January 25, 2021

My Debt to Reformed Theology

By Chaplain Mike

For the past twenty years, I have lived in America’s heartland, in the region where the Second Great Awakening occurred. It’s almost all revivalism all the time around here. Churches that predominate are Methodist, Baptist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Church of God, Campbellite Christian, and so on. If churches in our area are not connected with those denominations, they tend to follow more modern forms of revivalism, such as the seeker-oriented model. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had discussions with people about how weak the Bible teaching and how shallow the theological depth is in these parts.

I consider myself blessed to have had extremely good teachers in my Christian walk. My youth pastor led in-depth Bible studies. Our minister practiced expository preaching. I attended Bible college because the Word was so prominent there. As a fairly new convert, I was like a sponge.

The school I attended was strongly dispensationalist in orientation. The only mentions of Reformed (or covenant) theology were negative in tone. Our school intentionally separated itself from “Calvinism” because we claimed to take the Bible literally, whereas Reformed theology spiritualized its plain teaching. After all, they believed in things like amillennialism and infant baptism, as well as the TULIP outline of salvation, which we thought went too far. Our church history education as well as our grasp on the history of interpretation was sorely lacking. You might say we were “Bible only” fundamentalists.

After serving as a pastor for several years, I chose Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for seminary, primarily because I thought it would broaden my exposure to other ways of understanding the faith. It did. Though I had some dispensationalist teachers at TEDS (John and Paul Feinberg), I also had excellent profs who embraced Reformed theology (D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem). Furthermore, I was exposed to some thoughtful, committed Arminian teachers such as Grant Osborne and Scot McKnight. My church history professor, John Woodbridge, provided great insight into the development of these and other strands of Christian thought throughout the church’s history. Other teachers, such as Walt Kaiser and John Sailhamer, didn’t fit easily into categories, but presented some of the most insightful interpretations of Scripture I had ever heard.

It was exhilarating, one of the most stimulating times of my life. Our family was growing, I was pastoring a church, and studying with some of the best Christian teachers in the world.

Like many seminary students at Trinity, I became impressed with Reformed theology. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to a level of devout mindfulness that, quite frankly, blew me away. I’d had some experience with it before: reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer, listening to Jim Boice on the radio. But now I was reading Luther and Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, the Puritans, Hodge and Warfield, beginning to grasp the flow of the history of interpretation, and expanding my reading to include R.C. Sproul, more by Jim Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Anthony Hoekema, and others. Don Carson became one of my favorite teachers, and I took every opportunity to study in his classes. He gave the sermon when I was installed as senior pastor in our church. The depth and thoughtfulness of his teaching was thoroughly impressive and attractive to me (even when I came to different conclusions). Still is.

In his book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (a book we will discuss this week), Collin Hansen describes how many younger people today are becoming disillusioned with the lack of seriousness and depth in their churches, and how they are discovering a new, refreshing experience of intellectual and spiritual stimulation in churches and conferences where Reformed theology takes center stage. I can relate.

Testimony after testimony in Hansen’s book declares the wonder of having one’s mind and heart expanded by a new vision of the majesty and holiness of God, the hopelessness of human life without his grace, the amazing love displayed on the Cross, the irresistible grace of God that draws sinners to himself, and the keeping power of God that guarantees nothing shall ever separate us from his loving favor.

Whatever we have to say about the new Calvinism this week—and be sure, I will have plenty of criticisms and cautions—I want to acknowledge here and now that this teaching has incredible power to affect mind and heart. In many particular seasons of my life, I have found it an anchor for my soul.

As debtors to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy we sing;
Nor fear, with Christ’s righteousness on,
Our persons and off’rings to bring:
The terrors of Law and of God
With us can have nothing to do;
The Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all our transgressions from view.

The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete:
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet:
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below nor above,
Can make Him His purpose forgo,
Or sever our souls from His love.

Our names from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase:
Impressed on His heart they remain
In marks of indelible grace:
And we to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given;
More happy, but not more secure,
The souls of the blessed in heaven.

• Augustus Toplady (1740-1778)

It doesn’t get much better than that.



    Hear Hear!

    To much candid , negatiive voicing of the doctrines of grace & the reformed theology that stands behind it……

    Michael Spencer had, as I have read, a great respect for reformed theology.

    To many of you, in full reaction to negative, angry and prideful Calvinists you have met [and experienced] too easily write off this theological view point.

    I bet you buck at two things; Man being totally depraved & God’s sovereign election.

    Thanks for this post Mike – it is the majesty and holiness of God…..

    • ‘I bet you buck at two things; Man being totally depraved & God’s sovereign election. ‘

      On the contrary. Limited atonement and double predestination were the deal breakers for me.

      • Yeah I can see how limited atonement, better put ‘Particular Redemption’ would rock your boat……hence why there are many ‘4 point calvinists’.

        As for “double predestination” that is not calvinism/ doctrines of grace. Rather a silly term coined by some advocates of the theological position. Why? Well, the Bible does not talk like that…..

        • I’ve always wondered how people could refer to themselves as “4-point” or “3-point” Calvinists. It seems that the 5 points of TULIP were deliberately arranged so that each of them requires the other 4 to really stand. Once you reject one, you kind of reject them all. It really is a very succinct theological system.

          I think that’s why it ends up appealing to those that Chaplain Mike mentioned in the article. There are people who grew up in churches that never talk of theology beyond “Jesus love me”, so a systematic theology offers them other areas to explore. For that, I think the neo-Reformed movement is a good thing. I can’t complain about people being inspired to study and think on their own.

          • Another professor at Trinity, Stu Hackett, used to refer to himself as a whiskey calvinist: “I believe in one fifth”. He would argue, correctly I think, that the the belief in the preservation of the saints does not necessarily lead to believing in the other four points, since God could certainly vouchsafe those who had received salvation, in either a calvanistic or arminian understanding. That said, I do think the other four points, as usually defined by reformed theology, do hang together logically.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Another professor at Trinity, Stu Hackett, used to refer to himself as a whiskey calvinist: “I believe in one fifth”.

            What was his Proof?

          • whiskey calvinist, I love it. I’m stealing this forever now 🙂

          • AMEN

          • AMEN was intended for PHIL

          • Stu Hackett was by far one of the most brilliant (and eccentric) professors I ever had. Last day of the course was always reserved for picking bluegrass tunes and stories from his days in the bayou. Lest anyone take his whiskey comment wrong, I think he was a tee-totaler.

        • It is interesting to me that you should dismiss double predestination like that, as most of the professors I had for theology taught either that double predestination was Calvin, or that there was no middle ground between double predestination and the heretic freewill types.

