Contra our beloved editor and illustrious 2nd Vice-President of the Southern Convention of Great Commission Baptists, this post will reference Calvinism. Please, feel free to ignore the substance of the post and keep bickering over whether the lost people in your neighborhood are saved by grace because they believed because the Spirit moved when you told them or whether they are saved by grace because the Spirit moved when you told them and they believed. My dog in that fight is this: are you telling them? Because I think we cannot escape that we are commanded to do so.
I am going to tell you a story. It’s a story about grumpy, divisive Calvinists and features a moderate college professor. It happened on a Cooperative Program supported campus in an old-line state that keeps more than 50% of its CP giving in-state. So, everything you’ve ever wanted to flame in Southern Baptist life is right here. Including me.
Back in the heady days of the late 1990s, I was a Biblical Studies major at Ouachita (WASH-it-aw) Baptist University. I was a part-time youth minister, teaching a small youth group that included 2 college-age kids older than I was. I was working for a pastor who had a Th.D. from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, which I would later attend for a time. (Failing to attend also for times and half-a-time resulted in no degree for me.)
One year, I was taking History of Preaching, because it was a class that applied to either major I was interested in: it worked for the Religion Department, it worked in the Speech Department. The speech professor had Divinity degrees from Southwestern and speech degrees from USC. This was the only class he taught that connected with the RELG prefix, as he was perhaps a shade more moderate than the Religion Department was in those days. During that year, I was invited by one of my fellow students to attend a “Founder’s Society” meeting with him. Not knowing anything about what that would mean, I went. There was a group of about 10 students who met in the library (not in Berry Bible Building–apparently, no official blessing from the Religion Department) and talked theology and history. It was fun. It was more fun when we met in the Student Center: no Cokes in the library, after all.
After a few meetings, it was decided that we would take this TULIP acronym and each week, study a different doctrine. We drew letters, and I got “U.” It was my task in the next couple of weeks to construct a short presentation on how the Bible presented this doctrine.
Except I could not do it.
The Religion Department had beaten into my head, already, a need to see all of Scripture in context with itself. A need to see texts in context, a need to build theology based on the whole character of God as revealed in Scripture rather than working down the proof text crib sheet.
What I found was that God has unconditionally elected the saved to become like Christ. What I found is that the sovereignty of God is weakened by the free agency of man. Rather, a God that remains sovereign and in control even in a universe filled with free agents is that much greater in my conception.
Then, I was derided for my opinion, my apparent low-view of Scripture, and my insult to the power of God. It was enough for me to swear off the Calvinist view for a good many years. (now, to be fair, I’ve met Tom Ascol, and I use his name since he’s the big dog at Founder’s, and he was nothing like this–I now attribute the behavior of immature college students to a mixture of total depravity and being immature college students.) The speech professor, though, challenged me to see what I could learn from that interaction. I couldn’t bring myself to see it then, but after the sermon I heard last Sunday, I realized what happened.
That fledgling Founder’s Society group spit in my eyes.
And it was a good thing. Why?
Because I was blind. Take a look at John 9, the first part of the story. In John 9:6, Jesus spits on the ground to make mud, then spreads it on the eyes of a man born blind. The man regains his sight–but think about this? How often do we like to have spit put on us? Not very, right? Right.
When my views are mis-characterized or degraded, when I am caricatured, I feel spat upon. I usually respond the same way: I feel hurt and insulted. My typical response is to get even: tell these people to stop spitting on me, stop putting me down.
Yet the truth is this: God can use that spit to help me see better. I learned in my first interactions over theological debate how to better formulate an argument. I learned how to dialogue with those I disagree with.
In short, what was disgusting became something that made me better. Now, having been challenged and sharpened over the years, I see doctrine more clearly, and even see the doctrines of grace more clearly–clearly enough that I’d fail the “Calvinist Screening Test” that some advocate using in the SBC.
But rather that take every shot at Calvinist views as an insult, I take them as more mud to help me see better. Rather than seeing every Calvinist that insists I still don’t fully understand the Gospel because I’m not “all-in” on the Abstract of Principles, it is a challenge to clean more out and see more clearly.
So go ahead, spit in my eyes. If I am blind that may help me see. Even if all I see more clearly is you.
And no, I don’t mean literally. I haven’t been literally spat upon since high school when the jocks used to do that to us nerds walking down the hall.