Fairly soon after my initial salvation experience in Christ, I moved to embracing the theological framework known as Calvinism. You know, the 5 points of total depravity, unconditional election, limited (or particular) atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.
I had come with excitement to this new found system of doctrine. I ate it up, lapped it up like a thirsty puppy. It was a major part of my theological digestion. I began defending Calvinism with the best of them, believing I had very good and reasonable answers to many mysteries of the faith surrounding God’s sovereignty and humanity’s responsibility. I was even willing to accept some of the stronger points such as Augustine’s double predestination.
And anything counter-Calvinism was just not biblical. I was even smug enough to one day comment that Calvinists tend to be intellectually smarter than non-Calvinists.
God have mercy on my soul!
But over the past few years, I have found myself journeying away from Calvinism. Such is well-worth noting for my own sake, knowing how much this doctrinal system was the bread and butter of my theology.
There were a few steps that led to this major shift in my life.
The first centred around my coming to grips with the reality of the kingdom of God. Previously, the kingdom was a palatial city somewhere ‘up there’, a place one went to when one died. I had no concept of the reality of God’s rule coming here, now, on earth. And I have continued to drink deeply from the well that God’s original purpose was his rule extended in all the earth. And Jesus has now made that possible as the crucified and risen King.
I also began to get a better understanding of the church as God had designed. A people submitted to his rule and making his rule known in all the earth, in all areas of life. And this people, this bride, was to be relational at their core, not institutional.
Finally, I was gripped by the power of God’s Spirit, coming to terms with the fact that every gift God has ever graced his people with was still very much active today. Not only was this true of the giftings in 1 Cor 12, but also those ministry gifts of Christ spoken of in Eph 4:11.
While I continued to embrace Calvinism within a soteriological (salvation-system) framework, my heart had been gripped by far more important things.
Still, as of the past few years, I have begun to let go even more, journeying away from those once strong ties to this old friend of mine. Have I been convinced of a more Arminian approach to our salvation? Or am I somewhere in the middle, accepting the Molinist perspective?
I would answer such an inquiry with this – I think the typical Calvinist-Arminian debate is of a foregone era. It is part of an old paradigm that I believe is becoming less and less important in our world today.
Listen. I don’t want to sound overly negative here about Calvinism or Arminianism. Each theological movement and framework serves its purpose for however long is necessary. There are seasons and cycles amongst varying groups of God’s people. Some last centuries, some last a few years.
And this doesn’t mean we just lay aside everything that’s gone before us and simply go with the next whim of doctrinal discussion. Oh, yes, that would be easy, especially in our 21st century, post-modern world. I find myself easily pulled towards some of the newer discussions available.
Still, what I do strongly sense is that the typical paradigm of the Calvinist-Arminian debate will no longer greatly serve the church or the world of today.
And something else that we must note is this – I don’t believe the Scripture was written according to a Calvinist-Arminian template. Whether we like it or not, the overall systems are just simply not in the good book. Such was not a paradigm of those ancient writers. Paul did not write Romans as a theological Calvinist treatise. He wrote into a particular church context addressing particular issues arising within that church. Those issues were first practical and relational, though of course he did address theological points.
Oh yes, Romans still speaks into our context today. I do not doubt such. But we would be silly to insist that the Bible was given to us with a more Calvinist or Arminian underlying structure. Rather, in the movement across church history, certain debates and discussions arose to which the Scriptures were then organised in a way to address those particular points and questions of concern in that day. Such arose in the late 16th century between Jacob Arminius and Calvin’s disciples (yeah, Calvin didn’t really create the whole 5-point thing). However, this was not at the forefront of discussion in a more New Testament era.
So here we are, over a decade into not only a new century, but a whole new millennium. And I can honestly say that I believe there are more important, more pressing paradigmatic concerns in our world than that of the storied soteriological debates of Calvinism and Arminianism. What are they? Well, I’m sure the blogosphere will let you know if you don’t already. And then, in a few decades or more, certain issues will have settled or we will simply know it is time to move on. This is not a mere agnosticism to theology. This is the reality of moving forward in God’s purposes for differing generations.
For some, I am sure the former debates will still stir deeply within. But, as I survey things myself, it is my simple impression, truly my own personal opinion, that this is a paradigm of a foregone era. It’s time to move on to the relevant and important things of today and not stay too well stuck in debates of a previous period.