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On Phil Johnson's "Quick-and-Dirty Calvinism"

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On Phil Johnson's "Quick-and-Dirty Calvinism"

I just got finished reading Phil Johnson's new post, "Quick-and-Dirty Calvinism" on his new blog, PyroManiac...Right on! In just a few short paragraph's Phil distilled the recent polarizing trends on the web (possibly reflecting views in the real world, but who knows?) in a very convincing fashion. I was saved early in 2000; coming from a background where when I heard the term "Calvinist" I thought of separatist, harsh, unthinking, religious prudes. Then, within weeks after my conversion from fruitless and sin-indulgent religiosity to Christianity, I was exposed to the doctrines of grace at my first church East Valley Bible Church Gilbert. At first, I am very ashamed to say, I took my new-found knowledge and "shared" it with all actuality my old pastor, Walter Crutchfield, probably characterized me best as Barney Fife with "Calvinism" as the one bullet in my gun: "I shouldn't have been trusted with it for fear of accidentally shooting myself or an innocent bystander." Somehow I was deceived by the unthinkable, that the fact that I had nothing to do with my salvation, that I was so dead in my trespasses as to be unable to even respond to a glorious message of salvation, and that even now in my sanctification I was powerless apart from the willing of God...that in the knowledge of all of that I became proud. At the discovery of the most humbling message around, I became boastful, proud, and arrogant, even harsh. I became to a degree the very characterization that I had applied to Calvinists. Thankfully, being exposed to the godly lives of my two mentors in the faith--Walter Crutchfield (who began to really temper me by giving me his very marked-up copy of Spurgeon v. Hypercalvinism) and Daryl Ridgely--the teaching of so many Godly men who thankfully did not characterize those traits, men like John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Tom Shrader and others, and now to the shepherding of my amazing elders my life was transformed. My Calvinism became humbling; no longer was it a systematic theology to be merely refined and debated. My understanding of the doctrines of grace as expressed in the Bible (not in tradition) help me understand my conversion--not it defines my conversion. It makes me sure that God loves me, loves me personally, not just mankind generally. It makes me gracious. It drives my sanctification. It fuels my understanding of the cross. It thrusts me to my knees. It leaves no room to "play church" or to "play Christianity."
I was graciously surrounded by so much of the humility and graciousness of what I will describe "true Calvinism" that I became oblivious again to the presence of the Calvinist-bashers. How could anybody hate such a sweet doctrine? How could anybody miss such a profound and clear (not simple or easy-to-understand, but clear) teaching of Scripture?

So now on to Phil Johnson's topic: For years I frequented Rob Schläpfer's DiscerningReader. After reading a book recommendation, I almost never disagreed with his comments. I looked forward each month to his newsletters (the archive is here, but they've taken down all of the newsletters that they wrote in their former days). I bought every book recommendation. Then, I got a newsletter called "Ugly Calvinism." Right on, Rob. This is what I had needed a few years before; a reminder certainly couldn't hurt (See this blog for some of those sweet reminders); I'm ok with this. Then I get a recommendation for a book describing, "Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity." I bought the book expecting the normal high quality reviews. I kept reading...junk, pure junk! What happened?

Phil Johnson describes it perfectly. It all of a sudden became "cool" to bash Calvinists. It all of a sudden became cool to bash true evangelical Christianity. One of best "true calvinist" sites on the web quickly flipped to an "anti-calvinist site". Instead of calling sinful Calvinists like me to bear fruits that match their doctrine, it became cool to stereotype all of us as: "judgmental, self-righteous, and arrogant." That is what Phil Johnson first chronicles in his excellent blog post. (It might be interesting to note that at the same time as this flip on reformed theology was taking place an almost-complete loss of all judgment all "discernment" began. Not only did the guys who once published the Postmodern Times to expose the lies of postmodernism turn into "A Christian Bookshop for the Postmodern Times", but now they even sell market the TNIV among the only five different Bible translations that they sell, see the Statement of Concern About the TNIV Bible. Then finally they fell for and are advocating the terribly dangerous "New Perspective on Paul" as represented by N.T. Wright and others (To end the discussion of DiscerningReader, I would like to point those looking for an alternative to monergism books).

