Showing posts with label Calvinism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Calvinism. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Calvinist Confessions, 3

I am a Calvinist. And I am a Pharisee. Apparently, there are others like me.

As a "Calvinist," I treasure the Bible's truths about the glory of God and Christ; the good, wise and sovereign rule of God in all things; the efficacy of God's electing grace and Jesus' definite atonement; the hope that comes from God's preservation and the call to perseverance; the present and coming-more-fully kingdom of Christ where righteousness reigns; and the promised share of His glory we'll experience in the consummation. I treasure these things, as I know a lot of people do.

But I'm also a Pharisee. I tend toward a kind of care for detail and precision, toward "getting things right," that undermines catholicity and charity (see here). As a Pharisee, I also find myself suspicious of a lot of things, including joy (see here). Tight and sober. Suspicious and narrow. Pharisee.

Most of my Calvinist friends maintain that of all Christians Calvinists should be the most joyful and the most humble. We should be. We're not. I'm not. Let me not project.

Merely analyzing the truth doesn't make us humble. Neither does merely being suspicious make us safe with the truth. Pharisees think analyzing and suspecting are enough. And so, in time, the Pharisee's life becomes almost entirely negative. It's negative in attitude. But it's negative also because it's negating; it's a "contra-" life, a life a being against things.

But we have to defend against error. We have to guard the truth. We must protect the gospel. I know. I know. Pharisee.

There's something else that makes me a Pharisee. It underlies most of the other things that turn celebrants of Truth into gnat-straining Pharisees. Here's the third reason I'm a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, another reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee in the Calvinist... is afraid. Fear loiters in his heart and mind like a senior feeding pigeons in Central Park.

The Pharisee lives with a chronic fear. That's why the Reformed types are so often the 'chicken littles' of the Christian world--running everywhere, writing everywhere, screaming everywhere, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" And even when we're not as manic as that, we're quietly, respectfully afraid. Just like the Pharisees of old.

We're afraid someone will take our place--the "others" who don't believe this, who don't practice that, or worse, who do practice that! Not them! We're afraid the church will be weakened and corrupted, that tares will grow up with the wheat. We're afraid our own hollow spiritual lives will be discovered. We're afraid our children won't be believers or won't do well in school (and we're more afraid of the latter than the former). We're afraid the culture is going to get worse and overrun the church. We're afraid of men's faces.

Fear, fear, fear. Everywhere there is fear.

But didn't Jesus say the wheat and tare would grow together? Didn't He say the love of many would grow cold? Didn't the Savior say there would be wolves and false Christs and deceivers? Of course He did. But the Pharisee says in his heart, "Yes, Lord. Of course, you're right. I believe that. Let me just remove this one little tare or patch of tares over here." The Pharisee is not only afraid, he's also blind. I can't tell the wheat from the tares; the Lord's angels will one day stick the sickle in the harvest to reap. But I don't remember that because we're afraid.

Then the Pharisee speaks: "But what if that takes too long? What if bad things happen in the meantime? What if... what if... what if...." Pharisee.

Pick an issue. My first response is fear, not faith. I don't call it "fear"; I call it "concern." That's more respectable. And who is respectable if not the Pharisee. And even when I do call it "fear," I pretend I mean something other than being afraid. Gotta keep my head up; I'm a Pharisee.

And this is why Pharisaical tendencies make us such bad Calvinists (by which I mean Christians, though not as if Calvinists are the only Christians). The scared little Pharisee in me is a practical atheist. He acts as though the truth I know about God really isn't at work. And it's a nasty little cycle. My fear that God won't act--at least how I want Him to act--causes me to act in my own wisdom or strength. Which then makes me afraid all the more. And so it goes until I'm wrapped and squeezed by an Anaconda of fear. The Pharisee.

Before I was a Calvinist, I suppose you could call me a semi-Pelagian, Arminian, dispensationalist. I suppose. I didn't have the labels then, but that's a fair sense of how I thought and acted. Not everyone wearing those labels thought this way, but I acted as though everything depended on me. My action in the world was the determining factor--whether that meant I had to be especially insightful and convincing in something like evangelism or Johnny wouldn't "get saved," or whether I had to "keep myself saved" in some way. My theology was bad. And my chief fear then was, what if I fail.

Then I discovered this mighty God on whom the governance of the universe rests. He was pleased to use means--human and otherwise--but He was the One ruling and guaranteeing the success of His will. How liberating that was! So I was freed from the fears associated with my performance.

