IF YOU REALLY, REALLY FEEL YOU SHOULD CRITICISE CALVINISM…
A word of advice from a Calvinist to all those who either write for or provide web space for anti Calvinist articles. I am a seasoned reader of anti Calvinistic literature and web sites, and still a Calvinist. Why is this? Apart from the reason that I once stood where you stood, I have never really been challenged in my Calvinism. True, some non Calvinist friends have put some difficult verses my way but on examination of the same, I have found that the Calvinistic interpretation of these verses is the most consistent with the rest of the Bible. Every now and again I surf the web looking for fresh exposures of the things I believe. It would be very easy for me to get comfortable in my Calvinistic faith and just read Reformed articles. I enjoy being challenged and the more difficult the challenge the more I like it. Perhaps I've missed the plot somewhere - or the search engines just put the wrong sites in the wrong order - but I see very little in what is generally offered to make me change my mind. If you are really serious about promoting an anti Calvinism site, then here's a little of advice from an insider.
1) GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT: You cannot expect Calvinists to take you seriously if they can hardly identify themselves in what you write. There are a few sites out there and if they did not use the word Calvinism and Calvinist now and again, then I would not perceive that they were actually speaking about my beliefs. Just for the record: Calvinists are not fatalists. All things are ordained, not by blind random chance, but by the sovereign decree of Him who works all things after his own will (Ephesians 1:11) Calvinists do believe in evangelism and in the free offer of the gospel. (Mark 16:15) We do believe in prayer (Luke 18:1) and holiness (Hebrews 12:14) We do believe in the total responsibility of man as well as the absolute sovereignty of God. We do believe that men can and do resist the Spirit of God, even the elect, (Acts 7:51) although there does come a time when the elect can resist the Spirit's striving no more. (Romans 8:30) No, we don't believe that men are brought kicking and screaming to God against their will. We believe that grace makes them willing in the day of God's power (Psalm 110:3) And other matters too. If you cannot tell the difference between a Hyper Calvinist and a Calvinist (or you think that a hyper Calvinist is just a zealous Calvinist) then - to be kind - you are not really qualified to comment on what Calvinists believe. The two terms are far from being synonymous. Have a wee look elsewhere on this blog for what Calvinists really believe. It could boost your credibility ratings. I think the words of Spurgeon are most appropriate here:
"The most infamous allegations have been brought against us, and sometimes, I must fear, by men who knew them to be utterly untrue: and, to this day, there are many of our opponents, who, when they run short of matter, invent and make for themselves a man of straw, call that John Calvin and then shoot all their arrows at it. We are not come here to defend your man of straw — shoot at it or burn it as you will, and, if it suit your convenience, still oppose doctrines which were never taught, and rail at fictions which, save in your own brain, were never in existence." (7:550)
2) GIVE COMPLETE REFERENCES FOR WHAT YOU ARE SAYING: I really believe that this would cut down the amount of rubbish which sometimes passes for a critical examination of what is supposed to be Calvinist belief. This is the first thing I look for. Sound, adequate proof. It is not enough that you have said it. That is no proof. And no, everyone doesn't know that "Calvinists do not believe in gospel preaching" or are "blind fatalists" or whatever other notions you have espoused. You have got to prove your assertions if you are going to be taken seriously. To do this, you need to head for the better known Church Confessions i.e. the Westminster Confession of Faith. And please! If you do quote the Confession of Faith, make sure you quote all the relevant portion. For example, David Cloud in one article quotes from a selected part of the Westminster Confession of Faith on the Decrees of God. Unfortunately, by leaving out section 7, he fails to tell the whole story and so presents a caricature. The edited out paragraph reminds us that those who are ordained to dishonour and wrath are thus dealt with for their sin, to the praise of his [God's] justice. The WCF section on the Last Judgement (Ch. 23 section 2) affirms the same truth. Men are damned because of sin and nothing else. Read too the quote in context. Sorry to pick on Mr Cloud again, but in another article, he makes the extraordinary statement that Calvin "denounced the free offer of the gospel" yet the one solitary quote supplied did not support his claim - it dealt with the effect of the gospel offer -not it's scope - and in the very next sentence and elsewhere in the same section, Calvin affirmed that the gospel is for everybody. Calvinists are not stupid people. We expect references and we do look them up. If you fail to supply them or get them wrong when you do, we are left with the choice of wondering are you a fool or a knave? Neither really helps what you are trying to achieve.
3) DON'T GO FOR THE FRINGES: What do I mean by this? It is true that a few folk who profess to be Calvinists do not believe in duty faith or duty repentance nor in the free offer of the gospel. In reality, they are Hyper Calvinists and overall are a very small group. In his excellent book on Scottish theology, John Macleod could say: "Those among Scottish Calvinists who have restricted the offer of the Saviour and of salvation in Him to the elect have been almost an negligible minority."(Scottish Theology by John Macleod Knox Press edition p.166) Spurgeon could claim that in the matter of the free offer, he had all the Puritans with him (MTP: 7:271) That is why I wrote above, go for the standard Confessions. If you are attacking the belief's of a fringe group, why should the main body pay any attention to you? (By the way, when Calvinists talk about Confessions, they are referring to doctrinal statements. One anti Calvinist site I looked at - produced by a Mr Roy Lister in South Australia - includes the following gem: "And the Calvinist is often quick to point out the New Hampshire Confession to which the Baptist is supposed to hold. My friend, I had never heard of the New Hampshire Confession until a couple of years ago when I joined a mailing list on the Internet, and I still do not know what it contains. True Baptists have no need of any confession to a priest, they use the Bible as their SOLE source of authority." :-) Hard to take some sites serious, isn't it? I only make reference to it because this site was linked from several other sites, including some of the more prominent ones.
