“Pastor J.D., Are You a Calvinist?”

Posted by Pastor J.D. on October 26, 2012
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I get this question about once a week. To be honest, I’m actually grateful that I get it, because I hope I preach in such a way that makes people ask. That is, I wrestle with the glory of God and the awesomeness of the Gospel to such an extent that would imply to some that I’m a Calvinist, and then that I plead for people to come to Jesus in a way that makes people think I think it’s all up to me, which would imply that I am not.

Often Calvinists will say that Calvinism is the essence of the Gospel (see Piper, Sproul, Spurgeon, etc). Unfortunately, that statement often gets translated to mean that the particulars of the “5 points” are the essence of the Gospel, which they clearly are not. But I don’t think that’s what those guys mean.

There are 4 things Calvinists often teach, however, which really do get to the heart of a Biblical theology. Regardless of where you come down on the “5 points,” these are things I think Gospel-centered Christians should agree on.

The “priority” of God’s work in salvation: The Bible teaches that no person can come to God unless Jesus first works in Him. Our own hearts, naturally, are so dark and hard, that they hate God rather than love Him. It takes a work of God’s grace in us before we will desire to know God. How that happens, what role our cooperation plays in that… those things we might disagree on. But we must agree that God’s work must come before we can choose Him (John 1:13; Philippians 2:13; John 6:44).

The preeminence of God’s glory in salvation: Calvinists often emphasize, correctly, that the biggest reality in the universe, and the priority among God’s purposes on earth, is His own glory. Thankfully, God’s glory is most shown in our salvation, but God’s glorification takes priority over our salvation, because God takes priority over us. This is made very clear, for instance, in Ezekiel 36:22-23 and Romans 3:24-25. God is so incredible that He glorified Himself by emptying Himself, being trampled on and crucified for us (Philippians 2:5-11). This is important, because if the fact that God’s glory is ultimate in the universe were not true, then a lot of things in the Bible won’t make sense to us (Why is there an eternal hell? Why isn’t everyone saved?).

The sovereignty of God in the spread of the Gospel: Even if you don’t believe that God determines, individually, who will be saved and who will not, we have to recognize that God has maintained control of when and how the Gospel has been preached. It was Jesus who chose to choose 12 (He could have chosen more than 12, or even an army of angels to do it). It is He who chose where to send them. He told Paul to go certain places and steered Him away from others. He transported Philip into the desert. He chose to let me be born to Christian parents. God has an agenda He is pursuing and is, ultimately, in charge of. That is a promise to me that even the hardest, most closed Muslim places will one day experience the Gospel.

That God owes no man salvation: We all deserve hell, no exceptions. The fact that God saves any of us is an act of lavish grace. God does not award salvation, or even the chance to be saved, because of any good He sees in us. He didn’t choose me because He saw I’d believe. From start to finish, His work in those He saves is ALL grace.

Anyway, that’s my .02. I try to pray like it’s all up to God, and then preach Christ like it’s all up to me. The strange thing is, the more people I share Christ with, the more people seem to keep getting elected.

Pastor J.D.

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J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). More

17 responses to “Pastor J.D., Are You a Calvinist?”

  1. I love that last line… “the more people I share Christ with, the more people seem to keep getting elected.”

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I haven’t emailed you about it, but I have been wondering if there was an “official” Summit stance or an official JD stance on the topic. It has come up in our LIFEgroup at least once. Free will and election are a paradox to our limited human minds, yet the Scriptures seem to support both.

  3. Jd,
    Do you think that you need to affirm limited atonement if you affirm the doctrine of predestination or completely sovereign election?
    I have come to the conclusion that they have to go hand in hand.

  4. IMO, when someone tries to explain the sovereignty of God FROM GOD’S VEIWPOINT, they turn into a Calvinist. That’s the problem: we can’t try to play God or view things from His perspective. All we know is that we, His people, are commanded to preach the gospel to every creature. Whether or not someone gets saved is between that individual and God. We have no way of knowing if that person were to truly trust Christ. I don’t know that about you, and you don’t know that about me.
    I also believe that a Calvinist must believe in limited atonement, which would make John 3:16 false. I guess a Calvinist has a hard time lining up completely with the Bible.

