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The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

My Resurrection Day Experiences

This past Resurrection Day, since my family has no church home right now, I visited a small Presbyterian church near my home.  The church is called Covenant Free Presbyterian Church.  I have always been impressed with the Free Presbyterian Church for their focus on the free offer of the gospel and for missions.  Their preachers, while Reformed, often preach with passion.  In fact, if I didn’t know otherwise, I would have thought I was in a Baptist church with their “amens” at the sermons and at the hymns.  The praying was much like what I have heard in my Pentecostal upbringing.

The pastor preached from Matthew 28:1-10 and basically had two points: 1) come and see and 2) go and tell.  He did a good job of working through the text and the gospel was clearly preached.  He did not avoid theology nor did he spend his time giving personal illustrations from his life.  He mentioned his wife and her hurt back once but otherwise he spent his time in the text.  I appreciated that.

Sadly, so few Arminian or non-Calvinistic churches are focused on the text.  I know of few Arminian expository preachers.  While I was in the Assemblies of God, I knew of only two expository preachers.  All the AG ministers I knew were topical at best.  In my area, I know the Pentecostal churches and theology is not their focus.  Methodology is.  In fact, they will unite with anyone whom they feel matches their methodology.  Most of them love the Perry Noble types.  Some of them love Andy Stanley and long to be like him.  Sadly, none of them are focused on men like John MacArthur.

What I long for is sound doctrine to be preached.  I know some would say that a Calvinist church would not preach sound doctrine but I would disagree.  I know I would not agree with all that a Calvinist preacher would preach or teach but it would not be a salvation issue.  Further, I have sat in non-Calvinist churches many days and have not agreed with hardly anything that was preached because, sadly, nothing was being preached.  Doctrine was avoided like the plague.

In the evening on the Lord’s day, I went back to the church to enjoy a fellowship meal.  I had great talks with the brethren.  I sat and talked with brothers who held onto their Calvinist study Bibles (Reformation Study Bible) and we just talked as brothers.  I never brought up Arminianism versus Calvinism.  It was not an issue.  We were just Christians enjoying fellowship and food.

My point in all this is to show that our differences should not divide us.  I know for some it does.  I have had both Arminians and Calvinists who genuinely are concerned about the other group.  For me, Jesus matters more.  I know that Jesus saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) because He saved me.  When Jesus saved me, I didn’t know anything about theology.  I couldn’t have told you anything about Arminianism or Calvinism.  I barely knew that there was a difference between Protestants and Catholics.  For my first two years or so of my Christianity, theological debates were rare.  I was witnessing to my friends, praying with my Christian friends, and reading from my NIV Bible.  I had theological convictions such as the person and work of Jesus Christ, His resurrection, etc. but I could fellowship with other Christians if I knew that they had truly repented of their sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:10).

Theology does matter.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I love reading and studying theology.  The study of God, wrote A.W. Tozer, is vital for what we believe shows in how we live (1 Timothy 4:16).  Sound doctrine is vital (Titus 2:1).  2 Corinthians 13:5 even tells us to examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith.  “The faith” is found in the Word of God (Jude 3).

We must be careful, however, to not make theology our god and not the Lord God.  Our theological studies should point us to Jesus and loving Him and obeying Him more (John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6).  Jesus is not merely found in a book.  He is real.  He is risen.  He is alive.  His Spirit dwells in us who have repented and believe the gospel.  Our relationship with the Lord Jesus goes much deeper than merely reading a theology book.  It goes much deeper than even just quoting Scripture.  Scripture points us to the risen Savior who is alive (John 20:31).  The Scriptures testify about the risen Jesus (John 5:39-40).

In closing, I enjoy fellowship with Christians.  There is nothing like it in the world.  I feel so comfortable around those who love the Lord Jesus, love His Word, and stand firm on the Word of God.  Whether they be Arminians or Calvinists, I long to be around the saints of God who truly love and adore Him.  My prayer is that more of this will take place.  No doubt we have our theological differences but we are first and foremost children of God through faith in the Lord Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29).  May the Spirit of God unite our hearts to fear His name.

