Christian Liberty?

July 26, 2016

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
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Maybe you have heard that a new documentary film on the subject of Calvinism is about to be released? Les Lanphere, of the Reformed Pubcast, started with a goal of raising $35,000 for this project, but the latest report reveals that he has well exceeded that goal with donations totaling over $65,000! <link>  You can say whatever you want about Calvinists, but they do get behind those things in which they really believe are essentials to the faith. Here is a small teaser to give you an idea of what we may expect from this film:


Is this the new face of Calvinism?  A bearded, tatted, cigar smoking, alcohol consuming, lover of Geneva like governance? Ironically, John Calvin would have had most modern day Calvinists burned at the stake (or at least tortured into submission) if they had lived in his tightly controlled Geneva.<link>

Not all Calvinists would obviously support the promotion of alcohol, tobacco or tattoos, but one would have to be blind not to recognize the growing popularity of these Christian liberties among those who hold to a Calvinistic soteriology.

I have been grappling and praying about this issue for a few months now. I have several close Calvinistic friends who look and act like the guy in the video. Having been a Calvinist for a over a decade I even participated in this trend and to be perfectly honest, I still enjoy certain liberties when I feel it is appropriate to do so.

So, what’s the problem? Who cares if Calvinists enjoy their liberties a bit more openly than other Christians?

The issue to me seems to be a misunderstanding of what “Christian Liberty” is all about.

To call something a “Christian liberty” means it is NOT an essential to Christianity. Unlike the essential doctrines of the church, a liberty is something I am free to practice or not practice. In other words, I can take it or leave it. And according to Paul I should “leave it” if and when there is the potential of causing another person to stumble:

Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. – Romans 14:12-22

What some Christian groups seem to be doing now is flaunting their liberty as if it is a necessity of being included in their group. They attach their liberties to specific Christian doctrines, as if they somehow go hand in hand. (i.e. “The Reformed Pubcast;” “Reformed and Reloaded;” “TULIP and Tobacco”…ok the last one I made up, but you get the point.)

This would be like Paul starting a “Trinitarian Meat of Strangled Pigs Fellowship” so as to rub his newfound liberty in the face of his “weaker brethren.” Imagine if they had podcasts in the first century and the apostle Paul promoted his by saying something like, “Come eat some bacon while we discuss the doctrine of the Trinity.” As delicious and appealing as that may sound to us today, the spirit of this approach is completely unBiblical, especially given the social norms of Paul’s society.

Some Calvinists are taking this path by attaching their soteriology to similar liberties and belittling anyone who questions their wisdom in doing so. A few Calvinistic leaders have rightly sounded the alarm about attaching pet doctrines to controversial liberties, but I have a suspicion that those warnings will be drowned out by the fad seeking masses that make up the young, restless and reformed crowd.

My hope is that the growing trend of Calvinistic soteriology will last as long as the fad to which they have attached themselves.

Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. -Paul

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Per usual, Leighton, your analysis is spot-on and observations are affirming. While some treatises are instructive regarding the convictions of abstention, yours answers a weighty issue for our Calvinistic brethren and their biblical liberties: Just because you can does not mean you should. Subsequent to that comes the question of whether their tastebuds are more important than their testimony. (I am now wondering, however, the extent to which Calvinists’ view of election informs their behavior re: alcohol. To wit: If some people are irrevocably destined for heaven and others for hell, then what does it matter how one lives?)
I am recalling the beer brewing classes offered at Mars Hill Church when Driscoll — who deemed abstention a sin — was pastor. As part of other worthy observations, I deemed such instruction exceedingly dangerous if humans do have genetic predisposition to addiction as science strongly suggests. So, in the interest of using beer to attract people to church, such a church may have created addicts of the spirits and not adorers of the Spirit.
If we will sing “It’s all about you,” but live as though it’s all about us, then we are hypocrites. In the larger context of Christian comportment, we all would do well to remember that we can be wrong in exercising our rights, as the lengthy passage cited above clarifies and reinforces.


“Men make void the law of God by denying it to be his law, by promulgating commands and doctrines in opposition to it, by setting up tradition in its place, or by utterly disregarding and scorning the authority of the lawgiver. Then sin becomes fashionable, and a holy walk is regarded as a contemptible puritanism; vice is styled pleasure, and vanity bears the bell. Then the saints sigh for the presence and power of their God; Oh for an hour of the King upon the throne and the rod of iron. Oh for another Pentecost with all its wonders, to reveal the energy of God to gainsayers, and make them see there is a God in Israel!”
-Spurgeon quote from The Treasury of David; Psalm 119

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