If you want to get someone’s blood boiling, bring up Calvinism. Better yet, if you want to make a life-long enemy, accuse them of being a Calvinist. This label has become the scarlet letter, the ace in the hole that people pull when they want to rally a mob against a pastor or church member.
How do you define Calvinism? Everyone has an opinion. Some say “a Calvinist doesn’t believe in missions or evangelism because God has already chosen who will be saved and who will not.” Many refute these claims by saying “read the Bible and you will see clearly that the doctrines of grace are all throughout the Old and New Testament.” Some choose a middle ground. They hold the position that “while the Bible speaks of predestination and election, our focus should be on converting the world to Christ, not Calvin.” Others say we shouldn’t talk about it at all because it’s too divisive. The nuances and variations have no end.
I find that almost all people who comment on Calvin have never read his writings. I believe he would roll over in his grave if he could hear some of the doctrine that people have attached his name today. I also find that the people who demagogue Calvin the most are the people who are sharing the gospel the least.
John Calvin first wrote his Institutes of Christian Religion in 1536. It would become the standard systematic theology textbook for hundreds of years and it still widely used today. He wrote this book to give a structured account of Christian belief in order to convert the King of France, Francis I. Moreover, he urges his readers “in prayer we are to take the gospel to gathered churches all over the earth so that His name would spread and converts would increase in number” (ICR 3.20.42).
Calvin never saw or heard of the acronym TULIP. It would be crafted some 50 years after his death. Although he held to reformed theology, his platform was preaching the Scriptures verse-by-precious-verse. He was a figurehead in the Protestant Reformation and led the revolt against the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.
I love talking theology. My friends will tell you I can sit for hours talking and discussing the Scripture and church history. Even if I don’t agree with some of the men who shaped our
confessions of faith, I hold them in high esteem. I realize we are all on the same team, fighting
for the same goal, seeking to glorify the same Heavenly Father.
I want to end with a few practical questions:
•If you say a Calvinist doesn’t believe in missions or evangelism, you need to ask yourself who you are sharing the gospel with right now. If the answer is no one, you are — by your own definition — a Calvinist. You might want to take the plank from your eye before you seek to remove it from your brother’s eye.
•If you are a Calvinist and hold firmly to the reformed tradition, you need to remind yourself often that your job is to bring sinners to Golgotha, not Geneva. Genuine believers exist in both camps and both will be in Heaven. Go take the gospel to the end of the street and the end of the earth.
•For the one who says it shouldn’t be our focus. You are correct, it shouldn’t. However, do you truly know what you believe? Paul taught that we are to learn and pay close attention to our doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16), not just methodology and pragmatics. Evangelism with shallow doctrine turns into a sales pitch, rather than Luke 9:23.
•If you are in the “we shouldn’t talk about it at all” camp, Christians are to proclaim “the full council of God” (Acts 20:27), which includes even the topics that are uncomfortable and might not fully understand. We don’t run from hard doctrine. I pity the Christian who will say on judgement day, “I was willing to offend God because I didn’t want to offend man.”
Andy Waits is associate pastor of worship and students at First Baptist Church in Springville. Reach him at email@example.com.