Answering Hot Topics – Am I a Calvinist?

Am I a Calvinist? from Bret Capranica on Vimeo.

As you might imagine, I am often asked about this.  Obviously, I have openly identifed myself with Calvinism in some regard, but when really pushed on this issue I don’t have any desire to publicly defend myself as a Calvinist.  That’s not because I’m ashamed of what I believe or with whom it may associate me, nor am I trying to duck behind a facade and not answer tough questions.  I really do have an aversion to many of these sorts of public theological labels.

Admittedly, I am probably inconsistent in my aversion.  I don’t mind being called a Baptist, even though I abhor some of the caricatures, but I am not dogmatic in defending myself as an ardent Dispensationalist, though I would hold a number of its tenets.

Why I have an aversion to theological labels.

1.  Labels tend to avoid biblical discussion. If I simply come out and publicly identify myself as a Calvinist or even a Dispensationalist, the conversation with many immediately ceases and we tend to go no further without any real biblical interaction over the issues.  Or, association with a particular label often leads to a mere discussion of whose syllogism is most logical.  Maybe that has its place, but not fundamentally.  Why begin, not with “are you a . . . “ but with “how do you understand this biblical passage, or that doctrinal implication.”  I have no interest in defending Calvinism per se.   I have great interest in discussing biblical texts and how we come to certain conclusions about them.

2.  Labels are usually associated with caricatures. I find that people have their own mental associations with theological labels – whether positive or negative, whether correctly or incorrectly defined.  For example, when reading Dave Hunt’s book, What Love Is This, I could not identify myself with what he described as a Calvinist.  In my estimation, he created a false image of a Calvinist, and proceeded then to poke holes in his self-made caricature.  Nor when I read Norm Geisler’s book, Chosen But Free, was I not convinced of his re-defining more traditional Arminian belief into a modified Calvinism.  He, like Hunt, tends not to interact with actual interpretive issues in the Bible, but the straw-man caricatures he made out of Calvinists.  Don’t get me wrong.  Calvinists can do the same as well.  Some go so far as to even suggest that anyone in an Arminian camp is heretical and unworthy of gospel partnership.  That is not my position or practice.

3.  Labels tend to create unhelpful schisms within the congregation. As soon as the label is assigned the schisms begin, fragmenting the body of Christ (a local church) into various pro and con segments.  I don’t view this as healthy (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).  Why not rather have open and frank discussions on difficult passages and their doctrinal implications.  I think the church can more faithfully come together in unity when we discuss how we come to biblical conclusions, rather than which labeled camp do you associate with.

But now to the question at hand:

I suppose I am a Calvinist if . . .

If you define Calvinism as believing that man’s nature is so affected by the power of and slavery to sin, that he would never, in and of himself, have the spiritual ability to bring himself to Christ (Rom 3:10-19; Eph 2:1-3), so God, in his mercy, chose to apply his saving love upon those he marked from eternity past for redemption (Eph 1:4-11; 2:1-10; 2 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 1:9), actually accomplishing atonement for them on the cross and averting the wrath of God toward them through Jesus’ sacrifice (Eph 5:25-27), awakening a lost sinner’s heart to the beauty of Christ, the horrors of hell and the kindness of God in the gospel (2 Cor 4:3-6), God effecting a yearning for Christ in the sinner’s heart (Acts 16:14), and preserving the converted sinner until ultimate glorification (Rom 8:1, 28-39) – then yes, I would be probably be considered a Calvinist and don”™t care if you call me one.   I come to those conclusions based on specific interpretations of a multitude of texts.  But in the end, I would rather discuss each of the issues from the Scripture, than simply talk about what is and is not Calvinistic.

But I’m not really a Calvinist if  . . .

If you think that a Calvinist assumes that because God elected certain ones to salvation then there is no need to avidly evangelize or pray for sinners to be converted, or one that believes that all Arminians are heretics, or that the death of Christ had no beneficial intention for even those who will not believe (1 Tim 4:10), or that all human responsibility is unnecessary because God is sovereign (Matt 4:17; Acts 17:30-31), that God does not use human means to bring about a person”™s conversion, or that God brings sinners to himself unwillingly, kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God – then no – I’m not a Calvinist.   Nor do I hold to paedo-baptism, a church-state religion or a Presbyterian hierarchical structure of church government.  Nope, in those ways, I’m not a Calvinist ““ if that is how you define Calvinism.

Am I an Arminian?

I don’t think that human will is so free that once saved, I am still free to reject Christ’s work on the cross and then become unsaved (Rom 8:31-39; John 10:27-29).  I don’t believe that the human will can ultimately hold God’s will captive.  I don’t think God chose people for salvation based upon what they would do (Eph 2:3-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 3:5-7), I don’t think Christ’s crucifixion only made atonement for sin possible, but actual, I don’t think the work of the Holy Spirit is ineffective when he supernaturally draws someone to Christ.  So, I’m probably not an Arminian.

But then again . . .

I do believe that humans are responsible to respond to the gospel.  I believe that sinners will receive divine wrath for choosing not to embrace and follow the gospel.   I avidly believe that Christians have an urgent responsibility to make the gospel known to all the nations of the world.  I believe God uses means such as prayer, conversation, preaching, personal character, missionaries, etc., to bring about salvation in a person’s life.  I think that the death of Christ is sufficient for all, provided to all (though not efficaciously applied to or appropriated by all), is publicly offered to all as the only solution to their sinful condition, and is what brings any present, temporary relief from God’s wrath on our sinful world.   If that’s your understanding of Arminianism or some form of modified Calvinism, then maybe I’m that.

I believe all who will, may come and they will find Christ a ready and sufficient Savior (John 6:35, 47; Matt 11:28-30).  I also believe those who do come, do so because the Father gave them to Christ in eternity past and effectively drew them to believe in the Savior (John 6:37, 44-45; Matt 11:27).

But again, I would rather talk about how we should understand particular texts and their theological implications than discuss whether I am or am not an Arminian, Calvinist, Dispensationalist, Covenantal, etc.

It is not my aim in ministry to be known as a Calvinist.  I don’t find it as my life’s goal to defend Calvinism.  I”™m not an evangelist for Calvinism.  When I think of the initials J.C., I don”™t first think, John Calvin.  I am not seeking to push a perceived Calvinist agenda.  My happiness does not come in making everyone a Calvinist by name.   I don’t want to pastor a church that wears Calvinism on its sleeve – or as a slogan on its web-site.  I don’t have a compulsion to somehow work the 5 points into every sermon.  I don’t agree with John Calvin on everything.   I’m not at war with Arminians, and I don’t seek to only converse with, and partner only with 5 point Calvinists.  Plenty of 5 pointers like to quibble with me on my views of certain texts.  I don’t want to be known as an angry, arrogant, schismatic Calvinist (or Arminian for that matter).

I am also not ashamed to affirm my convictions that total depravity, unconditional election, actual atonement (particular redemption), effectual calling, and the perseverance of the saints are all biblically valid doctrines.  I hold to them and believe they should spur greater confidence and urgency in missions and evangelism.

However, my aim in ministry is to be known as a Christian – bearing of the image of Jesus Christ in my character.  My life’s aim is to make Christ and his gospel known, and I want to vigorously defend the integrity, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am seeking to push a Christ-centered, Great-Commission, soul-sanctifying, agenda through the local church.  My happiness comes in seeing God glorified as people find their joy in his supremacy.  I want to pastor a church that is known for our allegiance to Jesus and his word.  I have a compulsion to open the Bible week after week and teach book-by-book, passage-by-passage, and let the text take us where it will.  I want to be known as a Bible saturated man pursing Christ with my whole heart and seeking the salvation of my family, friends, neighbors, city, state, nation, and the world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt 28:18-20).  I have every confidence that this disciple-making agenda will be successful because salvation is ultimately God”™s work and he has promised his very presence and authority to accompany it.  I want to be known as a joyful, stable, unified follower of Jesus as revealed in the Bible.  I would assume many Arminians and many Calvinists want this same thing.  So, on that basis, I assume we can work well together for the kingdom of Christ.

