Sunday, June 30, 2013

In Defense of Calvinism

I recently listened to this podcast from Fighting for the Faith.  At the end of each segment, the host Chris Rosebrough always asks for thoughts and opinions on what he has aired.  I had some thoughts, which I sent to him, but I thought I would share them here too (w/ a few clarifying changes).  Bashing Calvinism is not just happening within the SBC; it's a common occurrence within the evangelical world as a whole.

In this post I use the terms 'Calvinist' and 'reformed' synonymously, but I do realize that there is a difference.  If you are reformed, then you are a Calvinist, but a Calvinist is not necessarily reformed.  In very general terms, a Calvinist believes in the 5 tenets of TULIP, and a reformed Christian not only holds to those 5 tenets, but is also confessional and holds to the regulative principle of worship.  A great summary of what a reformed Baptist believes can be found here.

If I receive a response from Mr. Rosebrough, I will post it.

Mr. Rosebrough,

I was saddened by the June 19, 2013, lite-episode podcast you aired on the Epistle of 1 John - Part 2 by Dr. Jeremy Rhode of Faith Lutheran Church.

I realize that part of problem I have with this study is the fact that Dr. Rhode is teaching from a Lutheran perspective, while I am a reformed Baptist.  He cites 1 John 2:2 which says that Jesus' blood covers the sins of the whole world.  As a reformed Christian, I believe that Jesus' blood was effectual for ALL of the sins of God's elect (who come from ALL nations) and that His blood is not effective for those who reject Him.  If a sinner can reject the power of Christ's blood who died for him (the sinner) on the cross, then that person is more powerful than God.  The view that His blood covers all sins is no different from the Arminians (who also believe that it can be rejected) or the Universalists (who believe that His blood covers all regardless of belief).

Of course, this a common disagreement between our different denominations, but Dr. Rhode mockingly asks the question of how you know that you are elect.  Reformed Christians believe that the call of repentance goes out to all, but only the foreordained or elect are regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Throughout his talk, Mr. Rhode denigrates the Calvinists, lumps them with Roman Catholics which is neither honest, nor biblical, and confuses them with Arminians.  He said that being "elect" requires a works-based salvation.  Currently, I'm reading through Nicholas Chewney's Hell:  With the Everlasting Torments Asserted (1659).  Mr. Chewney writes that hell was created with heaven in the beginning; it did not grow out of sin after man fell.  Since God created hell, He must have a purpose for it, so to say that God desires all men to be saved contradicts Matthew 25:46--"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment:  but the righteous into eternal life."  The word elect is just a substantive for "the righteous into eternal life".  Many people are sensitive to to word 'elect' used by reformed Christians, but you could also use the words saved, called, etc.  To use your homosexual analogy [you are either male or female; there is no third category], someone is either elect or not elect (saved or not saved, called or not called); there is no other category.  So to be elect is a state of being, not an action; and therefore, not a work required for salvation.

Dr. Rhode then goes on to state that there are only two religions:  (1) a religion that says your sins are forgiven, period, or (2) every other religion that adds a caveat of work.  The Bible only talks about two groups of people (not two religions):  the saved and everyone else.  The one religion (which he implies is Lutheranism) that says everyone is forgiven without the mention of Jesus Christ is heretical and better known as universalism.

He also says that an unbeliever who says that Jesus died for his sins is a believer.  What?!  Any of the seeker-sensitive pastors that you criticize weekly can make this statement.  There must be faith and repentance for the remission of sins.

I suppose that since he is teaching to his Sunday School group, Dr. Rhode assumes a knowledge of the Lutheran confession, but he's not very consistent in what he says (I may have some paraphrasing within the quotes, but I tried to stay true to his words):

  • "When you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins.  God gives His Spirit, faith, a new heart...God doesn't give on the merit of our decision, specialness, or uniqueness or betterness of other people."  The last part was another attack on Calvinist; we do not think that any sinner is better than another, again, that's just a category for the righteous.  God gives justice to all sinners and mercy to some.
  • He affirms the question from his class that hearing the gospel preached or receiving communion is enough to be saved, but we can reject it.  My question is, on what basis can we reject it?  Isn't rejection a decision that he just derided in the previous statement?  If communion is salvific, then it is works-based (see baptism below).
  • "God creates a new heart through the preaching of His gospel--law and gospel, repentance and remission of sin in Jesus' name."  Again, if this is true, why don't all people respond positively when they hear the gospel?
  • A class member asks about baptism.  Dr. Rhode responds that "you become a child of God when you are born again.  You are born again through water & spirit (John 3) or baptism."  If baptism is salvific, then it is works-based salvation and not biblical.  On a spiritual level, I agree that the circumcision (or baptism) of the heart is a divine work of the Holy Spirit called regeneration.  The outward sacrament of a physical baptism is a sign, but just because someone is baptized does not mean that faith and repentance has taken place inwardly.  We Baptist baptize a lot of people, and I'm sure you would agree with me that not all of them are saved.  This is not just a problem with the Baptists...
So which is it?  Faith & repentance through hearing the word (Rom. 10:17), confession, just hearing the gospel, communion, or baptism?  His lack of perspicuity makes it hard to determine how a person is actually saved.

Another class member asks about limited atonement.  Dr. Rhode denies this Calvinist tenet and states that people can reject the gospel based on reason and intellect, but God can trump that.  He goes on to say that God gives atonement of all sins for assurance of faith and people who reject that will clearly be cast into eternal darkness.  Earlier, he vilified the concept of a free-will decision, but isn't the rejection of the gospel a free-will decision (just in the negative)?

Finally, Dr. Rhode belittles the Calvinists even more for going back to the original languages to support their position of election.  I have never heard anyone do this, and no one did this when I became reformed.  However, you, Mr. Rosebrough, do this all the time on your show.  Therefore, according to Dr. Rhode, you don't believe that God can speak clearly.  In his diatribe against unlimited atonement, he clearly states that a person just has to read God's word to understand what it says.  However, he contradicts himself later and says that a pastoral candidate needs to go to seminary to learn the original languages so that he can understand what the Bible is saying.  So, he's saying that the lay-people who don't understand the original languages can't understand the Bible which is why they need a pastor to correctly interpret it for them; this is a Roman Catholic view of the Scriptures.

Unfortunately, this teaching has caused some concern on my part, and I've asked my teenage boys not to listen to your podcast anymore.  I had encouraged them to listen initially so that they would learn what to listen for in a sermon to make sure it was biblical, but with your endorsement of the 1 John study, I cannot in good conscience as a parent allow them to listen uncensored now.  I honestly did not realize the extreme doctrinal differences (or hostility) between confessional Lutherans and reformed Baptists.  This saddens me because I really enjoyed your show.  In a recent church service, we were exhorted to "avoid profane and vain babblings," (1 Tim. 6:20).  I have enough things in my life that need a discerning ear, so I plan to heed this advice and avoid your podcast.