Monday, December 05, 2016

Personal Thinking About Calvinism

Sometimes someone will ask me about Calvinism.  I would say, none in 29 years in door to door evangelism or any other form of evangelism, except that it is one.  One person.  It was three to six months ago.  I rang a doorbell, a man came to the door, and after I introduced myself to him, he said he was a Calvinist.  That was it.

We have had two Calvinists as members of our church.  Both were disciplined out of our church.  The first wouldn't get employment, and when we required him to look for it, instead of depending on his wife as a breadwinner, he just took off.  The other stopped attending because I didn't promote Calvinism.  I preached through scripture verse by verse, not missing anything, but he dropped out and stopped attending because he could no longer endure my lack of Calvinism.

In the real world, no one talks to me about Calvinism and I don't have to talk to anyone about Calvinism.  If there was no internet, I'm not sure I would be thinking at all about Calvinism.  I would be going my way merrily, not giving it a passing thought, except when I read Calvinistic commentaries, which commentators included it in their writings, and Calvinist theology books or writings.

I have not concluded that I could not fellowship with a Calvinist, even though we have none in our church.  The men I'm closest to are not Calvinists.  I don't have a negative mindset toward Calvinists though.  Many probably think I am a Calvinist.  I'm not.

When I think of someone saying he is a Calvinist, here's how I think about it.  He doesn't believe in salvation by works.  He believes that someone who is saved will live the Christian life and keep living it.  He considers salvation to be of God.  He understands man is ruined by sin.  He doesn't believe man initiates salvation.

I could explain myself as a Calvinist, knowing that I'm not one.  I could say that I believe in total depravity.  I believe everyone is a sinner and no one is a good person.  If unconditional election is that God elects before the foundation of the world, and no conditions have been met by someone before time, then I believe that.  Not everyone experiences atonement, so it is limited in that way.  Whoever God elects, we can count on that person not resisting grace.  When someone is saved, he will persevere in that faith.

However, I don't think depravity is to be so dead that someone cannot respond.  God elects according to foreknowledge, and He foreknows a man's saving faith and elects that man.  Jesus died for all men. Most men resist grace.  Saints do persevere.  That sounds like I'm a one pointer.  If I only believe one point, it doesn't make any sense to be a Calvinist -- there's no point.

I think you can believe in a true gospel and be a Calvinist.  If you are a true Calvinist as it relates to salvation, then you are depending on God for salvation.  I might say grace is resistible, but we both believe it is grace.  A Calvinist may think that regeneration precedes faith, but he thinks it is faith.

Calvinists as a whole, I believe, talk too much about Calvinism.  They see it everywhere and bring it up everywhere.  They see it all over the Bible.  As much as many say it doesn't effect evangelism, I see it has.  If someone thinks election is unconditional, it really doesn't seem to matter if he evangelizes or not. That person will still be saved.  I get that men are still responsible to evangelize, but it douses enough motivation, that I don't run into evangelistic Calvinists.  I know they are out there, Calvinist men who are fervent, regular, and obedient in evangelism.

The nature of Calvinism is that if someone really is a Calvinist, he has got to be divisive.  Without those five points, someone might be saved by works.  They have to confront that and they do.

All false teaching will have a negative or bad consequence, and since I think Calvinism isn't true, besides the error itself , I think other problems will develop and surface.

If people think our church is Calvinist, they do because of lordship salvation, one.  They think so because when someone is saved, we believe that person will overcome.  He will live the Christian life.  We expect it.  Our methods seem Calvinistic, because we don't manipulate or coerce.  We depend on the gospel, period.  We don't use church growth "techniques."  In the way that I'm describing, I could say we act more like Calvinists in many ways more than Calvinists themselves do. I don't know of a Calvinist who depends more on God than what we do.  In that sense, we are more committed to grace than the Calvinists I've seen.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

My former church went from being a strong separated Baptist church running 400 to a non-denominational New Evangelical church within about 5 years because of the influence of New Calvinism on the pastor, staff and deacons. His view of Total Depravity was that everyone is so depraved, not only can we not choose God but we can not please God either. Therefore, our actions are of no concern to God and God sees no good in us, so why try to live in a way that pleases God since He doesn't care. This mindset was hammered into the congregation almost every Sunday. It's now 150 in size.

