/ Barry York

Old, Resting, Reformed

Amazingly, it's been ten years since Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, Reformed book was published, following an article by that same name in Christianity Today, that chronicled the New Calvinism movement. The following year, Time magazine listed "The New Calvinism" as one of the "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now." Now a decade later, by all looks of things, the Reformed resurgence appears to be still going strong. Calvinistic publications, conferences, podcasts, church planting, and other ministries continue to surge ahead.

What has often accompanied this modern Calvinism, as the Time article above reminds us, are such things as "accusations of arrogance and divisiveness" and "online flame wars." Some of these young Reformed proponents become boisterous, argumentative, and obnoxious as they discover the truths of God's sovereign power. This propensity has led to referring to those who have become Reformed recently - especially young men - as being in "Cage-Stage Calvinism." In other words, they need to be "contained" for a time until they have learned to be more gracious with the doctrines of grace. This term even has its own explanation found on Theopedia and is portrayed humorously in this cartoon.

In part, we at Gentle Reformation have seen as one of our purposes to promote the truths of the Reformation in what might be deemed a more gentlemanly manner. Instead of using the internet for angry flame throwing, we tend more toward persuasive light shining.

I was reminded of this desired temperament recently when reading a letter exchange between Thomas Chalmers, who helped lead a Reformed resurgence in his own time in 19th century Scotland, and a young friend of his new to the faith. The young man named Smith had brought up the doctrine of election in conversation, and so Chalmers followed up in writing. Seeing how Chalmers interacted with him is instructive.

Chalmers not only wanted his friend to understand predestination. He was also vitally concerned that the teaching had the proper influence on the young man's character, that he himself was patient in forming understanding in his younger friend, and that their love was deepened in the exchange. I leave the following small sample of excerpts from their letters below. Perhaps they serve as a model of an "Old, Resting, Reformed" man working with a younger one that we might do well to follow.[1]

Chalmers: Lest we should miss each other today, it occurs to me to state to you, in reference to our conversation of yesterday, that you should not make it a capital aim to obtain clear and immediate views on the doctrine of election...But what I am mainly in earnest about is, that you do not for a single moment slacken or suspend the practical work of sanctification on the solution of any speculative difficulty whatever. If to your faith you add the splendid list of accomplishments set before you in 2 Peter i. 5-7, you will never fall, but make your calling and election sure. You do not see that election inscribed on the records of Heaven; but you are told in plain language what is the instrument by which you make it sure to you on earth. That instrument is diligence (2 Peter 1. 5, 10); and I trust you will never let down a diligence of which I trust to see the prints upon your character in time, and to share the rewards along with you in eternity.

Smith: As to the doctrine of predestination, without much anxiety, I have obtained a view of it which most entirely satisfies myself; and I only wait for the explanation of what, I must say at present, appears to me irreconcilable, viz., that under the belief of this doctrine, and its actual operation, it is in the power of a person predestined to be saved, by any misconduct on his part to forfeit his election, or vice versa. This really puzzles me a little, and I look to you for assistance...My dear Sir, I must now conclude; and I am happy to say at present what I should never have said in your presence, that I love you above all my friends on the earth.

Chalmers: Your question is: "How comes it that a man predestined to salvation has it not in his power to fall away from it?" I answer that every man may, if he will, commit sin into perdition; but the man predestined to salvation wills not, and does not, commit any such sin. God, who decreed his salvation, decreed and foreknew all the steps that went before it. He knew the effect of every one circumstance upon his volitions; and should the practical effect of our views on predestination be that we turn careless and fall away, then God foresaw this, and knew our final destruction from the beginning, and we shall afterwards know from the event that we are not foreordained into life.

I trust that a thorough and well-grounded faith in this doctrine will at length be formed in you; but, in the meantime, make vigorous use of all that is clearly and distinctly understood by you...Go joyfully to God in His name; follow closely in the path of His example; feel the need of His Spirit in every enterprise; have no doubt of your forgiveness through the merits of His blood; coupling with faith in this one testimony, the acceptance of every one saying about the necessity of holiness and self-denial, and the mortification of all that is sinful, and the adornment of the whole man with the graces of the Spirit, and the dedication of the whole life to the will of Him poured our His soul unto the death for you.

My heart is greatly enlarged toward you, my dearest if all earthly acquaintances; and it is my prayer that God may more and more purify, and exalt, and Christianize, that friendship which it has pleased Him to put into our bosoms.

  1. Letters of Thomas Chalmers, Banner of Truth Trust, 15-19 ↩︎

Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness. Author - Hitting the Marks.

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