My Lord, I did not choose You, For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You, Had You not chosen me.
You took the sin that stained me, You cleansed me, made me new;
Of old You have ordained me, That I should live in You.
Unless Your grace had called me and taught my opening mind,
The world would have enthralled me, To heavenly glories blind.
My heart knows none above You; For Your rich grace I thirst;
I know that if I love You, You must have loved me first.
In all things…charity.
By now you may have been able to tell that I am a Calvinist. This means that I think that the words of the hymn above are true, beautiful and deeply moving.
I became a Calvinist long before I read a single word from John Calvin. It was through reading the Bible that I became convinced that our salvation is by God’s sovereign grace alone. I think that Arminianism is deeply flawed in its understanding of the gospel and it impoverishes our appreciation of God’s grace. I also love my Arminian brothers and sisters.
Two notable evangelists famously disagreed on the subject of predestination. Those evangelists were George Whitefield (a Calvinist) and John Wesley (an Arminian). Despite the strength of their disagreement they regarded one another as brothers in Christ. When a follower of Whitefield’s asked him if he thought we would see Wesley in heaven, he replied; “…we won’t see him in heaven. He will be so close to the Throne of God and we will be so far away, that we won’t be able to see him!”
Although I want to persuade you that a Calvinistic understanding of predestination is more biblical than its Arminian counterpart, it is important that we remember that we were not baptised into Calvin or Arminius but into Christ. As long as our disagreements do not concern matters essential to the Christian faith then, even if we strongly disagree over important issues, we should remember that we are one in Christ.
Isn’t this discussion a needless distraction from the gospel?
Although I admit there is some danger that we may be distracted from our mission to make disciples, I think that it is worth the risk for the following reasons:
First, even though Calvinists and Arminians preach the same gospel, their understanding of that one gospel is significantly affected. This in turn has an impact on the way we understand other biblical concepts like assurance, evangelism, discipleship etc.
Secondly, I can honestly say that nothing has transformed my faith more powerfully than the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereign grace. Central to these doctrines is a correct understanding of predestination.
As I’ve mentioned before, my concern is not to create Calvinists per se but rather to make sure that we are not missing out on the benefits of taking God at His Word. I want us to be able to bless God for predestination and election, as Paul does, rather than move quickly past it before anyone says something uncomfortable.
Charitable Calvinism in Practice
At this point you may be wondering what exactly is meant by “Calvinism” and “Arminianism”. Below is a conversation between Charles Simeon and John Wesley. Simeon is the one who asks the questions and Wesley is the one who answers. I know of few better descriptions of Calvinism than that this one. It is also a fantastic example of how to deal with one another in love. In the interests of fairness, I think I should note that many Arminians could not answer as Wesley does. This is why I think it is a great definition of Calvinism but not of Arminianism.
Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
Yes, I do indeed.
And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
Yes, solely through Christ.
But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. (Moule, 79f)