October 23, 2017

The iMonk and Calvinism Q&A

calvin.jpgQ: Are you a Calvinist?

A. I prefer to not be called a Calvinist. There might be certain situations where I would answer to that term, but it would be rare.

Q. Why are you no longer a Calvinist?

A. As long as I have been a Calvinist, I’ve had to explain what the term meant when I used it. For example, Evangelical Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, PCUSAers, OPCers and PCAers are all Calvinists with similar views on some kind of monergism. But when you move just a few inches off this common ground, chaos ensues.

Calvinism is like a big apartment house where a lot of families live. Some of the families are people I identify with. Some of the families are people I want nothing to do with. After almost 14 years, I think I need to find another place to live. I am not disassociating from everyone in the house or everything they believe, I just need my own place. Some of the nut cases won’t let me have any peace and quiet.

Q. So you are being bullied out by nut cases? Isn’t it immature to change your entire label because of a few whacked out crazies?

A. Good point, but I think the problem is larger than the few people who attacked me in April ’05. It’s the larger profile of Calvinism in evangelicalism. Just one example. When I came on board, J.I. Packer, Timothy George, and John Piper were representative of my kind of Calvinism. That was cool. I could fit and feel authentic in that mix. Today, Calvinism is [Unnamed party], John Macarthur, Al Mohler and a lot of very angry young men defending all kinds of fundamentalist yahooism. The profile and “flavor” of the movement has changed in significant ways, at least as I perceive and experience it. It is no longer a basic grid, but is coming to include all kinds of things: mandatry hostility to public schools, culture wars, rejection of other Christians, Young Earth Creationism, ridiculous intimidation and defaming of good people writing and reading theology outside of the “approved list.” It’s starting to feel like a crusade against the rest of the church.

Q. What about Tim Keller and other less polemical Calvinists? Why not identify with them?

A. I think Keller represents a kind of hopeful “post-Calvinism” in the sense that he is open and affirming, not a polemicist. Missional. Open to the Emergent Church. Apologetics over polemics. Church planting rather than church splitting. I really hope his kind of Calvinism grows and I really appreciate him.

But honestly, I identify with so-many non-Calvinists and evangelical PCUSA types, it would be hypocritical to say I am a “Calvinist” in the current atmosphere. Os Guinness and Ravi Zacharias for starters. Mark Driscoll. Todd Bolsinger. Mark Roberts. Capon. Eugene Peterson. So many of those who appreciate N.T. Wright. If you know anything about Calvinism these days, you will understand why I’m not just on the back lot, I’ve left the farm before I’m lynched.

Q. So are you giving up on all Calvinists? Removing yourself from them?

A. No, not at all. I will still read books by Calvinists, go to conferences, enjoy sermons and worship with Calvinists. For instance, I still identify strongly with The Founders Movement in the SBC, even if I am not in sync with everyone else who might be part of that movement.

I still believe the majority of what I wrote in “Why Calvinism is Cool.” I have changed my perception of some Calvinists and some trends in Calvinism in America. I do see some problems that I did not see at the time I wrote that essay, particularly with sectarianism and becoming too identified with the culture war.

I would just say I am a Reformation Christian. The Five Solas are more important to me than TULIP, though I still identify with some aspects of TULIP strongly. Just not all.

Q. Limited Atonement?

A. I think that’s an example of asking for a kind of loyalty to a construction that isn’t Biblically compelling to me anymore at all. From certain angles, some scriptures line up with it. But the universalism of the mission and Gospel of Jesus are so overwhelming, I can’t see where you use “limited” in any sense that is helpful.

Q. There are ways around those issues. Many self-identified Calvinists use those short-cuts.

A. And that says to me that the label is just too important. Reformation Christian works fine.

Q. So are Calvinists bad?

A. Not at all. I would affirm the vast majority of the pro-Calvinist material I have written. But I just can’t identify with the current prevailing atmosphere. It’s caught up in the culture war, and I am very concerned about that. It is increasingly intolerant of things that are either non-essential or historically neutral. And, yeah, it is unfortunate to see young people caught up in highly polemical, non-essential debates within Calvinism in a day when we need our young theologians helping us engage and missionalize the culture and the unreached world.

Bad isn’t the word. Boring is often the right word. If I have to go around some of these classic Calvinistic debates one more time I think I’ll crack up. I will tell anyone, “I am bored with the vast majority of what Calvinists want to talk about,” and frankly, I’m ashamed to have spent so much time reading and talking up some of these topics.

