Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Rise of the Young Reformed Enthusiasts

Tom McCall, a TEDS graduate has recently given an interesting talk about the resurgence of Calvinism amongst the young, including young scholars.What is especially interesting about it, is he gives it from an Arminian or Methodist perspective, and it is an appreciation of a good deal that is a part of this phenomenon. Here is the link----



Mark Stevens said...

Hi Ben, I am looking forward to your visit to Australia in May! I am currently preaching through the book of Acts. Your commentary has been very useful & helpful and your lectures will be a good resource.

You have raised the point about Calvin's theology making a return and I wondered how prominent Karl Barth's theology is in your circles (ATS etc.)? I know it has a big influence in the Presb. church through Princeton but I wondered how much influence it has outside of that sphere. Here in Australia, there seems to be a growing awareness/appreciation among evangelicals of Barth's work. It sounds very similar to what is happening with Calvin's theology in the USA. I would love to know your thoughts on how Barth compliments or fits into the broader discipline of Biblical Theology.


Mark Stevens

Ben Witherington said...

I actually wish it was Barth that was the influence but actually its Jonathan Edwards and John Owen on people like Dr. Piper. Its sort of 7 point Calvinism on steroids.


Tim Hallman said...

I think Tom McCall is a graduate of Calvin...or somewhere in Grand Rapids...he's currently teaching at TEDS in the theology department - he's the Wesleyan-Arminian rep.

Kyle said...

If only these modern Calvinists would realize that all of the insights they are highlighting can be found in solid, classical, Wesleyan-Arminianism...all without saying that God needs to causally determine evil and damn people unconditionally for his glory.

Unknown said...

It is certainly Edwards who is the main source for most people, but I would like to add that this all stems from Augustine of Hippo. Calvin and Luther both basically just ripped their theology from him and were not novel in the slightest. It should be called "Augustinianism" instead of "Calvinism" in my mind. This thinking was virtually absent until Augustine began to refute the Manichees and Pelagians, then he developed what would be known as classic reformed theology. It was basically non-existent throughout much of church history, popping up a little in the middle ages with Anselm, and coming in full force with the reformation. A history of the beliefs would suit us all well and help us realize that throughout the majority of church history they have basically been non-existent and non-foundational, so the attitude some exhibit towards it like it's undeniable and foundational is frankly quite disturbing. I wish more scholars spoke up about this Dr. Witherington, because many people mistake it for Christianity.

Unknown said...

I have been watching this resurgence for years among young people.
One of the things I see is an almost total lack of good Armenian theology resources. There have been two good books of late. "Armenian theology" bu Olsen and "Why I Am Not A Calvinist" by Walls and Dongel.
But I have completely struck out finding a good Armenian Theology that deals with the issues of foreknowledge, providence, etc. Anyone have suggestions?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Alan: I commend to you the work of folks like William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland and Tom Morris (The Logic of God Incarnate).


normajean said...

Alan, I second Ben's suggestions. Craig and Moreland are indeed excellent pop Christian thinkers! But I'd also recommend their friend, Paul Copan who in various recent books touches on the subjects you note.

Brigitte said...

Luke: please don't put Luther and Calvin in the same sentence connected with "and". They do not agree on things that come up regularly in discussion on this blog.

Ben Witherington said...

Actually Brigitte, Luther is more Augustinian than Calvin in many ways. If you read Luther's Bondage of the Will it is clear he has less of a view of secondary causes than Calvin does in his Institutes.



Kyle said...

And, in fact, Luther also believed in double predestination as strongly as Calvin. The original rift was over views of communion.

Jake Charles said...

Dr. Witherington,

I am trying to study the book of Romans and am trying to find some Arminian commentaries and resources(or at least leaning that way) and was hoping that you could recommend some - on top of your own commentary. Most that I have found so far seem all too concerned with vindicating Calvinism. Thanks so much!

Brigitte said...

