Like most Calvinists who converted from a background of Arminian evangelicalism, I experienced a profound wave of humility, freedom, and awe. I would like to share with you how those realities grew even greater for me as a Calvinist, and I would like to make you a FREE offer to help you get there, too.
I was humbled to acknowledge the depth of my depravity, and to know my salvation had nothing to do with me at all (what a blow to the fallen ego!) but was purely of God’s grace and all His work.
At the same time, I was totally freed by the revelation that I had to do nothing to receive this free gift. Sanctification would follow, sure, but being saved had nothing to do with my own works, and it was a tremendous burden lifted from my depraved shoulders that I could therefore quit trying through a thousand ways to earn God’s favor. I could simply rest in His grace.
Likewise, I was completely awed by a greater sense of a God who is truly Sovereign over every atom of the universe in every moment of every age. The more human ability, motive, and effort were each removed from the equation, the greater every attribute of God appeared to be.
Little did I know that this newfound awe for God’s Sovereignty would take me as far into every area of life as that Sovereignty truly went. One only had to start asking the right questions, and the further sanctification would follow.
I was inspired to write these things because I recently viewed Les Lanphere’s documentary Calvinist. I thought it was very decent. I appreciated Les mainly for doing something with his Calvinism. Also, because it gave a little biographical insight into a large swath of young Calvinism out there. A large group came through a similar experience I had: coming from a vapid, effort-driven, and/or theatrical Arminian culture into a solid, substantial, graceful Calvinism. Wow, what a change. Now get me more.
The very first thing I did when I became a Calvinist—in fact, one of the main things that made me become a Calvinist—was read through Calvin’s Institutes for myself. I began it as a type of contest in my mind against Calvinism. I told myself I would test it by Scripture, and started out highlighting each Scripture passage or reference. I shifted almost immediately to highlighting every profound and helpful passage of the book as well. By the time I was done, I had worn out three highlighter markers and was on my fourth. Every synergistic thought I ever had for salvation was left exposed and defeated. I was a Calvinist.
I never looked back. But I also did not do what very many young Calvinists do: get stuck at that initial plateau of awe. Once you have “arrived” here at Calvinism and experienced the freeing humility and awe, the natural desire is to keep the moment alive, or to reproduce it. Young Calvinists often sate this desire by reaching for the next book or product on Calvinism or God’s Sovereignty: Calvin, Pink, maybe Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Spurgeon, Sproul, or scores more. Maybe it will be the next Calvinist sermon on YouTube. I admit, it is tempting to think that the glory of God is fully served when we sit and bask in it for eternity. But I was fortunate to realize this plateau was not a resting place, but a foundation for much more.
I was fortunate to know someone who already knew. They taught me to see that if God is Sovereign over every square inch of the universe, then His will and His word must rule everything. It is not just your personal salvation, but every area of all of human experience. What about human thought? Fortunately, I was introduced to consistent Calvinism in this area in the work of Cornelius Van Til. That was just as profound an experience as before. And yet it did not stop there either.
What about family? What about business, money, and economics? What about justice? God is just as Sovereign in these areas, too, and he wants His will followed here just as much as in your spiritual life. I immediately realized that God wants every family, every business, and every civil government and court to experience the same humility, freedom, and absolute awe of Him as you and I did when we first became Calvinists. And I was soon to realize that he has provided for these areas just as much as he provided for me individually—in His Word.
What you can read in the FREE eBook offer linked below is the thoughtful and challenging chronicle of one young Calvinist seminarian who wrestled through these same experiences in the Reformed faith. When he read many classic Calvinistic works, he saw that they called for the very full-worldview Sovereignty I just described—every area of life, all of culture, all of life, government, and justice. But when he looked for specific prescriptions, or actual applications from these same sources, he was usually disappointed. When he did find a few people who waded into that territory, he was shocked by the negative reaction of the mainstream Reformed folk who surprisingly had seemed to call for the very worldview applications he was finding. Why the hostility to the very thing you say you believe in?
I count myself very fortunate to have come very early into what has come to be known as “Theonomy” (“God’s law” for all of life) or “Christian Reconstruction” (reforming all of life according to God’s Word). It immediately began to answer my questions about God’s Sovereignty extending beyond personal salvation. I immediately began to see the vast structure of God’s plan for man extending upward and outward from the plateau on which I had started. The same God-inspired sense of humility, freedom, and awe resumed—but now with an added sense of sanctification and commission.
In the first chapter of the PDF, Gary DeMar calls this expanded vision the “Extension of Calvin’s Theology.” It truly is, for Calvin’s theology is judicial, and it applies God’s law to every area of life. Indeed, there is a reason his Institutes went into the territory of law and government even then.
