Call – Opelika-Auburn News
Three things Calvinists
taught a Methodist
was ten years old when I met him. His father had died while still a young man.
With his mother and younger brother Tim the boy had moved back to Opelika where
his mother Vicki had grown up. They began attending Trinity United Methodist
Church where I was one of the pastors.
I got to know the young man through
Scouting. I was the pastor he asked to help him with several Boy Scout projects
culminating finally in his becoming an Eagle Scout. I watched him become a fine
football player under the tutelage of Coach Spence McCracken at Opelika High
When he chose to attend Auburn University
I was proud. When he got a job working at Chuck’s Barbecue I was pleased. I
admired Chuck for his authentic testimony and I liked his barbecue. And I was
thrilled when one day Jesus went by Chuck’s Barbecue and told this young man,
“I want you to go to Asbury Seminary and get ready to preach the gospel for me.”
Today that young man, Matt O’Reilly, is
pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Union Springs, Alabama. I am so thankful for the special relationship
God has given me with Matt and now his wife Naomi and their two beautiful
children. I could not love Matt more if he were my own grandson.
Matt is a PhD candidate at the University
of Glouchestershire and an adjunct member of the
faculties of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical
Matt is a good writer as well as a good
preacher. Recently I came across an article Matt had written and published
under the title “Three Things This Methodist Learned from Calvinists.” I think
it is an excellent piece of writing and I take the liberty of sharing it with
C. S. Lewis once
cautioned against the blindness inherent in every age. Like others in our day,
he warned, we are "specially good at seeing certain truths and specially
liable to make certain mistakes." For Lewis, the solution was reading old
books. New books share the presuppositions of our time; old books challenge our
generational narrow-mindedness. The same warning could be issued with regard to
theological tradition. If we read only those who share our basic framework and
agree with us on most things, then we nurture devotional and theological
nearsightedness. To counteract this tendency, we ought to be disciplined in
reading other traditions and perspectives, not just to critique them but also
to discover what we can take in from them. We may be surprised to find how much
we have to learn.
I'm a United Methodist
pastor, but I've learned a lot from reading Reformed authors and listening to
Reformed preachers. While we certainly disagree on some important matters, we
also stand together in the broad stream of Protestant orthodoxy. I've learned
there is great wisdom and insight to be gained from Reformed voices both past
and present. Here are three ways in particular that I've benefited from the
Seriousness of Sin. It's easy to under-emphasize the magnitude of sin and its
consequences. We don't enjoy hearing what is wrong with us, and we tend to
minimize our own sinfulness, even if this tendency itself manifests the problem
we are so hesitant to face. By sitting at the feet of Reformed instructors, I
have discovered the benefit of seeing clearly the great ugliness and horror of
our sin, our complete inability to do anything about it, and the holiness of
God in justly condemning human rebellion.
understand that fudging on the seriousness of sin diminishes the beauty of the
gospel. The better I understand my own depravity, the more accurately I
perceive the extravagant mercy of Christ and the abounding grace of his
self-giving love. I thank the Reformed tradition for that insight.
Creation's Covenantal Structure.
This one is big, and
it's something I learned from Presbyterians. God related to Adam and Abraham covenantally, and he relates to you and me in this way.
When the covenant representative of the human race rebelled against God, we all
suffered the excruciating reverberations. Our covenant head introduced sin and
death into God's good creation, and we, along with all of creation, now
experience the agony of it. We stand together under the curse stipulated in
God's covenant with our first father. That is how covenants work.
But thanks be to God
that covenants also work to bless, and thanks be to God that he has given a new
covenant with a new representative. Through faith in Christ we are brought into
covenantal union with him, and represented by Christ we have peace with God. We
move from condemnation to justification, from death to life, and from darkness
into his glorious light. All of creation is structured covenantally.
When we live in accord with the covenant as God has given it, creation enjoys
God's blessing; when we do not, the whole world feels the pain. I don't know
that I would have ever seen this structure so clearly had I not learned it from
God's Love for His Own Glory.
This insight sometimes
leaves those of us outside the Reformed tradition a little nervous. Our
nervousness usually grows out of an honest effort to accurately present God as
characterized by self-giving love, and we are cautious about language that
sounds inconsistent with that character. How can the God whose character is
most perfectly revealed in the self-giving love of Christ on the cross also be
consumed with love for his own glory?
But the theme of God's
love for his own glory runs all the way through Scripture. So we have to take
it seriously. I came to fully embrace the biblical insistence on God's passion
for his glory by listening to the preaching of Calvinists. They helped me begin
to see there is nothing more beautiful that God's glory, and we ought to love
that which is most beautiful. To grant our highest and most passionate love to
that which is not most beautiful would be idolatry and sin, and the same is
true for God. He rightly loves that which is most beautiful, even and
especially his own glory. Anything less would tarnish the purity of his
holiness. Remarkably, God's love for his glory does not undermine or contradict
his self-giving love; the self-giving love of Christ is the perfect glory of
You will understand my
excitement when I discovered that this insight is not absent from the thought
of John Wesley, the father of Methodism, even if he did not emphasize it to the
same degree as his Reformed counterparts. In his sermon on "The General
Deliverance," while reflecting on whether God might, in the new creation, endow
animals with the capacity to know, love, and enjoy "the Author of their
being," Wesley concluded that, whatever happens, "[God] will
certainly do what will be most for his own glory." I nearly fell off my
chair in surprise and excitement to find in Wesley this deeply biblical truth
that I had learned from Calvinists. God will do what brings him the most glory.
There's something Wesleyans and Calvinists can agree on.
These are a few of the
most important ways that Reformed thinkers have helped me to begin to see
beyond my own theological blinders. I'm grateful for their instruction, and I
hope they will likewise learn from and be grateful for my tradition and others.
We stand unified by the good news that Christ died for our sins and was raised
on the third day for our justification. When we listen to and learn from each
other, the God who raised Jesus from the dead will be glorified by our love for
Well said, Matt, well said! + + +