But I wasn't freed from being a Pharisee. I just chose other fears. Excuse me, other "concerns." The kind of concerns that keep me employed as a Pharisee for as long as I would like, because, let's face it, there's no shortage of things to be "concerned" about. I can point out problems everywhere. I'm a Pharisee.


But the problem with Pharisees is they feel their fear and they fail to do anything constructive.

So I am "concerned" and not serving. I am afraid and not loving. I am "aghast" rather than empathetic. I am "hesitant" rather than enthusiastic. I am "alarmed" rather than steadfast. I'm an expert in fear and its synonyms. I can think of seventeen synonyms right now.

But how many synonyms for "grace" or "trust" can I count? Pharisee. How many can you count?

I am a Pharisee. Hear me roar--in fear.

In the end, the Pharisee is a silly man, a silly contradiction to the Calvinist. Fear? Really? Look upon Jesus the King you silly little man! Look to the Lord of glory!

What is this new fad you're up in arms about? What is this new "movement" causing your temperature to rise? What is this weakness in your life and your church making your shoulders tense? What threat over the horizon really is a threat to the Risen King and Ruler of All Creation who defeated death, pushed back the grave, and promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church?

Why are you afraid, O my soul? Why are you timorous, O my soul? My soul, I will look to the Lord who counsels "Be not afraid for I am with you."

I am a Calvinist, and I am an afraid Pharisee. I shouldn't be. What I need is a fresh glimpse of Jesus. The One I need to fear is God alone.

I'm reminded of another Calvinist (speaking anachronistically, of course) who faced fears and terror everywhere--real ones. But he glimpsed Jesus. And he spoke, "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" (Deut. 10:12-13)

O, Father, grant that perfect love would cast out all fear as we live for you and reverence your holy Name.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Calvinist Confessions, 2

I am a Calvinist. And I am a Pharisee. This shouldn't be the case, but it is. Admitting you have a problem is the first step in getting better.


Last time I tried to reflect on how a certain "bent" toward precision, accuracy, concern for detail seems to blend together with the rich exacting resources of Reformed theology and history to make Pharisees of those who lose sight of the object of our attention and affection: Jesus. If you care more about "getting it right" than you care about "getting close to Jesus," then you'll drift toward the Pharisees. You'll swallow a camel and strain a gnat.

But let me not project onto you the things that happen in my heart and head. I am bent toward all those things, and I lose sight of Jesus too often and for too long.

I'm a Pharisee. And I'm a Calvinist. And I'm told and believe those two things don't belong together. But why do they so often come together, like a dark prize hidden in the Cracker Jacks of the faith?

Here's the second reason I'm a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, another reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee and the Calvinist are both suspicious.

Now I'm suspicious of a lot of things, but I'll just mention one. I'm suspicious of joy. Yep. Now, not my joy. That's another problem.

No. Like a good Pharisee, other people's joy makes me nervous. Not all people. Just those people who don't express their joy the precise way I think they should. You see, without the "appropriate bounds" their joy just may make them careless, lead them to error, hurt the church and cause of Christ. Their joy is combustible; it's dangerous. It's enthusiasm and flights of fancy that need to ballast of sobriety and sound theology.

You see, that bent toward intellectual and precise things, that concern to "get it right," sometimes leads us to suspect and question mirth, lightness, or merriment because those emotions appear too close to "trivial" for the Pharisee. If I'm serious about the truth, how can I be joyful?

I say to myself, perhaps you say to yourself, not out loud, of course: "All these happy people--happy about everything but the Truth, giving themselves to their happy little pursuits, singing loudly and clapping their hands, enthusiastic about everything--can't be trusted. They are to be suspected. They're to be watched carefully and 'taught'."

I know. I know. Teaching is good. Teaching is essential. Teaching guides the emotions. Teaching is commanded. Pharisee.

Didn't Jesus warn us of the Pharisee's teaching? For good reason. I wonder if for some of us "teaching" is simply another word for "behavioral modification," for "rehabilitation," for "re-education," for "concentration camp." People must be "taught"--by which we mean made to see everything just as I do. Pharisee.

I am a Calvinist, and I am a Pharisee. I've been "taught". Sometimes "taught" right out of joy.

Don't get me wrong. I know that joy may be expressed in all kinds of ways. I know the strong, silent type doesn't express his/her joy like the naturally outward and gregarious type. And I know that joy itself has many flavors--jubilant, quiet, solemn, tearful, and so on. But Pharisees like me only trust the quiet, solemn types. If joy gets too loud, it needs to be silenced. Pharisees like it quiet.

