Saturday, July 28, 2007

David Cloud and Camels

I never heard of David Cloud before yesterday. I was directed to an article of his entitled "Calvin's Camels."

But apparently, now that I look into it, Cloud is something of a big deal in independent, fundamentalist Baptist circles. He's ministered for over thirty years. Nary a bad word to say about him, personally. I want to stress that I am not here attacking the man, David Cloud. I am examining what he wrote and comparing it to Scripture, which also demands subjecting it to the test of logic and reason. I hope God blesses David Cloud real good, okay? This is not about him, but about the arguments he has put forward to attack Calvinistic theology.

At the outset of his article, Cloud goes to some lengths to show that he has done his homework. I have no reason to doubt that he has read all the books he says he did. He is to be commended on that. But right at the beginning, I note that Cloud sets out to "muddy the waters" by blocking nearly every possible avenue a sincere Calvinist might use to answer his attack.

He writes: "Thus, while I have not read every book on this subject that could be recommended by my readers, I have made a considerable effort to understand Calvinism properly and not to misrepresent it (though I have learned that a non-Calvinist will ALWAYS be charged with misrepresentation)."

You see how that works? Now, if after reading his article, I think that he has in fact not done a good job of explaining what normal, historic, confessional Calvinism believes, my complaint is already deflected. That's what Calvinists ALWAYS do! We can therefore be dismissed if we argue thus.

Now, to be honest, I do see Calvinists on the internet argue this way all the time. I can see why a synergist would make that ALWAYS assertion. We do it a lot. But that begs the question. Is that a baseless argument that we have grown accustomed to falling back on, or are we in fact genuinely misrepresented by a great many of those who seek to argue with us?

Y'know? It's possible we say that all the time because we ALWAYS get misrepresented! The key to that is this: once we assert misrepresentation, and we go on to clarify what we really believe, then does the anti-Calvinist argue on the basis of what we say we believe, or does he persist in knocking down the straw man he has set up instead? I've got to say, my experience leans heavily in favor of the latter option.

More from Cloud:

"The Calvinist will doubtless argue that I simply don’t understand Calvinism properly, and to this I reply that if Calvinism is that complicated it can’t be the truth. "

And,

"The apostle Paul warned that it is the devil that makes theology that complicated. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3)."

The argument here is that Calvinism is too complex and tough to understand to be true. More mud thrown into the waters before the contest starts.

Now, the Calvinist is precluded from making any arguments that may take some brain power to understand.

Apparently, all Biblical truth must be able to be encapsulated in explanations that can fit on a Christian T-shirt, eh?

Is it really true that all the Bible's teachings are straightforward and rather easy to comprehend? Would Cloud assert this is the case when it comes to the doctrine of the Triune nature of the Godhead? The Incarnation of Christ? The "Problem of Evil?"

The gospel of Christ itself is simple, I'll grant (and I'll thank God as I do!) Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. That ain't complex. Praise God that the actual content we absolutely must know to be saved is relatively easy! That's what Paul is talking about when he mentions the simplicity that is in Christ. There ain't a lot to it, in one sense. Believe the Son of God died on a cross for your sins and rose from the dead the third day. Turn from your sins and trust in Jesus. Bingo! You're there.

But to speak as if all Biblical truth must be just so reducible as that is a hopeless overstatement. I believe it appeals to a latent (and sometimes blatant) anti-intellectualism that is part-and-parcel of modern Fundamentalism. If you have to think about it, it's prolly of the devil! Ole Slewfoot is jest tryin' to ensnare your minds with smooth-soundin' argy-ments.

More:

"If a reasonably intelligent preacher who has studied and taught the Bible diligently for 32 years and has published a Bible encyclopedia and many other Bible study books can study Calvinism with a desire to understand it properly and still not understand it, then it is far too complicated to be the truth!"

Cloud is talking about himself here, so you're not confused.

What he has done is suggest that his intellect and theological prowess is the measuring stick. If even I cannot understand it, then we may know with confidence that it is false.

A couple thoughts on this argument:

1. Every heretic in the world has published his own commentary on the Bible. The mere fact of publishing books about the Bible does not make one an expert on theology. What if they're lousy books? I'm not suggesting Cloud's are, but merely pointing out that even idiots and morons can get books published. I've published a couple myself, so there!

2. Cloud desires to honestly represent Calvinism, according to his article. I don't doubt that. But the desire does not ensure the outcome. His desire is noble, I'll grant, and I appreciate it, as a Calvinist who is sick of being misrepresented.

But the proof will be in the pudding, won't it? We will be able to tell from what you write when you start to actually discuss it, whether or not you get it. You've done some commendable reading, with a noble heart, which is all good, but which, sadly, does not gaurantee the result. We'll see.

3. The whole characterization of Calvinism as complex and intellectually over-demanding is a farce from the outset.

I personally know people of average intelligence who became Calvinists simply by reading the Bible and accepting what it told them. Somebody then had to come to them and explain what their beliefs were called.

In fact, when Reformation theology reigned supreme among Protestants in America, nearly every child was instructed in doctrines like election and substitutionary atonement. It didn't prove too taxing, even for the Sunday School set.

Heck, I understand Calvinism, and I don't have David Cloud's pedigree. How tough can it be, really?

