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Posts Tagged ‘John MacArthur

Determinism and Evangelism

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.

Conclusion

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!

Interesting Take on Ephesians 2:3

The following is a different view of Ephesians 2:3 than the Calvinist and Arminian views.  For example, John MacArthur writes about Ephesians 2:1 that we are all born dead not because of our sinful acts that have been committed but because of our sinful natures that we are born with.  He cross references Matthew 12:35 and 15:18-19 (pointing to our hearts as sinful).

Yet the following writer wrote:

1.  The word “nature” (Ephesians 2:3) can at times describe a man’s God-given constitution (Romans 1:26, 31; 2:14, 27; 2 Timothy 3:3).  It must  be kept in mind that our constitution is just dirt and is created by God; and therefore, our constitution cannot be sinful in of itself.

2.  The phrase “by nature” (Ephesians 2:3) does not always mean “by birth” but can at times mean “by custom or habit.”  Otherwise, Paul would have taught that the Gentiles were born sinners but the Jews were not.  Paul said, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners” (Galatians 2:16; some translate birth as nature is his point).  The word nature can describe a man’s self chosen character, custom, habit, or manner of life (Jeremiah 13:23; Acts 26:4; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 2:14-15; Ephesians 2:2-3; 2 Timothy 3:10; 2 Peter 1:4).  This is voluntary and has to do with the heart.  Therefore, moral character or sinfulness can belong to this type of voluntary and chosen nature.

3.  The context of this particular passage is talking about a former manner of life.  Paul is addressing a previous lifestyle.  He said “in which you once walked” (v.2) and “once lived” (v.3).  The natural man is the same as the carnally minded (Romans 8:6-7).  It is someone who lives for the gratification of their flesh.  To say that a person is by nature a child of wrath is the same as saying that they are under the wrath of God because they are living for the gratification of their flesh. Through free choice, men create a habit of self-indulgence.

4.  To say that they are “sons of disobedience” (v. 2; 5:6) and to say they are “by nature children of wrath” is essentially the same thing.  Disobedience is a choice of the will.  Those who choose to disobey God are misusing and abusing their natures.  Those who choose to disobey God are rightfully under His wrath.

5.  That which brings the “wrath” (v. 3) of God is voluntary moral character, not involuntary constitutions.  God is not angry with men for possessing the nature which He Himself created with them.  God is angry with sinners because of how they have chosen to use their nature that He has given them by transgressing His just laws (1 John 3:4).  God is angry with the wicked (Psalm 7:11) because the wicked do wicked deeds (Psalm 7:14).  God is angry with sinners because of their sinful choices and sinful habits.

6.  A sinful nature is moral not physical.  Jesus had a nature like ours (Hebrews 2:14; 5:7-10) yet Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).  A sinful nature is a person’s self-chosen character and not his God-given constitution.  A man’s heart or will can be sinful, a man’s constitution or body can only be an occasion of temptation.  Through continual choices of self-gratification, man has developed a habit of sin.  Jesus was born with flesh just like we have and He was tempted in His flesh but He never sinned by giving in to temptation.  If we choose to sin, we are choosing to use our God-given nature to rebel against God.  This is what meant by sinful nature  and not that merely being a human means that we are guilty of sin just by our constitutional makeup.

How Prevenient Grace Helps Me Sleep

John MacArthur has a famous sermon that he preached on Mark 4:26-29 on the theology of sleep in which he argues that the doctrine of unconditional election allows him to sleep at night.  He argues that the doctrine that God alone saves gives him comfort because if the salvation of others depended on him, he would not be able to sleep at night.  MacArthur argues that he cannot understand how ministers who deny unconditional election can sleep if in fact the saving of souls depends upon them.

I for one reject unconditional election but I sleep well at night not because I deny the lostness of men nor because I turn a blind eye to their desperate need for salvation.  I sleep well because of the doctrine of prevenient grace.  I agree with MacArthur that salvation is the work of the Lord.  Regeneration is the work of the Spirit (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:5-7).  The entire work of salvation is by the power of God (Romans 1:16-17).  While I believe the Bible teaches that people believe the gospel as a duty (John 3:15), I deny that this belief is works (Romans 4:5).  Sinners are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

However, my job is not to save sinners.  It is the Lord’s work to save sinners.  MacArthur’s appeal to Mark 4:26-29 is right.  The harvest is the Lord’s harvest (Matthew 9:38).  Paul argues this way in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.  While Paul and others did work to tell people the gospel, the Lord is the One who saves sinners.  Our job is to simply preach the gospel.  This is a point that both Arminians and Calvinists can agree.

