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A Positive Explanation for My Shortcomings

A Positive Explanation for My Shortcomings

AUGUST 31, 2023

/ Articles / A Positive Explanation for My Shortcomings

Calvinism gets a bad rep.

It’s prone to misunderstanding, and I think it mostly boils down to the fact that it’s deeper than we are. Much like the gospel. I’ll risk the oversimplification (and danger) of equating the two, but more and more I think my definition of Calvinism would be: “the radical notion that God never fails.”

What he set out to do, he will accomplish, and nobody can stand in his way.

That’s a good start for a definition of Calvinism.

Part of the problem is that this doctrine thinks all too little of us humans and all too much of God (notice I didn’t even mention humans in my definition?). It has at its heart what some are now calling “low anthropology.” It views humans as not as great as we’re prone to think we are. Unsurprisingly, that offends us humans.

Where do humans fit into this picture? We sure bring a lot of sin to the table. But when it comes to a God powerful enough to clean up an epic mess, it doesn’t seem like God is very overwhelmed by all that sin we bring with us.

In fact, he welcomes even betrayers like Judas at his table.

I didn’t have to study Jean Calvin, however, to crash-land on this worldview. All I had to do was study my own heart.

I was a punk rocker before Jesus got ahold of me, and for all their vices punk rockers really do have a virtue: fault-finding.

I was good at seeing how broken the world was. The grand irony was that I had an aversion to words like “sin.” Now I know it’s because part of me was running from the reality that I, too, was actually pretty broken (I had to look myself in the mirror every day, after all).

By the time I was nineteen I’d finally let myself down enough times that I intuitively realized that maybe I was a pretty lousy savior myself. I couldn’t even get my own life together (is it any surprise that all of those self-improvement books have yet to show any evidence of actually improving us as a whole?). Maybe I should cut all the other broken people a little slack?

When I read the book of Ecclesiastes, it’s like reading my own testimony. I tried to find life and hope and dare I say even a coping mechanism in all the things “the preacher” tries. Yet, I kept coming up short.

A funny thing then happened on the “other side of grace.” I found out that once I’d received the good gift of salvation, I kept slipping back into the idea that I could somehow complete the renewal project myself. Jesus started it…but don’t worry, Jesus, I can finish it on my own. This too, “the preacher” of Ecclesiastes addresses in his own way:

 I know that everything God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of him. Whatever is, has already been, and whatever will be, already is. (Eccl. 3:14-15)

Wow! What a comfort! Almost like God is in control. Almost like he won’t fail at what he’s set out to do.

When I work my fingers down to the bone trying to please God, I can take a step back and be reminded: I didn’t earn salvation by my works, so I don’t have to keep my salvation by my works! Good news indeed.

The work God started in me will last forever (Phil. 1:6). I can’t add to it with my works, and I certainly can’t take away from it with my works. God created me, and he’s recreating me through the gospel “and God didn’t make no junk!”

We can accept the “low anthropology” that we’re not as good as we think we are (at least morally speaking). But, at the same time, it was God who made us and he didn’t make no junk.

Calvinism gets a bad rep. But not nearly as bad as a rep as the worst of us gets. And at its core, like the gospel itself, is the belief that no matter how far we fall God is still able to come lower to reach us. The radical notion that God never fails, and he’s got his grip on failures like me. It seems like good news, especially on my particularly bad days.

Sean Nolan

Sean Nolan

Sean was an atheist until Jesus used his wife, Hannah, to preach the gospel to him. They have four children: Knox, Hazel, Ransom, and JET. He used to play in […]

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