Being Ungracious About Grace: Why I Don’t Wear Calvinism On My Sleeve

calvinism-caricatureCalvinism is an extremely debated theological system that emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation. This system explains the means and order of salvation in a biblically faithful manner; however, it is not salvation. As I think about the caricatures that are thrust upon Calvinists, I’m reminded of the wisdom of not wearing Calvinism on my sleeve. Since a caricature does have some resemblance of reality, it is important to have patience with those who are still developing their theological beliefs, to understand the concept “theological triage,” and to be gracious about grace.

Sometimes Christians can forget about important questions of theological formation. How long does it take one to arrive at their settled theological convictions? Should time be allowed for intense study of the word of God? Of course time and study don’t necessarily lead to Calvinistic soteriology; however, if we are honest, patience may be lacking as we engage with people on this topic who simply haven’t had time to study it out. Furthermore, it is unlikely that we will definitively settle a theological issue that has been debated by scholars for centuries.

What issues of theology are primary and which are peripheral? This leads to what Al Mohler describes as “theological triage.” Mohler states, “A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority.” I submit that Calvinism, while directly and indirectly important, is not urgent. When it is presented as urgent, it is actually out of its theological place within the triage framework and Calvinists earn their caricatures as truly urgent theological issues are bypassed.

Unfortunately, Christians (specifically Calvinists) have at times been quite ungracious about grace. This is antithetical and unacceptable. My advice is to lose the snark, the arrogant edge, and the condescension. Let’s proclaim the sovereign grace of God graciously!

As we have opportunities to share the Gospel and discuss theological issues, wisdom should incline our hearts and mouths to engage with patience, assign appropriate urgency, and model the grace we proclaim. This is why I don’t wear Calvinism on my sleeve.

Chris Dunn
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Comments 8
  1. You raise several excellent points. I’m convinced that many theological concepts have to be held in tension and balanced. As you mention, unity and distinction for truth’s sake serves as an excellent example. I think that one can hold their theological conviction with humility regardless. There are lines to be drawn, but the posture of heart with which they are drawn is important as well.

    Thanks for reading and engaging.

  2. Geat article. However, it seems, everyone in Christianity is “proud” to identify with what kind of Christian they are. Talk of Charismatic, Pentecostals and others. But when it comes to Calvinists identifying as Calvinists, we are told not to make so much of our Calvinism. The truth is that, in our faithful presentation of gospel the truth, we will not be able to push our Calvinistic beliefs under the carpet. The moment we attempt to address who a Christian is, we can’t but speak of the Sovereignty of God in Salvation and Calvinism will show up.

    Eric Johnson in his comments makes some points which caught my attention: “Ladies & gentlemen, the only tag & the only label that’s worth wearing is “follower of Christ!” That’s the ONLY label that matters!”

    This is very true. But being a “follower of Christ” is very vague. The moment someone says they are a follower of Christ, certain questions ought to be answered. Who is a follower of Christ? In answering these we will have to be specific about issues on Faith, grace, works etc.

    The Bible does speak against divisions, but it does also sanction divisions for the sake of truth: “for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1Corinthians 11:19).

  3. The goal of the piece is admirable. It is encouraging that New Calvinists are realizing how arrogant they can be when it comes to these matters. But the execution (as is the case in many similar articles and conversations all attempting to show humility and grace) is lacking.

    Modern Calvinists “humble brag” by clearly implying that Calvinism is the only true conclusion to theological development. They love to be patient with “us” as we “wrestle” with Romans 9 and the true meaning of “all.” They then guise their patience as Grace. This is theological elitism and cloaked condescension.

    The Calvinism argument, as the author describes, should not be the primary/urgent issue. I agree. In reality, however, Calvinism is often presented as Gospel proper (Spurgeon’s famous quote sums it up nicely).

    1. Thanks for reading and engaging. I think you’re raising an important point regarding theological elitism and cloaked condescension. I tried to make it clear that “time and study don’t necessarily lead to Calvinistic soteriology.” I also believe that we will not likely settle a debate that’s been going for centuries by men that are far greater scholars than I am on both sides of the theological perspective.

      1. Thank you for the response, Chris. I agree that the debate is not likely to be settled.

        Some of my concern is in the position that many Calvinists appear to sit themselves in the default orthodox position on Biblical truth. Therefore, many of the other viewpoints become, by default, of a lesser variety/quality. You said “if we are honest, patience may be lacking as we engage with people on this topic who simply haven’t had time to study it out.” The quote hits on my concern.

