Archive | Calvinism

“Calvinism is the Gospel” . . . and Other Stupid Statements

high_five_sunset There is quite a bit of celebration among us Calvinists about our particular beliefs about God’s sovereignty and our salvation. Well . . . maybe not at first. Most go through a pretty intense time of confusion and even despair as attempts are made to integrate so many non-intuitive doctrines that give us far more than a knee-jerk reaction. But as the unnatural becomes natural, the rejected becomes accepted, and the confusion becomes “selah,” a new attitude sets in. Normally, this attitude provides an ugly facelift that is about as unnatural to Christianity as what might have come before. An arrogance sets in and grabs a warm seat in the (mostly empty) bleachers of Calvinistic celebration. No longer is Calvinism this ugly aspect of Christianity that might have been the Achilles Heel of your faith, now it is central to everything you are. A celebration of Calvinism finds its place in your daily spiritual conversations. Some find themselves talking more about Calvinism than anything else. The spiritual stance of others soon becomes judged by one’s acceptance or rejection of the blessed five points. Why? Because what was anathema has now become central. “Calvinism is the Gospel” you will hear people say with great pride. As hard as it is for me to resist, I won’t be given anyone any high fives when this epiphany is called out.

Yes, I hear it all the time. In fact, I think I have said it a few times in the past. It just sounded profound to my newly formed reformed ears. But not only do I think this is an unfortunate saying, not only do I think it is off-putting and unnecessarily decisive, in the context it is usually said, it is truly wrong. Calvinism is not the Gospel. Don’t get me wrong. I did not say that I believe the particular doctrines of Reformed theology that Calvinism adheres to is unimportant. Nor did I say that I don’t care whether people accept it. I simply do not believe that a belief in the five points of Calvinism is either necessary to becoming a Christian or becoming a good Christian.

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The Resistibleness of Irresistible Grace

As a Calvinist, I don’t think grace is irresistible. Don’t get me wrong . . . I believe in all the “doctrines of Grace” that make one a certified Calvinist. All the doctrines presented by the ol’ TULIP acronym are fine and dandy. But the “I” for Irresistible Grace is unfortunate and creates more misconceptions than that memorable flower is worth.

Let me put it plainly: the saving grace that God gives to us is resistible . . . at least in theory.

Wait a minute. I suppose there is a context in which the word “irresistible” might work. Let me try:

I met my wife 19 years ago at a bar called the Dugout (She hates for me to tell this story . . . I, on the other hand, love it!). I was sitting at a table with all my buds when this new waitress walks up to take our order. Now, I was a regular at the Dugout. So much so, I think they still have a seat with my name on it. I knew all the waitresses (some better than I should have). But this night we had a new waitress who was working the bar. Once she caught my eye, it was over. I could not quit staring at her. It was like we were the only two people there. Now, of course, it was “drown night” and I had begun to go overboard with the five dollar all you can drink Milwaukee’s Best. But sober or intoxicated, I could not resist this gal. She was over-the-top, beyond all hopes, beyond all my dreams, and beyond any definition of beautiful I had ever known. She was perfect. I grabbed her as she walked by and the first words I said to her were “Before I get drunk, I want to tell you I love you.” Now, to tell you the truth, I was already drunk. But (thankfully) she was a bit naive. We ended up talking all night. It turned out that she loved Christ too. I was trying to get out of that lifestyle and she would be by my side over the next few years, as it happened. All of this is to say that Kristie was totally irresistible to me. I could not help but look at her. I could not help but love her. I could not help but think of her every moment. I could not help but grab her as she walked by. I could not help but ask her out. I could not help but marry her. And I cannot help but see her as irresistible today. Continue Reading →

What if My Children Are Not Elect?

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An email came into the Credo House today containing this question:

I’m wrestling with Calvin right now and as a parent I have hit a wall…What if my kids aren’t elect? The idea sickens me but it has to be possible. I have a hard time just shrugging that off and saying that it is to God’s glory.

What follows is my response for the sake of processing the topic for yourself:

Thanks for contacting the Credo House. I have 3 precious children and I am personally a Calvinist so please know that I’m not responding to you from a purely intellectual standpoint.

