Differences Between Calvinists and Arminians

Interview with Dr. John Piper: Watershed Differences Between Calvinists and Arminians (original source here)

Audio Transcript

A listener to the podcast, Peter from Seattle, writes in: “Pastor John, what is the main difference between Calvinism and Arminianism? I’m trying to explain this difference to my 13-year-old son and would love to boil it down to one or two watershed differences. What would those be?”

Okay, I am going to give him more than he asked for. Then I am going to give him what he asked for, okay? I think it will be helpful for me to walk through the so-called five points because these five points are what the Arminian Remonstrance in 1610 threw back at the Calvinists. The Calvinists didn’t come up with five points to start with. The Calvinists wrote their vision of what salvation looks like and how it happens under God’s sovereignty. When the Arminians read it, they said, “These are five places we don’t agree.” That is where we got these five points. So, if you want to talk about what is the key soteriological differences between Arminianism and Calvinism, you have to take these one by one.

So here is what I will do. I will give one sentence for each Calvinism and Arminianism under the five points, and then I will say what I would say to my 13-year-old.

1. Depravity— Calvinism says people are so depraved and rebellious that they are unable to trust God without his special work of grace to change their hearts so that they necessarily and willingly — freely — believe. Arminians say, with regard to depravity, people are depraved and corrupt, but they are able to provide the decisive impulse to trust God with the general divine assistance that God gives to everybody.

2. Election — Calvinism says that we are chosen. God chooses unconditionally whom he will mercifully bring to faith and whom he will justly leave in their rebellion. Arminians say God has chosen us, elected, to bring to salvation all those whom he foresaw would believe by bringing about their own faith— providing the decisive impetus themselves. In those, God doesn’t decisively produce the faith that he foresees. Continue reading

Calvinism and Covenant Theology

Article by Tom Hicks: The Five Points of Calvinism and Covenant Theology (original source here)

In recent years, there has been a recovery of the five points of Calvinism among many evangelicals, but there has not been a concomitant revival of the covenant theology of seventeenth century Puritanism as the rich soil in which Calvinistic soteriology grows. This post will not attempt to thoroughly defend every doctrine mentioned, but to show the connection between Calvinism and the theological covenants of covenant theology. The Synod of Dordt listed the five points of Calvinism, not in their contemporary order of “TULIP,” but in the order of “ULTIP,” which is the order I’ll be using here.

1. Unconditional Election. The eternal decree of unconditional election is the foundation of covenant theology and the doctrine of salvation. God chooses to save sinners not because of any foreseen goodness or conditions in them, but merely because of His good pleasure to redeem a people for Himself to bring Him glory. Speaking of unconditional divine election, Paul writes, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). There are no conditions in God’s choosing individuals for salvation. God’s choice is based entirely upon His sovereign will: “He has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills” (Romans 9:18).

2. Limited Atonement. Limited atonement might be better termed “particular redemption” or “definite atonement.” It means that Christ’s death is absolutely effective to save, purchasing every life blessing for His chosen people, including new birth, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, as well as an enduring holy life (Rom 8:31-39). Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Christ accomplished salvation for His people, “by means of His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” Notice Christ’s blood “secures” redemption. It doesn’t just make redemption possible, but actually secures redemption. His blood secures “eternal” redemption, not temporary redemption. And it secures “redemption.” That is, the blood of Christ actually redeems and doesn’t merely make a provision for redemption. Since only a limited number of people are redeemed, we must conclude that Christ died only to save His chosen people. And this is in fact what the Scriptures teach. Matthew 1:21 says, “He will save His people from their sins.” In John 10:15, Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” In John 17:9, Jesus says, “I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me.” Christ’s priestly work of atonement and prayer is limited to the elect alone.

