Don’t Be A Fundamentalist (Calvinist Or Otherwise)

Posted by Pastor J.D. on September 11, 2014
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Heresy can be what you believe, but perhaps just as often, heresy is the weight you give an issue you believe. “Fundamentalism” might be understood, in part, as too much weight given to certain aspects of Christian doctrine or practice (the word fundamentalism, historically, doesn’t mean that, but in common parlance that is how it might be understood). Some people give such enormous weight to minor issues that the gospel itself is obscured.

Calvinism is one such issue. We only have so much “bandwidth” as a church, so I choose rather to be known for the gospel than for a tough stance on particulars of Calvinism that are less important than the heart of the message.

So at The Summit Church, I often say, “Calvinism is not an issue to me until it becomes one to you. But when it becomes one to you, it becomes one to me… and I’ll probably take whatever side you are not.” What someone believes about the finer points of Calvinism is not usually the issue; it’s how they believe it. We may have trouble achieving absolute clarity together on every one of the “five points,” but we can be absolutely clear on the fact that the Bible condemns a divisive and uncharitable spirit over something about which gospel-loving Christians have historically had trouble finding complete agreement.

In Martin Luther’s preface to his Commentary to the Romans, he pointed out that God unfolded the doctrines of election in Romans 9, not Romans 1. Luther says that the doctrine of election was intended to explain why Romans 1–8 worked like they did, not function as the only gateway for believing the gospel of Romans 1–8. Many Calvinists have, practically speaking, moved the doctrine of election from Romans 9 to Romans 1, making it the only door through which you can really believe the gospel.

Don’t hear me encouraging some kind of doctrinal reductionism. We should think deeply about election, as with all great biblical truths, and form deep convictions about it. Everything in the Bible is important, especially things that relate to salvation and evangelism. I have my own convictions. But we must learn to be comfortable with certain scriptural tensions, and live with grace and freedom in some places God has not bestowed clarity to the degree we’d prefer. As Alister McGrath says, the ability to live within scriptural tensions is a sign of maturity, not immaturity.

Supposedly Deuteronomy 29:29 was John Calvin’s favorite verse:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of the law.

According to that verse, God has chosen to keep certain truths hidden from us. Most systematic theologians (myself included) don’t like the concept of “hidden things.” As a guy who minored in math in college, I want to resolve all tensions, remove all mysteries, and try to bring every hidden thing to light. Moses prophesies our failure, and tells us sometimes we need to rest content with the revelation we have, going no farther than God has gone, which can mean pulling back from putting as fine a point on something–particularly as it relates to setting boundaries for fellowship–as we might typically like.

Furthermore, we should never allow our theological system to ignore, or explain away, the plain teaching of certain segments of Scripture. God gave us every word of the Bible in exactly the form he wanted us to have it. If God had wanted us to value a theological system more than the Bible, then he would have spelled out that system in greater detail for us.

Charles Spurgeon, a confessedly Calvinistic preacher, once remarked after reading Romans 10:13, “Dear me! ‘Whosoever shall call…’ Whosoever. Why, that is a Methodist word, is it not?” At this point, many Calvinists would have gone on to explain why that verse doesn’t really mean what it looks like it says. But Spurgeon went on to say, “The whole of truth is neither here nor there, neither in this system nor that. Be it ours to know what is scriptural in all systems and to receive it.”

When you elevate your doctrinal system too highly, you become a fundamentalist in a second sense: you start to believe that all of God’s graces, or at least the best of them, are found only within your narrow little camp. Again, I am no doctrinal relativist, but it seems that God has chosen to give greater insight into certain areas of Christian life and teaching to people I disagree with on secondary issues than he has to me and the people in my camp. Fundamentalism doesn’t recognize that–in many ways, can’t recognize that. Fundamentalism believes that if you’re not in our camp, and you’re not on the approved list, there is very little you have to say. The best of God’s grace is only with me and mine.

Calvinists seem especially prone to this kind of fundamentalism. They go to Calvinist conferences where they only listen to Calvinist speakers who have the tulips in their clerical caps configured correctly. They read only Calvinist books. Anyone who is not their version of a Calvinist is suspect, and they will concoct any number of Shibboleths to determine if you’re in or out. The only game they play in their church’s nurseries is “Duck, Duck, Damned.” (Just kidding—just seeing if you are still paying attention.) But… some Calvinists carry themselves with the attitude that if you’re not Reformed, you have nothing helpful to say. Of course, if your name is C.S. Lewis, then you get a pass, but that’s just because C.S. Lewis is dead now. I tend to think that if C. S. Lewis were alive today, he would not be nearly as beloved by as many Reformed people as he is today.

