He bore my sin on Calvary’s tree
And Righteousness bestowed on me
That I might see his face.
God justified me, set me free,
And glorified I soon will be:
How marvelous this grace.
-James Montgomery Boice
After two years as a committed Calvinist, I’m done. No longer will I wear the quotes of dead white dudes on my sleeves; no longer will I stand committed to cleverly articulated doctrines in the shape of a flower.
Well, at least, not formally.
It has long been my conviction that titles and labels in Christianity are helpful so long as they serve to point people to Christ and stir their affections for Him. Labels and distinctions are helpful to communicate what and why we believe to be true about Christ, the Church and his Word.
The problem is, the term “Calvinism” often draws more hatred than it does stir affections; it turns people away from Christ rather than drawing them to Him. I’ve noticed this happens for one of three reasons: either 1) people don’t understand “Calvinism” and so they draw caricatures or interact with a false depiction of it, writing it off as cruel or mean, 2) people mistakenly think “Calvinists” worship Calvin over Christ, or 3) they’ve only interacted with cocky, prideful people who mistakenly believe themselves to be “true Calvinists.”
Taking these three things into consideration, I’m giving up on “Calvinism” and the five points of TULIP. Where these terms have failed, it is now my purpose and intention to elevate the grandeur and grace of my King Jesus Christ. You see, my King is gracious and worthy to be worshiped beyond all comparison. There is no one more worthy of his praise. Even if he were not gracious and kind to us he would still be worthy of all my worship because that is just who he is.
Yet, he is gracious. He’s so loving and gracious to us that we can’t begin to fathom it. Without Christ, all of us are dead in a rebellious state against the creator (Romans 3:9-18, Ephesians 2:1). When the Bible says dead, it means dead. Corpse. Lifeless. Incompatible with life. But in his kindness to us, knowing the consequences of our sin is death (Romans 6:23), he predestined a plan for us in the fullness of time (Ephesians 1:10-11).
This plan is Christ our Savior. On the cross, Jesus died for his sheep (John 10:11). The definiteness of his death is what enables the Apostle to say that before the foundations of the world he knew us! This efficacious grace in our lives does not mean we are robots just waiting for God to make a move. To paraphrase one of my favorite Christian artists, it was while we were dead and a slave to sin that we were actually robots. True freedom of our will only come when Christ breaks into our reality and frees us from life in the machine.
When Christ graciously, lovingly, and rightfully makes himself King of our lives he holds us tight in his hands. We are not held tight in his hands only, but because Christ and the Father are one we are held tight in the Father’s hands as well(John 10:28-30). What assurance this is! So much grace is given to us that the grace of God does not only save us but keeps us. Those whom Christ proclaims as his are kept until the very end. This is not some trite saying of “once saved always saved.” No, those whom the father saves he restores, and those whom he restores he fuels to obedience and good works. Those who are redeemed will be known by their works, those who are not known by their works are not redeemed (James 2:18).
This life, this inheritance, this adoption as a son or daughter is grace. Sweet, loving, amazing grace. Who are we to argue about this love? Who are we to deny the grace and love of our Father in heaven and diminish it to some argument over labels and titles? I do not love “Calvinism” because I worship Calvin; I am grateful to the work of Calvin and saints of history past for their work that helps point me to Christ, increasing my love for Him. If we decline the hard work and labor from the history of the Church, we are cutting ourselves off from the richness revealed to our forebears by the Holy Spirit.
Abraham Kuyper once said, “The special trait of Calvinism [is its ability to place] the believer before the face of God, not only in His church, but also in his personal, family, social, and political life. The majesty of God, and the authority of God press upon the Calvinist in the whole of human existence.” The sad reality is that many people who claim “Calvinism” do not live the way Kuyper outlines, favoring instead cockiness, arrogance and pride. Brothers and sisters, this should not be so! How can a doctrine that is all about the necessary grace and love of a God far greater than we can imagine ever make us prideful!?
The only hallmark of true Calvinism should be that of a penitent spirit, someone who wakes up in the morning and cries out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). This kind of posture of the heart can never take the form of pride or arrogance. B.B Warfield explains the “Calvinist” as “humble souls, who, in the quiet of retired lives, have caught a vision of God in His glory and are cherishing in their hearts that vital flame of complete dependence on Him.”