Taking a step back from this particular issue, I think we would all agree with the popular saying that, “God has no grandchildren.” God only has children. No one gets into heaven because they were related to people who were Christians. Even the most ardent Calvinist and the most ardent Arminian would agree that each individual must come to Jesus on their own. So there cannot be any absolute guarantee that all children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, etc… of all Christians will go to heaven. If this were true then the entire world would probably be a Christian. The Bible is full of statements where every person must consciously believe in Jesus to have eternal life (John 3:16).

If someone tries to defend the “all children of Christians go to heaven” position there aren’t too many verses along these lines. One verse they could point to is the Proverb of training up a child and they won’t depart. This verse, however, needs to be kept in the Genre of Proverbs. Proverbs are statements to make us wise. Proverbs are generally true but shouldn’t be considered an absolute certainty.

For example, if I put 20% of my paycheck in savings and I’m careful to spend less than I make it is wise to think that I should be financially stable. It is a generally true statement. My car could break down, my house could flood in a way that insurance refuses to pay and I could have someone steal my identity and ruin my credit scores. The Proverb is still true. Although I perfectly followed the accurate Proverb, I can still be in financial shambles. So pointing to a proverb as a magical formula is violating the rules for interpreting the Genre. The Bible is made up of many Genres. Poetry is interpreted very differently from narrative (i.e., a woman’s neck being a mighty tower). We have to keep Proverbs inside it’s Genre.

Getting back to the issue at hand, how does a Calvinist cope with kids who might not love Jesus? First, I pray for them until I am blue in the face. Or at least that is my desire. I pray they would come to love Jesus as authentically and passionately as my wife and I do. My wife started praying for the salvation of our kids before they were even a twinkle in her eye.

For instance, when pastor Matt Chandler thought he was dying from a cancerous brain tumor, he realized the greatest thing he could do for his infant daughter is to devote the remaining energy he has to praying for her salvation and her future walk with Jesus.

Secondly, my wife and I are always trying to tell our kids about Jesus and hopefully build in them an authentic love for and desire for Jesus. Although Calvinists believe that no one comes to the Father unless they are drawn, Calvinists never know who those people are. Calvinists don’t have a copy of the book of Life. As Spurgeon said we pray knowing it depends fully on God, but we share as if it depends fully on us.
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Twelve Myths About Arminianism

1. Arminians don’t believe in the sovereignty of God.

Arminians believe very much in the sovereignty of God. To say that God gives people freedom does not necessarily mean that God relinquishes his authority over mankind. To be sovereign does not mean that one always has to be in meticulous control over everything that happens. God, for the Arminian, could shape all human events according to his will, he just chooses not to. This is still sovereignty.

2. Arminians believe that Christians could lose their salvation if they commit a really bad sin.

This is not true. Mainstream Arminianism has traditionally taught that the only way one can forfeit their salvation is through a permanent loss of faith. All sins, no matter how bad, are covered by the cross of Christ. Roman Catholicism is the only mainstream tradition that teaches that really bad sins (“mortal sins”) can cause one to lose their status in heaven.

3. Arminianism is Pelagianism

This is one of the most widely taught misrepresentations, primarily among Calvinists. Pelagianism is the belief that man is born morally neutral. As well, Pelagianism teaches that man’s will is neutral from birth. Therefore, according to Pelagianism, man does not need the grace of God to live according to his will. Arminianism, on the other hand, believes that man is completely dependent upon God’s grace in order to be saved.

4. Arminianism is Semi-Pelagianism

Unlike Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism is the belief that man is born in a state of moral brokenness but, in his natural state, is still able to call upon God for aid. Arminianism, on the other hand (and like Calvinism), does not believe that man can do any good whatsoever outside of God’s intervention. Man, in his natural state, is at enmity with God. It is only the prevenient grace of God that gives man the ability to call on Him for mercy.

Arminians believe in the doctrine of total depravity to the same degree that Calvinists do.

