What exactly is the Gospel?
Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, states: “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” (A Defense of Calvinism, emphasis mine) One Calvinist states: “A wonderful friend of our family once commented that coming to understand the Doctrines of Grace was akin to a type of salvation within salvation.” (oldtruth.com, emphasis mine) Calvinist, Jeff Noblit, states: “Any preacher...who dumbs down the depravity of man...is not preaching the true Gospel. That’s not the Gospel. It’s not clever; it’s wicked. It’s dooming men’s souls and leading millions to false assurance.” (Calvinism: A Cause for Rejoicing and Concern)
So Arminians are dooming the alleged, non-elect? That’s very ironic.
What is the message of Evangelism?
Billy Graham writes: “In all of life there is nothing more wonderful than discovering peace with God. Step one to this discovery is realizing God’s plan--peace and life. God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life--abundant and eternal.” (The Enduring Classics of Billy Graham: The Secret of Happiness, Happiness Through Peacemaking, p.125, emphasis mine)
Calvinists don’t necessarily agree with this at all.
Calvinist, James White, writes: “Surely it is part of modern evangelical tradition to say, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,’ but providing a meaningful biblical basis for this assertion is significantly more difficult.” (Debating Calvinism, p.265, emphasis mine)
White adds: “Everyone knows John 3:16, and that’s the problem. So many are familiar with the verse that very few stop to consider the traditions that have been packed very carefully into its constant and often acontextual citation.” (Debating Calvinism, p.376, emphasis mine)
Any theology which has John 3:16 as a “problem verse” that requires explanation, should raise alarm.No one disputes that there are sincere, soul-winning Calvinists, who are committed to seeing the lost saved. However, the question being raised is whether Calvinism, as a philosophy (which teaches that salvation is eternally predetermined), leads to mockery of the Gospel and Evangelism.
What is the message of Calvinism?
John Calvin writes: “...God has chosen to salvation those whom He pleased, and has rejected the others, without our knowing why, except that its reason is hidden in His eternal counsel.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.53, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “...why God delivers one man and not another are matters constituting His inscrutable judgments and His uninvestigatible ways. Again, if it be examined and enquired how anyone is worthy, there are some who will say: By their human will. But we say: By grace or divine predestination.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.64, emphasis mine)
And so what is the logical outcome of this kind of thinking?
John Calvin writes: “The minister’s teaching and speaking does no good unless God adds his inward calling to it. ... Preaching alone is just a dead letter, and we must beware lest a false imagination, or the semblance of secret illumination, leads us away from the Word on which faith depends.” (Acts: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.278, emphasis mine)
Now we have a problem. The preaching of the Gospel without Irresistible Grace is “dead.” That is the seed from which the problem arises.
Calvin writes: “Preaching only finds faith in people when God inwardly calls those he has chosen and draws to Christ those who were already his own (John 6:37).” (Acts: Calvin, Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.229, emphasis mine)
The apostle Paul was a dedicated evangelist who was deeply concerned about potential hindrances to the Gospel. For instance, he was very concerned with the manner of his preaching, in terms of human cleverness, so as not to make the Gospel message “void.” (1st Corinthians 1:17) He had Timothy get circumcised just in case it might present a stumbling block to the Jews. (Acts 16:3) Paul states: “We endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” (1st Corinthians 9:12) Paul states: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.” (1st Corinthians 9:19) Paul loved his lost Jewish brothers so much that he was willing to go to Hell, if that would satisfy God’s justice and save them. (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1) However, if Paul was a Calvinist, as many Calvinist’s claim, then Paul certainly didn’t understand the elementary principles of Calvinism, insomuch that God saves men monergistically, completely independent of man’s evangelistic efforts, through Regenerative Grace, whereby God allegedly makes certain people preemptively Born Again by removing their old heart of stone, and implanting a new, regenerated heart of flesh, such that these will therefore irresistibly believe, no matter what Paul does, and no matter whether Timothy gets circumcised or not. For some Calvinists to try to offer an explanation that God has “predestined the means” of the salvation of certain elect people, through Paul and Timothy’s special efforts, completely misunderstands what Preemptive Regeneration is all about. The inevitable result is that neither Paul nor Timothy behaved consistently with Calvinism, and hence is another reason why to conclude that neither were Calvinists.
John Calvin comments on Romans 9:1-3: “It is no objection that he knew that his salvation was founded on the election of God, which cannot by any means fail. The more passionate emotions plunge impetuously on, without heed or regard for anything but the object on which they are fixed. Paul, therefore, did not add the election of God to his prayer, but put it out of mind, and gave all his attention on the salvation of the Jews.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.192, emphasis mine)
Again, the problem grows. This shows that even Calvin himself, recognized that Paul’s actions were inconsistent with Calvinism, and so what does that tell you?
