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Theology

Calvin, Lewis, and Knowing Yourself

John Calvin and C.S. Lewis seem to be worlds apart. If they had a theological debate, there’s no doubt they would have many points of disagreement. Calvin was, of course, a Reformer, and he espoused his system known as “Calvinism.” Lewis was an eclectic of sorts, a self-professed lay minister, and he was decidedly “Arminian.” Calvin was a sixteenth century pastor in Switzerland. Lewis was a twentieth century literature professor in Great Britain.

Yet at the same time, there is some overlap between these two men. One of the great things about Christianity is that the essentials of the faith make for strange (and willing) bedfellows.

The essential I have in mind is that unless we know God, we cannot know who we are. In the first chapter of Book I of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin writes:

Our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us, that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also—He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced.

Over 390 years later, near the end of Mere ChristianityLewis echoes Calvin with his own unique touch:

The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs,” all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented—as an author invents characters in a novel—all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to “be myself” without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call “me” can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.

For Calvin, true knowledge of God produced a true knowledge of himself. For Lewis, turning to Christ unleashed his true personality. Different words. Different contexts. Same glorious principle: when we know God through Jesus Christ, we begin to see ourselves for who we really are and who we were intended to be.

Apart from God, we are stuck in a delusion, esteeming ourselves more highly than we ought and selling ourselves short of what we could become. In this delusion, we are left to be our own god—a role we were never meant to play and one which weighs far more than we can bear.

Categories
Theology

Conversation Between a Calvinist and an Arminian

This is from John Piper’s post earlier this week about how Charles Simeon, a Calvinist, tried to reason with John Wesley, an Arminian, about the supremacy of God in the salvation and perseverance of Christians.  I have adapted it to contemporary language.

So you call yourself an Arminian. People call me a Calvinist; and therefore we are supposed to argue about finer points of theology. But before we start fighting, may I ask you a few questions? Do you think that you are a depraved person, so depraved, in fact, that you would have never turned to God if God had not put it in your heart first?

Yes, I do indeed

And do you reject your coming to God with your works as the source of your righteousness, and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

And since you were at first saved by Christ, do you try to continue to be saved by something other than him?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Since then you were first saved by the grace of God, do you need to keep yourself saved by your own power?

No.

Are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, just like a baby in his mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you so that you will be able enter into his kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, let me say, my friend, that this is what Calvinism is. This is election and justification by faith, and perseverance. This is really all there is to it and nothing else. Therefore, instead of searching for differences in language and definitions and having that be a source of contention between us, can we please be united in these things that we agree on?

Obviously, there is a lot more in Reformed theology than just this, but I think Simeon’s point is to show that “Arminians” and “Calvinists” have more in common than they think.  Furthermore, I think that Simeon may have tried to show the inconsistencies in Arminian thought.

How do you think the conversation would have gone if Wesley had asked the questions?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of coming to God with your works as the source of your righteousness, and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

And supposing you were at first saved by Christ, do you try to continue to be saved by something other than him?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Since then you were first saved by the grace of God, do you need to keep yourself saved by your own power?

No.

Are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, just like a baby in his mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you so that you can enter into his kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, let me say, my friend, that this is what Calvinism is to me.  This is election and justification by faith, and perseverance.  This is really all there is to it and nothing else.  Therefore, if you please, instead of fighting about language and having it be a source of contention between us, can we please be united in these things that we agree on?

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Theology

New Calvinism vs. Old Calvinism

Time magazine writes that “New Calvinism” is the third biggest idea that is changing the world right now.  That’s pretty significant.  On the Resurgence blog, you can read Driscoll’s insights on how New Calvinism differs from Old Calvinism.

Before I go, I want to say a quick word on the label “Calvinism.”  I don’t like labels, because people have preconceived notions and opinions when they hear a particular label.  Ask any “Calvinist” about who they follow, and they will say, “I follow Jesus, not Calvin.  Calvin simply brought to light biblical theology that was clouded over during a dark period in the history of the church.”  This is my conviction as well.

