A Biblical Critique of Calvinism
Part 1b: The Inclusivity of the Gospel Invitation
by Dr. Michael A. Cox, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Pryor, OK
and author of Not One Little Child: A Biblical Critique of Calvinism
This is the second of a series of articles by Dr. Cox, with a Biblical critique of Calvinism drawn in part from his book Not One Little Child. Read part 1a here.
I admit that the book of Romans is very challenging to understand. I have preached and translated through it word-by-word twice now and am somewhat tempted to write a commentary on it. But, for now, let me review several key passages which harmonize well with all the previous verses I have examined and dispel any notion that Paul taught the redemptive exclusion of any, except for those who exclude themselves through refusing to believe. He stated that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1:16). This means that the gospel uniquely demonstrates God’s power. The gospel of Jesus Christ is something of which to be proud, not ashamed. True Christians are those who are neither ashamed of the gospel nor a shame to it. Are you ashamed of the gospel? Are you ashamed for others to know your hero and Savior is a Jewish carpenter who was executed as a criminal? Are you ashamed to follow Him in baptism? Are you ashamed to say you believe the Bible? Are you ashamed that doing so might damage your popularity? Paul shouted that nothing could turn him against the gospel!
Conversely, I am ashamed of unchristian beliefs dressed up as Christian beliefs: infant baptism as washing away the taint of original sin; transubstantiation; the Mormon doctrine of becoming a god and populating one’s own planet; and many of the claims of Calvinism. The gospel is the good news, and good news necessarily implies that “bad news” exists. The gospel is good news to receive, not a code to keep. It is God’s dynamic power and divine energy. Christians see God’s power at work in lives and understand that one test of anything is to examine the results which are produced. The transforming power of the gospel is more than a theory; the gospel gets results. Christians are not powerless to change the evil in the world because the gospel is God’s power to change lives, granting salvation to all who believe. The goal of the gospel is salvation. Salvation means deliverance from sin and its penalty and includes rescue from the wrath of God. In fact, the term “salvation” presupposes peril or danger from which humans need to be rescued.
The gospel is not the power of God for salvation to every person; Universalism is disallowed; it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. All who believe may experience salvation, for Scripture teaches that whosoever will may come to Christ in repentance and faith: it is for everyone. Salvation is conditional upon belief, and saving belief means trust, personal commitment, handing over of one’s self, and the wholehearted involvement in the truth being believed. Faith is believing obedience (James 1:22; 2:17). Personal responsibility to the gospel through faith is emphasized in Rom. 1:16. Moreover, the equality of sinners and the equality of faith are stressed. By this I mean that if you are a sinner you can believe in Jesus Christ and be saved. The gospel is God’s power to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles. Salvation is from a Jew (John 4:22) and began in Jerusalem among Jews (Acts 1:8). But it is also for Gentiles. Although the Jews were first in New Testament redemptive chronology, they will also be first in penalty (Rom. 2:9). The Bible is explaining that God’s plan includes all of mankind, clearly announcing that it is the same salvation experienced by all. There is only one God; therefore, there is only one gospel and it is for all people.
In Rom. 3:22 Paul wrote that the righteousness of God is available through Jesus Christ as the object of faith to all who believe. Oddly enough, [sometimes] Calvinistic commentator Matthew Henry remarks that the righteousness of God, which is appropriated through faith in Christ, “is eis pantas – unto all, offered to all in general; the gospel excludes none that do not exclude themselves.” It would be difficult to find a more obvious reference to a general atonement in the works of an Arminian theologian! Is this “early” Henry or “late” Henry? Regardless of the age of Matthew Henry when he wrote it, this plainly appears to be a glaring inconsistency on behalf of a writer many believe to have been strongly Calvinistic. I have read quite literally thousands upon thousands of pages written by Matthew Henry and my assessment of this statement is that he did not know what else to do with the verse. Although he is terribly given to an allegorical method of interpretation (hermeneutic), there was no way to take this verse except as it is officially stated in the Greek.
