This is a hard post to write, because as all my friends and family know, there is nothing I like better than a good debate. I love discussing beliefs with friends. It's rather tough to actually come out and write what I'm going to today.
I'm outspokenly reformed. I make no attempt to hide it even in my non-reformed church, and the result is many discussions with fellow Christians about these topics. I attend a very conservative Baptist church. Again, I've gotten in many discussions about my more open stance on music, grace, KJV-onlyism, courtship, etc.
Opinionated as I am, I have a hard time writing this, but I do feel as if this is important. We as Christians spend countless hours debated Scripture, criticizing each other, tearing down the Christians on the right or left, and being all around contrary! In a discussion with my nephew a couple of days ago, it popped into my mind how ridiculous most of our dissensions are.
One of the most recent topics I've discussed with friends is that of the election of the believer, the idea that God predetermines who will be saved and who He will allow to continue their chosen course of sin. I'm going to use this as an example.
Thousands of Christians have taken a stand on either side of the issue, and my point today is not to promote either one. However, I think it's hard to read the Bible objectively and not see man's free will. At the same time, I find it impossible to read the Bible objectively and not see God's sovereignty frequently override man's free will.
Do we see where the struggle arises? Instead of accepting Scripture as our final authority and saying, "Wow, I don't understand it, but it must be true", we instead attempt to rationalize our chosen position on either side of the fence with explanations of how the other side's verses don't really mean what they seem to say.
I'm going to interject here to address a possible objection. In no way am I attempting to promote ignoring the truths of the Bible, or to simply allow each and every person to lollygag along into whatever belief they feel like with no attempt to steer them toward truth. For example, I am reformed. If you bring up the subject, I will attempt to convince you that my position is right. I will address what I am trying to do below, but for now I simply want to make clear that I am not an opponent of apologetics.
My point is this: we are finite. Our problems arise when we attempt to fit God into the small, fallen box that is our human minds. If we think about it logically, it's not too complicated why we can't understand issues like these fully. Think about it.
God has chosen to reveal a small portion of His infinite nature and wisdom to mankind in the form of both the Bible and His Holy Spirit to us one on one. We as humans cannot, with our limited minds, comprehend God. It's impossible, and that part shouldn't be complicated to grasp.
That being said, why would we expect to understand election and free will in our finite minds? Instead, we see God reveal both His sovereignty and man's free will to us in His Word. Our reaction? Quick, interpret! Well, they can't both be true, so we'll choose which ever one seems more likely to me, dismiss the verses that promote the opposite, and rest after my labors!
The problem is that both show God's character. Both His sovereignty and His allowance of man's free will both show God's character. We may or may not be able to recognize the relationship and balance between the two, but they are both spoken of in God's Word.
The problem comes from our attempts to make Christianity a nice little box that we can seal up and tie with a little bow as a pretty, concise package. Don't swear, lie, steal, dress in bikinis, date, smoke, drink is the first level of our oversimplified Christianity. Why? Because that's what we can easily understand. Do's and don't's are very clear. Either you do them or you don't.
However, there's a second level of oversimplified Christianity that is much less obvious than the first. The second is what many Christians do today over controversial topics; we choose a side, and stick to it, no matter what verses may arise that seem to speak differently.
Now, is sticking to the truth necessary? Absolutely. Is sticking to a preference necessary? Absolutely not. Our second level of oversimplification is to take seemingly opposite ideas from Scripture, choose one, and reject the other.
The problem? They're both true. Both are contained in God's Word, whether we like it and understand it or not. For some reason, we have it stuck in our head that we can comprehend almighty God's every action, and, news flash, we can't. By His very definition and our very definitions we cannot understand His ways. Because He is infinite and we are finite, His ways are hopelessly above our comprehension.
Look at God's attributes. God is the perfect balance of justice and mercy, two seeming opposites that instead allow us to see God for exactly who He is, possessing two attributes which He blends in perfect balance to perfection. We see in the Psalms mentioned multiple times that God hates the wicked, and then see later in the New Testament that God loves the entire world. God loves and hates the same people?
