Saturday, August 09, 2008

Thoughts on Calvin

This one goes out to all my Calvinist friends out there:I've had a few posts recently about John Calvin - mostly because of our church moving to a building called the Kálvin Ház in Eger, and every Sunday,there is this picture of John Calvin hanging over my head as I preach, and there is this statue of him in the courtyard. So, Calvin's been on my mind lately, since I see him almost every day of the week.

But in regard to Calvin and Calvinism, I would like to say the following:
I'm not a Calvinist.
But I have friends who are.
A few years ago one of my friends became a Calvinist; not long afterwards, I got an email from someone who knew him, asking me - Hey, I heard that (my friend's name) lost his mind and became a Calvinist. Is that true?
It was like this guy was asking about my friend as if he were Anakin Skywalker, who had just gone over to the dark side and become Darth Vader.

One thing which I make try to make very clear in the church I pastor, is that there is a difference between "primary" and "secondary" theological issues.
Here is an excerpt from a handout we pass out in our church about baptism:
Primary Theological Issues are those which are necessary for Christian Orthodoxy. They include such things as our belief in: One God, the Trinity, Jesus (i.e. His Virgin Birth, sinless life, death for sin, and resurrection), the perfection and authority of the Bible, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Secondary Theological Issues are those matters that are of varying degrees of importance, but which are not necessary for salvation. They are disagreed upon among Christians, and include such issues as speaking in tongues, different worship styles, baptism, and eschatology.

It was in regard to this distinction that Augustine is quoted with the following: In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas. (In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.)
Since Calvinism is a way of interpreting scripture in the areas of the sovereignty of God and often eschatology, which are not necessary for salvation, these are things which fall into the "Secondary" category - topics which are worth studying, debating, discussing and having strong opinions about, but not worth dividing over.

The unfortunate thing, is that some Christians are willing to, even eager to, divide over "Secondary" theological issues.
Not long ago, I was looking at an evangelical apologetics website; on the left-hand side was a long list of articles to choose from, which included Buddhism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, the Baha'i faith, and so on. And there, on this list of non-Christian religions and cults was also "Calvinism."
Now, I understand that this is just a list of things this guy has articles on, and that he is not necessarily saying that Calvinism is heretical, but it bothered me that a position and interpretation of scripture which is not only Christian, but actually Evangelical, would be listed in the same list as non-Christian religions and cults.
This just illustrates for me how some Christians are quick to demonize anyone who has a view which is different from theirs - even if that view is a "secondary" theological issue - and treat them as enemies of the faith, portraying them as people who must not truly love God, the Bible, or people, whose hearts are black, and who hate everything that is good and beautiful, including puppies, babies, kittens, and flowers - and who have some dark agenda.

I think that there are things which are actual threats to Christianity which would be a better use of our time to fight against than to attack those amongst our own ranks who have different methodology or interpretations of secondary issues. The latter is probably much easier to do - although it avails little, if anything, for God's Kingdom.

I recently read this quote by Robert Frost:
"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence."
I like that. I hope that more of us as Christians could be like that when we encounter those who have different views than we do - and especially those brothers and sisters of ours with whom we have differences of opinion on secondary issues.


  1. Maybe it's the lack of sleep...

    but that made me tear up. Great post, Nick. Thank you.

    We honestly do treasure the both of your friendships and the like-mindedness we share on the primary/secondary issues.

    The Bride of Christ should be pulling closer together, standing against true heresy rather than dividing up all of its members in hair splitting arguments over secondary issues.

    As you said, worth studying, debating, discussing and having strong opinions about, but not worth dividing over.


    ps: The sunglasses on the Calvin statue are hilarious. Hooray for "Calvary Casual"

  2. Jodi, there's a Hungarian phrase I like: "Egy rugón jár az agyunk." It means our brains are going on the same spring. It doesn't sound very good when you translate it like that - but it means something like "we're on the same page"
    I had a great time talking with Josh about this kind of stuff when we met in SF. Hopefully we'll get to do it again sometime soon.