Over the last several years, quite a few young Southern Seminary grads have come to serve churches in Iowa. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret. We have a joke up here about the Southern Seminary “conspiracy” to take over the Iowa Baptist Convention (like we would be a high priority for a “takeover”). When I see two of the young SBTS grads sitting together, I will ask them if this is an official conspiracy meeting. They will usually tell me that it is.
My problem is this: I’m not really sure if I am part of the conspiracy or not. I’ve always considered myself a Calvinist, but there is much about the modern “reformed” movement that I do not identify with. I’m just not sure which side I”m on.
There have been few topics more hotly debated in Baptist blogdom than the place and importance of Calvinism in the life and history of our convention. Some see the rise of Calvinism as an attempt to restore a biblical gospel to the church, others see it basically as a denial of that same gospel. There have been harsh words on both sides.
I have a more fundamental and selfish question: Am I a Calvinist? I’ve read some who say that the entire Calvinist system rises and falls together. Either I’m “all-in” or I have to fold.
So, I’m going to tell you what I believe and let you answer the question for me. What makes someone a Calvinist? Do I fill the bill or not?
What I Believe
1) I believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation; that salvation begins in the heart of God not the will of man. He chose, in eternity past, based solely on his own sovereign will and not on any merit or action that a person would take in the future, to save some human beings.
2) I believe that human beings are faced with an eternal choice to repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It may be a work of the Spirit to draw us to Christ and to call us to salvation, but each of us must make a real, conscious and eternally significant choice to respond in faith to the Grace of God.
3) I believe that many (most?) truths in the Bible are “antinomies”. Two things are affirmed in scripture which cannot both be true according to human logic. But “his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” There is a divine logic, a divine intelligence which is beyond human grasp, beyond the understanding of the greatest minds in the world.
- God is one. God is three. Both cannot be true, but the scripture affirms both.
- Jesus is fully man. Jesus is fully God. Both cannot be true, but the scripture affirms both.
- Jesus is equal to the Father in essence. Jesus submits to the Father. Both cannot be true but the scripture affirms both.
- God chose those who would be saved before the foundation of the world. A genuine response of faith, of the human will, is required to appropriate the salvation that God gives. Both cannot be true but both are affirmed in scripture.
Essentially, I believe that a lot of the debate is an attempt to make us choose one side of an equation when both sides are affirmed in scripture. Did God choose us, or do we have to make a response of faith to God? I believe the Bible teaches both, so don’t ask me to choose just one side of the equation. I’m willing to leave resolution of these antinomies in the logic and intelligence of God which is beyond my abilities.
4) I have some problems with limited atonement. I see the logic of limited atonement within the Calvinist system, but I see too many scriptures (like, for instance, John 3:16) for which the 5-point Calvinist explanations are unsatisfying. Perhaps limited atonement is another one of those antinomies where two things are affirmed that are logically exclusive.
5) I reject paedobaptism (big surprise, eh?) and the covenant theology that undergirds it.
6) I reject much of the “Reformed” system of theology. I’m not a big fan of much of what I see about sanctification from some Reformed theologians. I am a (mildly) dispensational premillennialist.
7) I give a low-pressure invitation at the end of my messages. Don’t get upset, Calvinists – hardly anyone ever comes forward! Iowans are not that comfortable with that kind of thing. (Ignore this one, folks – I’m just being ornery).
So, you tell me. I reject much of the Calvinist theological system. I believe in a genuine response of faith to the gospel. But I also believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation – that it begins in the heart of God not in our hearts.
What makes someone a Calvinist? What eliminates someone from being considered as a Calvinist? I’m not really sure.
Maybe I’m just confused. In a recent comment stream, Wade Burleson said this about me. “Following your logic from post to comment stream is like following a trail on a cloudy, new moon night when one’s GPS loses battery power and all goes dark in front of you. In other words, you make absolutely no sense.” Maybe he has a point.
You make the call.