Friday, January 14, 2011

Painting Calvinists With Broad Strokes

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a tendency to stereotype people. I take a group of people, pick out three of four loonies out of the bunch, and claim that those loonies represent that entire group of people. Past stereotyped groups include Republicans, Southern Baptists, feminists, jocks, potheads, country music fans, and Pentecostals. The latest group I find myself stereotyping is the Calvinists.

Last year when all the papers said it was hip to be Reformed, I naturally wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I read everything I could about Calvinism. I listened to Mark Driscoll’s sermons, read John Piper’s Desiring God blog, and even re-read Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” While I never considered myself a Calvinist (I could never get into the whole Limited Atonement thing), I was fascinated and influenced by the Reformed tradition. Calvinism reminded me that God is bigger than my brokenness.

And then something went wrong. The more I listened to Driscoll, Paul Washer, and Charles Spurgeon (not his actual voice, though, but people quoting him), the more I felt guilty. There was so much talk about sin and damnation and total depravity that I wondered, “What happened to ‘saved by grace?’ Are my sins really forgiven? Because this sounds like I’m still guilty!” It all sounded like the bully god I tried to run away from in high school. After a while I became disillusioned with Calvinism, and thought that Calvinists were just all about fire and brimstone.

(For clarification, I’m NOT saying that we stop talking about sin in order for people to feel comfortable, like Joel Osteen. I’m just saying that when you’re constantly told that you should have been on that cross--no matter how true it may be--you start feeling like crap.)

Then last night while I was drifting off to sleep, I was thinking about all the different church traditions I’ve experienced when I thought about the Presbyterian Church Amy attends. As I thought about my experiences attending worship with my fiance Amy, I suddenly realized that out of all the times I’ve been to that church, I’ve never once left the church feeling guilty. Yes, they preach about sin, Hell, and judgment--but that’s not the primary focus. The message all boils down to the grace, beauty, and majesty of God. Then I realized maybe I was wrong.

For a guy who’s always talking about getting rid of the “us vs. them” mentality, I sure thrive on conflict. Hopefully some day I’ll learn to stop seeing people as either “for me” or “against me,” and remember that everyone is in the same boat no matter what their theological position is.

(For the record, though, those Pentecostals are still weird.)


  1. I never get a fire and brimstone message at my Presbyterian church. I always got that from the Southern Baptists, and that's why I went reformed. Yay for God's grace and forgiveness...I'm doomed otherwise.

  2. And, of course there is a considerable theological gap between a typical congregation in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church (USA)--most notably their stance toward covenantal theology. I don't really get Calvinism myself, but then again, I don't get a lot about theology.

  3. Whats not to get? God ordained everything. Everything we do should be an act of obedience. We're not good at all; God is good in everything. Heaven and hell are real. God is a trinity. Badabing-badaboom, there's Calvinism.

    Does the Bible teach this stuff?...I think...yes.