What’s The Deal With Cranky Calvinists?

Seriously.

What’s the deal with cranky Calvinists?

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why any Calvinist should be cranky. I mean, it’s called the Doctrines of Grace for a reason.

You know, grace and stuff.

What's The Deal With Cranky Calvinists

Sometimes I meet with pastors and Christians who have been significantly impacted by the rise of New Calvinism. And sometimes I leave with a sour taste in my mouth. It seems the ‘grace and stuff’ portion is missing. All that is left is hard doctrine expressed in a way that sounds like a resounding gong and clanging cymbal.

In recent years, Calvinism has made a massive impact in the Christian world, and its only been on the increase in the 10 years since this article was written. So much so there was a recent documentary produced about it. It’s certainly impacted me.

When I lived in the Chouf Mountains of Lebanon for two years I devoured John Piper’s teaching on TULIP, the main structure of Calvinistic thought. I first came across Piper over 15 years ago now, while listening to his biographical messages on significant Christians in church history. This made me put words to a theological system that I’d grown up under. In some ways nothing had changed, but in many ways everything had changed.

Yet, after 15 years of knowing what I’ve known about God, the Bible, and the Gospel I look around at this rise in Calvinism and am sometimes saddened. I’m either saddened, angry, or cynical – I’ll be honest. For some reason people jeopardise their relationship with others over a system of thinking about the Bible.

While I believe it is the more consistent system in understanding God and His Word I realise it is just that. A system. It’s not Jesus himself.

Anyway, this rant-like post has been inspired by my reading of William Jay. In his autobiography he writes about Calvinists in his own day. Thankfully he came across some good ones, as he says,

“In my considerable acquaintance with the religious world, some of the most exemplary individuals I have met with have been Calvinists. Of this persuasion were the two most extraordinary characters I ever knew – John Newton, and Cornelius Winter. They held its leading sentiments with firmness; but their Calvinism, like that of Bunyan, was rendered, by their temper, milder than that of some of their brethren; and they were candid towards who who differed from them; and esteemed and loved them as fellow-heirs together of the grace of life.” 

Well, to have that said of you would be a terrific thing. But, evidently these cranky cage stage Calvinists must’ve been around in his day too (circa early-1800’s).

If you are a Calvinist, or lean that way, then I encourage you to be a pleasant and understanding Calvinist, not a cranky one.

Remember, grace and stuff.

Day 12 – You Are Made For Good Works

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Can you think of something you’ve done this week which you would categorise as ‘good’?

Perhaps you behaved well in class. Perhaps you went to church. Perhaps you ate well. Perhaps you opened the door for someone. Perhaps you didn’t swear when you got angry. Perhaps gave someone a birthday present. Perhaps you sent a loving text.

What did you do this week that was good?

Often we find ourselves thinking in terms of good or bad. Am I a good Christian? Have I done something good with my life? Have I achieved the good I want to this week or month? Have I got good marks?

Well, the bible speaks of believers being good. That is, that we have been created for good works. Did you know that?

You're More Than A Number - You Are Made For Good Works

It is very easy for us to believe that the good we do will help our standing before God. In reality this isn’t the case. Our good works don’t improve of lessen our standing before God in any way. His love for us in unchanging. To be right with God is not because of these ‘good works’ but because of what Jesus has done on the cross. God accepts us because of what He has done through Jesus, not from our good actions, behaviours, or thoughts.

It’s a radical gift.

It’s why the song ‘Amazing Grace’ came into being. It’s amazing because we haven’t done anything to deserve this gift. It is grace because it is a free gift from God to us.

And out of this radical gift of grace we find ourselves bursting forth with thanks, joy, and hope for life.

Off the back of this great news we recognise that God has created us to do good works. Because of the gift we’ve been given we seek to gift others by helping, loving, and serving others.

Listen to what Paul, the writer of a letter to the Ephesian church, says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

God has shown his incredible riches, grace, and kindness through Jesus. And out of this amazing grace from God we find ourselves created to do good works. As we follow Jesus and put our trust in him we have a joy in doing good works for others. Our hearts are now turned to help and love others, we desire the best for others and so seek to help them through the good works we do.

God’s hands are all over this as he has moved in us to accept this grace, and continues to move us to desire the best for others. As we continue in our relationship with God we continue to be made more and more like His Son. In this we desire to seek and serve those around us, learning how to do the good works that he has prepared for us to do.

