Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Calvinist Way of Thinking

Theology is an interesting subject. It can be studied, analyzed, debated, or even gulped down whole like a glass of cold milk. Many of us do the latter. Well, of course we do. We grow up with admirable people around us who spout off probable or improbable things and we swallow them whole not so much because of what those ideas are but because we trust the person spouting them off. As an example look at what it means to be a ‘conservative’ in American life. If you are conservative you believe in the sanctity of life and therefore you are against abortion. You believe in the Second Amendment and therefore you are against gun control. And you believe that Capital Punishment is an acceptable form of punishment within our criminal justice system. I defy any of you to have a conversation with any conservative and leave off one of these positions. If you do you will quickly be told that you are not a conservative at all and as we know good Christians are conservatives and therefore you are not a good Christian. Some of you are saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute that won’t happen!’ Yes, my friend it will. And if we set the glass of milk aside and look at these three completely disparate issues we will see that it is ridiculous to equate the three in any meaningful way. Sanctity of life is a biblical issue. God created us and we should respect that. Gun Control? Give me a verse of scripture on that. It may be a valid discussion to have within our society but it is not a moral issue biblically. If I am opposed to gun ownership in our society it does not make me a cursed liberal God-hater. If I believe that Capital Punishment is wrong that does not make me a tree hugging hippie. So, you get my point I hope. I have brought up three volatile issues that will surely have your head reeling by now and I am trying to show that we don’t have to believe all of them in order to be a biblically faithful Christian even though we have been told we must by good people.

This unhelpful ramble brings me to Calvinism. We have been told by some good men and women that all Calvinists hate missions and if we give any space to them in our Churches then missions will decline and we will fade away. That is of course, non-sense. There are now and always have been lots of God loving, Bible believing, missions focused Calvinists just as there have always been those who believe in man’s free will to choose who never ever share the gospel with anyone. That is a false argument that has kept many in fear for too long. The truth is that some of my superiors here on the mission field are Calvinists. They love Jesus and they love to tell others about Him. I believe that Calvinists within Southern Baptist life have reminded us of important doctrines like purity, God’s sovereignty, and God’s grace. I am not however, a Calvinist. I think that the doctrines of Calvinism fail to describe to us what God is like. I believe that good theology tells us what God is all about- Theology is supposed to mean ‘the study of God.’ So, with all that I have said under our collective belts I would like to lay out what I believe about Calvinism and therefore what I think God is really like.

Calvinism best describes itself as doctrines of grace. When they talk about Grace there is much we can agree on and much that I like about the way they say it. But Calvinism is usually described by their famous TULIP. I think that this is interesting because the TULIP does not describe everything that Calvin himself believed. I remember talking with my supervisor who is a Calvinist once and someone came and joined us. After we continued our conversation for a moment the newcomer said, ‘Hey, are you a Calvinist!’ He was clearly surprised to find a Calvinist as a top leader in our missions agency. Before our leader could reply I said, ‘Yes, he is. We would complain about his infant baptism if we weren’t afraid he would burn us at the stake!’ It was very funny but it was not true. Even though Calvin believed in infant baptism and did have just one enemy burned at the stake my friend believes in neither of these things and yet is a Calvinist in good standing. I don’t understand that I just accept it as reality and move on. So, we will stick with the TULIP which stands for the following:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Now, because this post is long enough as it is I will unpack each of these issues over the next couple of days. This subject touches on the Mission but as you can see it is a departure from my usual story telling agenda. I will return to story telling about what God is doing but I wanted to get my thoughts down about this important issue. I hope it is helpful for you as well as a good exercise for me.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see you're posting again!

faithful reader

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you are looking into this doctrine(Calvinism) with the intent of portraying it faithfully, even though you disagree. I commend you for that.

You are correct in that TULIP was brought in to best describe Calvinism after John Calvin was dead, and in response to those who developed an acronym to prove Calvinism wrong.

I do believe however, that John Calvin did believe the TULIP doctrine, this after having read a lot of John Calvin's works. I think however it is a point that has been argued, will continue to be argued, so much so that it cannot really be used as fact that John Calvin did not believe all that TULIP entails. In his commentary alone, that could be proven to be untrue. But it's been as debated as Spurgeon's eschatology beliefs or Dave Hunt's assertion that Spurgeon was not Calvinist. Yet, he was.

REv said...

I love your blog Strider, and your stories. I think people who agree or not about Calvinism can at least agree on one important matter. Calvinisim isn't a holistic theology... it misses some serious points. It doesn't tell the story of the good news and things like Man originally created in the image of God before total depravity, and Christ second coming and restoration off all things to name a few.

You can't really judge someone's understanding of the gospel, theology, and mission with a 400 year old 5 point question and answer.

Always reading.


P.S. im saying this as a Calvinist [[[insert grin]]]

Anonymous said...

Rev: I believe it tells all those things, and points to Christ alone.

As for 400 years, that's nothing compared to the age of the Bible. New doesn't necessarily mean true.

Rev said...

Hi Debbie,

I respectfully disagree. You cannot clearly judge someone's grasp of the gospel with 5 points. Sure it affirms some very important and essential things and points to the Christ alone. But..

For example, you can believe the 5 points and not believe in a literal Second Coming.

sooo... yeah.... its not good way to judge how well someone knows the gospel.

Im not saying its wrong. just that it is not holistic. Historically it was never meant to be holistic as it was a 5 point response to the 5 points of the Remonstrance.