Jonathan Edwards, that great (or terrible) Puritan divine who was such a leading figure in eighteenth century New England and I have two things in common: We both readily admit that our theological bent is decidedly of the Reformed variety. Those pesky “five points of Calvinism”—Edwards and I agree with them all. The second thing Edwards and I have in common is that neither of us like being called a “Calvinist.”
Edwards did not like being labeled a “Calvinist” because he really did not see himself as a follower of Calvin. In fact, Calvin is rarely quoted or cited in Edwards’ writings. The fact is, the Puritans were more into the post-Reformation theologians like William Ames, Francis Turretin, and Peter van Mastricht. Calvin was an important figure to be sure, but to them he was not the end-all-be-all-theological-titan that today’s Calvinists see him as. Calvin was a spiritual father, but not someone who you needed to agree with all the time.
As for myself, I have been growing more and more discontent with Calvinists and Calvinism. Not with the theology mind you, but with the “ists” and the “ism” of it. There is a general culture and atmosphere in Calvinist circles, the air of which smells of something other than heaven.
I am not the only one who smells something funny either. Check out this post at Credo House. I readily identify with what he says.
I used to attend a major yearly conference in the North East where today’s heavy hitters in Calvinist circles were the main attractions: R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Michael Horton, and the like. As much as I wanted to hear what these theologians had to say, by the time the conference was half way over, I was done with the fan base who by their conversation, questions, and debates, seemed more concerned about who was right and who was wrong than about loving one another.
In my experience, Calvinists have much to say about knowing your Bible, living right, holy, and pious lives, but say comparatively little said living justly and loving mercy. Calvinists love to talk a lot about how humbled they are to have been chosen as the recipients of God’s special saving grace. I have heard on more than one occasion a Calvinist say that Calvinists are the brain in the body of Christ. Call me crazy, but I though the “head” part was already taken, and that Jesus already had a brain. I’m with my Catholic buddy Fenélon who wisely said, “Beware of humble talk. The humility than can still talk needs to be carefully watched.”
While Calvinists tout the doctrines of grace, more often than not (and especially where they are in groups) they act as if those doctrines of grace had precious little influence in their relationships. The Achilles’ heel of today’s Calvinism is (ironically) its singular focus on truth. Jesus came from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The truth is, if we really want to incarnate Jesus’ truth, we will also incarnate His grace. If we are not incarnating His grace, you can be sure that we are not incarnating His truth either. That was the point the elder brother illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the lost son in Luke 15.
I will have the Reformed theology plate for diner, but hold the Calvinist sauce please. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.