The Calvinist Conundrum

Other than looking for a reason to use the word “conundrum” today, I do find myself once again reading about Calvinism in Baptist life (I wonder if I’ve spelled the word correctly and may find out later). The most recent issue of the Word and Way (MO Baptist paper) included a story taken from the Associated Baptist Press that talked about “tiptoeing through the TULIP.”

It’s not the first such article and won’t be the last. Most of the articles I read seem to say the same things over and over again. Sometimes I forget that there are those who are learning about Calvinism for the first time. Rather than rehearsing the 5 points of Calvinism (TULIP or ULTIP), I will comment on what seemed to be key question which is whether Calvinists and non-Calvinists can co-exist in a local church. The obvious answer is “it depends” and these remarks might be predetermined but I’ll give it a try anyway.

The answer to that problem depends on those who label themselves as Calvinists. If a church has “activist” Calvinists then there will be problems. This is especially true with the “five point” Calvinist influence. Unfortunately, militant Calvinists (hyper-Calvinists) can have a detrimental impact on the body of Christ in their excessive preoccupation on being “the elect.” I haven’t heard a satisfactory explanation on how God can love the whole world and then create people for the sole purpose of condemning them to hell.  Missions can suffer when Calvinist thought creeps in. When William Carey first presented his idea of going to India to share the gospel, Calvinists discouraged him by saying, “If God wants to save the heathen, he can do it without your help or mine.”

There seems to be a fascination with Calvinism these days. It’s a theological system that’s been around for a long time, so it’s amusing to hear about it as if it’s a new approach. I would urge caution in buying into the five points as if this were the last word on docrine or theology. I have known of one church in particular and read of other accounts where the church was disrupted when Calvinism became a focal point of contention. It’s difficult to imagine how much “tip-toeing” could be done when trying to navigate through a sea of strong opinions. There is an impasse when dealing with the paradox of God’s sovereignty and human freewill. Calvinists do not take human freewill seriously when it comes to a person coming to faith in Jesus Christ. I believe this is a key component to the gospel. We share the gospel and leave the results to the Lord. We trust the Holy Spirit to point to Jesus Christ, and “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This refers to “whoever” not just the “elect.”

I’ve heard the debates and lined up the scriptures. Some verses in Romans refer to predestination and God’s sovereignty. There are also verses dealing with God’s love and that Christ’s dying for the “sins of the whole world”  I can’t accept the premise that Christ died only for the elect. It might be logical, but it isn’t biblical. The Calvinistic system is a legal model that addresses the punishment of Jesus in a quantitative way. God would only require Jesus to be punished for the sins of the elect rather than the whole world, to do otherwise would be unfair. That much is certain, for to ask the sinless Christ to die for us “while we were still sinners” is grossly unfair.

Obviously, there is more that could be said. I think that whether Calvinists and non-Calvinists can live and fellowship together depends on the activity and passion of Calvinists to win converts to their system rather than to Jesus Christ. The positive outcome of this debate is that it gets people talking about theology. It’s healthy to to discuss this approach and raise awareness among the members that this could be a threat to the fellowship. It isn’t all about worship styles and church growth seminars. 

I would be very wary if this system gained traction in a Baptist church. Doctrine is important, but keep in mind it was the “acts” of the apostles that we read about in the New Testament. They were busy telling people about Jesus Christ and building the Kingdom of God. That’s a good enough clue for me. Any time a system is promoted more than Jesus, whether it’s Calvinism or another -ism, it’s time to wake up. 

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3 thoughts on “The Calvinist Conundrum

  1. jimhill says:

    Thanks for helping your people recognize the dangers of an unchecked Calvinism for church life, missions and the Christian faith. Jim

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