In the next chapters, Gary begins to expand upon various twentieth-century Calvinist writers and theologians who advocated the very type of full-worldview of which we speak. He shows the sentiment was nearly universal. Yet he also shows that many of the same men got nervous and withdrew as soon as it came to actual application of the idea they themselves had taught us.
I appreciated Les’s documentary for making an heart-felt and clear contribution, but among other criticisms I could make, it seems a bit stuck at the plateau. It seems to want to move beyond, but lacks something it takes to get there. So, following men like Carl Trueman, the best it can offer young Calvinists is to get “confessional.” Fine, but what does this do but institutionalize the doctrine, like putting a Gulfstream jet into the hangar for perpetual maintenance, but never flying it for service—indeed, never getting on the runway to take off.
Then, it seems to concretize this view in one very narrow version of it. Reformed Baptist Paul Washer in the documentary is included saying,
I don’t care if you’re hearing the greatest preachers in the world every day on YouTube. I don’t care if you’re giving your body to be burned or offering everything you have to the poor. If you are not a viable, serving, dedicated, devoted member to a visible local church, you are outside of the will of God.
It may be worth considering whether taking the language of 1 Corinthians 13, which God gave for the highest attribute of love, and applying that to one’s particular view of ecclesiology may come too close to idolatry. Aside from that, in the midst of a discussion of Calvinism, what sense does it make to allow such overweighted emphasis to the ecclesiology that is distinctive only to the London Baptist Confession—arguably the most sectarian the major confessions, and one of which Calvin arguably would not have approved?
This minor provocation, I think, could be overlooked were it not for the fact that as far as action steps go, the film can’t seem to go much beyond it. It does hint in that direction when it highlights racial issues and the Reformed past, briefly. As an aside, Shai Linn is without a doubt the silent star of the whole film. His plain eloquence on the basic issues of Calvinism rises above that of most of the preachers and theologians chosen. His comments on race do well, as does the addressing of this issue in general—for it illustrates the logical extension of Calvin’s judicial theology to every area of life that so badly needs to take place. That the film starts this but goes only briefly makes me a little uneasy.
There is one place where this tension in the film peeks through the surface only to pass by seemingly obliviously. It is such a great statement, it is even used in the trailer for the film. At one point, R.C. Sproul says,
From the time a child in the United States enters kindergarten, he begins to be taught and to learn—if only through osmosis—a particular anthropology, a particular understanding of the nature of man. So they develop this concept of free will—which is a pagan concept. This general understanding of free will is that man is free to choose the good or evil on either side. That’s a blasphemous doctrine, because that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible tell us that something happened radically to the constituent nature of humanity in the fall.
Fabulous. As a point for teaching the “T’” in TULIP, it’s perfect. But did you catch the implication that was missed? If the statement is true, then why have the Calvinists and Calvinistic churches and leaders who have been teaching “T” for all of modern history also been telling us it’s acceptable to keep sending our children to those schools? The kids are going to learn Arminianism or humanism whether you like it or not, even by osmosis, in those schools. I quite frankly have not seen a more forceful point made in favor of homeschooling in a long time. Yet we hear not a word of the application in Calvinist or in most modern Calvinist pulpits. I think we could do better—like the great Calvinist exception to this failure, J. Gresham Machen.
More could be said about Les’ generally decent introduction to TULIP. Most of it is good. I have trouble with a few points, and I have trouble with some of the apparent trajectory of it.
To this end I have compiled a little introductory setup of our own. The FREE booklet linked below is intended to get you thinking along these same lines. When you are ready to take the next logical steps in Calvinism, you can click on the link provided in the book for a reading list. You can start directly with my book The Bounds of Love or Restoring America One County at a Time. You could also start with DeMar’s God and Government. Wherever you start, please start. I would say that if any Calvinist still finds themselves on the plateau of personal salvation after even just a few years, they are not being a good Calvinist—meaning, they are not allowing the doctrine of Sovereignty they have espoused drive them to the next logical step in their spiritual and intellectual development, let alone the any actual mission to which they may be called.
In short, our humility must drive us to obedience, our freedom to faithfulness, and our awe to action. In our awe we must find his law, and apply it to every area of life. If we are merely attending church every week but not progressing in these matters, we need to question seriously whether we have truly begun to mature in our Calvinism. We may need to ask if we have really even understood its implications much at all. So you’re a Calvinist. Now what?
Read this FREE book, The Need for Applied Calvinism, and find out.