A Reformation Q & A w/ Carl Trueman…

Dr. Carl Trueman, professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, and author of Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 2011), kindly took a few moments to answer some questions I had in relation to his book…

KF: It is no question that various historical and theological misunderstandings of the Reformation abound.  Volumes such as Ken Stewart’s recently published Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition seek to address and provide a corrective to such misunderstandings.  In regard to the Reformation, what is the most common misunderstanding (theological and/or historical), and what corrective(s) would you provide in response?

CT: The most common error, at least among evangelical Protestants, is that it marked a clean theological break with the past.  It did not.  The Reformers built very positively on early church theology, especially the Creeds, Augustine and the fourth and fifth century Trinitarian and Christological discussions.  In the last fifty years, numerous scholars have also brought to light the significant debts which the Reformers owed to medieval theologians on matters such as the doctrine of God and predestination.

KF: In your opinion, what is the greatest doctrinal/theological threat to Christianity today?  How would a more thorough knowledge of the Reformation be profitable in light of this issue?

CT: This is a difficult question to answer.   Christianity is under huge pressure on a number of fronts at the moment.  Theologically, challenges to the historicity of Adam are coming thick and fast even from within the church.  Ethically, the cultural normalization of homosexuality continues apace.  Both of these issues ultimately challenge the church’s view of scripture: is it authoritative?  If so, how is this to be understood?  How is it to be interpreted?  These three questions are inextricably connected.

In one sense the Reformation is of limited use on this matter because the Reformers did not face either the same critical challenges to scripture as we do or the overwhelming cultural tide flowing against any form of theistic belief. Nevertheless, studying how the Reformers used and applied scripture is very useful because it allows us to see how an authoritative Bible and theological proclamation can and should be connected.  We simply have much more prolegomenal work to do and more battles on this issue to fight than they had.

KF:  In chapter 2, “Meeting the Man of Sorrows”, you refer to some misunderstandings of the gospel (i.e., ‘gospel as therapy’ and ‘gospel as entertainment’), and how they are often preached in the name of relevance.  Would you briefly explain what you mean by each, and note how the theological center of the Reformation provides a corrective in this regard?

CT: The idea of the gospel as therapy is reference to the kind of teaching which uses biblical language and idiom to promote notions of self-esteem.  It is essentially a gospel designed to meet needs that are defined not by scripture but by the secular society around us.  The prosperity gospel would be the most obvious example but there are subtler forms: `Come to Jesus and your marriage will be happier’ would be a `gospel as therapy’ sales pitch.

The idea of the gospel as entertainment is simply that of a gospel watered down to attract.  It impacts both aesthetics and content.

The Reformation, by stressing human sinfulness and rebellion against God as the problem and the suffering and cross of Christ as the answer, precludes any such form of teaching.

My sincere thanks goes to Dr. Trueman for his kindness in answering my questions, along with Christian Focus Publishers in coordinating the interview.  For more information on Dr. Trueman’s book and the subject matter at hand, check out the following links:

REFORMED FORUM Audio Interview with Carl Trueman 

“Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, returns to Christ the Center to speak about the republication of his book The Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Dr. Trueman speaks about the abiding significance of the Reformation even today as he adroitly describes its salient features and applies them to the contemporary church. Trueman’s insights are truly a joy to hear.” (cited from source)

RADIO INTERVIEW: Carl Trueman on the Janet Mefford Show (click to download mp3 of broadcast) 

“Rev. Dr. Carl Trueman, professor of historical theology and church history, discusses his book Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.  The show aired Friday, July 22, 2011, on the Janet Mefferd show.” (cited from source)

MY REVIEW of Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow 

This book review was posted as a part of the Christian Focus Booknotes Blog Tour.  For more information, as well as other blogger reviews, click here.

