“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —

If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.

In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life  and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them. Continue reading

Calvinism in Context: 1 Corinthians 8:11

tulip

And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed,
the brother for whom Christ died.
— 1 Corinthians 8:11 —

When Paul confronted the Corinthians for eating meat sacrificed to idols, he warns that their carelessness threatens to “destroy” their brothers. In the context of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul uses this warning to motivate followers of Christ with greater “knowledge” (i.e., stronger consciences) to think twice before eating meat sacrificed to idols in the presence of younger believers whose consciences have not been so trained. This is the literary context. In the context of theological debates, however, this verse serves another purpose—namely that this verse proves general atonement, the belief that Christ died for all humanity without exception.

Convinced that Christ’s death effectively accomplished the salvation of his elect, a vast number beyond comprehension (see Revelation 7), I believe that it is errant to conclude 1 Corinthians 8:11 is a proof text for general or unlimited atonement. Rather, it is one of many verses that articulate a view of Christ’s death that is personally connected to a people the father gave him before the foundation of the world (cf. John 17). But instead of making a theological case, let’s consider the context of 1 Corinthians 8 to see what Paul says and how his language informs this theological debate. Continue reading

Calvinism in Context: Psalm 106:6–12

red seaThen they believed his words; they sang his praise.
— Psalm 106:12 —

Speaking of the law (Hebrews 10:1), the festivals and the Sabbath (Col 2:19), the New Testament regularly understands God’s redemption in Israel as a “shadow” or “type” of the redemption procured by Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:31, for instance, Jesus discusses his “departure” (read: “exodus,” exodon) with Moses and Elijah. Truly all the saving events of the Old Testament prefigure the saving events of the New.

Psalm 106 is no different. In that glorious Psalm, the author remembers the work of God to save Israel from Egypt. Running like a thread through the Psalm is the sin of Israel (e.g., vv. 6, 13, 21, 24-25, 28, 39, etc.), followed by the grace of God to save (vv. 10, 23, 30, 44-46).

More particularly, when the people sinned God sent a mediator. In Egypt, it was Moses; at Baal-Peor, it was Phineas. Even in Psalm 105, we discover God saved his people through the previous “sending” of Joseph to Egypt. In truth, God demonstrates his love for Israel, in that while they were still sinning God sent Joseph, Moses, and Phineas to “save” his people from destruction. In this way, Psalm 105 and 106 foreshadow the kind of salvation God would ultimately give in Jesus Christ.

In fact, situated as the final Psalm in the fourth book of the Psalter, Psalm 106 perfectly sets up the culminating redemption anticipated in Book V of the Psalter. The God who reigns (see Pss 90–99), will accomplish salvation once and for all, by sending his final mediator, his own son, to bring salvation to his people.

Psalm 106: A Pattern of Regeneration 

Narrowing our focus, Psalm 106 foreshadows Christ’s work of redemption and specifically the doctrine of effectual calling, with regeneration preceding faith. While not speaking of “regeneration”, the movement from depravity, to redemption, to faith in Psalm 106 is instructive.  Continue reading

Two Common Confusions about Calvinism in Baptist History

careyA few weeks ago, I enumerated the greatest misunderstanding many have with evangelical Calvinism—namely that Calvinism kills evangelism and missions. Today, I want to pick up two more objections that were often raised at my last church, but which have little basis in historical fact.

1. Five-Point Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists

One of the largest confusions in the discussion about Calvinism is the term “Hyper-Calvinism.” Historically-speaking, “Hyper-Calvinism” is different than Five-Point Calvinism. The former has minimized or denied the universal offer of the gospel, the latter has not. The former denies duty-faith—the idea that all are commanded to repent and believer—the latter affirms the universal nature of the gospel call and the duty of every man to repent and belief. Thus, the former has neglected evangelism, missions, and sharing the gospel with all men. The latter, has never minimized the evangelistic work of the Great Commission and its corollary endeavors.

