High on Rhetoric, Low on Substance

Alright, I decided to offer a few thoughts on part 2 of the series I mentioned in my last post.  If I disagreed with a little of the first part I disagreed a lot with the second.  Mr. Moore basically calls Calvinism racist, cultish, elitist, oppressive, and promoting sinful living.  He pretty much says that Calvinism is evil.  There’s no real argument in the paper, just plenty of assertion.  It’s also not a paper about Holy Hip Hop even if he peppers it with references to HHH.  It’s a vitriolic attack on a theological system that I’m left to believe the author doesn’t really understand. 

When he talks about institutional racism his point is basically that Calvin was a White guy who lived in the 16th century so for seminaries to subscribe to Calvin’s theology in the present day makes them racist.  I know, not exactly the clearest line of thinking.  He says:

How does institutional racism enter the equation? Institutional racism flourishes due to the inordinate and disproportionate exultation of the theologies of dead, white/European theologians over the present, majority, global theologies of non-white people groups around the world and Black theology developed right here in the US.

If an alien from Mars studied theology at just about any of the conservative seminaries in the US, the alien might think that humanity’s theological questioning ended in the 16th century. Due to the way in which Calvinism is presented, the alien might think white Europeans solved every theological problem nearly 500 years ago and created the perfect system to explain them all. Calvinism is presented as the theology to end all theologies. Reformed and no longer reforming. 

Even in those rare schools which grant a generous dose of tolerance to their “Arminian brothers,” the problem of exalting dead, white theologians to the place of authority they do not logically deserve persists nonetheless. Whether the dead, white theologian from the 16th century that is being irrationally exalted is Luther, Calvin, Arminius, or Molina, it serves only to reinforce the racist status quo.  (Pt. 2, p. 2)

But where’s the argument for why “Black theology developed right here in the US” should take precedence over Calvinism?  How is it racist to be Calvinist and teach Calvinism?  In my honest estimation, there’s a bit of ‘white guilt’ at work in Mr. Moore’s papers.  This is most clearly seen when he turns the talk to slavery:

As I argued in Part I, when one is not the victim of evil and injustice, they are much more easily viewed as a part of loving God’s “sovereign” reign. But if one is unfortunate enough to suffer as a result of either evil or injustice, that one will not tend to be so understanding. This creates a tension in the Calvinists’ engagement of their communities and the world. On the one hand, all Christians are commissioned by Jesus to “heal the sick” and “cast out demons.” But, on the other hand, these would fall under the category of evil, and evil is an occurrence which God has ordained with his perfect all-powerful will. So, if a person is sick, God willed that. If a person is demon-possessed, God willed that too!  

Think thats bad? It gets worse! If a people group is oppressed… yes, you guessed it …God willed it! To make this point hit just a little closer to home, allow me to use an example of an oppressed people group. Americans of African decent have historically been oppressed far more than any other people group in this country. Captured and brought to this country on ships in disgustingly inhumane conditions to be slaves, African human beings were bought and sold in this country like cattle. Families were ripped apart to be sold to different “masters.” Once Africans had been procured by these white/European land-owners, they were then forced to perform back-breaking labor for ungodly amounts of time in extreme heat with very few opportunities for rest. Grossly evil measures were instituted to control the African population such as brutal public whippings and the prohibition of any education. In fact, religion was often used as an instrument of oppression by teaching African slaves about the white/European God who wills their subjection to their “masters.” It’s difficult to even fathom the insensitivity it takes to hold a theology which proposes that the scarcely conceivable evil that has been inflicted upon Africans in America was ordained by God—but Calvinism forcefully asserts precisely this.  (Pt. 2, p. 6-7)

But the Black, non-Calvinist, Rev. Earl W. Carter argues precisely this in his book No Apology Necessary (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 1997).  The subtitle to his book is “How Hidden Prophecies in the Old Testament Foretold the Tragedy of Slavery and Give the Answer to Racial Tension in America.”  This idea isn’t limited to White, conservative, Calvinistic Americans (with an emphasis on Americans since Mr. Moore doesn’t seem to refer to any of the world’s continental Calvinists, except of course for Calvin himself).  In the end this is what I can glean from Mr. Moore’s papers, he doesn’t like Calvinism and he doesn’t like that a majority of Holy Hip Hop artists are Calvinists.  There’s no sustained argument for anything that he’s claiming and as the title of my post says, it’s high on rhetoric but low on substance.  I could have done without part 2 of his series, it’s much worse than the first.



