This week the blog is sponsored by The Good Book Company.
Calvinism is a beautiful thing—when we Calvinists don’t ruin it.
For too long Calvinism has been linked to arrogant, fiery, and argumentative Calvinists who seem like the only cure for their cruelty is time in a steel cage. Diagnosis? A Cage-Stage Calvinist.
A Cage-Stage Calvinist is someone who has learned TULIP—the five points of Calvinism—and goes on a relational rampage. They attack, bludgeon, and judge their brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t line up with TULIP as they do.
And, of course, a Cage Stage Calvinist doesn’t think they are one. I know, because I was one. Still am, sometimes. Don’t assume this post addresses other Calvinists—it might be for you.
Real Calvinism doesn’t need a cage. Real Calvinism is a Humble Calvinism. A heart-grasp of the doctrines of grace will humble us before the Lord and before one another. When the doctrines of grace hit our hearts, we will bear fruit that smells like our Savior who is gentle and humble in heart.
Cage-Stage Calvinism happens when the doctrines of grace have clogged up our minds but have never made it to our hearts. It displays itself in a variety of symptoms. If you have any of these seven symptoms, call on your Great Physician right away.
1. Obsessive Calvinism Disorder
The first sign of a Cage-Stage Calvinist is an Obsessive Calvinism Disorder—when Calvinism is all you think about; all you read about; all you want to talk about. This version of OCD can be detected by these diagnostic questions:
- Do you mainly read the Bible looking for verses that smell like TULIP, or, do you read to enjoy God himself?
- Do you know more verses for TULIP than you know about prayer, fasting, and good works?
- Are you chronically listening for Calvinism when you hear the proclamation of God’s word?
- Do conversations with friends tend to boomerang back to Calvinism?
If you suffer from Obsessive Calvinist Disorder, remember, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God” (Psalm 42:1).
2. Kindness Isn’t a Concern
The most common symptom of a cage-stager is the complete disregard for kindness—as though it were not a fruit of the Spirit. Humility, gentleness, love, and patience are not luxuries. They aren’t something we pursue if we have time—they are marks of discipleship with the risen Lord. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors—Calvinist, Arminian, or atheist—as ourselves. Always.
If kindness gets cut off when you talk about Calvinism, remember, “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).
3. Vigilante Theologians
Cage Stagers are the self-appointed theology police. If you feel the need to correct every post on social media, critique every worship song that isn’t “deep enough,” or if you feel like you need to talk to your pastor about his lack of Calvin quotes—head to the cage.
If you tend towards a hyper-critical spirit, remember, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12–13).
4. Burning Bridges and Building Walls
A rubble of relationships because of how we handle Reformed theology is a dead giveaway of cage-stage tendencies.
Christians don’t burn bridges with one another. We don’t build walls of hostility and division with one another, because Jesus tore them all down. It’s okay to have theological tribes and camps—but we don’t bite and devour one another. Remember that the Lord wants us to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2–3).
5. Mismanaged Identity
If you get more joy in being a Calvinist than you do a Christian, you have misunderstood Calvinism. One of the reasons why Cage Stagers show their teeth in a theological argument is because they feel like their core is being attacked. It’s as though what makes them tick is being trampled. It’s a case of misplaced identity.
We are Calvinists best when we aren’t Calvinists first. We belong to Jesus. Find your identity by remembering: “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3–4).
6. Winning is More Important Than Loving
Cage Stagers take their cues from the cage of mixed martial arts. Finish the fight. Win. Get the knockout or the submission. Brothers and sisters, we don’t have to win every argument. We don’t have to enter every argument.
How many people do you think have been convinced of Calvinism by confrontation? I’m going to guess it’s as many carrots as I ate last month. Zero. But how many frayed friendships and frustrated family meals have been caused by the need to win the debate over predestination? It’s probably the same number of tortilla chips I ate last year. A lot.
I’m all for talking theology, but it must be done in the fruit of the Spirit. If winning at all costs is more important to than loving, remember, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
7. Jesus Gets Lost In Your TULIP
The root cause of all Cage Staginess can be found here: We’ve lost sight of Christ. In the Cage Stage, Jesus gets pushed to the margins, forgotten, and passed over for the mud pies in the slums of theological street fighting. We forget whose image we are being transformed into, whose mission we are on, whose disciples we are, who we belong to.
If Jesus isn’t of first importance to us, our theological solar system gets off kilter and causes all kinds of catastrophes. Friends, TULIP doesn’t terminate on itself. The points point somewhere—to someone, Jesus Christ. He is the only one who wasn’t born totally depraved, but he took our sin, died on the cross for his people, drew us to himself, and holds us till the end. Calvinism is meant to be Christ-centered, Christ-enjoying, Christ-like. Remember that the crucified and risen Christ has “first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18).
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.
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