Many today are attracted to reformed theology – that is, theology that follows the traditions and practices of John Calvin and other protestant theologians during the Reformation era. Today, the major players in reformed theological circles include names like John MacArthur, D.A. Carson, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, J.I. Packer, Albert Mohler, and Mark Dever, to name a few. Rising stars in the reformed tradition include Kevin DeYoung, J.D. Greear, Joe Thorn, Tim Challies, and Matt Chandler.
Reformed preaching and teaching is characterized by an allegedly high view of God and His divine attributes, namely His sovereignty, glory, and holiness. You can understand why people are attracted to reformed preaching; in an age where theological liberalism is rampant, more and more people are searching for preaching that trumpets God’s majesty and holds the Bible in high esteem.
The denominations today that are growing (or at least not shrinking) are mostly theologically conservative. The allure of liberalism comes with empty promises of church growth. Let this be a lesson to us: people are searching for churches that offer meaty, challenging, and substantive teaching. Many are tired of the Readers Digest-like teaching so prevalent today. People want to be taught God’s Word in a clear, understandable way. Reformed preaching claims to offer this. But be sure to read the small print. Subtle error is the most dangerous form of error.
The problem with reformed theology is not that it is typically conservative, but that it is usually deeply Calvinistic. The doctrine of Calvinism teaches that (a) all infants are born with the seed of sin, (b) God chooses individually who He will save from eternal damnation (meaning we have no choice in the matter), (c) the blood of Christ is not available to all men, and (d) the few people God has individually chosen to save are forced by the Holy Spirit to obey Him.
Because so many even among the church of Christ are attracted to Reformed preaching – Calvinism is poised to infiltrate the Lord’s church like never before. Which is why I have enjoyed Austin Fischer’s book, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, And A Journey In And Out Of Calvinism.
In his book, Austin Fischer demonstrates the problems of Calvinism. Calvinism’s supposedly high view of God’s sovereignty is merely a façade. The Sovereign God of the Bible is bigger than the so-called sovereign god of Calvinism. Our truly Sovereign God has chosen to share some of His sovereignty with mankind, allowing us to choose whether or not we will love and serve Him. Austin writes,
God is always sovereign, but that means he – and not we – gets to decide what shape that sovereignty takes. And apparently, God’s sovereignty makes room for human freedom so that God and humans can have a personal, and not merely casual, relationship. (Page 67)
The God of the Bible is bigger than the god of Calvinism in that a truly Sovereign God can foreknow our eternal destiny without foreordaining our eternal destiny. Calvinists miss this point. They instead humanize God – claiming that since God knows all things (His omniscience), like a human He must therefore predestine us individually.
Fischer is balanced in his assessment of Calvinism. Commenting on the mistake of automatically assuming we have free will, he writes,
Looking for free will in the Bible is like looking for gravity: it’s assumed everywhere and holds everything together, so you probably won’t notice it until it’s missing and you float away. (Page 62)
Instead, we must start with Genesis – with mankind choosing to eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil – not with the peculiar passages that at first-glance seem to teach Calvinism when taken out of context. “For the first four hundred years of church history, people read Romans 9 and did not think it taught what later came to be called Calvinism” (page 48).
It’s usually easier to rattle off multiple verses that seem to contradict free will than it is to name a single verse that affirms it. We think of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart because the passage sticks out – it cuts against the grain of the rest of the biblical narrative. We don’t think of the sixty-three times Jesus tells people to do or not do something during his Sermon on the Mount, seemingly assuming they had the ability to do or not do what he said, because it flows seamlessly with the pattern of the biblical narrative. (Page 62).
As Austin Fischer explains his evolution towards the truth and away from Calvinism, he said he “felt pretentious staking more on Calvinism than Jesus did” (page 48).
Everyone who regularly listens to or reads the works of reformed theologians needs to read Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed. While it is written by a non-New Testament Christian, it reminds us that Calvinism is wrong and that there are still people in Christendom who are searching for truth. There are some flaws in this book, and there are many things I would have said differently had I been the author. Nevertheless, it is important for Christians to balance their reading, and this book help accomplish this.
Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed achieves what few books have been able to easily do: In just 108 pages, Calvinism is explained and refuted with clear, accessible language. The god of Calvinism is actually quite small, and the sovereign God of the Bible is quite glorious indeed.
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