The idea of the cage-stage is all too familiar both inside and outside the reformed
community. It is the common ailment that occurs when someone first comes to affirm the doctrines of grace. They are loud and proud and will let you know they’re a Calvinist whether you asked or not; whether you’re a Calvinist or not (though especially if you’re not). It stays for a period of time until whether in their own reading of Scripture, prayer, or a loving brother/sister in Christ confronts them of it. Then it passes often leaving behind a trail of harmed friendships. Most of us know one and a lot of us were one.
Now, we can all agree that a desire to know the truth is important. We all eagerly want to
learn more about God, what he has done, and what he’s doing. But we have to ask ourselves, is this form of theological discussion in yelling and frustration biblical and edifying? Before we answer that question we first need to look at where the cage-stage even comes from. We know that it happens when people first become Calvinists but why?
A lot of current and former cage-stage Calvinists (though current cage-stage Calvinists
probably won’t acknowledge that they’re indeed cage-stage) will tell you that it sprouted from them feeling that they were “stupid” before and that they wish they had known earlier. That’s a very important thing to understand about all of this as we analyze whether this is Biblical or not. Romans 3:11 and 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 are crucial passages to look at here because they tell us the state of our minds and who it is that gives us the wisdom we need given our state. Romans 3:11a reads, “no one understands”. Left to our own devices we do not know what we need to know about God; we are not wise but fools. That’s not a very pretty thing think about… until we see what happens in spite of that. God, seeing our foolish state as we were steeped in sin, graciously opened our eyes to the reality of Himself (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). Though He uses people to share his gospel, it is ultimately God who lets that truth penetrate their hearts. This is also not merely
talking on the occurrence that takes place at regeneration. It is the reality that we need to depend on the Holy Spirit for the truth. As I said, left to our own devices… we are fools.
Okay, God is sovereign and we need to depend on him for our understanding. That’s all
well and good, but what effect does all of this ultimately have on cage-stage Calvinism? There’s a reason why I said that cage-stage calvinists’ feeling of former stupidity is important. It assumes that our knowledge of biblical truths depend on our own intellect; our own ability to understand. But that is a gross misunderstanding of our need for the wisdom that comes from above (James 3:17). I had once known a reformed professor of theological studies (who’s name and institution I will refrain from mentioning) once say, “Atheists are stupid, that’s why they don’t believe”. I couldn’t believe my ears. Now, of course Calvinists would not (or at least should not) say that non-Calvinists aren’t believers but I think the flawed argument is the same nonetheless. We must
depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us and instruct us, not our own depraved strength and minds. If we do we will know that, where we can affirm doctrines such as Calvinism and attempt to instruct others on their truths, it is ultimately God who administers wisdom among the believers and being loud and arrogant does nothing but hinder.
It is also additionally important for those who do not affirm the doctrines of grace to
know that experiences with cage-stage Calvinists, where very unpleasant, do not affect the truth of Calvinism. Calvinists, don’t be a cage-stager and don’t encourage it. Non-Calvinists, give your cage-stage brothers and sisters in Christ some grace and love them as God first loved you.
**Feature photo courtesy of Adam Ford**
Soli Deo Gloria!