"Of course, Calvinism is not simple by any means and this is one reason why it produces an elitist mentality. To understand Calvinism one must deal with compatibalism, monergism versus synergism, electing grace vs. irresistible grace, effectual calling vs. general calling, effective atonement vs. hypothetical atonement, libertarian free will vs. the bondage of the will, objective grace and subjective grace, natural ability and moral ability, mediate vs. immediate imputation of Adam’s sin, supralapsarianism, sublapsarianism, infralapsarianism, desiderative vs. decretive will, and antecedent hypothetical will, to name a few!"

Whew! You mean when theologians discuss theology they might actually have to use some technical terms? Oh, the humanity!!

I wonder if Cloud would eschew the use of technical terminology as he sets about to defend his Dispensational, Pretribulational, Premillennial Rapture eschatology? Or, when he's advocating the use of the King James Only, would he refrain from talking about text types, fragments, various codex's, the Textus Receptus, higher criticism, the Vulgate, the Masoretic, the Septuagint, and Alexandrian texts?

Then there is the tried-and-true canard of Calvinism producing an "elitist mentality." The funny thing about all elitist mentalities is that they get to be defined exclusively by people who feel themselves somewhere beneath the elitists. Meaning, if you sound smarter than me, I get to remark on your elitist mentality. How come brain surgeons, writing in journals about brain surgery, don't get accused of elitist mentalities by general practitioners? Or by the mailman who delivers the journal? Don't we want those guys to know more about the topic at hand than we do?

But Calvinists have an elitist mentality. In practice, this usually means, in the mouth of the synergist: "You guys think you're right! How dare you? Just because I can't figure out why you're wrong doesn't mean you're more right than I am."

"The Calvinist will further argue that the reason I have studied Calvinism and rejected it is because I think man should be equal to God. Calvinists invariably claim that the non-Calvinist doesn’t believe in God’s sovereignty."

Well, we know Cloud is not a prophet, at least. His prediction of the future here is a little off.

I, for one Calvinist, do NOT think Cloud believes "man should be equal to God." I suspect that his theology, however, may make the will of God subservient to and dependant on the will of Man, at least in the area of faith and justification.

In contrast to what Cloud says is invariable, I do not claim the non-Calvinist disbelieves God's sovereignty. I claim the non-Calvinist believes God is not ultimately sovereign over the question of who gets saved and who doesn't. The synergist may believe in a type of sovereignty, but it is often a sovereignty "that has chosen not be sovereign." Or so it is often stated.

Continuing to muddy the waters now: "I realize that a staunch Calvinist has an answer for everything."

Now, regardless of how solid my answers, well, that's just the way Calvinists are, an answer for everything. Apparently, it's become a bad thing to be able to consistently and even minutely defend what you believe the Scripture teaches. If you can meet every challenge to your belief system, and do it robustly, that's a strike against you. Calvinists have answers...but you don't have to listen to them, because they've always got answers! I'm not entirely certain I understand that logic, but the rhetorical effect Cloud is shooting for here is quite clear: I know Calvinists have answers for whatever I'll say hereafter, but, trust me, there's nothing to them...it's all a smokescreen. No need to consider their answers. Just wave your hand and make them go away.



Lord willing, we'll look at some of David Cloud's actual Scriptural arguments against Calvinism in later posts. Keep in mind, I'm already not allowed to be too smart, to use technical terms, to claim my views have been mis-defined for me, or to have an answer for everything. I can comply with the first requirement without even trying, but the others may well tax me.





3 comments:

Rhett said...

I look forward to more on this!

RK

Bob Hayton said...

Good stuff, here. It seems like some of his opening stuff is a direct copy of Hunt. He gave the excuse that Calvinists would say he doesn't understand them, etc. etc. It's just a free pass to smear us, that's all.

Coogie said...

You're making the case for the stereotype of Calvinists as arrogant, condescending and elitist people that bend over backwards defending every unbiblical thing Calvin did, be it supporting the killing of people(more than Micheal S.), infant baptism, etc because you are obsessed with his theology and all these cute words like synergism, monergism, (insert extrabiblical term here).

I would encourage you to spend 5 seconds to go to his other page that discusses the things you criticize him for not discussing, particularly

http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/calvinismdebate.html

I would also encourage you to look outside of your Western mindset and understand that there are independent baptist churches in other parts of the world, such as Asia(where I have worked), who are far more familiar with biblical history and biblical understanding(Greek, Hebrew, etc) than any Calvinist I have met in America. The idea that non-calvinists are all to be lumped into simplistic or non-biblical preaching is yet more evidence of the arrogance of Calvinists.

I conclude with saying it's easy to hold onto complex doctrines as your "Salvation," we see Catholics do this all the time. The more difficult thing is exhibiting the basic no brainer characteristics of Christianity, which I so often find lacking in the outspoken Calvinists, including the ones at my church. Calvinists, in a nutshell, are epitomized in the old Calvinist guy I know that, after trying to convince a younger brother that he should be racist and blacks are from a different race, proceeded to then convert him to Calvinism. It's fun to be all into an elitist theology which still allows you to ignore the basic things that are seen as "simplistic" from your ivory tower.