Calvinists, Let’s Calm Down

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This was the title of irenic Calvinist C. Michael Patton’s recent blogpost. His motivation originated from (yet another) e-mail he received from a Calvinist concerning the “heresy” of Arminianism. Patton, though a committed Calvinist, attends an Arminian church. He writes:

    My heart is heavy within me. My soul is vexed. Oh, that the loftiness of my Calvinistic brothers and sisters would be humbled. Oh, that they would represent the spirit which our theology demands. But such is not often found. I have written on this before, but I feel I must lodge my complaint once again. I see less Christ-like character in many Calvinistic brethren than I do in just about any other tradition in Christianity.

What is helpful to the Arminian is that this comes from a Calvinist (also see here). If such a complaint was espoused on an Arminian’s blog, it would be dismissed. Indeed, even when addressed in the combox on a Calvinistic blog such as Pyromaniacs, Arminians are thought to be whining and pouting as to how they are being treated. But when a Calvinist recognizes the validity of the Arminian’s complaint, well, that is another matter altogether.

Not too long ago, John Piper was asked why Calvinists tend to be so negative (or mean-spirited). His answer is not only unsatisfying (even if it was somewhat true), but he did not address the issue of how a believer is supposed to respond to his Christian brother. Instead, he explains how the theologically frustrated Calvinist, noting that because he was “lied to” by Arminian doctrines, now rails against those doctrines with all the vigor within him, desiring passionately to “make everyone else a Calvinist.”

Again, Patton writes:

    Calm down. Back up. Take ten. Find an Arminian friend and see if they don’t love the same Lord. . . . The rhetoric that is out there is embarrassing. I am sick of having to explain over and over again what Calvinism is not before I get to what it is. “No, we are not arrogant.” (At least we are not supposed to be.) “No, we don’t think we are better than others.” (How could we? Don’t we promote the doctrines of grace? Do we even know what grace means?) And, most importantly, “No, we don’t think Arminians are going to hell.” If you [Calvinists] do, then you are way out of line. Calvinists, let’s act according to what we believe. Let’s calm down.

Indeed, this is as good a reminder to the Arminian as it is to the Calvinist. Believers have the following Scriptural mandate: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. . . . Live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:9-10, 16 NIV). And also Paul’s charge to Timothy (which contextually concerns unbelievers, but is true in principle, and especially in addressing other believers): “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct [not mock, slander, ridicule, demean, etc.], in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Tim 2:24-26 NIV).

Since Calvinists are so concerned about our errant theology, then one would think that they would be more careful in the manner in which they address our theological faults. By using the Bible’s method of gently instructing us, in the hope that God would grant us a knowledge of the truth, we would be more open to consider their evidence in pointing out our faults. The same is true for the Arminian. Since we are so concerned about their errant theology, then we should be very careful in how we address their theological failures. By using the Bible’s method of gently instructing them, in the hope that God would grant them a knowledge of the truth, they may be more open to consider our evidence in pointing out their faults. And both camps should adopt this model even more so when witnessing to the lost.