Calvinism Upheld

Article: FIVE BELIEFS UPHELD BY CALVINISTS THAT DON’T UNDERMINE THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE by Stephen Kneale (original source here)

Calvinists subscribe to the doctrines of grace. These are typically summed up by the ‘five points of Calvinism’. As a mnemonic device, we use the acronym TULIP:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistable Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Despite how these doctrine of grace are sometimes presented, here are some things that Calvinists still believe.

People can do good things

Total Depravity teaches that everything we do is affected by sin. But we believe in Total Depravity not Utter Depravity. One only has to look around at the world to see many unbelievers helping other people, being kind and doing all sorts of things that we wouldn’t exactly describe as evil. Total Depravity does not deny that people – all of whom bear the imago dei – are capable of great good. It simply teaches that the effects of sin reach into all of our hearts and corrupts all of our human faculties such that nothing we do is unaffected. It means there are no inherently good people by nature because we all inherit the same sinful nature from Adam.

Total Depravity teaches that sin affects every part of a person – body/mind and soul – but it doesn’t teach that we have no potential to ever do good. The image of God remains on us and our consciences, though affected by sin, make us capable of making moral decisions. We also believe that God himself restrains evil which, from a human perspective, works itself out as people doing good.

We can actually please God

Unconditional Election states that God chooses us entirely apart from anything favourable or good he sees in us. God neither chooses us because of anything we have done nor because he looks to the future and sees that we will choose him. He elects us based upon the goodness of his own sovereign will.

Nonetheless, we still believe it is possible to please God. The Bible teaches that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’. The implication, considering the comment comes after the great roll call of faith in Hebrews, is that with faith it is possible to please God. Although the Lord chooses us despite ourselves, we can nonetheless please him when we act in faith. There is nothing inherently about us that would cause God to choose us but, as his children by faith, it is possible for us to please him. Though all that we do is tainted by sin, we are nonetheless capable – through faith in Christ – of doing that which pleases God.

We do choose Christ

Although Unconditional Election teaches that God chooses us based upon his own sovereign good will, Calvinists do not deny that we choose God. Clearly, our will is involved in our coming to faith. The question is not whether we choose God or not (the Calvinist agrees that we do), it is whether God’s will is primary in our coming to faith.

It is evidently true that all who are real believers in Christ have chosen to follow him. It is clear they have, to quote the old hymn, ‘decided to follow Jesus’. The Calvinist simply notes the words of Jesus himself, ‘no one can come to the Father unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (John 6:44) and ‘no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’ (John 6:65). We do choose Christ and our will is actually involved in deciding to follow him, but the Father’s will is primary in our decision. Apart from his will and a supernatural drawing of the Spirit, we cannot choose him.

The gospel is for all

Limited Atonement teaches that Christ died for the elect. His death covers the sin of those who put their trust in him by faith. Jesus’ death is sufficient to cover the sin of all people but it only actually covers the sin of those who believe by faith in him. Jesus did not die for every single person in the world, he died for those who were chosen by the Father before the world began and who ultimately put their trust in Christ as Saviour. Continue reading

The Five Points

Roger R. Nicole

(original source here)

Editor’s note: The 2015-16 academic year began a series of observances at Reformed Theological Seminary in commemoration of its jubilee. We would be remiss if we failed also to note that 2015 is the centennial of the birth of Roger Nicole, who joined the faculty at RTS Orlando in 1989 and served faithfully for two decades. This essay originates as an address delivered at the 1974 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology and was subsequently published in Tenth: A Journal of Tenth Presbyterian Church.

The five points of Calvinism come to us today in a form that is quite traditional: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. But we are not to think that this is the only form the doctrines of grace can take or that the phrases themselves are unalterable.

The advantage of this particular formulation is that when you take the first letter of each of those points and read it from top to bottom you find the word “tulip,” and so have an acrostic. The tulip is a beautiful flower marvelously cultivated in the Netherlands, and since there are many Calvinists in the Netherlands and many flower-loving people, it seems to be a delightful arrangement to organize these doctrines in terms of the letters of this word. However, I would like to consider the nature of the points and suggest certain re-wordings which, in my judgment, may prevent misunderstandings.

Pervasive Evil
The first point is “total depravity.” The purpose of this point is to emphasize that no expectation can be entertained from man with respect to ability to please God or even to come to him in salvation unless God moves him to it. Thus, the purpose is to turn away the eyes from man in his action and ability and instead direct the eyes to God and his sovereign action. The advantage of expressing this truth in this way is that we emphasize the fundamental and pervasive character of the evil in man.

However, the terms that are used are somewhat misleading. I find that invariably, after having said “total depravity,” the staunchest Calvinists find it important to qualify precisely what they mean. They add, “But we don’t mean to say by this that man is quite as bad as he could be.” Practically everybody who says “total depravity” or “total inability” has to qualify this at once. Obviously, people who seek to know what Calvinism is ought to make it their business, not only to go by certain titles, but also to examine what is being said under those titles. But since those words are used repeatedly we cannot blame them too much for having taken them at face value. Nor can we blame them when, thinking that somehow Calvinists believe that every man is as evil as he can be, and finding situations where men seem praiseworthy, these people point to certain virtues and say, “How can you hold to your Calvinism in the presence of this?” Perhaps it would be wiser to use another form of language that would be calculated to emphasize the indispensable character of this divine grace and that would not need so quickly to have a qualification.

May I suggest that what the Calvinist wishes to say when he speaks of total depravity is that evil is at the very heart and root of man. It is at the very foundation, at the deepest level of human life. This evil does not corrupt merely one or two particular avenues of the life of man but is pervasive in that it spreads into all aspects of the life of man. It darkens his mind, corrupts his feelings, warps his will, moves his affections in wrong directions, blinds his conscience, burdens his subconscious, and afflicts his body. There is hardly any way in which man is called upon to express himself in which, in some way, the damaging character of evil does not manifest itself. Evil is like a root cancer that extends in all directions within the organism to cause its dastardly effects.

How shall we express this? Well, I am not too happy about my substitutions, but I would like to suggest that the term be “radical depravity” or “pervasive depravity” or, if you want to have a somewhat longer approach, to say “radical and pervasive depravity.” This is a little less sweeping than “total” and, in that sense, a little closer to what we really want to assert.

Divine Initiative
The second point is “unconditional election.” The emphasis here is upon the fact that it is God who takes the initiative. There is no previous merit or condition in the creature, either present or foreseen, which determines the divine choice. This is the key to what is in view. The disadvantage to this formulation is twofold. In the first place, it is not sufficiently comprehensive, for it suggests that the only thing that God does is to elect people to be saved and that, therefore, there is no relationship of God to those who are lost. But election involves not only the taking of some to be saved; it also involves the bypassing of the remainder of mankind and the just reprobation of them in view of their sins. So just to talk of election is not enough. We should also recognize preterition, the bypassing of those who are not to be saved. Moreover, the term “unconditional” might be misconstrued to suggest that God has no interest in the condition of those whom he chooses to make his redeemed people. It suggests that God is not concerned about what we are, what we become, and how we relate ourselves to his will. If the point is that God does not ground his choice in the fact that those who are elected are better or worse than others, it is correct. But if it suggests that God does not care about the condition of those whom he has chosen to save, it is wholly incorrect. For the Scripture makes it very specific that we are elected “unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

What we need to recognize here is that the sovereign initiative in salvation is with God. It is not with man. It is not by virtue of something that God has foreseen in a man – some preexisting condition which is the source or root of the elective purpose of God – that God saves him. God in his own sovereign wisdom chooses, for reasons that are sufficient unto himself, those who shall be saved. We may, therefore, much better speak of “sovereign election” or the “preterition of God.”

Definite Atonement
Then comes the third point, which is sometimes called “limited atonement.” This, I think, is a complete misnomer. The other points I can live with, but “limited atonement” I cannot live with, for this is a total misrepresentation of what we mean to say.

The purpose of using this expression is to say that the atonement is not universal (in the sense of Christ having died for every member of the race in the same sense in which he died for those who will be redeemed). Therefore, the purpose of the atonement is restricted to the elect and is not spread to the universality of mankind.

Some limit it in breadth; that is, they say the Lord Jesus Christ died for the redeemed and that he sees to it that the redeemed are therefore saved. For them there is a certain group of mankind, a particular group, which is the special object of the redemptive love and substitutionary work of Jesus Christ and toward which Christ sees to it that his work is effective. While the remainder of mankind may gain some benefits from the work of Christ, they are, however, not encompassed in the same way in his design as were those whom the Father gave him. This is one way of limiting it.

Other people say that Christ died for everybody in the same way, but they must acknowledge that some of the people for whom Christ died are at the end lost. So for these the death of Christ does not, in fact, ensure the salvation of those for whom he died. The effect is to limit the atonement in depth. The atonement is ineffective. It does not secure the salvation of the people for whom it is intended. For these, the will of God and the redemptive love of Jesus Christ are frustrated by the resistance and wicked will of men who resist him and do not accept his grace. In addition, salvation really consists of the work of Christ, plus the acceptance or non-resistance of some ingredient of one kind or another that some people add, and it is this ingredient which really constitutes the difference between being saved and being lost. No one who says that at the end there will be some people saved and other people lost can really in honesty speak of an unlimited atonement.

For these reasons I, for one, am not happy to go under the banner of a limited atonement, as though Calvinists and myself were ones who wickedly emasculate and mutilate the great scope and beauty of the love and redemption of Jesus Christ. For it is not really a question of limits. It is a question of purpose. How should we phrase it therefore?

We ought rather to talk about “definite atonement.” We ought to say that there was a definite purpose of Christ in offering himself. The substitution was not a blanket substitution. It was a substitution that was oriented specifically to the purpose for which he came into this world, namely, to save and redeem those whom the Father has given him. Another term that is appropriate, although perhaps it is less precise than “definite atonement,” is “particular redemption.” For, the redemption of Christ is a particular one which accomplished what it purposed. The only alternative is that Christ redeemed no one in particular.

If we change the language in this way I think we put ourselves away from being the ones who seem to be in the business of restricting the scope of the love of Christ. If I say that my position is that of limited atonement, my opponent will say, “You believe in limited atonement, but I believe in unlimited atonement.” He seems to be the one who exalts the grace of God. But see what happens when we use my words. I say, “I believe in a definite atonement.” What can my opponent say? “1 believe in an indefinite atonement”? If I use the old language, I have no opportunity to do anything except protest. If I use the new language, I do not put myself at a psychological disadvantage from the start. Incidentally, the term “definite atonement” you will find in writers such as John Owen and William Cunningham of Scotland. So let us abandon the expression “limited atonement,” which disfigures the Calvinistic doctrine of grace in the work of Christ.

Effectual Grace
The fourth point is “irresistible grace.” The emphasis here is upon the fact that God accomplishes his designs, so that the saving grace of God cannot be resisted unto perdition. But a misunderstanding may also arise from this phrase; for it may suggest that a man may resist to the very end and that God will nevertheless press him willy-nilly, kicking and screaming, into the Kingdom. This is not the case. The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which overcomes the resistance of our wills. God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.

You say, “How can God the Holy Spirit accomplish this without violating free will and making us into puppets?” I don’t know how he can do it but that is what he does. I am not concerned about God’s modes of operation, and I am quite ready to see that he may well have a good number that I do not know about and that I am not able to explore. What I do know is that when there is resistance God comes in with his mighty grace and subdues that resistance. He makes no one come against his will, but he makes them willing to come. He does not do violence to the will of the creature, but he gently subdues and overcomes human resistance so men will gladly respond to him and come in repentance and faith. We ought not to give the impression that somehow God forces himself upon his creatures so that the gospel is crammed down their throats, as it were. In the case of adults (those who have reached the age of accountability) it is always in keeping with the willingness of the individual that the response to grace comes forth. This is surely apparent in the case of the Apostle Paul, for whom God had perhaps made what might be called the maximum effort to bring him in. He resisted, but God overcame his resistance. The result is that Paul was brought willingly and happily into the fold of the grace of God.

