Posted tagged ‘Calvinism’

My Letter to Mouw about Wesley

October 15, 2013

It seems clear to me, Mr Mouw, that you don’t want to talk about the gospel or the difference between the gospel and your
“shelf-doctrines”. In other words, you either don’t know what the gospel is or don’t know if God needs the gospel to save a sinner, but you do know that the nature of Christ’s atonement is no part of that gospel.

You know that the stuff Dordt was talking about is not gospel. But you can’t say what the gospel is. Perhaps that’s the reason you look to the experience of Mormons rather than to their shape-shifting doctrines.

Even though I agree that we don’t have to talk about Wesley in order to talk about gospel, you don’t seem to want to talk about Wesley, even though you pointed us to Spurgeon talking about Wesley.. All you can do is act surprised that there are some crazy folks out here on the internet who would not fit within the boundaries of Fuller Seminary.

Sure we’re “Reformed” and all (born that way), but if you say the opposite of what Dordt says, there will be no refutation of errors or antithesis. It will merely say that the lies are “inadequate” versions of the same gospel we have.

John Wesley: “The doctrine of predestination is not of God, because it makes void the ordinance of God; and God is not divided against himself directly tends to destroy holiness which is the end of all the ordinances of God. This doctrine tends to destroy the comfort of religion, the happiness of Christianity… This uncomfortable doctrine directly tends to destroy our zeal for good works. … What would an infidel desire more? It overturns God’s justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust. … This is the
blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. (7:384)

Why didn’t Wesley simply say that Calvinism is “inadequate”?

Wesley: Q. 74. What is the direct antidote to Methodism, the doctrine of heart-holiness? A. Calvinism: All the devices of Satan, for these fifty years, have done far less toward stopping this work of God, than that single doctrine… Be diligent to prevent them, and to guard these tender minds against the predestinarian poison. (8:336)”

Covenant College Professor Tells us that “Limited Atonement Cannot be Allowed to Function as a Creed”

February 25, 2011

Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition , Kenneth J. Stewart, IVP, 2011

Mr. Stewart’s book is more ideological than historical. He aims to promote conformity to his own notion of tolerance. In the process, he seeks to exclude those he refers to as “thoroughly reformed” (p15) as extremists. Even though they don’t call ourselves that, he will label them that and then blame their “primitivism” (back to the 16th century) for the label!

For example, on p93, Stewart concludes that “TULIP cannot be allowed to function as a creed”. This dogmatism about what cannot be allowed follows a caricature of those who use the acronym “tulip” for Dordt’s response to the five points of Arminius. Stewart writes as if “conservative Calvinists” were more concerned about the acronym than about the specific doctrines. He does this, even though on pages 94-95, he lists various five-point books which use different acronyms.

(I notice that Stewart has no reference to the book written by McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty, even though it was published also by IVP. Perhaps Stewart has already dismissed Mr Wright to the margins. And the best way to do that is to ignore a person.)

I notice also that Stewart, who teaches at Covenant College, makes no reference to the Systematic Theology of Robert Reymond, who taught for many years at Covenant Seminary. Perhaps all five point supra-lapsarians have been placed in some forgotten ghetto. Certainly the IVP book, Why I Am Not An Arminian, was strident in its criticism of supra-lapsarians.

Stewart accuses somebody with having a “Procrustean formula” (p84) and also with being “uncritical”. His criticism is itself an uncritical accusation (a formula) which seeks to be self-fulfilling. If you don’t join him (also Michael Haykin and Reid Ferguson) in rejecting the idea of “limited atonement”, then you become guilty of defending the acronym. Since he thinks some of us are on the margins, the purpose of the book is to either re-educate us (the assumption is that we just don’t know the past) or to put us in our place–on the margins where he claims we already are!

If those who care about antithesis with universal and governmental notions of the atonement are simply “strident” (AW Pink, p280) and “contentious” (Nettleton, p87) and “belligerent” (p85) malcontents, why does Stewart think he needs to “blow the whistle on” them? (p12) The answer is that Stewart is a relativist, who thinks the five points are only “one form of Christianity”.

To him, the five debates are not about the gospel, but at the most, only about finding out later how you came to believe (p16) the “gospel” that all evangelicals have in common. This is why Stewart’s book is endorsed by folks like Richard Mouw, who in his own book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, explains that “limited atonement” is for him only a “shelf doctrine” which has no practical import, except for his claim to still be a “card-carrying Calvinist”.

Those who want to dismiss TR’s want to bring forward into history the sufficient formula embraced by Dordt but leave behind limited atonement (intended for the elect alone) as “an index for gauging orthodoxy”. Aiming at “inclusion”, they must exclude those of us who won’t tolerate a propitiation that does not propitiate. Aiming at “accomodation”, they cannot accomodate those who deny that there is “generous room at the cross” for every sinner.

