Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Root of Angry and Divisive Calvinists: Part Two

Yesterday we looked at the story of Mark, a young seminary student coming back to his home church to set them straight.  We wondered “what happened to Mark”.  Unfortunately that fictional story is all too real in many church settings. 

For our discussion we will be tackling the problem of angry and divisive Calvinists, but truth be told we can make Mark’s sermon topics whatever you desire. In our day and age many may be tempted to drop the C word (Calvinism) as one of those topics bearded Mark picks up. 300 years ago it may have been Arminianism. It doesn’t matter what topic you pick because the problem isn’t as much Mark’s sermon topics as it is a much greater issue. A bigger issue that has replayed itself within different circumstances for centuries.

In the late 1700’s John Newton wrote this to a student in divinity:
Though I am no enemy to the acquisition of useful knowledge, I have seen many instances of young men who have been much hurt by what they expected to reap advantage from. They have gone to the academy humble, peaceable, spiritual, and lively; but have come out self-wise, dogmatically, censorious, and full of a wisdom founded upon the false maxims of the world.[1]
“What happened to Mark?” was a question asked even in Newton’s day.

Is seminary the problem?

Perhaps. I remember as a freshman in seminary many of the warnings that professors gave about the dangers inherent in the nature and rigors of a seminary education.  Seminary can have a tendency to train the mind to the neglect of the heart. Helmut Thielicke, in his exceedingly helpful primer, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians suggests this much when he says:
The man who studies theology, and especially he who studies dogmatics, might watch carefully whether he increasingly does not think in the third rather than in the second person…This transition from one to the other level of thought, from a personal relationship with God to a merely technical reference, usually is exactly synchronized with the moment that I no longer can read the word of Holy Scripture as a word to me, but only as the object of exegetical endeavors.[2]
Yes, it is quite possible that what happened to Mark is that he has been ruined by stale-hearted academia. It is possible, indeed quite likely, that Mark has puffed up his brain to the neglect of his soul. Perhaps he has “busied himself daily with divine things, with a cold and impassive heart.”[3] But it is also quite possible that though Mark appears to all to be a man trained by seminary to combat error with a sniper’s poise and an equally cold heart that he is, in actuality, passionate to refute error because he has learned how deadly it can be to the vibrancy of the faith of a local church.

More than likely Mark’s problem is not necessarily a fault of the institution. It’s probably not even the newfound theology that he is embracing. And it may even be quite possible that Mark is not simply a jerk that has gotten a little theology to puff him up. It may be that Mark still loves Jesus just as much as he did before he took his first systematic theology class.

What happened to Mark, then?

[1] Works of Newton, Volume 1, 139
[2] Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, 33
[3] Cameron and Rosner, Trials of Theology, 56


  1. Dear Mr. Leake,

    My name is Dave Miller and I am the editor of a blog called SBC Voices. We would love to publish this article and any others you have for us over there.

    The Rev. Dr. David L. Miller (actually, I'm neither a doctor, nor particular reverend)

  2. Wow, a Rev. Dr. wanting an article from lil' ole me! LOL. This series is going to be 6-7 parts. One of them is kind of rehashing something I've already written that I think Voices already picked up. But you are free to have these. Cut and paste if you'd like. Or later this week I can try to do it myself and post it on Voices (but then again, you've always got to risk me screwing it up and actually posting it).



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