My father was a Sales Manager for three different Fortune 500 companies during his career in business. While certain aspects of sales are clearly important—developing rapport with the client, selling the benefits and closing the deal—one must also be absolutely clear about the offer one is making. The product and the offer are not necessarily synonymous.
The product may be razor blades, as when my father worked for the Gillette Company. But the offer might be a signed contract, with satisfaction guaranteed, for a six month supply of blades to be distributed and stocked in certain stores at a certain price—all backed by the good name of his reputable company, a leader in its field. Clearly, the product you are getting matters, but the nature and identity of the one with whom you are entering into a relationship also matters. In fact, it matters even more.
Calvinism believes the same gospel as Traditionalism—Jesus, the Son of God, lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, took our place on the cross and suffered for our sins, died, was buried and rose again from the grave, so that all who believe in Him, repenting of their sins and responding to His grace by genuine faith in Christ, will experience the indwelling of His Spirit, the salvation of their souls and a rebirth that is completely by His grace and for His glory.
Calvinists and Traditionalists disagree about the manner in which God’s sovereignty interacts with man’s responsibility in the process of receiving God’s salvation by grace through faith, but we do not disagree on the gospel per se. Thus, since we have the same gospel, many believe that Calvinists and Traditionalists can easily work directly together in funding missionaries, advocating civic righteousness, publishing Christian literature, planting churches and training ministers. However, it may not be so simple.
Some methods of cooperation may prove more problematic than it would seem at first glance—not because our gospels are different, but because our offers are different. We conceptualize God’s identity in two distinct ways—with a different Patriology in terms of the Father’s love for the reprobate, a different Christology in terms of His atoning work, a different Pneumatology in terms of the order of His regenerating work relative to faith, a different Anthropology in terms of man’s ability to accept or reject the grace of God, and a different Soteriology in terms of God’s condition for our election. We also explain Theodicy differently in terms of God’s causation versus His permission of evil, tend to practice a different Ecclesiology with regard to church government styles, and may even view the nature of biblical truth differently—a clear message in need of proclaiming versus a lost and hidden message desperately in need of recovery. Thus, we may share a common gospel, but we do not share a common system of theology.
However much we admit our gospel, strictly speaking, is exactly the same in both instances, we must also admit our precise offer is decidedly different. The nature and identity of the One with Whom we are entering into a relationship is quite clearly distinguishable. The values, philosophies and company culture are profoundly at odds. If we were selling razor blades, then one of us would be Gillette and the other would be Schick. We may have the same conception of the gospel, but we clearly have a different conception of God. If we evangelized together, which God would we offer sinners?
Calvinists may object, “Are you saying we don’t even worship the same God?” No, that is not quite what I am saying. We may indeed worship the same God, but we describe His character and His work in completely different ways. We define so differently the basic theological concepts of love, free will, world and all that it has properly been said, “Calvinists and Traditionalists have the same vocabulary, but a different dictionary.”
Frankly, these two dictionaries yield two distinct offers. One claims that God truly desires the salvation of every person in the world and that every soul has a God-given ability to respond freely to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the gospel. The other claims that God’s revealed will to save all is trumped by a secret will only to save a select few who cannot possibly resist the predetermined salvation He has chosen for them but just as irresistibly denied to others. If a Calvinist wants to knock on doors with me, fine. But he should not be surprised if I want to do the talking.