The practical implications of Calvinism: Freedom from regret


The old joke is that Presbyterians sing "Que Sera, Sera" for their hymn of invitation. Discoshaman explains why this isn't so -- why Calvinism isn't fatalism, and how it can be some of the greatest evangelists of all time were men thoroughly convinced of the Reformed doctrines of grace:

God is working everything that happens in the Universe according to his own divine plan and will. But He's chosen to work out this will through means. No Calvinist believes that God makes robots of us. The Westminster Confession itself says that God does no violence to our wills. Instead He works through our own actions -- both good and evil ones.

So how does this work out practically? Take prayer as an example.

God has ordained that prayer changes things. When I pray, God really does hear and respond to it. But if God has a purpose to be accomplished, there WILL be prayer for it. God ordains both the ends, and the means to accomplish it. Far from fatalism, I have the comfort of knowing that my prayers fit perfectly into the gracious plan of God.

Evangelism is the same. God has ordained the foolishness of preaching as his primary means of reaching the lost. So I can never say, "Ah, no need to evangelize. God'll save them anyway." No, He won't. I'm responsible to preach both in season and out. But it is true that if God has ordained that someone will hear the Gospel, it WILL invariably be preached to them. Again, both means and ends.

A commenter challenged Discoshaman to list some of the practical implications of being a Calvinist, and he promised to post a reply.

A great book explaining, in layman's terms, Reformation theology and its implications for the Christian life is Michael Horton's Putting Amazing Back into Grace. We used it some years back as the basis for a small group discussion. Horton came to Calvinism from a form of revivalist evangelicalism, with its emphases on lists of dos and don'ts and exclusive focus on man's responsibility for salvation -- the discovery of the doctrines of grace, as clearly set out in Romans and Ephesians, indeed throughout the scripture, revolutionized the way he lives out his faith.

One of the most comforting and challenging aspects of Calvinism is its understanding of providence. We learn to see God's hand in everything, that God not only works through direct intervention but more commonly through the ordinary workings of cause and effect. God even works through our sin and folly to accomplish his purposes.

I have a strong tendency to wallow in regret, to look back over foolish decisions, some of them made decades ago, some just days ago, and say, "if only." Ancient follies can make me blush or cringe as if I had just committed them. Recent follies even more so: I saw the doctor a while back because my heart would start racing from time to time. I checked out healthy, but then I realized that I would induce the condition every time my mind turned to what I had done to inflict apparently irreparable damage on a once-close friendship.

The doctrine of providence teaches me that, however I got to this point, I am exactly where God, in his goodness and mercy, wanted me to be at this point, and my task is to be thankful in all things and to be faithful to his calling in my present situation, not to continue to flagellate myself over what I did, or carry bitterness over what others did, to get me to this point. Acting on that knowledge goes against the grain of my personality, but I am called to believe that God works all things for good. Christians who believe that God is somehow handcuffed by the choices we mortals make cannot share in that comfort.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 19, 2005 11:14 PM.

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