Best of My Blog: My John Calvin “Fan” Club

July 20, 2011

While I’m on vacation and then on a mission trip to Mexico, I’m treating you to some exceptional guest bloggers and reposting some of my best content from the last year.  I’ll be tweeting and commenting off and on, but will be back full time on the blog July 25th.

“Hey Matt, are you Reformed?”

Pretty often, I get asked about whether I’m a Calvinist, or an Arminian or Reformed or something else.  Or someone will want to talk about Luther or Augustine or some other really really dead guy.

And when asked if I’m a Calvinist or whatever, my answer is usually the same.

“I don’t know.”

To most people, that’s about the worst answer I can give, especially as someone who actually went to seminary.  A lot of people expect me to be thoroughly read up on what a bunch of dead guys thought about theology.  But I find myself balking at these conversations more and more, for a lot of reasons.  Maybe you’re a theology buff, or a total noob, or a contientious objector.  Let’s find out…

Before I Met You, I Never Believed in Predestination

The first reason I often don’t enjoy these questions is because some people who love theology won’t just drop a theology grenade into a conversation that’s already going.  They’ll use it like a pick up line to see if I’m interested, figure out if I’m their type.  I love talking theology with friends, but when someone’s sizing me up, theologically undressing me before we can even talk about our jobs, or some sports teams I pretend to know about, it’s uncomfortable.  If they were staring at my hot body, it wouldn’t feel so creepy.  Undoubtedly, saying “I don’t know” doesn’t impress them.  They think I’m just a pretty face with no depth, and they move on.

The Gong Show

Okay, my first beef with theology I can handle.  But here’s a real problem for me.

I do not, for the life of me, understand why some people are so in love with John Calvin.  He’s like the Elvis of theology, except he’s dead.  You know your fan club has been taken to the next level when the fans actually name themselves after their idol – Trekkies, Team Edward, Calvinists, they’re all the same.  The thing is, if John Calvin was alive, the relationship would probably go one way.  He was kind of a jerk. He was not a peaceful, loving lovely lover, riding on a rainbow unicorn of happiness.  Calvin really hoped his rival, Michael Servetus would be killed, and may have even had a hand in having him burned at the stake.  Not the kind of guy I want to associate myself with.

Luther, for all he contributed, was a raging anti-Semite.  If Luther were alive today, Eric Cartman would be his biggest fan.  Call it what you will, a product of his environment.  If he was able to see through the church environment of his time, he should’ve been able to not hate on Jews.  What was that Paul said?  I can be the most awesome guy in the church, but if I don’t have love, I’m a big, loud, annoying gong?

If these two prove anything, it’s not that despite their flaws, guys like this should be venerated.  If we can learn anything, it’s that God, given limited choices, will even use a complete wang like John Calvin.

A Need-To-Know Basis

The thing that makes me the most itchy is that committing to a dead guy’s theology is a lot like being married, for better or for worse.  You start reading the Bible as a Calvinist, rather than just reading the Bible.  Sometimes, phrases about the Bible being the “complete” and “inerrant” revelation of God are tossed in while we’re at it.  That always rallies the troops.  Sure, I think the Bible is complete, but that doesn’t mean God said everything there is to say.  God has given us a lot of basics, but He’s done it on a need-to-know basis.

What bothers me isn’t so much the theology itself, as the attitude that we’ve figured God all out.  Once we commit to a theology, we are absolutely certain of it.  There is no mystery left.

If God really has told us everything, and if we really can figure God all out, then I’m disappointed.  Because I can’t solve a Rubik’s cube.  If God is less complicated to figure out than a puzzle, then there’s not much to Him.  When we were kids, we were comfortable with Santa being a mystery.  People used to say the mystery of the faith was Christ has died, risen, and will come again.  The most basic aspects of our faith were called a mystery.  Now that we think we’re all Bill Nye the Science Guy, we hate mystery.  Plus, coming off as being sure of everything in the universe is pretty annoying and turns people off outside of church.

Accepting mystery isn’t being willfully ignorant, or a stupid, blind Christian.  It’s accepting what scientists have to accept, that there are limits to what we can know.  So don’t stop being a Calvinist.  Just maybe agree to an open relationship with Calvin.

