Sunday, January 20, 2008

You Calvinists Are All Alike... right?

The other day I received an email that somewhat took me by surprise. There was a time when I used to get email like this one all the time (at least once a day, often several times a day), but thankfully those days are long past.

The gist of this email was this: I am a blogging Calvinist and therefore influencing people with a false doctrine and should really be careful about what I'm "teaching" via my blog. The sender of the email (whom I do not know and have never heard of), listed several (what they believe to be) inconsistancies with John Calvin's teachings and that of the Scriptures, encouraged me to understand that Romans 9 is not speaking to individuals but to a nation as a whole, to prayerfully reconsider all my awful Calvinistic ways, and don't ever teach that non-Calvinists are not really saved.

There wasn't anything overtly insulting or rude in the email and for that I am thankful. It does stand apart from other emails like it, in that regard. However, there also wasn't anything in this email that I haven't heard before, discussed/debated (at length) before, or heard debated before. The sender of this email disclosed that he is a "former Calvinist" and as he says "until I did a lot of research into the scriptures and found that I had to put a square peg into a round whole to make it fit." Further, he goes on to say:

"Like many others, I had based my beliefs on my many book readings by John Piper, RC Sproul, and John MacArthur and not Jesus Christ and the apostles. I hope this note inspires you to seek further and to work with others not of the same mindset."
It's funny, for several years I spent ample amounts of time each day (I have no idea where I had the time to do this, but I did it) in online chats having these very discussions with people. Same topics, day in and day out. There was a time I got so tired of hearing the same objections over and over again to the doctrines of grace, that the first time I heard James White say on the Dividing Line webcast that these are seemingly just template sermons that men pass around and share with each other to preach against this, I actually said outloud "YES! that's exactly it!!" (Yes, I talk to my computer - and my tv too, doesn't everyone?)

I don't debate doctrine anymore. I just got tired of it. Some would say that it wasn't my place to begin with to do that, others would argue that the call to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints is every believer's duty - but that may be a post for another day.
I do however want to address one of the more common allegations made by folks who presume to know how you got sucked into this horrible TULIP garden. Before I do that however, let me clarify for the sake of being completely honest: I am a Calvinist in the strict sense only that I agree 100% with the five points of the TULIP. By saying that I am a Calvinist, I am not saying I agree with everything else Calvin held to, such as infant baptism (which always seems to be the sticking point when folks hear you're a Baptist AND a Calvinist. If anything could trigger spontaneous human combustion, that one comes awfully close, for some folks). It would be much more accurate to say that I am a monergist when it comes to soteriology; I staunchly hold to the sovereignty of God in all things and that does indeed include the salvation of man.
It wouldn't matter what the man's last name was, whether it was Calvin or Hubergoober, if he got that part right, I agree with him and more importantly, the Bible teaches this very same thing. Let's just all be very glad TULIP was never associated with a man named Hubergoober. Moving right along...

If I had a dollar for every time I've ever heard or read someone say that either you cannot arrive at this understanding of God's sovereign character by reading JUST the Bible - but have to have been under the teaching of someone else (meaning face to face) - or - you read key authors/leaders/pastors in the evangelical community and arrived at your position based on what they say... I'd have a whole whack of dollars. I have personally always found it interesting that these folks almost never list CH Spurgeon among the horrible Calvinistic leaders that likely influenced you. Reason being, a lot of them really like Spurgeon and often quote him themselves, not even knowing that he too held to the very same thing about the soveriegnty of God and the salvation of man. I once referred a pastor (online) to Spurgeon's Defense of Calvinism and he accused me of being a liar and making the whole thing up. To say that he was intensely angry with me, would be a serious understatement. That was a real eye-opener.

After discussing these things online with like-minded believers for the last 10+ years, I've long since learned that my own circumstances that led me to believe what I believe today, are not all that uncommon. In the fall of 1996 the Lord simply blessed me with a hunger for the word that I never had before that. I was like a starving woman suddenly sitting at a banquet table and allowed to eat all I wanted. I just couldn't get enough! At this time, I held to free will (or thought I did anyway, I grew up hearing it and assuming it was true - without ever really questioning it) and was attending a hyper-charismatic AoG church. Something in my heart told me that being a Christian and living a Christian life was more than just "catching the fire" and "jumping into the river" of the latest nationwide "Holy Ghost revival" going on. The only way to find out what that "something more" was, was to study the Bible and so that's what I began to do.

At this time, I had never heard of John Piper, John MacArthur, John Calvin, John Knox, John Hubergoober or anyone else named John who liked tulips. The only thing I read aside from my Bible was my Strongs Concordance (it's all I had) and my own notes from my pastor's sermons that kept nagging at me because they didn't seem to line up with what I'd find in Scripture.

It was only after I began to see that this alleged free will that men hold to so dearly didn't truly exist (much to my shock), that I heard of John Calvin, and learned other people believed the same way I was beginning to realize that I believed. Like countless others in the last 30 years or so, the first time I heard "Calvinist" I immediately thought of a pair of jeans. I knew nothing of church history so for me the connection just wasn't there. Folks began to call me a Calvinist long before I had ever read a single word he wrote, or anything anyone else had written on the topic of God's grace, except of course what was in my Bible.

Our Heavenly Father has brought many people to a deeper understanding of this teaching in exactly the same way. He didn't do it by directing us to the uninspired writings of men (no matter how good they are), He did it by putting a hunger in us to understand His inspired word better, and study it voraciously, seeking to be molded by it and corrected with it.

The last part of the sender's email that I quoted above is interesting to me:
"I hope this note inspires you to seek further and to work with others not of the same mindset."
The timing was interesting indeed, considering this was a topic that came up last the other night when we had some friends over for a time of fellowship. The email sender was referring to maintaining a unity among professing believers and not considering "us in this camp" and "them in that camp" - or even going beyond that and saying those that do not hold lock step to my theological/doctrinal views are not saved at all. Well, I don't believe that, so that's not really an issue anyway. I know that there are many who are currently in the exactly the same place I once was - regenerated by the grace of God and still under a system of errant teachings. It happens, and it happens often. Up above I linked to Spurgeon's defense of Calvinism and here's something he said in that, that bears repeating:

"Well can I remember the manner in which I learned the doctrines of grace in a single instant. Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul—when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown on a sudden from a babe into a man—that I had made progress in Scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God. One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, "I ascribe my change wholly to God."

I remember reading that the first time with a lump in my throat and tears stinging my eyes. The more I read, the tears spilled down my face as I thought to myself "yes, this is it!" Still, when I read it today it's a bit overwhelming as I remember also the moment I realized that God was at the bottom of it all and the very Author of my faith. I had already been regenerated by His grace, and now by that very same grace my eyes had been opened just a bit more and I began to understand in some small way, a deeper sense of God's majesty and supremecy over the very beating of my heart, the breath in my lungs and my eternal state. It took me a little over a year to really come to get ahold of this, it was all so incredibly overwhelming. It felt like the equivalent of a theological freight train hitting me over and over again, but instead of destruction and damage, was nothing but me saying "thank you Father for such grace" in a very helpless voice. I think I had a tiny glimpse into Isaiah's heart when he said he was "undone" or "ruined - meaning brought to utter silence with nothing at all to say (Isaiah 6:5).

Therefore... while I no longer "debate" the doctrines of grace (there are plenty of believers out there that are far more gifted than I could ever hope to be, that do this and do it well), I did want to share this today in the hopes that someone out there sees that not all "Calvinists" are created equal, and that what you may have believed about us, may not be as accurate as you thought.