Contend Earnestly: When the Calvinist Becomes a Practical Arminian

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When the Calvinist Becomes a Practical Arminian

I have found it interesting throughout my journey as a follower of Jesus and specifically, a Calvinist, the ways in which I have found my own "kind" sounding and acting more like the Arminian, than what our doctrines shouldcall us to be. There are two ways I have found this to be true most blatantly in my Calvinistic brothers (and much in myself): Theological Discussion and Evangelism.

Even more specifically in these discussions is the glaring difficulty the Calvinist seems to have with our own doctrine of God's sovereignty. I believe we need to repent and start acting like good Calvinists. We love to say that Calvinism leads one to complete humility, but to be honest, I see more pride in Calvinistic people, than humility. The reason that Calvinism SHOULD drive us to humility is the understanding of man's condition and understanding that God is so sovereign that he doesn't need our wisdom or works, but has decided to work through them, spefically preaching, to bring the sinner to Jesus.

But, why doesn't this Calvinistic orthodoxy actually follow in our Calvinistic orthopraxy? Here is what I mean.

This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.
Titus 3:8-11

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6

In our dealings with other cultures and peoples in evangelism and gospel living, we shouldn't feel as though we have to have every answer, nor should we feel as though we have to give every available answer to the hearer/discusser all at once. We should rest in the fact that God is sovereign and that his Spirit is truly at work. We should truly be humble with the sinner, knowing how to engage them where they are and how much to engage them with. As a Calvinist, we should be able to give some truth, not all at once, depending on the situation and the true urging of the Spirit, not the urging of our self glorifying pride. We should allow the Spirit to engage each person where THEY are, not where WE WANT them to eventually be.

This doesn't mean to purposely hold back for the sake of holding back, but we need to know when to lay off of our fire hose of orthodoxy and allow God to work on their heart, instead of acting like we are both the scalpel and the surgeon on the sinner's heart. We need to remember that we are merely the axe (Isaiah 10:15) and must allow God to be the one that receives all the credit instead of our own intellect or source of timing of giving the sinner knowledge of his Maker. We should allow God to decide when to strike the wood and when to lay the axe aside. While in conversation, don't feel like you have to correct every error made by the other's involved, but act like you actually believe in God's sovereignty and have real conversations in love.

Not only this, but remember that God is at work on Christians as well. We need to remember Phil 1:6 and act like we believe it. When speaking to those who do not agree with Calvinistic doctrines, it makes more sense to show them (live them out) our doctrines than beat them over the head with them, which shows zero understanding of humility or God's sovereignty. When we do this, we act like we are God's sanctification expert, sent to correct those other dumb people. When you get into debates, where you try and correct every error, you sound really dumb. First, these debates have been happening for centuries, and you think you are the new Martin Luther attacking the Wittenburg door of the Arminian. There is so much pride just within those kinds of debates, that you will drive the Arminian away instead of pressing them into Jesus. We should strive to press everyone into Jesus, including ourselves, knowing he is the one full of truth, full of wisdom, full of God and full of rest and sanctifying power. Why do you feel it is your job to sanctify the Arminian? You aren't being a peacemaker, nor are you being one who exudes Christlikeness, but you end up looking like a prideful ass, who looks like they hate their "enemy" instead of loving them.

I just ask my Calvinist brothers to please start living out what we believe to be truth.

Be humble. Trust Jesus. Be ready to speak. Be ready to listen. Let Jesus sanctify. Side're not Jesus.

I'll leave it at that, and trust that Jesus will speak to some through this post and start sanctifying us all to his side for his glory.


Jeff Fuller said...

Generally instead of " a reason for the hope we have in Christ" we give reasons why other people are wrong and our theology is correct. Love needs to motivate the words we speak. But not a love for being right, a love for Christ that compels us to exalt Him. He is a light in the darkness.

Steve "The Czar" Patton said...

There are 2 issues that you post that I trouble me as a person exploring all-things Calvinist.

1. Is something I agree with you one: many reformed guys are VERY prideful. I told a friend of mine as we discussed the neo-Calvinist movement that what they had to say would be easier to swallow if they weren't such jerks about it. It like many of them feel the need to dump everything they know on you when you ask them a question and you better know what "missional" means when they say it. And if you don't then you will be made to feel less than. Its been a turn off to me personally, but I also know that as I explore the truths they espouse, I can't hold God responsible for the evil that men do.