For a list of many of Dr. Trueman’s resources, CLICK HERE.  Dr. Trueman also regularly blogs at Reformation21, the online magazine of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

MYTH: Calvinism Promotes Antinomianism [GIVEAWAY]

[***SCROLL DOWN FOR GIVEAWAY DETAILS***]

The Reformation-era charge: teaching salvation by faith breeds lawlessness

Acting with great inconsistency, opponents of the Reformation in the sixteenth century liked to imply that early Protestantism encouraged the hope that salvation through Jesus Christ could be confidently enjoyed by a faith never followed by good works.  One finds this in the Decrees of the Council of Trent, which met intermittently between 1545 and 1563. Trent condemned, as a terrible error, the opinion (attributed to Protestants) that “nothing besides faith is required in the Christian…and that the Ten Commandments in nowise appertain to the Christian”.  Now, taking as disputable the question of whether any responsible Protestant ever taught this viewpoint (I think it very doubtful), the question still remains as to why such a condemnation was ever uttered by Trent at all.  I have suggested (above) that there was great inconsistency involved in Trent’s doing so.

The bishops of the Roman church, assembled at Trent, knew full well that their church had accumulated a huge backlog of abuses involving misuse of funds, sale of offices (simony), and widespread violations of vows of celibacy (by priests, bishops, and members of monastic orders). No one attributed the widespread occurrence of these grave matters within the Roman church to its teaching that “nothing besides faith is required for the Christian”. And who would ever have accepted that suggestion as valid, if it had been made? And yet, within Catholicism there was a widespread tendency to live as though the Ten Commandments did not apply to the Christian. How could and did that communion level this very charge at early Protestants?

This charge (made by whichever party) is about what Christians have traditionally called “antinomianism”(the rejection of the moral law as relevant to the Christian’s experience); it has a long and checkered history. We are probably right in detecting it in the confused persons whom the apostle Paul rebukes in the 6th chapter of his Roman letter (these individuals fancied that God’s grace would be magnified if they continued to sin); its existence is also highlighted in the group (termed ‘Nicolaitans’) rebuked in Revelation 2:6 and 15. Antinomianism’s opposite is the biblical insistence that the life of the one who is justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5.1) will be one characterized by careful conformity to God’s commandments in reliance on the indwelling assistance of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5.13-26).

Antinomianism: the persistent charge against Calvinism

The council of Trent was thinking of Protestants considered generically when it gave out its warning against ‘salvation by faith’ teaching.  Since that time, this charge has continued to be hurled especially at followers of Reformed theology, and for two reasons:

  1. not only does the Reformed expression of Protestantism join with others in affirming that the sinner is accepted as righteous in God’s sight by faith placed in Jesus Christ, but also
  2. Calvinism (better: Reformed theology) has consistently taught that those who do place their whole trust in Christ in order to be justified before God do so as persons chosen for salvation and specially assisted by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Thessalonians 1.4).

In the judgment of many, this set of ideas contains within it the ingredients of what might be called a ‘perfect storm’.  After all, these urge, if one accepts the suggestion that he or she has been chosen for salvation (and – chosen without respect to any native goodness or prospect of goodness) why would not such a person live on ‘auto-pilot’ and be morally indifferent all in the inflated confidence that such a decreed salvation was his or hers irrevocably? One contemporary theologian, Norman Geisler, has warned of the “personal irresponsibility” that this kind of confidence breeds.

How has Reformed theology responded?

In point of fact, from the beginning of the Protestant era, Reformed theology has consistently emphasized that the man or woman who has come into right relationship with God by justifying faith in Christ may not:

rashly cast out the whole of Moses and bid farewell to the two tables of the Law…Moses has taught that the law, which among sinners can engender nothing but death, ought among the saints to have a better and more excellent use. (Calvin: Institutes 2.7.13)

And in the next century, when this confusion of grace with license had apparently not been eradicated, Reformed theology again insisted:

The moral law of God doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof….Neither doth Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve but much strengthens this obligation. (Westminster Confession 19.5)

In the judgment of these authorities, the ongoing role of the Ten Commandments (and, as amplified by Jesus Christ in Matthew 5 & 6) was permanent and ongoing for the believer. Mainstream Reformed theology has never allowed that the principle of election in any way diminishes the need for careful obedience; on the contrary the stated goal of election in Christ is that we be “holy and blameless” (Eph. 1.4); circumspect living, rather than license, is the mark of God’s chosen people.

