In Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher writes that Calvinists often hear that Calvinism destroys evangelism. Yet Dutcher writes that while he disagrees with such a view, the best way to show that Calvinism does not destroy evangelism is to actually do evangelism. I appreciated that. Dutcher writes that Calvinists like to point to men such as George Whitefield as proof that true Calvinists can be great soul winners but fail to show through their own lives that they actually do share the gospel with the lost. Agreed with all that he wrote. Great words for us all whether we are Arminians or Calvinists.
In another book, John MacArthur writes,
The wonder of the gospel is that it is God’s doing. W sow the seed by sharing the gospel, then we go to sleep, and the Spirit works through the gospel to give life. We do not control who is saved, because the Spirit goes wherever He wills (John 3:8). We do not even know how it happens, any more than a farmer knows how a seed in the ground becomes food. Our job is not to impart life, only to implant the seed. Once we have done that, we can rest in the sovereign power of God. (Evangelism, pp.12-13).
I agree here with MacArthur as well. Our job is not to “save” anyone since we cannot. Only God can save a sinner who believes (1 Corinthians 1:21). When a sinner believes the gospel, they are brought from death to life (John 5:24) and from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13-14). The sinner who believes the gospel does so by the grace of God, through the conviction of the Spirit (John 16:8-11) and after believing, they are sealed with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13-14) which testifies to their adoption (Romans 8:15).
Yet I would point out that to be a consistent Calvinist, one must hold that all of salvation is unconditional. God alone is the first and ultimate cause. God foreordained all things even before time began (1 Peter 1:1-2). God predestined His elect by His own sovereign choice (Romans 8:29-30). God elects based on His own choice and not on anything in the person (Romans 9:11-13). Consistent Calvinism then would hold that God not only elects the person before time began but He also sent His Son to redeem the elect (John 10:14-15). God then calls and saves the elect not because of anything in man nor by the means of man but by His own sovereign, irresistible power (John 1:13; Acts 13:48). While some Calvinists argue that God saves the elect by the means of the Word of God, this would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God nor with the unconditional nature of election. To truly be unconditional, the choice, call, and saving is all done by God for God’s glory. If we add that a person must hear the gospel, we are adding a condition. If we add that a disciple must preach the gospel to the elect for them to hear and be saved, we are adding a condition. This is not consistent.
I was recently reading Charles Spurgeon who was by no means consistent on this issue. Spurgeon is hailed for his great preaching but also for his evangelism as well. I appreciate Spurgeon much. Yet Spurgeon was preaching on John 6:44 and he was being very Calvinistic in this text as I would expect. Spurgeon even stated,
Now, if the preaching of Christ himself did not avail to the enabling these men to come to Christ, it cannot be possible that all that was intended by the drawing of the Father was simply preaching. No, brethren, you must note again, he does not say no man can come except the minister draw him, but except the Father draw him. Now there is such a thing as being drawn by the gospel, and drawn by the minister, without being drawn by God. Clearly, it is a divine drawing that is meant, a drawing by the Most High God—the First Person of the most glorious Trinity sending out the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, to induce men to come to Christ.
Spurgeon even took a shot at Arminians in this sermon for holding that sinners are converted by hearing the gospel and believing the truth. Spurgeon here was consistent with his Calvinism. Truly, if God has elected the elect before the world began and has saved them in His Son, the elect will be saved and further, are saved even from eternity past (eternal justification in the words of John Gill). The means is not a condition to salvation. Evangelism, preaching, discipleship, etc. are not means to salvation. They cannot be. That would add a condition and would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God as taught within Calvinism. The fact is that Spurgeon was correct if Calvinism is true: the sinner is drawn not by the preaching of the gospel or any external means but the internal call of God by which the Spirit of God regenerates the sinner so that they can hear God’s voice and live. The classic example given by Calvinists is Lazarus in John 11.
Calvinists will insist that external call goes out to all (Revelation 22:17) but the internal call goes out only to the elect. The internal call is the call of God and is irresistible. The internal call of God is based on His sovereign choice. The internal call of God is unconditional. The external call is the preaching of the gospel but the internal call of God is only to His elect (1 Corinthians 1:23-25). The Calvinist evangelist then will preach the gospel to all and call all to repent and believe the gospel but he knows that only the elect will do so (1 Peter 1:3). J.I. Packer writes that this is great comfort for the Reformed evangelist since they know that the work of God is done not by them but by God’s power and grace. The evangelist merely preaches the gospel and the Lord does the work of saving sinners for His glory. The duty of the evangelist is not to save anyone (he can’t) but to preach the gospel and God takes the gospel and brings forth fruitfulness in His timing (Matthew 13:3-9).
Yet is all this consistent with divine determinism? If in fact God has chosen His elect before the foundation of the world and if in fact this election is based on God’s sovereign choice and if in fact this election and salvation are purely monergistic, what role does the evangelist play? In reality, none. If one argues that the preaching of the gospel is necessary to the saving of the elect, is this a condition? How can one argue that election is unconditional while placing certain conditions upon election such as faith, repentance, or hearing the gospel preached by an evangelist?
I agree with much of what I wrote above about the external call. I reject the internal call because this violates the power of choice in a given relationship and God, in Scripture, treats us as people. God deals with people as people who can choose because they have been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). The preaching of the cross is to be preached to all and all can be saved (John 16:8). The prevenient grace of God is the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit as He works through the preaching of the gospel to bring forth salvation among lost sinners (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). I agree entirely that God alone saves because He alone can save (Isaiah 45:22). The “work” of mankind is to humble themselves and believe the gospel (John 6:29; Romans 4:5). When a sinner humbles themselves before the cross, they will find that the Lord is merciful toward humble sinners and He will save them by His grace (Luke 18:14). This is the hope of the Bible (1 Timothy 2:4).
Consistent Calvinists (known as hyper-Calvinists) hold that God saves only the elect and He does so in His own timing and power. He does not need man nor does He even use man. God alone saves His elect. Everything that happens happens because God wills it so including the damnation of the non-elect or reprobate. Calvin acknowledged this calling it the “horrible decree.” I’m not sure why Calvin would label it as such since everything happens to the glory of God including the damnation of the reprobate. In the consistent Calvinist church, how does one become a Christian? By God’s sovereign decree and timing. In fact, some consistent Calvinists believe that assurance of salvation is impossible in this life. One cannot know they are elected until the final judgment. Some have even taught that many will think they were elect but will find at the final judgment that they were not. This reminds me of the Islamic view of eternal life in which Allah sometimes even casts faithful Muslims into hell simply because Allah wills it so. While the consistent Calvinist would view Yahweh as loving and good, they would agree that Yahweh may or man not allow some into heaven even if they thought they were elect simply because He did not will it so.
Yet the Calvinist must admit that the consistent Calvinist is correct. If God is sovereign as Calvinism teaches then everything that happens happens because of the will of God. As R.C. Sproul is famous for saying, “If there is one rebellious molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign!” In Calvinism, sovereignty means “complete control, divine determinism of all things.” How can one say the uphold such a view of God yet say that He allows sinners to willfully reject (with free choice) the salvation offered to them? Remember, compatibilism holds that free choice is not allowed. Let me repeat the definition of compatibilism:
Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)
So a sinner hears the gospel and notice that according to compatibilism, that person cannot choose freely to receive or reject the gospel. Notice carefully that a person is not free to choose otherwise. In other words, the Reformed evangelist comes along preaching the gospel to a crowd. The Reformed evangelist preaches, “Repent and believe the gospel” but he knows that only those who have the internal call of God will respond while the others are dead in their sins and cannot even hear him spiritually speaking (1 Corinthians 2:14). Yet even before the evangelist ever came and even before time began, God had already chosen His elect. The evangelist comes and the people have no choice in this matter. They will believe because God wills it so. It has nothing to do with the evangelist or the sinner. Go back and read Spurgeon at the top. God draws the sinner not by external means but by His grace alone (John 6:44). God needs no minister in the words of Spurgeon. This, my friends, is consistent Calvinism. It is not practiced much but it is consistent.