Anti-Calvinism fundamentalism can be just as bad, of course. “Calvinists don’t ever share the gospel.” “Calvinists kill missions and evangelism.” “No one who believes in any form of limited atonement believes in a God of love.” “Calvinists believe in a different God than the God of the Bible.” These are all actual statements I’ve heard from Christian leaders over the years. How these people cut out Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon and Bill Bright from their “faith tradition” I’ll never understand.

I feel like God has orchestrated my life so that I have no choice but to acknowledge the strong strains of God’s grace at work in traditions different from my own. Independent Baptists taught me, growing up, to trust the Bible, love the gospel, and the priority of missions. I ministered in college and then served on the mission field with some of the godliest, most gospel-loving people I would ever encounter—-from within the charismatic camp. I continue to be challenged by believers from radically different backgrounds than my own, and with whom I disagree on a number of important points. I have been enriched by both John Owen and John Wesley, R.C. Sproul and Jim Cymbala. I think it is healthy for every Christian to cross-pollinate.

I keep saying I’m no ‘doctrinal relativist,’ so let me explain what I mean by that. Certain doctrines are clear enough and important enough that we simply must draw clear lines regarding who is “in” and who is “out.” By this I mean doctrines like “the Trinity,” “penal substitution,” “salvation by grace through faith,” the “bodily resurrection of Jesus,” “biblical inerrancy,” and the like. Even though each of these points has been disputed in the history of the church, I believe these things are clear enough and important enough that we have to limit our ministry fellowship to those with whom we see eye to eye regarding them. The finer points of Calvinism simply do not go into that list for me. If we agree on the essentials of the gospel, I think we can have deep, meaningful ministry alignment. (And what are those essentials as it relates to Calvinism? See here).

It takes humility to learn from people you disagree with. But that is how God has worked historically in his global, 2,000-year-old church. Let’s show the world that we can still be one body united around the gospel of Christ, even as we passionately disagree about other issues.

Perhaps it is more than a little ironic, considering the tone of the conversation today, that John Calvin himself wanted to be known as the “ecumenical Reformer.” If you study Calvin’s life, you see he had no desire to start a sect of Calvinists. He wanted the truths of God’s grace to influence all evangelical preaching. In fact, in his Institutes, he never lists out “the 5 points of Calvinism.” There’s some debate as to whether he even believed in “Limited Atonement” as usually presented today (though I personally believe that he did), so un-emphatic was his treatment of it. The point is, he would never have said, “Calvinism is the gospel.” He was zealous, I believe, to see God’s glory above all, God’s priority in salvation, God’s sovereignty over all things, especially his church, and God’s guarantee of his people’s salvation. As my Calvinist friend Andy Davis says,  “Calvin would hate the name Calvinist and would be annoyed by the vast majority of Calvinists today.”

The gospel—not the 5 points of Calvinism—is the center of our faith. If you believe in the loftiness of God’s glory, that salvation belongs only to God, and that God is sovereign over the world, and that he that has begun a good work in you will see it through, then you and I can stand in alignment, even if we parse some of the particulars differently.

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

25 responses to Don’t Be A Fundamentalist (Calvinist Or Otherwise)

  1. This is a message that needs wide dissemination. The non-essentials of scripture are what separates us and limits our effectiveness. To the non Christian world it seems “silly”. If we learn to let the “main things” be the “main things” we will come nearer achieving the unity Christ prayed for in John chapter 17. Forbearance is a word that needs to return to our Christian vocabulary and be put into practice. Thank you for your thoughts in this post.

  2. Hi Pastor JD,

    Thanks for this post. I agree wholeheartedly that we often let small things overshadow the gospel. It’s unfortunate.

    I’ve had some discussions recently with my friends about Calvinism. And the working conclusion I’ve come to is: Does it even matter, practically? What I mean is, does a Calvinist look any different from a Christian who believes all can be saved?

    Even if we concede that there really is election and only some will be saved (hypothetically), would anyone, Calvinist or not, presume to know who those elected individuals are? It’s uncertain, at least to anyone but God. Thus, the practical standpoint you’d have to take is to evangelize to everyone, per Jesus’ command to spread the gospel to the nations, since you don’t know who will receive it and who won’t. Does that make sense? I might be showing my ignorance here – it can’t be that easy. Smart people have been thinking about for a long time. But at the end of the day, I’m concerned with how beliefs affect actions, and the impact of Calvinism on one’s actions seem limited at best.

