The Kind of Calvinist the World Needs

LORD, who can dwell in Your tent? Who can live on Your holy mountain? The one who lives honestly, practices righteousness, and acknowledges the truth in his heart– who does not slander with his tongue, who does not harm his friend or discredit his neighbor, who despises the one rejected by the LORD, but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his word whatever the cost, who does not lend his money at interest or take a bribe against the innocent–the one who does these things will never be moved. (Psalms 15:1-5 HCSB)

Today I want to deal with an issue that I believe is of grave importance to the Christian community. The recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the doctrines known as Calvinism. Anyone who is even remotely theologically astute would have noticed this trend. It seemed at one time as a passing fad, but this does not now seem to be the case. It seems that many a young person is coming to understand the Bible the way that the Reformed community has always understood the Bible. High school and college students are becoming Reformed by the hundreds. This may not seem like a large number, but sometimes the strongest armies are like that. Remember Israel?

In light of this shift in theological focus, there has been something lacking, though. While all these young people are coming to understand the Scriptures differently, they have no real way of applying their new understanding to the practice of evangelism and Christian living. These people believe properly, but they do not practice properly. An example.

“…the value of understanding the Trinity is to love and honor and serve the Trinity, and that allegedly right Trinitarian opinions that do not lead to divine adoration are worth little. More, this view would assert that so-called orthodox understandings of the Trinity that don’t lead to so-called orthodox Christians to love their neighbors in the name of the Trinity (including those neighbors who don’t properly understand the Trinity) are more or less worthless, which trivializes their orthodoxy” (Brian D. McLaren. A Generous Orthodoxy. 2004. Youth Specialties. Pg. 31).

We can take that same idea (in part) and apply it to Calvinism. We can have as orthodox an understanding of Calvinism as we want to have, but if that view doesn’t lead us to the right actions that accompany right belief, our Calvinism is “more or less worthless, which trivializes [its] orthodoxy”. As McLaren says on the same page, just a few lines before the above quote, “Orthopraxy [right practice] [is] the point of orthodoxy”. I couldn’t agree more.

So, with this idea in mind, let me share with you what I believe to be the kind of Calvinist our world today needs.

Lives honestly

The first characteristic of the Calvinist our world needs to see is that he is honest. This should be a no-brainer. This honesty doesn’t end with his outward life, though. I believe this honesty extends to how he handles the words of the Bible.

There is many a Calvinist who, I believe, doesn’t rightly handle the words of the Bible. Let’s take an example.

He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 HCSB)

The majority of Calvinists would do one of two things when they come to a verse like this. They would 1) not deal with it at all so as not to sound un-Calvinist or 2) they would explain it away. Number 2 is the most common. The typical Calvinist would read this and say, in so many words, “What John meant to say was that Jesus was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world of the elect”.

An honest handling of Scripture, though, would not say that John didn’t say what he meant to say. An honest Calvinist would read this verse and would nod in agreement and praise God for being gracious for a whole world full of sinners. He would praise God that God is in control of man’s salvation. Which brings me to my second point.

“…acknowledges the truth in his heart…”

The Calvinist that the world needs to see is one who acknowledges the truth in his heart. I think we have a lot of Calvinists running around who have embraced the truth and acknowledged the truth, but not in their hearts. They have the head knowledge, but not the heart knowledge. And this is no different than the rest of the Christian community who has a lot of heart knowledge but no head knowledge. Neither extreme is good. But, back to my point.

We Calvinists are borderline obsessed with convincing people that we’re right and they’re wrong. We give them all the logical arguments in the world to defend what we believe to be the truth. We have it all worked out how we’ll present TULIP to these other people; these “lesser Christians”. We know it all up in our heads, but we’ve not let that truth grip our hearts irresistibly. We know all the defenses and proof texts for Limited Atonement, but we don’t know how that atonement applies to our individual lives or to the lives of the church community as a whole. And, to be honest, we don’t care for the most part. All we care about is being right; to hell with being correct. This is not good.

The Calvinist the world needs is the Calvinist who has not only acknowledged the truth in his head, but in his heart, for, as Jesus said,

…the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. (Matthew 12:34b HCSB)

And this leads me into my next point.

“…who does not slander with his tongue, who does not harm his friend or discredit his neighbor…”

This is probably the downfall of modern Calvinism. In our attempt to defend the truth, we often slander the other party to make ourselves look better and come out on top. We resort to name-calling because we’re not left with anything else when the other guy’s arguments are so much more well thought out than ours.

Whether we Calvinists like it or not, there are people out there who believe differently than us about things, and I don’t know that we can assume that because they differ in one area that they are not saved. I don’t know that we can assume that we have the only access to the real truth. What I do know, though, is that we need to be much nicer with how we present our views. If we believe them to be true, then we should preach them to be true, but we need to do so without slandering other believers (or non-believers), without harming the other person, or discrediting them.

“…despises the one rejected by the Lord…”

This is very self-explanatory. We as Calvinists need to be careful to love what God loves and hate what God hates. I think we’re really good at the second part. We know all the things that God hates, and we know where to find those passages in Scripture, but what about the one who God loves? That leads to the next issue.

“…honors those who fear the Lord…”

We lack in this area. We equate fearing the Lord with being a Calvinist. This is simply not true. I truly believe that someone can fear the Lord and believe differently than we Calvinists do. We should honor them.

But how do we know that someone fears the Lord? Their life will show it. Jesus said,

A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. (Matthew 7:18-20 HCSB)

Notice something. A believer (a true prophet contextually) is known by his fruit. What they teach may not be 100% in line with what we Calvinists believe, but if they are proclaiming Christ crucified and that He paid for the sins of a fallen humanity and that we are not saved apart from that and people are responding and coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus, then we should honor those people, not slander and condemn them because they don’t preach using the sacred flower. This is where we mess up. We don’t honor those who fear the Lord. We honor those who fear the Catechism and the TULIP. We honor idolators rather than Christ-followers. This is not good either.

A concluding realization

As I close, I just want to point out something to you. All these things I just described, they aren’t limited to just the Calvinist. Look at how the Psalmist starts this passage:

LORD, who can dwell in Your tent? Who can live on Your holy mountain? (Psalms 15:1 HCSB)

David isn’t only speaking to the Calvinist, but he is speaking to the believer in general. It is not just the Calvinist that needs to change his approach, but the Christian.

We as believers get so caught up in our own beliefs and dogmas that we forget what the point is for believing as we do. The whole point of having right beliefs is to have the right practice of those beliefs. If you have orthodoxy, but not orthopraxy, we’re just making noise. Note the words of Paul.

If I speak the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2 HCSB)

We can know all we want to know and have the most correct understanding of the Bible possible under the sun, but if that understanding doesn’t lead us to live rightly, then we are wasting our time and our orthodoxy is “more or less worthless”. Our world needs a Psalm 15 Calvinist; this is true. Even more, though, the world needs a Psalm 15 Christian. We need Christians whose orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. May God move us all from simply believing right to living right.

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