Tyler Robbins said...

Anonymous:

What you describe isn't Old Calvinism or New Calvinism. It's called heresy! I am sorry you had to go through that.

Colin Maxwell said...

Hi Kent, A pretty reasonable article compared to some criticisms. I don't want to take you up on everything I disagree with.
One point that needs explained is about evangelising. There is no reason why believing in Unconditional election should negate or dull the edge of evangelism. To make it such is to render an excuse and not a reason. (Billy Sunday said that an excuse is just the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.)
Unconditional election actually spurs evangelism. It not only assures us but guarantees us that our labour is not in vain in the Lord. The sower would not have sowed any seed in the parable without the assurance that some will bring forth 30, 60 or 100 fold. A man will fish (to change the metaphor) in a well stocked lake.
God ordained the means as well as the end and the ordained means is evangelism. I need hardly remind you that the names of many adorning the spines of Christian missionary and effective preachers books and whose praise is in the gospel in all the churches (Calvinist or otherwise) held to Unconditional Election. The reality is that If I sit back on my soft part and decline to evangelise because I think that God does not require my services, then God will raise up someone else who has a clearer view of the equally Calvinist doctrine of the total responsibility of man.
I will resist the urge to take you up on other matters. Thankful that you didn't go down the Satanic Calvinism, road so beloved of others.
Regards,

Lance Ketchum said...

Unconditional election (that God has chosen only certain people to be saved) is not found any where in Scripture! Not even once!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Anonymous,

The terminology, "strong separated Baptist church," sounds good to me, but at this point in my life, if I heard that a church was a "strong separated Baptist church," I would question whether it was strong, separated, Baptist, and maybe even whether it was a church.

Our "strong separated Baptist church" had bigger numbers at one time when we used what I call promotion and marketing, and now were stronger and more separated, but we also are smaller. I think churches should be willing to get smaller. Some churches are too big. Many actually. A lot of their members are unconverted. They prayed prayers and they don't characteristically live the Christian life, and they are unfaithful.

I wouldn't know what your situation is, because I don't know what it is, but I think it is possible that what I wrote could be true.

Sometimes what occurs is, churches are "evangelizing," and they are just inviting people to church, where they get a "hot, evangelistic sermon," and people walk the aisle and make a profession -- then "God is really working."

They stop doing that, so now they've shrunk, which means they aren't holding people in the church with the promotion and marketing and the emotionalism. People aren't there for the right reason, which is why they could make a move like this church made in the first place. How could they not have enough of a doctrinal foundation when they were "strong," that they thought they needed to move in a different direction. That says they weren't strong, IMO.

Kent Brandenburg said...

One more thing anonymous,

This is not my advertising Calvinism or New Calvinism. New Calvinist, as I see it, is taking Calvinistic doctrine while practicing like an Arminian of sorts, at leasting using Finneyesque new measures.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Colin,

Thanks for dropping by. I don't think Calvinism has to stop evangelism, which is why I said that I've seen it stop evangelism. I evangelize for the same reason a Calvinist would say he evangelizes, and it keeps me evangelizing all the time. I evangelize to love Jesus, to obey God and the Bible, and because it is the means of salvation. We are supposed to get it to everybody. It's our task. God is glorified by that, and I want Him to be glorified.

If Calvinists have that same motivation, then why do I see so little coming from them in the way of actual evangelism. I'm definitely not talking about church growth technique.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Lance,

I can't justify unconditional election either, unless the idea is, God elected before the foundation of the world, and then there had not been any conditions met. It wasn't until time that someone believed. Someone needs to believe to be saved. All Calvinists would say that too, I believe. I do read some hyper-Calvinists who have some strange testimonies, telling us how they don't remember when or if they ever believed. They know they do believe, but they don't remember a moment when they started, but they don't need that, because they are elect, and that's what matters.

I believe 2 Thess 2:13, which says "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through...belief of the truth." Election is according to foreknowledge, like I wrote above.