  5. Hey, Josh – Calvinists (though, in passing I would say most of us tend to prefer “reformed” as a less restrictive label) don’t actually have any problem with John 3:16. I would suggest that most people read into that verse a promise that’s not actually presented in that verse at all, and then use that to refute “Calvinism”. Believe it or not, that verse doesn’t at all refute Limited Atonement, but it affirms Perseverance of the Saints.

    The promise of John 3:16 is that all those believing will not perish, but will have eternal life. That promise is echoed in John 6:37-40, when Jesus promises that he will keep all that the Father gives him, and neither lose nor cast out a single one. All those believing are saved and eternally secure.

    The promise is not that all men can or will believe. John says that Jesus, the very light of the world, came into the presence of men – and they preferred the darkness, because they were dead in sin. We, like Lazarus, need to be called from out of our tombs, from death to life, and look upon the Son of Man, high and lifted up. Otherwise, the message of Christ crucified is foolishness to us.

  6. You only get this question about once a week? i would’ve thought waaay more than that…….

  7. The link to the sermon appears to be broken. Which sermon was it?

  8. The link JD refers to read/hear his sermon is not working. Could you please give me that link. I am very interested in anything JD has preached about whether God determines who is saved and who is not.
    Thanks.

  9. A couple of you have noted that the link that J.D. refers to here is broken. The sermon was from a 2007 conference, but the conference organizers had removed it to make space for more recent talks. We’re working on getting hard copy from them, and we’ll update the blog with that when we have it.

    Sorry to tease! Hopefully we’ll get this resolved soon.

  10. I also am interested in the restored link… and want to posit a thought toward John 3:16 that some have made. Clearly the text is emphasizing the greatness of the love of God in that he would send his Son to save wretches like ourselves. The second part of the verse seems to emphasize the “whoever” shall call, pointing to the engagement of volition and desire to call upon Him to be saved. But it does not require that response. In a sense “who soever will” – Will! Who soever won’t – Wont! (call upon the name of the Lord) I offer that, wondering how John 3:16 seems to be set up as the final proof text against particular redemption/Ltd. Atonement, since it doesn’t seem to really even address the idea ?

  11. Context of John 3 speaks of salvation to whoever believes and God’s desire to save the world not condemn it.

    John 3:14-18
    And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

    Jesus says in John 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

  12. Hey, everyone – we were unable to get the link to the sermon that J.D. had mentioned in this post. If you are interested in any more of J.D.’s thoughts on Calvinism, this short video may offer a little more insight.

    http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2010/11/aaf-whats-the-deal-with-calvinism.html

    Other than that, though, this post will have to suffice. Speaking from experience with J.D., however, I can say with confidence that this is an excellent summary of his views on the topic. There aren’t any hidden nuggets out there waiting to be mined . . . or if there are, they are hidden from us all!

  13. I would like to know where Sproul, Piper, or any other Calvinist ever said that “Calvinism is the essence of the gospel” ?

  14. Tandy, a simple google search should do the trick for you.

  15. Pastor J.D. – I did a Google search of “Calvinism is the essence of the gospel,” as you suggested and neither Piper or Sproul came up. Instead, the great preacher Charles Spurgeon came up many times. Yet i am compelled by Spurgeon’s reasoning, that Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism are just two sides of the same unbiblical coin. http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/spurgeonforgotten.html

    I enjoyed your reply to the question “Are you a Calvinist.” It seems you are, which is good, because it is Biblical. If you choose to not declare it, so as not to alienate the majority “free will” folks, I understand. I liked your final comment, “The strange thing is, the more people I share Christ with, the more people seem to keep getting elected,” but technically this is incorrect. They were elected in eternity past and saved by Jesus on the cross. Their election is simply manifesting itself when the Holy Spirit wakes them up, or brings them to life, as a result of hearing your call to repent of their sins and believe in Christ Jesus for salvation. Pretty cool job, eh?

  16. But doesn’t giving a response to the gospel imply a responsibility on the part of the lost person? and isn’t there also a responsibility on our part as believers to go. It seems to me that obedience is at the heart of the answer. God has called upon the lost and dying world to respond. He has called on us as his servants to go out into the world and compel them to respond. Choose you this day whom you will serve. The gospel demands a response.

  17. Are you a replacement theologist? In your latest Right Now Media video on Ephesians, you made a strong statement that “the church is the NEW Israel”. What a grievous theological error and statement to come from a prominent pastor. Perhaps you phrased it wrong, but it’s now in public display!

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