Christians are called to be different than the world; and when they are the world doesn't understand. The world is surprised and even angered when we don't go along with their sinful schemes.
Christians are called to be different than the world; and when they are the world doesn't understand. The world is surprised and even angered when we don't go along with their sinful schemes.
Did the 5 points of Calvinism originate with John Calvin? Or are they Biblical? In this message, we look at Scriptural teaching, including teaching from Jesus in the gospels to show that the Doctrines of Grace were taught by our Lord and Savior.
This message was preached at Heritage Baptist Church, 3501 Ernest St., Lake Charles, LA.
As a Calvinist, I have long ago ceased to be surprised by attacks upon my beliefs. The “five points of Calvinism” also known as “the Doctrine of Grace” or “Reformed Theology” have been argued and debated for centuries. And I certainly haven’t got the time nor desire to refute every attack I read or encounter. But when my beliefs are misrepresented from a church in the same city as me, it seems a response is in order.
Recently, Steve James, Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana preached a message entitled, “Theology from a Tulip” in which he criticizes Calvinism and bemoans its resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Not knowing Pastor James, I can only assume that he is a godly and gracious man who has a true love for the Lord and a desire to see the Kingdom expanded. I very much suspect this is true, but in his sermon against Calvinism he resorted to the age old practice of presenting an incorrect, caricaturized, “straw man” that he then proceeds to tear down. Much of what he states about historic Calvinism is simply not true. He uses several old, stale arguments that have been proven wrong time and time again. But since the volleys were lobbed, I’ll attempt to respond to a few of them with truth, and hopefully grace; since I very much believe in both.
For those unfamiliar with Calvinism, it is a theological belief system, taken from the Bible (not John Calvin) that is summarized with the acrostic T.U.L.I.P. The “T” stands for Total Depravity, which states that people by nature are “dead in their sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and will not come to Christ on their own. (1 Corinthians 2:14) The “U” stands for Unconditional Election which teaches that “God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4). The “L” is for Limited Atonement (also known as “definite atonement” or “particular redemption”) which teaches that Christ’s death on the cross made a definite payment for the elect, rather than a hypothetical payment for all sinners. (John 10:11) The “I” stands for Irresistible Grace (also known as “overcoming grace”) which teaches that the elect will come to Christ in repentance because God will overcome their resistance to the Spirit’s drawing by granting them a new “spiritual” birth (as Jesus taught in John 3 and John 6:37 ‘all the Father gives me will come’). And the “P” stands for Perseverance of the Saints which teaches all true believers are kept by the Spirit and will persevere unto the end. (Mark 13:13) In other words, salvation cannot be lost if it was every truly attained; and though a Christian still fights sin, his life will be marked by holiness and an undying commitment to Christ. For those who might like to hear more on these doctrines, I preached a 5-part series devoting an entire sermon to each point, which you can download here.
Perhaps the most common attack on Calvinism is that it squelches evangelism, and not surprisingly this is one of the arguments Pastor James makes. He argues that since Calvinism teaches that God chooses who will be saved, the Calvinist feels no need to evangelize. Historically, this has not been the case. In fact, the very soil on which Pastor James’ church stands is surrounded by Christians today, because of the Calvinistic Puritans who brought the gospel to America hundreds of years ago. Furthermore, his denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was founded, almost exclusively, by Calvinists. Pastor James further states that Calvinists within the SBC have an attitude of “God will save the elect without your help.” The great irony of this statement is that there was a man from church history who had that very phrase used against him and that man was William Carey…..who was a Calvinist. The phrase was used by a hyper-Calvinist (one who doesn’t believe in evangelism) when Carey felt led to overseas missions. To hear James tell it “hyper-Calvinism” is the norm today, when in all honesty “hyper-Calvinism” is extremely rare and largely unheard of. To the contrary, Calvinism teaches a very zealous evangelism that takes the gospel to the world knowing that some will be saved because God has ordained it so. The Apostle Paul was assured of God’s electing some to salvation when he went to the pagan city of Corinth. Though afraid, he was reassured by a sovereign God who told him, “I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:10)
Pastor James states that those who lean towards Calvinism are weak in their “soul-winning” yet when you look at most major Missions movements, and many of the more evangelistic churches from church history you see that they were started and led by Calvinists. Would anyone ever dream of accusing Charles Spurgeon of being weak on soul-winning? The Metropolitan Tabernacle that he pastored in London was the largest church in the world during the 19th century and he ended every sermon with an appeal for sinners to repent and come to Christ. And Spurgeon was an adamant 5-point Calvinist. The Great Awakening in colonial America was sparked largely through the preaching of George Whitefield, who preached the gospel with tears streaming down his face, begging the lost to repent and come to Christ. And Whitefield was a 5-point Calvinist. Those with even a cursory knowledge of Church History know that Jonathan Edwards’ preaching led to the conversion of many souls in colonial New England. And Edwards was a 5-point Calvinist. Pastor James defines a Calvinist as anyone who holds to the doctrine of election, and by using this definition, many of today’s most evangelistic preachers would be considered Calvinist including: David Platt, Francis Chan, Tim Keller, John Macarthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort, Voddie Baucham, Mark Driscoll, and Matt Chandler. While I may differ with some of these men on various issues, would anyone who has heard them preach or observed their ministries say they are “weak on soul-winning?” Pastor James criticism is unjustified. The fact is that many Christians, both Calvinist and Arminian, are shamefully weak when it comes to sharing the gospel. To suggest that a belief in God’s sovereignty feeds that has been proven false by the facts of church history.
