When we teach the doctrines of grace, we must aim for the head and the heart. Mind-only discussions of the doctrines from Dort will fall short of promoting a piety that is well-pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. Heart-applications and affections-aimed teachings of TULIP will shame us into humble and holy disciples of Jesus Christ.
Next time you see a construction site, or a pile of rubble and mangled rebar—those small cylinders of reinforcing steel—think of Calvinism. Rebar and the reformed doctrines of soteriology have a lot of common. When you notice rebar, you know there is a problem: The project is broken, or it isn’t finished. The same is true of the doctrines of grace. Calvinism isn’t a cul-de-sac; TULIP is designed to take us somewhere, namely, the image of Christ the Lord. Calvinism, like all doctrine, helps straighten our spines, correcting our posture so we can walk in piety. We are Calvinists best when we aren’t aiming to be mere Calvinists. We are true, humble, piety-pursuing Calvinists when our knowledge of the truth leads to godliness (Titus 1:1).
Doctrine—whether from Dort, the seminary campus, or the small group study—is dialed toward forming piety in a disciple’s walk with the risen Christ. Theology trains us for godliness, giving us reps and routines for thinking, feeling, and doing for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Synod of Dort made their response to The Remonstrance of the Arminians because they knew more was a stake than protecting the views of a theological tribe. Dort was drafted to help disciples love the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love their neighbor as themselves. Is this what our Calvinism does for us today? Does the soundness of our theology lead to soundness of life? If our experience with Calvinism doesn’t cultivate Christlikeness, we need to lift the lid and see where the wires have been crossed, disconnected, or fried.
Calvinists have a reputation problem. Typically, we’ve been known for arguments, theological trolling, and hijacking conversations toward TULIP. Why aren’t we known for godliness? We are passionate about the rightness of doctrine, and that’s commendable in the sight of God. However, Paul reminds us that we shouldn’t only be concerned about the right doctrine but also with teaching that promotes piety. “If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in disputes and arguments over words” (1 Tim. 6:3–4). It’s possible to have a healthy interest in doctrinal discussions and debates over words—it’s possible when the promotion of godliness rather than rightness is the target.
When we teach the doctrines of grace, we must aim for the head and the heart. Mind-only discussions of the doctrines from Dort will fall short of promoting a piety that is well-pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. Heart-applications and affections-aimed teachings of TULIP will shame us into humble and holy disciples of Jesus Christ. Kevin Vanhoozer paints a portrait of theologically nourished piety when he says, “The true end of theology, its final purpose, is not an orthodox compendium of doctrine but an orthodox community of disciples who embody the mind of Jesus Christ everywhere, to everyone, at all times.” Let’s connect the dots from Calvinism to acting out our shared in-Christ-ness.