Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Muddying the TULIP

In the interests of full disclosure, I round-up to being a 5-point Calvinist.

I say "round up," because I'm technically about a 4.97-pointer. I think T (Total Depravity), U (Unconditional Election), I (Irresistible Grace), and P (Perseverance of the Saints), are all stated directly in Scripture. However, L (Limited Atonement) is not.

However, the inferential and inductive case for Limited Atonement is extremely strong. Its advocates (of which I am one) raise Biblically-oriented questions to which I've never seen adequate answers from other positions. I read "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ," by John Owen, and felt I'd been backed into a corner, inch by inexorable inch. Then I read Lightner's "answer" to Owen, "The Death Christ Died" -- and was all the more convinced that Owen was right. It did not even seem that Lightner understood Owen's case, let alone had a convincing response to it.

Having said all that, I say this: Calvinists often do more to muddy the persuasiveness of our position than do others. We seem all the time to lead with nonessentials, and thus obscure the essentials. Then when others misrepresent our position, we complain -- but too often it's largely our fault that they misunderstand it.

You often see it worst in newly-minted Calvin converts, folks who languished in the cellars of Arminius, or his evil twin Semi-Arminius, all their Christian lives. And then the TULIP broke down the door, they were free, and they want to tell everyone about it.

Telling everyone is great. I'm all for it. But let's be wise and winsome about what we tell everyone.

Many newbies want to start by denouncing, by name, everyone who's doing anything. Name any well-known evangelist or public Christian, and they will tell you everything that's wrong with him or her, in gleeful detail.

Then they'll denounce all evangelistic practices. Invitations? Evil modern inventions. Finneyite -- pah! Worse than that, every single phrase that Christians commonly use to appeal to non-Christians is wrong. "Come to Christ"? You can't. "Decide for Christ"? No free will, so you can't do that, either. "Ask Christ into your heart"? Don't bother. "Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior / Lord and Savior"? He's a great King; you don't accept Him, He accepts you -- if you're elect. "Give your life / heart to Christ"? Feh! as if He wants or needs your filthy heart, your worthless life! And above all, don't tell anyone "God loves you, and Jesus died for your sins," because that person might be reprobate. In that case, God doesn't, and Jesus didn't, so you'd be bearing false witness.

(Imagine the reaction of some of these if told in hushed tones that a well-known Christian figure, when asked "What must I do to be saved?", simply responded "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." Would they not fault the answer as too simplistic, and the assurance of salvation too facile, hasty, and shallow? They wouldn't if they remembered Acts 16:31.)

Now, all those criticisms have a point of some heft. Light in some cases, very heavy in others.

But we should understand how we're heard, when these are the issues that are big with us. We are heard as being against evangelism.

Now, I know that's not true. Not technically true. But we have to understand that we have probably taken everything that our friend thinks of as Christian evangelism, and trashed it. More often than not, we also failed to establish a real, superior replacement.

Well, perhaps we could point to our well-known leading lights, and how they evangelize. Our non-Calvinist friends can point to Billy Graham. We can point to... to... well, ah....

"George Whitefield! Jonathan Edwards! Charles Spurgeon!" we say.

"Great," our friends might respond. "Do you have anyone who has been dead less than a hundred years?"

And that's the deal. Whatever the reality, however many faithful Calvinist evangelists are working in obscurity, this is what we're best known for: doing a perfect job of faulting the imperfect job others are doing. We're great at that. It's like an art-form with some of us.

Am I saying there is no place for that? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that the fact that we are so singularly well-known for our fault-finding, and not for our right-doing, is not particularly adorning.

I always recall in this connection a story, probably apocryphal, told of a famous evangelist. A concerned fellow announces to him, "Brother _____, I do not approve of your methods!"

The brother replies cordially, "I'm always open to a more fruitful approach. Tell me, what are your methods?"

The critic sputters, "Why -- I haven't any!"

"I like mine better," comes the response.

God grant that I be better known for trying to my utmost, and failing in good conscience, rather than for doing a wonderful job of faulting others who (by contrast) actually do try to do, and not just talk about doing.

...the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason,
full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
(James 3:17)

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