Justin Taylor, Ardel Caneday, and the New (Gnostic) Calvinism

Gnosticism, according to Patheos, refers to "a philosophical and religious movement in the Greco-Roman world that claimed that the path to salvation is through secret knowledge." Gnostic tendencies among some professing believers began in the late first century but began to flourish in the second and third centuries. Gnosticism is often referred to as a Christian heresy. 

Again, according to Patheos, though "there is great diversity within gnostic theology, doctrine, and rituals, one common element is the claim that redemption occurs through access to esoteric knowledge that can only be acquired by divine revelation and passed on to initiates." Such gnostic devotees claim that God had not "opened the eyes" of all professing believers to the truths hidden in Christ, and until such an occurrence is experienced, no one can know such hidden, divine secrets.

In a recent post by neo-Calvinist Justin Taylor, we witness gnostic tendencies among adherents of the New Calvinism. Justin believes that he found in one passage of Scripture the concept of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He quotes three verses from Luke 24 in an effort to make his case: "but their eyes were kept from recognizing him"; "Then he said to them, 'Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!'"; "Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight." (Luke 24:16, 25, 31 NRSV) From Justin's view, God blinded the eyes of the two on the road to Emmaus (known as a divine passive); He holds them responsible for their blindness; and He "opens blind eyes" at His unconditional whim.

Rather than address the verses Justin references, I would rather turn our attention to a response by Calvinist scholar Ardel Caneday to commenter "Arminian" (not me) who challenged Justin's interpretations (found in the same comment thread). Because "Arminian" (and some others) interpreted the events of Luke 24 in a manner different from that of the Calvinistic position, Caneday responds: "May God, who opened the eyes of those two disciples of whom Luke tells us in Luke 24, open eyes to see and to understand what he did for those two disciples on that day. For to see is to believe." (link) Do not overlook Caneday's implication. Because "Arminian" and others do not agree with the Calvinistic interpretation of Luke 24, offering a challenge which Caneday obviously found problematic, he views God as having not yet "opened their eyes" to such divine "truths." When all else fails, some Calvinists resort to the unacceptable bitter banter "God has not yet opened your eyes to His truth."

I have encountered these words myself. I have been told by Calvinists that God has not yet opened my eyes to the "doctrines of grace." Such a comment is arrogant, gnostic, and presumptuous. Usually, the ones who inform me of my alleged blindness do not know me well at all. For instance, they do not know that I accepted Calvinism in 1998. They do not know that I actually joined a Presbyterian (PCA) church. They do not know that I relentlessly defended the "doctrines of grace," opposing anyone who contradicted them. If we take such a gnostic-like New Calvinistic approach, we would have to admit, then, that God "opened my eyes" to the "doctrines of grace" back in 1998, and by 2000, He closed them again. Since I later rejected Calvinism (by the year 2000), that is the only conclusion we can make, if we want to remain consistent with the New Calvinists.

Instead of resorting to patronizing other brothers and sisters in Christ -- who disagree with Calvinistic interpretations -- by suggesting that God has not yet "opened their eyes" to "see" His "truth" (i.e., Calvinism), why can Calvinists not just confess, "I disagree with your interpretation, and let me demonstrate my reasons"? Why must some of them be so presumptuous as to insinuate that God has, for whatever reason(s), kept them from knowing the alleged truth of Calvinism? Not only is such a conception rife with gnostic-like tendencies, but it also flirts with idolatry. When some Calvinists convince themselves that there is no possible way that they could be wrong about Calvinism, that is the point at which deception is most effective.

At that point, Calvinism turns from being one viable theological system among others to resembling cultish teaching. Calvinists have the right to disagree with Arminians over theological issues. But Calvinists do not reserve the right to suggest that anyone who contradicts their suppositions are "blind" to the so-called truth. That is ungodly, and the absolute height of theological arrogance. God has no more "opened the eyes" of Calvinists to the alleged truth of Calvinism than He has "blinded the eyes" of Arminians to the doctrines of limited, arbitrary grace. To read such implications from Justin Taylor or Ardel Caneday is utterly disappointing. We pray for Calvinists who employ such gnostic-like language to repent for the sake of truth and unity in Christ's body. Just tell us why you think we are wrong. You do not need to resort to implicating God for our alleged blindness to your alleged truth.

We must all -- Calvinists, Arminians, non-Calvinists, Wesleyans, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, et al. -- know why we believe what we believe while always being ready to admit that we could be wrong on non-essential issues. All believers in Christ are unqualitatively, absolutely accurate on such essentials of the Faith as the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ, Jesus' full humanity and divinity, His sacrificial death, burial and resurrection, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, etc.  

Other issues, such as how the Church should be governed, varying views of the end of this age, the sacraments, the ordo saultis, prevenient grace vs. irresistible grace, etc. -- views which do not affect one's salvation -- require reverent humility in the body of Christ. Humility will deliver us from presumption, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, gnostic tendencies, arrogance and idolatry.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.