Hello again: I am not an expert about Calvin, but having looked up some things in light of your disagreements, I see where he is NOT the same as Lutheran teaching--such as "double predestination" (Kyle).

Dr. W. already had a heated exchange with Pilgrim about a couple of things were Dr. W was "wrong"!--such as apostasy (we have no such thing as once saved, always saved, ect.)
Also the "bondage of the will", as far as I have read it (I have read a portion of it), and expect it to be in concert with the book of Concord, has nothing like "God has pre-determined everything", or irresistible grace.

The bondage of the will means specifically that man cannot on his own come to God and make a decision for Christ and turn himself around. This is by God's Spirit's gracious working through means, such as preaching, the word and sacraments.

In terms of daily works, we have choices and we can make them with relative freedom. We try to do the right thing and we don't deny that this is up to us. Yet, again, by the grace of God, there go we and don't do worse than we do. We also pray to God that we don't fall into "shame and vice", because we all don't know what evil we might be capable of.

In terms of the bondage of the will, I like to use the image of the tractor.

Everyone knows the old international hymn: "In dulci jubilo". (Now sing we and rejoice) In German, we also sing the Latin line in every verse. One of the later verses goes: "Trahe me post te!"

--Draw me Lord, to you (after you).

But the verb is even stronger than draw: "trahe" means drag and pull, like a "tractor". In German we also have a verb from this Latin word "traktieren"--to ply someone with pleading up to driving them into giving in. (Like the widow and the unjust judge).

Anyways, this is a line I let echo in my brain and heart.--"Draw me Lord to you". It speaks both of his good will to me and my lack of strength. But he is able.

I just looked up double predestination on the internet and found some Calvinist quoting Luther on cases such as Pharaoh and Judas. Just because some Calvinist quotes Luther in a short quote, it does not mean that this is Lutheran teaching. It is not. If you want to know something about Lutheran teaching, you need to read the agreed upon confessional writings, such as the Book of Concord, containing the catechisms, the Augsburg confession and other documents.

Quote me something from the book of Concord.
It is easily found on the internet.

I see that Augustine is sometimes quoted in the Book of Concord. You don't agree with Augustine? Who do you agree with?

I am sorry this whole post is not more concisely written, but I have to go to bed and to work tomorrow and to the pro-life conference on Saturday and to a confirmation in Calgary on Sunday (4 hr drive in the morning)(at least the snow is all gone now. We had another snowstorm last week). I'd like to discuss this further and read more if people are interested and I have time to read more. I think I will try to read the whole Bondage of the Will next. It is so hard to read because it is a refutation to Erasmus and one does not always know what is being referred to.

In any case, I think you may be seeing Luther through the Calvinist lens. Calvinists thought they had to improve on what the reformation had argued and taught thus far. We think they went too far.
Night, Brigitte

D said...

Yes, Dr. McCall has his PhD from Calvin and is now an Associate Professor in the Systematic Theology department at TEDS.

For those looking for Arminian informed theology, be on the lookout for McCall's forthcoming publications, mostly dealing with Trinitarian issues from a philosophical theology perspective.

In terms of other theology works from Arminians, Olson, Walls, Craig, Moreland, and Copan are clearly good places to start, but for systematic theology more specifically, one might also want to look at Tom Oden's three volume text.

D said...


Dr. Witherington, you might want to get to know Dr. McCall if you get the chance. Along with Grant Osborne, McCall is one of the few profs at TEDS holding strong to the Arminian position . He is a great teacher, a clear thinker, and an able theologian. And don't be fooled by his Calvin degree; McCall is Wesleyan through and through!

Jaltus said...

1) Tom McCall is an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at TEDS. He did his PhD at Calvin and he is a committed Arminian.

2) A good commentary on Romans from the Wesleyan point of view, other than BW3's is a two volume set by Jack Cottrell.

Ben Witherington said...

I must say that in terms of Biblical theology or even systematics, pride of place should go to Richard Watson's Institutes which is a thorough as Calvin's especially in the first several books of that work. It is a terrible pity the work is out of print.


