Friday, July 16, 2010

Journey to the Center of Reformed Theology

Ok, so maybe my journey isn't quite the same as "The Journey to the Center of the Earth", but I found it more enlightening. You see I haven't done a blog in over six months because six months ago I set out to do a blog on Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Similar to one like this. If you just want to know the basics- stop here. No seriously, if you want an introduction, go read the links and stop there. But if you want to read about the journey I took into the study of Reformed Theology, keep going.

Originally I was content to learn enough to do a this vs. that. A brief over view. But I got a lot more involved, not just a defining of what the five points of each view are, but how they apply to me and my understanding of the Word of God. After doing the initial web search, I realized this wasn't going to be a simple task of presenting information. It was much deeper than that. Some serious questions came up:
Would it affect my salvation? Would it change my life? Would it change my understanding of who ends up in Heaven? Would I present the Gospel differently? What does a Reformed Church look and sound like?

I had to examine it in light of Scripture. So I read the Bible, some books, some online content...
I found a few interesting tidbits of information online, and a few good resources in friends that already associated themselves with Calvinism (Reformed Theology). Then I read "Chosen by God" by noted reformed theologian R.C. Sproul. I took lots of notes and tried to figure out why he believed so strongly the way he does. Sproul has been one of my favorite apologetics teachers for years. Lately he has seemed to focus on RT and it has been perfect timing for me, or maybe I'm just more sensitive to it now. Maybe it has always been reformed, but now I am able to see it for what it is. Anyway, he's a great teacher, bringing scripture to life when he can refer to the original language, meanings, cultural, and historical context. I don't want any one to hold to just the teachings of man, but like the apostles to the early church, having someone be a Rabbi, a teacher, of the Word surely helps. Thank God he has put wise men in my path.

Seeking some alternative perspective I picked up "Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views", with Dave Hunt and James White. My wife and I took turns reading and taking notes, then having discussions. Great Bible study time. Sarah and I didn't even agree on the same position or understanding at first! It was really good to dig deep into the Word and discuss on level we hadn't before. I don't think those two men really understand each other, but it still was a good read and I enjoyed seeing points discussed from different perspectives.

Then, Sarah and I finally pulled a DVD from the shelf; it had been there for a few months begging me to watch it. I had to pass over it every time I went to grab my video game controller- often enough! This thing is 3 parts over 2 DVDs for about 4 hrs+ worth of information. Just a little intimidating. It's longer than a Lord of the Rings movie! But I figured it would have some information I wanted, so we watched it over a couple of nights. "Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism".
It presents a great historical perspective on who started the Arminianism line of thought, how it still exists in the Church today, and how the Dutch Protestant Church created the acronym TULIP to oppose it. And if you didn't catch it before, Jacobus Arminius wasn't even born until 6yrs after John Calvin died. Calvin didn't create Calvinism or TULIP- they are terms created to contradict the points of Arminianism.

At this point you may wonder, why read or watch all this stuff from a Calvinist view point? Good question- it was because I already knew most of the points made from Arminianism. In fact, I had unknowingly adopted them into my own theology for years. Reformed Theology was the harder one to grasp for me. It meant to me that, if it's true, there are people who will be suffering in Hell because of Adam's screw up and not of their own rejection of the gift offered to them in Jesus Christ. Would people be in Heaven or Hell who didn't get a chance to make a decision or who didn't want to be there? Wow, was I off. I was about to get the light turned on to a clearer understanding of Reformed Theology. Just wait... it's coming...

So, I thought I just couldn't wrap my mind around unconditional election, or limited atonement. Boy, was I wrong. I had a lot more to learn. Matt, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul all reference the elect (chosen people). The Bible obviously addresses it, but what does it mean? I have heard people speak on it, but looking back at context and historical usage, it changed a lot of the resulting meaning. Elect could mean God chooses, but where is the free will, where is the choice? Or it could mean that God looked beyond time, knew who would choose him and, thus He 'elected' them.
I've been raised Baptist, with a good dose of Arminian Theology. Salvation to me has always been a free gift, you have to choose to take it. I could still say that is true, but a Calvinist says that only regenerate man will want to take it and Arminians would say anyone could. Isn't that the great question, the hinge of the great debate. So, who gets the glory? At what point does God's sovereignty end and man gets a say (choice)? The funny thing is, no one seems to scoff at God choosing Abram, or Jacob, or Mary, or John the Baptist, or any of the prophets, or the entire nation of Israel to do his special tasks, or be his chosen people. But when it comes to a more personal level, we want to have a say in what God can do in our lives. Sometimes people want to limit his sovereignty and only pursue Him it if we want to get into Heaven just to escape Hell. Matt 7:21 But I digress.

So, after a few books, lots of reading Scripture (must have read Romans a couple times over), a DVD, and plenty of Bible study with my wife... where was I? Still not grasping it. Then I found the 32 sections of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith Wow. It broke it down into sections, words, and Scripture references I totally got and AGREED with. Like the section on Free Will. This is reformed theology before we had to start calling it reformed. Before Arminian Theology had the chance to spread through the church.

Does this effect the calling to proclaim the gospel? No. That is still commanded Matt 28:19.
Does it effect how I might present the gospel? Yes, working on understanding that one still.
Does this change who will or won't be in Heaven? Either way, nothing changed from God's perspective. From Calvinism to Arminianism the same people who are going to be in Heaven are going to be in Heaven, the difference is a label- elect or choice. And then a lifestyle based on understanding and conviction of the Word.
Does it give me a new sense of freedom to read the Word and live it? Yes.

My journey isn't over yet, but this is where I am today. Thanks for reading. I hope it may encourage you to pursue a similar journey. One thing I learned is that you can't make anyone Reformed, they have to discover it for themselves. I'm glad the Lord brought me down this path.

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