Monday, November 07, 2005

The Best "Calvinistic" Conversion

Like most Calvinists, I used to think that the Apostle Paul's conversion, described in the chapter nine of Acts, was the best "Calvinistic" conversion presented in scripture. Saul, the persecutor if not outright murderer of Christians, knocked to the ground and blinded by the light. Certainly Saul was not seeking the Lord, nor can what happened to Saul be described as God "wooing" a lost sinner.

However, in teaching a recent Sunday School class on Predestination (the notes will be posted in good time) a comment from one the men in the class about Jacob got me thinking about his conversion. It is told to us in Genesis 32:

22The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. (Gen 32:22-29)

Keep in mind that prior to this, Jacob has been busy praying to God in verses 9-12 of this same chapter.

So how does this mysterious conversion fit the Calvinist paradigm?

I would argue that Jacob's earlier seeking is the "false seeking" we often see. It occurs when someone appears to seek God, but what he really seeks is what God has to offer. In this case, Jacob seeks protection from his brother. For good reason: Jacob has been a rascal.

Later, after Jacob is alone, the mystery man, whom we shall identify as a theophony of God (although he may be but a representative of God) appears. Regeneration, regardless of where or when it happens, is an intensely private matter, and Jacob's solitude is very fitting.

The appearance of the man, unbidden by Jacob, represents, I would argue, the moment he was reborn; the very moment he was given a heart of flesh. Like Saul's knockdown, it is an unexpected, unmerited and monergistic divine initiative.

What happens next is what makes this a really good example of conversion for the Camp Calvin. Jacob wrestles with God. Why is this so good? Because Calvinism is so often maligned as "free-will abrogated." It is nothing of the sort. It is merely the truth that you are regenerated before you believe rather than after. Your free will is intact. However, you now have a heart that can actually seek God rather than, at most, what God offers. But it doesn't usually happen without a fight. Jacob's wrestling represents the true nature of the Calvinistic view: your free will is going to wage battle with your new heart for some time after you are born again.

It gets better. Jacob eventually refuses to let go of God. This represents the truth that once a man has a new heart he will ultimately seek to take the kingdom by force. Eventually all regenerate men will seek God with such conviction that nothing can stop them.

In the final act of submission to God, Jacob, in verse 27, gives his name. The modern equivalent would be that Jacob cried "uncle." God blesses him, and Jacob is not only regenerated, but saved.

Although I am still not sure what the hip dislocation is all about…

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