What If I Am Wrong?

November 30, 2015

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
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I saw this argument posed by a Christian in a debate with an Atheist recently and it reminded me of an important point. We should always be willing to objectively and honestly ask the question, “What if I’m wrong?”  What are the practical, real world consequences if what I believe, teach and practice is in error?

When it comes to the soteriological differences between the Calvinist and the Traditionalist, like myself, this question is especially pertinent. If non-Calvinists are wrong, what temporal or eternal harm have we really caused?

As I have said before, we are either rightly standing in defense of God’s glory or God has sovereignly determined for us to be wrong for the praise of His glory. If I am mistaken, no fewer people are going to heaven, no less glory will be given to God than what He decided and nothing I do will ultimately harm or hinder the desire of God for this temporal world or the eternal one to come. I literally have nothing practical to gain by converting to Calvinism. And I know if the claims of Calvinists are true and God wants me to become one, then I certainly will. In fact, I sincerely pray He converts me to adopt sound theology. I have no desire to teach false interpretations of scripture as I believe I did for many years, so I can honestly say I am open to correction.

I wonder how many Calvinists have objectively evaluated this question. I am not trying to aggravate my Calvinistic friends anymore so than Lecrae is trying to agitate Athesists by asking them to objectively consider the consequences if they are in error.

Let’s list some of the negative temporal and eternal effects that Calvinism has had if indeed it is wrong:

  • Countless church splits.
  • Much time, resources and energy wasted over the issue.
  • Hyper anti-evangelism by some who take the view to their logical ends.
  • Some repulsed by a seemingly monsterous view of God.
  • Some falling into fatalistic handling of temptations and addictions (if God wants me to quit this addiction or resist this temptation He will give me the effectual grace to do so)
  • God’s character of love, grace and genuinely providing salvation for every person being clouded and subverted.
  • “Cage stage” Calvinists turning unbelievers off to God.

 

Austin Fischer, author of Young, Restless and No Longer Reformed,” recently wrote, “It seems the primary concern for Calvinists is making sure human’s can’t boast in salvation, whereas the primary concern for free-will theism is a recognizably good God.”  What are Calvinists really accomplishing by converting believers to adopt Calvinism? Practically speaking, if Calvinism is correct, the Calvinist’s arguments are not going to determine who will or will not adopt Calvinism anyway and if Calvinism is false, then a well intending Calvinists shouldn’t want to risk converting others to a false interpretation anyway.  Thus, there is no practical reason for Calvinists to promote Calvinism. It’s not worth the risk.

Objections anticipated:

  1. There are rude non-Calvinists who turn the lost off to God too: Agreed, but this article is considering IF one view is right and the other one is wrong, and if Calvinism is right it is not as if rude Arminians aren’t here by God’s sovereign design. Rude Arminians are not going to repulse the effectually called elect of Calvinism and prevent them from their inevitable conversion.
  2. Calvinists don’t teach hyperism or fatalism: Agreed, which is why I said that some could take it further than the claims of the system which would create worse error (which has happened throughout history).
  3. We should believe the truth of scripture regardless of your perceived negative implications: Agreed, but again, if Calvinism is correct then God sovereignly decreed for me to perceive these negative implications and to write this post. So, if we’re contrasting objectively then I am still doing what is best for God’s self glorifying purposes.
  4. You are an idiot: By God’s unchangeable decree and for His greatest glory? I am okay with that!  ;-)

 

 

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kyle

Your bold quote above fails to take into account a key questions. What if you being wrong does not result in the praise of His Glory? God allowed many things in scripture that dI’d not in temporal life result in the praise of his glory. You assume you are bringing God glory at all. Make no mistake about it, everything in the end will resound to His Glory even in judgement. That is not always the case with individuals incorrect understanding or or propaganda of incorrect teaching about God.

    Scott Shaver

    What in sam hill is meant by this neo-language of Zion (i.e. “the praise of his glory”).

    Kyle, divulge the detailed significance of this term which is obviously the apex of Christian meaning for you.

    Lydia

    Kyle, you glorify God when you reflect Jesus Christ. It is not about platitudes. And what is worse, the focus on glorifying God in the way it comes off in platitudes and coercive authoritarian deeds coming from that movement are eerily similar to the Islamic focus. Allah Akbar.

    Of course, we don’t hear much about Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, from the Neo Cals.

    Andy

    Kyle, first, your statements don’t gel together:
    -“Make no mistake about it, everything in the end will resound to His Glory even in judgement.”
    -“That is not always the case with individuals incorrect understanding or or propaganda of incorrect teaching about God.”
    ***So will it or won’t it bring glory God?

    Also for Scott, or anyone else….”the praise of his glory” is a very biblical phrase from Ephesians 1:11-14. It is used twice in these verses, both times refering to the redemption of those who believe in Jesus:

    v11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

    While it is for sure true that the phrase is used in context of a God “who works all things after the counsel of his will,” It also must not be missed that the more immediate context of that phrase links it with (a) those who hope in Christ, and (b) the redemption of God’s own possession. So the primary way to bring praise to God’s glory is to hope in Christ and participate in His mission of redemption.

    -Andy

Jon Estes

“Countless church splits.”

You make it sound as if a church split has never occured by someone other than a Calvinist.

“Much time, resources and energy wasted over the issue.”

Who wastes the most time on the subject of Calvinism? Not the Calvinist. If I am reading you correctly, then Ifind it sad that one would blame the Calvinist for the time they spent speaking about them. What we speak of is our decision, not someone elses.

“Hyper anti-evangelism by some who take the view to their logical ends.|

I wish it were true that traditionalists of your tripe are hyper evangelistic. Looking at the baptism rates, neither side is doing enough to blam the other for anti-evangelism anything.

“Some repulsed by a seemingly monsterous view of God.”

You do not need a Calvinist to have people think such of God. This was in people’s mind before Calvin, I believe.

“Some falling into fatalistic handling of temptations and addictions (if God wants me to quit this addiction or resist this temptation He will give me the effectual grace to do so)”

Poor theology is found in both camps.

“God’s character of love, grace and genuinely providing salvation for every person being clouded and subverted.”

Well said from somone who is anti-Calvinist but I would not agree with your comment.

““Cage stage” Calvinists turning unbelievers off to God.”

I have never seen this as you state it. Christians of all stripes continue to do things to turn people off to God. Calvinists do not corner the market on being an offense.

    Scott Shaver

    As far as I’m concerned they DO CORNER THE MARKET on being an offense.

      Joel Hunt

      That’s a pretty bold statement, especially seeing the vitriol which has come out of both camps – on this very site, no less, from a particular individual, no less.

        Scott Shaver

        Joel:

        With all due respect, where I have I ever claimed to be “unbiased” in the arguments between determinism and free will.

        I’m not what you would describe as a “mediator” in the “middle-ground” effort. :)

D. Morgan

Interesting argument Leighton, and quite applicable. Ardent followers of Calvin will protest, but the points are valid. With all that is happening to the body of Christ in this age, fighting over whether John Calvin was right or wrong is about as useful as arguing over man made climate change. We will better serve God by bringing souls to Christ Jesus.

Vincent Lancon

Calling yourself a Traditionalist , when most of the baptist foundation is on Calvinist teach is misleading.

