Saturday, July 04, 2009

The pernicious error of theological academic intellectualism

In my recent interactions with the Neo-Amyraldians David Ponter and Tony Byrne, resulting in the publishing of a rebuttal to their position and one of their historical claims [based upon an article by John Bunyan], one thing which revealed itself in the meta of a blog post on David Ponter's site is the Intellectualism of the Neo-Amyraldians. While my paper and previous blog posts have focused on the unbiblical position and irrationalism in, as well as the faulty empiricism employed by, Ponter and Byrne, I would now like to focus on a much more pernicious error revealed in our interaction so far: the pernicious error of "theological academic" Intellectualism.

Intellecualism can be defined as "excessive emphasis on abstract or intellectual matters, esp. with a lack of proper consideration for emotions" [1]. In the matter of Christian life, intellectualism is therefore to be regarded as the over-emphasis on the intellectual aspect of doctrine over and against the spiritual aspect of doctrine, thus reducing the study of theology into primarily an exercise of knowledge acquisition rather than of spiritual growth. No doubt doctrine definitely includes knowledge, but the question here is not whether knowledge acquisition is necessary, but whether cognitive knowledge acquisition is the means or the ends of the theological enterprise.

The issue of Intellectualism rears its ugly head in the discussion of the status of "hyper-Calvinism"; whether it is heretical or not. Coming from a the position of the spiritual primacy of theology, I was shocked to discover that Ponter and Byrne deny that "hyper-Calvinism", however one gets to define it, is heretical. In my evangelical and charismatic circle of friends, the issue of anti-intellectualism (the opposite extreme) is something I need to deal with constantly. It is therefore assumed that knowledge, if it to be acquired, must be "practical" (however you wish to define the term "practical"). If there is no benefit whatsoever for acquiring knowledge, what is the use of doing so?

Hyper-Calvinism defined historically is the denial of the necessity of Evangelism and the necessity of people to repent and believe the Gospel. The broader re-definition of the term "hyper-Calvinism", as given by the Amyraldian-symphatizing Phil. R. Johnson, defines a hyper-Calvinist as one who:

  1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
  2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
  3. Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
  4. Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR
  5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect


Whichever definition or re-definition is used, a commonly agreed point between the historic definition and the Amyraldian-esque re-definition is that hyper-Calvinism includes the belief that Evangelism to all men are unnecessary, and that not all men are called to repent and believe in God and the Gospel. Is this serious heresy? Consider the following verses:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8-9)

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:9-17)

In Gal. 1:8-9, the Apostle Paul proclaimed an apostolic curse upon all who distort the Gospel. In Rom. 10:9-17, we see the importance of the Gospel message, because through it men can thus be saved. Rom. 10:14-16 also extol the virtue of evangelism, because it is the only method through which men are saved, and thus the messengers of the Gospel are said to have "beautiful feet". In all this, the sheer importance of the Gospel and its proclamation can be seen over and over again.

So is hyper-Calvinism serious heresy? Hyper-Calvinism alters the Gospel message by removing the necessity of men to repent and have faith in Christ. It obliterates the necessity of evangelism, with the probable exception of sincere seekers, and thus stands in opposition to the teaching of Rom. 10:14-16. Hyper-Calvinism is thus another "gospel", being placed under the apostolic ban (anathema) as being a Gospel which damns instead of saves.

Ponter and Byrne, in an unexpected shocking admission, state that they do not view hyper-Calvinism as heresy. In another admission by a commenter named Josh, the issue of "hyper-Calvinists" versus "moderate calvinists" (aka Neo-Amyraldians) is delegated to the status of a secondary doctrinal conflict on par with the differences between paedo-baptism and credo-baptism or differing view on the Millennium. Let us review this shocking admission by the Neo-Amyraldians: distortion of the Gospel message is not a big deal after all. Such issue are mere academic subjects of which disagreements are to be conducted cordially as like among academic peers.

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (1 Cor. 16:22 - ESV)

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be anathema. Maranatha! (1 Cor. 16:22)

One very important issue in the Christian life is the issue of loving God. Love for God is such an important fruit of salvation that the Scriptures themselves pronounce the most severe curse (anathema) on those who do not love God. The pronouncement of this apostolic ban is followed immediately by a phrase uttered in desire and anticipation of our Lord's coming (Maranatha). All of Christian living therefore is to be done upon a foundation of love for God, as the Great commandment reveals (Mt. 22:37). To therefore treat theology as a mere academic discipline without any spiritual usage or significance is a violation of the Great commandment, and therefore theological academic Intellectualism is a most pernicious sin.

To the extent that Ponter, Byrne and the other Neo-Amyraldians partake in such intellectualism, they are sinning against God. It is absolutely abhorrent that attacks upon the Gospel are treated so flippantly as merely academic differences. Such sin is detestable in the sight of God, as we are hereby warned:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (Rev. 2:1-7. Bold added)

It matters little even if you have all your theological ducks lined up well, if you do not do so out of love for God. Theology taken and studied merely at the intellectual level is sheer wickedness before God. Even if Ponter and Byrne or anyone else for that matter is correct theologically, God is still displeased because our theologizing is not in line with His Word. And God will judge! To those who treat theologizing as a mere academic pursuit, God has promised to remove their lampstand from their place, thus snuffing out their light and witness before men as judgment against them. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Almighty God (Heb. 10:31).

In conclusion, let us repudiate this pernicious error of Intellectualism. Scripture and doctrines are not given for us to have big brains, but to teach, correct, reproof and instruct us in righteousness! (2 Tim. 3:16). While we should reject the utilitarian approach of making only what is practical important, we should also reject the opposite approach of emphasizing the intellectual aspect of theology at the expanse of its spiritual and practical aspect. As I have said before, and will say again:

A theology without spiritual use or significance is absolutely worthless. I have no need for such a "theology" which seeks only to puff up my brain.

May God save us from such "theology". Amen.


[1] intellectualism. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: July 04, 2009).

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