A response to your article “What’s Wrong with Calvinism?” in The Baptist Voice, February 2007
by Alan Shook
Let me begin by saying that I am writing this response as one who came to Christ in a fundamental, Baptist, non-Calvinist church. I spent the first 28 years of my life in such churches and only finally left the last one after I had wrestled through the issue of “Calvinism” for over a year. I am happy to say that I left that church on good terms and can continue to consider the pastor and congregants as my friends and, of course, my brethren in Christ, our serious theological disagreement notwithstanding. Please understand that I believe that there are many, many godly men and women who are not Calvinists. I have known them personally; in fact, two of them are my parents! Likewise, I have no reason to believe that you are anything but a sincere and reasonable man of God, and I plead with you to read my comments as from one who bears no animosity toward you but who seeks to gently correct some misrepresentations and kindly challenge some of your arguments, one brother to another.
The first misrepresentation I would like to address is found on page 12, where you state that you “believe [Calvinism] will prove in the twenty-first century to be the enemy of revival and evangelism.” I would agree that there have been those in Christian history (let’s call them “hyper-Calvinists”) who have stifled evangelism and missions; I’m sure you are familiar with the infamous rebuff which William Carey received from such folks. But ironically, Carey himself was a Calvinist and saw no disconnect between his theology and his passion to proclaim the gospel to souls who had never heard it! Carey is certainly not the exception among Calvinists. The First Great Awakening was unquestionably a Calvinist-heavy revival, whose main figures were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, both firm Calvinists. Charles Spurgeon, who is (ironically) lauded in Paul Chappell’s article across the page, was also an unapologetic Calvinist. So were Francis Schaeffer and Martin Lloyd-Jones, who wrote, ministered, and preached evangelistically. The founder of the “Evangelism Explosion” program, D. James Kennedy, is likewise a Calvinist. These are just a few of the “brighter” lights; there are certainly countless numbers of unknown Calvinist pastors and laypeople who love to proclaim the good news to anyone who will listen. Personally, I have to say that I have never met a “hyper-Calvinist,” though I don’t doubt that they exist; however, all of the Calvinists whom I have known have all been firmly committed to evangelism and missions. Fairness and truth would be better served if you would distinguish between “Calvinism” and “Hyper-Calvinism” and acknowledge the historic record, which clearly shows that Calvinism is no enemy of evangelism, although Hyper-Calvinism (which both Calvinists and non-Calvinists eschew) is.
Secondly, I would like to briefly challenge your statement that you “have trouble finding tulips in the Bible.” The terms “Trinity” and “hypostatic union” are not in the Bible either, but I’m sure you don’t object to the doctrines to which these linguistic “handles” refer. The fact that these words are not found in the Bible is irrelevant. The acronym TULIP has historically been used to simply aid the learning and memorization of the doctrine for which each letter stands.
Next, I would like to challenge your statement that there “must be a cooperation on the part of the individual with the Holy Spirit’s conviction.” You believe that God cannot (or at least will not) save anyone who does not cooperate or yield to His call or drawing. If such is the case, then I cannot see how to reconcile this with your statement later “that salvation has nothing to do with what I have done.” In your scheme, the only reason anyone is saved, ultimately, is because he did something … he cooperated with the Spirit. I would like to know, then, why it is that you and I cooperated with the Spirit while others reject the call and will die in their sins? Were you and I somehow more sensitive to the Spirit than the others? Were our hearts softer? Were our wills more pliable? Perhaps we were wiser? What qualities or characteristics did we possess that the others didn’t, which led to our cooperation with the Spirit and ultimately then resulted in our salvation? Ultimately, I think it is impossible to deny that when you take your understanding to its logical conclusion, you’ll be forced to admit that the only reason that we are Christians is because of something we did that others didn’t. If you can provide an explanation of how this can be reconciled with your statement that salvation “has nothing to do with what I have done,” I would be eager to hear it.
I find it interesting that you use John 6:63 and part of John 6:44 to demonstrate that the “Spirit of God obviously has to work in a life in order for a person to come to Christ.” You should have continued past verse 63 and quoted verses 64 and 65 also. If you had, you would have seen that Christ states in verse 64 that “there are some of you who do not believe.” In verse 65, He explains why they didn’t believe when He says “this is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted Him by the Father.” There’s no way around this—Jesus is clearly saying that the reason some do not believe (or “come”) is that the Father has not granted it to them to do so.
Why did you not quote the rest of verse 44? Did you realize that doing so would undermine your own argument? The entire verse says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” We can see clearly (when the entire verse is quoted) that Christ will raise up on the last day the one whom the Father draws. There is no room in this context for a person who is drawn by the Father who is not also finally resurrected in a glorified body on the last day. In other words, all that the Father draws will be saved! Thus, sobering though it is, since not all are saved, we are forced to conclude (based on the Bible) that not all are drawn by the Father.
We find this same teaching in the famous “golden chain of redemption” of Romans 8:29-30. “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Again, there is no way to get around the tight logic of Paul’s teaching: all who are foreknown by God are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son; all who are thus predestined are also called; all who are called are also justified; and all who are justified are also glorified. There is no room whatsoever, in this context, for a person who is called but is not justified because he fails to yield to that call. Again, just as all who are drawn are saved, so also all who are called are saved. There is no person who will be drawn or called who will not also be saved.
Of course, we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. And all those who are called or drawn (and only those) will respond with a genuine God-given faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that because we know that all of them will be justified, and we know that nobody is justified but through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 4). But why will they respond in faith, if they, like every child of Adam, are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) and do not seek for God (Rom. 3:11) and, being in the flesh, “cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8)? The answer is not found within them but rather outside of them! Look for example, at a passage like Ezekiel 36:25-27, which says, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Those whom God calls will respond in faith because God has given them a new heart, a new spirit; He will remove their hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. This is likely the passage Jesus had in mind in John 3:5-7.
So while it’s true, as you point out, that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,” none will believe except those whom God has first given a new heart. They will call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. You can quote as many “whosoever will” verses you want, but none of them imply in the least that everyone has the ability to believe!
When it comes to the several verses you use to try to disprove the “limited atonement,” I can’t take the time to show you how Reformed theologians have understood each of those passages. However, I would strongly encourage you to read John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, which stands, even after several centuries, as an unrefuted defense of the limited atonement. He exegetes every passage that has a bearing on the subject of atonement, including all of those passages that you cite as evidence against the limited atonement. Generally speaking, though, the words “all” and “the world” are frequently limited in scope by the context of the passage, or sometimes they can mean something like “not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles.” You even seem to acknowledge this when you say “the Gospel is for everybody, not simply for the Jew, but also for the Gentile.” Revelation 5:9 sheds light when it tells us that Christ “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” God has chosen to call out, ransom, and provide atonement for a people from among every people group, not just the Jews.
I have already shown that God’s grace is irresistible, or as some state it, His call is effectual. I’ll offer a few more general comments about your section on “Irresistible Grace.” I don’t know if you have read any Reformed literature, but if you have, you may recall that Reformed theologians draw a distinction between an outward call (such as we read of in Isaiah 65:12 and Jeremiah 7:12) and an inward call (such as we see in John 6 and Romans eight). When the outward call is heard without the inward call, then the outward call can be, and in fact always is, rejected. But when the outward call is accompanied by the inward call, the one called will always come. We can see both of these exemplified in John 6. Here Christ Himself gives an outward call, but not all respond in belief. He explains, however, that all who do respond in belief do so because the Father has effectually drawn them.
I will move on to your section on the “Perseverance of the Saints.” I was startled at your misrepresentation of the Calvinist position. We do believe that we can have assurance of our salvation, but we also warn (as the Bible does!) against a dangerous presumption of our salvation. We see over and over again in Scripture (James 2 and the entire letter of 1 John, for examples) that a genuine God-given faith will prove itself in a genuinely changed life. A truly justified Christian will also be sanctified as God works in him to will and do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Walking an aisle or repeating a “sinner’s prayer” is never given as a basis for assurance in the Bible. But John tells us in 1 John 2:3 that “by this we know that we have come to know Him [this is true Biblical assurance], if we keep His commandments; whoever says “I know Him”, but does not keep His commandments is a liar.”
