And Some Days, I Just Need To Become A Calvinist. (appreciating the ‘other’)

Okay, so we all know it- I’ve been a little hard on my Calvinist friends.

But truth be told, there are some days when I just need to become a Calvinist… in a way.

Although there are some really great things happening in my “real world” life right now, we are actually going through a really difficult chapter in our lives with some other things behind the scene that I can’t write about yet. They are things that will have to wait until we get to the “other side” of wherever it is that we find ourselves now.

There are a lot of unknowns. Some high-stakes risks that we’re taking on an emotional level… things that could turn out really, really good– or turn into another long chapter of heartache.

When I first decided to follow the more radical version of Jesus I knew on an intellectual level that it would lead to chapters like this. However, even when one pays mental assent to something, it’s an entirely different notion to emotionally prepare for it. Some things you simply can’t prepare for– you just have to experience them. (I guess in that way, following Jesus is sorta like sky diving)

The chapter we’re in now is one of those chapters.

Some days I look at what I’ve placed on the altar, and it scares me out of my mind.

And, on those days when I am frozen with fear, when I’m paralyzed by thinking about potential outcomes of situations, and when I’m worried about completely screwing everything up, I take comfort in… well, Calvinism.

Not long ago my wife asked me: “Is God in control right now? If we make a misstep, could we totally mess up his plan?

I immediately realized that there are times in life when only the Calvinist view of sovereignty will comfort me– so I gave her what felt like a very Calvinist answer.

Yes, God is in complete and total control. Nothing in the world can thwart his plan. No misstep we can make will derail the train– we just need to trust in his sovereignty.

As much as I love open theism (the idea that some things in the future exist only as possibilities to God and that our actions directly impact the ultimate outcome), I’m finding that in dark chapters that doesn’t really work for me.

What if this is one of those things that exists as just a “possibility”? What if I didn’t pray enough and screwed it all up? What if I took a wrong turn somewhere and started driving this train to a bad destination?

It is when I start asking those questions I find myself taking comfort in a Calvinist version of sovereignty. Yes, I know other constructs still affirm sovereignty, but when I’m in a bad place, I need to skip straight to the top shelf stuff that my Calvinist friends have.

During the hard times, I need to know that God is completely in control and that his plan for my life is not in any way dependent on my own failed, flawed, and totally screwed up approach to things.

During the hard times, I show up on my Calvinist friend’s front steps, and ask to borrow something from their cupboard. Because when it comes to God’s sovereignty, sometimes I think they have the better narrative.

Here is the important lesson I am learning in all this: no single Christian tradition or theological approach has a monopoly on rightness. Each Christian tradition makes their own attempt to understand and explain God– getting some things right in the process, and getting some things wrong in the process. The key to a more vibrant Christian faith is not through a narrow loyalty to our own “brand” but through an appreciation for all the things that other Christian traditions get right.

A richer and fuller spiritual life comes not through tunnel vision, but through a willingness to be humble and find ways to appreciate diverse thinking in the body of Christ.

Today, I’m thinking about a hard chapter my family is trying to navigate, and I’m realizing that the concept of sovereignty my Calvinist friends offer is really comforting. So at least for today, I’m okay with part of me being a Calvinist. I need to if for just my own sanity.

So my friends, please push yourselves to look beyond your own tradition. Encourage yourself to consider what they (we all know a “they”) have to say about God, and the ways in which “they” might have worthwhile contributions to how we think about God.

If you do, I think you’ll begin realizing that God is bigger than you ever imagined– and that as much as we often hate to admit it, we’re actually all on the same team together.

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  • As someone who has been a part of many different denominations and is living in a Reformed area right now, I really appreciate this :) (Although, I really rarely hear anyone mention Calvin, actually).

  • Devin Hudson

    I appreciate this article. I came out of a more arminian-driven theological background and later embraced a more reformed view. Your article defines one of the primary reasons I made this transition. I often call myself a pragmatic Calvinist in the sense sometimes it is just easier to fall back on the sovereignty of God. At the same time, I will not fall prey to the temptation to place God in any theological box. I have often said those of us who claim to embrace God’s sovereignty at the highest level are often the same ones to denounce it on a practical level when it comes to recognizing the inadequacy of any of our human-created systems to define an infinite God.