    Rick Patrick

    Vincent,

    We have a tradition too: the Mullins-Hobbs-Rogers tradition. That is all we are referencing. We are not denying that there is a Calvinist tradition in Baptist life as well. We never have denied that fact. Not one Traditionalist has ever claimed that this is what the term “Traditionalist” means. Not. One. It’s a Calvinist straw man. For more on the history of the term “Traditionalist” please see: http://connect316.net/aWhyTraditionalism.

      JC

      Rick,
      The intended meaning of the moniker “traditionalist” Baptist is clear, especially when it is set in opposition to another moniker, like “Calvinist” Baptist. By calling yourself a traditionalist, you are implicitly claiming that you are following in the Baptist tradition to the exclusion of Calvinists, who undermine “tradition”. I was surprised to see Leighton use the word traditionalist to describe himself here. I thought more of him.

      Blog all you want about it, but calling yourself a traditionalist in opposition to other Calvinist Baptists will never cease to draw condemnation from Calvinists, nor will it ever cease to be misleading to the uninitiated.
      I am still reeling that Flowers allowed his blog to be reposted here of all places. I worked with him when I was a young man (before he became confrontationally Arminian) and really thought he was above a blog of this sort, that regularly spreads divisiveness among Southern Baptists.

        volfan007

        JC,

        I wonder if you feel the same way about the Founders? And, if so, have you expressed this to them?

        David

Max

As a non-Calvinist, I can travel anywhere on planet earth and look any man in the eye and say “Jesus loves YOU … He died for YOU.” If I’m wrong, I will stand guilty of believing every person I came into contact with during my long journey of faith had access to the love of Christ and whosoever-will salvation in Him, and that my faithful witness could have made the difference between spiritual life and death for them. If I’m wrong, I just loved everybody too much.

    Robert

    Max,
    You say that if you are wrong: “I just loved everybody too much.”

    This brings up a major, major problem of the Calvinist system (i.e. if it is true that God only desires to save some/the preselected elect and NOT ALL, then we Christians who want to see all end up in a saving relationship with the Lord, are MORE LOVING than God is). That is hard to square with what God reveals about Himself in scripture (e.g. that He is love, that He sent Jesus to die for the whole world, etc. etc.).

    There is something very wrong with your theological system when it ends up with you being a more loving person towards the lost than God is.

      Max

      “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

      Andy

      Robert, as usual, this arbitrary test falls short as a litmus test for theology:

      1. If calvinism is true, then a parent can love their child more than God, ie, God could choose and save them, but has decided not to, even though their parent would have gone to any lengths to see their child saved.

      2. If Calvinism is false, then a parent can love their child more than God, ie: A parent, seeing their rebellious child destroying their life and heading to hell, WOULD likely, if they had the ability, overcome their child’s will and turn them to repentance….however if calvinism is false it means that God will NOT overcome that person’s will because he values their freedom of will more than their eternal happiness.

        Robert

        Andy,

        “Robert, as usual, this arbitrary test falls short as a litmus test for theology:”

        It is not “arbitrary” I am pointing out a contradiction. God is the most loving person there is, if any theology results in our being more loving than Him, then THAT theology contradicts the fact that God is the most loving person, and is therefore false. That is logic and it is not “arbitrary” at all.

        “1. If calvinism is true, then a parent can love their child more than God, ie, God could choose and save them, but has decided not to, even though their parent would have gone to any lengths to see their child saved.”

        Your argument here contains a questionable and probably false assumption (i.e. that love means a person will go to any lengths to see some result). God created this world to have human persons capable of having and making their own choices (i.e. having free will). As THAT is God’s design, He will not contradict His own design (cf. God’s design for human persons is that they have two arms, two legs, so if a person has more than two arms or legs that is a defect, that is against God’s design).

        Some such as yourself apparently believe that if you genuinely love someone you will go to ANY length with them. But this is true, neither with God, nor with human parents. Most human parents will not murder others in going to any length for their child. God with Israel His beloved nation and chosen people did not go to any length with them, but at times gave them over to the consequences of their sin (parents do this at times). In Romans 1 we are told that with those who reject the true God and instead worship idols that God “gave them over” (that does not at all sound like He goes to ANY length with people). It might sound nice to define love as willingness to go to any length, but that is not human reality nor does the Bible indicate that God goes to any length either.

        You are also missing a major point: if God does not want to save all, does not love all, and yet human persons do, then in the most important area (the issue of a person’s eternal salvation) humans would love more than God does (which again contradicts scripture which presents God as loving the whole world and giving Jesus for the whole world, most of us do not even get close to loving the whole world, we sometimes do not even love our enemies).

        “2. If Calvinism is false, then a parent can love their child more than God, ie: A parent, seeing their rebellious child destroying their life and heading to hell, WOULD likely, if they had the ability, overcome their child’s will and turn them to repentance….however if calvinism is false it means that God will NOT overcome that person’s will because he values their freedom of will more than their eternal happiness.”

        According to scripture God will not deny himself (or He will not contradict Himself). If God has specific design plans (e.g. humans are supposed to have two arms and two legs), He will not contradict them (He will not start making people with three legs and three arms, etc.). If God has a specific plan of salvation He will not contradict it (e.g. He will not say that a person is justified through faith, and yet with some people then save them through works). All of these contradictions will never happen. God is extremely consistent with His own purposes and plans.

        Atheists and nonbelievers will often try to play off God’s attributes against His purposes (the most famous example being that they will first speak of God giving people free will which is how people commit evils, but then they will argue well if God were really loving then He would prevent all of these freely made choices to commit evil, but God cannot design people to have free will and then take it away to prevent any evil from occurring). Unfortunately I have often seen Calvinists arguing in a very similar way against free will (If God loves then why doesn’t he just force people to believe by overcoming their wills, here God would be contradicting his own plan of salvation, i.e. if people are supposed to freely choose to trust Him, He is then not going to come in and overcome their wills and force them to trust Him!). I have seen a lot of this kind of sloppy reasoning, and so many times it ignores or does not take into account the fact that God does not contradict His own designs and plans and purposes.

        Lydia

        Andy, You fail to see that “determinism” is implied in your examples. It is almost so ingrained you guys don’t even see it.

        Have you ever struggled and prayed with parents of an addict? A kid who was provided every opportunity in life who still became an addict? The parents provide every means of “rescue” available to them but still the young man or woman chooses addiction. Short of holding the addict hostage for the rest of their lives, what else can be done? Ultimately, it is a hard choice that has to be made.

        It also begs the question that how could a loving God allow addiction? How could He allow drug dealers? The production and distribution of heroin. Since man has no free will, it should be so but the determinist God has not determined such. It does not make Him look very powerful when we view Him from a determinist framework..

        He allows free will in choices. That is part of His power that so many cannot see because they cannot see His consistent provision of “rescue” for mankind.

        I am with Robert in that God’s design is of creatures with free will who are free to seek His wisdom and guidance. They are free to seek truth. Think of how a Gentile or Jew would have responded to Romans 1:

        “18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

        When ever I read that passage, I think of what Whittaker Chambers wrote in “Witness”. He was a devout atheist/communist. But one day, when feeding his baby daughter and studying her precious features, he could not deny in his mind that her little ear had to be designed by an intelligent Creator. His Divine nature is CLEARLY seen! But we must look. It is everywhere.

