Every Christian bumps up against these terms on a regular basis and must choose how to interpret each one of them. Unfortunately, believers often discuss the terms without defining them. This inevitably leads to confusion, talking past one another, heated debate, and ego inflation. It's all just a taste of what the seminary classroom is like.
Christians evolve in their interpretations of the paradox of God's involvement in salvation and man's choice in it.
The vast majority of believers will unknowingly start their walk with God holding to a traditional Arminian position and gently drift toward a more moderate position before quitting the studious endeavor in the name of the mysteries of God. I can't say I disrespect that position. It's a very difficult subject and we will ultimately never understand it comprehensively this side of heaven.
Other believers will start out at a specific point on the Arminianism-Calvinism scale, study the arguments with gusto, develop a final opinion, and defend their positions as though they were gospel. I'm much more likely to disrespect that opinion.
And yet, a handful of believers will keep an open mind to what Scripture has to say, constantly learn, and let God's Spirit do the teaching and convicting as time goes on. I really hope to be in this camp and I pray that I remain here throughout my life.
With all that said, I've made some sort of a theological shift in recent years. You may have noticed it. In fact, someone who reads my content asked me recently, "Are you Reformed now?"
Before I answer that question and describe what the shift in my theology is, it may be helpful to describe what the shift isn't. I have not evolved in my view of the following.
- The sovereignty of God
- The image of God that all humans bear
- The extent of Christ's propitiation
- Approaches to evangelism
If these things haven't changed, what has? There are two big answers to that. And, I should mention, in case you're curious about context, click the links below to see what I said about this subject over six years ago.
A correct approach to Scripture
It's painful to admit, but there was a time not that long ago that these words came out of my mouth when I was discussing Calvinism with a fellow believer: "I could never believe that."
That kind of attitude should never be the posture a Christian takes when approaching a theological conversation about secondary doctrine (there will be more to say about secondary doctrine soon). When it comes to the Bible, that attitude is down right sinful.
Scripture must be approached with the utmost humility. Every Christian should tremble before the word of God and adopt the posture of Job: "I am unworthy -- how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth." (40:4, NIV)
Since I started off this article by bashing seminary (see first paragraph), I suppose I'll continue. In Bible colleges and seminaries across the country, students learn how to wield the sword of the Spirit. This skill -- perhaps the most important skill -- is so practical and so needed among Christians. However, learning how to wield the sword is in itself a two-edged sword. As good as it is to know the Bible, it's just as dangerous to know that Bible.
Aside from the fact that Scripture, when used sinfully, can be used to generate and bolster heresy, Scripture can also be used as a reference manual. By definition, reference manuals are void of context. For instance, when a person looks up a word in a thesaurus, he isn't seeking context clues around the word that give it a fuller meaning. He knows that the entries are listed in alphabetical order, the entries all follow the same format, and what it says can be interpreted plainly without secondary meanings or cross references.
This is not true of the Bible. When someone tries to make this true of the Bible, weird things happen.
The worst thing to happen in these situations is that the Christian, who is supposed to be a humble student of Scripture, uses the text to validate his presupposed conclusion. For instance, in order to defend his view of women keeping quiet in church, Jim grabs his King James Version of the Bible, turns to 1 Corinthians 14:34, reads it proudly, and then slams the Bible shut having sufficiently destroyed any doubt among his hearers.
We know that approach doesn't work. The word of God is not a reference manual. To approach Scripture correctly, the reader must be soaked from head to toe in humility, understanding that God has written a book and it is only right that the Christian be attentive to everything He has for him.
A correct understanding of Scripture
Consequently, as I learned more about the correct approach to the Bible, I understood more of what it actually said. Romans 8:29-30 was particularly influential to me.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)
There is a certain group of individuals out of the collective whole of humanity who are...
- Foreknown by a sovereign God
- Predestined by a sovereign God
- Called by a sovereign God
- Justified by a sovereign God
- Glorified by a sovereign God
If a person is glorified by God in the end (#5), when full salvation is realized at the coming of Christ, that person was foreknown and predestined by God in eternity past (#1 and #2). The sequence cannot be divided up or broken. If a person is foreknown, he will be glorified. If a person will be glorified, he was foreknown.
- Note that the foreknowledge is relational.
- Note that each of the five actions listed above is in the past tense, asserting surety.
- Note that the person is passively receiving each one of the actions made by God.
If I'm being humble with the text and being honest with what I comprehend as I read this passage, I must believe that in eternity past, God actively set apart a select group of people out of the whole of humanity, excluding their participation, in order to deliver salvation to them only.
I ask myself and I ask you, the reader, Is there any other way to understand this passage? I don't believe there is. Couple this passage with Ephesians 1 and you've got a real theological ball rolling.
It should be noted here that many Christians of the Calvinistic persuasion will appeal to Romans 9 to defend their position; however, I don't see Romans 9 as strong as Ephesians 1 regarding God's election of individuals to salvation. But that's just what I say today. That could change.
Am I a Calvinist?
Short answer: No.
I don't say "No" just so I can give the ever-pious, yet all-too-common response: "I'm a Biblicist."
I say "No" because Calvinism is so ill-defined today. And Calvinism includes logical conclusions that are either unbiblical (Limited Atonement) or hardly biblical (Irresistible Grace). And the words, "I'm a Calvinist" just haven't come out of my mouth yet.
That stated, I'm fine with saying that I'm Calvinistic for now. Because I see some things in Scripture that I can't deny. And I must submit to them because they're there. Because God put them there. Because He's in charge.
And that's the way it should be.