James M. Leonard
I have a couple friends of mine who are preparing for ministry and working on advanced theological degrees. However, in their prior studies they had been quite insulated from the Calvinist-Arminian debate, and have only recently encountered real live Calvinists. It is refreshing to hear their sense of incredulity and even shock at what Calvinists say.
I remember one of my first conversations with one of them. As it came up that I was not a Calvinist, he replied, “But there aren’t any Calvinists around any more, are there?” I looked around at the various other theologians in the room and said, “We’re surrounded by them.” This came as a shock, since he simply could not conceive how anyone could hold to Calvinism.
In another conversation, my other friend said, after talking to a Calvinist, “You know, they actually believe that Jesus only died for the elect.” I replied, “But of course.” To which he responded that he knew this was a part of their theology, but couldn’t conceive of anyone actually believing that God would withhold the atonement from the greatest part of mankind.
Another time, one of them said to me, “Do you realize that they think that we Arminians believe in a works salvation?”
All this is refreshingly assuring. These young men, well educated in theology as they are, nonetheless have a theological innocence about them untainted by the intricacies of a Calvinism which obfuscates the obvious and creates theosophical labyrinths from one’s nose to one’s elbow.
Oh to be shocked once more at hearing someone claim that God predestines some few people to believe, and leaves all others with no means of salvation! Oh to be astonished to hear someone claim that babies who die in infancy have no assurance of being ushered into the delights of heaven! Oh to be flabbergasted to hear someone claim that people have no choice in whether they put their faith in Christ or not.
We hear Calvinists repeat their disturbing theology so much that we gradually lose our proper sense of astonishment over people actually believing things so contrary to the nature of God and to the obvious meaning of Scripture. This is unfortunate. We need to recover a sense of theological innocence so that we do not dignify what is otherwise prima facie absurd.
On one hand, we want people to recognize our theological maturity, and so we make sure we never seem surprised at Calvinistic claims; and rightly so, because we’ve probably heard most of them more than a few times. But maybe this is a flawed response, for it tends to dignify that which should not be dignified. Perhaps instead we should respond with an appropriate sense of incredulity at notions which could only be deduced from scripture by those who are twice too clever for the simplicity of the Gospel.