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Is Reformed Religion Rational?

One of my Pentecostal academic friends directed me towards this piece, “How Christian Rationalism Turned Me Into a Psychopath, or A Biblical Defense of Feelings,” by one Michael Minkoff, Jr..  It summarizes his journey through Reformed religion, how same religion attempted to drill into him the virtues of rationality and the vices of letting your feelings have anything to do with your relationship with God (or anyone else, for that matter).

There’s a lot I don’t agree with in this piece.  One thing concerns his Biblical exegesis regarding the mind.  I think he should, for example, take a look at Philo and understand that the business of head knowledge wasn’t the same then as it is now.  But I think the biggest problem I have with his piece is his assumption that Reformed religion, which he was raised with, is rational and intellectually rigorous.  That’s an assumption that needs challenging, not only here but for those in Wesleyan-Pentecostal circles who are drifting in a Reformed direction.

The simplest way to illustrate this is to consider his opening sentence:

The story of my childhood troubles began when the Protestant Reformers inadvertently adopted a form of Christian rationalism as a corrective for the (at least perceived) mystical vagaries, sensory superstitions, material corruptions, and aesthetic deceptions of the Roman Catholic church.

First, I’d drop the “inadvertently”: I think what they did was deliberate.  Beyond that, the best rejoinder to that comes from Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, and it bears repeating at this point:

This doctrine of Beza was taken from Calvin, who maintains, in express terms, “that Adam could not avoid falling, yet was nevertheless guilty, because he fell voluntarily;” which he undertakes to prove in his Institution, and reduces the whole of his doctrine to two principles: the first, that the will of God causes in all things, even in our wills, without excepting that of Adam, an inevitable necessity; the second, that this necessity is no excuse for sinners.  Hereby it is plain, he preserves free will in name only, even in the state of innocence and after this there is no room for disputing whether he makes God the author of sin, since besides his frequently drawing this consequence, it is but too evident, by the principles he lays down, that the will of God is the sole cause of that necessity imposed on all that sin.

Such a system of thought, far from being rigorous, is intellectually metastable, because its fundamental premises are contradictory.  It forces its adherents, as I pointed out, to “…spend half the time in their unbending insistence of their idea, and the rest of it back-pedaling from the fatalistic consequences of that idea.” One of those consequences is the lack of need in a purely predestination-driven world for the Christian mission, but if you put that in front of a Reformed person they will go postal, as I found out the hard way.

Assent to a well-defined set of propositions does not a Christian intellectual make nor does it make for real rationality.  And it doesn’t make for a Christian either; D. James Kennedy, in Evangelism Explosion, stated that intellectual assent wasn’t enough for eternal life.  Christianity is a total commitment, as Our Lord said it was.  To obsess with one–especially when our methodology is deficient–at the expense of the other does not do justice to the challenge put before us by the New Testament.

What we need, in a Dantean sense, is a way to God where human reason carries us so far and then hands us off to revelation.   For me reading Dante in high school turned into biography in the following years.  Finding a church home that allows for both isn’t easy these days.

As far as Mr. Minkoff struggling with being a psychopath, I’ll leave that to him to deal with and discuss.  It seems to me, however, that those drilled in Reformed theology are very likely to have a major cognitive dissonance moment, which may be a better explanation why some of his friends have bailed on Reformed theology.  But my contention that Reformed theology, for the aforementioned reasons, is the easiest road to universalism, has gotten me into trouble before, so I’d better shut up.


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