Convictional and Compassionate: Being an All-Around Calvinist

What comes to your mind when you hear the term “Calvinist” or “Calvinism” mentioned? For some people, the term represents a theology and a people who are cold, selfish, eggheads, academics, not practical, and isolated. The caricature of Calvinism oozes forth from many people as if being a Calvinist and being a leper were synonymous with one another. As someone who gladly embraces the term (with qualifiers as a Baptist), along with unashamedly declaring the doctrines of grace from the pulpit, it raises a concern that perhaps our zeal apart from love contributes to the scarecrow straw-man constructed by those who oppose Calvinism. A Calvinist must be a man or woman who is a Calvinist all-around. This is play on C.H. Spurgeon’s work An All-Around Ministry where the Prince of Preachers guides young pastors into seeing the many elements that must be a part of ministry. I would suggest a few elements that are needed for us to be all-around Calvinists.

Experiential Religion

Some might get the impression (fairly and unfairly) that to be a Calvinist requires an oath to reject any type of feelings and emotions in regards to the Christian faith. If one reads just a few Puritan works, the conclusion will be made that this is not true. As I read The Valley of Vision (which you should too) prayers, my heart stirs within me considering the greatness of our God and His grace manifest in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Calvinism fuels true experiential religion built upon the Word of God. In his work The Practical Implications of Calvinism, Pastor Albert N. Martin makes a striking observation: “I submit that a man has no right to speak of being a Calvinist because he can repeat like a parrot phrases brought to him in the great heritage of Reformed literature. He must ask himself, Has the Holy Spirit brought be me to this profound sense of God that has worked in me at least in some measure the grace of humility.”[1] It is not enough for us to systemize if we do not internalize. The doctrines of grace are the marrow for experiential religion for they are anchored to the text of the Bible, beholding the majesty of God, humbling our prideful spirits, and taking us upward to behold the Lamb of God. Is your Calvinism causing you to be a man or woman of biblical, experiential religion? May God help us if our Calvinism causes us to be cold and indifferent! Such an experience would indict us of not truly knowing the doctrines of grace.

An Informed Worldview

            Calvinism extends far beyond TULIP and the latest conferences. Biblical and historic Calvinism provides a guide for how to view all of life. A person’s theology better be more than what takes them to corporate worship for an hour on Sunday. In fact, this is one of the great problems of the day. A ritualistic morality is a poor and cheap substitute for biblical Christianity. The great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield defined a Calvinist in the following way:

He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling and willing – in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, and spiritual – throughout all his individual social and religious relations, is, by force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.[2]

Warfield expands the playing field when it comes to Calvinism as being more than a theological acrostic. Theology can never be impractical due to the fact that doctrine fuels our lives. Each day decisions are made based upon a worldview, a grid for life. Calvinism will influence how you parent, how you relate to your spouse, the way you view your job, politics, and so forth. If Calvinism only comes into play when TULIP is spoken of, then it is not Calvinism but a sort of pragmatism that reigns in the heart and mind of an individual. J.I. Packer beautifully summarizes this in his introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible – the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.[3]

A Gracious Outlook

            Confessing a theology known as the doctrines of grace must impact us in being gracious to others. Sometimes I cringe reading Twitter and seeing how men who I am persuaded are true believers, who call themselves Calvinists, and yet speak to each other in ways that lack any type of grace and charity. Keyboard Calvinism is as dangerous as pragmatism. Calvinism is not a badge to wear for admittance into the cool kids’ club nor is it a club to beat people over the head with. When one gets a true sense of the grace that God has shown, how can that not humble us and guide us in our dealings with others? One of the great concerns I have is that many Facebook and Twitter Calvinists are pragmatists when it comes to their ecclesiology. If you choose where you attend church and are a member at based on pragmatic values, then it does not matter how well you can articulate the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace. One of the greatest changes in my life when I came to understand the doctrines of grace involved how I viewed the local church. If you want to destroy the caricature of cold Calvinism, band together with like-minded believers. The beauty of Calvinism should be seen in gracious cooperation: serve the community like ministering at a children’s home or a nursing home, show grace to one another knowing all of us are feeble human beings who need Christ, and remember that the pilgrimage to Zion is not a road of isolation.

Steadfast Convictions

The false dichotomy that states being gracious and compassionate means the absence of convictions and beliefs must be rejected. Our Lord is all-gracious and compassionate yet He is dogmatic and narrow as He declares that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Calvinism must be compassionate and convictional. Our theology does matter. Our beliefs do matter. For someone to say that it is not a big deal what one believes concerning God’s sovereignty, man’s depravity, and Christ’s sufficiency moves closer and closer to a false gospel. Further reformation is needed today when it comes to the regulative principle of worship, the perpetuity of the moral law of God, confessionalism, and covenant theology. However, a person can be fervently committed to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith without being obnoxious about it. In my opinion, no one combined the doctrinal fidelity of Calvinism with experiential religion, powerful evangelism, compassionate ministry, and selfless service like C.H. Spurgeon. Yet, Spurgeon was no ecumenical in the sense of watering down doctrine and theological railing.[4]

Conclusion

Beliefs do matter. Practice does matter. They go hand-in-hand. Calvinism must be convictional and compassionate. I urge you to explore ministries like Ligonier Ministries, Reformation21 of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Founders Ministries, and Banner of Truth as examples of how Calvinism serves for all of life. I will close with a word from Mr. Spurgeon:

A knowledge of doctrine will tend very much to confirm your faith. Try to understand God’s Word, get a sensible, spiritual idea of it. Get, if you can, a system of divinity out of God’s Bible. Put the doctrines together. Get real, theological knowledge founded upon the infallible Word. Get a knowledge of that science which is most despised, but which is the most necessary of all, the science of Christ and of him crucified, and of the great doctrines of grace…The church needs the doctrines of grace to-day as much as when Paul, or Auguste, or Calvin preached them; the Church needs justification by faith, the substitutionary atonement, and regeneration, and divine sovereignty to be preached from her pulpits as much as in days of yore, and by God’s grace she shall have them, too.[5]

[1] Albert N. Martin, The Practical Implications of Calvinism. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 10.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] See https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/packer_intro.html for the full essay.

[4] See https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2001/are-you-sure-you-like-spurgeon/

[5] Tom Nettles, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 167.

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