"There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved. It is God's finger on man's shoulder." ~Charles Morgan link
A few years ago, someone very close to me shared a story about her church. A new pastor was about too be hired. He visited and preached a sermon and then answered questions. Curiously, he would only take written questions which were handed to him by an elder. He was given all of the questions to answer, except one. It was hers. What was her question?
Do you consider yourself a Calvinist?
Her church was not Reformed and the majority of the members were not as well. However, the elder board became dominated by Calvinists who determined that Reformed theology would become the established doctrine of the church. They did not tell the congregation. When she asked why her question wasn't read, they said that there was not time for her question. The pastor was hired and he quickly set about changing the church bylaws and hiring other pastors who were Neo-Calvinist. Suddenly, Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney books were being touted from the pulpit. Due to comments by our readers, we have reason to believe that this scenario has played out in other churches as well.
My question to my Calvinist friends is "Why not admit that you are a Calvinist when applying for a position?" Could it be that there is some baggage that comes with self-identifying as a Calvinist? From my reading about the Internet, I believe that some aspiring pastors would admit there there is a bias against Reformed clergy in some churches. The question is why?
When I have had the opportunity to speak with Calvinist pastors, they believe that they are routinely misunderstood. They believe that they carefully represent God in their doctrine. Yet, they are regularly confronted by folks who have had run-ins with difficult Calvinist pastors and leaders. These folks apparently believe that all Calvinist pastors are authoritative and negative. However, there are Arminian pastors who are also authoritative and negative. So, what is it about Calvinism, in particular, that lead some to believe that Calvinism that is a problem?
Here is my theory. I believe that many Calvinists, who have come to a place of peace with their doctrine, do not understand how to communicate their beliefs in a way that engenders a sense of the love of Christ in their narrative. They believe that they are logical in their approach to Scripture and do not understand what they perceive to be an illogical objection by those who oppose Calvinist doctrine. I believe that this has been the case since the time of Calvin and continues to this day.
However, until recently, those of the Reformed persuasion and non-Calvinist beliefs were, in general, able to co-exist peacefully and even participate in joint projects. However, with the rise of the Young, Reformed and Restless crowd, there has been a rise in tensions between these two groups. When you have Calvinist leaders, such as RC Sproul, claiming that non-Calvinists are "barely Christians" and committed Christians like Roger Olson, who are accused by Calvinists of "not being a Christian," something has definitely gone wrong.
If Calvinists believe that non-Calvinists are suspect, then we have a divide that cannot be overcome. However, I believe that most Calvinists would deny such thoughts. What we are then left with is poor communication and mistaken assertions about one another.
Here are some thoughts to consider.
Please stop saying that non-Calvinists believe in works oriented or human effected salvation. They don't.
Recently, Russell Moore, a Calvinist, wrote a post Why Calvinist and Arminians and Those In-Between Can Unite For Religious Liberty. In it, he admitted to the Calvinist penchant for caricaturing non-Calvinists and clears up the record.
Many of our early Baptist forebears were thoroughgoing Arminians, defining the freedom of the human will in libertarian terms. These include such heroes as Thomas Helwys, who fought against the government’s mistaken belief that it could overrule the conscience.
Sometimes people caricature Arminians, and those who share some convictions with them. The Arminian tradition doesn’t believe that the human will is naturally free in this fallen era. They believe that God graciously empowers human beings with the freedom to choose. In fact, much of what some Christians call “Arminianism” is instead the sort of manipulative, emotional revivalism they’ve seen or heard about somewhere. Arminians are, above all people, opposed to manipulation.
They believe, after all, that the human will must make a free decision to follow Jesus or to walk away. That means a clear presentation of what the gospel entails, with all the “cost-counting” that Jesus tells us about. This must be a personal, free decision, and can’t be outsourced to or vetoed by some emperor or bishop or bureaucrat.
It is important to empathize with those who believe the doctrine of election is painful.
There are many, myself included, who believe that the doctrine of election means that God creates people who He knows are doomed to an eternity in hell. These people are doomed because He will not elect them to salvation. This is very difficult to understand.
I know that Calvinists believe that God did not have to save anyone. So, it is amazing to them that He deigned to save a few. But for the rest of us, it appears that God sends some people to hell, not due to their choice to reject Him, but due to His choice to reject them. That is painful and needs to be acknowledged by Calvinists.
To us non-Calvinists, if some people are foreordained to be unregenerate, then the Gospel cannot be freely offered to them. They won't be able to understand it. Is there another way to say this that might make more sense?
Russell Moore in the same article says:
Well, like the Arminians, Calvinists are easy to caricature. Some assume they believe the will is like a computer program operated by God, or that the gospel isn’t freely offered to all people. Evangelical Calvinists believe in the free offer of the gospel to all people, just as they believe in the universal command of the law of God. They believe that, left to ourselves, we will all run away from the law and we will all run away from the gospel. We see the light of Christ, and we hide because, in our sin, we don’t want to meet our God.
