I noted a while back the response of a hyper-Calvinist to the announcement of the topic of the tenth in the Great Debate Series on Long Island, “Can a Non-Christian Enter Heaven?” Despite my lengthy history of apologetic interaction with Rome, my consistent affirmation of the fact that Rome does not possess the gospel of Jesus Christ, and my defense of Reformed soteriology against the likes of Norman Geisler, George Bryson, and Dave Hunt, hyper-Calvinists have chosen to use this opportunity to make sure everyone understands: it is not enough for you to believe in the Five Points: unless you 1) confess you were not a Christian until you understood and believed all Five Points, and 2) are willing to condemn to the fires of hell itself every person who does not understand and believe all five points in totality, you are not a Christian either (evidently that makes seven points you must believe). So, the theme out of the hyper camp is that both the debaters June 9th, Bill Rutland, the Roman Catholic, and James White, the Calvinist, are unregenerate, lost men! You can believe all Five Points, but, if you don’t believe their “Extra Two,” you are as lost as a Roman Catholic who affirms every element of Rome’s false teaching.
One of the best known hyper-Calvinists is Marc D. Carpenter of outsidethecamp.org. I have denounced Carpenter repeatedly in the past, and watched with sadness as he has spiraled over the years into an ever tighter circle of error. The man is so hyper he has added John Calvin to his “Heterodoxy Hall of Shame” page (see for yourself). One of my great failures in life is that I haven’t made it onto this page. It would be an honor to join Calvin, Berkhof, Boettner, Hodge, Spurgeon and others for refusing Carpenter’s “Perfection of Knowledge Required for Salvation” heresy. Mr. Carpenter sent out an e-mail Saturday about the upcoming debate. I present it below in blockquote, with my comments/response interspersed.
So James White says that a non-Christian cannot enter heaven. Yet who does he consider a Christian? Does he consider some who deny the efficacious atonement of Jesus Christ to be Christians? He most certainly does. (See the attachment.)
JRW: The attachment contained the text to a previous response to Carpenter, which is posted on our website, here.
To deny the efficacious atonement of Jesus Christ is to deny the very heart of the gospel. Yet James White considers some who hold to this damnable heresy as his brothers in Christ. What does this say about James White’s belief in the gospel?
It says Marc Carpenter refuses to listen to anyone’s rebuttal of his errors. It says I recognize the difference between 1) ignorance, 2) error based upon tradition and ignorance, 3) inconsistency, and 4) knowing rejection of the truth. Unlike the wonderful black-and-white world of Marc Carpenter, I live in the real, flesh-and-blood world where you have the messy reality of God’s truth encountering imperfect, sinful human beings. And unlike Carpenter, I happen to believe that God’s grace works in conforming us to the image of Christ over time. That is, I happen to believe what the Bible says: we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). That means God leaves room for growth. He does not birth us as full grown, mature believers with all knowledge of all truth. The newly regenerated believer clings to Christ and Christ alone: and then spends the rest of his or her life working out what that means in ever widening circles of sanctification. It means that I recognize the difference between a glorious and vital truth and the inconsistent denial thereof based upon ignorance (i.e., I affirm and defend the truth of the perfection of the atoning work of Jesus Christ in behalf of His people: but I had never heard of the phrase “limited atonement” when I placed my faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, and would not, in fact, hear of it, or come to understand it, for another nearly two decades–yet, I was a Christian prior to hearing that phrase). Mr. Carpenter does not understand the distinction biblical Calvinism makes between the person who confesses the truth inconsistently, and the person who consistently denies the truth. The result is a small, tiny, cut-off little group that is defined, en toto, by its view of 7 Point Perfectionism, nothing else.
Consider: (1) James White believes that some who believe universal atonement are saved.
It is actually worse than that. I believe some folks who haven’t a clue what universal atonement means are saved! I deny “universal atonement” if by that Carpenter means a non-substitutionary atonement that does not save, or, a substitutionary atonement that makes salvation only possible, but does not save. I have argued the case many times, and pointed out the errors that flow from holding to such a view. I have paid the price for my stance too, I assure you. But where I part company with Carpenter and bid him adieu is when he makes agreement with his particular formulation a definitional tenet of the knowledge of the redeemed. I was a Christian before I ever knew of the debate. The vast majority of those Carpenter would identify as “Arminians” do not have the first clue as to what the debate is about. And, of course, you cannot begin to substantiate the idea that Paul was going about adding “limited atonement” to the list of things that define the gospel proclamation, without which, there is no true faith. Do I call believers to hold to a consistent theology on the doctrine of the atonement? You bet I do. Do I teach it in the fellowship where I serve as an elder? Sure do. Do I believe it important to the honoring of God to believe it? Yes indeed. Do I believe someone who is ignorant of it is lost? Of course not. Do I believe someone who denies it and yet gives no evidence of actually understanding why is, by strict virtue of that denial, lost? Of course not. Do I agree that it is not a good thing for someone to be thoroughly informed of divine truths and reject them? That such could possibly indicate that such a person loves their traditions more than the truth? Yes, I do. But I also recognize that we normally jump to snap conclusions and God works on a much longer timetable than we do. I know that someone may well reject what I say to them for a multitude of reasons that have little to do with the actual teaching under discussion, and may change their mind a little later, or long after. In either case, it is not my job to attempt to look into their hearts.
(2) James White believes that all saved people believe the gospel.
Of course. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
Thus, (3) James White believes that some who believe universal atonement believe the gospel.
Guilty as charged, since, as I have noted, the vast majority of those who trust in Christ have not a clue what Carpenter is harping about here in the first place. They only know that they are sinners and Jesus is the only Savior. Is it inconsistent, ultimately, to believe Christ is a perfect Savior when He fails to save some, as less than biblical views of the atonement would indicate? Of course. But thankfully, inconsistency based upon ignorance is not a hindrance to God’s work of salvation: He will work in the hearts of His people in His own time, in His own way. It is my job to speak the truth, His to save His people. It is not Carpenter’s to become the judge, jury, and executioner of those who trust in Christ.
What does this show about James White’s belief about the gospel? Since James White believes a person can believe the gospel and believe universal atonement at the same time, then he must believe that the gospel does not include the efficacious atonement of Jesus Christ. James White has just denied the very heart of the gospel.
Here Carpenter blows a logical gasket, and he doesn’t even cover over his error very well. Note that Carpenter equates “the efficacious atonement of Jesus Christ” with “a perfect and consistent knowledge of particular redemption with all of its attendant issues, including substitution, penal satisfaction, election, predestination, union with Christ, and therefore, particularity.” Let’s take me again: I was very, very young when God’s grace converted me (I guess that’s not possible in Carpenter’s very, very small world of hyper Calvinism). I hadn’t a clue there was an argument about this issue. I only knew Christ took my punishment and I needed to repent of my sin and believe in Christ and Christ alone. Evidently, Carpenter does not believe that act of faith by a young child saved. Carpenter’s hyperism moves the heart of the gospel away from Christ and into the intellect of the hyper-Calvinist who has read enough books and listened to enough debates to articulate the “proper” words in the proper order to the satisfaction of Marc Carpenter. He can have his empty, cold hyperism. I want nothing of it.
Also consider: (1) All who believe a false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner are unregenerate. (2) Universal atonement is a false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner.
Note again the refusal to recognize that not everyone who is not in his tiny little group has a clue what he’s so upset about. “Universal atonement” is not a false gospel—it is not a “gospel” at all. It is a theory regarding the extent of the atonement. Many would say they believe in it simply because they are ignorant of the ramifications of the concept of substitutionary atonement, but the same people would clearly affirm the perfection of the atonement, never having been challenged to recognize the inconsistency of their position. Carpenter would slam the door of heaven in their faces for their inconsistencies. My, I wonder if Carpenter has any? And if he does, is heaven denied him as well? And was Mr. Carpenter regenerated only on the day he managed to rid himself of his final inconsistency? What an odd thing for a Calvinist to believe: that an unregenerate person would plow their way through all that reading, all that material, all that theology, just to finally come to an understanding of particular redemption and thereby receive salvation!
Thus, (3) all who believe universal atonement are unregenerate. James White and every person who would consider at least some universal atonement advocates to be regenerate MUST disagree with #3. And the only way people can disagree with #3 is if they disagree with at least one of the first two statements. Consider those who disagree with #1. These are people who believe that at least some who believe a false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner are regenerate. Can a true Christian disagree with #1? Of course not. Consider those who disagree with #2. These are people who believe that universal atonement is not a false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner. Can a true Christian disagree with #2? Of course not. Thus, all who disagree with #3 (all who consider at least some universal atonement advocates to be saved) are unregenerate.
It is so plain! So clear! So compelling! And so absurd! Such simplistic logic has led Carpenter to have to define Calvin himself as insufficiently Calvinistic, leading to the inevitable conclusion that Marc Carpenter and his tiny band define the extent of the work of the Holy Spirit in our world today. What an incredible thought!
It is no wonder that God says that anyone who speaks peace to a person who brings a false gospel is unregenerate (2 John 11).
Hyper-Calvinists are not the best exegetes around. 2 John 9-11, in context, reads:
2 John 1:9-11 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
John is not talking about universal atonement as “the teaching.” He is talking about the teaching concerning the Father and the Son, and especially, in the Johannine literature, concerning the doctrine of the antiChrists, who denied that the Son came in the flesh. John is exhorting his readers not to greet those who have gone out of the fellowship and who are denying the Father and the Son. To connect these words to Carpenter’s idiosyncratic hyper-Calvinism is, once again, absurd. Only by extending a truth (particular redemption) to the status of the final and full definition of the gospel itself can Carpenter make such an outrageous leap.
Those who say that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception deny that the death of Christ actually pardoned, redeemed, propitiated, and reconciled.
