Editor: Mike is away from his computer – I don’t think its fatal, but perhaps we should pray for him? – and gave me permission to post this. I’m planning to, after this post, return to my commitment, which I wish I had not strayed from, to avoid any discussions of Calvinism! This post was originally published at Mike’s site, Borrowed Light. If it is not in your feed, put it in immediately! Because I said so!
Earlier this week I explained why this discussion on Calvinism matters. Now I’m going to explain in what way this discussion doesn’t matter and why I wish we’d spend our efforts elsewhere. Apparently 5 points are really helpful for discussion…so in honor of all the problems those five points have caused…here are 5 reasons why this Calvinism discussion doesn’t matter.
Truth is the Spirit’s job
I don’t need to be the truth police. I cannot change someone’s heart and make them embrace the truth. All I can do is present the truth as I see it in Scripture and leave it up to the work of the Spirit. It’s not my job to beat truth into someone’s head. Besides there is a decent chance that I’m wrong myself. There are likely doctrines of which I hold (yes even important ones) of which I’ll need to repent of no more than 5 minutes after entering into heaven.
If I really believe that leading brothers and sisters into all truth is the Spirit’s job it changes the way that I interact with them. John Newton is instructive here. When explaining his position on election and perseverance he said, “If you should accede to my opinions upon my persuasion only, you would be little benefited by the exchange”. Newton knew that what really mattered was the Spirit’s work upon the man to whom he was speaking. And it made him humbly present his position, love the man, and leave the results of the discussion up to the Lord.
Unity and love are more important
I love doctrine as much as the next guy. But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that love and unity are more important. Yes I believe that the fuel for love is doctrine. But I also believe that when Jesus was praying for us his central concern was that we be united and show love for one another. And this not merely in talk but in actually loving sinners like ourselves.
These discussions serve as a great barometer of our hearts. I agree with Newton that there is a “principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God”. If in the midst of our differences love and unity flow out, then we know that gospel is gaining ground over self.
Lengthy debates are seldom helpful
Seldom do lengthy debates lead to the fruit that we desire. Even if a few people are won to a right position a good number of people are slain in the crossfire. I do see Jesus and Paul reasoning with people and even engaging in debate. Yet I never see them drawn out. (Perhaps because they entrusted the work to the Spirit).
Again I turn to Newton:
We may become wise in notions, and so far masters of a system, or scheme of doctrine, as to be able to argue, object, and fight, in favor of our own hypothesis, by dint of application, and natural abilities; but we rightly understand what we say, and whereof we affirm, no farther than we have a spiritual perception of it wrought in our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not, therefore, by noisy disputation, but by humble waiting upon God in prayer, and a careful persual of his holy word, that we are to expect a satisfactory, experimental, and efficacious knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus.
I like to share my position from Scripture and maybe stick around for a few questions. But I’ve never found great fruit come from lengthy debates on an issue. If it gets overly heated I can’t just chalk it up to a “I’m just really passionate about this”. I know that it’s the flesh that’s warring (no matter what side of the aisle) and I know that this zeal isn’t from the Lord.
Implications matter but aren’t central
I like what Charles Simeon said to John Wesley. After outlining the things of which they agreed Simeon said this to Wesley:
Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.
Yes, Calvinism will have certain implications for ministry and living the Christian life that those of a different persuasion will not approve of. The same is true vice versa. These matter. See my post on why Calvinism discussions matter. Yet at the end of the day the implications are not central.
Usually after a couple salient points these conversations degenerate into ridiculous but/if scenarios. Most of the discussion is on implications. “If we embrace this, then…” While some of these might even be true they aren’t central nor is it helpful to any sort of discussion.
Points of which we contend aren’t what the church needs
As I see it the major points of contention are not central to the gospel. Yes there are HUGE implications that come from what you believe on these issues. But they aren’t central and in many instances they aren’t even secondary matters.
Here are some of the major issues that I see:
- Can I tell a lost person that Jesus died for them? While I understand this question and what is behind it, I don’t see why it matters. The scriptural accounts of someone sharing the good news of the risen Christ are pretty simple. They share the claims of Jesus and then say therefore, repent and believe the gospel. “For whom did Christ die?” doesn’t matter when it comes to sharing the gospel.
- What did we inherit from Adam? Again this has quite a few implications. But allow me to ask a couple of questions. Are all men guilty now? So why does it matter so much to debate this? What about babies? Let’s be honest at the end of the day anything that we construct is exegetically flimsy. The best we have is that the judge of the earth will do what is right. That leaves a ton of comfort for me because I know that God is good.
- Which came first regeneration or faith? Once again several implications from this. But does it really matter? Are there scores of people walking out there that aren’t regenerate but who have faith? Nope. Are there scores of people that don’t have faith but might be regenerate? Even if a Calvinist says yes, won’t this person then have faith? So, why does it matter? Aren’t these really inseparable graces? Are we really going to divide or debate over which inseparable grace came first?
- Are people saved because God foreknew them or because God foreknew they would choose God? Several implications to this one. But at the end of the day do you say that God saves sinners? If you do then perhaps we’re just debating about an eternal decree.
Even if we solved each of these issues and came to an agreement on them I’m not certain that all of our churches would be transformed. What we really need are passionate worshippers of Jesus that obediently live out the truth that they do know. By and large we have an obedience problem far more than we have a doctrinal unity problem. And I believe the sinful way that this discussion is often carried out is evidence of that.
What will transform our churches is a robust gospel of a holy God that is wholly other that has purposed to save sinners. Obedience to that gospel will revolutionize our churches. Falling in love with this Jesus will cause us to boldly proclaim the gospel in the dark places of our world. This same thing will create in believers a heart that treasures Christ more than the lures of the world. And we’ll be about the business of making disciples as the Great Commission compels us AND loving God and others as the Great Commandment exhorts us.
This is what we need. Not another lengthy argument.