Friday, December 21, 2007

Should I Have Told You I am a Calvinist?

A few days ago I cited an article by Frank Page on Calvinism. Turns out this article by Page has led to quite a bit of discussion on whether or not a candidate should be up front about his beliefs on the Doctrines of Grace. You can read the discussion here.

Many in academia are calling for young pastors that adhere to the doctrines of grace (Calvinistic) to be upfront and lay all their cards on the table. As you read the comments on Founders you will notice that some agree with this (as an issue of integrity) and others find it unfair. I am unsure of where I fall on this and am encouraging my readers to help me work through this issue (I know some of you are Calvinists and some of you are not).

As I am looking back I am wondering whether or not I would have been hired if I would have said upfront that I was a Calvinist. For one I was not nearly as established in the doctrines of grace as I am now. For two I know some of those on the search committee had (and maybe even to this day still have) a very vague understanding of what Calvinism is. I also know that many have false caricatures of what Calvinist actually believe and how a biblical Calvinist would actually engage people with the gospel. It appears to me that what people often reject is Hyper-Calvinism. Therefore, I wonder if all of the work that we have seen God do for the past 4 years would have been quenched from the beginning because I was a Calvinist. As soon as I stated what I believed about the Doctrines of Grace would I have been caricatured?

My stance has been to preach the gospel and to preach the word of God expositionally. If the doctrines of grace come out of the text then I will preach that. If the doctrines of grace are not in the text then I will never force it. My hope has been to be as biblical as possible in my life, practice, and ministry. Most people do not even know that I am a Calvinist. Does this make me dishonest? Many probably assume that I am a pre-tribulational pre-millenialist too. Should I have been upfront about that? Also my views have changed through the years on a few issues as well. What I might have said I believed in my interview I would disagree with now. To me "laying all your cards" on the table does not give room for growth for me (the minister) or for the congregation.

One of the funniest things that I remember was a conversation I had with a man in our church a couple of years ago. We were talking about some of the authors that we both enjoyed reading, as well as some of the Christian artists we loved to listen to. One of the bands that we were talking about we were discussing whether or not they are Calvinist, because they had cited John Piper as an influence. The guy I was speaking to began talking about all of the things he saw wrong with Calvinism. Their anti-evangelism, etc. All of the typical caricatures. Knowing my evangelistic zeal and passion to share the gospel, this man was floored when I told him that I too was a Calvinist. We did not get into a discussion on the theology of it, but by looking at my life and witness he saw that Calvinism does not necessarily lead to all of those horrible caricatures. (Thankfully, he could not smell the pride that emanated from me in my early caged-Calvinist days). So, my question to you is this: Am I deceptive for not sharing with our congregation that I am a Calvinist? Should I be upfront even if people do not ask? Is it right for me to make an issue of it? Or, is it a better approach to preach expositionally and only address the issue when they come up? What do you think?


  1. Mike,
    You know where I stand on the doctrines of grace. That being said, I think it should be a matter of personal conscience as to whether or not an individual discloses that he is a Calvinist. So many people have a misguided understanding of the title of Calvinism actually represents, that in many cases it would only do harm to your ability to minister. It is my personal opinion, that if asked you should claim what you are, however, if you are not asked, then you should just let sleeping dogs lie. I think it is far better for a person to find this sort of thing out gradually through your teaching, but also within the context of how you live your life. I hope this made sense.

  2. Hey Mike,

    I don't mean to sidetrack the discussion, but when I hear about issues like this, I always try to look "behind" the problem to try and see what the real issue is. For example, when I posted on the MBC/Acts29 deal, I tried to point out (in a subtle way) that I thought the real issue is whether churches have any biblical justification in the first place for even being "funded" in this way; or perhaps even more fundamental, whether there is any biblical justification for "denominations" at all.

    Now, with the issue being discussed in this post, I would ask, "What biblical justification do we have for a 'pastoral search committee'?" Take a step back: "What biblical justification do we have for the role of 'pastor' as it is typically defined today? I don't want to always come across as the "rebel" who is always questioning everything, but nevertheless, I think we need to be constantly examining the foundations to make sure that we are not building unbiblical practice upon unbiblical practice. Let's not miss the forest for the trees!

    Anyhow, here are some articles that I think would be helpful to interact with on these particular issues (All of them authored by Darryl Erkel.):

    The Pastoral Search Committee: New Testament Teaching or Traditions of Men?

    Should One Man Be The Dominant, Focal-Point of a Church Service?

    Problems With Traditional "Ordination"

    Church Leaders and the Use of Honorific Titles

    Take care brother,


  3. Garrett,

    Wonderful points! And no you did not hi-jack the post :-) I agree that our present definition and role of the pastorate is not biblical. Without having done extensive research I believe that a plurality of elders is the most biblical. I've actually never thought about the unbiblical aspects of a pastor search committee--so I appreciate you pointing to that. I love your drive to question our practices so that we do not do unbiblical practices upon unbiblical practices. Very helpful.

    Now, here is my question. And I think it is one that "reformers" have historically had to ask. How do we go about changing these unbiblical structures? Is the answer to church plant? Is the answer to find churches that have the same view and hopefully spread that view to others? Is the answer to come into the church via pastor search committee being hired as the sole pastor and then labor for years to reform and restructure? Thank you so much for your concern and thoughtful comments :-)

  4. Good points on the pastor search committees, gh.
    As far as how do we "reform" such practices, it seems fitting to begin where we are, not search for some non-existent, idyllic starting point. Are we pastors in a single pastor church? We might seek to reform it by, say, hiring an "associate" pastor (or more), and using that brother as a fellow-elder. I'm not sure that's necessarily the best way to reform it over the long-term - I'd argue that church plants would be the best way for long-term change - but that might be b/c I'm called by God to plant churches (at least, so far). Perhaps how we answer the question will change depending upon to which form of ministry we're called; please, though, take that with the necessary "grain of salt", or a pile of it, b/c it's done pretty much on the fly.
    I also wonder what the benefit is in telling people "upfront" that we're Calvinists. I've learned recently that the words "Calvinism" and even "Reformed" have been strongly associated - in the generations before us - with a severe form of anti-evangelistic hyper-Calvinism. Maybe that's why people have the charicatures they do. If the question is only about being "upfront" with a pastoral search committee, I'll agree with gh and just say, "let's train pastors from the congregations, not bring in some unknown, far off guy." The issue might go longer, though: are we to be upfront with fellow Christians about our beleifs? To this, I'd answer that ifthey really care and know what's going on, they'll pick it up pretty quick just through our sermons/teaching/conversations, etc. I think not being upfront is honest enough; it seems like it's avoiding an unecessary difficulty. The only right way I've found to discuss this topic (by doing it many times the wrong way) is to do it over the Scriptures, seeking together - not against one another - the truth of God as He reveals it.
    Grace and peace,



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