Let me take a minute to share my heart. I have been engaged in discussions concerning a theology that I both do understand and do not understand. I understand WHAT Calvinism says; I do not understand how anyone can be a Calvinist. I really in all honesty cannot understand how anyone can read the Bible and come away from it believing the 5 points of Calvinism. I am not trying to be disrespectful to anyone; I am simply stating a fact.
I have tried to the best of my ability and I am sure I have failed at times, to discuss the theological differences as I see them with respect to the perspectives as others see them. I have tried to keep personalities out of the discussion but there are times when I have probably not been successful in doing that either. I believe the issue of Calvinism in the SBC is a very important issue because how we see conversion taking place is vitally important to me. I read people saying, Calvinism is a secondary and tertiary issue. I hear them saying, we all believe the same gospel, that Jesus was the sinless sacrifice that willingly went to the cross to pay the penalty for my sin with His blood and He died, was placed in a borrowed tomb and 3 days later was resurrected and He rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father and He ever lives to make intercession on our behalf and because He lives, we can live for Him today and with Him forever. That is the Gospel! I preach it and share it every opportunity I get. My hope is maintained in that message.
God did NOT send His Son to die for EVERYONE
For the follower of Calvinism this is not quite so simple. First of all, for the Calvinist, God did NOT send His Son to die for EVERYONE; He sent His Son to die for a select group of people they maintain the Bible calls “the elect.” Jesus did die for the elect. However, I John 2:2 clearly says Jesus “Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (see also John 3:16-18) Jesus did not just die for a select group of individuals; He died for the sins of the whole world. God’s provisions were to be made available to those who would believe. This group may be identified as “the elect.” For me, “the elect” are those who believe in Christ. For the Calvinist, “the elect” are those whom God chooses to believe in Him. And so, taking these two positions, we have two very different pictures of what actually took place on the cross. Did Jesus die for everyone? Yes He did; Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world; His provisions were made available to the elect. The question is, “how does the lost man come to be included in the company of ‘the elect’?”
Unless an individual believes in universalism and that God is a God of love and as such everyone is going to go to heaven when they die, everyone believes in some form of Limited Atonement. So, even though there are those who do believe that Jesus DID die on the cross for everyone’s sin, there is no demand that he necessarily believes in universalism. Most believe Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was sufficient to save all men but was only efficient to save those who believe. This is what I believe and this is what MOST Calvinists believe as well. So, what is the problem?
Well, the problem is seen in why some believe and others do not. I believe God has chosen to reveal Himself through His Word and that is why the Bible says that through the foolishness of preaching men will be saved. The Calvinist can and does say a hearty AMEN here as well! Remember the central issue is, who did Jesus die for? He died for the world so that anyone could believe in Him and in believing would become “the elect”; He died for those who believe in The provisions He established at the cross. I believe those who believe are those who repent and through faith are saved. The Calvinist believes the same thing. So once again, what is all the fuss about? Well, that which differs and divides us is right here and about to be discussed.
“We believe according to our respective natures.”
The Calvinist says, “We believe according to our respective natures.” The lost person has a nature that is enslaved to sin. We are all born in sin; all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) No one is arguing this point. It is black ink on white paper. The Word tells us “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (I John 1:8) A term that is closely associated with this is depravity. Man is depraved; he is marked by corruption or evil. He has a nature that is corrupt and brings sin. Here is where the Calvinist and I part company, theologically. The Calvinist says, “man is totally depraved and therefore incapable of choosing God because God is the ultimate good and man’s nature will only allow him to choose evil.” Man MUST sin: he cannot not sin. He is enslaved to his sinful nature; he is dead spiritually and does not have eyes to see or ears to hear. He is incapable of being able to respond positively to God or the gospel message. He does respond; his response is always rejection. “The message of the cross is foolishness to them that are perishing.” (I Cor. 1:18) “14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” ( 1 Cor 2:14-15 NKJV )
Ok, man is depraved, how does God save this lost person who is dead in his trespass and sin? I believe the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin and my lost condition with respect to what I believe is the purpose for God’s creating me in the first place, my position with Him. God’s remedy for my lost condition is Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and His invitation is for me to hear His provisions and trust His promises and place my life into His control and through repentance and by faith trust Him. I believe the individual who does this will find a God who loves Him and will forgive Him and make that person a part of His forever family.
The Calvinist will argue God, who is sovereign must first change the lost person’s sinful nature that is dead spiritually BEFORE that person can or will repent and respond positively to God’s provisions of His grace to save him. The Calvinist will say God MUST change the dead heart of stone into a heart of flesh before it is even possible for that person to repent and exercise faith and be saved. This is a critical theological position. This is what is commonly referred to as regeneration in the salvific process. It is here that I find my biggest problem with Calvinism, more specifically the issue of regeneration prior to repentance and the exercise of saving faith in the person who is born again.
