Calvinism

A Few Quick Thoughts

Let’s call this post a completely unscheduled and unplanned editorial. Most of you have probably noticed a bit of a controversy brewing among fundamentalists on the question of Calvinism and related matters.

SI is inevitably involved in the conflict. What I’m really hoping, though, is that SI can be in the conflict in a helpful way. Fundamentalism has frequently lost sight of important questions in the midst of the fog of war that arises from the personal conflicts (and organizational-politics conflicts) of those involved.

So, please remember a couple of things. One, we don’t endorse everything that appears in blogroll posts, much less Filings links. Two, we’re going to be working hard over the next week or so to better focus on the issues that matter most.
(I’m actually out of town on a conference-and-family trip and won’t be able to work on things directly until I return. The CCGG conference yesterday was very good, by the way.)

Ultimately, to the degree we focus on personalities, we’re not accomplishing much. When people articulate important ideas, we need to deal with the ideas—and that involves naming names to some extent. But the focus needs to remain on the ideas if we’re going to avoid the kind of unprofitable mud slugging that has so often plagued the fundamentalist movement in the past.

Whatever side of it you’re on, the ideas are too important to bury in a haze of personal conflict.

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Remembering Who the Enemy Is

TankThe recent alarm regarding the “radical resurgence” of a historical branch of evangelical Christianity that is a close cousin to Baptist fundamentalism seems to me to be something akin to the U.S. Army issuing orders to its troops to commence (or continue) training among its troops to deal with the threat of the U.S. Navy, while both are supposed to be engaged with an enemy that is constantly attacking it.

I sit every week in secular philosophy classes at a university in the Philadelphia area (to fulfill external course requirements at Westminster) and hear deadly error taught with the passion and sophistication one would expect to find in the madrassa schools of Iran or Saudi Arabia. I see the insidious doctrines of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Hegel, and Derrida being swallowed uncritically by the doctoral students around me. Error is so influential in academic circles and its proposals so sweeping in its social implications that I wonder what hope (apart from the sovereignty of God) Christians will have to freely worship and proclaim the gospel in the coming days. I think we are beginning to see the influence of radical philosophy behind the decisions and initiatives of our recently elected president.

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My Ordo Salutis on the "N" Train

SubwayI was on the “N” train again today. I looked into the eyes of another Chinese man, asking myself this time, How does a sinner believe? How does one dead in trespasses and sin come to life? Does regeneration precede faith? Is it possible, as I look into the eyes of the Chinese man, that he has already been or will be made alive by the Spirit because he is one sovereignly chosen by God?

Or is it possible that his deadness means that no spiritual life is present and never can be possible because he may be one who is not part of God’s plan? Perhaps he is not one of God’s elect. Perhaps all of the prayer and preaching on his behalf can never have any influence in his coming to life.

Or does his deadness simply describe the absence of spiritual life and his alienation from God without erasing the possibility that he may live again? Is there a mystery, irresolvable to the human mind, regarding God’s knowledge and plan in relationship to human response?

Perhaps the answer to whether this Chinese man can believe or why I believed and my neighbor didn’t is not as clear-cut as “one was predestined to believe (Calvinism) or one chose on his own accord not to believe (Arminianism).”

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Calvinism on the “N” Train

TrainAs I sat on the train this morning, I looked into the face of a Chinese man. He looked old, tired, and alone. I wondered, If Calvinism is true, is this man one of the ones God loved enough to send His Son to die, or is this man excluded from any possibility of grace? Does God care about this man, or is he one who is not the object of God’s love? What a troubling thought!

I continued to look at this lonely man across the aisle and thought about the apparent contradiction between Calvinism and encountering real people on the “N” train from Brooklyn to Queens. I asked myself, Is God most glorified by the expression of His great love for all or by the expression of His sovereign power in electing and predestining a few? Why is that grace must be irresistible for a chosen few? Is the love, goodness, and grace of God in the message of cross not persuasive and compelling enough in itself that God must save men against their willingness?

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The Garden of Life

My Journey Toward Biblicism

My good friend, Dr. Steve Davis, has “outed” me again! If you didn’t catch it, Steve authored a pair of articles for SharperIron dealing with the subject of Calvinism. I was his “exhibit A” for a Calvinist who is also evangelistic.
998347_springs_coming.jpgNobody is really surprised to hear me called a “Calvinist.” I am neither offended nor embarrassed by the term, though I try to use it cautiously. Recently I was preaching at a church and a well-meaning brother asked me if I was a Calvinist. I hesitated to answer. What did he mean by the term? I know what the term means historically, but many people use it carelessly. I know what Steve means by it, though, and he and I are still friends.

Whatever label you apply to me, my understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation has changed over the years. Since Steve has brought up this issue in public, it may interest you to know how I came to the beliefs that I now hold. Well, this is my story.

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