Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday is a personal presentation of the substance of Iain Murray’s May 19, 1995, address to the annual Grace Baptist Assembly in the United Kingdom. Mr. Murray addressed the subject of Charles H. Spurgeon’s contention with hyper-Calvinism during his ministry. The same year Murray gave this address, his book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching, was published. In the address, he pointed out that popular Spurgeon biographies, such as those by W. Y. Fullerton (1919) and Lewis Drummond (1992), do not consider the issue worth attention. In his autobiography, however, Spurgeon considered the matter as one of vital importance. As Murray noted in 1995, the ascension of Calvinism in theological spheres has historically resulted in the eventual appearance of hyper-Calvinism. It is my hope that the appearance of hyper-Calvinism is limited and brief. It is with this hope in mind that I present to you my interpretation of Murray’s address.
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A Summary of the Conflict
Charles Water Banks was an English itinerant minister and the editor of three publications: the Earthen Vessel, Cheering Words, and the Christian Cabinet. The December 1854 issue of the Earthen Vessel contained an essay by Banks describing his visits to the New Park Street Chapel and the benefit he received from hearing the twenty-year-old preach. The following month, an article appeared from ‘JOB’. JOB was a pseudonym for James Wells, the pastor of the Surrey Tabernacle, Borough High Street. Known as the “Borough Gunner” because of the “artillery” which “flew” from his pulpit, he argued in the anonymous article that Spurgeon’s ministry was dangerous. He wrote:
“Beware of a mock and arrogant humility, of the soft raiment of refined and studied courtesy and fascinating smile. . . . Also I have—most solemnly have—my doubts as to the Divine reality of his conversion. . . . Concerning Mr. Spurgeon’s ministry, I believe that it is most awfully deceptive…”
The conflict does not appear to be one of personalities, with the old preacher castigating the young one or being jealous of the youth’s popularity. While this notion was promoted by several of the newspapers in London, the truth of the matter is that Wells believed the hyper-Calvinistic tradition he represented was the purest form of Christianity. Questioning this tradition was equivalent to heresy, in his estimation. This tradition stood against calling individuals to believe in Jesus Christ, and Wells felt obligated to “knock down duty faith.” He claimed that if the Earthen Vessel supported Spurgeon, it would be a “disastrous change of direction.” Banks responded to the article by declaring his belief that “God had put Spurgeon on the walls of Jerusalem for usefulness.” In subsequent reports of his visits to New Park Street, Banks continued to write favorably of Spurgeon. Banks’ positive declarations regarding Spurgeon helped to turn the tide against hyper-Calvinism. Another matter which turned the tide was the conversion of T. W. Medhurst. Medhurst was a young member of the Surrey Tabernacle. He visited the Maze Pond Chapel early in 1854 to hear Spurgeon preach, even though he had been instructed to consider the young pastor a “mere Arminian.” Medhurst entered a period of distressed soul-searching and was converted eventually under Spurgeon’s preaching. Not long after his conversion, he began a ministry of street preaching and ended up becoming the first student in Spurgeon’s pastors’ college. He entered the controversy by writing a brief article in the Earthen Vessel. He stated: “Duty faith? What is it? Examine it-‘Believe and be saved. Believe not and be damned.’ It is like Mark 16:16.”
Errors of hyper-Calvinism
Spurgeon delineated four fundamental errors found within hyper-Calvinism.
1) Hyper-Calvinism denies that gospel invitations are to be delivered to all people without exception. It limits the purpose of gospel preaching to gathering the elect, and claims only the elect are to be addressed with the commands, invitations and offers of Scripture. It asserts there is to be no pleading with an entire congregation of sinners. This attitude was totally rejected by Spurgeon, who on many occasions addressed every single hearer in the following manner: “’These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.’ Look to Him, blind eyes; look to Him, dead souls; look to Him. Say not that you cannot; He in whose power I speak will work a miracle while yet you hear the command, and blind eyes shall see, and dead hearts shall spring into eternal life by His Spirit’s effectual working” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 40:502).
2) Hyper-Calvinism declares that the warrant a sinner has to come to Jesus Christ is found in his own experience of conviction and assurance.
This warrant, according to hyper-Calvinism, cannot be obtained until one receives an inward, spiritual exercise. Spurgeon, however, proclaimed that all humanity has a warrant to believe extended to them, giving them the right to place their trust in the Lord Jesus. That warrant is the universal command found in the Word of God for all to repent of their sins and believe upon the Lord Jesus. “Do not wait for your feelings to convince you that you can venture on Christ,” exhorted Spurgeon, “you have the right to come just as you are today because God is sincerely beseeching you to come to His Son for pardon.” In his 1863 sermon on the ‘Warrant of Faith’, Spurgeon tells people that if the warrant were not in the Word of God, but in the sinner’s own condition, the result will be individuals being driven to examine themselves and asking, “Have I sufficiently broken my heart?” rather than looking to an inviting Savior (MTP, 9:529).
3) Hyper-Calvinism declares that human inability prevents people from being exhorted to come to Jesus Christ.
A universal command presupposes a modicum of ability, according to Hyper-Calvinism. Spurgeon replied that he would not tone down humanity’s depravity and helplessness. He pointed out that the gospel is one of grace, and therefore it rests upon people despairing of their own resources and strength. It is only on the presupposition of total depravity that the full glory and power of the gospel can be declared, which Spurgeon claimed exalted God’s power to save. Spurgeon maintained that all people are responsible to turn to God, and that God is sovereign in salvation.
4) Hyper-Calvinism denies the universal love of God.
Hyper-Calvinism has a fearful caricature of God which presents Him as fierce and not easily induced to love sinners. Murray noted that if we fellowshipped more with Christ, then we would know and love Him more and then there would be no uncertainty that God desired the salvation of sinners. “How often would I have gathered you,” said
the Savior to recalcitrant Jerusalem.
In examining Spurgeon’s contention with hyper-Calvinism, Iain Murray came to four major conclusions:
1) Any true biblical theology is not exclusive.
The Bible’s teaching on the divine election of grace is not intended to divide Christian from Christian, but the Christian from the world. Spurgeon said he knew of many who were saved but who did not themselves believe in divine calling, and that many who persevered to the end who did not believe in the perseverance of the saints. They hold to such errors of judgment, yet we will meet with them and every believer around the cross. Spurgeon detested division in the Body of Christ.
2) There is a danger in not presenting biblical truths in the proper order.
In the final edition of John Calvin’s Institutes, justification precedes teaching on divine election. In evangelism, election is not placed in a position of priority. Rather, the doctrine of free justification through Jesus Christ is central.
3) When Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic it is a cerebral, chilling and unattractive religious system. In other words, hyper-Calvinism goes beyond the theological borders of historic Calvinism and is a different religious system than Calvinism. When William Carey went to India and Andrew Fuller led the missionary interest in England through historic evangelical Calvinism, in opposition to the existing hyper-Calvinism, change occurred in Baptist life and the Baptists began to grow.
4) It is a wonderful thing that Spurgeon, at age 20, did not succumb to hyper-Calvinism.
If he had, then the Grace Assembly would not have occurred and Spurgeon’s sermons would not be read all over the world, even as they are today.
Phillip R. Johnson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Moody Bible Institute, is probably best-known for the blog he founded, PyroManiacs. He has been associated with John MacArthur the past three decades, editing most of his books, and also serving as the executive Director of Grace to You, the Christian audio ministry featuring MacArthur’s preaching and teaching. Johnson also pastors an adult fellowship group called GraceLife at Grace Community Church (Sun Valley, CA). He earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Moody Bible Institute. On June 30, 2006, he posted, “Is God arbitrary? Did He ‘create’ evil?”, a response to an e-mail he received from a “gung-ho ultra-high Calvinist.” Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday, a republication of Phil Johnson’s post, continues the thread of recent posts regarding the issue of God not being the “author of sin.”