Are you a theology hulk, or do you avoid it?  Is it just simpler to call yourself a “Calvinist?”  How do we deal with “geniuses” who aren’t so pretty up close?  How much mystery is left in God?

19 responses to Best of My Blog: My John Calvin “Fan” Club

  1. Hi Matt,

    I don’t know what it is that I don’t know.

    John Cowart

  2. Every denomination limits itself because, as you stated, God reveals himself on a need to know basis. I am a Calvinist Armenian. I went to an Anglican Seminary and a Protestant Bible school – but I count all as loss.

    After many years, I honestly don’t care about theology. It is man’s way of trying to explain an unexplainable God. That puts him in a box. I do find NT Wright engaging and somewhat amazing – but I digress.

    I don’t care about post-trib, pre-trib or mid-trib. Me, I am pan-tribber – it’s all going to pan out. If God is pursuing all of mankind, (and he is), then I suppose we all have choices to make.

    Sure there are things that I am convinced of in the Bible, but no one cares. What folks care about is what I am doing with my faith, and does it bring them closer to God. Let’s just say that I believe in miracles and the power of the Holy Spirit to work through me and others. Jesus is so awesome; I can’t find words to express what he has done in me, or the life I lead because of it!

    I don’t have doubts – some unknowns, but no doubts. Mystery doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is Christians that go around saying why other Christians are wrong. All I have to say is this: Unless you can back it up with power and good works that don’t have your name on it, shut up, thank you.

    What God cares about is my heart. I am not going to get to blame my bad behavior, lack of faith, or brow beating on anyone else.

    BTW – What’s wang in the Greek?

    • Amen! end times talk is especially my kryptonite. I just don’t care to discuss it, don’t know why people base such sure opinions on Revelation, or why it would matter that much. Jesus comes back, everything else is details.

  3. I used to be on of “those” people Matt…i know…it’s tragic…all thanks to John Piper! lol….

    But…i’ve learned to control it. I’ve learned that you can’t explain everything…

    i’ve learned that Sometimes Jesus will heal you by lying his hands. and sometimes will Spit on dirt and put it in your eye…(weird right)….well, i’ve learned to live with that…

    I’ve learned that our opinions and interpretations are limited by our experience in life….

    I’ve learned that the phrase “Saved by Grace through faith”…means a million different things to a million different people….AND THEY ARE ALL RIGHT!!!!! LOL…

    Ahhhhh….it was good to get that off my chest…

  4. “If we can learn anything, it’s that God, given limited choices, will even use a complete wang like John Calvin.”

    God is really good at using complete wangs because He has had so much experience: Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul, maybe even Mary, just to name a few. I’m probably also on that list.

    I hope you are having an awesome time in Mexico, being filled with humility and the Holy Spirit.

  5. Good stuff!

    I’m so thankful to be in a church that has no doctrine or statement of faith. That’s right. If it’s in the Bible, we believe it. Otherwise, it’s between you and the Holy Spirit.

    As for Calvinism, I subscribed to that belief for a short while. But I now believe there is FAR more Biblical evidence to the contrary. Either way, I’m not too interested in theology. Theology is basically a conversation *about* God. I just want to have a conversation *with* God. Discussing different doctrines are debating theology is simply a waste of time in my opinion.

  6. It is so tempting to go down the “theology isn’t important it’s what’s in your heart and how you live” route and on one level that idea has much going for it–practicing our faithin the real world IS more important than endless navel gazing and deciding what ” ist” we are this week. Trouble is, not all theological reflection is as stereotypical as this or as superficial. It is also fair to say that our view of who God is, or more to the point who He has revealed Himself to be in the bible must of necessity have a pretty big impact on how we actually live as followers of Christ. God reveals much about His character in the Bible both directly and through Jesus words and actions–it is not putting God in a box to acknowledge certain truths about Him that are part of this self-revelation. There will always be points of disagreement and no shortage oh “isms” to reflect this but unless our faith is rooted in our understanding of Gods character as He has revealed it to us then we might as well just make it up as we go along and road we please as our own little “gods”, which as I understand it is the basic problem between us and God which he sent His son to correct. Following Jesus means surely takiing God asseriously as Jesus did. Whatever label you wear.