But as I said, I’m done with “Calvinism.” Seeing as how the name and fragrance of its tulips deter people from the grace of the King, from now on I will primarily and solely speak of His grace sans labels. See, I don’t want to convince anyone of “Calvinism.” Oh Lord would it not be so! No, I want to convince you of grace. If and when my “Calvinism” begins to get in the way of that more often than not, then I’m done with the title. My motivation is now to live my life in such a way that when you ask me why I live the way I do, I can confidently say “Grace.” Or, what was formerly known as “Calvinism.” No labels, no titles, no doctrines wrapped up in a pretty bow. Just grace.
December 10, 1784, in a recorded conversation between Charles Simeon and John Wesley:
CS: Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian, and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions…Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
JW: Yes, I do indeed.
CS: And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
JW: Yes, solely through Christ.
CS: But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
JW: Now, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
CS: Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
CS: What, then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
JW: Yes, altogether.
CS: And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?
JW: Yes, I have no hope but in him.
CS: Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.
This post is an excerpt from a hilarious book that I love and would highly recommend, called Younger, Restlesser, Reformeder: A Good-Natured Roast. If you want an easy and fun read about the new Reformed movement, pick this up here.
Who Gets to be Called Reformed?
Before we get to specifics, there is the not-small question of who gets to be called reformed. This is a tough one. If you don’t sprinkle babies, are you really reformed? And without the “Reformed,” you’re just the Young & Restless, which sounds exceedingly worldly. Hmmm.
John Piper and Collin Hansen are both Baptists, just saying. For what it’s worth, Zach pastors a Baptist church and Ted (the authors) goes to a Reformed church – but neither of us sprinkle babies. However, Zach is Dutch, which gives him added cache. Ted, on the other hand, is German (his ancestral name is Von Kluck, not Van Kluck or even Vander Klucksma)…aaargh! This is all so complicated. And while we’re being honest, we both still read the NIV from time to time.
An easy out is to continually make the distinction between reformed and Reformed, but do you really want to walk around, saying, “I’m lowercase-r reformed?” Neither do we (so we’ll just stick with the lowercase to keep things simple).
At the end of the day, we needed a concrete formula. We needed certainty. We’re not postmodern, after all. So just grab a pencil and paper, and work through this simple equation:
CW + Ch(Rf) + RCL + CCC + @ – 10(TV) – 20(RW) – ($TBN/10) – (xWB) – 10Em = RQ
The Equation Explained
Number of Crossway books in your collection; plus number of children; times number of children named after reformed personalities; plus number of reformed conference badges/lanyards (T4G, Desiring God, Next, Gospel Coalition); plus Number of Confessions, Catechisms, and Creeds you subscribe to; plus number of hours weekly spent on challies.com, Deyoung’s blog, or any other Gospel Coalition blog; minus 10 if you have cable; minus 20 if you un-ironically have a Rick Warren or Joel Osteen book on your shelf; minus number of dollars pledged to TBN (divided by 10); minus number of times you’ve been watchblogged; minus number of years spent in your emergent phase (times 10); equals your reformed quotient.
Ben’s Note: This is a pretty harsh standard, so if you need to curve your number, add in the beard modifier (your appreciation for beards on a scale of 1-100, divided by 2).
Go ahead and figure out your number. Remember, God is watching…alllllways watching.
Once you have your number, here are the ranges where you might fall:
<0 If you’re elect, that’s news to God
1-5 You’re reading this book to trash it in your emergent blog.
6-20 Enjoy the climbing wall and gourmet coffee bar at your megachurch. You’re fooling no one.
21-50 There’s potential here, but we suggest that you stop coaching your kids’ Little League team, stop surfing ESPN.com, and start spending all of your free time (when you’re not spending time with your Proverbs 31 wife), trolling the YRR blogosphere. We also suggest spending a little bit more of your debt-free expendable income at the Monergism bookstore. Oh, and it’s time to at the “L” to your TULIP. You know who you are.
51-100 What do you think of someone who just does the bare minimum? Seriously, what do you think? Minus ten more points if you get that reference.
100-200 You’ve probably spoken or led a breakout session at a regional reformed conference. Congratulations! Things are looking up for you. Have you considered submitting a book proposal? We know you’ve got 50,000 words stashed away somewhere that you’ve never told anyone about. Maybe you can recycle some old blog posts.
A friend of mine recently asked me an important question, and rather than offer a quick or uninformed answer I decided to write a lengthy article about it. This response will ultimately be covered in three posts, so today’s post will only cover the first section. I hope you’ll take the time to read it, as it is a very important question! I want to give credit where credit is due here, to which I will say I owe a lot of thanks to John Frame’s new magnum opus Systematic Theology.
In the history of Christianity and the realm of theology there is a debate that has been raging since the beginnings of the early church. Today we know this debate as “Arminianism vs. Calvinism,” but the actual terms are not important. It could also be coined as the debate between “free will” and “predestination”, “God’s sovereignty” and “libertarian freedom”, or any number of other terms. I picture this timeless debate as something similar to Rocky vs. Apollo – two skilled opponents who can go punch for punch with each other, ending in what appears to be a stalemate. Is either side of the debate more correct than the other?
One of the questions that is commonly wrapped up in this debate is this: Does God desire the salvation of all people? It is my intention to show that one of these sides is more faithful than the other and gives an accurate and balanced answer to the question. There are many approaches one could take to answering this question, but the approach I am going to take is a systematic approach; that is, what does the entire Bible say about this question? Through a faithful study of the entirety of God’s Word and coming to a better understanding of who He is, we can learn accurate answers and truth to this age-old question.
And in this corner…
Before we can give an accurate answer to the question, it will be helpful to define and state the problem. It is my goal to be faithful to both sides of the argument in this approach.
As I stated above, the question we are trying to answer is “Does God desire the salvation of all people?” There are many proof texts we could use to say “yes” to this question, and I will list many of these below:
Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! – Deuteronomy 5:29
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! – Matthew 23:37
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? – Ezekiel 18:23
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. – Isaiah 45:22
Two of the key texts in the answer to this question are below:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. – 1 Timothy 2:3-4
Now at a first glance the answer to our question appears simple. The obvious and short answer to our question is “yes,” but we must now determine what exactly this means. As we all know, the problem with this answer is not God’s desire, but that not everyone comes to faith and repentance in Christ. Thus we are often (but not only) left with one of two options: either man has the free will to choose God and God’s wills and desires are not effectual, or God is a Universalist and ultimately all will be saved either in this life or the next. There is no room to go into the second option here, other than to quickly say this second option is not biblical and is no option at all.
So if we move forward with the first choice – that God’s will depends on man’s free will – we are left with all sorts of problems. The first of these is that we are no longer dealing with an omnipotent (that is, an all-powerful) God. Here are just a few verses in the Bible that deal with God’s omnipotence and the power of his will:
O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. – 2 Chronicles 20:6
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does. – Job 20:13
No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. – Proverbs 21:30
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. – Psalm 115:3
Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?” – Isaiah 43:13
…who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. – Philippians 3:21
Many more passages could be used to defend the omnipotence of God. The point is this: God can and does do whatever he pleases. As scholar and theologian John Frame says:
Such power drives us to worship. No one else has nearly as much power as God. This is an important element in the biblical teaching concerning miracle: in his mighty works, God displays his power, his lordship as control…He can subdue anybody who resists him, and eventually he will. He does things that are proverbially impossible… – Frame, Systematic Theology, 336
This is where the waters become murky. If God is omnipotent, how do we reconcile that with the fact that not all people are ultimately saved? The objection here raised by free will proponents would go something like this: it pleases God to give man free will, otherwise mankind is a robot. God’s plan is consequent of the free will he gave us.
The problem raised by this objection is it does not deal with the tricky subject of predestination and election. Whether you like these words or not, we have to deal with it because it’s in the biblical text – we can’t ignore it. Here are some of the texts that deal with predestination:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. – John 17:9-10
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. –Acts 13:48
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. – Romans 9:14-18
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… – Ephesians 1:3-5
It is here we begin to see the conflict; if God desires all to be saved AND his will and desires are dependent on man’s decision to choose God, how do we reconcile that with predestination? The common answer is that predestination means God foreknows everyone and the decision they will make, so predestination takes into account who will choose God and who won’t. The problem is that this isn’t what these verses say, and trying to make them say that is biblically unfaithful. Take a look at Romans 8:29: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. This passage says that those whom God foreknew are those whom he predestined – if God foreknows everyone does that mean everyone is predestined? Now we are back to dealing with God as a Universalist. Surely, this attempt to reconcile God’s desire for everyone’s salvation and the concept of predestination is not an adequate answer.
There is a better answer to our current dilemma, one that does free will, God’s sovereignty, his desire for all to be saved, and predestination justice. This answer will become clear to us as we better understand the concept of God’s will, which we will discuss in the next post tomorrow.