It’s no secret that in the past few years a prominent movement of Calvinist preachers has dominated theological discussions in evangelical circles. Men like Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper boldly proclaim the Scripture. They reach tens of thousands of people each week through their podcasts, and to a lesser degree through their books. They’ve captured the hearts of college students and young adults across the country with their emphasis on God’s absolute sovereignty, unconditional election, and the necessity of good works as a proof of election.
In many ways I’m grateful for the work of these men because they highly value the Scripture and they challenge their listeners to boldly share the Gospel and to passionately pursue Jesus.
I am not strongly Calvinist, but that doesn’t lessen my appreciation for those who read the Scripture carefully and come to different conclusions than I do. My church happens to fall between the two poles of Calvinism and Arminianism. We’re solidly within the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, yet it often feels like we’re a minority voice in the broader stream of evangelicalism these days. (Although I suspect that’s an illusion — I think it’s just that the loudest voices these days are strongly Calvinistic).
Sometimes students engage me in discussions about Calvinism, Arminianism, and the related topics (election, sovereignty, limited atonement, the relationship between faith and works, etc.). I LOVE conversations like that, and am so grateful for students who actually think carefully about the issues.
BUT…in recent years I’ve noticed that when I begin to discuss the Bible with strongly Reformed college students, they often respond by telling me the words of some prominent Reformed leader rather than the words of Scripture. I want to be careful here — I’m not blaming these leaders for the responses of their listeners, but I am a bit baffled. The Protestant Reformation was launched by a guy named Martin Luther, who stood before the Catholic emperor and insisted that he would only listen to reason and the clear testimony of Scripture. That’s our tradition, and theological discussion works best when we return to the Bible as our primary support for whatever position we take.
For some men and women, the issue of Calvinism becomes a dividing line between orthodoxy and heresy. In other words, you’re either Calvinist or you’re suspect — probably a liberal in sheep’s clothing. Strangely, though, sometimes the same young men and women who so strongly support this theological position admit to me that they haven’t read the entire Bible. They’ve taken their cues from podcasts and books. A few have closely studied the issues from Scripture, and I respect those men and women even if I disagree. Those who parrot what they’ve heard without reflection make me sad. I have a deep desire to see college students and young adults look to the Scripture and deeply engage with it. That’s one of the primary reasons I became a college pastor.
SO…whoever you are, I encourage you to hold everything up to the light of the Word of God. Even what I say. Even what your favorite podcaster says. Even your favorite book.
That’s hard work. It takes years of thought, and reflection, and reading. But it’s worth the effort to know what God’s Word really says instead of simply taking your theology from the dim reflections of people like me (or Piper, Chandler, Driscoll, or Chan).
If you are a student or young adult, what barriers do you face as you try to construct your theology from God’s Word? How can you overcome them?
If you are a minister or leader, how do you approach this issue with those in your care?