Stewart can write all he wants about the “adequacy and capaciousness” of an atonement to save the non-elect. But if the death of Christ does not save the non-elect, then it was not enough to save them. And since this is true, this is either because God never intended the death of Christ to save the non-elect or because the death by itself is not adequate to save anybody. (On this topic of “sufficient/efficient”, I would recommend the book by baptist Tom Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory, another five-point book not mentioned by Stewart.)

But Stewart warns us (p89) that if we do not go along with his “sufficient for everybody” Procrustean formula, we will end up in a marginalized “self-imposed ghetto”. He demands that we learn to teach a gospel of which the Arminians can approve.

Stewart does not seem to notice that the “gospel” held in common by evangelicals is an Arminian antithesis, opposite to the TRUTH confessed by Dordt. To him, Calvinism has nothing to do with God’s effectual call, but only a good thing if learned incrementally and with moderation. As a relativist with “breadth” and “diversity”, he thinks some of us “have too much of a good thing.” (p13)

Stewart does manage to show that his kind of relativism is not new in Reformed history. He points to Warfield’s (Plan of Salvation) embrace of all super-naturalists (Arminians and Romanists included) as having something in common which is more basic than any Calvinist antithesis.

But even here, we have ideology at work and not history only. Instead of discovering that the tradition was not as clear about grace as it could have been, and that it is now better because of more antithesis, Stewart simply assumes that what’s more recent has to be worse. Too much of a good thing is a very bad thing, the relativists want to tell us, even as they are in the very act of attempting to change our notions of what is “moderate”.

Calvinism is Not Less than the Five Points

October 20, 2010

A Review of The Points of Calvinism (Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology) by Kenneth Stewart, Covenant College

Stewart is rigid in his rejection of rigidity. His essay is less about what he does believe, and mostly about what he doesn’t believe–he doesn’t like the vulgar extravagance of those who identify the gospel with the five doctrines.

In his uncritical embrace of the evangelical party, Stewart rigidly cannot embrace parties on the narrow margins like Herman Hoeksema or David Englesma of the Protestant Reformed Church, or Robert Reymond (from Covenant Seminary, in his Systematic, p1125) or Tom Nettles (a Reformed Baptist “five-point Calvinist”, p387, By His Grace and For His Glory) or R.K. Mcgregor Wright (No Place for Sovereignty, IVP, p100)

By demonstrating the lack of historical precedent on a focus on the five points, Steward somehow thinks he has made an argument that we should not in the future focus on the five points.

But Calvinism is not less than the five points, and a lot of the “more than five points” guys don’t believe the five points.

With the non-Bible-church “Reformed” folks who really do believe the five points but want more than that, Calvinism is about “the covenant”. They say “the covenant” in every other sentence without defining it. Which covenant? Is that covenant conditional or unconditional?

“Calvinism is more than the five points” often means
a. infant baptism
b. “sacramental realism”: unlike those Zwinglian rationalists, they really eat Jesus they proclaim that they do not explain how.
3.They don’t withdraw from culture like the anabaptists (or create their own) but try to take over everybody’s culture. (The two-kingdom Calvinists still think there is only one culture, but they agree to it being secular.)
4. Like the brothers Niebuhr, they know there can be no culture without killing. To transform the culture, they will try to transform the killing without killing it.

Speaking from the margins where the atonement is defined in terms of imputation and election, I must say I am glad not to be Stewart’s kind of rigid Calvinist!

Mark McCulley

God is More (not less) Than the Boss of Us

August 9, 2010

The Truth is More Than God’s Sovereignty

Romans 3:3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though everyone were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

I know some Calvinists (I was one of them) who think it is enough to say that God is sovereign. In this emphasis, sometimes they even project their own ego onto God, and sound like they think of themselves as sovereign also (at least sovereign representatives of the Sovereign).

But the truth of the gospel is not only God’s sovereignty but also God’s righteousness. This means that the gospel is not only about the justification of the elect sinner but also about the justification of God.

I have no use for the “freewill theodicy”. But that does not mean that I am dismissive of efforts to justify God. To justify God does not of course mean that we make God just. Rather, it means that we declare that God is just.

When God justifies an elect sinner, then God not only declares sovereignly that this sinner is just. God is justified in justifying the elect sinner because 1. Christ died because of the imputed guilt of that elect sinner and 2. God then righteously, justly, constituted that elect sinner to share in that death (Christ’s righteousness) so that the elect sinner is legally righteous. Because of these two facts of history, God is justified in justifying elect sinners.

It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t look just. The elect sinners go free. Christ, who did not sin, died. This is why we are tempted to say that the whole thing is only about God’s sovereignty and then tell people to shut their mouths and ask no questions. But the Bible itself does not take that attitude. The Bible tells us how God thinks. The Bible justifies God.

