WARNING! LONG, CONFUSING POST-ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK OF LOSING YOUR SANITY!
Oh how the word “Calvinism” sparks such controversy and uproar, and I am not just talking about the way the blogosphere goes at it. This one word has broken relationships, split churches, and created (as most debates do) an awful lot of misrepresentation by both sides of the issue.
I am not a Jean Calvin scholar. I don’t understand all there is about the debate, but what I do observe is cat-like reflexes by individuals on both sides to defend rather than to listen. When we cease to listen and instead find ourselves formulating our counter-points before our friend has even finished giving his point; it is probable that we will misunderstand and misrepresent.
Recently, it has become common for the staunch Calvinist to accuse the non-Calvinist (Arminius or whatever they like to be called) of proposing a works-based salvation. It is equally common for the die-hard non-Calvinist to lob the grenade at the Calvinist of blind fatalism or being un-evangelistic. I have met very few of either extreme (although I do not say they don’t exist, just saying, I haven’t met them). Instead, I find myself getting my rankles raised when the term Calvinist is used as if it is an insult as in “Ohh, he is just a Calvinist!” or oppositely (with sorrow in the words) “He’s not much of a Calvinist.” Yet I see the dangers of professing (with fingers firmly in suspenders and nose high in the air) “Bless God, I am a Biblicist.” Both Calvinists and Non-Calvinists (the honest ones anyway) are trying to be Biblicists so that is no good answer either. So then we have come to trying to define how many points of Calvinism we agree too. . 3? . .41/2?. 5? . . 7?. . .arrrgghhh! (by now you have a little glimpse into how disorganized my brain is and how I am amazed that I can even get a coherent thought across on Sundays at church!)
I contend that orthodox Christianity cannot deny the traditional 5 points of Calvinism (TULIP). One must believe to some degree in those 5 points if they are to hold to orthodox faith; however, the debate is really the extent to which one holds to those points. I will do the best to illustrate without getting us further and further into the quicksand of confusion.
One must believe that man is not capable of saving himself and that man is basically a rotten sinner (total depravity of man). To be orthodox one must believe that man is deprave, but the extent of that depravity is where the debate lies. The two main sides of the coin–Is man unwilling to do right or is man unable to do right? So non-Calvinists, don’t argue against the depravity of man and Calvinists, don’t fight your non-Calvinist brothers against the depravity of man-both believe it. If you are going to debate-be precise in defining exactly what you mean by depravity-inability or unwillingness.
One must believe in election in order to be orthodox in their faith. You cannot deny the term nor the meaning of election and not mutilate texts in Romans, Peter, Ephesians, Galatians, etc. . . God does elect (choose) people to salvation. But where the debate really lies is what is that election based upon? (foreknowledge or predestination) Who is elected? Does the election of individuals to salvation mean that God elects some not to salvation? (all the passages of Scripture that speak of election speak of it in the positive sense not the negative, BTW). Debate the extent of the election, non-Calvinist friends, don’t get drawn into a debate where you end up denying clear Biblical truth because you are fighting what is perceived to be the extreme Calvinism. Calvinist friends, don’t think that because someone believes God chose based upon his foreknowledge that they have denied God’s choosing. Listen to them, maybe the position has some merit.
Limited atonement (Particular atonement). Yes, the greatest point of debate right in the middle of the tulip field! Of course the atonement is limited, Christ did not die for the angels, nor the birds, or cows. At the very least he died for the human race. I think you have guessed what I am going to say. Argue for the extent of the limited atonement. Was it limited to the entire world or to those who have been elect? My Calvinist friends, someone can believe in the atonement being limited to the world but applied to those who believe (the elect) and still be orthodox. Non-Calvinists, limited atonement is not heresy-how can something be heresy that we all believe to one degree. The extent is where the debate should rage (maybe rage is a poor choice of words).
Irresistible Grace. Arguing over exactly how much man can resist the grace of God is fine, but don’t accuse the other of being anti-grace simply because they think there is a certain level of resistance man can exert. I am not so bold as to say that someone who dies in their sins was never a recipent of God’s call of grace, yet I know that God’s purposes will never fail. Is it so bad, that I think this wonderful mystery is . . . well . . . wonderful?
Perseverance of the Saints. Orthodox Christians who are Calvinists and non-Calvinists have agreed that true believers will continue in their salvation (to deny this is to go the route of what I believe to be heresy in denying the security of the saint). The extent of one who perseveres and how they persevere is where the debate should be centered.
In conclusion, Orthodox Christianity must affirm to a certain degree the 5 common points of Calvinsim. But within those 5 points there is room to discuss, debate, argue, and lovingly correct one another. Let us stop throwing bombs at one another by misrepresentation, mis-information, and missing completley what the other is saying. God give us grace and peace!