Q. What is Christian Humanism?

Christian Humanism is a tradition within Catholicism and Protestantism that resists a particular kind of “God-Centered” Christianity that minimizes, distorts, rejects or even despises human concerns. Theology and Anthropology aren’t poles on a line, they are poles on a sphere, both necessary to understand the other. The Incarnation is the key part of the Gospel for Christian Humanism, and that is very controversial these days. The Reformers were Christian Humanists, in that they saw all kinds of implications on the human level in the recovery of the Gospel. It’s also the way we rethink apologetics and evangelism, by being unafraid to talk about the human experience as well as the doctrinal message. I think it is a more useful way to describe myself theologically, and it opens the door to some good communication.

Q. What about John Piper and Christian Hedonism?

I am very ambiguous about Dr. Piper at this moment. Aspects of Christian Hedonism are central to what I believe. At other points, especially recently, I am somewhat confused and put off by where things seem to be going. I love Dr. Piper, and I consider him a wonderful teacher of the Gospel. He is a true Christian Humanist of the best kind, in practice. But I am concerned about the anthropology that is implied in some of his more recent books, and a tendency towards fanaticism at times. I will be doing much consideration of Piper in the future, but I want to be clear of my continuing appreciation and support of his ministry.

Q. Why don’t you just go with what scripture teaches. Period?

A. I think all of us go with what we believe scripture teaches, but I’m honest enough to say that the whole experience of being a Christian is more complex than just reading the Bible and joining a church. It’s your life, not the ACT. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the scripture AND in the believing community are realities that take us to different places as human beings. It’s not relativism. It’s simply the recognition that in the Christian experience, relationships and communities are important.

One of the problems I am currently having is that I’m meeting more Calvinists who are absolutists about where the church exists, and have come up with an ecclesiology where having elders is as important as the resurrection. I always pursue what scripture teaches, but scripture brings me to Jesus, who is not the sum total of 58 doctrines mixed together. I find Jesus in communities, in the writing of people like Wright and Capon, and in the wider church, some of whose theology isn’t A+.

I grew up being told that our church was the only one that was a true church and we were the only true Christians. They were wrong, and the current version of the same crowd is wrong as well.

Comments

  1. It sounds like you are struggling with your identify as a Christian right now. I would recommend some of the writings at http://www.rbc.org, particularly the “Discovery Series” booklets. There is also a section on questions people ask about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, and the Christian faith in general.

    You seem to be caught up in the expectations of others with regard to how you should worship and what you should believe culturally. Because the Bible is authored by God, it is transcendant and immutable and independent of the traditions we have devised for oursevles. When I struggle with questions about my faith, I open up the Bible and read, it usually answers my questions for the moment.

    The important thing to remember is that labels like Calvinist, charismatic, etc. are man made, and thus, have nothing to do with God’s ordained purposes for human beings. Christianity is so much more than cultural expectations, how we vote, our positions on “Christian” concerns, or what schools we send our kids to. It is about the saving and transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His love for us. That’s what I try to keep in mind when I too have questions about my own faith.

    Have a great day, and God bless.

  2. “Calvinism” is really a misnomer simply because many people who take that name as applying to themselves are neither overly familiar with Calvin or the ‘worldview’ of the magisterial Reformers in general.

    It has come to mean one who believes in the five points of Calvinism so-called but we must remember that those five points were drawn up as a very specific apologetic response to Arminian concerns. They were never intended by their framers to be a replacement of the gospel or some sort of codification of it. What many ‘Calvinists’ miss today is the surrounding theological context which those five points are set in and what that overall context has to do with them specifically.

    The theology and practice of John Calvin was so much more Christ-centered than the theology and practice of so-called Calvinism today in Baptist and other circles. Calvin carried with him an incarnational catholic theology that was not merely a way to explain how salvation happened–rather it was a faith that transformed everything it touched.

    Sadly, that is not what is meant by Calvinism today. I believe you are on target here with this FAQ and I encourage you to keep it up. If anyone needs to hear these things it is the very so-called Calvinists that get so upset at what you write. I say write on and destroy the idols of today that we are tempted to bow down to.

  3. Bruce Settergren says:

    What question is “A. No. I would just say I am a Reformation Christian. The Five Solas are more important to me than TULIP, though I still identify with some aspects of TULIP strongly. Just not all.” answering?

  4. Dolan McKnight says:

    I am so glad you are letting us lurkers in again, although I understand why you cut comments off. I have always loved your humor and honesty on subjects not often dealt with by other writers, and I like to get my two cents worth, such as it is, in.

    I empathize with your being barraged by Calvinists who are bullies. It is not that their beliefs are right or wrong, but their tactics can be so insensitive, cruel, and manipulative. This has nothing to do with Calvinism per se, because the same tactics have been going on in the SBC over innerancy and other issues for twenty-five years, with many God-fearing ministers, many my mentors and friends, being attacked and besmirched
    unjustly.

    Power is a very corrupting thing that Satan can use to destroy Christian witness. The SBC has not been purified by its controversy as much as it has been embarrassed, divided, and made more cynical. The same will happen to the bullying Calvinists.

    Doctrine is important, but love is more so. Contrast the attacks on you by your critics with the way N. T. Wright deals with his, say in the Jesus Seminar. He certainly does not mince words with his criticism of their scholarship, but he is quick to praise what he can and certainly does not make the ad hominem attacks that you have been subject to.

    “Reformation Christian,” “Christian humanist,” whatever label you choose is fine with me. The important thing is that Jesus knows your name and calls you to proclaim His Gospel.

  5. Mike,

    Comment and a question. Comment: I believe that Mark Driscoll is a Calvinist. Mars Hill and the rest of the Acts 29 churches (Imago Dei in Portland with Rick McKinley) are self-proclaimed Calvinists (they prefer Reformed), at least in soteriology. It is one of their distinctives and something they would divide over. However, I will say that Driscoll’s brand of Calvinism is far more attractive to me as a young, would-be preacher. I think it’s b/c Driscoll and those folks don’t start with Total Depravity, but with creation in the imago Dei, which seems like a much more biblical place to start. To me it sounds similar to your Christian Humanism. Anyway, just thought I’d throw that in there.

    Question: I was curious about what you said about Piper’s latest offerings leaning toward fanaticism. I’d be interested to hear which one’s you are referring to. If I might guess, I’d say it could be “Counted Righteous in Christ” with it’s polemics at the N.T. Wright types. I’d be interested to hear more on what you think of N.T. Wright as well. I really like his stuff and though I may not follow him at every point, he seems to be restoring authenticity and historicity to the gospel by grounding it in the 1st century. Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts on both.

  6. Michael, I honestly think you’d find a theological soulmate in Karl Barth. He is someone who comes out of the rich theological heritage of the Reformation but whose theology doesn’t reveal the faultlines that are currently showing in modern Calvinism. I think you’d be intellectually challenged, spiritual inspired, and experience great theological growth by spending time with his work.

    I recommend reading his “Dogmatics in Outline”, which you can pick up for just a few bucks to get started. If you want more depth, reading Church Dogmatics II/1 and II/2 will change your life.

    After reading you for a few months, I think you’d love him. You’re crying out for someone like him. You’d never be the same.

  7. James Aguilar says:

    I go to an Acts 29 church! Hmm . . . Calvanist . . . not the way I’ve seen Calvanism represented on the internet. I always feel stupid when I read the writings of Calvanists — like I’m supposed to know more than I do. Pastor Darrin does not make me feel that way.

    Peace.

  8. Marvellous, Michael. I think I can appreciate exactly where you are coming from.

    I found that as I explored more and more anabaptist ideas, many of my Calvinist friends and colleagues (including some that we both e-knew on a discussion list) almost acted as if I was reading p0rn! They almost seemed to fear for me because I was reading forbidden books! *Sigh*

    When asked now, “Are you a Calvinist?” I tend to say, “Well, I’m not a non-Calvinist.” For me, it’s simpy a case of asking a different set of questions. It’s not that Calvinism is wrong, it’s just that there may be better ways to approach these things.

    Anyway, thanks for a good post.

  9. Hi Mike, It seems to me that you are viewing Calvinism more as a movement rather than a theological system of biblical truth. Although a young earther myself at the moment, I hardly feel this is a tenet of Calvinism. I would not ask if your beliefs line up with todayÂ’s perceived leaders, but rather does it line up with historical Calvinism and more importantly does it line up with Scripture.

    Sorry to hear you took such a beating from the stronger personalities around on first the young earth issue and later on NT Wright and the Catholic discussion.

  10. Mark…

    You are right, and this is what happens when instead of staying with theology, we form “teams” with all these other non-essential matters prominently displayed as part of the team.

    The biggest beating I am taking is for accepting my Roman Catholic friends as part of the church. Have Protestants, historically, taken the position that all Catholics must be treated as unbelievers?

    I preach the Gospel to believers and unbelievers. We all need Christ, all the time. If I extend generousity to my RC friends, it doesn’t mean that I am failing to tell them they need Christ and Christ alone. I invite all people to believe the Biblical Gospel. I know that the name “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” is not welcome in many circles, but doesn’t it at least prove that many good Protestants are with me on this?