Even so, it remains the case that not only in the century of the Reformation, but in every century since, some evangelical Protestants have theorized that the law of God is unnecessary for the believer. To be fair, a portion of these have lived exemplary lives and with these, we have little to quarrel about. There is, after all, a well-intentioned Christian attitude which takes the view that the Christian now lives under the dictates of the Gospel, rather than the dictates of Sinai. Now this, no less than the view recommended here, can make for holy living.

But quite distinct from this, there has as well always been a contingent of those who have theorized that careful walking in the ways of the Lord is non-necessary since

  1. the believer has been justified from eternity, and this justification is a reality for us prior to our becoming aware of it, and
  2. self-examination and confession of sin is not called for in the Christian, as all sin has already been pardoned and
  3. marks of grace are not important in the life of the Christian (see 2 Peter 1.5-10) as assurance of salvation can be enjoyed independent of any such evidence of being ‘new’ in Christ.

Though it may sound strange to report it, these “fringe” attitudes not only cropped up among some late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Calvinists, but among the followers of John Wesley.  Wesley’s own brother-in-law, Westley Hall, (also a Methodist preacher) was denounced for being a polygamist and consequently forfeited his status among the Wesleyans. His was not an isolated case. Now this recognition that in recent centuries, the antinomian tendency is not associated exclusively with any particular branch of Protestantism, but found on the fringes of almost all, brings us to the realization that antinomianism is a perennial pitfall for all branches of Christianity.

Isn’t this the sorry truth? Whether it is the mishandling and embezzlement of charitable gifts, the preying on children as well as those in counseling situations, marital infidelity, covetousness and the incessant pursuit of ‘more’, these are the sins that cling to far too much of what passes for Christian leadership and Christian living today.  We have seen the fear of God evaporate; we have seen the love of the world proliferate – among those professing to be the people of God. The sad fact is that many of us frequent churches in which the commandments of God (and the amplification of them given by Jesus) are no longer recited or read. Sermons are seldom preached on these themes. Antinomianism stalks us all….

Paradoxically, Reformation Protestantism – far from being the breeding ground of antinomianism – may indeed offer us the resources for combating it.  The venerable practice of catechizing children required the committing of the Ten Commandments to memory; Reformed church walls were often emblazoned with the two tables of the law. Corporate confession of sin after reading the Decalogue was long the regular Sunday practice; cycles of sermons on the commandments were regularly preached in churches of the Reformed tradition (and with suitable evangelistic applications, too). Thus, rather than extending the life of the old canard that Calvinism promotes antinomianism, it would be better to understand that this expression of Protestantism is one of the best means of resisting it.

*READ LAST WEEK’S GUEST POST: “MYTH: TULIP has the Imprint of Antiquity”

Kenneth J. Stewart is professor of theological studies and former chair of the department of biblical and theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He holds an M.Phil. in early modern European history from the University of Waterloo and a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century Christianity from the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition.

WIN A FREE COPY OF TEN MYTHS COMPLIMENTS OF INTERVARSITY PRESS!

InterVarsity Press has generously provided a copy of Dr. Stewart’s book for you to win!  One winner will be drawn from the comments, using Random.org, this Friday (3/25) at 5pm CT.

TO ENTER THE DRAWING, COMPLETE ANY (OR ALL) OF THE FOLLOWING FORMS OF ENTRY:

NOTE: YOU MUST LEAVE A *SEPARATE* COMMENT FOR EACH OF THE FOLLOWING STEPS TAKEN…

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The winner will be announced Friday evening on the blog and via Twitter.

