“Unless you impute human-like irrationality to God, I will call you names.” This seems to be the attitude of many squeamish Calvinists on the net these days. Unless you are willing to drag God down to the level of a flummoxed suitor, who is torn between contradictory desires, you will be called to repent and labeled with terms meant only to damage your ministry, nothing more.
Those who have not been on the frontlines find it amenable to sit in their comfy computer chairs and opine away at the keyboard. They know they will never be called upon to present a consistent defense of the faith, especially in the face of competing world religions. So they have little concern about the use of words like “tension” and “mystery,” which are so often used to do little more than cover over contradiction and irrationality. Some actually think they are giving a meaningful apologetic when they openly confess the contradictions in their proclamation.
There is everything right in pointing out that God is God and is under no obligation to explain Himself beyond what He feels is appropriate, right, and self-glorifying. Man has no grounds upon which to demand further explanation than God in His sovereign power and grace deigns to give. But it is quite another to take the revelation He hasgiven and turn it on its head, forcing it into self-contradictory and absurd stances. And to what end?
It seems many modern Calvinists are very squeamish about God being…a big meanie. The post-modern dedication to servile fear of the Horriblus Maximus of the offended man has propelled many into the realm of “God editing” so as to avoid that great cultural heresy. We need a God who is sufficiently like us that He can be as double-minded and bemused as we often are. Never mind His eternal existence outside of time, His imperturbable majesty, His solitary sufficiency. We need to insist that God has freely and inalterably decreed that which completely bums Him out. God has issues. He’s conflicted. He has decreed to glorify Himself in the salvation of a peculiar people. He has chosen to glorify Himself in the just punishment of sinners, and He has even chosen to glorify Himself through the patient and gracious withholding of punishment of those sinners, replete with gifts of joy and happiness even in their rebellion, all to demonstrate His justice and mans unyielding rebellion. But since we as creatures cannot even begin to imagine such eternal consistency, such transcendent purpose, we get nervous. Such a God, being so…different, is in danger of offending the creature, man, and that simply is not going to be allowed. If one is going to dare to assert that God possesses a divine and eternal decree, one needs to soften that decree with some conflict, some issues, some doubt on God’s part.
“Yes, God has chosen a particular people….”
“What? Thats not fair! What about all the other innocent people!”
“Well, they arent really innocent, but anyway….”
“But, God has to love everyone the same, you see, or I will be offended and will refuse to express warm fuzzies His direction!”
“OK, well, you see, God is actually conflicted about this eternal decree thing. He would like to save everyone, and really, really wants to, and will be eternally bummed that He didn’t, and will often regret His actions, but He’s in a tough spot. See, there’s this idea of the demonstration of cosmic justice and all….”
“Oh! Well, if He is conflicted and is sort of acting against His own desires, much like I often have to do, then thats good. I like a God I can relate to.”
Ah, wonderful! And all is well.
Now, if you dare to question this perspective, the response will be swift, and predictable. The reply will not be based upon providing sound biblical exegesis that overwhelms you with evidence that God is, in fact, deeply conflicted, and has been, eternally. It is hard to come up with that kind of idea from the descriptions of the Triune Yahweh in the Bible. Oh, sure, there are a few anthropomorphisms that can be shared gleefully with the open theists and the inclusivists and the universalists, etc., but you won’t be in any danger of getting hit with a ton of sound exegesis on all the passages that plainly state that God is pursuing an eternal purpose that will result in His own singular glory. No,the retort you will receive will have little to do with exegesis, and everything to do with monikers. Nick-names. Associations.
Want a modern example? Consider Robert Reymond, a fine theologian, teacher, and godly man. Hyper-Calvinist! is the cry when he dares to point out the absurdity of attributing to God a self-imposed internal conflict that results, inevitably, in His own eternal unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. If you ask, “But, how do you respond to his actual argument?” you get back, “Hyper-Calvinist!” Evidently the very harshness of the phrase (especially its association with various and sundry nutcases on the Internet) is meant to stun your thought processes and cause you to curl up in the theological fetal position. You are to immediately run for cover, or join the growing throng that is gathering wood and fire to rid the earth of such a vile creature. The idea that the phrase has historical meaning is not in the forefront. The fact that it had a meaning in Spurgeon’s England that is different in many respects from modern day America is likewise cast to the wind. No, once the Hyper epithet has been used, you might as well try naming your kid Hitler and get away with it. The argument is over.