  • D. G. Spillman

    Great post!

  • Pretty cool stumbling upon this. It’s funny, I’ve been having the same experience over the last few months, but from the perspective of a Calvinist who’s been finding some solace in the way that other Christians approach certain things.

    I read your anti-Calvinism post that you linked to at the beginning of this one. Pretty harsh. I’d like to say that I’m totally unfamiliar with the toxicity and arrogance that you mention. I’d like to say that I don’t have the same hangups about God creating people just to punish them and the seeming preoccupation with God’s wrath. But the truth is, although I’m convinced that Calvinistic teachings are supported strongly from the scriptures, I’m just not a good fit for the “Calvinist culture” as you call it.

    That said, I don’t see myself shifting theological traditions; in fact, I’m not sure that I could if I wanted to, almost like I’m predestined. ;)

  • duskglow

    I take significant offense to Calvinism in its pure form, but I certainly do accept that the wrath of God is important to the concept of justice and without it, there’d be no need for grace. It certainly does have its place, and I’m not opposed to taking what is good out of that worldview, and there are a few things. But to take it to its logical conclusion and accept the five points of calvinism just… offends me on multiple levels.

    I don’t think you’re doing that, though. You’re just finding what works for you. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Lily

    I think there is more than one way to reach God. Every person is different and there are no two situations alike. Even Jesus didn´t make miracles the same way. All through nature we can see that God favours diversity. My relationship with God has changed through out my life. Sometimes I question Him and He answers patiently. Sometimes I surrender completely and He does what I can´t. I even sometimes argue with Him and of course He always convinces me. He never answers the same way either. Sometimes it´s through someone saying what I needed to hear, other times He whispers in my ear. Thank you for sharing your experience. I pray and have faith that whatever it is you are going through will turn out for the better. He knows your heart, and it´s in the right place. Whatever decision you take He will be there for you, like the loving Father He is. God bless you and your family.

  • Heather McCuen Dearmon

    I know exactly what you mean. In the darkest times of my life, God’s sovereignty has been my place of peace. I once heard author Wayne Jacobsen say that we should “hold our theology loosely” to keep ourselves sane, for one, and to have peace with Christians of different mind sets.
    I will be praying for you and your family during this difficult time. May Father give you His peace and strength and provide all that you need.

  • John Bickham

    It’s been so long since I’ve thought about any of this. I forget that theology is still debated and thrown at one another even as tests of orthodoxy. Over a decade ago I came to the realization that holding on to an attitude that I’m right is, well, totally wrong. How liberating to be present in Love here and now and dropping the silly nitpicky attitudes of wanting to believe that I’m right over someone else’s being right about “God Logic”.. As far as I can tell, all of these theologies are simply levels of attempts to understand God as we can process it. Sometimes, the “I don’t know” mind is the best and only honest option. I believe that is why we say, “I/We believe”.
    “And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong or right, where I belong I’m right… where I belong” ~ The Beatles

  • I like the idea of a sovereign God who is in complete and total control. I like the idea that he has a plan for us all and that nothing we can do will thwart that plan. However, I think the analogy of driving a train is a bit problematic. After all a train
    can only follow the track it is on with no deviation and if it goes off the track the results are usually disastrous. I see the journey more as a trek through the wilderness. We will eventually get where God intends us to be but sometimes we get a bit lost and worry that we will never get where we a meant to be. But God will always get us back on the proper course. We may arrive by a slightly different route and we might take a little longer to get there but eventual the only place we can reach is where God intends us to be.

  • Lisa Martinez

    So, yep. I need the sovereignty of God when it comes to the idea of my son having died in a horrible way in a terrible accident. Was God absent? Was he not involved at all? Were my myriad of small choices responsible for the horror? If so, who’s to say that the next small choices I make won’t cause another unwittingly tragic accident? How do I live life like that, ever? I can’t. Doesn’t work. I’ve tried. I have to believe that however hard it sounds, God was sovereign when Benny died. Sovereign, but more ultimately loving that I can imagine. So then, why? I DON’T KNOW. I don’t think I’ll ever know in this lifetime and several days I will hold up my hands and cry out asking why. But, he is showing me himself as the Father, Love, and I am slowly getting to trust him. Thanks again Benjamin.