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Today I’m answering an e-mail I received after making some comments about God’s sovereignty and the origin of evil. I subsequently heard from a gung-ho ultra-high Calvinist who suggested that if God is truly Sovereign, He must be both the author and efficient cause of evil as well. Indeed, he insisted, citing the KJV rendition of Isaiah 45:7, “God created evil.”
My correspondent, who remains anonymous, wrote the words in red italics:
It is common to hear men defend God against the charges of being arbitrary. Yet if these nervous brethren would but consult their English dictionaries as well as their theologies they would find that arbitrary is a most Scripturally appropriate adjective for the Almighty. Certainly the LORD is not capricious, but He and He alone may properly be arbitrary.
Let’s see, shall we?
ar bi trar y (ar’ bi-trer-ee) 1. determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle 2. despotic, tyrannical, ruling by whim, usually oppressively
It is that sense of the word that people usually mean when they say God is not arbitrary. He is not subject to fits of whimsy. He is a God of order and of law—a “principled sovereign”—and though we may not always understand His ways, we know He is never irrational, erratic, or inconstant (James 1:17). He always acts in accord with His own consummate holiness and perfect righteousness. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
Of course, He is bound by no rule higher than Himself, but nonetheless, all that He does must be consistent with His own immutable character. Thus He cannot be “arbitrary.”
Concerning your statement “sin is not itself a thing created—not a substance—but the exact opposite. It’s a want of moral perfection in a fallen creature.” I would point out that neither are souls, angels, nor evil “substances.”
Did you notice that further in the same context, I wrote: “Evil is neither substance, being, spirit, nor matter. That’s why it is not proper to speak of evil as having been created”?
Human souls and angels are beings and thus can be created. Technically, even spirit beings have substance—even though it is not material substance. (One of the dictionary definitions of substance is “essential nature; essence.” It is in this sense that the Nicene Creed, for example, speaks of the Son as being “of one substance” with the Father—even though God is a Spirit.)
Evil, on the other hand, is a defect—a subtraction and deconstruction of what God created.
Scripture is quite clear in teaching that evil was no part of God’s creation. When He finished creating everything, He looked at all His creation and pronounced it “very good.” If you insist that God created evil, you contradict His own assessment of what He made.
To say God created evil would contradict a number of other Scriptures as well, including 1 Corinthians 14:33: “God is not the author of confusion.” For if He is the author of all evil, then He must be the author of confusion as well.
Now look at Isaiah 45:7. There, God says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (KJV). Does this mean what you suggest it means? Not to a Hebrew reader. Other translations capture the sense of the statement more accurately: “I make peace and create calamity” (NKJV). “I bring prosperity and create disaster” (NIV). “Causing well-being and creating calamity” (NASB).
The Hebrew word translated “evil” in the KJV is a word that means “adversity,” or “affliction.” It’s talking about the calamitous consequences of sin; not ontological evil per se.
There is, of course, a true sense in which God decreed evil as part of His eternal plan. It did not enter the universe by surprise or against His sovereign will. He remains sovereign over it. He even uses it for good. But in no way is He the author or the creator of it.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:18).
Is God the Author of Sin?
To state that God is the “Author of Sin” is to declare that God is the efficient cause of evil. This is, as Jonathan Edwards noted in his classic work, On the Freedom of the Will, something which is “a reproach and blasphemy.” Edwards stated emphatically that God was in no way whatsoever “the Agent, or Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing.” He argues, instead, that God permits sin and at times does not restrain it. Nonetheless, He simultaneously disposes events in such a manner as to bring about “wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes.”
Historic documents from the Reformed tradition – confessions, catechisms, and canons, all deny that God is the author of sin. The delegates from the Synod of Dort, speaking of the heated issue of reprobation, make in plain in the Canons that this doctrine in no way makes God “the author of sin,” which is “a blasphemous thought!” The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Baptist Confession of Faith (1689/Second London Confession) are identical in asserting:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
Both confessions go on to declare:
Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.
This is not unlike the earlier Baptist Confession (1646/First London Confession), which states:
God had decreed in Himself, before the world was, concerning all things, whether necessary, accidental or voluntary, with all the circumstances of them, to work, dispose, and bring about all things according to the counsel of His own will, to His glory: (Yet without being the author of sin, or having fellowship with any therein) in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, unchangeableness, power, and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree…
Consistency on this matter is shared by the Belgic Confession, which insists:
We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement. Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.
The Second Helvetic Confession, in addressing the cause of sin, condemns Florinus. Florinus defended the position that God is the author of evil. For this, he was rightly denounced by Irenaeus. The confession clearly maintains, in agreement with St. Augustine:
It is expressly written: “Thou art not a God who delights in wickedness. Thou hatest all evildoers. Thou destroyest those who speak lies” (Ps. 5:4 ff.). And again: “When the devil lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Moreover, there is enough sinfulness and corruption in us that it is not necessary for God to infuse into us a new or still greater perversity. When, therefore, it is said in Scripture that God hardens, blinds and delivers up to a reprobate mind, it is to be understood that God does it by a just judgment as a just Judge and Avenger. Finally, as often as God in Scripture is said or seems to do something evil, it is not thereby said that man does not do evil, but that God permits it and does not prevent it, according to his just judgment, who could prevent it if he wished, or because he turns man’s evil into good, as he did in the case of Joseph’s brethren, or because he governs sins lest they break out and rage more than is appropriate. St. Augustine writes in his Enchiridion: “What happens contrary to his will occurs, in a wonderful and ineffable way, not apart from his will. For it would not happen if he did not allow it. And yet he does not allow it unwillingly but willingly. But he who is good would not permit evil to be done, unless, being omnipotent, he could bring good out of evil.” Thus wrote Augustine.
Jerome Zanchius, a strict predestinarian writing “Observations On the Divine Attributes” in his Absolute Predestination, follows St. Augustine’s thinking in regard to the nature of sin and its ‘cause’. He confesses that God “created, preserves, actuates and directs all things,” but that this does not mean, “that God is therefore the cause of sin, for sin is nothing but anomia, illegality, want of conformity to the divine law (1 John iii. 4), a mere privation of rectitude; consequently, being itself a thing purely negative, it can have no positive or efficient cause, but only a negative or deficient one, as several learned men have observed.”
St. Augustine taught that all things created by God are good; evil is not good; therefore, evil was not created by God. He added that since God created everything, and He did not create evil, that evil is not a ‘thing’. In dealing with the questions, “From where does evil come?,” and, “Why does evil exist?”, the Doctor of Grace answers, “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.’’” He observes that evil always injures, and such injuries are always a deprivation of good. “All which is corrupted is deprived of good,” he wrote. In other words, evil is equivalent to moral black hole, a nothingness which results when goodness is removed. St. Augustine observed that the choice made by Adam and Eve in Eden was a turning away from the good, that is, from the greater good to a lesser “good.” “For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil—not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.” Evil is, therefore, the act of choosing the lesser good, or choosing that which God has forbidden (even though it involved the good thing which He created). St. Augustine teaches the source of evil – choosing this lesser good – is in the free will of the persons, declaring, “free-will was the cause of our doing ill,” and, that evil was a “perversion of the will, turned aside from…God.” St. Augustine holds not only that God created free creatures, but also that His wisdom entails the greatest amount of good possible (i.e., plenitutde). Therefore, God has allowed evil for a time, and is neither its author nor its victim.
The Cry of Hyper-Calvinism
Modern hyper-Calvinists are not unlike Friedrich Schleiermacher, who mocks St. Augustine’s teaching that God gave good creatures the freedom of will to do evil. Schleiermacher holds that a good being would never sin, even if it were free to do so. He claims that evil would then have to create itself ex nihilo. Schleirmacher, like the modern hyper-Calvinists, errs in believing that evil is a ‘thing.’
While many hyper-Calvinists claim adherence to the historic Reformed confessions, they have ignored the clear statements made within them in regard to God not being the author of sin. Those who stand within the stream of Reformed orthodoxy are generally maligned by hyper-Calvinists. For example, Francis Cheung declares that many Reformed Christians hold “unbiblical traditions and irrational assumptions,” and are “too quick to say, ‘No, God is not the author of sin,” when “questioned on whether God is the ‘author of sin.’” He castigates the likes of Reformed stalwarts, such as A. A. Hodge, R. L. Dabney, and W. G. T. Shedd, for “trying to give man some power of ‘self-determination,’ and some kind of freedom…” To disagree with Cheung on this point is, in his estimation, to “stupidly chant” about making God the author of sin. Ignoring Christian wisdom as found in the Early Church Fathers and the historic Reformed documents, Cheung has no qualms about claiming that God is the author of sin. He claims, “The truth is that, whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin.”
With a quick sweep, he denounces the “popular Reformed answer” as a “defective” answer to “satisfy human standards of fairness and righteousness.” He claims the “biblical approach” to this question is to “rebuke man for questioning and objecting in the first place.” For Cheung and other hyper-Calvinists, God is the efficient cause of both natural and moral evil, and freedom, in any meaningful sense, is dismissed. He claims God causes and controls all desires, including sinful ones. He pronounces St. Augustine’s position as incorrect and inconsistent, and, against the vast array of Reformed confessions and theological writings, Cheung claims his position is the only “coherent and defensible position,” and is the true “Calvinism.” Others “must rather quickly retreat into mystery and paradox,” whereas he declares boldly that sin is “enslaved to God” and the two are enmeshed in such a way that to affirm anything else is “dualism.” In regard to “freedom,” Cheung warns his readers, “Do not let ignorant people confuse or deceive you.”
While Cheung dismisses giants of the faith and ignores the entire gamut of Reformed confessions, he claims that he is not a hyper-Calvinist because (in his thinking) he isn’t a fatalist and believes the gospel is to be proclaimed to all (despite denying the “well-meant offer”). Nonetheless, he attacks historic, orthodox Calvinists (A. A. Hodge, in particular) for being nothing more than “Arminians and Open Theists” in their theological application, and charges them not with holding “inconsistent Calvinism,” but holding something which “is not Calvinism or Christianity at all.”
As I’ve noted previously, hyper-Calvinistic theology claims that God is the author of sin and evil, and that human beings have absolutely no will whatsoever. It is a system which exceeds the boundaries of Calvinistic and Christian orthodoxy, and is generally marked by a narrow, condescending spirit. In my opinion, the responsibility of Reformed Christians is to pray for individuals who hold to this theology while seeking to win them away from it. It is also our responsibility to denounce it emphatically as a non-Calvinistic/non-Reformed system which exceeds the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy.
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Before the average believer today learns what Reformed theology (i.e., Calvinism) actually is, he first usually has to learn what it’s not. Often, detractors define Reformed theology not according to what it actually teaches, but according to where they think its logic naturally leads. Even more tragically, some hyper-Calvinists have followed the same course. Either way, “Calvinism” ends up being defined by extreme positions that it does not in fact hold as scriptural. The charges leveled against Reformed theology, of which hyper-Calvinism is actually guilty, received a definitive response at the international Synod of Dort (1618–1619), along with the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
Is God the Author of Sin?
The God of Israel “is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4–5). In fact, James seems to have real people in mind when he cautions, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Sin and evil have their origin not in God or creation, but in the personal will and action of creatures.
Scripture sets forth two guardrails here: On one hand, God “works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:15); on the other, God does not — in fact, cannot — do evil. We catch a glimpse of these two guardrails at once in several passages, most notably in Genesis 45 and Acts 2. In the former, Joseph recognizes that while the intention of his brothers in selling him into slavery was evil, God meant it for good, so that many people could be saved during this famine (vv. 4–8). We read in the same breath in Acts 2:23 that “lawless men” are blamed for the crucifixion, and yet Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God….” The challenge is to affirm what Scripture teaches without venturing any further. We know from Scripture that both are true, but not how. Perhaps the most succinct statement of this point is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (chap. 3.1): “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;” — there’s one guardrail — “yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established,” and with that, the second guardrail. The same point is made in the Belgic Confession of Faith (Article 13), adding that whatever God has left to His own secret judgment is not for us to probe any further.
Is the Gospel for Everyone?
Isn’t it a bit of false advertising to say on one hand that God has already determined who will be saved and on the other hand to insist that the good news of the Gospel be sincerely and indiscriminately proclaimed to everyone?
But didn’t Christ die for the elect alone? The Canons of Dort pick up on a phrase that was often found in the medieval textbooks (“sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect only”) when it affirms that Christ’s death “is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world” (Second Head, Article 3). Therefore, we hold out to the world “the promise of the gospel … to all persons … without distinction ….” Although many do not embrace it, this “is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves” (Second Head, Articles 5–6).
Here once again we are faced with mystery — and the two guardrails that keep us from careening off the cliff in speculation. God loves the world and calls everyone in the world to Christ outwardly through the Gospel, and yet God loves the elect with a saving purpose and calls them by His Spirit inwardly through the same Gospel (John 6:63–64; 10:3–5, 11, 14–18, 25–30; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; 2 Tim. 1:9). Both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists ignore crucial passages of Scripture, resolving the mystery in favor of the either-or: either election or the free offer of the Gospel.
Grace for Everybody?
Does God love everybody, or is His kindness simply a cloak for His wrath — fattening the wicked for the slaughter, as some hyper-Calvinists have argued?
Scripture is full of examples of God’s providential goodness, particularly in the Psalms: “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made …. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:9, 16). Jesus calls upon His followers to pray for their enemies for just this reason: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44). Christians are supposed to imitate this divine attitude.
The doctrine we are talking about has come to be called “common grace,” in distinction from “saving grace.” Some have objected to this term (some even to the concept), insisting that there is nothing common about grace: there is only one kind of grace, which is sovereign, electing grace. However, it must be said that whatever kindness God shows to anyone for any reason after the fall, can only be regarded as gracious. Once again, we face two guardrails that we dare not transgress: God acts graciously to save the elect and also to sustain the non-elect and cause them to flourish in this mortal life. While it is among the sweetest consolations for believers, election is not the whole story of God’s dealing with this world.
When we, as Christians, affirm common grace, we take this world seriously in all of its sinfulness as well as in all of its goodness as created and sustained by God. We see Christ as the mediator of saving grace to the elect but also of God’s general blessings to a world that is under the curse. Thus, unbelievers can even enrich the lives of believers. John Calvin pleads against the fanaticism that would forbid all secular influence on Christians, concluding that when we disparage the truth, goodness, and beauty found among unbelievers, we are heaping contempt on the Holy Spirit Himself who bestows such gifts of His common grace (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.15).
Is Calvinism a License to Sin?
The first thing we need to say, with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is that if we are never accused of preaching antinomianism (that is, grace-as-license), we probably have not preached the Gospel correctly. After all, Paul anticipates the question, “Shall we then sin that grace may abound?” precisely because his own argument from 3:9 to this point has pressed it: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (5:21). At the same time, some Reformed Christians, especially those liberated from legalistic backgrounds, seem to end Paul’s argument at Romans 5:21, concluding, in effect, “God likes to forgive, I like to sin — the perfect relationship!”
The difference between being accused of antinomianism (literally, anti-law-ism) and being guilty as charged is whether we are willing to follow Paul on into chapter 6. There the apostle answers this charge by an announcement of what God has done! At first, this would seem to favor antinomians, since they place all of the emphasis on what God has done and reject, or at least downplay, the importance of imperatives. Yet in fact, what Paul announces is that God has accomplished not only our justification in Christ, but our baptism into Christ. His argument is basically this: being united to Christ necessarily brings justification and regeneration, which issues in sanctification. He does not say that Christians should not, or must not, live in sin as the principle of their existence, but that they cannot — it is an impossibility. That they do continue to sin is evident enough, especially in chapter 7, but now they struggle against it.
