A friend and fellow blogger who writes wonderful posts at a blog called Patchwork made the following remarks about my post on Calvinism and Reformed Theology. I would like to share them with you because they reflect the feelings of a lot of folks:
“Arminianism seems to be unfairly misrepresented as a form of human-centered, self-salvation. All true Christians believe in God’s sovereignty, God’s will, and predestination. These aren’t unique to Calvinism. Calvinism is a particular interpretation of them. The doctrinal points of both Calvinism and Arminianism have biblical foundations. Christians disagree over which points are correct, and reject those that don’t fit into their theology. The truth is, both theologies deal with concepts that go far beyond human comprehension. The debate will surely continue as limited human minds try to explain an incalculable God.”
“Actually, I never mentioned Arminianism. I was simply explaining how John Calvin developed a system of interpretation of scripture that is governed by strict adherence to the historical-grammatical meaning of the Biblical text. Based on this system, he developed a theology that prevents the expositor from ranging far and wide into territory that is not supported by the whole counsel of God. Adhering to this method ensures that the intended meaning of the author is properly understood, i.e. the way his original audience would have understood it. It does not allow for spiritualizing passages of scripture or sermonizing, i.e. using the biblical text as a launching pad for making an eloquent speech.
Just think of Reformed Theology as a pair of glasses that corrects vision from blurry to sharp when reading Scripture.”
WHY METHODOLOGY IS IMPORTANT
The methodology of interpretation is called ‘Hermeneutics‘ by Bible scholars. It is important because the wrong method can lead to the wrong interpretations which can lead to doctrinal error and unbiblical practice. One of the primary tenets of Calvinism is that man has no ability to believe in Christ because he is dead in sin and therefore unable to appropriate spiritual life. Jesus used the analogy of new birth when explaining this to the Jewish leader Nicodemas. He said, “You must be born from above.” No one can give life to himself. His life comes from another. In Calvinism, this is called the doctrine of unconditional election. It means God chooses the ones He wants to save based solely on His own determination and gives them new life through the Holy Spirit. If God is the only source of life, as Calvinists believe, He is able to sustain that life forever because He is sovereign.
If, on the other hand, you believe that man in his fallen or depraved state still has some ability to choose life, you also believe that it is possible for him to once again at some point change his mind and reverse course, thus alienating himself from God all over again. In a nutshell this is the Arminian position.
To see how theology can impact a person’s understanding God’s Word, consider how a Calvinist and an Arminian would interpret Ephesians 2:1-10:
” And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.“
The Calvinist would say that the first paragraph describes a condition of total bondage to Satan that renders man hopelessly condemned before God. The second paragraph describes the abundance of God’s mercy and grace in not only extending spiritual life to us but offering us a position of honor and glory with Jesus Christ in His coming Kingdom. The final paragraph is an expression of praise to God because all of this, including the very faith which is the means of His loving grace, is His work and not ours.
So what implications does this interpretation have for the way we express our faith in daily life? For one thing, it produces a tremendous sense of gratitude that God chose to save us. He didn’t have to pick you or me if He didn’t want to. It also produces a deep sense of reverence and respect for God because we know that apart from His grace, we would have no hope of escaping His wrath or eternal judgment. It also engenders a sense of humility because we know that we received all of this from His hand when we were still at war with Him (Rm 5:10). It places us in total reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit not just for salvation, but for the continual work of sanctification in becoming more like Christ. And it gives us great comfort because we know that it if God could save us when we had absolutely no inclination to follow Him, then He certainly can keep us faithful now that we have been given new life through the Holy Spirit.
How does this attitude affect our behavior? We approach worship with much more reverence and awe. The worship service truly becomes a time of setting aside all else including our own preoccupation with daily duties and our own selfish ambitions and focusing on the attributes of God, what He has done for us, and what He wants from us.
The Word of God is front and center for us both inside and outside church because we want to know His expectations so we can be obedient. We want to render humble service to Him in return for all He has done for us.
We want to share His grace with others. But we know that there are some who will respond to the message and some who will not. It is not up to us, therefore, to do the persuading. Our job is to share the message and let the Holy Spirit convert those whom He has chosen.
We know the importance of repentance to genuine salvation because in our natural state we are totally depraved and hopelessly condemned to spiritual death. So we seek signs of remorsefulness for sin before presenting all the benefits of new life. We don’t lower the bar to the kingdom of heaven by soft pedaling sin and judgment.
We set our sights not on the blessings of life here on earth, but on the far greater riches that will be ours as joint heirs with Christ in the coming Kingdom (Rm 8:17). So we don’t waste time and energy on feathering our nest but invest in eternal riches by contributing to the advance of the gospel (Mt 6:19).
Now, if you believe that we are not so dead in our sins that we can still make an affirmative expression of faith in God, then you won’t feel the same level of gratitude for God’s unmerited favor, or tremble in fear at the thought that He might not have chosen you, or be as devoted to understanding and following God’s Word, or be as thrilled with the prospect that you have such a wonderful inheritance when in fact all you ever deserved was eternal punishment, or be as confident that nothing can separate you from the love of God (Rm 8:39). Why is that? Well, since you were able to have some effect on your own salvation, there is nothing to say you still might not have some influence on your own sanctification and ultimate glorification.
How does this effect behavior? For one thing, we become a little more reliant on our own resources and less dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit. We bring a different attitude to the study of the Word of God. Rather than accept the fact that as the inspired Word of God it can only have one meaning – the one the Holy Spirit meant to convey through the author – it may have one meaning for you and another meaning for me. Worship becomes more about meeting spiritual needs and less about honoring the One who bestowed such riches upon us when we deserved only Divine Wrath. Because we had something to do with our own salvation, we have a little spiritual pride. After all, we figured this whole religious thing out for ourselves. Rather than preaching the whole counsel of God including those portions of scripture that might give offense, we tone it down and add a little entertainment, some popular music, and maybe some conveniences like a coffee shop and comfortable lounge to make the message and the venue more appealing.
So the end result is a church that is filled with some genuine believers who would be willing to give up their lives for Jesus Christ and a lot of folks who like to hang around friendly people, enjoy some good music, hear an inspiring talk, and feel good about themselves at the end of the day so they can go back home and fit right back in with their associates at work having had their weekly dose of religion.