Why I am not a Calvinist

I am not a Calvinist. This may be a shock to some of you who know me, and those who don’t know me, well I doubt you worry as much!  Before there is total uproar at my statement, let me explain myself in this post.

Firstly being a ‘Calvinist’ means that you are labeling yourself a follower of Calvin. This has many problems, one of which is that Calvin was of course was just a man, a sinner, who should be looked at critically as with all reformers, so we can distance ourselves from treating them as ‘special’. Calvin, for example, was involved in the burning of a few Protestants at the stake for heresy, through hazy circumstances.  Something that has worrying connotations!  We should not be followers of a man who has a set of ideas; instead we should strive to class ourselves as followers of Christ, of the Way.  Therefore I am not a Calvinist, but instead a Christian, who focuses on the word of God before any works of man.  In 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, we see Paul’s appeal to the church not to follow men

11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: one of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas[b]’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul? 

Christians shouldn’t be going round labelling themselves as a Calvinist, Lutheran, Arminian or such like because it can be a massive stumbling block. These are man-made traditions, and terms that smack of pride and smugness.   I’ve known scenarios when people have gone and said straight away “oh, I’m a Calvinist by the way”, it can be an immediate obstacle, if the other person in  this conversation didn’t believe in the ideas set forth by Calvin, it could cause division and even argument.  Such labelling detracts from the fact that, first and foremost we are followers of Christ and not of Calvin, Arminius or any other man.

So I recommend to all those who think that John Calvin was right with his ideas on the doctrines of Grace, to focus on the gospels. Don’t follow Calvin; instead centre your focus on Christ. If other Christians believe in the ideas set forth by Luther then cool, that’s fine, it is not something that should divide the church, and even when any fundamentals are compromised (as is sometimes tragically the case in the extreme wings of these theological positions), let us tackle the issue in love and prayer.

Secondly, Calvin’s ideas are somewhat problematic for me (and many others). These set of ideas are often referred to as the five points of Calvinism, otherwise known as ‘TULIP’.   The points can be huge stumbling blocks and should never really be preached from the pulpit on their own.  I personally disagree with the way Limited atonement and Irresistible Grace are set forth, by so-called ‘Calvinists’. They seem to contradict essential Gospel truths. I do think that they are red herrings, as it’s a debate that can split churches, families even.  Yet they do not change our attitude towards Christ.  The doctrines of Calvinism do not bring salvation and definitely should not be the main focus of our lives.  The point is: let us focus on the fundamentals, on the fact that Christ died for us and that we must be sent into the world to evangelise and do his will.  Josh would say he accepts the teachings of the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ and that is cool, personally I think it’s a better way of going around this whole subject of ‘Calvinism’!

This post isn’t meant to be long, full of lengthy paragraphs about who Calvin was as a man and explore deeply his theology. It is meant to be simply stating that we should not call ourselves ‘Calvinists’, that we shouldn’t follow a man, and that some people such as myself have a few problems with the term often called TULIP.  It is often said that the Doctrines of Grace or TULIP bring the assurance needed, and it might do.  In further study it may help, but remember the simple truth, that we know we are saved as God is love and thanks to the Spirit, we know his truth.  Knowing we have been accepted by God and can’t be let go is wonderful.  For quite a few Christians, being a so called ‘Calvinist’ leads them to smugness and puts themselves, puts man before God, before Christ.  We shouldn’t focus on what men teach, or on what they say is good for you, but on the cross and on what God has given us, his spirit and his love.  At the same time, I do not mean to offend any Calvinists or those who call them the doctrines of grace.  I love you brothers and sisters, and I accept most of what you say.  Being in a wide church means that we can disagree on these secondary issues, let us work together for Christ, whatever our secondary or tertiary thoughts are!

Let us therefore focus on the Cross, on Jesus, and give him our full attention. May we long for the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts and when we do disagree on issues such as those mentioned in this post, that we do with a brotherly love and listen to others and respect their views on the Bible.  I doubt any of us are 100% right, and we shall find out in heaven!

