Archive for ‘Calvinism’


Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I gather monthly with a group of like-minded pastors for fellowship and to discuss pastoral ministry.


Lately we’ve been reading together Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford UP, 2013).  This is from the Epilogue:


The task of the historian is not simply that of an antiquarian who dusts off ancient artifacts that are roped off from the general public with a sign reading ‘do not touch.’  The study of religious history invites, even compels, us to investigate the past with an eye toward the present, to explore the foreignness of history with the expectation that ‘cultural immersion’ of this sort will not only expand our knowledge of peoples and events but also enrich our experience by providing needed perspective, timely wisdom, apt warnings, and precious glimpses into the failings, the beauty, and the sheer complexity of the human condition.

Manetsch then provides four final observations and insights for pastoral life today gleaned from its practice back then.

(1) “The vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one.”   “Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith.”

(2) “The importance of accountability and collegiality in pastoral work.”  “Contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.”

(3) “The leading role that the Scriptures played in Calvin’s Reformation, suggesting the central importance of God’s Word for Christian renewal in our own day.”

(4) “The ministry of pastoral care.”  “In our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears especially relevant and important.”


God’s Desire To Be Honored

From the Gospel Transformation Bible notes to 1 Samuel 2:12-36:

God’s desire to be honored, or glorified, may on a shallow reading seem vainglorious.  But that God should require his creatures to honor him, to give him weight, is no more vainglorious than that the law of gravity requires to be acknowledged.  Simply put, God has weight!  To neglect this fact is to lose one’s own center of gravity.  Giving God the center is at the heart of accepting the gospel.  Every line of the prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray manifestly gives weight and centrality to God (Matt. 6:9-13).  As our hearts are gripped with the magnitude of what God has done for his people in the gospel of grace, we are compelled to gladly ascribe all honor and glory to God alone.


The Ways of God

Twentieth-Century Southern Baptist Pastor Vance Havner wrote these words after his wife died:

Whoever thinks he has the ways of God conveniently tabulated, analyzed, and correlated with convenient, glib answers to ease every question from aching hearts has not been far in this maze of mystery we call life and death…  [God has] no stereotyped way of doing what He does.  He delivered Peter from prison but left John the Baptist in a dungeon to die….  I accepted whatever He does, however He does it.

Vance Havner, Though I Walk Through the Valley (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1974), 66-67.


Stranded in Space

This is a graphic illustration for explaining the enslavement to sin the Bible speaks of the, the complete inability of humans to save themselves, and the need of grace from the outside. It’s from Michael Bennett’s Christianity Explained course:

This experiment was shot in a space station and shown on a TV documentary.

One of the astronauts was floating at rest inside the space vehicle, wearing just a T-shirt and shorts. When he stretched out his hand, he was a metre from the wall. He was then commanded to move himself to the wall.

Being in a weightless condition, he had full freedom to move. He moved, spun, jack-knifed etc, but every time he was able to stretch out his hand, he was still exactly a metre from the wall!

The TV commentary explained: ‘We all have a physical centre of gravity. He can spin freely around his centre of gravity, but he cannot move it! If we left him there, he would eventually die, still a metre from the wall of the space station. One of the others must reach out and pull him to safety.’

What a perfect illustration of ‘sin’. We appear to have free will to do what we like. Every day we make free-will choices and decisions.

But spiritually, the Bible says we are in the most terrible form of bondage. We are all, by nature, slaves to selfishness, self-centrednedss and pride. I am in bondage to my own spiritual centre of gravity. This is what the Bible means by sin. I want to run my own life, with myself as the controlling centre of my world.

I cannot save myself, but if I remain in this condition I will die, spiritually, and without hope.

Another person from outside myself must step in and bring me to safety. This is what Jesus has done for us by his life, death and resurrection.


Why I Am A Baptist

While some are less than helpful, there are some really insightful testimonies in Why I Am A Baptist, edited by Tom Nettles and Russell Moore (Nashville: B&H, 2001).

In Don Whitney’s essay he quotes from William Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopedia (1881; emphasis mine):

The Baptists of this country hold that the Word of God is the only authority in religion, that its teachings are to be sacredly observed, and that to religious doctrines and observances there can be no additions except from it; they hold that a man should repent and be saved through faith in the meritorious Redeemer before he is baptized; that immersion alone is Scripture baptism; that only by it can the candidate represent his death to the world, burial with Christ, and resurrection to newness of life; that baptism is a prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper; they hold the doctrines of the Trinity, of eternal and personal election, total depravity, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ, progressive sanctification, final perseverance a special providence, immediate and eternal glory for the righteous after death, and instant and unending misery for the ungodly. They hold the doctrinal articles of the Presbyterian Church, and they only differ from that honored Calvinistical community in the mode and subjects of baptism, and in their congregational church government.

Such uniformity could not be claimed today, but that this was case during the founding of our denomination is a major reason why I am a Baptist.


The SBC and Calvinism

From F.H. Kerfoot, a Southern Baptist Pastor. Written circa 1880.

In common with a large body of evangelical Christians, nearly all Baptists believe what are usually termed the ‘doctrines of grace,’ the absolute sovereignty and foreknowledge of God; his eternal and unchangeable purposes or decrees; that salvation in its beginning, continuance and completion, is God’s free gift; that, in Christ, we are elected or chosen, personally or individually, from eternity, saved and called out from the world, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, through the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; that we are kept by His power from falling away, and will be presented faultless before the presence of His glory.

Tom J. Nettles and Russell Moore, eds., Why I Am A Baptist (Nashville: B&H, 2001), 48; emphasis mine.


Coleridge on Calvinism

John Piper’s biographical sketch of the poet George Herbert was one of the highlights of the recent Desiring God Conference for Pastors. I found this quote by Samuel Coleridge on George Herbert’s Reformed spirituality well put:

If ever a book was calculated to drive men to despair, it is Bishop Jeremy Taylor’s on Repentance. It first opened my eyes to Arminianism, and that Calvinism is practically a far, more soothing and consoling system…. Calvinism (Archbishop Leighton’s for example) compared with Taylor’s Arminianism, is the lamb in wolf’s skin to the wolf in the lamb’s skin: the one is cruel in the phrases, the other in the doctrine.

Gene Edward Veith wrote in his doctoral dissertation on George Herbert’s life and poetry that Herbert is the “clearest and most consistent poetic voice” of Reformed spirituality. “The dynamics of Calvinism,” he says, “are also the dynamics of Herbert’s poetry.” Veith writes:

Herbert is a lamb clothed in the wolf skin of Calvinism…. Calvinism [as Coleridge says] ‘is cruel in the phrases,’ with its dreadful language of depravity and reprobation; Arminianism has gentle phrases (free will, universal atonement), but is cruel ‘in the doctrine.’ Coleridge, perhaps faced with the incapacity of his own will, his inability, for instance, to simply choose to stop taking opium, saw the consolation in a theology that based salvation not on the contingency of human will and efforts, but on the omnipotent will and unceasing effort of God.

From Gene Edward Veith, Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert (Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1985).