Because people like labels, we use the term “Calvinist.”  Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher in London (who called himself a Calvinist), said that he has no particular allegiances toward Calvin, just simply what he taught.  Spurgeon also said, “Calvinism is the gospel,” that is, salvation is completely a one-handed effort on God’s part (what we call “monergism”) and we take no credit in it.  This is opposed to “synergism,” which is at the heart of Arminian theology.  This means that salvation is a two-handed effort, merging God’s work with ours.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in the Time article:  “The moment someone begins to define God’s [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.”  Mohler’s statement is bold, but I agree.  He uses the word “classified.”  This means that biblical conclusions aren’t cemented as Calvinism.  You don’t have to call yourself a Calvinist if you believe that only those who are elect get saved and that God sovereingnly reins over all things. You don’t have call yourself a Calvinist if you read Calvin, Luther, Owen, Edwards, or Spurgeon.

Forgive the label.  We don’t follow Calvin.  In fact, ignore the label, because in heaven, no one will be Calvinist or Arminian.  But don’t ignore the theological teaching because of preconceived notions.  Trust God to understand his being and actions biblically, and I promise that by God’s grace Jesus will quickly become the supreme treasure of your life.

Categories
Theology

An Overview of TULIP

Series Index

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

Part 1 in a 5 part series. View series intro and index.

There has been so much literature written about these five precious points of Reformed doctrine, so I will in no way attempt to write exhaustive essays about them.  However, over the next week, I will write overviews of each of the points.  I will try to heed the words of Proverbs 17:27-28 (which I fail at so often), “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

For the fuller version of what you see here, read Bethlehem Baptist Church’s (John Piper’s church) article on TULIP or Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul.

Total Depravity

Everyone is a rebel.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a person who claims to be perfect in everything he does and has never sinned.  Our rebellion against God is total.  This greatly differs from “utter” depravity.  We are totally depraved but we are not as depraved as we could be.  If we were “utterly depraved,” that would mean we always do the worst thing in every situation.  This is not true.  Even for a non-Christian, God’s common grace extends to some more than others.  This is the reason we are not all murderers, rapists, thieves, etc.  Nevertheless, even the “smallest” sin is worthy of punishment.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Paul writes that it is just for God to punish those “who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  It is just because God is perfect and we are so very far from perfection.

The word “total” implies that in our natural state, there is no good thing.  God’s grace is the only thing keeping us from the so-called “worst” sins.  Romans 3:9-12 says, “What then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  It is clear here that nobody does good.  King Solomon agrees, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).

Everything man does apart from Christ is sin.  Romans 14:23b says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  This shows that if you are not in Christ anything you do is sin.  What pleases God?  Faith in his Son, which is what justifies us (Rom. 3:28; 5:1).  If faith in Christ doesn’t exist, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).  In Romans 7, Paul is talking about dealing with the paradox of being a Christian and still sinning.  In verse 18 he says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”  This shows the fact that there are two parts in him–an evil, flesh part that sins and a good, spirit part that delights to obey God (7:22).  When a person becomes a Christian, the flesh (a biblical term for the “natural part” of man) is removed in the sense of it has no eternal grip on him anymore.  But in another sense, a remnant still resides (Rom. 7:20).  It won’t be removed completely until Jesus returns (Phil. 3:12-13).

Before one becomes a Christian they are considered spiritually dead.  This means that we are totally (there’s that word again) unable to submit ourselves to God.  Ephesians 2:1-5 says that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” and that we were “children of wrath.”  Colossians 2:13 says that we were “dead in [our] trespasses and the uncircumcision of [our] flesh.”  Furthermore, a non-Christian’s heart is like a stone (Eph. 4:18; Ezek. 36:26).  Before anyone comes to Christ, their eyes are blinded and incapable of seeing the glory of God in Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6).

This doctrine should cause us to fall on our faces before God and seek repentance.  It should not cause us to be anxious about our inability to get right with God.  We are all in the same boat, because we cannot do that on our own.  That brings us to the next point of TULIP.