Not a perfect explanation of election (because it is a “God concept,” after all), but one that is workable . . .
Last year I read “The Joy of Calvinism” by Greg Forster. Although I have obtained Calvin’s Institutes on iBooks, I have not yet read them.
So I am a mere punter.
But, as someone who has lots of people in my life who are Calvinists (my parents, although they are more churchmembers than theologians; my best friend, who is one of the best female theologians I know, and has been since we were college roommates . . .), I approach Calvinism with the pre-disposition to regard it in a good light. In fact, my love affair with dispensationalism may be coming to an end. It peaked during the “Left Behind” series, as in “This might be how it all happens, but maybe not . . .” Now I find myself increasingly leaning toward an affinity with covenant theology. Thus, my look into Calvin . . .
I love the TULIP acronym, which I know came along long after Calvin. To me, it sums up some deep mysteries of the faith in five letters. Some I am still pondering but I believe at this point I am about a 4.5’er. I say that knowing that there have historically been 4-point Baptists (General Baptists) and 5-point Baptists (Particular Baptists). So there is no need for me to depart from my heritage to become a Presbyterian like my best friend. We already have had this covered in the Baptist tradition, if we don’t suppress it and rewrite our own history.
T-Total Depravity. Does anybody seriously argue this while looking around us? I guess Pelagianism still lives somewhere, but it appears those who adhere to it think that they themselves were nearly perfectible before they met Jesus, but they sure don’t believe that about anyone else on this planet!!! I also term this one: “where man starts out.”
U-Unconditional Election. Again, if there were conditions to our getting saved, we would not be able to do it. We are utterly depraved. I get that. I also term this one: “God the Father.”
L-Limited Atonement. This is the fifth point, the one on which we all get stuck. There are better ways of naming it, but L goes with the acronym. It is hard for us to understand how there can be joy and worship in our hearts if we are thinking that some people are the elect because (finish the sentence) . . . Yet it is clear throughout the Bible, even as I today noted in Isaiah 65 and 66, that there is a tension present. God calls, man answers. But God also says He invades history to be found of a people who were not seeking Him. So what is that all about? I also term this one: “God the Son” (because He made the atonement, whatever its theological underpinnings).
I-Irresistible Grace. This is probably the fourth point, one over which many of my Baptist kindred struggle. I don’t. I was wooed so definitively by the Holy Spirit that I can’t doubt that His grace is irresistible. I also term this one: “God the Holy Spirit” because it is about His precious work in our lives.
P-Perseverance of the Saints. Once saved-always saved. The only Baptists who doubt this are the Free Will Baptists. I also term this one: “where man gets to in Christ.”
So . . . five tenets, man/Father/Son/Holy Spirit/man in Christ. I just love it. It is also the clearest Trinitarian doctrine I have heard yet. Those who hold to this acronym seem to never overemphasize or underemphasize the work of the Holy Spirit.
I also throw out a challenge to any fellow Baptists who call themselves Arminians to really study what Arminius taught. If you take the five points of Arminianism, you quickly find that most traditional Baptists do not believe three of them right off the bat.
What is a Nice Baptist Girl Doing Speaking of Calvinism?
I John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not [his] brother abideth in death.”
My best friend is Calvinist, a Presbyterian. She has not always been so, but went through a period of intense reading and study in which she came to the conclusion that the Calvinist doctrine most closely matches the Bible. I have similarly studied my Baptist faith very intently and have made the same conclusion about my faith matching the Bible.
When we get together, we have wonderful conversations and Bible studies, as we have always done since we were college roommates. The places where we differ, we fill with grace toward each other and move on.
Thus it has always bemused me to see the attitude that some of my fellow Baptists exhibit toward Calvinism and our Calvinist brethren. Sometimes the word “Calvinist” is spoken as an accusation against someone. Sometimes, it almost seems to be thrown out there like a curse word. Why is that?
Surely the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) are not all doctrines with which we disagree. Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Seems like we agree completely on total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Unconditional election is pretty hard to dispute by anyone who believes Jeremiah 17:9 about the heart’s deceitfulness. There is nothing to recommend us to salvation except the fact that God loves us. So . . . we get stuck on the limited atonement issue. And fight so fiercely about it that you might think that Calvinist doctrine was more of an obstacle to Baptists than are the cults, or the Eastern religions, or the atheists.
And, truly, it is only the hypercalvinists who say that limited atonement means Christ only came to die for those who would eventually be saved (the elect). The rest of them phrase it that His death was “sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.” Put that way, it doesn’t sound too very far from the position most Baptists take about Christ’s death.
I am going to suggest that the answer to the animosity many Baptists exhibit toward their Calvinist brethren lies in our mutual history.
One place where Baptist theology showed a distinct departure from Calvinism was during the ministry of Charles Finney during the Second Great Awakening. Finney himself started life as a Presbyterian pastor and later rejected Calvinism. Perhaps some of the Baptist antipathy toward Calvinism is inherited from that era. Although Finney took appropriate stands for inclusion of women in worship (short of pastoring) and against slavery (Oberlin College, where he served as president, was one of the first institutions to educate blacks and women alongside white men), he may have played a disproportionately large role in the development of distaste for Calvinism among Baptists.