Nebuchadnezzar: The king of kings

There are a great many valuable lessons we can learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s life; and in the following series of articles I intend to draw some out and apply them to our day and age. So join me as we explore the life of a great man, raised up by God!

I’m nobody special; I don’t have a doctorate or professorship, or even a degree yet. I haven’t studied academically into this area. What will be written here is based on my own personal study of the Bible and simple research and pointers from available commentaries, books, encyclopaedias and the great deal of information available through the internet.

It can be easy to read the Bible (particularly the book of Daniel more so perhaps) as just a story sometimes, but it all happened, it is as true and real as the hair on your head (unless you’re Ben Kingsley, of course) – archaeological finds and Babylonian records back it up too. These people lived, worked and played, just as we do today.

Many people today forget Nebuchadnezzar, or ignore him, yet in his day he was the most powerful man on earth, and a major Biblical character. I’m not going to launch here into how humble, unworthy or poor my attempt is on writing about the life and times of Nebuchadnezzar; you can judge that for yourself.

I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to write about a subject I love! I have attempted to present a balanced and honest picture as far as possible. I am human like everyone, so there are bound to be various mistakes and/or discrepancies. Hopefully, however, others will benefit from these articles, as I trust I will in writing them.

There are many grey areas, which is only to be expected, these events took place 2,600 years ago! Where there are conflicting opinions, I have tried to present all viewpoints equally.

Through Nebuchadnezzar’s life we can see God’s ever-present hand at work, sometimes ‘behind-the-scenes’, but other times more openly.

So without further ado: ahem, ladies and gentlemen, I present the first part…

 

Nebuchadnezzar: The king of kings

This will be the first article of many, I trust; setting the scene for the events that follow, and introducing you to this fascinating man.

Daniel addressed Nebuchadnezzar in the following manner:

“Your Majesty, you are the king of kings.
The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all.
You are that head of gold.” Dan. 2:37-38

In 570 BC the Babylonian Empire was at its fullest extent. It stretched from modern-day Turkey down to Egypt, and from modern-day Iran down into the heartlands of Arabia.

Neo-Babylonian Empire
Neo-Babylonian Empire (Wikimedia Commons)

The Babylonians were the most powerful civilisation of their time, and subdued all challengers to that title in a series of successful military campaigns.

The city of Babylon, from where the Babylonians derived their name, was the central metropolis of the empire with around 200,000 inhabitants – a massive figure at the time. To put it into perspective, London wouldn’t reach this size until the 1600s.

The Babylonians, much like their counterparts throughout the pages of history (Sumer, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc.), lead the way in art, architecture, lifestyle, mathematics and learning as well.

At the head of this civilization was the king, worshipped by his subjects like a god, surrounded and supported by ‘great’ and ‘powerful’ gods of gold and stone.

He commanded unparalleled power. Woe to them that caused the slightest displeasure to his person; he would inflict the most severe tortures and punishments upon his enemies, skinning them alive. Those, on whom his favour rested, on the other hand, would be showered with riches untold.

Who made this kingdom what it was? Who was ‘the king of kings’? Who commanded such power and fear?

King Nabû-kudurri-uṣur II; more commonly known as: Nebuchadnezzar II.

Nebuchadnezzar raised Babylon from a backward puppet city-state ruled by Assyria, into the nation that it was. Babylon had been dominated by Assyria for centuries, despite being in a state of near-constant rebellion against them.

At first by his father’s side, but later on his own, Nebuchadnezzar elevated his nation into a major world power. Under his reign, Babylon experienced its golden era.

No other ruler was called ‘king of kings’ in the Bible by God Himself (Ezk. 26:7f), see note 1.

Daniel addressed him with this title too; he did well to do so, Nebuchadnezzar was certainly a man to be feared; he had just previously ordered the death of Daniel and all the wise men of Babylon because of their inability to tell him his dream (Dan. 2:9ff). In verses 5 and 6 of chapter two he says:

“’This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.’” Dan. 2:5-6.

Piles of rubble can also be translated as ‘dunghill’ or ‘ash-heap.’

In this quote, we get an idea of the character of this man. It also reveals how much he was troubled by this dream.

If Nebuchadnezzar did not get his way, we can clearly see the drastic lengths that he was prepared to go to. Who could stand up to him?

One can imagine his advisers skulking around the palace, not daring to offend or disappoint him; offering up flattery and praise rather than opinion or advice.

Thankfully for Babylon, God did not allow Nebuchadnezzar to carry out his plan which he had ‘firmly decided’. Such a rash action would have deprived Babylon of the vast majority of its rulers and teachers (as well as the resident Jewish contingent); although admittedly, the court ‘magicians’ and astrologers might not have been that useful anyhow!

Here, God clearly intervenes by speaking through Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, relating his dream (which he apparently had forgotten), and interpreting it for him – a great mercy for all involved; and a classic example of God overruling a man’s plans (Prv. 19:21).

 

Prophecies concerning Nebuchadnezzar

The Bible speaks a lot about Nebuchadnezzar; he was God’s tool – raised up by the Lord to punish those ripe for judgement. Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy extensively concerning him.

The Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar's Army by Juan de la Corte
The Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Army by Juan de la Corte (Wikimedia Commons)

Jeremiah’s prophecies (and the historical interludes in Jeremiah) relate his eventual conquest of Jerusalem, after destroying much of it twice, and instilling first Zedekiah as puppet-king and then Gedaliah as governor. Both of whom rebelled against him (or in Gedaliah’s case the people whom he was supposed to be governing), despite the Lord’s repeated warnings through Jeremiah (Jer. 22:25, 25:9f, 27:6f, 28:14, 29:21f, 32:28f, 43:9ff, 46:13ff, 46:26).

Nebuchadnezzar also fulfilled prophecies given by the Lord predicting campaigns against Tyre (Isa. 26, Ezk. 26:7f) and Egypt (Ezk. 29:19f, 30:10f) by name; and Assyria also (Nah. 2).

Unfortunately for Nebuchadnezzar, he did not recognise or acknowledge the fact that he was raised up by God and not by himself, resulting in the Lord humbling him severely; but more on that later.

 

Rise and fall of an empire

This period of Mesopotamian and Israelite history is fascinating with hindsight. The rise (under Nebuchadnezzar) and fall of the Babylonians in the 6th century BC is certainly one of the most dramatic in history. In actual fact the Babylonian Empire rose and fell in a little over half a century.

It should be noted before we continue, that the Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s time is the ‘Neo-Babylonian Empire’ or second empire of Babylon. Babylon had a fairly substantial independent empire eleven hundred years before. They also had a Nebuchadnezzar before, hence why our subject is labelled the second.

Babylon, in the land of Shinar, has a long history; it being the location of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 as well.

 

Rich archaeological heritage

I hope you will permit me a slight diversion (getting side-tracked already!): one note I would like to make on the first Babylonian empire is of special historic archaeological interest, as an example of the richness of Middle-Eastern archaeology. The site of Aqar Quf, a 14th century BC Babylonian city (near modern-day Baghdad, Iraq) is the location of “an unusually well preserved ziggurat.” Rising to a height of 180 feet, the mud-brick core of the ziggurat still stands today, weathering almost 3,500 years of history and conflict. It is remarkable that such a relic from a by-gone age has survived. Think of all that it has witnessed, from Alexander the Great to the Mongol invasions and the Iraq war …

The ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu in 2010. © U.S. Army - Spc. David Robbins.
The ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu in 2010. © U.S. Army – Spc. David Robbins.

Egypt and the pyramids get all the attention (and rightly so, to an extent), but we do miss out on the (arguably even more spectacular) remains of the Mesopotamian civilisations. Such a building makes archaeology and history in the Near East so amazing. So much still survives from its rich history; but equally so much has been lost, and so much is yet to be found.

 

 

Notes

1 – The only other human being called ‘king of kings’ in the Bible is Artaxerxes, king of Persia. However that was a title he gave himself, in a letter sent to Ezra the priest (Ezra 7:11-13); this was common practice for such rulers in those days.