I have also never heard a Calvinist say, or read a Calvinist who wrote, that “perhaps God has given [a person] a false faith because he is not really one of the elect.” I’d be interested to know where you get such an idea. We do believe, however, what the Bible says about the unregenerate heart: it is deceitful! And unsaved people can fool themselves (or be fooled by the Devil) into thinking that they are truly born again simply because, for example, they have walked down an aisle during a revival meeting their saved friend brought them to. Never mind the fact that they continue to live their lives as they always have: they never again darken the doors of a church, they never pray, study the Bible, or demonstrate any real desire to grow in grace. Such people should not be assured by their pastors of their salvation, even if they may intellectually assent to the truths of the gospel. Rather, they should be lovingly encouraged to “make their calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10).
You state that “the Bible does not teach the saints persevering in order to keep salvation,” as though Calvinists teach that it does. We do believe, though, that because God is at work in us to conform us to the image of Christ, we will persevere in our faith. We don’t persevere in order to keep our salvation, which smacks of works salvation; we persevere because we are saved, because God will cause us to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules (Ezek. 36:27).
I think most Calvinists would agree with your focus on God’s preservation of the saints. But the saints will persevere because God preserves them; preservation and perseverance, in other words, are two sides of the same coin.
I want to use your own words, Dr. Goetsch, and encourage you to get your answers from the Word of God. I challenge you to study these passages as well as other key passages like Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. Find out what God said about how a person gets saved. We have a responsibility as God’s people to know and to share the message.
I think the last paragraph of your article was the most disappointing and slanderous of all. Most Calvinists I know are vibrant and passionate (not dead!) in their service and are involved in many evangelistic endeavors, such as evangelistic Bible studies (some which specifically minister to the Amish community, a generally neglected mission field), evangelistic jail ministries, or handing out tracts. In fact, I have actually written a gospel tract for my church and look for opportunities to hand it out and discuss it. Can I do more than I do to share the gospel? Of course—don’t we all have room for improvement in this as well as in every other area in our lives? You should know that (by God’s grace alone!) I am actually far more passionate about my faith and concerned about evangelism as a Calvinist than I ever was as a non-Calvinist. Believing that God is sovereign in salvation is a source of great confidence and courage. We know that God has chosen to save His elect through the means of proclaiming the gospel, so we gladly and joyfully proclaim it to everyone, knowing that God will use the means of our “outward call” to issue His own effectual “inward call” to those whom He foreknew and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
In conclusion, I would ask you to remember your influence as the vice president of a Bible college. Your students have great respect for you and will place much weight upon your words. And I’m afraid that your words will mislead impressionable students to believe many untrue things about Calvinists and Calvinism. I have read and heard these slanders against Calvinists over the years from many different opponents of Calvinism; and I believed them! Then I actually read the literature of Calvinists and got to know an entire church full of them and discovered that the description that I had been given about them was, frankly, a sinful distortion of the truth. Honestly, I am tired of seeing Calvinist brethren whom I know and love deeply being unfairly disparaged and slandered. I would strongly encourage you to seriously consider printing a retraction of the unkind—and false—misrepresentations you have made. It’s one thing to disagree charitably over beliefs and doctrine, which is necessary and understandable; but it’s another thing to demonize your own brethren.
Alan Shook, Jr.
Glen Burnie, MD
Note: This letter was sent to Dr. Goetsch a week prior to its posting on SI.
|Alan Shook is a sinner saved by the sovereign grace of God and an active member of a local church in Linthicum, Maryland. He works for the federal government in Washington, D.C. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Christi, and his dog, Bella. His personal interests include reading good Christian books and pretending to play the electric guitar.|