Suppose there are two people who are deaf. The Gospel is being preached over a loudspeaker system and there is no way to show it to them. The local hospital has enough cochlear implants for everyone but chooses to give it to only one person. That person is now able to hear what is being said. The other is still deaf. Can we really say that the audio Gospel was freely accessed by both?
It is very hard for non-Calvinists to understand why God would rejoice and find glory in the eternal torture of people who had no chance to accept the Gospel freely. If this is not what you mean, say it better.
I know that many of you reject Rachel Held Evans. It is important to understand that she says things in her posts that resonate with others. I wish more theologians would calmly answer her questions instead of fussing at her lack of theological knowledge or questioning her motives. If you kindly address her concerns, you will reach many who agree with her. Here she says what many think.
If Calvinism is true, it means that if that dying little girl that you held in your arms in India was not among the elect, then God did not love her. He never had any intention of loving her. She was nothing to Him. In fact, he would delight and find glory in her eternal torture in hell.”
There are Calvinist who say that infants and the mentally handicapped may not go to heaven. They must be repudiated regularly.
Apparently, there are some Neo-Calvinist leaders who believe that some infants will go to hell. We discussed this is a post recently. We do know that Al Mohler and John Piper believe that infants who die go to heaven. One of the saddest comments we have received at TWW was written by a man who said that he had adopted 5 seriously mentally handicapped children. He said he was quite comfortable in saying that he did not know if they would go to heaven. I am sure that he believed he was showing absolute trust in God. He did not perceive that he came across as a cold fish.
Some of the Calvinist leaders say things that most people find bizarre and do not help your case.
Do you really think that God is against muscular women? Do most women find Piper's comments on enduring abuse for a night comforting? Why do leaders from within the movement go strangely silent when Piper, or other Calvinist leaders, say such things. Statements like this will not resonate with anyone outside the narrowest confines of the YRR movement, except in a negative way.
Most people do not find comfort in the belief that God causes catastrophes to happen. To think they do shows a low emotional quotient.
Leader after leader seem to believe that they have been given insight into the mind of God. The Huffington Post here focused in on John Piper's regular forays into this area. If Piper keeps this up, he will become the Neo-Calvinist's Pat Robertson. There is a better way as expressed by Rick Warren.
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren tweeted a few days after the tornado, “In deep pain, people don’t need logic, advice, encouragement, or even Scripture. They just need you to show up and shut up.#Love.”
Be careful in your terminology. You can easily present a God who ordains particular pain and suffering. Do not try to convince someone that their childhood rape by their father was ordained by a loving God. It does not sell, no matter how much you believe it.
Please read Julie Anne Smith's Why Does Calvin’s God Feel Abusive to Me? I Didn’t Choose This! If this does not give you pause, then you need to do a heart check.
Understand that God's love is often the gateway by which many enter the kingdom.
When I became convinced that the Creator God of the universe loved me and cared about me, I became a believer. Then, in a short period of time, I became aware of my sin nature and understood that Christ forgave my sins. Had I been told that God's love is best exemplified by Jonathan Edwards "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" link, I would have most likely gone running away from Him.
Do not assume that non-Calvinists have not studied Reformed theology.
Many, including myself, have studied a great deal and still cannot accept Calvinism. It is hubris to say "If you only read Sproul, you will get it." I have and I still don't get it.
There are evangelical and traditional scholars that are on par with Calvinist scholars.
There is a reason why all Christians have not become Calvinists.
Gotcha verses will not prove your point.
This just shows you took an apologetics course on how to defend Calvinism. Also, if it were that easy, we would all be Reformed by now, right?
Accept that each side thinks the other side is illogical.
Need I say more?
Stop with describing your Calvinist church as: having a great preacher, being strong on discipline, strictly complementarian and having true authority.
I meet many Reformed people who actually describe their churches just like this. It makes me want to run as far away from that church as possible. There is nothing mentioned about love. And Jesus didn't even make it into the top four descriptors.
But I Do Admire Calvinists.
There is a reason that I tried to force myself to believe in your system of theology. Many of you know your doctrine, cold. You can quote Bible verses, catechisms, creeds, councils and theologians. I respect that greatly. It pains me to say this but I have found Calvinists far more versed in the particulars of their doctrine than many people in the churches that I have attended. I love to debate Calvinists because you make me think, and think hard.
In some respects, the conflicts between our systems is good. Iron does sharpen iron. As I have conversed with you in the past years, I have been forced to define my thinking more carefully. For that I am grateful.
Lydia's Corner: Ezra 4:24-6:22 1 Corinthians 3:5-23 Psalm 29:1-11 Proverbs 20:26-27