Monday, March 31, 2008

What's All This Fuss About Calvinism?

Perhaps you read Christianity Today's cover feature "Young, Restless, Reformed" in September 2006, that described the "comeback of Calvinism". Maybe you've encountered someone speaking enthusiastically about "T-U-L-I-P" (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints) or referring to the "doctrines of grace" or "reformed theology". Or perhaps you have heard people debating "Arminianism vs. Calvinism" and you've wondered: what in the world are they carrying on about?

The Christianity Today article described a resurgence of popularity of Calvinism, especially among young seminarians and college-age Christians. According to the article, this resurgence has in part been due to the influence of dynamic leaders. Among them is John Piper, pastor, prolific author and leader of Desiring God Ministries, who has tirelessly and passionately preached reformed doctrine for many years; Al Mohler, Jr. the outspoken radio host, blogger and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, under whose leadership the seminary has grown dramatically and has been transformed from an institution with a liberal reputation to one producing many graduates who firmly embrace Calvinism; C. J. Mahaney, charismatic leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and his dynamic protege, Joshua Harris, who took over for Mahaney as Senior Pastor of Covenant Life Church, are the most well-known figures in the reformed/charismatic association of churches that comprise Sovereign Grace Ministries, which is also dedicated to upholding reformed teaching; and there is also Mark Dever, pastor, author and leader of 9Marks Ministries, an organization dedicated to providing biblical resources (from a reformed perspective) to help churches grow and be healthy.

Others leaders in the resurgence of Reformed theology not mentioned in this Christianity Today article but noted in a briefer CT article (It's All About God), include Alistair Begg, Donald Carson, Bryan Chapell, Timothy George, Michael Horton, Timothy Keller, John MacArthur, Tom Nettles, and Philip Ryken. Still others who teach from the Reformed perspective include Tom Ascol, Thabiti Anyabwile, Arturo G. Azurdia III, James M. Boice (deceased 2000), Mark Driscoll, Sinclair Ferguson, John Frame, R. Kent Hughes, D. James Kennedy (deceased 2007), Steven J. Lawson, J.I. Packer, Richard D. Phillips, Nathan Pitchford, Richard L. Pratt, Kim Riddlebarger, Sam Storms, James White and many others.

In addition, there are countless bloggers who write from a Reformed or Reformed/Charismatic perspective (this is one of the ways that God providentially guided me into these truths). Just of a few of these blogs include CampOnThis, Pyromaniacs, LaShawn Barber's Corner, Jollyblogger, Between Two Worlds, ChalliesDot.Com, Parchment and Pen, Reformation Theology and OldTruth, and of course, this blog.

A Brief Testimony
So, you probably have encountered reformed teaching before, and may not have necessarily realized it. That's how it was for me. I was coming across blogs and teaching that had a reformed perspective behind them, and I was attracted to the teachings because they emphasized proper doctrine and sound theology as a foundational means to living out one's faith fruitfully. Yet since I was not very conversant with reformed teaching, having never studied it, I didn't at first see where these various teachers were coming from. Finally I became aware of the fact that these teachers I was interested in were of the "reformed" persuasion. This began for me a journey of studying reformed theology and soon, coming to embrace it, my eyes being opened to these truths, as I see it, by the Spirit speaking to my mind and heart. Specifically, He used the Word of God present in this teaching to convict me of its truth.

I feel that I am benefiting greatly from my study of reformed doctrine. One reason is that reformed theology attempts to present biblical truths systematically and thus reveal the way God has worked in his dealings with mankind historically, and especially in the salvation of sinners. Reminded of God's awesome sovereignty and my own deep sinfulness, I have been realizing afresh that God's grace is truly amazing-- for there is nothing in me that commends me to Him. Reflecting on reformed truths, I realize I can take no credit at all for what He alone has done to give me new life in Him, and for watching over me and sustaining my growth in faith. I am learning too that the power to change is His power, that flows by His Spirit through the application of His inspired Word. I am getting excited about being a Christian again, as reformed truths help me see that growth in the Christian life is not really about finding some new method, some new spiritual power, some new way of doing church, some new purpose to drive me, but rather it is about God's power already at work in my life, and in the lives of others, accomplishing his purpose. They are not new truths, but old. There is deep mystery in them, and yet they are also often simple and profound. Now I have a long way to go-- for sometimes I forget who I am in God and act out of the flesh-- but these truths are helping me to trust that even my sinful mistakes are incorporated in God's plan.

So I am quite passionate about sharing reformed truths with others, and have been doing so here at Jordan's View (you might have noticed). I've written my own (continuing) series of studies on the doctrines of grace, and have added many resources to this blog as a means of helping others discover the amazingly abundant and often truly excellent resources available on the Web to those desiring to learn about Calvinism, Reformed doctrines, the doctrines of grace [Check out below the new "Reformed Podcast Player" in the Reformed Theology section- left sidebar]. And as I've mentioned, I recently created a Netvibes hosted web page titled " Resources for the Reforming Christian". I have done all of this because I am convinced that these doctrines are indeed biblical and because biblical, edifying and practical for every believer to know and apply.

This article then, is for those of you who may be as I was at one time, having heard about reformed teaching, but perhaps not having yet explored it. Maybe you have felt it's not really critical to your walk with God to know that much about doctrine. Or perhaps you've heard negative things regarding the teachings of Calvinism-- that it is not biblical; that it hinders the evangelistic impulse; that it misrepresents God's character; that its practitioners are snobbish, arrogant, cliquish and argumentative, or that propagation of these doctrines divides, rather than unites. No doubt some criticism of certain Calvinists is justified. If we recognize though, that Christianity is never perfectly well-represented by its followers, who are flawed and sinful beings, then we should also see that this principle applies to Calvinists representing Calvinism-- some will distort the teaching (Hyper-Calvinism) and others who know the teaching well may nevertheless fail to exhibit the grace they claim to be called to. I certainly have failed in this regard myself. Yet the ever- present gap between faith and practice among imperfect beings doesn't disprove the truths of reformed doctrine, just as Christianity itself isn't proved false by imperfect saints. I would strongly urge anyone who's curious not to discard the doctrines of Calvinism on this basis, without first having examined the teaching for yourself, primarily by looking at Scripture. When reading essays on these doctrines, don't just read what the authors have to say. Examine the Scriptures they refer to in their arguments and see whether what they are saying is good interpretation. Consider too, the arguments of the Arminians and others who disagree with these doctrines. Examine their Scriptural proofs and interpretations. Then, decide for yourself if you think Reformed doctrine is true or false, on the basis on whether it accurately represents Scriptural teaching. This is the noble, so-called "Berean" method of determining scriptural truth (Acts 17:11- the Jews spoken of here were from Berea).

So I will point you to articles and resources you may find helpful if you're beginning to examine reformed theology or even if you're already "reformed", but want to deepen your understanding. Of course you'll soon recognize that among reformed believers there are differences of opinion regarding certain theological points. Most Presbyterians, for example, teach a doctrine called "infant baptism" which many other reformed schools don't agree with. There are also differences among reformed teachers in their views of eschatology (one's perspective concerning the "end of the world" or man's final destiny). Then there are some who call themselves reformed, yet don't embrace all 5 points of T-U-L-I-P. For example, so-called "4-point Calvinists" don't think that the teaching of limited atonement (the "L" in T-U-L-I-P) is correct, though they would affirm the other four points. However, don't let these differences deter you in your study-- the teachers and blogs mentioned above generally do agree on the essential points of reformed doctrine.

Speaking of essentials, one thing that the Reformers have done historically, to try to help the Church grow in the application of these vital truths, was to create creeds, confessions and catechisms. These statements helped define and systematize these truths, as well as distinguish them from erroneous teaching. R.C. Sproul writes "Creedal statements are an attempt to show a coherent and unified understanding of the whole scope of Scripture (from "Norma Normata: A Rule That is Ruled", Tabletalk Magazine, April 2008)."

The brand of Calvinism I espouse, and which I commend for your examination is "5-point" Calvinism. I hope that the resources you discover below will prove to be instrumental in blessing your spiritual understanding and your walk with God. I'm certain that God will use His Word to lead "those who have ears to hear" into all His truth, and that His Church will someday be unified and strong in the truth.

Links for Further Study:

T-U-L-I-P, or the "Doctrines of Grace"
TULIP - The Pursuit of God’s Glory in Salvation PDF booklet from Desiring God Ministries

Essays on the Five Points of Calvinism

The Five Points of Calvinism by R.L. Dabney

Doctrines of Grace- What The Bible Says About the Doctrines of Grace by Nathan Pitchford (free PDF!)

Doctrines of Grace(Category at

The Five Points of Calvinism (Topic under Doctrines of Grace,

An Overview of Reformed Theology Category Section of Articles at

Miscellaneous essays and resources on TULIP/reformed Theology

Creeds Confessions and Catechisms
Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms (The Hall of Church History)
Creeds and Confessions at

The Creeds and Confessions of Christendom

The Five Solas of the Reformation (Category at

Tim Challies reviews new book: Young, Restless and Reformed

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