Obviously, the key difference here then is not over the gospel.  It is not over whether the Lord saves sinners.  It is over whether the Lord treats sinners as people or does He treat them as something else like robots or chess pawns?  I believe God treats people as people who can think, hear, respond.  God is the one who saves and He deals with sinners by His grace.  His Spirit woos the sinner but He does not force the sinner (John 6:44).  The Spirit opens the sinners heart to hear the gospel and be saved (Acts 16:14-15, 30-34; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13-14).  The Spirit is the one who empowers the disciple to first preach the gospel to the lost (Acts 1:8) and then He also is the one who opens sinners minds and hearts to the gospel though He allows the sinner to believe in their own freed will.  Over and over again the New Testament calls the sinner to believe the gospel and repent (Acts 17:30-31).  As the Spirit works, the sinners respond (Acts 2:37).  The sinner either repents (Acts 2:38, 41) or they rebel (Acts 7:51; 13:46).  Those who believe the gospel become the elect of God (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:10).

As Arminians our dependence in evangelism must not be on gimmicks or tricks or rock concerts or skits or movies.  It must be on the gospel that saves sinners!  The Spirit empowers the Church to preach to the lost.  Our dependence must be on the Word of God that saves the lost.  In Mark 4:26 we read of the scattered seed.  In Mark 4:14 the seed is the Word.  The Word brings forth fruit as we preach the gospel!  Our job must then be to preach the gospel (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).

The bottom line is that Arminians can take comfort in the work of the Spirit in drawing sinners to salvation.  Calvinists often contend that the term “prevenient grace” is not found in the Bible.  What they fail to realize is that Calvinists theologians have also used the term for the term means “beforehand” grace.  This is a biblical concept even if we disagree over whether this grace can be resisted or not.  Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm that salvation is the divine work of God and His grace.  While we Arminians would contend that God grants free grace to draw in souls through the preaching of the gospel, the result of regeneration is the divine working of God.

Unconditional Election: People Still Go To Hell Before They Sinned

Whether one holds to singular predestination or double predestination, the results are the same: people go to hell first because they were not chosen.  Whether God is active in this rejection or not is beside the point.  Some Calvinists such as John MacArthur argue that God merely passes over the non-elect and leaves them in their sins so that they perish.  John Piper agrees and even states that God is glorified in this.  Some Calvinists such as John Gill are consistent and acknowledge that God is not only active in choosing His elect but He is active in the reprobation of the non-elect.

Either way, unconditional election holds that people still go to hell because of God’s sovereign choice even before time began.  This means that the sinner who died in 2012 went to hell because God willed it so.  Yes they went to hell for their sins but the first action was that God did not choose them.

The Arminian view is that sinners go to hell because of their own sins.  Calvinists would agree but Calvinism adds that God did not sovereignly choose to save that sinner.  He either passed over them (MacArthur) or He was active in their damnation (Gill).  Either way, because God chose not to save the sinner, the sinner goes to hell.  In this case, the sinner was passed over before time began or even if we grant that they were passed over after the fall of Adam (Romans 5:12). Either way, the sinner was passed over by God’s sovereignty and they do go to hell for their sins but there was also nothing to atone for their sins in the first place.  The sinner was doomed when they were conceived in the womb.

The beauty of the gospel is that Christ died to redeem all humanity (John 3:16).  All who will can come and drink and be saved (John 7:37-39; Revelation 22:17).  Jesus shed His blood for all people (1 John 2:2) and He is the Savior of the world (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14).  Jesus’ coming was good news for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11).  He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45; Romans 5:15).  He is the Savior of all men especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).  The sinner who sins shall die for their own sins (Ezekiel 18:4).  The Lord’s will is for all people to repent (Ezekiel 18:32; Acts 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9).  Jesus even shed His blood for those who die in their sins (1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1-3) but their unwillingness to repent leads to their destruction (Romans 6:23).

Why Did God Choose Me?

The differences between Arminianism and Calvinism over the issue of the doctrine of election are revealed when we seek to answer the question, “Why did God choose me?”