Prior to Finney, Baptists were often classified as Five Point or Particular Baptists who held to Five Point Calvinism and Four Point or General Baptists, who held to all of the points of Calvinism except for Limited Atonement.
Nowadays, a Baptist expressing belief in either a Five Point or a Four Point position might be seen as guilty of heresy, and in some Baptist seminaries, might face school discipline.
It is my belief that we humans often overreact to things we don’t understand, out of fear, mostly. Seminaries that let people know that they can only think certain thoughts about God without facing discipline probably don’t produce the caliber of thought, analysis, and writing that they would wish to have. How much better to tell seminarians that they are free to explore the whole counsel of God’s Word and to write about it, as long as they can support what they are saying from His Word and not just from a man’s systematic theology!
That is enough for a first look at this topic. I will no doubt be writing more about it as the months go by because it seems that some of my fellow Baptists truly have an irrational fear of Calvinism and, thereby, of our Calvinist brethren. I want to take the tenets of our faith, and theirs, to the Word of God one by one and see what I find therein. For surely we must be willing to abandon any of our pet beliefs if we are shown that they are inconsistent with God’s Word.
I will also look at the five tenets of Arminianism. I have no set schedule for all of the above and I don’t plan to get legalistic about covering everything in a given amount of time. All I can say is “stay tuned . . .”
I doubt anyone will change their systematic theology as a result of the discussion here, but I hope it will help us exercise charity toward our brothers and sisters as we explore some things together.
I believe that one discovery we may make is that there is a not a great chasm between Calvinism and Baptist theology. Based on the good fellowship I have with my best friend (and several other Calvinist sisters), I believe we are closer in our beliefs than we think . . . In other words, I believe we are all pretty Biblical, with some fine points on which we disagree. Let’s look at God’s Word together and see . . .
Isaiah 9:2, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
I am a great believer in the power of light. I also believe in the contrast of light. Not only does light break forth and bring joy to the heart, but it brings the most joy to the heart that has dwelt in the most darkness.
Jesus said it about the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears and her hair: “The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.” I believe this, too.
And I resoundingly believe in total depravity, the doctrine that says not one of us was anywhere near righteous in our own strength prior to Christ’s light coming into our lives.
I saw a blogger today who said Augustine made up the doctrine of total depravity which was unknown in the early years of the church. Well, the early years of the church were probably more concerned with evangelism than with writing down doctrinal theses, but I can assure you that someone who wants to deny the doctrine of total depravity will have to take issue with Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Maybe someone wants to argue that human nature changed between the Old and New Testaments and man became a better sort of being? <smile>
What total depravity does not mean is that each of us has committed every possible sin.
It is possible that each of us could commit every possible sin given the right circumstances.
For example, I have often heard people say that no one can say they would not have been twice as bad as Hitler if they had been brought up as Hitler was. Sin is a choice, but our besetting sins can be a combination of our early environment and our own bad choices.
Total depravity mostly means that there is not one part of our being that is not fallen and affected by sin. Our bodies, our souls, our wills, our instincts, all of it is affected by the sin in this world.
Even after salvation, we will still wrestle with sin for the rest of our lives, till we are glorified in heaven.
I was thinking about how we love to flatter ourselves at times when we disagree with others by shaping their position as sinful and ours as righteous.
That, in itself, is just another mark of our own total depravity. We can’t even see in ourselves how self-righteous we are, nor how prone to blame others for everything that happens. This tendency has existed since the Garden of Eden and it is usually invisible to us.
In fact, I am learning to automatically recast those moments of disagreement as altercations between two totally depraved people.
That does not mean that there are no issues of right and wrong. In fact, the clearcut issues of right and wrong correspond pretty completely to what the Bible calls the law (in the eternal sense, not in the Old Testament ritual sense).
One example would be if we are attending a school concert and someone is carrying on a loud conversation on her cell phone in the row behind us so that two or three rows of people can’t hear the children singing. That would eternally be regarded as selfish, in every place and time. Although we have advanced enough technologically these last fifty years to develop smartphones, we still have not been able to eradicate in the human heart the tendency to think that the convenience of taking a phone call without leaving one’s seat is more important than the 20 or 30 people around who now can’t hear the concert.
Problem is that when we approach the person who is selfish enough to be taking the call, we approach with the right actions but usually with the wrong motivations. We get our self-righteous on and try to inconvenience that person back, by talking loudly and angrily, or by interrupting the call.
Yes, the person should take the phone call outside and do it now. But we are rarely able to merely represent the fact that this is one of those unwritten societal laws. We usually make it personal to that other person and heap on the scorn, anger, and perhaps revenge.
You see, we are totally depraved, too.
A place I can almost guarantee we have all seen ourselves (and others) engaging in total depravity is when someone dies and there is a will to be settled. We say this brings out the worst in people. But I would say that worst part has been there all along and just comes out more easily due to the emotions of grief and anxiety centered around losing a loved one.