4) DON'T REVISE HISTORY TO SUIT YOUR POSITION: Facts are stubborn things and although we might find them hard to accept sometimes, yet is better to let them stand than to go into denial. It is a fact of history that many Calvinists were great successful evangelists and soulwinners. Some non Calvinists find this hard to believe, because they have convinced themselves that Calvinism is the road to nowhere. They believe their own propaganda that Calvinism destroys evangelism or leads to dead congregations. Unable to accept the evidence, some of them go into denial and soon the wish fathers the thoughts. Mr Lister, mentioned above, shares some of his fantasies with us. He tells us, for instance, that CH Spurgeon (whose comments on Calvinism I have documented extensively elsewhere on this blog) was not considered as a Calvinist until after his death - that he never taught or publicly promoted Calvinism in his youth and that he believed - although the evidence all points the other way - that Spurgeon only promoted Calvinism out of ignorance. Unbelievable isn't it?
It is true that some Calvinists can fall into the same trap. For myself, I am quite happy to know that God saw fit to use John Wesley and other non Calvinists to bring His own elect to Himself. I have no desire to rewrite history.
Again, surely it is counterproductive for non Calvinists to write these things? All they do is harden the Calvinists in their belief. Why would I want to leave the Calvinistic "camp" and join those who, at least in this matter, speak as if they live on another planet?
5) BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT USING THE WORD HERESY: These words are just as appropriate to Calvinists speaking of non Calvinists, so I'm applying these words to myself as well as you. If we brand the "other side" in this dispute as "heretics" then we are obliged to carry out the injunction of Titus 3:10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Perhaps you see no problem with this, even relishing the prospect of unchurching those horrible Calvinists! Well apart from wading into your own congregations - for Calvinists tend to turn up in all types of places - you will be morally obliged to do the following:
A/ Make your web site to be consistent with Titus 3:10 I suggest then that you rid yourself of any positive references to Calvinists. Good bye to those Spurgeon sermons which God so wonderfully used when first preached to bring souls to Himself. Goodbye to any links to Jonathan Edwards's great sermon "Sinners in the hands of an angry God." Revise those historical articles praising the Reformers and thanking God for what was accomplished through Luther in Germany or Knox in Scotland or the Covenanters in later times. If you consider the Calvinist doctrine of "Total Depravity" to be a heresy, well really you ought to get rid then of any positive references to John Wesley because he was effectively here a one point Calvinist. He quite happily wrote on the subject and appended notes from Thomas Boston's Calvinistic Human Nature in His Fourfold State on the back. HA Ironside openly identified with the Calvinist doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. If these men are all heretics - your word, not mine, then you are hardly rejecting them by including any positive reference to their works. Worth thinking about.
B/ Check out your library. Perhaps like me you have a shelf reserved for books either on cults/heresies or for books written by heretics. On my shelf I have the Book of Mormon and a few JW books as well, all nestling beside a few RC books including Liguori's Glory of Mary and the Vatican II documents and those of Trent. I consider these books to be heretical. I keep them there purely for reference. If you do likewise, you really duty bound to put all your Calvinistic books there as well. Like Matthew Henry's commentary. Have a wee look at his comments on Romans 9 and see if this Calvinist heresy as you call it crops up. Your Treasury of David by Spurgeon really should be there as well and McCheyne's Memoirs or any of old Bishop Ryle's books. You see it is really very easy - especially in front of a computer screen and a keyboard - to brand this designation of heresy about. Either those who read your site are going to take you seriously or they are not. If you don't take yourself seriously, don't expect that others will.
6) IF YOU ARE A KJV ONLY MAN… DO REMEMBER THE VAST MAJORITY OF KJV TRANSLATORS WERE CALVINISTS: Just for the record, and to avoid any come back, I hold that the Received Text is the true text and that in the AV we have a faithful accurate translation of the same. I can quite happily hold up my AV Bible and say "This is the word of God." I would not feel at liberty to do the same with any version based on the Westcott and Hort texts.
What do you know about the AV translators? Yes, they were godly men and spiritual giants. They were well equipped for their job of translating the word of God. But they were also Calvinists - a point readily acknowledged by Mr Cloud in his reply to Gail Riplinger. So you need to be very careful when you say that Calvinism is heresy or that it is produces pride etc., It is all very well running a fine tooth comb over the translation committees of the NIV etc., and pointing out whatever doctrinal error you want, but just remember you are using a Calvinistic translation of the word of God.
