Archive for the 'Doctrines of Grace' Category

Dysfunctional Calvinism

I want to add a hearty AMEN to Timmy Brister who recently blogged about “Dysfunctional Calvinism”.  Timmy writes:

Most of the Calvinists I have met are robustly evangelical and passionate about the gospel.  They love the church and have found their soteriological understanding as empowering to their Christian life, causing them to function with greater confidence and courage under the sovereign purposes of God.  However, there is a Calvinist here and a Calvinist there, few to be sure, who have provided sufficient provocation to address dysfunctional Calvinism.

What am I taking about, you might ask?
Dysfunctional Calvinism is the practice of embracing human responsibility in converting people to Calvinism but denying human responsibility in converting people to Christ.

Dysfunctional Calvinism likes to play the “sovereignty card” as a “get out of evangelism” exception clause.

Dysfunctional Calvinism gives an articulation of the doctrines of grace without exhibiting grace to those who disagree with them.

Dysfunctional Calvinism embraces “word” ministry to the exclusion of “deed” ministry–that is the love for the truth does not go far enough.  Let’s just have another Bible Study.

Dysfunctional Calvinism finds it easier to talk to Christians about election than the free grace of God to sinners.

Dysfunctional Calvinism turns your right theology in a wrong-headed way, sometimes as a heresy hunter/watchdog blogger and other times a tacit gnosticism.

Dysfunctional Calvinism is gospel-centered insofar as it satisfies their intellectual inquiry but does not inflame their affections and transforms their will in becoming “all things to all men that by all possible means I might save some.”

Dysfunctional Calvinism gets mad that I am willing to call out the dysfunctionality and complains that I am not going after Arminians.

HT: Take Your Vitamin Z

February 05 2010 | Doctrines of Grace | Comments Off on Dysfunctional Calvinism

P – Perseverance of the Saints

The last of the 5 Points of Calvinism is the Perseverance of the Saints. This is one of the sweetest doctrines in the Bible, but it is reserved for those with a truly biblical understanding of salvation. The Westminster Confession defines Perseverance of the Saints in this way:

They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”

This is a truth that the vast majority of evangelicals today would affirm. It’s typically stated in much simpler terms like, “Once saved, always saved” and others. In this way, it seems that a large number of evangelicals are “Closet Calvinists”, because the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints can only be the result of a fully calvinistic understanding of soteriology.

The Perseverance of the Saints is the last link in an unbreakable chain of salvation. For the Calvinist this chain of salvation is thoroughly God-Centered, for the Arminian this chain is thoroughly Man-Centered. For the Calvinist man is totally depraved and is completely unable to save himself or even to respond to God, because of man’s desperate condition God mercifully chooses some to be saved, because God’s choice of these elect requires atonement, the Father sent His Son to receive His full wrath against their particular sins (in other words, as Christ died on the cross, his death was for the elect), having purchased His elect through the cross the Holy Spirit effectually calls these elect to the Father, which is a call that can not be resisted. For those whom God chose, God atoned for, and God called to Himself, God will be the one will keep them.

RC Sproul has said, “If my salvation depended upon me, I’d lose it every day…a thousand times every day.” The heart of arminianism is to exalt man’s role in salvation, but the horrible consequence of this exaltation is that it gives man a burden, that he can not bear. This leaves the Arminian in the dreadful position of having to maintain his own salvation, which can not be done. The heart of Calvinism is to exalt God’s role in salvation, while maintaining man’s responsibility, this means that man’s salvation is not dependent upon Him, but rather upon God.

Again, a number of passages can be examined in regards to this doctrine. Her are a few of them:

John 6:37-40 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 10:28-29 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

As I said in an earlier post, the 5 points of Calvinism have a way of breaking the pride that is so much a part of our fallen nature and taking our eyes off of ourselvs and putting them on the Lord Jesus Christ.

April 01 2008 | Doctrines of Grace | Comments Off on P – Perseverance of the Saints

I – Irresistible Grace

I’m staying home this week to spend some time with our new baby, as well as to try and catch up on a bunch of projects that seem to have been on the back burner for way too long. One of those projects is to finish blogging through the 5 points of Calvinism, so my hope is to tackle Irresistible Grace in this post and to finish things up with the Perseverance of the Saints tomorrow. For the rest of the series you can click here.