But then there is my good friend, C.J. Ah... there's "Reformed" spelled "p-a-r-t-y!" I love that brother! He dots all my "i's" and crosses all my "t's". So, his joy is okay. Cool, even. But he is an exception, of course, because I'm a Pharisee.

Also there is my good friend, Mark. If you think C.J. is the life of the party and Mark is a sour puss, you don't know Mark. About as silly, giddy, happy, optimistic, bright and joyful a man as you'll ever meet. Don't let the "SBC" or "Calvinist" labels fool you. Those labels are like the FBI warnings on your rented video or the "do not remove" tags on your mattress. Mark is a big... excuse me, slim ball of joyful energy. His love for the truth, like C.J., and Al and Lig' and Piper and R.C. and so many others, leads them to joy! Have you ever heard these men laugh? It's rowdy! They're serious men. And (I almost wrote "But"; you see the problem?) they're joyful men.




















But not me. Not the Pharisee.

When did I become suspicious of joy? I mean joy is what the angels announce for crying out loud! (Luke 2:10)

Some of my oldest friends, going back to high school and college, would describe me as "silly." I know. I know. What happened to that guy?

Well, he got saved and he started with joy; then he turned into a Pharisee.

Now, I've always been serious. Really. Always. Ask my mom. She still tells family and friends about how my friends used to come over to play, and rather than play with them, I'd connect the Atari (now that's ol' school) to the TV and then go into my room and read. From my early teens, I've been the family counselor. I'm an old soul, born with a veil over his face (little family superstition, there), and serious.

But I used to be fairly joyful, too. I think. Maybe. You see... I can't remember. Perhaps you're like me. It's been so long since you've had a sustained life of joy, you can't remember the last time you were joyful. As a disposition not an episode. Do you remember? Having a joyful disposition for a long time?

Maybe you're a Pharisee, or a Pharisee in the making. Stop before it goes too far. Get happy. Now don't get serious about joy. Just get joyful. Or else you'll be a Pharisee. Like me.

The Pharisee lacks joy because he lacks Jesus. I don't mean Pharisees like me aren't Christians. I am I trust. I mean "the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field" (Matt. 13:44). There's something implicit in this parable that if not made explicit leaves room for my inner Pharisee. What do you suppose the man did after he bought the field? The Pharisee doesn't go on to imagine the answer. The joyful do. In his joy the man sold all and purchase the field so that he might possess and enjoy the Treasure therein. We may lack Jesus by not enjoying Jesus, by not coming into His presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore.

The Calvinist knows this. The Pharisee forgets this. Feed the Calvinist and strangle the Pharisee.

There once was a Calvinist (speaking anachronistically, of course), who was not himself a Pharisee but dealt with them a lot. He prayed for joy--my joy and yours. Here's how He prayed, "I am coming to you [the Father] now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them" (John 17:13). Let that sit with you. The Savior prayed for what the Calvinist Pharisee needs: the full measure of His joy.

Dear Sovereign Lord, the Joy of the world, let us know you, and thereby grant our heavy hearts liberating joy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Calvinist Confessions, 1


I'm a Pharisee. And I'm a Calvinist.

Those things should not go together. But they do in far too many instances. The Calvinist should be the last to become a Pharisee. Our theology should keep us humble. Or, so we're told.

But I'm a Pharisee. And I'm a Calvinist. Which means I'm a bad Calvinist.

Here's the first reason I'm a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, one reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee and the Calvinist are both exacting persons. They care about precision, about "getting things right." They care about the letter because each believes getting the letter correct is important. And it is.

So, there is this "bent" toward intellectual things. There is this tendency to live in our heads. And when that meets with a theological tradition as rich and robust as the Reformed tradition, sparks fly--in our heads. Add to that a pinch of argumentative spirit and out comes the Pharisee.

But you know what's lost? The spirit, or the Spirit. Sometimes both. The letter kills. That's what happens with us Calvinist Pharisees.

In my particular case, the letter became pretty important once I realized I had spent a few years of my life giving praise to an idol. Once I realized I had believed a lie and bowed to a god who was not God, well getting things correct theologically became desperately important. Who wants to "get it wrong" in the things of God? I certainly didn't any longer.

I didn't know it, but I began the Christian life with this impulse that could either help me grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and/or push me into peevish, narrow, gnat straining regard for "getting it right." I've experienced both in my Christian life. The difference is made by where you're aiming: those who aim at knowing Jesus escape so much pharisee-ism; those that aim at "getting it right" become so much more Pharisaical.