        In fact, I will go as far to say that if determinism had not crept into the church so early on it is likely there would have been less evil in the Name of Jesus. More peasants becoming literate sooner and the trajectory for finding cures for plague and other life improvements much sooner. Basic justice would have been valued sooner. Determinism always holds people in bondage. The history of what is called the church proves this. It is hoplessness and resignation. (Except for those in power)

    Jon Estes

    “As a non-Calvinist, I can travel anywhere on planet earth and look any man in the eye and say “Jesus loves YOU … He died for YOU.” If I’m wrong, I will stand guilty of believing every person I came into contact with during my long journey of faith had access to the love of Christ and whosoever-will salvation in Him, and that my faithful witness could have made the difference between spiritual life and death for them. If I’m wrong, I just loved everybody too much.”

    As a Calvinist, I can travel anywhere on planet earth and look any man in the eye and say “Jesus loves YOU … He died for YOU.” I have never had a discussion with a Calvinist who would disagree with this because the foundation of our belief is that God chooses, we obey in evangelising. I approach every person I witness to as if they are of God’s elect. I do not waste my time in trying to do grammatical gymnastics to prove a point those who do not understand want me to be saying.

    I don’ t think any of us can love someone else too much but I do think we can bgin to learn to love people enough to take Jesus to them.

    From this pastor in the middle east taking Jesus to those around me because Jesus loves them and I have been ordered to go and tell. Loving my marching orders.

      Robert

      Jon,

      You mention that you are a pastor (which generally speaking means you know more than most people and are more knowledgeable and presumably more trained in theology, etc.) and from your postings it is obvious that you are a calvinist.

      You wrote:

      “As a Calvinist, I can travel anywhere on planet earth and look any man in the eye and say “Jesus loves YOU … He died for YOU.”

      I am sorry, but that statement is completely false if consistent Calvinism is true.

      In consistent Calvinism (the kind of Calvinism in which God predetermines everything, the kind of Calvinism held by John Calvin), God decrees ***everything*** (with no exceptions, which means that He decides beforehand who will be saved and who will be damned/usually called the “reprobates” by consistent Calvinists, as the Westminster confession puts it: “He ordaineth whatsoever comes to pass”). If God ordains that a person be a “reprobate”/unsaved person/a person who is never saved during their lifetime and then is eternally separated from God: then by no stretch of the imagination can it be said that God loves such a person. No, he hates them, he hated them from eternity, ensures they will be damned and then sends them to hell.

      As most human persons are reprobates if Calvinism is true, then the reality is that God hates most of the human race. In addition to this horrific doctrine of reprobation, if this is combined with limited atonement (that Jesus did not die for all, but only died for the elect) then your statement is both FALSE and MISLEADING. False because you are supposed to be representing God when you evangelize and telling anyone and everyone that God loves them, when most of them are ordained to be reprobates (if consistent Calvinism is true) is a false statement. It is also misleading because it implies that God loves everyone when in fact He does not, He hates most of them.

      Your statement then, demonstrates some real problems with Calvinism. Sadly, you apparently believe that there is no problem with your statement.

      So either you are unaware of the implications of your own theology or you are aware but are intentionally trying to suggest that Calvinism is something very different from what it actually is.

John K

I am what most would call a Calvinist. 4 point, 5 point, 7 point, what ever you want to call me. It does not offend me anymore, it use to but no longer. I believe God wants both Traditionalist and Calvinist to spreed the word for his Glory.

I read the bible several times and without knowing of John Calvin I found my reading had a soteriological view that people call Calvinism or Doctrine of Sovereign Grace. I have come to the conclusion that God main concern is not if we are Traditionalists or Calvinist. It is instead how we treat one another as “we” spread His word. I think we will answer to God on how we spread His word. I also believe God will inform us of His soteriological view when the time is right, and we will both be wrong, on how we lived out His true teaching.

    Lydia

    “I believe God wants both Traditionalist and Calvinist to spreed the word for his Glory.”

    The problem lies in that there is disagreement on what that is. Specifically relating to the character of God. Best to focus on Jesus Christ as God in the flesh. He is harder to manipulate into an angry narcissistic god who only wants glory for Himself by randomly choosing some for salvation before Adam even sinned.

      Andrew Barker

      Lydia: Thanks. We get a better understanding of God through studying the character of Jesus. It’s worth pointing out that Jesus said that he came to “seek and to save that which was lost”. If the ‘lost’ doesn’t include ALL, then we are left wondering in what category the ‘others’ are in, the others being those who are not deemed to be among the ‘lost’. Surely these others cannot be deemed to be already saved? Much easier to say that Jesus came to save us all, because all of us were lost.

        John K

        Andrew & Lydia,
        I believe we get a better understanding of God through studying the whole of the Trinity, which is greater than just character.

          Lydia

          John K, sometimes it is beneficial for Christians to learn the shema. Unless, if course, you don’t believe the Word became flesh. :o)

          Not sure what you are getting at about character. Is Jesus Christ not the representation of God?

            John K

            Not sure how you can cast anything I have said towards a negative light or view that a Traditionalist can’t embrace. As we acknowledge His lordship, our response remains to “hear” Him, love Him with all our heart, soul, and might, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
            Thanks for the exchange.

              Lydia

              Perhaps I did not understand your response. My experience with the Neo Cal movement is they speak about or quote Jesus Christ very little. The Holy Spirit is rarely spoken of in those circles. And frankly, ESS comes out of those circles and is pretty much ingrained these days.

Theodore A. Jones

Soteriology 101
“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
“Do not go beyond what is written.” 1 Cor. 4:6

JD Barker

“Much time, resources and energy wasted over the issue.”

The irony of this statement is almost unbearable.

W.L. Talbot

This is an interesting article, in which Prof. Flowers considers what he calls ‘Calvinism’ from the standpoint of its practical effects, particularly if it is wrong. I would like to, as gently and humbly as I may, offer a perspective upon how this article (and the arguments outlined therein) may be perceived by people in the Reformed camp. I do this in a spirit of charity, in the hope that there can be greater understanding and cooperation between all believers, whether they are Reformed or not.

People such as Prof. Flowers consistently misunderstand and misrepresent what they refer to as ‘Calvinism.’ In their writings, ‘Calvinism’ is a series of five beliefs about the nature of salvation which can be summed up in the acronym ‘TULIP.’ The reality is that there is a great deal more to Reformed theology (the preferred term, as opposed to ‘Calvinism’) than a few beliefs about the nature of salvation, for Reformed theology is a comprehensive system which touches upon all things to do with Christian doctrine, practice, and living. Five of the great principles of the Reformed faith are: scripture alone (that scripture is to be our sole authority in formulating doctrine and living the Christian life); faith alone (salvation is realized only by exercising personal trust in Christ in light of the teachings about Him in scripture, particularly regarding his atoning death and resurrection); grace alone (salvation – and indeed, all that is good – is a gift of God alone, wholly undeserved and unmerited, freely bestowed because of God’s great love); Christ alone (there is salvation in Christ alone – He is the way, the truth, and the life [Jn. 14:6], outside of whom there is no hope of salvation, but with whom there is the perfect assurance of life); glory to God alone (all that is exists and comes to pass to bring glory, honor, and praise to God alone, for “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever “[Rom. 11:36]).

It will be noted that such principles are common to all Protestants, having been historically shared by them since the Reformation. This is prescient because it highlights the important fact that Reformed theology has a great deal in common with other systems or traditions of the Christian faith, including the theology espoused by people of the volitionalist* camp such as Prof. Flowers (or Rev. Rogers, Dr. Lemke, etc.). On the vast majority of doctrinal beliefs there is agreement among us, for we are all – and this is the key thing – orthodox believers, having been saved by God and adopted into His family in such a way that we are now brothers and sisters. (And therefore, even in disagreement, we should behave ourselves in a commendable manner, acting with charity and grace.)