That is a true statement: and in my experience, 1% of those with whom I have discussed the subject have realized the connection. Carpenter damns them to hell. I encourage them to consider what the Word says about the atonement. Carpenter is a grossly inconsistent hyper-Calvinist, for he seems to think that unregenerate men will actually invest the time and effort to pursue the entire issue. I recognize that I have a ground upon which to exhort believers who have never been faced with the issue, or who have only heard one side, mainly that of the surface-level arguments about “all the world” and the like, to consider well the teaching of the Scriptures about the atoning sacrifice of Christ. That is why I get to introduce so many to the doctrines of grace, and Marc Carpenter sits in his little enclave thinking God is saving two dozen folks in the entire world. It is simply sad.
They deny that Christ’s blood actually atoned.
No, they say just the opposite. They say it did atone. They are inconsistent. They need to be taught. They need to be challenged. They do not need to be damned by some cold, condemning hyper-Calvinist.
They deny that it is the work of Christ alone that makes the difference between salvation and damnation. They deny the very heart of the gospel. They boast and glory in themselves. They are God-haters.
They deny no such thing: their stance is one of inconsistency, not denial. They do not boast in themselves, and I have often found those very folks to be the quickest to bow before the truth of the Word and embrace election and perfect atonement when they are approached as believers who hold to the authority of the Word. I have never once seen someone respond to being damned to hell by a hyper by looking more fully at these divine truths.
And those who speak peace to these God-haters, who call them brothers and sisters in Christ, who say that the universal atonement advocates believe the same gospel they do, show that they, too, deny the true gospel. They deny that the atoning, pardoning, redeeming, propitiating, reconciling blood of Christ is an essential part of the gospel. They, too, do not believe the gospel. They, too, are boasters who glory in the sinner. They, too, are God-haters.
And thus, Marc Carpenter sets himself up not only as the Pope of the small, grim little band of hyper-Calvinists, but as the Holy Spirit as well, demanding perfection of understanding, no growth in grace or knowledge, and claiming the ability to look into the hearts of men and determine who is a God-hater, all based upon his narrow, inconsistent, idiosyncratic theology. I suppose there is one thing that is good about exposing these people: their numbers do not grow. There is nothing attractive in hyper-Calvinism. It is cold, sterile, and repulsive. And thus it remains a side-show, a clear example of the fact that you can obtain intellectual knowledge that remains disconnected from your heart. Balance is vital in all aspects of the Christian faith, and hypers do not possess balance.
James White is just as unregenerate as Bill Rutland. In “The Great Debate 2005,” there will be two unregenerate people debating each other. James White will be saying that it is not possible for a non-Christian to enter heaven. Yet he does not consider all universal atonement advocates to be non-Christians. Thus, he believes that it is possible for universal atonement advocates to enter heaven. This is just as heretical as anything Bill Rutland says.
There you go, folks. In the black-and-white world of Marc Carpenter, you can oppose Rome’s doctrines, teach justification by grace through faith, the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Christ, and stand firm on all five points, but if you dare seek to lead others into a knowledge of the doctrines of grace by appealing to their love for Christ and His Word, rather than casting them into the flames of perdition, you yourself are no better off than a Roman Catholic who clings to transubstantiation, priestly absolution, and purgatory! Ah yes, the absurdity of the claim proves the point, but you must keep something in mind: Carpenter’s little group thinks that this kind of wild-eyed claim is actually proof that they are right. A quick scan of his website proves that the idea that they are “outside the camp” (another idiosyncratic reading of the text on Carpenter’s part) proves the correctness of their damning 99.9998% of professing believers to the flames of hell.
Does God save universal atonement advocates? He certainly does. But when He saves them, they will NO LONGER be universal atonement advocates. They will believe the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Belief of the gospel is not a condition or prerequisite to salvation; it is an immediate, inevitable, and essential fruit of salvation. Thus, when God saves someone, He causes that person to believe that it is the work of Christ alone that makes the difference between salvation and damnation and that ensures the salvation of everyone whom He represented.
Translation: if God does not lead you to understand this particular aspect of the atonement in the fashion Marc Carpenter believes proper, you are unregenerate. If you dare continue to believe something less specific and accurate than that defined by Marc Carpenter, you are lost as well. You may love Christ, believe He is God, believe He rose from the dead, believe you are saved by grace through faith ALONE without any human merit—but unless you have a perfectly consistent theology of the atonement, you are lost and unregenerate. Every saved person will believe like Marc Carpenter, and not only that, but every saved person also must believe that everyone else who disagrees is damned to hell (like me).
Hyper Calvinism is a sad spectacle in all of its manifestations, and I say that as a very strong Calvinist, one who holds to a modified supralapsarian view. But I truly enjoy making a fool out of the few who have attempted to paint me as a hyper-Calvinist by blowing away every mark of the hyper-Calvinist through my missions work, evangelism, and preaching. And I have been consistent in condemning the imbalance and error of hyper-Calvinism for quite some documentable time. I hope seeing the errors in the reasoning of men like Marc Carpenter will help true Calvinists to refute false accusations of hyper-ism (so many of our opponents attempt to lump us all together for emotional impact).