Downgrade and Deception: Two Points of Contention
I am a 3-point Calvinist, or, as some of my fellow Pulpit and Pen blog contributors might say, I am “confused”. That’s their prerogative and it doesn’t bother me. I’m less concerned with being confused in their eyes than I am with being deceived or unreasonable. When I consider the current debate, or dare I say schism, in conservative evangelicalism over Calvinism, I see deception and a failure to exercise reason as the dangerous sources of an unnecessary schism. In my opinion, the controversy over Calvinism is a manufactured one in which ambitious evangelical leaders use the theological ignorance and fears of lay people to create an enemy (Calvinists) that they can demagogue and defeat, thereby turning themselves into conquering and influential heroes. As someone with considerable theological education, I do not see Calvinism to be a threat to the spread of the gospel or to the biblical integrity of my denomination. Furthermore, I generally observe Calvinists exercising a level of intelligence and integrity that many of their detractors do not exhibit.
As JD Hall pointed out during a recent episode of the Pulpit and Pen Program, Calvinistic doctrines are soteriological in nature. In other words, Calvinism is concerned with how Christians are saved and not how Christians should live. Below, I’ll examine the two points of Calvinism which I do not affirm and examine how an affirmation or lack of affirmation of these points makes little difference where living the Christian life is concerned.
Consider Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace and examine the following syllogism:
P1. If I am elect then Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atoned for my sins.
P2. If I am elect then I did not resist God’s grace.
P3. I am elect.
P4. The atonement is limited.
P5. The atonement is unlimited.
P6. Grace is irresistible.
P7. Grace is resistible.
C8. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atoned for my sins (from P1 and P3)
C9. I did not resist God’s grace (from P2 and P3).
Whether I affirm limited atonement or not, as a regenerate Christian, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid for my sins. If the sacrifice, in actuality, was limited, it atoned for my sins. If the sacrifice, in actuality, was unlimited, it atoned for my sins. Whether I affirm Irresistible Grace or not, as a regenerate Christian, I was saved by God’s grace; I did not resist it. If grace, in actuality, is irresistible then I did not resist it. If grace, in actuality, is resistible then I did not resit it. The truth values of P4, P5, P6, P7 do not have any bearing on my state of election. Furthermore, as a regenerate Christian, the truth values of P4, P5, P6, P7 do not have any bearing on my moral responsibility to carry out the great commission.
At this point, one might ask, “What about the non-elect?” Within the scope of Christian living, this question is irrelevant given that the non-elect can’t live the Christian life. I cannot disciple the non-elect, I cannot (legitimately) baptize the non-elect, and I cannot (effectively) teach the non-elect to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Neither can the Calvinist. No one can.
I can only try my best to evangelize the lost. That’s all anyone can do.
What is sometimes forgotten in the debate over the appropriateness of Calvinism is the fact that there is more to the Christian life to evangelizing. Christians exist in a Christian community called the church. No one can effectively evangelize the church; it’s members have already been saved. Certainly, this point of theology and logic is ignored by many who entreat the same individuals to get saved over and over again or baptized more than once. In such cases, discipleship is sacrificed for evangelism. This is unfortunate because a saved person can never be effectively evangelized again but he can be discipled every day.
Which is easier, to hold someone accountable on regular basis or to persuade him that he needs to be saved over at over?
Certainly holding people accountable is more difficult. Speaking up against an offense to the gospel certainly takes more boldness than just accepting every offense for the sake of unity. I’d like the reader to ask himself the following questions:
When is the last time I saw a Calvinist hanging with the TBN crowd?
When is the last time I saw a Calvinist share a TD Jakes Sermon on Facebook?
When is the last time I saw a Calvinist like Sid Roth’s Facebook page?
When is the last time I saw a Calvinist favorably quoting Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer?
When is the last time I heard a Calvinist say, “Every head bowed, every eye closed. Raise your hand if you prayed that prayer.”?
When is the last time I saw a Calvinist got mad at something for questioning something strange that Beth Moore said?
When is the last time I saw a Calvinist value experience over scripture?
When is the last time a Calvinist wrote a heaven tourism book?
When is the last time I saw a Calvinist try and pump his church numbers with worldly tactics?
When Calvinists rightly object to evangelizing sheep or using seeker sensitive tactics to herd goats, it is then that they are accused by the “traditionalist” crowd as being opposed to evangelism. It is then when the doctrines of grace of misconstrued to a theologically ignorant base in order to gin up fear and anger. I’ll provide an anecdotal example from my own life of an attitude that I believe is held by many every-day evangelicals.
I used to attend a Christian Apologetics-focused class at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock. This particular class did not follow the typical Sunday School age group model. It contained (and still does to my knowledge) people from various stages of life. For a few weeks, our class studied the 5-points of Calvinism. The teacher, a graduate of Liberty Baptist Seminary, did an excellent, fair, and objective job of presenting the 5 points, complete with supporting scriptures. I’ll never forget the reaction from one of my classmates, an employee of the church, upon her learning of the 5 points. This lifelong baptist stated that she would leave the church if Pastor Johnny Hunt was a Calvinist. She also stated that God would be evil if Calvinism were true. I sat quietly offended…and I’m not even a Calvinist.
Mind you, this lady didn’t budge and inch when the pulpit of FBCW was turned over to a charlatan. Mind you, God can’t be evil because objective morality is grounded in His character. Mind you, no Calvinist thinks God is evil. If one resists such emotional reactions and applies reason to the assertions of Calvinism, he or she should be left (as I am) with no feelings of fear and rejection towards Calvinists. Yet, many people continually refuse to exercise such reason and leave themselves as pawns for the machinations of slick-talking anti-Calvinist preachers who make careers out of being anti-Calvinist rather than pro-gospel. There are preachers, in my opinion, who make a career out of causing believers to doubt their salvation and then “saving” them again.
Some of these preachers (or at least their supporters) are quick to point out that they were former Calvinists themselves but have somehow “come out” of the Calvinistic mindset. Having never “come out” of a theological mindset myself, I find it hard to relate to such men. (I just got saved and read the bible. It’s hard to come out of that.) Some of them claim that they began to doubt their salvation or even the moral responsibility of their (determined) actions. I’m left wondering why these men, supposed believers, were not peacefully living in the rest God had given them. It seems to me that such men were looking for some sort of merit with which to credit themselves. That’s where downgrade begins. Downgrade isn’t brought about by not affirming Calvinism; it’s brought about by ignoring scripture. Just listen to JD Hall’s “The Modern Day Downgrade“. It’s not a call to Calvinism, it’s a call to repentance. I join him in that call. Stop shooting for earthly merit.
When a denomination values gaudy baptism statistics, books sales, and impressively high cooperative giving statistics, it becomes a meritocracy. There’s a problem with that. God saves by grace alone.
As a child, I was effectively catechized by the following phrases my preacher spoke from the pulpit week after week:
“It’s not me, but Christ in me.”
“You can’t. He never said you could. He can. He always said He would.”
Praise God that I have been able to rest in His grace. My heartfelt prayer is that you are, too.
[Contributed by Seth Dunn]
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.