Friday, June 29, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 11: Biblical Theology

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Scholars like Graeme Goldsworthy, Vaughn Roberts, and others have argued persuasively that the Lord Jesus Christ is the end or goal of “biblical theology.” But biblical theology also has a number of major sub-themes, like kingdom, covenant, law, redemption, temple, land, etc., one of which is God's saving election.

Biblical theology is distinguished from “systematic theology” in that it reads the Bible along its own storyline, from beginning to end, and emphasizes the categories that the Bible itself emphasizes, while systematic theology organizes truths of the Bible according to philosophical and logical categories. Biblical theology is the study of “redemptive history” that shows how God's saving purposes unfold in the Bible.

The doctrine of unconditional election is one of the themes of biblical theology. The Bible strongly emphasizes God's election to underscore the fact that His saving purpose does not depend on human descent (genealogy or nationality) or human wisdom, but only on His purpose of free and sovereign grace.

Consider just some of the personal manifestations of the doctrine of election in the Bible's story.

1. Seth. Immediately after the fall in Genesis 3, God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). But in Genesis 4, there was a battle between the two seeds in which Cain murdered Abel. It appeared that the seed of the serpent (the ungodly line) had destroyed the seed of the woman (the godly line). 

But God showed His gracious electing power by providing Eve a new son to replace Abel, named Seth, which means “elect.” Genesis 5:25-26 says, “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, 'God has appointed [elected]' for me another offspring instead of Abel for Cain killed him. To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” God gave Eve another son, who was a replacement for godly Abel. There was no chance that Seth might have refused to be godly, since God appointed Seth to begin a godly line of those who would call upon the name of the Lord (Gen 5:26).

2. Noah. Due to inherited guilt and corruption from Adam (total depravity), the wickedness in the world expanded (Gen 6:3, 5), but God preserved a remnant of godly seed by choosing Noah for righteousness. Genesis 6:8-9 says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” The order of verses 8-9 is critical. First, God favored Noah (verse 8); second Noah “walked with God” (verse 9). By choosing Noah for salvation, God made certain that He would preserve the godly line from which Christ would eventually arise.

3. Abraham. At the tower of Babel (Gen 11), the wickedness of the world manifested how great it had become due to inherited corruption from Adam. Human beings proudly refused to spread out across the whole earth and subdue it in submission to God but sought instead to make a name for themselves. The ungodly seed of the serpent was growing. 

But God chose Abraham to continue the godly line from which Christ would eventually come. Before God came to him, Abraham worshipped other gods with his father Terah in Ur of the Chaldeans.  Abraham had nothing to commend himself to God, but God effectually called him to salvation (Gen 12:1-3). Joshua 24:2-3 says, “And Joshua said to all the people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor, and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many.'” God “took” Abraham for Himself. Abraham could not have thwarted God's plan to preserve a godly line by a contra-causal free will. Rather, God made certain that Abraham would respond willingly to His effectual call. In Genesis 18:19, God says the following about Abraham, “I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”  Here we see that God chose Abraham for salvation that he might teach his children in the way of faith.  This is the Calvinistic doctrine of "means."  God uses the means of preaching and godly living to draw His elect people to Himself. 

4. Isaac and Jacob. Both Isaac and Jacob were sinful men who had no personal worthiness to commend themselves to God. Isaac sinned in the same ways as his father Abraham, in that he lied about Rebekah being his wife in order to save his own skin from Abimelech king of the Philistines (Gen 26:6-9), showing that he inherited a sinful nature from his father.  Jacob was no better than his father Isaac in that he was a self-centered deceiver. 

But God chose to save Isaac, rather than Ishmael, and Jacob rather than Esau. Romans 9:6-13 says, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: 'About this time next year I will return and Sarah will have a son.' And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, – she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” 

And so, God preserved the godly line (the seed of the woman), not by depending on those in the godly line to make wise free will choices, but by choosing one man over another for salvation, even within the nation of Israel.

God's sovereign choices demonstrate two things. First, they put God's sovereign and discriminating grace upon display, such that He alone gets the glory for preserving a people for Himself. Second, they subsume the genetic and national theme beneath the saving and redemptive theme. This shows that God's purpose in the world is not a racial or geopolitical purpose, but a saving purpose. Biblical history is not primarily a history of nations, but the history of God's sovereign redemption.

5. Moses. God effectually directed the beginning of Moses' life so that he would grow up in Pharoah's household and be perfectly suited to lead the people of Israel out of bondage and captivity in Egypt. Before God effectually called him, Moses murdered an Egyptian and fled to Midian, away from God's people. Moses was no great leader, nor was he a godly man by nature. But God chose him to lead Israel out of captivity (Gen 3:2-10; Acts 7:35). Did God's plan for Moses to deliver the seed of the woman out of bondage to the seed of the serpent depend upon Moses' free will, which might have chosen other than it did? Could Moses have chosen not to follow God's instructions in the burning bush and thwarted God's design? Surely not!

6. David. After the period of the Judges, when Israel became more and more like the Canaanites with each successive Judge, God gave Israel a king “like the nations,” just as they had requested. The biblical text wants us to see Saul as a Canaanite king. Saul was commanding and self-centered. He used the people for himself and wanted personal glory from them. Saul did not descend from the tribe of Judah, but was a Benjaminite, and so never should have been king in the first place. Saul was a representative of the seed of the serpent. 

David, however, is the seed of the woman. Samuel went to Jesse's house and looked over Jesse's sons In 1 Samuel 16:11 it says, “Then Samuel said to Jesse, 'Are all your sons here? And he said, 'There remains yet the youngest, but behold he is keeping the sheep.' And Samuel said to Jesse, 'Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.' And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, 'Arise and anoint him, for this is he.'” So, the LORD chose David unexpectedly. David was the runt of Jesse's sons. 

1 Samuel 13:14 says, “The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart.” But this does not mean that God sought a man who had a character like His because the Hebrew word “heart” (leb) means “mind.” What 1 Samuel 13:14 means is that God sought a man after His own mind, or a man after His own choosing. God chose David not because of anything in David, but because of His own sovereign purpose.

7. The Old Testament Prophets. After David, Solomon's reign benefitted from David's strength. But after Solomon, the kingdom was divided and began to decline as it slipped into more and more ungodliness. God chose and sent prophets to warn His people to repent in light of coming judgment. One example is when God explicitly says that He chose Jeremiah to declare His Word to the nations. Jeremiah 1:4-5 says, “Now, the Word of the LORD came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” In this context, the Hebrew, word “knew” (yda) means to set affections upon or to choose. The role of the prophets was to call the seed of the woman to repentance, while declaring God's coming judgment to purge the seed of the serpent from the Old Testament church. The work of the prophets was so important that it could not be left to their own contra-causal free wills, but was brought about by God's sovereign and meticulous providence.

