Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why I Am A Calvinist

I've been thinking about theology lately.  More specifically, what sort of theology(ies) have both formed and informed my own.  Over the next few weeks I will be posting about these influences in a series I'll be calling, "Why I Am..."

For those of you who are familiar with Brian McClaren's work, you will naturally assume that I am ripping off his book "A Generous Orthodoxy."  And you would be right.  Then again, there are no original ideas left, really.  Everything is a riff on an original.  At least that's what I'll tell myself.

In this entry, I'll be relating Why I Am A Calvinist.  

In a nutshell what I am calling Calvinism is probably better understood as Reformed Theology.  It is a way of understanding God that has it's foundations in the works of John Calvin, but also other of the famous Reformers from the 16th and 17th century.  What we know as Calvinism is grounded in five essential beliefs, known as the "Five Points" of Calvinism.  They are:

Total Depravity - Human beings are unable on their own to choose God because of their sinful nature.  This does not mean that human beings are evil, merely that they are affected by sin.

Unconditional Election - God has chosen from eternity those whom will be saved not based on anything they have done, or could do, but because of His mercy.  


Limited Atonement - God's saving work through Jesus' as the substitute for those who have been chosen is limited to that purpose, but is not limited in power.  In other words, salvation is for all, but only those chosen from eternity will recognize this. 

Irresistible Grace - In God's timing, His grace will overcome all of the objections that those who are chosen might have to receiving it.  Basically, when God decides someone will be saved, they will be saved despite themselves. 

Perseverance of the Saints - Those who legitimately recognize their "chosen-ness" will continue in faith until the end.  Those who fall away from the faith, were never chosen to begin with. 

After reading all of that, some of you might be thinking "Man...that Calvinism is way harsh." I admit, it does seem a little on the pessimistic side.

But what Reformed Theology emphasizes the most is the fact that God is in charge, that he is sovereign over everything and everyone.  Our focus is on God, and what God is up to rather than on ourselves.

Matthew S. Horton, the author of the book For Calvinism addresses this with the following statement that sums it all up better than any of my own vain attempts:
Calvinism is pessimistic about the moral perfectibility of humanity but nevertheless unleashes enormous energy for Christian callings in the world. On the one hand, Calvinism points out simultaneously both human helplessness and the gracious, overwhelming power of God in Christ. Christians are freed up from trying to score points with God so that now we can fulfill our callings in the world—loving and serving our neighbors and bearing witness to Christ—not to get something from God but to give something to others. Furthermore, traditional Calvinism places a lot of emphasis on receiving God’s grace together, as a covenant community, through preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We respond corporately in worship, prayer, confession. This emphasis on spiritual formation in community over a lifetime rather than individualistic “get spiritual quick” programs is sorely needed in our churches today.
What he said. That paragraph gets at the essence as to why I am a Calvinist.

Let me put my own spin on it.

1.  It's about God/Christ/Holy Spirit and not me.
2.  There is nothing I can do to earn or "keep" my salvation.
3.  Not having to earn grace means I get to respond to it with gratitude and love.
4.  When I respond to grace in love, I fulfill God's call to bear witness to Christ.
5.  I more fully realize my calling in a community of Christ-followers.
6.  When I worship, pray, grow, love & serve in community, discipleship happens.
7.  Discipleship isn't something that happens overnight--it's a lifetime experience.

You might argue that much of Reformed Theology (Calvinism) can fit under the umbrellas of those seven sentences.

"But what about Predestination?"  You might be asking at this point.  And you're probably doing it in a whiney voice.  Stop it.

Admittedly, Unconditional Election (Predestination) does have it's fair share of detractors.  But then there's that pesky Bible that seems to talk quite a lot about it.  If you would like to actually read the New Testament passages of Scripture that discuss Predestination.  Here you go.

I am also going to be preaching on Predestination in June as part of a sermon series on Reformed doctrines entitled, "Dusting Off Old Stuff."  Stay tuned, True Believer.


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