Calvinist Abroad

6:09 PM

They stood in plain sight in the Baptist basement, heads not even slightly bent and voices not even slightly hushed. Their faces contorted with the mixed emotion of disgust/sarcasm/confusion as one said, "I can't stand Calvinism" and the other said, "It makes no sense" and the former responded, "How would you even witness to someone?"

A Calvinist stood a foot away. She went home fuming for a week. She banged open her Westminster Catechism and feasted upon solid doctrine -- stuff she wouldn't get from a fundamental Baptist church. Life typically went like this: fundamental Baptist churches are notoriously filled with fundamental Baptists who fundamentally assume that everybody except heretics agrees with dispensationalism and premillennialism and invite-Jesus-into-your-heart-ism. Sometimes she'd rock the boat by casually throwing John Calvin's name in the mix. Sundays became the day of apologetics -- a day where she'd continue a post-Sunday service conversation through email nailing why she was right -- a day where she fretted over fine points of doctrine -- a day where she Googled theological controversy until early Monday morning. Repeat. 

It's too long a story to tell of the Bible college student and the best friend who put up with her theological boxing and finally convinced her (by osmosis, really) that there wasn't really any difference between their God, their faith and their walk -- not enough to un-unify them. Of course that girl is me. I still admit to being a Calvinist, though, to be honest, I haven't revisited that conversation for a very long time and have questions bigger than that debate can handle. I still attend a fundamental Baptist church. I still sometimes slip in a wink and a Reformed reference just because I can. But it doesn't bother me a bit that my closest friends, spiritual heroes, pastor, church family and even family itself disagrees with many of my theological leanings.

Indeed, I think God, knowing my nature to get stuck like a broken record, placed me in friendships and churches where I was the lone Calvinist abroad. Despite the careful back-and-forth over the centuries, Calvinism and Arminianism has not boxed up the Gospel. No one denomination has -- no one godly theologian -- no one systematic theology.

Here's a quick summary of why I'm glad I live among disagreeing brethren.

1. It keeps me humble. Instead of picking a fight when theology comes up, I must humbly petition God to give me the heart to hear His truth. I don't agree with everything that's taught in my church (as, I'm finding out, many do not), but the discipline of swallowing antagonism and truly listening to the Spirit has redefined where I draw my lines in the sand.

2. It keeps me focused. Because I have to rub shoulders with fellow believers who might take offense at my systematic theology or convictions, I cling strongly to what's important and leave alone the controversial side stuff. It draws me nearer to what's plain and true in Scripture. It weeds out tendencies that come from hanging around identical too much. It broadens my perspective of who God is, how He works and how fallible human theologians are. Salvation then becomes more John 17:3 instead of Systematic Theology 101.

3. It keeps me confused. My pastor, the most godly man on earth, is Arminian. He preaches the Gospel like I would, as a Calvinist: we're all invited to come and we make the choice to do so, but when we cross over the threshold of that narrow gate, we see written over the doorpost, "Chosen since the foundations of the world." How that works, we both do not know. I find myself less and less trying to dissect the Gospel in order to prove Calvinism and more and more wondering how big a gap there is between regular ol' Baptist evangelism and the Gospel I know and love. (Every Christian agrees on the Gospel until he starts thinking too hard.)

4. It keeps us unified. While my theology has grown and changed with my spiritual walk and my personal study of Scripture and my interaction with other believers, I do not feel pressured to believe differently. I do not feel "alone"; I do not feel antagonized or misunderstood -- no more than when I, the nerd, wander into a conversation on basketball. We all agree that the Bible is truth and that the independence of the believer to search it out for himself is essential to true growth. We all agree that grace is marvelous, salvation a gift, and God amazing. We can go deep, deep, deep into God's heart without once touching on the great theological debates. Our hearts are tuned to God, not a systematic theology or a man-made creed or a catechism -- wonderful, fallible inventions all. God is bigger than the church constitution: and my church lives that out. Because we're all seeking God instead of seeking to be Baptist (or Reformed Baptist or whatever), we end up realizing that hey, there really is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

I wouldn't have known that if they hadn't said Calvinism was stupid.

