Cage Stage Calvinism
We who tend to think a little too highly of ourselves as the “mature Reformed guys,” often speak very condescendingly toward what we call, “cage stage Calvinism.” For those unfamiliar with that term, R.C. Sproul Jr. gave this short definition:
“‘Cage-stage’ describes an all too common phenomenon wherein a believer comes to embrace the doctrines of grace, and for a time becomes an obnoxious lout in defending the doctrines to all comers, whether they are interested or not. It suggests that such a newbie should spend some time in a cage until they calm down.”
He goes on to describe those in the “cage stage” in this way,
“The Cage Stager is frustrated, bent out of shape, often angry at the failure of others to embrace these biblical doctrines.”
There is certainly some truth in that critique. I think we have all either seen it in others, or have been guilty of it ourselves. When our eyes are first opened to the reality of the glory of God as it is set forth in “the doctrines of grace,” it is like being “born again-again.” As a result, we can be extremely jealous, although in a wrong kind of way, that everyone behold this transcendent glory. Our newly found sincere passion for the glory of God is mixed with the sin and corruption that remains in all believers. However, as is usually the case with sin, it is a double edged sword.
Knowledge Without Zeal
Everything we do and think is tainted by sin, even as born again believers in Christ. So, it is always our tendency to be imbalanced, unclear, and partially blinded in our understanding of reality. We see the “frustrated, bent out of shape” cage stager and think, “zeal without knowledge is not good.” (See Proverbs 19:2 & Romans 10:2) It is true, that is not good. However, that coin has another side, and that sword has another edge, namely, that “knowledge without zeal is not good.”
This is where we tend to err. We plainly see that zeal without knowledge is not good, but then we tend to think that too much zeal is the real problem, not the lack of knowledge. However, the fact of the matter is, the Bible commands us to be zealous. If we are not zealous for the truth of the glory of God, than we are in sin. Romans 12:11 plainly states,
“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
The Greek word for “fervent” means, “to be stirred up emotionally, be enthusiastic/excited/on fire.” (BDAG) The apostle Paul states it first negatively, then positively. It is as if Paul had said, “Don’t be lacking in zeal, but on the contrary, you must be enthusiastic like a man on fire in the Spirit (τῷ πνεύματι) as you serve the Lord.”
The Bible commands our hearts, not just our hands. God is worthy of all of our highest thoughts and most passionate affections. This is the first and greatest commandment:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
God is jealous for his own name’s sake. He says in Isaiah 48:11,
“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.”
Likewise, in Deuteronomy 4:24 he says,
“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
In other words, the Lord himself burns with zeal, as a consuming fire, for the glory of his own name. Both as his image bearers, and especially as those redeemed by the blood of Christ, God’s own passion for his own glory ought to be our all-consuming passion.
The “Cage Stage” Christ
However, we have a way of setting up for ourselves false idols of worship—creating for ourselves a domesticated God, one who is completely tame and civilized like us—and thus we become like the false image of God we have made for ourselves: tame, civilized, and domesticated. I think this may be revealed most clearly when we read the account of Jesus cleansing the temple in John 2:13-17. There we read,
“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”
Jesus of course was sinless, and we are certainly not. Jesus posses all knowledge, and we are often dull and stupid. Jesus has all authority, and we are nothing more than slaves of Christ. We must recognize those differences between the creature and the incarnate Creator in all that we do. However, look at what is happening here. Jesus makes for himself a whip, and then he uses it to forcefully drive out all the visible corruption in the temple. He was, no doubt, enthusiastic like a man on fire in the Spirit as he served the Lord his God. Indeed, zeal had consumed him.
If we had lived in Jerusalem in that day, would we not have been tempted to look at Jesus and say, “Zeal without knowledge is not good”? If we were his friends, would we not have been tempted to say that Jesus had become “an obnoxious lout in defending the doctrines to all comers, whether they are interested or not”? With our domesticated version of modern Christianity, would we not have been tempted to view Jesus as a man who is, “frustrated, bent out of shape, [and] often angry at the failure of others to embrace these biblical doctrines”? As mature Reformed guys, might we not have been tempted to suggest to Jesus, “that such a newbie should spend some time in a cage until they calm down”? If we were transported back to this scene, might we not be tempted to view Jesus here as the “cage stage” Christ?
Let us therefore be careful in how we we view the Christian life, and how we judge others, who have zeal, but perhaps are lacking in knowledge. Yes, we should help them grow in knowledge, but we should not be a wet blanket on their zeal. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” May we not be found guilty of quenching the Spirit’s fire when people come to embrace the biblical truths known as “Calvinism.” Even more than that, may we not be found guilty of thinking that we have now become mature in our understanding of Reformed Theology because we have successfully quenched the Spirit. If you are currently lacking in zeal, do not be like that slothful and lukewarm church of Laodicea, “be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)