    BTW- I have people writing me telling me their own stories of the “approved” reading list. This isn’t the spirit of the Reformation.

  11. I love that first comment (not really).
    Because, OBVIOUSLY, if you are waffling on Calvinism, you are struggling with basic knowledge of the faith. Michael, you really need to bone up on Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and probably the inerrancy of Scripture. 😉

  12. I have to confess, I get nervous whenever someone (including myself) starts identifying themselves so strongly with anyone or anything other than Christ that it becomes a core issue. I understand that for many people, saying “I am a Calvinist” is just a shorthand for defining some of their beliefs. Many times, however, those shorthand labels can take on a life of their own outside of Christ, and soon we are in danger of being like the Corinthian church that prompted Paul’s first letter to them.

    I like the final answer of your FAQ. It is Jesus Himself and the life and community created by His work and the work of the Holy Spirit that defines us.

  13. The Canons are not Christ centered?

    1 Article 1. As all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and are deserving of eternal death, God would have done no injustice by leaving them all to perish, and delivering them over to condemnation on account of sin, according to the words of the apostle, Romans 3:19,”that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” And verse 23:”for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23:”for the wages of sin is death.”

    1 Article 2. But in this the love of God was manifested, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. I John 4:9.John 3:16.

    1 Article 3. And that men may be brought to believe, God mercifully sends the messengers of these most joyful tidings, to whom he will and at what time he pleaseth; by whose ministry men are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. Romans 10:14, 15:”How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?”

    2 Article 8. For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.

    2 Article 9. This purpose proceeding from everlasting love towards the elect, has from the beginning of the world to this day been powerfully accomplished, and will henceforward still continue to be accomplished, notwithstanding all the ineffectual opposition of the gates of hell, so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one, and that there never may be wanting a church composed of believers, the foundation of which is laid in the blood of Christ, which may steadfastly love, and faithfully serve him as their Savior, who as a bridegroom for his bride, laid down his life for them upon the cross, and which may celebrate his praises here and through all eternity.

    The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

    II. Who teach: That it was not the purpose of the death of Christ that he should confirm the new covenant of grace through his blood, but only that he should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as he might please, whether of grace or of works. For this is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that Christ has become the Surety and Mediator of a better, that is, the new covenant, and that a testament is of force where death has occurred. Hebrews 7:22; 9:15,17.

  14. Gabe Bell says:

    Michael,

    Ever heard of Sovereign Grace Ministries? They’re a movement of churches led by CJ Mahaney. Check them out at http://www.sovereigngraceministries.com

  15. I’m pretty sure the reason why the reason that so many (not all) Calvinists are dogmatic young earthers/inerrantists is because there’s two ways to get there:

    1. Funda-literalist paradigm. You can’t not be a Calvinist if you’re one of these guys. It’s really, really easy to find out the truth about predestination when you’re just verse-shopping. I mean I know that, also, some of these guys aren’t Calvinists, but those guys are just stubborn.

    2. The other kind are the more thoughtful guys that read the Epistles as full-bodied texts, in light of their historical and lingual-cultural setting. They can’t help but conclude that the way Paul talks about God’s redemption is pretty mongeristic, though maybe not as mathematically precise as the TULIP.

    I don’t know you and haven’t really talked to you or anything but I think you’d fall in that second camp. And that’s why I think you find so much opposition from that other crowd. Cause their kinda Calvinism is something similar, yet in a way completely different than yours.

  16. I am well aware of SGM. I greatly appreciate what they are doing. I think time will tell where it’s going. I was greatly disappointed that CJ named his sucessor. I guess I’m still a congregationalist on the issue of pastoral call. And they are Pentecostal on the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” which is an error that matters a lot, as it divides the Body of Christ into two kinds of Christians.

    If anyone heard me say the “canons aren’t God centered” please tell me where I said it and what I meant.

  17. You are going Counter-reactionary here running too hard from the worst aspects of Calvinism and the looney Edges of the movement (both the liberal and TR ultraorthodox fringes) that you are running head long into the error of Eramus and the Semipelagian captivity of the church. Stay centered donot let the fringes frame the debate of Calvinism. Become Confessional study the WCF and the LBCF and study not the straw man of the five points but the synthesis of the 5 Solas and the 5 points into a Christian World view. Study the FAITH acromyn or the ROSES acronmym since they better reflect scriptural truth than the continental dutch formulation of TULIP. That would be my advice. Remember the Calvinist has a function in the body of Christ the function just is not always soft and cushy.
    Concentrate your focus in the re-reformation of the church. With health and wealth and word of faith the protestant church has degenerated backwards to the indulgence centered days before Luther. Then their is the sick postmodern liberalism of the mainlines and you have got a mess. Stay engaged with the TR’s and theonomists shock them out of their Theological Ghetto’s their bugeoning subculture.