Then I began to see all kinds of gross distortions of Calvinism on the web, a hypercalvinism like even Spurgeon had never seen. Apparently, Phil Johnson had seen those too as he references some of the same sites as I saw, which are not even worth linking to here. Phil does a great job of balancing then, the tendency on the web to fly off the handle in either direction, either:
  1. Turning into Calvinist vilifiers and bashers (Painting caracitures of Calvinists and then destroying them--this is a prime example--in a way that could not stand up if the real, Biblical position were accurately portrayed)
  2. Turning into ugly Calvinists (Being proud in their "knowledge" of an intrinsically humbling truth).
I beg that if you've been caught up in either side of this battle (Like Phil I must confess that at times, particularly when I haven't been prayerfully shepherding my heart to the cross in the Word, I have strayed off of the narrow path) please run as far as you can from all of this. Talking "about" Calvinism does nothing to convict the heart. In fact I think that talking "about" Calvinism does creates these tendencies for many. Instead, study God. Like Phil, I encourage myself and all who may stumble upon this blog to run as fast as you can from all of these contemporary debates about Calvinism (especially e-debates). Instead, read your Bible; read and listen to the modern Calvinists who are gracious, loving, evangelical, and fruitful (Piper, Mahaney, and maybe your own pastor). Run away from Christians who like to debate and talk about the Word and doctrine and surround yourself with those who love God, love to know Him, love the lost, love the Gospel, love, Jesus, recognize their povery of spirit, and are humble because of it. Read those dead saints whose fruit and labor has stood the test of time: Edwards, Spurgeon, Luther, and many others. But mostly, you must seek to know God, not know about God, but to know God. Then test your doctrinal fidelity, not by how well you can recite a catechism or confession or win an argument but "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? -- Unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)." And "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7:20);" therefore, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8)."

Seeing as how this blog is not the most popular stop on the web, this essay has been written primarily for my own benefit in keeping with the purpose of this blog. I need to constantly remind myself of these things. Therefore, I end with the following reminder to myself and to any others who may feel enticed to join in fruitless doctrinal battles:

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene...But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: "The Lord knows those who are his," and "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity"....Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will.

So I will not swerve from my doctrinal position. The doctrinal distinctives--which I believe are wholly Biblical and, although often hard to swallow, best represent what God has chosen to reveal about Himself to us in His Word--to which I hold as reformed / Calvinist / whatever-you-want-to-call-it I believe lead to me to behold God as He is, to love him more, to be humbled, to be sanctified, to worship Him, to share the wonderful news of Christ, to pray with confidence, to stand in trial, and to hope.

Well said. Thank you for including so many helpful links in the post as well. Great blog. I will be watching in the future. Keep up the good work.
by: Richard S. - 06 5 '05 - 01:58
Well said. I’m sure you didn’t mean it the way it sounded, but there’s nothing wrong with “Christians who like to debate and talk about the Word and doctrine “ – just so long as they are also, as James puts it, “doers of the Word” rather than that man who looks into the mirror and then forgets what he looks like. God’s continued blessing to you as you continue to grow in the knowledge of Him.
by: Robert - 10 5 '05 - 12:43
Talking about doctrine is important only to the degree that the new-found or sharpened knowledge results in godly living or to the degree that it lifts ones heart in praise to the Lord. Thank you, Richard, for pointing out that I was not clear on that point. :-) And thank you for spending a little time in my corner of the web. God Bless.
by: Jacob (URL) - 10 5 '05 - 14:30
Absolutely spot on! Thank you. I’ve been wrestling with this very thought for the past couple of years and have spent so much time encountering the anti-calvinists as well as finding myself with the ‘one bullet’ mentality, and very proud of that shiny bullet. Thanks again.
by: Tim () - 10 5 '05 - 14:59
Maybe we can help make internet Calvinism not so “quick and dirty”.
by: Aaron Shafovaloff () (URL) - 19 8 '05 - 18:12
unfortunately it is easy to speak words. my question to you is, do you really love god, or do you just love doctrines about god? Does your life resemble the love of Christ (talking, eating, comforting, and accepting the broken) or do you talk a lot about it after talking about ther doctrines you love?
by: anonymous - 02 11 '05 - 21:15
Thank you for your question and concern. By the grace of God, I can say that I truly do love God, but I am well aware that I cannot claim to love God if I am not living like Christ. I praise God because more and more, as I have continued to live life, God has made me more loving, more giving, gentler, kinder. Nevertheless, what stands glaring to me is just how much selfishness and hatred I do have. Praise God that he loves me despite it, and praise God that he would bear fruit in my life despite it. I give God the glory for all of that fruitfulness and love that I show, and because i know that there is so much bad in me, I will be more quick to look past those things in others that “annoy” me to truly love them (with a self-giving love) the way that Christ loved me.

Thanks again for the comment.
by: Jacob Hantla () (URL) - 03 11 '05 - 12:30
Do you know where I could find audio tapes of Walter Crutchfield, or even Walter himself?
by: Richard Burden () - 15 8 '08 - 23:12
Where’s Waldo? Only I know!
by: dUeLsG () - 16 1 '09 - 08:50
To whom it may concern East Valley Bible in Gilbert Arizona now Redemption Church no longer teaches the doctrines of Grace because of the devisive nature.
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Title: On Phil Johnson's "Quick-and-Dirty Calvinism"
Date posted: 04 5 '05 - 19:24
Category: Blogs, Shepherding My Heart, Theological
Wordcount: 1610 words
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