  3. …..and the “Pipe bomb” goes BOOM!

  4. Kraig Kottenstette September 11, 2014 at 10:00 am

    This post is near and dear to my heart. Last year in a conference at SWBTS with JD and other preachers (mix of views on Calvinism), Mark Dever said he was an Arminian twice and a Calvinist thrice. For me, I lost count of how many times I went back and forth on these issues, but over the last almost 2 years have found peace and rest in believing all 5 points.

    I have seen what you describe as fundamentalism on both sides. I came to Christ in college after being a Catholic learning the truth that God did all of salvation and I had to only believe. I then soon after became an independent fundamental Baptist (strictly not Calvinist), but not before being influenced by a reformed pastor and friends.

    I married a lovely woman who is the daughter of a pastor in IFB. When I presented to him the beauty of the truths of Calvinism (call it that for lack of a better term- irks me too there is no better one)- he said it was heresy and treats those beliefs as worse than Jehovah Witness.

    The reason I write this is to show there are fundamentalists on both sides. There is a southern Baptist seminary that has gotten rid of people explicit because they believe all 5 points. I want you to realize this JD because in your article it has a definite slant against Calvinists saying they have a tendency towards fundamentalism when the reality it is on both sides.

    Calvinism is not essential to salvation or the gospel. To answer the question above about what practical aspects of Calvinism are valuable, thus why do I believe these truths and why are they precious to me, is as follows:
    1. It promotes humility. Thus, the difference between someone in hell and someone in heaven is not that one made a better decision but God’s grace was shown to one and not the other.
    2. True Calvinism would not be arrogant in belief because inherent to that belief is that all we believe is a gift of God, there is nothing to boast of. This is similar to item 1 but has application to those who are alive and believe differently.
    3. It helps you get through difficult times to know that God’s plan cannot be overruled by His creatures, but He works all things after the counsel of His will. My wife lives in constant pain, but has a tender relationship with God knowing that her suffering is His purpose and He works it out for good. This is a HUGE impact on our faith hers and mine- we constantly say sovereignty when something good or bad happens giving thanks to God for His control of our circumstance.
    4. It provides peace in knowing He is in control of everything, including our own salvation, the salvation of our children and loved ones.
    5. It does not negate human responsibility as God ordained the means as well as the ends. I have yet to meet a hyper Calvinist that does not share the gospel but I know they exist.
    6. You become less self reliant in evangelism- at least this has helped me be more confident in witnessing without succumbing to the temptation to ask- why don’t they just see this and end up causing more damage than good.
    7. It causes you to give glory to God- basically back to humility and pride thing- one man sows, another waters, but it is God who gives the increase. You see how that even though we are working out our salvation with fear and trembling (responsibility), it is done by God working in us to both do and will his good pleasure (sovereignty).
    8. Because we do not know who God chose, you preach the gospel to every creature as the Bible commands- this is not inconsistent with the 5 points at all.
    9. It causes you to realize how much God loves you and how that love really is unconditional- it was not based on anything you did or he foresaw you doing such as believing. You are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God. This new birth is the cause of faith not the result of faith, and you see that God pursued you even when you were going the opposite direction as the enemy of God. You see how God worked out your entire life to come to that point of faith and how He will continue to work in your life until you are glorified in Heaven! Glory to God!

    There are probably more but that is enough for now (forgive my long post please). Why I am posting this- please do not assume all Calvinists or even most Calvinists are arrogant and proud of their beliefs and insist on secondary issues for gospel ministry. I work in prison ministry with many other brothers and sisters that do not hold to my convictions but I bet if you asked any of them, we are mutually blessed by sharing God’s grace together and this has not been an issue in our ministry.

    The thing that most grieves me although it should not (my immaturity shows)- is when preachers bash the system of Calvinism as a counter reaction to those Calvinist fundamentalists (which I think are few in actuality, I have not met many like this). They will say things like- if you believe God’s will is not affected by your prayer, then you are wrong! (and use much harsher language). What you must realize is those of us who hold precious God’s sovereignty also pray because- If God is not all powerful or sovereign, the same claim can be made- why bother praying if he cannot do anything to violate someone’s fallen, rebellious will which will never seek after him (Romans 3). I pray in confidence that if what I am praying is in God’s will, He will make it happen even if it requires changing the will of an unrepentant sinner so that they willingly come to Christ with true joy and happiness.

