I have been called many things in my life! Sometimes those names have been honest errors in saying my real name. But more often than not, the names I have been called have been meant to be derogatory in nature. One name with such meaning I have been called is “fundamentalist” – and while some might consider that an insult, I take it in a rather positive way – because that would imply that the one calling me that term sees me as someone who sticks to his Bible and is unmoving. I think that is a good place to be!
But I have been called another term that is also (when coming from some) meant as a very negative term. This word will mean little to most people, but it carries a train-full of connotation for many others, particularly in my own associational work. That term is
I have no plans of launching into a full-blown theology lesson on the meaning of the term. I do want to touch on a few aspects though, that the reader of this blog might at least be able to understand the reason this term could be taken as an insult.
“Calvinism” is based on the teachings of the forefather of what we know today as Presbyterianism. John Calvin was a preacher and minister of the Reformation in the 16th Century. He was a somewhat controversial figure of his time, and likely even more so today! When you hear the term “Reformed” or “Reformed Theology” today, it is an implication that someone or a church holds to a greater or lesser extent to the theology espoused by John Calvin. One might even hear the theology explained by means of the acronym “TULIP”. What many who casually throw these terms around actually have a view that is far more extreme than Calvin himself espoused, this is still the easiest means to grasping what his theological system consists of:
Total Depravity of Man – the view that mankind is sinful by nature. Another term used would be “Total Inability”, meaning a man cannot redeem himself – because of the corruption of sin.
Unconditional Election – the view that god does not base his election on anything He sees in an individual, without any consideration of merit.
Limited Atonement – Jesus died for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not “efficacious” for all.
Irresistible Grace – When God calls his elect to salvation, they cannot resist.
Perseverance of the Saints – You cannot lose your salvation. Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those who are truly saved are eternally secure.
I remember a series of articles in the Independent Baptist publication Sword of the Lord that decried all things pertaining to “Calvinism” and “TULIP” as evil and a abomination, yet as the writer took each of the “petals” of TULIP, he ended up defending several of the points! Indeed, most conservative Baptists believe in at least two of these “points of Calvinism”, and many (whether they admit it or not) actually believe 3 or even 4 points!
I believe that the debate regarding Calvinism (or Reformed Theology), particularly among Baptists today, is more of a distraction than a genuine issue worthy of the volumes written, conferences held, arguments and debates engaged, and damage done. And I believe that the pain and trouble is more the result of perception and misunderstandings (because of the limits of the human mind, or simply out of preconceived ideas and taught hate), than genuine differences of opinion.
I will say this – I have found myself very interested in this subject for quite some time. The more I have read, study God’s Word, pray about it, and discuss it, the more interested I have become. Systematic Theology was one of my favorite seminary classes, in no small part, due to the subject of at atonement/salvation and how it comes about. I have found myself vacillating in my heart, trying to reconcile the concept of God’s total and perfect sovereignty, with the picture of mankind’s free will as pictured in the Bible. Then, some time ago, the Lord gave me an incredible peace. In fact, I have referred to this “place” in my life, this calm and comfort on this subject as “my peaceful place”.
I believe the first, and likely biggest, obstacle to that “peaceful place” for most is that we try to view everything from a human point of view. Lest we forget, the Bible was given by God, through men. God gave us all we need to understand what we need to understand (need to know basis). The Bible is sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So within God’s Word, we can find all the answers we need to any theological question we might have a need an answer to.
God is Sovereign. I have found very few professing Christians who would argue that. God is in control NOTHING happens, good or bad, outside of God’s divine and sovereign will. Nothing. Even the fall in the Garden of Eden happened as a part of God’s Will. That in no way makes God the author of Sin or evil. It simply means that, within the perfect plan of God, this had to happen that ultimately God would be glorified. The garden event proved that God is not just a great puppetmaster. But how does this play into the “Calvinist” moniker?
