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Are you uncomfortable in sin? Are you at war with sin?

 

Or are you growing complacent and comfortable in your sin?

 

I’ve been thinking about such things lately, thinking in circles and not articulating the arguments to myself well. But here’s what Will Metzger has to say (emphasis added):

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we sin it is to be expected that our assurance of salvation will be weakened. God is keeping us from complacency and warning us not to play with sin. God, in mercy, will not allow children of his to be comfortable in sin. He makes us restless, even to the point of questioning our salvation, so that we may not presume on his favor but, instead, relish his grace. Often we recognize our salvation not by victory over sin but by the warfare that is still going on within us. – Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People

 

Can you imagine if we were comfortable in our sin? What would separate us and our attitude toward sin from the rest of the world’s attitude toward sin, who flees the light and loves darkness?

 

I agree with Metzger, and would also add that we shouldn’t be suprised when we are distressed by our sinning instead of being flippant about it. Being in distress in itself is a mark of our salvation, and a means by which God is pruning us and leading us to depend upon Him even greater still.

 

So how does our differying theologies within Christianity affect how we view this process? Its oversimplifying things to only represent 3 views, but the most distinct 3 views that come to mind are a Roman Catholic view, a traditional Arminian view, and a traditional Calvinist view.

 

A Roman Catholic view of justification; holding that we are not declared justified until the close of our lives and cannot attain assurance of salvation in this life in any normal fashion- would do little to comfort me as I wrestled with my sin. What’s the solution within this camp, performing confession and penance? It’s hard to imagine that bringing much comfort, or being restoring me spiritually back to delighting in God’s presence. I imagine some in this camp would argue that believing that righteousness is needed on our part will effectively prevent us from being complacent in sin, but my main complaint with this idea is that it unavoidable is adding our own merit to Christ’s and in effect denying its sufficiency.

 

An Arminian view of salvation; that I am covered by grace but able to fall away, with my assurance resting at least partially upon myself (its unavoidable to say this) – doesn’t do much more to comfort the sinner wrestling with their weight of sin. To those within this camp, our war with sin is a war that we can, in fact- lose! Again, some within this camp might echo the RCC view that believing this way will prevent complacency and laxity toward sinning, but the issue of justification is at stake. It would be unavoidable to admit that a human’s actions, and consequently his merit, are nessesary to give the cross its power to save and sustain. Some are willing to live with this. I am not.

 

But in the Calvinist’s view however, believing that it is by God’s immutable decree that we have been ushered into a state of Grace and are held there by His faithfulness alone and not our own- we can be tormented by our sin and yet still revel in the Glory of Christ.

 

How? Well,since we believe it is God’s soveriengty and faithfulness and that sustains us- as we sink deeper and deeper into our own depravity, we cannot help but to see God’s face shine even brighter upon us as He lavishes His mercy upon our miserable estate. Our hope lies not in the slightest upon ourselves, or our merit, so in the incorrigibleness of our sin we can actually see the increasingly graciousness of grace, and it is like a fresh drink to our thirsty souls. We return to the throne of Grace refreshed, but not frazzled. Broken, but not destroyed. Grateful, but humbled by our great need and his all-suffiency in saving us to the uttermost.

 

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” -Hebrews 7:25

I found this over at Reclaiming the Mind, its hilarious.

Top ten reasons why the Reformed Theologian did not cross the road:

10. A woman already crossed, and he would be in sin if he followed

9. The road is not safe if it wasn’t built between 1500-1700 AD

8. He believes that “road crossing” has ceased

7. The crossing guard was only helping people cross from one side, so he suspiciously thought he was denying double pre-destination

6. Romans 9 says nothing about crossing roads

5. The “Walk” sign was gender neutral

4. The road was called Tiber Ave

3. John Wesley said that God’s prevenient grace would pave the way, but he had to take the steps himself

2. He wasn’t elected to cross before the foundation of the road

1. Piper said that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied where we are.

Also, check out The Top Ten Reasons the Emerger didn’t cross the road 

and, the Top ten reasons the Dispensationalist didn’t cross the road.