The Calvinist answer is that God chooses people purely based on His arbitrary choice.  God does not choose people because He loves them or because of faith in Christ but based purely on God’s sovereign choice.  Calvinist theologian Sam Storms writes:

To say that God is impartial means that he is not moved or motivated by human characteristics such as race or gender or color of hair or socio-economic achievements. When God set his electing love on some but not all, he was not influenced by wealth or power or beauty or education or skill or potential or any other human consideration. God favored the elect, God was partial toward them, because that is what he wanted to do. He was not obligated by anything in any person to show favor to anyone. If God grants preferential treatment to his elect it is solely because it pleases him to do so, and not because the elect distinguished themselves from the non-elect by fulfilling some condition, either spiritual or physical.

Arbitrary in His choosing.  God’s choosing is based purely on His sovereign right to choose.  It is not based on the person at all.  God does not treat the person as a person but a part of His plan.

John MacArthur defines unconditional election as follows:

It is the doctrine taught by Scripture throughout Scripture that God sovereignly, independently, uninfluenced by any other person chooses who will be saved and that that choice was made by God before time began, before the world was created in eternity past and that He is in response to that choice redeeming His chosen people through human history until finally they are all together redeemed and gathered into His presence forever.

Notice again that election among Calvinists is purely arbitrary.  It is based on God’s sovereignty alone.  Humans play no role in the Calvinistic understanding of election.

Yet I will be fair here that MacArthur (and most Calvinists) deny double predestination despite the fact that Calvin taught it from Romans 9:22-23.  MacArthur is clear that he holds that God merely endures the non-elect while not making them that way.  However, if the sovereignty of God is to be maintained (as taught by Calvinists) then MacArthur must ignore the role that God’s sovereignty would play upon the non-elect.  They are non-elect because God will it so and this is a fundamental point of disagreement from us Arminians.

The Arminian answer to the question of “Why did God chose me” is based on the Christ-centered approach to Scripture.  God chose me because of Christ (Ephesians 1:4-13).  Scripture reveals that the heart of God is fully revealed in His Son (John 1:14).  Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and Jesus was fully God and fully man (John 1:1).  Jesus is the heart of Scripture (John 20:31).  All of Scripture testifies about Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27).  Jesus is the very center of Scripture and we must view all things through Him and His saving work.

In light of the cross, election would then be based on the work of Jesus.  Those who embrace the cross become the children of God, the elect of God found in Christ (1 Timothy 4:10).  Jesus is the elect one and we are elect if we are in Him through faith (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  Jesus shed His blood for all men (Matthew 26:28) and His blood alone is able to cleans sinners from their sins (Ephesians 1:7).  Only those who appropriate the work of Christ are the elect of God (Romans 5:17).  Only those who trust in Christ alone are saved (Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).  God foreknows the elect (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2) because He is God and He knows all things but He does not make people believe but people believe out of their own freed will (John 6:44).  In Romans 9 Paul clearly shows that those who have faith in Jesus are saved and the Jews are lost because of their rejection of Christ and His saving work (Romans 9:30-31).  God’s heart is now to have mercy on all and not merely Israel (Romans 11:32).

Thus election in Arminianism is not arbitrary but is based on love.  I know that Calvinists claim that their teaching on election is also based on love but one cannot ignore the sovereign arbitrary choosing of God that, according to both Storms and MacArthur above, is based on God alone.  God, in Calvinism, then chooses people purely because He wants to and not because of Christ, faith, or even love.  It is His glory alone that God chooses people in Calvinism and hell exists because of God’s glory.

The fact that God treats people as people made in His image is a strong point for us Arminians.  Despite mankind’s sinfulness, God still reaches out to men and He still interacts with men based on love and God speaks to people in the Bible as people.  Even MacArthur acknowledges this.  He preached:

I think we preach whosoever will may come. I think we preach Isaiah 55, everyone that thirsts, come, come. Jesus says, “Why will you die? Why won’t you come?” Jesus weeps, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have gathered you, you that kill the prophets and stone those that are sent to you, how often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her brood, but you would not and now your house is left to you desolate.” Jesus pleading, Jesus weeping. Jeremiah 13, God weeps in Jeremiah 13, shedding tears over Israel’s apostasy and unbelief and disobedience and defection from the truth. And the heart of God is broken and the prophet says God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. So I…I see clearly that the Bible holds the sinner responsible. The Bible calls the sinner to repent and believe the truth.

