Were I to make the statement “Calvinism is heretical” and then claim “Traditionalists and Calvinists need to work toward unity and cooperation in the Southern Baptist Convention,” my Calvinist brethren could rightly question my sincerity concerning unity and cooperation.
There are certainly some non-Calvinists who believe Calvinism ultimately leads to God foreordaining men to evil, which was condemned at the 2nd Council of Orange.1 However, to claim Calvinism is heretical would be a stretch most of us are unwilling to make.2 There is a major difference in addressing: 1) the belief that God foreordains men to evil as heretical; and 2) calling all Calvinists heretical. The former I would gladly affirm; the later I would wisely avoid.
John MacArthur says that the book contains the names of all “those chosen for salvation.” As a Calvinist, this means that God unconditionally elected them to salvation, and they will receive the internal efficacious call, irresistible grace, resulting in regeneration followed by an inevitable free choice to believe. Immediately following these words he says, “Unbelievers, those whose names are not recorded in the book of life, will ‘perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved’ (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Scripture also teaches that the faithless will be judged because they ‘did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:12). While the eternally elect are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 5:24; Acts 13:39; 16:31; Romans 3:22–30; 4:5; 10:9–10; Galatians 3:22-26; Ephesians 2:8–9), the nonelect are lost because they refuse to believe the gospel (John 3:36; Romans 1:18-32; 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9; 1 Peter 2:8; 4:17). Unbelief and rejection always indicate those persons whose names were not written … in the book of life.”[i]
Why the double-talk? As mentioned on several occasions throughout the book, within Calvinism there is a problem of what I call double-talk. By the use of this term, I am not implying immoral or clandestine trickery. Nor am I suggesting conspiratorial deceit. I must admit that upon reflection on my time of being a Calvinist, I did the same thing. I did not do so out of ill motive, intent to deceive, or because of a lack of desire to be faithful to the Scripture—nor do I so impugn my Calvinist brothers and sisters.
As a matter of fact, upon reflection, I did it because I believed in Calvinism and the Scripture. This brought about conflicts that required unconscious or at least unthoughtful responses to the conflicts, which I now see as double-talk. This double-talk obscured the harsh realities of Calvinism and the inconsistencies between Scripture and Calvinism; what I have now come to describe as disquieting realities of Calvinism. Either there was an unconsciousness of the serious gap between Calvinism and the simple reading of Scripture, or I was simply unwilling to face these disparities directly. At times, a lack of thoughtfulness may have been easier than embarking on the quite disconcerting and uncertain journey that I have been on for the past thirteen years. Also, I did not have the knowledge and ability to see them as clearly then as I do now. By double-talk, I am referring to the inconsistencies between the irreducible tenets and logic of Calvinism, and the speech, writings, prayers, etc., of some Calvinists. This is particularly pronounced in areas like missions, prayers, preaching, and written and spoken comments that seem to ameliorate or soften the harsh realities of Calvinism. Actually, it is this double-talk, which I found myself tolerating, that I read and heard Calvinists reciting, all of whom I esteem as godly men and women, that stimulated my disenchantment.
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What does the text not say? Neither (13:8) nor any other references to the book state the deciding factor of how names came to be in the book. Calvinists treat the passage as though it does state the determining factor, which is God’s determination to elect some to salvation, and therefore record their names; however, it does not.
It tells us that names were recorded before the foundation of the world, and none of those names will ever be removed (Revelation 3:5). It does not tell us why some names were placed in the book and others were not. Thus, from the text alone, one can only derive certainty not causality, and security not selective process. To wit, the passage tells us nothing about why a person’s name is in it despite Calvinists’ certainty that it is due to God’s unconditional monergistic elective purposes. One must let the passage say what it says and no more, and then look elsewhere to establish the determiner for names being placed in or excluded from the book.
**The title below dons chapter 16 in Pastor Ronnie Rogers’ book, “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist.” Obviously, the subject matter is election. The author has permitted SBCToday to post the entirety of the chapter. At apx. 4,000 words, the chapter will appear in four installments. Here is the first.**
I affirm that the “Lamb’s book of life” contains all the names of those who have or ever will be saved. I also affirm that the names have been written in the book since eternity past (Revelation 13:8). I further affirm those in the book are there because of exercising grace-enabled faith unto salvation and could have done otherwise, and those not in the book could have been there by exercising grace-enabled faith.
The means of this grace enablement include but are not limited to: conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11), working of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:1-6), good soil (Matthew 13:1-23), and the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16). Further, I affirm that man, because of these gracious provisions and workings of God, can choose to seek God, such as the Bereans, where it says because they studied the Scripture, “therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:12). Moreover, no one can come to God without God drawing (John 6:44), and that God is drawing all men (John 12:32). The same Greek word for draw, helku?, is used in both verses. “About 115 passages condition salvation on believing alone, and about 35 simply on faith.”[i] Other grace enablements may include providential workings in other people, situations, and timing or circumstances that are a part of grace to provide the most optimal moment for an individual to choose to follow Christ.