The Calvinist or The Christian?

By | December 6, 2013

John Piper has released a new video wherein he and several other Christian celebrities read a poem written by Piper.  It’s a heartfelt effort from Piper to illustrate how one man’s Christianity envelops all of his life.  I am no poet, nor poem critic, so I will let you judge the merits of the words.  Troubling to me is the title of this poem.  Are we followers of Christ or Calvin?  Is not the life portrayed by Piper common to any sincere Christian, not just those holding to a specific doctrinal viewpoint of theology?

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:4-7)

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8-9, ESV)

“Idolatry is the universal human tendency to value something or someone in a way that hinders the love and trust we owe to God. It is an act of theft from God whereby we use some part of creation in a way that steals from honor due to God. Idolatry conflicts with our putting God alone first in our lives, in what we love and trust (see Exod 20:3-5; Deut 5:7-9; Rom 1:21-23). In idolatry we put something or someone, usually a gift from God, in a place of value that detracts from the first place owed to God alone, the gift Giver. That thing or person is an idol.”
-Paul K. Moser

Greg Dutcher, from his book “Killing Calvinism” has this to say:

“When I was in seminary, some friends and I went to a theology symposium near Philadelphia where one speaker “rocked the house,” to borrow a current phrase. He spoke on the glory of God as the reason we were created. With verse after verse, illustration after illustration, he thundered from the pulpit and filled our minds with powerful thoughts of God’s holiness and transcendence. I remember feeling small and thinking, Yes, this is good-I should feel small. It’s all about God-not me! During the break that followed, my friends and I gathered in a corner, buzzing from the message. Most of us didn’t even care that we were consuming bad instant coffee and stale pastries.

“Okay, I’m ready to hear from a Calvinist now,” said one friend I will call…Calvin. He was referring to the renowned Reformed theologian slated to speak next.

“Calvin, didn’t you enjoy what you just heard?” someone asked.

“Yeah, he was okay, I guess. But he’s no Calvinist,” Calvin shrugged.

We all muttered in agreement and returned to our seats. The famous Calvinist spoke next, and he did a good job, but it seemed a bit too academic to me. He was clearly teaching sound, biblical doctrine, but it was not easy to follow him. At the next break, Calvin went on and on about how much he had enjoyed that message and how just knowing the speaker was a Calvinist had put him at ease.

I cannot judge my friend’s heart, but I suspect many of us have come to love Reformed theology simply because it is Reformed theology. Consider your books. We Calvinists love books, don’t we? How much money have we spent on commentaries and systematic theologies just because they are Reformed in tone? Rarely have I thought, “Oh, this will help me relish the glory of God and the beauty of salvation!” I have simply laid another volume on my growing Calvinist stack. They look so good in my bookcase!”

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I appreciate your kind words Prayson. I follow your blog and am amazed at your intellect. You have a gift from God and glad to see you are using it. My head hurts at times when I read your stuff!

God’s continued blessings on your life brother.

Todd, thank you for a wonderful article that raised a fair concern. Piper’s aim, I believe, is to show what Reformed theology, the doctrine of grace, ought to look like, or acted out in the life of a person holding them. How it ought affect the whole course of our being, worship, family, work, &c.

A calvinist does not stand in awe of Calvin, nor Luther and Augustine before him, but the Sovereign Lord and King, the God who alone elected, draws, regenerates, justifies, sanctifies and glorifies His people for His infinite glorious majesty, love and joy.

Piper’s poem paints a picture of how Calvinists (which does not mean followers of Calvin but those who hold the doctrines of grace) ought to be in their daily life.

I am open to your correction and wisdom, my fellow brother in Christ.

I agree with your thoughts Prayson, and as my short bio reveals, I am Reformed in doctrine. I get what Piper’s aim is; my fears are really two-fold 1) In the eyes of a fellow Christian not holding to our doctrine it could imply a superiority of our doctrine, or their doctrinal beliefs are sub-standard. 2) A caution against idolatry. It is easy for us Calvinists to love the man too much. That is one reason why I shy away from the Calvinist label, preferring the Reformed label.

I think of many dear Arminian brothers who could easily identify with this video too. I don’t wish to exclude them or alienate them. I also wonder how comfortable John Piper would be if knowing, 500 years from now, people were calling themselves Piperists!

You swept my concern away with your response. I follow and agree with your two-fold fears. There are many none-Reformed Christians, Arminians, Thomaists, Molinists &c., who the poem also portrays.

Thank you for your kindness and love that drives you to think of those who do not hold the doctrines of grace as brothers who are included in the life that reflects the Sovereign Lordship of our Lord and God in all.