Four and a half point Calvinism

One of the main reasons for my entering into the blogosphere is to encourage a new generation of community activists to be active in their communities and to do so effectively. I take a view that such folk include those from all faiths (and the many variants therein) and none, and these take in a wide plethora of interests and come from many divergent backgrounds, far wider than can be possibly imagined. But I try not to lose sight of my greater calling to preach the Gospel whereby we can and must be saved and serve the Church (the gathered body of believers in Jesus in varied manifestations).

With this in mind, I turn to the subject of theology (the study of the nature of God and religious belief), which is one that has not only long fascinated and drawn me but also informs my own community activism. It is with some consternation that I have found that many fellow Christians are theologically weak and disinterested, as well as being doctrinally unsound in some areas. This is not helped by the churches to which they belong, whose preaching and teaching lack depth and breadth. Yet I recognize many are my co-workers in tackling the manifold issues centered around injustice and doing what needs to be done when it comes to community involvement. The two great commands to love God and our neighbour are straight forward enough for all of us to “get it” to a good extent and we can do better at being and doing to an even greater one. We need to understand better what it is that God has said and desires of us, especially though studying the Bible, relating this to the world we find ourselves in and, (importantly) to living out what we find. I realize the limits of trying to push my own views and suggest to those who may be interested to check out online what I have written on these matters e.g. “The Gospel” and “Theological musings”.

I got thinking about all this when indulging in one of my frequent activities of checking out what USA Christians of the left and right are thinking / saying on issues of the day. One happened to be a dialogue between Jim Wallis (left) and Richard Land (right) and where it became evident, and refreshingly so, there was lots of common ground. Also, in fairness to both, neither would identify with a particular party. One area both picked up on was that of undocumented immigrants, something I have written on citing the US experience. Both recognized the need for a more compassionate approach and based in part their arguments on what we find in the Old Testament as to how God’s people (the Jews) should treat the foreigners who came to live in their land. While I was checking out the Facebook links that led me down this line, I found something regarding Reformed / Puritan teaching, such as can be found in Banner of Truth publications, and this got me thinking more …

An influential time in my theological development was when I left school and got to study at London University. It was at the time when the charismatic renewal movement was making significant inroads, not least by creating a hunger for a deeper experience of God among Christians, and when me having come from a rather narrow Plymouth Brethren background was rather intrigued by and drawn toward what was going on, spurred on by the Christians (mostly non-PB) I met from all sorts of back grounds. Something the leader of the Christian Union shared with me, and has remained with me ever since, was his belief there was a need to get our doctrine straight as well as experience God through the Holy Spirit he gives to us, as emphasized by the Charismatic Movement, and for this reason leading lights from this and the Reformed movement (often seen as in conflict but the truth is there more exceptions than many realize) were invited to speak at CU meetings. Interestingly, this was along the lines of what a rough sleeper I was speaking to last night was saying, and it has embolden me to write thus.

One of the many of historical conflicts and fascinations that have occupied my attentions over the years has been that been Arminius and Calvin, with the former emphasizing free will and the latter the sovereignty of God. For many reformers and puritans, Calvin was one of the more influential theologians and many would have subscribed to the main tenets of Calvinism that are encapsulated in the acronym TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints). I regard myself as a four and half point Calvinist because while I accept the importance of these tenets in principle, when it comes to limited atonement my reading of scripture as that Christ died for all and the benefits of his atoning sacrifice is for whosoever believes. I recognize, in the Arminian verses Calvinist debate, good Christians see things differently, as they often do, not least as to how they interact with the world at large. The challenge is to respectfully agree to disagree and find common ground whenever possible.

One of the things that have drawn me to the Reformers and their natural successors, the Puritans, and for which I am grateful, is that they were inspired to become involved in their communities and make a difference, and to do so based on a true understanding of the mysteries of the Divine. I suspect, if I were to read a lot more widely than I do, I would take much heart from what they write and see surprising application in the situations I have to face. Besides my own ongoing “Brethrenism” and my own positive / negative relationships with the Charismatic and Reformed Movements, there are other notions I have taken note of and to an extent embraced e.g. Liberation Theology and Catholic Spirituality. But, most of all, I yearn to know what my Heavenly Father thinks on these matters and to be about doing His bidding as well as earnestly contending for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.


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