2. Your tone of the title purely echoes a sentiment I've felt about the movement: a feeling of superiority. So-called "Arminians" being put in a category of being less than a Calvinist because they believe they chose to respond to God's grace rather than that grace being irresistable. Its a weak and divisive attitude. I understand you believe that "Arminians" only see in part, but the "acting like an Arminian" is comes off as pious.

But at the core of your post, I agree w/ you. Again, as someone exploring the claims - not to know more- but to see if these are God's truths and thus draw me closer to Him - your contemporaries would do well to take heed to this post.

Seth McBee said...

Very true.

I am glad you caught the "tone" in the title...No prideful Calvinist would ever want to be compared to the lowly was purposeful so that they would hopefully read the post :)

You'll notice I also put them in the category of enemy in quotes at the bottom of the post...again...mocking the prideful mindset of some Calvinists.

Steve "The Czar" Patton said...

Seth, I did notice but I wasn't sure if it was ironic contradiction or cleverly worded. Thanks for the clarity and this post.

SnatchedFromTheFire said...

Couple things:
1: you know how those newly converted to Christ can't stop talking about Him to everyone who will listen? Same thing about converted Arminians! I have to watch myself often that i don't go off pedantic or prideful rant but rather (as i'm learning to do) ask good questions of the text and, as you say, let the Holy Spirit do the teaching.
2. I love what Chandler says about exactlty this point. He wrote, "I'm unapologetically Reformed, but nine times out of ten I cannot stand the Reformed community. I don't want to be around them. I don't want to read their blogs. They can be cannibalistic, self-indulgent, non-missional, and angry. It's silly and sad at the same time. Reformed doctrine should lead to a deep sense of humility and patience with others. How it produces such arrogance baffles me." So true!

That has always summed it up for me: humility should be the result and chief fruit of growing in Reformed theology. Augustine put it so well when he said, "The grace of God does not find, but makes persons fit to be chosen." Let the ultimate joy and thankfulness of someone who sees that God chose them in love show to others and they will think twice about labelling the 'sour, prideful Calvinist'. That's my feeling anyways.

Phil said...

There is just something about the online Calvinist community that inbreeds bad behavior, which is antithetical to the principles of Calvinism.

Darlene said...

On the other hand, could the "fruit" of Calvinism directly correspond to its teachings?

I came to the conclusion that I could not evangelize according to Calvinist categories and distinctions. The TULIP had been weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Notice how there tends to be a male affinity toward Calvinism? Seth, even in this post you addressed your "Calvinist brothers." Where are all the gals vigorously defending Reformed theology? I have my suspicions as to why this is so, but I'll keep them to myself. Calvinists remind me of a bunch of white, anglo-saxon guys barracading themselves within their theological paradigms always ready to slay the next perpetrator.

SnatchedFromTheFire said...

Darlene -
ironically, i feel an imposed pressure NOT to respond to your comment lest i be seen to be trying to "refute" you ;) That said, being new to the reformed stance myself, i have to say there is some truth to what you've written. I would hope that looking to some historical Calvinists (i'm thinking particularly at the moment of Spurgeon) would make me pause before concluding that reformed teaching is against evangelism in ANY way (in a modern context i've found Matt Chandler, Piper, and Driscoll to be particularly missional and evangelistic in their reformed understanding of the gospel - would you agree/dis-agree?)
I can't speak for any other churches but i know you'd find quite a few gals defending reformed theology at my church. The reason you most likely wont find many in the mainstream/online/etc. is probably due to the complementarian peice that tends to (in my view) fit into a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood which SEEMS to follow a reformed undretsanding of Scripture (but is certainly not essential or inherant to it). Your last comment, "Calvinists remind me of a bunch of white, anglo-saxon guys barracading themselves within their theological paradigms always ready to slay the next perpetrator" is a sad but all too true rebuke of the reformed camp which does tend to attract a male, domineering type who just want to be "right". That said, there are also many who are overwhelmed and humbled under the weight and beauty of the doctrines of grace and act and speak accordingly. above all, may God be glorified and those who would seek to glorify themselves (under ANY tradition) be humbled and brought into a right understanding of their place in the "big picture". Soli deo gloria.

Darlene said...

