Monday, June 9, 2008

Let's Avoid the Straw Man

As I wander around the theological blog world, I repeatedly run into arguments between Calvinists (those who hold to the Doctrines of Grace) and Arminians. Some of the discussion is good, while some of it is not. Those discussions that both challenge us all to know why we believe what we believe and are handled in a Christian manner can be edifying. Unfortunately, many of these types of discussions quickly degenerate into not much more than name-calling.

One frustration I have in reading articles on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue is that both sides have a strong tendency to set up straw man arguments. These arguments occur when a person attacks a distorted view of his opponent's position instead of the actual position itself. This happens very frequently between Calvinists and Arminians.

Here are some straw man arguments by Arminians against Calvinism:
-God sends people to Hell who want to go to Heaven.
-Repentance and belief do not matter because election doesn't require it.
-God isn't a God of love.
-God capriciously chooses some people to salvation.
-Evangelism isn't important.
-Calvinism encourages antinomianism.

The above are not what Calvinists believe, but are what some Arminians say Calvinists believe in order to then attack a fallacious position.

Now let's turn the tables and look at straw man arguments by Calvinists against Arminianism:
-Salvation is based on works instead of grace.
-God is in no way sovereign.
-God cannot see into the future.
-Man can be good enough to go to heaven.
-Salvation can be lost without a person knowing it.
-Arminianism encourages universalism.

The above are not what Arminians believe, but are what some Calvinists say Arminians believe in order to then attack a fallacious position.

All of these straw man arguments do nothing good for the kingdom of God. In fact, they are probably harmful to the church. As followers of Christ, we have a duty to build one another up in our faith. Straw man arguments only divide; they never unite.

In a recent post, I attempted to deal with some Calvinism and Arminianism-related issues in a Christlike manner. I tried to be respectful of the Arminian position even though I do not agree with it. When describing the Arminian position, I attempted to explain what is actually believed instead of attacking some sort of straw man.

As we have these discussions, let's avoid the straw man at all costs.

8 comments:

jason Fisher said...

Eric,
For what it is worth I have greatly appreciated your blog as I am slowly moving from an Armenian position to a more reformed one. I don't know that I have ever felt misrepresented by your writing.

Jason

Eric said...

Jason,

Thank you. I'm glad to hear that my blogging has come across that way.

Until four years ago I was solidly Arminian. Most of my family remains so. I praise God that they are almost all solid Christians. Yes, I disagree with them over the Doctrines of Grace, but I am obviously thrilled that they are children of God.

The Arminian-Calvinism debate must be secondary to the basics of the gospel.

Safe Thus Far said...

AMEN, Eric!!! If only everybody had your good sense.

As someone who's been trying to sort this out for years, it is SO FRUSTRATING to constantly read the straw man attacks. It's so futile and so un-helpful, and all around aggravating.

I usually read it coming from Calvinists and find myself often in the position of having to correct their ridiculous presuppositions against Arminians. Once in a while (like with the hyper-Calvinist thing you wrote about earlier), I have had to defend my Calvinist friends also.

Straw man errors only distract from dealing with the real issues and annoy us poor people who are trying to figure out where we stand.

Thanks for your post!

Susan

Eric said...

Susan,

Thanks for the kind words.

On this issue in particular, people tend to talk past one another instead of engaging in fair dialog. If we would actually talk, we would find that Calvinists and Arminians have much more in common than we might first think.

Dave Miller said...

I am sorry I missed this. It is a constant aggravation of mine in blogging debates. People caricature the other side and create "straw man" arguments, then knock them down.

You knocked this one out of the park.

Eric said...

Dave,

Thanks for your kind words. It sounds like we are running into the same sorts of things as people in the blog world talk past each other instead of to one another.

Aaron said...

Eric,

I stumbled across your blog by chance but have been enjoying it. You do a nice job.

I came out of a strongly Arminian, semi-Pelagian background (Seventh-day Adventist) about 3 years ago and it's been a very difficult transition at times. In discussing my beliefs with family and friends who remain in the church, I'm generally seen as being doubly crazy, first for leaving the "remnant church" but then for embracing Reformed theology. I try not to even use the word "Calvinism" because it's like holding up a cross to Dracula and puts an end to any discussion, usually. But, yes, there seems to be a gross misunderstanding of what Calvinism really is among many folks.

Keep up the good work!

Eric said...

Aaron,

Thank you for saying nice things about this blog.

I came out of an Arminian background - the Wesleyan church. Our experiences are probably somewhat similar.

The frustration for me is that Christians often talk right past one another without really communicating. We are often too busy trying to win an argument to listen to the other person.

I hope I'm learning to be more humble as I get older.