Thus ends my ramblings.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/31/2016 at 10:00 AM

The Master Who Bought Them

In 2 Peter 2:1 we find one of the major passages that teach that Jesus Christ died for those who reject Him.  The Calvinist view is that Jesus died only for the elect of God, His sheep, His people.  Calvinist theologians will often point to passages such as John 10:11 where Jesus says that His death is for His sheep.  Calvinists then point to sheep as proof that Jesus died only for those who His.  They point out that, in their view, the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus died for all men but only all types or kinds of people and thus they come to passages such as John 3:16 and interpret “world” to mean “the elect out of the world” (John Owen) or 1 Timothy 2:4 and believe that the Lord wants to save all types of people from 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  Thus true Calvinist evangelists will never say that Jesus died for a person they are preaching the gospel to since we can’t know for certain if Jesus did die for that person.

Augustine went further in his views on election.  He believed that God would even send a false spirit of assurance to a non-elect person to deceive them.  Why?  Who knows but God?  So a person could possibly think that they are elect, that Jesus died for them, that the Spirit of God dwells in them but in fact they are deceived and are destined for eternal destruction.

I argue further that the Calvinist doctrine of atonement does not lead to assurance.  A person reading this may think themselves elect (including the writer) but in fact a year or so from now, we might turn away from the faith and prove that we were never saved (or elected) to begin with (1 John 2:19 in the Calvinist view).  We could be a Judas (John 6:70-71 and notice that Jesus Himself chose Judas just He did all His disciples according to John 15:16).  Let us hold firmly to 1 John 2:24-25.

In 2 Peter 2:1 however we find a passage that Calvinist theologians and apologists struggle with.  The verse reads in the ESV:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

The verse is clearly speaking of false disciples, false teachers.  These are not Christians, true disciples of the Lord Jesus.  These are even heretics.  Yet Peter the Apostle says that Jesus bought them.  He uses the Greek word “Agorazo.”  The word means to buy or to buy a thing (Matthew 13:44, 46; 14:15).  Paul the Apostle uses the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23 which both read:

6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

The word “Agorazo” is used in Revelation 5:9 and 14:3-4:

5:9  And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.

14:3-4 And they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.  It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.

In both cases the ESV translates the word “Agorazo” as “redeemed” but the basic meaning is to purchase or buy.  While Galatians 3:13 doesn’t use “Agorazo” we see that it is Christ who redeems us or purchases us for God.  Christ is our redeemer, the very One who would die for our sins and redeem or buy or purchase us for God.  We are redeemed from sin, from Satan, from the world, from the curse.

And so are those in 2 Peter 2:1.  They are not saved but they were purchased.  This view aligns perfectly within Arminianism where we believe that Jesus shed His blood for all men.  The blood of Jesus though only saves those who appropriate His blood through faith (Romans 3:25).  We are now justified before a holy God through faith in the Lord Jesus who died for our sins (Acts 15:11; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9).  This salvation is accomplished by the work of the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:3-6).  Our faith is in Jesus alone to save us from our sins and to forgive us and to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

And this gospel is for all sinners (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus died for all and all can be saved through the work of Christ Jesus (Titus 2:11).  Of course, the Bible doesn’t teach that simply because Jesus died all men are now saved (Hebrews 5:8-9).  People are commanded to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 17:30-31; cf. 2:38-39).  The heart of the Lord is for all (2 Peter 3:9). The Arminian evangelist can cry out that Jesus died for all sinners (John 3:16; 12:32), that whosoever can come and be saved (Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17).  The Arminian can point to the Old Testament examples of proof that God was preparing the world for the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  That just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and all who looked to it were healed, so the Son of Man was lifted up that all the world might look to Him and be healed (John 3:14-18).

Truly the love of God is great for lost sinners.  Even here in 2 Peter 2:1 we can hear the Holy Spirit calling to these heretics to repent.  The heart of God is not for their destruction (Ezekiel 18:32) but for their repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10; cf. Romans 2:4).  Truly the love of God is great for John writes in 1 John 4:10:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

But lest we forget John adds in 1 John 4:14:

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

This is the same world that John denounces in 1 John 2:15-17 but here he says that the Son of God is the Savior of the world.  This is the same world as in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

Let us preach that Jesus is the Savior of the world and this is great news for all men (Luke 2:10-11).

We Are All Fallible

The Bible is clear that there are none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10).  We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Our minds and hearts are warped with sin when we come to Christ and the work of God in sanctifying us is to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:29-30).  Yet even after we come to Christ, we bring years of sin, years of filling our minds with wordiness and compromise.  We also bring to the Lord all our culture, our thoughts, our upbringing, our traditions.  All of this must be laid before the Lord and we take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23-25; 14:25-35).