    Finally- in agreement with this post- none of what I believe listed above is impossible to believe if you are not Calvinist, I have just found it much easier to live my Christian life as God would have me do it with these beliefs. For some these doctrines are offensive I think mainly because they don’t understand them- they think that if God really ordained everything including evil that somehow makes Him the author of evil. This is not so. It is my prayer that there will be more graciousness on both sides of this issue towards each other as many good friends disagreed but still could cooperate in the gospel (Wesley and Whitefield as one example although they had their rough spots too over this very issue).

    God bless.

    Sola Deo Gloria,
    Kraig

    PS – one more thought- those who identify with the name Calvinism do not do so because they worship Calvin or some system of theology- but that they believe the Bible is better understood and more consistent with this system of salvation. (at least that is my opinion).

    “The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.”—C. H. Spurgeon

    http://www.spurgeon.org/calvinis.htm- another good Spurgeon quote below

    “I do not think I differ from any of my Hyper-Calvinistic brethren in what I do believe, but I differ from them in what they do not believe. I do not hold any less than they do, but I hold a little more, and, I think, a little more of the truth revealed in the Scriptures. Not only are there a few cardinal doctrines, by which we can steer our ship North, South, East, or West, but as we study the Word, we shall begin to learn something about the North-west and North-east, and all else that lies between the four cardinal points. The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once. For instance, I read in one Book of the Bible, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Yet I am taught, in another part of the same inspired Word, that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other. I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”

  5. Well said. I can say after walking with Him for 40+ years that the only theogolical system that can “hold” Him is humility.

  6. I wouldn’t consider Calvinism or Arminianism a minor issue. For it addresses the heart of Soteriology. These theological positions have significantly different views concerning: human depravity; the depth of God’s grace; the purpose of the atonement; the security of one’s position before God and how sin impacts it;etc. Yet, I wouldn’t want to make an individual’s convictions on these matters a dividing line for fellowship either. On a practical note, one’s view on this issue does tend to influence the “pressure” one places on another to “make a decision” for Christ as the gospel is presented!

  7. I stand 100% behind Charles Spurgeon and state the Doctrines of Grace is the GOSPEL. In fact, I would go even further, we are dealing here with “another Gospel” when one adds or takes away from the essential core meanings of what the Gospel is all about. To the lost wicked sinners who are of course blind, God only asks us to preach certain words relating to basic truths relating to the Gospel, such as man is a sinner, needs to repent and turn from sin to the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for our sins and rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven to make intercession for us. Matters surrounding these essential truths are to be preached to the lost. However, after one is saved, we are to teach them and disciple them about the “core” meanings of all aspects of that Gospel message. Matters which we call the Doctrines of Grace which is the Gospel. Call it what you may with labels, but it boils down to either “works salvation which is a heresy” clouded with the term or moniker called Armenianism or Pelgianinsm, etc., or the “doctrines of God’s sovereign grace” which means no human being intiated this work of God, but only reacted and was enabled to embrace the truth of the Gospel which God gives for salvation which is faith and repentance, no hands of man upon it at all – until God gives those gifts and births one into the kingdom first, then they react rather than “pull God down and/or Christ down” like most are saying they do. God came down, Christ came down, man didn’t go up and pull Him down and make Him Lord or Make Him Savior of their souls! That is another Gospel and it is accursed and also the ones who preach it regardless of how popular or how charismatic they may be! That has nothing to do with it at all.

    Better be careful on what you teach and say about all of this, God hears, sees, and knows what is going on every moment and we must hold to the truth regardless of what others think or don’t think! I stand with Paul, Jesus our Lord, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Knox, etc.! The Gospel is the Doctrines of Grace sovereignly proclaimed to us through the scriptures and not OFF some Statement of Faith or Confessional page or from some mouth of a popular speaker! Away with all of this “labeling” and stick to the words of Scripture. All of you know that almost none understand what Calvinism means if they are not involved in that particular movement. They all misrepresent what that term means (that is those who are classified in a different camp and are fighting against those who preach the teachings of God’s sovereign grace. Also, that camp doesn’t even know what Armenian’s are. They just have heard Calvinism being labeled as heresy so long they have believed it. I think if we stick we the verses of scripture and what those words mean and imply, they will all have to either accept those words and believe or become opponents of God and His word for HE said them, not Calvin, not Luther, Not Spurgeon, Not Augustine, and no not even Paul, but rather the Holy Spirit stated it in the word of God which can be read and understood by all who are saved.