So, what does this have to do with covenant theology? Covenant theology views “limited atonement” as rooted in the eternal “covenant of redemption” between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. In this eternal covenant (an aspect of the eternal decree), the Father appointed the Son to enter into this world, to fulfill the law of God, to die for His chosen people, and to rise from the dead. The Son agreed to accomplish the Father’s will (John 17:4). A covenant is “an agreement between two or more persons;” therefore, it is proper to view this agreement between the Father and the Son covenantally. Based on this eternal covenant, or agreement, between the Father and the Son, the Son came into the world, kept the law of God and accomplished the redemption of the elect in time (2 Timothy 1:9-10). The whole of Isaiah 53 is about Christ’s temporal obedience to this eternal covenant of redemption, and Isaiah 54:10 explicitly calls it the “covenant of peace.” Continue reading

Getting Past the TULIP

Article by Dr. Michael Horton (original source here)

Countdown to Reformation Day: Getting Past the TULIP

Just as Luther’s followers preferred to be called “evangelicals” but were labeled “Lutherans” by Rome, around 1558 Lutherans coined the term “Calvinist” for those who held Calvin’s view of the Supper over against both Zwingli and Luther. Despite self-chosen labels such as “evangelical” and “Reformed” (preferred because the aim was always to reform the catholic church rather than start a new one), “Calvinism” unfortunately stuck as a popular nickname.

No Central Dogma

Contrary to popular misconception, Calvin did not in fact differ from the average Augustinian theologian, either in the substance or the importance of his doctrine of predestination. As for the content of the teaching, Calvin’s view of predestination was the traditional Augustinian view, affirmed even by Thomas Aquinas. Luther’s mentor, Johann von Staupitz, wrote a treatise (On Eternal Predestination) defending all of the doctrines known later as the “five points.” As for centrality in Calvin’s preaching, one looks in vain for predestination in his Geneva Catechism. Just as Luther’s strong defense of predestination in The Bondage of the Will was provoked by Erasmus’s Freedom of the Will, Calvin’s lengthy discussions of the subject were responses to critics. As important as predestination was in the thinking of the Reformers, it was not a central dogma from which all other doctrines were developed. In fact, the Belgic Confession devotes one long sentence (in English translation at least) to election, while its only mention in the Heidelberg Catechism is under “the holy catholic church” as “a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith.”

As we have seen in this issue, even what we know as the “five points of Calvinism” emerged as a response to internal challenges. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) and his followers mounted a campaign against the Reformed consensus. The Arminian Articles of Remonstrance affirmed total depravity, but rejected unconditional election and particular redemption. The articles also made regeneration dependent on human decision and affirmed the possibility of losing salvation.

In response, the Reformed Church called the Synod of Dort (1618-19). Not only a national synod, it included representatives from the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and other Reformed bodies in Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, and elsewhere. (Even the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucaris, made the Canons of Dort part of the Orthodox Church’s confession, although he was assassinated and Orthodoxy subsequently condemned Calvinism.)

The result was a clear statement of Reformed unity on the doctrines of sin and grace, known as the Canons of the Synod of Dort—or the Five Articles against the Remonstrants. Each canon states the Reformed view positively and then repudiates the corresponding Arminian error. The Canons of Dort are part of the Reformed confession, and its substance was incorporated into the Westminster Confession and Catechisms in the mid-seventeenth century.

“TULIP”

The clever “TULIP” acronym (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints) seems to have first appeared early in the twentieth century in the United States, and its aptness can be challenged. Since the Reformed view teaches that Christ actually saved all for whom he died (rather than merely making salvation possible), “limited atonement” is not the best term. Furthermore, the Canons of Dort labor the point that our will is not coerced or forced, so “irresistible grace” is not as good as the traditional terms such as “effectual calling” and “regeneration.” But it’s hard to find a good flower for a more accurate acronym.

It’s always better to read a confession than to reduce it to a clever device. One finds in the Canons of Dort an abundant appeal to specific scriptural passages—not merely proof-texting, but demonstrating how dependent the argument itself is upon the passages selected. These five points do not summarize the whole teaching of Reformed theology, but they certainly are essential to its faith and practice.