It all goes back to God’s point of view. God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and so much more. He is not restrained by place or time – and thus yesterday, today, tomorrow, the 6 days of Creation, and the end of this earth – and indeed all of eternity, is “present tense” for God. We cannot really grasp the infinite with our finite minds. But this is a necessary starting point.
Then we bring in the “TULIP” and begin to dissect them, from the viewpoint of God who is beyond time and place, and who is sovereign:
Total Depravity – which does not mean people are incapable of good acts/deeds. It simply means we are incapable of pleasing God. Humanity, even the most vile, still was made in the image of God – and because of that, we can “do good”. But we are, from birth, incapable of redeeming ourselves before the eyes of a perfect and sinless God. God said “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God is perfect, therefore He has every right to demand perfection. The amazing thing is – while we are incapable of being perfect, He provided the means to be counted as righteous, through His Son Jesus Christ! This point is the least disagreeable to most Baptists and biblical Christians/evangelicals in general. There is no salvation without Jesus Christ!
Unconditional Election – another point that, when viewed from God’s perspective, is hard to argue with. Romans 9:11 points out God’s election in the line of Abraham to continue His plan – electing them for the purpose before their birth. Romans 9:15 is the most direct statement of all regarding God’s election of people.
On the flip-side of this point is a concept called “double-predestination”. This was not something contrived by John Calvin, but by some who followed his theology to an extreme (most often referred to as “Hyper-Calvinists” or “Super-Calvinists” who take God’s election to the extreme to say that God specifically creates people both to be saved, and to be condemned. Unfortunately, this is a stretch (at best) of scripture, and at worst – is putting words in God’s mouth. Yes, God “elects”/predestines – not based on any merit He sees, but according to His will. But scripture also says that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
The question then begs – how can one reconcile God doing all the choosing, with what the Bible also depicts as mankind being held accountable for his decisions? How can the Bible, which clearly shows freedom of will (God ALLOWED Adam to fall – Adam CHOSE sin and rebellion, God didn’t force him, or even tempt him – though God did use the fall)? This is likely one of the factors that I have had to search for “peace” on the most. But again, I also fully trust that the Bible is 100% reliable -the very Word of God. If the Bible describes both human responsibility and free will, as well as God’s total sovereignty (ponder and pray about John 6:44 – that clearly says no-one can come to Jesus unless the Father calls them), then I just have to believe that God works His perfect will, using man’s freedom to choose, just as He used Adam’s sin and fall to His will. Another way of looking at it – I have yet to find anyone from any educational level who can explain how Jesus Christ could be fully God and Fully man, yet that is what the New Testament describes. This is a fact (known as the hypostatic union). We just have to have faith that it is so.
God chooses us. Why? We cannot guess. Yes, He knew us before the foundation of the world. And He orders the paths of our lives to bring us to the point of His will, knowing how we will “decide” in each case.
Limited Atonement – which is likely the most controversial of all the “5 points of Calvinism”, again is not so complicated in my mind (though I have some strong differences of opinions with Calvinists). Staunch Calvinists would say “Jesus died for the elect only”, and would mean that at face value. They dismiss the biblical terms such as “for the sins of the world” or “taking on the sins of the world”. While they would be accurate in using context and language to defend that these really meant “from all nations”, I believe this is too narrow (even if in the final product, it might very well be the result). Jesus death is sufficient to redeem each and every soul that comes to saving faith. Period. His love is sufficient. Were every human being from all time come to saving faith, Jesus’ blood would have been sufficient. Likewise, if only one soul every came to salvation, His blood would still have been exactly right. Because of God’s foreknowledge and election, Jesus’ shed blood covers all who would believe. Scripture just as clearly says that many will never believe and will be sentenced to everlasting destruction and torment in Hell and the Lake of Fire. Jesus Blood did not redeem them (though it most certainly would have been sufficient had they trusted).
