There is a phrase I often use for really irritating people. I say they are, “more annoying than a new Calvinist.” I find it humorous, but there is also an unfortunate truth contained in there as well. Recent adherents to Calvinism can be very annoying, even to other Calvinists. This is probably due to Calvinism’s bubble bursting and viewpoint shifting nature. That said, obsessive railing by people can be done on just about any topic that one was previously against but now accepts. Those who fall victim to this phenomenon of aggressive proselytizing and argument for one’s new found soteriological convictions have been affectionately known as “Cage Stage Calvinists.” Those in the cage stage, so the story goes, are those who for the good of themselves and others should be locked in a cage until they can calm down enough to actually interact with people again. But there is good news, the cage stage is not necessary, below are some ways that you can avoid the cage stage in (appropriately) 5 points. As you work through these points it is good to remember that the most important way to avoid cage stage Calvinism is by actually believing Calvinism.
1. Remember that you are sinful and so are your opponents. If you really believe Calvinism, then you believe in depravity and that means you are sinful. Thankfully, due to the work of Christ we are not just sinners, we are just sinners, as in we are justified sinners. We should never view ourselves as being too big for our own britches just because we learned something new, even if that new thing is quite wonderful. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” That is just as true for Calvinists as it is for non-Calvinists.
2. Realize that you were shown the Doctrines of Grace by the grace of God, not yourself. You were shown these truths of scripture not by your merit, but because God was gracious enough to show them to you. When you are ungracious in your speech then it shows that you haven’t really grasped the truths of Calvinism. You may have learned the system, but you haven’t let it seep into your heart, for it is all about grace. Grace given to sinners who in turn should show forth that grace in their lives. So have grace for others by realizing that you are the mere recipient of grace when you learned the doctrines of grace.
3. Understand that without God revealing it, no one will get it. You aren’t smarter than everyone. Because the cage stage may have already started to grip you let me say that again, you aren’t smarter than everyone. There are much more intelligent people than you who have not grasped this. So if you have grabbed hold of it, it is because God has placed it in your hand not because you are better than they are. It may seem ridiculous to you that others just don’t get it, but remember, you didn’t get it before either and yet now you do. It’s not because you just figured it out, it’s because God was kind enough to show you, so treat it as such.
4. Stop using revivalist, man centered methods to spread Calvinism. You have come to the realization that God is the one that ultimately draws people to himself, great. The problem is that when you are in the cage stage you have not yet let your theology trickle down into your methodology. You understand Calvinism but you still act like an Arminian. You see it as your job to convince, convict and convert everyone to right theology rather than seeing it as the work that God must do. Yes you show others the scripture and point them to the truth, but realize that the rest can and should be left up to God. Let the word of God do what the Bible says it will do, let the Holy Spirit do what the Bible says he will do; in other words, actually believe in practice what Calvinism teaches.
5. Know that Calvinism is not the end all of theology. In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “You’ve just taken your first step into a larger world.” While the new truth of Calvinism you just learned seems all encompassing to your view of scripture realize that it is not the totality of what is taught in scripture. For many people their introduction to Calvinism is their first real point of introduction to systematic theology. It often marks the first time that they shifted from a shallow Evangelicalism and into deeper aspects of the faith that they never knew where there. But there is much more to go, Covenant Theology, ecclesiology, Pneumatology, church relation to civil magistrates, and on and on. This doesn’t mean that Calvinism isn’t important, it just means that Calvinism isn’t the finish line, there is much more to learn grasshopper.
What all Calvinists need, cage stage or not, is to let the truths of God’s grace permeate our lives, practice, and thinking. You are not Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms. Martin Luther, by the way, wasn’t a Calvinist, sorry to burst that bubble. What you are is an ignorant sinner who has more fully understood the grace and mercy of God in salvation that he has bestowed upon you. God is sovereign, and that means we are not, not even in our ability to convince others of Calvinism by the power of our own reason or personalities. To get out of the cage stage means that you have to start applying Calvinism to your walk, actions, sanctification and introspection. Move past mere assent to five points of theological affirmations, and move into the truth of the amazing grace that God has given us that permeates all of our lives. Calvinism for Calvinism’s sake is little more than being a noisy gong and a clanging symbol, Calvinism for God’s sake means showing love, mercy, trust, faith and grace. So when it comes to Calvinism how you do avoid the cage stage? By actually believing it.