Cork Free Presbyterian Church, 10 Briarscourt (Annex) Shanakiel, Cork, Ireland Pastor: Colin Maxwell. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
DAVE HUNT: WHAT LOVE IS THIS? CALVINISM'S MISREPRESENTATION OF GOD
SHOULD CALVINISTS READ ANTI CALVINIST LITERATURE?
By Colin Maxwell
This article was written after reading the blurb of Dave Hunt's new book critiquing Calvinism. ("What Love Is This?") with its subtitle: Calvinism's Misrepresentation of God. The blurb is meant to give a quick insight into the nature of the book. People often buy books on the basis of the blurb. It says a lot in a few words. I am signally unimpressed with the contents of the blurb. I am left wondering why certain things are worded the way they are. The words below have books like Mr Hunt in mind, but I have not limited myself to his book…and therefore some of the things said might not be applicable to Mr Hunt in particular. I also make reference to two sites which are reviewed in this site. I say this in case I get irateemails. I have no desire to get into personalities. I am not attacking Mr Hunt or any one else. Any emails along that line will be ignored. I was simply shown the blurb of his new book - read it - and groaned!
Mr Hunt's blurb, produced in the April 2002 edition of his magazine The Berean Call, gives the following "few examples" of what Calvinists believe. He does qualify this a little by pointing out that "Not all Calvinists hold to all the basic tenets of this theology, yet each point says something about the character of God and His gospel." I am not nit picking here. Had Mr Hunt stated our case accurately, then I would never have presented this article. Here are Mr Hunt's "few examples" of what Calvinists are supposed to believe. They appear indark blue…my comments appear in (bracketed red) afterwards.
* Man must be regenerated before he can believe the gospel.
(My comment:I have no objection to this comment. Calvinists believe that since sinners are dead in trespasses and sin, then they need new life so that they can believe. After all…if they can savingly believe the gospel without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, we are left wondering why do they need regenerating at all?)
* God elected some for salvation according to His sovereign pleasure.
(My comment: Again…Calvinists would have no complaints about this description although I can hardly see even Mr Hunt disagreeing with this statement as it stands. I mean…has God elected some for salvation outside of His sovereign pleasure? If anything, the statement is a little too succinct. It would have been more accurate to say that Calvinists believe that God elected some for salvation solely according to His sovereign pleasure. Although it doesn't say all that it could, the omission does not essentially change the meaning.)
* Jesus died only for a select few, not everyone.
(My comment: A fair enough observation. Of course, if we place fallen men and fallen angels together, I assume that Mr Hunt would also believe this doctrine. Did Jesus die for the demons who are going to be tormented forever or give them an opportunity to be saved ? No, I didn't think so either. However, Mr Hunt means that Jesus did not die for every last sinful son of Adam, but only for the elect.)
* God predestined multitudes of souls to the Lake of Fire, to His glory.
(My comment: It's here that Mr Hunt starts getting shoddy. He does not tell the whole story and so presents a caricature. It would be more accurate to have said: "God predestined multitudes of souls to the Lake of Fire for their sins to His glory." Just three words more paint an entirely different picture. He is not alone in this type of thing. Mr Cloud in one of his articles against Calvinism quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith God's Eternal Decree. Unfortunately, he quotes only from paragraphs three to six of this third chapter and leaves it there. If we were prepared to let ourselves be led by such editing, we would be under the impression that some men are predestined for hell on a purely arbitrary basis. However the WCF teaches in the seventh paragraph of the same chapter that God passes by those not elected and "ordains them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice." Again, this paints an entirely different picture. It may be that some professing Calvinists fit the bill as Mr Hunt suggests. I put to you now that they are a very small minority and that the vast majority of Calvinists believe in Spurgeon's maxim that: "Salvation is all of grace. Damnation is all of sin." If Mr Hunt is aware of this, why tackle the fringe element? Perhaps the blurb does not truly reflect the book itself. Hopefully the book makes the distinction. If it doesn't, then it won't - because of the seriousness of the subject - be worth the paper its printed on.)
* Man cannot choose to receive Christ.
(My comment: Again the full story is not told. Truth has been compromised on the altar of brevity. It would be more accurate to state: "Man cannot choose to receive Christ without being regenerated." Or "Fallen man cannot of himself choose to receive Christ." The truth is that in my salvation, I chose to receive Christ. I was certainly willing to be saved. No one is ever saved against their will. But my willingness to receive Christ as my Lord and Saviour came about because I was born of God (John 1:12-13) My sinful will in bondage to my sinful heart, had the innate power to keep me from Christ until it was changed and I came freely and willingly to Christ. This is the full story and the only one Calvinists are really expected to defend.)
* Those whom God chooses cannot resist the grace of salvation.