Some Calvinists will read this post and say that I got it all wrong. I may have. I am not a Calvinist and have never been so. However, I read Spurgeon and most of the above came from a book I have on John Calvin written by a Calvinist. I rejoice that consistent Calvinism is not rampant. I believe that as more and more Calvinists read into Calvin and think deeply on the implications of Calvinism, they will reject the system. Calvinism is not practical. Calvinism is not congruent. Especially for those who love sinners and want to see them saved. Most Reformed evangelists I know preach like Arminians. They call sinners to repent and they reason with sinners to come to faith. Yet they are not consistent with their evangelism and their theology that they believe backs up their preaching. From Jeremiah’s Cry to many other Reformed evangelism groups, they are not consistent in their application of Calvinism toward preaching to the lost.
My prayer is that we would soon see a turning of the tide away from Calvinism. I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters. I love to listen to many of them preach and teach the Word of God. I have been blessed to have even evangelized with many Calvinists brothers and sisters in the open air. I do not view Calvinists as enemies of the gospel. Let me repeat that: I do not believe Calvinists are enemies of the gospel. I disagree with Calvinism but love Calvinists. I listen to many Calvinist podcasts and enjoy their labors for the Lord. I rejoice that nearly every Calvinist I know is not consistent.
In the end, I will freely admit that I am not a brilliant man and could be wrong. I pray that God would show me where I am wrong. I would humble myself before His throne and admit my failures in my own theology as He reveals it to me. I also confess that theology always has some mystery to it. I cannot understand fully how God is able to take free choices of men and women and still has His own outcome. I don’t understand the nature of petitionary prayer to the sovereignty of God. Yet I am okay with mystery. The gospel is not a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The gospel is clear (Acts 13:38-39). Yet other aspects of theology are a mystery and I suppose we may never fully grasp them even in eternity in God’s holy presence.
In my next post I won’t to jump into John 6:37. Does John 6:37 affirm divine determinism or is there another way to read John 6:37 in the context of both John and Scripture that affirms the universal call of the gospel? We shall see.
May God be glorified in His Church!
Arminians are often said to be teaching false doctrines. While my Calvinist brethren are willing to admit that Arminians are saved, they say that we are saved by not being consistent in our theology. Our inconsistency allows us to believe the gospel and be saved. However, Arminians, in the words of Dr. James White, are “sub-Christian.” Our “gospel” is flawed from the beginning because of our lack of biblical understanding from the entirety of Scripture. When we see the Bible from the bigger view, the Calvinist view, we see that Calvinism is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation. This is a common view.
However, I want to stretch out the deterministic view of Calvinism by saying that God determined for me to be an Arminian and He determines all “false” teachers the same. All world religions and all false teachers within Christianity are the products of God’s will and decree even if you use the language of permission. No true Calvinist will hold to libertarian free will or contra-will (that a person can decide freely between choice A or B without any previous determination from God). Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:
Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature, for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)
Notice that Monergism.com is clear that free will is not part of Calvinism in their estimation. They are clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has free will.
So the Calvinist view is that man can only please God if God wills it so. Philippians 2:12-13 is often cited. When a disciple does that which honors or pleases the Lord, they are doing so because God gave them the necessary grace to do so. If the person sins, they are only doing what God did not give them the grace to resist. They are not choosing not to sin because they have no true contra-free will but they are doing only what is in accordance to the will of God (Ephesians 1:11 is cited).
Thus if a person does not hold to Calvinism, it is not because of free will or contra-choice. The person cannot take a biblical look at both Arminianism and Calvinism and freely choose to believe whichever they desire. Remember there is no such thing in free will in either soft or hard determinism. The person chooses only what God has first determined that person to choose. Take the case of Adam and Eve. Where they free to choose to eat or not eat of the forbidden fruit? The contra-free will believe that Adam had a genuine choice. The compatabilist does not. Calvinist John Frame is clear:
Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense.
In other words, Adam could not freely choose. Adam fell because it was first the will of God for him to do so. God determined Adam’s choice for him and for all humans after him. That doesn’t mean that we are not responsible for our actions. All Calvinists believe we are. They hold in human responsibility and by that they mean “human punishability” or that humans can be punished for their sins despite God choosing for that sin to be done. An example would be Adam’s sin or the sin of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20) or the sin of the Jews and Romans in murdering Jesus (Acts 2:23). Some point to Romans 9:16-18 with Pharaoh.
So when a person is not a Calvinist, they are only doing what the predetermined plan of God was. The Calvinist could argue that the non-Calvinist needs the Calvinist to show them the way into the gospel of grace by the predetermined plan of God but the Calvinist must admit that the non-Calvinist is only doing what God determined for them to do. This is the nature even of soft determinism.
There are biblical problems with such a view. For example, in Jeremiah 7 God says that the children of Israel have done wicked deeds. The LORD says that He will keep the people in the land if they do His will (v. 7) but they have acted in wickedness toward Him and His house (vv. 8-11). Because have rejected Him as Lord, Yahweh will cast them from the land of Israel (v. 15). Yahweh commands His saints to not pray for them, these rebellious people (v. 16). God pleads with His rebellious house (v. 23) but they refused to repent (vv. 24-26) and hardened their hearts. In verse 31, Yahweh makes a statement that is very much against the compatibilist view when He says:
And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.
Notice Yahweh says that the children did what He did not command nor did it come into His mind. God cannot do nor think of evil (James 1:12-15). He is too pure for evil to dwell with Him nor near Him (Habakkuk 1:13). God is completely holy (1 John 1:5). All of this is held true even by soft determinists. Yet compatibilism requires that God determined the sins of those in Jeremiah 7. Remember they have no ability to choose freely other than that which is determined by God who creates our nature. Yet God says these Israelites did what He did not command nor came to His mind. How can this be if God has determined all since the foundation of the world? I can understand that the children of Israel did not do what He command but how can God say that they did that which did not even enter into His mind if in fact God knows and plans all from the beginning?
There truly is a mystery here and one that I admit no answer to. The Arminian dilemma is how free will can be involved with God’s sovereignty. I have no true answer here. I only admit that it is so. The compatibilist cannot. They only say that people are punishable for their sins that were predetermined (though not caused by God but not permitted either without His either giving or denying grace to do or reject the said sins).
In my next post, I will take a look at the issue of evangelism and divine determinism.
I have been listening to a podcast of a brother and he has been dealing with the issue of prevenient grace. His take is that prevenient grace within Arminianism is not much different from the view of Calvinists only that the order of salvation differs. His regard is that the Arminian gives up ground to the Calvinist when they admit first that people are born dead in their sins and unable to respond to God at all. His view is that people are not born unable to respond but simply born with a sinful nature and thus sin but are still able to respond to God’s grace and God’s call. He secondly says that we give up ground to the Calvinist when we ignore both the call of Scripture for all to repent and say that they can’t or that we teach that people must have prevenient grace given to those whom God foreknows will believe. This linear view of election is not biblical in his estimation.
In reply, he offers that prevenient grace is not a unique enabling that God only gives to the foreknown elect but rather God gives His enabling grace to all through the gospel. The gospel is prevenient grace in his view. The gospel, he argues, is given to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), is empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:8) through Spirit chosen Apostles (John 15:16). The Apostolic preaching is thus from the Spirit and is the Spirit’s work in the world to bring about the salvation of sinners (John 16:8-11). As the gospel is preached, this is the prevenient grace of God (prevenient means “beforehand”) at work among the nations to draw them to salvation. God uses the gospel to entice sinners to repentance. All are freely able to respond to the gospel of God’s grace (Romans 11:32). Prevenient grace is thus the work of the Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, the ministry of the Church. This is all prevenient grace and should not be cornered into one area: just the drawing of the Spirit unto salvation. This is all the work of the Spirit in bringing salvation to sinners.
This is an interesting view and one that I am curious about. I have not heard prevenient grace explained in this manner. I have long heard the concept as taught by John Wesley and the early Methodists. The Wesleyan concept is that people are born dead in their sins (original sin) and only the work of the Spirit to draw sinners to salvation is sufficient to bring dead sinners to repentance. Wesley very much held to a Calvinist view in this regard. Arminius likewise seems to hold to such a view. The Calvinist question, of course, is how does God choose one person over another. Is it based on works? Is it based on the response of the person? Is it based on foreseen faith? The Calvinist answer is simple: the elect are chosen based on the arbitrary choosing of God. While Calvinists would disagree with me and would say that God chooses people based on His love and His glory (Romans 9:22-23; Ephesians 1:11-12) but either way, the Calvinist would never admit that God chooses a person based on anything the person does and the choice is completely God’s choice and a mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29 is the most appealed to passage).
However, Acts 28:27 would seem to disagree with both the Calvinist and Arminian viewpoint. It reads:
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.
