What Is Centeredness
I have often heard it said by Calvinists that they are God centered while we are man centered. Now as far as I have seen, they’ve never really given a definition about what it means for a theology to be “centered” on something. This has left us to guess what it is that they mean, which makes it very difficult to counter the accusation.1 Now I have attempted to guess what they mean by this in the past, but after much analysis I think I now have a really good idea what they mean, and how the two theologies are truly centered.
I think my first mistake was that centering involved a central doctrine; that is some kind of central belief. However, I think that Calvinists mean more of a central theme. Also I don’t think that centeredness necessarily has to be something that is consciously at the heart of someone’s theology. Rather, I think it has to do with how a theology is developed or constructed. So let me give this basic definition:
Centeredness refers to the controlling theme or idea that shapes the way someone thinks about a particular topic.
So, what do they mean be God-centered and man-centered? Well here I think they are intentionally vague because I doubt that they are really that consistent on it. I do think that by “God-centered” they basically mean Soli Deo Gloria: that every aspect of their theology is designed to give God glory. Likewise, “man-centered” must mean the opposite.
However, if this is true, both of us are God-centered. This is because I think one of the central differences between us is what we think gives God glory. Both of us are equally focused on Soli Deo Gloria. After all, Calvinists are most concerned with God’s sovereignty while we are most concerned with God’s character. But both traits have God as their subject.2 So I think this scheme is seriously lacking.
I propose, then, a different scheme: causal centered vs. socially centered.
What Is Causal-centered?
To be causally centered is to be concerned with questions of causation and power. By ‘power’, I don’t mean anything pejorative: I don’t mean power hungry or anything else like that. Rather power is simply defined as the ability to get things done. Calvinists, in my estimation, are principally focused on how things in salvation are caused. Therefore, we can think of power or causal-centeredness as when someone defines terms or weighs doctrine on questions of cause and effect.
Therefore it is little wonder that the Calvinist would understand ‘glory’ in terms of sovereignty and determinism. If their greatest concern is how things are accomplished, then it stands to reason that giving God the credit for everything that happens would give Him the most glory.
It also makes some sense that they would think that libertarian free will (LFW) gives human’s glory. We don’t think about it in that way, but to the Calvinist, LFW means that you get to be the cause of what happens in the world. That is a little taste of glory to them. Therefore since humans have more power in Arminianism than they do in Calvinism, Arminianism would be more “man-centered”. However, this is a causal-centered analysis and has nothing to do with how Arminians think or even develop their theology. Because it doesn’t represent how Arminians actually think, it can’t be accurate about Arminianism. Rather, it is Calvinists reading their own interests into Arminian theology.
What Is Socially-centered?
By social, what I mean is that we ask questions about how God has relationships with other things. This also includes Himself within the Trinity. Having relationships is what defines a being as being personal. So it is more these personal ideas that drives our thinking. This is why our core ideas are God’s personal attributes such as love and goodness.
Therefore, it is of little wonder that we would understand ‘glory’ in terms of goodness. To us, it is declaring God as good which gives him the most honor and glory. Indeed, power based glory strikes me as cheap and human. When the Jews expected to see the glory of the Messiah, they expected Him to come in power and defeat Rome. Rather, He died on the cross out of love for the world (I Corinthians 1:18-31).
In fact, determinism strikes me as dishonoring to God. I think that humans do tend to define glory in terms of power, and us expecting God to do the same is thinking of God like He’s a human. Now I wouldn’t call this “man-centered”, but I do think that it dishonors Him, making Him more like us rather than us trying to be more like His Son.
My next few posts will be taking us through the 5 points in the order of the Arminian Articles to see how my theory may help clarify our differences. While I will be arguing for Arminianism in these posts, I don’t really think of this as exposing the underbelly of Calvinism. Calvinists can embrace this distinction and argue that we should be more causal-centered. My actual hope is to develop a more helpful distinction that will facilitate communication between Arminians and Calvinists. A foghorn so we don’t merely pass each other in the night.
So Calvinists, please don’t take this distinction as criticism, but as an attempt at understanding each other. We are brothers, and it is my greatest hope that this sibling rivalry would stop distracting us from the mission of the kingdom.
1 Note how it isn’t difficult to counter due to any merits of the argument. It is simply ambiguous.
2 A Calvinist may argue that being focused on God’s character is still man-centered because it has to do with how God treats man. Man is the object of God’s love (“God loves man”: God-subject; love-verb; man-object). However, the same can be said about sovereignty since it is man that God is sovereign over (“God rules man”: God-subject; rule-verb; man-object). And as an Arminian, I’m not just concerned with His love for us, but also about His love for Himself within the Godhead. Now it is true that this doesn’t come up that much within soteriology, but that is because man is the object of salvation (“God saves man”: God-subject; save-verb; man-object).This really makes it impossible to avoid.