A.J. Castellitto
Confessions of a closet Calvinist
By A.J. Castellitto
July 25, 2014

Does Jesus love everyone? It's a belief I may have taken for granted when I made this declaration on my Facebook page,

"The most potent thing you can say to a rebel is "Jesus loves you!" Those 3 words can cut through the coldest of hearts...."

In reading this, a friend of mine who shares a similar theological perspective was concerned as he believed my proclamation to be inaccurate and misleading.

I was born and raised Roman Catholic and would eventually come to embrace a theologically Reformed understanding of scriptures. An understanding that could rightly be deemed 'Calvinist.'

But after spending the past year and a half in communion and fellowship with faithful Christians of various denominational persuasions, I believe it's time to put aside the things that divide and stand united in faith and orthodoxy.

Here's a personal summary of why I now refuse to be defined by any name (i.e. founder of any particular movement, denomination or sect) unrighteously placed above or equal to Jesus Christ...

In engaging non-believers and skeptics, we Christians are often clumsy and even hostile in our presentation of the gospel. The call to love our neighbor, as well as our enemy, all too often goes unheeded.

But a faithful offer of the gospel must always maintain Jesus as the central evangelical point of emphasis. Specifically, the punishment he bore on our behalf.

Jesus willingly made the ultimate sacrifice, in which he voluntarily subjected himself to excessive suffering, humiliation and death on our behalf. Fallen mankind are actively rebelling against his grace when we do not submit to that.

At the cross, Jesus' sacrificial love for us is on full display. We must forsake and repent of our wicked ways and flee into the arms of the resurrected savior. This is the gospel.....

If we try to hit nonbelievers upfront with God's non-general, elective decrees, I believe we are trying to force strong meat. I also believe there are many saved who will never come to a complete understanding of these matters. All too often we wind up confusing orthodoxy with full revelation. They are not interrelated.

I'm pretty knowledgable in what I know but there are others, non-Reformed, that know more in other Biblical areas of truth. In some ways, despite my studies, I'm still a one trick pony who has had a narrow study focus. I still consider myself a babe in the woods to some degree when it comes to biblical understanding. We will always be lacking....

Ultimately, love cannot be claimed without repentance.

"He loves you and he wants you to REPENT......"

If you've ever read 'The Cross and the Switch Blade,' the fact that Nicky Cruz was still alive for Wilkerson to reach was a testament in itself to God's merciful love and amazing grace.

I think Calvinists screw up when they make the hidden things of God the Gospel. You don't start with hard truths or wait on a sinner to become a theologian; rather, the good will offer is presented with no further conditions attached. I dare say that the Calvinist presentation of the gospel often does more harm than good, because it leaves too many discouraged and confused rather than convicted and amazed. When our faith is too sterile and intellectual, we lose the complete picture of grace, I believe. Christianity is for the meek, the common, the unlearned, the slow of speech and understanding, as well as the humble theologian.

The gospel is good news and should be presented thus. Wilkerson tells Cruz to come 'as you are' ... No further conditions required!

I no longer debate or obsess on theology. Too often we are so busy resting in our knowledge that we become elitist and segregate ourselves from everyone. I'm just a poor sinner, short of full assurance, who knows Jesus is mighty and willing to save.

I'm not sure we should be splitting the word so precisely that we present the gospel in a 'hidden will' context; if we do we are not faithful in our presentation. I know I'm not qualified to do so. Nor do I fully understand God, who is outside time and place in these matters. But I know God knows perfectly. And since we often cannot determine where anyone is in their spiritual state, despite their knowledge, I don't fret over the revealed will based on the hidden reality.

We shouldn't take issue with the sincere handling of a revealed truth based on a hidden reality. We shouldn't unnecessarily discourage new or somewhat fragile believers. That's what excessive debate often leads to....

Regeneration is essential, but that is revealed by our response to the gospel. God so loved the world!

In both a general and redemptive sense, God loves his whole creation. To say 'Jesus loves you' and to follow that with 'He wants you to repent and follow him,' would not be a perversion of the gospel. In fact, I have been wrong to reject such methods (for as long as I have).

The fact that we even hear the gospel is evidence that Jesus loves us. If we refuse this loving kindness, we are to blame, not the insufficiency of the grace of God (or his sovereign will).

'Jesus loves you' is just the attention getter. I, nor Mr. Wilkerson, nor Mr. Cruz, stopped there. We mustn't get stuck there.

But on the flip side, are we leading with the hidden will? The gospel message, nor scriptures as a whole, is to lead with the hidden will. I refuse to allow John Calvin to become my idol. God knows and wills all things but his hidden decrees are not ours to play with. Ive been a sinner in the hands of an angry God, but that is not the message that brought me to loving mercy and humble repentance.

The sufficiency and efficacy of grace was thoroughly and comprehensively explained by Saint Augustine as part of his vital response to early Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian heresies that arose in the early church. Truths related to God's sovereign will are sprinkled throughout scriptures, but if God wanted His word fully broken down precisely in such a way he would have done it. When we take it upon ourselves to try and be so precise with God's word we may tragically fail to say any truly good thing in an absolute sense. When we are so careful, we may not be able to be so bold outside a promotion of the righteous condemnation of the sinner. That's not the proper way to share the Good News of the Bible.

As I've grown in grace (sanctification) the Holy Spirit has stripped me of my pride in debating strong meat with babes. I won't lie, but I also will not be responsible for shutting the door of grace and understanding to broken, bruised and heavy-hearted ones. Particularly those who just need to understand that they are loved and regarded. 'Jesus loves you' is not the gospel, it's merely a ray of hope to the hardened and weary.... It's essentially just an intro.

We are commanded to not only love our neighbor but our enemy as well. Jesus was wholly man when he walked the earth and was the only man who kept the law perfectly. Eternal life is possible for all those who come to understand that the single most amazing act of sacrificial love was fully rendered by the son of man, who came down from heaven, humbled himself, and bore our sins.

I'm not saying we need to sugarcoat, but the spiritual gravity of the matter is too great for us to defer our faith, hope, and charity for righteous superiority and condemnation. For the vast theologically proud among us, this is where our Calvinism often leads.....

But this is also true of many Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, etc. We all believe we hold a monopoly on 'the truth.' Faith in Jesus Christ was never meant to be a debate. Ultimately, it's just our pride talking....

In the end, I'm just a proud Calvinist, a HyperCalvinist, an Augustinian, an Arminian, a Thomist, a Molinist, a Wesleyan, a Heathen..... Actually, I'm none of these.

Despite my many iniquities, I am just me. Christian is what they call me.... And I come in peace.

"Then Jesus, beholding him, loved him and said unto him, 'One thing thou lackest: Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.'"

Does your faith make you cynical? Does it make you agitated? Does it make you want to turn every Bible study into WW3? Well, you may be suffering from a rare form of theological pride known as Calvinitis.... I suffered from this disease for about 12 years and it really turns your religious world upside down..... Keep the grace, lose the superiority..... Jesus likes it that way!

© A.J. Castellitto


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)