The fathers at Dort recognized the charge that the Reformed doctrine “ leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; that it is an opiate administered by the flesh and the devil,” and leads inevitably to “libertinism” and “renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please” (Conclusion). Yet they would neither surrender the comfort of justification by Christ’s righteousness imputed nor of sanctification by Christ’s resurrection life imparted. Perfection of sanctification in this life is impossible, but just as impossible is a condition known today as the “carnal Christian.” One is either dead in Adam or alive in Christ. Again, some wish to resolve this mystery: either we can be free from all known sin, as John Wesley taught, or we can be in a state of spiritual death, as antinomianism teaches. However satisfying to our reason, such an easy resolution in either direction ignores the clear teaching of Scripture and robs us of the joy of such a full salvation.
So the two guardrails on this point emerge from the fog of legalism and antinomianism: justification and sanctification are not to be confused, but they are also not to be separated.
In addition to these other charges, Reformed theology is often regarded as “rationalistic” — that is, a system built on logic rather than on Scripture. However, I hope we have begun to see that the real rationalists are the extremists on either side of these debates. The wisdom of the Reformed confessions is that they refuse to speculate beyond Scripture and insist on proclaiming the whole counsel of God, not simply the passages that seem to reinforce one-sided emphases. It is not a question of where the logic should lead us but where the Scriptures do lead us. It might be easier to resolve the mystery in simple, either-or solutions, but such a course would certainly not be safer. So let us too strive to read all of the Scriptures together, keeping a sharp lookout for those guardrails!
© Tabletalk magazine (2005). Reproduced with permission.
Generally, I believe debates can be healthy, thought-provoking events. I’m very glad, for example, that a brilliant scientist who is also a Christian – John Lennox – has been willing to enter the academic arena and debate the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Lennox is compelling, not only because he is able to articulate the Christian worldview ably and discuss scientific thought expertly, but also because he is quite winsome in his approach. I believe academic and public settings are quite appropriate for such debates for believers. In fact, the Apostle Paul was willing to do this very thing in places like Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-21). While the Apostle was also willing to enter debate in houses of worship, namely synagogues, he did so in order to evangelize those who had not yet embraced the Lord Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 17:1-12).
Are formal doctrinal debates in houses of worship, namely church buildings, healthy, thought-provoking events? I’m not convinced they are. As early Christians gathered for worship, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). While seminaries and colleges are academic institutions in which appropriate religious debates may be engaged, church buildings should be reserved for teaching apostolic doctrine, fellowship, observance of the sacred ordinances, and prayer.
Next week a debate is occurring in my own back yard between Jamin Hubner and Josh Feinberg (representing the “Reformed/Calvinist perspective”), and Shandon Guthrie and Jordan Fishel (representing the “Arminian/Molinist perspective”). The pair of debates, to be held at Living Grace Foursquare Church, concern whether or not salvation can be lost, and whether election is unconditional. On the one hand, I’m glad that those with opposing viewpoints on these matters are willing to meet together and discuss their differences. On the other hand, I’m concerned that such an event will merely cause both sides to become entrenched more firmly in their respective positions and simply further division within the Body of Christ and empty the cross of its power (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).
Over the years I’ve made it plain that I am not a follower of John Calvin, but of Jesus Christ, nonetheless, my theological moorings are clearly in the “Reformed/Calvinist” camp. For this reason, I’m further concerned about this debate because those claiming to be of my camp are actually outside of it. The moderator of the first debate, Jeff Stackhouse, serves as the pastor of Grace Reformed Church in Las Vegas. The congregation’s website claims, “We are Reformed in our distinctives and thinking,” and “stand firmly on a reformed and Baptistic heritage; therefore, we adhere to the historic 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.” However, in clear opposition to the Baptist Confession (1689), Stackhouse teaches that God is the author of sin. The Baptist Confession declares (3.1):
God has decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things which shall ever come to pass. Yet in such a way that God is neither the author of sin nor does He have fellowship with any in the committing of sins, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (emphasis added)
When those claiming to be Reformed Baptists align themselves in endeavors with those who hold positions clearly at odds with our confession, it produces confusion among those attempting to understand and discuss our actual beliefs. Rather than upholding and advancing the beliefs we hold dear, this diminishes them. Jamin Hubner, Josh Feinberg, and James White need to pay strict attention to their alliances for this very reason. This is another reason I believe a formal debate within a house of worship is a bad idea. Christians who might want to explore what orthodox Christians of another stripe believe, and attend a debate in the church setting, may hear a few arguments and comments and be forced to conclude that such Christians aren’t really orthodox at all.
For the members of Living Grace Foursquare Church and others in the Las Vegas area who would like to discuss, and even informally debate these vital doctrines, please know that I’d enjoy sitting down with you over a cup of coffee somewhere outside the church setting. Just drop me a line.
From fundamentalist and evangelical pulpits to seminary classrooms, Charles G. Finney is hailed as a hero of the Christian faith. Regarded as “The Father of Modern Revivalism,” Finney was both a moralistic evangelist and a moral crusader. While he is often viewed as the “poster child” for modern evangelicalism, he is also seen as a favorite “whipping boy” of Reformed stalwarts. Contemporary Christians are often confused about why such a “powerful man of God” who “won thousands to Christ” could be disdained. The answer is quite simple, really. Finney promoted a form of religion that centered upon works-righteousness rather than upon the righteous work of Christ. In other words, he denied the gospel.
In the opening of his Lectures on Revival, Finney declares, “True Christianity is the work of humanity. It is something we do. It consists in our obeying God. It is our duty.” In his Memoirs, he rails against the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ in justification by faith alone as “theological fiction.” Finney’s Systematic Theology denies substitutionary atonement. Attempting to answer why sinners are ultimately justified, the moralist answers, “It is not founded in Christ’s literally suffering the exact penalty of the law for them, and in this sense literally purchasing their justification and eternal salvation.” What then does avail for the sinner? How is one justified? According to Finney, there “can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to the law. . . . “ Speaking of those who opposed his position, he stated, “[They] hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim, that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ’s obedience as ours, on the ground that He obeyed for us.” [Systematic Theology, 362]
In objection to this view, Finney denied that Christ “obeyed for us,” claiming Christ was Himself obligated to render full obedience to the law, and His obedience could justify no one but Himself. “It can never be imputed to us,” Finney intoned [Systematic Theology, 362]. The clear implication of Finney’s view is that justification ultimately hinges on the believer’s own obedience, and God will not truly and finally pardon the repentant sinner until after that penitent one completes a lifetime of faithful obedience. Finney himself said as much, employing the undiluted language of perfectionism as he wrote:
By sanctification being a condition of justification, the following things are intended:
(1.) That present, full, and entire consecration of heart and life to God and His service, is an unalterable condition of present pardon of past sin, and of present acceptance with God. (2.) That the penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration continues. If he falls from his first love into the spirit of self-pleasing, he falls again into bondage to sin and to the law, is condemned, and must repent and do his “first work,” must turn to Christ, and renew his faith and love, as a condition of his salvation. . . . Perseverance in faith and obedience, or in consecration to God, is also an unalterable condition of justification, or of pardon and acceptance with God. By this language in this connection, you will of course understand me to mean, that perseverance in faith and obedience is a condition, not of present, but of final or ultimate acceptance and salvation. [Systematic Theology, 368-69]
Thus, Finney insisted that justification ultimately hinges on the believer’s personal performance, not Christ’s. He turns his guns again against the doctrine of imputation:
Those who hold that justification by imputed righteousness is a forensic proceeding, take a view of final or ultimate justification, according with their view of the nature of the transaction. With them, faith receives an imputed righteousness, and a judicial justification. The first act of faith, according to them, introduces the sinner into this relation, and obtains for him a perpetual justification. They maintain that after this first act of faith it is impossible for the sinner to come into condemnation. [Systematic Theology, 369]
But isn’t this precisely what Scripture teaches? John 3:18: “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” John 5:24: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” It was immediately following his great discourse on justification by faith that the apostle Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Yet Charles Finney was unwilling to let Christians rest in the promise of “no condemnation,” and he ridiculed the idea of security in Christ as a notion that would lead to licentious living. He continues, again caricaturing the position he opposes:
That, being once justified, he is always thereafter justified, whatever he may do; indeed that he is never justified by grace, as to sins that are past, upon condition that he ceases to sin; that Christ’s righteousness is the ground, and that his own present obedience is not even a condition of his justification, so that, in fact, his own present or future obedience to the law of God is, in no case, and in no sense, a sine qua non of his justification, present or ultimate.