Allow me a couple of examples. Here is an excerpt from a Reformed author commenting upon 1 Peter 3:7 (“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered”):

Part of the prudence which he [Peter] mentions, is, that the husbands honor their wives. For nothing destroys the friendship of life more than contempt; nor can we really love any but those whom we esteem; for love must be connected with respect.

That sort of thing is as much Reformed theology as is a belief in unconditional election – and is far more likely to be mentioned in the preaching and teaching of a Reformed church. Or again, consider the example of Wayne Grudem’s textbook on Reformed systematic theology. Election and reprobation make up a single chapter (ch. 32) – out of fifty seven! By contrast, there are four chapters on eschatology; nine chapters on matters dealing with the church (including baptism, communion, and worship); five on Christ and the Holy Spirit; five on Man (including sin and the complementary relations and roles of the sexes); seven on Scripture; and two on spiritual beings (one on angels, and one on demons).

Now, if one had only ever read pieces such as this one – and, indeed, many of the other polemical pieces associated with this website – one would get the impression that “Calvinism’ is a very narrow and shallow system of belief which is essentially deterministic, and which is utterly consumed by an obsession with things like predestination and election, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. It will be granted that there are some people who do have such a narrow system of beliefs; may God grant them mercy, opening their eyes to the unfathomable riches and excellencies of His inscrutable will, and causing them to know His bounteous love for all His creatures!

Such people are often referred to as ‘hyper-Calvinists,’ but that also is a dreadful term. The problem with such people is that they are not Reformed. They would probably better be referred to as ‘predestinarians’ or ‘electionists,’ because they emphasize far too strongly predestination, etc., doing so at the expense of other Scriptural teachings (such as God’s omnibeneficence and love for all) and thus creating an unbalanced system of belief which is not sustainable or healthy long-term, for either individuals or denominations. If such ‘predestinarians’ were fully Reformed they would have a stable, balanced, and comprehensive system of belief, one which acknowledges all things to do with God’s character and plan of redemption, and not merely a few difficult, mysterious, and easily misunderstood points which are far outweighed by the great bulk of Scriptural teaching on the nature of God and His salvation.

(They would do well to regard the admonition of the Westminster and 1689 London Baptist Confessions that “the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care” that men might attend to and obey the will of God, and thereby attain to everlasting life.)

The reality is, as I have so briefly noted here, that Reformed theology is a comprehensive, all-inclusive system which deals with all matters pertaining to the faith. That, incidentally, is why it is so appealing to young people such as me; it is a system, an orderly, organized, and logically coherent summation of the teaching of scripture, rather than a jumbled mess of positions and doctrines.

My advice to those who read a piece such as this is to realize that it does not accurately convey Reformed theology as it actually is, but merely holds forth a mistaken impression of it. Again, there is substantial agreement between all traditions and systems upon the great bulk of doctrine. Most of what Reformed theology teaches is the same as what all orthodox systems teach; to the extent that we differ, we do so upon our interpretations of a few points which are generally relatively minor. There are valid scriptural reasons for thinking that the Reformed interpretation of the various teachings of scripture is accurate, and I would invite all people to prayerfully and fairly decide for themselves whether Reformed theology is accurate to the teaching of scripture, rather than merely relying upon the well-meaning but grossly inaccurate assertions of people such as Prof. Flowers.

*I use the term ‘volitionalist’ because it seems to accurately convey the position associated with the Connect 316 movement that all people have sufficient freedom of will to decisively accept or reject Christ; i.e., to do so of their own volition. Traditionalist is a potentially misleading term which is apt to confuse those unfamiliar with a) the varied history of Baptist theology; and b) the repeated assurances of people such as Dr. Patrick that ‘traditionalist’ is not meant to deny that many Baptists have been, historically, Reformed.

    Robert

    W.L. Talbot,

    I really get tired of seeing you Calvinists repeatedly and constantly responding whenever your false beliefs are challenged: that the non-Calvinist just does not understand Calvinism properly or correctly. Some of us are quite well read in Reformed theology. Some of us, for example, have read Calvin in French and Luther in German and even the publications of Reformed writers in Latin. Some of us are ex-Calvinists who knew, understood and even defended Calvinism for years before we de-converted from this false system of theology.

    So for you to say:

    “People such as Prof. Flowers consistently misunderstand and misrepresent what they refer to as ‘Calvinism.’ In their writings, ‘Calvinism’ is a series of five beliefs about the nature of salvation which can be summed up in the acronym ‘TULIP.’ The reality is that there is a great deal more to Reformed theology (the preferred term, as opposed to ‘Calvinism’) than a few beliefs about the nature of salvation, for Reformed theology is a comprehensive system which touches upon all things to do with Christian doctrine, practice, and living.”

    Is false and not accurate at all.

    Some of us are well aware that Calvinism is not just the TULIP acronym, but includes covenant theology, certain confessional statements, etc. etc. We also know that it is a “comprehensive system which touches upon all things to do with Christian doctrine, practice, and living.” We know all of this, have studied this extensively and thoroughly and yet we also conclude this comprehensive system is false, it misinterprets scripture and leads to some serious errors in practice such as infant baptism (note – I am aware there are some “Reformed Baptists” who affirm believer baptism and Calvinism, but they are a small minority within the Reformed movement and others within Reformed circles doubt that they are truly Reformed, when I speak of the Reformed movement I am speaking of those who not only hold to TULIP but also to covenant theology and its commitment to the false teaching of infant baptism).

    “It will be granted that there are some people who do have such a narrow system of beliefs; may God grant them mercy, opening their eyes to the unfathomable riches and excellencies of His inscrutable will, and causing them to know His bounteous love for all His creatures!”

    As I pointed out to Jon Estes in a post above, the consistent Calvinist cannot speak of “His bounteous love for all His creatures” because the consistent Calvinist holds to unconditional election and reprobation (and what God does to the reprobates cannot be seen as love BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION or semantic game playing, e.g. the reprobate are “loved less” or merely “passed over”, No, if God selects a person for reprobation and intends damnation for them before they even exist this is not only not loving them, this is hating them, in fact it is THE most hateful thing that can be done to a human person, and a consistent Calvinist must maintain that God reprobates most of the human race).
    “Such people are often referred to as ‘hyper-Calvinists,’ but that also is a dreadful term.”

    Trying to distance yourself from the horrific doctrine of reprobation by speaking of “hyper-Calvinists” does not work, because again any consistent Calvinist who affirms unconditional election of the elect must simultaneously hold to the doctrine of reprobation (REPROBATION IS REFORMED THEOLOGY AS WELL!!!).

    “The problem with such people is that they are not Reformed. They would probably better be referred to as ‘predestinarians’ or ‘electionists,’ because they emphasize far too strongly predestination, etc., doing so at the expense of other Scriptural teachings (such as God’s omnibeneficence and love for all)”

    Again, your statement here is false and misleading as God does not have “omnibeneficence” towards the reprobate. He hates them and damns them from eternity.

    Lastly, speaking of Leighton Flowers, he is an ex-Calvinist and he is very familiar with what Calvinism teaches, so your claim that he consistently and misunderstands and misrepresents Calvinism is false and again tiresome. You guys really should stop making this false claim that non-Calvinists just don’t understand Calvinism properly. No, we understand it just fine, especially those of us who were at one time Calvinists.

