Calvinism's strength and weakness

Not long ago my wife and I were visiting in the home of a family who have visited our church worship services recently. We wanted to welcome them, get to know them and take the opportunity to speak to them about the Lord and our church. It turns out that they are faithful followers of Christ who are new in the area and looking for a church home. In the course of the conversation the father asked me, “So, are you a 5-point Calvinist?” Without any hesitation I borrowed a phrase from my friend, Mark Dever, and responded, “I am a slobbering 5-point Calvinist.” They had a good laugh and then we enjoyed spending the next few minutes talking about confessional Christianity and historic Southern Baptist theology.

We Calvinists tend to be a peculiar lot. Our greatest strength can quickly become our greatest weakness. What is it that tends to characterize self-professed Calvinists? Love for truth. We love God’s revealed truth and, consequently, we have a great appreciation for theology. In an atheological age a commitment to careful theological thinking stands out as odd–some would even say, elite. One megachurch pastor referred to Southern Baptist reformed pastors as “wine and cheese theologians.

Devotion to truth is a good thing, but left unbalanced it can become a bad thing by making us suspicious of anyone who does not agree with us at every point. When a love for truth becomes an excuse to look down on people you can be sure that the truth-lover has fallen prey to that constant danger of which the Bible warns us: “Knowledge puffs up” 1 Corinthians 8:1). What is the antidote to this tendency? Ignorance? The way some people decry theology you would think so. “Leave theology to the theologians, let’s get busy for Jesus!” Those words and the sentiment behind them have dominated church life for the last 50 years.

But anyone who decries theology sets himself in opposition to the Bible. God tells us to give attention to doctrine (1 Timothy 4:14) and carefully consider it (1 Timothy 4:16). In addition, Paul tells us that much of his praying for his fellow believers focused on their growth in knowledge. For example, he writes in Colossians 1:9, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

No, the safeguard against the tendency to pride is not ignorance. Instead, it is deeper knowledge. A proud Calvinist is a contradiction in terms and shows that he needs to dive deeper into God’s truth until he realizes that he is but a minnow swimming in the ocean. Such an awareness breeds humility and leaves no room for looking down on others.

The Apostle Paul addresses this “head on” in his first letter to the Corinthians. I plan to make a few comments on that later this week.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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