Mark Sennes said...

Colin,

If election is unconditional (not based on any response by man to the gospel), why didn't God simply elect every person to salvation? We know that God:

1. Is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).

2. "Will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4).

3. Has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Eze. 33:11).

I agree with Pastor Brandenburg that election is according to foreknowledge (1 Pet. 1:2). God is not arbitrary, choosing only a select few to inherit eternal life and leaving the rest to perish with no opportunity to be saved, but rather He elected to salvation all those whom He foreknew would repent and believe the gospel. The blood of Christ is a sufficient payment "for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn 2:2). Jesus "gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:6). TULIP theology, as defined by Calvinists, is heretical. Man by nature is indeed depraved and spiritually dead, but that does not mean he cannot respond in saving faith to the preaching of the gospel. "Salvation is of the LORD" (Jonah 2:9).

Mark Sennes

Kent Brandenburg said...

Mark,

I'm generally with you, but I wonder what you mean by "heretical"? I'm not attacking that idea or you. How are Calvinists, let's say, that believe in salvation by grace through faith, get out there and evangelize with a true gospel, not even mentioning Calvinism in the evangelism, heretical, as you described?

Bill Hardecker said...

Pastor Brandenburg,
New Calvinism is an actual brand or term for a modern movement, or should I say, post "post-modern" movement (much like New Evangelicalism is a term). The term was made popular by Time magazine in 2009. They are no where close to Finney's doctrines nor his "new measures." Major proponents are Piper, Keller, Mohler, Dever, Mahaney, etc. Essentially they are Reformed but advocate a soft-cessationist position on the gifts of the Spirit (whereas the old school Calvinist are cessationist). They would be doctrinally reformed, and culturally liberal (ex. okay with social drinking). Anyway, for what it's worth.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Bill, I'm going to comment to you, but, first, in a related way,

Everyone,

I wrote this post because I think that there's this idea out there that TULIP is the worst possible idea of all time, and deserves the kind of nuclear option, total scorched earth, reserved for denying the Trinity or bodily resurrection, something akin to that.

Meanwhile, TULIP people believe in Lordship and repentance, while the people scorching them say, "accept Jesus as Savior" and "ask Jesus into your heart" or "pray the prayer," and scoot by like nothing's wrong. This is bad, bad, bad. The people the loudest against Calvinism, I'm saying, very often have worse problems, and it really masks their problem. I didn't write all this in my post, but it is some of what underlies my personal thinking on this.

If I don't scorch Calvinism with a white hot poker, then I am supporting it. That isn't true. It's just that I see what is happening, what is really happening out there. I think it is bad that Calvinists are not evangelizing, because they don't feel the need, due to their unconditional election (not all, but many of them). However, when they do decide to evangelize, they are more likely to say the right thing than very often their critics. This has got to be understood -- got to be.

I wish their critics did evangelism like hyper-Calvinists and would stop damning their subjects with their non-repentance, non-Lordship views, which misrepresent the gospel.

Some would rather have 300 prayers prayed than to have one person actually converted by the work of a Calvinist.

This is nuance, but it shouldn't be that hard.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Bill,

I have a gripe with your comment. "No where close to Finney's doctrines." Hmmmm. The Calvinists see themselves, would say they are, monergistic, and, yet, as a church growth strategy they use worldliness and laxity and lasciviousness (cultural liberalness) to lure and keep people. Calvinism says totally dependent on God and yet they use these even newer measures.

Finney used what it took to persuade, because of his particular view of man, which was unscriptural. He actually believed he needed to use those things. He used more worldly music, the fast paced, emotional stuff of the time, to get and move the crowds. This is the precursor of the CCM and New Calvinist music. Both are strategic.

These Calvinists, new Calvinists, talk like they are monergistic, but they act like its up to them to see it happen. There's a clash. They would say they don't like Finney -- they're Calvinists after all -- and yet they are worse than Finney.

I think I'm right here, so your "no where close," I think is wrong. I'm open though.

Jonathan Speer said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

I appreciate your position, especially after the clarification in your last post. Personally, I am as averse to Calvinism as I am to easy-believism, so it is difficult for me to treat the two differently when the issue arises. Both hold multiple untrue beliefs about God, man, and salvation. The core issue is scripture and what each man does with it. I agree that it is hypocritical for a man who manipulatively preaches easy believism to say much about the Calvinist who is at least getting a better gospel preached. It is a pot and kettle thing in my book.

One question I have for you is regarding your original statement:

"God elects according to foreknowledge, and He foreknows a man's saving faith and elects that man."

Where would you go in scripture to prove that assertion?

Thanks,
Jonathan Speer

Bill Hardecker said...

Gripe noted. Your point is well taken. Worse than Finney, wow. I need to think about that. I would say that Finney's problem was a bad view of justification, whereas the New Calvinists has it wrong on regeneration. I'm just thinking out loud now...yes you can get worse than Finney but not uglier...I'd be closing down shops too if a mug like his showed up in my town.

Colin Maxwell said...

Hi Kent,

I sent the comment below in earlier and it hasn't appeared yet. Is this a gremlin in the works or maybe for some reason you have declined to post it?

Regards,

****

Hi Kent,
Kent: Overall, I appreciated your article when it is allowed that we are sitting on different sides of the fence. I read tweets and blogs of several non Calvinist pastors and they lament that there is a lack of evangelistic zeal among their members. That some Calvinists are just simply lazy may account for something or that they are genuinely Hyper Calvinist and have lost the plot because they effectively deny man’s responsibility. However, I am not sure how many Calvinists you actually know or even care to know. The opening lines of the article hardly declared mega interest. Here in Northern Ireland, the Calvinists are very busy in evangelism. My own Free Presbyterian Church is very active in gospel outreach on both sides of the Irish border while our local Baptist congregation which is Reformed is also busy seeking to fulfil the Great Commission. While we can relate our experience, yet I think we should be careful lest we foist our own local conditions on the whole wide world.

Mark: Not sure if it is necessary keeping with the aim of Kent’s article for us to debate whether or not Scripture teaches Unconditional Election. If you wish to ponder an observation - bearing in mind those verses you quote (which Calvinists obviously believe)- then you must tackle the thorny issue of why God in His sovereignty. Justice wisdom, love and indeed all His glorious attributes left and continues to leave vast numbers of Hell bound sinners in this world without any form of viable gospel witness. If you want to go down the road that your theology makes God to be more loving, then maybe Universalism is for you. Their concept of God even gets rid of the necessity of faith and ultimately admits every last sinner (evangelised or otherwise) into Heaven. I note that Kent queries your heretical charge. I must say that I wonder how far you take it in your practical every day church life. My guess (for what it is worth) is that your Bible translation, your hymnbook and possibly your bookshelves owe much to the labours of these said heretics. Is Calvinism a damnable heresy to you and therefore Calvinists are damned heretics?
Regards,

Farmer Brown said...

When I consider Calvinism I think about the door posts in the land of Goshen. We know that Jesus followed the Passover pattern in his death and Passover pictured salvation. So I think about those posts.

Who made the decision to put the blood on the door posts? Were the posts bloody from the day the houses were built? Did the builder pound the last nail and then stare in shock at the blood on his new door? Did he try to clean it only to discover it was irrefutably bloody? If so, I'm a Calvinist.

However, if each person had to choose to apply that blood, deciding to do so or not, and if those who chose to leave the posts clean suffered with the Egyptians and those who chose the blood were delivered, then I cannot be a Calvinist.

Mark Sennes said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

Perhaps my definition of heresy is wrong, but if heresy simply means any teaching contrary to God's Word, then I do not hesitate to call TULIP theology, as defined by Calvinists, heretical. If a Calvinist were to evangelize scripturally, not even mentioning his unscriptural TULIP beliefs, I would not consider his evangelism to be heretical, even though his TULIP beliefs are heretical.

I'm with you 100% in your criticism of unscriptural evangelism, and I don't doubt that many Calvinists do a better job of evangelism than many non-Calvinists. However, I also do not doubt that many souls have been kept from salvation due to TULIP theology, wondering whether they are one of the elect, whether Christ died for them, whether they need to repent and believe or wait for God to regenerate them first, etc. I know I would reject a God who only offers salvation to a select few, and I don't doubt that many have rejected the true God because of false TULIP teachings regarding His offer of salvation.

Colin,

You say that Calvinists "obviously believe" the verses I quoted, but I would say that you obviously don't believe them as written, because they completely contradict unconditional election and limited atonement, unless you believe that God desires all men to be saved, but just doesn't have the power to do it.

I am thankful for the scriptural contributions of Calvinists, and I certainly don't believe all Calvinists are damned heretics. I appreciate that many Calvinists have a high view of God, a low view of man, and whatever other scriptural beliefs they may have. However, I do believe that TULIP is unscriptural and can be a hindrance to salvation, so in that sense it might be a damnable heresy.

Mark Sennes

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Mark,

I think it is best to point out what is scriptural, and when it is not, say it is scriptural. I don't think Calvinists are heretical for TULIP. My belief about heresy is that is division caused in a church, factiousness in a church. A Calvinist could cause division in a church over his Calvinism, and I'm sure that's been the case in instances. I think one could argue that it is a diversion from biblical Christianity, but I think that is more difficult to defend from looking at the usage in the NT.

I'm not here to support Calvinism. I think it causes people to be less evangelistic. I've never got a good answer from a Calvinist as to why someone should preach that Jesus died for someone, when as a Calvinist he doesn't know. Paul preached when he went to Corinth that Christ died for our sins.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Farmer Brown,

Things like you gave in your observation of Passover are of many that don't fit with Calvinism. Whatever position is right has to fit with everything.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Jonathan,

You asked a question, and here's the entire question:

One question I have for you is regarding your
original statement:

"God elects according to foreknowledge, and He
foreknows a man's saving faith and elects that man."

Where would you go in scripture to prove that
assertion?

There isn't one text I would use, but a combination of a few.

1 Peter 1:2, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father"

We are elect according to foreknowledge, but why do I think God foreknows our belief or faith?

2 Thessalonians 2:13, "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth"

God chooses through belief of the truth.

Together, God chooses or elects according to foreknowledge and He chooses through belief of the truth.

Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Jonathan,

One more thing. To put it another way. Who does God save? He saved those who believe. We see this again and again in the New Testament. Why are they not saved? Because they don't believe. Who does He choose? Those who believe. He doesn't choose unbelievers. I gave you a scriptural answer, but it also fits into this teaching.

I've read people say something like this: if salvation is based on God's foresight into the decisions of each individual, that means a man secures his own salvation. I don't agree. It's not even a scriptural argument. It's a typical Calvinist argument that relies on faulty logic.

Faith is a gift of God, so He can't believe without God, so a man isn't securing his own salvation. He believes because God initiates that faith through general and then special revelation. We are begotten by the Word of Truth.

Lance Ketchum said...

The II Thessalonians 2:13 passage is the ONLY text in the Bible that mentions salvation as part of election. However, if you exegete the text from its context, you will find that the salvation is the end of salvation(resurrection.glorification)the same as Romans 8:29-30. Election is vocational (for God's purposes; i.e, primarily the priesthood of the believer. Never salvational. Judas was elected for his purpose and Pharaoh for his purpose. Israel was elected nationally for God's purpose. The Church is a priesthood elected vocationally (Eph.4:1).

Mark Sennes said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

Thanks for the clarification regarding heresy. I haven't studied it out, and have always assumed it meant any teaching contrary to clear scriptural doctrine. I quickly read some things that David Cloud and Robert Sargent have written regarding heresy, and I can see that their ideas are probably similar to yours, in that a heretic is one who willfully sides with error against truth, and causes schisms or sects within a body.

Thirteen years ago I was part of a church where the pastor suddenly announced on a Sunday that he had become a Calvinist (it seemed sudden to us, but I'm sure he had been secretly heading in that direction for a while). I was in the church's small Bible Institute that met on Monday and Tuesday evenings, and that Monday we spent the entire class time discussing and debating the doctrinal change, and I was the only one opposing it. So on Tuesday I went again and told the pastor that I would need to separate from him and the church, which I did. Eventually most of the people left (some because of the Calvinism, some for other reasons), and after a few years the pastor himself left his wife and is apparently with another woman now and has nothing to do with God or church. A very sad story indeed.

