Saturday, March 2, 2013

The General Distinction of Evangelical Calvinism's Conception of God as Love: He is Not Law After All

Here is my opening post at the new and improved 'The Evangelical Calvinist In Plain Language'.

The way, when in person with someone, that I have tried to describe what Evangelical Calvinism is, is to contrast it with what most people think of Calvinism today (as represented by The Gospel Coalition, or more explicitly by the acronym TULIP or 5 point Calvinism). So that is the way I will engage to flesh that out with you as well.

In general Evangelical Calvinism emphasizes and starts from the idea that God is love! We know this to be the case because He has revealed that to us in and through His Son, Jesus. One of my (still) favorite Bible verses is:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life." ~John 3:16


 "7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." ~I John 4:7-12

So we know that God is a personal God who does what He does because of who He is, He is love. And we, as Evangelical Calvinists, use this belief to shape everything else that we articulate in regard to how we think of the way that God relates to us.

This means that we do not think that God primarily relates to us through Law, or us keeping the Law (which is the basic underlying premises upon which 5 point Calvinism is based on); we believe that God has always related to us, first, because He simply loves us (because that is who He is). And within that relationship He has provided expectations that He knew we couldn't even uphold; so because He is love, He did that for us too, through Christ (Christ thus has become the end of the Law for all who believe Romans 9:5).

I would submit that the imagery and reality of marriage is the better way to think of our relationship to God in Christ (that's what the Apostle Paul thought in Ephesians 5, and this is a common theme throughout all of Scripture, especially in Revelation). We don't relate, humanly speaking, to our spouses through a set of codes and laws (even though there are expectations within the relationship); no, ideally, our relationship is based upon love (or self-giveness for the other). I think this is the better metaphor (and reality/our union with Christ) to think of our relationship with God through. Richard Sibbes, a Puritan thought so, as did Martin Luther.

So in general, then; Evangelical Calvinism holds that God is Love and thus dynamic and personal. This is in contrast to Classical Calvinism's and Arminianism's belief that God relates to us through impersonal decrees and laws.

Let me know if this post has been accessible and understandable for you.


  1. This is a clear and helpful explanation Bobby. Thanks.

  2. God is love. And all that He does is an overflow of that love...even judgement.
    I'm very excited about this blog:)

    Theology needs to be made understandable to the common believer.


  3. Neilr,

    Good thank you! Thanks for commenting.


    Good, I'm glad you are excited about this! Theology does need to finally be made understandable.

  4. Bobby, this was easier to understand, and I "get" the basis you lay down.

    I have some ideas on the Law that I'll run by you sometime, and how it relates to both God and man.

    1. Let's hear them!

      Glad this was easier to understand!

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  6. Sorry Bobby, I read this post last! So we CAN understand that God relates to us through the law, just not PRIMARILY - Love first Law... later (but only seen though love, or Jesus... errr...I mean there are SOME rules in any good marriage (dirty clothes go IN the basket NOT on the FLOOR!!)

    So if you (really) love me you will seek to do what I ask (1 John 5:2–3 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome."

    Really, my wife doesn’t' think I love her if I leave my skivvies on the floor :)

  7. I know my last post went more towards my wife's perception of my love for her.

    God knows we love Him cause He loved us first, but we don't always act like, or show that we love Him. I cannot preach that you’re okay, I'm okay cause it doesn't really matter, Christ loves the Father for us - I am really stuck on how you preach responsibility, i.e. the second half of Ephesians or passages like 1 John 4:21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

    Again there seems to be some expectation of doing something – and it seems to be proof of relationship. (maybe not for God, but for us.)

    btw - I greatly appreciate your efforts to make this more apprehensible

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  9. According to Purves – speaking of Barth in EC pg 135-136 maybe he answers my question – “The response to this good news is now addressed by the Confession: given all this, (We) do not mean that we are so set at liberty that we owe no obedience to the Law… but we affirm that no man on earth, with the sole exception of :Christ Jesus, has given, gives, or shall give in action that obedience to the Law which the Law requires” (Article 15)

    “If Christ is our life, why should we bother? The answer to this foolish question (read smack upside my head) is that in Christ we are for the first time really and completely subjected to the Law.

    “…Barth…wants to hold together that Christ is our life, that he stands for us and we are bound to his obedience, on the one hand, yet action is required of us on the other. But what is not required is our fulfilling of the Law with this life of ours. “Our true action is the action of Jesus Christ, but it is required of us as our action.”"

    And then it is asserted that faith in Christ “moves us to gratitude”

    So is it your understanding Bobby that the reason we obey, having all the pressure of obedience (or at least perfect obedience) taken off our shoulders by Christ, is gratitude?

    Simple gratitude, not as Piper would say, "the debtor's ethic"

    1. Steve,

      Yes, I think that is a good way to think of this. But I am not still comfortable with being a "fruit" inspector in order to see who is measuring up and who isn't (that is God's job I Cor 4); this is the Puritan and practical syllogism way. We are obviously to hold each other accountable, but I don't think we want this to infect us in a way that we end up with a methodological set of holiness codes we live by; we have freedom in Christ, and no one cultural norm of what counts as "holy" can adequately capture what that means.

  10. Why the need of "proof?"

    We are clearly called to be obedient, but the ground of that obedience is not driven by an incessant need for my personal assurance of salvation; but instead an overwhelming love of Christ. Which is rooted in the love of Christ that we participate in and from by the Spirit. I am more concerned with articulating a proper order to things, Steve; because I think it has drastic impact on our daily spirituality and walks.

    This idea of "proof" is an medieval accretion, and not a biblical one. The reality of Christian life is in power and concrete acts indeed, but those are not grounded in my own acts, but in the acts that were created beforehand in the poetry of Christ's life for us (Eph 2:10).

    Again, this all comes back to the vicarious humanity of Christ.

  11. So I am trying to understand, I am not to worry about how it is received just how I present it?

    I think I understand that obedience has nothing to do with MY personal assurance of salvation.

    So why the need of proof -

    As a pastor I AM to make observations and even take steps when sin is revealed or confessed and not dealt with in my congregants. I do know people who do claim to love God, who believe that Jesus died and rose again for their sin. But it ultimately has no (or little) bearing on how they live. i.e. they are not going to obey God's word, or seek to know Him better,

    Is there no objective standard other than the fact that Jesus died for them?

    Would you then approach them and tell them they do not love Jesus enough or that you suspect their actions belie their profession of faith?

    1 Cor 5:12-13
    Heb 13:17

    I am just trying to look at this as practically as possible as a pastor, especially as one who has had to enact church discipline

    Not that I expect everyone to be at the same level of maturity or understanding of Christ but if I cannot look at "works" or "obedience" (at least as a desire to love God) for proof, what do I look for in someone else?


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