Another core text of Calvinism besides Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 is John 6, starting at v. 37. Here is how I would summarize a Calvinist reading of the passage, heavily borrowing much language from the chapter itself. Before you read my interpretation though, please listen to the scripture itself.
The following are notes from a Reformation Sunday sermon (MP3) I preached last year on Romans 9:1-23 at a church in Santaquin, UT. I predict that what I will promote here is, for most of you, completely foreign to the worldview that you were brought up with. I only ask that you make a valiant effort at understanding the text itself before approaching the issues using traditional philosophy.
I also want you to know that I have an emotional and spiritual connection with this text, for a number of reasons. You see, Romans 9 and I have a history together. It was a source of controversy in my college days. It was something I originally vehemently disagreed with. It was something that, once it clicked, was hard for me to handle with maturity. But it was also something that, in the long-run, explosively enlarged my view of God and catapulted me forward with a confidence that God was far bigger than I ever imagined. A big reason why I am in Utah today (and not closer to family on the East Coast) is that I believe that the God of Romans 9 can effectively call people to himself, including Mormons.
Every man has built for himself a house of mind, and holds dear the belongings which he possesses within. The foundation beneath his house—where his beloved affections, worship, treasures of joy, and sources of value and acceptance are—sustains all that which he loves in the framework of his thinking. The house is built in glory to his master, either Satan, or the God of Jacob.
To the glory of God, Christians characteristically live and think. For some, this means enjoying meat. For others, abstaining. For some, this means drinking wine in thanksgiving for God’s blessings. For others, abstaining. For some, this means exercising compassion on the poor by means of supporting socialism. For others, capitalism.
And for some this means assuming free-will to make sense of human decisioning and responsibility and non-coercion. This attempt at coherence, to the glory of God. For others, the working of God in a person to will and to act according to His purpose. This, to the glory of God.
Indeed, to question God’s sovereignty over our wills is rebellion. Indeed, to stubbornly refuse to believe God’s word when He so explicitly describes His determining, defining, irresistible will is downright sin. But who I am to devastate another’s foundation so harshly, so as to destroy his house violently? Are not the treasures within his house the same treasures I cherish? Are we not members of one another?
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” –Romans 14:4
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” –Ephesians 4:15
Eugune Peterson says it better than I can in his interpretative paraphrase:
“Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume all Christians should be vegetarians and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.” –Romans 14:1-4, The Message
This is compassionate Calvinism: to get a handle on the core values of Christ, the God-man. To zero-in on the crux of what it means to be godly: worshipping God and loving your neighbor. To subordinate all theology to the aim of love which issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
This is compassionate Calvinism: not to obliterate a man’s house of mind and leave it unsupported, but rather to gently, gradually, lovingly supply a better foundation. One conversation at a time. This new foundation is to be Biblical, solid, God-honoring, and man-humbling. It is to inspire acts of unseen love and obedience and prayer, all to the glory of God.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” –Romans 14:17-18
- More Than a ‘Calvinist’, by John Newton
- John Newton: The Tough Roots of His Habitual Tenderness, by John Piper
- A Deeper Right Than Being Right, by Douglas Wilson
Is Calvinism Important?, by Pastor Reid Ferguson:
“John Flavel has a wonderful saying about the nature of our comprehension of some spiritual truths when we are still new in Christ. He remarks that a child looking up from the crib is no less a true child because he does not yet have clear conceptions of his parents. As he grows, he will learn of them, but at first he knows precious little about the parents who gave him physical life. We come into saving faith very much the same. To hear some talk, you aren’t really a viable Christian until you reach puberty, or get your driver’s license, or reach drinking or voting age. But the truth is, we grow. We grow because He has given us spiritual life. We do not come into the world fully grown. That would be contrary to all the Bible testifies.
“An understanding of Calvinism becomes even more important as one grows in Christ. Without a good handle on the doctrines of grace, a number of things usually ensue: (1) One is more susceptible to error. (2) One can make little true progress in sanctification. (3) The Bible will be very confusing. (4) The experience of the Christian life will tend to be less constant and more prone to ups and downs. There are others, but these are the principle ones, in my judgment. The doctrines of grace are foundational to building a solid, consistent, spiritual life. They must not, however, be confused with life itself, which is given by God alone.
“One may ask, “Are these doctrines optional then?” In reply, one must also ask, “In what sense?” I do not need them in order to be made alive, but I do need them to live well. I do not need them to know some truth, even basic converting truth (i.e. the Gospel), but I do need to know them to know the whole truth. They are essential in their place. All truth is essential, but how much truth we know, and when we come to know it, varies. When I was very little, I assumed that the streetlights went off and the whole world went to bed when I did. As I grew, I learned that older kids stayed up later; then I learned that my parents stayed up very late. When I learned about time zones—whammo—my whole worldview changed.”