Summarizing Dort

First Head of Doctrine: Divine Election and Reprobation

All share in Adam’s guilt and corruption, and God would be just to leave all to perish in their sins. Nevertheless, God sent his Son to save all who believe and sends messengers with his gospel. That many do believe is credited solely to God’s grace in Christ and by his Spirit, through the gospel, in granting faith. Unbelievers have only themselves to blame. God decreed to grant faith from all eternity and in time actively softens the hearts of his elect and inclines them to trust in Christ, “while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.” Continue reading

Reformed Theology Gone Sour

Ray Ortmond: (original source here)

The Rev. William Still, a patriarch of the Church of Scotland in the twentieth century, preaching on Romans 5:5 and the love of God being poured into our hearts, said this:

“I wonder what it is about poring all over a great deal of Puritan literature that makes so many preachers of it so horribly cold. I don’t understand it, because I think it’s a wonderful literature. . . . I don’t know if you can explain this to me. I’d be very glad to know, because it worries me. But I hear over and over and over again this tremendous tendency amongst people who delve deeply into Puritan literature that a coldness, a hardness, a harshness, a ruthlessness — anything but sovereign grace — enters into their lives and into their ministries. Now, it needn’t be so. And it isn’t always so, thank God. And you see, the grace, the grace, of a true Calvinist and Puritan — that is to say, a biblical Puritan and Calvinist — is wonderful. . . . But O God, deliver us from this coldness!”

The problem is not Reformed theology per se. Inherent within that theology is a humbling and melting and softening and beautifying power. But Reformed theology is also intellectually satisfying, even captivating. Let’s realize a seductive power within ourselves at that very point. If we stop with the intellectual, if we allow our theology to remain cerebral and conceptual only, then this coldness, hardness, harshness and ruthlessness will enter in. And we will not even realize it, because our theology is objectively right and personally satisfying. It is our loss of reality with the Lord and our harshness with one another that will reveal our perverse use of our glorious theology.”

If we have become cold, hard, harsh and ruthless, then we are betraying the doctrines of grace even as we preach the doctrines of grace, and the time for repentance has come.

O God, deliver us from this coldness!

21 Misunderstandings of Reformed Thinking

by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

There are a few things beside the native darkness and pride of the human heart that are a greater danger to the doctrines of grace than the widespread misunderstandings of those doctrines and their implications. The best solution to these misunderstandings is a study of the Reformed tradition itself and its clear statements about what the Bible does, and does not, teach regarding the doctrines of grace.

Before I addressed this important subject, I gave the conference four points of introduction. The first of those is the subject of this first post on those 21 misconceptions of Calvinism.

The Sources of These Misunderstandings

I distinguished three sources of misconceptions about Calvinism

The first was Arminian Misrepresentation. It is unquestionable that both today and in the past history of the church, Arminians have constantly repeated misrepresentations of the doctrines of grace. While these misrepresentations may have seemed to them the necessary implications of the views of their Calvinist opponents, they were made in many cases in spite of the clearest denials by the Reformed. It is unfair for anyone to charge their opponents with holding views that they deny even though they seem to be the logical implications of their positions. It is fair to point out that their views do lead to such implications. It is not fair to affirm that they hold or believe such implications when they explicitly deny them.

The second was Immature Reaction. Another source of various misunderstandings of the doctrines of grace comes from the over-reaction of immature Calvinists. In their new found vision of the absolute sovereignty of God and newly acquired revulsion to the widespread ignorance and denial of God’s sovereignty by professing Christians, it is easy for neophyte Calvinists to make all sorts of extremist statements and adopt all sorts of imbalanced views that time and calm consideration will show are filled with ill-considered assertions and careless implications. These statements are not the deliberate misrepresentations of Arminians or the calculated presumption of Hyper-Calvinists, but the enthusiastic overstatements of “Young Turks” or “Cage-stage” Calvinists.

The third was Hyper-Calvinist Presumption. But another and dangerous source of misunderstandings about Calvinism is the historical stream of real Hyper-Calvinism which developed in the centuries following the Reformation. Yes, there really is such a thing as Hyper-Calvinism! Of course, Hyper-Calvinism is not five point Calvinism. That is just Calvinism. Granted such Hyper-Calvinism scarcely exists anywhere any more. But its writings and its representatives do exist and pose a constant and, I fear, growing temptation to young, imbalanced Calvinists ready to embrace anything that appears to exalt a sovereign God. I warn you, then, that everything is not gold that glitters. Be careful of those who will tell you that the free and well-meant offer of the gospel, the doctrine of common grace, and duty-faith are Arminianism.

The Solution to These Misunderstandings

The root of each of these sources of misunderstanding is, I think, the same. It is rationalism. By that I mean the exaltation of human reason over the teaching of the Word of God. It is, of course, true that human reason is created by God and is a necessary tool in the interpretation of the Bible. This is undeniable. I concur with the Westminster Confession when it says:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture …

But we must never forget that our reason is limited in two respects. It is both finite and fallen. We must be, therefore, modest and careful in the deductions which we draw from Scripture, guarding always against allowing our human reason to purge from Scripture things which seem contradictory to our reason. We must be prepared, to put this in other words, to allow the divine wisdom of Scripture to correct our human wisdom and reason. We must not jump quickly to unnatural and forced interpretations to remove from Scripture things which are offensive to our reason.

My third point of introduction was …

The Substantiation of These Misunderstandings

The title of 21 Misunderstandings of Calvinism assumes that we have some authority for what historical Calvinism or Reformed thinking is. Only on the basis of some authoritative statement of Calvinism can I show or substantiate that certain views are misunderstandings of its teaching. In my message at RP 15 I used two such authoritative statements of Calvinism.

First, I will use the historic Calvinistic Baptist Confession of Faith, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It is the confession that can claim more than any other to have shaped Reformed and Particular Baptist thought. It has the further advantage of being a revision of the Westminster Confession, the classic Reformation confession, and echoing most of its language and doctrinal sentiments.

Second, I will use the Canons of Dort. The Canons of Dort were the first, creedal, and systematic exposition of the doctrines of grace in the history of the church and were affirmed by an international synod of Reformed churches and theologians in 1618-19. I think these two documents are indisputably authoritative, historical affirmations of Calvinism. Continue reading

Five Big Myths About Calvinism

I speak for many when I say that I have not always embraced the doctrines of grace or what is commonly called Calvinism. Its actually unfortunate that a man’s name is associated with the doctrines that came out of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin was not the first to articulate these truths, but merely was the chief systematizer of such doctrines. There was actually nothing in Calvin that was not first seen in Luther, and much of Luther was first found in Augustine. Luther was an Augustinian monk, of course. We would also naturally affirm that there was nothing in any of these men that was not first found in Paul and Peter and John in the New Testament.

Even now, I have no desire to be a Calvinist in the Corinthian sense of the word – a follower of John Calvin, per say. Though I believe Calvin was a tremendous expositor of the Scriptures and had many great insights, I am not someone who believes he was in any way infallible. I am with Spurgeon who declared, “There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer – I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.” (C. H. Spurgeon, a Defense of Calvinism)

In coming to understand these doctrines that are now so precious to me, I now realize that there were fortresses built in my mind to defend against the idea of God being Sovereign in the matter of salvation. Such was my total depravity! These fortresses were not made of stone and brick but of man made ideas concepts that I believed Scripture taught with clarity. These fortresses did not come down easily. In fact, I believe it is a work of Divine grace in the heart not only to regenerate His people, but also to open hearts and minds, even of His own people, to the truth of His Sovereignty in election.

There are many false concepts about Calvinism. Here are five that are very common:

1. CALVINISM DESTROYS EVANGELISM

I think some Calvinists do have an aversion for evangelism, and this is something that needs to be addressed whenever this tendency is seen, yet both historically and biblically, nothing could be further from the truth. It is quite easy to prove that the whole missions movement was started by Calvinists who believed Christ had His elect sheep in every tribe, tongue, people and nation. Romans 8 and 9 teaches election clearly, and Romans 10 tells us of the necessity of preaching the Gospel. How shall they (the elect) hear without a preacher? Romans 10 is in no way a contradiction to Romans 8 and 9.

Divine election is the only hope of evangelism. No one we speak to about Christ is beyond hope, for God may well have ordained from all eternity that our conversation or preaching is to be the very means by which He would achieve His ends – the gathering of one of His elect sheep into the fold! What a privilege to be used by God in this way.

Divine election should never undermine evangelism. In fact, the truth about election should cause us to continue to proclaim Christ, even when results may not come immediately. The concept of election should actually fuel our evangelism when mere human emotion wanes. We should remember that God has His elect sheep who will hear His voice and will follow Him when we preach the Gospel of Christ. So then faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).

Election is not a hindrance to evangelism. It simply explains to us why some believe the Gospel and why some do not. Jesus said to one group hearing Him “you do not believe because you are not My sheep” (John 10:26) and Luke explained the evangelistic results of the early church by declaring, “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

2. CALVINISM APPEALS TO THE PRIDE OF MAN

Sadly, some Calvinists do reek of pride and give off an air of being better than those around them, but such is a total betrayal of biblical Calvinism. If we recognize our total depravity or radical corruption, we understand that there was absolutely nothing in us that caused God to look down upon us to show us such favor. The only thing we can say in response to His electing grace is “Lord, why me?”

Romans 9:11-16 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call- 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

“God intentionally designed salvation so that no man can boast of it. He didn’t merely arrange it so that boasting would be discouraged or kept to a minimum – He planned it so that boasting would be absolutely excluded. Election does precisely that.” – Mark Webb

3. CALVINISM STUNTS HOLINESS

I have heard this mentioned a few times recently and just scratch my head in wonder about it. One great example are the Puritans, who were strong Calvinists and yet were driven by a desire for holiness. But some see this as a contradiction in terms. Where they get this, I do not know.

God Sovereignly elects some people to salvation but this in no way diminishes our responsibility to make sure that we who profess faith in Christ, actually possess the faith that saves. If you and I do have the real thing and not some fraudulent kind of substitute for the genuine faith that saves.. if we really have the real thing.. there will be evidence to show it. The Scripture, and true Calvinism, teaches us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. I find this to be the biblical mandate rather than simply recalling a time when we raised a hand or walked an aisle, which is what most Christians have been taught. The call to holiness is a call all true Christians will heed for without it, no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

4. CALVINISM TEACHES THAT MEN ARE MERELY ROBOTS

Calvinists believes in man’s will. Man always chooses what he most desires at the moment of choice. You are choosing now to read this sentence when there are literally billions of other sentences out there waiting to be read.

Why do you read this sentence right now?

The answer is because at this very moment, this is your strongest desire. It is impossible for you to be reading something else – right now anyway. And this will be the case until a stronger desire for something else (like answering the phone or taking a shower, or going for a walk) rises up in your heart. The heart and the will are inseparably connected.

What we need is not ‘free will’ but wills made free. This is because by nature our hearts only want independence from Christ. We love darkness rather than light. Jesus said, “No man CAN come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). Calvinists take these words seriously as well as Christ’s words in John 3 which tells that unless a man is first born again (or born from above) he cannot enter or even see the kingdom of God.

“If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knows nothing of grace, and he has not learnt Jesus Christ aright.” – Martin Luther

George Whitefield, perhaps the greatest Evangelist in church history once declared, “I hope we shall catch fire from each other, and that there will be a holy emulation amongst us, who shall most debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus. Nothing but the doctrines of the Reformation can do this. All others leave free-will in man and make him, in part at least, a Saviour to himself. My soul, come not thou near the secret of those who teach such things . . . I know Christ is all in all. Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to do of His good pleasure.” – Works, pp. 89-90

“If the final decision for the salvation of fallen sinners were left in the hands of fallen sinners, we would despair all hope that anyone would be saved.” – R. C. Sproul

“I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, ‘You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself.’ My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will. Free will carried many a soul to hell, but never a soul to heaven.” – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

5. CALVINISM DIMINISHES THE GOD OF LOVE

I think for many, this is the big one. They have a concept concerning the love of God that while very popular, is not particularly biblical. They believe (as I once did) that if God is love, he loves all people in just the same way. I believe God does love everyone in some sense, but He has a love for His Son which is greater than His love for demons, and a love for His sheep which is greater than His love for the goats. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Christ gave Himself for the church in a way He did not for Walmart or McDonalds. No one would ever say about a husband “wow, look at the way this man loves his wife, and the great thing about his love for her is that he loves everyone else’s wife in just the same way.”

This is a truth that needs to be taught with great care because so many have false concepts stemming from being raised on inaccurate teaching about the love of God. We must be patient with such people when pointing them to the biblical texts. Some people think John 3:16 destroys divine election, but of course it does not. Yet a false concept brought to the Scripture text often confirms people in their opposition to what the Bible actually teaches.

However we interpret the words, “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated” I think if we believe the Bible, we all have to admit that in some sense, God had a greater love for Jacob than He did for Esau, or else words mean nothing.

John 17:23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

God, moved by love for His name and for us, sent His Son into the world to actually save elect sinners, not to merely try to do so. He went all the way in His love for us and did all the work in raising us from spiritual death by a work of supreme, matchless, measureless grace. Because salvation is of the Lord, all the glory for our salvation – absolutely all of it, goes to God alone. Calvinism affirms this.

“The doctrines of original sin, election, effectual calling, final perseverance, and all those great truths which are called Calvinism, though Calvin was not the author of them, but simply an able writer and preacher upon the subject, are, I believe, the essential doctrines of the Gospel that is in Jesus Christ. Now, I do not ask you whether you believe all this – it is possible you may not; but I believe you will before you enter heaven. I am persuaded, that as God may have washed your hearts, he will wash your brains before you enter heaven.” C. H. Spurgeon

The Historic Roots of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Movement

Tom_NettlesArticle entitled “Churches, even if it could not be at the Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. If no other means were available, he advised, “work at it yourself.” The fathers of the convention did this, Boyce claimed; “They familiarized themselves with the Bible, and Gill and Andrew Fuller, and they made good and effective preachers. God is able to raise up others like them.”1 The irony of Boyce’s appeal to the grassroots for support of theological education was this: the seminary would not interrupt, but would perpetuate, the work of pastoral ministry, preaching and theology consistent with the Gill/Fuller tradition.

But this is the very difficulty that we face at this moment in Southern Baptist history. God indeed is raising up others like them, that is, like the fathers. Whether self-educated or seminary-educated, Boyce and all his contemporaries viewed a Bible theology that reflected a blend of Gill and Fuller as normal and expected. Churches should have no other kind of pastor.

These are the ones that would maintain the spiritual and doctrinal health and fervor of the churches. Today, however, some Southern Baptists are warning the churches against them. This is a mammoth historical irony that many find difficult to appreciate.

The Charleston Association in its adoption of the 1689 Confession and in the preaching of such men as Oliver Hart, Richard Furman, Basil Manly, Sr., bequeathed the theology of the fathers to James P. Boyce. In his analysis of the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, Boyce wrote, “This doctrine is inseparably associated with the other doctrines of grace which we have found taught in God’s word. So true is this, that they are universally accepted, or rejected together. The perseverance of the saints is a part of every Calvinistic confession. . . . All the evidence, therefore, of the truth of the doctrines already examined, may be presented in favour of this which is a necessary inference from them. In like manner, all the independent proof of this doctrine confirms the separate doctrines, and the system of doctrine, with which it is associated.”2 Boyce’s conviction at this point challenges the contemporary position of many Baptists who still maintain a doctrine of perseverance but separate it from the rest of the biblical pattern, the doctrinal system, of which it is intrinsically a part. Those that have departed from the historic view, and the theologically consistent view, now warn churches against those that that are true-blue, dyed in the wool, 100 proof Southern Baptist.

They are faulted when they contend that, though of Reformed viewpoint, they don’t want to wear that label. That is not because they are less than sincere in that conviction or because they don’t believe it to undergird healthy church life both in evangelism and the sanctifying influences of truth. It’s because of the caricatures presented in the instructive documents given to pulpit committees. Even the ridiculous charge of bringing in infant baptism to a Baptist church has been made. It’s also because a marvelous array of biblical truths, to which there should be no objection, is vitally connected to the distinctives of Calvinism. Their power, in fact, flourishes in that doctrinal context.

If pulpit committees and churches would look below the façade of scare-tactic accusations and warnings being rolled out like taffy at the Mississippi State Fair, they would discover something healthy and very desirable in the men and the message preached by those against whom they are warned. No one wants a nasty confrontation between church and pastor that leads to a confused and often divided congregation and a battered pastor and his family. These are charitable warnings. Some congregations, however, might desire to consider why Baptists for so long guarded their confessional Calvinism with great care and endured many storms undergirded by that foundation. They might consider that opening themselves to embrace that which is truly “traditional” could elevate the sense of the divine presence of grace in their lives.

The twentieth-century slide into liberalism rode on the back of a growing indifference to the doctrines of grace, because the doctrines of grace are tied vitally to more biblical doctrines than just perseverance of the saints. The recovery of a fully salubrious evangelical preaching ministry depends largely on the degree to which the doctrines of grace are recovered and become the consciously propagated foundation of all gospel truth.

If a church, therefore, gets a Calvinist preacher, she will get a good thing. Several issues will be securely settled and the church will not have to wonder about the soundness of her preacher on these items of biblical truth and their soul-nurturing power. Calvinists have stood for more than just their distinguishing doctrines; they have held steadfastly to other doctrines that are essential for the health of Baptist churches in our day. Let’s look at a few of these.

1. A Calvinist firmly believes in the divine inspiration of Scriptures. A large number of cogent defenses of the inerrancy of Scripture have been written by Calvinists. Some would say that these are among the most profound ever produced in Christian literature. Calvinism provides a more consistent rationale for inerrancy than other theological systems. One of the most often repeated objections to the divine inspiration of Scripture is that its assumption of perfect divine control of the process runs roughshod over human freedom and does not give sufficient room to human finiteness or human sin. These were objections, concurrent with the decline of commitment to Calvinism, that landed many leading voices of twentieth-century denominational life in a position opposed to inerrancy and verbal inspiration. Virtually every defender of inerrancy has to discuss the relation between inspiration and each of these supposed difficulties. The Calvinist system poses no contradiction between the freeness of human personality, the limitations of human finiteness, and the mental darkness of human sin in their relation to verbal inspiration. God’s particular providence over all events includes every choice of every moral creature without diminishing the free moral agency of the creature. God in his sovereignty can gives words to a donkey as well as an unwilling prophet (Numbers 22:28-30, 38). Through the use of a variety of means, God works all things, including inspiration, “according to the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).In the same way that God’s sovereignty brings about the fulfillment of his prophecies according to his decree with no violation of human freedom, and no limitation from human weakness or badness (Acts 2:23), so he inspired Scripture without suspending the individual personality traits of every biblical writer. If a church gets a Calvinist pastor, she can be sure that her pastor never will deny the full truthfulness of the Bible but will be tethered to the text as the word of God. He will have this conviction, not as an act of will unrelated to his theological system but as an intrinsic and coherent outflow of his view of God and man. Continue reading

5 Reasons I’m a Calvinist

fivepointArticle by Stephen Altrogge (original source cold-hearted person who only wants a select few people to get into heaven? An annoying guy who won’t stop rambling on about Romans 9? That awful, sterile, passionless church you used to go to?

I get it.

Calvinism doesn’t have a fantastic reputation, at least in some circles. Some people feel like it focuses more on theology than on loving people. Others have had really bad experiences with Calvinists. And some people think it runs counter to the beautiful free offer of grace found in the Bible.

But what if someone who is not a jerk (at least most of the time) could talk about Calvinism in a way that didn’t make you want to smash your computer?

That’s what I’m going to try to do in this post. I want to explain why I’m a Calvinist, why it brings me great joy, and why I think it’s profoundly biblical. If at the end you disagree with me, that’s okay. We can still be BFS (best friends sometimes).

I can’t answer all your objections in this post. I’m not intending to turn this into a furious, spittle-flying debate. Think of this as a pleasant conversation over a craft beer (or coffee if you’re a Baptist).

WHAT IS A CALVINIST?

Before we dive off the deep end, I should take a minute to define what I mean by Calvinism. A simple definition is this:

Calvinism is a series of doctrines that describes the state of humanity apart from God, how God saves people, and how God will ultimately bring those people to Glory.

