Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Joy of Calvinism

The Joy of Calvinism: Knowing God's Personal, Unconditional, Irresistible, Unbreakable Love

I've recently finished the book "The Joy of Calvinism" by Forster. Overall, a good book, and I found it a good introduction to Calvinism.

Theologically, I have very few issues with Calvinism. In fact, I certainly agree with almost all of what I read. Yeah, we may quibble about predestination, but overall, my theology is in line with that of Calvinism.  Does that make me a Calvinist? Probably not.

My background is with the Church of Christ, and the Restoration movement, and in my heart of hearts, I hold to a kind of ecumenism. I truly do wish that we could find a way to remove the lines that separate christian traditions and fall back to the ideas and ideals of the 1st century church, though I understand that it's just wishful thinking.

I recently attended a local church, who a good friend of mine called "the most Calvinistic church in the Seattle area". When I attended, we watched a video from the lead Pastor, and for me, taking in a sermon via a video loses that sense immediacy, that sense of intimacy that you get when worshiping with your church family and your pastor in the flesh.  It's hard to get that sense of connection with someone in a video.

I also know a bunch of people who go to that church, and others who come in from out of town and go there because they want to see the lead pastor in person, and are disappointed when they get the video feed.  I can't help but take away a sense that the congregation is engaged in a form of pastor worship.  That there's a (and excuse the term) cult of personality happening in that church, and much of it is about the pastor.

And that's really at odds with my belief that the pastor in the church is a part of the church family like any other, no more and no less.  He holds no particularly lofty standing in the church, and in fact, he's just a disciple, and a journeyman like the rest of us.  He just happens to be the teacher. He's using his talents for the good of the church, like all of us.

But back to the book and Calvinism.  I took two things away from the book that concern me. The divisive attitude that the author portrayed, and casually attributed to Calvinism, and a sense of pastor worship for Calvin himself.

Rather than taking the high road, and only talking about Calvinism itself, the author took time to point out how Calvinism differs from "all other traditions". As a reader, the implication was clear, Calvinism is the only one who got it right.  I don't agree with most of these digressions, and don't believe that Calvinism is the only one with the 'right answer', but the author comes across as particularly arrogant about his theology, and by extension, it's hard not to believe that of other Calvinists. Granted, as one friend pointed out, the book states that Calvinism isn't required for salvation, but as a non-Calvinist, who isn't anti-Calvinist, I was rather offended at the dismissive tone.

Moreover, I got the sense that the author believes that Calvin was more than just another disciple and journeyman.  But rather, that Calvin was a hero, and whenever I see hero worship, I have to take pause. 

It seems to me that there's only one hero that we should be worshiping here, and that's Jesus.  But then, that goes back to my Restoration roots.  It's all about Jesus.

If nothing else, the book got me thinking, and so because I've certainly over-thought most of this, perhaps I'm a Calvinist after all, and just haven't admitted it to myself.   But I'd rather think of myself, not as a Calvinist, but as a disciple of Christ, and that's the only thing that matters. 


  1. I love your thoughts and your writing style, Jeff. Your ideas come across remarkably clear and well thought out.

    I particularly agree with your general thoughts on "pastor worship." I do not know exactly who or what church you are talking about - and that is good. Your point is much more important and more broad than any one congregation.

    Any congregation or gathering that relies on any one person as the sole or even main presenter of Truth to the exclusion of all others runs a great rick at elevating that person to a level too high. It can become a form of idolatry.

    I guess that's why I am glad to be less than 6 feet tall... but I digress. :-)

  2. Thanks for the nice thoughts. I haven't been a member of this particular congregation, so I claim no authority or even any true insight, just my uneasiness at my experience.

    It was more a general concern of mine across a lot of churches. Luckily, I've been blessed to be a part of some amazing church families, and my current church and pastor rock.

  3. That was very well said Jeff. I, too, am uneasy with pastor worship, and like you, look at the pastor as a fellow disciple who has a particular role to play in the church body. It's way too much pressure to put on one disciple (putting them on a pedestal). I'm also one who wishes that we could break down the walls of denominations and just go by the name "Christian" but I'm sure that will never happen in today's society. Thank goodness this younger generation is less concerned with denominations than my generation was and is. Now, if we could only get the races to worship together....but that's for another blog =)