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.

No comments:

Post a Comment