      Jon Estes

      I wish I had more time but due to national holiday here in the UAE and AWANA tonight and hosting aguest missionary we are going to be supporting as they begin a chuch plant in East Berlin next year, time is minimal.

      You state…

      “what God does to the reprobates cannot be seen as love BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION”

      Every Calvinist I know believes the Bible when it says God loves the world. From my experiene tamong Calvinists and opthers, we see a greater attribute of God’s which must define all other attributes. That attribute is holiness.

      So let me ask this question… Can what God does to the reprobates cannot be seen as holy?

      If you want to take love to an extreme where it cannot be questioned (which is what it seems you want to do in your position to me), then what kind of love is it that allows any man to go to hell? Simple… It is holy love. Perfect beyond my explanation.

      Sorry but I must go. |Church tomorrow here in Dubai, AWANA and the Christmas story tonight and so much more. It is great to know we continue to see lost people saved in a place where Christianity is tolerated (UAE, not the full middle east). I have figured out my part. I tell them Jesus loves them and what He did for them and why. The rest is up to Him. No lies from me and I still remain a Calvinist.

      That you can not square it is not my problem. I wish you could, it is a great place to live for Jesus.

        Robert

        Jon,

        You response is very weak:

        [[“You state…
        “what God does to the reprobates cannot be seen as love BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION”
        Every Calvinist I know believes the Bible when it says God loves the world. From my experience among Calvinists and others, we see a greater attribute of God’s which must define all other attributes. That attribute is holiness.”]]

        Every Calvinist who says that God loves the world and SIMULTANEOUSLY holds to reprobation is misleading to the extreme because what God does to the reprobates is as hateful a thing as can be done to a person (i.e. choosing them for damnation, ordaining their every sin, then condemning them to eternal hell for doing the very sins that God ordained that they would do, this is beyond cruel).

        You bring up God’s holiness (which includes his separation from sin). God declares that he hates sin, God tells people to have nothing to do with sin, to avoid it, and that there are serious consequences to sin. But that goes out the window if the same God reprobates people. Because he say he hates sin and tells us to have nothing to do with sin, and yet for the reprobates he ordains their every sin. He ordains that they be unbelievers, he ordains every evil thought and action they have during their lives on earth. This completely contradicts His claim to being holy.

        “So let me ask this question… Can what God does to the reprobates cannot be seen as holy?”

        No, because God chooses them for damnation before they exist, He then ordains their every sinful thought and action, He then ensures that while they are alive on earth they commit every evil action that He ordained that they commit. If God is truly holy and hates sin then he would not be ordaining their every evil thought and action as that would contradict his holiness.

        As your system and its doctrine of reprobation has him ordaining their every evil thought and action, that system contradicts His holiness and so the system must be false while God **is** holy.

        “If you want to take love to an extreme where it cannot be questioned (which is what it seems you want to do in your position to me), then what kind of love is it that allows any man to go to hell? Simple… It is holy love. Perfect beyond my explanation.”
        I haven’t taken love to any extreme, I have taken the biblical statements as face value (i.e. that God genuinely loves the world, if THAT is true, then the Reformed doctrine of reprobation contradicts that and is false). God loves the world and people end up in hell not as a result of God’s hating them and reprobating them but as a result of their repeated rejection of Him and his grace towards them.

        “I have figured out my part. I tell them Jesus loves them and what He did for them and why. The rest is up to Him. No lies from me and I still remain a Calvinist.”

        But if you hold to the doctrine of reprobation and know what it entails, then telling them that he loves them when in reality he hates them is both misleading and lying to them.

        And don’t respond with the “but we don’t know who the elect and reprobate are” response, because your original claim was that you could go to anyone and tell them that Jesus loves them. You can’t because if reprobation is true, then God hates most of them and does not love them.

        “That you can not square it is not my problem.”

        Actually it **is** our problem as your system with its doctrine of reprobation contradicts the nature of God and what God Himself has said in scripture.

        God and scripture are true, and since your system and its doctrine of reprobation contradict that, it is necessarily false.
        If you know about this contradiction and just ignore it or try to put in the closet or under the rug, you are just misleading people and lying to them.

      Jon Estes

      “As I pointed out to Jon Estes in a post above, the consistent Calvinist cannot speak of “His bounteous love for all His creatures” because the consistent Calvinist holds to unconditional election and reprobation (and what God does to the reprobates cannot be seen as love BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION or semantic game playing, e.g. the reprobate are “loved less” or merely “passed over”, No, if God selects a person for reprobation and intends damnation for them before they even exist this is not only not loving them, this is hating them, in fact it is THE most hateful thing that can be done to a human person, and a consistent Calvinist must maintain that God reprobates most of the human race).”

      When God chose the nation of Israel to be His people, what choice was that making for all those who were not of the nation of Israel? Where did they spend their eternity when they passed from this life? If you say hell, then you are saying God intended damnation upon them. If you say heaven, then why did God choose Israel in the first place?

      I am interested in how you deal with this.

      Been busy with life and ministry, sorry for the long delay in a response.

        Robert

        Jon Estes,

        I presented a description of the Calvinist doctrine of reprobation when I wrote:

        “As I pointed out to Jon Estes in a post above, the consistent Calvinist cannot speak of “His bounteous love for all His creatures” because the consistent Calvinist holds to unconditional election and reprobation (and what God does to the reprobates cannot be seen as love BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION or semantic game playing, e.g. the reprobate are “loved less” or merely “passed over”, No, if God selects a person for reprobation and intends damnation for them before they even exist this is not only not loving them, this is hating them, in fact it is THE most hateful thing that can be done to a human person, and a consistent Calvinist must maintain that God reprobates most of the human race).”

        Jon you quoted this and then you responded with:

        “When God chose the nation of Israel to be His people, what choice was that making for all those who were not of the nation of Israel?”

        Your question is muddled and off the topic of reprobation.

        Are you trying to change the topic because you have no justification for this reprehensible doctrine of reprobation???

        God’s choice of national Israel was a corporate election of the nation for His purposes, IT WAS NOT AN ELECTION OF ALL OF THE ISRAELITES TO SALVATION (i.e. so it was not concerning the salvation of individuals, any reading of the OT will confirm that not all Israelites were saved persons).

        One of the purposes for which God chose Israel was for them to be a witness to other nations.

        Another purpose was that He was using them to bring the Messiah/Jesus into the world. As he made these choices regarding Israel this means that other nations were not chosen to be his witness to the world nor were other nations the way He would bring the Messiah into the world.

        “Where did they spend their eternity when they passed from this life?”

        As with Jews today, and Gentiles today, ****each individual**** is saved or lost dependent upon what they do with the testimony they receive from God. If you trust God and His revelation then you will be saved, if you reject it then you will be lost.

        “If you say hell, then you are saying God intended damnation upon them. If you say heaven, then why did God choose Israel in the first place?”

        Your question is again muddled, as the election of Israel was not an election that saved all of them or damned all of them. The election of Israel was for other purposes. The fact that you would try to use the election of Israel to try to defend your false and unbiblical doctrine of reprobation is both desperate on your part and an extremely weak argument.

        I thought you were a pastor or church leader? And you don’t understand that the election of the nation of Israel does not mean that all were saved (nor that all were damned). Paul talks about the fate of individual Jews further in Romans 9-11 arguing that while some may have rejected the Messiah (the broken branches) these same branches could be saved, as can anyone, who places their faith in Christ for salvation.