Of course, not all of that is sinful.  Our culture may or may not be sinful.  Our traditions may or may not be sinful.  We must take all of them and lay them before the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).  The Word of God is the only infallible and inerrant guide in our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We submit to the Word of God (John 8:31-32).

Yet this doesn’t mean we don’t bring our fallible presuppositions to the Bible.  We all do.  I appreciate those who come humbly to the Bible longing for the Holy Spirit to teach us as little children (Matthew 18:2-4).  I acknowledge that I don’t understand everything about the Bible and there are parts I have yet to grasp.  I suppose I never will.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t study the Bible or don’t read difficult passages but I don’t build doctrines on passages that are not clear.  Nor should you.

Furthermore, we can read a passage and bring different presuppositions to the text.  Take the controversy of Romans 9.  When Arminius begin to preach through the book of Romans, it was at Romans 7 that Arminius first differed with the Reformed pastors of his day.  Arminius argued that Romans 7 was not a Christian.  This was (and remains) not the view of the Calvinists.  Arminius, who at the time was himself likely a Calvinist or at least was trained by Calvinists, was willing to disagree with the theologians of his day over the sake of truth.  I happen to agree with much of what he wrote about Romans 7.  That said, I know that neither myself nor Arminius are infallible.  Arminius brought his presuppositions to the text and so did the Calvinists of his day.

Another text that is hotly debated is Romans 9.  We Arminians read Romans 9 and we see the concept of corporate election all though it.  We see God showing mercy to whom He desires to show mercy and hardening whom He wants to harden (Romans 9:18) but we don’t see this in the sense of individual unconditional election of people to salvation.  Calvinists do.  And why?  Can we both be right?  Could we both be wrong?  We both read Romans 9 and we both seek to be faithful to the text but we read Romans 9 totally different ways.

We read Romans 7 or Romans 9 or Ephesians 1 or John 6 in different ways because we are fallible.  Muslims point to the divisions in the Church as proof that Allah needed to send the final prophet to unite all people.  Of course, Islam is not united.  ISIS is proof of that.  Atheists point to John 17:20-23 as a text that shows God did not answer Jesus’ prayer since the Church is not one.  Other cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses harp on the same thing.  Where is the unity?  Where is the one true Church?  Who is correct in their doctrine?  Who is the one who is preaching the true gospel?

All this does is prove that men are sinful.  That is all.  We are fallible.  We are fallen creatures made in the image of God but sinful nonetheless.  Our thoughts are not infallible.  Only the Bible is infallible.

The answer I believe is humility.  I confess that I don’t know all things.  I confess I could be wrong about Romans 9.  That said, there are clear things taught in Scripture that I believe are essential and are vital to our salvation.  Seeing election unto salvation in Romans 9 is not one of them.  Seeing all the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 as operative today or not is not essential to salvation.  Seeing the “rapture” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is not essential to salvation.  Seeing the book of Revelation as futurist is not essential to salvation.  The deity of Christ, His miracles, His teachings, His saving work on the cross, etc. are essential.  Faith is essential (Hebrews 11:6).  Repentance is essential (Acts 2:38).

My point here is not to be some postmodern in regards to Scripture.  I believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible truth of God given to us to reveal His salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).  I am not claiming that humility is greatest virtue and we should not be dogmatic over theology.  I believe theology is vital to our salvation (1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 2:1).  I believe that without sound exegesis, you could be preaching or hearing about the wrong Jesus (Matthew 24:23-25).

But I am arguing to humility toward our brothers and sisters in the faith who disagree with us over non-essentials.  I am calling for love (John 13:34-35) and charity.  2 Timothy 2:24-26 is clear (NIV):

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

The Lord’s slave should reflect their Lord who is humble (Matthew 11:29; Philippians 2:5).  Our Lord Jesus gave us the perfect example for us to follow in His steps (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21).  Jesus Himself was not quarrelsome even with the Pharisees.  Yes He rebuked them in Matthew 23 but He also warned them, loved them, and ultimately (here is my Arminianism coming out) died for them (Luke 23:34; John 11:49-52).  Jesus was kind to all and He taught all who would hear Him.  He handled His opponents with much grace (Matthew 22:23-46).  Jesus always answered His opponents with Scripture.  He didn’t make it a personal issue.  Jesus wanted them to repent and come to the truth.  Many of them did repent after His death and resurrection including a Jew named Saul of Tarsus.