I found it interesting that Pastor James attacked those Calvinists who believe they were “lucky enough” to be chosen before the foundation of the world. Several times he used the phrase “chosen before the foundation of the world” to describe the Calvinist. But he never mentions that the phrase actually comes from the Bible (Ephesians 1:4). He essentially seems to take the common approach that God has only ordained the “way” of salvation through Christ, but that God leaves it up to the individual to accept or reject the gospel. Pastor James speaks of the “outward call” to be saved that a preacher makes, and the inward call of the Spirit to come to Christ. While I certainly would agree that the outward call is to be extended to all, what do we make of the inward call? Does God “call” all people inwardly the same way? The obvious answer is no, based upon a verse that ironically, Pastor James cites in his message. “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30 NASB) Pastor James correctly states that “foreknow” here means more than to simply know something. It means God ordains something. But all of these words are linked together. In other words ALL who are called are also justified and glorified. Therefore this verse is either teaching universal salvation (which it’s not) or its teaching that God “calls” some people in ways that he doesn’t call others. By His Spirit there is an “effectual call” that accomplishes what God wants it to accomplish. The call is effectual and the grace is “irresistible.” This whole notion Pastor James rejects.
Pastor James then spends a lot of time proving that God’s grace can and often is resisted. But the 10 minutes he spends on this is largely wasted time, because Calvinists don’t dispute the fact that sinners resist God’s Spirit. In fact, that’s the whole point of “Irresistible Grace” that in some cases God overcomes that resistance by granting the sinner a new nature. Pastor James puts forth the age-old argument against Calvinists that they teach some are saved against their will while others are rejected who desire salvation. Calvinism teaches nothing of the sort. Rather, it teaches, as do the Scriptures, that all are invited to come to Christ, but NONE will do it because of their sin nature. That God owes salvation to no one, but offers it to all who repent. And since NONE WILL, God grants regeneration (‘you must be born again’ – John 3:3) to those whom He chooses, and they are saved. This is clearly what Jesus taught when he reminded the disciples that “you did not choose me, but I chose you out of the world.” (John 15:16)
Pastor James’ arguments against the doctrine of limited atonement follow a predictably well-worn path of using verses that speak of Christ dying for the “world.” It was somewhat surprising that he never addressed the verses in which Christ speaks of dying for “some.” For example, Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 NASB) and “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NASB) These verses, at the very least, imply that Jesus died for a specific group of people (i.e. “the sheep”) and that his death was a ransom for “many” (but not all). Pastor James never addresses these verses. Undoubtedly because they don’t mesh with the erroneous view of Calvinism he is trying to put forth and attack. Instead he quotes John 3:16: “For God so loved the world…” But even if it’s conceded that God loves the world, it doesn’t therefore imply that God will save all those in the world. Indeed he doesn’t. One has to wonder why Pastor James didn’t begin reading John 3 a few verses earlier when Jesus is explaining to the baffled Nicodemus that he cannot be saved unless the Spirit grants him a new birth. In fact Jesus is so “Calvinistic” with Nicodemus that he tells him flatly: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
The fact is that often times in scripture the word “world” is used in a general sense to mean “all the nations of the world” rather than “every individual in the world.” In the overwhelmingly Israel-centric day in which Jesus lived it was common to see Israel as the only nation with hope for salvation. But Revelation speaks of there being a throng in Heaven from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) In other words there will be those saved from every nation. There will be those saved in all the “world.” I’ve written on “limited atonement” in the past (which you can read by clicking here). And I’ve preached on it, addressing Bible verses on both sides of the argument as opposed to just those verses that seem to support my view (which you can listen to here).
I don’t expect Pastor James to hold to limited atonement. I realize that most Christians don’t. But to simply dismiss it without even addressing the most pertinent verses only tells half of the story; the “Arminian” half that he wants to defend. He states that the Apostle Paul “clearly didn’t hold to limited atonement.” While that is a very debatable statement, the Calvinist could just as easily state that Jesus DID hold to limited atonement based on the verses cited above. My own view is that Jesus and Paul never contradicted one another because I believe all of the Scriptures are inspired by God. I suspect Pastor James believes this as well. If so, then all of the Scriptures must be taken into account, rather than simply the ones that seem to support our personal view. Many of which are taken out of context to begin with.
On the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, Pastor James surprisingly does an about-face and illogically refutes everything about Calvinism he had just attacked. While Calvinism teaches that we are saved and kept completely by God’s grace. Pastor James contends that we are saved “by our choice.” Then he attacks the Calvinist view of perseverance by saying they believe they are kept by their own doing; as though the perseverance were attributed to them. I have never known a Calvinist (and I know many) who believes what Pastor James espouses. To the contrary every Calvinist I have ever known (including myself) believes that our perseverance is due to the work of the Spirit in our lives who keep us until the end.