A common acronym used to remember the doctrines of Calvinism is:

T – Total Depravity
U – Unconditional Election
L – Limited Atonement
I – Irresistible Grace
P – Perseverance of the Saints

I don’t like some of the phrases in the acronym and I think they can be confusing but it’s what most people use.

BECAUSE IT’S ALL OVER THE BIBLE

I am not a Calvinist because of John Calvin. In fact, if John Calvin never existed I would still be a Calvinist (except it wouldn’t be called “Calvinism”). I don’t have man-crush on Calvin, nor do I think he’s the greatest person since Jesus. I won’t name any of my kids “Calvin”.

Calvin simply took some biblical ideas and organized them. Actually, I prefer the term “Doctrines of Grace” rather than Calvinism. It better describes the doctrines. Plus it takes the focus off John Calvin who, just like everyone else, had some great strengths and wicked weaknesses.

I believe in the doctrines of grace because they run throughout the entire Bible, like a golden thread from Genesis to Revelation. In the Old Testament, we see that God unconditionally chose Israel to be his people.

Deuteronomy 7:6-7 says:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples…

This theme, of God choosing a people for himself, comes up again and again, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. God clearly chose Israel to be his people, and that choice was not based on anything they had done. It was an unconditional choice.

In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter uses this same language to reflect the way God continues to choose those who will be his people:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This language is used repeatedly throughout the Bible. God chose a people for himself, not because of anything in them but because of his good, profound, wise purposes. Apart from God’s choice, we would never choose him, He always acts upon us first. Because God chooses us, he will also preserve us to the end (Philippians 1:8, Jude 24).

BECAUSE GOD GETS ALL THE GLORY

One thing that is abundantly clear in the Bible is that God is intent on getting all glory for himself. He absolutely will not allow anyone else to take credit for what he alone has accomplished.

God called the people of Israel for his glory alone. As Isaiah 43:6-7 (and many other verses) says:

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

We see this same thing again in Ephesians 1:5-6 speaking of God’s New Covenant people:

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

God does all the choosing, he does all the saving, and he gets all the glory. I did not choose God, therefore I get zero credit for saving myself. He did it all and he gets all the praise, glory, and honor.

BECAUSE IT EXPLAINS ME AND THE WORLD SO WELL

When I look at myself and look at the world, I see people who are totally depraved. Totally depraved does not mean completely depraved.

Someone who is completely depraved does all evil all the time. Total depravity means that every facet of our being – our thinking, our actions, our bodies, our motives – have been distorted by sin.

As it says so clearly in Romans 3:12:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

I’m certainly not righteous. It takes me about two seconds to figure that out. And the more experience I have with people, the more I realize that no one is righteous. Every person and every thing is totally distorted by the presence of sin in the world.

I’m not a Calvinist because of my experience, but my experience certainly confirms what I see scattered broadly through the Bible. This world we live in is a damnable, wicked place.

BECAUSE I KNOW I COULDN’T HAVE CHOSEN GOD

Given what I know about the darkness in my own heart, I could not and would not have ever chosen God of my own initiative. It just wouldn’t have happened. I’m too stubborn. Too self-righteous. Too self-reliant. I’ve got a heart of stone. Continue reading

The Doctrines of Grace Series

Here’s my friend, Pastor Jeff Durbin is currently teaching a series on the doctrines of grace (with Dr. James White presenting message number 6):

Message 1: God’s Sovereignty:

Message 2: Total Depravity

Message 3: Unconditional Election

Message 4: Romans 9

Message 5: Limited Atonement

Did Jesus die to make people savable? Or did Christ die to actually exhaust the wrath of God (making a full-payment) in the place of His people? Did Jesus death on the cross purchase people and present a perfect atonement? Or was His death for sins something that could end up not being beneficial for some people?

Message 6: Irresistible Grace

Dr. James White, of Alpha and Omega Ministries (aomin.org): Is salvation ultimately dependent upon man or God? Who receives the glory for salvation? If God wills to save someone from their sin, are they able to thwart His purposes and refuse His power to raise the spiritually dead?