Now this is certainly another gospel from the one I am inculcating. It is not a difference merely upon some speculative or theoretic point. It is a point fundamental to the gospel and to salvation, if any one can be. [Systematic Theology, 369]
As the final paragraph of this excerpt makes clear, Finney clearly understood that what he proclaimed was a different gospel from that of historic Evangelicalism. What should the response of evangelicals be to Finney and his theological legacy? St. Paul’s admonishment in Galatians 1:6-9 is clear:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Here we are at the start of another year, still finding no unilateral evangelical resolution to the “free will” debate. In fact, a recent post found upon the Society of Evangelical Arminians website does very little to contribute to either ending the debate decisively or enhancing meaningful dialogue between “Arminians” and “Calvinists”. Messianic Drew attempts an application of Blaise Pascal’s Wager to the issue, claiming, “If Calvinism is true and our witness makes no difference in other people’s salvation, then our beliefs in Calvinism and Arminianism make no difference in the salvation of others.” He goes on to assert, based upon his assumption, that we “are obligated to live as though” we live in an “Arminian world,” and “give the free will position every benefit of the doubt.” Christians who do so, he contends, “have almost nothing to lose if we are wrong, and a lot to gain if we are right.”
The Synod of Dort, that august group of Reformed pastors and theologians who contended for Calvinist orthodoxy, declared the following under the first main point of doctrine:
Article 2: The Manifestation of God’s Love
But this is how God showed his love: he sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Article 3: The Preaching of the Gospel
In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).
They added this under the second main point of doctrine:
Article 5: The Mandate to Proclaim the Gospel to All
Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.
In other words, “Calvinists” agree that our witness does make a difference in the salvation in others. Namely, drawing upon the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 10, “Calvinists” affirm the biblical teaching that people must hear the message of the gospel in order to believe, and that this gospel must be proclaimed to them. Anglican scholar J. I. Packer notes in his classic work, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, that believing “God is sovereign in grace” does not affect either the necessity or urgency of evangelism, negate the genuineness of gospel invitations or the truth of gospel promises, or remove the responsibility of individuals to believe the gospel. In other words, believing “Arminianism” gains nothing which isn’t already affirmed by “Calvinism” in regard to this issue. Packer challenges his readers to test all evangelistic plans and practices with the following five questions:
1. Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to impress on people that the gospel is a word from God?
2. Is it calculated to promote the work of the word in men’s minds rather than their emotions?
3. Is it calculated to convey the whole doctrine of the gospel and not just part of it?
4. Is it calculated to convey the whole application of the gospel and not just part of it?
5. Is it calculated to convey gospel truth in a manner that is appropriately serious?
Packer’s work, along with numerous other Great Commission-minded writings produced by Reformed authors, not to mention the lives of many “Calvinists” who have labored faithfully in evangelistic endeavors (e.g., Whitefield, Carey, Spurgeon), demonstrate the fallacy of Messianic Drew’s bet. I encourage him and others (whether “Calvinist” or “Arminian”) to consider whether or not their doctrinal point of view leads them to theocentric evangelistic practice, and to labor in the fields which are “white unto harvest.”
Sharon Baker, Associate Professor of Theology and Religion and Coordinator of the Peace Studies Program at Messiah College, is the latest evangelical to raise her voice against the doctrine of judgment. She claims her recent publication, Razing Hell: Rethinking Everything You’ve Been Taught About God’s Wrath and Judgment, has been written to rethink “the issues surrounding traditional notions of hell as a place of eternal punishment in favor of a view more consistent with that of a loving God.”
The Peace Studies Coordinator argues in her book for a kinder, gentler afterlife which she believes is congruent with the nature and desires of a gracious and loving God. Publishers Weekly said glowingly of the work, “This should be a useful book for Christians struggling to reconcile Jesus’ sacrifice and a loving God with the place of punishment and the necessity for justice.” John Caputo, Professor of Religion & Humanities and Philosophy at Syracuse University, considers it, “A lively, thoughtful and accessible rethinking of one of the most disturbing notions in Christian theology, the prospect of eternal damnation.”
Baker confesses, “Hell haunts me deep down inside, where I fear to tread and fail to admit uncertainty lest ripples of doubt disturb my secure little world of faith, lest someone find out and think me less Christian and more heretic.” Denying the judgment is certainly “more heretic” and “less Christian,” despite Baker’s claim that she has “no intention of doing away with hell.” She admits, “I can’t [do away with Hell] – certain verses in the Bible won’t allow me to do that.” Displaying the cognitive dissonance which plagues those who refuse to retain orthodoxy, Baker says, “I am very concerned about remaining faithful to the Christian scriptures; but I’m even more concerned about remaining faithful to the God of love, who loves the worst of the worst, the world’s enemies, including, even, the Hitlers, the Idi Amins, and the Osama bin Ladens of the world. Our traditional views of hell as a place of eternal punishment where unbelievers dwell in undying flames contradict the image of God as merciful, forgiving, and compassionate.” She adds, quite aptly, “Our traditional focus on hell as an evangelistic tool does not genuinely communicate the very heart of the gospel. If we receive Jesus as Savior merely because we want to avoid hell, we miss the entire point.” She is correct, “receiving” Jesus to merely avoid Hell misses the point entirely – such is not saving faith. Nonetheless, Baker fails to remain faithful to Holy Scripture (and thereby Christian orthodoxy) in her quest to circumvent those “certain verses in the Bible” with the following arguments:
1. Hell doesn’t avenge evil or reveal God’s power.
Baker claims believing in Hell means believing God’s will to save all people goes unfulfilled, putting His power and goodness in doubt.
2. Hell heralds eternal hopelessness.
Baker asserts believing in Hell means God withdraws His unconditional love from a person once that person dies, relegating divine love to the physical body and the temporal realm.
3. Hell keeps evil in eternal existence.
Baker argues believing in Hell means evil survives in those who inhabit it, whereas the Bible teaches God will abolish evil.
4. Hell creates a clash between justice and love.
Baker maintains believing in Hell means we believe in a cruel Father who demands unrepentant sinners face an endless torture to achieve justice, “which,” she says, “is a far cry from the God who loves with an everlasting love.”
5. Hell assigns eternal violence to God.
Baker affirms that “traditional theories of hell…keep the cycle of violence in motion for all eternity as unfortunate souls suffer the ferocity of eternal torture because God requires it.”
6. Hell executes eternal punishment for temporal sin.
Baker inquires, “Does sin committed during one short, temporary life span deserve an eternity of punishment? Even in our own society, we strive to make the punishment fit the crime.”
Baker’s arguments merely echo the modernist and post-modernist arguments which insist traditionalists must surrender Christian orthodoxy, particularly an odium theologium like the doctrine of judgment, in order to conform to a secularist worldview.
“I listen to some of you guys out there, hyper-reformed boys, you’re concerned if you preach the gospel to the wrong person, the wrong person might get saved. So you don’t want to preach it too good, ‘well wait a minute, I don’t think you should’ve been getting saved, I’m not sure you’re in the group.’ What do you mean in the group! If you breathe you’re in the group! If you have ears to hear you’re in the group! And if you choose not to respond it’s your own fault, not God’s.”
- Alistair Begg
During my days at seminary, I spoke with one of my mentors, Dr. Roy Fish, about the differences between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. During our conversation, I blurted out, “Dr. Fish, I’m certain I detest hyper-Calvinism even more than you do!” As Dr. Tom Ascol has rightly noted, “The error of hyper-Calvinism can only emerge where true Calvinism has taken root. It is a perverting error. It distorts that which is good and true. It is a parasite which sucks the life out of its host.”