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6 impressions

  1. I can so relate to this.

    Coincidentally, I stumbled across pages and pages of an old debate on Predestination today while I was cleaning out my email inbox. That debate from way back in 2010 was a monumental time of spiritual growth for me... but through it I realized not only the incomprehensible quality of the God I serve, but the fact that there are certain issues which I'm not required to fully understand. Where a truth is stated in scripture, I am compelled to believe. But when my brain is boggled and I'm losing ground? That's when I'm called to stand in awe of the only One who understands it all, the One I will never understand.

    I have learned, through many vigorous debates, that while truth is worth fighting for, it's ultimately owned by God, who has called us to love in truth. It saddens me when churches or individuals bring these issues to the same plane of importance as the gospel and become defined by them. Debate is healthy, but being overly dogmatic certainly isn't.

    That's where grace comes in - realizing that others are in the same boat as fallible, finite beings, whether it's an issue of dispensationalism, predestination, or cessationism. That doesn't mean debate is wrong, or that truth doesn't matter, but, as you said so well, that "our hearts are tuned to God, not a systematic theology or a man-made creed or a catechism".

    I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this, as the issue has been on my mind recently.

  2. These are some great thoughts.

    I, too, grew up in a church that had decidedly different views on things, though Calvinism/Arminianism wasn't one of them, so I understand the blessings of standing alone, even when it's hard.

    I would agree with you in most everything you said. However, I don't believe that you have to be left in the dark on this topic. It isn't one of those "well we just can't know" issues. (And I'm not sure that that was your point, either.)

    No, it's not worth fighting over or breaking fellowship or, but neither should it be put in the "color of the carpet" category. This *is* the gospel, so yes it matters.

    Seemingly contradicting Scriptures can make for challenging study, yes, but it doesn't deny or hide the truth. It's there. And oh it's amazing what peace comes when the truth hits you and God's glory is more fully revealed because of it!

    Sorry, I didn't intend to turn this into an essay! =)

  3. I'm very clear on what I think the Bible is clear on. But since I've spent more time rubbing shoulders with Arminians than Calvinists, I've also heard their side of the story -- and we agree on the Gospel. We agree that we can't do anything to be saved, that the Holy Spirit must work regeneration first. (So why aren't they Calvinist?? I dunno. :P) If we didn't, then only one side would be saved. I'm convinced the Calvinist/Arminian debate is one that belongs inside the isn't the Gospel, it's not as important as the Gospel itself, but it does affect the Gospel in some cases and is definitely worth studying.

  4. I think . . . that your attitude of willing unity is most honorable.

    I can't pretend to know the facts; to say who's right and who's wrong. But I do know that Christians--those who belive that Jesus is the Christ and follow Him--are called to unity. Issues of dress, wine, homeschooling, headcoverings, tv, college and working single moms will most certainly appear. Along with these differences come acknowledging of mistakes, changing, growing . . . all aspects of different backgrounds coming together to follow Christ. Growing pains.

    I imagine many(I'm being grossly sterio-typical) white, republican, Protestants will find, one day in heaven, our African brother's and sister's worship too loud and the raised hands bothersome. And yet, I imagine our God loving His people praising Him.

    A friend who stubbornly believes what she believes . . . and may end up tweaking some things as she grows and learns,


  5. So true, Frannie...and it's hard to find balance: to stick with one's convictions without sticking it to the other believers. On a lighter note, I miss raised hands in worship. The only Baptists who do it live in the south. ;o)

  6. Thank you for this helpful post. I come from the other side of the fence, from an Arminian family in a predominately Calvinist church. My pastor, who I love and respect as one of the most godly men I know, is devoutly Calvinist but approches the 'debate' in the same humble manner as yourself. God has helped me come to the same place you are at, that unity of the brethren on the Gospel is more important than theological disections, though they certainly have their place. Thank you for this excellent post!


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