The following piece was written by Rev. D.Douglas Gebbie
Hi. My name is Douglas; and I’m a Calvinist.
This is no small admission. I may just have been stuffed into a pigeon hole from which I might never be exhumed. I am enthralled by the Psalms of David, yet anyone with the slightest literary pretension thinks me a Philistine. I don’t believe in human evolution, but to the enlightened I am a theological Neanderthal. I hold to a religion of grace, still I am condemned as a legalist.
The first two assumptions don’t bother me. We all know that the writers who have most eloquently put the boot in ‘dour’ and ‘repressive’ Calvinistic Presbyterianism have been able to do so only because of John Knox’s manifesto for mass literacy. And I am quite happy dragging my knuckles down the ‘Old Paths’.
Now, the third does bother me. That one hits a nerve like tinfoil on a filling. How can a Calvinist be a legalist? Don’t the very things about Calvinism which provoke ridicule, if not revulsion, disprove such an idea?
The Calvinist holds to the doctrine of total depravity. This means that every aspect of every person’s being has been affected by sin. Now, the knowledge that everything one does is tainted or flawed cannot be of much encouragement to an aspiring legalist as he works to establish his own perfect righteousness.
The Calvinist holds to the doctrine of unconditional election. God has chosen the people whom He intends to save; and He has chosen them without regard to their good works. Whether the legalist is boastful or sycophantic, this must be ultimately devastating.
The Calvinist holds to the doctrine of limited atonement: Christ died for the elect. This means that Jesus saves specific people by dying in their place, suffering the penalty for their sins. Why should God send His Son to die the death of the cross if one could out do one’s misdeeds by one’s good deeds?
The Calvinist holds to the doctrines of irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. Because they are powerless to do it for themselves, God sends the Holy Spirit to work within His elect to enable them to believe in Christ; and those who believe will have eternal life because they are being kept by the power of God. This utter dependency leaves little room for legalistic pride.
Yet, the raw nerve isn’t hit merely by misunderstanding or misrepresentation. There is a truncated Calvinism which gives credibility to the charge: a Calvinism in which election is too mysterious, effectual calling too subjective, and the Cross too presupposed. In short, a Calvinism in which grace is taken for granted.
When that happens, only law is left. But, it is law without its context. The preamble is dropped from the Decalogue. Rather than love, duty, or even social conformity, becomes the motivation for keeping Christ’s commandments; and the One who first loved us is given something less in return.