I fully embrace “The Doctrines of Grace” and find general theological agreement with men like Tim Keller, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Jonathan Edwards, CH Spurgeon, John Calvin, and John Owen. In other words, I am a Calvinist. Even if those terms or names mean nothing to you, I encourage you to keep reading, because the message and gospel preached by those men change lives; I am a living testimony of that.
If history holds true, someone is already alarmed at what I have said. The term “Calvinist” has a way of polarizing an audience. If you are opposed to Calvinism or have already written me off as some religious kook, I’m glad you’re reading this; what I have to say is mostly for you.
To state my intent clearly, this post is not meant to convince anyone of my theological position. Rather, I am here to apologize about how I have interacted with people (like you) over Calvinism and general theological discussion over the years. I have been a terrible representation of the gospel and the person, whom I call Savior, Jesus Christ. I have been a jerk and abused the treasure of which I have been entrusted. I am here to apologize.
Let me begin by clarifying what I am not apologizing for.
I am not apologizing for any for Calvinistic theology.
I am not making apologies for appropriate, righteous anger towards heretical doctrines.
I am not apologizing for the conversations I have had about Jesus.
I am not apologizing for a passion for the gospel.
I am not apologizing for any time I have defended the gospel.
Rather, I am apologizing for the way I have used doctrines of grace in conversations and treated those around me.
If you have engaged in a debate or theological discussion with a Calvinist, you might have experienced that they seem to have an answer for almost any question. Calvinists have a locked tight theological system and a library of books to back it up. These resources help us understand scripture and how to apply to our lives. These are good things when studied and applied rightly. However, I have not always been a good steward with what God has entrusted me. For example, if you were to ask me a question related to theology I will probably give you a prepared, logical response or say something that sounds like I know what I am talking about. Often times my desire for approval overrides sincerity.
I am reminded of a meme I saw the other day online. It reads, “Calvinism: We are certain about everything. Except if Christ died for us”. Obviously, it’s a joke. But there is some truth to that perception of Calvinists and a desire to be certain. Logic and well-drawn conclusions are a wonderful thing if rooted in scripture. However, we don’t have all the answers. If I am faithful to the doctrines I believe, I must remember that I am “Reformed and always reforming.” Meaning, I have not arrived and will not arrive until the day I am made perfect in Jesus. All the books I own shed but a tiny speckle of light on the infinite glory and worth of God. It’s silly to act or communicate that I have all the answers when, in reality, I understand very little about God.
I remember hearing an old sermon from John Piper where he equates Christians describing God to be like Reepicheep, in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” We are sailing in an ocean of words trying to find the proper ways to describe God. Yet, at the end of the earth, the very best we can do is muster up the word, “Holy.” There are no words beyond that to accurately capture God. Try, and you will fail.
You might say, “God is love” and that’s true! But, to unpack what that love is towards the saints will take an eternity! What in the world makes me think that I can fully comprehend and communicate all the truths found in Scripture when I can’t come close to finding adequate words to describe the person of Jesus. Our own theology tells us we bring nothing of worth to the throne of God. Salvation, hope, glory, and eternity all rest on God and His actions. I am completely inadequate to be a messenger of the gospel.
When my eyes were first opened to The Doctrines of Grace. I was uber-passionate and wanted to tell everyone I saw about it. I had so many conversations that I, unintentionally, had what became a prepared presentation on walking someone through Calvinism. I started with the condition of humanity and moved all the way through the atonement and glorification. I was well rehearsed and convincing. So much so, there was little chance for anyone to even respond thoughtfully. It wasn’t an evenly matched discussion. Even though I was well intentioned, I was going into conversations with an agenda. Any thought or idea you had was “answered” and dismissed almost as quickly as you said it. I was not really listening to the other person, as much as, I was checking a question off the list. While the content of what I was saying was of incredible worth, the messenger did a poor job. I see now this did nothing but make the other person feel unlistened to and unimportant.