What has this mini-Reformed-jihad gotten us? Well, thanks to these folks most are afraid to even admit to owning a single volume of John Gill’s works. Heres how the conversation goes.
“Well, I noted that on that particular text relating to the resurrection John Gill said….”
“JOHN GILL!!?? You’re a hyper-Calvinist!”
“What? I was talking about his comments on the resurrection.”
“But he was a hyper-Calvinist, and every person who has ever read a word he wrote is a hyper-Calvinist, and every person with one of his books in their library is a hyper-Calvinist, and every person who has ever owned a John Gill book believes and lives and thinks exactly like John Gill, and is therefore a hyper-Calvinist. And to agree with anything John Gill ever said is to prove, beyond all dispute and argument, that you are a hyper-Calvinist!”
“But…John Gill masterfully defended such things at the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, the resurrection….”
“I can’t believe you are a hyper-Calvinist! I had so much respect for you before!”
About the only positive thing I can see that has come from the SC movement (Squeamish Calvinists) has been the sale of plain book covers—used to hide The Cause of God and Truth so that you don’t offend them when they are scanning your library shelves for evidence of unorthodoxy. But the general fear that exists in those writing for the Reformed community at running afoul of one of these self-appointed label-makers is most lamentable. If you dare disagree with the comments of Spurgeon or Murray (never mind being able to fairly, soundly cite others who have done the same) your reasons for doing so will not matter. Labels defy reason, they defy argument, they defy consistency. Allow me to throw myself upon the sacrificial pyre in hopes of edifying the reader.
There will be general lamentation, tearing of garments, and wailing, at the following statement, but it must be made. Spurgeon was not infallible. I will pause so that those currently experiencing shock, dismay and hopelessness, may recover their senses. Second amazing statement coming up. You can actually gain great edification from someone with whom you have disagreements. Again, a brief pause. It is a sign of maturity, in my opinion, to be able to analyze a writer of the past, thank God for his insights and testimony, while at the same time, recognizing differences of viewpoint and even belief. No one could turn a phrase like Spurgeon. The term “wordsmith” does not do him justice. The prince of preachers indeed. But I risk much to add that quite often the prince of preachers’ exegesis of a particular text suffered in the service of over-all sermonic excellence. We all know that there are some great sermons out there that are exegetically atrocious. They seem to get recycled all the time. And there are times when anyone who has turned to Spurgeon for comments on a particular passage has come away with significantly less than they may have expected. I do not believe this is even a disputable assertion. Spurgeon was a fallen human being, like all the rest of us.
It is common for Spurgeon’s view of 1 Timothy 2:3-4 to be cited as evidence that I am imbalanced and in error in my views. The very idea of making Spurgeon’s position normative, despite the lack of contextual and exegetical substance to his words at this point, does not seem to cross the mind of my critics. I can honestly say I have yet to see a meaningful refutation of my exegesis of the text by any of these men. They cannot document errors in what I have said about the context, the meaning of words, etc. They can only say, “Well, you could also understand it this way….” That my interpretation is fair, contextual, and consistent, seems to be acknowledged. But instead of the differences between myself and Spurgeon providing insight into exegesis, context, etc., the difference is turned into grounds for label-making and sloganeering. The inconsistency of a Protestant making any one human interpreter the standard by which all others are to be judged escapes the critics. Instead, it is enough to raise the red flag of warning, all in hopes of stifling in-depth conversation and thought.