          Jon Estes

          It is obvious we see things much differently.

          To your surprise, it may muddle your thinking of my thinking a bit more but I am very pro evangelism – pro God loves all of humanity – pro leave the beginning and end of our salvation competely in God’s hands –

          Not because of Calvin but because God says these things in His Word.

          I do wonder at times if anyone will ever stand before God and say – “Thank you for putting the choice of salvation in my hands, seeing you in all your glory it now makes sense.”

          Peace –

David R. Brumbelow

W. L. Talbot,
Are there any books on the subject of Calvinism or Reformed theology by non-Calvinists (aka Traditionalists, moderate Calvinists) that, in your opinion, do understand Calvinism?

Or, in your opinion, are non-Calvinists just not intelligent enough to understand Reformed doctrine?
In your opinion, is it possible for a non-Calvinist to properly understand Reformed doctrine without becoming Reformed himself?

Personally, I believe Dr. Leighton Flowers is perfectly capable of actually understanding Reformed doctrine.
And understanding it, he simply and sincerely believes it is wrong.
David R. Brumbelow

    Tyler

    I would like to answer this question! From what I’ve read from Flowers, it does not seem he understands Calvinism in the same way Calvinist understand Calvinism. There have been times where Flowers has said something concerning Calvinism and I thought “Calvinist don’t believe that” or “Yea, Calvinists would agree with that.” I have found Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. Roger Olson much better at representing Calvinism. Both, especially Olson, seems to rightly understand Calvinism without running into straw man. As a Calvinist I have greatly appreciated their work, though I would disagree.

      volfan007

      Tyler,

      Something that you and Talbot and some other Calvinists may not know is that Leighton Flowers used to be a strong Calvinist! So, of course, he understands Calvinism. And, respectfully, I must say that I have studied Calvinism up and down, and sideways, and whenever I talk to Calvinists about their Augustinian philosophy, or when anyone really challenges the logical conclusions of their beliefs. then the Calvinists favorite ways to end a discussion are to cry, “Strawman;” or “you’re misrepresenting Calvinism;” or “you don’t understand Calvinism.”

      David

        Tyler

        And I used to be a strong Arminian. :)

          volfan007

          Tyler,

          No one is telling you that you don’t understand Arminianism, either.

          David

            Tyler

            I know, but thought I would mention it ;) By the way, this debate isn’t as important to me as it is to most people. Many of my close friends are Arminians and we have fun debates over good food. So if anyone is looking for a friendly exchange I’m all in! If not, then I’ll probably won’t respond. As long as we can all agree that Molinists are our awkward cousins!

          Lydia

          “And I used to be a strong Arminian. :)”

          Were you chosen to be an Arminian? Or perhaps predestined to be Arminian so you could then be really truly chosen? Did you have real faith when you were an Arminian or did that only come when you determined to convert to Calvin?

            Tyler

            Hi Lydia, just wanted to let you know that this is the last time I respond to you on this site. I have seen your other comments and think it is best that I do not interact with you or Andrew. I don’t think it would be very fruitful.

              Lydia

              Tyler, I understand and agree about the fruit.

    W.L. Talbot

    Rev. Brumbelow ,

    To answer your questions, yes, I do believe that a non-Reformed person is capable of understanding the Reformed system of faith and practice (and vice versa, of course). To suggest otherwise would be arrogant and uncharitable; though I am sorry to say many who profess to be Reformed in their beliefs have often acted with such arrogant condescension (may God bring them to repentance and heal the breaches such transgressions have made).

    The question is not whether Prof. Flowers could understand the Reformed system, but rather whether he actually does. This article leads me to think that either a) in his disapproval of certain parts of the Reformed system (e.g. total inability) he offers an incomplete picture of the Reformed system by focusing simply upon those parts and making no mention of the rest of the system, the great bulk of which is identical to what all believers adhere to (we hold far more in common than we disagree upon); or b) he does not actually understand the Reformed faith, his former adherence to it notwithstanding.

    For my part, I would like to emphasize that there is far more to the Reformed faith than those doctrines which are described by the acronym TULIP. The Reformed faith touches upon all things to do with the Christian life, from worship (ch. 22 1689 London Baptist Confession) and ecclesiastical organization (ch. 26), to union with Christ (ch. 8, section 8) and adoption into the family of God (ch. 12), to domestic relations (ch. 25) and civil duties (ch. 24). Many people on websites such as this speak in such a way that those who do not know better may be inclined to think that TULIP is the whole substance of the Reformed faith, and it is my desire to emphasize that this is not the case.

      Volfan007

      WL Talbot,

      Leighton Flowers used to be a strong Calvinist!

      David

        W.L. Talbot

        David,

        I wish to avoid having an unfruitful and uncharitable discussion, but in the interests of defending the Reformed faith, I humbly submit the following, in the hope that it might better help others to understand my position.

        It is claimed that Prof. Flowers used to be a Calvinist; very well, but what does that mean? Does it mean he ascribed to the points which are represented in the acronym ‘TULIP,’ or does it mean that he was a member of a Reformed church/denomination, adhering to the comprehensive system of doctrine and faith held to by such, particularly as it is represented in the historic confessions of the Reformed tradition? Because if it is the former, then I believe it is a bit of a stretch to say that he was a Calvinist, in that there is far more to the Reformed faith (or, if one must, Calvinism) than simply adhering to the ‘five points’ or ‘doctrines of grace’ abbreviated as ‘TULIP’. Indeed, there is far more to Reformed soteriology than belief in total inability, effectual calling, etc. It would be fair to say that he held to a soteriology which is similar to that which the Reformed faith posits (at least in part, regarding such things as election, definite redemption, etc.), but to say that he was a full Calvinist would require either a) for him to have been a member of a Reformed denomination; or b) for him to ascribe to the Reformed faith (especially as conveyed in confessions such as the Belgic, Westminster, 1689 London Baptist, etc.) more or less in toto.

        Furthermore, just because he was a Calvinist does not mean that he understands Calvinism: it makes it highly probable that he does, but by no means certain, for one can adhere (or profess to adhere) to something without fully understanding what it posits or entails. My original comment was intended to convey that – regardless of whether he does in fact understand Calvinism or not – he (and others like him) write as if all there is to Calvinism is a belief in divine sovereignty in salvation which tends to determinism, thus ignoring the prescient fact that the Reformed faith is a comprehensive system of theology touching upon all matters of doctrine, ethics, practice, Christian living, etc. It is so because it is the heritage of an entire community of faith, a heritage which has been labored long and carefully over for many centuries.

        I initially asserted that people such as Prof. Flowers consistently misunderstand and misrepresent the Reformed system because their writings leave one with the impression that they do not understand the all-encompassing, comprehensive nature of the Reformed system. I see now that it may have been a stretch to say that he misunderstands, but it certainly was not inaccurate to say that he misrepresents, for he presents an incomplete view of the Reformed system, one which is very narrow and shallow. My whole point is that what he means by Calvinism is very different from what I mean by the Reformed faith, for he characterizes Calvinism – whether intentionally or not – as if it is TULIP (which he claims tends to determinism) and little else, thus cheapening what is a glorious and majestic tradition of the Christian faith which has brought much benefit to great multitudes.

        In the hope of greater unity and understanding,
        W.L.

