I have grown in my theology through the years that I have been both a Christian and a local Pastor. That growth is normal and should be understood as an outworking of God’s continuing process of sanctification in my life. Certainly, as a new Christian, I leaned on others to teach me the foundational doctrines of the faith. In other words, I borrowed the convictions of others, and have been spending the rest of my life seeking to understand the teaching of God’s Word for myself.
Along the way I’ve had some “aha” moments which have brought great comfort, strength, awe and confidence in God and in what He is doing in my life. One of those arenas of progress is in my growing understanding of what are often referred to as “The Doctrines of Grace” or the teachings that are often referred to as Calvinism. You see, I became a Christian in an context that was decidedly against Calvinistic teaching, an Arminian context, and, thus, my initial understandings of Scripture and the gospel were groomed in that kind of ideology. Yet, through the years, as I studied and taught God’s Word He made it very clear that the heart of His gospel finds its expression in “The Doctrines of Grace”.
Now, to some reading the word “Calvinism” is a dangerous word.
It smacks of having a cold view of evangelism, a harsh view of God, rigid view of life with Christ and a stuffy legalism that snaps the joy out of life.
But, of course, those are unwarranted caricatures that seem to be painted by many who really don’t understand the issues at all. In fact, in my pastoral experience I have found that most believers haven’t taken serious time to truly understand the differences between what is known as Calvanism and Arminianism. In fact, what is more popular is to plead ignorance on this issue as a mark of spiritual maturity.
I’ve heard people say, “Well, I don’t think that it is good to be divisive and this issue is simply divisive,” or “I’m a two-or three-or four- point Calvinist” as if holding to “some” of the five points of Calvinism is a good thing. I have also heard people say, “Well, this subject has been debated for centuries and still there is no consensus, so I don’t think that it is important to choose sides one way or the other. I don’t want to be known as an Arminian or a Calvinist, I just want to be a Biblicist.” In other words, “I don’t want to affirm any theological position, I just believe what the Bible teaches” which is, of course, a cop out on the whole issue.
Of course we want to believe what the Bible teaches. The question is, “What does the Bible teach?”
Here is an example of what I mean. While serving as Sr. Pastor in a church in Michigan another local church and Bible College hosted special seminars on the subject, “The Evils of Calvinism”, and they met in a room named after one of their hero’s of the faith, the Charles Haddon Spurgeon Room. Now what’s ridiculously hilarious about that is that Spurgeon, Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, and known as the Prince of preachers, was a clear and thorough Calvinist. Again, I attribute this to a lack of understanding of the real issues and an unwillingness to be honest about them.
Along my journey I came to realize that so many of the pioneer missionaries and historical pastors that were being held up to me as great examples of godliness and faith by my Arminian instructors (Pastors, Teachers, Seminary Prof’s) were in fact thorough believers in the Doctrines of Grace, and were driven to follow their sovereign God in obedience, finding joy and comfort in their Calvinism. Missionaries like David Livingston, Adonirum Judson, John G. Patton, George Mueller, Hudson Taylor and Pastors and leaders such as Luther, Zwingli, Wilberforce, Bunyan, Newton and Owen are just a few of the myriad of names that saw God and His gospel in this light. Then we can add to that the likes of George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, Gresham Machen and D. Martin Lloyd-Jones and even contemporaries like Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, C.J. Mahaney, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, Mark Dever, Mark Driscol, Francis Chan, etc, etc, etc, to the list of men embracing Calvinism.
Now, please tell me that these men don’t care about evangelism. Please tell me that these men are stuffy and have a harsh view of God. Please tell me that C. J. Mahaney has a hard time finding joy in His walk with Christ because he is holding to the Doctrines of Grace!
Friends, my point here is not to convert you to Calvinism, but to alert you to the fact that too many in the Body of Christ really don’t understand the history and the content of the discussion. But we should. There are significant differences that have huge implications for us as we live our lives for His glory and attempt to do His will.
Here is what J. I. Packer says is the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism…
“The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God Who saves; the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself. One view [Calvinism] presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind-election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit-as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view [Arminianism] gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the ‘five points,’ as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.”
Those are very important comparisons and implications, therefore we should pay closer attention to what it is that we believe on this issue. To plead a “mature spiritual ignorance”, especially on the part of Pastors, Elders or Deacons, is to demonstrate a weakness in theological passion and conviction. Certainly we are all growing in our understanding of the issues. Although I embrace the Doctrines of Grace, each day as I encounter new texts and insights each truth shines brighter. I want to know Him and His Truth more and more. To revel in it. To be motivated and satisfied by it.
To that end, then, I want to introduce you to a very simple read that carefully, clearly and honestly walks you through the issues so that you can be better informed and ultimately better equipped to stand on God’s Truth. For example:
- Do you know what the five points are? Can you articulate them?
- Did you know that John Calvin didn’t write the “five points of Calvinism?”
- Did you know that the five points were a carefully studied response to five points of doctrine brought against the church by the followers of Joseph Arminius which is know historically as the “Remonstrance”?
- Did you know that true Calvinists are very concerned about Hyper-Calvinism?
The following document, A Brief Survey of the Origin and Contents of the “Five Points” of Calvinism by David N. Steele & Curtis C. Thomas, is a rare treasure for gaining a simple yet clear understanding of the issues. It is written in an easily understood manner and is available for a free download or in a book format.
Let me plead with you to not stay in the “ignorance is bliss” category of this issue. We need to be people of conviction and clarity about who God is, what He does and the Gospel that He has called us to embrace, guard, preach/teach and sow. It is too crucial to brush aside.
So, please let me encourage you to be honest before God and prayerfully read this article seeking to know His will.