8. The Lord Jesus Christ. God chose Jesus Christ to be the promised seed, to live a righteous life, to die, and rise again as a mediator for God's people. The human nature of Christ did not have contra-causal freedom to accept or reject God's call upon His life. 1 Peter 1:20-21 says, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through him are believers in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” According to BDAG, the current standard Greek Lexicon, the Greek word translated “foreknown” carries the idea of “foreordained” or “chosen.” Christ was chosen before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in time.

9. The Eleven Apostles of Christ. When Judas was still among the disciples, Christ carefully distinguished between Judas and the rest of the disciples saying that He had chosen all but the one who would betray Him. Jesus said, “If you know these things blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me'” (Jn 13:17-18). Here Christ identifies Judas as one who lifts up his heel against Him, linking Judas with the seed of the serpent. The other eleven disciples are “chosen” and in the line of the seed of the woman, but not Judas. Later, after Judas had already gone out from the disciples, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). Christ chose the eleven disciples for eternal salvation, but not Judas.

10. Paul, the Twelfth Apostle. Not only were the eleven Apostles chosen for salvation, but the twelfth capital “A” Apostle, Paul, was also chosen for salvation before he was born. In Galatians 1:15-16, Paul says, “He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son to me in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” God chose Paul for salvation that he might preach the gospel among the nations.

Conclusion
The doctrine of election holds redemptive history together. God's saving purpose could not be thwarted because God chose men for salvation to advance His saving story. The men he chose could not have refused His call or in any way  disrupted His design, but rather because God chose them, they willingly believed Him and did according to His intention.

Time and again, God made surprising choices, choosing one man over another, in order to show that salvation history is not a human product, or a cooperative effort between God and men, but is the work of God in spite of sinful men. God is the hero of redemptive history, not human beings who might have happened to use their free wills to make good choices. God acts in history and human beings respond according to His pleasure. Calvinism matters because it preserves the purpose and glory of God's grace throughout redemptive history.   

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 10: The Cosmological Argument for God's Existence

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At the Founders breakfast, SBC 2012, during his address, Dr. Tom Nettles said that one of the theological implications of Calvinism is that it supports the cosmological argument for God's existence, while non-Calvinism undermines it. He didn't fill out his thesis that morning, but here are my thoughts on why he is right.

The cosmological argument says that contingent being must be grounded on incontingent being. It argues that every effect must have a cause, and that there must be a first cause at the foundation or else no effects could exist. God is incontingent being, who has has the power “to be” in Himself and therefore both (1) requires no cause and (2) explains all the effects of the cosmos. Calvinism consistently affirms that God alone is the First Cause and is the source of all other causes and effects, including human choices.

There have been attempts to refute the cosmological argument by proposing an infinite regress of causes and effects that extend to eternity past (an infinite regress also results when anyone insists that God must have a cause, and that His cause must have a cause, and so on). But an infinite regress is logically impossible, since it requires chains of cause and effect to travel forward through an infinite past in order to get to the present moment. Since it is impossible to travel through an infinite series of cause and effect, and since the present exists, there can be no infinite regress. Therefore, the cosmological argument is right to insist that there must be a first cause to explain the cosmos.

One of the problems with non-Calvinism is that it undermines the cosmological argument by making human choices first causes in their own right. On the non-Calvinist model, there is no causal explanation for why any given free will decision is what it is rather than an alternative.  This means the human will is the first cause of every free choice it makes. But if beings other than God are themselves first causes, then there is no consistent way to argue that God is the First Cause of all things. Thus the cosmological argument for God appears to be undermined on the non-Calvinist model, while it is sustained on the Calvinist model.

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 9: Cooperation Among Baptist Churches

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Calvinism provides a strong theology of inter-church cooperation. Its doctrines of remaining sin and error in the hearts of believers and churches along with God's meticulous sovereign providence ground biblical cooperation among local Baptist churches.

Which churches may cooperate biblically?

The basic biblical principle of cooperation is found in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?” This verse appears in the context of the local church covenant (2 Cor 6:16-18). Local churches, therefore, that have and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ may faithfully join together in cooperative efforts in both structured and unstructured ways.

But when it comes to full cooperation, including the work of missions (the goal of which in the book of Acts is always church planting), then practically speaking, churches need to agree on local church polity. Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, for example, don't agree on the nature and structure of the church; so, they would never be able to cooperate in mission work, even if they might gladly cooperate on a host of other issues. So, local Baptist churches may only cooperate with other local Baptist churches in the work of missions and church planting.

How are Calvinistic Baptist churches well-suited to cooperate with other Baptist churches, while disagreeing on some important issues, including Calvinism?

First, Calvinism holds that churches will never be rid of all theological sin on this side of heaven (see the churches of the NT). Like individuals, local churches cannot simply make free will choices to overcome their corporate theological errors, nor can they be coerced to think differently than they do. This should make true local Baptist churches lavishly patient with one another. It should also humble us (1) by keeping us from thinking we can change each other by political power or by the strength of our arguments and (2) by reminding us that we might have theological errors that need correction.

Second, the permanence of remaining theological sin does not mean that there can be no theological progress. Calvinism teaches that the human will can be and is influenced by God's appointed means, including the Word of God, prayer, the sacraments, and godly fellowship when blessed by the Spirit. Therefore, the cooperating churches ought to discuss their theological differences openly, but also with brotherly love, grace, and patience (Eph 2:15). The fact that we can influence one another with the Word of God and godly lives should give us a great sense of responsibility to articulate the whole counsel of God clearly, even on issues on which we disagree.

Third, Calvinists believe that in His sovereign and meticulous providence, God in Christ will certainly advance His kingdom. Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Christ built His church by using grossly imperfect and sinful men. Proud Peter, doubting Thomas, and timid Timothy were all Christ's instruments in building the church. Christ also built His kingdom through grossly imperfect New Testament churches. The advancement of the kingdom does not depend on all the churches agreeing on every issue. It does not depend on our political power or strength of scholarship. It depends on God's promise to save men from every tribe and nation. This should make us hopeful and keep us from all despondency and discouragement, no matter what anyone says or does.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 8: Social Ministry


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The gospel has clear implications for social issues, but Calvinism's salvation theology, gives definite shape to how we should think about social issues.  Many social issues are impacted by Calvinism, but I've chosen to highlight four below.  I might have included others as well.

Homosexuality. This is probably the most critical moral issue in Western culture as evidenced by how hard the secularists are fighting to promote it.  The Calvinistic doctrines of total depravity and irresistible grace have enormous implications for how we approach the question of homosexuality.

Total depravity means that sinful homosexual impulses, like all sinful impulses, are innate and flow from our fallen human natures (Rom 1:26). Homosexuality is not just a choice any more than any sinful impulse is just a choice (Rom 8:7; 7:18). Someone who has same-sex urges cannot simply make a free-will choice to turn off those impulses. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, was wrongly criticized for making this same point. Only the gospel message of Jesus Christ can save people from their sin and misery. But the gospel will only change sinful hearts when God adds His effective blessing to it (1 Thess 1:4-5).

