The last decade has brought quite a renaissance of Calvinistic passion and teaching within American Christianity.
Though I do not subscribe to the Calvinistic system for doing theology, I do not discount Calvinism as a viable system for doing orthodox study. In fact, I enjoy close friendships with thorough-going Calvinists.
I even employ on our preaching team an articulate and winsome Calvinist, whose dear friendship I’ve enjoyed for 13 years, and whose spirit is the epitome of godly humility—and whose occasional dance into the most debatable areas of God’s sovereignty vs. free will are, I believe, a healthy counterbalance for our Body. Wrestling with age-old questions of God’s sovereignty and goodness, along with mankind’s free agency and subsequent responsibility are age-old subjects of rich, theological conversation!
This brief paper is not an argument for any one of the major strands of the evangelical, theological spectrum (such as Calvinism, Arminianism, Pentecostalism, or Dispensationalism—all four of which happen to be represented on Faithbridge’s staff). Nor will it speak against any of the mainstream evangelical systems for doing theology.
What is objectionable, though, is a virus of hubris that has infected, particularly, many of the newest generation of Calvinists. The problem is pride (see Prov. 13:10; 16:18; 1 Cor. 13:4), and specifically, pride deceptively cloaked in theological language. The bombast modeled by several leaders in the movement seems to have created an unwholesome trickle-down effect on a large segment of the younger generation, leading some to the conclusion that their Calvinistic theological system is the only biblical option for doing legitimate, evangelical theology.
“Calvinistic LASIK surgery” seems to render obsolete any other theological lens that has previously helped Christians throughout history in understanding God, Scripture, and sovereignty. This “procedure” further compels them to smash on the pavement all other theological lenses—as both inferior and surely worthless to anyone.
Though Calvinism is certainly one legitimate alternative for doing serious theology, a particular strand of Calvinists seems neither aware nor able to acknowledge that Calvinism certainly has some soft-underbelly. (As if any man-created theological system might contain no underbelly, and as if God might willingly contain Himself within the box of one system and eradicate all divine mystery.)
But the hubristic young Calvinist (often inexperienced and untested) overlooks the system’s shortcomings—and seems equally unable to acknowledge the inherent strengths found in other biblically faithful, historically rich, and arguably just as reasonable theological systems.
I recently interviewed an applicant at Faithbridge, soon to finish a year-long internship in an outspokenly Calvinistic Church. She told me: “I have been humbled through my interactions here at Faithbridge and can easily see the Spirit is at work here. . . . I know I would learn many lessons here, and I would benefit from the experience of seeing some things through a little bit different lens here.”
All I could think was: “Wonderful! Come join us with a humble and loving spirit. If we can agree on Christianity’s historical and essential convictions, let’s join hands and make more and stronger disciples of Jesus Christ who make more and stronger disciples of Jesus Christ!” “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” (Psalm 133:1).
But several days later, another young applicant sat in my office, following several years of mentoring from an ardent Calvinist. He declared, “I’m a Calvinist, and my mentor has cautioned me against serving here, for fear that I might end up compromising too many of my Calvinistic essentials.” Before he could finish his sentence, a different conclusion was congealing in my mind: “I fear that you have been infected! If this is how we would start our walk together, then your theological system has become more important to you than the Gospel—and this is idolatry. Until something changes within you, your heart won’t be well-matched for ministry at Faithbridge.”
Once more, my focus here is not upon the superiority of one system over another; rather, it is a call within the evangelical Body, for individual humility and corporate unity—as Jesus and Paul insisted upon in the Church (see John 17:11, 23; 1 Cor. 1:10-17, and Eph. 4:1-7, 12-13).
Anything short of this leads to a supremacist spirit—which manifests in arrogance, divisiveness, insubordination, and even theological subterfuge, all of which are utterly repugnant and biblically unacceptable in the Body (see Titus 3:9-10). The net result, I fear, will be a hindrance in the overall ability for Kingdom people to unify and impact our increasingly secular culture with Christianity’s dominant Gospel.
Notwithstanding their sometimes theologically contentious friendship of the 1700’s, friends and fellow-evangelists John Wesley and George Whitefield ultimately arrived at the heart of this paper. Wesley summed it up, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” Whitefield wrote, “How much comfort do those lose who converse with none but such as are of their own communities.”