John Newton said,
“Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.”
Hmmmm. That’s interesting. Calvinists. Gentleness. Moderation. If I didn’t know any better I would think this was a joke.
Gentle Calvinists? Moderate Calvinists? Surely he must be mistaken. We aren’t supposed to be gentle or moderate. We are the gatekeepers of truth and the future of Christendom rests upon our ability to argue with people on twitter. We are to sniff out anything that smells like it might be related to something that sounds a little bit like it could be considered remotely close to heterodox. If we don’t find all of those teaching false doctrine, Christ might actually not come back. At least that’s how we act.
I do not really know the context of this quote, but I assume that it was in one of his many letters. John Newton wrote lots of letters. So let’s assume that is the case. This letter should be reprinted and sent to every Calvinist in the world, because we (yes I am one of them) are not only not the most gentle and moderate, but sometimes we are the least gentle and least moderate. We are often brash and insensitive. We are often the most cranky and argumentative. We often are the most petty and nitpicky. We love our positions more than we love people.
We love determining who’s in and who’s out and then gathering into our Reformed ghettos. We like our Reformed books, Reformed blogs, Reformed conferences and Reformed podcasts. The more I think about it, the more it sounds like a cult. (Note, I am not calling Calvinism itself a cult. I am a moderate Calvinist, meaning that I am Calvinist but not super hard-core). Anything can become a cult. Christianity, atheism, liberalism, conservatism, pacifism, patriotism, Calvinism, Arminianism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism, or anything else. As soon as we begin disregarding those who hold slightly different beliefs than in order to protect the tribe, we become cult-like. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Tim Keller books, The Gospel Coalition, and Charles Spurgeon. But I also like Relevant Magazine, Philip Yancey books and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Michael Horton notes that Calvin wanted to be remembered as the ecumenical reformer. J. D. Greear said that Calvin himself would not like most contemporary Calvinists. We must neither become indifferent to doctrinal positions, nor antagonistic towards those who hold different positions than us. I am not suggesting getting rid of denominations, but what I am suggesting is not calling everything heresy or creating a conference to discuss every doctrinal issue. I am so done with tribalism that it’s not even funny.
I am a Calvinist. I lean towards cessationism, but I will fellowship with Arminians and I will fellowship with charismatics who are not pushy. I had a friend in high school (we will call him a friend even though I wasn’t really that close) who was an Arminian and charismatic, who was more passionate about Jesus than me. I would trade my doctrinal knowledge for his passion in a second. There are some things that are non-negotiable: the trinity, sola gratia, penal substitution, the authority of the scripture, and the uniqueness of Christ. I think there are times to cut people off. Joel Osteen. T. D. Jakes. Brian McLaren. Rob Bell. Benny Hinn. When people start prophesying weird things or do “name is and claim it” kind of stuff or start visiting heaven, there needs to be a conversation. But I will continue to learn from Flannery O’Connor, a Catholic, A. W. Tozer, an Arminian mystic, N. T. Wright, who believes weird things about Pail, C. S. Lewis, a high church Anglican, Soren Kierkagaard an existential Lutheran, and Philip Yancey, part of the evangelical left.
We can become heretics when we elevate certain correct doctrines above their proper place as much as when we ignore certain doctrines. I recognize that Calvinists are not the only ones who do this. I have seen this among charismatics as well. (I just feel more of a need to criticize Calvinists because I am one.) I feel that some charismatics look at cessationists as less spiritual. (That is at least what I have felt among some charismatics.) When special gifts of the Holy Spirit are elevated too high or a health and wealth/ “name it and claim it” gospel emerges, then it is time for rebuke. I do not plan on going to a charismatic (By Charismatic I mean really Charismatic. I attend a “continualist”, meaning not really but kind of charismatic, church now) or Arminian church any time soon, but I consider many of the brothers and sisters in Christ.
If you can’t distinguish between Donald Miller and Rob Bell, Philip Yancey and Brian McLaren, or Sam Storms and Benny Hinn you have some issues. Sure Miller and Bell are both considered emergent, Yancey and McLaren are considered part of the “evangelical left” and Storms and Hinn are both charismatics, but they are not the same. Stop painting with broad brushed and being so argumentative.
John Newton said that their will be no Calvinists or Arminians in heavan, only Christians. There will be no charismatics or cessationists either. There will be no paedobaptists or credobaptists either. We must elevate the cross above all of our doctrinal particulars .