Honestly, I Don’t Think About Calvinism *That* Much

Irresistible grace never tasted so good.

Irresistible grace never tasted so good.

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

14 thoughts on “Honestly, I Don’t Think About Calvinism *That* Much

      • Seriously, Derek, this post is largely accurate in my experience too. I’ve worked alongside some of the most Reformed people in the world, and their (doctrinal) thoughts were very often caught up elsewhere—the Lord’s Supper, the Christian life (sanctification), eschatology, justification, etc. One could say that these are all corollaries, but really it has more to do with what you say about the primary focus of Calvin’s project, which wasn’t predestination by a long shot.

  1. And as I share this I’m sure some of my friends in non-confessional Reformed/Presby circles might be thinking “there he [me] goes again…” But this is true! There are so many other things I’m thinking about and learning these days and it’s not just the doctrines of grace or infant baptism, or because I’m taking Calvinist vitamins or something.

  2. This is the very reason why I keep returning to your blog . You are not talking about deterministic metaphysics and double predestination all the time. It’s not what you major on.

    I feel that if someone has really grasped the deep things of the faith, like the Trinity, it’s very easy to receive from them, be they Arminian or Coolvinists. And for a Molinist like me it’s kinda nice because you can appreciate things from both systems.

  3. I really enjoyed this post Derek!

    As someone who went through a big (understatement!) John Piper phase about 5 years ago I feel as though I probably fit the caricature you describe above. No matter what, I wanted everything to be about election and decree.

    Over the past two or three years I have allowed the doctrines of election/decree to take a more foundational place in my thinking. I’ve found that election serves a much more helpful role as a type of presupposition rather than a flag to be waving around.

    Much of this has been due to reading a lot of the Federal Vision guys (Wilson, Leithart, Jordan). It seems to me that they treat election and predestination as givens in their theology and allow themselves to actually address topics such as Christian living. I actually believe it is their underemphasis and assumption of the doctrines of grace that gets them in so much trouble with Scott Clarke and the other “TR” folk.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the post and have been thinking about this very topic a bit myself for the past 18 months or so.


  4. So glad you don’t attempt to pound any of this doctrinal stuff down our throats. I have been (often am) guilty of that type of thing.

    I usually am preoccupied with trying to figure out the best way to help the non-Christian hear the Word (I shouldn’t fret about that – but I do – I am a sinner after all)…and how to let Christians know that they are totally free in Christ.

    God is totally in charge. He elects. He chooses. He justifies and sanctifies. That ought be a source of comfort to us. But for those of us (all of us) who seek to be in control, that is so often not good news.


  5. This resonates with me. I wrote a Calvin-ish blog series on Romans 9 FIVE years ago that caused a little stir in my Arminian SBC neck o’ woods. I’ve written probably 150 + posts since on a variety of topics but people I know still identify me as that one Calvinist guy with a blog.

    I love the doctrines of grace but I’ve found God can change the theological tastebuds of readers/hearers better than my force feedings.

  6. I’m an atheist and I have the same thing come up in conversations with believers. Some of them seem to think I have “Dear God” by XTC on loop in my mind 24/7.

    I do it to other people, though. If someone says “Ann Coulter,” I think “lady that hates liberals,” but I’m sure she doesn’t spend all her time thinking about how much liberals suck.

    Maybe tacitly assuming that the alien-seeming ideas of others are on others’ minds all the time is just a way of categorizing. Some of that is useful and probably unavoidable, but when it comes to friends or people we respect it’s probably something we should get past.

    Tangentially: it can be dangerous, or at least highly inconvenient, to learn things about people you don’t like. For example, I never liked William Lane Craig. Respected his intellect and wicked debate chops, but always thought he was smug. Then I read a profile on him where he talked about this neuromuscular disease he’s been dealing with all his life and found myself admiring the guy. I still think he’s wrong about some stuff, but in his own way he’s kind of a badass and it didn’t benefit me even a little to write him off.

    • I think you’re really on to something here with these comments. Also, the piece at the end–it’s always interesting to find out that your ideological opponents are humans, right? Happens to me all the time.

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