A Slightly Less Quick Response

, posted by Martin Glynn

Alan Kurschner recently made a response to my reply to his “question” last week. I first I hesitated on whether or not to reply, since I found his response to be, well, silly. However, there are two reasons why I have now decided to respond: 1) I started it, so I should at least give one more response and 2) it is exactly because of people like Kurschner that I got involved with SEA. I will say, though, that this is my post on this subject.

I am not a polemical writer. It isn’t that I think polemics are bad, but I’m just not much of an attack dog. However, I have consistently found that the ignorance expressed by most Calvinists that I have dialogued with to be almost incredible. This mentality to defeat Arminianism at all cost creates people like Kurschner, who seem to illustrate their disinterest in actually knowing what they are criticizing with every word they utter.

What Kurschner apparently missed with my quick response was that I wasn’t really trying to answer his question in a way that would satisfy him. What I was doing was criticizing his rhetoric. This was because it was apparent that he wasn’t really asking a question. Instead he appeared to be setting up a straw man so that he could cherry pick any reply that was given to make himself look superior. This isn’t someone who I am that interested in wasting my time with, but I wanted to show that this kind of rhetoric doesn’t really work. So, since I was too subtle last time, I figured I would be a little more blatant this time.

Okay, let’s begin. Rhetorical Critique Number One: note how he completely ignores the first half of my post. The reason appears to have been that his intent with asking the question was to be given some response where he could cherry pick a few sentences and attach cliché, inaccurate words like “Pelagianesque” to.

However, the first half of my post explained my principal point: that I am not going to take someone seriously who clearly hasn’t engaged the primary material of Arminianism. This was the part of the post where I emphasized the Articles of Remonstrance, and in the word “Arminianism 101,” I made a different link with each letter pointing to an article where this very question was dealt with. But Kurschner has an agenda, and he’s not going to let something like my point get in his way.

Rhetorical Critique Number Two: he consistently tells me what Arminianism teaches and believes. Oh, and he is consistently wrong.

Rhetorical Critique Number Three: he completely misses my point with the “impede vs. resist” comment. Kurschner is using a rhetorical device known as dysphemism (the opposite of euphemism) where you intentionally use a word which is synonymous, or in this case, almost synonymous, with a negative connotation with the purpose of making the other side look bad. A more accurate example of dysphemism would be me talking about the Calvinistic doctrine of arbitrary election. Arbitrary means the same thing as unconditional, but it doesn’t sound as good.

There are two problems with Kurschner’s use of dysphemism here, though: A) “impede” implies “overpowering” something, and I took the time to explain that in Arminianism a human can’t overpower God (and this was the point of my analogies. If he finds this incongruous then he should read some Arminian source material); and B) Kurschner was claiming to speak for Arminians using a term that Arminians don’t use. Point one just means that he misunderstands us. Point two makes his whole original question misleading, and that is a major reason why I don’t take him seriously.

Rhetorical Critique Number Four: he completely skips over my critique of why Calvinists misunderstand us. This is probably because this doesn’t coincide with his agenda. To follow my point here would have meant to be on the defensive, and it seems as if all he really cares about is making fun of someone he disagrees with.

Rhetorical Critique Number Five: he takes a lot out of context. For instance, he takes my sentence, “He wants us to choose him,” and concludes, “His answer demonstrates that the non-Calvinist couches the ultimate reason for their salvation in their own will.” However, that sentence was part of a three-fold parallel structure: “Because He wants us to make a choice. He wants us to choose Him. He wants to be wanted.” Clearly, I am couching the ultimate reason for God not saving some (because that was the question, after all) in God’s design for us. Salvation is grounded in Christ.

Free will in Arminian theology is our articulation of theodicy, and actually is a very minor point in soteriology. Indeed, Arminians mostly talk about free will when either discussing theodicy, or talking with Calvinists. When we talk about salvation, we talk about faith, grace, and divine majesty.

This brings us to Rhetorical Critique Number Six: Fallacy of composition, which is where Kurschner is applying an aspect of part of Arminian theology to all of Arminian theology. Specifically, he is taking the fringe ideas which are the elements where we disagree with him, and claiming that they form the center of our thought. To be fair to Kurschner, many Calvinists do this. To be fair to fairness, none of them should.

Rhetorical Critique Number Seven (which is a pet peeve of mine): This is what I call empty quotation of Scripture. This is where someone quotes a passage of Scripture, and then does not interact with it, implying that the Scripture is so clearly representing their side that no explanation is necessary. Let me make something very, very clear: every member of this Society has read the Bible and finds it consistent with their theology. We have numerous expositions of Ephesians 1 (for instance here, here, here and here), and I am not impressed when someone quotes a liturgical passage as if it is some kind of theological treatise.

Now, this isn’t to say that liturgical passages have no baring on theology. Quite the opposite in fact. However, it requires a different form of analysis where the emphasis must be laid on what Paul is praising, instead of assuming that Paul is trying to elucidate ideas such as predestination or election. Ephesians 1 is Paul giving a prayer of gratitude to God for the graciousness through which we are saved in Christ, and this is perfectly consistent with Arminian theology. What Calvinists point to are various soteriological elements which Paul mentions. However, what Ephesians 1 does not do is explicitly explain how these elements operate in a point by point fashion. Paul does that later in the book in very non-Calvinistic ways. Indeed, it seems to me that Paul is immersing us in the language of God’s operation to prepare us for the rest of the letter.

For more explanation on the implications of Paul’s use of these element on soteriology, I would recommend the links that I gave above. My point here is that the problem with Kurschner’s use of Ephesians 1 isn’t so much that he uses it to explain Calvinism (which is fine and proper thing to do) but he quotes it in a way that implies that it is saying more than it does, and assuming that it is a different form of literature than it is.

Oh, and for the record, Arminians believe in election, predestination, and that God elected us out of His love and will. Additionally, my translation of Ephesians 1:7-8 can be found here.

And finally, perhaps a Rhetorical Critique Of Me: I would not be surprised if Kurschner looks at this and cries, “Ad hominem.” Well, if I were arguing that you shouldn’t be Calvinist, he would be right. But that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is to Calvinists: please don’t be like this guy. Actually do your research and let Arminians define Arminianism. Just because a guy is an expert on Calvinism, it doesn’t mean he is an expert on Arminianism. Do your own research on the source materials, like the articles of Remonstrance, or reading the Council of Orange to understand Semi-Augustianism (the real predecessor of Arminianism). Act like a Christian, not a bully.