One of the greatest dangers for studious Christians is loving the study of God more than God himself. We love books. We love to love God with our minds. Yes and amen. So did the Apostle Paul; he asks Timothy to bring his cloak and his books (2 Timothy 4:13). God commands us to love him with our minds (Matthew 22:36–37). But the key to the Great Commandment is that we are commanded to love Him. Not merely the study of Him. Not only books about him, but God himself. And if we are honest, we get these confused. A shelf of hardback books doesn’t fulfill the great commandment. Study of scripture cannot be separated from loving God and others. If it is, we are washing the outside of the cup more than we realize.
Understanding Calvinism in our hearts as well as in our heads.
As a Calvinist, I must stand guard against the sin of the Pharisees. They loved sentences more than they loved God and others. Has that ever been true of you? It has of me. I’m a recovering theological trophy hunter.
Theological trophy hunting is when you read the Bible to get more verses on your side, more points mounted on the wall so you can win an argument, or show how much you know. It’s for recreation not transformation. It’s when your Bible reading is less like someone in awe on a safari, and more like a poacher, someone robbing and abusing the gifts of God. And in this poaching or trophy hunting, you don’t even eat the meat. You got what you needed: the reference, the horns, the head on a wall. Where is Jesus in all of this? Is the aim of your reading Christ or to bolster your Calvinism? Real Calvinism doesn’t even have Calvinism as the apple of its eye—it’s enthralled with Christ.
Doctrine is dangerous. We must handle it with care. Paul reminds us that, “Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Love is the aroma of theology. Love for God, love for others, and love for truth. And Paul warns us what happens when we swerve from love being the goal, “Some have departed from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on” (1 Timothy 1:6–7). Without love, Paul says we don’t even know what we are talking about. We are noisy gongs, feed-backing microphones, nothing burgers (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
If Christ isn’t loved in our Calvinism, it’s a sham. And if our neighbors aren’t loved, it’s an undercooked Calvinism. The tulips are rotten. Throw them out and start over again. Real Calvinism is a Christ-centered, Christ-enjoyed, Christ-spreading Calvinism.
To really understand Calvinism, we must get beyond the talking points, zoom out, and see where they lead us. We need to see Jesus as the point of the points. Calvinism must be Christ-centered because the Bible is Christ-centered. Since we believe the doctrines of grace are coming from the Bible—not Augustine, Luther, or Calvin—every point, sub-point, and parenthetical thought must eventually lead us to behold the glory of the Lord.
I think about all of the times I searched the Scriptures to argue with an Arminian friend, or to lose-lose an internet debate while missing the entire point of the Scriptures I was flinging around. “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me” (John 5:39). I was searching for right-ness, all while missing his royal highness. Proof-texts have something to prove; the points of Calvinism point us to a person: Jesus of Nazareth.
Calvinism is a precious doctrine for Christians because it offers us glimpses of Christ. Who is the only one that isn’t totally depraved—yet became our sin so we could be made righteous? Jesus. Who are we chosen in before the foundation of the world? Jesus, the Son of God. Who died for his bride, securing her pardon? Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. How are we drawn to faith? By the Triune God’s work and word about the Son, Jesus the Messiah. Who holds us in his hands and keeps us from stumbling till the end? Our big brother, Christ the Lord. Calvinism is meant to show us Christ.
Like C.H. Spurgeon, we should enjoy the points only when they are connected to Christ:
“How I do love the doctrines of grace when they are taken in connection with Christ. Some people preach the Calvinistic points without Jesus; but what hard, dry, marrowless preaching it is…let every believer remember he does not get these doctrines as he should get them, unless he receives them in Christ.”1
Let’s love doctrine because it leads us to a greater love. Let’s thank our books, preachers, and theological arrangements for guiding us to where our hearts, souls, and minds must find true love—the triune God. May we never love doctrine for doctrine’s sake; love doctrine for the aim of loving God. No more knockoffs. The real thing is ready.
In Humble Calvinism, self-confessed recovering, cranky Calvinist Jeff Medders considers how and why the love of God gets replaced with a love of Calvinism. It's one thing having the five points all worked out in your head, but have they really penetrated your heart? Pick up a copy of Humble Calvinism today.