April 5, 2008 54 Comments
James Whites and Steve Gregg are doing a 5 day (about 1 hour per day) debate on the subject of Calvinism. Each days discussions are being simulcast on Gregg’s radio program called The Narrow Path and White’s webcast known as The Dividing Line. At this point they have completed the first and second day. You can check their respective archives to listen to the first two days.
During his first segment on the first day Steve Gregg made a comment that really caught my attention. If you are listening for it, it happens about 7 or 8 minutes into the program. I have tried to transcribe it here accurately. If I don’t have it exact I a sure I have it very close. Gregg said:
Until somebody trains you to believe that Calvinism is true, I believe that if you simply read the bible you get the impression that God operates in a certain way in His creation and redemption and that man operates a certain way in creation and redemption.
Does anything about that statement jump out at you? Or, was it just me? When he said this my first thought was “that was me, that was my experience“. I did not become a Calvinist until I began to study theology. I have not had any formal training. My education has come from reading various books, both pro and con, on the topic.
Gregg was obviously trying to make a point against reformed theology. He was implying that if you simply read the bible you come to one conclusion and then you can be led astray by various teachers who have an agenda of converting people to Calvinism. But I have a different take on his comment. I think what Gregg said is true for the vast majority of Christians. It was in my case.
The vast majority of Christians do not have any desire to study theology. Unfortunately, many also do not have a desire to read their Bible but that is another topic that we may discuss at a later time. As a result, when they do read their Bible, they are not reading it in the proper context. Many do not understand that they need to know how to read the Bible. They may be under the illusion that they can just pick it up and read it and God will magically give then discernment into the meaning of what they have read. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God can do that if He chooses to and He may choose to but we can’t presume on His grace like that.
To read the Bible correctly, you have to know several things. First you have to know who the author is and who he is writing to. For example, the Book of Matthew makes a lot more sense when you realize that Matthew is writing to the Jewish people. Second, you have to know what kind of writing you are reading. Are you reading a historical narrative, a parable, poetry, prophecy, or an epistle? Knowing this helps you to understand how to read what you are reading. Third, once you know the type of writing, you can look into the text to find the purpose for what the author has written. Lastly, you may want to try to have some understanding of the culture in which the intended readers lived. That way you can know how they would interpret what they were reading. As you can see, reading the Bible can be a lot of work…..but it is worth it.
To get all of this information you will need to study or be “trained” as Gregg says. As you begin to study, you will grow in your understanding of the Bible and its doctrines. You may see that it actually says things different than what you had thought it did or were taught that it said. That is what happened to me. As I began to read the texts and study what they actually mean it changed my whole theology. It also gave me a desire to study more. I hope that is what it will do for you.
So, is what Gregg said true? Do you have to be trained to believe that Calvinism is true? The answer is yes and no. People can study the same information and still interpret it differently. That happens all the time. In my opinion, when I began to be “trained” I could not come to any other conclusion than Calvinism was true. I would never have come to that conclusion if I had not started my “training”. Ultimately though, if you are studying with sincerity, God will bless your efforts and you will grow in your knowledge and obedience of Him.
If you have not started your “training” I urge you to do so. If you need help getting started, let me know and I will do my best to point you in the right direction or at least the direction I took.