    By the way, our English language is so rotten and the culture is so corrupt, they change word meanings at a whim. The Old KJV revealed to us that problem. An entire word took on a different meaning entirely so we had to have a Newer translation to get out of this or a footnote to explain it all. Now, we are seeing this again. Marriage is no longer going to be understood by the masses eventually as we are all used to. So Bible Doctrine will have to explain in detail what the term marriage means now or at least a few years from now because it will mean something entirely different than what is has meant! New Translations from the GREEK and HEBREW have to be done to keep up with this madness!

    So, again, that is another reason these Non-so-called-Calvinists can’t understand the meaning of that term. You ask them what they mean by Calvinism and they give you a spiel which is not correct at all. So they go on down the road believing a lie and no one can help them for they also do not want any help. They have the English language supporting them. Now we all know the term “world” has 7 distinct usages in context in the English language, but they interpret it always the same. Love is also like that in English but in Greek different. On and on we could go. And these folks just don’t want to study and consider these matters any more and now we see those who are emphasizing the Gospel Mission work, wishing to make the term Gospel LESS than it implies or actually perhaps accepting other “forms” of meanings about it which is incorrect all on the scale of hearing or seeing written some aspects of the message which is correct, but when you investigate what one believes about the Gospel they MISS the meaning of the matter on many fronts! They get the “work of God” out of order. God comes down first and man responds but they put the cart before the horse and make man work first and then “make or PUT God” in place by some type of carnal force of their own minds and hearts Making Him act by their verbalization of mantra! They are no better off than a Muslim who makes their Allah Akbar” mantra which places them in the groups membership! NONE of that type of maneuvering is going to get anyone into the kingdom of God. And if that is all they have they are still lost, but religiously lost people. God has to operate FIRST in the soul and heart or they will NOT be even close to being saved or born again. This is so important folks, for it deals with eternity and your very life existence in the future after death. Better get it right! For souls are being misled, made more a person of hell and death than they already are because now they have religion. We don’t by the way, preach to the lost all the intricacies of the meanings of the Gospel message, but after the basic call goes out about Jesus, and they get saved, we explain and teach them what took place – and all about human’s and their status AND ALL ABOUT GOD AND WHAT HE IS AND WHO HE IS AND WHY HE HAS DONE THIS AND HOW HE HAS DONE ALL OF THIS! We disciple them after baptizing them upon their professions of faith! God can save a person with just a little bit of the message – take the Jailer who repented and trusted Christ with the Apostles there at the jail. But I can guarantee you they instructed him in all of the meanings of the Gospel message and all that it implies and has to do with later. Today, I think many do get saved with a perverted messenger and belief system, because God can work around anything. But it is not sanctioned by God nor should it be – the false meanings given out later, and how it took place. And regardless of the messenger, the word spoken is the word of God regardless of the instrument that gave it. God works more of course, in Holy Spirit filled men and women in their witness, but the seed of the word can be implanted in many ways. In print, by voice etc.! But that doesn’t give us liberty to yoke up with wrong messages or wrong methods in any way. We are to obey the truth as it is gien in context from the word. – God’s Omnipotence and Omniscience demands HE is the author and finisher of our faith, not any human being! His atonement either atoned for sin or it didn’t. Unbelief is a sin and if everyone falls under the atonement as the folks use the term “world” in connection with that work, then unbelief is forgiven and all will be saved. No blood was shed in vain. To preach anything else is a false Gospel. If God love all people with Agape love then He would save All people – nothing can or would thwart His power and purpose and if He can’t HE ISN”T GOD at all. He is just another being subject to the other beings who turn out to be God. Man turns out to be more powerful than God by his own will power. Satan turns out to be God because he can keep people from going to heaven by his blinding work. God is hamstrung. He is weak, anemic, without strength and cannot save. Someone or something out works Him. BUT THAT IS ALL A LIE AND FROM THE PIT OF HELL AND IT IS BEING PROPAGATED IN ALL OF THE MAJOR CHURCHES IN AMERICA TODAY BY FALSE PROPHETS OF THE SPIRIT OF THIS AGE WHICH HATES GODS WORD! Repentance and faith in Christ and full Gospel message and its meaning is commanded by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Turn to Him and be saved is the message to preachers, teachers and all others who are religious but lost!

  8. Love this!!!

  9. So, you minored in Math. That explains a lot, especially regarding all of the “type A” stuff. lol

    Just remember, there are some of us who would rather chew bricks than study math…well, maybe just pen a short story while hiding in the corner.

  10. Preach it, J. D. And if you want to understand WHY the tensions in Scripture it relates to the fact that we bring a Greek logical/rational cultural view to our interpretation of Scripture, but the writers of Scripture were (except for Luke), Hebrews. Their mindset was much different than ours. See here: http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/pdfs/heb_grk.pdf

  11. The Word of God is infallible. Human systems are not, whether it be Calvinism or Arminianism, to name just two. I fear we sometimes become more passionate about our doctrinal distinctives than our passion for Jesus; knowing Him and making Him known. Doctrine is very important. There are essentials that bind us together and allow us to minister together but there are many non essentials over which we disagree that should not break fellowship. (JD, you mentioned those in your article) My husband and I served with a mission organization in West Africa alongside Calvinists and Arminians. It was never an issue. We all recognized our priority – sharing the Gospel. My husband, who is now home with the Lord would frequently share this illustration : He would take a clean piece of paper and write in large letters the word Jesus, all the while talking about what can divide believers. He would write over the top of Jesus the word Calvinism, then Arminianism. On top he would write Fundamentalist and Charismatic. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pre-tribulation and Post-tribulation, etc, etc. until Jesus was no longer seen.
    Nothing should ever compete with our passion for Jesus and His finished work, which is the Gospel message.

    Thank you JD for these thoughts. May they drive us to the only infallible Word!

  12. J.D…having tread some of the same fundimentilist road you have, I tend to view this tension in light of “would my unsaved neighbor be drawn to Christ if he heard my opinion on this?” Or, “would our friend dying of cancer get comfort from my opinion on Calvinism?” The church has done damage by misappropriating to much “bandwidth” to theological arguments and not being know for our ability to love.

  13. J.D.:
    This was an excellent post. I teach theology at Columbia International University in Columbia, SC. Do I have your permission to re-post this on my blog (larrydixon.wordpress.com).
    Thanks. Larry Dixon

  14. Kraig Kottenstette, “John Knox gospel is my gospel”. Reminds me of the scripture 1Cor.3:4 where Paul says “one says ‘I am of Paul and another says I am of Apollos; are you not carnel; this is the way the world speaks, afterall who is Paul and who is Apollos, but mere men”?

    There would be no comfort for me in believing that God had everything in my life as I percieve it, set in stone, so to say. There would be no fervency in prayer as God has already determined the outcome and there is nothing I can say or do to change that.. Scripture clearly shows God can and sometimes does change a particular course for our lives when prayer for change is offered up. We both know of many instances in the Bible where God intervened in a situation and tatally changed the course according to prayer. Let me be clear in that I do agree with you, that God has a purpose and plan for those that know him, those who are called or those who call upon the Lord, a plan that nothing will stand in the way of. But, within that overall plan, there will be many instances of variables that can be changed. Thus “the effectual prayer of a righteous man avails much”.

    I’m wondering why these things are so very important that the basic beliefs of the gospel would not suffice to subdue our differences. Calvinist, Fundamentalist etc. In the end, let us default to Christian. It is always accurate and appropriate among all believers, being the foundation of all we believe.

  15. Kraig Kottenstette September 14, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Response to Carol H.

    Thanks for your response Carol. The quote you responded to was from Spurgeon. I think his point was not I am of so and so so much as the same truth Paul preached (which is the word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit) was preached by others such as John Knox. All I read of Spurgeon he glorified God not man. Also I used this quote to give some context to the quote from Spurgeon JD used.

    Carol- I understand your perspective in the rest of your comment. If you read the entirety of what I posted I hope you understand I always first and foremost am thankful to be in Jesus Christ, saved by Him and identified as a Christian (little Christ) event though that is not always seen through the sin nature that remains in me until God glorifies me completely.

    Also, I love and fellowship with many Christians who do not share in my beliefs of God’s sovereign grace as I said in my post- it hast not caused me to depart ministry in prisons with others with differing beliefs on this.

    I think if you would see what the Southern Baptist statement on Calvinism says- it did not minimize or negate that there are differences, it just says those differences do not hinder our cooperation in various gospel endeavors (such as missions support, etc.- places where churches cooperate).

    That being said, I am very thankful and blessed by the teachings that God has decreed all that will come to pass before time, space and matter was created- in eternity he had a purpose even to the minute details of sparrows dying or the number of hairs that are on my head. This, unlike where you are at, brings me comfort because when I pray, I absolutely do NOT want to change God’s will for my life or His will for others. Why? Because I absolutely stink compared to God. What I want is so terribly less good than what God wants and purposes.

    You see this perspective come out in Rom. 8:
    26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

    Nor would I want God’s purpose or design for my own life to be screwed up by someone else praying to God and changing His will for me.

    Rather, I pray primarily to ask God to align my will to His, and to pour my heart out to Him as I believe He is the one moving me to pray and what I should pray.