Paul is speaking here of the Jews. Notice he doesn’t say that they are born dull or born without the ability to believe. He says that they have become dull. These Jews have made themselves this way. Later he would write that these same Jews can turn and be saved if they will humble themselves (Romans 11:23).
So why does one man believe while another man does not? The issue is not with God. The issue is humility. Does one person humble themselves before God as a child? Does one person continue in their pride and unbelief? Acts 28:28 Paul the Apostle states that he is turning to the Gentiles but not because of God’s sovereign election but because they will listen. The Gentiles humbled themselves while the Jews did not.
This is this brother’s take. No system of theology is perfect. We are all humans trying to understand the infinite God. We are so limited in knowing God. A.W. Tower said:
The doctrine of justification by faith (a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort) has in our times fallen into evil company and has been interpreted by many in such a manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved”, but he is not hungry or thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little. The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word.
The reality is that knowing God is not knowing facts about God. It is knowing Him! Salvation is not a part of a system but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17). Salvation is found in a person (Romans 5:1). I want to know Him more and more! I want all people to know Him as well (Matthew 28:18-20). Thankfully, God does not save Arminians or Calvinists but He does save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
- John 3:36
There is a clear contrast here in John 3:36 between the child of God (Romans 8:15-16) and the child of Satan (John 8:44). The child of God does just what Jesus commands them to do here: believes in the Son and the result is clear, we have eternal life. This wonderful assurance of our salvation is based on the finished work of Christ (1 John 5:11-12) and not ourselves. Even “faith” is by the gracious work of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). I have no problem preaching that the work of salvation is all of God and His marvelous grace (Romans 11:6).
On the other side are those who disobey or refuse to believe in the Son. The NKJV has “does not believe” here instead of “does not obey” as in the ESV. The Greek word here is Apeitheo which would be literally translated as “no persuade” from “a” meaning “no” and “peitho” meaning “persuade.” The Greek has more than a mental persuasion but one in which the hearer is unpersuaded in both their mind and life. The unbeliever then is not just a sinner in mind (mentally) but in their actions (physically). The sinner is corrupted through and through (Ephesians 2:1). They are sinners in both their thoughts and actions (Genesis 6:5; Romans 1:28-32).
Some have wondered about why John would not speak of good works here in contrasting the saint and the sinner? The truth is that the saint does obey the Son when the saints repents of their sins and comes in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. The saint understands clearly that our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2) and that we deserve the just wrath of God against our sins yet the saint trusts in Christ alone to save them and thus we do the work that God desires for us to do (John 6:29). Our good works then flow from our salvation and to bring about our salvation (Ephesians 2:10). Good works can never produce salvation (Titus 3:5-7) but good works show our true salvation (James 2:14-26).
The sinner proves their rebellion against the Lord God in both their minds and actions. They don’t just ignore God but they despise Him in their sins. Their only hope is the same as ours: faith and repentance. We must preach the gospel to the sinner for them to be saved (Romans 10:14-17). No one comes to faith apart from the preaching of the gospel to the sinner (Matthew 28:18-20). We must warn sinners that they are under God’s just wrath apart from faith in Christ. A time will come for them to die and face judgement before a holy God (Hebrews 9:27). As one commentary I read stated about this wrath from God: the failure to believe in the Son of God does not bring condemnation but rather continuation in this wrath (Romans 1:18). The sinner faces God’s condemnation now for their sins and not merely for their rejection of the Lord Jesus. The sinner is storing up for themselves wrath (Romans 2:5).
The saint then has many reasons to rejoice that Jesus has saved us! Let us be thankful for His kind sacrifice for our sins. Let us also warn sinners of the wrath to come. They must repent and turn to Christ alone to save them by His grace alone though faith alone.
Great post that examines Acts 13:48.
Originally posted on Arminian Perspectives:
So really, White’s argument is very weak. Sometimes it seems that some are convinced by arguments like these because an author gives concrete reasons and mentions Greek, but that they do not necessarily think through the arguments well enough. In the midst of White talking about the mysterious sounding Greek pluperfect, he says it would have to apply to such and such a point in the narrative, though without any foundation for doing so, and his following naturally believe it. But the argument is not sound.
Related: Acts 13:48: Two Non-Calvinist Views