          I believe you are much better with theology than me, and I know the Bible never uses such language. However, I’ve always been left with that mental block, as if to accept reform theology I had to accept double predestination. Then again, its not like “single” predestination would have made it any more palatable, i’ve got too much American freewill in me 😉

          • Double-predestination is a part of classic Calvinism, but it needs some explaining. Historically Calvinists have said that whilst God elects some to salvation, He passes over those for damnation. It is not the same as His active choosing of some. Whilst God actively works in the hearts of the elect to bring them to Himself, He passes by others and witholds His grace from them. RC Sproul: “For Calvin and the Reformers, God passes over the reprobate, leaving them to their own devices. He does not coerce them to sin, or create fresh evil in their hearts. He leaves them to their own choices and desires, and they always choose to reject the Gospel.”

            The concept of God’s election and reprobation being equal in balance and symmetry is hyper-Calvinism, and a distortion of God’s character and the responsibility of mankind for our sin.

            For a good explanation, Sproul’s “What is Reformed Theology?” is worth checking out, along with Grudem’s chapter in “Systematic Theology.”

            Hope that’s of help

        • Kenny Johnson says

          Doesn’t “God’s sovereign election” mean double predestination? If God predestines some to Heaven, then he logically predestines the rest to Hell.

          • Yeah, that would make sense to me. I’ve never understood how there can be any logical difference between predestination and double predestination. Try telling the kid who isn’t picked for the pickup basketball team that not being chosen doesn’t equal being rejected.

          • Logically, that’s correct and logically if Christ died for the elect, it’s “limited” atonement. For me, understanding election and predestination is something I (anyone actually) can never fully understand, but that doesn’t stop one from holding to and promoting the idea. No-one really understands the Trinity (no matter how many words are spent explaining the idea, no-one can really grasp it), but that doesn’t stop us from teaching it wholeheartedly since it is so clearly the teaching of Scripture. For Catholics, no-one can truly understand transubstantiation, but yet that doctrine is held to as a very precious thing because of the unshakeable belief that it is Biblical and in accord with the traditions handed down. The fact that we can’t understand something or the fact that others misuse the doctrine or condemn it because they misunderstand shouldn’t stop anyone from proclaiming the mystery as loudly and clearly as possible. (note saying that predestination means we’re free to do as we please or implies a fatalistic attitude is completely at odds—completely—with what reformed theology is all about) Abusers of reformed theology are rife on both among practicioners and critics, but anything so mysterious about the workings of God is likely to lead to problems given our limited human understanding.

          • The pickle people get in with this issue doesn’t seem solv-able to me unless you step outside of the Calvin vs. Arminius “playing field.” I think Luther avoids the conundrum pretty well, and manages to remain more Christ-centered than a typical examination of TULIP would lead us to be. I don’t have any quotations on hand, but “Bondage of the Will” pretty much gave me all the resolution I needed on getting election/predestination “figured out.”

            Basically, it seems to me that TULIP places all of our attention/analysis on the moment of an individual’s choice/election for salvation, whereas Luther directs our attention to the Cross itself.


          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Basically, it seems to me that TULIP places all of our attention/analysis on the moment of an individual’s choice/election for salvation, whereas Luther directs our attention to the Cross itself.

            Sounds like TULIP could be the predecessor of Wretched Urgency/Soul Winning at all costs and the Altar Call. Linking to last week’s Ancient/Future topic, Luther was still working within a liturgical/historical church framework — Lutheran churches still use a standard Western-Rite Liturgy.

            Like you can see the Liturgical vs Altar Call Evangelical fight prefigured in embryonic form in TULIP vs Lutheran liturgy.

          • Strange that anyone would connect TULIP with urgency and altar calls—-I think it’s actually the opposite. Rather than relying on us to make a decision in some emotionally charged environment right now, TULIP just says that a person will come but it will be in God’s own time (it’s not subject to emotion and manipulation).

            Having said that, I think, like with so many issues, that it’s a shame we argue so much. I honestly think the problem is that too many of us try to be theologians rather than focusing on the few, really important practical pieces of knowledge we need and can all agree on. Theology really does require deep thought and training and I don’t think most of us can legitimately carry on a “dialogue” with great minds like Aquinas, Calvin (insert your favorite theologian here). As far as election, all sides agree that we must respond to God’s call and the leading of the Holy Spirit. I find it a great comfort, being of a Reformed mind, to think that God called me by name before I ever thought to seek Him and therefore (since it was His doing in the first place) He’ll make sure that I stay faithful to Him to the very end. But life ultimately is about making the right choices and following God at each step—both Calvinists and Arminians can agree on that. Let theologians worry about the technically correct sequence of events (election, calling, faith, etc) and just make sure you’re choosing the right path every step of the way. I think when we reach heaven, we’ll all find God determined it all for our benefit, but just because we don’t fully realize it here, doesn’t mean we’re not “saved” or not living an effective Christian life.

          • No, again, the Bible does not talk like that……

            Gods sovereignty never negates mans responsilbilty

          • Kenny Johnson says


            God can save everyone. No one deserves to be saved. God chooses not to save some. Therefore, God chooses for some to be eternally damned.

          • Hi Kenny,
            Your last question starting with “Explain”—to me the subject is a private, family matter best discussed among solid Christians seeking to know even more deeply the mysteries of how God’s plan of salvation works. For the vast majority of folks, including all unbelievers, it’s not a subject which is helpful or even appropriate for discussion, even if it’s true. I think most of us should worry about responding to the light that we have and sharing that light with others and not worry too much about such easily misunderstood and challenging details. The whole point of grace is that it is completely undeserved—the receiver should feel so overwhelmingly humbled and unworthy to receive such grace. Double predestination simply makes the unfathomable grace to the elect even more amazing.

    • Yes, I definitely know quite a few negative, angry, prideful (and I would add annoyingly self-assured) Calvinists. Heck, I WAS one for about 18 years.

      And then one day the absurdity of it all hit me (before I had really devoured any of N.T. Wright’s new perspective on Paul): if predestination is true, then absolutely nothing matters. It’s done. It’s decided. The “in” are in and the “out” are out. There’s no changing it. And if I was one of the “in’s”, I’m going to persevere until the end no matter what I do. And if I’m “out”, I’m cosmically screwed. I mean good and totally screwed – no chance from the start. Which means Jesus had to be toying with most people telling them to repent and follow and surrender and believe, like taunting a dead man to rise up and walk when you know he’s not going to. That’s not the Father I see in Jesus.

      I’m not interested in man-made systems that try to put God and his universe in a neat little box and turn believers into fortunate little robots; there are other perspectives out there that don’t require as much explaining away of problems, that are more consistent with the Father Jesus manifested and taught about, and that resonate as true among kingdom people I know and love. And God’s majesty and sovereignty are more greatly to be praised by his capacity to roll our decisions into his overarching plan.

      I’m not looking for another argument Matthew; go ahead and have the last word if you want. I just had to speak my peace on this having invested almost two decades of my life in this camp.

      • Bob, your perspective and experience gives you an important place in this discussion. I hope you will continue throughout the week.

      • Hear, Hear!! Born to be damned as cordwood for the fires of hell versus being bound for glory with a hook in the mouth. I cannot abide by that mechanistic formula. So very Fred Phelps.

      • Kenny Johnson says


        It’s funny. I thought about that myself. Under Calvism. I can basically be a hedonist. Because I’m either in or I’m out. And if I’m out, then might as well live it up.