    You see this side by side in Phillipians and Hebrews: ultimately the primary cause of all things is God even though we are responsible to expend all our efforts in our walk with God:

    Phil 2
    12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    Heb 13
    20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us[a] that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

    Also on God changing his mind or course of action in scripture- I understand it like this: Let’s take Jonah as an example. God had Jonah preach that there would be soon destruction by God (notice how Jonah had no desire to do this but God pretty much forced him to…. sorry, getting off topic)… and the response of the Ninevites was to repent in the HOPES that God who is sovereign may choose to have mercy on them.

    Note the way the language is there- God’s mercy is never expected, deserved or earned. It is His sovereign right to dispense mercy or withold it. In this case, he glorified Himself by dispenscing mercy on this wicked city that repented.

    So the question is- did God change his decree or mind? Well, from God’s perspective no- this was settled in His mind to happen in eternity past. He would give these people repentance by the means of Jonah preaching His word and it was God who changed their hearts to repent so that He could achieve his purpose of being merciful. He changed his course of action from destruction to salvation, but he did not change His eternal decree of salvation for those people whom He foreordained to repentance and faith.

    This is also seen in other scriptures- below is just a few:
    Prov. 16:9
    The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.
    Prov. 21:1
    The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
    he turns it wherever he will.

    Daniel 4:35
    all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
    and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

    Also read Isaiah 40 through 50- utterly amazing stuff there:
    Here is one example in chapter 45- as God talks about King Cyrus over 100 years before he is born and how God will use him to accomplish all His purposes- Cyrus thought he was doing what he wanted but without realizing it, he was a tool in the hand of our amazing God-

    5 I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
    6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.
    7 I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

    And other verses that show that God is in control of all things:
    Rom 11
    36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

    Eph 1:11
    11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

    I will conclude with this- it is not my intention here to change your mind in how you view God, I cannot do that only God can. I do want to be faithful to God in my understanding of who He is as revealed to me by His word and by his Spirit that illuminates my mind to know and understand Him. I see Him this way after many years of study and thought and am truly at peace with this. I only hope was that others would see that yes this is important to some people like me and that is OK. I can be hopefully by God’s grace very loving and gracious to other believers who do not share these same beliefs or understandings of the scriptures (like I said I went back and forth many years to get where I am at now).

    I end extending my love to all who are God’s children, who love Him and are loved by Him. And like Paul’s heart was, I earnestly pray for and desire the salvation of all men. I am not God, I do not know His specific will and purpose in even one day, but I am thankful that He knows and He is a good God whose judgement and actions are always right and the best possible outcome.

    In the end, the sufferings of this present life are inconsequential to the ultimate plan of God in eternity where my ability to choose to sin will be completely removed and I will be most free in my ability to be conformed to His likeness in Christ (not the same as God but like Him as His redeemed child adopted by His grace).

    Sola Deo Gloria,
    Kraig

    Rom 11 quoting from Isaiah
    33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
    34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
    35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

  16. Kraig, I too, would never, ever pray for God to change His will for my life! Believing that God has a definite plan and purpose for my life is one absolute I am committed to. I think I mentioned that in my last letter, stating that there are many variables that are not set in stone, however. It is these that I feel free to ask of God for specifics. Thinking of the example Jesus gave about praying for something specific in Luke11:5-13, Jesus goes on to say that even though the man of the house, or in this verse, the friend, refused to answer the door, thus denying the request, that he finally consented, not because of the friendship, but because of the boldness in persistence. Jesus goes on to instruct us to keep on asking and we shall receive. Do I believe we will wear God down like the man in the Bible? Of course not, but I do think God honors persistence in prayer, thus desiring that we be earnest seekers and not casual inquirers, too timid to ask of God what we need for fear of asking the wrong thing. I am not referring to random frivilous desires, but to request thought out and believed to be in line with what God is doing in your life. I do not question your devotion to all believers nor the sovereignty of God and His will for His people even before they were born. Jeremiah 1:5 is just one of many such examples mentioned in the Bible. I also look at God’s sovereignty in using unbelievers to further His purposes in the world. We see that all through scipture and in our present day life. Its simply taking what Satan meant for evil and turning it into good for God’s advantage. My only point is that we are free to ask God for what we need and/ or as long as it does not violate His word and commands. God is able to show us if we are praying amiss. I defer to what Jesus said in that ” you have not because you ask not”. I would rather ask and be denied than to have never asked and miss out. God bless!

  17. Kraig Kottenstette September 22, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Thanks for sharing your insights Carol.