Therefore, laws against homosexual marriage cannot fix the root of the problem. They are good as far as they go because they help restrain the impulses of the sinful nature (Rom 13:1-5). But the only way to address the root of homosexual sin is by loving and patient proclamation of Christ (law and gospel) and by serving those enslaved by this sin.  Homosexuals are guilty, and they are responsible. But they cannot change without God's effectual grace in Christ (Jn 6:44); so, we should not expect otherwise. Let us therefore preach the gospel of free grace to them, pray for them, and become instruments of God's loving mercy to them.

Adoption. Calvinism shapes adoption when adoptive parents pattern their adoptions after the way God adopts His children. God does not ground His adoption of His children on their wisdom, merit, or understanding of the value of their adoption. Instead, God adopts His children unconditionally, and He keeps them unconditionally (Eph 1:5). When God's children sin and act ungratefully toward Him, God never abandons His children or returns them to the orphanage.

Back in 2010, an American family wrongly returned their seven year old adopted boy to a Russian orphanage. But only a spirit of conditionalism, which grounds family relationships on performance could possibly think to do such a thing. Calvinism teaches that God's costly love for us is not conditioned on our behavior, but only on His free and unconditional electing decree (Eph 1:4-5; 1 Jn 4:10). Therefore, as parents, our love for our children, adopted or otherwise, must never be conditioned upon their behavior.

The Poor and Needy. Christians are called to serve the poor, help the needy, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison (Matt 25:31-46). But we are not called to help the needy on the condition that they welcome or accept our help. Many of them will respond to our love with hostility and might even reject us personally.

But Calvinism informs the way we should treat the poor and needy. We should love them, serve them, and provide them blessings, no matter how they respond to us. We should give to them, whether they are grateful or ungrateful and whether they accept us or not because that is how God has treated us in Christ (Lk 6:32-36). He freely chose us, loved us to the uttermost, and did not demand that we change our hearts before He unconditionally pursued us and rescued us. We, therefore, ought to serve the needy responsibly and show them mercy no matter what they do in response, knowing that only God can change them. We must realize that nothing we say or do can change their hearts, and simply serve them, pray for them, and speak the whole truth to them in love.

Street Preaching. I debated as to whether to include "street preaching in the category of “social ministry,” but it is the open-air proclamation of the gospel to society; so, I'm placing it here. Street preaching attempts to influence the human will. It aims at the conscience and summons people to salvation by holding out the free grace of God in the gospel of Jesus.

Non-Calvinism teaches that the human will can't be determined. Calvinism teaches that God uses His Word and Spirit to make people willingly choose Christ. The stubborn fallen human will can be influenced and changed, according to Calvinism. Therefore, open-air street preaching is warranted.  "But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:23-24).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Take Aways" from The Southern Baptist Convention 2012

I was very encouraged by this year's convention. Here are a few of the reasons.

 1. The SBC chose good, honorable men for leadership. After the election of Fred Luter as the first ever black president of the SBC, all the messengers showed their approval with a long standing ovation.  Dr. Russ Moore tweeted, “Jim Crow is Dead. Jesus is Alive!”  Amen!  I'm also thrilled about the election of Dave Miller to 2nd VP over Eric Hankins (who was instrumental in the recent “Traditional” anti-Calvinist document). Dave, a faithful pastor, is committed to the mission of the cooperative program and wants unity in the SBC. He'll do a great job.  I'm so grateful for Alan Cross, senior pastor of Gateway Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and his articulate labors to publicize and encourage Dave's nomination and approval.

2. The Founders Breakfast was a huge success. The room was full of young men and various leaders.  Tom Ascol said he could have sold another 50 tickets at the last minute, except for the fact that the hotel required him to close registration days before the event. Dr. Tom Nettles, professor of church history at SBTS, spoke at the breakfast.  He did a wonderful job relating the history of the Baptists and concluded by reflecting on the current debate over Calvinism, outlining some of the practical and theological issues at stake. He convincingly showed that there is good historical reason to hope for the future of Southern Baptists! Also, during the convention, Founders Ministries released two new books.  The first, Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of God's Sovereign Mercy, edited by Matthew Barrett and Tom Nettles (which includes a chapter I wrote) is a response to the critique of Calvinism in Whosoever Wills, edited by David Allen and Steve Lemke.  The second book, Traditional Theology and the SBC by Tom Ascol, is an ebook response to the recent “Traditionalist” document that opposes Calvinism.

3. The dominating tone at the SBC was one of peace and unity around the gospel and the Baptist Faith and Message for the sake of missions. Danny Akin's SEBTS report set the right tone for discussion of salvation and cooperation.  I greatly respect and appreciate Dr. Akin for his leadership and willingness to speak clearly and graciously to this important matter.  Resolution 4, On Cooperation and the Doctrine of Salvation, passed unanimously as far as I could see and without anyone speaking against the motion. The resolution affirmed that the Baptist Faith and Message is a “consensus confession” but not a “comprehensive confession,” and that it “provides sufficient parameters for understanding the doctrine of salvation so that Southern Baptists may joyfully and enthusiastically partner together in obedience to the Great Commission.” Amen! Let's now pray that the efforts to silence and/or remove Calvinists from the SBC will cease so we can get on with the cooperative work of missions.

4. The SBC was attended by a large number of young men this year. In previous years, the SBC has been overwhelmingly made up of senior adults, but this year's attendance shows the growing interest of the next generation.  That's a very good thing for our future as Southern Baptists. All the young men I encountered were gracious, theologically interested, and committed to missions. Previously in the SBC, most ministerial aspirants sought to pastor well-established Southern Baptist churches. Today, there are serious efforts to preach the gospel, make new disciples, and plant new churches for the advancement of Christ's kingdom. This is encouraging and bodes well for the future.

5. I very much enjoyed attending the B21 panel discussion moderated by Jonathan Akin among Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Fred Luter, JD Greer, David Platt, and Danny Akin.  There was good and forthright discussion about important matters.  I also enjoyed attending the SBTS Luncheon and sitting with a group of men training at the SBTS extension at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, AL.  I was encouraged by their earnestness and sincerity in the gospel.  Dr. Mohler spoke on improvements to the seminary and alluded briefly to the controversy over Calvinism.  He affirmed the historic confession of Southern Seminary, saying "We're up for this," and there is no reason to fear.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 7: The Gospel


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So far in this series, I've tried to show how Calvinism informs the rest of theology, that it greatly impacts the rest of life, and has more implications than we might expect when we first think about it. But none of that really gets at just how important Calvinism is.  Calvinism is most important because it supports the gospel.