It is unfortunate, but this pejorative label is often attached to Calvinists who are “Five-Point Calvinists” and affirm the doctrines of unconditional election and particular redemption. It is also often applied to those who hold to supralapsarianism. Supralapsarianism is the view that God, contemplating humanity as yet unfallen, chose some as recipients of His grace while rejecting others. It teaches the divine decree of election logically preceded the decrees to create and permit the Fall. In other words, damnation is first an act of divine sovereignty and secondly an act of divine justice. While this is a form of High Calvinism, it is not necessarily hyper-Calvinism (although hyper-Calvinists are always supralapsarians*).
Those holding to the doctrines of unconditional election, particular redemption, and supralapsarianism are solidly within the boundaries of orthodox Reformed theology and cannot be described accurately as hyper-Calvinists. Even those who, like John Piper, refer to themselves as “Seven-Point Calvinists” cannot be described accurately as hyper-Calvinists. Dr. Piper, as did Calvin, affirms double-predestination. Double predestination holds that God not only chooses whom He will save, but also in the same manner determines whom He will not save. There are many Calvinists (Infralapsarians such as myself) who reject this point, believing that while God chooses the elect, those who remain unrepentant do so entirely as a matter of their own choosing. Dr. Piper claims the “seventh point” of Calvinism is that “God governs the course of history so that, in the long run, His glory will be more fully displayed and His people more fully satisfied than would have been the case in any other world.” These two points neither exceed the boundaries of orthodox Calvinism, nor constitute hyper-Calvinism.
“Hyper” comes from the Greek huper, meaning “excessive or excessively; over, beyond.” A hyper-Calvinist is one, therefore, who exceeds orthodox Calvinism and goes over and beyond the boundaries of what Calvinism affirms. Hyper-Calvinism goes too far in emphasizing particular aspects of the Divine character, and does so at the expense of others. It over-emphasizes God’s sovereignty while de-emphasizing His love, and sets divine sovereignty against human responsibility. Because of its de-emphasis on divine love and denial of human responsibility, hyper-Calvinism militates against evangelism and the offer of the gospel to all people in all places.
So, what exactly constitutes hyper-Calvinistic theology? The following beliefs, either in part or in whole, have generally characterized that system and that spirit which have exceeded Calvinism:
- God is the author of sin and evil
- Human beings have absolutely no will whatsoever
- Individuals are not responsible for their own decisions and actions
- Justification occurs in eternity, not in time
- God does not command all people to repent of sin
- Not everyone is required to believe upon Christ Jesus for salvation
- God creates unbelief in the hearts of the non-elect
- Assurance of election must be sought prior to repentance and faith
- Election is evident simply by a profession of faith, regardless of sanctification (antinomianism)
- Saving faith is equivalent to believing predestination (only “Calvinists” are Christians)
- Limited atonement must be believed in order to hear the gospel and be saved
- Salvation is not connected with the “visible” Church**
- Scripture is to be interpreted only by individuals, not by the Church**
- Evangelism is unnecessary, or even wrong
- The sacraments are not a means of grace, but rather obstacles to salvation by faith alone**
- God has no love whatsoever for humanity in His providence (common grace)
When one or more of these tenets is held, hyper-Calvinism may very well have taken root. If you’ve found these beliefs developing in your life, my prayer is that they may be weeded out by the grace of God.
*The two major Calvinistic views of the divine decrees in relation to redemption/reprobation are supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. Infralapsarianism (sometimes called “sublapsarianism”) believes the divine decree to permit the Fall logically preceded the decree of election. In other words, God contemplated all of humanity in relation to the Fall and chose the elect for salvation through Jesus Christ while determining to pass over the non-elect and leaving them to their own sinful desires and choices.
**These points do not necessarily constitute hyper-Calvinism, though they are often found among those advocating the system.
FOR FURTHER READING (Free Online Sources):
A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism by Phillip R. Johnson
All House and No Doors by C. Matthew McMahon
The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism by Peter Toon
During my days of study at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of my seminary buddies whom I sat next to in several classes was David Prince. David, who now serves as the pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, came to campus one day with a picture of his then eight-week-old son, Luke David, “enjoying” Calvin’s Institutes. Later that year, with David’s permission and much to his delight, the photo made its way onto the cover of The Founders Journal with the caption, “Are Calvinists Hyper?” Within the journal, Dr. Tom Nettles wrote an excellent article with that title.
In it Dr. Nettles notes, “Much of the attention given to ‘Calvinism’ in these days shows that significant lack of awareness has created both misunderstandings and an easy path for misrepresentations. The confusion which reigns in discussing these issues could be multiplied to embarrassing dimensions…” He points out two instances where the confusion exists. Both instances demonstrate claims equating Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism. The seminary professor then adds:
“Many continue to fail, even in the most appropriate historical context, to give a clear picture of the aggressive evangelical Calvinism that characterized the leaders of the mission movement among English Baptists, American Baptists, and Southern Baptists. Their missionary involvement becomes abstracted from a theological framework and seems to be purely the outcome of guts and zeal or of love for Christ unconnected to any clear views of doctrinal truth. That hyper-Calvinism really is a different theological system from Calvinism is rarely discussed. Hyper-Calvinism is seen as very serious Calvinism or ‘Five-point Calvinism’ or the defense of ‘limited atonement’ or ‘supralapsarianism.’”
Nearly 13 years later, it seems those who are either confused theologically or who desire to reinterpret the facts maliciously continue to equate Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. In The New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988) Peter Toon ably defines hyper-Calvinism this way:
1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect….
2. It is that school of supralapsarian ‘five-point’ Calvinism [n.b.—a school of supralapsarianism, not supralapsarianism in general] which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect.
Toon rightly points out hyper-Calvinism emphasizes the decretive (secret) will of God over His preceptive (revealed) will, and denies the universal offer of the gospel made by Jesus Christ to all. Historically, hyper-Calvinism emerged among the Particular Baptists in England during the 18th century under the influence of Joseph Hussey, John Skepp, John Brine, and others. Contemporary versions of hyper-Calvinism, while low in influence and numbers, may be found among the Primitive Baptist and Gospel Standard congregations. Some believe incorrectly that those who affirm the doctrines of grace (aka “Calvinism) necessarily deny human responsibility and the free offer of the gospel. Those who do so confuse Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism. They fail to take into account consistent orthodox Calvinists who affirmed both divine sovereignty and human responsibility and launched the modern missionary movement, men such as William Carey and Andrew Fuller.
A Calvinist who carried the vision of Carey and Fuller forward under the Southern Baptist banner was Charles Dutton Mallary. It is unlikely many modern Southern Baptists know his name, but he was well known during his lifetime. Mallary served as a pastor in Georgia prior to becoming a fund-raiser for Mercer University. Afterwards, he was selected by Southern Baptists as the first corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board (later renamed the International Mission Board). His responsibilities included communicating instructions and providing encouragement to missionaries in the field, as well as mobilizing congregations to provide candidates for missionary service. Though he was eventually offered an annual salary of $1,200 to retain his post, he refused due to failing health and a desire to devote himself fully to pastoral and evangelistic labors in Georgia.
Southern Baptists who assail Calvinists as anti-missionary and fatalistic neglect not only to distinguish Calvinism from hyper-Calvinism, but also their own history. Despite historical examples provided in the lives of Carey, Fuller, and Mallary, not to mention the likes of Spurgeon, many within the SBC are determined to wage a campaign against “Five-Point Calvinists.” They utilize the pejorative terms of “hyper-Calvinism,” “hyper-Calvinist,” and “Primitive Baptist” to denigrate them, denounce them as other than “traditional Baptists,” and seek to oust them from Southern Baptist life. Historic Calvinists in the Baptist tradition detest the theology of hyper-Calvinism and seek to dismantle its inroads through pastoral counseling, the publication of articles, the distribution of literature, and preaching. I encourage Southern Baptists and other evangelicals who are touched by the ‘Calvinism’ debate – regardless of their position on the issue – to study the issue more thoroughly, communicate more accurately, and act more graciously.