What we mean here is not “irresistible”—it gives the impression that man continues to resist—but “effectual.” That is, the grace of God actually accomplishes what he intends it to accomplish.

Perseverance with His Saints
The last point is called “the perseverance of the saints,” and the emphasis is upon the truth that those who have been won by the grace of God will not lose out but will be preserved by God’s grace to ultimate salvation. It means that it is not possible for one who is truly regenerate so to fall out of the reach of divine grace as to lose salvation altogether and finally be lost.

The advantage of this formulation is that there is, indeed, a human activity in this process. The saints are active. They are not just passive. In a true sense they are called upon to persevere. But there is a devastating weakness in this formulation in that it suggests that the key to this perseverance is the activity of the saints. It suggests that they persevere because they are strong, that they are finally saved because they show that kind of stability and consistency which prevents them from turning back into their original wickedness. This is never the case. The key to perseverance is the preservation by God of his saints, that is, the stability of his purpose and the fixity of his design. What is to be in view here is not so much the perseverance of those who are saved but the perseverance of God with the sinners whom he has gloriously transformed and whom he assists to the end. We ought to talk about “God’s perseverance with his saints.” That is the thing that we need to emphasize.

A New Acrostic?
We now need to review our terms—“radical depravity,” “sovereign election and preterition,” “definite atonement,” “effectual grace,” and “the perseverance of God with his saints.” Those are the terms I suggested. Unfortunately, the terms do not provide acrostics in English, French, German, Latin, or any other language I know of. So we have lost our “tulip,” that beautiful mnemonic device to remember these five points in a simple manner. Well, I think it may be worthwhile to lose it, if those other terms mislead people as to what it is we actually hold. We certainly don’t want to sell our birthright, which is the truth, for a mess of pottage, which is an acrostic. If that is what has to be done, let it be done.

On the other hand, I do not want to finish altogether on this note. So I would like to suggest to you that there is a way in which we ought to unite the five points; for in a very special sense we ought to recognize that the five points of Calvinism are, in reality, not five separate doctrines that we assert almost as disjointed elements, but rather the articulation of one point which is the grace of God. Total depravity we may call “indispensable grace.” It is the truth that without God’s grace we can do nothing because we are so evil. Election, called in Scripture the election of grace, may well be called “differentiating grace” or “sovereign grace.” Definite atonement is “providing grace,” for it refers to that grace by which God has established a basis for salvation. The fourth point is “effectual” or “efficacious grace.” Perseverance of the saints may be called “indefectible grace,” grace that will never fail us. In this way we can see how the points simply formulate what Scripture presents to us concerning God’s grace.

If you want to, you can make an acrostic that will read “gospel.” The g would be “grace”; the o, total depravity, would be “obligatory grace”; the s would be “sovereign grace”; the p, corresponding to definite atonement, would be “provision-making grace”; the e is “effectual grace”; finally, the l would be “lasting grace.” I do not like this as well as I like my other terms, so I present it with some diffidence. But if you are hung up on an acrostic, use it. At any rate, get something that has more meaning than “tulip.”

Even better, let us go to the heart of the gospel and say, “Calvinism is the gospel,” and then spell it out. This is what the Reformed position was all about, after all. Sola gratia! By grace alone! That is what we are talking about. The five points of Calvinism merely conjoin to this. Moreover, we do not even have to go to the Reformation, we can go directly to the Scripture.

Here is a text: Jonah 2:9. It reads, “Salvation is of the Lord.” And, in the New Scofield Bible, which I will even venture to quote for once, there is a beautiful little note at that place which says, “The theme of the Scripture.” That is exactly it. Salvation is of the Lord! That is the theme of the Scripture, and the five points of Calvinism.

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