In the book The Five Points of Calvinism the authors define Irresistible Grace in the following way:
Simply stated, this doctrine asserts that the Holy Spirit never fails to bring to salvation those sinners whom He personally calls to Christ. He inevitably applies salvation to every sinner whom He intends to save, and it is His intention to save all the elect.
In any discussion of Irresistible grace, it’s important to distinguish between the Efficacious Call and the General Call of the gospel. While many are called to the gospel, through personal evangelism, through the preaching of God’s Word, through missionary efforts, etc. there are few who are chosen to actually believe the gospel (Matthew 22:14). This is why you can have a believer witnessing to two unbelievers where one responds in faith, while the other rejects. Both unbelievers received the general call to repentance but only the one who believed received the efficacious call, which can not be resisted.
A number of texts come to mind in regards to this doctrine:
John 6:37 – All that the Father gives me will come to , and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
John 1:12-13 – But to all who did received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Romans 8:30 – And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
One of the most practical aspects of this doctrine is the powerful effect that it has on our evangelism. If God is the one who irresistibly calls, the responsibility of the Christian is simply to present the gospel and be used of God to bring the truth to the unbeliever’s heart. In essence this allows the Calvinist to sleep at night knowing that God is sovereign and that his responsibility is simply to be faithful to present the gospel and allow God to do the calling.

March 31 2008 | Doctrines of Grace | Comments Off on I – Irresistible Grace

L – Limited Atonement

Getting back to the series on Calvinism, I’d like to move on to the third of the 5 points of Calvinism. The L in TULIP stands for Limited Atonement. This doctrinal point deals with the question of “For whom did Christ die?” Typically when someone says that they are a 4 point Calvinist or a 4 1/2 point Calvinist, this is the point which they are having a difficult time with. Obviously, this is a topic that volumes of books have been written about. My purpose here will be to highlight a few key points and give the basic gist of the doctrines.

It’s important at the outset of this discussion to recognize that every Christian believes that the Atonement is limited. To believe in an unlimited atonement is to be a universalist. It is to deny the reality of hell and to utterly forsake the gospel. The atonement must either be limited in its extent or its effect. If the atonement is limited in its extent, that means that it only applies to those for whom Christ died. This does not mean that Christ’s death was not sufficient to pay for everyone’s sins, it does mean that Christ’s death only applies to the sins of those whom he has chosen. The alternative is to limit the atonement in its effect. In this case, Christ’s death paid the penalty for every human beings sin, who would ever live, they merely need to believe the gospel and the atonement will then be applied to them. For those who do not believe, they limit the effect of the atonement because they do not allow it to forgive them. Here again, we see the glaring difference between Calvinism an Arminianism. Calvinism is all about God, it leaves the limiting of the atonement in his hands. Arminianism is all about man, it leaves the limiting of the atonement in the hands of man.
The problem with the Arminian view of atonement is that it does not take into account the fact that man is dead in his trespasses and sins.
Romans 3:10-12 “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
If the Arminian position is that it is up to man to receive the atonement that Christ purchased, they must answer the question, “How are the dead raised?” The unbeliever is dead in his trespasses and sins, he cannot please God and will not believe if left to himself. Furthermore, the Arminian is left in the unenviable position of believing that every unbeliever who suffers the eternal wrath of God had their sins paid for on the cross, because the atonement is unlimited in its extent and therefore Christ suffered for each of their sins.
The difference between the Arminian position and the Calvinist can be illustrated in this way. The Arminian views the atonement as a wide bridge that stretches across the chasm that separates man from God. It is wide because there is room on it for all of humanity to come and be saved. The problem is that this bridge only stretches 3/4 of the way across the chasm. It is up to the unbeliever to leap the first 1/4 of the chasm, land on the bridge and then make his way into the kingdom.
The Calvinist views the atonement as a narrow bridge that stretches from one end of the chasm to the next. It is narrow because it is only for those whom God has chosen, but it reaches all the way across. You see, it wouldn’t matter if the bridge stretched 75% of the way or 99% of the way, because of my spiritual deadness I need God to do all of the work.

