Last Wednesday after our Bible Study I had an interesting conversation with a student who has been visiting with us over the last several weeks. He is learning about us and asked a question I hadn’t heard from someone attending our church. It was in regard to where our church came down on the Calvinism/Arminian divide. This was a good conversation starter and got me to thinking about the larger issues related to this discussion.
I’ve been wary of Calvinism, at least the five point variety. The biggest attraction that I see in TULIP is that it is a logical system that utilizes a lot of Bible. Calvinists also find security in the fact that everything can be explained in relation to the sovereignty of God, which unfortunately can be taken to the extreme by removing the freedom of choice when it comes to our salvation experience. There is a lot more to this presentation, but my reaction to my friend was that our church was neither Calvinist nor Arminian. There may be a few individuals that have differing viewpoints on this spectrum, but I think I’m on target here. We believe in missions too much to take away the freedom of persons to respond to the gospel. I told my friend that we might be better described as “Calminian” a term I heard in seminary that seems to pull in some elements of both views.
God is sovereign, and is Lord over all creation. Human beings also have free will and can decide to accept or reject the gospel. Yes, we are all sinners in need of a Saviour but are not predestined to salvation in the sense that we have no choice in the matter. The “logical” conclusion is that God predestines some to heaven while others to hell. This “double-edged” predestination is what I find particularly dangerous. I cannot imagine a loving God allowing persons to come into the world only to condemn them to hell. This is a difficult axiom to accept and is inconsistant with a loving God. God’s sovereignty must be affirmed along with the freedom of humans to determine their own response to the gospel. This paradox is not logical, but it is biblical.
Nothing is more fundamental than an understanding of what it means to come to faith in Jesus Christ. There is a mystery that cannot be explained away, how God LOVED the WORLD so much that he gave his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Calvinists do not accept the truth that Christ died for ALL persons, but rather he died only for the elect. Dying for the reprobate would be unfair to Christ and he would take on more penalty than he needed to provide salvation for the elect. Here again is another case of being logical but not biblical. Calvinism is very much based on a legal viewpoint of redemption.
There is lot more to the debate, but suffice it to say that Calvinism should be considered a threat to our local Baptist congregations. It is possible to diminish the importance of evangelism with this approach. I suspect this is a growing concern especially for Southern Baptists who will be looking for something to fight about pretty soon. At least in this regard I can agree that church members need to be educated about the perils of this theological system, and regrettably some congregations have found out too late. Some churches have found out the hard way what happens when a closet Calvinist is brought to the pulpit.
Despite our challenges and shortcomings, we ought not allow Calvinism to be one of them. John 3:16 is enough of a response to keep Baptist churches focused on missions and telling people about Jesus.