  18. “Staying engaged” with those types is a fine thing, in theory, but engagement is a two-way street. There’s no “engagement” where one party has (in their opinion) the corner on truth, and it’s *you* who have to come to *them*. The “sorts of things they need to hear” are the just the sorts of things that only get them stirred up like hornets (see what happened here last week).

    Unfortunately, the only reliable means I know of for shocking such people out of their tidy little subcultures & mindsets, is seeing the results of their screwups in their own lives. And only God can engineer such lessons. I speak from my own experiences in this matter. “We learn best when we’re flat on our backs.”

  19. I’m always amused listening to baptistic Calvinist debate what Calvinism should be. As someone else mentioned earlier, Calvin was a High Church Pietist. This means he believed in a holism that is not normally associated with a baptistic mindset, particularly their “soul-compentency” mentality and dichotomous heaven/earth antithesis. Calvin certainly was not a fundamentalist in that aspect.

    Perhaps it might be a good idea for both sides of bapistic Calvinism to read some of Calvin’s polemics against the Ana-Baptists.

  20. Imonk:

    I have perused your site occasionally and have found encouragement therein. I would not consider myself in full agreement with you on all points, but I am thankful for your candidness and forthrightness. I am not with you on your moving away from some of the finer points of Calvinism, but I am with you on your desire to see Calvinism not turn into radical fundamentalists with a passion for doctrine but little for life.

    John Piper has influenced me much and I do owe much to him both theologically and practically. Personally, there is probably no other current church leader that I respect and have been influenced by more them him, but I am vary wary of boasting in men but also thankful for this leader God has given us in this generation. I believe His call is prophetic and much needed. More recently the A29 movement (Mark Driscoll as one of its key leaders) has had an impact on me and I am thankful for there focus on strong doctrine and authentic life experience. I am actually involved in an A29 church plant, er a church plant that has become A29. I am longing to be a man that is both rigorous in theological strength and righteous in life conduct.

    To be a man that watches both his life and doctrine closely is what I want. I want a life and a doctrine that shine forth Jesus Christ. This is hard. This is counter-cultural, all the while not being afraid of the culture, rather it goes into it and thwarts its errors and is not afraid of its sin.

    I do agree with you that Calvinists can at time be arrogant and undyingly comitted to there system without being comitted to dying with there life. I never want to be this way. I want to be one who lives and thinks Bible-thoughts. As Spurgeon said, I will not avow myself to be a Calvinist. However, I also desire to be one who lives and breathes the sovereign grace of God both in my affections, mind, and works. Jesus is who I want to imitate. The Calvinist needs to really feel and see him weep over Jerusalem, hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors, and see him hold and play with children, and the more experiential type Charismatic or doctrinally indifferent seeker sensitive or hip emerging church dude needs to hear him rail against Phairsees, speak with pointed unabashed, convicting, exclusive, aboslute language, and go to the cross. Jesus did not call us to have a big head and a Ph.d nor did he call us to a life of doctrinal and truthful indifference amidst a community that only hugs and smiles and sings cool worship tunes.

    I don’t really know why I am writing except to say, my brief readings of your essays have encouraged me to love humanity (which you seem sold on now) and to love doctrine (which you seem to have experienced a slight dissilusionment with). I would encourage you: watch your life and doctrine closely. Be a both/and Christian. Full of head and full of heart. Don’t be afraid of your critics, but listen to them as well. Most importantly, do all to the glory of God and ascribe to the doctrine and live the life that was once for all delievered to the saints.

  21. Please pardon me for asking, but I really need to know why. Why is doctrine such an important issue to most of you? Since doctrine differs from denomination to denomination, if one watches their doctrine ‘carefully’, doesnt it encourage seperatism?

    Just an honest question.

  22. Mesy Christian,

    Certainly the New Testament tells us to be concerned with doctrine to the extent that it puts Jesus in focus/context and it allows us to be the community of Christ-followers he commissioned. It is also part- not all- of the minsitry of church leaders to teach doctrine, again, as a way of putting Christ/Gospel/Church in focus.