          Leighton Flowers

          Mr. Talbot,

          I realize I’m a bit late to this party but a friend sent me a link to this discussion a while back and I’m just now getting the time to sit down and read through it. Here are a few observations:

          1. You are very cordial and I appreciate that. I can deal with any level of disagreement from one who is Christlike in his approach. Thank you.

          2. You seem to be arguing that if I fail to represent the “all-encompassing, comprehensive nature of the Reformed system” in each of my posts critiquing any one aspect of Calvinistic doctrine then I’m “misrepresenting” (and/or I do not really understand) Calvinism. With respect, but do you put that burden on the popular Calvinistic scholars today who often represent our “all-encompassing, comprehensive” world view as “God looking through the corridors of time to see who will believe and then electing them?” I believe the burden you are demanding is unreasonable due to your bias. Yet, I do understand that someone like yourself would want others to know that your systematic is MORE than what I’ve represented, just as I would want others to know that the one-liners used to dismiss our perspective within the Calvinistic circles are not fully representative of our views.

          3. I get the accusation of misrepresentation occasionally (as does Olson and other non-Calvinistic authors) and typically they are vague…rarely containing a specific quote with an explanation as to what is actually inaccurate about what is said. This isn’t helpful. I cannot defend what my intentions were behind a statement if a specific quote is not provided and the accuser doesn’t specify as to what he feels is incorrect about it.

          I wrote a blog on the 5 reasons the accusation of misrepresentation will never cease in this debate and I outline each of the reasons both sides feel misrepresented. I’d be interested in your take of this article: https://soteriology101.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/5-reasons-for-the-accusation-of-misrepresentation-when-debating-calvinism/

          Blessings

Drew Mery

I love all the Scripture references used in this article. Oh, wait…

Pascal’s wager is not the proper approach to take in any apologetic/polemic discussion. It opens up the discussion to subjectivism, to man’s perspectives, rather than God’s authoritative revelation. In essence, the problem with this article is that it focuses on “what if” rather than “what is”. The what if’s are so easily arguable that it doesn’t help us in our continued conversation. It only creates unnecessary back-and-forth slams against each other rather than honest discussion on the pertinent texts of Scripture.

Grace and peace

W.L. Talbot

Professor Flowers,

Many thanks for your reply to my comments. Given your many responsibilities, I assume that you are quite busy, and therefore I feel honored that you would take the time to answer insignificant me. I shall attempt to respond to all of your points fully and clearly, going through them point by point. As for your first point, I appreciate the cordial tone with which you have replied – I think that we can both agree that incivility and arrogance have no place amongst believers, even when there is strong disagreement about certain matters. As scripture says, we are to “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). In such matters courtesy is paramount, and absent it I believe we can safely say that we are neither imitating Christ nor benefitting Man. Personally I would like to see more meekness and civility amongst the comments on this site, even if that requires stricter moderation of comments.

Now as for your second point, I think that some clarity is called for. I see now that, in retrospect, my language is rather overwrought, and that I have not been fully gracious, accurate, or fair in my characterizations of your presentations of certain elements of the Reformed faith. For example, my statement that you “consistently misunderstand and misrepresent” what you refer to as Calvinism is rather strong, and I feel that it perhaps borders on being excessively dismissive and defensive. I would like to point out, however, that when I said that “people such as Prof. Flowers” tend to misrepresent what you refer to as Calvinism, what I meant was something more like this: ‘After reading the polemical and critical articles of many of the contributors to this site, I come away with the impression that Calvinism is a very simple thing which consists of five beliefs related to the nature of salvation which tend to promote deterministic thinking (and corresponding to this, apathy in missions, a mistaken view of God’s love, etc.), and little, if anything, else.’

In using the phrase “people such as Prof. Flowers,” I was not referring specifically to you, but was rather referring to the various affiliates of the Connect 316 movement in general. This was a) not particularly fair, as I failed to distinguish between you and other contributors – when of course you all have your own criticisms and concerns, and your own ways of presenting them; b) poor word choice on my part, as I should have been more clear that I did not necessarily mean you in particular, but rather that I meant this the polemical contributors of this site in general.
Therefore, in the interest of fairness, I have gone back and re-read the original article. I find that I still come away with the impression that what you mean by Calvinism is still primarily just the five points of TULIP and a deterministic notion of the way the world works. For example, you quote Austin Fischer, who said that “It seems the primary concern for Calvinists is making sure humans can’t boast in salvation” – to my mind that is a direct allusion to the doctrines represented in TULIP. Or again, you list several points on which, if Calvinism is wrong, it has done harm to the church and the world. You say, for example, that it has caused “Hyper anti-evangelism by some” and “Some falling into fatalistic handling of temptations and addictions (if God wants me to quit this addiction or resist this temptation He will give me the effectual grace to do so),” the two of which suggest an unhealthy instance upon unconditional election (in the case of the former), and Calvinism tending to determinism in some instances (in the case of the latter).

(To your credit, you do note that Calvinism does not teach fatalism, and also that these mistakes are only on the part of some.)

As I see it, there are a couple of explanations for this. The first is that I have simply come away with the wrong impressions, and that the fault for this is wholly my own. While this is certainly possible, it is by no means clear to me that this is the case. Of the negative effects which you list as being attributable to Calvinism if it is wrong, at least four seem to allude to various of the five points and to a determinist view of the world. The second reason, of course, is that my impression is correct, and that the critics of Calvinism on this site (including you) do have a tendency to portray Calvinism in such a way that it may be understood to revolve primarily around five points and a deterministic view of the world.

At this point I would like to note that I did not read your piece as an isolated article, but as occurring within the broader stream of criticism of Calvinism which makes up such a significant part of the published material of this site. (Though most of the articles on this site are neutral in the Calvinism debate, those which seem to be the most popular – at least judging by comments – are those which are critical of Calvinism, or which promote an alternative view of the nature of salvation/ human freedom and divine sovereignty.) Hence my statement that “people such as . . . “, which, again, was worded rather poorly, and in such a way that I feel that (as written) it was not fully fair to you or your position.

It would be possible to expend a great deal of ink at this point in attempting to consider all of the implications of, and reasons for, such a misportrayal of what is referred to as Calvinism. I do not suggest that is intentional – or, even if intentional, that it is malicious; but I do suggest that it is real. Perhaps a further elaboration upon my perspective will be fruitful for the sake of greater clarity and mutual understanding. As aforementioned, I did not read this article in isolation, but as occurring within the context of the wider school of critical polemics against Calvinism which one finds on this site. Practically speaking, this meant that I interpreted it as being within the same school of thought as pieces such as Dr. Patrick’s “Youth- Targeted Calvinism” and Dr. Cox’s “Is Calvinism Spiritual Racism?” and, for that matter, the preamble of the “Traditional Statement” itself, in which we are told that “those who have identified themselves as Calvinists generally modify its teachings in order to mitigate certain unacceptable conclusions (e.g., anti-missionism, hyper-Calvinism, double predestination, limited atonement, etc.)”and again, that we should engage in “circumspection and humility with respect to the system” because “there is a plurality of views on Calvinism designed to deal with these weaknesses (variously described as “3-point,” “4-point,” “moderate,” etc.” (All of which suggests that Calvinism is understood as being primarily about the five points of TULIP.) Other examples can be found in Dr. Fox’s “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?” (“Calvinists must quit thinking that someone is not operating with the truth if they do not plug-in to a five point system of theology”) and Dr. Hester’s “The Two Pillars of Calvinism Examined.”

Now I do agree that for me to require you to exhaustively emphasize the all-encompassing, systematic nature of Reformed theology in every single post would be both burdensome and unreasonable. But I do think that more can be done on the part of those authors who are associated with the Connect 316 movement and this site to ensure that they are reasonably fair and just, and that they leave readers with an impression of Reformed theology as it truly is, not as they perceive it to be. I feel that, when the various articles related to Calvinism on this site are taken as a whole, they tend to promote a mistaken idea of what Calvinism actually is, and that more can and should be done on the part of those who are associated with the Connect 316 movement to ensure that the thing they criticize is truly understood and accurately related to others.

This does not mean that every single post must bend over backwards to fully reiterate that, as I have repeated again and again, there is far more to the Reformed faith than simply the doctrines of grace; but it would be greatly appreciated – and, indeed, an aid to right understanding – if a better job was done by those who adhere to a volitionalist understanding of salvation to see to it that they do not present the Reformed system only in part.

Now, as for how this relates to those who agree with me on these matters, let me state quite plainly that I regret any and all misportrayals of people’s positions and beliefs. I do not wish for my beliefs to be misunderstood or misrelated to others, and neither do I wish to see anyone else’s beliefs dealt with in such a manner, even if I believe they are mistaken or incorrect. Alas, my fellow Reformed believers have not always done a good job of fairly or accurately portraying the beliefs of those whom with they disagree on various matters. This is unfortunate, and a hindrance to mutual understanding and respect, and to the quest for greater unity and maturity in the faith. I dearly hope going forward that we do a better job of being fair and honest to the truth, and that we will – to list in passing a couple of examples – avoid conflating Arminianism with Semi-Pelagianism (as I have read suggested before), or avoid suggesting that Arminians deny predestination (a mistaken impression I had for some time when I was younger).

Let me be clear on this point: fairness should be practiced perfectly by all, with a failure to do so serving only to hinder the advance of understanding and truth. Whether we are Reformed or Arminian, Calvinistic or traditionalistic – and, indeed, in regards to whatever matter we might be discussing – we must all strive to the utmost to be eminently fair at all times, and to see to it that we do not caricature the beliefs of those with whom we disagree by inaccurately or incompletely relating them. To see to it that my convictions are not rejected when they are not even understood in their entirety is my prime concern, and it is to that end that I labor and strive, that the Reformed system may not be misunderstood as being less than, or something other than, what it truly is. My hope is that, whether people are convinced of the veracity of the Reformed system or not, they nonetheless will not dismiss it out of hand, but will understand that there is much more to it than is sometimes suggested or implied; that people will understand its true nature and character before they cast judgment upon it. In turn, wanting my system to be accurately portrayed, I would also like for the various other systems (Arminianism, Dispensationalism, Lutheranism, etc.) to be portrayed as they truly are, and in all of their depth, breadth, and complexity.

As for the article you linked, I have read it and find that, on the whole, it does bring up some excellent points, particularly regarding the diversity of opinion which exists in many traditions of the faith. I strongly abrogate some of the things which some who claim to be Calvinists promote, especially the notion that God does not love everyone. It would be helpful, I think, to define my terms here. By “Reformed” I mean those churches, organizations, individuals, doctrinal positions, etc. which are in accords with the historic confessions of the Reformed faith (e.g. the Westminster), and also the daily thoughts and actions of such people and groups. I believe it is important to be clear on this part because many Reformed denominations have long since abandoned the Reformed faith as embodied in the confessions, simply retaining the term in their names as a matter of tradition. Others lean towards views which tend towards heresy (Federal Vision and Reconstructionism come to mind here), at least in their more robust forms. And of course others claim to be Reformed without actually adhering to the Reformed faith in all of its fullness.

This last form seems especially pertinent to the current debate. The reason that I generally eschew the term Calvinism – aside from the fact that Calvin did not originate the views of his system, and that they have been modified or otherwise formulated often since his time – is that what I mean by the Reformed faith, and what many people mean by Calvinism, are not precisely synonymous. By the Reformed faith (or tradition or system) I mean the comprehensive and all-encompassing system of faith which is embodied in the confessions and which is adhered to by those Reformed denominations which still abide by those confessions. By Calvinism, many people (proponents and detractors alike) mean simply the five points. In reality this is a very shallow and inaccurate view, as there is of course far more to Reformed theology than TULIP – indeed, there is far more to Reformed soteriology than the imperfect flower acronym! Amongst other things, sola fide is far more important than, say, unmerited election or particular redemption, receiving vastly more mention and elaboration in the Reformed dogmatics with which I am familiar.

Richard Muller has done some helpful work in this respect, noting that there is more to the Reformed faith than simply TULIP, and highlighting that “Calvin and his fellow Reformers held to doctrines that stand in clear continuity with the Canons of Dort, but neither Calvin nor his fellow Reformers, nor the authors of the canons, would have reduced their confessional position to TULIP.” In his article “Nine Marks That Separate Baptists from Presbyterians,” Dr. Lemke cites Dr. Muller’s “How Many Points?” to highlight the important point that those who simply hold to the doctrines of grace are hardly Calvinists, and that to apply the term to them would be inaccurate and misleading.

This seems particularly important to the current debate in that, as it is transpiring within the convention, it is more of a debate between people who, in their soteriology at least, are partly Reformed (the “Calvinists”), and those who are not (the various forms of “traditionalists”). To conflate the soteriological convictions of many “Calvinists” within the SBC with being Reformed in a real and meaningful sense is mistaken, both on their part and on the part of those who would criticize their beliefs. My interest is to see to it that those people who are critical of the “Calvinism” of various people within the SBC do not make the mistake of thinking that it is representative of the Reformed faith as a whole, particularly as it is believed and lived out in the daily lives of the Reformed community of faith.

In conclusion, I believe that my wording has not been as fair or clear as it could have been up to this point, for which I apologize, and that fairness is to be expected of all when it comes to the “Calvinism” debate within the Southern Baptist Convention, regardless of what side they take. I emphasize again – for what seems like the millionth time, even to me – that the Reformed faith, as it truly is (that is, as it is embodied within the historic confessions and adhered to in the daily lives of the members and churches of the Reformed community of faith) is very rich and deep, and that to reduce it simply to five points about the nature of salvation, or to represent it as tending to emphasize at all times a view of the world which is essentially deterministic is simply to misunderstand – grievously – the realities of the Reformed faith and all that it holds, since there is much more to Reformed dogmatics than simply the doctrines of grace, and since notions of God’s foreordination form a very small (if important) part of the actual teaching and faith of the Reformed churches in their daily lives. The same acknowledgement of depth and intricacy should be generously noted of any system within the Evangelical tradition, be it Lutheran, or Wesleyan, or Dispensationalist, or whatever it might happen to be. On the vast majority of matters we are, of course, within agreement, being all orthodox believers who hold to the essentials of the truth. May that fact not be forgotten by any of us as we have these sorts of discussions, and may God grant us ever-increasing knowledge of Him, ourselves, and His world, as we all strive to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

Grace and Peace,
W.L.

Jeff D.

Of course Calvinism teaches fatalism. God made an eternal, unconditional, infallible, immutable decree to elect certain individuals to salvation and to reprobate the rest to damnation. It’s an eternal caste system that cannot be altered in creation history. No non-elect can ever believe and be saved and no elect individual can ever lose his eternally divinely chosen salvation. The die is cast at birth.

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