(My comment: Mr Hunt is both grammatically and theologically correct in his statement. He does not say - at least in the blurb - that Calvinists believe that the elect cannot resist the Holy Spirit or even worse that the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. Sometimes this is put forth as a Calvinist belief when it is nothing of the sort. I resisted the Holy Spirit on numerous occasions. However, we do believe that there comes a time in the experience of those elected that they will resist the Holy Spirit no more.)
* Assurance of one's eternal destiny is related to performance.
(My comment: I would like to know exactly what Mr Hunt means by this. It could admit of a number of things. I note that the word assurance is used as opposed to the destiny itself. If Mr Hunt means that Calvinists believe that men living spiritual lives can be assured of salvation, then I say Amen! We repudiate the teaching that men who are living in wilful sin can claim to be saved. However, this is not an exclusively Calvinist teaching. It is a teaching that goes right across the board.)
SHOULD CALVINISTS READ ANTI CALVINIST LITERATURE?
Answer:The answer to this one depends on the quality of the literature. We do not insist on reading only literature sympathetic to the Calvinist position. Calvinism has nothing to fear from being examined. Spurgeon said: "I am not afraid to submit my Calvinism…to the searching of the Bible." (1:172) Personally I feel that having left behind the alternative sovereign man based message which most of the anti Calvinism articles espouse, there is nothing in it that would induce me to go back. Having been there and tasted of its professed dainties, I have better fare in the Doctrines of Grace. This does not prevent me from reading what non Calvinists have to say. On this site, we review two articles attacking Calvinism: Click here and here.
I can agree to disagree with an non Calvinist - although I think that he is wrong to oppose these doctrines. I find that reading such anti Calvinistic literature helps stimulate me. It drives me to the Scriptures. It forces me to rethink my position. I am a five point Calvinist, but I do not believe in forcing them into the Scripture. Perhaps reading non Calvinist writers keeps me balanced. To quoteSpurgeon again, "Try to see the whole range of Scripture. Believe in Calvinism; but if there be a single truth which only the Arminians hold, believe that too. Do not put your feet into Chinese shoes to be squeezed after the current fashion into an orthodox shape; be willing to have a broad understanding: receive anything which God has revealed, and be content to take the whole of God’s truth, whether you can make it into a system or not." (11:42)
Having so said - basically if you find well reasoned, well researched criticism - go for it! Yet there is quite a lot of rubbish out too. There are articles where Calvinism is either grossly misstated or grossly misrepresented. Where it is obvious that the writer either hasn't done his homework - possibly he is just rehashing someone else's offering - or he is out to deliberately misrepresent the Calvinistic faith. The judgement of charity leads me to suppose that often the homework hasn't be done. Avoid shoddy work. If I may quoteSpurgeon again: "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) A quick glance will immediately convey to you whether the work is worth reading. READ THE BEST WORKS.
These may be identified by the following criteria:
1) WHERE THE WRITER CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CALVINIST AND A HYPER CALVINIST: It is amazing how many people think that a hyper Calvinist is just a zealous Calvinist. Others identify all who believe in the five points of Calvinism as hyper Calvinists. Yet there is a vast difference. On this very site where we have several articles propagating Calvinism, there is an section entitled"The Horrible Curse of Hyper Calvinism" Hyper Calvinists do not believe in man's responsibility - true Calvinists do. Hyper Calvinists do not believe in the free offer of the gospel - true Calvinists do. True Calvinists put as much distance as they can between themselves and Hyper Calvinists and this act of disassociation is often reciprocated. If a writer cannot tell the difference between the two…then he is hardly worth reading! Save your time and money for someone who deserves it.
2) WHERE THE WRITER DOES NOT SAY THINGS LIKE CALVINISTS DO NOT BELIEVE IN EVANGELISM: One of thearticles reviewed in this site takes this line. I need not labour the point here, but it is patently untrue. Think of the many names that stand out in Church History as soul winners - how many of them were Calvinists? If your list of soul winners can only go back to a period after Charles G. Finney, then a good book on the history of the Christian Church will be a wise investment. Up to Finney, most of the great soul winners were all five point Calvinists. John Wesley is a notable exception - and even he did not believe in man's ability to believe. His treatise on Original Sin is as Calvinistic in content as any Reformed writing. He concluded this treatise by quoting at length from Thomas Boston's Fourfold State of Man. Boston - another soulwinner - was a five point Calvinist. Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, McCheyne, Spurgeon etc., were all Calvinists. The man acknowledged as the "Father of modern missionary endeavour" was William Carey. Carey was a solid Calvinist. A writer who says that Calvinists do not believe in evangelism either cannot tell the most basic difference between a Hyper Calvinist and a true Calvinist or is pitifully ignorant of Church History. Read those books where the writer fairly states the case. For the record, I am willing to acknowledge those non Calvinist soul winners. (Of course, being a Calvinist, I can consistently give the Lord all the glory!)
3) WHERE THE WRITER DOES NOT SAY THINGS LIKE CALVINISTS ARE FATALISTS: This also crops up from time to time. It is untrue. Calvin himself distanced himself from such thinking: In his commentary on Daniel, Calvin writes: "He next adds, Jehovah our God is just in all his works. In this clause the Prophet confirms his former teaching, and the phrase, God is just, appears like rendering a reason for his dealings; for the nature of God supplies a reason why it becomes impossible for anything to happen by the blind impulse of fortune. God sits as a judge in heaven; whence these two ideas are directly contrary to each other. Thus if one of the following assertions is made, the other is at the same time denied; if God is the judge of the world, fortune has no place in its government; and, whatever is attributed to fortune is abstracted from God’s justice." And again in the Institutes of Christian Religion: "The providence of God, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous accidents." (Institutes: 1:16:2)Spurgeon answered it also: Did the Calvinism of Oliver Cromwell make his Ironsides idle! Did they not keep their powder dry? They believed that they were chosen men of God, and were they not men of valour? Did this doctrine mar their energy? So in every good enterprise our churches are never behind. Are we backward in Missionary enterprise? Are we slow to send forth men of God to preach in foreign lands? Are we deficient in our efforts? Are we the people who would preach to a select few? — who would erect buildings for worship that the poor scarcely dare to enter? Are we the people who would keep our religious services for a privileged circle? The fact is, the most zealous, the most earnest, and the most successful of men, have been those who have held this truth, and therefore it cannot be true that this tends to damp our energies or thwart our zealous the best proof of this is especially in our lives. In the midst of God’s holy congregation let us pledge ourselves to-night, that holding this truth, it makes us neither unholy nor inactive.(6:553) The trouble with some non Calvinists is that they seem to get themselves worked up into a frenzy when these doctrines are on the agenda. Hatred of Calvinism drives them to say the most untrue things. * Although I have an issue with David Cloud over his claim that Calvin did not believe in the free offer of the gospel - a most untrue statement if ever there was one - Mr Cloud's article is at least free from such nonsense about fatalism. He does acknowledge that many Calvinists are soul winners but does not sufficiently distinguish between Calvinists and Hyper Calvinists and this tends to muddy the waters a little unnecessarily.
4) WHERE THE WRITER GIVES A LIST OF AMPLE AND FAIR SOURCES: It is interesting to read articles where we are served a diet of what the writer thinks Calvinists believes. Such are usually void of any references. It is important that all sources and references be checked. By giving references, we can quickly see who the offender is. Suppose a critique boldly states "Calvinists do not believe in the free offer of the gospel" and then quotes the Articles of the Strict Baptists - especially the Gospel Standard Section of that denomination - we may conclude that all the writer is going on are the Articles of a small denominational group. We may ask why he did not chose to quote from a more representative Confession e.g. the Westminster Confession of Faith which clearly teaches the free offer? Furthermore, by giving the reference, we may check out whether or not the critique writer has actually done justice to his source. Let's go back to Mr Cloud's amazing contention, mentioned above, that Calvin did not believe in the free offer. Although the actual quotation which Mr Cloud supplies itself does not prove his point - it deals with the effects of the gospel…not its offer - the very next sentence (which was omitted) actually reads:Let this suffice for the present: although the voice of the gospel addresses all in general, yet the gift of faith is rare. (Institutes 3:22) Thankfully Mr Cloud did supply the reference and we can therefore check the facts for ourselves and dismiss his claim as untrue. Often what happens is that we get some pulpit sermon preached against Calvinism which has been put into print. It is not feasible to give long quotations or references in a sermon, especially if preached to the average congregation. When it comes to printing the sermon, it is often given word for word without any additions or actual quotes or references and subsequently we are often left facing a complete caricature.
5) WHERE THE WRITER ACCURATELY PORTRAYS THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE - EVEN IF HE DOES AGREE WITH HIM: I return to Mr Hunt's book - which sparked off this article. Supposing I am standing in a Christian Bookshop. I see the title which is pretty neutral, but notice the subtitle which is at once aggressive. In itself the subtitle will not put me off. As a Christian, I certainly do not want to believe a theology that misrepresents God. I turn to the back of the book or the inside cover. That's where the blurb gets its chance to sell me the book. As seen from the review above, I am hardly impressed. On the matter of the damnation of the lost, the blurb is seriously deficient. As observed, unless the blurb and the contents of the book part company, I can picture me reading a book that tells me that Calvinists believe in a God who just damns men for the sheer fun of it. Believe me, I have looked at books and websites, where the God of the Calvinists has been portrayed as a blood thirsty monster. Should I buy and read that kind of literature? My answer is decidedly "no" I am a steward of the time and money God gives me. If after setting forth that Calvinists believe that God damns men on account of their sins, to the glory of His justice, the writer wants to make a case that our God is a monster, then the case of the writer is not so much against Calvinists, but against all Christians because this is the common belief of all. But if he cannot state our case accurately, then why waste time and money?
* I accept that often Calvinists say and write untrue things about some non Calvinists and their beliefs. Such action is to be condemned - no matter what side it comes from.
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