        Either way the Reformed camp has done an incredible job at highlighting words and phrases that scream of orthodox and conservative Christianity. The words such as Gospel Centered…, Sovereignty, Grace, and many others come to mind. Oddly enough, Love, the greatest commandment, is harder to find within the modern Reformed message. But, I’ll grant that Love has been somewhat hijacked by the more theologically liberal “Love Wins” crowd. I can understand, to some extent, the reason for the lack of emphasis.

        At worst we end up with high level and influential Calvinists (Piper, MacArthur, Sproul, Spurgeon, etc.) just barely giving legitimacy of Salvation to Arminians (I know you do not say this nor do you specifically mention Arminian in your post). The other end of the spectrum, more evidenced in your post, at least gives legitimacy to Arminians (and other non-Calvinists). But it is still done so, I believe, with a sprinkling of theological superiority tossed in. However, in fairness, your statement is well said: “Unfortunately, Christians (specifically Calvinists) have at times been quite ungracious about grace. This is antithetical and unacceptable. My advice is to lose the snark, the arrogant edge, and the condescension. Let’s proclaim the sovereign grace of God graciously!”

  4. I believe that it is very wrong, and extremely misleading, to say that the Sovereignty of God is an exclusive view of Calvinists. I am Wesleyan-Arminian, and not once have I said or thought that God isn’t sovereign. And no other WA person I know or have read has either. We emphasize just as much, perhaps even more, God’s sovereignty than Calvinists or other reformed theologians do.

    “Impossible” you might say, but given that humanity was created in the image of God, with certain characteristics that God Himself has, and that He gave humanity the responsibility of having dominion over the earth, being able to make free, moral choices was imperative. Plus it’s what makes having a relationship possible. This means God knew humanity could choose not to obey, could choose to turn away. Yet, God still worked out His plan despite the choices that humans made. He doesn’t have to demonstrate His power through sovereign decree that can’t be thwarted. If speaking the world into existence and making the dust of creation a living being that bears His image isn’t a demonstration of just how powerful He is, I don’t know what else could be.

    Rather, because He is a good God, a holy God, a righteous God (all related to character, not power), He does not coerce, but He draws. He makes us aware of our depravity, our need for Him, our inability to save ourselves, and He says to us “Follow Me.” We are then presented with the choice. We don’t chose prior to Him giving us that choice, and we don’t arrive to that choice on our own. But once He says to us “Follow Me”, that choice is presented and the ability to follow Him is presented, and we have a choice to make. God, through Christ, has still done all the work. Responding positively to the choice Christ presents to us is not us saving ourselves (a popular caricature of Arminian belief), it is just that: a response to what God has done.

    1. Thanks for reading and engaging. The sovereignty of God is not exclusive to Calvinists; however, Calvinists do emphasize the sovereignty of God in salvation to a greater extent than you’ve described as in the Arminian position. Nonetheless, I grant that one’s scriptural paradigm will likely lead to their soteriological outlook. There are passages that fit into either paradigm. I’ve arrived at a Calvinistic paradigm, but respect the Arminian position and try not to make a caricature. You’ve raised many excellent points for consideration and I think engaging with scripture and diving into further understanding the marvelous work of God in redemption is an exciting and fruitful endeavor indeed. God bless!

  5. I REALLY appreciate this article! Someone gets it!

    Paul wasn’t a Calvinist. Peter wasn’t an Arminian. These men were simply followers of Jesus Christ.

    And let’s be real: Calvinism isn’t Christianity. And likewise Arminianism isn’t Christianity. There will be both Calvinist & Arminians in heaven! And likewise there will be both Calvinist & Arminians in hell!

    One thing I find is that tags & labels do nothing but cause confusion & division. Which one’s right? Which one’s wrong? Which one do I follow? Which one do I stand against?

    Ladies & gentlemen, the only tag & the only label that’s worth wearing is “follower of Christ!” That’s the ONLY label that matters!

    Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36, “34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”

    Just being a follower of Christ & obeying Him is enough in itself to cause division. But it’s Jesus causing the division & Him doing it rightly, not us with our man made tags & labels.

    Years ago I gave up my denominational affiliation. Denominations are nothing more than man-made divisions, dividing the body. I’m not non-denominational. I’m not inter-denominational. I am anti-denominational. I am against having denominations.

    Likewise I don’t publicly claim any particular theological doctrine. While there are certain theologians that I resonate with & there is a certain theological thought that I do gravitate to, only those closest to me know who those theologians are & what that theological thought actually is.

    To me it doesn’t advance do anything to advance the Gospel.

    I Corinthians 2:2 – “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

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