I’m A Calvinist, but…
I’m a Calvinist, but that does not define who I am. Let me explain.
Those of you who read this blog and are reformed in your Soteriology will remember when God opened your eyes to the Scriptures to see his sovereignty over all things. I remember when I was in seminary I began to read several books and articles that challenged my thinking on the Doctrines of Grace. Coming to embrace the sovereignty of God was not only a challenging process, but has often been the source of great scorn and rejection by others. Although there are great challenges in holding to the Doctrines of Grace, the rewards of seeing God’s sovereignty over all things far outweighs any struggles. With that said, let me say that I fully embrace the Doctrines of Grace and am truly grateful for what they represent and how they impact my life as a Christian. However, I am not defined by them.
In recent years a resurgence has began among young adults with regard to Calvinism. Christianity Today wrote an article about this resurgence and many of you know that Southern Seminary is a flagship school for Calvinism, although the leadership may not identify itself as such. As great as it is to see Calvinism make a resurgence among people, it should not define us. At times I fear that people and churches take pride in their Calvinism rather than the gospel. What should define us is the gospel. I realize that the Doctrines of Grace represent the gospel, but even our understanding of the these wonderful truths of God’s grace cannot be divorced from the greater plotline of Scripture. Let me make two points here.
1.) Proof-Texting and the Calvinist. One of the favorite passages of Scripture for the Calvinist to demonstrate the absolute sovereignty of God is Romans 9:6-18. Typically, this passage is used to show God’s electing purposes from both the life of Jacob and Esau and Moses and Pharaoh. While it is true that God’s sovereign election is clearly understood from this passage; Paul is making an argument from the Old Testament to demonstrate God’s election in regard to his purposes for Israel. In other words, Romans 9:6-18 should not be merely viewed as a proof text for individual election, but should be interpreted and applied according to how Paul is using God’s electing purposes within redemptive-history. Ultimately Paul is demonstrating that God’s purposes are never based on flesh, but based on promise (or faith). Paul then goes on to show how the Gentiles are chosen by God to receive this wonderful salvation. Even those who advocate a corporate view of election from this passage are missing the point. Paul is not trying to establish the doctrine of election from a personal or corporate sense, but he is showing God’s purposes for Israel and the Gentiles, which inevitably involves the doctrine of election. As Calvinists let us be faithful to properly understand the contexts that these sorts of passages are found in and be faithful to explain the text properly.
2.) Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. This point picks up off my last point. Every one of the wonderful points of the Tulip should never be divorced from how Scripture understands them within the flow of redemptive-history. If we take any doctrine within the study of Systematic Theology (e.g., Theology Proper, Anthropology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, etc.) we must first develop that doctrine according to the Bible’s own contours and categories. In other words, the Bible is not a Systematic Theology textbook, but God’s redemptive purposes revealed in human history. We must be careful to formulate the various points of Tulip in the same way. For example, the doctrine of perseverance does not come to us neatly packaged in a single chapter, but we must follow the warp and woof of Scripture allowing it shape our thoughts about the doctrine. We see perseverance developed all throughout the Old Testament with God’s people living in strange lands, under foreign rulers, and persecuted by ungodly nations. Those who possessed genuine faith continued to press on and believe God’s promises. The writer of Hebrews tells of these saints’ perseverance in chapter eleven. Those of the church must persevere as well, but how much more confident can we be “upon who the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11). Thus, if there was judgment under the first covenant for ignoring it; how much more judgment do we face when we have seen and heard God’s final Word (Jesus, cf., Heb 2:1-4)? As we read books like James, 1-2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation we see God’s wisdom for his people on how to live and persevere among a perverse and idolatrous world.
We all proof-text our beliefs. This is called theological shorthand. However, just as we would scoff at others for illegitimately using the text to establish their doctrines (i.e., taking a text out of context), we must be wise in how we use Scripture to defend our beliefs, knowing that these truths from Scripture are never divorced from their redemptive-historical setting in which they are first given and then later developed. While I am grateful for coming to understand the Doctrines of Grace, I am even more grateful for the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, which not only encapsulates the Doctrines of Grace, but shows us so much more when we read and understand our Bibles according to the way Jesus and the apostles did.