Perhaps you're like me. You've had some experience that's left you zealous for getting it right. You love the Book in part because you love parsing things, dissecting them, weighing them, identifying what is wanting, tossing the chaff and holding onto the wheat. There's a joy that comes from discovery--and refutation. Soon, you're proud you're not "one of those publicans" that explains the Trinity in loose language, that balks at giving various views of the atonement, that's read the latest book from one of "those authors." "Lord," you pray, "I work to get it right. I avoid mistakes. I protect your word. I'm not like those who 'happily' accept 'weak' doctrine."

Pharisee.

Truthfully, it isn't our theology that keeps us from the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. Our theology, and the smugness of "Reformed" correctness, are part of the problem. Oh, I don't mean we have aberrant ideas mingled with our theological outlook. We'd never have that. I mean all this heady truth barely lights our hearts. Our theology becomes the handmaid of our pride and our empty orthodoxy. Our fine theological theorems too seldom ignite liberty, joy, love, or anything else that accompanies the Spirit. Honestly, how often does your theology leave you with Jesus?

I know. The Lord reveals Himself in and by the word. The Spirit and the word belong together. Pharisee.

Do you remember that time when you were free? No, I mean happily care-free in your walk with the Lord. When there was lightness to everything?

Do you remember when you could share with others something God was teaching you, perhaps with imprecise language and a lot of enthusiasm, without first hesitating to make sure you were saying it "correctly"? Perhaps you were too liberal in assigning your enthusiasm or ideas to God, but you were happily excited about the possibility that indeed God had done something in you, for you, through you. Do you remember that?

I do. It was before I was self-consciously "Reformed." I didn't have a label then, other than "Christian" or "Baptist." Even those I held lightly. I was label-less, free. And I felt free. I did dumb stuff. I said dumber stuff. But people knew what I meant. Then I discovered what I meant, and knowing what I meant seemed to replace experiencing what I meant.

Now, "experience" is a bad word. Pharisee.

Yep. That's me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a "Calvinist" because what we popularly call "Calvinism" or "Reformed Theology" looks a whole lot like what I understand from the Bible. I think that's what the Bible teaches, and that's what I believe. So, I'm comfortable with the label--if we have to use one. I'm just not comfortable with the self-righteousness I see all too often in my heart and life. I'm sure I was self-righteous before; after all, I was an adherent of the world's largest works-based religion. Pride and self-justification have always been there. Yep. Certified Pharisee here.

But here's the bottom line: As long as my inclination toward detail ends with "getting it right" and not with getting more of Jesus, I'm going to be a Pharisee. Our theology doesn't keep us humble. Jesus keeps us humble. I think there are a lot of Calvinist Pharisees out there, like me, who push deeper into the theology trusting the next truth to abase them before God. But we keep getting "puffed up" instead. Why? We settle for knowing more rather than knowing Jesus. We don't stop to sit at Christ's feet, to adore Him, to commune with God the Spirit. Far too often, that's not the goal we have in mind.

My grandmother couldn't cite you two theological terms if you paid her. She probably never heard of the theological "giants" of church history, and certainly never read them. You know what she did? She "had a little talk with Jesus, told Him all about her troubles. He would hear her faintest cry, and answer by and by." With all her "little talks with Jesus," she had infinitely more than I've gotten from my books. She walked with the Lord about like Enoch.

I know. Books are not the enemy. Books are our friends. Communing with the saints is important. That's how we get it right and avoid mistakes. I know. I know. Pharisee.

There was another "Calvinist" (speaking anachronistically, of course) who won his bout with his inner Pharisee. He wrote: "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8). I want to be more like that brother--gripped by the greatness of knowing Jesus.

Lord, let us know you and cease the pretension of Pharisees.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

An Overview of "The Decline of African-American Theology"

This year at The Gospel Coalition conference, I had the privilege of doing an overview of The Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity. In the talk, I tried to accomplish four things:

1. Provide a brief biblical basis for writing a book like The Decline, a book that critically examines the theological positions of professing Christians writers and theologians. We briefly looked at Colossians 2 for support.

2. Provide an overview of the book's methodology and limitations.

3. Give a general overview of the African-American theological starting point as characterized by writers in the 1750s to early 1800s, who were largely Calvinistic, then work through historical turning points in the theological history.

