you are what you eat: john calvin, tony campolo and logical conclusions

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Friday, July 17th, 2009

you are what you eat: john calvin, tony campolo and logical conclusions

let’s begin with a cliché, shall we?
you are what you eat.
it’s cliché because it’s true. certainly we become what we consume. or, maybe more to the point, we are externally what we are internally.

it doesn’t take long in reading my blog or having ongoing theological conversations with me to find that tony campolo has greatly shaped the way i engage theology, scripture and others. the consumption of his words and thoughts have manifested themselves in my life—i am what i eat. i’ve referenced him many times before on this very blog (and will soon have another about him stemming from some audio i discovered).

today was no different. on his podcast, he offered his thoughts about john calvin on what would be his 500th birthday (which was last week). campolo had some very striking thoughts about calvinist theology that sparked many thoughts i’ve been having over the last several years. the most striking statement was a quote from erich fromm’s escape from freedom. fromm said,

nazism could not have risen in germany had it not been for calvinism and lutheranism.

wow. how ’bout them apples?

that’s a pretty strong statement that would certainly stir up a rousing debate. campolo and fromm, though, made a great point that i tend to agree with (though i don’t claim that all calvinists take it to this degree). the idea stems from the calvinist understanding of total depravity. in essence, if everyone who is apart from christ is totally wicked, unrighteous and depraved, then they are inherently a lower class than those who do have christ within them. why would we not, then, eradicate jews (especially, when you throw in the doctrine of unconditional election/predestination)?

whereas that’s a very, very strong statement (that i think is a very, very good point), even if you don’t take it to that extent, it does make you think about the issue of how one’s theologies affect the way he or she engages with others.

this is good time to pause and make a caveat to what i’m going to say. i get a little uncomfortable when people start aligning themselves with a singular “brand” of theology. “i’m a calvinist.” “i’m an arminian.” “i’m a wesleyan.” whatever. the reason i say that is i think—much like the issue in 1 corinthians 3—when we begin to define ourselves by one person’s set of theological dictums and not jesus, we’re really missing the point. with that said, when i talk about calvinism, specifically, i realize that the way the average modern day calvinist interprets/lives out specific theologies may not necessarily be the way john calvin intended or the extent to where he took it (i.e. total depravity, unconditional election, etc.). in other words, i’m speaking more to the average/actual application than to the strict definition of how calvin may have intended (although one could argue that the actual application is, in fact, what he intended).

let’s continue the total depravity line of thinking. what results when you view the people around you as completely void of good and able to have any altruistic motives? suspicion. disdain. objectification. snobbery. an us vs them mentality. a holier-than-thou mentality. and the implications could continue. i’m not saying these implications are necessarily inherent, but i’m just saying that those can certainly be consequences (and i think—as campolo and fromm suggest—those things have been historically apparent).

when we view people, instead, as “good”—as god called them—we place a higher value on people. other people aren’t the enemy, but friends. others aren’t to be quarantined, but lived with in unity. others aren’t unworthy of our relationships, but those whose time we value and honor. again, these implications could go on and on.

what does it mean if unconditional election (the idea that god has already chosen-before time-who would be saved and who would not be saved) is our predominant theological worldview? it means that sharing jesus with others has little consequence. it means that the way we engage others makes little difference. it might possibly lend itself to a “cheap grace.”

again, let mesay that i don’t fundamentally assume that calvinism takes these theologies to the presented extremes, but certainly, if you do take these things out to their logical conclusions, i think you end up with some unsettling outcomes.

the point i’m trying to make—by picking on our brother calvin—is that what we believe is directly relative to how we engage the world and others. so, what do you believe? how, then, does that compel you to see and engage the world?

because, of course, if we are what we eat, then we certainly are what we believe.