I have been talking about the need to avoid doctrinal extremes.
But in saying this I in no way am suggesting that the Bible is not our final rule for faith and practice. There are some extreme truth claims made in the Bible. I’m not saying anyone should back away from Truth. What I am warning people about is being more extreme about a particular belief or doctrine than the Bible itself warrants!
In other words, the Bible alone has the authority to define the highway of faith and to mark where the road ends and the ditch begins. But people get into dangerous territory when they take a biblical truth and push it to what seems a logical conclusion – if the conclusion contradicts other parts of the Bible. Let me illustrate.
The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are two widely taught truths in the Bible. But they are truths that can easily seem to contradict one another. Furthermore, they are truths that people usually polarize around. An example would be Calvinism and Arminianism.
Calvinism emphasizes God’s role in salvation and in all human history.
Arminianism places more emphasis on the role that people play in the salvation process and in the course of history.
Both sovereignty and responsibility are clearly and widely taught in the Bible. They are like bookends that frame the big picture of salvation. If you remove one of the bookends all the books will tip over and spill off the shelf.
Any view of God’s role in salvation that removes or disregards the importance of people responding to the truth and being accountable for the same, is wrong. Similarly, any view of the role of people in salvation that removes or disregards the truth that God is fully sovereign over these things is also wrong.
Again, there is a ditch on both sides of the road.
By the way, if you really want to understand Calvinism, don’t rely on what an Arminian teacher says it is! And if you want to understand Arminianism, don’t ask a Calvinist! We all love to build a strawman that represents our opponents!
I have never forgotten the counsel that A.W. Tozer gave people in his church who were attending seminary. I have to paraphrase it from memory, but it went something like this:
“While you’re at seminary, don’t waste your time trying to solve theological debates that men much wiser and better educated than you have not been able to solve in over 2,000 years. Instead, give yourself to finding and meeting God Himself.”
Tozer claimed to be a “Calminian”! He explained the term like this (again, from memory):
When I pray I must pray like God is sovereign and responsible for everything. When I preach I must help my hearers believe that they are fully responsible for all their actions and should immediately repent and believe.
What would this look like in practice?
The prayer might go like this, “God, the people you have called me to reach are so lost that they will never come to you unless You open their eyes. They are rebellious and do not deserve Your grace. They have continually disregarded Your will and have instead willfully embraced sinful practices. But Father You are the merciful God and You love them and can save them. Oh God stoop down again and draw these poor sinners to Yourself through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Your Son.”
The preaching might look like this, “My dear friends, God is a holy and just God and leaves no sin unpunished. You have gone your own way all of your lives and have given little heed to His will and commandments. The Bible says that God will judge everyone in the end of time. And that God sent His Son into the world to save sinners. Christ died for your sins and was raised from the dead. If you will turn from your sins and put your faith in Christ, you can be forgiven and spared from the judgment of God and will receive a new life in Him. Today is the day of salvation. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The prayer reveals that God is sovereign and no one can be saved without God’s merciful and prior intervention. The preaching is directed toward the conscience and will of the hearer. He/she is made to understand they are fully responsible before God for every word and deed in their entire life. The longer they refuse to turn to Him the greater their guilt is becoming.
We will look at some other examples of finding the missing middle in the next post.