According to 5-Point Calvinism, Jesus didn’t die for everyone, but only for a certain group of predetermined elect that God secretly selects to become Christians. So when trying to explain such a doctrine to other Christians, Calvinists sometimes become a little bit sneaky:
David Allen writes: “Furthermore, when high-Calvinists say, ‘Christ died for sinners,’ the term ‘sinners’ becomes a code word for ‘the elect only.’ To be consistent with their own theology, they have to say the deliberately vague statement ‘Christ died for sinners.’” (Whosoever Will, p.97, emphasis mine)
Consider the following:
Calvinist, Jeff Noblit, states: “Our missionaries marched back into the mountains of Peru, and they preached the gospel. They preached the wickedness and offensiveness of man before a holy God, the lostness of man, and the wrath of God. Then they preached the love of God in Jesus Christ and that Christ came and died for sin, shedding His precious blood.” (A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism, p.98, emphasis mine)
Seems ok, but notice that he didn’t say, “Jesus died for you”? Here’s the scoop:
Calvinist, Jay Adams, writes: “But counselors, as Christians, are obligated to present the claims of Christ. They must present the good news that Christ Jesus died on the cross in the place of His own, that He bore the guilt and suffered the penalty for their sins. He died that all whom the Father had given to Him might come unto Him and have life everlasting. As a reformed Christian, the writer believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ Himself who are His elect for whom He died.” (Competent to Counsel, p.70, emphasis mine)
So that’s why Calvinists try to be so impersonal about saying that “Christ came and died for sin,” not necessarily your sin, unless perhaps you happen to be secretly elect. (Compare with John 1:29.)
One sign of suspicious Calvininist behavior is a proposed change to a Statement of Faith, in order to go after Open Theism, which is actually a stealthful attempt to promote Calvinism.
Arminian, Roger Olson, explains: “Some Calvinists are attempting to impose Calvinism on Christian organizations that have traditionally been neutral with regard to Calvinism and Arminianism and have included both. They are often doing this under the guise of warding off open theism. Arminians need to band together, in spite of our differences over things like open theism (whether it’s a legitimate evangelical option or not) and push back when this happens.” (Beware of Stealth Calvinism!) Note its suggestions: “Don’t tackle the whole church at one time. Choose a few men who are sincere, teachable and spiritually minded and spend time with them in study and prayer. They will help you to reform.” Later on in the article, the author advises: “Avoid terms such as Calvinism, reformed, doctrines of grace, particular redemption, etc. Most people will not know what you are talking about. Many that do will become inflamed against you. Teach your people the biblical truth of these doctrines without providing distracting labels for them.” (emphasis mine) But why avoid those terms? If they accurately describe your theological beliefs, why conceal it? Sometimes what will happen is that a Church will be looking for a new pastor, and the candidate will conceal the fact that they are aggressive Calvinists, arriving with a secret Calvinist agenda. The result is an eventual Church-split and a lot of heartaches, but the Calvinist will deem any pushback as persecution for doing the work of God. In the following article, one Calvinist believes that these two quotes should not be coupled together, and are not as sinister as they appear. Yet, the quotes reflect a deliberate, covert strategy of teaching the “biblical truth” of Calvinism in a non-Calvinist church, without full disclosure, and moreover, this is the exact model executed in many Church splits over Calvinism. In a frog-in-the-pot analogy, where the frog is slowly boiled to death by gradually turning up the heat, a Calvinist pastor in a non-Calvinist church will speak in ambiguous terms, while in effect, stealthfully teaching Calvinism from the pulpit. Meanwhile, the congregation has no idea what the Calvinist pastor’s true motives are. Corresponding to the Calvinist pastor’s covert efforts from the pulpit, a Sunday School teacher may either start a new lesson plan on “Theology” (which is actually just Calvinist theology), or just subtly teach Calvinism from a “new study” on the Book of Romans (not that Romans necessarily teaches Calvinism, but that Calvinists will teach on it from the Calvinist perspective). Meanwhile, a group of Calvinists within the church may perform their end of the “Reform” in a more aggressive manner through personal recruiting, or perhaps through “Small Groups” that meet off campus.
