Justin Taylor (Between Two Worlds) linked to a post by Ray Ortland that is a good reminder for all of us who are Reformed in our theology (I spoke with a potential real estate agent about that this morning). Here is some of what he says:
The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.
Paul answered the theological aspects of the Galatian error with solid theology. But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). In other words, “The legalists want to ‘disciple’ you. But really, they’re manipulating you. By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them.” It’s like chapter two of Tom Sawyer. Remember how Tom got the other boys to whitewash the fence for him? Mark Twain explained: “In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Paul saw it happening in Galatia. But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It re-sets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself.
So, while I agree with J.I. Packer and Roger Nicole that “Calvinism is the gospel” (meaning the most accurate understanding of the biblical gospel), I need to be wary of my little inner Pharisee which tends to make that a litmus test. I have been fortunate to be friends with people from a variety of Christian ‘traditions’, and continue to be. But sometimes my inner Pharisee appears and I try to convert them to Reformed theology instead of waiting for Jesus to sort all that out. Oh, I should be willing to discuss it with them but I shouldn’t feel the need to argue them into it. (Apologies to all those I’ve done this to … there are more of you than I probably know.) One phrase I used in seminary was “you don’t have to understand gravity for it to still have an effect on you.” It is the same way with grace- we don’t always have a good understanding of the “hows” but what matters is that it has effected someone savingly. The understanding will come later (sometimes MUCH later). And that goes for me too, for all of us have blind spots in our theology. But if they grasp Jesus by faith- they are Christians, part of his church, body and bride.