Friday, December 31, 2010

In Praise of Calvinism and Calvinists

I have been pretty critical of my fellow Reformed Christians of late. From the large number of Reformed Christians, especially among the newly converted, who see everything through the lens of “But is it Reformed” to the irritating assumptions of the church that leaves the church “un-Reformed”, the clergy overworked and the laity mute and apathetic, there are lots of places I have taken shots at the Reformed. I also am deeply troubled by the tendency among some in Reformed circles to attack and devour those who dare espouse doctrines other than Reformed theology and when they run out of Arminians to attack, turn on one another for not being sufficiently Reformed. Finally there is a deep running tendency toward hero worship of men, whether those men are long dead saints like Calvin or Spurgeon or living leaders like Sproul, Horton or Piper.

Having said that, the reason I am so hard on the Reformed is not that my fellow Reformed believers are bad people. Quite the contrary, some of the finest Christians I know hold to the Doctrines of Grace. Nor is it because Reformed theology proper (the Five Solas and the Five Points of Calvinism) is wrong or weak. Again, the opposite is true. My study of the Bible has led me to a deeper conviction on these issues although I reject much of the culture of “being Reformed” that goes hand in hand with the Five Points/Solas. I am still greatly concerned when I hear people declare Calvinism to be a heresy and then proceed to demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of what Calvinism teaches. So I am in no way rejecting the core theological underpinnings of Calvinism/Reformed theology even as I question the cultural traditions that surround Reformed theology.

I am so hard on my fellow Reformed believers because I see among them fertile ground for continued Reformation in the church and because of that I take pains to poke at the sacred cows of Reformed culture whenever possible. I think that among the serious students of Scripture in the Reformed camp are many future leaders of the church in ways unimaginable and unacceptable to the giants of that tradition. I am not saying that most non-Calvinists don’t take Scripture as seriously but I do think that among the Reformed study of the Scripture takes on a fever pitch and it is through studying the Scriptures that I and many others have found the weakness of the traditional church model. I am greatly encouraged by the numbers of people who see Reformed theology as correct and proper and also see it as a door opener to a Reformation or more properly put a Restoration of a Biblical church model in terms of how and why we gather, how we see our responsibilities to the least of these all around us.

So here are some of the things that I most appreciate about my fellow Reformed believers…

• A recovery of a proper view of the sovereignty of God in all matters, including and especially the salvation of elect individuals. Calvinism is NOT the Gospel but it does provide a faithful framework for understanding the process of salvation.

• A renewal of a high view of the Triune God, seeing God as both loving and holy, merciful and just and seeing Jesus Christ as more than good buddy or a galactic concierge on call to meet our every whim and need. The doctrine of God and especially Jesus Christ have fallen on hard times in much of the church but among Calvinists I often find a proper balance in viewing God as He has revealed Himself.

• A resurgence of zeal among some important demographics that are in short supply in most of evangelicalism: men in general and young men especially. Look around most evangelical churches and what you are likely to find are lots of women, often by themselves, and lots of elderly. Adult men are typically a minority. Show up at a Reformed theology conference and the place will be packed out with dudes. The danger is that young men leap into Reformed theology with the same zeal they do fantasy football and video games, so older men who can mentor and temper them is vital but having buckets of overly enthusiastic young men is a problem any evangelical church would love to have.

• A stalwart defense of the functions, roles and restrictions regarding men and women in the church. I am all for removing the cultural traditions that impede church life but in doing so I am concerned that we don't ignore or explain away clear teachings of Scripture in areas like gender. I appreciate the stand against the prevailing winds of the culture and that many of these brothers cherish and encourage the calling of women instead of degrading that calling and encouraging sisters to function in the Body in a way that is prohibited. I believe that abandonment of Biblical authority on these matters is the theological equivalent of a gateway drug that leads in many cases to an abandonment of Biblical orthodoxy (see: Protestantism, Mainline)

So as you can hopefully see, far from abandoning Calvinism, I fully embrace that theological school. It is my great desire to see more and more Christians glorifying the sovereignty of God in salvation while meeting in a more Biblically faithful model and purpose. Neither Calvinism nor simple church are ends in and of themselves but rather tools to advance our understanding of who God has revealed Himself to be and in carrying out our tasks of mutual edification and equipping so that we can minister to those in need and fulfilling the Great Commission, proclaiming the Goods News of Jesus Christ to every creature on earth.

So three cheers for Calvinists! May our tribe increase (and may that tribe meet in a simpler, more Biblical manner)!

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