        • Shades of 1 Corinthians 15:32b

        • This was an issue for one of my friends from church. He would argue about Calvinism for hours with our elders. (The elders being Calvinist, my friend being not). He was heavily involved in the music scene in our city, and said he didn’t feel like he could bring his non-Christian friends to church. He said that if they heard the message on predestination, their response would have been “Well, if it’s already predestined that I’m going to Hell, then I may as well go back into the world and party for as long as I can, and get what good times I can.”

          (I have posted here before, but it’s been a long time, and that was under my own name then).

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Under Calvism. I can basically be a hedonist. Because I’m either in or I’m out. And if I’m out, then might as well live it up.

          As in “Grab what Gusto you can on the way to the grave/Hell.” At its core, a very nihilistic and pessimistic hedonism.

          Add in the human tendency for One-Upmanship in “I’m In and You’re Not” and the reaction can get really ugly.

          • Of course, the upshot is that you can have all that delicious, savoury hedonism and STILL go to Heaven, if God decided you could before you had your first taste.

            Weird, huh?

            Not, of course, that even in the darkest recesses of any truly reformed 5-point Calvinist heart, even as you were to catch and question them in the very act of a horrible sin, could such hypocrisy rest. Hypocrisy is impossible to the elect.

          • Patrick you are speaking rubbish

      • Thank you Bob. Reformed Theology has devastated me. I’m just clinging to the hope that belief in what Jesus did on the cross will save me.

        • Oh how I feel for you, Jo Ann – it’s too long a tale for me to tell, and I suspect yours is pretty heavy there, too. I know the reality of God in my life – I’m confident I’m his child regardless of what theological pigeon-hole anyone wants to put me into because of the reality of His interaction in my life.

          I don’t believe Jesus came to bring a religion or doctrinal litmus test anyway – he brought a kingdom that would restore the world and invited us to participate in it. We need to embrace His good news and His kingdom’s values (sketched in Matt 5-7) so we can play our unique roles.

          Salvation/Restoration/Deliverance/Healing/Rescue/etc. has a focus wider and higher than just our individual souls – I think that’s where God’s over-arching plan is at odds with ego-centric “Americanianity”. Keep hoping in Jesus and play your role with a heart full of love!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        …if predestination is true, then absolutely nothing matters. It’s done. It’s decided. The “in” are in and the “out” are out. There’s no changing it. And if I was one of the “in’s”, I’m going to persevere until the end no matter what I do. And if I’m “out”, I’m cosmically screwed. I mean good and totally screwed – no chance from the start.

        How does that differ from “Your fate is written on your forehead — Eh, Kismet?”

        (A couple years ago, one of my contacts moved from Seattle to Louisville. He first hooked up with a church that was obsessive about Predestination, to the point that anything other than Predestination was denying the soverignity of God. He reported many of the same side effects associated with Islam — mostly passivity and fatalism.)

      • It is safe to say that you have an incorrect view of the doctrines of grace.

    • Matthew, the things I buck at have little to do with the historic, core theology, though it has often been overstated and taught in unbalanced ways in the past. There will be much more criticism in days to come. We’ll also be putting up some classic posts by Michael Spencer, who had a very similar dual view of “the new Calvinism”—respect for its intellectual depth and concerns about its lack of “Jesus-shaped” character.

    • Anyone who has ever looked on at an autopsy of a homicide victim can tell you about the total depravity of man. It’s just not been my experience that faith fixes it.

      • Kenny Johnson says

        That certainly speaks of the depravity of man. But does it speak to the theological construct of “total depravity?” I don’t think so.

    • I once read a book by R.C. Sproul, where he turned “TULIP” into “RULEP”, or something similar. If this stuff is tough to swallow for someone like Sproul, I don’t feel so badly.

    • I buck at the “covenant of redemption.” The idea that you can drop in on domestic discussions within the Godhead, which went on before the creation of the world, seems distinctly iffy to me.

  2. Where do you think Tim Keller fits relative to the New Calvinism? He is clearly reformed in his theology but he seems to cast a different shadow then the New Calvinists. Thoughts?

  3. My struggle isn’t with the core Calvinist ideas of a Sovereign God and His grace. Like you, those ideas have changed my life. My problem is with the strong complementarism and strong push to submit to local elders that I have seen coming out of New Calvinism. In my area of the United States, they are set up as dictatorships.

    It appears that young men grew up as independent fundamentalist Armenians, started briefly down the post evangelical trail, stopped at Calvin, then took over Baptist churches, keeping their old ideas, yet using the word grace occasionally.

    • That is disturbing. “Orthodox” Christians and churches that think their doctrine and practice are sound and biblical can engage in the same kinds of mind control and authoritarianism and abuse as groups they label as “cults.”

      • Yes, Eric – and that has been my personal experience. It’s just another thing for them to feel “right” about. That’s not the way of Jesus.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I was mixed up in such a splinter church in the Seventies. I can attest to the pressure-to-conform and we’re-the-only-ones-all-others-are false attitudes of what came to be known later as “Aberrant Christian Groups”. Small independent “Christian Fellowships” — what I later called “Splinter Churches” — are especially prone to this, as they can become so independent they lose any association that might provide a reality check.

        The tragedy is such control-freak splinter churches weren’t recognized as such until around the Eighties. Before then, Christian cult watch groups defined “cult” by their theology, not control-freak behavior towards their congregation, and a lot of splinter churches gone sour slipped right under their radars. Cult-watch groups would parse their theology and find it “sound and biblical” while ignoring the abusive “cult”-ic application of that “sound and biblical” theology.

      • Humphhh !!! next you’ll be telling me that discernment ministries don’t have any….
        🙂 Greg R

  4. I appreciate many elements of Reformed Theology and am indebted to several of their great thinkers. My greatest debt has been to Eugene Peterson. His writings about ministry, the church, scripture, a Jesus centered gospel vs. a consumer gospel, etc, have had a great influence on me. I am aware he is writing through a theological lens of Reformed theology but without ever focusing on the lens itself. I’ve never felt he was pushing a “reformed” agenda.

  5. I think your point of dissatisfaction parallel my own, although I would phrase it differently, CM. I think the doctrinal ignorance stems from biblical illiteracy. I find this even among the Reformed/Calvinist circles I travel in. One of the temptations of arguing Reformed theology is that it breeds a form of intellectual superiority regardless of the position one takes, sort of like this cartoon: http://xkcd.com/774/ The outcome is that people spend ever more time and effort framing arguments and reading into the Bible rather than discovering what the Bible says for itself.

    However, if one is able to resist the temptation, one can find that Reformed theology imposes a sort of intellectual rigor that forces one to spend time in study. Beyond that, one can see that those influence by Reformed theology oftentimes have a more coherent way of expressing themselves. Note the difference here between the coherence of the position taken by Mark Dever and that taken by Jim Wallis in this discussion of racism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA9xs_nWiXQ&feature=player_embedded Which argument seems more theologically informed and biblically based to you?