This is exactly what I'm talking about. God is, by His nature, unknowable to us. Yes, He has deigned to reveal a small measure of Himself to us through His Word, but it is simply s speck in the vast universe that is God. To think that we can understand the intracacies of the mind of God from the speck, interpreted through our fallen, finite minds is absolutely insane.
So I guess what I am trying to say is to trust the Bible. When we cut out, knowingly or unknowingly, the sections of the Bible we don't like, we are cutting off a piece of our appreciation for all the attributes and character of God. When as an Arminian, you dismiss all verses in favor of election because they do not make sense, you miss a piece of God's character that He placed in His Word for us to see. When as a Calvinist, you dismiss all verses in favor of man's free will because they do not fit your worldview, you miss a piece of God's character that He placed in His Word for us to see.
At the end of the day, your logic, your mind, your senses, your feelings are a terribly inaccurate sensor for accuracy. If you dismiss the words of an Almighty God in favor of the feelings of your "rational" mind, you dismiss pieces of God's character.
I am not in any way trying to discourage scholarly debates, Biblical interpretation, systematic theology, discussion, arguments, objective truth, etc. I am not trying to dismiss man's rationality in forming a complete picture of God. My point is that man cannot form a complete picture of God by rationality alone. When we seek to conform the Bible to fit our criteria, we miss that the Bible is centered around a character outside human bounds and reason.
At the end of the day, we don't really know that much about God. God is, at least partly, unknowable. It is ignorant in the extreme to believe that man, in his frailty, can comprehend the mind, actions, and patterns of God beyond what He has shown us in His Word.
This is not a call to abandon all belief in anything. I still am a Calvinist. This is simply a call, a reminder, to look at the whole Bible, not our favorite parts, convenient parts, comfortable parts, or sensitive parts for truth. What the Bible says should shape our views of God, not what I find rational.
I cannot tell you the number of people who I have heard argue in favor of free will of man without ever addressing the issue of the many verses showing election. I have had only one friend every come to me after a discussion and say that they really couldn't comprehend the relationship between the verses about free will and sovereignty, something I completely concur with them on. I don't understand it.
But you know what? I think a lot of the people who think they understand it don't understand it that well either. In attempting to build a coherent, consistent religion, we have in some cases neglected what the Bible actually says.
This is my call to anyone reading this. Study the Bible. Yes, I'm still a Calvinist. I have not given up all my beliefs. My point is simply to accept the Bible; don't conform it to say what you want it to say.
I once had a Sunday School teacher who said to the whole class that a certain verse could not mean what it looks like it said because that would mean election was true. What was this teacher doing? He was walking in to study the Bible with the preconceived notion in his head that election was not true. It didn't matter what the verses said; he had already decided what he was going to accept.
This isn't only true in the matter of Calvinism and Arminianism. It's also true in other areas such as music. My point today was simply to use Calvinism as my example to illustrate a point. I would like to encourage readers to put away your fear of saying, "I don't know." I've met a lot of people who I've never heard say it, people who know exactly what happened and what should happen in every circumstance that every has or ever will occurred. Those people don't come across as the most spiritual people.
Some of the most spiritual men, some of the ones I trust the most, are the men who will look me in the eye, and say, "I don't know. I don't get it either." Because then you know they're honest. They're not standing by an opinion simply for the sake of being shown right, or for the sake of proving that they're not wrong.
Making truth more important than our pride is difficult but necessary. But when we don't get this idea down in our minds, we may not be going to church to worship and serve the Biblical Jesus, but instead whatever perverted form of Him we have created in our finite minds that we are most comfortable with: a Jesus who just so happens to be completely consistent with how we think things should go, a Jesus who is fine with my habits but not the guy in the next pew over. But it's not a Biblical Jesus; it's a made-to-order, handcrafted, personalized Jesus that fits exactly whichever worldview I happen to find easiest to believe.