4. And a few thoughts on the way forward: including correcting the revisionist history and bad theology out there, a call for more writers contributing to this field, recover the Bible to make it functionally central in the African-American church, recovering a high view of God and the recovery of the gospel, and recovering the purity and centrality of the local church as "the colony of God left here to beam out the gospel and to organize its life around the gospel".

Take a listen and let me know what you think.


Related Posts:


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Pick Up "The Decline" Here:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Are You A Calvinist for Real?

My worship guy sent me this quiz. Let me know what your score was and how many "Calvinists" do you think fit these descriptions. Have fun--a little bit--then get to work... you Calvinists!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why the Time Magazine Trumpeting of New Calvinism Is a Bad Thing

Seven quick reasons:

1. I'm not so sure that the "new Calvinism" is all that "new." This post is helpful in explaining why.

2. The potential for making biblical truth a fad seems quite high. All fads die. If the resurgence of robust biblical theology rides an emotional crest until that superficial, emotional wave dies, so too will interest in robust biblical truth. We're all familiar enough with church history to have seen this several times over.

3. The media attention forces some superficial attempts at self-definition, and the inevitable result are "camps" of Reformed types. Add a little carnality, and then you'll hear folks saying they're of Paul, or Appolos, or Peter, or Dever, or C.J., or MacArthur, or Driscoll, or the really, really Reformed, etc when those men weren't even looking for groupies. We need a strong confessional center with the charity that celebrates secondary and tertiary distinctives. Which is why I am so encouraged by this group and the work of these friends and this growing fellowship.

4. Not only are there "camps" within Reformed circles, but it also prompts some unhealthy Reformed/non-Reformed tensions. The potential for playa hatin' is great. Well-informed leaders inside the SBC have been dealing with this enough over recent years, I think. Do we want the attention of secular news outlets stirring the cauldron of Christian disunity? We ought to be wary of such a potential outcome.

5. Goal displacement. Put simply: so much of the talk about the "new Calvinism" "winning the culture" ends up taking too many eyes off the cross, off the gospel, off the local church, off the great commission, and off the great commandment. Not all such talk does this, but enough does. And that's bad.

6. False views of success. How many of us would have thought Calvinism was changing the world before this article? I suspect many of us Reformed types would feel beleagured and embattled, not victorious, etc. Now we have a news magazine ranking the work of God as #3 in the world. Is that success? Do we want to define success by media spots? I'm sure we don't. So we probably ought not put too much stock and spill too much ink over this.

7. Do most people even know what Calvinism is? Do we want a brief news blurb to be their introduction, especially given the remarkably high likelihood of misunderstanding and fear? Gotta be a better way than a #3 ranking on a list of things changing the world right now.

Is the "new Calvinism" and its spread a cause for rejoicing? I think so. But there are also some pitfalls that come with loving the applause of men.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Hansen on What He Left Out

Over at Ref21, Colin Hansen reflects on some topics he left out of Young, Resltess, and Reformed. (HT: Challies) And in the midst of his reflection, he included this nugget about what he did see as he worked on his book:

[W]hat I saw during my travels was the stirrings of a true spiritual revival, not merely renewed interest in a particular theological system. I saw hunger for God's Word, passion to spread the gospel around the world, and zeal to pursue greater holiness. That's something Christians of any theological persuasion can support. For those who despair of this growing movement, I can only recommend that they renew their efforts to catechize young believers. It's easy to embrace Reformed theology in college when a Calvinist is the first Christian who has exposited the Word for you.

Indeed, may a God-centered revival be wrought among us by a glorious God desiring to be known and loved by His creation. May hunger for the Word stay the famine that is coming. May the gospe run rapidly around the world and the dark doldrums and slumber of spiritual wickedness be cast out. And may those holding to different commitments nonetheless hold committedly to the One True God with all the light He graciously gives!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In the Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself Category...

Phil Johnson explains why, though a Calvinist, he is not an over-the-top-rabid anti-Arminian firestarter. Phil, thanks for spilling a little ink to save a little blood between brethren.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Calvinists Who Don't Know They Are, 2

Yesterday we posted part 1 of a quote from J.I. Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, in which Packer helps us see that in giving God thanks for their salvation many folks think of conversion like Calvinists even if that is not their conscious creed, so to speak. Today's quote provides the second reason Packer thinks many folks may be "Calvinists" and not know it.