My critique will end with what I considered the most disturbing part of Pastor James’ sermon. Towards the end of the message, he speaks at length to the fact that God “needs” us to accomplish his evangelistic purposes. This is very dangerous water in which to tread. To imply that there is anything good in us that God “needs” is quite arrogant. And to imply that there is anything "lacking" in God that must be completed by us is unfortunately… quite blasphemous. When Paul evangelized the pagans on Mars Hill he told them clearly that “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything.” (Acts 17:25) I must confess that I cringed as I listened to Pastor James conclude his message by boasting of the amount of personal evangelism he does, and of the numerous mission trips he has gone on, and how he’s led the church to be so evangelistic. While these acts of service are very commendable, it was extremely uncomfortable to listen to a man proudly “toot his own horn” - especially when he does it in the context of expounding how desperately God “needs him” to fulfill his purposes. Undoubtedly Pastor James is a very humble man, but sadly he came across as quite puffed-up and arrogant in this regard. To hear a politician expound his own worthiness is expected. To hear it from a preacher in the pulpit is nauseating.
Let us be clear: God most assuredly DOES NOT NEED anyone to accomplish His will. But God does choose to graciously use us as instruments in his global evangelistic purposes. When God saved Paul on the Damascus road he did not say “I need Paul” he said Paul was “my chosen instrument.” (Acts 9:14) Far from giving us cause to boast, the fact that God uses redeemed sinners like us should be a reason for tremendous humility that He would allow us any part in His Kingdom purposes. God could choose to save sinners by any means He wanted. He chose to use other sinners, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, to proclaim the gospel to a perishing world.
In conclusion, I don’t expect this refutation of Pastor James’ sermon to be widely read, or even acknowledged. But perhaps there may be some who would like to hear another take on Calvinism. If anyone would care to put Pastor James’ opinions to the test, I would encourage them to come worship with us on a Sunday at Heritage Baptist Church (3501 Ernest St.) here in Lake Charles. If you desire to be told God “needs” you I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed with our preaching. But if you want to hear the truth of an overwhelmingly sovereign God who “ordains all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) ….if you want to hear of a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing…..if you want to hear of a God who owes you nothing, but grants you everything you have…..if you want to hear of the true God of the Bible who in His justice will punish all sin….but in His grace chooses to punish His own Son in the place of His sheep. Then come see us. We meet every Sunday morning at 11 am. Our people are warm and friendly. Some may even be described as “humble” since after all, we joyfully believe that we are worthless, apart from the grace of God. And rather than celebrating ourselves, we celebrate God and His grace each and every week. We know full well, that apart from that grace we perish, but because of that grace WE LIVE! For salvation is wholly of the Lord, as it is written: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB)
P.S. -- Here's the link to a sermon I preached which offers a different perspective on Calvinism: TITLE: The Truth of TULIP – Why Jesus Was a Calvinist – Text: Various – Date: 8.21.11
Even children know what eyes and ears are used for. Eyes are for seeing and ears are for hearing. But recently I heard an interesting statement by Sinclair Ferguson , Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, regarding how Christians are to live in the world. The statement is this: “Don’t see the world with your eyes, but rather see the world with your ears.”
What is meant by this is that we don’t simply make our observations about the world’s behavior by what our seeing eyes tell us. We make conclusions about the world’s behavior by what our God has told us in His Word. Our lives are governed not only by what we see, but by what we hear. We can see sinful behavior with our eyes, but we must remember what we’ve heard from God’s Word regarding right and wrong…and make our decisions in life accordingly. In this way, we “see” the world through what we’ve heard from God with our ears.
The world in which we live is a very sinful place. Much confusion exists in our day about what is right and what is wrong. Yet the Bible speaks clearly on matters of morality. According to God, right and wrong are not up for debate, nor a vote of the people. And the wise person will “see with his ears” and adhere to what God says is right and wrong.
The deeper question is “do you have ears to hear?” This was a statement Jesus frequently used in Scripture: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9; Luke 14:35; Revelation 2:29) Most people simply ignore what the Lord says in His word. They don’t have “ears to hear.” But by God’s grace, we can be granted a new life in which we turn from sin and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord. Though by nature you are a vile sinner, God has the power to give you “ears to hear” and then you can use those same new “spiritual ears” to see and make decisions in this life that honor and glorify God.
So where do you stand today in relation to God? Are you living your life for His glory? Or are you letting your sinful eyes lead you into greater and greater depths of depravity? Has the Lord given you “ears to hear” or for that matter has he given you “ears to see”? Apart from a life of submission to God and His word; you will be constantly confused and frequently led astray by a cursed world that does not seek your good. Turn to Christ today and be saved. Ask God to forgive you and grant you a brand new life. Then live each day, trusting what you’ve heard with your ears from God’s Word; applying it to what you see with your eyes, and thus learn the fine art of “seeing with your ears.”