You may call me critical, say I’m unconcerned about being “relevant” in order to reach the lost or such, but here are a few reasons I find it more and more difficult each day to remain within the “free church tradition”:
1) Whiskey Baptists
Does the singing of this early 90s Country & Western song cause one to think of Christ and His redeeming love? Do large foam hats convey the holiness and majesty of God? Doesn’t this song, employed during a worship service, seem to contradict what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians?:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Cor. 5:9-11)
2) Clown Communion
This gives a whole new meaning to the term “Clown Ministry.” The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
3) Motor “cross”
Notice references to “stage” and “set.” Sounds like a theater rather than a sanctuary, doesn’t it? Wonder how many individuals, viewing this, would find their hearts exclaiming with the cherubim and the prophet Isaiah:
…I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
4) Spiritual Gifts, Temper Tantrums and Wedgies
Forget the drama of redemption, when you can have second-rate skits about spiritual gifts, filled with temper tantrums and “wedgies.”
Guess I’m getting old, but it seems to me like these are examples of worship in spirit and in truth:
It seems to me that worship should reflect that which takes place before the Throne in Heaven, that which is described by the Apostle John in Revelation 4:
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Something incredible is happening in Abilene, Texas, or so it is claimed. In the past week (as of July 8, 2009), New Hope Church, along with evangelists Eric & Jennifer Gonyon, have witnessed 409 “harvesters” hitting the streets of the Frontier City and garnering 14,421 “decisions” for Jesus Christ. The Gonyons, part of Rodney Howard-Browne’s Revival Ministries International. As a minister, especially one who earned an accredited M. Div. with an emphasis in evangelism and missions, not to mention an accredited Ph.D. in Theology with an evangelism major, I was curious about the claim, thinking about the kind of impact such a move of the Spirit of God would have upon a small city with a population of approximately 116,000. For instance, if ten percent of the population turns to the Lord Jesus, you certainly could expect church attendance to skyrocket. Not only will new believers fill congregations, but they will bring family and members and friends with them to investigate the difference the gospel has brought about in their lives. That was on my mind as I made my way to New Hope this past Wednesday night to check out the claims for myself.
I was curious as to how the masses would all fit into the auditorium at New Hope, and found myself disappointed when the service got underway with no more than 200 in attendance for the “Great Awakening Tour.” A fair amount of the service was spent by Mrs. Gonyon plugging Rodney Howard-Browne merchandise, namely books, CDs and iPods. The iPod (with Howard-Browne leactures) was on sale for only $1000. I listened to the testimonies of four very precious, sincere individuals who spoke about their experiences of using “The Script” that day. One young lady recorded three decisions in Wal-Mart from backslidden teenage girls while another young lady recorded a decision from a gentleman plagued with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home. A young man encountered a deaf woman at the bus stop, healing her hearing and restoring her faith. Another young man encountered twenty Hindus, with twelve of them deciding to follow Jesus. You might imagine my surprise when there was no baptismal service. I found it quite inexplicable that these testimonies were shared but that none of those making decisions were in attendance or being baptized.
I expected the message, delivered by Mr. Gonyon, to relate to the topic of evangelism. Instead, while attempting to preach from Luke 5:1-11, he demonstrated a complete lack of applying biblical hermeneutics. His message, which missed the heart of the text (e.g., Jesus Christ is holy God), was nothing more than the peddling of prosperity pablum. He emphasized the point over and over that when Jesus tells you to cast out your nets (plural), don’t simply cast out your net (singular). Had Mr. Gonyon studied divinity, his first year of Greek would have prevented such an egregious handling of the text. Constructing an entire sermon on a single transcript variation results in a pitiful message, to say the least. Any serious minister of Christ, even without the benefit of theological training, would at least make sure to proclaim the gospel within his sermon. There was no mention, however, of the work of Christ Jesus at the cross. The gospel was not proclaimed. No true hope was given for the forgiveness of sins and living daily by the applied work of Christ. Instead, the stench of health and wealth filled the auditorium.
Leaving the auditorium, I departed with a deep sense of sadness (rather than the joy which had been promised). I was sad because those professing faith were not professing their faith and being attached to the local church through the sacred ordinance of baptism; sad because there was absolutely no sense of the holy presence of God in that place; sad that the Gospel was not being proclaimed. If the Gospel – which is the power of God unto salvation – is not preached, then how will people believe (Romans 10:14-15)? It is possible to have numerical success and absolute spiritual failure. I hope those young people who shared their testimonies will gain a strong grasp on the Gospel – which provides our only basis for true hope – and press forward in boldness for the sake of Christ Jesus. I hope the same may be said of you and me, so that many will actually be converted and added to the Church through baptism. Apart from the proclamation of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, I have absolutely no hope that this will happen. But, because I trust in the sovereignty of God and in the reality of His promises, I have great hope that many will yet enter the Kingdom.
I appreciate the comment left by Mason Murch in regard to the most recent edition of Theology onThursday. Mason writes:
“Piper has never been more on point than he is in this clip. The link on my page right below yours is to ‘A Place of Hope Africa.’ Bev and Joey Starling are acquaintances who started and run this orphanage in Nigeria. Of course, their message is: ‘Jesus loves you , let us show you. We will raise that little boy who is crippled, we will care for that baby with aids it is because of Jesus’ love that we do this for you.’ That is Christian love and Christs’ gospel. Servants must bear their crosses, Christ told us this is so. Joey and Bev probably won’t say much about it on their web page, but Bev has now contracted Malaria. They need our prayers. Please remember them.”
In response to this comment, I would like to ask you to do a few things. First, please pray for Bev’s health and the work she and her husband are carrying on to show the love of Christ to orphans in Nigeria. Second, consider the shallowness of the so-called prosperity gospel in the face of death and dying. We will all face death, the question is how. Rachel Barkley, a Canadian wife and mother of two, has terminal cancer. She addressed a group in Vancouver lately regarding life and death in a way which demonstrates the sufficiency of God’s grace (watch it here). Please pray for Rachel, her husband, Neil, and their children, Quinn and Kate.
These lives demonstrate the reality of the gospel and its hope-giving effects in the face of death, unlike the ego-centric ‘health and wealth’ teaching espoused by TBN televangelists and movies like ‘Facing the Giants‘. You will die. Will you die well, clinging to Christ alone? Will you die clutching on to all the things you ‘named and claimed’? Will you die bitterly cursing God for being unfair and unloving? Your belief (or lack thereof) will determine how you leave this world and enter the next.
I encourage those who want to deepen their Christian walk to engage in the discipline of reading good, solid theological works. In the last several months, the one book which most people have asked me about constantly has been Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack. Young’s novel is a very touching semi-autobiographical work. The story centers on Mackenzie Allen Philips, known better as Mack, who is struggling through the aftermath of the abduction and brutal murder of his little girl at the hands of a serial killer. One day he finds a note in his mailbox from God inviting him to return to the place of the crime scene, the shack. Mack reluctantly makes his way to the shack and encounters the Trinity – Papa (Elousia), an African-American woman; Jesus, a Middle Eastern handyman; and Sarayu, an Asian woman. The remainder of the novel is essentially a dialogue between Mack and the trio. The dialogue includes discussions regarding creation, the fall, free will, and forgiveness.
Musician Michael W. Smith declares this novel “will leave you craving for the presence of God.” Steve Berger, pastor of Grace Chapel Leipers Fork, says, “The Shack is spiritually profound, theologically enlightening and life impacting. It has my highest recommendation. We are joyfully giving copies away by the case.” The pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church of Enid, Oklahoma, Wade Burleson, invited Young to fill his pulpit for multiple sessions earlier this month. Steve Brown, impressed with both Young and the book, warns, “If I were attacking this book I would be very careful. It just might be that God is really using it. You could regret your attacks.” On the other end of the spectrum, heavyweights such as Chuck Colson, Michael Youssef, Al Mohler, and Mark Driscoll have warned people to avoid The Shack.