Romans 3:22 teaches that righteousness is imputed through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness is not imputed through works, baptism, or penance but through faith, and it is for all who believe. None who believe are excluded. So mankind is not saved for his faith but through it. Faith does not do the saving but it can and will appropriate the grace of Him who does the saving. Also, Paul argues that there is no distinction between people, thus indicating the universal condemnation of Jew and Gentile alike. Acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty is the norm in man’s courtrooms; but acquitting the guilty who believe in Christ and repent of sin is the norm in God’s courtroom. Romans 3:22 teaches that the righteousness of God is imputed through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe: this verse articulates the universality of the cure. Then, Rom. 3:23 follows by expressing the universality of the disease when it unconditionally proclaims that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. A universal shortfall demands a universal windfall and God has provided it in the person of Jesus Christ.
In Rom. 9:33 Paul wrote that all who believe in Christ will not be disappointed. When he said “it is written,” he was probably alluding to Ps. 118:22, Isa. 8:14, or both. He was alleging that the Jews’ own Bible predicts the offensiveness of Christ. The Bible says that “God laid in Zion.” This means that the plan of salvation was God’s doing and the work of Christ was God’s doing. What did God lay in Zion? A stone of stumbling. This declares that Christ was put here on earth, in a manger, in Nazareth, in Jerusalem, and on the cross by God. However, this does not mean that God caused stumbling. The Jews were advancing along on what they thought was a clear religious path and then they tripped over what they deemed “debris” in the road. They stumbled over the necessity of faith in Christ as God’s son and as the only way of attaining righteousness. This suggests that failure to utilize Christ Jesus as the foundation stone in life results in people taking offense at Him and stumbling over Him. The Jews were and are deeply offended by Christ. By His actions in reaching out to sinners, healing on the Sabbath, cleansing the Temple, and rebuking the Pharisees and scribes as hypocrites. They are also offended by his claims to be God’s son and to be able to forgive sin. Further, they are offended by His demands of discipleship, of moral purity, of justice for all, and by His requirement of child-like faith. Still further, they are offended by His lowly birth and His scandalous death. Yet, in spite of all these actual and potential offenses, the Bible forthrightly proclaims that he who believes in Him will not be disappointed. This is speaking of a person and the person is Christ (Isa. 28:16; 1 Pet. 2:6-8). Those who choose not to trust Christ by faith will be crushed under the weight of their own sin and unrighteousness. The rock sent to justify and deliver becomes the rock which judges and dooms. Thus, God is not to be blamed for any who are lost. Only those seeking to establish their own righteousness by the law of works stumble over Christ. Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ will not be disappointed.
In Rom. 10:13 Paul wrote that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, something that Joel 2:32 had already announced. “Whoever” means that anyone can call upon the name of Jesus and be saved: liars, thieves, adulterers, prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, murderers, atheists, Gentiles, Jews, black people, white people, tall people, short people, young people, old people, male people, female people, even church members! But they themselves (middle voice) must call. Scripture teaches both that Christ calls upon man and that man must call upon Christ and calling upon means invoke or appeal to, and the appeal is to one name: Jesus (Acts 4:12). Those who call upon Him are saved, having been declared righteous and eternally secure.
And then in Rom. 11:32 comes a truly biblical theme which appears consistently in nearly every major contribution to Holy Writ: God wants to show mercy to all. This means that all unbelievers are looked upon in the same way. The Bible here definitively expresses the universal sinfulness of mankind. Both Jew and Gentile alike are confined within the scope of one kind of guilt, and it is that of unbelief. Kenneth Wuest interprets this to mean that by being shut up under disobedience, all are made to feel the need for grace. This verse, then, teaches that every person must be damned before he or she can be saved. Here stands a double-barreled declaration: God classifies all accountable people as unbelievers and God wants to show mercy to all. God makes no ethnic distinctions. God makes no gender distinctions. God makes only a spiritual distinction: belief or unbelief. In that God desires to show mercy to all, we see the universality of sin: all people (Rom. 3:23; Gal. 3:22); and we see the universality of mercy: all people. Berkeley Mickelsen asserts that God shuts up all for the purpose of setting all free. Just as this text declares the universality of mercy and the universality of sin, it also asserts the universality of God’s invitation; but in no way does this verse teach the universality of salvation. Further, it is biblically inconsistent to suppose that Paul would argue for the universality of sin and then argue for the limited scope of its cure.
The next article in this series will continue tracing the inclusive invitation of the gospel from the book of 2 Corinthians through the book of Revelation.