If I am honest, I don’t think I saw them this way, but I recognize now that’s how I treated many. I have slowly learned that a passion for the gospel is right and true; zeal is great! But that can’t come at the expense of disregarding a person. We are all on a journey and at different places in it (Paul even had a hand in killing Christians before God opened his eyes). We must remember that bad ideas/theology don’t undermine the intrinsic value someone has been made in the image of God.
One funny anecdote from my prepared Calvinism arguments was that I loved to quote the verse Luke 24:42. I would point out how Jesus “Opened their minds to understand the scriptures” and that the work must begin from God. The disciples are staring at resurrected Jesus, and they still don’t really get it. Jesus has to miraculously give them the ability to understand all he said. Man, I preach a sermon on that verse! The only problem was the verse I quoted was actually Luke 24:45. The verse I was using (verse 42) actually reads, “They gave Him a piece of broiled fish.” I had my reference wrong!
I was making grand theological statements and declarations regarding salvation citing a verse that says Jesus ate broiled fish. I spouted that verse off for years before I realized my blunder. I think this can be a metaphor for our understandings of grace. Christians, not just Calvinists, can argue until we are blue in the face about a theological point. We become more concerned about winning an argument than showing the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus. We get lost in our arguments and forget to be careful about what we are actually saying.
Nowadays, the internet only makes it worse. People say the most hurtful, damaging things with almost no consequences because we are basically anonymous. We can hide behind a screen name because it’s easy and there are no real repercussions. Still, this is not what we were saved unto. On the other end is a soul who without Christ, will perish. I am guilty of losing sight of this from time to time (probably more often than not).
I was not saved not to prove a point. I was saved to love you like I have been loved and point you to the One who loved me first. Jesus loved me and saved me before I knew anything about theology. He patiently listened to me while I developed goofy, narcissistic ideas about God and myself. He loves me in spite of my poor representation of the gospel. It’s for reasons like this and those I mentioned above that I am compelled to say, I am sorry.
I have not listened to you. I have not cared about your perspective. I have not cared about your soul. I have said damaging things to you and your beliefs. I have probably said damaging things about you as a person. I have argued just to argue. I have made a point to show how I am right. I have treated your ideas, logic, and place in the journey as unimportant. I have laughed at your expense. I have gotten angry over things that I should not get angry over. I have been rude. I have been puffed up. I have been prideful. I have wanted to you to see me as better than I really am. I have treated the beautiful truths that I hold dear as a reason to act like I am better than you. I have ignored the great things that you are doing in the world while downplaying my laziness. I am sorry for being a complete jerk.
Over time, I have learned to really appreciate some of the differences that exist between denominations within the body of Christ. I think if Calvinists are honest with ourselves we can admit that some of the other groups of Christians are way better at some things than we are. For example, if this post is not making this clear, I am a terrible evangelist (Hopefully, I am getting better). I am thankful for some other denominations who excel at this. I also really appreciate the worshipful hearts of some of my charismatic brothers and sisters. You guys tend to be the recipient of a lot of Calvinistic aggression. But, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I envy some of your worshipful hearts. I am speaking in generalities (and my personal experience) but I think you get the idea.
The Doctrines of Grace are so unbelievably beautiful. I hope that one day, with sanctification, I can show you why that is. The doctrines that make me a Calvinist also remind me that I am, without God, nothing. You don’t really understand The Doctrines of Grace, until you can look at God and say with a heart full of thankfulness, “God…Why me?” I am reminded of the story in the bible where you have two men praying. One is praying loudly on the street corner; I imagine his prayer was well worded, eloquent, and theologically sound. The other man can’t even lift his eyes to heaven because he is so overcome with his sinfulness. All he can utter is “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Too often the temptation is to want to stand out on the corner when we need to have our face on the ground asking, “Why me?”
So, with that please forgive me. I hope that in our next interaction I can be a better example of the person of Jesus. I hope that which I have been entrusted I can share with you in love and truth.
This is a reworking of a post from July 8, 2014