February 26 2008 | Doctrines of Grace | 3 Comments »

A Word About Foreknowledge

One of the most popular views of the doctrine of election takes the omniscience of God and uses it to replace God’s sovereign choice of particular individuals for salvation, with God’s knowledge that certain people will believe. In my experience as a Pastor this seems to be the dominant view of most evangelicals. It goes something like this: God (because he is omniscient) looked down through the corridors of time and saw each individual who would choose to believe the gospel and based upon that knowledge God elected those individuals to salvation. Those who take this view might turn to a passage like Romans 8:29 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…
This view has some obvious benefits in that it allows God to appear to remain sovereign, while at the same time allowing man to be sovereign over his own salvation. Essentially, what it does is provide relief for those who want to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s totally free will. The problem with this view is that it places God at the mercy of man, rather than man at the mercy of God. Isaiah 46:9-10 says, ...I am God and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done… and Romans 9:15 reads, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” The testimony of Scripture is that it is God who has mercy out of his own unhindered sovereignty, the popular evangelical view places God in a box in a vain attempt to hold on to some semblance of absolute human free will. This is not to say that man is without free will, but God uses man’s free will in order to bring about his predetermined ends.
Another problem with this view is that it does not take into account the meaning of the word “foreknowledge.” Foreknowledge is from the Greek term prognosei. It is a compound word consisting of the preposition pro, which means before and the verb ginosko, which means “to know intimately.” Prognosei does not refer to having knowledge in advance, in the same way that I knew my wife would say yes when I asked her to marry me. Rather, prognosei refers to an intimate personal knowledge that is established in advance. It speaks of \
personal relationships and frequently to the intimacy between a husband and a wife (LXX Genesis 4:1). We see this concept of intimacy in 1 Peter 1:20 where Peter explains that “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.” In this passage Peter tells us that the Father foreknew Christ, in the intimacy of Trinitarian relationship and that because of that relationship the Father sent the Son to make atonement for our sins (John 8:29). If this verse were taken with the typical evangelical understanding of foreknowledge, it would mean that the Father looked down through the corridors of time and saw that the Son came to die for our sins, which caused the Father to make Him the Messiah. Only the proper understanding of foreknowledge, as an established intimacy based upon God’s sovereign choice can make sense of this passage and only this understanding of foreknowledge allows the Scripture to speak for itself when it says that “He has mercy on whom He has mercy.”

February 16 2008 | Doctrines of Grace | 2 Comments »

U – Unconditional Election

The last time that I wrote about Calvinism I looked into the first doctrine, known as Total Depravity or more appropriately Total Inability. By the way, Phil Johnson has an excellent series on this subject over at Team Pyro which I strongly encourage you to check out. By Total Inability, I am referring to the doctrine that man is totally unable to respond to God because he is spiritually dead. Romans 3:10-12 – as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Because man is spiritually dead and has no ability to respond to God, all men are hopelessly condemned. This is where Unconditional Election comes in. While man was dead in his trespasses and sins, unable to respond to God, God in His mercy has chosen to save some and these are known as the elect. The Five Points of Calvinism by Steele, Thomas and Quinn defines election this way, “His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will.” That is to say that God’s choice of the elect was not based upon anything other than His own will. Exodus 33:19 says, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” The goodness of God is seen in His mercy, as he chooses to save some who otherwise would be utterly lost in the deadness of their own hearts.

It would be impossible to examine all of the passages that teach the doctrine of Unconditional Election, but here are a few that are especially worthy of consideration.
John 15:16 – You did not choose me, but I chose you…
John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…
Acts 13:48 – And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
Matthew 22:14 – For many are called, but few are chosen.

In an earlier post I wrote that the heart of Calvinism is humility. This truth shines brightly in the doctrine of election. The doctrine of election forces us to admit that there was nothing that we could do to be saved, it puts us squarely in our place of utter dependence and cries out to a merciful God to act and save some.

February 13 2008 | Doctrines of Grace | 2 Comments »

T – Total Inability

The title of this post may be a little bit of a surprise to some of you, because the T in TULIP is not traditionally known as “Total Inability” but rather as “Total Depravity”. In recent years there have been a number of reformed theologians who have opted for this “inability” instead of “depravity” because it seems to be a much clearer explanation of what the Bible teaches about the condition of man’s heart and his inability to respond to God.