In fact, many Calvinists (e.g., William Carey, Andrew Fuller, and Charles Spurgeon) have argued against Hyper-Calvinism. For instance, William Carey (1761–1834), largely started the modern missions movement when he preached his sermon “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.” In this sermon, preached to a gathering of particular Baptists in England (1792), he outlined how and why “means” were necessary to the advancement of the gospel. He compared the Christian mission to that of a trading company and challenged his comrades to support such an endeavor. With his appeal, he contested the notions of Hyper-Calvinism, which were prevalent at that time, and he soon became the first foreign missionary sent these Baptist churches. Carey was a Baptist and a Calvinist, one who strongly rejected Hyper-Calvinism.

Andrew Fuller is another Calvinistic Baptist who argued vehemently against Hyper-Calvinism. Coming out of a Hyper-Calvinistic background, Fuller took to task those preachers who denied a universal offer of the gospel. At that time, many were following the sentiment that claimed that one needed to observe grace before they would pronounce the gospel. It required the minister to have a kind of omniscient clairvoyance. Yet, with his forceful pen, Andrew Fuller rejected the Hyper-Calvinism in his classic work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. In this work, he articulated a view of the gospel that commended limited atonement and yet declared that the gospel was to be proclaimed to all men.

Significantly, at this time, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists all suffered from the “Modern Question” (Nettles, The Baptists, 1:248), which proposed that a man was never responsible for that which he could not do. In the case of those with Calvinistic leanings, this meant that if a man was unable to believe in the gospel (due to his spiritually dead and depraved standing), then he was not culpable. Hence, many falsely taught that the gospel need not go to all men, but only the elect. The folly in this is assuming one could discern who those were. Ironically, Pelagians/Semi-Pelagians/Arminians fall prey to the same confusion when they argue that men, in and of themselves, are capable of responding to the gospel because God would not give a command that man was incapable obeying.

Finally, Charles Spurgeon is another Calvinist who rejected Hyper-Calvinism. Iain Murray has treated this in his book, Spurgeon and Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 1995). In the book Murray, writes why this book is important,

Hyper-Calvinism only arises whenever and wherever the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is firmly believed. The reason why Spurgeon’s first controversy has been so little thought of in these last hundred years is not that the subject is insignificant. It is rather that doctrinal Christianity as a whole has been too largely ignored. At the present time, when evangelical Calvinism is again being recovered in many parts of the earth, the danger of Hyper-Calvinism is once more a possibility and the lessons to be drawn from this old controversy have again become relevant.

Spurgeon’s reasoning against Hyper-Calvinism coheres with Andrew Fuller—the Hyper-Calvinists deny “duty-faith,” Spurgeon rightly affirms it. Consequently, Spurgeon is a trustworthy preacher of the gospel, who calls all men to faith in Christ.

Anyone who mislabels Five-Pointers with Hyper-Calvinism must redefine their terms, or do their homework in history. The two are not the same.

2. Calvinism is Incompatible with Baptist Doctrine

In church history, Presbyterians and Reformed (the denomination, that is) have been predominately Calvinistic. In the last century, mainline Presbyterians in the Presbyterian Church-USA have become liberal and are not constrained by the Bible at all. This denomination is vastly different from the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The former questions the Bible and mutes the gospel; the latter defends the Bible and cherishes the gospel. The former is Calvinistic in tradition only; the latter adheres to a covenantal theology that leads to infant baptism. In this, they fail to understand the difference of the New Covenant and they important many Old Testament notions for being God’s people. They would do well to see the Old Testament symbol of circumcision as a type fulfilled in Christ, not a type that has been transferred into paedo-baptism.