Calvinist, Richard Mouw, writes: “Like Edwards, I find it helpful to call myself a Calvinist ‘for distinction’s sake.’ It says something important about what I believe, something not quite captured by any other label. And so, even given the bad connotations the label has, I willingly claim it for my own.” (Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, p.19 emphasis mine)
Now that’s truth in advertising! So not all Calvinists are sneaky. In fact, I call myself an “Arminian,” not because I follow Arminius, nor because Arminius is the originator of the opposition to determinism (which actually was opposed for the first 300 years of early Church history), but simply because the label provides clarity for my overall theological perspective.
4-Point Calvinist, Ron Rhodes, writes: “In view of such passages, it is legitimate to ask: ‘If Christ died only for the elect, how can the offer of salvation be made to all persons without some sort of insincerity, artificiality, or dishonesty being involved? Is it not improper to offer salvation to everyone if in fact Christ did not die to save everyone?’ ‘How can God authorize His servants to offer pardon to the non-elect if Christ did not purchase it for them? This is a problem that does not plague those who hold to General [Unlimited] Redemption, for it is most reasonable to proclaim the Gospel to all if Christ died for all.’” (The Case for an Unlimited Atonement, emphasis mine)
Not only can the 5-Point Calvinist not indiscriminately tell someone that Jesus died for them, he cannot even offer them salvation. He cannot even tell them to “repent!” since obedience to such an order would carry an implied benefit, when yet they would otherwise have no Savior and no atonement. Thus, the 5-Point Calvinist can at most say, “If you happen to repent, then you must have been one of the elect, and thus Jesus must have died for you.” But even this goes too far, since some Calvinists fall away from Christianity altogether, and so the Calvinist perspective must be modified further.
One member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “C’s can’t say, ‘Jesus died for you’ but only, ‘Jesus died for sinners.’ But even this is deliberate obfuscation, and any Calvinist with a conscience saying so would have it whispered in his mind’s ear, ‘You’re lying now.’ The Calvinist must say, ‘Jesus died for some sinners.’” (SEA, emphasis mine) Another member adds: “But that is yet another problem they cannot be honest, but must intentionally mislead by using blanket statements and carefully constructed words so as to not state something that goes against their system.” (SEA, emphasis mine)
Isaiah 45:22: “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.”
Dave Hunt explains: “God is not in any way obligated to provide salvation for anyone. Yet the Bible repeatedly makes it clear that God’s gracious purpose is for all mankind to be saved: ‘Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.... Christ Jesus...gave himself a ransom for all....’ (1 Timothy 2:4-6).” (What Love is This?, p.258)
Hunt adds: “If salvation is not genuinely available to all, why did Christ command His disciples to go into all the world and ‘preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15)? Is that not giving a false impression, both to His disciples and to all who would read their account of Christ’s teachings in the four Gospels?” (What Love is This?, p.260, emphasis mine)
That’s a great point, because a Calvinist will say that they preach the Gospel to all men, because they do not know who “the elect” are, but the point that they’re missing is the fact that Christ commands that all men be presented with the Gospel. That’s significant, because how can you tell someone to “repent,” unless they have a Savior to whom such repentance may be received? In fact, 1st Timothy 4:10 makes it clear that everyone does indeed have a Savior: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” This means that Jesus has, in fact, died for everyone so that everyone has a Savior. Whether they will receive the Savior or not, is another matter. But the fact remains that there has to be an atonement that is unlimited in scope, in order to receive the repentance that is being demanded. Therefore, a Calvinist like Jay Adams would need to further revise his approach, so as not to indiscriminately say “repent,” but to simply state: If you repent, you may be one of the elect. The whole approach is a sham.
Dave Hunt explains: “Peter told the Jews gathered at Pentecost, ‘for the promise is unto you and to your children...’ (Acts 2:39). Calvinism turns this promise into a lie, and the preaching of the gospel becomes a cruel hoax to multitudes!” (What Love is This?, p.260)