Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Calvinism: The Continental Divide of Theology

WRITTEN BY Steven Lawson, Ligonier Ministries. Source below. Re-posted according to Ligonier's stated copyright policy.
Through the western regions of North America, there runs an imaginary geographic line that determines the flow of streams into oceans. It is known as the Continental Divide. Ultimately, precipitation falling on the east side of this great divide will flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Likewise, water falling on the western slopes of this line will surge in the opposite direction until it finally empties into the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, a vast continent separates these immense bodies of water. It is seemingly far-fetched to ponder that a raindrop falling atop a mountain in Colorado will flow to the Pacific, while another drop, falling but a short distance away, will flow into the Atlantic. Nevertheless, once the water pours down on a particular side of this great divide, its path is determined and its direction is unchangeable.

Geography is not the only place we find a great divide. There is a high ground that runs through church history as well—a Continental Divide of theology. This great divide of doctrine separates two distinctly different streams of thought that flow in opposite directions. To be specific, this determinative high ground is one’s theology of God, man, and salvation. This is the highest of all thought, and it divides all doctrine into two schools. Historically, these two ways of thinking about God and His saving grace have been called by various names. Some have identified them as Augustinianism and Pelagianism. Others have named them Calvinism and Arminianism. Still others have defined them as Reformed and Catholic, while others have used the terms predestination and free will. But by whatever name, these streams are determined by the Continental Divide of theology.

This metaphorical divide differs from the geographical Continental Divide in one key respect. Whereas streams flowing west and east of the Rocky Mountains descend gradually to the plains and lowlands where they meet the oceans, the terrain on the two sides of the doctrinal divide is quite different. On one side we find solid highlands of truth. On the other side there are precipitous slopes of half-truths and full error.

Over the centuries, seasons of reformation and revival in the church have come when the sovereign grace of God has been openly proclaimed and clearly taught. When a high view of God has been infused into the hearts and minds of God’s people, the church has sat on the elevated plateaus of transcendent truth. This lofty ground is Calvinism—the high ground for the church. The lofty truths of divine sovereignty provide the greatest and grandest view of God. The doctrines of grace serve to elevate the entire life of the church. The great Princeton theologian Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, writing more than a century ago, perceptively noted, “The world should realize with increased clearness that Evangelicalism stands or falls with Calvinism.” At first glance, this stunning statement may appear to be an exaggeration, even hyperbole. But the more it is weighed, the more one discerns that evangelicalism—that part of the body of Christ that rightly adheres to the inerrancy of Scripture, the total depravity of man, and the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life—always needs the doctrines of sovereign grace to anchor it to the high ground. For without the theological teachings of Reformed truth concerning God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation, the church is weakened and made vulnerable, soon to begin an inevitable decline into baser beliefs, whether she realizes it or not.

Whenever the church becomes increasingly man-centered, she begins the downhill slide, often without recovery, and always to her detriment. Once yielding the high ground of Calvinism, a self-absorbed church puts its full weight onto the slippery slope of Arminianism, resulting in a loss of its foundational stability. Tragically, however, the descent rarely stops there. Historically, man-centered doctrine has served only as a catalyst for an even greater fall.

Adapted by EPrata from Dr Lawson's article
Rappelling down the slippery slopes of Arminianism, one is soon to find the church sinking deeper and deeper into a murky quagmire of heretical ideas. Such a descent inevitably gives way to liberalism, the utter rejection of the absolute authority of Scripture. From liberalism—given enough time— the church always plunges yet lower into ecumenism, that deadly philosophy that embraces all religions as having some part of the truth. Continuing this downward spiral, the church plummets into universalism, the damning belief that all men eventually will be saved. Yet worse, universalism gives way to agnosticism, a degenerate view that one cannot even know whether there is a God. Finally, the church falls into the deepest abyss—the hellish flames of atheism, the belief that there is no God.

Never has the need been greater for the truths of sovereign grace to be firmly established in the church. Her thinking about God desperately needs to be flowing in the right direction. As the church thinks, so she worships; and, as the church worships, so she lives, serves, and evangelizes. The church’s right view of God and the outworking of His grace gives shape to everything that is vital and important. The church must recapture her lofty vision of God and, thereby, be anchored to the solid rock of His absolute supremacy in all things. Only then will the church have a God-centered orientation in all matters of ministry. This, I believe, is the desperate need of the hour.