Ironically, I was not going to focus upon the squeamish Calvinists this morning. A friend pointed me to a recent article once again attempting to stoke the dying fires of the controversy on the net, so I thought I would make a few comments. I was actually going to note some utterly outrageous comments from one Troy Brooks who recently wrote and posted an article about yours truly. It is possible he has posted this on a website somewhere, but I was directed to the post as it appeared on the CARM web board. I have been told Brooks is banned and keeps sneaking back in. I really don’t know. But I found it illustrative of another spectrum of wide-eyed fanaticism when it comes to providing a response to the Reformed faith. Ponder, if you will, some of these statements:
Be careful of men who can babble for so long as on this video to teach a lie that you are a totally depraved, unable to receive the cross of salvation unless you were premade for salvation without any choice in the matter and others are going to hell without any opportunity to be saved…. As each paragraph moves you, you will be drawn further and and further away from calvinism till you can’t take it anymore and shall relinquish the grand deception by John Calvin…. James White has no fear of God when he continues to refuse to repent and believe in Christ to be regenerated, but just assume he is regenerated without repenting and believing by the grace of God. James White is a child of wrath, he is of his father the devil, because he wants to do his father’s desire not to have to repent and believe in Christ to be regenerated. He is at enmity with God. He is dead in his trespasses in his sins, unwilling to repent and believe in Christ to be regenerated…. Just as White freely chose to assume he was regenerated without repentance and belief in Christ (thus believing a facsimile, false Christ), so a person can freely choose to repent and believe in Christ genuinely to be saved and God will preserve that person eternally, because their choice fulfilled God’s exact condition required for eternal preservation. White does not receive these things of God, for they are foolish to him. God wants fellowship not with robots but sovereign beings made in His image and who are regenerated authentically…. White misunderstands eternal life. Eternal life does not commence at bodily resurrection, but at new birth. Eternal life is not just eternal blessings but an ability to know God. He does not believe he has eternal life, thus he does not have an ability to know God today. How sad for him…. Brothers and sisters, don’t be surprised that James White is going to hell. The Bible warns about not just many false Christians butthe false Christ they purport. Though James is clearly not born-again and does not have eternal life, there are other less obvious cases such as Charles Spurgeon who contradicted the 5 points of calvinism with 5 points of osas arminianism by teaching total depravity…. Why doesn’t James White understand the gospel of salvation? Because he doesn’t know how to reconcile God’s infinite foreknowledge with free will so he must make something up to explain it. He can’t be humbled enough not to know all things. Tough question, obviously, but not a valid reason to reject God’s Word. Molinism, as well explained by William Lane Craig, shows how it can be done. Molinism is just an advanced explanation of osas arminian…. Why can’t James understand? Because he lacks the ability to hear. But why? Because he likes his sinfulness, his flesh, his worldliness, his self-interest, his brilliance, his talent to thwart god, his verbiage, his an idea to gain followers and money, and his self-exaltation. James White will always choose to refuse God probably, not absolutely. For as long as he is in his body of flesh and blood, he can still choose to repent of these things and come to the Good Shepherd to be saved by grace through faith. However most spiritual Christians know the likelihood of James White ever being born-again certainly falls under the 1% category.
And so on. It actually gets worse later on. To anyone with a scintilla of knowledge of what I have taught over the past decades, it is obvious Mr. Brooks is either grossly deceived, or grossly dishonest. And isnt it great that for Mr. Brooks, a Jesuit philosopher (Molina) got it all figured out for him? Yes, truly wonderful. In any case, there was actually one section of this meandering diatribe that I wanted to note as it illustrates how far from serious biblical interpretation these tradition-bound zealots really are:
May I assure you that I know unequivocally that James White is not born again in his calvinism and pray one day he repent so that he may be saved. What a wonderful testimony that would be, that even one of the hardest calvinists that ever lived could be saved by repenting of calvinism to believe in Christ to be regenerated.
That no one is able to come to Christ unless God draws him…does not mean all drawnbelieve, but that God is the great enabler. Without His grace no one could be saved, but that doesn’t mean we are totally depraved that nobody could believe. The god of calvinism who doesn’t provide grace to some so they have no opportunity to be saved and makes other saved without any consideration for their choice is not God of the Bible, never has been and never will be. Really, what love is this?
If you are left breathless by the depth of exegesis from John 6 offered by Mr. Brooks, join the club. There is little connection between Brooks’ tradition-driven twisting of the text and the original context itself. “God is the great enabler.” Isn’t that special? God tries and tries and tries. And let’s make sure you understand, He really tries. Very hard. But alas, though Jesus presents Himself as a powerful and perfect Savior in John 6 who never fails to save a single one of those given to Him by the Father, and though there is not the slightest evidence in the text of any kind of synergism, any kind of human autonomy (remember, Brooks referred to humans as “sovereign beings”), Brooks inserts it, boldly. Behold the sovereign man! Behold the autonomous creature! See how easily he twists divine revelation to exalt his own power, his own control.
I have so many times warned that the man who thinks he has no traditions is the man most enslaved to them. And few men have given evidence of how tradition can blind you to the plain and direct meaning of Scripture than Mr. Brooks. Few, likewise, join their blindness with such confident banishment of others to the flames of hell. But I hope it is useful to see these zealous denouncers of Reformed theology expose their own abject ignorance of the text, and how they insert their own traditions in the place of the text, and how they do so without even seeing it themselves. The sober minded observer will take the lesson Brooks’ rant can offer.