Charles Spurgeon once noted, “That doctrine which is called “Calvinism” did not spring from Calvin; we believe that it sprang from the great founder of all truth.”[i] With these words, Spurgeon set forth the critical truth that the Doctrines of Grace, also known as the Five Points of Calvinism or TULIP (Totally Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) originates from. In this issue, you will learn the biblical and Reformed perspective on the doctrine of salvation. The men that wrote the articles in this issue are committed to these biblical truths and proclaim them from God’s Word.
Often Reformed theology gets a bad name because some people believe that it teaches what is known as Hyper-Calvinism—namely that God has chosen us so that we (Calvinists) don’t need to preach that sinners can believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved. God is sovereign over the process of salvation. We call sinners to salvation and trust that God will open the eyes of the blind, causing them to taste and see that the Lord is good. Through the Holy Spirit, God takes our heart of stone and replaces it with a new heart, with new desires, and affections for Himself.
The Doctrines of Grace explain the heartbeat of the Gospel. To understand the Doctrines of Grace one must be taken deep into the heart of God who loves to save the lost, the least, and the marginalized. One must dwell long on these truths and be taken into the very mind of God, who calls people who were formerly covenant breakers and invites them to be His covenant people. The Doctrines of Grace take one deep into the mind and depths of God.
Sadly, these truths have been misunderstood and maligned since the Second Great Awakening. Often what passes for Calvinism isn’t Calvinism. Calvinism is more than just a doctrinal view of salvation—it is based on the truth that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word of God. It is based on the fact that God alone saves. In addition to these truths, Reformed theology rejects “gimmicks” in favor for God’s Word, not just to be preached and believed, but to be lived under. This is why the Reformers spoke of the means of grace. They believed that these “means of grace” define and give shape to the ordinary Christian life, as it is lived under godly authority in the context of the local church.
The Church must be reforming, or it will die. The church that is conforming to the world has lost its first love and compromised the Gospel. R.C. Sproul, a famous Reformed theologian, teaches that these doctrines of grace should humble people. Those who believe in Reformed theology are often not humble, but instead known as “that guy/girl” who can blast everyone with his/her theological knowledge—showing no love or concern for people.
The central issue in contemporary Reformed circles with its resurgence on “gospel” everything is that many Reformed people know sound doctrine, but aren’t able to see the connection between doctrine and how they live their lives. Sound doctrine leads to sound living. Most, if not all, Reformed people would affirm that biblical truth. As I interact with those in the Reformed world, I am gravely concerned that we are people who can only answer doctrinal and theological questions at the expense of speaking the truth in love. I am very concerned that we lack the relational skills and maturity to talk across our own tradition to other Christians who love the Gospel. To put it another way, I believe many of us are guilty of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13—we know the truth, but we’re clanging gongs because we lack genuine love for other people.
I’ve been a Christian since I was a young child and have believed in the Doctrines of Grace at least since my early teenage years, if not before. I’ve been to the conferences, read the books, listened to the sermons, and know a lot of people in the Reformed world. To be fair, not everyone who’s Reformed could be categorized as I just explained. Most Reformed people I know are humble, love the Bible, love people, and have great relational and spiritual maturity; they are the “real deal”.
My prayer is that as you read this issue, you wouldn’t feel the need to “check these off your list” and say, “I’m good”, but rather that you would allow these truths to humble you. God wants to use you in powerful ways in the life of His Church. There is a great need for doctrinal knowledge in our day, but there is a greater need for doctrinal knowledge that leads to right living, and thus relational maturity as well. As you read this Issue of Theology for Life Magazine, whether you new to Reformed theology or you are a long-time student of these truths, I encourage you to apply what you will learn to your life.
Our aim in life should not be to convert people to our theological position and viewpoint, but to show them the glory of Christ, be faithful to the Word, and point them to the Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ.
As you read this issue, I’m praying that the Lord will use it in your life so that you’ll be encouraged, challenged, convicted, and your vision of God expanded. Furthermore, I pray that you’ll learn what the Gospel is and begin, if you haven’t already, to mine the depths of God’s Word on these issues.
In Christ Alone,
Executive Editor, Theology for Life
[i] Charles Spurgeon, Exposition Of The Doctrines of Grace, Volume 7, Sermon #385.
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Editorial by Dave Jenkins