  6. Mike, thank you for the wonderful poem by Toplady. Hadn’t heard that before.

  7. Paul Davis says


    Christianity owes the reformers a great debt, there are some fabulous thinkers and teachers out there who are Calvinist. Michael Patton is a good example of one who takes and irenic approach, is not condescending and who’s mission is to help others learn more about their faith. He’s just one of many unsung hero’s of the Calvinist movement who have taken the time to actually understand those who do not agree with this theology.

    If your a Calvinist then your still my brother in Christ, the single most generous Christians I have ever met have been reformed, to this day even though I swore off their belief system they love me and treat me as an equal.

    I just wish more Calvinist would spend time learning what the rest of us actually believe and why, instead of jumping to to conclusions (irenic vs polemic). It’s done a great deal of damage to their theology and makes them very hard to take seriously, the more I studied Calvinism and Calvin in particular the more uncomfortable I became.

    But that being said, I would never criticize personally you or anyone else for believing and following Calvinist Theology, all I ask is that you show some understanding for those of us who disagree. What you do here on IM blesses me on a daily basis, if you got your answers from Calvin and other reformers then more power to you, I hope God uses them to continually strengthen your faith.


    • Paul, I don’t identify myself as a Calvinist. I appreciate that stream of historic theology and think they see many truths clearly. I like what you said: “I just wish more Calvinists would spend time learning what the rest of us actually believe and why, instead of jumping to to conclusions (irenic vs polemic).” You hit one nail right on the head there. For some reason, there is a mindset that can easily overcome Calvinist types that leads them to this overly dogmatic, doctrinaire, and dismissive stance. At times, I’m reminded of Pharisaism. But more on that later in the week…

      Paul, you are always welcome here.

      • Paul Davis says

        I just re-read my post, it wasn’t pointed at you in particular but more the general Calvinist (I was going to say Casual Calvinist, but I’m not sure one exists 😉

        I know you attend a Lutheran church which is vastly different than a Calvinist one (and that doesn’t make you a Lutheran either), I didn’t mean to pigeonhole you. I knew better and I apologize, it was an honest mistake, my fingers are faster than my brain 🙂


    • +1 Michael Patton

  8. As a card-carrying 5-pointer, I find that this comes up in conversation with people outside my church exactly 0% of the time. The PCA church I attend has a large portion of regular attenders and even members who would reject all or parts of TULIP if it was explained to them academically.

    As a previous commenter noted, God’s redemption in a reformed framework is finished and complete. This makes it incredibly stress-free to talk with non-believers and other brothers and sisters.

    Yes, I have known Calvinists who turned off people with their theological diatribes…but I don’t like them either.

  9. Mike (the other chaplain) says

    although I don’t consider myself Reformed, in the theological sense, I have great admiration and sympathy for that great tradition. If for no other reason than they take engaging the mind seriously.

  10. Ah, that all churches would teach and demonstrate a loving, grace-filled, non-shallow, Jesus-shaped theology at all times. May all believers in all denominations who seek such a thing, be a light.
    Yours humbly, a Nazarene

  11. Agreed. So often, a Christian’s theology these days is a random mishmash of sound bites two or three sentences long, collected over a lifetime of attending different churches, often irrelevant, baseless, contradictory, or agenda-laden. Encountering Reformed theology was revelatory for me. It introduced me to church history, to theologians, to hymnody, to sacrament, to exegetical preaching, and to a rigorous, thoughtful, comprehensive understanding of Scripture. Granted, I’ve since gone from Reformed to Roman. (Whole ‘nother story that I won’t get into, lest it again provoke someone’s Internet scorn.) But Calvinism was, for me, the first inkling that there was more than just the flickering shadows on the cave wall.

    • It’s interesting to me how many Reformed lately have ended up Roman. But in a sense, it’s not as big a change as one might think since one of my favorites, Aquinas, taught much of what is called reformed theology in such a way one might almost mistake him for Calvin. My sense is that Reformed folks moving to Rome really dive into the church documents much more than many others, finding hidden or forgotten treasures of theology that align more with Reformed thought than they realized and which give these folks enough intellectual support to make the move. I’ve considered it myself, but cannot get past a few key things. But I love Aquinas’ writings on the subject of election, etc.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Aquinas taught much of what is called reformed theology in such a way one might almost mistake him for Calvin.

        Considering Calvin came maybe two centuries after Aquinas, the influence was probably the other way round — Calvin taught systematic theology in such a way you might mistake him for Aquinas. Except Calvin was off on his own, seceded not only from Rome but from Luther; instead of an institutional church traditon to work within, he was making a lot of his own Reformed tradition.

  12. Kenny Johnson says

    I’m pretty much the opposite of Calvinist, if there could be such a thing. 🙂 But I too owe a lot to Reformed Theology. And there are a great number of Reformed thinkers that I really like and appreciate. Someone mentioned Michael Patton above — and I totally agree.

    My faith path never took me to Calvinism. Probably because after I had become a Christian, I read a lot and absorbed scripture (well, at least NT), pretty quickly. About a year in, I went to a class for new Christian at my church and the guy leading it was Calvinist. When he started teaching Calvinism, it simply didn’t ring true to me — not the Jesus or Father I knew from scripture. Since then, I’ve read a lot of theology in addition to scripture and I’ve come away with any specific theological system. I guess, not having been part of a Wesleyian or Reformed church, I wasn’t indoctrinated with either Calvinism or Arminianism.

    For the past couple years, I’ve been open to open theism. I think the only reason I’m hesitant to embrace it fully is mostly for the reasons Dr. Olson gives:

    But really, I try not to get too dogmatic about anything I don’t feel is a core essential.

  13. A number of things just don’t resonate with the Trinitarian God of Mercy of Love that I have had a relationship with for over 50 years.

    We all agree that grace is a gift, a free gift. However, for a gift to actually BE a gift their has to be one who is free to choose to give and one who is free to choose to receive. If the giver offers the object of the gift and it is not received then this object never truly becomes a gift. Person-hood is needed in order to give and receive.

    If someone is “predetermined” to “accept” this gift then they, as an individual, person-hood, are not truly doing the receiving/accepting, they have been pre-programmed to do it. If something is pre-programmed, built into the very being of someone, then that individual is not acting as a person in that situation but as a “robot” does, or as someone who is severly brainwashed.

    If our wills have been pre-determined to choose God and act on His behalf how does that magnify the mercy of God ?? How does that Glorify Him?? It doesn’t, in my opinion, and in fact one could say it actually demolishes it. Why would God be merciful if human beings were pre-programmed according to His choosing?? God is love. God is merciful. Love and Mercy are inseparable in the God of Salvation History that I met while still a small child and that I have walked with all my life and that has revealed Himself over and over again to be this Immense Burning Heart of Love that embraces human misery in all it’s forms, and transforms that misery into the image of Jesus. The only requirement : each person needs to receive it. You can’t receive something if it is already part of you (pre-determined to choose God). Something is not a gift if there is not someone to receive/accept it.

