A while back, I articulated some reasons Why I Am Not a Calvinist. As I’m not a theologian, that post could probably use some re-thinking and polishing. Nevertheless, it highlights my ongoing struggle with Reformed theology.
I call it a “struggle” because there’s lots of things I agree with and appreciate about Calvinism. And there’s some I don’t. As an example of the latter category, let me submit the following.
I recently heard a pastor use a moving illustration about free will and election. People who go to hell, he said, “will” to go there. They blatantly disregard God’s love and choose to bolt. In order to save them, God must violate their desires and rescue them. By way of example, he told a gripping story about the day he rescued his young daughter from dashing into oncoming traffic. She had been told to not run into the busy street, and had the consequences explained to her. Yet one day she disobeyed her father and barreled into the street. The pastor had only seconds to respond and yank her out of the way of a truck. The story was quite powerful. This, he said, is what God does to the believer. They are recklessly running from God, and if not for the Father’s intervention, will forever be plastered.
But if this is an illustration of God’s mercy and loving election, I think it’s flawed. Why? Because it means God is equally righteous and just in letting His children run into traffic. So does God watch millions of souls careen into hell, souls that He could rescue, and do nothing?
I ask if there’s a “middle ground” to Calvinism for this reason: The Bible seems to advocate two different points-of-view
- one where God is fully sovereign and one where man is fully free
- one where God’s choice is the defining factor in salvation, and one where the individual’s choice is the defining factor
- one where God rescues only those He wants, and one where God attempts to rescue everyone
For example, Scripture tells us that the Lord “is not willing that any should perish” (II Pet. 3:9), but that He has also chosen some as “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction” (Rom. 9:22). We are told that God’s offer of life extends to all who are thirsty (Rev. 22:17) and “whoever believes” (Jn. 3:16), but that His choice is limited to the “elect” (Jn. 6:37). Then there’s some verses that juxtapose both truths, like Philippians 2:12-13:
…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
You work out what God works in.
I realize that some will see this as wishy-washy, as an attempt to simply skirt the hard consequences of a biblical reality. Nevertheless, at this stage in my faith journey, I believe there IS a middle ground, not just regarding Reformed theology, but many other seemingly paradoxical points of view.
Which is probably why I appreciate Charles Spurgeon’s position on this. Spurgeon was of the Reformed tradition, not a hard 5-Point Calvinist, but definitely in the camp. However, he often addressed the apparent tension between these two positions — predestination and free will. In a sermon entitled, Faith and Regeneration, Spurgeon said this:
I earnestly long that these two doctrines may be well balanced in your souls… Brethren be willing to see both sides of the shield of truth. Rise above the babyhood which cannot believe two doctrines until it sees the connecting link. Have you not two eyes, man? Must you needs put one of them out in order to see clearly? Is it impossible to you to use a spiritual stereoscope, and look at two views of truth until they melt into one, and that one becomes more real and actual because it is made up of two? Many men refuse to see more than one side of a doctrine, and persistently fight against anything which is not on its very surface consistent with their own idea. In the present case I do not find it difficult to believe faith to be at the same time the duty of man and the gift of God; and if others cannot accept the two truths, I am not responsible for their rejection of them; my duty is performed when I have honestly borne witness to them.
This metaphor — seeing “both sides of the shield of truth” and having a “spiritual stereoscope” — is quite helpful to me. Of course, it’s led some to suggest that Spurgeon was an Arminocalvinist. Nevertheless, I’ve found this approach useful in approaching other biblical paradoxes. It’s also made me wonder how much religious polarization and doctrinal squabbles are simply the result of looking at Truth through a monocle, rather than with both eyes.