Friday, July 13, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 14: It Doesn't.

Other Posts in this Series:
Why Does Calvinism Matter? [Part 1: The Bible] [Part 2: Evangelism and Global Missions] [Part 3: The Will of Christ] [Part 4: The Priestly Work of Christ] [Part 5: Western Civilization] [Part 6: Science and Psychology] [Part 7: The Gospel] [Part 8: Social Ministry] [Part 9: Cooperation Among Baptist Churches] [Part 10: The Cosmological Argument for God's Existence] [Part 11: Biblical Theology] [Part 12: Eternal Security] [Part 13: Fear, Worry, and Anxiety]

The Bible doesn't come to us in the form of systematic theology. It's a Book of salvation history, stories, poems, pithy sayings, and teachings pointed to specific real-life situations. It addresses everything we are, touching our minds, stirring our emotions, and focusing our determination. The Bible speaks to us clearly, beautifully, and winsomely and all in different ways. You won't find lists of propositions neatly organized into doctrinal systems in Scripture. The Bible is a living organism with all the parts vitally connected to the others, not a tackle box where everything fits in its own little compartment.

So, anytime we pull out just one part of Scripture and look at it under a microscope, while neglecting the whole, we are saying less than the Bible says, not more. We can and must talk about Calvinism, or Baptist ecclesiology, or Theology Proper, but if we don't see how those things are connected to the whole of Scripture, then we're missing the point. It's only when we look at the Bible as a whole that we can have a rich and clear personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Theology of every sort is absolutely useless, unless it draws us back up into the whole of Scripture, and then into the living person of Jesus to whom the whole Bible points.

A surgeon might know everything about his patient's internal systems, while not knowing his patient at all. Similarly, it is possible to know a theological system, to see (and perhaps love) all the different moving parts, without ever knowing, believing, and loving the Person it's about. We need the careful distinctions of systematic theology (and the technical work of exegetical theology, and biblical theology, and historical theology, and pastoral theology) for a rich and full understanding of Christ. I believe the American church desperately needs to recover clear, robust, biblical, and orthodox theology. But we also need to get through the theology to Jesus personally.  The good Bishop J.C. Ryle demonstrated this from the Bible in his classic essay based on Colossians 3:11, "Christ is all."

And so, Calvinism does not matter as an end in itself. You can be a Calvinist (or Baptist or whatever) without knowing Christ, and you will not enter into eternal life. Calvinism is like any good thing that becomes a bad thing when it is turned into a best thing. Another way of saying this is that Calvinism is a means, not an end. It only matters when it shows us God's sovereign holiness, our terrible sinfulness, and the unutterably boundless and unconditionally free grace of God in Jesus Christ, such that we are led away from trusting and worshipping ourselves and this world and into faith in Him, love for Him, joy in Him, and into becoming more like Him for His great glory.

Let us be Christians above all else and may Christ, not our beliefs or performances, truly be the center of our faith.

Referring to the strict Calvinistic Baptist, Andrew Fuller, Dr. Michael Haykin of Southern Seminary, and one of the professors who sat on my PhD dissertation committee, recently made a similar point.  Fuller said, "If we wish to see the Baptist denomination prosper, we must not expend our zeal so much in endeavouring to make men Baptists, as in labouring to make Baptists and others Christians.”

Our main work is to preach Christ and live holy lives to bear one another's burdens, to exhort one another to persevere in faith, and to call this lost and dying world to Christ.

Spurgeon expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.”

And so may our song ever be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 13: Fear, Worry, and Anxiety

Other Posts in this Series:

I started this series of blog posts to explore the importance and relevance of Calvinism.  I submit that if Calvinism is simply a name for a set of doctrines that hang in the air with little to no impact on anything else, then Calvinism isn't worth our time or attention.  It certainly isn't worth the potential grief and personal hurt that often comes from debates over the issue.  On the other hand, if Calvinism has the power to make the gospel stand forth in greater beauty, and if it significantly shapes our understanding of God, doctrine, and life, then we need to understand it and work out its implications carefully. 

In this post, I want to consider why Calvinism matters to the internal world of human beings. We might reflect on the relevance of Calvinism to depression, anger, pride, shame, guilt, controlling behavior, and so on, but here I only want to examine its relevance to fear, worry, and anxiety.

Calvinism matters because it comforts our fears, or rather, because the God of Calvinism comforts our fears.