    Coming from a RCC background in which there is an incredible value and sacredness about the “human person”, each person created by God, created in His image, I can’t help but see this idea of being pre-determined first of all nullifying the person being in God’s image, but also nullifying the great value of each person for whom Jesus suffered and died. What is the need for Jesus’ redemption if a person is pre-determined to choose or reject God. There would be no glory in the Cross of Jesus, no need for Mercy to pour the oil of grace into the wounds of humanity, no need for the God of the ancient covenant to be true to Himself and true to His promises. Why promise things as forgiveness, compassionate love that embraces misery likened to a mother embracing in her womb her helpless child. A covenant can only be made between parties of which both have the capacity to choose.

    Lastly, we agree the Greatest commandments concern loving God and our neighbor. True love is the act of wanting the best good for another and doing whatever is in one’s power to bring that about. Only persons can love. Only beings who can choose can love. If a being cannot choose then that being cannot love. If a “person” is pre-programmed as to what “choice” they make then they cannot choose to love. Why would anyone, above all God, want a fake love from pre-programmed beings? Would you want your wife or children to show love because they are pre-programmed to love you? I would say their actions may appear to be loving but there is no real love because they are not choosing you to be the recipient of their gift of self (which is essential for the act of love). Only a person who can choose of their own free will can give the gift of self –

    I respect that many have received tremendous grace through Calvinism because I don’t limit what God can choose or not choose to do in how He leads souls to Himself. I know for a fact that even the most secular of movies and books can often be instruments of grace. I just cannot see some of these calvinistic views as compatible with the God I have come to know and be known by, to love and be loved by.

    • Perhaps it would help if you could see predestination not as God telling us what to do, but as Him simply seeing the results of all interactions and choices all at once. He is not constrained to a specific time-window of perception as we are; and so when we act, even upon our own free will, He has no need to guess the results of that action. He knows how all things will end up. He knew, even as He died for sinners, who would accept Him and who would not – simply because, to use a sort of temporal metaphor, to him they might as well have been happening simultaneously.

      That is predestination. It is not a comment on the inability of humans to choose; it is a comment on the ability of God to know.

      • Ah, but that only makes sense if see time as separate dimension and the future as already existing in some sense. I think advancements in quantum physics and relativity show that’s not really the nature of time. Time and space are inseparably related as space-time, and they are, in a real sense, constantly being created. Personally, I don’t think it really makes sense to talk of God “knowing” the future in a truly meaningful sense, because I don’t think there is anything there to know. The future exists as possibilities, but it isn’t a concrete thing. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a great deal to be known about the future. It’s just saying that the future isn’t closed.

        • Well, fair enough. If you are an ‘open futurist’ the explanation I just gave wouldn’t make sense. But the question whether the future is open is closed is an open issue, not a closed one. And I’m not sure we can really confidently invoke quantum physics just yet to help explain metaphysical questions. Quantum physics models the universe extremely accurately, but not perfectly accurately. It is a useful model, but it probably doesn’t explain how the universe actually works; we need a theory of everything or at least a unified field theory to do that. And perhaps that will also show the future as being constantly created; honestly, no-one has any idea.
          But I don’t mean to make this a scientific rant.

  14. I never write on this post, but I have to today. I was raised in church and thought I was a Christian, but I met a group in college that was Calvinist (however they did not advertise as such) They sought to show people who thought they were saved actually never had been. I was a topic of conversation amongst the bible leaders who incidentally were only about six or seven years older than the college students. I began doing a bible study with one and realized that I had so much sin in my life and needed Jesus. I prayed for him to save me and from there I thought my world would be amazing; unfortunately my world has yet to recover. I have never felt so much pressure to do the things that they said I needed to do to grow; if you didn’t do those things then you were either not listening to God, didn’t really love him with your whole heart etc., or just flat out did not desire him. John Piper was their go to guy and although I think he is spot on on so many things, I don’t take part in anything his because I unfortunately associate him with that terrible time in my life. When I go back to that part of my life I begin to undergo depression. I ended up transferring to another University and met up with RUF who was reformed. These people were amazing. I learned so much that year and can’t say enough about that ministry. I guess what I am saying is that I have made some wonderful Reformed friends along the way but my first experience will forever haunt me. To this day I struggle with my salvation. I don’t know actually when I became a Christian or if I am. All I know is that my sins are too many to count and all I want is to rest with Christ. If I die and miss out on an eternity with the Saviour because I got it all wrong… well I am just terrified of that. I want Jesus. Not some character I made up in my head but the one of the bible. I know that many on this sight may have some critical things to say to me, but when I saw that you began this series, I shuddered with the memories of my past, and I wanted to share my experience. Please if you critique me be gentle. My questions from all of this are can I ever have a normal Christian walk? Will I ever be able to be confident that I am the elect? that I am saved? I want to be with Jesus and I know that only through his death and resurrection I can be saved, but some in the calvinist camp might tell me that is not enough. I know that the group I was involved with would deny this but their actions screamed something more.

    • David Cornwell says

      Trust in God’s amazing grace. Some theology makes it far too complicated. This is my opinion, of course, but a continual struggle to discern salvation is depressing. When I was 10 or 11 I began a miserable struggle over whether or not I was saved. This, I discovered later, was nonsense. We come to Jesus like children, safe, with his loving arms around us. I always felt safe and loved with my parents. I didn’t need to ask or worry about their love or protection. I know this is not everyone’s experience, but it was mine.

      If you have felt the call of God in your life, you will not be turned away. Dump theology that tells you something else.

      • Amen, well said. And the beauty of Reformed theology is that your statement

        “If you have felt the call of God in your life, you will not be turned away”

        implies that you are elect! The only reason one could possibly seek God is that they are elect, and if elect, you can trust that God will keep you from falling. Rather than worrying about whether you’ve been good enough or not or whether this or that sin will cause you to lose everything, you can trust that the God who gave you the heart to seek Him in the first place will keep you all the way.

      • I’ve been you a lot of days, R. So sorry that that doctrine stuck in your head and heart. A pastor once preached in my church that if you torment yourself over your sin, you’re already in hell. What’s the point of God condemning you? He still loves you, even when you can’t. Keep calling Him.

      • Too many salesmen out there teaching people who are “saved” they aren’t.

        It’s amazing that the audience they are selling to is usually there because of a desire to know more. God is already working in their lives. They have already made a commitment.

        I know not all of these salesmen are doing this because they wish another notch on their guns; another soul to add to their count. This happens in every camp, not just the Calvinist ones. Some of it is a simple lack of wisdom.

        There are many people I know who have been baptized repeatedly because of such salesmen.

        My experience is that those like you, who have a heart for Godly things, will not be frustrated in the end.

    • RCran: I have had almost the same experience. I struggle as we speak. My depression hardly ever lifts anymore. As I said earlier in this post, I just cling to the hope that I’m saved because of my belief in Jesus and what he did for me. I have almost no victory over sin in my life. I can’t live up to what I hear I should be. Very distressing. Like I said earlier, Reformed Theology has devastated me.

    • RCran: THANK YOU for sharing your story, ‘warts and all’. That took some guts. I’m glad you’ve found a community of believers to share your journey. Paul called others “my joy and my crown”, so God has given you a treasure in good (not perfect) friends. Stick around IMONK awhile, and continue to learn and grow.

      Greg R

    • Take courage! God has placed the love of his Son in your heart. I could never believe that he would forsake you now. I know Reformed theology from the inside, and though I’m not sure if I’m there now, I think I can say this about it: its warnings are mostly an insistence upon technicalities. They have few teeth. They are a condemnation of errors of logic, not of persons who are in uncertain places.

      All hell, think of Abraham! He certainly wasn’t a Calvinist! He didn’t have ‘proper’ beliefs about many things! Is he then to be damned? What you believe means little; it is a function of the intellect and of situations beyond your control. When you ‘became’ a Christian is damn close to irrelevant; we are all ‘becoming’ Christians. The longing for God does not mean little, it is not irrelevant. It is God longing for you. And He will have you, in the end. Just…try to trust, for a little while. I have been where you are. God has His own little ways of bringing you around.

      Go for a walk! Look at the sky, the trees, the flowers or the soil. No-one else has seen them in quite the same way before, nor ever shall. God is showing you, each moment, something He has never whispered to another soul. Every flower, every photon you perceive, is His unique gift to you. Would he do that for someone He hated?

    • You obviously care a great deal and love God, so, if you want to go the predestination route, it sounds to me that you have been “chosen.” Not sure how anyone could read your post and think otherwise.

      I’m not sure what I believe as far as predestination goes, but I believe you will be just fine.

  15. “All I know is that my sins are too many to count and all I want is to rest with Christ. If I die and miss out on an eternity with the Saviour because I got it all wrong… well I am just terrified of that. I want Jesus. Not some character I made up in my head but the one of the bible.”

    You’re okay.

    This is where you start from, and maybe even where you end. What you know is really all I know too, and maybe it’s all we should know.

    You want Jesus, and Jesus sees that. Rest in the fact that God is bigger than your failures in theology, in the failures of all of our theology. Faith for you will probably look like just that. God is bigger than your failures. He knows. And you’re going to be ok.

    Don’t be afraid to choose not to listen to people who try to draw fear out of you. There will always be people like that, and they will always speak very convincingly about how those who choose not to listen to their warnings do so at their own peril. Ignore them. Actively ignore them. They will only destroy you. Faith is saying no to that fear and trusting that God has you, no matter what.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      There will always be people like that, and they will always speak very convincingly about how those who choose not to listen to their warnings do so at their own peril.

      Just like Net trolls or Survivalist-Conspiracy-of-the-Week infomercials.

      These are just the Christian versions of them, with God-talk added to their rants or Conspiracy Theories and the Importance and Urgency (and one-upmanship) ramped up to literally Cosmic stakes.

  16. Thank all of you for your encouragement. Jo Ann, I have begun listening to Dr. Rod Rosenbladt’s “The Gospel for those Broken by the Church” I haven’t been broken by the church, but a group of people within the church did affect my thought and affect in negatively. I have to say that I can not turn my back on Reformed theology though because of people like Michael Horton who I have begun to listen to this summer. He is the host of the White Horse Inn and Rod Rosenbladt is one of his co-hosts. I listen to Dr. Rosenbladt almost daily; you might want to check him out. To the others, I am not condemning reformed theology as a whole because what Jeff B said is the reason why I continued attending Reformed University Fellowship meetings on my college campus. Unfortunately, some within the Calvinistic groups don’t say things in those terms; sometimes they leave grace out altogether or they use grace until you have sinned and then they take the grace part away and focus on the law. I don’t want people to misinterpret me by saying that I don’t think the law has a use, I am just saying that for many of us the law has already done its crushing work and we are running for cover to Christ but for some reasons some groups act as if adherence to the law is immediately what happens when saved. When we still sin then we hear things like oh they must not have been saved and this can leave one quite perplexed or in despair. I find myself often in despair because I long to be like those that seem to have it all together and feel joy all the time. Again, thank all of you for being so kind. I enjoy internet monk and the legacy of Michael Spencer because he was so willing to confess that he was a sinner; just a beggar looking for bread like the rest of us.

    • David Cornwell says

      About your comment:: “I long to be like those that seem to have it all together and feel joy all the time.” Not real sure that applies to any of us who look in on this blog…maybe but I’m not sure who! Life gets awfully stormy at times and we all have our humanity to deal with. And these are turbulent times for everyone. And we all have questions, doubts, struggles. It took me many years and some dark times to settle some issues.

      When you share like you are doing, it is good for all of us. Thanks.

    • Hi RCran,

      When I use to focus on my brokenness, frailty, incapacity to practice virtue, continued failings, and I lived in an environment that truly aided in keeping that focus, ever reminding me about it all, I never seemed to get anywhere. At least, in how I judged myself. I knew there were areas in my life that needed incredible healing due to early trauma and how so many things from this complicated my life. But I always knew my relationship with God was the most important reality in my life. What I realized after years of ups and downs was that my focus was all wrong. Focusing on myself, my sinfulness, and then looking to Jesus to help me practice virtue and be like Him actually became a true road block for God to free me from within. I didn’t realize then the interior freedom God wanted for us. However, when I began to focus on Love, Loving God and loving my neighbor; learning from the life of Jesus and NT writings what it is to Love and aim for each breath and step to become an act of Love in this world, then my heart not only remained open but opened in fullness to receive the transforming grace of God. This was my experience. I would find myself responding in ways that was so unlike me in the natural realm. I knew it was none other than God’s working in my soul. Learning to just be with God, in His presence and let Him love me was and is so powerful. It may seem nothing is happening in the natural, but when we start not recognizing ourselves anymore we know it is God.

      I believe we can never have too much confidence in the merciful love of God, He is so good, He Is Goodness. He loves you with an incredible eternal unconditional totally mercy-filled all embracing love. Let Him love you into wholeness, into the image of Jesus.

    • RCran,

      Glad Dr. R’s lectures are helping. Contact me at http://www.newreformationpress.com and I will see to it that you get some more of his teaching if you wish at no cost to you.


      Pat K

  17. Jesus spent all His time teaching people about the Kingdom of God in parables and at mealtimes when He was not praying or healing people and casting out demons in His confrontation with and attack on satan’s kingdom.

    We parse Paul’s letters.

  18. FWIW, whilst I can appreciate that Reformed theology has a terrible reputation for being accompanied by arrogance, I’ve never quite understood why. That God would show His glorious grace to me, a sinner who deserved only His judgement, just blows me away- I have no grounds for any pride at all.

    Pastorally, I have also found a Reformed theology to be of immense help counselling those with depression who doubt their salvation, and whether God really loves them. Ultimately, if they weren’t regenerate, they would not care whether they were saved or not- that they do indicates that God is at work within them. The truth of God actively seeking His sheep, and upholding them to the end is also very powerful.

    • I don’t know, I view that sort of portrayal of election in just the opposite light. If God creates some people for salvation and some for damnation, how can anyone be sure he wasn’t created for damnation? It’s a question that has bothered plenty of people throughout history. If, in the end, we have absolutely no say in whether or not we will be in a relationship with God, it really doesn’t matter how we feel about it. Theoretically, a person who absolutely wanted nothing to do with God could be part of the elect and never know about it, die and find himself saved.

      I think the biggest failure of Calvinism, at least in the way it’s often portrayed today, is discussing election in individualistic terms only. I think when you look at election in terms of covenant and the people of God collectively, it makes much more sense. God will always be faithful to His covenant and His covenant people.

      • If anyone actually comes to God, it was because God drew them so the issue of wondering if they were predestined to damnation would never arise. Election absolutely does not mean that good people trying to get to God are kept out while bad people are let in simply because they’re chosen. Election means that God will actually put a desire for Himself in individual people’s hearts and keep them safely following him all their lives while the non-elect simply never show any interest in God. It was no coincidence that the kingdom of Judah (descendants of David) had many good kings while the kingdom of Israel had not a one—-God chose Judah and mysteriously kept those kings true to Him, though it may have seemed like it was they who were doing the choosing. The northern kings were left on their own and not one followed God by their supposedly “free” will.


        • If the elect truly have a desire to follow God, than how does one explain Israel’s constant unfaithfulness throughout the Old Testament.. Certainly she did not exhibit a desire to follow God a lot of the time. God chose Israel out of His grace and mercy to be blessing to all nations.

          The truth is I’ve heard all sorts of arguments trying to convince me of a Calvinist/deterministic perspective over the years, and none have convinced me. Out of respect for this blog, I will refrain from getting in any more arguments than I have. I know that it isn’t Chaplain Mike’s intention to have the comments turn into a theological battleground.

          • We make the mistake thinking that Israel wasd a people who were actually following God and seeking Messiah……..for the most part they were not. They were filled with wickedness and idolatry and went to Sheol as a result.

          • It’s true that much of the time Israel wasn’t following God. But the whole point is that SOME did. There was always a faithful remnant whom God kept close to Him. Nowhere else in the world was that grace shown (until Christ came). The fact that SOME (i.e., the elect) in Israel were always throughout all the ages kept faithful is really the whole point.

          • Nowhere else in the world was that grace shown (until Christ came).

            There are several instances I can think of offhand where people who were not part of Israel were shown grace in the OT. You have the Egyptians who were rescued from the effects of the famine through Joseph. There’s Rahab. And then you have Namaan . Those are just a few off the top of my head. Then there’s Isaiah 25, that says regarding the hated nations of Egypt and Assyria, “The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

            It seems to me that God desires to expand His election to other nations and people. It’s not something that was decreed at the beginning of history for all time.

  19. I’m not sure that the focus on sin, our sinfulness etc. is really a Calvinist problem per se. I was raised in a PCA church then attended an Episcopal church and have spent the last five years in an Anabaptist church. It seems to me that when the focus is on “what God does for me” in any form (and Calvinists can fall into that trap too) then a general state of “wumpledness” usually following. Whether you call it “failing to walk in victory” or “having a clear understanding of total depravity” it is the wrong focus.

    Paul says “neither fornicators nor adulterers ….will enter the kingdom of heaven….and such WERE some of you but now…” (I’m paraphrasing) we have to low a view of God’s forgiveness or rather being unable to forgive ourselves we don’t believe he can either, and so we wallow when we should be walking….

  20. David Morris says

    There’s an interesting discussion of TULIP in the CRC’s magazine this month. The author does a wonderful job of explaining the highlights of Calvinism (this is where I relentlessly plug Richard Mouw again).
    Thank you Rev. Meg Jenista!
    Also, I found the “Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” by Loraine Boettner to be helpful, especially the chapter on infant salvation. To find that these old hard core calvinists had such a great hope in a generous God was glorious. It seems to me that a large part of the problem with “new calvinism” is a mixture of revivalism and predestination. If you damp that fire with grace and generosity, things go much better.

  21. I am so glad that so many are searching, as I am for truth.

    I would never discourage a discussion of God’s Word. Surprisingly, however, very few Bible passages have been used in this discussion.

    Of all of the comments that I’ve read in this discussion, the one from Jo Ann strikes me the best. She said:

    “I’m just clinging to the hope that belief in what Jesus did on the cross will save me.”

    She then states:

    “I struggle as we speak. My depression hardly ever lifts anymore. As I said earlier in this post, I just cling to the hope that I’m saved because of my belief in Jesus and what he did for me. I have almost no victory over sin in my life. I can’t live up to what I hear I should be. Very distressing.”

    I have no intention of comparing strict Calvinists to the Pharisee in Luke 18, but I can’t help comparing Jo Ann’s attitude to that of the tax collector.

    I think that David Cornwell’s comments also ring true. He says:

    “Trust in God’s amazing grace. Some theology makes it far too complicated. This is my opinion, of course, but a continual struggle to discern salvation is depressing. When I was 10 or 11 I began a miserable struggle over whether or not I was saved. This, I discovered later, was nonsense. We come to Jesus like children, safe, with his loving arms around us. I always felt safe and loved with my parents. I didn’t need to ask or worry about their love or protection. I know this is not everyone’s experience, but it was mine.
    If you have felt the call of God in your life, you will not be turned away. Dump theology that tells you something else.”

    I think David is echoing the words of Jesus in Matthew 18. Verse 1 starts:

    “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
    2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,
    3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Do we have the childlike faith that Jesus requires? I’m with Jo Ann. I have confidence in Jesus and none in myself. Does what we believe about the particulars of predestination really have any bearing upon our salvation itself?

    If I understand Calvinistic thinking, it also places total confidence in God. Thus, the mystery. There is a verse that hits both “sides” of this issue. Spurgeon called the verse the “sum and substance of all theology.”

    John 6:37 states:
    37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

    I understand that Spurgeon called himself a Calvinist, but no intellectual can say that he was true on each of the “five points.” In his sermon on this verse, he states:

    “…our text is very much like a stereoscopic picture, for it presents two views of the truth. Both views are correct, for they are both photographed by the same light. How can we bring these two truths together?
    “…God has given us, in His Word, the two pictures of divine truth; but we have not all got the stereoscope properly adjusted to make them melt into one. When we get to heaven, we shall see how all God’s truth harmonizes. If we cannot make these two parts of truth harmonize now, at any rate we must not dare to blot out one of them, for God has given them both.”

    Although Spurgeon may seem to wander from this statement in other writings, I agree with him here. The subject of free-will and determinism is a mystery. I would go further than Spurgeon. I would say that no one has the stereoscope properly adjusted. We see through a mirror dimly.

    In the same message that Spurgeon gave in 1861, he said:

    “Even a child may understand the Words of Christ, though perhaps the loftiest human intellect cannot fathom the mystery hidden therein.”

