For What I Mean When I Say I’m a Calvinist, see here.
Almost every Reformed/Calvinist person will tell you he or she has had to deal with a caricature or a misconception about what he or she believes. Personally, I don’t even really like to wear the label, but if we’re describing the belief that the Bible teaches God’s will is the determinative factor in salvation, then I’ll accept it. But to aid some of my reformed brothers and sisters, and as a companion piece to the last post, I offer a few things I (and I imagine most Calvinists) don’t mean when taking the label:
- That since salvation is predestined by God, no one has to do anything. Unbelievers are commanded to repent and believe. Believers are commanded to confirm their election by practicing the qualities of the Savior they say they trust. The reality is that acts of the will like repentance and the pursuit of holiness are marks of a truly saved person. Remember, just because my will isn’t the cause of my salvation doesn’t mean it’s not a component of my salvation. To quote an old maxim, faith alone saves, but the faith that saves isn’t alone.
- That prayer doesn’t matter. Heaven forbid! I pray for my children’s’ salvations almost every single night. I pray for our church and for other churches in Cincinnati. I pray for help in putting my anger and doubt and idolatry to death. The Bible tells us that even though God has numbered our steps and ordains what comes to pass, in His wisdom He has chosen to use people’s prayers as an instrument of His will. The God who wrote the story wrote our prayers into it.
- That God doesn’t love those who end up in His eternal judgment. God sends good things to all human beings in this life as a display of His patience and kindness toward all sinners. Many harden themselves towards Him and His goodness, but He told Ezekiel that He does not delight in their downfall. I firmly believe that while He does not adopt all humans, He made all humans and cares for all humans. He commands us to love our enemies; I don’t believe He’d tell us to do so if He were unable to Himself.
- That God is unfair. One of the things I’m not sure the average American Christian really believes (that he should) is that God would have been absolutely just and fair in sending every human being who ever lived to Hell. We have all sinned against the God who made us, designed our world, and authored morality. We have all spat in the face of our perfectly good and wonderful King. It’s an unimaginably shocking thing, a scandalous thing, that that God should be born a man and take on all the shame and retribution we deserve to cover the offense of what we did to Him. That He would die in mockery and abuse on a Roman cross to rescue any of us is unfathomable! God is miles beyond fair. God absorbed His own wrath to rescue prostitutes and Pharisees and thieves and adulterers. This is a God who came close to us because He knew we could never, and would never, come close to Him on our own.
- That evangelism doesn’t matter. The Paul who wrote in Romans that God would absolutely save His elect is the same Paul who was willing to die to get the Good News of Jesus to other peoples and nations. God uses missionaries and churches and pastors and church members to carry out His plan of rescue, and that is an amazing thing. The preaching of the Gospel is how God frees enslaved sinners. We must evangelize. We are to emulate our Lord, and He was willing to go to unspeakable lengths to rescue those the Father had given Him.
- That I have everything theologically figured out. I am 30 years old. I’ve pastored in some capacity or other for about a decade. I do not have every answer to every question of faith in the Messiah. He is infinite, I am finite, and while I absolutely believe He gave us a Bible about Himself that is clear, it does not tell each and every thing about Him and His plan with equal clarity. My Reformed/Calvinist convictions flowered from Biblical preaching and Biblical study, and I believe the core tenets of Calvinsm are true, but I’m old enough to know that I’m young enough to not know some things.
- That we can’t do ministry together because you’re not Calvinist. Brother or sister, if you believe in the risen Jesus as Lord, if you accept the Father and His Son and His Holy Spirit and His Gospel, you and I are family in the deepest sense. We are members of the body of Jesus, and we are called to the same good work: Making disciples of all nations for His glory and the good of the lost. Obviously there are certain arenas or instances where I’d want to have more precise theological unity, but when it comes to praying together or doing the general Christian life together, we can and should bless one another.
So I’ll say with the old Calvinist Charles Spurgeon that I’m not ashamed to take that label, but if you ask me my creed I’ll have a mere two words for you: “Jesus Christ.” I hope we share that posture.
In charity for clarity,