04
Mar
10

How Calvinism Should Breed Insecurity

Do you remember when Uncle Ricco, Napoleon Dynamite and Kip were all sitting together on the couch watching Ricco’s lame quarterbacking videos? Annoyed, Napoleon cynically speaks up and says, “This is pretty much the worst video of all time.” To this over statement Kip responds, ‘Napoleon, like anybody could ever know that?” It was a moment of truth, wasn’t it? No one could know whether this was the worst video ever made or not. In order to know this sort of thing a person would at least have to have exhaustive knowledge in two different respects. First, they would have to have an all encompassing aesthetic sensibility. Additionally, they would have to have viewed and know, when it came to all videos ever made, what is infinitely good and bad. This is infinite information that no one has.

Perseverance of the Saints…

You may be wondering what this has to do with Calvinism, election, predestination and the fifth point of T-U-L-I-P, “Perseverance of the Saints?” 

When it comes to the infinite, there are some things just too much for a finite mind to know. In previous entries, I have written (and quoted Calvin himself) about sovereignty and election. Over and over, I have only repeated Calvin telling the reader that God in eternity past specifically and particularly chose each and every individual who would be regenerated and this is done before they have ever been born into this present world. My point being that all men are basically born hopeless from the beginning. People enter existence already condemned or saved and Christ did not die for ALL men  but only for those whom God has preselected. This concept is called “Particular Election.”  

Further, and Calvinists will agree with me here, all of those who are Elected by God will never be lost. This is called by some, “Once saved, always saved” but the real language is “Perseverance of the Saints.” 

Here’s the deal. 

It would be impossible for anyone, even the most ardent Calvinist to know for certain that they are among the Elect. They could think that they are among the Elect but they could not know for absolutely certain that they are among the chosen.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have the same problem in knowing whether or not they are in the heavenly 144,000.

Muslim’s are never sure that Allah will admit them to Paradise, unless of course, they go out and blow themselves up in the name of Islam.

Now get what I am saying here. I am not saying that no Calvinists are Elect. I am just saying that it would be presumptuous to say so. Of course, when they do say so, they say so for the same reason that a Pentecostal or a Wesleyan says so. They have the witness of the Spirit (Romans 8:9 and 16) that they are a child of God and this has nothing to do with skills in debating the finer points of Romans 9,  Ephesians 2 or T-U-L-I-P.  

It is here that I want to do what no person who wants to be taken seriously should ever do. I want to argue from the position of particularity. In other words, I intend to resort to specific, personal experience and examples. In fact, I will perhaps set myself up as some sort of judge but not having the advantage of exhaustive knowledge of the mind of God or any person I am about to refer to.

For twelve years I taught a three credit course entitled, “Sovereignty and Free-Will” at a Minneapolis area college not more than twenty minutes from John Piper’s, Bethlehem Baptist Church. Because of this, I wound up having a number of hard-shell and objectionable Calvinists (they prefer to be called Reform but a rose by any other name is still a rose) in my classroom. In all, I would suspect that, over the years, I had about ten of those students. I really can’t imagine what they thought. They thought that the class was up for grabs and anyone’s opinion was as good as anyone else’s. They perhaps supposed that anything goes but this wouldn’t be true at Bethlehem Baptist now would it? Of course not. We have, as does Bethlehem Baptist, what might be called a “School of Thought.” We thought in a certain way and objected to other ways of thinking. That was our prerogative as it is Bethlehem Baptists prerogative and my expectation that, should I attend there, I will be subjected to Reform doctrine, otherwise called Calvinism.

Now here’s where I do what I should not do. Of those ten students, all experts at Calvinism, I can only think of one that has not now left the faith, presently living an immoral life, dropped out of ministry, or was expelled for insubordination. So far, of the ten, only one has seemed to persevere. Fortunately, the last chapter may not have been written yet and these prodigals may yet be restored. Perhaps they are Elect in spite of the poor performance? Who knows? At this point a good Calvinist would have two choices. They could either say, “They probably weren’t saved in the first place” or “Performance has nothing to do with whether a person will persevere or not. The appearance of external morality or the seeming evidence of faith is no indicator of whether a person is (Elect) saved or not. There need not be any evidence of regeneration or transformation.” I take no exception to this as this, according to grace, is possible but not ideal.

 “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” (Titus 2:11-13) 

 Here is my point.

For the longest time these students were convinced that they were among the Elect. In those same classrooms there were all sorts of denominations represented and it is true that not all of the other five hundred or more appear to have persevered. Still, none of these students were as adamant about persevering and arguing for it with as much conviction as the Calvinists in the room who overall, and almost to a person, have not done well. Knowledge of Election is no guarantee of Election, now is it?

There are others that become enamored with the tenants of Calvinism. They are busy learning axiom’s and theorems, memorizing minute details on how to defend their doctrines, staying up late at night pouring over Romans and Ephesians, reading ponderous books by Westminster PhD’s and honing their new found skills on their friends and family members. Is it possible that they engage themselves in this way, day after day, night after night, month after month and year after year and after having diligently learning all about every nuance of Calvinism, and at the precise moment they draw their last breath learn that all of this was a colossal waste of time and they were never regenerate in the first place? Well yes, and I think that this will undoubtedly be the case of some. Spiritually speaking, some have never brought up a drop of life-giving water from their own spiritual wells. Oh well, so be it, “che sara, sara.” Their heads are full but their hearts empty and their spirits are still dead in sin. “The flesh, it profiteth nothing” and “knowledge puffeth up.”

Calvinists are simply parrots all in the same cage.

Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses are doing similarly each Thursday evening at their Theocratic Meetings. Are they committed to what they believe? You bet they are! Are they sincere? You bet they are! Are they Elect? Not on your life! Do they think they are! You bet they do!

Sadly, Mormon’s couldn’t possibly know if they are Elect or not (except the witness of the Spirit) and neither can a Calvinist. Do Mormon’s think they have the witness of the Spirit? Just ask them and they will tell you about their subjective, “Burning in the bosom,” as they call it.

I believe that a recipe for losing one’s assurance is to become a Calvinist and go about wondering whether you have it or not. It is much easier to take God at His word and believe what He says, for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED (Romans 10:13), that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10),  Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16: 30b-31), “The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this,that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:10-13).” 

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4 Responses to “How Calvinism Should Breed Insecurity”


  1. 1 Mike Fleming
    October 27, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Tony,

    I agree with you on your article, “How Calvinism should breed insecurity”. You have a unique perspective! This is the first time I have read anything you have written. I am a teacher in a public high school and I am also a Christian. I have been doing battle with many in my area on the subject of Calvinism for years and what I have found is that many within the church don’t know anything about Calvinism even though they attend a church that believes this way. Some pastors and believers of Calvinism seem to be more concerned with changing people into Calvinists and Piper readers than Christianity. Most in the church don’t care about deep theology, but I fear that Calvinism changes the nature of God and the Gospel! These are very important things to be clear on and I don’t consider them deep, but foundational!
    I would like your thoughts on something. The first precept of Calvinism is Total Depravity and it is partially described as “a state that we are in as a result of The Fall that left us unable to chose God”. I have been involved for some time with Answers in Genesis and one day I thought I would go back to Genesis and see if God reveals his Calvinistic Self or his True Self there. I was amazed when I remembered what caused The Fall! Adam and Eve ate from the tree of “knowledge of good and evil”! They immediately knew they were naked and that they had done something wrong! They felt shame and tried to hide from God and cover their nakedness. We are sons of Adam and Eve and we suffer from their sin, but we also benefit from their eating of the tree as well. We should have the same knowledge of good and evil. I believe that we are not totally depraved, according to the Calvinists, but we are completely sinful! God made a way to regenerate us and used The Fall to allow us to know the difference between Good and Evil, so that some day we might understand the Love and mercy shown us by the Father through the Son! We also have no excuse when shown the Truth, because we all have the same ability as a result of eating from the tree. God can therefore punish those for their lack of Faith.

    What do you think?

    Mike Fleming

  2. March 25, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Hey, I was in that class! It really helped me to make sense of the sides of the argument. Incidentally, I was reading an essay by Packer the other day, and I was struck by how presuppositional he was with regard to his points. His interpretations of the passages he was using to defend Calvinism really hung on how he defined his terms and what he thought the overarching principles should be. Those Geisler videos seem to indicate the same sort of thing. Anyway, I’m enjoying your posts here, Tony.
    Thanks,
    Doug

    • March 25, 2010 at 11:06 am

      Yep, a sovereignist works from their presuppositions backwards.

      I like Packer and Piper but I do not bow in their direction. Sometimes they say a little ditty and everyone salivates. A Ph.D proves nothing except how long a person has spent in school. Here’s a “For Instance” of what I mean, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. (Piper)” Now, what kind of brilliance does this display? Yet, I see the quote heralded as revelatory and profound. You could reverse the words and it would not improve the statement one bit. Here, try this. What if I uttered, “Worship exists because missions doesn’t.” I mean, this is sort of as true as the other by Piper. Some of us believe that evangelism and missions is the highest form of worship one can offer.

      American’s are consumers. They consume anything and everything including their religion. Piper and Sovereignty are branded products like everything else in America (Osteen, Copeland, Hinn, Dollar, T.D.Jakes). In the end, the most important thing is a black bottom line. All of this has little to do with God and has more to do with market share. The entire business is driven by filling up conference seats, the selling of books, proselytism and theological dominance and nothing more. Keep those cards and letters coming in folks!

      Did you ever hear about the machine that made the grease to grease the machine that makes the grease to grease the machine that makes the grease to grease the machine that makes the grease to grease the machine to make the grease to grease…. Finally, someone noticed that no grease was being sold. It was all self indulgence and self congratulations.

      Now that’s a profound profundity.

  3. 4 Mike Fleming
    March 26, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Think about this one! Total Depravity (So depraved that we can’t chose God!) & Unconditional Election (Chosen based on nothing!) OK stay with me! If we can’t chose God and he has to chose us and it is based on nothing then why do we need Jesus? As a matter of fact everyone of the 5 standards of Calvinism, or TULIP don’t mention Jesus! I wonder why that is?

    Jesus chose the twelve and many Calvinists remind us of that “I chose you” line from scripture, but they fail to mention that Jesus also said to the Father, “I have lost one!” refering to Judas. Now wait a minute, if Jesus chose him and then lost him then Jesus is either not God and able to pick people very well or Judas has free will! The Calvinists would probably argue that Jesus chose Judas as one of the twelve so that scripture would be fullfilled, and I agree, but did he make him go to Hell? It is one thing for Jesus to pick someone knowing that he would betray him, but to pick him and make him betray and therefore force him to go to Hell means that we serve a very unloving God! I do not believe that. We serve a God who washed the feet of all the disciples, even Judas, but Judas was not moved by God’s mercy as say Peter was after his denial. The bottom line is that our Faith is important and we need to have Faith and we need to grow in that Faith and I am proud to say that God delights in my Faith, just as he delighted in the Faith of those when he was with us. But let me be clear that a faith does not save, but a Faith in Jesus allows Him to Save us and He is the one that deserves all the Praise!


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