 

Just another installment as I elaborate on the initial post.

Part 1: The Ideal Church

Part 2: Creeds and Confessions

  • Uses ecenumical creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasius, and Chalcedonian) to celebrate and reflect on the overarching themes and truth of scripture.

Why? Well, the early creeds of the church are the only confessions we have that are truly ecenumical, or are held to by the church as a whole. The fact that the church was once in enough agreement to draft and affirm such creeds shows us as we sit within our own particular denominations that we are a small part today of a much larger painting of God’s redemptive history. We weren’t the first to believe the Gospel and be changed by it, and we shouldn’t forget that fact.

Creeds celebrate this unity, and aid us in reflecting in the overarching themes of scripture that cannot be expressed from lone passages of scripture.

It is important to provide transcendence in our worship to remind us of this overarching communion we have with Christians from the past and present. I love the fact that even though we can’t avoid differing on finer points of theology with other Christians, we at least have real unity in the content of the early creeds of the church.

But which creed of the major 4 to use? All of them, I say. The Apostle’s Creed is great in its brevity and utter simplicity. But the Nicene Creed is absolutely beautiful in how it refers to Christ’s eternal nature and substance; “very God of very God, begotten not made, being of the same substance as the Father”. As well, the Athanasian and Chalcedonian Creeds are equally significant because they focused on critical matters of the humanity, deity, and substance of Jesus. All of them testify to watershed moments in our church history when a biblical view was affirmed and thus, heresy rejected. Also by using all of these, it lets us rotate them and guards our tradtion from becoming ritualism as they force us to focus on the words and meditate on them when we employ them in worship.

  • Uses denominational creeds and confessions to further affirm theological convictions corporately, like the Westminster Confession, or the Heidelberg Catechism.

Inevitably, when we venture into more recent confessions in Church’s history they become more theologically divisive than the earliest creeds, and they pit our views of finer points of theology against other denominations or churches views.

Rather than avoid this, I think we should embrace it with a sober frame of mind. Even the simplest of believers operates on theological assumptions of some kind, so we all stand on some form of theological foundation whether we realize it or not. We’re going to have different views of election, the sacraments, perseverance, etc. We should observe the hisorical foundation of our particular branches of Christianity, test it against scripture, meditate on it, and use it as an aid in communicating the overarching themes and truths of scripture that we have inherited through scholasticis. We shouldn’t flee from our differences but study them carefully.

I’m Reformed, so I’m obviously biased towards the Westminster Confession and I don’t apologize for it either. The Westminster Confession of 1646 is arguably the most exhaustive and comprehensive statement of faith ever produced, with the Anglican’s Thirty-Nine Articles coming in a not-so-distant second place. Obviously those outside the Reformed tradition would not embrace every article of it, and even many churches who use it as their statement of faith like mine actually use a slightly revised version from 1789, but overall it has stood the test of time and in many a scholar’s opinion has not been superceded by any confession since.

As far as catechisms go, The Heidelberg Catechism is more brief and succint than the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, which is why I like it more, and it is actually divided into 52 sections that allow it to be read corporately and completed in one year by reading a section every Sabbath. 

One great part of responsive readings or recitations is that they allow the whole congregation to participate. In an age where the church is growing more consumer-minded, and “special music” or dramas take a stronger presence, the reading together of confessions cements very objective ideas in our minds through our participation and allows us to reflect on them, refer to them later, and even memorize them.

Some objections:

Some Christians, young and old, might object to creeds and confessions having a prominent place in worship. Some proclaim “no creed but Christ” which is ridiculous because at some point you have to define specifics about Christ. Some might interject that creeds and confessions are stodgy and don’t reflect our freedom in Christ, or are too exclusive. I’m not going to even touch that one. But overall, I think one of the biggest misconceptions Christians might have about creeds, especially from “missional” or “emerging” Christians; is that they turn away new Christians or “seekers” who see them as dogmatic or confining.