I have listened to half or more of the 2016 Word of Truth Conference, and would like to buy the book on the gospel when it comes out. I was especially interested in hearing the session on "Passages that Teach Salvation but are Often Taught as Sanctification." One passage that I have heard preached as sanctification instead of salvation is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. The context of that entire chapter and much of the previous chapter is obviously the saved vs. unsaved, and the fact that the "unprofitable servant" ends up in outer darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, seems to me to indicate that the one who buried his talents is not truly saved. And yet I have heard this preached as if all three were saved, and the unprofitable servant just didn't bear any fruit. Seems like the wrong interpretation to me. I have also heard preachers say that there is a difference between a disciple and a believer, as if one can be a believer and not a disciple. Such teachings have undoubtedly given false security to many who are not truly saved.

Thank you for this blog and for the WOT conference. I appreciate your emphasis on careful Bible interpretation and on doing things scripturally.

Mark Sennes

Kent Brandenburg said...

Mark,

I'm sorry about your experience with Calvinism. I think what you are describing can occur and has in many other instances too happened like it did with you. A lot of books are written by Calvinists, they are read, and the next think you know, someone is non stop talking about Calvinism, and many other teachings false by the wayside. I do think that would really hurt a church. I also think individual people in a church can be hurt by it, where someone suddenly thinks he needs to start looking for a Calvinistic church.

It really is especially prey on those who don't want to evangelize. They want to argue about TULIP all month, all year, every day. In that way, it deadens.

There are Calvinists, however, right now, reading this, who wills swear they are very, very evangelistic, constantly evangelizing in a very faithful way. They will also give examples of faithful Calvinistic evangelists through the years. I'm sure you know that already.

I agree with you on Mt. 25. There are a lot of passages like this, and I will talk about a lot of them in the book.

Thanks for writing. I appreciate your stand.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Lance,

I'll consider your vocational election position. I do think God predestines to conform to the image of the Son, so that is vocational or practical. I haven't considered election to be about sanctification, but salvation. There are 23 instances of eklektos, and I don't think I could explain all of those at vocational. I will consider what you've written though.

KJB1611 said...

Lance,

How can God elect to sanctification or glorification while justification is excluded? The Thessalonians were elected to be holy, but not to be justified?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Could I ask for some clarification on one issue? -

You wrote - Faith is a gift of God, so He can't believe without God, so a man isn't securing his own salvation. He believes because God initiates that faith through general and then special revelation. We are begotten by the Word of Truth. -

Does God give faith to everyone? The question for me has always been why does one believe and the other doesn't? Free will?

If God is the sole source of our salvation, which I believe that He is, then the difference is that some get faith and others do not.

Is the idea that God initiates faith, but then man has to bring it to fruition? Like God takes you to the water, but He doesn't make you drink.

Paul

Lance Ketchum said...

Robert Shank, Elect in the Son, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minn.,

Lance Ketchum said...

J. B. Lightfoot addresses this in his Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul11 regarding Ephesians 1:4 (Page 312) as quoted in Robert Shank‘s book; Elect in the Son12:

"en Christo] i.e. ‗by virtue of our incorporation in, our union with, Christ.‘ As God seated us in heaven ‗in Christ‘ (ii. 6), so also His blessings upon us there in Him.

en auto] i.e. en Christo. In God‘s eternal purpose the believers are contemplated as existing in Christ, as the Head, the Summary, of the race. The ekloge [the election] has no separate existence independently of the eklektos (Luke ix.35, xxiii.35) [the chosen One, Christ]. The election of Christ involves implicitly the election of the Church."

KJB1611 said...

I just wanted to point out that Calvinism does not mean someone believes (correctly) in Lordship. Lewis Sperry Chafer and many antinomians have been Calvinist anti-Lordship people.

Thanks.