My guess is that I won’t satisfy the most ardent Calvinist or avid Arminian.  That’s reality.  I am convinced that we can work well together for the glory of Christ as we fix our gaze on him, his word, and the mission of extending the gospel across our planet.

Here’s a sermon I preached a few years ago on the subject of election:  ”Crucial Questions on Election

Or addressing God’s Sovereignty in salvation in an exposition manner, listen to the 3 Part Series on Romans 9:14-29; God Isn’t Fair!  - Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Author: Bret Capranica

I am married to Kelly (thecapranicavilla.wordpress.com) and Pastor-Teacher of Summit Woods Baptist Church, Lee's Summmit, MO (summitwoodschurch.org)

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  • Heath Hamline

    Great post Bret. I greatly appreciate you sharing your heart and position on this subject matter. Could you share your experience and methodology of leading Evangelistic teams in an organized fashion?

    As I look around at our body we have a significant number of brothers/sisters who are passionate and systematic about local evangelism. We are excited about having our pastor join those efforts and help bring structure, direction and organization towards our outreach/evangelism efforts. Please share your experience in addition to methodology

    in this area. We look forward to meeting you. Heath Hamline

  • Tim Valentino

    Many thanks, Bret. Nicely done. I appreciated your comments and the spirit with which you made them. God bless you in your new ministry venture. (I have some friends in Lee's Summit, and I'll let them know of your arrival.)

    • http://thecapranica.com Bret Capranica

      Tim, thanks for your prayers and encouragement. I would love to make contact with those you know in Lee's Summit.

  • Heath Hamline

    Bret, additionally, could you please share your philosophy on discipleship that should take place outside the organized structure of Sunday school, preaching, Men’s/Woman’s study, etc? What are your thoughts on having an organized and systematic ministry of one on one discipleship within a body? What is your experience with discipleship outside discipling a student who is called/studying to be a pastor? Have you been apart of a one on one discipleship ministry within a church body that is designed for any believer who wants to grow closer to God?

  • Anonymous

    Bill,

    I appreciate the passion and forethought you bring to this discussion. However, please keep in mind that the purpose of Bret’s mature decision to discuss Hot Topics is to allow Summit Woods members to be able to see where he stands on specific issues of importance which will aid us in our decision to affirm him as our next pastor.

    There is no added benefit in engaging him with debate over Calvinism. It serves as only a distraction to the members who want to use the available information to assist them with making a decision on how God wants them to vote. Cont…

    • Anonymous

      Continued…

      Bret did not mince words on where he stands. Conventional wisdom would have told him (and the Elders) to not engage in hot topic discussions and that it would be best to marginalize these issues in order to help calm the waters on differing views of these issues. This is a true sign of maturity and in my view – it rises to the highest level of illustrating Pastoral leadership. Despite the cost/risks of being this open it is a clear sign to me that he is trusting God to open/close the door at Summit Woods and not in his salesmanship to calm waters. Even within the ministry, that is a rare quality and one that I hope is not missed by members of Summit Woods.

      As a member of Summit Woods I encourage Bret to consider the option of removing posts that are solely in the spirit of debate.

    • Bill

      My intention was not to debate but to simply show a few examples of how certain teachings will affect a Christians view of God.

      Its obvious you do not think Calvinism is an essential issue like I do…whoever you are.

  • Roxanne Bruce

    Bret… I appreciate the fact that you are willing to answer questions. I gather from what I've read in your above explanation… the answer to the question is yes, you're a 5 point Calvinist. You mention that you don't have the compulsion to somehow work the 5 points into every sermon, but if the whole idea of Calvinism is part of your belief system, how can you not preach it from the pulpit? I have listened to many of your sermons and some do center on the Calvinist’s view point. With that said… I also listened to the sermon you listed above… "crucial questions on election". That sermon is six years old. Do you still preach on both like that, or has your position on Calvinism become more ardent over the years? I ask this because I'm wondering if those views will continue to become more ardent in the future.

    CONTINUED….