5. Arminians follow a man, Jacob Arminius.

Arminianism represents a system of theology that has roots all the way back to the early church. In fact, it could be easily argued that the earliest Christians after the Apostles were more Arminian than Calvinistic. The designation “Arminianism” is named after Jacob Arminius. Arminius was a Protestant leader who rejected many of the beliefs of the Calvinists of his day, offering an alternative to the prevailing Reformed thought. Continue Reading →

Twelve Myths About Calvinism

1. Calvinism is not a system of theology that denies God’s universal love.

While there are some Calvinists who do deny God’s universal love for all men, this is certainly not a necessary or a central tenet of Calvinism. Calvinists do, however, believe that God has a particular type of love for the elect (an “electing love”), but most also believe that God loves all people (John 3:16). It is a mystery to Calvinists as to why he does not elect everyone. (More on this here.)

2. Calvinism is not a belief that God creates people in order to send them to hell.

Again, this is not representative of normative Calvinism. While supralapsarians do believe that God creates people to send them to hell, the majority of Calvinists are not supralapsarians. (More on this here.)

3. Calvinism is not a belief that God is the author of evil.

Because of Calvinism’s high view of God’s sovereignty, many mistakenly believe that Calvinists hold God responsible for sin and evil. This is not true. There are very few Calvinists who believe that God is the author of evil. Most Calvinists believe that to ascribe responsibility for evil to God is unorthodox.

As John Calvin put it:

“. . . the Lord had declared that ‘everything that he had made . . . was exceedingly good’ [Gen. 1:31]. Whence, then comes this wickedness to man, that he should fall away from his God? Lest we should think it comes from creation, God had put His stamp of approval on what had come forth from himself. By his own evil intention, then, man corrupted the pure nature he had received from the Lord; and by his fall drew all his posterity with him into destruction. Accordingly, we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity-which is closer to us-rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination. [Institutes, 3:23:8]”

4. Calvinism is not a belief in fatalism.

A fatalistic worldview is one in which all things are left to fate, chance, and a series of causes and effects that has no intelligent guide or ultimate cause. Calvinism believes that God (not fate) is in control, though Calvinists differ about how meticulous this control is.

5. Calvinism is not a denial of freedom.

Calvinists do not believe that people are robots or puppets on strings. Calvinists believe in freedom and, properly defined, free will. While Calvinists believe that God is ultimately in control of everything, most are compatibilists, believing that he works in and with human freedom (limited though it may be). Calvinists believe in human responsibility at the same time that they hold a high view of God’s providential sovereignty. (More on this here.) Continue Reading →

Fourteen Characteristics of Theological Legalism

Without question, one of the most disturbing trends in the world of theology is that, far too often, grace is eclipsed by theological legalism.

Twice today I encountered this in its most blatant forms by two very different types of people. Both were very passionate about theology and both, undoubtedly, believe that their attitude toward me or my teaching is justified and honoring to the Lord. However, I believe both of these men sacrificed the major issue – grace – in defense of minor issues in theology.

The first, whose name I will not share as he is undoubtedly well-known to most of you, caught me very much off guard (and it is not really easy to catch me off guard, as I receive dozens of “hate” emails every day from those who believe it is their job to put me back on the path of theological correctness). This man, a significant figure in the world of reformation theology, does not believe I take theology seriously enough. Of course, his reasons come (I imagine) from the fact that I don’t agree with him. And obviously, if I took theology seriously, I would agree with him! Ironically, this lack of grace often comes from those who believe most strongly in the reformed “doctrines of grace.” But this man sent me one of the most ungracious emails I have ever received. And, yes, it did hurt my feelings. But more than that, sensing that this man’s criticism of me comes from his general disdain for the “heresy” of Evangelical Calvinism – it discouraged me that someone who believes he is so right theologically could be so graceless personally.

The second came from a Fundamentalist who was quite disturbed that I would suggest that Catholics could be saved. To be fair, I remember in the mid-nineties when Billy Graham suggested the same on national television. I was so angry and confused. I could not believe that Billy Graham would be so theologically inept as to make such a suggestion. In order for me to retain the belief that Billy Graham was saved, I had to convince myself that he had just gone senile in his old age. But this came from someone who has been a believer for quite some time and is a leader in his local church. This one statement (“Catholics can be saved”) has served to disqualify me and all of my teachings. To him, I will forever be one of the many who has compromised my faith for the glory of acceptance among men. Continue Reading →

Doubting Calvinists

No, I did not say “Doubting Calvinism.” Although I am a master of typos, this blog is about something different. First, every reader needs to know that I am a Calvinist. And while the “doctrines of grace” are not the most important issues in theology, I believe in them very deeply and find that they constitute a significant portion of my hope and comfort.