God’s decree and His predetermined will the most important aspects of conversion.
This process posited by Calvinism makes God’s decree and His predetermined will the most important aspects of conversion. God must regenerate the lost individual who is dead spiritually and bound by sin so that he will be able to respond to the gospel message and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in his heart and repent and be saved. A person, who has not been regenerated, will not repent and believe and therefore remains lost and cannot be saved. Let me say a couple things here. First of all, God is responsible for every man, woman, boy and girl who is saved. Period. When an individual passes from death unto life, it is not by anyone’s crafty choice of words, it is not the product of a system; it is solely the responsibility and result of the Savior and what He did on the cross. He and He alone is the author and finisher of our faith. Apart from His provisions secured at Calvary, salvation would not be even remotely possible; it would in fact be impossible.
However, salvation in the mind of God is available because of all that He has done for those who believe and respond to His provisions by faith. Individuals are responsible to God for their decisions and the consequences of those choices are eternal. Calvinists will acknowledge man’s responsibility to repent and by faith believe God’s promises and provisions. It is important to understand what the Calvinist means as he acknowledges man’s responsibility to choose. Understand, the Calvinist contends that man always chooses according to his nature. The lost person who is enslaved to sin will always make sinful choices because those choices are according to his sinful nature. God through the process of regeneration changes the lost person’s nature and that person is then able to make choices according to this “new nature.” So, in this way, the Calvinist believes in man’s responsibility to repent and believe God to be converted. For the Calvinist, regeneration and conversion are two separate and very different aspects of salvation or conversion. In the Calvinist framework, regeneration brings about repentance and faith and those who believe are born again. I believe regeneration and being born again are one and the same, and not two separate events, no matter how closely related they may be.
There is a third aspect of seeing salvation in God’s predetermined will and His decrees or His effectual calling of specific individuals to salvation and that involves a term called “reprobation.” Reprobation refers to those rejected by God who are predestined for hell. It is argued that those who see salvation as being God’s choice and His choice alone must also accept the fact that they are saying God is solely responsible for those who die without repenting and believing and therefore God is directly responsible for everyone who goes to hell. It seems that this is an undeniable consequence of Calvinistic doctrine. Most Calvinists disagree with this charge. In all fairness, most Calvinists do not believe God predestines people to hell. So, how does the Calvinist answer this charge?
What about those Jesus did not come to save?
Calvinists understand that all men are sinners and the wages of sin is death. Jesus came to save sinners. (I Tim 1:15 Since He obviously came to do something, He is going to accomplish what He came to do. It would seem true that if Jesus came to save sinners, which He has obviously done and since He has not saved all sinners, which seems to be equally true, then He must have come to save some sinners and not all sinners. Ok, that is a good point. What about those He did not come to save? John 3 answers that: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 NKJV) Sinners deserve death. Those who die without Christ get what they deserve. God does not condemn or predestine anyone to hell. Some argue that the definition of grace itself settles this question since grace is God’s giving to man “what he does not deserve.” Some have even argued that the question to be asked is, “Not why has God saved some; the real question is why did God save any?”
The reality of it all is this: if God and God alone is indeed solely responsible for all who are saved and He must regenerate someone so that they can believe and be saved, then He is also responsible for every person who dies in his sin because God did not give him the ability and opportunity to repent that He gave to the elect. Reprobation is a necessary component of Calvinism. It is an inescapable consequence to any concept of predestination. To simply dismiss any such suggestion that the unregenerate simply gets what he deserves and God is just in giving His grace to whoever He chooses, is an incitement against the nature and character of God that is nowhere expressed in his Word.
This is NOT good news.
I want to close this article with the following illustration that as I see it, describes how a Calvinist views the sharing of the “good news that Jesus Christ saves.” For the Calvinist, sharing the gospel is like preaching to prisoners chained to their chairs and inviting them to come to dine at your table KNOWING that there are only a limited number of plates set for them and only those few are going to be released to eat; this is NOT good news for the rest. The limited atonement view pictures let’s say 5 plates set; food prepared for 5… the preacher and the 4 prisoners and no more…
And when the preacher gives the invitation, the warden goes to the 4 or any 4… and releases their chains and brings them to the table and sets them down and they eat. I suppose one can claim that this is gracious good news… for those 4 and no more… but that is not the gospel message that the Bible portrays… Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to save them ALL… God’s provision is intended for ALL who will repent, believe and by faith TRUST Him and come unto Him and BE SAVED. The invitation to “come and dine” is for all who will hear His invitation and come to Him in repentance and find a place set for them at the table by faith!
God does not save ANYONE in order to believe; He saves EVERYONE who does believe.