As far as Baptists go, there have always been Calvinistic Baptists and Non-Calvinistic Baptists. Sometimes the first group has been called separate or particular or reformed Baptists; the latter group has been called general or regular Baptists. Some of the most significant figures in the early centuries of Baptist life were Calvinistic. For instance, British Baptists Benjamin Keach (1640–1704), John Gill (1697–1771), Andrew Fuller (1754–1815), and William Carey (1761–1834) were all Calvinistic in their doctrinal stance. In America Isaac Backus and John Leland (who was the pastor in conversation with Thomas Jefferson concerning the separation of church and state[1]), Richard Furman from which Furman College gets its name, Shubal Stearns[2], Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice[3], and the founders of Southern Seminary (James P. Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly, Jr., William Williams) were all Calvinistic in their doctrine. Moreover, when the Southern Baptist Convention was begun (1845), every representative at the first convention came from churches that held to Calvinistic confessions of faith. One in particular was P.H. Mell. Mell served as SBC President for more than fifteen years (1863–71, 1880-87). Of the five points of Calvinism, he wrote, “These doctrines [are] the basis of all our pulpit ministrations.”[4]

In most recent years—from the mid-twentieth century until the turn of the century—the SBC has been decidedly Non-Calvinistic. During most of those years, liberalism and modernism pervaded the seminaries (until the 1990’s)[5], and Calvinism was virtually unheard of, except in a few rare exceptions.

Systematically, there is nothing in the belief system of Baptists that must deny Calvinist thinking. Many of the first Baptist confessions are Calvinistic (e.g., 2nd London [1689], Philadelphia). Today, the Baptist Faith and Message is a document that has a historic trail to these earlier confessions. In 1833, the New Hampshire Confession was drafted, modifying the staunchly Calvinistic confessions with a much more moderate Calvinism. The article concerning the “Purposes of Grace” is agreeable to Calvinist and Non-Calvinists. While Calvinists would say more, this document permits Calvinist and Non-Calvinist to retain gospel-centered fellowship in Baptist life (churches, missions, denomination).

In the end, the statement that Baptists are not Calvinistic is short-sighted. It may be the experience of many today, but historically there have been many Baptists of the Calvinistic stream. In fact, some of the most influential apparently” non-Calvinists” are also surprisingly committed to the doctrines of grace—I have in mind here the interview John Piper had with Rick Warren.

Of course, Calvinism is not proved by clarifying its historical moorings. However, if we are going to rightly talk about such doctrinal matters and historical terms, it is vital clarify that Calvinism is not the same thing as Hyper-Calvinism and that Calvinism has held a long and faithful position in the history of Baptists. For those engaged in such discussions, let’s remember our history as we formulate theology in the present.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

________________

[1]The original intent of Jefferson and Leland was the assurance that the state could not interfere with the church, not the reverse as it has been misused today.

[2]Stearns is the founder Sandy Creek association which makes up one of two importants streams flowing into Southern Baptist life. While Sandy Creek has usually been associated with revivalistic preachers and churches, a feature that has sometimes excluded Calvinistic doctrine, Tom Nettles shows that Stearns has Calvinistic-leanings (The Baptists, 2:162-73).

[3]Judson was converted to Baptist belief on the boat ride to his missionary outpost. Luther Rice was another missionary who believed in the doctrines of grace.

[4]Quoted in Nettles, The Baptists, 2:342. There is room for debate about how the five-points of Calvinism relate to preaching; however, the point is clear, the SBC began with a large influence from Calvinists.

[5]Southwestern being the exception. It was never as bad as the other seminaries.

The Greatest Misunderstanding About Evangelical Calvinism

sheep

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.
I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.
So there will be one flock, one shepherd. . . .
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe.
The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me,
but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

— John 10:16, 25–27 —

A few weeks ago I had a phone conversation with a church planting strategist in the Midwest. In discussing the merits and demerits of theology and church planting, he remarked: “The best church planters in our state are Calvinists.”

This admission did not surprise me because I know some of those church planters. They are men gripped by the gospel and desirous to see the nations come to worship King Jesus. It also didn’t surprise me because Calvinism—when it is rightly understood!!—always promotes missions, evangelism, and church planting. Church history and biblical testimony both support this fact.

Sadly, such cohesion between election and evangelism is often missed. The sentiment among many opponents of “Calvinism”—often, erroneously described as hyper-Calvinism (which is something else entirely)—is that such theology ruins evangelism. However, such a view is short-sighted. It overlooks key passages in the Bible that unite those two great themes (e.g., see Matthew 11:25–30; Acts 18:9–10; Romans 9 and 10; and 2 Timothy 2:10). Such claims also fail to remember that the modern missionary movement was, in large part, begun by Calvinists.

Therefore, by focusing on such evangelical Calvinism, I want to show from church history how Calvinism has always promoted missions, evangelism, and prayer. (For those looking for a biblical engagement of evangelism and election, see my two articles: “Evangelism and Election” and “How Does the Bible Speak About Election?“). Continue reading

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism means different things to different people. Even to those who might call themselves “Calvinist,” what they mean by the term is not always the same. Typically, as a shorthand expression for what I believe about salvation, I am comfortable to call myself a Calvinist. And yet, because that label is so often misused, misunderstood, and misapplied, I am equally desirous to avoid it altogether.

Nevertheless, the question remains: What is Calvinism?

The answer to that question takes more than just two sentence, simple answer. Because it is a term that has historical, theological, and worldview meanings, it takes time to get a handle on it. Therefore, for those who have an interest and an ear to hear, let me give you a five-fold answer to that question: Calvinism is (1) a shorthand expression for the doctrines of grace, (2) a biblical-theological system, (3) an historical phenomenon, (4) a biblical worldview, and (5) an attitude of worship. As always, let me know what you think.  Continue reading

Singing the TULIP from the Baptist Hymnal

baptist

One of the saddest effects of the Calvinism debate among Southern Baptists has been the way the discussion about predestination, etc. has moved from the realm of praise to that of polemics. Truly, the faith we hold must be defended. Christians are a people who are called to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Nevertheless, when we find election in the Bible it is often  a source of praise (Ephesians 1:4–6), a motivation for missions (John 10:16, 26; Acts 18:9–10), and a reason for comfort and assurance (Romans 8:29–39). Rarely, if ever, is election up for debate in the Scripture.

For this reason, discussions about “the TULIP,” which only swim in the pond of argument and persuasion, miss the genre and the goal of biblical election. While I cannot speak for all Calvinists, I can say the ones I know are far more interested in worship and winning the lost than winning the debate about “Calvinism.” For those who hold to the doctrines of grace, the doctrines of grace increase our affections for God and his mission to reach the world for Christ.

For Calvinists, unconditional election is a source of sheer amazement that God would set his love on such a worm as me. Limited atonement becomes a risk-empowering confidence that the cross will accomplish the salvation of all God’s sheep. And irresistible grace is the power God employs to free sinners, so that they can freely follow him.

To be sure, each of these points need sub-points, but the doctrines of grace—to those who delight in them—are not mere theological shibboleths; they are invitations to worship the omni-benevolent and all-powerful God. With this in mind, it is not surprising to find that the Baptist Hymnal (the old one) is filled with songs that not only touch on the TULIP, but praise God for the very doctrines espoused in that acronym.

Now, maybe you’ve never noticed just how many (not all) hymns are written by Calvinists. Once you begin to learn the backdrop to the Baptist Hymnal, however, it is hard to miss the rich hymnody produced by the likes of Isaac Watts, John Newton, William Cowper, and others who affirmed the TULIP. It is my hope that by drawing attention to the following songs, you might see the doctrines of grace in their native habitat—the praise and worship of the church. My prayer is that God may open your eyes to behold the beauty of his multi-faceted grace, what sometimes goes under the acronym TULIP. Continue reading

The Language of Election in the Bible: A Few Word Studies

electionIn today’s sermon on Titus 1:1–4, I considered the question: What is election?

I stated the New Testament teaches that election is individual and unconditional. This, of course, is not an undisputed interpretation, but it is my conviction after wrestling with the doctrine over the last dozen years. In my sermon, I only had time to quote Ephesians 1:4–6 and Romans 9:15–16, 18 as evidence for an individual and unconditional election.

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4–6)

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . . So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:15–16, 18)

However, for those who are interested in considering this subject in greater detail, I have outlined the following word studies. I wrote these a few years ago and edited them this week. For those desirous of seeing what Scripture says about election, predestination, and other related subjects, these documents will introduce and comment upon a number of important texts.

All together the studies comprise over 30 pages. Therefore, to help arrange it, I’ve broken them up into smaller studies. Since I haven’t had time to add the Scripture reference in every case, you should read these word studies and theological reflections with an open Bible. (Because they were written with my congregation in mind they are based on the English Standard Version, not the original languages. Perhaps, at some time in the future, I update the contents with further attention to the Greek and Hebrew).

Word Studies

Theological Reflections

Let me know what you think and what questions remain concerning the doctrine of salvation. I believe iron sharpens iron and that humble, honest discussion about this biblical truth is good and needed in the church.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

Can Anything Good Come From Geneva?

reformersToday, Kevin DeYoung asked the question, “What Do You Think of When You Think of the New Calvinism?” His response would be like mine. I am grateful for the men, Reformed in their soteriology, who have enlarged my vision of God for the last decade. Without them, I would still be an open theist (or worse), struggling with the anxieties that come from a misshapen view of God. Instead, because of the ministries of John Piper, Albert Mohler, and Mark Dever—to name only a few—I stand ready to rejoice in the Lord and risk on his behalf. And I stand, not because of my own strength, but because of the strong hand of the Lord who upholds me.

Now there are many, some of my closest brothers in Christ, who do not agree with me on the value of Reformed theology. For many there is suspicion, uncertainty, and diffidence towards ‘Calvinism’ and the men and women who assume the name ‘Calvinist.’ To echo the words of Nathanael, they might ask, “Can anything good come from Geneva?”  Continue reading

‘Credit the Calvinists’: A First Things Article by a Non-Calvinist

It’s always interesting to hear Non-Calvinists interact with Calvin and his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian ReligionMost recently, James R. Rogers, a political science professor at Texas A & M and a self-described non-Calvinist, made some astute observations about Calvin, Luther, and Augustine. Here is his lead paragraph.

I picked up John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion some years back. Dipping into it, I anticipated a dry, grim, and doctrinaire treatise. Perhaps because I came to it with such low expectations, the books surprised me. I found the Institutes surprisingly accessible, written by a lively, engaged mind. I anticipated the argument of the books to be tightly wound around the theme of God’s sovereignty—with the focus on God’s glory coming at the expense of humanity’s abasement. Instead, as in Martin Luther’s treatment of predestination, I found that God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of predestination played a manifestly pastoral role in Calvin’s theology. The focus was not on obliterating the human, but rather underscoring God’s great love for his people in rescuing humanity from death, darkness, and despair. The upshot of the doctrine as I read Calvin was “This is a God you can trust.”

I would whole-heartedly agree with Rogers. Anyone who critiques Calvinism carte blanche has never read Calvin. Calvin’s Institutes—aside from his polemical arguments against Roman Catholicism—is entirely devotional. It beckons the reader not to know theology, but to know God. Predestination for Calvin—and the Calvinists I know—is not a heady doctrine to figure out who’s in and who’s out. It’s the humbling truth that God from eternity past has been at work to secure my salvation.

Rogers whole article, “Credit the Calvinists,” is worth reading, as it recognizes a major reason why Calvinism is both loved and hated today. Against the current spirit of the age, Calvinism offers an anthropology (i.e., a view of humanity) that bespeaks man’s moral inability to seek after God. He summarizes why many oppose Calvinism,

Modern man does not want to be transparent before God, or before anyone else. We deem it an invasion of our privacy and of our autonomy. We want our hearts to be the one place in creation so sacred that even God dare not tread there.

Rogers is right. No one naturally desires to relinquish sovereignty over his life.  As Paul put it, quoting the Psalms,

None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one. (Rom 3:10-12)

The glory of a Reformed soteriology (doctrine of salvation) is that the Triune God liberates the heart enslaved to sin, so that regenerate man might freely choose Christ. Calvinism does not decimate free will; it rehabilitates it by means of the resurrecting power of the effectual call. May we rejoice in that truth and preach the gospel to all men, so that the good shepherd would claim his sheep by name.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss