Yes, I’m aware that it’s not Saturday. If you must know, I did a lengthy political post yesterday, cooked the kids breakfast, took my wife to dinner and a movie, complete with shopping, and in short, ran out of time. Besides, are you REALLY going to dog me for waiting until SUNDAY to do a Spiritual Saturday post? Think about it. (Now that I’ve brushed the chip from my shoulder, I’m all smiles.)
I ragged a little on Calvinists last week and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. But at heart, I am not a sectarian. No less an Arminian than John Wesley is reported to have said, “If your heart beats with my heart, you are my brother; give me your hand.” Another favorite Wesley anecdote that I first heard years ago tells of Wesley being approached by a fellow Methodist who asked if Wesley expected to see his fellow evangelist, the staunch Calvinist George Whitefield, in Heaven. Wesley didn’t even hesitate before replying, “No.” This caused the pulse of his Arminian friend to momentarily quicken with glee, but in the next breath, Wesley explained, “Because he will be so much closer to God’s throne than I will be.”
In that same spirit, forthrightly extending the bulk of the credit to them rather than to any bigheartedness in myself, I thank God for my Calvinist brothers and sisters, with a special affection for those that I am privileged to call my friends and associates. A comprehensive list of all the reasons why would require a booklength treatise, so I will content myself with four reasons for the parameters of this post.
1. Calvinists stand in awe of the majesty of God. We are in great danger in modern American Christian culture of becoming so enamored with freedom in Christ that we lose our reverence in the presence of a holy God. My Calvinist friends read a passage such as Romans 9:14-26 and although I believe they ultimately interpret it incorrectly, they grasp the underlying truth: God is GOD. He demands, commands and deserves not just our respect, but our total adoration. John Piper’s theme should ring true to the heart of any Christian: “All for the glory of God.” Difficult, indeed, to veer too far off the path of righteousness with such a consuming passion for the cause of Christ.
2. Calvinists refuse to deviate from the authority of Scripture. My Calvinist friends would actually prefer to be referred to by the term “Reformed”, rather than “Calvinist.” I don’t object to this. It is fitting that those who willingly march under the Reformed banner have upheld the standard set by the one who first blazed the Reformation trail: Martin Luther. Luther’s rallying cry was “Sola Scriptura” (“Only Scripture!”) There is certainly an argument to be made for the benefits of knowing church tradition and history; I would not dispute that. But Reformed Christians grasp the fact that the integrity of the Word of God must be preserved if Christians are to unite around the Cross.
3. Calvinists have taught me the necessity of an honest Biblical hermeneutic. Ironic, indeed, that I would learn more from Calvinists, with whom I do not theologically ally, than from my Arminian teachers, about the desperate need of proper hermeneutics in our time! (Hermeneutics is defined as “the science of biblical interpretation.” The chief benefit, among many, that I derived from my MA program with Liberty University was not only a renewed love for the Bible, but a determination to, in King James parlance, “rightly divide” it. My holiness forebears placed a strong emphasis on emotional experience in religion. To this day, I am not completely averse to that, but this tended to bleed over into a desire to experience “what the Bible says to me” rather than to study it and determine what its writers intended to say to their original audience(s). The logical end of reading the Bible for what it says to me rather than what it originally meant for its intended audience is clear: logocentrism and deconstruction. Imagine if we read every historical text for what it “says to us” rather than for the meaning the author(s) intended to convey! Yet so many of us habitually engage in this pursuit when we read the Bible. It should not be so. Radio’s “Bible Answer Man”, Hank Hanegraaf, says, “The Bible was written for us, but it was not written to us.” Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart offer a pithy sentiment that perfectly sums this up: “A [biblical] text cannot mean what it never meant.” (I highly recommend Fee & Stuart’s book How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth as the place to begin if you want to explore this further.)
4. Reformed leaders are charting the course of opposition to the false teachings of the emergent church. I must insist at this juncture that I not be misquoted. I have not stated and will never assert that all emergent teachings are false. Not all emergent-oriented churches are completely misguided, nor are all emergent Christians equally wrong. But there are trends and patterns that I have observed within this movement that should be nothing short of alarming to confessing Christians. If I had to summarize in three points what bothers me most about many emergents: 1. a low regard for the authority of Scripture AND tradition, 2. at the very least, a muddying of the waters concerning the exclusive nature of Christianity and its claims and 3. an inherent sympathy for socially liberal, progressive causes, which stems from a failure to emphasize the sinful nature of humanity. These are strong generalizations to make; I am fully cognizant of that. They are, however, what I see. (Yes, I will be saying more about this in future posts and it will involve sharing some of my own story.) Anyone remotely familiar with Reformed doctrine will see that Reformed Christians should be naturally combative to emergent fallacies. As an Arminian friend conceded to me a mere couple of days ago, “The love that our Reformed brethren have for the Scriptures is very dear to us.” AMEN. That being the case, the sinfulness of man and the deity of Christ are natural fruits of that outlook.
My differences with Calvinists have been enumerated clearly. But we stand united at the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ, the only hope for a world torn by the ravages of sin. We rejoice together at the tomb left empty by a risen Savior. We declare to the world with one voice that the sacrifice of the blood of Christ is sufficient for all who believe. We march forward in lockstep with the assurance that the God of Wonders is with us always, even to the end of the age! And we eagerly await the day when together, we cast our crowns before the feet of the King who is worthy of all of our glory and praise. That is enough for me.