This excerpt is adapted from Foundations of Grace by Steven J. Lawson.

Resource The Continental Divide of Theology (http://www.ligonier.org/blog/continental-divide-theology/), Copyright 2016 by Steven J. Lawson, Ligonier Ministries (http://www.ligonier.org)


10 comments :

  1. This is so true...without a high view of God and His Word it is a fast and slippery slope downward. There is a wonderful curriculum that helped me to understand this better called Behold Your God (www.beholdyourgod.org). I highly recommend for those seeking a high biblical view of God. Thank you for all you do, Elizabeth! :)

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  2. I whole-heartedly agree and find it amazing just how many well-meaning Christians can't see this. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. When I came to understand the doctrine of election, it magnified God and His sovereignty and put my mind at peace. You really cannot comprehend the greatness of God and His control of all things under the notion of free will. Until you understand that you were chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world, you do not know Who your God really is and what He is really like. I discovered that what I'd been taught all my life was error. How glad I am that God has revealed this truth to me. But it is not a popular position to share and others will fight hard against it and hold to tradition and outright reject the view as unbiblical for the God of love. It is also a truth that raises other hard questions, certainly not milk for the immature.

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  4. Thanks for your wonderful words of testimony Anonymous, Leslie A and Sheryl! I'm so encouraged by them.

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  5. Sheryl, you have put words to my own thoughts so perfectly. It's an encouragement to know there are others out there who know the truth as I do. Thanks
    Jennifer

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  6. Hello, May I re-post this article to my blog? I appreciate all your hard work and defending the faith! Blessings, Roxy

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    1. You're welcome. Yes you can re-post. This is a repost from Ligonier, anyway. :) Ligonier Ministries allows reposting IF you don't sell it or gain money from it, and post the attribution the way I did at the end. Blessings.

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  7. To be clear, a high view of Scripture (i.e. the right view of God’s Word) does not equate to Calvinism [there a MANY non-calvinists with a high/accurate view of Scripture). Also, Calvinism/Arminianism is a false dichotomy [as is Reformed/Catholic, in fact many “Reformed” have not given up many Catholic notions (e.g. infant baptism). The attempt to build on this false dichotomy/falsehood (or any thing false or in error) will only lead to further error. Furthermore, there are many non-Calvinists who essentially believe the 5 solas.

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    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Thanks for your comment, but I'm confused by it. I believe the writer of the essay I'd re-posted DOES say clearly that a high view of God equates to Calvinism, because it is the most transcendent view.

      Calvinism/Arminianism is not a false dichotomy. The terms came from real people's names who had a real debate on certain views of God and their differing views are at once opposed to each other. As a matter of fact, Calvinism/Arminianism is the very definition of dichotomy. Here is a chart of the bullet points of each which clearly show the divide. http://graceonlinelibrary.org/reformed-theology/arminianism/calvinism-vs-arminianism-comparison-chart/

      Where you claim in fact many “Reformed” have not given up many Catholic notions (e.g. infant baptism) I find a sweeping and unfounded statement. If one is reformed they are not Catholic and vice versa.

      Finally, your mention that "Furthermore, there are many non-Calvinists who essentially believe the 5 solas" is like saying "Many non-Trinitarians believe in three Persons in one God." In short, nonsensical. Calvinists are defined by their adherence to the 5 solas, which really, is simply being biblical.

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    2. To the author of the comment above: If you have issues regarding Calvinism, I'd suggest contacting the original writer of the piece, of which I'd merely re-posted. And no, I am not going to publish your reply. If as you say, not publishing your reply makes me undiscerning, so be it. Blessings to you in return.

      Here is the original author's contact, so you can share your many concerns regarding Calvinism with him;

      This excerpt is adapted from Foundations of Grace by Steven J. Lawson.


      Resource The Continental Divide of Theology (http://www.ligonier.org/blog/continental-divide-theology/), Copyright 2016 by Steven J. Lawson, Ligonier Ministries (http://www.ligonier.org)

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