AM I A CALVINIST??

NEW DISCLAIMER HERE – REPLACING THE ONE ALLUDING TO LENGTH. I HAVE MADE A COUPLE OF ALTERATIONS SINCE POSTING – ONE TO AMEND AN INACCURACY, ONE TO CORRECT AN OFFENSIVE SLIP OF THE ‘PEN’. SORRY FOR THE ORIGINAL OVERSIGHTS (sorry mum!)!

Well here’s my third attempt at answering the title question. The first two never made it onto the site. Never has a post waylaid me for so long or caused my brain to so ache. It has led to fascinating conversations with good Christian chaps (thank you Colin, Stu and Tom) and the odd argument along the way. And I think I have found some kind of resolution…

Why does any of this matter? Isn’t a Christian a Christian?? Well, sadly, we all know that’s not quite the case in these fallen times. A quick perusal of this the internet will quickly confirm that countless numbers of those labelling themselves as followers of Christ hold views barely comprehensible, or indeed palatable, to my church mates or I. And I’m quite sure others feel the same about us. So, if the church means anything; if we are to be anything more truthful and integral than another messy forum for human opinions and priorities; then we must attempt to get a handle on God’s truth. And truth must exist, for if God is OK with everything done or believed in His name then he is hypocritical bordering on schizophrenic. So, I will trust in the Bible because, without it, I have nothing to go on but the subjective experiences and accounts of flawed humankind. So, to put it another way, if the Bible is Calvinist (and Perkins, Driscoll, Piper, Carson etc etc would say it is) then so must I be.

Not that it’s easy. I was raised a Baptist – my dad a Methodist and my mum a High Church Anglican (AUTHOR’S NOTE: MY VERY CROSS MOTHER HAS DEMANDED AN APOLOGY, ASSURING ME SHE MOST CERTAINLY WASN’T ‘HIGH CHURCH’, AND THAT MY GRANDFATHER WOULD HAVE A FIT AT THE SUGGESTION. SORRY!!).  All of these would generally be seen as Arminian, ie not Calvinist. What’s the difference?? Well most of it lies in that old favourite – predestination. The Calvinist sees the God of the Bible as a God who controls all things, at all levels; who has chosen those who He saves and who ordains all things by His plans and purposes. Arminius on the other hand was insistent that, for our conversion and faith to be in any way genuine, or our sins to be deserving of punishment, they must each be our own decisions, borne of free will. Arminians thus teach that God’s ‘elect’ are simply those whom God, by His omniscience, knows will respond favourably by their free will to the offer of eternal life by the blood of Christ. They would point out that, in the famous passage from Romans 8, it is ‘those He foreknew’ whom He ‘predestined’.

It is more conceptually comfortable to humankind that way, to be sure. However, Calvinists would argue that the Bible is stronger than that – that God is far less passive than such a reading would imply. They point out that Jesus says that the ‘blessed of the Father’ shall inherit a kingdom prepared for them ‘since the beginning of the world’ (Matthew 25:34), and that Jesus ‘shall lose none of all that He (God) has given me’, but will ‘raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:39). Most convincingly, among many clear verses, is Ephesians 1:11, in which Paul writes that ‘we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will‘. It is hardly worth noting that, for even one person to be chosen, or for one biblical prophecy to be fulfilled, an imponderably vast number of strings must be pulled by God in order to make true to His plans. Would this ever include not ‘electing’ someone? Well, the Calvinist will always point out that He hardened the Pharoah’s heart – so bringing about pestilence and judgement on an epic scale – so that His people whom He loved may be freed to reach the land He had promised them. Judas Iscariot too was ‘lost’ ‘that the Scripture might be fulfilled’ (John 6:12) – it certainly wasn’t an accident, but was part of God’s good plan.

It would indeed then seem undeniable then God predestines and actively controls according to the Bible… yet Arminians are not just indulging in wishful or rebellious thinking. The Bible consistently does talk of an offer of salvation open to all. A Calvinist must make some interpretive leaps (AUTHORS NOTE: I HAVE CHANGED THIS FROM ‘LIBERTIES’, HAVING DECIDED IT IS VERY OFFENSIVE AND MISLEADING TO SUGGEST THAT CALVINISTS ‘TAKE LIBERTIES’ WITH SCRIPTURE. I OFFENDED MYSELF READING IT BACK!) with biblical text in viewing all universal language as referring, in fact, only to those God has elected. Paul certainly appears on this side of the argument also: In 1 Timothy 2 he writes of God our Saviour; ‘Who will have all men to be saved… who gave Himself as a ransom for all’. In Hebrews, Jesus tastes death, ‘for every man’. In John, of course, God so loved ‘the world’… not just a few within it. We know, of course, that justification is by faith; and Jesus was prone to congratulate people for the extent of their faith. The language is of a human choice well made, rather than of divine coercion. An Arminian might see the direct and undeniable intervention of God in the Pharoah’s heart as an exception worth recording – much as that made in the memorable case of Saul/Paul en route to Damascus – rather than as a rule. This is not after all a God unable to choose and deliver – but one who values submission made of free will – a free will allowed by a God who could easily withdraw it, and sometimes perhaps does. The Calvinist alleges that an Arminian is attempting to take some share of the credit for their salvation. However, and this thought is my own, is there really any credit to be found in the guilty allowing an innocent man to take their place in the electric chair?

So what do I think?? You can well see that I’m sympathetic towards elements of both sides of the dispute. Am I then merely a fence-sitter? Well no… at this point I’d like to allude to the story of the woman who poured her expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ head whilst he sat with his disciples, much to the disapproval of Judas (Mark 14). Why? Well, we see two clear and undeniable things going on – the plans of God and the plans of mankind. First, God is fulfilling His gigantic purposes – Jesus is being symbolically anointed for burial on the eve of his long-prophesied death. This is not a coincidence. People’s actions are played out entirely according to His vast and perfectly realised plan. I see the same in the unfolding of my own life according to his sovereign intention. I am exactly where God would have me at this point of my life. Second though, the woman is choosing to spend a year’s wages on showing her love for Christ. Jesus is mightily impressed, telling the group that ‘wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’. She has genuinely made a good decision worthy of praise and reward, just as did Noah or numerous others lauded in the Bible. Judas soon made a bad decision, worthy of great punishment, as did the Sodomites or numerous others condemned in the Bible. Both interpretations – that seeing here free will and that seeing divine dictation – are entirely valid, yet the explanation of how the two can co-exist is entirely and irrevocably beyond us. But then, as soon as we accept both, we cannot put God’s actions and our own on an even footing. He is the creator, we the creation, so His will clearly trumps and ordains ours. Thus, I am a Calvinist, but not a smug and triumphant one, nor one who supposes I have it all figured out. After all, we live in the realm of the woman who bought the perfume. We must make our decisions, and are accountable for them. The realm of God’s purposes is generally well beyond our scope – even beyond that of the angels, who simply rejoice when they see a sinner repent (Luke 15:10) – but it is nonetheless real and ultimately all important.

So I am perhaps a ‘conceptual Calvinist’, utterly convinced of God’s ultimate control; utterly sure that I was unable to save myself (‘Total Depravity’), that I did nothing to deserve my salvation (‘Unconditional Election’), that God has chosen not to save everyone (‘Limited Atonement’), and that God will, by His Spirit, convince and deliver all of those He has elected (‘Irresistible Grace’ & ‘Persistence of the Saints’). But I’m not sure I’m a practical Calvinist, as many implications of these ‘five points’ are practically beyond our knowledge and understanding in the here and now. To be a practical Calvinist is to risk grieving less for our sins – after all, they were ordained by God and no other outcome was possible; to strive less in evangelism – after all, God has already chosen his elect, regardless of who I decide to invite to church. Such fatalism is absolutely contrary to all biblical instruction and neglects the fact that, contrary to appearance, we have absolutely no idea who has ultimately been elected and who hasn’t. That’s why I believe the ‘Persistence of the Saints’, in particular, to be almost unhelpful to dwell on. After all, however Spirit-filled I may be, however strong my love for other Christians, however powerful my witness and however evident my growth in godliness… I could still lose my faith, deny Jesus and curse God, securing eternal punishment for myself in doing so. It has happened to better than me. Then the Calvinist sighs ‘well, he was never a Christian to begin with’. Conceptually it is true – God cannot ‘lose’ those he has elected for heaven. But it’s a pretty meaningless statement from our perspective – as far as any of us can possibly tell I am indeed a Christian! Satan is a roaring lion and it will take discipline and work to keep him and his lies at bay. We must work, and evangelise, and PRAY, as if it is all important. That is the world that we are ordained to live in, whatever mysteries we are assured lie beyond it. It is also the world we preach – telling people to repent and believe for salvation, not telling them that they’re helpless and dependent on the will and action of God’s Spirit outside of their control.