While we are often willing to grant grace toward sinners, we are not willing to grant it toward our fellow disciples.  This should not be.  We should be humble and willing to love even that brother who disagrees with our end times view or our mode of baptism.  We should be willing to preach the gospel with our Calvinists friends who disagree with us over many issues but who preach the same saving Jesus as we preach in Arminianism.  Let us unite over the essentials, defend the gospel at all costs (1 Peter 3:15-16) but love each other over non-essentials and personal preferences (Romans 14:1-4).

And those are the thoughts of a slave of Christ.  May Jesus be glorified (John 3:30).

The Shallowness of Seeker Churches

Over the past ten years or more we have been witnessing a revival in Calvinism and Reformed theology.  I can remember in college back in the 1990’s when neither Arminianism nor Calvinism was a big issue.  The issue in those days was the Lordship controversy with John MacArthur and the Dallas Theological Seminary teachers such as Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges.  There were debates over spiritual gifts (charismatic vs. non-charismatic) and debates here and there over the security of the believer but by in large the issues related to Arminianism and Calvinism were not much of an issue.

Fast forward to now.  The debate couldn’t be much hotter.  I do appreciate that more and more brothers and sisters are learning to debate with grace toward each other as Scripture commands (2 Timothy 2:24-25).  Philippians 2:3 is becoming a passage we all need to heed.  Philippians 4:2 needs to be preached more.

On the one hand, I as an Arminian do not rejoice in the revival of Calvinism I see around me.  After all, I oppose the “doctrines of grace.”  But I do rejoice that disciples of Jesus are longing for more, wanting to go deeper in their theological knowledge, wanting to explore the deeper things of God.  And while I confess that I believe Arminianism to be deeper than Calvinism on many issues, I do believe that Calvinism is a move past the basics that are often not even being preached in the Western churches.

In my neck of the woods, we have a very large seeker sensitive church.  They would likely argue that they are not seeker sensitive but “Spirit sensitive” but their sermons, their music, etc. are all focused on attracting people to church.  They don’t care if you love Jesus or not (though they say they want to introduce you to Him).  Their point is to make church cool again, to get you in the doors, to get you “plugged in” with small groups, prayer, etc.  Some of what they do is good.  Jesus is mentioned a lot.  I appreciate that.

Recently I have subscribed to their podcast to listen to their preaching.  I have been listening to two different seeker sensitive churches in my area both of which are large.  After hearing a few of their sermons, I see why so many young people move toward Calvinism.  Calvinism is readily out there with podcasts, apps, study Bibles, Bible conferences, etc.  The works of John Piper are even quoted a few times by one of the speakers.  Tim Keller is mentioned much.  Matt Chandler seems to be a favorite.  All three men are Calvinists.

The preaching is typically focused on the people.  The text does not drive their preaching.  While they will occasionally quote from the Bible, the focus is the hearer.  The audience is their focus.  These are not dying men preaching to dying people about the living Savior.  These are showmen offering products to consumers.  That is the bottom line.  The sermons can be heard at any Amway presentation.  “You can make it.”  “You can do it!”  “You will survive this!”  “You got this.”  “Jesus will help you!”

So I can see a young person sitting in these churches just coming to faith in Christ.  They were drawn to the church by the women, the men, the cool music, the awesome logo, the lights, the sounds, the largeness of it all.  They came broken by a world that offers nothing and takes all.  They heard about Jesus, thought they would give Him a try and so they take the preacher up on his offer and they raise their hand, say a prayer, get baptized in a mass baptism, and start going to a small group.  While I would not say these people are saved at this point, they are are just what John Wesley described as “awakened sinners.”  They know they are lost, know that they are sinners, know that they need a Savior.  They have been brought to Christ by the traditions of men and not the Bible.

That said, they start to listen to the sermons, download the podcasts and they take a chance on hearing John Piper.  Piper blows them away!  He is actually preaching the Bible!  Piper begins to teach them and they become his students (or his cubs as Roger Olson puts it).  Soon they are reading Piper, listening to other Calvinists, and the door is opened to a new life in Calvinism.  Like Austin Fischer, they plunge into the world of Calvinism out of the shallowness of the seeker church.