CONGRATULATIONS to last week’s winner: Jacob Sweeney

MYTH: TULIP Has the Imprint of Antiquity. [GIVEAWAY]

[***SCROLL DOWN FOR GIVEAWAY DETAILS***]

Myth: The Calvinist Acrostic, TULIP, Has the Imprint of Antiquity

My Early Journey

Like a lot of persons who were introduced to Reformed theology after being raised in a different expression of evangelical Christianity, I was early-on exposed to authors easily recognizable by many who read this. I refer to titles like Steele & Thomas’ Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Documented and Defended (P&R, 1963), Pink’s Sovereignty of God (1918; B.O.T. ed.1961) and Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Eerdmans:1932 & reprints from P&R). Here is where I “cut my teeth”, doctrinally; here also were the sources which first introduced me to the well-known acronym TULIP. TULIP was passed on by Boettner to Steele and Thomas as a handy ‘digest’ (if you will) of the determinations of the great international Reformed synod which met at Dordt, the Netherlands in 1618-19.

Now, if TULIP was a handy ‘digest’ of the conclusions of this synod, called to deal with the challenge posed by the early Arminian movement, then – as we were accustomed to saying, you needed “to have all the petals on your TULIP”, a more compact way of saying that you needed to robustly affirm belief in Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistable Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. At least…that is what I thought for decades…

An Intriguing Question Arises

But in 2005 while reading eighteenth century Calvinist authors in connection with another theological question, I became intrigued by the fact that TULIP – something looked on as quite elementary to any modern, card-carrying Calvinist—was strangely not to be found. There had been controversy about Calvinist doctrine, alright; about 1710 a liberal Anglican writer, Daniel Whitby (1638-1726) had ‘thrown down the gloves’ by publicly contesting the doctrine of election. There had been no shortage of stalwart Calvinists to reply. But none of them: John Edwards (1637-1716), Thomas Ridgley (1667-1734) or John Gill (1697-1771) ever mentioned TULIP; each used his own terminology in referring to and defending the doctrinal affirmations of Dordt. This planted a seed in my mind to which I returned twelve months later.

In the summer of 2006, I researched the question which had now crystallized: where and when had TULIP emerged in the centuries subsequent to Dordt (1618-1619)?  The answer which research yielded was not at all what I expected.  Beginning at the present, I began to trace the use of TULIP backwards in time.  Something soon emerged: there were twentieth century writers who used this acronym without any reservation at all, while a second group used it more tentatively – and with a readiness to substitute other alphabet letters (and terms) for some of the TULIP ‘petals’.  The ‘unreserved’ users of TULIP I called ‘sovereign grace’; the more tentative users of TULIP, I called ‘apologetic’ in the sense of ‘commending’.

Where the Trail Led

After examining fifteen twentieth and early twenty-first century advocates of Calvinism (see my table at pages 93-95 of Ten Myths), i.e. both ‘sovereign grace’ and ‘apologetic’ writers, it was plain that there was no one employing TULIP before Loraine Boettner in 1932. B.B. Warfield (1851-1921), the famous Calvinist theologian at Princeton, though included in my survey of writers, had not.  What should one make of this?  Well then, perhaps Boettner had borrowed this from some nineteenth century writer still popular in his student days? But I could not find TULIP in Spurgeon, in Robert Dabney and a whole range of other British and North American writers of that century. And when I looked back to the turn of the eighteenth into the nineteenth century, I reached the same conclusion. But what did it all mean?

A Breakthrough

I had not proved that Boettner had ‘invented’ TULIP; I could only show that he was an early and successful popularizer of this acronym.  It was only after 2008, when I published as an essay in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology what I had delivered as a paper in the 2006 Evangelical Theological Society, that the next ‘layer of the onion’ came off.  With the kind help of Justin Taylor, who publicized the existence of my SBET essay on his blog, “Between Two Worlds”, two independent sleuths came forward to help me. Ched Spellman, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Bart Byl, a computer technician in Vancouver, independently located (with the help of Google Books) a 1913 magazine, The Outlook, in which an author, William Vail, described both how he had heard a lecture on TULIP in 1905 in Newark, N.J. and how he had later canvassed some leading Presbyterian ministers and theologians of his day on the question.  The answers he garnered showed something which squared with the larger implication of the evidence I had previously surveyed.  Vail’s respondents took considerable liberty in defining TULIP as they saw fit. Some made plain that they did not endorse it; in each case there were considerable variations in how the letters of TULIP were matched with doctrines. (Some believed that U stood for ‘universal sovereignty’)  The only letter of the acronym to which a constant meaning was assigned was P for perseverance of the saints.  And so, the implication became plainer than ever that what we have taken to be the fixed meaning of TULIP is in fact, the meaning assigned by Boettner in 1932. [The Outlook article forms an appendix at the end of Ten Myths].

What Does This New Interpretation Change?

Now some people collect old stamps, old postcards –memorabilia of all kinds. I am not one of them. But I hope you can see that this is not a ‘memorabilia’ or ‘trivia’ question.  Do we understand that since 1932, Boettner’s assigned meanings for the TULIP acronym have been accepted simply as the intended meaning of Dordt (300 years earlier)? And do we understand that we have too often judged the orthodoxy of other Reformed believers by something which proves to have been only Boettner’s improvisation? It gets worse…

I noted above that a good number of modern Calvinist writers (those I have termed ‘apologetic’) have worked very hard (and commendably) to place TULIP in as positive a light as possible. They have had to explain what T (for Total) means and does not mean and what L (for Limited) means and does not mean.  One, in particular has pointed out, further, that I (for Irresistable) actually misrepresents Dordt’s intention about the way God’s grace operates. It was Dordt’s critics who deliberately misrepresented the Calvinists as teaching that grace forces sinners to repent and believe. They taught no such thing! So, the efforts to ‘improve’ TULIP were all well-intentioned. But the simple fact is that there was never anything sacrosanct about this acronym to begin with. Dordt didn’t design it. No one had heard of it (evidently) until it was coined in 1905 in Newark. Refining and buffing up TULIP was not actually required. We can let it go, because it never was authentic. Dordt took positions, but its positions are not accurately summarized by this acronym.

If you take the long view, you might come to the conclusion (which I draw) that TULIP has not only been unfortunate (in that it was for too long awarded the weight of antiquity) but also has been pastorally harmful.  It should matter to us (for example) that previous to 1905 the only Calvinists who cared to speak of Christ’s atonement as ‘Limited’ were those who by doing so opened themselves to the charge of being hyper-Calvinist. Spurgeon denounced this viewpoint in Vol. 1 of his autobiography (p.173). What is at stake is the free offer of the gospel; that requires an adequate atonement. Dordt had insisted that the death of Christ was “abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world”. Traditionally, Dordt-style Calvinists had always spoken of the atonement of Christ as Definite or Particular. But not since 1932!

The lesson I take from all this is that TULIP-lovers everywhere (and this American-rooted ‘exotic’ plant has now been transplanted to much of the rest of the evangelical world) owe it to themselves to read the Canons of Dordt and to judge for themselves how (un)faithful the acronym is to their actual intent. They should also read the literature (Reformed confessions and guides to them) belonging to the churches which stand in the stream of church life which produced Dordt in the first place.[Start by looking here: http://www.crcna.org/pages/dort_canons_main.cfm]. This advice is especially timely if your interest in Reformed theology draws no particular support from the official doctrinal stance of the church you are involved in.

I realize now, as I did not when I began to read Calvinist books while a college student, that those first guides I relied on actually got me off on the wrong foot. There were fundamental questions of accuracy and authenticity which needed to be asked but were not. Here I am, decades later, wishing clarity had been offered sooner!

____________________________

Be sure to check back next Monday (3/21) as Dr. Stewart sheds light on the commonly held assumption that Calvinism inevitably leads to antinomianism (lawlessness).  NOTE: To have the post delivered automatically, subscribe via RSS or email.  See below for giveaway instructions!

____________________________

Kenneth J. Stewart is professor of theological studies and former chair of the department of biblical and theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He holds an M.Phil. in early modern European history from the University of Waterloo and a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century Christianity from the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition.

WIN A FREE COPY OF TEN MYTHS COMPLIMENTS OF INTERVARSITY PRESS!

InterVarsity Press has generously provided a copy of Dr. Stewart’s book for you to win!  One winner will be drawn from the comments, using Random.org, this Friday (3/18) at 5pm CT.

TO ENTER THE DRAWING, COMPLETE ANY (OR ALL) OF THE FOLLOWING FORMS OF ENTRY:

NOTE: YOU MUST LEAVE A *SEPARATE* COMMENT FOR EACH OF THE FOLLOWING STEPS TAKEN…

  • Subscribe to the blog via RSS or Email, and leave a comment letting me know you did. (+1)
  • Leave a comment telling me why you want a copy of Dr. Stewart’s book. (+1)
  • Follow me on Twitter, and leave a comment letting me know you did. (+1)
  • RT the following, without quotes, and leave a comment telling me you did: RT @kevinfiske: Is TULIP really as old as CALVIN? Win a new book from @ivpress that answers common myths about Calvinism! http://ht.ly/4cQ0G” (+1)
  • Blog about this post, including a link back to my blog; then, leave a comment telling me you did and include a link to your post. (+1)
  • FOR FUN: Leave a comment telling me who you think will finish higher in their respective division this year, the CUBS or WHITE SOX? (+1)

The winner will be announced Friday evening on the blog and via Twitter.

*There will be another giveaway, courtesy of IVP, with Dr. Stewart’s guest post next Monday (3/21).

Clearing Up Confusion About Calvinism. [GIVEAWAY]

For regular readers of the blog, I will be posting the next installment in “The Gospel & The Person of Christ” series in the days ahead.  For now, I wanted to let you in on an exciting new book from InterVarsity Press…

Ten Myths About Calvinism, a new release from InterVarsity Press and Kenneth J. Stewart (professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia), aims to debunk some of the myths that commonly surround the person of John Calvin and “Calvinism” in order to “[recover] the breadth and depth of the Reformed tradition.”  [Be sure to read the end of the post to find out how you can win a copy the book from IVP!]

About the Book

Historian of Christianity Ken Stewart is intent on setting the record straight about Reformed theology. He identifies ten myths held by either or both Calvinists and non-Calvinists and shows how they are gross mischaracterizations of that theological stream. Certain of these persistent stereotypes that defy historical research often present a truncated view of the depth and breadth of the Reformed tradition. Others, although erroneous, are nevertheless used to dismiss outright this rich body of biblical theological teaching.

Some key questions Stewart explores in this provocative, informative and thoroughly researched book:

  • Is the role reserved for John Calvin possibly exaggerated?
  • Are there improper, as well as proper uses of the doctrine of predestination?
  • To what extent is the popular acronym, T.U.L.I.P. a helpful device, and to what extent is it detrimental in encapsulating key doctrines?
  • Should the Calvinist position towards movements of spiritual renewal be one of support, or one of suspicion?
  • Didn’t Calvinism more or less ‘bring up the rear’ in advancing the cause of world mission?
  • Doesn’t the Calvinist approach to Christianity encourage the belief that the redeemed will be saved irrespective of their conduct?
  • Doesn’t the Calvinist track-record show an at-best mixed legacy on critical issues such as race and gender relations?
  • Hasn’t the Calvinist concept of the church’s role vis-à-vis the state tended toward theocracy?
  • Isn’t it true that Calvinistic expressions of Christianity have been a damper on the creative arts, whether the theater or painting or sculpture?

Ten Myths About Calvinism is sure to enrich both promoters and detractors, students and scholars.

[From the Publisher]

Additionaly, The Gospel Coalition is featuring a great post by Stewart addressing the myth of a dim view of revival often attributed to Calvinists.  READ POST.

GIVEAWAY from IVP:

IVP is kindly giving away several copies of Ten Myths About Calvinism through Wednesday (3/2/11).  You can win one of two ways:

  • TEN MYTHS QUIZ: First, click here to test your knowledge of John Calvin/Calvinism by taking their quiz.  They’ll select 3 winners from those who answer all the questions correctly.
  • TWITTER CONTEST: You can also enter via Twitter by tweeting/RTing something to the effect of: “Test your knowledge of Calvinism & win a free book from @ivpress! RT w/ #tenmythsquiz for more chances to win! http://ow.ly/44XQS”  – IVP will pick 3 winners Tuesday & Wednesday from those who tweet, and each will receive a free copy of the book.

