Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Us Mean Calvinists

Am I a mean Calvinist? I am afraid that sometimes I come off that way.

In a discussion recently with a good friend of mine, the question of Calvinists and evangelism came up. I said that we Calvinists evangelize because God told us to. She was gracious (especially so given her very tender age of 25 26) but gently pointed out that people have a negative impression of Calvinists for exactly that kind of reason. It seemed to her that we may evangelize, but it's like it's a duty - we do it because we have to, not because we love the people and want to see them saved.

That got me thinking. Now, her impression is certainly false for me - and I know she knows it, as we are both counselors at a crisis pregnancy center. I love people and want to serve them in part because it's a wonderful opportunity that God gives me. But I know what she's talking about. If you didn't know me as well as she does, you might come away from a statement like mine with a distaste for Calvinists. You might get the idea that Calvinism drives people to be highly logical, but also to have no life or love of God in them.

I can't help but think of experiences that I have had on the chat channel of a well-known Christian ministry. I hung around there for several weeks, but ultimately stopped because a number of the denizens came across as just plain nasty. Sure, they were logical, and I agreed with them for the most part on their theology ... but they were not a lot of fun to be around.

The sad part is that I believe many of them, if you actually talked to them one-on-one, are probably decent and even friendly people: many probably friendlier and more loving than I am myself. However, in the chat/blog environment, or even in person sometimes, many times our pride causes us to put on airs, to try to out-argue people and be right at all costs: truth at the expense of love. And though I don't like to admit it, I see this tendency in myself.

Perhaps my friend at the beginning of this post was seeing that in me. And if I had that kind of reaction when saw this attitude in my fellow Calvinists, whom I agreed with theologically, wouldn't the person who disagreed with them have at least as bad of a reaction? That's too bad, because emotional reactions like this can insulate somebody from the truth. I have a feeling that there are a large number of Christians who don't consider the Biblical truths of monergism because of an emotional reaction. The feel more comfortable with the synergists.

That's a shame, and something I will strive to work on in the future. Thanks for putting me onto this, Eve.


Eve said...

I wasn't seeing that in you, my friend, but I have seen it. I pray that I don't display it myself, because the Lord knows none of us find it very appealing to be someone's chore.

Although there is truth in both analogies, those who criticize romantic portrayals of the gospel often miss their own extremes in transactional portrayals of the gospel.

The gospel is a love story but God is not a besotted fool. And the gospel is the greatest of exchanges but God is no mere calculating merchant. In presenting the gospel, I wonder if I don't often fail to present its beauty even when I succeed in presenting its truth. And, in the divine economy, truth and beauty (along with goodness) ought be inseperable -- they are so in the character of their Author.

There is no necessary conflict between doing a duty and loving the doing of it but there is a difference. I have many duties which I enjoy immensely and sharing the gospel is one of them. But one can perform a duty in a joyless way and those same things which were meant to bring glory to God and fame to his name can become graceless drudgery. That's not the way its supposed to be -- and when I'm like that, I'm so grateful for that beautiful gospel that brings grace to change.

Anyway, good post, Gary. I think you hit on the real issue when you mention pride. My love for truth is real and it is good but my sinful pride is real too (and it is bad). All too often, I confuse the latter with the former.

Eve said...

Just a bit more on the inexhaustible gospel: http://www.thiswebelieve.com/statement.htm summarizes excellently (and I use this during training at the Center): The heart of the Gospel is that our holy, loving Creator, confronted with human hostility and rebellion, has chosen in his own freedom and faithfulness to become our holy, loving Redeemer and Restorer.

At my church, we occasionally sing a very simple song called the Gospel song, it says it this way: "Holy God, in love became/ perfect man to bear my blame / on the cross he took my sin / by his death I live again."

That's a great reminder!

Zack said...

Being a fellow Monergist, I have struggled with this question as well, and I have found that the best expressed answer to the question of evangelism in light of predestination is this: How are the elect saved but throught the gospel? and How is the gospel spread but through evangelism? I hope you have the same passion for the saving of God's elect as I do and if so that is the driving force behind my answer. WE evangelize because we wish to see God's elect saved through our evangelizing. Does that help at all?

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Wow - way too much here to digest without a good deal of thought. Just a few comments:

There is no necessary conflict between doing a duty and loving the doing of it but there is a difference.

Very true, Eve. If there was, the first answer of the Westminster catechism - "Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever" - would make no sense. C.S. Lewis said (I believe quoting Aristotle, but I can't remember where I read that - being a Lewis fan I'm sure you can sympathize :-) that the better a man is, the more he will enjoy doing what's right.

Your point about the truth and beauty of the Gospel is excellent, but I wonder how it plays out in at least my own personal presentation of it. It seems to me that people cannot appreciate the beauty - and it will certainly do them no ultimate good other than damning them in their unbelief - until they understand the truth. It also seems significant that Jesus said on multiple occasions that He was, and came to present, the truth; if I am not mistaken, He never said anything similar about beauty.

That does not eliminate beauty - even the law, as the Psalmist pointed out, is beautiful - but it does seem to me to place a priority on truth. Not placing such a priority seems to me to lead to problems (seeker churches, clown-led worship, interminable "friendship evangelism" which never actually gets around to the "evangelism" part, etc.) Ultimately, I think most of us (definitely me) need to focus on getting the truth part right, keeping our pride constantly before us (as you also mention). Espousing the truth makes me a monergist; but when my pride in being a monergist comes into play - as it regrettably does sometimes - the beauty leaves.

Eve said...

It seems to me that people cannot appreciate the beauty ... until they understand the truth.

True enough! - but none of us can see the beauty or understand the truth unless and until God opens our eyes and changes our hearts.

I suppose i was more focusing in on how we ought present the gospel. As someone (Kuyper?) said, the sinner is not saved by our preaching, but by God. I don't have anything profound to say here - God uses the simplest and seamingly least appealing words I've said and some of the best apologetics have fallen on deaf ears.

Yet, the character of God is what helps me most in my struggles. I want to know that God. When I share life with others, I want them to see the gospel - and the God who planned the gospel - for who he really is. All too often, I can worship (and also present to others) a god who is somewhat less than the God who IS.

Perhaps the reason Jesus talked far more of truth than beauty is that he himself is the Beauty. There is something John was trying to communicate in the opening of his gospel. The only begotten Son, radiance, light, purity, awe & worship inspiring -- his beauty was more than Moses could handle and it was more than the people could handle seeing directly, no? They saw something in His actions -- something different, something of boldness and of love in what he said and with whom he associated but his beauty (glory, may be another word) was shown only to three on a mountaintop.

As an ambassador of a king like that -- who is truth, goodness & beauty (and I think that order is appropriate) I want to show folks just a little of that radiance.

It seems a marriage analogy is in order but I don't have time to develop that at the moment... :-)

Eve said...

hey Gary - i've mentioned this conversation in my own note on Facebook -- you should get an account (www.facebook.com).