  • CroneEver

    Why shouldn’t we need different types of prayer, comfort, theology, etc., at different times? Straight-up hard-core Calvinism will kill you if you’re terminally depressed. Universalist Unitarianism will be just a little too loosey-goosey if you’ve just found out your best friend was doing your spouse, and coincidentally killed your dog and tipped off the gang down the street to break into your house. Plus there are times when you feel all praise, and others when you’re all begging. When we try to make our version of God (and it is, to some extent always our version, because we are limited in imagination and vision) a universal, we forget that we change all the time, and with it, what we need. My regular church service is an AA-type meeting-style gathering in a Lutheran church basement, all coffee and discussion. But this Easter I went to the Episcopal Cathedral for a big-crowd, full-out liturgy because that’s what I needed that day. And it was wonderful. And so was my regular church service yesterday.

  • gimpi1

    One quote I remember, from Joseph Campbell in his interview series with Bill Moyers was. “Your final obstacle to God is God.” In other words, whatever concept you have of divinity, by definition it has to be too limited. We aren’t capable of grasping the totality.

    I’m not sure about the existence of God, but if there is a God, I’m darn well sure it wouldn’t fit in any box I could conceive of.

  • Nimblewill

    Beth Moore says that Calvinists and Arminians alike are correct in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. I agree.

  • Ryan

    I would say a critique of “pretty harsh” is pretty mild, considering the venom of the anti-Calvinist post. In this article, you are finding good points of Calvinism; where was that appreciation before? I have pretty thick skin, but the way you lambasted the Calvin tradition and those that identify with it I found rather offensive. Which is ironic, because here I completely agree with your understanding of the sovereignty of God and your view of open theism. Yet, I am still a “Calvinist.” It seems that you speak of Calvinism out of anecdotal evidence deriving from encounters with hardcore, supralapsarian extremists. With every point you listed, I just wanted to shake the computer while screaming “Who is telling you this nonsense?” You were describing surface level views only staunchly held by militant old-school Calvinists. I assure you, while they may be a loud and persistent voice, they are not necessarily the majority. Growing up in the CRC and RCA, I only ran into a few of these people and their views were not held in high regard. I haven’t heard a sermon about the wrath or anger of God in about 25 years. The fact that Mike and I are in agreement on your post here should be some small proof. Talk to a Calvinist who isn’t a TULIP-y curmudgeon and you might find we have a lot more in common (and Calvinism is quite a bit different) than you think.

  • Gregory Lynn

    The problem is simply that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If a particular religion or denomination allows its most intolerant or even just “fringe” minority to become the loudest voice speaking for it, then that’s what will pop into people’s minds on reflex. I’ve personally never met someone who I knew held Calvinist views who wasn’t also intolerant and bigoted; based on you guys’ posts, that’s probably because others I met who held similar views of divine sovereignty were content to live their lives and let others live theirs.

    Now, this isn’t a one-way street…it’s a part of human nature that negative experiences will stand out more than positive ones. That’s why people in Jesus’ time latched onto the parts of his ministry that could be seen as sacreligious and seditious and used them as an excuse to nail him up while ignoring his larger, more important message of love. That just means that we, as a culture and a species, have to learn to do more listening and less talking.

  • JohnE_o

    With all due respect to whatever your situation is – you guys are overthinking things…

    Que Sera, Sera,

    Whatever will be, will be

    The future’s not ours, to see

    Que Sera, Sera

    What will be, will be.

    … it really is just that simple

  • eric kurfman

    In my own experience, a lot of the theology one chooses is based on personality traits and personal experience. I have a close personal friend that is most comforted by the God who controls every single detail of life. I am not.

    What I find extremely interesting is when a Calvinist is bemoaning the condition of the world, the election of Barack Obama, etc.

    I think Eve’s comment “Why shouldn’t we need different types of prayer, comfort, theology, etc., at different times?” is a good summation of who we are.