18 thoughts on “High on Rhetoric, Low on Substance

  1. Hi Nick, I don’t agree with all of the points this guy makes, but I personally think there is a link between Calvinism and oppression.

    Compare Wesley, Asbury, Whitefield and Edwards. The same time Wesley and Asbury were fighting against slavery, Whitefield and Edwards were promoting it. In fact, Whitefield was part of the campaign to legalize slavery in Georgia.

    In more recent history the Afrikaaners used Calvinist theology to promote apartheid in South Africa.

    I think there is an aspect of Calvinism that allows its adherents to dehumanize the oppressed, and overlook their needs. One could easily argue that the oppressed are reprobate and their lot in life was ordained by God.

    On the flip side, Arminians believe that God loves everyone and wants all to be free. I think that these foundational theological differences inevitably impact how we treat others.

  2. Kevin: I disagree only because a good Calvinist would admit that the elect can be among the world’s oppressed just as much as they can be part of the world’s affluent groups. I think there’s a difference between what Calvinists as people do and what Calvinism as theology is.

    Richard: It’s not the Calvinism I know either. One thing that I often have to correct my friends about is that Calvinism’s doctrine of perseverence is not the same as the ‘once save always saved’ teaching of ‘sloppy grace.’ Keep in mind, I’m no Calvinist, but I think if we’re going to disagree with something we should do so because we understand it as it is. Thanks for the links.

    Stan: Or that he’s got a bone to pick.

  3. Richard: My issue is basically that I find Arminian soteriology more consistent with Scripture. I do have the fourth volume of Muller’s work but I’ve not read much of it yet.

  4. Richard: E.g., faith preceding regeneration; corporate election; conditional security; etc. Keep in mind that I know you don’t agree, and I know why you don’t agree, so I’m not looking for a debate here. If ever I post on the subject then I’d be happy to discuss these things further in the comments to that post.

  5. Well that was…interesting. I’m trying to stop with the rhetoric against non-Calvinists, but he sounds like one who hasn’t really interacted with what most Calvinistic scholars have actually said on these issues. Then again, it’s not a black issue, so it doesn’t bother me as much anymore.

    Now, to the point that really had me upset. Show me in Scripture where you find a black theology, a white theology, Latino theology, etc. (If you venture to answer, GOOD DARN LUCK!)

    NO WONDER Black people will never pick up even the works of Arminius but will gladly pick up tripe by T.D. Jakes, who doesn’t even believe something as cardinal as the Trinity – because it does have one of the brothers on the front. I’m sorry, but as someone who grew up in the black church, I find it grossly disturbing that he will do away with any theological system that isn’t Black-originated. THAT is institutional racism – “If it don’t sound like us, if it don’t read like us and if it ain’t for us alone, we don’t want it!”

    There’s a word for that: HYPOCRISY! (And for the record, I do not condone Whitefield and Edwards’ views of slavery.)

  6. Douglas: The irony is (if I read the first paper of his correctly) he isn’t even part of the ‘us’ (i.e., he’s not Black). Thanks for your thoughts though, I figured that you’d be able to offer a uniquely insider perspective here.

  7. It is so funny. In T.C.’s defense, these two essays were not academic papers presented to an organization; rather they were facebook notes that just described his general opinion.

    Wow, the length people will go to defend their beloved systems and put down those who dare to challenge it.

    Many of the above comments are not worth responding to.

  8. Will: Touché.

    Rod: Regardless of whether or not they were academic papers much of what he said was unsubstantiated. If someone made those claims to me in a casual conversation I’d ask them to back them up.

    And I don’t know how closely you’ve read my posts or the comments, but Calvinism is not my beloved system. There are many reasons not to be a Calvinist, unfortunately, T. C. didn’t point any of them out.

  9. Nick,

    I did read your post. I was referring to the others who have commented on here who have questioned T.C.’s experience and intelligence.

    T.C. can defend himself, and can quote Scripture and theologians with the best of them; I posted on here because Celucien was posted my posts and documents on his blog.

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