John Calvin writes: “In a word, Paul indicates that all clamorous sounding of the human voice will lack effect, unless the virtue of God works internally in the heart.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.104, emphasis mine)
In other words, according to Calvin, the preaching of the Gospel is clanging symbols if the hearer is not preemptively made Born Again in order to believe, which is despite the fact that Hebrews 4:12 teaches that God’s Word is “living and active,” and dispenses “faith” in its hearers. (Romans 10:17)
Calvin writes: “Now let Pighius asseverate that God wills all to be saved, when not even the external preaching of the doctrine, which is much inferior to the illumination of the Spirit, is made common to all.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.109, emphasis mine)
Calvin indicates that the power of the Gospel is “much inferior” to the power of preemptive Regeneration. He goes on to say that if God truly did want all to be saved, then why have some perished without ever having heard the Gospel:
John Calvin writes: “If he should reply that God, so far as He is concerned, wills all to be saved, in that salvation is offered to the freewill of each individual, then I ask why God did not will the Gospel to be preached to all indiscriminately from the beginning of the world. Why did He allow so many peoples for so many centuries to wander in the darkness of death?” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.149, emphasis mine)
That’s your fault, says God. Their blood is on your hands if they perish and you fail to warn them. God says at Ezekiel 33:8-9: “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.” That’s why when it comes to missionary work, you can either 1) be a missionary, 2) support a missionary, or 3) repent.
Calvin adds: “For if He willed that His truth be known to all, why did He not proclaim His law also to the Gentiles? Why did He confine the light of life within the narrow limits of Judaea? ... When He had lit the light of life for the Jews alone, God allowed the Gentiles to wander for many ages in darkness (Acts 14:16).” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.108, emphasis mine)
Yet, in the next verse, Acts 14:17 goes on to say that God “did not leave Himself without witness.” Furthermore, part of the purpose of the election of the Jews was to be a light to the world as a Witness Nation (Genesis 12:3), which is especially evident in the fact that God had a Jew named Jonah, sent to preach to the Gentile nation of Assyria, whose capitol city was Nineveh. Therefore, Calvin’s review of history is flawed. Furthermore, like Jonah, this appointed Witness Nation was a reluctant servant, which in many cases, instead of witnessing to the Gentiles, adopted the very idolatrous practices of the world in which it was appointed to reach. Ezra laments: “Our whole history has been one of great sin. That is why we and our kings and our priests have been at the mercy of the pagan kings of the land. We have been killed, captured, robbed, and disgraced, just as we are today.” (Ezra 9:7, NLT)
Calvinism also teaches that God receives glory when people go to Hell:
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “Though we can see that believers will display the manifold wisdom of God, it is not clear to us how unbelievers will do so. We are told only that the wrath of man will praise God, and in Proverbs we read, ‘The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil’ (16:4).” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.222, emphasis mine)
Does God get more glory by people going to Heaven or Hell? As more people become saved, God receives more glory. Yet, there are some Calvinists who teach that, for some people, in contrast to old number one, God gets more glory by seeing them sent to Hell. Yet, Paul taught: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” (2nd Corinthians 4:15) Thus it is definitive: God gets more glory by people getting saved, rather than going to Hell, and if you wish to magnify the glory of God, then fulfill the duty of Ezekiel 33:8-9.
In many instances, Hyper Calvinists have filled the void of Evangelism with Legalism. How many times has a soul-winner converted to Calvinism, only to exchange his passion for seeing the lost saved, to a passion for Election and The Wrath of God? All too many Calvinists seem more preoccupied by the latest on ‘Who is a Heretic,’ than ‘Who was recently saved.’ Of course, most Calvinists scoff at such a statement, and rightfully point to the fact that there are indeed, evangelistic Calvinists. However, it also cannot be denied that many Calvinists simply do mock evangelism. For instance, how many times have you heard a Calvinist mock an Arminian by saying: “Hey, if you think just ‘anyone’ can be saved, then why aren’t you out knocking on doors right now?” And without missing a beat, the next question is: “If God truly ‘loves everyone,’ why isn’t the Gospel preached to everyone? Why is it that for centuries, many were not even brought the Gospel?” Even John Calvin asked that very question, because he did not familiarize himself sufficiently with principles of Ezekiel 33:8-9.