The young person moves up!  Some of them actually repent at this point and get truly saved.  They leave their shallow seeker church to go to a Reformed church.  Some of them remain here.  Some move on higher out of Calvinism.

The seeker church has been a source for the revival of Calvinism.  I listened to just three sermons from a large seeker church and I was done.  It was not good.  The guy is a pretty good public speaker but he is no elder (1 Timothy 3:2 with an emphasis on teaching here).  The duty of biblical elders is to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-2) which includes teaching the Word (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5; Titus 1:5-9; 2:15).  I heard talks but didn’t hear exegesis of the texts.  I heard much talk about people but little emphasis on the sinfulness of mankind in light of the perfection of God’s holiness.  I heard much about Jesus coming and what He has done for us but I heard little in way of repentance and faith in His saving work.  I heard much about praying the sinner’s prayer but no emphasis on the Lordship of Christ and our submission to Him when we repent (Luke 6:46-49; Acts 2:36-41; 3:19-20).

The Arminian church must preach sound doctrine.  Now is not the time to become pragmatic and want to copy the seeker churches to gain the crowds.  Our duty is to preach Christ to the lost (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  Our duty is not to gain crowds.  Our duty is to be faithful to our King and not to this world (John 14:15).  What you win them with is what you win them to.  If you preach Jesus and His Lordship, this often doesn’t draw crowds.  In fact, it often draws hate.  People love Jesus so long as He is their “god” that they worship and they created.  People often despise the true Jesus when He is preached in the power of the Spirit (John 15:18-16:4).  There are many counterfeit Jesus’ being preached by many (Matthew 24:23-24).  Our duty is to preach the true Jesus by preaching His inerrant and infallible Word.

May the Lord help us all, whether Arminian or not, to preach the Word of God faithfully and to exalt the one true and living God.  Jesus alone can save sinners and we must proclaim Him and His glory!

Leighton Flowers Rebuttal to Tony Miano

Tony Miano, whom some of you might remember caused a stir back in the summer of 2015 when he basically said that Arminians are not saved if they hold to Arminianism and that Arminians worship a false god.  I called Miano’s hand on this as he had written in years prior to this while he was on staff with Living Waters (Ray Comfort) that Arminians were brothers and that we should not divide over this issue.  Miano had called Mark Cahill, an evangelist whom many in the open air preaching world know of, to repent for his statements that Calvinists worship a false god and that he would not associate with Calvinists.  I urged Miano to apologize to Cahill since he did just what he accused Cahill of. Instead, Miano went on to bash Arminians and even called for Dr. Michael Brown to come to repentance and true salvation (i.e. become a Calvinist).

After this, Miano took a “brief” hiatus from social media and blogging he said to get his thoughts together on this issue.  After a brief blackout, Miano is back on social media but not as aggressive this time it seems (for now).  Yet Miano did release the following podcast in which he attacks “the helpless god of free will religion.”  I have linked the podcast for you to listen to if you desire.  I listened to and sent it to my friend Leighton Flowers who did a podcast in which he offers a rebuttal to Miano and I believe Flowers does an excellent job.  I shared in Flowers assessment of Miano’s podcast, that it was not deep nor did he develop an excellent theological presentation to rebuke those of us who hold to free will.  Miano just builds his case against his own perceptions of what we believe and not does not interact with us nor our scholars.

My point here is not to stir the pot again toward Miano.  I think most Arminians simply ignore him.  I use to appreciate much of what Miano did.  I was an avid listener to his podcast, I supported him with money,  I prayed for him often, purchased his gospel tracts and though I disagreed with Tony here and there, I would have gladly preached the gospel with him in the open air.  That has all changed.  I still regard him as a brother though I don’t listen to him anymore, I don’t watch his videos, and I don’t support him.  I pray for Tony to repent of seeing us Arminians as enemies of the gospel.  We can disagree and still love each other.  I gladly would stand with any and every Calvinist in preaching the gospel to the lost.  I would gladly stand with my Calvinist friends against the enemies of the gospel of God’s grace.  While we can disagree let it be a debate “in house” where we regard the gospel as separate from our isms.  We can disagree how we are in Christ but let us praise the Lord that we are in Christ!

Tony Miano’s podcast.

Leighton Flower’s rebuttal.

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