  • Roxanne Bruce

    CONTINUED…
    Also, I‘m troubled by the fact that your answer to Bill has been deleted. If Mr. Anonymous is truly SW folk then there is no need to be anonymous. Ask your questions, state your opinions, but don't hide behind anonymous. Perhaps none of them are SW people and they’re just slapping out their views, which is no help to us in our decision process. Mr. Anonymous should be deleted, not Bret. This is a very important decision for our church and is not to be taken lightly.

    CONTINUED…

  • Roxanne Bruce

    CONTINUED…
    So to anyone reading this… Reading the questions AND the answers Bret has given… shows Bret's character and his view on things, something we WANT to see so we can make an informed decision. I'm not Arminian or Calvinist. I fall somewhere in the middle. I'm a fairly new Christian of 3 years and I crave Biblical teaching. I haven’t decided how important Calvinism is to me, but I can tell you my church is very important to me and the division this issue is causing my beloved church family is troubling me greatly.

    Thank you for your time. Many blessings to you and your family!
    Roxanne

    P.S. How is it all these other people can send LONG comments and I had to keep breaking mine up? :o)

  • Pam Walden

    Thank you, Brett, for this clarification. As a 3rd generation Southern Baptist and WMUer, I appreciate your views on this. At SW, this is a point of concern. I am sure you will get many questions about it.

    As a very simple way to define it, I was once told that it is like seeing the sign upon entering Heaven–come in, you believe in Christ and have accepted Him and follow Him (having a personal relationship). Then, once in, turn around and see the sign saying–I knew it and had it planned for you before the Earth was made.

    Okay, this is simplistic, but a fair analogy, I think.

    Those of us with SBC background, training, diplomas, etc. are not wanting SW to get away from the SBC. We don't want a Calvinist church, but not an Armenian one either.

    I appreciate your response. We are SBC. :)

  • Todd Arnold

    Bret,
    I thank God for your faithfulness to His Word, as a SW member, my family and I would count it an honor to serve with you at SW. It is clear to see that God is working in this process, as we heard from the Elders and how they are united in recomending you as our Pastor.

    Looking forward to this weekend!!
    Todd, Jodi and Matt Arnold

  • Bill

    First, I would like to say I am still a member of SWBC. I haven't renounced my membership.

    >So the elect, or the story of our lives, are chosen based upon what He knew would we do (choosing to believe/follow Him or not) not God saying you will go the hell and you won't (like sheep to the slaughter with no choice).

    Most Calvinists believe either number 1 or 2.
    1) God predestines people for hell, or
    2) God simply passes over the unsaved, not choosing them.

    Some Calvinists argue #1 is wrong, and number 2 is right.

    The distinction is moot because either way God chooses. God either chooses to create you for hell because He doesn't eternally love you or He chooses to pass over you because He doesn't eternally love you. It really makes no difference.

  • David

    Wow, this truly is a "hot topic" and I appreciate Bret's willingness to address some of these issues. I have been quite enthralled by this discussion, which seems to have taken on more of a confrontational tone for some. Here is what I appreciate from the discussion: Bret has given us his position based on scripture references, not his opinion. The bible speaks of both the elect or chosen, and this was covered nicely by Dr. Awbrey not too long ago in our 1Peter study. It also speaks of man's free will and our responsibility to proclaim the gospel. In the end, this may be an issue not fully revealed to us on this side of Heaven. What I am grateful for is someone who answers us with scripture and that is a characteristic I find appealing in our next pastor.

  • http://twitter.com/mrclm Chris Meirose

    Bret – Just a head’s up that I linked to your post from my blog today. Not sure it will drive much if any traffic here, but I appreciated the way you articulated this enough that I’d rather link to what you have written than rehash it all and arrive at a very similar place.

    God bless!

    Pastor Chris Meirose
    http://mrclm.blogspot.com

    • http://thecapranica.com Bret Capranica

      Thanks Chris. I appreciated your post. I so appreciate the irenic way you have approached such a serious topic. Great to know we are in the vineyard working together.

      Bret

      Bret Capranica
      thecapranica.com