“IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, IN NON-ESSENTIALS LIBERTY, IN ALL THINGS CHARITY”
I have enormous respect for Calvinists; however, I cannot suffer the Calvinistas. “Calvinista” is a term coined here at The Wartburg Watch, which connotes those Calvinists who believe not only that they are 100% right but imply with less than subtle innuendo that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is (choose one or all) Biblically illiterate, theologically challenged, a baby Christian, self-glorifying, God demeaning, and maybe not saved.
I have been blessed to be in churches that, with the overwhelming exception of one, have subscribed to the above quote. Most Calvinists I have known through the years have been engaging and self-effacing; yet, I do remember one comment from a Calvinist that was shocking. A man approached me fifteen years ago (while I was doing a stint during children’s Sunday school) and stated his belief that all babies who die before the age of reason are not saved and will go to hell. I raised my eyebrows, muttered something inconsequential, and had to bite my tongue not to ask the man to seek psychiatric intervention. (Until recently, Dee attempted to be “nice”). “Poor man”, I thought, “he has so much inner anger.”
However, the comment stayed in the back of my mind and resurfaced about five years ago. I decided to read all I could on Calvinism – both for and against. I was determined to make a list of the pros and cons on Calvinism and non-Calvinism. I read Calvin, Sproul, White, Geisler, Grudem, and others. The study was illuminating and helped me to understand the various sides of the issue. But, to my mind, there was one overwhelming sense I got while reading the Calvinists. The Calvinists came across as arrogant and angry. I tired of the arguments and was left with a profound “why.” Why the arrogance and why the anger? I was terribly perplexed by all the brouhaha over Calvinism.
I decided that I was neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian. In fact, I’m not sure exactly what I am. I found an amusing quote from Jill Briscoe that gave me a sense of the conflict. Briscoe said something along these lines: “When I am witnessing to someone , I am a Arminian. When the plane develops engine trouble and is making an emergency landing, I am an Calvinist”. (Forgive me if I this isn’t an exact quote).
Calvinism’s basic tenets can be remembered by the acronym TULIP. Here’s a description of each letter of the acronym:
“T”otal Depravity: Man is so lost in his sin that he is incapable of even knowing he needs God. God must first “do a work” in the man’s heart in order for him to find God. Man is so depraved that he doesn’t deserve God’s grace, and God is under no obligation to save anyone. We should rejoice that God desires to save anyone.
“U”nconditional Election: Man is saved by grace alone and not by any good works.
“L”imited Atonement: Jesus died ONLY for those whom He “elects”. Jesus does not save everybody lest everyone would be in heaven.
“I”rresistible Grace: Once God has done the work in a person’s heart, that person will be overwhelmed by God’s grace and cannot resist becoming a Christian.
“P”erseverance of the Saints: This essentially means “once save, always saved”. It is thought that God would be less than God if He could not protect those who have turned to Him from losing their faith.
Here is the main sticking point. Calvinists believe that man is so totally depraved that only God can make a person come to a saving knowledge of Him. Therefore, God must pick and choose in whom He will do His work since not all men are saved. God has elected some to be saved and others to be condemned. Since God is under no obligation to save anyone, we should rejoice that He saves some.
Many have argued that God looks down the corridor of time and elects those He knows would have chosen Him. To Calvinists, this is not theologically viable because man’s election is unconditional and is not based on any good works. Also, man cannot choose God without God first choosing him.
Others have argued that choosing God is not an act that connotes goodness in an individual. It is merely a desperate reaching out to a Savior. Once again, Calvinism negates this by countering that man is incapable of choosing God without God first choosing the person.
Here is how this armchair theologian views this matter. Recently, I went to a folk art museum in North Carolina. I was awestruck by a beautiful, multicolored vase. Yet, I did not praise the vase itself for being beautiful. I thought about the creator of the vase and knew that he was the one to praise for such beauty. C.S. Lewis lamented that many people just get stuck on the end point and not the beginning. He talked of the beauty of a sunbeam in the forest. He then said: “One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.” Lewis believed in worshipping the Creator of the creation.
Blaise Pascal said that every man is created with a God-shaped vacuum. I think he has a point. God, as our Creator, may have graciously given each of us the ability to seek for God and even to reject and choose Him. This in no way dishonors God. It is only by God’s grace that He created us with the ability to make this choice. It does not proclaim righteousness on the part of the person. Just as the beautiful vase causes me to praise the man who created it, my salvation can only cause a person to look for and praise the author of my salvation since I am clearly unable to produce the means of my salvation. God is glorified, not me the helpless one. Once again, one might look at the choice as a gift of grace from the Father. It also clearly demonstrates a God who wishes “that none may perish.”
