Why is it not enough?

Seems like more people these days, especially younger leaders, are adopting the label “Calvinist.” A Nov. 27 news story in Baptist Press reported that recent graduates of Southern Baptist seminaries are three times more likely to identify themselves as Calvinists than pastors in the SBC at large.

I don’t find it hard to understand why Calvinism appeals to young leaders. Much of it is very biblical. And much of Southern Baptist life (and evangelical life in general) is intellectually shallow. That’s one reason we see so many young people running to Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox traditions. Not many people are intellectually oriented, of course, but those who are have had very little to feed on in our churches. The aroma of real meat on the grill is powerful enough to make a fellow consider jumping the fence.

But, unlike becoming Greek Orthodox, you don’t actually have to leave Southern Baptist life to be a Calvinist. As I said before, much of Calvinism is very biblical and that is, ostensibly, enough to be acceptable in Southern Baptist circles. And, beyond any doubt, Baptists, including Southern Baptists, were influenced by Calvinism from their earliest days – even when that influence was a moderating reaction against classical Calvinism.

But as I listened to the presentations of the Building Bridges conference, I found myself increasingly puzzled why anyone would prefer to identify themselves by another man’s name. Why “Calvinist” or, for that matter, “non-Calvinist”?

A person of great insight or intellect can make a name for himself, with the result that people may invoke his name to identify themselves. It brings to mind a Bible passage:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made  complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13 NAS)

The Building Bridges conference was an excellent experience – although I suspect there are greater challenges than building a bridge between three-point Calvinists and five-pointers. But there has been acrimony among Southern Baptists over the issue of Calvinism. The argument hasn’t been between “Calvinists” and “Arminians,” of course, but between “Calvinists” and “non-Calvinists.” You’d be hard pressed to find a Southern Baptist these days who could be described as an Arminian.

Regardless, there have been divisions and quarrels among Southern Baptists over Calvinism, and the situation needed to be addressed. The conference was a good start. It was good to see people who disagree talking agreeably. More conversations like that are needed all across the SBC.

The problem, however, won’t be completely resolved until people get over their need to divide themselves into camps and fly flags emblazoned with their hero’s name – even if the banner proclaims them “non-Calvinist.”

There is something decidedly un-Baptistic – and, I would argue, un-Christian – about exalting any mere mortal to such a status. Jesus’ instructions were clear:

“Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders ; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” (Matthew 23:8-10 NAS)

Jesus wouldn’t even allow himself to be called Father: “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50 NAS) The Bible says he made himself a servant, and Jesus said that those who want to be great followers of his had to be the willing slave of all.

Any person of great insight or intellect who understood the spirit of Christ would be very unhappy with subsequent generations who exalted him to the status we so readily give to the authors of our systematic theologies.

As great as Calvin or Spurgeon or any other hero might have been, none of them have written anything that approaches the sufficiency of Scripture, yet there are many among us who adopt another’s name, take his thoughts as their own, and read God’s own Word through the filter of his writings.

Now I’m not a trained theologian, but would that be a violation of the Reformed tradition’s principle of Sola scriptura?

We have Christ and the Bible. Why is it not enough to call ourselves Christians and limit our convictions to what the Bible plainly teaches? Are we so obsessively rationalistic that we have to keep focusing our time and intellectual resources on resolving mysteries – like predestination and free will – that have proven to be beyond our capacity for centuries?

Do we care so little for a lost world that we would rather purge our ranks of believers who wrestle with the same impenetrable mysteries and come up with different answers?

If, in the final analysis, I’ve got to be a Calvinist to please you, I choose this brand.


About Mark Kelly

Jesus follower, Bible reader, husband/father/son/brother/uncle, rider, hiker, snapshooter
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