    But I have another answer: A heightened concern with doctrine is a necessary part of being a PROTESTANT. Every Protestant is, potentially, his/her own denomination. Protestants- and I include myself- have a heightened interest in this subject because of the knowledge that we live in a “high wire” act on the subject of final authority. So we over compensate, and the more protestant we are, the more tempted we are to over- over- compensate.

  23. Oh, I never thought about it that way. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to answer this gal’s question!

    I tend to think that there’s value in each denomination’s doctrine. But often, people have said that’s a ‘bad thing’ on account of ‘picking and choosing what you like’. (Do you know why it’s a bad thing?) Discussions saying that do make me feel alienanted – I wonder why I’m thinking so ‘differently’.

    I’ve always felt like an alien in a strange land despite 10 years as a christian. A lot of things in Christian culture is just mind boggling.

  24. I don’t know whether it’s worth my posting a comment as so many people have already said so much. But for what it’s worth …

    On one level I don’t really care what label you use or don’t use to choose your Christian affiliation/affections or belief-system. Without wanting to sound terribly postmodern and relativistic, the terms we use to describe ourselves can have different connotations (if not meanings) for different people.

    I could list a number of terms to describe my Christian beliefs. The list will no doubt develop and even change over my lifetime. My beliefs are not set in concrete. I try to submit to Jesus as Lord and pray that he will guide me in his truth. I do, however, consider myself a “Calvinist”. But this is only one part of the picture.

    I could also use (and this is by no means exhaustive or in any order of importance) the terms: Christian, Trinitarian, catholic, Protestant, Augustinian, monergistic, Reformed, evangelical, conservative, Paedo-Baptist, Anglican, middle-of-the-road in churchmanship, liturgical, traditional … and the list could go on and on.

    What do these terms mean though? I do not at all want to suggest that all meaning is subjective. None of these terms was invented by me and I have adopted them knowing that they carry a meaning shaped by their prior use. That said, however, I am quite confidant that some terms on that list would be fairly meaningless to many people, other terms would be liable to be understood, yet others ambiguous and the coupling of some even might be seen as a plain contradiction. And after all this is said and done, there will be people who identify with some of those terms, have a good understanding of what ground is covered by them and still disagree with me as to their meaning.

    So yes I’m a “Calvinist”. My “Calvinism” has been very much shaped by the Anglican tradition. No doubt this is different from the “Calvinism” shaped by the traditions of a Presbyterian Church of Australia, a PCUSA, a Reformed Baptist, a brandless megachurch in US Suburbia or whatever.

    I could say the same thing — and much more — about evangelicalism. As an “evangelical” I am far from in agreement with much of modern evangelicalism. Do I throw in the evangelical towel? I could say that labels are what we make them — so if the label “evangelical” has gone to the dogs we can ditch the label and find something else more appropriate.

    I have never been to the USA and only know of the Christian scene there from what I read and hear. I honestly don’t know whether I would feel comfortable using labels such as “evangelical” “conservative Christian” “Anglican/Episcopalian” and even “Calvinist” in that setting. To say you’re a “conservative evangelical” in the USA of 2005 might mean to many that you vote Republican, homeschool your kids (or, failing that, send them to Christian schools), and go to a megachurch for all your entertainment needs when you get tired of watching Christian cable TV and reading Christian novels such as the “Left Behind” series. That’s NOT what I’m trying to say by the use of “evangelical protestant”.

    So the Monk has discovered that he doesn’t agree with everyone in 21st Century America who calls himself a Calvinist. Moreover, he finds being associated with some of these people uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean he’s not a Calvinist though.

    I went through a stage where I gave up on many labels. I would say I was “just a Christian”: Not a “protestant” — just someone who happened to believe that the Reformers were basically right and that RCC was in error; not a “Calvinist” — just someone who happened to believe in Total Depravity, Unconditional Election and many of the other doctrines associated therewith; not an “Anglican” — just a Christian who went to an Anglican church, agreed with the Anglican Reformation formularies and liked the Anglican form of worship.

    After playing this little game for a couple of years I gave up and realised that I can’t escape the use of labels. I AM a Protestant. I AM an Anglican and I AM a Calvinist, despite the fact that there are people under those respective roofs with whom I (sometimes vehemently) disagree and very much don’t like being associated with.

    So now I don’t mind being called (and even calling myself) a Calvinist — but I usually have put it in context, explain what I mean and distance myself from some who claim the name. Perhaps in the same vein that you no longer like being called a “Calvinist”, I still don’t like being called a “fundamentalist” and it is never a label I would use to attach to my beliefs. But in some senses of the term I probably am a “fundamentalist”.