Incredible.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you realise how much grace God has given you through the person and work of his Son Jesus?
  • Out of this truth, what is the response you have?
  • What opportunities do you have to do good works for others this week?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave

Published: Grace In Relationships – The Youth Minister And The Volunteer

A few days ago I had a post published at Rooted Ministry. This is part of a series about ‘Grace In Relationships’. I focussed on what it means to extend grace as a Youth Pastor to those who are committed volunteer leaders in your church.

“Often, relationships can be made complicated in unhealthy ways. However, when grace is the marker in a relationship – youth ministry volunteer or otherwise – that which seems complicated becomes easier. Truth is eventually able to be spoken, forgiveness is able to be given and received, and love and kindness shines through. If you’re sceptical, look no further than the grace given to us through Christ Jesus. I encourage you to seek to make grace the centre of your relationship with your volunteers, as I believe it will not only transform the culture of your youth ministry to another level, but also transform your own heart.”

You can read the whole post here.

11 Things: Fixing People vs God’s Grace

I walk into church.

I know what to expect. I’ve been to plenty of churches and services before.

I’ve been a Pastor’s kid. I’ve been a volunteer. I’ve spoken up the front. I’ve been on staff. I’ve been part of committees and organising groups.

I know church culture like I know how to drive a car. I know what the people are doing up the front.

I know most of the songs. I know the typical Baptist liturgy, the three-song sandwich.

I’ve sat through plenty of prayers. I’ve let the bowl pass plenty of times. I’ve taken the bread and the juice regularly. I’ve listened to plenty of people’s stories. I’ve heard sermon after sermon after sermon.

I know what to expect on a Sunday morning.

But what I didn’t expect was that feeling of being more burdened when I walked out of the service than when I walked in.

That surprised me.

For a few months, having recently finished up my position as Youth and Young Adults Pastor, I found myself confused.

I thought going to church would now be easier. There’d be no pressure, there’d be no one watching, there’d be no one expecting anything of me. I could sit, I could listen, I could let it all wash over me as I reflected and worshipped God.

But, there I sat. I sat hearing those prayers, listening to the songs, concentrating on the sermon, and participating in the gathering. Yet, the more I did this the worse I felt, the more the burdens piled up on my already heavy shoulders.

As I’ve reflected on this experience there are no doubt plenty of reasons for feeling like this. The loss of previous identity, the over-cynical nature of my mind, the attitude of my heart toward church. I also realised that what I was looking for was grace, hope, and a sense of God’s love for me personally.

Instead, I was given proof-texted lifehacks for a healthy life. I was being fed fast-food that seemed to taste nice at the time but became ugly as time went on.

For a season, I sensed layers and layers of guilt being added to me when walking out of a church service. I was guilty about my relationship with Jesus. I was guilty about my actions and attitudes toward those around me. I was guilty about my parenting. I was guilty about my spending habits. I was guilty about my responsibilities.

I came out feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. That all I needed to do to be living the Christian life was to do more of whatever was taught that particular week. Rather than finding the alleviation of guilt, shame, and sin that the worship of God through the Spirit brings I was finding my already full to-do-list was being added to.

As I look back on my own brief ministry and church experience I realise that little time is spent providing opportunities of being fed God’s grace.

The church service is often a place where people come once a week, if you’re lucky, and seek to hear God through his Word with his people. Yet, I know I have been guilty of things, of just giving fast-food topped with ice-cream for dessert. Often we give a short-term fix to long-term problems. We give little balm for their hurts and pain, providing cheap Band-Aids that soon lose their stick.

In youth ministry we often plough ahead with the program. We outline what’s coming up and hit the main topics of relationships, sex, social media, and other ‘youth culture’ issues. We often bring the fun, the excitement and the loud. But it is also about time we as Youth Pastors thought about bringing the grace.

How do we provide spaces for young people, and those in our church, to understand that God is a God of grace?

We’re all very good at giving advice and providing correction if something doesn’t go the way we think is right.

We’re all very quick to help with the practical but often unwilling to sit with the pained.

The disruptive kid at youth group. The youth leader who always brings the negative. The parent who is always on your back. Each needs grace.

People are not only sinners but they are sufferers too. They are enduring life and busyness and all that comes with the daily tasks of living. It’s a wonder so many make it into church on a Sunday, or to youth group on a Friday as it is!

Let’s not attempt to fix people. Let’s provide spaces where God can work his grace.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part nine of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six, part seven and part eight here.