And I agree.  God deals with people as people.  He calls them to repent. He calls them to turn.  He calls them to be saved.  The call of Acts 2:39 is that all can come.

The bottom line is that the Calvinist is hard pressed to define election apart from God’s arbitrary choice.  The Arminian position is that God deals with people on a personal level based on the work of Christ.  Election then in Arminianism is Christ-centered with Christ receiving the glory, worship, and honor for saving sinners.  His blood was not shed in vain as the gospel goes forth (Romans 1:16-17).

Final Thoughts on Strange Fire Book Review

My review of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire has been a long process.  For that I do apologize.  I actually read the book in January and started my review then.  However, because of my work schedule and family duties, etc., I have had to post here and there on the book.  I pray that you did learn something from the review as I tried to be fair with the book and the content.  You can find the first post on this series here.

The book has an appendix in which MacArthur quotes from various Church Fathers and leaders through the centuries about the nature of spiritual gifts.  His point is to prove that many church leaders including men like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon all held to modern cessationists views.  Of course, modern charismatic theologians will often respond in two ways.  One is to say that even such views were held, this does make them right or wrong simply because they held those views.  The bottom line for authority is not Augustine or Gill but the Bible.  I know that MacArthur would agree.  Secondly, some charismatics would argue that the Pentecostal revival brought back an emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Spirit that had been buried by tradition and unbelief.  Others, like Dr. Jack Deere, would argue that it is just unbelief and a presupposition argument against miracles that leads to such views.  You can find Deere’s views in his book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit.  

In conclusion to my review, let me state that I do believe that charismatics would benefit from reading MacArthur’s book.  I said the same when he released Charismatic Chaos back in the early 1990’s.  I read Charismatic Chaos three times!  I agreed with much of what he wrote back then and still do today.  I think most charismatics (and I do not align myself with this camp) would agree with much of what MacArthur points to in his books.  The errors of the prosperity gospel, the errors of the healing movements, the sinfulness of some charismatic leaders, etc., are all things that we should all oppose.

Nonetheless, MacArthur painted with a big brush.  He grouped together men such as Dr. George Wood with men such as Todd Bentley.  He grouped together even Reformed charismatics like Wayne Grudem with the likes of a Rick Joyner.  He blasted all charismatics as blaspheming the Holy Spirit while ignoring the good that is done in the name of Jesus by groups such as the Assemblies of God, Church of God (Cleveland, TN), or the Foursquare Gospel Church.  What about ministries such as Teen Challenge that was started by a Pentecostal (David Wilkerson) and is still maintained by Pentecostals?  Teen Challenge remains the top ministry for those addicted to drugs and alcohol.  I personally have visited Teen Challenges and seen the good that they do.

Two prominent seminaries, the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) and the Church of God Theological Seminary (now called the Pentecostal Theological Seminary) are both schools that seek to glorify Christ and exalt the Word of God.  AGTS teaches its students that expository preaching should be the norm for biblical preaching and teaching.  These are both seminaries with theologically trained teachers.  These are not fanatics are they?  Should we lump AGTS alongside Bill Johnson and Bethel Church?

However, the main issue is what does the Bible teach.  It is easy to lump people together in groups and say that they are all the same.  Both Arminians and Calvinists and have done this for years.  Yet people are still people.  Some charismatics are out there.  Most are not.  There are false teachers among Pentecostals.  There are also false teachers among the Presbyterians as well.  People have fallen into sin in the Pentecostal movement.  The same is true of people in all other circles as well.  None of us escape the temptations of the flesh.  But we must seek to be biblical.  The Bible must be our guide.  Not one teacher or group.  The Bible is where we must fall or stand.  I am grateful that I personally know godly Pentecostals who love the Bible and preach the Bible.  They would be appalled if someone said that they were basing their faith on their emotions and not the Word of God (2 Peter 1:19).

I pray that God would use MacArthur to call all of us back to the Bible.  The Bible and not MacArthur or a study Bible or a denomination must be our foundation (Matthew 7:24-27).  We must be people who love the Word of God and delight in His commandments (Psalm 119:131).  We must be like the Bereans and search the Word of God for truth (Acts 17:11).  We must not be foolish and fall prey to false teachings (1 John 4:1-2) but we must embrace and love the truth of God (Psalm 119:173).  This is my earnest prayer, that God would help us all to love the Word and follow Him with all our hearts.

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