Headphones & holes in theology
You'll frequently find Catholic apologists explaining Roman Catholicism as an index to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. I like Matt Moore's doctrinal apology for Calvinism as embracing the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Excerpted and reworked slightly from http://www.moorematt.org/the-accidental-calvinist/
As a 6-month-old newbie in the faith, I had never heard of Calvinism or Reformed Theology or any of the other terms Christians have coined to describe the limitless extent of God’s authoritative control. I was simply reading my Bible and kept coming across texts like Exodus 9:12, Proverbs 21:1, Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:6, Daniel 4:34-35, John 6:65, John 15:16, Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:3-14, 1 Peter 1:1-3, Romans 9 (the entire chapter), and more. I wasn’t groomed by a specific denomination to read the Bible with sovereignty-sensitive lenses on. The truths were just there—in almost every Spirit-inspired book—staring me right in the face.God controls the human heart. God draws people to Jesus Christ.God causes people to be born again. God predestined some people to become his children. This rattled me, as I was under the assumption that my conversion to Christianity had been a decision I made purely of my own volition. I mean, I did make a real, non-coerced choice to follow Jesus. That’s inarguably true. But what the Bible seemed to be saying was that God was wooing, influencing, and even changing me to ensure that I would make that choice. There was something—some effectual, divine work—taking place underneath my desires and decisions.I didn’t know what to do with this...
[It all sounded a bit too much like]
Calvinism] — I d[idn't] know... any doctrinal system [that had] ignited more faith-feuds than this. Relationships [...] fractured [...] churches [...] Devilish pride [...] and hellish rage
...So I ran to my Christian friends for guidance. They initially told me not to worry about it, saying those passages in the Bible didn’t mean what they seemed to mean. My friends explained that some folks—pesky “Calvinists”—believed that God chooses certain people to be saved. However, such theology contradicts what we know to be true about man’s free will. “God is sovereign, but he doesn’t influence or interfere with our personal decisions,” they told me, “Our choices determine our destiny, not some ‘predetermined’ plan of God.” Because they were far more seasoned in spiritual matters than me, I decided to trust their perspective and lay my curiosities to rest.
For about three days.
I couldn’t read the Bible without being confronted by this stuff! I went back to one of my friends with Bible in tow and asked him to explain what these texts “really” mean. I didn’t get an explanation—he shut my Bible and slid it across the table back to me. He said God predestines no one, chooses no one, and persuades no one. God doesn’t decide who is or isn’t saved—salvation is a self-determined matter, hinging solely on our free choice to trust in Jesus. My friend then firmly instructed me to move on and stop thinking about this.
My pastor at the time seemed to share my friend’s perspective. In the weeks following, the doctrines of predestination and election were mentioned from the pulpit multiple times. Those who adhered to such teaching were portrayed as biblically ignorant menaces. This pastor’s fierce opposition to Calvinistic theology convinced me that these things I was seeing in the Bible couldn’t possibly mean what I thought them to mean.
So, for the next month, I read and listened to every anti-Calvinistic resource I could get my hands on. I was dead set on proving (mostly to myself) that God doesn’t predestine, elect, choose, or influence anyone to believe in Jesus. Another friend decided to join me in my endeavor, reading and listening just as fervently. One day, I came across a panel discussion entitled, “Election and Predestination: The Sovereignty of God in Salvation.” This obviously wasn’t the kind of anti-Calvinistic material I was searching for, but I decided to give it a listen. I had never heard of the panel participants—one of which was John MacArthur. I plugged in my headphones, ready to identify all the holes in their theology.
God had other plans.
Read his story, and his counsel.
...You struggle to understand how a loving God could choose to save some and not others. You find it hard to reconcile God’s righteousness with his willingness to allow so much evil to exist. You don’t understand how God can be in control of human choices and then judge some for not making the right choices. I get it!
I still wrestle with these questions.
However, God doesn’t call us to fully understand him — he calls us to trust him. He requires us to whole-heartedly embrace every truth he has plainly revealed about himself—
and his absolute sovereignty is one of
the truths he has clearly and unashamedly
throughout the entirety of the Bible.
God [has revealed] the truth that he ordains all things that come to pass. He desires that you believe and be liberated by the truth that he predestined you to salvation, called you to Christ, and will sustain you to glory. He desires that you ... be liberated by the truth that he is sovereignly working all things — the good, the bad, and the ugly — [for his glory and] for your highest good and deepest joy.
* * * * *
I spent the first year of my 20s in Greenville SC, where I was lucky enough to sit under the preaching of a Reformed Baptist Biblethumper
(and I use that description assuming Stuart Latimer would consider it a compliment). The man pushed a little book by A.W. Pink called The Sovereignty of God. Pink himself would no doubt strike most modern experts as 'fundamentalist.' But the esteemed Dr. Martyn Lord-Jones cut through 20th century theological pretense with a telling recommend: "Don't waste your time reading Barth and Brunner. You will get nothing from them to aid you with preaching. Read Pink."
Amen. And if you want to take the pulse of Calvinism — the real thing and not the caricature — read his Sovereignty of God. It's enduring because it is good. Maybe one day its publisher will even give it some good jacket art. Here's the authors own internal five sentence summary:
“No revolving world, no shining of star, no storm, no creature moves, no actions of men, no errands of angels, no deeds of devil—nothing in all the vast universe can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed. Here is a foundation of faith. Here is a resting place for the intellect. Here is an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. It is not blind fate, unbridled evil, man or devil, but the Lord Almighty who is ruling the world, ruling it according to His own good pleasure and for His own eternal glory.” ― Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God