I would never want to say that Calvinism is the gospel or that the gospel is Calvinism. The two are not the same. Speaking of the gospel, Paul said, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).  The gospel is that God overcomes the curse and power of sin through Jesus and His saving work. Anyone who comes to Christ in faith will be saved, which means you do not have to believe Calvinism to believe the gospel. In Christ, God redeems sinners, Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Everyone who sees his great need of salvation and looks to Christ for rescue will be saved.

Still, even though Calvinism is not the gospel, I submit that it supports the gospel. Consider an engagement ring and its diamond. You may marvel at the qualities of the diamond without noticing much else about the ring. But the prongs underneath, which are much less beautiful in themselves, support that lovely diamond. I would suggest that Calvinism and the gospel have this same kind of relationship. Just like the prongs on an engagement ring support the diamond, Calvinism's doctrine of salvation supports the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ so that its great beauty is supported. In the following post, I want to try to show you how Calvinism supports the gospel.

First, Calvinism shows that God's purpose in the gospel is unconditionally and absolutely gracious. Calvinism's doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement (or definite atonement) are about God's unconditional and absolute grace. God does not draw a line in the sand and say, “I'll only love you enough to save you, if you cross this line.” Rather, He loves us so much that He crosses the line Himself and saves us. He sets His love on us in election and then He actually redeems us through the death of His beloved Son.

In unconditional election, God is like an adoptive parent who chooses a child, not because the child is better behaved, smarter, or better looking than other children, but only because he set his love on this child in an adoptive way.

God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7:6-8, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you.” Similarly, God loves us, not because we are lovely, but because He loves us. He chooses us, not because we are choice, but because He loves us, freely and unconditionally, and there is no cause of His love to be sought behind His own purpose of grace.

Ephesians 1:4-5 also speaks of God's unconditional electing love, which supports the gospel, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of His will."  Ephesians 1 discusses these truths in relationship to "the gospel of your salvation" (Eph 1:13).

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 shows that God's election isn't based on anything good or valuable in those He chooses: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”  Unconditional election supports the gospel because it shows how God's gracious purpose in the gospel is free and unconditional.

In definite atonement, Christ completely accomplishes our redemption. He doesn't meet us part way and require us to make up the difference. The great English Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, provided a helpful analogy for definite atonement. He said that some say the cross of Christ is like a wide bridge that goes half way across a river. Everyone in the world is on that wide bridge, but when they get half way across, the bridge simply stops.  It doesn't carry them all the way to safety.  The bridge doesn't actually save anyone.  But Calvinists say that the atonement is much more gracious than that. For Calvinists, the atonement is like a narrow bridge that goes all the way across. All of God's chosen people get on the bridge and cross completely over to safety. 

Beyond merely making salvation possible, the Bible says that Christ actually saves His people. Matthew 1:21 says, “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [which means salvation], for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus doesn't merely hope to save His people or give them an opportunity to be saved. This says He “will save” His people! Galatians 1:3-4 says that Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:3-4). Christ did not merely make our deliverance possible or available. Rather, He died for our sins actually to deliver us! So many other texts teach the same thing. Christ's death actually secures and accomplishes salvation. 1 Timothy 1:5 says “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He “gave Himself for us to redeem us” (Titus 2:14).  Christ's atonement absolutely and completely saves.

The doctrines of unconditional election and definite atonement show that the gospel is unconditionally and absolutely gracious. The effectiveness of the gospel is not dependent on the whims of fallen and sinful men but upon God's unconditional decree and Christ's absolute work.

Second, Calvinism shows just how badly men need the gospel. Some argue that a lost person is like a man drowning in a pool. The drowning man is desperate for help; so, Christ graciously throws him a life preserver. The drowning man may then choose whether to take the life preserver and save his life or stubbornly refuse and drown.

But Calvinism argues that we're in far worse shape than the man drowning in a pool. The Bible says, “And you were dead” (Eph 2:1), not drowning, not sick, not in need of someone to give us a chance. Dead. The biblical picture is that lost men have already drowned and are lying dead and lifeless at the bottom of the pool. For us to be saved, Christ must dive down, bring us up to the surface and raise us from the dead. When we come to life, we realize He's already holding on to us.  We take hold of Him as a reflex, and we begin to thank Him for saving us. Colossians 2:13 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” We were dead, but God made us alive.

The Bible says there is nothing we can do to save ourselves or rouse ourselves to take hold of Christ. This is Calvinism's doctrine of total inability. Job 14:4 says, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.” Isaiah 64:7 says, “There is no one who calls upon Your Name, who rouses himself to take hold of You.” Jeremiah 13:23 rhetorically asks, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” Speaking of lost people, John 6:64 says, “No one can come to Me.” Romans 3:11 says, “No one seeks for God.”

Our neediness glorifies the greatness of Christ's salvation in the gospel. The less we need Christ, the less He rescues us. But the more we need Christ, the more He must act to rescue us. Calvinism's doctrine of total inability glorifies the gospel of Christ's great rescue.

Third, Calvinism shows that the gospel is effectively powerful and loving. Calvinism's doctrines of irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints put the effective power of the gospel on display. Some argue that God behaves like a gentleman who always asks for our permission before acting.

But the God of the Bible is far too loving to leave us to ourselves.

Imagine a family that decided to go to the mountains for a much needed vacation. While they were there, they decided to take a hike up to the edge of a rock cliff for a beautiful view. When they got up to the top, the man's little daughter started to run toward the edge of the cliff. With loving firmness in his voice, the father yelled, “Stop running, or you'll fall off the cliff!” The man's daughter turned, looked at him, shrugged, and just kept right on running. The father then dove for his child and snatched her by the arm, pulled her away from the cliff's edge, and saved her from certain death. Now, was this loving or unloving? Did this father wrongly override his child's freedom? Should the father have simply let his daughter foolishly use her free will to kill herself?

The Bible teaches that God our Father loves us so much that He doesn't leave our salvation to us. He snatches us from the bowels of hell by the great and all-powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who applies the work of Christ to save us and keep us forever. God's gospel love is most powerful.

But God's powerful love in the gospel goes further than the father's love for his child in the example above. God does not forcibly pull us into salvation against our wills. Rather, He powerfully and lovingly changes our desires, makes us want Him, so that we come to Him most freely and willingly for salvation. This is Calvinism's doctrine of irresistible or effectual grace. Once God saves us, He continues to cause us to believe, to love Christ, and to become more and more like Him. He keeps us saved by His great power and will not let us want to leave Him forever, though we do sometimes wander for a time. This is Calvinism's doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

Scripture is clear about these things. Acts 14:48 says, “And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” God gives the gift of saving faith to all He has chosen for salvation. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). John 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out.” Verse 39 says, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day.” Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God begins the work of salvation and He finishes it. 1 Peter 1:3-5 says, “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” God caused us to be born again (irresistible grace) and then He keeps us by His power (perseverance of the saints).  These Calvinistic doctrines teach us about the great and effective power of the gospel.

So, I hope you see how Calvinism holds up the gospel and shows off its beauty.  Calvinism is not the gospel, but it provides vital adjectives to the gospel.

1. In the gospel, Christ doesn't merely purpose to be gracious. He purposes to be unconditionally and absolutely gracious.  (Unconditional Election and Definite Atonement)

2. In the gospel, Christ doesn't merely save sinners. He saves totally helpless sinners. (Total Inability)

3. In the gospel, Christ isn't merely powerful and loving. He is effectively powerful and loving. (Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 6: Science and Psychology (Counseling)


Other Posts in this Series:

This post will aim to show how Calvinism's doctrines of providence and human nature serve to ground both sound science and psychology.

Science: knowledge
First, the Bible gives us warrant for doing science. One of the first tasks God gave to Adam was the scientific work of taxonomy, naming all the creatures (Gen 2:20). In the Proverbs, Solomon speaks of the trees (botany), animals (zoology), creeping things (entomology) and fish (ichthyology). The word “science” means “knowledge,” and God encourages accumulation of knowledge in His Word. Daniel 1:4 says that Daniel and his friends were “skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning . . . [studying] the literature and language of the Chaldeans,” which would have included a study of nature and the stars.

Second, the Bible's metaphysic (its teaching about what exists) shows that an orderly God created an orderly and uniform universe (Gen 8:22). 1 Cor 14:33 says, “God is not a God of confusion.” The miracles of the New Testament prove that interruptions of the regular pattern of nature are unexpected and surprising displays of God's immediate power and that they are not the norm.

Science is only possible if every created event has a sufficient cause. That is, we can only formulate “laws” of science, if things happen according to an orderly pattern. This is the basis of logical induction. If we observe any outcome of an experiment taking place with consistency, then we may induce that it will continue to take place.

Calvinism's doctrine of providence teaches that God upholds and sustains all of creation by the power of His word, that all things come to pass according to orderly chains of cause and effect, which God, the First Cause, set into motion, though He may and does interrupt them, and that all things are moving toward the end God Himself purposed from eternity.

Interestingly, this presupposition of the orderliness of creation is not a given in science. More and more physicists today are hypothesizing that events can randomly occur without a sufficient cause. This is one thesis in quantum physics, a particle theory, which speculates that movement at the subatomic level is random and that there is no sufficient or determining cause of motion. Some physicists simply say that there is no discernible cause, but others say that there is no cause. This is highly problematic in science, and it is the result of jettisoning the presupposition that every created event has a sufficient cause.

I submit that the Calvinist doctrine of providence, which teaches that God accomplishes His will through created means and ends, undergirds science because it is the foundation of the uniformity of God's created realm.

Psychology: the study of the soul; pastoral theology
The word “psychology” comes from two Greek words that mean “the study of the soul.” Psychology is a subset of science because it attempts to uncover the causes of various conditions of the human mind and then to prescribe cures. Historically, this was simply called “pastoral theology” though Sigmund Freud, and those who followed him, intentionally formulated new secular systems to replace the older pastoral models. The Puritans were some of the best students of the human soul who sought to apply Biblical Reformed Theology to all of life, including the inner world of the human being.

Many, if not most, non-Calvinists affirm the uniformity of the created physical realm, but they deny that events in the spiritual realm have sufficient causes. This is because they believe in a kind of free will that is capable of choosing against all influences. They affirm that when the human will acts freely and responsibly, it acts with contra-causal freedom, or libertarian freedom. But if libertarian freedom is true, then there are no sufficient causes for conditions of the human mind. And if that's true, then conditions of the mind cannot be studied or understood because a libertarian free will is the first cause of all its choices.

Against the non-Calvinist understanding of free will, Calvinists affirm an understanding of human freedom that says that choices with sufficient causes are both responsible and free. This is called compatibilistic freedom. Thus, Calvinism's doctrine of providence and human freedom is the foundation of biblical counseling and pastoral theology.

The Christian counselor uses the Word of God to uncover the streams of sin as they run in the human heart and to apply the gospel and law with careful precision as the cure for sin and its concomitant miseries. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Word of God should be used to analyze the “soul,” along with its movements, and then to apply the redeeming balm of the gospel.

Faithful Calvinistic counseling realizes that human beings don't simply change when they're given commands to make different free will choices. What ails human beings is not merely that they make wrong choices and need to make better ones. Rather, the problem is much deeper. Their problem is rooted in the heart, which is determinatively inclined to sin and cannot simply overcome its sinful impulses by free will choices. In Romans 7:18, Paul says, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” He then says, “For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells within my members” (Rom 7:22-23). Though he was a believer, Paul's will didn't have the “ability” to obey all of God's law. His remaining sinful nature still waged war against what had been renewed. Paul could not simply choose to obey God with a free will decision.

Believers, therefore, need the constant and wise application of God's ordained means of grace, including the Word of God (gospel and law), prayer, the sacraments, and the fellowship of the saints. These “means of grace” work as necessary “causes” which must be introduced into the minds and hearts of believers to form them more and more into the image of Christ. As God's Spirit adds His blessing to these means of grace, there is a sufficient cause to believe the gospel, and we are increasingly formed into the likeness of Christ, from one degree of glory to the next, with the law of God as our guide.

Therefore, Calvinism's doctrine of providence and the human will undergirds psychology, which is really just another word for “the study of the soul” and is one part of pastoral theology.

On the Current Debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC


First, the differences between Calvinists and non-Calvinists are not determinative of salvation. Ephesians 2:8 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith.”  People are saved when they come to see that their sin offends a holy God and they turn to Jesus Christ in faith for salvation from God's wrath, from themselves, and on the last day, from the sinful world around them.

At Southern Seminary, I lived across the hall from a faithful Evangelical Arminian, and we became good friends. We had wonderful fellowship in Christ, shared in the gospel and in a common desire to know the Scriptures and reach the lost world. Nevertheless, we disagreed strongly on questions relating to Calvinism. We discussed and debated Calvinism openly in brotherly love. I still look back at our discussions with great fondness because I learned a lot from my friend and came to appreciate his views. Our theological discussions were good because they helped us to understand each other.  Through our discussions we became closer friends and developed greater mutual understanding and trust. I am happy to cooperate in the same convention with my friend. I trust his commitment to Christ and the gospel, to forming biblical churches, and to global missions. Our agreements always outweighed our disagreements.  True and sincere believers can be Calvinists or non-Calvinists.

Second, these are important differences. Most differences in theology relate to secondary doctrines that do not determine final salvation but still have a great weight of importance.  Calvinism, baptism, church discipline, church polity, covenant theology, the nature of sanctification, spiritual gifts, to name just a few, are all important secondary issues. Whether one believes Calvinism or not, we should all agree that our beliefs about the nature of secondary issues of theology, like God's sovereignty, providence, grace, and human salvation, are important to our health or lack of health as believers and churches.  This is because secondary issues support our understanding of the gospel and shape our understanding of its implications and applications. If we are consistent, then whether we are Calvinists or non-Calvinists, our beliefs about these doctrines will inevitably and pervasively impact and transform the rest of our thinking and practice.  This is as it should be.

Third, I do not know why a theological “debate” should necessarily be characterized as a harmful “fight.” No doubt, some Southern Baptists are harmfully fighting over this issue. In the negative sense, a “fight” is hateful and intends to do harm, to destroy, rather than to build, to condemn rather than to redeem. Many are wisely calling on Southern Baptists to stop “fighting,” but does that also mean Southern Baptists should not publicly and fervently debate important matters of theological difference, like Calvinism? I submit that we have no right to marginalize biblical truth, even and especially secondary doctrines. Perhaps our postmodern culture has so shaped us that we have come to believe that if you disagree with me, you hate me, that if you really love me and want to work with me, you shouldn't voice your disagreements with me. Or that “truth” isn't really knowable, isn't really important, and we should simply focus on loving our brothers and loving the lost by doing missions void of robust doctrinal content.  I hope that's not the case.

In his great treatise, The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther said, “Doctrinal truth should be preached always, openly, without compromise, and never dissembled or concealed. . . . Who gave you the right and power to confine Christian doctrine to particular persons, places, times and cases, when Christ wills that it should be freely published and reign throughout the world? 'The Word of God is not bound,' says Paul (2 Tim 2:9).”  The Bible says, "Contend earnestly for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

I am concerned that some of the appeals for peace and quiet on Calvinism in the SBC sound much more like Erasmus than Luther. In The Bondage of the Will, Luther wrote the following to Erasmus about the dispute over free will: “In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the world is at peace . . . you would encourage him to treat Christian doctrines as no better than the views of human philosophers – about which, of course, it is stupid to wrangle and fight and assert, since nothing results but bad feeling and breaches of outward peace. 'What is above does not concern us' – that is your motto. So, you intervene to stop our battles; you call a halt to both sides, and urge us not to fight any more over issues that are so stupid and sterile.”

Luther boldly and rightly affirmed, “To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. Now, lest we be misled by words, let me say here that by 'assertion' I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it, and persevering in it unvanquished. . . . And I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures.”

Fourth, the only kind of unity that will be acceptable in the SBC is one in which all sides are free openly to state and practice their convictions about Calvinism consistently with the Baptist Faith and Message and yet choose to continue to work together for the sake of missions. This is not a question about “power” as an end. Rather, it's a question about “missions” as an end. We can only cooperate if we may all participate in mission work and if our Calvinist convictions are not a barrier to participation in missions, either formally or informally.  I am happy to allow the non-Calvinists to continue to cooperate with me and advance their convictions without violating the Baptist Faith and Message. I would simply ask the same of them.  

Fifth, there has yet to be a serious discussion about the meaning of the Baptist Faith and Message. Most claim that the Baptist Faith and Message is written such that both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can sign it. I'm open to that, but we need to talk about it. Article IV, section A, states: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” A plain reading indicates that regeneration precedes repentance and faith, which is part of the Calvinistic order of salvation. The non-Calvinists need to explain how they can affirm this statement in good conscience.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 5: Western Civilization


Other Posts in this Series:

In previous posts, I have focused mainly on the theological importance of Calvinism and the practical impact of Calvinism in terms of Christ's kingdom. Consider, now, the social impact of Calvinism. History bears out that Calvinism has had a profoundly formative influence on western civilization.

Constitutional Republic. Calvinism's doctrine of total depravity teaches that human beings are not as “bad as they can be,” but that they are corrupt in each human faculty. In Adam, our fallen minds, hearts, and wills are depraved (Rom 3:10-12), such that we are naturally selfish, sinful, and idolize creation rather than worship the Creator (Rom 1:18-32).  Therefore, any system of government that fails to include a careful balance of power will inevitably result in corruption because human beings will selfishly take advantage of unaccountable power.

If total depravity is true, then a “republic” is necessary. Power concentrated in the hands of totally depraved governing officials will be abused and corruption will result. Therefore, monarchies, oligarchies, and all feudal systems are excluded as workable forms of human government. Similarly, if power is concentrated in the hands of the masses, there will be corruption as the majority will tyrannize the minority. Therefore, pure democracy is excluded as a workable form of human government. Only a federal republic in which rulers are elected by the public and empowered to rule with authority successfully distributes power between the rulers and the public, such that the sinful human nature is held accountable.

If total depravity is true, then a “constitution” is necessary. While government can and must be “by” men, a nation's government must not be “of” totally depraved men. In other forms of government, laws change with the king or with the vote of the majority. But because human beings are totally depraved, government must be founded on a fundamental social “law.” A constitution is the most basic law of a constitutional republic. Basic law is necessary to penalize the societal sins of totally depraved people, both of governing officials as well as of the general public.

Capitalism. Calvinism's doctrine of total depravity means that human beings will never be naturally inclined to any form of socialism or communism. Basic fallen human nature is selfish and simply will not seek to work altruistically for the common good as a way of life.  

Capitalism is the only system of economics that accounts sufficiently for the innate selfishness of human beings. Capitalism motivates individuals to economic productivity and private ownership of material goods based on their own merit, and it penalizes individuals who fail to produce products and services demanded by the public. It is, therefore, based on the total depravity of human beings, which comports with the current fallen state of the world.

Calvinism, however, would never favor a purely laissez faire (hands off) system of economics because individuals and institutions will figure out ways to make money in the short run that cause great harm (even death) in the long run and before the public catches on to what's going on and the market corrects for misbehavior. Therefore, Calvinism also favors just laws, patterned on God's moral law, summarized by the Ten Commandments, imposed by the government to penalize external economic and social sins such as theft, violation of contracts (lying), murder, etc.

Civil Liberty. As a corollary to Calvinism's insistence on the need for just law to curb the behavior of totally depraved human beings, Calvinism also opposes all unnecessary laws. This is the doctrine of "liberty."  Romans 13 says that the government is “an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.” Therefore, government should impose laws that penalize the outwardly sinful actions of totally depraved human beings according to the second table of the Ten Commandments (the definition of “wrongdoing”). Romans 13:9 says, “The commandments: You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Beyond, this, however, there is liberty, which is “freedom under the rule of just law.” Governments that attempt to regulate aspects of human life beyond just moral law are legalistic. Government has no right to make laws that regulate our eating habits, spending habits, educational choices, parenting choices, entertainment choices, religious choices, etc.  These things fall in the sphere of "civil liberty."

Religious Liberty. Finally, Calvinism provides a strong argument for religious liberty. If human beings have the contra-causal freedom to “choose between two options” as “A Statement of Traditional Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation” affirms, then why shouldn't governments force all men to become Christians? If the choice is really up to each individual and each individual really is capable of choosing Christ or rejecting Him, then why not do what is best for their souls and help them make the right choice at gunpoint? A little government coercion might secure great numbers of free will choices that could send multitudes to heaven.

The problem with forced conversions is that human beings don't really have a “free will.” They are totally depraved, incapable of choosing Christ on the basis of their own volition. Only the Holy Spirit can effectually call any man to salvation. Therefore, the government must not attempt to force any conversions. It cannot and will not work. The most that the government could accomplish would be to fill the churches will false converts who deceptively profess Christ while secretly despising Him in their hearts. This would pollute the churches and corrupt our witness in the world. Therefore, Calvinism is the foundation of religious liberty.

Calvinism matters because it is part of the foundation of Western Civilization.

For further study, I recommend:
Calvin in the Public Square by David W. Hall
Calvin and Commerce by David W. Hall and Matthew D. Burton
Calvin and Culture by David W. Hall and Marvin Padgett

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 4: The Priestly Work of Christ


Other Posts in this Series:

In the last post, we considered how Calvinism comes to bear on the “person” of Christ with respect to His human will. Here we examine the Bible's teaching about Christ's redemptive “work” in relationship to Calvinism. Calvinism is a vital theological matrix for all three offices of Christ's work: prophet, priest, and king.

Prophet. Calvinism gives shape to Christ's prophetic office in showing how the Holy Spirit moved upon Christ's human nature to “forthtell” and “foretell” God's inerrant truth perfectly, yet without destroying His freedom or personality. Christ's accurate foretelling of the future was only possible because God would sovereignly render certain (by meticulous providence) the future Christ foretold. This is Calvinism's doctrine of compatibilistic freedom (divine determination of human choices is "compatible" with human freedom and responsibility).

King. Calvinism also provides the theological framework for Christ's kingly office as He rules and defends His people, powerfully invades their hearts, effectively subdues their sinful natures, and successfully protects them from the sinful world and Satan's schemes. He does not leave these kingly acts to the whims of human autonomy, but accomplishes them by His own sovereign power.

The Priestly Work of Christ.
In the remainder of this post, we will explore how Calvinism matters with respect to Christ's priestly work in terms of its certainty, Christ's sacrifice, and His prayers.

Calvinism matters with respect to the certainty of Christ's death. The Bible teaches that God eternally decreed that His only Son, Jesus, would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise again. In Luke 24:6-7, two men in dazzling apparel said to the disciples, “Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” The words “must be” indicate that God's eternal decree rendered Christ's death necessary and certain.

Luke 24:26 confirms: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Christ's death was “necessary” for the redemption of sinners, so much so that God did not leave it to the “actual free wills” of men to “choose between two options,” such that they might have chosen not to crucify Him. Rather, God's decree rendered it certain that in His effective providence, sinful men would crucify the Lord Jesus.

God's decree of the sinful murder of Jesus is no mere theological speculation. Luke tells us in Acts 4:27-28, “For truly in this city [of Jerusalem] there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.” God “anointed” Christ's murderers to accomplish His purpose. Here the Bible tells us plainly that God “predestined” the killing of Jesus.

Yet though God predestined Christ's crucifixion, those who murdered Him were held responsible for their sin. Acts 2:23 says, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Those who crucified Him were “lawless,” and their “lawless” act was determined “according to the definite plan” of God. This again is Calvinism's doctrine of “compatibilistic freedom.”

Therefore, Calvinism matters because it is the only way to explain how Christ was necessarily and certainly crucified and how those who murdered Him were guilty for their sin.

Calvinism matters with respect to Christ's substitutionary sacrifice. Only Calvinism can consistently uphold penal substitutionary atonement. Calvinism teaches that Christ actually paid for our sins on the cross in history. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.”

Christ's death was not a potential payment but an actual one. Jesus did not die for no one in particular and for everyone in general, but He died particularly for all of the sins of His chosen people. Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep” (Jn 10:15) and Matthew 1:21 says, “He will save his people from their sins.” Paul wrote, “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Christ's death, therefore, was a “particular redemption” rather than a “general redemption” because He actually redeemed a particular (elect) people from their sins.

Since Christ actually paid for the sins of a particular people, God's own justice requires His people to be forgiven and saved. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 confirms, “14. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all; therefore, all have died; 15. and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was saved.” Verse 15 says Christ “died for all.” Verse 14 shows that the word “all” is qualified by the pronoun “us.” Christ did not die for all men without exception; rather, He died for “all” of “us.” Notice too the effect of Christ's death. Verse 14 says, “one has died for all [of us]; therefore, all [of us] have died.” The logic of the text is clear. Christ died for all of us; therefore, all of us will be saved. Because He died for us, we die to our sins. Christ's death for us ensures our complete salvation.

Thus, Calvinism matters because it preserves the Bible's doctrine of an actual penal substitutionary atonement by which Christ pays the total penalty for the sins of His people.  If anyone for whom Christ died were to die and go to hell to pay for his sins, there would be a "double payment," and God would be unjust.  Therefore, everyone for whom Christ died must go to heaven.

Calvinism matters with respect to Christ's priestly prayers. After His death, Christ rose again from the grave because His perfect righteousness merited His resurrection to eternal life as well as the resurrection of all who are saved in Him. He then ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father, praying for His people. So, Christ not only died for the elect, but He also prays for their salvation on the basis of His perfect life and death.

In His high priestly prayer, Christ prayed, “I have manifested Your Name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your Word” (Jn 17:6), and “I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours” (Jn 17:9).

Hebrews says that Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28) and that “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). Christ prays in heaven for the elect on earth that they will be saved and kept by God's mighty power. And the Father answers all of Christ's priestly prayers in the affirmative.

Calvinism matters because it preserves the efficacy of Christ's prayers on the basis of His actual atonement for the sins of the elect.   

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 3: The Will of Christ


Other Posts in this Series:

Calvinism matters because only the Calvinist doctrine of the human will can account for Christ's perfect obedience on earth.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man and that His two natures are united in one person. The book of Hebrews begins its discussion of Christ in chapter 1 “from above,” that is, by teaching on Christ's divine nature, while Hebrews chapter 2 moves downward to His human nature. The Gospel of John follows a similar trajectory, moving “from above” with the eternal Word (logos) who is true God (Jn 1:1) to the union of the Word with a true human nature. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).  

Each of Christ's two natures retains all of its own distinctive properties such that the two are not confused or mingled. Christ is, therefore, both eternal and temporal, infinite and finite, fully actualized and potential, all-powerful and weak, all-knowing and lacking in knowledge, all-present and located, unchangeable and changing. He is God and man.

This means Christ has two wills, a divine will and a human will. The ancient heresy of monotheletism (one-will-ism), condemned at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680 AD, taught that Jesus had only one will. But if Christ only had a divine will and His human nature did not also have a human will, then Christ was not truly divine and human, which means that He could not have willed to merit the law's blessing as our substitute. And, if Christ did not have a human will, then He cannot redeem our wills. The early church father, Gregory of Nazianzen, said “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed.” Christ had to assume a human will to redeem our wills. Scripture clearly teaches that Christ has two wills. John 6:38 says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” This text teaches a distinction between Christ's own (human) will and the will of God the Father.

This, then, raises a question about the nature of Christ's human will.  

Did Christ have an “actual free will” with the "ability to choose between two options" as the signers of "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" would have us believe "God endows each person?"  Or was Christ's will necessarily determined to choose good over evil? Was it hypothetically possible for Christ to sin? Might Jesus have chosen other than what He did?  Did He have the "power of contrary choice?"  Why did Christ obey rather than disobey? Was it sheer luck/chance, or was His human will determined (necessitated) to perfect obedience by God, such that Christ's human nature was both free and responsible?

The Old Testament teaches that God caused or determined the obedience of Christ's human will. Psalm 22:9-10 says of Christ, “Yet You are He who took me from the womb; You made me trust You at my mother's breasts. On You was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God.” God “made” Christ trust Him. God determined Christ's human will to trust Him and keep all of His commandments. The ancient prophet Isaiah declared that Christ would certainly obey God unto death (Isaiah 50:4-6; 52:13-53:12). Such certain prophecy would be impossible if God did not determine the obedience of Christ's human will. In Hebrews 10:7, Christ declares, “Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.”  How could it have been "written" that Christ would do God's will, if God did not render His obedience certain?  Yet even though God determined Christ's obedience, He was not compelled against His nature.  Christ says, "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord" (Jn 10:17-18).  Christ willingly obeyed and died for His people.  Thus, God eternally decreed the willing obedience of Christ's human nature.  His decree was inscripturated in Old Testament prophecy and then fulfilled in Christ's earthly life.

We have seen that Christ had a true human will and that His human will was divinely determined.  Though Christ's human will was determined, He was morally responsible for His actions such that He merited eternal life for all who believe in Him. This is the Calvinistic doctrine of “compatibilistic freedom,” which says divine determination is “compatible” with human freedom and responsibility. Calvinism matters because it is the only doctrine that can consistently support the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was necessary for Christ to accomplish our justification and to merit the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

Work Cited: Jones, Mark. A Christian's Pocket Guide to Jesus Christ: An Introduction to Christology. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2012.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 2: Evangelism and Global Missions


Other Posts in this Series:

Calvinism grounds biblical evangelism. We live in a time of pervasive shallow evangelism. Many do “evangelism” by saying things like, “follow Jesus and He will give you a better life,” or “accept Jesus to make an impact on the world,” or “pray this prayer and you will go to heaven when you die,” or they simply tell their own personal testimony.

By contrast, Calvinistic evangelism emphasizes biblical doctrines, such as the holiness of God, the law of God summarized by the Ten Commandments, the sinfulness of mankind, the cross of Christ, the free grace of God, the need for repentant faith in Christ to be righteous before God and the need for believers to be baptized, join a local church, and live a holy life with the Ten Commandments as our guide to the glory of God.  Christ evangelized the lost by convicting men of sin and calling them to follow Himself.  See Lk 18:18-30; 19:1-10, etc.

Some fear that biblical and doctrinal evangelism will come up short on conversions. They are afraid that too few people will respond to a rigorously biblical message. But Calvinists have a theology that allows them to rest in the knowledge that God's elect will respond to Christ's message without manipulation, without any watering down or perverting of the message, and without pragmatic, numbers-oriented, methodologies.

Christ taught that the reprobate do not believe the gospel, but the elect always hear His voice and follow Him. He said, “You do not believe because you are not part of My flock. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn 10:26-27). He also said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him . . . Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (Jn 6:44-45). Thus, Calvinism's doctrines of effectual grace and unconditional election (the sheep will respond to Christ's voice) preserve the purity of the gospel because they free us to preach the biblical message and trust God with the results.

True gospel preaching always has a twofold effect: life and death. “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 2:15-16). While the Calvinist longs for sinners to turn to Christ and prays for their salvation (Rom 10:1), his theology also teaches that the gospel only penetrates the hearts of the elect and that it hardens those who are perishing.  In both penetrating and hardening, the Word of God accomplishes God's design.  “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).

The Calvinist can say with Paul, “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's Word, but by open statement of the truth, we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing” (2 Cor 4:2-4). Paul's confidence in the doctrine of election led him to declare that the gospel is only veiled to “those who are perishing,” but Paul understood that the “called” would respond favorably. In 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, Paul wrote, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Therefore, Calvinism matters because it grounds biblical evangelism and gives the preacher confidence that God will use His Word to convert the elect. We may preach the Word openly and trust that God will bring in the harvest of His chosen people.

Calvinism motivates global missions. Another reason Calvinism matters is that it is one of the greatest biblical motives of global mission work. Calvinists believe that Christ's death actually purchased an elect people from every nation in the world; therefore, the missionary enterprise cannot fail.

Revelation 5:9 says, “And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by Your blood, You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Christ didn't merely “potentially” ransom people, or hope to ransom people, as non-Calvinists believe; rather, He "actually" ransomed (bought out of slavery to guilt and sin) men and women from among all the nations of the earth! Missions cannot fail. This is a powerful reason to do mission work.

Far from de-motivating or discouraging missions, the certainty that God will save His elect people was Paul's great hope as a missionary. While Paul was experiencing persecution and resistance to the gospel in the city of Corinth, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10). Christ encouraged Paul to press on with his mission work because He had “many in this city who are My people.”

In 2 Timothy 2:8-10, Paul said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the Word of God is not bound! Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Though mission work around the world will face stiff opposition from Satan and this fallen world, with Paul, Christian missionaries can “endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation.” Missionaries can press on, knowing that their labor is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58), but that Christ will have His inheritance of nations.

That Calvinism is a great motive to mission work is not theoretical. The modern mission movement emerged from Calvinistic (Particular) Baptists in England. William Carey, the father of modern missions, was a strict Calvinist Baptist, like his theological mentor, Andrew Fuller, who went to India to proclaim Christ and plant churches. Carey worked for seven years without seeing even one convert to Christ. But he continued to preach, pray, and translate the Bible, even though he saw no results of his labor. What encouraged him to keep on “plodding?” He wrote this to his sisters in England:
I feel as a farmer does about his crop: sometimes I think the seed is springing and thus I hope; a little time blasts all, and my hopes are gone like a cloud. They were only weeds which appeared; or if a little corn sprung up, it quickly dies, being either choked with weeds or parched up by the sun of persecution. Yet I still hope in God, and will go forth in strength, and make mention of His righteousness, even of His only.
Carey understood that he was to preach the Word and sow the seed, but God alone provides the growth. “So neither he who plants nor waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7).

Thus, Calvinism matters because biblically, theologically, and historically, it motivates the great work of global missions. Stay tuned for part 3.