    This is the discussion I observe here. There are some things the human intellect will not grasp until we see Him face to face. People can use all of the logic they wish.

    “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” – 1 Cor. 13:12

    I would never discourage anyone, however, from a continued study of God’s Word, and an effort to understand what God is saying to us.

    The truth is, many of the most humble among us have neither the intellect nor the time to get to this discussion. My guess is that the most heartiest radicals on either end of this subject would argue that this fact shows their side to be the correct one.

    May God bless all of you in the study of His Word.

  22. The five points of Calvinism seem to me basically to attempt to explain why some humans will not be saved in eternity. Frankly I’m of the opinion that since both sides (Calvinists & Arminians) offer so many Biblical proofs for their respective positions, they both must be wrong. “When we all get to heaven,” nobody will be able to brag “I told you so”. God’s working out of His salvation of His creation will totally dwarf all our measly schemes and mental calisthenics as we try to theorize how He will do it.

    BTW: Timothy George’s reader-friendly little book AMAZING GRACE, GOD’S PURSUIT OUR RESPONSE brilliantly explains Calvin’s TULIP teachings in a gentler ROSES acrostic. As a non-partisan Messiah follower, I found it very helpful and more in harmony with the Spirit of the Blessed One we cherish. A 2nd edition is due out early next year according to CBD, so watch for it!

  23. Steve Newell says

    I am always curious on why many looked at Reformed theology but they don’t look at Reformation theology? Any thoughts?

    • Reformation theology is hardly a monolithic entity. So many competing theologies arose almost from the very beginning of the Reformation, that it would be near impossible to point to one theology as being Reformation theology.

      The one thing that many of them do have in common is that they often have as one their main intents as setting themselves apart from some other theology they consider wrong or heretical. Even the beloved TULIP (from the Canons of Dort) was a reactionary move against the Five Articles of Remonstrance.

  24. Hi Steve,
    “I am always curious on why many look at Reformed theology but they don’t look at Reformation theology?”

    This is a good question Steve. I don’t have any answers but I think it would be good to lo examine Luther and other Lutheran reformers, other sixteenth century refomed theologians besides Calvin as well as the biblical wing of the Anabaptist movement? I think that they all had a Christocentric theology of the Word of God (or can be interpreted as having such) but they differ on certain issues. e.g. The biblical wing of the Anabaptists were (by and large) pacifist whereas the Lutherans and Reformed were not.

    Hi Chaplain Mike,
    What I appreciate about Calvin is not the “5 points” but Calvin’s approach that true knowledge consists in the knowlege or wisdom God and of humans which Calvin fleshes out in books 1 and 2 of the Institutes. It is in the One who is both God and human that we find the true wisdom of God, and our redemption.

    Secondly, I think that the way he relates the role of the Holy Spirit and the written word of God is significant to me. The bible is the insrument of the holy Spirit to point us to Christ and his warnings against the ubiblical wing of the Anabaptist movement that gave priority to the Spirit over the written word of God is timely today in view of some extreme wings of the modern Charismatic movement.

    Thirdly, the 5 solas are crucial if interpreted properly: sola scriptura (the scriptures are the supreme of final authority in matters of faith and conduct and have priority over church tradition, reason and experience), Sola gratia (salvation is by grace alone), sola fidei (through faith alone), sola Christo (by Christ alone), sola de Gloria Deo (for the glory of God alone).

    But then all the biblical Reformers (not just the Calvinists) seem to have held to these points or at least can be interpreted as being consistent with them.

    John Arthur

  25. For me, reformed theology is all about grace. Perhaps in the talk about depravity and sovereignty, the grace aspect can be obscured. I (and I’m sure most other genuine followers of Reformed thinking) don’t go around patting myself on the back for being ‘elect’ or pointing my finger at the unelect (as if I knew who they were) and condemning them. It’s true that it may seem unfair to be one who has faith and salvation while others apparently do not. But that seeming “unfairness” is part of what makes grace to be grace. When I see some with faith and some without, I could look to myself and say it must be because I’m more spiritually minded or smarter or something else—-but then I could actually lay claim somehow to God’s favor and it would no longer be grace. When there really is no reason in me whatsoever and I can only say, “why me, Lord?” (why do I have faith and someone else doesn’t?), then grace is shown clearly. For me, it’s the utter unfathomability of “why me?” which shows God’s “unfair” grace that makes Reformed theology so powerful and meaningful. I don’t know why some are ‘unelect’ but I’m thankful that I’ve been given faith and can praise God in a deeper way because I feel how ‘unfair’ my own calling and election is.

  26. I love D.A. Carson. So cool you got to study under all those outstanding men.

  27. JeffB wrote: ” I (and I’m sure most other genuine followers of Reformed thinking) don’t go around patting myself on the back for being ‘elect’ or pointing my finger at the unelect (as if I knew who they were) and condemning them.”

    So absolutely true.

    I would probably consider myself as somewhat neo-Reformed, though I belong to a denomination with particular Baptist roots, and I am slowly digging into my own denominational heritage. I appreciate Mike Horton and agree with him when he says that Reformed is much more than TULIP… it includes ecclesiology and so much more. So, being Baptist, I don’t pretend to the title “Reformed.”

    The Rod Rosenbladt sermon mentioned above absolutely changed my life and ministry! Maybe I should be reading more Lutheran theolgoy 🙂

    Am I missing something with this whole emphasis on “submit to local elders?” As part of the congregational tradition, I see submission as going both ways. Are not local elders also supposed to submit to the congregation… through leading well, through shepherding the flock–rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn? And together, are not both elders along with all church members supposed to submit to the views of faith and practice expressed in the church’s doctrinal statement and constitution/bylaws? But I can see how “submission” could easily be abused… after all, to paraphrase the great Dr. Suess, “a kingdom is a kingdom, no matter how small!”

    In my area, Calvinism is considered an aberrant theology… so is Arminianism for that matter… in favour of 4 point Arminius, 1 point Calvin evangelicalism.

    I greatly respect the Wesleyian-Arminian tradition (though I disagree with it) precisely because it teaches that a person can lose their salvation!!!! At least it is consisent and attempts to tackle the whole teaching of Scripture. But (and I’m sorry if this comes out snarky) this whole “say-the-sinners-prayer-when-I-was-five-but-then-die-on-my-deathbed-an-atheist-but-I’m-still-going-to-heaven” concept is what I have trouble wrapping my head around!!!

    That’s my 2 cents. God bless!

    • Hahaha your last sentence cracks me up! I would say that many traditions other than Calvinism would say that someone who rejects even after supposedly making a confession of faith, clearly never had faith in Christ. In my baptist church, there are no Calvinist that I know of per se, but on one that more occasion the pastor has warned us not to rely on some mystical sinners prayer we prayed when our mom begged us to as children. I would have to say that that is not just a Calvinist thing. And by the way, Rod Rosenbladt’s message is helping me through a dark, long struggle that has plagued me for years. God bless those Missouri Synod Lutherans!:)

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