Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Why Rejecting Calvinism Is Not An Option
I have been blogging on the Tulip Driven Life for several years now. Over time I have amassed a small readership. I have been told by some of you how much you appreciate this blog and the content on it. For that I am very thankful. Some of you who appreciate this blog are not Calvinists yourself. It isn't necessarily that you think it is evil like many who reject Calvinism do, or that it is some man made system imposed upon Scripture, but rather you don't see it as a necessary conclusion from Scripture. Perhaps you also do not see the importance of holding to the doctrines of grace, and therefore you have never taken it upon yourself to study them and determine whether or not they are scriptural.
What I want to show is that Calvinism is both biblical and necessary. So much so, in fact, that one cannot reject Calvinism without also rejecting much of Scripture. Moreover, to reject Calvinism is to reject the clearest expression of the gospel and to distort the character of God.
It is true that non-Calvinists and Calvinists alike can agree that the proclamation of the gospel is incredibly important, and believers of all stripes should somehow be proclaiming it. It is also true that we all agree that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, and that a truly saved person will live a lifestyle keeping with their repentance. Where we differ is on two key issues: 1.) How does man acquire saving faith, and 2.) What is God's purpose in sending His Son to save man?
Neither of this questions are on the periphery of the Christian faith. They are central, and how we answer these two questions will determine much of how we view God, man, and the purpose of our existence.
The non-Calvinist will generally say that man produces saving faith by their own willpower. Most will say that man needed God's prevenient grace in order to produce saving faith, but that everyone receives this prevenient grace. This grace enables fallen man to choose God, and those who do so receive Christ as Lord and Savior are forgiven. Prevenient grace does not, however, compel one to trust in Christ. The change of the will from self to Christ still lies in the power and determination of man. Thus saving faith ultimately springs from man's strength and not God's working.
In contrast, the Calvinist says that man is dead in trespasses and sin and as such needs new life in order to have saving faith. This new life comes in the form of regeneration, the new birth, where God the Holy Spirit enters a person and changes the disposition of the sinner from hard heartedness to repentance. Thus faith is a gift of God and not a work of man, so that no man can boast and God receives all the glory (Eph. 2:1-10).
In Bible college we called this the reformed shibboleth, something that if one can affirm makes them a Calvinist. If one can affirm that regeneration precedes faith, that regeneration produces saving faith, then one is a Calvinist. Once one believes that, all 5 points of Calvinism fall into place because man's free will has been relinquished to the sovereign will of God. All who refuse to affirm that the new birth precedes faith ultimately say one chooses to be born again by exercising saving faith of their own free will, and then once they have done so God "chooses" to give them new life, to regenerate them and give them the Holy Spirit. Calvinists then see God as choosing who will be saved and come to faith (and we also affirm that no one apart from God choosing will want to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior). Non-Calvinists say that, though God may give some grace, it is ultimately man and not God who chooses and determines whether or not they will have saving faith.
This bears weight on question 2 from above. What is God's purpose in saving man? The non-Calvinist will likely say that while it does have to do with God's glory, God also desires every single person to be saved, but He will not save them all out of respect to man's free will. In other words, God sees man being able to choose between heaven and hell more important than Him making all men willing to trust in Him for salvation and escape hell. Some may choose to view hell as the absence of God rather than a place where God actively pours out His wrath. The whole point of the fall of man in the garden of Eden therefore occurred because God wanted to "respect" man's freedom, even though He knew in doing so He would not be sovereign and man would. In other words, the fall was something God did not want yet occurred against His will. Why? To respect man, to allow man to have free will. Man's free will is the most important thing to many non-Calvinists.
Calvinist answer question number 2 very differently. They say that God's purpose in saving man was to redeem a people for Himself to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Non-Calvinists would affirm this as well to be sure, but they get there in a completely different way. Calvinists see God predestining all things for His glory, including the Fall of man, yet in such a way that man still is the one who wills to sin and this is accountable and responsible for their sinfulness. Christ died only for His sheep and guaranteed their salvation and that they would have saving faith at the appointed time, because faith itself is a gift of God given to all whom Christ died for. This preserves God's sovereignty and control over all things, and thus God is not eternally disappointed in anything. Further, the Fall was not a setback for God but part of His plan from the beginning to glorify Himself and especially His Son in human flesh. The Calvinists top priority is protecting the sovereignty of God and His freedom to do as He wills, and at the same time no violence is done to the will of the creature. God's sovereignty and man's willing and responsibility for their choices is not a contradiction according to the Calvinist, because Scripture indicates that it is not a contradiction.
If God's ultimate purpose is His glory, and if He is sovereign, then all things that happen work together for His glory and His people's good. All things, including creation, can be enjoyed and cultivated to glorify Him. If God is not ultimately sovereign, then His glory can not be ultimately pursued in this creation, because man can thwart it. In fact, there would be no guarantee that anyone would be saved since man would be the one who determined whether he or she would be saved, and not God. Thus, Christ could have died and saved no one. The non-Calvinist will present the gospel in such a way that may appeal directly to the unbeliever's emotions or will, since they see the ignition of faith and thus salvation and forgiveness of sins not God's gracious working, but man's free willing. The non-Calvinist will then try to do all that he can to squeeze a "decision" for Christ out of an unbeliever, even if that means using deception, or altar calls with mood music playing. The problem with this of course is that if one can freely trust in Christ for salvation, one can also fall away from trust in Christ.
For the Calvinist, salvation is sure because the love for Christ and faith in Him for salvation itself is a gift. One who loves God and has repented of their sins can be sure they are saved because it is God who has made them willing to repent and believe the gospel. The non-calvinist can give no such assurance, and instead must call a person who is doubting their salvation to "re-commit" their lives to Christ. Which is to say, the vicious cycle never ends. A re-commitment does not lead to reassurance, because it is our proneness to sin even as believer that leaves us in doubt as to whether we really are saved. This has lead some non-Calvinists to come up with the concept of the "carnal Christian," where one can live in sin and yet still be saved. They will say that one can receive Christ as Savior and be forgiven but never receive Christ as Lord. This indicates that some non-Calvinists see God being more concerned that people not get the hell they deserve over God getting the glory He deserves. This of course cannot be.
This is why rejecting Calvinism is not an option. Can you be saved if you are not a Calvinist? Yes, but only by a happy inconsistency. What do I mean by that? I mean that anyone who thinks and says that they are saved ultimately because of the choice they made to repent and believe by their own free will are not saved and never have trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior. This is because they have never seen themselves as a helpless sinner who needs the working of God in them to make them pure and cling to Christ. Instead it claims that the difference between those in heaven and those in hell is the goodness of man and not the graciousness of God since it is man's good choice to change himself and trust in Christ that has saved him rather than God in love working in man to make him willing to turn to Christ and repent of sin.
Thankfully, many non-Calvinists want to give God all the glory for their salvation. If that is you, if you are not a Calvinist but want to give God all the glory for your salvation, then I hope you will see that only a Calvinistic understanding of Scripture can do that. That may lead you to some jarring conclusions about who God is, what He is like and what He is doing with His creation, but you will see how good and sweet and glorious it is in time. This is because the Holy Spirit will work in you to help you see the goodness of His plan. That is what He did for me, and I have never been the same since.