To be an arrogant Calvinist is to be a walking contradiction. That being said, the condition is all too normal. God is so kind to allow us to see Him as He is. But when we first come to know how God saves us, we have a peculiar and sinful proclivity to pride. We call it the “cage phase.” Thankfully many of us grow up. This is not the case for everyone, however. Many brothers stay in this cage which is locked from the inside.
This may come as a shock but I am not equally thankful for all that would call themselves Calvinists. I met few people that saw the things I saw in the Word as good and beautiful during my first few years of new life. Most around me considered to doctrines of grace as anathema; the very antithesis of the love of God. We got it from all sides, teachers and students, pastors and laypeople. Anyone and everyone that claimed to be a Calvinist became dear to me. But as I grew up into maturity (or something like that) I began to feel less thankful for those “Calvinists” who did not seem to get. They confessed Calvin with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. For them, Calvinism was a side interest. The doctrines of grace became something to debate more than a beautiful, world-encompassing vision for all things, centered on Christ clothed in the gospel. Calvinism had become a “cool thing.”
My growing concern is that we would become men who see, experience and espouse what I have heard called “broken-hearted orthodoxy.” Oh that we would be men who love the God of the Bible and the doctrines of grace in such a way that it sent us to our faces before Him. What follows are some thoughts on how this comes about and how it might, by God’s grace, translate into the everyday.
Be Bible Calvinists
The best thing about this system of heavenly doctrine sometimes referred to as Calvinism is that it is fiercely biblical. Men like John Calvin, John Owen and John Piper have proved helpful because they have proved faithful. These men press our noses into the book; again and again. And they do not send us to the Scriptures to find a point to debate. We go to the Bible to come to God. The end of our Bible reading is joy and satisfaction in the holy God of majesty. We were made for this, the Bible was written for this! When we become men who only study the Bible for study’s sake, we are on a road to being unhelpful and unhealthy. We should be men of the Word. Our life blood, our language, every is tied into and finds its center around the Word of God. What good is it to be a Calvinist if you never read you Bible? Who cares if you can defend Limited Atonement if you are not meditating daily on the Scriptures? We should love the Bible more than anyone else. Brothers, we have seen God! How can we say that we are the most biblical of all theologians if we neglect the Bible in our daily lives?
Don’t believe Calvinism because someone has told you about it. Measure these faithful brothers against the inerrant and inspired Word of God. That is what they would want. Their books and articles are helpful insofar as they point us to the Word. You will not find the system wanting.
Be Holy Calvinists
Kevin DeYoung says that one of the biggest deficiencies in the Reformed Resurgence is a seeming lack of holiness. I think that he is spot on. It has become far too easy to sit behind a keyboard and debate in online forums all the while using that same computer to indulge in pornography. The Reformers and their descendants were men of piety. Calvin called his Institutes a “sum of piety.” Their rediscovery of the gospel revolutionized the way their lived. We who have seem the most of God’s holiness should therefore be more holy. When we climb the mountain peaks of God’s glory, we should be being transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Bible resounds with the transforming glory of God in Christ.
Our study of the Bible should be primarily for happiness and holiness in Jesus. If you are living like the devil and yet confessing the theology of the heavens, you are not walking worthy of the name. Brothers, Satan could preach the most Reformed sermon in human history and would do so if he thought that it would effect us the same way it does him. He knows the truth, but the truth has not set him from from himself and sin. How we walk begins with the affections. “Knowing” is not true knowing apart from an experience of the sweetness of doctrine. Jonathan Edwards described the difference as being like knowing in your head and that honey is sweet but having never tasted it for yourselves.
This sweetness should lead to a “sweetness” in our lives. Do not take this to mean pleasantries and being. May God make us like J.C. Ryle who was described as “a man of granite with the heart of a child.” We are to be bold and clear about these offensive doctrines. But there is no merit in bringing unnecessarily offensive. We need less gun-slinging, triumphalistic Calvinists. Brothers, oh that we had the same amount of tenacity and angst against our own personal sin that we have stored up for “heretics” on Twitter. There is an imperative to defend the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. However, our first work is to daily subdue our hearts in the fight for satisfaction in God.
Be Constructive Calvinists
Finally, we should strive to be constructive theologians. Please do not mistake this with me saying that we should never be bold and public in the defense of the truth. I have had to throw my self under the bus several times because the truth of the gospel was on the line. For the good of others, we have to stand up for what the Bible says. My friend Brandon shared some advice one time that I will never forget. He said, “I want to be known more for what I am for than I am for what I am against.” This is profound for how we live the Christian life. The best way to grow in grace is not to stare navels: ours or anyone else’s. Our focus should be on what is good and true, not constantly what is wrong and false. It should never thrill us to confront false doctrine. The tenor of our lives should not be colored by the statement, “did you see what ______ said?!” Much of this problem comes because we have an inflated sense of self. But brothers, contrary to what we might think, the gospel will go forth even if we don’t tweet at our favorite punching bag online. I suggest simply unfollowing that person and warning others not to be influenced by them. The forums in which we decided to be Reformers is telling. Disciple people. Be in a local church that loves good theology. Learn from, rebuke and be rebuked by brothers and sisters.
The best way to know what is wrong is to know what is right. When we build our lives around the positive construction of our knowing God, what is false and unhelpful will make us uneasy. Once you have tasted the real thing, the offbrand rendition doesn’t satisfy. Let us led one another in the worship of God, the beholding of His glory, and then address real issues as they come.
The only thing we can know about God on our own is His wrath. We are all sinners by birth. But God has saved us and brought us to a correct knowledge of Him. What do we have that is not received? It would do us well to labor under the assumption that we shouldn’t even be at the table. What is the first emotion you feel when someone belittles God? I’ll admit it used to be anger for me. This anger was a mix of the righteous and sinful varieties. By God’s grace, now I can honestly say that it hurts me to hear people coming against how the Bible says God saves sinners. I pains me to see God’s glory given to another. Immediately, I am drawn to my own glory-subduing nature. How could I ever come to see this? Why did God allow me to know Him? The answer will not be found in our whit or persuasiveness. The answer originates and terminates in the Triune God. May our sin in light of God’s holiness break our hearts. May the sin of others break our hearts. And may the sovereign grace of God be our only boast.
Soli Deo Gloria.