IS THE TERM “CALVINIST” A HELPFUL LABEL?

Is it a good thing to refer to yourself as a “Calvinist”?  Some people say claiming that label takes away from the glory of Christ and gives it to a mere man, elevating a system over the Scriptures; also citing that it may be akin to what Paul writes in 1 Cor. 3.  On the other hand, Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying:

“I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism.  It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.  I do not believe that we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus.”

In a recent desiringGod blog post, John Piper offers a helpful perspective on how to respond if you’re asked the question, “Are you a ‘Calvinist’?”

John Piper writes:

We are Christians. Radical, full-blooded, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, God-centered, mission-advancing, soul-winning, church-loving, holiness-pursing, sovereignty-savoring, grace-besotted, broken-hearted, happy followers of the omnipotent, crucified Christ. At least that’s our imperfect commitment.

In other words, we are Calvinists. But that label is not nearly as useful as telling people what you actually believe! So forget the label, if it helps, and tell them clearly, without evasion or ambiguity, what you believe about salvation.

If they say, “Are you a Calvinist?” say, “You decide. Here is what I believe . . .”

I believe I am so spiritually corrupt and prideful and rebellious that I would never have come to faith in Jesus without God’s merciful, sovereign victory over the last vestiges of my rebellion. (1 Corinthians 2:14Ephesians 3:1–4Romans 8:7).

I believe that God chose me to be his child before the foundation of the world, on the basis of nothing in me, foreknown or otherwise. (Ephesians 1:4–6Acts 13:48;Romans 8:29–3011:5–7)

I believe Christ died as a substitute for sinners to provide a bona fide offer of salvation to all people, and that he had an invincible design in his death to obtain his chosen bride, namely, the assembly of all believers, whose names were eternally written in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. (John 3:16John 10:15Ephesians 5:25;Revelation 13:8)

When I was dead in my trespasses, and blind to the beauty of Christ, God made me alive, opened the eyes of my heart, granted me to believe, and united me to Jesus, with all the benefits of forgiveness and justification and eternal life. (Ephesians 2:4–5;2 Corinthians 4:6Philippians 2:29Ephesians 2:8–9Acts 16:14Ephesians 1:7;Philippians 3:9)

I am eternally secure not mainly because of anything I did in the past, but decisively because God is faithful to complete the work he began—to sustain my faith, and to keep me from apostasy, and to hold me back from sin that leads to death. (1 Corinthians 1:8–91 Thessalonians 5:23–24Philippians 1:61 Peter 1:5Jude 1:25;John 10:28–291 John 5:16)

Call it what you will, this is my life. I believe it because I see it in the Bible. And because I have experienced it. Everlasting praise to the greatness of the glory of the grace of God!

(HT: desiringGod)

The Calvin 500.

John CalvinAs I stated in an earlier post, 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth.  This historic marker has caused me to devote much of my personal study time this year to Calvin and his theology.  As a result of my studies thus far, I can say that this man was a theologian, uniquely gifted by God, with a heart that desired to be fully yeilded to Christ Jesus.  However, we do live in a day when both Calvin and his theology have been largely misrepresented; most often by people who have never taken the time to diligently study his work.  J.I. Packer is quoted as saying, “…the amount of misrepresentation to which Calvin’s theology has been subjected has been enough to prove his doctrine of total depravity several times over!”

Much of the caricaturing that has taken place has often left Calvin as someone who is only remembered for a small portion of his theology, and that, often misrepresented.

In light of this, I’m wondering what you think of Calvin/Calvinism/Reformed Theology.  What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the name “Calvin,” or the word “Reformed”?

Take the poll below, and/or leave a comment!

Will the Real John Calvin Please Stand Up?

John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & DoxologyThe 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon said it this way:

“I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism.  It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.  I do not believe that we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus.”

