The Two Pillars of Calvinism Examined | Part Two

February 27, 2015

Dr. Malcolm Hester | Pastor and Adjunct Professor
Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville, KY

For Part One click HERE.

Human Inability
It is a basic position of Calvinism that the lost person cannot respond to the call to repent and therefore God must choose the sinner in election. Erickson says, “The concept of total depravity means that every individual is so sinful as to be unable to respond to any offer of grace.”[1] The salvation of the sinner then must be accomplished before the lost person even repents. Calvinism teaches that Adam and Eve had the freedom to choose to accept God’s plan, but that ability was lost in the fall. This section will deal with that position with the purpose of proving from scripture that mankind’s freedom has not been lost.

Did Man Lost the Freedom to Obey God? Again we turn to Erickson to establish the basic Calvinistic Baptist position. This position is stated clearly. “Because all humans are lost in sin, spiritually blind, and unable to believe, however, some action by God must intervene between his eternal decision and the conversion of the individual within time.”[2] He goes on to say that the action by God is known as special or effectual calling and defines that action as “…God works in a particularly effective way with the elect, enabling them to respond in repentance and faith, and rendering it certain that they will.”[3] While this may be presented as a wooing of the elect which results in the sinner accepting the gospel of his own free will, the bottom line is that not every sinner will be drawn and therefore every sinner cannot be saved. In the Calvinist doctrine, the offer of salvation is not available to everyone and not everyone can be saved. The issue in this part of the paper is whether the Bible teaches that mankind has lost the freedom to choose salvation.

It is readily agreed that Adam and Eve had the freedom to choose to follow God’s command or to reject that command. We understand that they made the wrong choice and sin entered the human experience (Romans 5:12). That sin and the death that resulted from it passed from Adam to his posterity. Here a major difference between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist Southern Baptists is evident. Calvinism teaches that the guilt of sin passes to the children of Adam and non-Calvinist Southern Baptists say that it is the inclination to sin and a sinful environment that is passed on.[4] Calvinism also teaches that the descendants of Adam also lost the ability to decide for God while non-Calvinist Southern Baptists maintain that the lost sinner can and must freely decide to accept Jesus. This difference in doctrine is the reason those who are under the influence of Calvinism often do not give an invitation or diminish its importance in the worship service. Why plead with lost sinners to accept Jesus if they cannot respond? In Calvinist thought sinners must wait to see if they are elect and even after they are confessing Christians they continue to have doubts and fears that they are only fooling themselves and are not truly elect.[5]

The important question is whether the Bible teaches that lost mankind cannot choose to obey God and therefore cannot choose to accept Jesus and be saved. What scriptures do the Calvinists use to attempt to make the case for that position? Erickson offers Ephesians 2:1-3 as a “key passage” in defense of the doctrine of total inability. Verse 1 states: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Supporting passages offered by Erickson are John 6:44; Rom. 3:1-23 and 2 Cor. 4:3-4. Dr. Erickson does not offer any comment on these passages but those familiar with the Calvinist controversy have seen these verses used to define this position. They are passages that affirm the completely lost situation of the sinner. To affirm that the lost person is completely and totally lost and can do nothing to help himself get saved or even get ready to be saved does not address the issue for most Southern Baptists. I have been a Southern Baptist for almost fifty years and heard many lectures and sermons by a great variety of Southern Baptists preachers and teachers over those years and I have never heard one teach that the lost sinner can do anything but throw himself completely on God’s mercy. I have never heard a sermon promoting good works as a means of salvation, and I have never heard one preacher or professor say that grace can be earned in any way. I have always preached and heard that grace is completely undeserved and that no merit of the sinner is taken into consideration. Yet, we do not believe what the Calvinists teach because we believe the lost sinner can and indeed must accept God’s offer of salvation. I will address this issue in two parts. First I will deal with the issue raised by the Calvinist understanding that those dead in trespasses and sins cannot hear and respond to the call of Christ. Next, I will show from scripture that lost sinners are required to respond to God’s call.

Can the Spiritually Dead Hear and Respond to Christ? In discussing this issue, Calvinists do something that is illegitimate in argument. They misrepresent the non-Calvinist view in order to more easily make their case. Erickson quotes New Testament scholar George Ladd to make his point on this issue in his presentation of the Calvinist doctrine of effectual calling. Ladd says, “Only by the illumination of the Spirit can men understand the meaning of the cross; only by the Spirit can men therefore confess that Jesus who was executed is also the Lord.”[6] This defense of effectual calling assumes that an in-depth knowledge of spiritual matters is needed in order to respond to the call of Jesus to repent. Non-Calvinist Southern Baptists do not argue that lost sinners can understand spiritual matters while they are lost. We know 1 Cor. 2:14 which says, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The only response of the lost sinner is a cry for mercy. Spiritual knowledge and understanding are not expected or required at that level of interaction. It is a false argument posed by the Calvinists that requires the lost sinner to have spiritual understanding before they can be saved. The only thing the Bible requires is recognition of the lost condition which the Holy Spirit provides in conviction (John 16:8). The lost sinner must respond to that conviction with a plea for mercy. Spiritual understanding comes later under the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

The Calvinist doctrine ignores the teaching of our Lord in John 5:25 which says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.” Please notice that Jesus said the time has come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. Some will want to argue that this verse is speaking only of the physical resurrection but the context will not allow, for that means avoiding the clear teaching of scripture. The physical resurrection is addressed in verses 28-29. No, verse 25 is referring to the spiritually dead and Jesus said they can hear and gain life. It is clear from the context that this is eternal life. To deny that the lost (dead in trespasses and sins) sinner can hear the call of Jesus is to deny the teaching of the Bible and reject the power of Jesus. They can hear. Jesus said they could.

The Calvinist may respond that the dead can only respond because they have been granted the “effectual call.” It is a common tactic for the Calvinists to attempt to read into the Bible their doctrine. My response is, “Where does the Bible speak of the effectual call?” That idea is a theological concept built on the reasoning of the Calvinist system and not a doctrine taught in the Bible.

Part Three coming soon!!


[1] Erickson, 928.
[2] Erickson, 942.
[3] Ibid., 943.
[4] The Calvinist Baptist position is clearly seen in the Second London Confession which states in chapter VI “Our first Parents by this Sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them, whereby death came upon all; all becoming dead in Sin and wholly defiled…” In the same chapter it is stated, “…the guilt of the Sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity…” while the Southern Baptist position in The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says, “Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.”
[5] It was while reading Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life that this truth became clear to me. Edwards, the epitome of the Calvinist pastor and theologian, struggled with the issue of assurance of salvation for many years. And well he or any Calvinist should since they do not believe the sinner can “make a decision” as Southern Baptists do, they must always fear that they are not really called but are only engaged in a vain attempt to be saved. Marsden, George, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (London: Yale University Press, 2003), 104.
[6] Ladd, George, A Theology of the New Testament in Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992) 295.