Thursday, January 20, 2011

Are you a Calvinist?

This question and I have a love/hate relationship.  I hate this question because usually the person asking it has already drawn conclusions (usually false conclusions) about what a person believes simply by the "calvinist" label.  As a result, the rest of the dialogue turns into a sovereignty vs mindless robot debate.  What I love about the question is that it gives me an opportunity to share how indestructible our faith is when it is founded upon Christ and his unassisted, finished work in the lives of all those who have faith in him.  I thought that this debate among Christians would be worth a few thoughts as we focus especially this week on unity and where unity is needed the most.

Today I read the Desiringgod blog where John Piper encourages us to tell what we believe rather than assuming that the label is good enough.  This is most definitely the best approach to the type of questions that intend to apply labels.  Consider this:

If they say, “Are you a Calvinist?” say, “You decide. Here is what I believe . . .”
I believe I am so spiritually corrupt and prideful and rebellious that I would never have come to faith in Jesus without God’s merciful, sovereign victory over the last vestiges of my rebellion. (1 Corinthians 2:14Ephesians 3:1–4Romans 8:7).
I believe that God chose me to be his child before the foundation of the world, on the basis of nothing in me, foreknown or otherwise. (Ephesians 1:4–6Acts 13:48;Romans 8:29–3011:5–7)
I believe Christ died as a substitute for sinners to provide a bona fide offer of salvation to all people, and that he had an invincible design in his death to obtain his chosen bride, namely, the assembly of all believers, whose names were eternally written in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. (John 3:16John 10:15Ephesians 5:25;Revelation 13:8)
When I was dead in my trespasses, and blind to the beauty of Christ, God made me alive, opened the eyes of my heart, granted me to believe, and united me to Jesus, with all the benefits of forgiveness and justification and eternal life. (Ephesians 2:4–52 Corinthians 4:6Philippians 2:29Ephesians 2:8–9Acts 16:14Ephesians 1:7;Philippians 3:9)
I am eternally secure not mainly because of anything I did in the past, but decisively because God is faithful to complete the work he began—to sustain my faith, and to keep me from apostasy, and to hold me back from sin that leads to death. (1 Corinthians 1:8–91 Thessalonians 5:23–24Philippians 1:61 Peter 1:5Jude 1:25;John 10:28–291 John 5:16)
 This reminds me of a debate I read about between Calvinist Charles Simeon (1759-1836) and Arminian John Wesley (1703-1791) about what they had in common in the midst of the controversy.

[Simeon] Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers.  But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.  Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
[Wesley] Yes, I do indeed.
[Simeon] And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
[Wesley] Yes, solely through Christ.
[Simeon] But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
[Wesley] No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
[Simeon] Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
[Wesley] No.
[Simeon] What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
[Wesley] Yes, altogether.
[Simeon] And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
[Wesley] Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
[Simeon] Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.
We so easily disagree when we assume the worst in one another.  If only we could lean more on what we have in common, then maybe our differences would make more sense.  In order for that to happen we actually have to listen to one another rather than just waiting for our turn to speak. 


  1. From what I've read, John Calvin was more Wesleyan than most of his followers (Calvinists) and John Wesley was more Calvinist than most of his followers (Wesleyans). The followers of a popular teacher tend to exaggerate his teachings.


  2. Here's an interesting post on a related topic:

  3. Alan,

    that's interesting. What I've noticed is that these men never interpret a verse that contradicts the system of theology they are credited with by making it fit their system. They took the scripture at face value and when it seems to say two opposing things, they concluded that they must both somehow be true.

  4. Eric,

    Behold! The blue eyed beauty and the reformedlostboy are unified (one flesh) even in the face of (seemingly) differing doctrinal views. If we can do accomplish unity in marriage there is no reason why we should not be able to succeed with the rest of our brothers and sisters.

  5. "All things, indeed, [are] pure to the pure, and to the defiled and unstedfast [is] nothing pure" -Titus 1:15 (YNG)

    Thank for the reminder to look for the good in people, and especially to assume the best.

    "[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." -1 Cor. 13:7

  6. sol,

    indeed, we should regard one another as new creatures in Christ because that is precisely what we are.


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