Dear SnatchedFromFire,

Humility and a life LIVED in obedience to Christ speak more loudly than all the systematic "ducks lined up in a row" theological arguments. The former is what I like to call "Jesus with skin on." The latter is BORING without the former put into practice.

Seth McBee said...

Good questions, but to be honest, the more one sees God's grace and sovereignty, the more one should be humbled. Whether or not people live out this doctrine is a showing of their inate desire for self instead of God. It doesn't make the doctrine flawed, but the person. Myself included.

As far as your question on Evangelism...I wrote this post on Calvinism and Evangelism a couple of years ago. I would change some wording in it, but the premise is the same.

Calvinistic Evangelism is Not Jumbo Shrimp

As far as saying "brothers" it is because they are the ones I most often see and interact with that suck at being humble and suck at allowing Christ to sanctify. Again, myself included.

Unknown said...

Seth, you make some very wise observations in this blog. Personally I believe that the only way an Arminian is to understand scripture from a reformed view point is by reading the Bible with the assistance of the Holy Spirit with perhaps a nudge from a reformed believer. A sledgehammer on the head of a person who holds to an Arminian view of scripture goes against a lot of scriptural teachings on the relationship between believers (Rom 15:7, Col:16, Gal 6:2, Eph 4:2, Rom 14:19, 1 Cor 12:25, Thess 4:18, Rom 12:10, 1 Thess 5:11, Rom 16:16, 1 Pet 4:9, Eph 4:32, Rom 13:8, Gal 5:13, Heb 10:24, and Eph 5:21 are among them). We are to do all things in love and to do otherwise is to show that we are either in sin (pride) or not a believer at all. When the Lord made me a believer 15 years ago when I was 40 y/o and opened my spiritual eyes so that I could then read the scriptures with understanding, an understanding that people of faith would identify as reformed, I wasn’t excited about being “reformed” I was excited about being able to understand what the Bible was saying. I was excited about giving the truths of the Gospel to those who were dead in their trespasses and praying for those outside of Christ. Over time I have found many fellow believers who were a part of Arminian churches come to a reformed understanding of scripture w/o having some hyper-Calvinist bashing them on the head; they simply read the Bible and started to ask questions. I don’t believe in converting Arminians rather I believe in being a witness to glory of our Lord through interaction w/ non-believers. My theological position has nothing to do with it though I will say that understanding that the Lord is the one who makes a person into a believer takes away a great weight that we are somehow responsible for a person’s conversion.


Anonymous said...

Nice way to avoid the import of the topic.

The real problem with modern "Calvinists" is that they're not really Calvinist they're Amyraldian. (Look it up)

The modern "Calvinist" in the pulpit actively suppresses the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. They are regarded as being but erring brethern. The truth is that Arminianism is another gospel with a different understanding of God and his purposes, the work of Christ in his atonement, and the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. The two are COMPLETELY incompatable. This was the view of our Reformed fathers at the trial of Dort. The result of which was expulsion from their pastorates and teaching positions that they might not corrupt the churches. However, today, enemies of the truth like Wesley, Moody and Graham.

Furthermore, true Calvinism does not only consist of holding to the 5 points, but also to the Regulative Principle of Worship. (Which the PCA sought fit to drop as well as "reformed" Baptists etc.) Christmas and Easter have become our high holy days and the Sabbath is treated as any other day wherein work, business, etc. is openly done. Furthermore, these churches have also disregarded God's command against the making of images and so our children are regularly taught their lessons aided with pictures of "Christ."
Instead of trying to get Calvinists to suppress the truth about salvation, you might try using this space to begin a much needed reformation. This desperate attempt on the part of "Calvinists" to enlarge their fellowship by downplaying the differences with Arminians will destroy the churches. Case-in-point, D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Ministries was a great compromiser ala Jehoshaphat, and now the church is being pastored by Billy Graham's grandson! I've never heard of any Graham being a Calvinist!

Instead of reading Sproul, MacArthur and Piper (We'll see what becomes of their churches soon. May God preserve them.), you might start reading Calvin, Beza, Owen, etc. Also, you might try listening to the sermons of Brian Schwertley, W. J. Mencarow, Richard Bennett, Alfred J. Chompff, Greg Price and the various ministers of the PRCA (PRCA.ORG) for good, classical reformed teachinr

Best wishes,

D. S.

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