Why all this snuggling up to Calvinism? Because I don’t want to look like one of those disgruntled emerging types, continually complaining about his own family. Having said that, I am going to discuss a “problem” I often (certainly not always) see among my Calvinist brothers and sisters. I am going to state the issue and then attempt to provide a timid yet substantial interpretation of the problem.

Okay, enough of the prologue. Let me get to it.

I grew up a Baptist. As such, I was quite aware of the “Baptist way” of evangelism. First, you get the person saved. Next, you make sure they know that they can never lose their salvation. Assurance of salvation was not some tertiary or auxiliary doctrine. It was something the new believer in Christ must have, now. To be fair, this is not simply a Baptist thing. It is something that can be found in the DNA of pop Evangelicalism as well. And it makes some sense. If a new believer knows that he is secure in Christ, his works and service to the Lord will come because he is saved, not so that he can be saved. This secures his belief and understanding in justification by faith alone.

Assurance of salvation. I suppose this is the subject of this post. The question is Can one be absolutely sure that they are a believer and how important is this assurance in their walk with the Lord? Many Christians don’t believe an individual can be assured of their ultimate salvation. Many believe one can lose their salvation. Catholics believe that “mortal sins” (really nasty sins such as adultery,  rejection of the perpetual virginity of Mary, or missing Mass without a valid excuse) can cause a Cathlic to lose their salvation. Arminians and Wesleyans believe one can cease to believe, thereby forfeiting their seat in heaven. Therefore, from the perspective of those who don’t believe salvation can be lost, these belief systems cannot offer any assurance. The criticism would be that no one could ever be sure, until death, whether or not they are saved. After all, what if I decided to sleep in on Sunday and then immediately died of a heart attack without repenting? How do I know for sure if my faith is going to last until the end? For Catholics, the fact that one cannot be assured of their salvation is dogmatized.

If any one saith, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; let him be anathema.

Council of Trent, Canon XV of the Decree on Justification

If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end, unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.

Council of Trent, Canon XVI of the Decree on Justification

Ironically, for the Catholic, to believe that one can be assured of their salvation would be the means by which they lose their salvation! Continue Reading →

How Calvinists Should NOT Respond to Newtown

One of my first girlfriends died when she was twenty-one. She was gunned down on her neighborhood street while in her car. The killer was never caught. There was never any motive discovered. She was just found dead, on the side of the road, with seven bullet holes in her chest. I attended her funeral, where the pastor gave the dreaded sermon. How can one respond to such a tragedy? The three worst funerals I have ever conducted were those of a stillborn baby (the memory of the casket will never leave me), a father who died in a house fire in the middle of the night as he tried to rescue his son, and my sister, who committed suicide on January 4, 2004. I know what the pastor was going through when he attempted to find words. He wanted to defend God. The primary question was evident: “How could God have allowed this to happen?” So he believed he had to provide some sort of answer. Although I don’t remember much of what he said, there was one phrase that he repeated with great resolve: “This was not God’s will.” Over and over he said, “This was not God’s will.” This was before I even knew the words “Calvinist” or “sovereignty.” All I knew as I left that place was that I was less comforted and more fearful than when I came. His defense of God made God, in my eyes, a cheerleader in heaven whose willful hand is present when good things happen, but strangely absent when evil comes our way.

For me, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is not some far-off academic discipline, revived in my mind by arguments – black ink on paper – in some book I read long ago. It is much more endearing. So much so that I often wonder if I grip it so tightly that it may cause me to be unbalanced.

Never is the sovereignty of God so close as when tragedy enters my life. Because of the pain that follows these tragedies, I often find myself on my knees praying that God is sovereign. “Lord, please don’t let this be some random act in which your hand was not intimately involved. Please don’t be playing a game of chess with evil. Let things be more meaningful. And don’t – please don’t – be nothing more than a cheerleader in Heaven who lowers your pom-poms when pain and suffering strike their dreaded blows. Let your hand be behind it lest I die. Let your shaping hand guide all things.”

Having said that, let me give three points of advice to my fellow Calvinists about handling the tragedy in Newtown. Continue Reading →