A Chatty Cathy doll speaks only when you pull its string. Unlike the Calvinistas, I do not believe that God treats us as a Chatty Cathy doll, nor do I believe that God created Satan specifically to be Satan. God created the heavens and the earth and allowed his special created beings — man and angels — two choices. He created the potential for evil by allowing a choice “not for God” as well as a choice “for God.” This choice was given to both humans and angelic beings.Once again, the choice was given by God and in no way glorifies man or angels. We glorify the Author of the choice.
In the end, one might ask, “Are you sure you are right?” My answer is easy, “Of course not!” In fact, I think this whole argument stems from a desire on all sides to “know God.” But for many knowing God means to put Him in a box so that we can say that we fully know God and what He wants. Yet, in many ways, we can’t fully know or understand God. He is omniscient; I’m not. He is omnipotent; I’m not. I know what the Bible tells me. But great theologians are divided on Calvinism, creationism, gender roles, and so on. Perhaps there is not agreement because the issue is far more complex and, as our President once quipped, above our pay grade.
However, I shall continue to read and listen. My mind is not made up. Perhaps that’s a good thing. There is so little I know that, on things that are not clearly spelled out, I need to continue to read and pray and also admit that I may never clearly understand this issue. And for some strange reason, I find this comforting. Why? Well, I shall never be bored exploring the complexities of my Father and His creation. I also experience peace as I rest in the arms of an everlasting Father who promises me peace as I follow and grow in His way. Remember being a child and being afraid of something like thunder? I remember my father scooping me up and telling me not to worry. I didn’t understand the thunder at the young age. Yet, I knew he did and I could rest knowing that he was in charge. I believe that there is much that we don’t understand but it is comforting to know that He does and that He is in charge. How sad it is that so many people want to put God in some nice, neat easy to understand box. He’s far more interesting when we allow Him to be God.
And that brings me to the Calvinistas. Here’s the problem with this crowd. They know exactly what God means, and we’d better listen! They go beyond the five tenets of Calvinism and add new rules. The Bible “clearly” shows that the earth is 6,000 years old. The Bible “clearly” defines gender roles. In fact, some Calvinista leaders are so sure of certain tenets that they do not trust seminaries and have started their own “boutique” seminaries, I guess so they can teach their clear understanding of everything. John Piper has one. So does the self-aggrandized Apostle C.J. Mahaney as well as Mark Driscoll.
Many Calvinistas are hyper-authoritarian, often dictating rigid discipline and enforcement of “must dos”. These mandates might include such things as forcing a person to attend an assigned group (since for some strange reason they cannot choose their own group) on a regular basis (with “church discipline” being applied if the person misses one too many). The list goes on, and we will share some of these “extra-biblical” rules in upcoming posts. Calvinista leaders ignore the “priesthood of the believer” and rarely seek congregational input, believing that God has put them in authority over their flock. In their minds, church members exist to serve their rigid agenda.
I have theory regarding this upsurge in authoritarian reformers. They see their children falling away from God and atheism gaining strength throughout the world. They want to stop these things from happening. So, they have “rules”. They are not unlike the prohibitionists of the last century who believed ” if only we outlaw alcohol, there will not be any drunkenness or alcoholism”. They believe they have found the answer to just about every problem out there. If only the sheep would listen to them, everything would be just fine. And surely God is on their side. God must know how great their theological interpretation is! It also sounds a little like the Third Reich with their pure race. It is far easier to serve a God that you (the Calvinistas) have defined than a God that, as C.S.Lewis would say, “is not a tame lion.”
Why are the Calvinistas angry? Perhaps they don’t understand why the world isn’t listening to them. One only needs to go to the various Sovereign Grace survivor websites to read tale after tale of manipulation and control. (sgmsurvivors.com and sgmrefuge.com). The Calvinista leaders are angry because people will not submit to them. And, they believe their followers should submit to them because they have read the Bible and know exactly what God wants. This is arrogance at its worst.
Our bottom line is this. We respect the traditional Calvinists who have “graciously” agreed to disagree with brothers and sisters in Christ who are not “reformed”. We can find no reason to respect the hard core Calvinistas. We predict that this movement will soon fizzle out because it is based on man glorifying himself to such an extent that some men believe they have the knowledge and power to run everyone else’s life. And guess what? They have been around long enough that we can now examine the results. As you will see in upcoming posts, they do it very, very badly!!!