Indeed – many say that this point, Limited Atonement”, is an obstacle to an evangelism – like selling property you don’t have right to sell. I counter that with – we do not know who will and who will not be born-again. We just have the command to GO! And if we have the heart of Christ, we too will seek to warn all, sharing what Christ did to make salvation available. It is up to the Holy Spirit to convict and change their heart. I do not have the right to withhold the Gospel form anyone!
Irresistible Grace – I will admit, my view on this point is based as much or more on my own personal experience than on any other source (including the Bible). Some verses that help to paint a picture of this point would include Philippians 2:12-13, Romans 9:16, John 6:28-29, Acts 13:48, John 1:12-13. But while these passages are somewhat convincing, long before I ever read them in context of salvation, I grasped this concept. In my own testimony – that very moment on that February afternoon, when all at once, I was absolutely filled with the knowledge that I was lost. I knew without a doubt that I was guilty – regardless of how much I had hoped the divine scales of righteousness would tip in my favor – I knew that, were I to die – I would spend eternity in Hell separated from God. But the conviction didn’t end there. While I can look back through the lens of my salvation at previous times I had experienced conviction, this one time – I didn’t have a “yes or no” question before my. I could only see one option – and that was to completely trust Jesus, begging Him to forgive me, and to help me turn from sin in my life (repentance). I honestly (and it is still so incredibly vivid today) could see no other option than “YES LORD!” I had no choice. Yes, some would argue that I still could have said no. But I really could not even fathom in that moment anything but crying to to Jesus!
But ultimately, the fact remains – regardless of one’s position on any of these points – God knows who will and who will not be saved. Regardless of your view on how God elects or on what he “predestinates”, without a doubt, all who will be saved, will be saved! How God brings that about is His business, but I know that He has chosen the “folly (or foolishness) of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
And finally – we come to the last “point” of Calvinism – Perseverance of the Saints. This is another of those seemingly clear realities of scripture. John 10:27-28 is among my favorite passages in the Bible, where Jesus clearly said not only that His sheep hear His voice, but that no one will snatch them out of His hand! No-one! Philippians 1:6 says that it is God who has begun and WILL complete that “good work” in us. Fundamentally – you cannot lose something you never had in the first place. Unfortunately, over the last century+, we have seen a massive flow of “decisions” that were little more than emotional response to emotional questions. There were no outward signs, no genuine repentance, and no live change. Scripture says that all of these are evidences of salvation. But even then, we can manually bring temporary change in our lives that can be false signs. But the genuine, born-again believer has the Holy Spirit as a permanent resident in our hearts. We may grieve Him at times, and there is “sin unto death” that can result in God removing us before we do further harm. But clearly, the Bible says we cannot lose salvation.
So – am I a “Calvinist”? No. I am a Christian. I am not like the Corinthians who Paul admonished for identifying with the preacher instead of with Christ. But lets be honest. I believe that God is sovereign, and in His will and plan, He elects, he directs our paths, He does the saving (I am completely unable to save myself), He does the keeping (in the palm of Christ’s hand), He convicted me by His Spirit in a way that gave me no other alternative than to trust Him. And I firmly believe that Christ’s payment on the Cross of Calvary was sufficient for any and all who have, do, and will believe on Him for eternal life. We are all held accountable for what we do with Jesus. And somehow, in God’s perfect and sovereign will, He saved me, and I believe He will save you too if you will listen to His voice (remember what Jesus said!).
Anything beyond that – particularly the “HOW” – I am not God and I cannot begin to fully grasp.
I may be accused of trying to “ride the fence”. I don’t see it that way. I firmly believe the illustration that one of my seminary professors used in discussing theology – He described theology is a pendulum. It swings form extreme to the opposite extreme. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and just maybe God is the only one who fully grasps the big picture. I just know in whom I have trusted. And the desire of my heart is to tell others of Jesus’ saving work on the cross. Jesus said “repent and believe the Gospel”. That is the message we are to proclaim to all. And let God save who He will save.
One thought on “You CALVINIST!”
Good balanced approach brother.