7) DON'T USE DOUBLE EDGED ARGUMENTS: Again the fault here can just as easily lie in Calvinistic sites, so don't take it personally. I have looked at arguments that Calvinists are divided among themselves or that some Calvinists just keep stringing one on harp etc., These criticisms are applicable to any doctrine. Just as Calvinists try to distance themselves from hyper Calvinists - so too other doctrinaires try to distance themselves from those whom they would brand as hyper -----. Mr Cloud in his piece "Calvinism…Who is the real enemy") wrote: "Whenever one tries to state TULIP theology and then refute it, there are Calvinists who will argue with you that you are misrepresenting Calvinism. It is not so much that you are misrepresenting Calvinism, though. You might be quoting directly from various Calvinists or even from Calvin himself. The problem is that you are misrepresenting their Calvinism!" Yet Mr Cloud himself has an article on his web site entitled: BEWARE OF HYPER DISPENSATIONALISM If we were to take his position as articulated in the above paragraph, we would say: "Whenever one tries to state DISPENSATIONAL theology and then refute it, there are DISPENSATIONALISTS who will argue with you that you are misrepresenting DISPENSATIONALISM. It is not so much that you are misrepresenting DISPENSATIONALISM, though. You might be quoting directly from various DISPENSATIONALISTS or even from Scofield (or whoever) himself. The problem is that you are misrepresenting their DISPENSATIONALISM!" Yes Calvinism is divided up into various schools - but then so is nearly every other doctrine in God's word. Again, it is true that some men practically take Calvin as the final authority - but then Wesley likewise has a similar following and Darby and Scofield often have the last word too in some quarters. A little consistency would go along way.
8) TRY AND KEEP A GRACIOUS SPIRIT: Again words to both schools. I must confess that it is very easy to rise to the insults and reply in kind. If a Calvinist does lose his patience however, it might be because you have either misrepresented him (see first point) or just called his God, whom He loves, an immoral repugnant monster because he (the Calvinist) happens to believe that if God was not obliged to save any, then he was not obliged to save all. On the Calvinist side, non Calvinists usually do not like being branded as Arminians. Incidentally an Armenian is someone who hails from Armenia. It is geographical as opposed to theological.
9) TRY AND KEEP TO THE POINT: A few sites tend to go off on a tangent and give impressions that they are recruiting for the Baptists. If your page says it is talking about Calvinism, then please keep to the subject. You lose any edge you might have had by launching a tirade against the Reformers.
10) BE PREPARED TO CHANGE ANY INACCURACIES IN YOUR SITE: Again a word for us all. I believe it Spurgeon who quaintly observed that if we admit that we were wrong yesterday, then we but confess that we are a little wiser today. We all make mistakes and so we should be more than willing to make corrections. Perhaps you were a bit hasty in the use of that word heresy. Or perhaps you have just rehashed the same old and worn out ideas that Calvinists do not believe in evangelism etc, If someone challenges you and supplies you with proof otherwise, then they will be more inclined to listen to you if you correct the offending part than if you dig your heels in and persist in propagating your error. Never mind the "certain who come from James" looking over your shoulder (Cp Galatians 2:12) You are answerable to God, not them and it will be of little use pleading ignorance if your email inbox is full of emails - irate or otherwise. I hereby pledge myself to correct any errors on this website that can be proven to be wrong.
My position on the Calvinistic controversy is akin to that of Spurgeon. The good man was certainly a staunch defender of these doctrines - he said that he felt ready to die for their defence (MTP 9:274) - yet he could see those truths which emanated from the other side. He was not advocating the idea of diluting any of the five points - an unwarranted compromise - but he could write:
"The Calvinist has said, and said right bravely, that salvation is of grace alone; and the Arminian has said, and said most truthfully, that damnation is of man’s will alone, and as the result of man’s sin, and of that only. Then they have fallen out with one another. The fact is, they had each one laid hold of a truth, and if they could have put their heads together, and accepted both truths, it might have been greatly for the advantage of the Church of Christ. These two doctrines are like tram lines that you can travel on with safety and comfort, these parallel lines-ruin, of man; restoration, of God: sin, of man’s will; salvation, of God’s will: reprobation, of man’s demerit; election, of God’s free and sovereign grace: the sinner lost in hell through himself alone, the saint lifted up to heaven wholly and alone by the power and grace of God. Get those two truths thoroughly engraven upon your heart, and you will then hold comprehensively the great truths of Scripture. You will not need to crowd them into one narrow system of theology, but you will have a sort of duplicate system" (MTP 41:500)He also said:
"But I do maintain there should be, and there must be if our churches are to be healthy and sound, a constant adherence to the fundamental doctrines of divine truth. I should be prepared to go a very long way for charity’s sake, and admit that very much of the discussion which has existed even between Arminians and Calvinists has not been a discussion about vital truth, but about the terms in which that vital truth shall be stated." (MTP 6:395)
I honestly believe that much of the trouble comes from ignorance and misunderstanding. If I thought that someone believed that God just damned men for the sheer pleasure of it, without any reference to their sins etc., then I would get pretty uptight as well. But before I wrote anything, I would seek to find out as much as I could, ever remembering the words of Oliver Cromwell in his letter to the Presbyterians of Scotland: "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken."