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One Day in Calvinist Heaven

January 20, 2014

For some weeks now the adult Sunday School class at our church has been going through Romans.  I’ve been sharing moderator duties with one of the other elders and our Assistant Pastor.  It was my turn yesterday and, as luck the providence of God would have it, our lesson was on Romans 9.  I’ve always thought of Romans 9 as sort of a Calvinist heaven.  The chapter reeks of verses that seem written just to make a good Calvinist smile.

The study guide we are using, written by N.T. Wright, completely ignores Calvinism in its suggested questions.  I assume this is because Wright feels that the point of the chapter has nothing to do with the doctrine of predestination, it just happens to be strongly worded in a manner that supports that point of view.  Since I agree with Wright I sought to follow the questions as written.  The class was having nothing to do with that effort however.

Ours is an Evangelical Free Church.  Like much of the contemporary neo-evangelical world the E Free has been growing more strongly Calvinistic in theology for some time now.  If you’d like to read an excellent summary of contemporary evangelicalism that explains, among other things, this Calvinistic drift, I would highly recommend Molly Worthen’s excellent book Apostles of Reason.  In any event, our class was more than eager to dump poor Wright’s (and my) plan so they could discuss Calvinism for the whole hour.

I’ve never really been comfortable with Calvinism, or for that matter, its nemesis, Arminianism.  I can follow both arguments from Scripture and, if pressed, would say the Calvinist argument seems somewhat sounder.  Yet both positions make me uneasy.  It is ridiculously easy to construct logical scenarios using either principle that end up making God look either schizophrenic or like an uncaring monster.  Both positions can be argued theologically but neither can be argued logically without unpleasant conclusions.  Calvinists in particular are often left muttering “God is in control” platitudes to people who are suffering.

Yet for some reason Calvinists cling to their theology with impassioned vigor.  I personally know at least five different people who have left churches because they weren’t pure enough in their Calvinism, even as the pastors were confident they were, indeed, Calvinist.  As someone who has stumbled into being an elder in every church I’ve been in, I’ve sat in on too many of those accusational meetings.  The accuser, clutching his dog-eared, heavily bookmarked Bible, grills the pastor and, in every case, eventually leaves in a huff, sure that the hapless guy is only a 4.75 point Calvinist or something and, as such, is really a closet Arminian.

For a long time I’ve tried to duck when people ask if I am a Calvinist.  I’ve tended to answer things like “I don’t know.” simply because if I said “no” I’d be sure they saw me as worse that a child-molester and if I said “yes” I’ve be given a purity grilling.  Lately I’ve tended to answer that I’ve been predestined to have free will.  But I am thinking of switching to a new answer.  “Who cares?”

Frankly, for all the verses in the Calvinist arsenal, the one that is missing, as far as I can tell, is the verse that says God requires me to choose between Calvinism and Arminianism.  I am fairly convinced that God doesn’t give two hoots what I think about this subject and I am 100% convinced that what I, or anyone else, thinks about it does not in any way impact who God is and how He works.  So just what is the big deal?  The only thing that stops me from moving to the “Who cares?” line is my conviction that I’d be told by my Calvinist friends that I am half way toward being a raving atheist.

The root of this dispute, as well as the disputes on the end times, speaking in tongues, the role of women, homosexuality and a host of other issues is the evangelical obsession with systematic theology.  I’ve always thought of systematic theology as something akin to an Easter Egg hunt.  I grab my basket and wander through the Bible like a kid wandering through the egg-laden field.  I pick up my verses on Calvinism (for instance) and he picks up the red eggs.  Where we got them and what was going on at that point in the Bible/field is irrelevant.  We just lay them out in a neat little row and say “Ta Da!”

I am supposed to aspire to that?  I am supposed to think that that, and not immersing myself in the majesty of God’s redemption message, is what I should focus on?  Somehow I am convinced that when I get to the real heaven and stand before God and “enjoy Him forever” we won’t be discussing Calvinism.


From → Christianity

  1. I’ve called myself a “Calvinist” for a long time, but I’m growing more toward the view that you have. There are always questions that the “five points” can’t answer. I’ve also never read Calvin, himself, so it’s probably not fair to consider myself a Calvinist. In the end, like you, I believe that it’s not important. There will be “Armenianists” in heaven, just as there will be “Calvinists,” and I’m pretty sure we won’t be grilled on either subject. One thing I am big on, is grace. And by his grace, I am his child.

  2. josephcjustice permalink

    Great article.

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