Furthermore, as Calvinists, we cannot answer every question and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. No human mind can truly get their head around the paradox that God, who controls all, creates all and ordains all in this world, then remains blameless for the rebellion, rape and murder done within it. Sometimes we really must accept that God created this outrageously beautiful world, that He gave His son that we might know Him, and that His character is thus such that we can trust Him even when we don’t understand. Plus, we must remember that we’re not saved by the strength of our doctrine, but by faith in Christ and repentance. There are many who truly love Christ, who shine as lights for Him in this world and who serve Him mightily, who nevertheless have never heard of Calvin nor lost a moment’s sleep over predestination. The intellectualisation of Christianity can be a distraction from the golden rules to actively love God and our neighbours. That’s not to say this was a waste of time – I want to know my doctrinal foundations are firm, biblical and bear scrutiny – but it’s Christ, not Calvin, who will save me.

Advertisements

5 comments so far

  1. tonydye on

    I live in joy while many of my brothers and sisters struggle with the issue of “Calvinism.” I am neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian theolog. I am a biblicist. I belive that Calvinism is too limited…so is Arminianism. I believe that the theological boxes created by man always fall short of who God is.I do not struggle with the theology of the Bible because I believe that God lead its authors, under inspiration, to write devotionally. The Bible is God’s love letter to us. It is not a theological treatise for the purpose of explaining God. God reveals His heart and person to us for the purpose of our redemption and a personal relationship with Him.

    While others are busy explaining and wrangling with the implications of their theology, I am delighting in my passion and pursuit of knowing Him!!! God bless….

  2. Michie DeBerry on

    You definitely make some interesting points, but I am a very big proponent of free will, or else how could Satan have sinned unless he had a free will? If humans did not have a free will, there would not have been a fall. The free will comes in to our soul, where we can yield to the Spirit or to the flesh. Can God change people’s hearts to accomplish His ultimate plan? Most definitely! “The kings heart is in the hand of the Lord, and as rivers of water he turneth them wheresoever he will.” So, with that being said, I’m an armeniest, or however you spell it. I’m not real big on all these big words, I’ve been saved for only a few months, but I do know what I believe, and it’s not predestination.
    The point you made about Judas and that the scripture could be complete: God, in his foreknowledge, knew that Judas would not truly be saved, even though he was conforming on the outside, and so prophesied about it to show his omniscience.

  3. andybeingachristian on

    Thank you both for commenting, and for your gracious manner in disagreement.

    Tony: I’m glad your walk with God is characterised by joy. I hope it doesn’t seem that I am lacking in joy myself. I certainly don’t think a quest for deeper biblical understanding detracts from joy. I see it as part of the fun – maybe I’m strange but I really love theological wrangle, it’s like History with a cosmic dimension! (And I’m a History teacher…) Moreover, I love the way God’s Word reveals ever more of itself upon each examination. Even so, you are right of course in pointing out that a passion for Christ is more important than a passion for Calvinism or any other doctrinal school. I hope I eventually made the same point above.

    Michie: It’s great news that you were converted a few months back. Congratulations on making a great decision! That fact is infinitely more important than any of my rambling above. You’ve got plenty of time to work out the complexities. For what it’s worth though, I genuinely am convinced that the Bible would seem to preach predestination, even if I can;t get my head around every implication. I am glad of it, ultimately. I’m not sure I have as much faith as you do in our souls to resist the lure of the flesh ourselves. Ephesians 2 is a good one to read – it states that God ‘made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace we have been saved’. There is a great sermon on the passage by a guy called Andrew Nicholls, to be found at http://www.christchurchbalham.org.uk/ccb/sermons.php?SrcBibleBk=&SrcBibleCh=&SrcMonth=&SrcYear=&Submit=Search&SrcCongregation=CCB&SrcSpeaker=4, pointing out the impossibility of the dead ultimately opting to bring themselves back to life.
    Anyway, thanks for reading – do visit again – and I mean it about being thrilled you’re saved!

  4. Tom Stanbury on

    http://theologica.blogspot.com/2009/02/i-think-my-wifes-calvinist.html

    I will make serious post but his too good not to add to Am I a Calvinist post??

  5. Tom Stanbury on

    Yes, I am a calvinist but my gut reacts to this term. I stand by my conclusion that a distortion of Calvinism has led to horrid social injustice. South Africa- Dutch reform church, Southern States of US- Southern Baptists, Northern Ireland- Protestants.
    For me these is far worse than the excesses of Pentecostals or wrong theology of arminianism, in fact Pentecostalism in the 20th century grew amongst the poor throughout the world.
    Can the same be said about 21st century Calvinism? It is an observation that requires explanation, the current growth in reformed theology is mostly amongst the educated, western, middle classes. With God and his spirit at work this will change and I pray it does in london.

    So much discussion about Calvinism just focuses upon predestination. The discussion is bigger and I think it is helpful to think about the incentives and penalties that come with the gospel. For example the bible is full of blessing and rewards, equally full of curses and warnings. They are there to motivate us, God is so kind in this respect. I need to hear the gospel because it pulls me back to him.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: