I’m pretty sure I could make a list a mile long of sins more forgivable in the eyes of most modern evangelicals than the “sin” of claiming to be Calvinist. When did “Calvinism” become a four-letter word? I’m not asking because I remember when it was not. But I have been doing some digging (okay… Googling) and finding Calvinism’s exit of the mainstream of Protestantism is a fairly recent development in the history of the Protestant church. Do the same people who seem averse to the idea of Calvinism really know what it teaches?
Black Market Theology
My first introduction to Calvinism came from blurbs in American history books that made Calvinism seem a crazy sect. I don’t think the history books were being completely inaccurate, except they failed to be specific enough to say they were describing Hyper-Calvinism (which is what many people call all Calvinism today, but there’s a more strict historical sense to the term which is described well by Spurgeon here.) Early in my college years, while attending a Friday night fellowship, a teacher filling in for the college pastor snuck in a presentation on five-point Calvinism. I was mesmerized. I’d never heard anything like it, yet it was at the same time familiar because I had already read, numerous times, the passages of the Bible that he was quoting that clearly taught Calvinist principles.
If I’d been Southern Baptist church for longer than the one year I had been attending, I might have been aware how controversial this teacher was being. After he was finished, I could only conclude that Calvinism was not as crazy as my history books had made it look. In fact, it seemed downright biblical! Those five points of TULIP took root and enter my theology undisturbed by counter-arguments.
TULIP Quietly Deepens it’s Roots Into my Theology
They went unchallenged because the subjects of free will and predestination are scrupulously avoided by the average Southern Baptist pastor and Sunday school teacher. When they unavoidably came up in Sunday School, as we went verse by verse through Romans or Ephesians verse by verse, there would be nervous hemming and hawing and explaining that predestination is simply “one of those things we simply won’t understand this side of heaven.” I find it curious that the average Calvinist doesn’t feel this way when he is teaching Ephesians or Romans, but gladly will fill hours of class time covering the subject from every book fo the Bible. I didn’t know this at that point in my life though so I just let the teacher bundle us off towards the less controversial passages.
I know it to be true now, though. I’ve become addicted to preaching by Calvinists, or the more accepted term now is “monergists”. I wasn’t even aware, as I collected one new favorite Bible Teacher after another, that they all had this theology in common. Then one day, I stumbled across Monergism.com and found just about every one of my favorite teachers had MP3 files to download at this site. These are collections of Presbyterians, Lutheran, Reformed Anglican and, this took me by surprise… Southern Baptists! Did I mention I’m Southern Baptist? I think that’s the first time I’ve actually said that. I usually say I’m a member of a Southern Baptist Church. And I’ve been a member at one SBC church or another for twenty years now, but my Lutheran upbringing by Midwestern parents caused me to resist saying it out loud.
Southern Baptist Calvinists? My History Book Didn’t Cover This
So yes, there are Southern Baptist pastors who have their teachings posted at Monergism.com. Why is this so amazing? It surprised me, because Monergism is almost synonymous with Calvinism, and most Southern Baptists react as if I’ve grown a second head if I say I consider myself a Calvinist. I thought it was against Southern Baptist doctrine to teach Calvinism in the pulpit. But I’ve learned since, that there aren’t many rules in the Southern Baptist Convention. But I’ll get back to that in a bit.
Essentially, Calvinism limits its label to those who have come since Calvin in history. Monergistic theology has an unbroken thread through history all the way back to Genesis. To have a monergistic theology is to believe that all the work of our salvation, justification and sanctification is God’s work and no person can take credit. Most who are not monergists would be classified as “synergists”, in that they believe salvation and sanctification is a cooperative effort between us and God. I say “most”, because there is a third category of humanistic monergists. These sort of monergists believe all the responsibility lies upon human beings. This is essentially the view of the Deist, and the average American, if they are honest. Most will not admit to it or are even aware of it, so we’ll leave that out of this discussion.
You Keep Talking About Flowers! Explain Yourself
Before I go much further, I’d better stop for a short note on Church history. The five points of Calvinism, known by the acronym TULIP, was not something John Calvin laid out personally in that particular form. The five points that make up the acronym “TULIP” are points of doctrine published by the Protestant Church in Holland to refute and condemn five points of remonstrance drafted by followers of Arminius and signed by 45 Dutch ministers. Arminians were debated and then condemned as heretics at the Synod of Dort in the 17th Century. So “Five-Point Calvinism” was not something new introduced to the church, but rather was laid out to state the existing doctrine of the Protestant Church. Calvin was not even alive at the time the Church was debating with followers of Arminius. Calvin’s followers responded according to what they thought the Bible taught and they happened to be students of Calvin’s teachings, thus called “Calvinists”.
In the chart below, I compare Arminius’ followers’ of remonstrances with the five points of what’s known as Calvinism and with the stance of most modern evangelicals on each one. After examining statements of faith and FAQ’s on the Southern Baptist Convention’s website, the “evangelical” column describes the average Southern Baptist.
|Arminius’ Point of Remonstrance (equivalent to synergistic theology)||Calvinist Response (equivalent to monergistic theology)||Where the Evangelical stands|
Man is a sinner who has the free will either to cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated, or resist God’s will and perish
Man is totally depraved, spiritually dead and blind, and unable to repent. God must initiate the work of repentance.
|Most evangelicals have their feet in both camps on this one. They don’t want to give up on the idea of man’s free will but can’t help but recognize that the Bible clearly describes the absolute nature of our lost state.|
God’s “election” is based on his foreknowledge. He chooses everyone whom he knew would, of their own free will, choose Jesus Christ.
God’s election is based upon his sovereignty. His election is His own decision, and not based on the foreseen response of anyone’s faith and repentance.
No difference between the evangelical stance and the Arminian stance.
When Christ died on the Cross, he shed his blood for everyone. He paid a provisional price for all but guaranteed it for none.
Christ died for the elect. Knowing who would be chosen, his blood was shed for them.
I’m not clear on why evangelicals feel the need to believe this if they believe God can already see who will choose him. I’m thinking it’s an American thing, in that it flies in the face of the “all men are created equal” idea from our Declaration of Independence. Most Americans, I think, learn this phrase by heart before they learn one Bible verse in Sunday School.
Saving grace can be resisted because God won’t overrule man’s free will. Man is born again when he believes and receives God’s grace.
|Irresistable Grace (Also known as God’s Effectual Calling):
Grace is extended only to the elect. The internal call by God’s grace cannot be resisted and always results in conversion. Grace is not extended to the non-elect.
It’s not surprising that this is the evangelical stance, since it would naturally flow from holding to the belief in the free will.
|Falling from Grace:
Those who are truly saved can lose their salvation by falling away from the faith. (Some Arminians hold to the idea that believers are eternally secure in Christ)
|Perseverance of the Saints:
God preserves the elect so that they persevere to the end, so no chosen person will ever be lost.
|Perseverance of the Saints:
This is another one where evangelicals confuse me. If you believe that God won’t override man’s free will, doesn’t this imply that man should be able to make the choice to walk away from God? Again, this seems a point of belief that ought to flow naturally from you fall on the earlier point of free will vs. God’s Sovereignty.
Most Southern Baptists reflect the beliefs outlined in the third column. Some fall under the second. For the purposes of most modern theological discussions, the view outlined in the third column is what is referred to as Arminian. That is, you can be Arminian without necessarily believing in the ability for a person to fall from Grace.
So now that I’ve determined definitions of what is Arminian and what is Calvinist, here’s what I find curious. Most Southern Baptists are Arminian, which is somewhat curious all by itself, since the majority stance of Protestants, by far, since the Reformation has been that of the monergist. But let’s chalk that up to the influence of American “rugged individualism” and I’ve decided not to be too surprised about this one. But what’s really curious is that some Southern Baptist are very much Calvinists. These seem to me to be drastically opposed positions. So I decided to dig into it and see what the Southern Baptist Convention had to say for itself on these matters.
The introduction to the statement of “Faith and Message” passed at the 2000 convention included this statement:
Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches.
The page on their website where I found this statement also states goes on to say that part of their purpose in agreeing as a convention on a “statement of faith and message” is for “doctrinal accountability”. Aren’t they mixing mutually exclusive ideas? How can you have no enforcement of doctrine, yet have doctrinal accountability?
So that being said, here is the official Southern Baptist statement of faith on the doctrines of Grace:
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach to the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Anyone notice that the initial point of salvation isn’t mentioned in this excerpt. I looked under their statement on Salvation and that essentially says that all these other things (regeneration, justification, sanctification and glorification) are offered freely to those who accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord. So this is where Man’s part comes in. So if you take their statements on God’s grace and combine it with their statement on Salvation, their statement of faith is clearly synergistic or Arminian. The Arminian says you are regenerated because you chose Jesus, but the Calvinist insists that you cannot choose Jesus unless you are regenerated.
If you dig far enough, you can find the SBC’s FAQ section of their site. Here you’ll find this:
What is the SBC’s official view of the doctrine commonly known as Calvinism?
The Southern Baptist Convention has not taken an official stance on either Calvinism or Arminianism. If you surveyed Southern Baptists across the nation you would likely find adherents at both ends of the spectrum with plenty at each point in between.
Hmmm… “each point in between”? This is what just baffles me. How do you believe in Total Depravity and Free Will at the same time? To say you believe in Total Depravity is to say you believe that before regeneration, we are “dead in our trespasses and sins”. So where do those people fall who are at “some point in between”? What do they believe about our state before regeneration? Is it like Wesley’s state as declared by Miracle Max in the movie the Princess Bride?
Can a person be dead, but only “mostly dead”, not all the way dead? Even in this state, can a corpse choose? The monergistic view is that there is “no room for boasting” as Paul would have it in his Epistles to the Romans and the Ephesians. If we have the ability to choose, and then choose well, doesn’t that leave room for boasting? The Synergist believes you are regenerated because you choose Christ, whereas the Monergist believes you choose because you are regenerated.
And someone might say, “Does it really matter what we believe regarding the mechanics of our salvation?” Absolutely! First of all, as I’ve already mentioned, if you really believe you came to Christ because of your own free choice, then you will be tempted to doubt whether he can keep you. “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” If I believe that I began this good work, then won’t I be tempted to believe that this promise will certainly not apply to me? If I’m free to come to Christ, will I not be free to walk away? But there is more than that.
Arminianism Changes Everything
Bob DeWaay, in his article “Recovering Reformation Theology”, list what he has found to be the pitfalls of a synergistic theology. First let me say, if you don’t have time to read the rest of this post and read that article, stop reading now and take the time to read his article. It is absolutely brilliant.
The first pitfall of Arminian theology, the Doctrine of Election is compromised. Christians are clearly called “the Elect” in the New Testament (not to mention God’s “chosen people” of the Old Testament). Who did the electing? God does of course. You cannot elect yourself. But if you take the Arminian point of view, even if you find a handful of verses that seem to support your view, don’t you have to somehow explain away the ones about our predestination and election? Wouldn’t you have to redefine the words “election” and “predestination” in drastic way to maintain synergistic theology?
Secondly, Arminianism would tempt on to change the terms of the gospel. For anyone to respond to the “foolish, stumbling block” message of the cross is a miracle of God. The gospel assaults human pride. As Isaiah 53:2 says, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” That being said, if we see all humans as equally likely to accept or reject the gospel, will there not be a temptation to soften the rough edges and find some way to appeal to the flesh? This is where we get “seeker-driven” theology, where you do whatever it takes to get them in the door and get them to “accept Christ”.
It’s up to us, not God, to get them to take that first step. As Pastor DeWaay says, “If salvation is monergistically from God, one might as well preach the gospel with purity and clarity, knowing God will use it to save whoever is going to be saved.” This matter of fact view of things is what others twist into accusations that Calvinists are not “missional” and are apathetic about the Lost. There is a difference, however, between apathy and realism. The truth is that monergists accept the truth that convincing a convert is not their job, but the Holy Spirit’s. And again, it’s the hyper-Calvinists, who reject Calvinism proper, that have the reputation for slacking on evangelism.
It just so happens, serendipitously for the purposes of this particular post, my son went last night to an evangelistic outreach at a baseball stadium held by Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He said, “That was really strange. The testimonies were fine. One of the kids got up and told about how it was a good thing to experience persecution for the sake of Christ. Okay, I have no problem with that. That’s true. But then the speaker got up and spoke about Christianity like it was something that would make everything okay in your life if you just believed in Jesus. That’s messed up!”
After telling him how proud I was that he saw such teaching as questionable, I explained to him that it was likely that this speaker held the synergistic view that it was his job to get the people to take that first step and let Christ in the door, and if they would just do that, Jesus would take over from there. I suppose any means is justified if you’re trying to save souls, right? It’s sort of like the police on TV that say it’s okay to lie and resort to all sorts of tactics if the end result is confession. I told my son, “It’s like I took a little child to the doctor and knew that he needed to get a shot to save his life. But I knew he had to stay still for the shot so whatever threats, bribes or begging I resort to in order to get the child to take the shot would be justified, because I know that once he gets the shot, he’s safe.” If evangelicals are honest, this is the view we take of salvation. Does this sound biblical?
Thirdly, synergism creates a temptation to give glory to man. Certainly this temptation is common to all men, but the Bible is clear that in matters of salvation and sanctification, there is no room for boasting. (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:25-31) Ultimately, in the synergist’s mind, the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the Christian was wise enough to choose well.
The last consequence of synergistic theology is man-centered preaching and theology. DeWaay gives specific examples of recent trends in popular Christian theology. He first mentions Robert Schuller, who actually openly issued a call in the 1980’s for a “reformation based on man-centered rather than God-centered Theology.” (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation) Rick Warren is a more recent example. Dr. Warren’s teaching centers around finding one’s life purpose. Man-centered teaching and preaching is truly the most tragic consequence of a synergistic theology. Shepherds who focus in on what their flock is itching to hear does not feed their flocks good healthy gospel truth but replace it with junk food that the flesh craves (ego-boosting pep talks or to-do lists to give the flesh something to do, something to take pride in) that weakens the sheep and, worse yet, may leave their entire flock as goats, to their eternal detriment.
Try Monergism for 30 Days! If You’re Not Completely Satisfied!
I’m not going to use this post to make an argument for monergism. Some may argue I have already attempted to, but believe me when I say there are much more comprehensive treatments to the subject than what information I have sprinkled in this post. The goal of this post is to help send out a wake-up call to those who don’t realize that there view of scripture and of God that is not self-contradicting and not at all confusing. I used to think that the Bible had to be difficult to understand. It is only difficult to swallow. And if you refuse to swallow those points of doctrine that offend the Flesh, then it will remain confusing. But since I’ve embraced monergistic theology, all the parts of scripture started to fit together and became seamless.
I want to send out into the blogosphere a theological “Pepsi challenge”. If you have always believed in human free will because it’s the only possibility you’ve ever been presented, I hope you will investigate for yourself whether a synergistic view is really taught in Scripture.
Perhaps Free Will has stood unchallenged in your world view. We have come to a place in the Church history where Free Will is presented by a great majority in very much the same way Evolution is offered as the only reasonable choice of belief in regards to origins. It’s really very similar. But Creationists are finally standing up and finding that they don’t have to be scared of science and that the Bible’s version of history is the one to stand by—and that science and archeology validates, time and again, the Biblical account of history.
In the same way, we’re seeing a resurgence of Monergism. A 2006 survey shows that, even though only 10 percent of Southern Baptist pastors currently serving call themselves Calvinist, 30 percent of recent graduates from SBC seminaries claim to be Calvinist. Southern Baptists have held conferences centered on this debate, such as the Building Bridges Conference, in 2007. The subject of the conference was Calvinism and the Southern Baptist Convention.
It seems to me that people are finally talking out in the open about what has been a forbidden subject of discussion among Baptists. But now the discussion has started and the historical precedent is for each side to dig that people feel very strongly on this subject and Southern Baptists can only straddle the fence for so long. The question needs to be asked, which is worse? Schism or Heresy? Does anyone think that the conversation is going to remain solely at the levels of upper leadership forever?
Keeping feet in both camps for the sake of avoiding a split doesn’t seem in the spirit of the Apostles. Paul harshest words were reserved for those who compromised the message of the gospel. And as the world grows more and more wicked, the church can’t afford to remain doctrinally “squishy”. But I think we’re coming to a good place, where people are finally discussing what has been avoided for too long. Some people thing the Reformation was all about Luther and Calvin and others against the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops and other powers that be. But the truth is, the Reformation spread at a grass-roots level and it did not, in the end, matter whether great leaders was persuaded to the truth. In the end, God’s Word, as always, is not chained and cannot be contained. Of the increase of Christ’s government, there shall be no end, and God’s invisible Church will always prevail.