We human beings like our clubs. We like to belong and throng together with others that look like us, think like us, talk like us, and walk like us. We like the camaraderie of consistency in our ranks, and the tighter we can pull in those ranks, the better. And, oh, how we tend to like seeing ourselves as a little (or a lot) better than those not in our ranks.
To me, it is a disturbing irony that so many professing Calvinists, while touting the doctrines of grace, are so ungraciously treating non-Calvinists, and even other Calvinists, with that trait of our depravity. Some of the statements and attitudes I see from some other Calvinists make me wonder if they really believe in the doctrines of grace they claim to defend. I wonder how they can rub elbows with one another in their tight ranks of their cliquish Calvinism and think themselves to be agents of both grace and truth, as we have received from God in Christ. I am moved to write this article by the red-faced, furrowed-brow, shrill-voiced, mean-spirited ugliness I have seen from them.
If you are a Calvinist that tends to look at other Calvinists to size up their Calvinism, I have some questions for you. What must one do to be Calvinist enough for you? -You who pride yourself on your doctrinal superiority. -You who consider yourself not only theologically elect but also theologically elite. Must one call out every Arminian-leaning Christian as a heretic, with a scowl and a growl? Must one tow the Westminster/1689 lines, touting T.U.L.I.P. down to the root of every letter? Must one regularly power-lift all the biggest and heaviest theological terms in order to build up enough strength to throw them upside Arminians' heads and knock them into stupefied silence?
If you are a Calvinist that looks at Arminians to size up their Christianity, what must the Arminian do to be Christian enough for you? Ah, we already know the answer to that. He must be as Calvinist as you. And that may mean, even in spite of my Calvinism, I am not Christian enough for you, either, if I am not as Calvinist as you.
I base the title of this article on a scene from the movie The Master of Disguise(1). If you watch this scene, you'll see how Dana Carvey's character (Pistachio Disguisey) dressed up in a funny caricature of what it meant to be a member of the Turtle Club. As the door man of the club looked at him with critical scorn, Pistachio comically asked, "Am I not turtley enough for the turtle club?"
In the case of the Calvinist club, the caricature is reversed, and it's not funny, as those Calvinists look at all others with their critical scorn. Those that pride themselves on their place in the club may be Calvinists of intellectual truth, but not of amazing grace. Their unloving knowledge is puffing them up into a distortion of true Calvinism. With no comical intent, I ask, am I not Calvinist enough for the Calvinist club? And I answer, no, I am not, when membership requires the brand of Calvinism that wields the sword of the Spirit in enmity against other people, and especially other Christians.
There are Christians who are not and never will be Calvinists. There are Christians in Heaven now that never heard of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Westminster/1689 LB Confessions of Faith, or T.U.L.I.P. But they know Christ and are now with Christ. Understanding the providence of God in them coming to know Christ was not a prerequisite to them coming to know Christ. They understood the essential truth of salvation, in conviction of their sin and true repentance and faith, that their salvation was all of Him and not at all of themselves. They understood that, in receiving Christ, they had received the grace and truth of God in Christ. They understood that the remission of their sins and the redemption of their souls was all in and by Christ. They took no glory for themselves in their salvation. They knew they were saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, for the glory of God alone. The Gospel of true Calvinism saved them. But Calvinistic understanding and expression of the Gospel did not.
The kind of Calvinist I am, in both doctrine and demeanor (still developing), has been influenced by no one more than R.C. Sproul. In fact, his influence on me has been so strong that I have seriously considered becoming Presbyterian (stopping up against paedobaptism until I am convinced otherwise by Scripture). And over the years of listening to him, what has struck me over and over about R.C. is both his might in his doctrine and his meekness in his demeanor. He was fierce in fighting damning doctrine. But he was, in the same breath, touchingly gracious with those struggling with his finer points of doctrine. He was, in ministering both the grace and truth of Christ, a true Calvinist.
I learned from R.C. that there is no place in true Calvinism for critical, cocky, cranky Calvinists. The blazing truth of amazing grace should melt away our highbrowed arrogance. Calvinists should be the most humble people on the planet. We of all people should be the most gracious in our speech, in deducing and declaring how gracious God has been to us, only "according to the kind intention/good pleasure of His will" (Ephesians 1:5, NASB). We of all people should have no high view of ourselves, in realizing and witnessing that we are no one and have done nothing in and of ourselves to save ourselves. We know that the warrant of God's favor is not in us, so, how can we ever think of ourselves more highly than we ought, to raise ourselves up over others more highly than we ought?
Do not misunderstand me. I reject Christian ecumenicism at all evangelistic costs. However, I also reject Calvinist elitism in its exclusive club. I will not compromise the essential truths of Scripture, but neither will I castigate others I know are saved by the essential truths of Scripture. I cannot express my convictions better than James White, therefore, I will close with him having the last word in the video clip(2) below.
Let us aspire to understand the times and know what we
(1 Chronicles 12:32)