One Calvinist recalls: “While at Cal Baptist, a synergists Pastor from Bakersfield was invited to come speak to our class of future Pastors and teachers about evangelism. He told us how ‘winning souls’ was the most important thing anyone in ministery could do since without us, they would be lost forever! He talking about how people were going to hell because we were lazy about sharing the gospel. He got so animated he started kicking chairs. After he was done he said, ‘okay, lets go to lunch.’ I remember thinking ‘man, if he truly believes its up to us to save people, he would skip lunch and go doorknocking.’ Point is, I don’t know that Arminians believe have of what they say.” (www.calvinistgadfly.com, emphasis mine)
That’s actually a common view of Calvinists. Some Calvinists oppose what is referred to as the Invitation or Altar Call where, typically, at the conclusion of the service, people are invited to come to the front of the church in order to meet with a prayer counselor, and to make a public profession of faith in Christ. However, notice how the Altar Call is mocked by James White:
Calvinist, James White, writes: “Jesus does not seek to ‘woo’ them to a ‘freewill decision,’ nor does He strike up a lengthy invitation hymn and try to overcome their stubborn rejection of truth through an emotional appeal.” (Debating Calvinism, pp.121-122, emphasis mine)
If you didn’t know that James White was a Christian, you might think this was Satan talking. Whether or not an invitation hymn is too lengthy for White’s taste, the fact is that an emotional appeal is very much appropriate, which even Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, agreed: “I further believe, although certain persons deny it, that the ‘influence of fear’ is to be exercised over the minds of men, and that it ought to operate upon the mind of the preacher himself.” (How to Win Souls for Christ, emphasis mine)
Spurgeon adds: “Some of my Brethren are greatly scandalized by the general invitations which I am in the habit of giving to sinners, as sinners. Some of them go the length of asserting that there are no universal invitations in the Word of God.” (The Silver Trumpet, 3/24/1861, emphasis mine)
Spurgeon concludes: “I know the Lord has blessed my appeals to all sorts of sinners and none shall stop me in giving free invitations as long as I find them in this Book. And I do cry with Peter this morning to this vast assembly, ‘Repent and he baptized, every one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus. For the promise is unto you and to your children, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call.’” (The Silver Trumpet, 3/24/1861, emphasis mine)
Thus, regarding the scandal, as Jerry Vines points out, Charles Spurgeon was a soul-winner, not on account of Calvinism, but in spite of Calvinism:
Jerry Vines states: “If a Calvinist is a soul winner, it is in spite of Calvinism, not because of it.” (Calvinism – A Baptist and his election, emphasis mine)
If, as Calvinism teaches, that God has already decided who will be saved, and these will be saved no matter what, then how can that not have an impact of a person’s view of evangelism, regardless of how forcefully Charles Spurgeon argued in support of it? Furthermore, and this is a huge concern, since Satan hates evangelism more than anything else, wouldn’t you expect him to develop a religion that inculcates apathy, or even animosity, towards evangelism? Is Calvinism that religion?
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “Calvinism has had a history of blunting evangelism, and that is because its theology naturally works against the idea. That does not mean there has not been a lot of Calvinist evangelists and evangelism.” (SEA)
Right, but as Jerry Vines pointed out, they are evangelists simply “in spite of” Calvinism, just as Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, had given Gospel Invitations “in spite of” Calvinism.
Calvinist, Phil Johnson, states: “History teaches us that hyper-Calvinism is as much a threat to true Calvinism as Arminianism is. Virtually every revival of true Calvinism since the Puritan era has been hijacked, crippled, or ultimately killed by hyper-Calvinist influences.” (A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism)
Might this be because hyper-Calvinism is the logical conclusion to the distinctive doctrines of Calvinism? Perhaps regular Calvinism simply refuses to go where its own doctrine logically leads, because where it leads, so blatantly contradicts Scripture.
Calvinists often insist that salvation is not about a decision, but a changed life, and certainly Christianity is about a changed life, but you cannot use one truth to overthrow another truth. The fact is that a decision is involved in salvation, and as much as Calvinists disparage such a thing as being “Decisional Regeneration,” the reality is that salvation is connected to calling upon the name of the Lord:
Romans 10:8-13: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Therefore, salvation is more than just loathing your sin and sitting around pretending to be one of the “Calvinistically elect.” Only God saves, but the way that God saves is through prayer. A connection is made between the sinner and the Savior. When that connection is made, salvation is transmitted from the hand of God, to the soul of the sinner, and he is washed clean of all of his sins in the blood of Christ. But Calvinists say that’s just hocus pocus:
Calvinist, Jeff Noblit, states: “The work of praying a ‘sinner’s prayer’ is not salvation. It can become a silly superstition and nothing more than a sacrament in Baptist clothes.” (A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism, p.98, emphasis mine)
Calling something a “silly superstition” is certainly mocking something, and the something happens to be a Gospel invitation. Calvinists are filled with resentment against the non-Calvinist presentation of the Gospel, which Calvinists deem as a “man-centered Gospel,” even decrying it as a “wicked” Gospel. When you get to this point, you realize that the Arminian charge against Calvinism leans more towards Reality, than towards Myth. Clearly, there is something significant involved here.
Calvinist, J.I. Packer, explains: “…the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message.…we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence ‘at the door of our hearts’ for us to let them in.” (Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ, emphasis mine)
This is more mockery. This is the fruit of Calvinism, and how it affects the Gospel and evangelism.