In what could be a growing movement away from Calvinism, Austin Fischer leads the way.
This is part of a series which I'm calling "Interesting Voices". You can see the whole series here. They run the spectrum from conservative to progressive, little known to well known. They may or may not already be familiar with mirror-reading. I may or may not agree with them theologically, but regardless, I think they are interesting voices speaking to the Christian community today. The purpose of the series is to both raise awareness of mirror-reading and to introduce you to these voices.
Austin is a Teaching Pastor at Vista Community Church in Belton/Temple, Texas and blogs over at Purple Theology. A cross between Matthew McConaughey and Owen Wilson, his southern charm makes him pretty much instantly likable. His book, "Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism", chronicles his journey and his reasons for leaving Calvinism. The title is also a play off of Collin Hansen's book "Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists".
Fischer vs Piper
Not surprisingly, John Piper is not too happy about it. John feels his and Jonathan Edward's views are misrepresented:
Austin then responds to Piper in a blog post in a "Dear John" open letter. He feels Piper misrepresents him. From the post:
I sat and watched the meticulous picture of God that Edwards and Piper painted. I loved so many of the strokes and colors. They finished painting, stepped back and said, “What a masterpiece! The manifold excellencies of the glory of God, displayed in the doctrines of grace.” I stepped back and said, “I really want to see that!…but I’m afraid I see a black hole instead.”
Austin offers a solid, simple and gracious response, although I wish he would have interacted with the Biblical text (by mirror-reading them, of course!) that John mentions.
A Cold And Morally Ambiguous God?
Jonathan Merritt interviewed Austin:
All doctrines of hell are difficult, but the Calvinist doctrine presented me with a God so (seemingly) cold and morally ambiguous that I despaired of how I could know and relate to such a God. If the God who could die for sinners could also create sinners in order to damn them, then the universe was an incoherent place ruled by an enigmatic deity of arbitrary, raw power. It is certainly within God’s rights to do such a thing, but if it’s within God’s heart then we’re all in big trouble. That was my conclusion at least.
Most Calvinists I know would say that it doesn't matter what Austin "feels" or "thinks", it's only what the Bible says that counts. That's not to say Austin doesn't have Biblical arguments, but I think most Calvinists would see Austin's foundational motivation to be moving in the direction of something like Josh Tongol's "love hermeneutic".
Be sure to check out this debate that Austin participates in with Brian Zahnd, Daniel Montgomery and Timothy P. Jones:
Austin also debates James White on "Unbelievable?". James is a formidable debater, and I would have no desire to debate him, but I think Austin holds his own.
Arminianism Waking Up?
Recently, Austin tweeted this:
I think it's interesting too, and I also think this is right on. From the article:
Calvinism and Arminianism waxes and wanes.
Arminianism is the default perspective of the Christian church.
When Calvinism waxes, it takes a while for Arminianism to respond.
In the mid 1980s, a Westminister Theological Journal lamented the waning of Calvinism. The article title played off the title of the folk song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Its title was “Where Have All the Tulips Gone?” At that time, it seemed that J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul were the only Calvinists around, and a few minor players.
In the mid 1990s we saw a resurgence of Calvinism. It has taken about 10 years for Arminians to wake up. It’s a pendulum swing, I think.
The success of Austin's book could be a reflection of an overdue Arminian response.
Austin Fischer And Mirror-Reading
I listened to two sermons by Austin. One on 1 John 4:1-2 and the other entitled "Jonah: Week 3". You can listen to them here.
1 John 4:1-2
Austin does do some mirror-reading when he recreates some of the original situation when he talks about "those who have gone out from us". He talks about how "Christ had come in the flesh", but mirror-reading would ask, why would someone say he didn't come in the flesh? Were there theological reasons for them to think that? Are there reasons hinted at elsewhere in the text?
Austin mentions that there are pages and pages of debate on what "in the flesh" means? I haven't seen them. I thought "in the flesh" simply meant that Christ came in human form, as opposed to spirit form. I won't elaborate here but you can read this post at my abandoned Ephesians website.
To be fair Austin does recognize "in the flesh" to be referring to the incarnation, but he also makes a comparison of our typical view of a 6'6" blue-eyed, barrel-chested Christ and the 5'3" middle easterner that He actually was, and then refers to the barrel-chested Christ view as being antichrist . However, even if you believe in the barrel-chested Christ view, you still could believe He came in the flesh and is therefore, not antichrist. To define antichrist the way Austin does really gets away from what antichrist meant to the original readers, because they certainly wouldn't have thought of him as a blue-eyed Christ.
Austin does a fine job summarizing Jonah and making points about how everyone is special to God, and how we should extend grace to others. However, he does not mirror-read Jonah. That's not surprising since most people don't mirror-read narratives, but I maintain that narratives can be mirror-read and Jonah is no exception.
Instead of asking why did Jonah do such and such, we should be asking why did the author of Jonah write such and such to the original readers. In other words, what was the situation that the author of Jonah was responding to, and how did the story of Jonah relate to it? Unfortunately, my own mirror-reading of Jonah crashed and burned, but the principle of mirror-reading still holds.
Questions For Austin Fischer
I’ve listed a couple of open questions to Austin below. I welcome a response from Austin, whether as a guest post, a response on his own blog or simply in the comments below.
1. What are your thoughts on mirror-reading?
2. Did you want to respond to anything that I've written above?
Questions For My Readers
What do you think of Austin? Do you side with Calvinism or Arminianism or something else? Who else do you think is an "interesting voice"?