The doctrine of “Total Inability” teaches that man is completely and totally unable to respond to God, due to the fact that man is spiritually dead. It is not as if all men are as evil as they could possibly be, but all men are equally dead. It may be best to think of this concept as a battlefield. After a major battle scores of dead bodies are to be found upon the field. Some of these bodies were simply struck by a stray bullet that hit the right place, resulting in death but no major dismemberment; others were struck by large caliber weapons resulting in major disfiguration. In the same way, not all men have been as damaged by the effects of sin, but all are equally dead.

Man’s spiritual death is to be found throughout the pages of Scripture, the following is merely a smattering of passages that teach the fact that man is spiritually dead.
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-
Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…
Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
Romans 3:10-12 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

To be dead is to be unable to respond to anything. I’ve been in crematoriums, where the remains of human beings are being burned and stored. One thing is for sure in a house of the dead, they are completely unable to respond to anything. In the same way, man is totally unable to respond to God b/c man is spiritually dead.

Total Inability is the foundational doctrine upon which all of the Doctrines of Grace rest. It is because of man’s total inability to respond to God that God must be the one initiating salvation through election.

John MacArthur uses the following illustration to show the relationship between Total Inability and Unconditional Election. To deny the doctrine of election, after understanding the doctrine of Total Inability, would be like looking at a man caught in a series of rapids and totally unable to free himself and then calling out “Listen, I’ve got good news for you.” “If you can get out of there, we can help dry you off.” What the man needs is a power far greater than himself to reach in, lift him out of his desperate situation and save him.

October 22 2007 | Doctrines of Grace | Comments Off on T – Total Inability

The Truth About Calvinism

A couple of weeks ago I began a series with my High School students on Calvinism. On a Sunday night we all gathered together at the Black’s home and I got to introduce the High School students to TULIP. For those of you who are unfamiliar with TULIP it is an acrostic that highlights 5 crucial doctrines that relate to salvation. The 5 points of Calvinism are as follows:

T – Total Depravity
U – Unconditional Election
L – Limited Atonement
I – Irresistible Grace
P – Perseverance of the Saints

No less than the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said that “Calvinism is the Gospel, and nothing else” (The New Park Street Pulpit, Volume 1, page 50). Yet these doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” seem to cause no end of debate amongst Christians. I found more questions on that Sunday night over these doctrines than I have ever received on dating, courtship, or any of the other typical things that student ministries tend to deal with. The reason for all these questions seems to be that Calvinism is thoroughly biblical and practically bleeds from the pages of Scripture, inspiring young people to want to understand their Bibles.

After our introduction to Calvinism a few students wanted to continue the discussion, especially revolving around the doctrine of Unconditional Election. This always seems to be the sticking point for young people, because it seems so unfair to them that God would sovereignly choose those who will be saved. As we talked, we looked at a number of different verses especially focusing on Ephesians 1 and Romans 9. After looking at the verses, one student said something to the effect of “I understand that this is clearly taught in the Bible, but it’s just so hard to believe that this is the case.” As I subsequently pointed out to this student, her statement really gets to what I believe is the heart of Calvinism. Calvinism is about the sovereignty of God, it’s about election and total depravity and all of the other points, but it’s about more than that.

The heart of Calvinism, or the way that we see it most practically lived out, is the humility that it creates in the hearts of believers. It seems to me that the most practical outworking of the doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” is humility. Calvinism seems to have a way of tearing into our hearts and ripping out the last remnants of pride that we have in our theology of salvation. It teaches us that salvation has absolutely nothing to do with us, it is all about God and His sovereign choice to save sinners who are so depraved that they would never choose Him. I have said before that the doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” seem to be a watershed issue for people in their spiritual growth. Those who come to terms with these doctrines seem to have entire worlds of spiritual growth opened up to them that they previously did not know existed. I believe that the reason for this is that Calvinism humbles us, it breaks our pride and it reminds us of who is really in charge.

September 24 2007 | Doctrines of Grace | 7 Comments »