For example, Romans 3, 6, and 9 deal with possible objections to God justifying sinners. Romans 9 does not only ask: “who are you to talk back to God”. Romans 9 explains that it is inappropriate for that which is made to sit in negative judgment on the maker. That which is made is instead to make the positive judgment that God has the righteous right to harden as many as God hardens.

Romans 6 deals with the objection that God justifying sinners will cause sinners to rationalize their sins, so that they not only say that their sins were predestined but also that they say that more sins result in more grace.

The Romans 6 answer is that grace is either grace or not. There is not more or less grace, but either grace or no grace. More sin does not get the elect more grace, because all those God justly justifies have all the grace any other elect person has. If you have grace, then you are justified from sin, and if you don’t have grace, you are a sinner “free from righteousness” (6:20).

While unbelievers trust in God to help them to sin less, those who have been delivered to the gospel know that there are only two kind of sinners, two states—guilty sinners and justified sinners (justly justified by Christ’s death to sin.)

The theodicy of Romans 3 announces that God is true even if every man is a liar. We justify God because God has revealed Himself. And God has revealed that God is more than sovereign. God’s words reveal God to be Righteous and Just. And God’s word is justified in history by what God did when Christ gave Himself up to death on the cross because of the imputed guilt of the elect. “That you  be justified!”

We were wrong: God was right and God is still right. God prevails, but it is not only a matter of “might makes right” or “sovereignty always wins”. We have no right to make a negative judgment on God, since it is God who will be making a negative judgment on many sinners. But we are called to make a positive judgment, that God prevails.

Not only does God do everything God pleases to God. God’s pleasure is holy pleasure. What God pleases to do is right. And there is no better proof of that than the way God justifies elect sinners. The wisdom of the cross shows God’s righteousness. It is fair. It is just for God to not only let elect sinners go free but also to give them faith and all the other blessings of salvation.

Yes, it is grace to these sinners, but still it is just for God to do it, because of what Christ got done in his obedience even unto death. As Isaiah 53 explains, the righteous servant will be satisfied. God will be just to Christ. And God is just to justify elect sinners for the sake of Christ.

Psalm 116:11—“I said in my alarm, ‘All mankind are liars’” Not only is God justified, but sinners are wrong. Sinners are condemned. We see this in Romans 1:25 already. All of us sinners have been people who “exchange the truth for a lie”.

It is idolatry to only know a God who is sovereign. The true God is also just and righteous. It is unbelief and rebellion to deny that God is just and righteous. Psalm 51:4-6—“Against you have I sinned and done what is evil, so that you are justified in your words and blameless in your judgment..Behold you delight in truth…” Two things go together: God is just and true, we are wrong and false.

The gospel is good news for the elect, but not without also being first bad news. You can call this “methodism” if you want. You can call it “law before gospel” if you wish. But part and parcel of justifying God (and trusting God’s true gospel) is taking sides with God against our-selves. We can’t both be right. God is right, and we are wrong. If God is right, then we are wrong.

If we ever get to thinking that God is sovereign but wrong, then we show not only that we are wrong but also that God has not yet called us by the gospel to the truth. We do not only confess that God is going to get God’s way, that God is going to win; we learn to confess that the way God acts and judges is just. We make a positive judgment about God. That is a result, and not a condition of God having justified us.

God is true. Which is to say: God is God. To reject the righteousness of God (His attribute, not only Christ’s saving work and gift) is to reject the true God. Romans 3:3 tells us that God’s faithfulness proves that God is the true God. Isaiah 42:3—“He will faithfully bring forth justice.” Isaiah 45:19—“I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness. I did not say to the seed of Jacob, seek me in vain. I the Lord speak the truth. I declare what is right”.

Getting in a dispute or debate or argument with the true God shows us just how dumb we become! The irony every time is that our lies, rationalizations, self-deceptions only result in the truth of God being all the more justified, declared. And then, when we try to say, “well at least our falsehoods are making God look more faithful”, we are brought face to face with the fact of Romans 3:5—God is the righteous judge of us. God is not only “the boss of us”, because God is judging us and will judge us. And that right there shows that God is not unjust for judging sin to be sin.

God is not some impartial “fair” judge. God takes sides with Himself. God takes sides against sinners. And the only sinners that God justifies are the elect who God has constituted as righteous by placing them into the death (to sin, to guilt, not only to punishment) of Christ.

God is not some neutral “outside” arbitrator. God is one of the parties in God’s lawsuit against sinners. Sinners are defeated by God’s triumph. The God we have offended by being sinners (exchanging truth for idolatry) is the God who will judge all sinners. Some sinners God hardens. Other sinners have their names written in another book, because God has elected them in Christ.