I’ve been asked many times whether Reformed Christians should try to convert their non-Reformed brethren to Calvinism. It’s a good question. Indeed, it’s one I should have asked before attempting to convert all my companions, by which noble combat I soon forfeited the majority.
Having been reared in a setting where Reformed theology was equally misunderstood as it was opposed, I was “converted” to Calvinistic Christianity at age twenty-one. For two or three years after, I poured an ocean of polemics upon my corner of the Internet. Looking back, I find little fruit was gained for all my brave tilting at every Arminian windmill. I wish I had taken the advice I am about to give.
Overall, I've found it unhelpful to go out of the way to convince non-Reformed Christians of the Calvinistic doctrines of grace. This is not to say I hide or avoid these topics. Not at all. Especially if the other person brings them up. But I understand much better now that knowledge uncoupled from a demonstration of love comes off as a clanging gong. Demonstrating love takes time. Familiarity and trust must develop so that one’s brotherly intentions are understood, not just asserted. It is hard, if not impossible to achieve this over a few brief interactions, let alone from behind a social media handle.
WHAT I HAVE FOUND EFFECTIVE
I have found greater success broaching these subjects in times when my non-Reformed brothers have confessed struggling with assurance, sanctification, and perseverance. My own bitter experience taught me that only the Reformed doctrines of grace can provide sure anchors against these storms. Thankfully, times of severe self-doubt are also ideal opportunities for pointing others away from themselves to the overcoming grace of God given in Christ.
I direct them to Bible verses such as,
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6)
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thes 5:24)
The usual objections about “free” will are often disarmed by explaining that grace operates at a level deeper than will power. The Spirit goes to the root of our choices, to our very nature, and begins converting our corrupt hearts. Spiritual “new birth” and subsequent growth transforms people miraculously from within, like water into wine, so that our dispositions and preferences change.
Only sovereign grace can explain how die-hard sinners can go from unbelief and habitual sin to willing faith and holiness. Only sovereign grace can assure the downcast of finishing the race. Only sovereign grace can explain how it is that believers who sin every day will never choose to sin once they pass on to glory. Think about it. In the resurrection, God doesn’t have to take away “free” will to secure heaven from future sin. Rather, the Holy Spirit finishes his work of freeing us from corruption and temptation, so that we never will to sin again!
I find that in such times of anxious fear, these truths are readily received and savored by nearly all Christians. Rather than being theological abstractions, they come as practical correctives to self-assurance. Indeed, for those who feel themselves losing the battle, there is nothing more refreshing than to discover that salvation was always God’s victory, and is assured through Christ for all who believe.
CAREFUL WITH THAT SWORD
I would advise my Reformed brethren not to go spoiling for a fight or make yourselves a holy nuisance. Especially if your abilities and doctrine have not yet been approved and encouraged by your pastor or elders. If you want to know, ask! Sadly, many valiant but weak-handed warriors, myself included, have mishandled this heavy sword and wounded the very ones they wanted to liberate. In addition to studying how best to communicate Reformed doctrine, Invest time in demonstrating your love and directing others to the gospel. Remember, Calvinism is not the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Christ Jesus saves all who trust him alone for salvation. Calvinism simply explains why the Gospel is always effective for the elect.
May the Lord bless your service for is kingdom.