Practically teaching Calvinism

When I interviewed for my first youth director position, the interviewing pastor said, “Are you comfortable teaching TULIP?” I was surprised-and frankly turned off-that he would ask me that question so soon in the informal interview. But the funny thing is, now twelve years later, I don’t think I’ve actually ever sat down, or rather stood up, and specifically spent a deliberate time teaching Calvinism that way. I’ve also never preached a sermon designed to prove what I believe to be the truth about predestination.

Instead, I’ve just more or less assumed that truth, and so have taught passages of scripture Calvinistically. Let me give you two examples from this Sunday: one from Sunday School and one from youth group.

1.) Sunday School. I was trying to affirm the good things about the book Crazy Love before moving on to the critiques. We looked at the parable of the Seeds and the Sower, which explains that the true believer will produce fruit and persevere by faith until the end. He/she will not be overtaken by the weeds, the rocks, the cares or the persecution of this world. I didn’t say, “this is the Perseverance part of the P in TULIP.” I simply emphasized that true believers will persevere until the end. The passage  refutes the “I prayed a prayer when I was 6 and am good to go now” mentality. I had a professor that would say, “That’s not Reform theology, that’s just bible!” I prefer to try and teach Reformed truths this way.

2.) Youth Group. In a previous youth group, we learned how gossip is living contrary to the gospel. As a result, I figured we should probably instruct the kids that their responses and expectations to gossiping friends will depend upon whether their friends are Christians or non-Christians. For instance, while some non-Christians MAY respond favorably (Matt 5:14-16), we should not EXPECT them to respond favorably when confronted. Why? We read Ephesians 2:1-5. Because the natural state of man (and teenagers!) is that we’re dead in sins and trespasses, and enslaved to the “prince of the air,” until we’re made alive by Jesus. Why should we EXPECT them to NOT gossip? In addition, their real problem is not that they are gossiping, but that they need to be forgiven and made alive by Christ. What good is it to just tell them to stop? I just gave them a little of the “T” for Total Depravity (I didn’t go all the way and say dead men/women can’t choose Jesus either, but it was a start).

This is simply practically applying Calvinistic thought to the issue of gossip. I don’t know whether or not it’s as effective as teaching TULIP to teenagers (but I think it could be). Still, in my own experience, I know a number of people have come to embrace the truths of Calvinism not by walking step-by-step through TULIP but by hearing hearing these truths piecemeal over time and then saying, “Ahhh….yeah, that’s what I already believe.” That’s pretty close to my own experience too

Why can’t this be love?

My three year old has recently started saying, every so often, “I love you Daddy,” in response to my saying “I love you Connar.” It’s pretty cool when he does it. For a while, he would just say, “Ok.” I prefer “I love you” a bit more. It’s a bit more personal.
For a little while I even thought about instructing him. Connar, when someone says, “I love you,” you say, “I love you too” back to them. But then again, I thought that was quintessence of in-authenticity. I wanted my son to say, “I love you” back to me, but I wasn’t about to force him, or even teach him that’s what you’re supposed to say. I realized that in time, whether by social convention or true love, he’d say, “I love you” back to me. Why force him when he’d eventually come around?
That kind of thinking makes sense for a growing boy. He’ll get it eventually. Yet for many who have problems with predestination and God’s sovereign call over someone, this parental conundrum seems to trump sound exegesis. On the surface we may think, “Do I want a Father who makes me love Him?” Is that really loving on his behalf? Is that really love at all? Shouldn’t God just wait for us to say, “I love you too?”
The problem is that all of us are spiritually still born (Ephesians 2:1-5). We’re not growing boys and girls who eventually hear God saying, “I love you,” and then respond in time. We’re dead in sin and incapable of a response. It is in this context that we are “made alive.” We can’t love Him without His first making us alive. So it’s not out of arrogance or an overbearing Father that is impatient and needs affirmation from His children. He sees people who can’t say I love you. He sees people who can only say, “I love myself.” And He has compassion on such people. In fact is “because of His great love” that we are made alive.
Once we have been made alive, and are freely chosen, we freely choose-we want to. They now can, for the first time, hear “I love you” from their Heavenly Father.  That’s what theologians call “irresistible grace.” Of course we choose. But we’ve first been chosen. And when we hear our Father’s voice for the first time say, “I love you,” can we choose anyone or anything else? No of course not. No one else will do or suffice.

That is still love to me. In fact, as Van Halen once sang, “It’s got what it takes, so tell me why can’t this be love?”