Kyle said...


From my reading in church history, Luther believed predestination as an alleged correlary to justification by faith alone. God gives the elect the gift of justifying faith, and only the elect. This is just as strong as Calvin's doctrine.

Brigitte said...

Kyle: "Elect" is not to be seen in a limiting sense, only in an affirming sense. Predestination is taught only in the positive sense. (see council of Orange.)

Personally speaking, when I grew up in pietistic circles, I never knew whether I was a "elect" or worthy of the name "Christian", or if I'd had the right kind of experience or commitment. This bothered me a lot, similar to Luther in the monastery just about torturing himself to death. He called it the "monster of uncertainty".

When I started reading Luther I learned that I could in all humility call myself "elect" and "Christian", because it does not depend on me. That's the point, it's God's gift. And that's where it all begins: joy, peace, faith...

canonglenn said...

Dear Dr. Witherington:

The internet is full of blogs from young reformed enthusiasts and like Dr. McCall, I am grateful for their emphasis on the Cross and their passion for holiness. But, it would be a great help to me and to many others, if you would post a recommended reading list of Arminian/Wesleyan theological works. I am inundated with Calvinist recommendations on systematic theologies, books on the Cross and tracts on holiness. A quality list of Wesleyan works of the past and present would bring a much needed balance. I appreciate your blog, it is my go-to place for exegetical and theological insight.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi canonglenn: Here is a list Ken Collins gave me---

The major systematic theologies of Wesley listed in alphabetical order are as follows:

Collins, Kenneth J. The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007.

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology. Nashville, Tennessee: Kingswood Books, 1994.

Runyon, Theodore H. The New Creation: John Wesley's Theology Today. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.

The list needs to involve both past and present Wesleyan theologians.

For a list of past Wesleyan theologians consult the following:

Langford, Thomas A. Practical Divinity: Theology in the Wesleyan Tradition. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983.


Ben W,

bill borch said...

Is the depth and seriousness of these comments reflected in not knowing the difference between Armenian and Arminian? Maybe when they've lived long enough- and through enough- theology will no longer be a "cute" game. And having a cordial conversation about "innocents" frying in hell-eternally- is a curious study of (fallen) human nature. That's what it's about, isn't it- or am I too stupid to enjoy the fun? Augustine? Calvin? Luther? Who's the real Calvinist? "Cool", what a fascinating subject. The popularity of this stuff indicates the mind that has become desensitized to reality by too much TV virtual violence. Oh, wow!!

Brigitte said...

Would you agree with the summary on Arminian theology on the Wikipedia page?

Unknown said...

Dr. Witherington,

Actually, Watson's Institutes have been reprinted by the Michigan Historical Reprint Series. You can find it on Amazon.

bendevan said...

Here's a link to Watson's Institutes online:


I also condensed them into a Microsoft word file a few years ago.

You can e-mail me at ben.devan@gmail.com

Brigitte said...

Bendevan: The link does not work for me.

bendevan said...

Richard Watson Institutes Online:


Paul Copan said...

Hello, Ben.

I thought I'd jump in here and add some further resources.

One of my favorites that offers some superb exegesis on biblical texts from an Arminian perspective is William Klein, *The New Chosen People* (Wipf and Stock). If you have to get one, get this!

Also, William Klein contributed comments on Romans and Ephesians in the Apologetics Study Bible (B&H Publishers), which I co-edited.

Other resources include:

Clark Pinnock, ed., *The Grace of God, the Will of Man* (Bethany House).

I. Howard Marshall, *Jesus the Savior* (InterVarsity Press) has some good essays; see also his *Kept By the Power of God* (Bethany House).

On some of the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of a classical (as opposed to popular) Arminian perspective, Roger Olson's *Arminian Theology* (IVP) is useful.

A useful systematic theology (endorsed by I. Howard Marshall) is Leroy Forlines,*The Quest for Truth: Theology for a Postmodern World* (Randall House).

Keep up the good work, Ben!