I would argue, to this point, that if someone is truly “seeking” then they are seeking answers, answers to questions they have, objective affirmations of a historic faith, not ooey-gooey feel-good pop culture theology. People in emerging generations crave authentic, historic, transcendent…… and not so much flavor-of-the month expressions of faith. Maybe I’m being generous here, but there is very much a sentiment among younger Christians to break out of the box our parents and grandparents built, but that doesn’t mean doing away with what our ancient spiritual ancestors have produced but connecting with it instead.

So, if people don’t explicitly disagree with creeds (which would put them outside orthodoxy anyway) but are still put off by them, then maybe we should handle them differently. Maybe have a sermon series, or a class, or even just a blurb in the bulletin explaining the nessesity, history, and content of these ancient expressions of the Christian faith so people can have a more distinct connection with the words they are reciting.

johnedwards.jpg

I stumbled across this book in a Lifeway store today while I was there putting up a poster for our church’s upcoming Matthew Smith concert. Its nothing new (came out 2004), but its new to me!

Check out part of the introduction:

“Evangelicals have not thought about life from the ground up as Christians, because their entire culture has ceased to do so. [Jonathon] Edwards’ piety continued on is the revivalist tradition. his theology continued on in academic Calvinism, but there were no successors to his God-entranced worldview or his profoundly theological philosophy. The disappearance of Edwards’ perspective in American Christian history has been a tragedy.” – Mark Noll

It also boasts a pretty all-star roster: Stephen J. Nichols (Contributor) Noel Piper (Contributor), J. I. Packer (Contributor), Donald S. Whitney (Contributor), Mark Dever (Contributor), Sherard Burns (Contributor), Paul Helm (Contributor), C. Samuel Storms (Contributor), John Piper (Editor), Justin Taylor (Editor)

Last week at work a co-worker who knows I’m a Christian asked me: “what do you do when things stress you out, what do you think about??”

I paused for a few seconds and replied “I remind myself that everything that happens to me God already knew would happen from eternity and wanted it to happen for some reason.”

Whew. I was partially surprised at my answer.  2-3 years ago I think I might have mumbled something about “God not letting things happen to His children that they can’t handle, so I can have faith I can persevere through it.” And there would be nothing blasphemous about saying that, but I realize now that would have reeked of self-meritorious congratulation. I mean, sure I can persevere through things; we all can. But it hasn’t cracked through my skull until lately (I guess) that I can claim no merit on my own behalf for this perseverance.

You see, this line of thinking would have us believe our faith should actually lie in our OWN ability to persevere through trials, because after all…. God puts a cap on how much he lets me handle. He does his part, I do mine, and therefore His “Godness” is intact while I can still pat myself on the back for persevering. But those two  ideas are opposed to each other. Either God is all-powerful and rules every inch of his creation and thus even when I persevere through trials I can only thank God for the mercy he has granted by pulling me through it, or I can continue in my sinful self-congratulatory merit thinking I accomplished perseverance by my own power. In the process of this I would be mentally dethroning the very God that has grants me grace. Even worse, such a statement presumes that I even deserve His mercy, which erodes the very nature of what mercy is- escaping what I actually deserve as a sinner.

Its interesting how many times justification is mentioned in the bible it is instrinsically linked to sanctification. You can distinguish between the two, but you can never separate them. The sovereign grace of God does not ransom us from our punishment, and spiritually raise from our dead state (Eph. 2), and then leave us on our own to persevere through life’s trials and suffering by our own grit and determination. Rather, the same grace that works in us to produce repentance and works from formerly corrupt creatures is the same all-consuming grace that aids us in our need. There is nothing passive about it. Maybe thats why John Newton called it “Amazing”.

180px-charles_haddon_spurgeon.jpg“I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that. We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, “We have not so learned Christ.”<br>

I hope many of us can say “amen” to that. I have recently informed my wife that if we have another male child in the future his name will be Haddon, and I will personally see to it that when he is old enough he will sport some manly muttonchop sideburns and beard of his own in honor of the old bloke. (just kidding)