Have you ever seen a situation where one of the children was appointed executor of the parent’s estate that ended well? So far, I haven’t. There is something about giving one child power over what everyone else gets from the inheritance that just makes these things turn out badly for all concerned.
Here is a check about the self-interest that is in our own hearts.
There are several ways to divide an estate, as we all know. And there can be reasons for each way of doing it. One way is to divide it evenly by the number of children. For example, I have two siblings, so my parents could choose to divide their estate three ways. Or you can divide it evenly by the number of grandchildren. My parents have six grandchildren: my sister’s three, my brother’s two, and my one. Under this system, my sister’s family would get one half of my parents’ estate, my brothers’ family would get one-third, and my family would get one-sixth.
Now I can authoritatively say that, if you give people a choice, those who have the most children will always opt to have the estate divided between the grandchildren, while those who have the least number of children (like me) will always opt to have the estate divided between the original children. You see, as parents, we are programmed to advocate for our children. It would be unthinkable, if given a choice, to choose a system where our own children would receive less.
We are self-interested to the point that we would rather hurt someone else than give up something we think belongs to our children.
And that self-interest, while natural, is also indicative of our total depravity because it causes rancorous disputes between siblings.
Disclaimer: my parents are still in excellent health and I have only used our family as an example in order to avoid inserting actual situations where I have seen siblings fight bitterly about these issues of inheritance.
One more and I’m done. Have you ever heard (or said), “I would never purposely hurt you, but I apologize because what I did unintentionally caused you to be hurt” ?
Do we really believe that about ourselves? That we would never purposely hurt another person?
Honestly, I give a person credit for even apologizing at all nowadays, as that seems to be a lost art entirely, but it is totally theologically incorrect to say we would never purposely hurt another person. We do it all the time. And we deceive ourselves when we think we don’t. Especially those of us who are married. How many times do we plough on into each other and only stop when we see that deer in the headlights look that reveals we have cut that person not just a little bit, but to the very heart???
If you have never done that, congratulations, but I am willing to say about 90% of us are cringing about now at the memory of having done just that. The other 10% may just have short memories.
This is our guilty little secret, you see. We can be very good at playing church with each other sometimes. So good that we can convince others that they are the only ones who have a wicked heart that can only be helped by the gospel.
Truth is, when we come out from hiding and get real with each other and pray for each other as we should, we find out that we all have wicked hearts that can only be helped by the gospel.
That is bad news but it is also good news, the best news.
Because the gospel is there for us. Jesus is there for us, meeting us in our need and helping us become something better in Him.
Admitting our need for Him is ultimately freeing. Glory!
“”For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” (Romans 7:15-18)
The above passage is in one of the chapters over which Arminius and Calvin differed the most.
Arminius said it was written by Paul as an unregenerate man, or looking back to when he had been unregenerate.
Calvin said Paul wrote it after he was saved.
Which way do you believe?
I am leaving town for a two week business trip so I will be reblogging the posts of others for most of that time.
I am going to drop a bombshell here.
I agree with Calvin. And that those verses frame the “total depravity” doctrine.
It makes no sense that God would inspire His Scripture, even part of it, through an unregenerate man. I know of no other book in the Bible where anyone has made that claim.
And the passage itself shows Paul fighting against the evil inside of himself. I don’t think we do that before we are saved. The total weight of Scripture shows us that.
Before we are saved, we just give in to sin, with no qualms about it.
So if the great apostle Paul realized that in his flesh, after salvation, dwelt no good thing, is it unrealistic for us to agree?
You see, I have spent a lifetime studying people. I love to people watch.
And one thing we all do is self-justify. We try to convince ourselves and others that our actions are coming from righteous motives while everyone else’s actions are the results of sin.
What could be a more stunning mark of our total depravity than our own total lack of consciousness that it exists?
If I do something that hurts someone and then defend it with the idea that I am a good person and would never intentionally hurt someone, I am all about me and not at all about God’s glory. How much better to just ask forgiveness and move on, trying to grow and learn to better glorify a Holy God by my actions.
My concern is that many Christians I know have the idea that they were 98% okay before they met Jesus and just needed Him to die and rise again so they could get that 2% boost into heaven.
My friends, that cheapens the life and death of our Holy God, who came and dwelt among us and was tortured to death because . . . we have a sin problem.
That is bad news and good news at the same time, as my reblog today also points out. It is bad news because we can’t get ourselves to heaven. It is the most excellent news because God has provided a way to get us there.
“By grace, through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Yes, I do believe in total depravity. I am not sure about some of the other Calvin/TULIP doctrines (and you can see that I am studying them out for myself this year), but I can’t think of one good, Biblical reason to fight against the doctrine of total depravity.
And I believe we fight total depravity in our flesh our entire life, not just until we are saved.
Life gets sweeter when we agree with God on this and let Him start showing us His more excellent way–how to work against the evil that is ever present in our own hearts.