Friday, September 16, 2011

What Should a Newtonian Calvinist Say In a Pastoral Interview?

I have been breaking one of my rules lately.  I have…gulp of shame…been reading far too many comment threads on blogs.  Even worse these blog posts have been about…choking down the shame of broken resolve…Calvinism. 

While indulging the part of my brain that lacks sound judgment, I have witnessed a common thread.  This thread presents itself as a forceful suggestion that Calvinist’s should be upfront and honest about their Calvinism and intentions of “reforming the church” in the interview process. 

I figure those that mention this have a couple of different scenarios in their mind.  One scenario would have the search committee, unfortunately, not mention the C word.  To this the young, restless, and reformed brother gets a wry smile, closes up his Bible, leaves the interview process, gets on and begins to plot his path to world dominance. 

The second scenario has the search committee actually asking the dreaded question of Calvinism.  Here the Calvinistic pastor starts to sweat, shifts in his seat, and comes up with an rather evasive answer about only following Jesus or the Bible or something like that.  Of course he still goes home and gets on and begins to figure out how to reform this dastardly church setting and make everyone bow a knee to JC (that’s for John Calvin).

I wish that those two scenarios were as ridiculous as I have written them.  But the truth is, caricatures are often present because of at least a seed of reality. 

So, it seems that in response to these silly scenarios--rather real or imagined--Calvinists ought to lay their cards out on the table in the interview process.  In this they should present to the search committee their five year plan for turning the church into something that would make that stale painting of Calvin actually sprout a smile. 

I disagree. 

Why I Wish Everyone Was a Calvinist

Not that I think Calvinists should be in any way disingenuous.  If a church asked a very pointed question, “boy, you plan on makin’ us one of them Calvinist churches”, then you ought to be honest and sincere.  But there is another side to this… 

I wish that every follower of Jesus was also a Calvinist. 

And I would hope that my non-Calvinist brothers and sisters would wish the same thing of their own theologies. 

I am a Calvinist because I believe that is what the Bible teaches.  And as such I believe that being a Calvinist leads to more joy, better evangelism, better practices, a deeper relationship with Jesus, more passion, better marriages, etc. 

I could care less if you call yourself a Calvinist, a biblicist, or Big Papa.  At the end of the day I hope that you follow Jesus.  But I, and feel free to throw darts on this one, believe that Jesus is a Calvinist—or put that another way Calvin (at least in his soteriology) was biblically faithful to Jesus and his gospel.  I hope you’d say the same thing about your beliefs.

It would be supremely unloving for me to be indifferent on this matter.  I believe embracing the doctrines of grace leads to greater joy in Jesus.  I want you to have that joy.  Not joy that comes from John Calvin but that comes from a better understanding of the gospel.  And I hope you’d say the same thing to me about your “system”. 


I’m also a Newtonian Calvinist

Being a “Newtonian Calvinist” in this regard means two things.  First, it means that like Newton I believe that people come to embrace the doctrines of grace not through someone “beating notions in their head” but through experience. 

After a young and seemingly arrogant Ryland wrote in his book of poetry that he “aimed to displease the Arminians”, Newton responded thus:

You say, I aimed to displease the Arminians, I had rather you had aimed to be useful to them, than to displease them.  There are many Arminians who are so only for [lack] of clearer light.  They fear the Lord, and walk humbly before him.  And as they go on, by an increasing acquaintance with their own hearts and the word of God, their objections and difficulties gradually subside.  And in the Lord’s time (for he is the only effectual teacher) they receive the doctrines of grace which they were once afraid of. 

The worst type of Calvinist are those that have “notions too hastily picked up, when not sanctified by grace, nor balanced by a proportional depth of spiritual experience”.  Even if you did convince someone of the truth of Calvinism but they did not have a proportionate experience then you’ve probably just created that miserable and mostly unhelpful creature we call a caged-Calvinist. 

The second thing, my job as a believer is to love my brothers and sisters in Christ and not to “beat notions in their head”.  As Newton said in a letter to the Rev. Mr. Whitford:

I allow that every branch of gospel truth is precious, that errors are abounding, and that it is our duty to bear an honest testimony to what the Lord has enabled us to find comfort in, and to instruct with meekness such as are willing to be instructed; but I cannot set it my duty, nay, I believe it would be my sin, to attempt to beat notions into other people’s heads.

This means that while I heartily wish that you embrace the doctrines of grace I also know that it’s not my job or responsibility to bring that about.  I want to preach the truth (in as much as a finite sinner like myself is able), rest in grace, and love you like Jesus; that is my job. 


I will not shy away from preaching and teaching what I believe about Calvinism.  Or as Newton said, “to bear an honest testimony to what the Lord has enabled us to find comfort in, and to instruct with meekness such as are willing to be instructed”.  But at the end of the day I am not going to argue at length about Calvinism. 

I want every person that God has “put under my charge” to embrace the doctrines of grace.  But even if they do not I still hope to graciously and lovingly provide for them safe pasture.  And that “safe pasture” is found in embracing Jesus not the doctrines of grace. 

This is why if asked in an interview whether I want to “charge the church into Calvinist” I’d struggle with how to answer.  Not because I want to be deceptive, but because it’s partially true, but not because I want to serve Calvin.  I would want them to embrace the doctrines of grace because I believe it will provide them more joy and God more glory.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think Jesus was a Calvinist...or an Arminian. I think it's our own arrogance when we want to smack labels on him that came 1600 years after him.

    If Jesus were here, he'd probably point out the errors of both theologies, show how they both insufficiently represent God, and tell us to get in the business of bringing the kingdom of God on earth instead of standing around debating whose side Jesus is on.

    I'm reminded of the scene in Joshua 5 when Israel's going out to war and Joshua sees the Angel of Yahweh and says, "Whose side are you on?" And the Angel responds and says, "Neither."

    I'm an Arminian for all the reasons you listed above. But I have no grand illusions that Jesus was one. I think he'd tell me it's idolatrous to limit him to my system. It's a reduction of God.

    I'm not a Calvinist because I believe Arminianism represents God's love more faithfully, represents God's character as revealed in scripture more faithfully. But, still, Arminianim, itself, is not to be equated with God and God is not to be reduced to my system. That is very dangerous ground, imo.

    Do I wish everyone was an Arminian? No. Calvinists bring unique things to the table. Though I disagree, I think you're faithful and Orthodox.

    Do I wish everyone was Orthodox? Yes. Beyond that, let's disagree, for sure. But let's not reduce God to our level.



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