"There is a second way in which you acknowledge that God is sovereign in salvation. You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Saviour. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God's power to bring them to faith. You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask. And so indeed He is: this conviction, which animates your intercessions, is God's own truth, written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. In prayer, then (and the Christian is at his sanest and wisest when he prays), you know that it is God who saves men; you know that what makes men turn to God is God's own gracious work of drawing them to Himself; and the content of your prayers is determined by this knowledge. Thus, by your practice or intercession, no less than by giving thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge and confess the sovereignty of God's grace. And so do all Christian people everywhere.

"There is a long-standing controversy in the Church as to whether God is really Lord in relation to human conduct and saving faith or not. What has been said shows us how we should regard this controversy. The situation is not what it seems to be. For it is not true that some Christians believe in divine sovereignty while others hold an opposite view. What is true is that all Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it. What causes this odd state of affairs? the root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church--the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic. People see that the Bible teaches man's responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over those actions. They are not content to let the two truths live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures, but jump to the conclusion that, in order to uphold the biblical truth of human responsibility, they are bound to reject the equally biblical and equally true doctrine of divine sovereignty, and to explain away the great number of texts that teach it. The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it. Hence this persistent and troublesome dispute. The irony of the situation, however, is that when we ask how the two sides pray, it becomes apparent that those who profess to deny God's sovereignty really believe in it just as strongly as those who affirm it.

"How, then, do you pray? Do you ask God for your daily bread? Do you thank God for your conversion? Do you pray for the conversion of others? If the answer is 'no,' I can only say that I do not think that you are yet born again. But if the answer is 'yes'--well, that proves that, whatever side you may have taken in debates on this question in the past, in your heart you believe in the sovereignty of God no less firmly than anyone else. On our feet we may have arguments about it, but on our knees we are all agreed. And it is this common agreement, of which our prayers give proof, that I take as our starting point now."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Calvinists Who Don't Know They Are, 1

Labels are used for convenience, but sometimes prove themselves to be quite inconvenient. As an amateur historian, I appreciate labels when they're used with some precision. They help us to make contact with the people and ideas and history that came before us. So, they can be useful. But they can also, when used sloppily or dishonestly, do more to occlude than elucidate. "Calvinist" and "Arminian" are two such labels. They're helpful when understood and used appropriately, but terribly harmful when called upon without understanding or precision.

But J.I. Packer helps us in understanding the label "Calvinist," and in so doing makes it clear that there are more "Calvinists" in the world than we'd suspect. In fact, many may be "Calvinists" and not know it. From Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:

"Nor, again, am I going to spend time proving to you the particular truth that God is sovereign in salvation. For that, too, you believe already. Two facts show this. In the first place, you give God thanks for your conversion. Now why do you do that? Because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it. You did not save yourself; He saved you. Your thanksgiving is itself an acknowledgement that your conversion was not your own work, but His work. You do not put it down to chance or accident that you attended a Christian church, that you heard the Christian gospel, that you had Christian friends and, perhaps, a Christian home, that the Bible fell into your hands, that you saw your need of Christ and came to trust Him as your Saviour. You do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense. Perhaps, in the days when you were seeking Christ, you laboured and strove hard, read and pondered much, but all that outlay of effort did not make your conversion your own work. Your act of faith when you closed with Christ was yours in the sense that it was you who performed it; but that does not mean that you saved yourself. In fact, it never occurs to you to suppose that you saved yourself.

"As you look back, you take to yourself the blame for your past blindness and indifference and obstinacy and evasiveness in face of the gospel message; but you do not pat yourself on the back for having been at length mastered by the insistent Christ. You would never dream of dividing the credit for your salvation between God and yourself. You have never for one moment supposed that the decisive contribution to your salvation was yours and not God's. You have never told God that, while you are grateful for the means and opportunities of grace that He gave you, you realize that you have to thank, not Him, but yourself for the fact that you responded to His call. Your heart revolts at the very thought of talking to God in such terms. In fact, you thank Him no less sincerely for the gift of faith and repentance than for the gift of a Christ to trust and turn to. This is the way in which, since you became a Christian, your heart has always led you. You give God all the glory for all that your salvation involved, and you know that it would be blasphemy if you refused to thank Him for bringing you to faith. Thus, in the way that you think of your conversion and give thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge the sovereignty of divine grace. And every other Christian in the world does the same.

"It is instructive in this connection to ponder Charles Simeon's account of his conversation with John Wesley on Dec. 20th, 1784: '"Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.... Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?" "Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed." "And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?" "Yes, solely through Christ" "But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you now somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?" "Now, I must be saved by Christ from first to last." "Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?" "No." "What, then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?" "Yes, altogether." "and is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?" "Yes, I have no hope but in Him." "Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; fir this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."'"