2009 being the 500th birthday of theologian John Calvin, it seemed fitting to me to give a portion of my personal study time this year to his theology.  Not to mention, there is an unbelievable amount of misunderstanding in our present day concerning Calvin the man, and his theology.  For many people, their knowledge of Calvinism consists only of that which they have heard about it.  As a result, many people envision a hard, cold, ivory-tower theologian that had little connection with the average lay-person, and because of  his doctrine of election, cared little about missions/evangelism.  Nothing could be further from the truth! J.I. Packer is quoted as saying, “…the amount of misrepresentation to which Calvin’s theology has been subjected has been enough to prove his doctrine of total depravity several times over!”

In order to intentionally look at Calvin a bit closer, I picked up a copy of the recent book, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology.  Edited by Burk Parsons, with contributions by pastors and scholars such as Sinclair Ferguson, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges and Thabiti Anyabwile (to name only a few), this proved to be well worth my time!  I read the book, alongside selections of The Institutes, and it helped acquaint me with Calvin in a way that has caused me only to become more interested in the man and his theology.

Several things I’ve learned…

  • He had an astounding compassion for the sick among his congregation, and a desire for their overall health, both spiritually and physically.  This can be seen in his Ecclesiastical Ordinances of the Church of Geneva.
  • Calvin was a pastor for 27 years, nearly half his life.
  • Calvin would preach 20 times per week, from the NT on Sundays, and the OT on weekdays.  His preaching, not only intellectually challenging, but also passionate, practical and easily comprehended by the common man, resulted in an extraordinary level of biblical literacy throughout Geneva.
  • Through Calvin’s zealous desire for missions/evangelism over 2,150 churches were planted through his ministry by 1562, producing more than 3 million members.
  • Calvin was a phenomenal counselor to the afflicted, as he would comfort those entrusted to his care through the doctrine of God’s providence.  He writes in the preface of his commentary on the Psalms, “we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him.”
  • Calvin had a vibrant doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  He acknowledged continually that effective gospel preaching depends wholly on the power of the Spirit as Christ offers himself in the gospel.
  • Calvin insisted that people are bound to wonder about God’s foreordination and will, so they should be soundly taught from the Scriptures rather than be left open to vain speculation.  He says, “Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know.  Therefore, we must guard against depriving believers of anything disclosed about predestination in Scripture, lest we seem either wickedly to defraud them of the blessing of their God or to accuse and scoff at the Holy Spirit for having published what it is in any way profitable to suppress.”
  • Calvin was fervent and faithful in frequent prayer.  He writes, “until [people] are persuaded that all their troubles come upon them by the appointment of God, it will never come into their minds to supplicate him for deliverance.”

That, is only to name a few.  I can’t, in the course of this short blog, do justice to everything I learned about Calvin and his theology through John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology and The Institutes, or that which is offered to be learned.  But, I would wholeheartedly recommend them for reading!  And, for those who have been skeptical of Calvin/Calvinism in the past, and who have not actually read the man himself, read before you make statements/judgments about Calvin/Calvinism yourself.  You may be surprised at what you find, and I pray that you’ll be led to the conclusion of Burk Parsons who writes:

“Calvin’s Calvinism…is engendered and shaped by Scripture alone–and that makes it a Calvinism that begins with God, teaches us about God, and directs our hearts and minds back to God according to the way He deserves, demands, and delights in our worship of Him and our obedience to Him.  This is the threefold foundation of Calvin’s Calvinism: devotion, doctrine, and doxology–the heart’s devotion to the biblical God, the mind’s pursuit of the biblical doctrine of God, and the entire being’s surrender to doxology.  Calvin writes, “The glory of God so shines in his word, that we ought to be so affected by it, whenever he speaks by his servants, as though he were near to us, face to face.”…A true Calvinist is one who strives to think as Calvin thought and live as Calvin lived–insofar as Calvin thought and lived as our Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Word of God.”

FURTHER READING/STUDY ON CALVIN/CALVINISM:

John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God, by John Piper

A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, by David W. Hall

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