Calvinism − A Report (“All’s Quiet”) from the Philosophy Front
As has already been discussed here at GOTT, the September 2006 issue of Christianity Today contains an interesting article by Collin Hansen, “Young, Restless, Reformed,” that discusses how Calvinist theology is growing in popularity within American Protestantism.
This was very interesting to me, because it’s my sense that among Christian philosophers, Calvinism (at least where that means Divine Determinism and aspects of Calvinist theology closely related to that) seems to me not at all popular, even among Calvinists (those who identify with other aspects of Calvinism not so closely related to Divine Determinism)!
Dean Zimmerman, a Christian philosopher who teaches at Rutgers (one of the world’s best philosophy departments), recently sent me a draft of a paper of his which contains in its set-up a very interesting paragraph commenting on this curious situation. I thought this might be of interest to some GOTT readers, so, with Dean’s permission, and inserting a footnote of Dean’s in brackets at the relevant point in his paragraph, I’m pasting that paragraph here:
Calvinistic theology seems to be growing in popularity, at least among conservative Protestant intellectuals in North America.* [*A large proportion of American Evangelical churches can trace their roots to Wesley via Pentecostalism or the Holiness Movement — all staunchly Arminian — but anecdotal evidence suggests that many leaders within these churches are attempting to steer their flocks toward Calvinism. The battles between Calvinistic and Arminian Baptists go back to the earliest days of their movement; but, today, the Baptists’ largest denominations and loudest voices side with Calvin. For a battlefield report, see Hansen (2006).] But it is not for everyone. It will not appeal to Christians who hope to hew closely to orthodoxy within Catholicism, Anglicanism, or the many Protestant theological traditions that come down on the side of Arminius rather than Calvin. And increased enthusiasm for Calvinism is not detectable within philosophy. It appears to me that most Christian philosophers — including many who, like Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga, see themselves as belonging to Calvinist theological traditions — reject Calvin’s teachings on grace and predestination. Why does Calvinism have much less appeal for Christian philosophers than theologians? I do not know; but here is an hypothesis: Most Christian theologians are trained in and continue to teach at Christian colleges and seminaries; whereas most Christian philosophers study and teach in more secular environments. I suspect that one result of this difference is that the problem of evil, as an obstacle to faith for contemporary people, looms larger for the philosophers. Libertarian theories of freedom provide a means for explaining the point of a great deal of evil in a way that at least makes sense to our skeptical colleagues and students — even if they reject libertarianism. In my environment, at any rate, it is hard to make the God of Calvinism seem truly benevolent and worthy of worship.
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