Defined by a former Calvinist: “A Better Gospel”
by Ronnie Rogers, pastor
Trinity Baptist Church
The good news according to Calvinism is to be proclaimed to everyone everywhere, but it is not good news for everyone who hears. I believe the gospel according to Jesus presents a better gospel.
To many it appears that Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, Traditionalists, etc., all believe the same thing about the gospel while merely differing on tertiaries. Consequently, they quite understandably retort, “Why all of this wasteful bickering; let us just preach the gospel.” I wholeheartedly agree that we can all communicate the gospel message so that anyone and everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved; therefore, we should do so and applaud all endeavors at such. I also emphatically believe that non-Calvinists and Calvinists can be evangelistic.
However, I do think it is incumbent upon Christians to make clear that, even though these things are true, the differences between Calvinists’ and non-Calvinists’ perspectives regarding salvation do in fact influence the evangelistic and missionary endeavor. This influence is even determinative of what one can and cannot say to a lost and hell-bound world or a lost and hell-bound individual with whom we communicate the gospel.
These differences are not tertiary as some claim, for they do in fact change the raison d’etre (reason for being or existence) of the gospel, the purpose for sharing the gospel, the language used in communicating the gospel, and the nature of our passion derived from the gospel. Thus, these dissimilarities are substantial. So much so that they actually and unavoidably define the missiology of the church; accordingly, they are not tertiary, all asseverations to the contrary notwithstanding. Our differences even affect our understanding of arguably the most well-known, lucid, humbling, awe inspiring verse regarding the gospel and mission of evangelizing (John 3:16).
The well-known five-point Calvinist, John Piper, asked the question, “What message would missionaries rather take than the message: Be glad in God! Rejoice in God! Sing for joy in God! …God loves to exalt himself by showing mercy to sinners.” My answer to this question is the truth that when someone hears this glorious message, that same someone has a chance, by the grace and mercy of God, to receive the truth of the message by faith. Further, without opportunity for all sinners to accept, Piper’s message should be changed to say, “Some can be glad in God if He predestined you” or “God loves to exalt Himself by showing mercy to some sinners.” This is the actual message of Calvinism, and everyone who understands Calvinism knows it. Unfortunately, it is popularly and ubiquitously stated in the manner cited by Piper (or similarly opaque phrases) that shield most from yet another disquieting reality of Calvinism. I would greatly appreciate Calvinists’ due diligence to speak in such a way that all can be reminded of this reality (as some Calvinists are very careful to do). To propose that this distinction is tertiary is baffling indeed.
There is an abstractness to Calvinism’s understanding of the gospel, which results in a concomitant chilling unfriendliness of the “good news” when shared one on one. For example, it is one thing to say God loves Canada and desires the gospel to go there, or that He desires for Canadians to be saved. It is quite another for the missionary to look into the eyes of a lost and perishing Canadian and say God loves you and desires you to receive the good news of the gospel, which is the friendliness of the gospel in Scripture. The former has an abstract quality about it that the latter does not have (like the difference between saying I love Canadians and then really loving the one who moves in next door). A Calvinist can say, “Believe in Jesus for the remission of sins,” but there is a secret aloofness imbedded in the invitation for the vast majority of individuals who hear the gospel; an aloofness the Calvinist is very aware of and staunchly committed to.
Further, this abstract quality of Calvinism is the provenance of the “good faith offer,” which is reflective of Calvinism’s different understanding of the gospel. I for one find neither this abstraction, with its secret indifference for the majority of individuals who hear the gospel, nor the suggestion of such a concept as a “good faith offer” in the scriptural presentations of the gospel
This abstract quality transforms the simple straightforward gospel as seen in Scriptures from being exoteric (available to all) into an esoteric gospel (only available to some). The exoteric gospel of Scripture calls upon every individual with whom we share to receive the gospel and gives every indication that he should and can believe; that is to say, it is authentically and dependably what it appears to be, the good news of God’s love and compassion offered to all who hear.
Whereas the esoteric gospel according to Calvinism says everyone should come, but the secret is that while God has told Calvinists to tell the lost man to come, be forgiven, and flee the wrath to come, the inner circle—Calvinists—know that God has been pleased to exclude most individuals to whom the Calvinist present this truth. Therefore, if one is to be consistent with Calvinism, the gospel must be protectingly presented so that the hearer believes that God loves him and truly desires for him to be delivered from the fiery cauldron of God’s eternal fury; something no Calvinist can say to any particular individual unless God inspires him to intuit that the lost man to whom he is witnessing is one of God’s elect.
Actually, according to Calvinism, the gospel is good news for some, but inherent in their understanding of the gospel is that for most with whom they speak the good news, it is the ghastliest horror one could ever imagine (whether a sinner desires to believe or not does nothing to palliate this point). That being the case, one may rightly question the righteous legitimacy of indiscriminately declaring a gospel so construed that, in any way, intimates that it is for all who hear because it is emphatically not; something every good Calvinist knows. To wit, if a Calvinist shares the gospel in such a way that the hearers believe that God loves them, desires for them to repent and be saved by faith in Jesus, something that by God’s grace they can do, then the Calvinist has been true to the Scripture but not to Calvinism; additionally, is there not a point when “a good faith offer” is transmogrified into an “ungodly deception?” One that Calvinists can avoid by determinedly shunning any semblance of offering, via precisely chosen guarded language, what the Calvinist is convinced does not exist. Or is the concept of “a good faith offer” an unchallengeably justifiable and un-fillable reservoir for storing gospel secrets of Calvinism? I am simply asking Calvinists to be clear in presenting what they so doggedly believe to be the whole good news, and I do not think that is too much to ask.
Non-Calvinists follow the scriptural pattern of presenting the good news as good news for everyone who hears because, by God’s loving grace, they should and can believe; if they choose to reject, which they do not have to do, they will forfeit being adopted as a child of God and succumb to a sinner’s just dessert. This is based upon a clear, simple, and straight-forward reading of the clearest presentations of the gospel and the declared nature of God. Calvinism’s understanding of the gospel disallows any meaningfully eternal difference in the gospel if they simply said, “God hates you and has a terrible plan for you because the elect will get saved and the non-elect will not.” For Calvinists to respond that they are sharing the gospel out of obedience is not a solution to the problem I pose, but rather it is symptomatic of it. Further, for a Calvinist to rely upon such an idea as “a good faith offer” does nothing to absolve God from intentionally obscuring His real plan.
The gospel according to Calvinism is that the gospel that is commanded to be preached to all, is presented as available to all with an urgency that it be received by all, yet it cannot be received by all who hear the wonderful message of love and forgiveness; even though its universal availability is the obvious inference any listener would draw based upon most Calvinists’ carefully guarded presentation of the gospel (guarding the divulgence of the secret limitations of the gospel according to Calvinism).
Actually, the doctrine of selective regeneration preceding faith dictates that the gospel—good news— is really not good news at all because it cannot be received by anyone who just hears the good news, and this unavailability is just as true for the elect as the non-elect. Reception of the gospel is divinely limited to the selectively regenerated; therefore, the primary good news of Calvinism is not the gospel, but rather that some to whom they speak are on the secret list of those who have been selected for regeneration, which results in receiving the good news—gospel. That is to say, according to Calvinism, the gospel is not the good news to be received by all or any listener, but rather a description of the benefits that will be bestowed upon those on the secret list. Simply put, the gospel according to Scripture is a better gospel than the gospel according to Calvinism.