What Happens After the Cage Stage?

We Reformed Christians sometimes tend to be a contentious lot. It begins often with our embracing the Doctrines of Grace and subsequently feeling gipped by our former convictions and associated fellowships and leaders. “The doctrine of predestination and election has been in the Bible the whole time,” we think, “and you never told me about it?!”

And if at this point we haven’t drafted our own 95 Theses and nailed them to the door of the church at [insert your town name here], then at least we’ve taken to Twitter with quotes from Piper, Pink, and Packer because we’re pretty certain that if our Pelagian pal Pete Paulson just sees this particular passage he’ll probably put away his paganism and partake of the preaching of predestination.

Wow. Sorry. That alliteration got out of control for a second there. I’m back. If that happens again, just slap me.

So we go on our inevitable social media rampage. Er, uh, Reformation. This is the stage in a young Calvinist’s life James White has dubbed the “cage stage.” I.e., you’re better off being locked in a cage until you settle into your newfound convictions and balance a bit.

“There’s no need for balance! PEOPLE’S LIVES ARE IN THE BALANCE!!!!” See? That. Right there. That’s what I’m talking about. Get back in your cage!

Most of us get past this point anywhere from a few months to a few years in. But something often happens after we’re let out of the cage that many folks don’t talk about.


It’s called recidivism. It’s the term used to refer to prisoners who have been released from prison and, upon release, feel ill-equipped to face “life outside” (think Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption). In cases a recidivism, the released prisoner commits a crime in order to be re-imprisoned.

And I think that’s what a lot of us do after our cage-stage. We’ve kind of become acclimated to the steady barrage of arguments with our Arminian friends. They’ve come to grips with the fact that we’ve “gone over to the dark side.” We love them, they love us; we’ve come to realize that if and when they come to see that Calvinism is true and biblical it will not be because of our persuasiveness, but because of God’s sovereignty, and they’ve come to realize they shouldn’t open Pandora’s box by engaging our theological Facebook posts.

And then… something magical happens. We realize there are arguments to be had within Reformed theology! “Wait a minute… you’re amill? I’m postmill! You’re not a theonomist? You’re an antinomian!! Heretic!” And we get an oddly familiar sense. A kind of adrenaline rush.

“Surely this can’t be a bad thing,” we tell ourselves. “I’m fighting for the truth!” In fact we even pridefully think of ourselves better or more holy even than those with whom our theology agrees with but who do not take part in our in-house witch hunts. “Yeah, ol’ Scott over there apparently can’t be bothered with confronting heresy in the ranks. Guess he can’t stand the heat!” When in fact, “ol’ Scott over there” simply recognizes that arguing over whether or not it’s really the Lord’s Supper if you use grape juice instead of alcoholic wine doesn’t produce in anyone the fruit of righteousness.

While there are things worth fighting over, many of the things we do fight over aren’t worth it. My encouragement to my fellow post cage-stagers is this: either chill and stop bickering over every minute difference you find with your brothers and sisters in Christ, or get back in your cage.

I will leave you with the words of a brother much wiser than I—J.C. Ryle:

“A movement in favor of holiness cannot be advanced byspeaking contemptuously and bitterly of those who do not entirely see things with our eyes, and do not work exactly in our ways. These things do not make for peace: they rather repel many and keep them at a distance. The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God’s children is somewhat suspicious. For Christ’s sake, and in the name of truth and charity, let us endeavor to follow after peace as well as holiness.”

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