As a hospital chaplain, I never know what I'm in for when someone calls to make an appointment.
Last week, I got a call from a woman I vaguely recalled having met once before. "I want to ask you about 19th century Evangelicalism in the Church of England."
Yeah, right, I thought, I've heard that one before (?). I made the appointment, figuring we would talk for a few minutes about Wilberforce and Spurgeon and then she would unload about her horrid recent diagnosis, or her shattered relationship with her boyfriend, or her grief having lost her mother, or her conviction that "They" were planting bugs in her bedroom.
But no. She wanted to talk about...19th century Evangelicalism in the Church of England. For a research paper on Jane Eyre. Jane's relationship with her Calvinist cousin, Mr. St. James.
Well, it's easily been 25 years since I read Jane Eyre. But we had a good time talking about Wilberforce and John Newton, the Continental Reformation and Puritanism, as well as John Henry Newman. We both shook our heads and tut-tutted at the grim doctrine of Total Depravity. I gave Calvin’s concern for the sovereignty of God its due five minutes and then went all Armenian on the subject of free will.
But as we were talking I realized something: Whatever their stripe, all those Evangelicals were tapping into some kind of huge energy source. Wilberforce’s tireless, decades-long campaign against slavery. Charles Spurgeon’s impassioned, prodigious preaching. A whole army of Christians setting out across the globe into hostile, unpleasant, sometimes lethal situations to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
They had all discovered some secret spiritual dynamo that gave them the courage, the endurance, the eagerness, the creativity to do all these things.
And I knew what that dynamo was: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
The knowledge that God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Righteous and Holy Judge, would bother to notice, much less reach down and lift up...even one such as me.
Then it clicked. I may not be a five-point Calvinist*. But I am a forgiven sinner. And knowing that I am a sinner, and knowing I that I have nonetheless been forgiven extravagantly by a gracious God--yeah, that knowledge is for me a source of actual energy and encouragement, even in the daily grind of ministry.
* The five doctrinal points of Calvinism are represented by the acronym TULIP:
Total Depravity (the unaided will is incapable of doing good)
Unconditional Election (God doesn't look into the future and see our choices before electing us)
Limited Atonement (Christ's atoning work only extends to the elect)
Irresistible Grace (I'm just a sinner who cain't say no)
Perseverance of the Saints (once saved always saved)