Maybe you know something about fear. You may have experienced the fear of failing to accomplish something important, the fear of what others think of you, the fear of losing someone close to you, the fear of pain and dying, the fear of the future, or the fear of not having enough money to sustain yourself or your family, etc.

According to Christ, one of the basic antidotes to fear is faith. In Luke 12:22, the Lord Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Christ then identified the central problem with anxious thinking when He cried, “O you of little faith” (Lk 12:28). The reason we fear is that we don't have enough faith. Or rather, we have too much faith in something other than Christ. We may have faith in the power of men to destroy us and so we fear men. Or our faith might be in our skills and efforts to achieve a happy and secure future for ourselves and so we fear failing to do what we've planned to do.

But do you see how the root of every fear is believing that something other than God controls our lives? At the foundation of all fear, worry, and anxiety, is having too “little faith” in our good God who is absolutely sovereign over the whole world.

Christ declared that part of the antidote to “little faith” is coming to grips with God's meticulous control over the world and placing our faith in Him instead of our idols. Christ lovingly said, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. . . . Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Lk 12:24-27). When we think about how God controls these relatively insignificant parts of the world, we should be encouraged to meditate on His control of everything. And having faith in His good and wise control of all things will comfort our fears.

We don't need to fear death because He's directing every molecule of the world toward the new heavens and the new earth, where death is no more. We don't need to fear the future because He holds the future in His hands. We don't need to fear the lack of physical provisions because God powerfully loves and provides for His own.

But what about the choices of men? Here is where Calvinism is especially helpful. Do men have the kind of free-will that can make choices apart from God's determining control? Did God give human beings sovereign authority over their own choices? Is it possible for men to make choices that disrupt His plan, wreck our lives, or take the very best from us? No.

In telling His disciples not to fear men, the Lord Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny and not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt 10:28-30). The logic of the text is clear.  If God's will extends to the falling of sparrows and the number of hairs on our heads, then certainly His will rules and overrules the choices of men too. We have no reason to fear men or the results of their choices because God controls them all. 

Ephesians 1:11 says, God “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” That means nothing comes to pass outside of His good and sovereign will, including human choices. Job 42:2 says, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” No matter how much they might wish otherwise, human beings cannot thwart God's purpose by their choices. Unbelieving choices and believing choices, sinful choices and godly choices, foolish choices and wise choices, are all the outworking of His sovereign will, and none of them can thwart His purpose (Gen 50:20; Acts 4:27-28; Lk 22:22).

Jeremiah 10:23 says, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps."  Proverbs 20:24 says, “A man's steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.”  There is, therefore, no reason to fear the choices of men and every reason to trust the sovereign God of Calvinism.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 12: Eternal Security

Other Posts in this Series:

One unusual thing about some Southern Baptist theology is that it so strongly affirms the doctrine of eternal security but denies unconditional election. This is strange because in most of the places where the Bible affirms eternal security, it also affirms unconditional election.  According to the Scriptures, unconditional election and eternal security are like two bookends of the Christian life.

Theology that affirms eternal security but denies unconditional election is also unusual because those who affirm eternal security but deny unconditional election must say either (1) that Christians lose some of their freedom after they are saved so that they can never again choose to reject Christ, or (2) that Christians retain the freedom to reject Christ after salvation, while still remaining saved and on their way to heaven, which is what no-Lordship Dispensationalism teaches. Both implications seem inconsistent Scripture.

I submit that Calvinism matters because the doctrine of eternal security is only biblically and logically maintained when it is rooted in the Bible's doctrines of unconditional election and effectual calling. Consider the following passages of Scripture that link unconditional election and eternal security.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out” (Jn 6:37).

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day” (Jn 6:39).

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:44).

“And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (Rom 8:30).

“[Christ] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:8-9).

“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world . . . In Him, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will . . . [the Holy Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:3-14).

“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thess 5:23-24).

“To those who are elect . . . He has caused us to be born again to a living hope . . . who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:1-5).

So, from a biblical perspective, unconditional election and irresistible grace (effectual calling) go together with eternal security. It seems odd, biblically, that anyone would wish to affirm one without the other. The effort to separate the two does not appear to grow out of the Bible's own theological categories.

A Sincere Question for Non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists
If you are a non-Calvinist but affirm eternal security, do you also affirm that human beings lose their freedom of choice (to reject Christ) after conversion? Or do you take the route of no-Lordship Dispensationalism and say that true Christians may reject Christ but still go to heaven when they die?