    I actually wish that many of ther terms on my list didn’t exist. Why am I a “Protestant Christian” and not “just a Christian”? Because (among other things) of the misrepresentation of the gospel by the Church of Rome, the inability of the Reformers to correct that and the subsequent need to break away. Obviously I wish that none of this had happened and that the term “protestant” didn’t exist. But it does exist and it has a meaning which I am not ashamed to appropriate, despite the fact that many in the camp have wildly different view from my own.

    I think most of the problems in Calvinism stem from an unbalanced “Calvinism” (or “Protestantism”, or “Presbyterianism” or whatever particular label you are talking about). Unfortunately too many “Calvinists” fail to see their Calvinism as but one piece of the much bigger picture. As one poster already said, TULIP was a specific response to Arminianism. And as a response to Arminianism I think TULIP is broadly correct. But it would be a mistake to identify Calvinism with TULIPism, or Christianity with Protestantism or orthodoxy with a belief in young-earthism etc. God’s garden is not confined to a choice between tulips and weeds.

    Would that the Calvinists you find uneasy to associate with recognise that and enjoy God’s garden for all its richness.

    Grace and Peace,
    David.

  25. I truly enjoyed this article and I find it to be right on the mark as to how I have been leaning in my own personal walk. Thanks!

  26. There are only two systems of faith in all the world. Always have been and always will be…only two.

    1. Free-Will
    2. Free-Grace

    Call yourself what you want, join whichever group you prefer, argue and nitpick about the things you see as essential or non-essential. In the end, you will belong to one of these two groups.

    I don’t believe in Free-Will.
    I do believe in Free-Grace.
    I am a Calvinist, which, as Spurgeon said, is nothing more than New Testament Christianity.

  27. Michael, it’s good to see you back in the running. And I appreciate your struggles, if only because I’ve been going through them myself for a year.

    I think what was done to you by certain voices around the ‘net sucks. Period. “Love one another as I have loved you.” I’ll bet no one found that particular verse in their proof-texting…

    I forget who posted it – but the idea of “Calvinism” or Lutheranism or Catholicism being a way to identify a general group of beliefs (versus being a battle standard raised as we run rough-shod over those who raise a different flag) is a powerful one. I’ve seen a whole bunch of this “I’m right!”/”No, I’M right!” shouting matches across the blogosphere, and I’m with you – it’s just plain b-o-r-i-n-g.

    That’s the damndest part about Christianity – someone latches onto one word, or one verse, and it becomes the anchor around which the entire world revolves. And it’s nothing new – it’s been going on ever since the Romans and Orthodox Catholics split over trying to figure out the pecking order of the Trinity. There’s one “ancient tradition” we could afford to lose…

    I don’t always agree with you – and it will take some considerable convincing to get me to buy into predestination (I even argue with Luther about it, let alone Calvin). But I appreciate your willingness to speak, to share your journey, and to be a light in this arena.

    The more I hear about people drawing lines, drawing and quartering the Body over this text or that, I just have to believe there is weeping in Heaven.

  28. Big Fat John says:

    Steve F.

    I will echo your sentiment regarding planting one’s flag on a single verse and allowing that to overule everything else found in Scripture. Indeed, these misinterpretations have yielded catastrophic results for the Church. However I think if your intent, and please correct me if I am wrong, is to apply this to corroborate an argument against Calvinism and Divine Election, it doesn’t stand. The whole of Scripture sees God electing individuals for a specific purpose. See Moses, Noah, David, 12 disciples, Paul.
    What about the Nation Israel? Indeed chosen by God. Tim’s post containing Spurgeon’s comments are correct in stating that this is New Testamnent Christianity. How many of Paul’s writings for example in Ephesians or Romans (of course I list the well known ones) contain languge like “chosen” “He chose” “He called” “He predestined”, etc.