    It could be a matter of perspective. From our sperspective, we do not konw the will of God so continually asking God for something we desire shows the faith God is working in us and may turn out to bring greater joy when the prayer request is granted.

    Yet from God’s perspective, there is nothing not set in stone as He not only knows everything that will happen actually and potentially, but is actively bringing about what happens. Paul for example persistently prayed for the thorn in his flesh to be removed, and yet it was God’s will not to remove it. He honored Paul’s prayer by revealing His will not to remove this in order to keep Paul humble so that Paul would learn that God’s grace is sufficient and that his power is more apparent when we are weak (we are more aware of our need for Him).

    Paul rejoiced in this answer, and was blessed by his persistent prayer by God showing him what was going on. We do not always get the answers now as Paul did, but we can have confidence that God works all things together for good to them who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose. We are urged to boldly come to the throne of grace to find help in time of need.

    It is greatly comforting as we have worries and cares in this life, to have a Lord, a great high priest, who is always listening, can bear the burdens we have, and wants us to cast these cares on Him because He cares for us.

    The prayers He answers for us are because of what Christ has done (His merit, not that we merit any answer to prayer of ourselves). Sometimes these means of God’s working His will are through persistent prayer to Him.

    All this is not said in any spirit of argumentation or thinking you do not already know these things, but continuing this wonderful discussion about what an awesome God we serve who loves us so much by His grace.

    God bless,
    Kraig

    Rom 8
    26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

  18. This was so encouraging to me. I have wrestled with this topic and became discouraged at times. I have witnessed people who took a stand on doctrines and divided churches and people as well as discouraged people who wanted to learn more about the gospel. I was very disappointed about a year ago to learn that a pastor I cared about devoted an entire sermon to pro-Calvinism.

    JD covered the topic masterfully. I enjoy JD’s sermons and books and admire his boldness and fervor for the gospel. I have learned so much at Summit.

    I realize that we must have Biblical knowledge to know God, protect against false teachings and more. I have “much” to learn, but with my limited knowledge and my reading of God’s Word, I have felt that the Great Commission and loving our neighbor are crystal clear and provide more than we can accomplish in a lifetime.

    I recently benefited from a relevant quote by AW Tozer in the book The Pursuit of God, “God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination, and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, “O Lord, Thou knowest.” Those things belong to the deep and mysterious Profound of God’s omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.”

  19. I know I’m late on this article. I’m not really sure anymore what the etiquette is on year old internet posts. Still, I thought I should say a couple of things far less weighty than the whole of the article.

    As far as tension is concerned, I think the mystery is a good thing. The way I see it we already made a mess (i.e. the Fall) of the little we did know. I don’t know about anyone else, but the first inclination I get when I am given knowledge of anything is to pervert it. Even if there is no inclination, the options on how to take advantage of it do appear in my mind. There is that temptation, you know? I imagine if God came to me and said “can you keep a secret? it’s a truth that no one else knows… it’s only for you.” my reaction now is certainly “NO! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? OF COURSE NOT!” I would probably turn into a kind of Loki figure and try to have everyone bow down to me… even if that secret was like “I never meant carrots to be orange.” But the temptation of self-glorification is stronger in the moment. We’re bad enough as it is with our little “inner rings” as it is with LIMITED knowledge… just think how much worse it would be with just a little more. Think of the doctrine of the Trinity… some might argue this… but He didn’t HAVE to reveal that to us… you know? Let me end this idea here.

    When it comes to CS Lewis, I think of his essay called “The Inner Ring.” I think that one could make a good case that his theology was closer to Calvinism than it appears. Nevertheless, he was aware of the seduction of being in a “set” (see Screwtape Letters, I can’t remember which one at the moment). So, I agree with your suggestion to “cross-pollinate” (haha, nice analogy).

    Wasn’t it Dante who had two theologians of opposing views complement each other? Is that who I’m thinking of?

  20. Janice Larkham July 31, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Calvinism reminds me of the Gnostics; sigh, only they know the truth, etc. Oh, for goodness’ sake. Calvinism has done more harm and has brought more fear and doubt than anything else in the church’s history and should be treated as the damning cult that it is.

  21. I’ve long attended both types of churches, so I can speak from experience. Arminians are as equally guilty of fundamental discrimination as Calvinists. I was an Arminian for a long time, but have now been (and still am) a Calvinist for quite a while.

    I’ve learned people are people. Either someone is a Christian who loves others as themselves or they are not. It is wrong to mislead others into thinking one side is more discriminatory than the other.

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