Why Calvin Is Cool - An Infomercial for Calvinism
by Michael Spencer
The hostility towards Calvinism is growing here in Bibleland. Note the
intrepid Dave Hunt's attempt to vanquish the Calvinistic dragon with
his new book, What Love Is This?, perhaps more aptly titled, What
Research Is This? Norman Geisler unsuccessfully sought to forge a via
media in Chosen, But Free and Gregory Boyd and the Openness Boys
(great name for a band) have been blasting away for several years now
against the monstrosity of the Calvinistic God and an Augustinian
theodicy. I recently attended a debate between Calvinist and Arminian
seminary profs, and I have to say that Jerry Walls was vewy, vewy
upset that God could save everyone and apparently isn't going to do
so. He was also mad that John Piper said he would still love God even
if one of his sons wasn't elect. And, of course, C.S. LEWIS WASN'T A
CALVINIST! So I think silent Cal is a better choice than Geneva John.
These are dangerous times. You could possibly get burned at the stake.
(That's a joke.)
I've never been naive about what people thought about Calvinism. It's
always been controversial, hence that little party called the
Reformation and the counter-party called the Remonstrance and the rave
known as Revivalism. In my kid's history textbooks, Calvinists and
Puritans are witchburners. Period. When I began hanging out with
Calvinistic Southern Baptists in the "Founders" movement, it had some
of the trappings of a secret society. There were lots of people
keeping their heads low and their mouths shut in order to survive in
Southern Baptist land. And at my current assignment, rumors of my
Calvinism have been my only real trouble in ten years, and that even
though the founder of our school was an out and out card-carrying
five-pointer with no shame about saying so.
A few years ago our state denominational newspaper discovered Southern
Baptist Calvinism and went on a ten-year windmill tilt against it. It
was enormous fun to read what Arminian revivalistic evangelists had to
say about Calvinism, based upon their extensive experience and
research. (I concluded the in-depth tape series of Jimmy Swaggart on
Calvinism was behind it all.) I was surprised to discover that
Southern Baptists had no Calvinistic roots or influences (which seemed
odd given the overwhelming historical record of just exactly that
fact.) I learned that Spurgeon was not really a Calvinist. (It seems
particularly galling for Arminians to come to grips with this one.) I
learned that despite all those years of preaching, I was against
missions and evangelism, and that I could not preach the free offer of
the Gospel or tell people that Jesus loved them. (The inability of
these experts to differentiate between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism
is basic to everything they say. What a heretic I'd been!) And I
learned that despite my cheery outlook, I am really obsessed with
predestination, and have no real good reason to get up in the morning.
(Again, if one wants to discuss fatalism, go to the Muslims.) All this
free education came to me week after week, courtesy of those who hated
Calvinism and feared Calvinists. And all totally false.
Such misunderstandings continue today, though the articulate writings
of people like Michael Horton, John Piper and James White are making a
difference. I am now meeting people who say they are Calvinists, and
really probably aren't, but they identify with or admire someone who
is. Hey, you gotta start somewhere. Even so, I still know that I could
lose my job over being a Calvinist, and I know that I will always have
to answer ridiculous questions from Arminians who have no idea that
they are Arminians or even have a theology. As long as they read Jabez
and Left Behind and like Joyce Meyers and T.D. Jakes, they feel normal.
So how can I say it's cool to be a Calvinist?
1) Calvinism is that rare and wonderful thing: classical, orthodox
Evangelicals are selling the theological store right and
left. I am really grateful for orthodox non-Calvinists like Ravi
Zacharias, because the trend on that side of the fence is to sell out
the essentials. Omnipotence and omniscience are in trouble. The
authority of scripture is in trouble. Biblical worship is in trouble.
Postmodern Arminianism seems ready to jettison anything that stands in
the way of intellectual acceptance by the cultural elites or the
potential drawing of a crowd. Calvinists have their problems, but
going the openness route or denying the authority of scripture are not
dangers in the near future. That's cool.
2) Calvinism is fired up about missions.
Contrary to the press
releases, it is a bunch of Calvinists who are fueling the missions
movement among the college age Christian community. The influence of
John Piper is massive, and honest Arminians admit it (as they did in
the debate I observed.). His book, The Supremacy of God in Missions,
has become highly influential in frontier missions circles. Louie
Giglio's Passion movement is God-centered and missions-centered and he
has said Piper will always speak at those gatherings. The supreme
optimism of Calvinism that God has a people to be called and saved in
every nation, and that a sovereign God can move in the Muslim world,
is winning the hearts and minds of many young missionaries. Check out
and see what I mean. That is very cool.
