In North Carolina where I am from, there is an intense sports rivalry between the four Atlantic Coast Conference schools, the North Carolina Tar Heels, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, and the Duke Blue Devils. Of course, in any intense sports rivalry, there is a great deal of back and forth bantering, some of it good-natured, some of it bordering more on trash talk. Though I grew up as a Wolfpack fan, I would have to say that the prize for the best line in the sloganeering campaign would have to go the North Carolina Tar Heels. The line goes like this: “If God is not a Tar Heel, then why is the sky Carolina blue?”
Well, I am going to use this template to explain why I am a Calvinist. Are you ready? Here goes: “If God is not a Calvinist, then why did he use so many of them to write the Bible?”
Now, to be sure, I’m trying to be a bit humorous here, not to mention that I am also speaking anachronistically. At the same time, however, I am also quite serious. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, a number of the minor prophets, the psalmists, the author of Proverbs, the authors of the historical narratives in the Old Testament, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter—all of them were ante-Calvinists, or, more accurately, they were Calvinists ante-Calvin, before Calvin. And that is why I am a Calvinist—because I am a biblical theologian.
Even as write this, I can feel the objections coming my way. Perhaps you’d like to say to me, “Whoa now; hold on just a minute! John, a Calvinist? Really? The same guy who wrote ‘whosoever believeth’ in John 3:16? And Paul, a Calvinist? Really? The same guy who said in 1 Tim 2:4 that God wants all men to be saved?”
And my reply would be, yes, the very same John, and yes, the very same Paul. And when you read the entirety of their writings, you find that they also say many things upon which Calvinistic doctrine and teaching are based. I believe what John and Paul say in those other passages. And I also believe what they write in John 3:16 and 1 Tim 2:4. Why do I believe both? Because that’s what Calvinists do.
I will illustrate what I mean by quoting two passages in the New Testament that talk about believing. The two passages come from two different authors.
The first passage is the already-mentioned John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The second passage is from the account in Acts 13 of the response to Paul and Barnabas’s preaching in Pisidian Antioch. In v. 48 Luke says,
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Perhaps you would ask me then, “Well, which one of these do you believe? Is it ‘whosoever will,’ ‘whoever believes’? Or is it ‘all who were appointed.’” And because I am a Calvinist, and because I am a biblical theologian, my answer will, of course, be “Yes.”
And that, in my opinion, is the difference between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. The Calvinist believes that both things, both passages are true, doesn’t feel any need to downplay one at the expense of the other, and is willing to live with the apparent tension between the two. The non-Calvinist believes that only one can be true, and goes to acrobatic exegetical lengths in an attempt to negate the clear teaching of the passage they aren’t prepared to accept.
Now you might say to me something like this: “That’s nonsense. Those are two contradictory ideas, and you can’t hold to two contradictory statements at the same time. That would be a violation of the ‘law of non-contradiction.’” Now, I think the law of non-contradiction is a wonderful thing. For the most part it’s a pretty safe principle to follow. If it wasn’t for this principle, there would be no such thing as logic. Pragmatically, we have to live our lives by this principle. But I also refuse to exalt the law of non-contradiction above God. I do believe that in the mind of God these two things are not ultimately contradictory. But I also believe that God is under no compulsion to demonstrate to us in this life how that is so, and so has left this as an unresolved tension in the revelation he has imparted to us in the Scriptures. The Calvinist accepts this tension, and does not demand that God resolve the tension and explain it to us in this life. This is a position of humility. Indeed, a proud Calvinist is a contradiction in terms.
1 My heart is not proud, O LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)
It is significant that this last passage comes at the end of Romans 9-11, one of the most difficult sections in the Bible, a passage which is intensely concerned with the doctrine of election and predestination. Maybe some theologians feel qualified in being able to instruct the Lord as to how he should run his universe. Perhaps they would like to reduce the being of God to that which can be examined using a microscope, or a telescope, or a system of metaphysics, or a set of logical principles. The Calvinist says that this cannot be done, and should not be attempted.
I believe that any person who wills, chooses, decides, makes a decision, determines, resolves, purposes—put it any way you want to—to put their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation will not perish but have eternal life. And I believe that all those who put their trust in Jesus for salvation were appointed, ordained, chosen, elected, predestined—put it any way you want to—to do so before the foundation of the world. Why do I believe both these things? Because the Bible tells me so. And because I am a biblical theologian. And because I am a Calvinist.
September 6, 2014
Some people can’t deal with the both-and character of God’s self-revelation. But if one closes one’s eyes to parts of the truth about God, one chooses comfort over truth. Dialectic is an unavoidable facet of telling the truth. And I find it unfortunate we have to use labels others intend as pejorative to define ourselves. I do it, though, too. But in the best of all possible worlds, we won’t be Calvinists; we’ll just be biblical theologians.
Good words, David. Except, with regard to your last statement, in the best of all possible worlds, we would be biblical theologians AND Calvinists! 🙂
It’s interesting to note that those who cannot affirm that there are doctrines in tension in the Bible nevertheless affirm The doctrine of three and one, the greatest mystery of all!
Indeed, Ken. Very good point. In many ways, the Christian faith is all about dealing with these tensions and paradoxes.
I just lost my faith. …JUST KIDDING! Great post .