    I’ve always wondered if God did not choose me, but I chose God; what about me was so special that I was enabled to chose? Was it my natural inclination to spirtitual matters? Perhaps my environment? Maybe an intellectual pursuit of Truth? What about me was so special that I came running to God while others rejected Him? Nothing!!!! I was an enemy and hater of God just like everyone else. I find it fascinating that C.S. Lewis (altough not of a Calvin persuasion ha!)emaphsized the sin of Pride so much in “Mere”. Oh how we would love to cling to the idea that something in us is superior to those horrible sinners around us who reject the Gospel. How we would love to parade it before God as if He were to be impressed and thankful that we befriended Him so that He didn’t have to be lonely anymore. When in fact the truth is I was prompted by the Spirit to respond because God is the Author and Finisher of my faith. The bottom line is the idea behind Calvinism is Scriptural, to assert anything else is to deny the Sovereignty of God. The problem lies when we identify moreso with a fallible Theologian and his ideas as oppose to the inerrancy of God’s Word. The problem in our camp is we emphasize the intellectual too much and we produce a bunch of cold hearted seminary profs who won’t pull their Lexus to the side of the road to help a stranded motorist because he has a 9 o’ clock Soteriology class to teach. On the other hand we have individuals who think they don’t need sound doctrine and the Spirit will show them all they need to know without exercising any individual effort. While these people seemingly emphasize humilty and love a liitle more efficiently, sadly they produce individuls the likes of which you see permeating the airwaves on TBN. I think a Christ-centered middle ground is a position to be sought. This is why (if it sound like I’m sucking up…well….I am)this site and particularly Michael Spencer are so great. His honesty and humility are refreshing in a time of unwavering arguers. He has admitted to being wrong at times. We all are and I trust and will continue to enjoy his writings because they are genuine, full of real issues and concerns, and express struggle rather than having everthing figured out and believing you are right on everything. To summarize Paul, if we have all these gifts and knowledge but do not LOVE it is pointless. We do not edify but bring dissent. A friend of mine said it well: “I will agree to disagree with many of my brothers about the non-essentials, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to sit with him at this Sunday’s pot-luck.”

  29. Michael, this was a great article.

    A few years ago, when I had to fill in a census and I was attending a Baptist Church, I wrote “Baptist” in the question about religion or denomination. But I felt so wrong about it, I crossed it out and changed it to Christian. This was even though someone else in the house had put down “Christian” on the form, and I wasn’t sure he understood what “Christian” really meant.

    But I decided it was better to allow myself to be misunderstood than to call myself anything other than a Christian.

    I think you participate, or at least read, the stuff on the theology list at yahoo.com I have been interested in the stuff that David Ponter has posted, which shows conclusively that Calvin and many other “Calvinists” would not agree with “Limited Atonement” without careful qualification. A couple of posters have shown clearly that Calvin and other prominent “Calvinists” would happily say that “Jesus died for the sins of the world,” etc. [Funny, the bible says that, too.]

  30. Hi there, I do visit your website on occasions and I thought it is a great pity that you abandon the Calvinism label. To me, Calvinism is not a movement but actually summarize my doctrinal position rather accurately.

    I must say that I strongly disagree with your comment on the Roman Catholics being part of the church. The official doctrines of the Roman Catholic sacraments convinced me that the bare essentials of the Biblical Gospel was never taught. If you truly believe in the Five Solas, I do not see how you could extend your “generousity” when the Roman Catholics do not deny the false gospel? I mean, isn’t the criteria of being part of the invisible church to hear and receive the Biblical Gospel?

    On the doctrine of limited atonement, I do not see how this doctrine could affect the “universalism of the mission and Gospel of Jesus.” They are two separate matters. We do not know who are the elect that Jesus died for, and that is why the Gospel must be preached to everyone.

    And when we apply the rules of Biblical hermeneutics, we know that certain verses can only have one interpretation, while other verses can have more than one interpretation. Therefore if certain verses strictly suggest limited atonement, then the rest of the Bible must be interpreted in the light of those verses.

  31. Michael,

    Good post, and some interesting comments. My two cents:

    (1) I second the suggestion above re: Barth, though I have a feeling you have read him somewhere in the past. Try him agin. He is attacked by most of the mad dog TULIPers o the net for his “low” view of scripture, but a careful reading will show that he just accepted the then current views of the skeptical historins, and basiclly told them that even if they were right about things like the historicity of the Bible, their theology was still screwed up. Tody, with so much decent evangelical scholarship out there, he would probably say “Great, I’m glad to learn that the Bible has much stronger historical claims that I used to think it did, but yor theology is as screwed up as the liberals was 80 years ago.”

    (2) People need to actually read some Calvin, and not just his Institutes and Commentaries. He maintained a correspondence with Reformation figures throughout Europe, and was instruemntal in shaping early reformed Churches in several countries. And he did this by being willing to compromise, even to the point of almost being able to agree with Luther over the Eucharist. (He did if I recall corectly reach a deal with Melcanthon.) There has been some more attention paid to this aspect of his career in more recent biographies and studies of the reformation, but the bottom line is that no one– no one–exerted more effort to trying to bring about a reformation of THE CHURCH, not little prooftext based divisions of the same.