3) Calvinism is the strongest resistance to the excesses and errors of
the church growth movement.
You could deny the Trinity in most
pulpits today and not get the kind of reaction you will get if you question
the tenets of seeker-sensitive church growth methods. These days
Calvinists are less unified on questions of worship and church life
than on other areas of theology, but the reformed camp is still the
loudest source of resistance to the church growth pragmatism that has
overwhelmed evangelicalism. Reformed writers are engaging in a solid
examination of Biblical worship and the current crisis and offering a
God-centered alternative to the man-centered carnival that is
engulfing our churches. Especially see the cool work of Marva Dawn,
John Macarthur, James Boice and Michael Horton.
4) Calvinism is contending for the Gospel.
Now that will get a few
tomatoes headed my way, but I am not saying that Calvinists are the
only Christians, nor that Calvinists are the only ones contending for
the Gospel. I know that is not the case. I am saying that Calvinists
have a passion for the Gospel, particularly for soteriology. There is
remarkable unity among Calvinists on the doctrine of total depravity,
the primacy of the work of the Trinity in salvation, the effectiveness
of the substitutionary work of Christ, the priority of regeneration
over faith and the grace of God over all. On the Solas, Calvinists
stand strong, even stronger than on the five-points, where there is
considerable diversity on the extent of the atonement and the nature
of perseverance. The sad fact is that many of our evangelical Arminian
friends cannot say the Solas with certainty of an "amen" from their
team. The Gospel is under attack on virtually every side within
evangelicalism. Some of these are the same controversies that preceded
and followed the Reformation, but many are the attacks of
post-modernism, pragmatism, multi-culturalism, and liberalism,
smuggled in through evangelicalism's fetish with popularity,
publishing, and media. It is refreshing to hear a seminary president
like Calvinist Al Mohler consistently contend for the Gospel on Larry
King Live in this age of pluralism and tolerance. It's not an
accident. In Calvinistic circles, it's cool to fight for what others
5) Calvinism is warmly God-centered.
Again, hold the bottle
throwing. I know, I know. I know there are many non-Calvinists who are
God-centered, but I think you have to notice that Calvinism is
God-centered by definition, and it simply makes a marvelous
difference. Look at the music of Steve Green, the sermons of Al Martin
or the books of Douglas Wilson, John Piper, Jerry Bridges or R.C.
Sproul. Whether in evangelism, worship, or the Christian life,
Calvinists have a suspicion of humanism that is healthy and helpful in
retaining the God-centered nature of the Christian faith. It is a
marvelous simplicity in Calvinism that says anything we do or
contemplate or consider must first put the sovereign God of the Bible
as the reference, goal, and center of everything. The vision of God
that animated Luther and Calvin, Spurgeon and Edwards is the same
vision that is animating Calvinism today. The impulse that is causing
havoc in evangelical circles today is a dethroning of God, and the
resulting mess seems to be headed down the path that leads to the
generic, new age, feelings-centered spirituality that grows like kudzu
in America. It's cool to be God-centered, and there is no area of
contemporary Christianity where the air breathed in Piper's The
Pleasures of God or Carson's The Gagging of God or Packer's Knowing
God isn't badly needed.
There's lots more I could say. Calvinism is evangelistic, when
practiced and not just debated. (Ask those Korean Presbyterians.)
Calvinism has a wonderful reverence for history. Calvinism has the
best approach to cultural issues. Calvinism isn't detoured into fads
like Jabez, Experiencing God, or Left Behind. Calvinists have
Spurgeon. Calvinists are great apologists. Calvinists aren't on
television. Well, D. James Kennedy on TBN, but thank God for that.
Calvinists have the best preachers. If Benny Hinn were a Calvinist,
he'd have better hair. I think I should stop.
Are there negatives? Certainly, but this is an infomercial, so I am
supposed to say all those really fast at the end so you won't hear
them. They would include: Calvinists debate too much and do too
little. Calvinists don't start enough churches. Calvinists fight about
the stupidest things. Calvinists go overboard on anything they are
right about. Calvinists have more than their share of loons.
Calvinists spend too much on books. I'd better stop. Even with all
this, trust me, it's cool to be a Calvinist.
Sometimes Calvinists spend too much time trying to argue their friends
into Calvinism. That is a waste of time. I don't want to convert you.
I just wanted to brag, and perhaps suggest that in this postmodern
swamp we are living in, we might want to remember that all the
criticism of Calvinism within evangelicalism is coming from a house
that needs to get itself in order before it throws rocks at its own team.