  7. Sad that some Christians (specially those who went into a seminary – BTW, I also went to a seminary) tend to discuss more, debate more, spend more time, energy and resources to those deep “theological discussions” while forgetting that Christ commanded them to “make disciples of all nations”. Sometimes, they use your “theological” knowledge to measure your spiritual maturity. That means if you can’t explain what trinity is, then you’re not spiritually mature enough.

    And I think they also forgot that those theological gurus are jacked up just like the rest of humanity. It’s just that God is so gracious and great he will use us for His ministry.

    BTW, I don’t agree that theology is not important. Because the basic knowledge that there is a God is already theology.


  8. Am I at the wrong blog? I l.o.v.e. to talk about theology.
    To be in a relationship with Jesus, I want to know and understand Him as much as possible. My mind is limited in understanding, so I always want to know others thoughts as well. I believe there is wisdom in the counsel of many (but I also believe that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.)
    Also, don’t we need to KNOW what our faith is so that in the end times (like today) we are not led astray by false doctrines?

    btw, do you study the person of the famed theologies in seminary? Is that why you know the personality of Calvin and Luther?

  9. I love this topic! My hubby and his friends would get in “fired up” discussions over HOW MANY POINTS the other had. A full 5 points? Maybe 3? It is one of those seminary conversations…..I’ve heard a time or two.
    However, it is important to STUDY TO SHOW THYSELF APPROVED and in doing so we must learn from those who’ve gone before us.

    Nice post. I like your blog too! :)

  10. This is indeed by far one of your best blog. Thanks for reposting. I agree that “accepting mystery isn’t being willfully ignorant.” It’s just accepting that there are limits to what the earthly knowledge can provide us. It’s believing that somewhere, there’s a spiritual realm which is unfathomable. So instead of creating logical reasons for such unexplainable situations, it’s better to just leave it as it is — a mystery.

  11. I don’t know what theology I ascribe to. All I know is that it changes all the time. The more I learn, the more I have to go “wait, can I re-think that?”.
    I totally agree with you about God and the cube…basically I think, the more I have it figured out…the less of God it is.
    Thanks for writing. I will be visiting again!

    • “Wait, can I re-think that?” Hah! That made me laugh because that’s what I do. Everything sounds great until I hear the next thing.

      I’m relunctantly Calvinist about a couple of things, cautiously free-will about a lot more, and trying to embrace the mystery and the God-ness of the rest.

      Matt, I am going to chuckle over you calling Calvin a wang for the rest of the week.

  12. Dear Matt – got linked to your article via another blog. Thought you had a fair point until you started being ‘oh so superior’ about Calvin & Luther (men who for all their faults most of us bloggers can’t hold a candle to). Strikes me you’re falling into the very modern and blinkered trap of being ‘a-historical’. That is, unable to recognise your own presuppositions and the fact that had you lived in the C16 you would have had pretty much the same views and approaches as Calvin et al. Indeed the fact that your views might be a bit more enlightened in some areas today – is because you stand on the progress those very men made in tackling superstition and religious totalitarianism. As for your particular comments on Luther and anti-semintism, yes he, like most folks in that time, had a medieval attitude to what he saw as their ‘stiff-necked’ rejection of Christ – but along with his more intemperate comments he also wrote…

    ‘What good can we do the Jews when we constrain them, malign them, and hate them as dogs? When we deny them work and force them to usury, how can that help? We should use towards the Jews not the pope’s but Christ’s Law of love. If some are stiff-necked, what does it matter? We are not all good Christians’ (Here I Stand, Bainton, p297).

    And when you say ‘for all [Luther] contributed’ and then dismiss him – talk about ‘sawing off the branch on which you sit’!

    So you are right to counsel against unthinking hero worship of historical figures but equally we ought show a bit of respect towards them & their contributions – knowing that our own lives and very C21 views will doubtless be viewed by other generations as pretty deficient according to the cultural and historical understanding of their day.

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