Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Substance of Calvinism

When the debate over Calvinism and Arminianism comes up, it can often lead to intense vitriol. I think this conversation is a good example of how to defuse what can quickly become and intense wrangling over theological terms and concepts. It is a good way of 'taking down the daggers' as it were.

If you are a Calvinist, like me, this is a good example of how to be winsome in our defense of it.

A conversation between Charles Simeon and Charles Wesley on Dec. 20th 1784

Simeon: “Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions... Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?”

Wesley: “Yes, I do indeed.”

Simeon: “And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?”

Wesley: “Yes, solely through Christ.”

Simeon: “But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

Wesley: “No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.”

Simeon: “Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?”

Wesley: “No.”

Simeon: “What, then, are you upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?”

Wesley: “Yes, altogether.”

Simeon: “And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?”

Wesley: “Yes, I have no hope but in Him.”

Simeon: “Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where we agree.”

quoted from J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God pp13-14.

I don't totally agree with Simeon if he means that we should set aside differences. However, I think this is a good way of pointing out a key emphasis in Calvinism is that salvation is all a work of God. Some Arminians agree with that even if they parse the specifics differently. For those that claim Calvinism makes God into a devil, I think this conversation is quite instructive about the intentions, purposes, motivations and heart of Calvinism (without reference though of the texts that support this position).

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