It just struck that I’ve been thinking about Calvinism a lot lately. This is weird, because, honestly I’m usually not given to exhausting myself with the subject.
Honestly, most of the time, when I’m thinking about theology at all, (which is admittedly a lot), I’m thinking about many other issues. For instance, the idea of union with Christ is a big theme I give thought to. Or what about atonement? How can I show that penal understandings aren’t at odds with Christus Victor elements. Or what about the pressing issues of cultural engagement in world where different understandings of sin have become problematic? Or what about the right way of thinking about the attributes of God? How much to philosophical argument is admissible after grappling with the text? Or how about church and state relations? There are like 15 variations in Reformed social thought I’m trying get a handle on. Is it Reformed Two-Kingdoms, or Kuyperian NeoCalvinism, or something else?
And these are just a few examples.
For some of you that’s weird to hear, right? It’s especially the case, I think, for the non-Reformed. There’s this odd thing that I’ve noticed in conversations over the past couple of years, where I’ll be talking to someone online about some issue (any issue), whether atonement, moral authority, the nature of Scripture, why pale ales are just sad excuses for IPAs and so forth, and like a shot out of the blue, I’ll get, “But, you know, predestination, right?”
I mean, I get it to some degree. I’m Reformedish, I write for Reformed websites, just wrote a review on a book about Calvinism, read John Calvin constantly, and all that, but there seems to be this general impression among non-Reformed types that this is all we think about. Like I’m thinking every 5 seconds, “You know what makes this ice cream sandwich even better? Supralapsarian double-predestination.” Honestly, for many, if not most, it’s not like that.
It’s like I was chatting with my podcast buddies about this in the last episode (which you should go listen to!), and Andrew off-handedly commented about the fact that not every sermon in a Reformed church is going to be about providence. Believe me, the doctrine of providence matters, and so do our beliefs about God’s initiative in salvation. That said, it’s not the sum total nor even the center of all of my thoughts about God, the gospel, pastoral care, grace, and so forth.
Incidentally, the same is true for Calvin. That’s one of the points that Alastair made in the same conversation. Many have this impression that at the center of Calvin’s thought stands predestination and that everything else was worked and subordinated to his thought in that one area, when the Institutes devotes only around 60 out of 1500 pages to the topic and Calvin, while defending his views staunchly, is the first one to caution against prying too deeply into God’s decree apart from Christ. Calvin did not idolatrously reduce the doctrine of God to the doctrine of the decree but had, as Alastair said, a “richly textured” and non-speculative view of God that encompassed far more that.
I’m not sure I’m making a substantial point here other than to say, honestly, not all Reformed types are obsessed with the providence/election, or reduce all that we say about God to these issues. Make of that what you will.
Soli Deo Gloria