...

I just had the amazing experience of reading your debate on the American Catholic Truth Society website, and I just had to thank you for your outstanding defense of the True Faith. I'm an Orthodox convert from protestantism and I had at one point been worried by the "proof texting" of certain RC apologists. While I certainly think that some fathers had a theologoumenon about Roman primacy owing to the Apostle Peter, none ever dared to speak about infallibility or the inability of an Ecumenical Council to judge Rome's bishop. The historical record does seem pretty clear, and you elucidated it so succinctly and profoundly! Well done.

Wesley said...

Isaac,

I would like to read that debate. Can you provide a link?

Lvka said...

Here you are, Wes... :-)

Wesley said...

Lvka, you're the man! Thanks! =]

Lvka said...

Wes, Jnorm,
God (if You're out there)...


a man battling cancer needs our urgent help:

Link 1, Link 2

ellenschmitz@mac.com

If you could maybe post about it on your blogs and/or facebook accounts, to draw more attention and hopefully generate more income.

Thank you...

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