It is not my intention to attack The Shack so much as it is to discuss it. As noted previously, it is a very touching semi-autobiographical work. It touches upon the deepest levels of anguish and anger while holding out hope for healing and forgiveness. In my opinion, this book has touched so many people emotionally because they have faced traumatic experiences at the hands of very religious people. I believe it has touched many people because it hits them where they live, and because the vast majority of evangelical pulpits have offered little more than pabulum to address these pains. Unfortunately, many of the pulpits which offer a much more profound view of God and seek to dig into the Scriptures do so in a manner which may seem distant and abstract. Some things Young does well are: making it clear that the person and costly work of Christ is central in redemption; that the Father, Son and Spirit are united in the work of redemption; that the Father and Son are not set against each other; and that the focus of redemption is relationship.
Despite doing these things well, I’m discouraged by both Young’s lack of theological precision and his bias against institutions, particularly the Church. I don’t believe absolute doctrinal uniformity is necessary for fellowship to exist between brothers and sisters in Christ, but I do affirm the necessity of foundational Christian beliefs as essential for fellowship. This is where the book takes a very dangerous detour. Anyone reading The Shack should make quick U-turns in their thinking regarding three areas in particular.
The Holy Scriptures
The Shack detracts from the authority of Holy Scripture, at least implicitly. When the Bible is mentioned, it does so negatively. On pp. 65-66, for example, it is stated that Mack, while a seminary student, “had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects…Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather and gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” Ironically, Mack tells his friend Willie, “I guess part of me would like to believe that God would care enough about me to send a note” (p. 71). God has indeed sent us a note – His voice, the vox Dei, is heard in the note of Holy Scripture.
The Holy Trinity
Young correctly represents the Holy Trinity on p. 101 with the affirmation, “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one God with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father, and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” He goes horribly astray into heresy, however, in several areas regarding the Trinity. I’ll mention three. First, Young asserts on p. 99 that all members of the Godhood took human form at the Incarnation (not just the Lord Jesus) as he writes, “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human.” This is why he also asserts that rather than turning away from the Son and pouring out His wrath upon Him at the cross (p. 96), the Father died on the cross with the Son and continues to bear the marks of crucifixion (pp. 95-96, 164). Second, Young nixes any concept of authority and submission within the Godhood (e.g., pp. 122, 145), though verses such as John 6:38, 44; 8:18; 10:36; 1 John 4:14; 1 Corinthians 11:1-3; and 15:27-28 make it plain that such authority and submission do exist within the Godhood. The Son and Holy Spirit have submitted to the Father in the work of redemption. The Spirit labors to apply the work of the Son and bring glory to the Father and Son (John 16:5-15). Third, the essence of divinity is challenged as Young quotes Unitarian-Universalist Buckminster Fuller and declares God is a verb rather than a noun (p. 194, 204). This moves away from the biblical understanding of a personal God to that of a mystical Eastern view advocating pantheism. This pantheism is evident as Jesus tells Mack, “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things—ultimately emerging as the real—and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away” (p. 112); and as Sarayu mentions to Mack he will see the Spirit “in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in creation, or in your joy and sorrow” (p. 198).
With his aversion for hierarchy and institutions evident throughout the work (especially pp. 178-179), Young belittles the Church. The Church becomes little more than a “man-made institution” filled with people “sold out to religious activity and patriotism” and concerned more about a “system” than “relationship” (p. 181). This belittling leads Mack to inquire about what it means to be a Christian. Papa replies, “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian. . . . Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions” (p. 182). While Papa denies all roads lead lead to God, she asserts “I will travel any road to find you” (p. 182). Scripture affirms that Christ purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25), and that there is no way to have a relationship with the Father than through the work of His Son (John 14:6) – a work which brings individuals into the corporate institution of the Church. The Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), and is inseparable from God’s work of redemption. The Church is Christ’s glory (2 Corinthians 8:23; Ephesians 3:21).
Much more could be said of the grievous errors within The Shack. My greatest concern with this book is that it is overtly subversive. Christian orthodoxy is undermined. Many, who have not been discipled effectively, will fall prey to its assertions because they desire – and rightly so – to have an intimate relationship with God. Like Young, I encourage you to seek this intimate relationship with God through Christ. Unlike him, I encourage you to do so within the confines of historic Christian orthodoxy and find your faith refreshed just as all the people of God – those who have suffered much and gained much more – over the past two thousand years.
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. . . . But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
– Ephesians 4:29, 5:3-4
An in-depth New York Times feature on Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll entitled, “Who Would Jesus Smack Down?”, has generated a debate regarding profanity from the pulpit. Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church, focused on his Calvinistic theology, but also discussed his sermon topics and casual dress. Driscoll is known as the “cussing pastor,” as he is called by his friend, Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz.
In the December 2006 issue of Pulpit, pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church, also a Calvinist, took Driscoll to task over his use of sexually explicit language and “purely gratuitous humor” from the pulpit. MacArthur contends correctly that such language degrades the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the ministry. Driscoll professed repentance at one point, apologizing for being known as one with “good theology, a bad temper, and a foul mouth.” He declared he didn’t want to be known for the bad temper and foul mouth.
Since then, Driscoll has been targeted for his series on explicit “advice” regarding sexuality among Christians. There is no doubt that too many pulpits fall silent on this important issue, yet such a topic must surely be discussed with godly propriety. Ingrid Schlueter has noted rightly in response to Driscoll’s language, “For generations, Christian pastors have managed to convey the Scripture’s teachings on fornication, adultery and the beauty of sexuality within marriage without sullying and cheapening it.”
Pastors should certainly address the issue, but they must address it in an appropriate manner. The pulpit, let alone the ordinary conversations among Christians, must reflect righteousness. Pastors are called upon to “be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). I endorse Driscoll’s theology, but not his foul mouth or explicit references.
The Board of Directors from Fresh Fire Ministries has “with considerable sadness” made a statement regarding the “sobering news that Todd and Shonnah are presently experiencing significant friction in their relationship and are currently separated.” The separation is a formal one. Todd Bentley, the tattooed “evangelist” who led the so-called ‘Florida Outpouring’ in Lakeland, has filed for separation from his wife in Canadian court. Separation is the first step in divorce proceedings under Canadian law. The former local spokesperson for Bentley, Lynne Breidenbach, announced the couple has been in marriage counseling for several months and described the situation as “very sad.” She insisted, however, that this filing “doesn’t invalidate what Todd did” in Lakeland.
The couple has two daughters and a son.
“Theology on Thursday” is the only weekly edition featured on this blog. There’s not a regular “Anti-Theology” bit, just the one post regarding the antics of Todd Bentley. But, this morning, while doing my regular check-in over at my buddy Gunny’s blog, Semper Reformanda, I saw a natural follow-up to the “Anti-Theology” post (which may, in fact, become a regular feature here… “Anti-Theology: Why I Sometimes Hate the Free Church Tradition”). For those of you old enough to remember the early-mid 80s, you may gasp, but, then again, if you’ve been around the free church tradition long enough, this probably won’t surprise you. Gunny quips in his introduction of this clip, “Now I know the true reason my church has not begun growing as fast some others: We’re not spinning anything, which we should be if Jesus spins us right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby. We need a ‘Holy Ghost Ho-Down’ apparently to start a love train.’”
For those of you too young to remember the 80s, here’s the original:
Here are clear reminders that the world does not belong in the Church. Worship within the Church is a sacred matter. Spinning socks and singing petty pop songs does not constitute worship.
Welcome to “Anti-Theology on Friday: Why I Sometimes Hate the Free Church Tradition”. Okay, so I’m playing around a bit with the introduction of yesterday’s post. You may have already heard Todd Bentley, the tattooed “evangelist” who has been leading the long-running “revival” (“The Florida Outpouring”) in Lakeland, Florida, since April 2, will be departing the scene after the August 23 service. The gigantic white tents littering the grounds of the Sun n’ Fun Fly-in, where the meetings have been held since June, will be removed after that evening’s meeting.
“The Florida Outpouring” started at Ignited Church with the 32-year-old Canadian as a guest evangelist. Scheduled originally to speak for a week, Bentley remained when large crowds began flocking to Lakeland. Thousands of individuals from across the globe have attended the services, which have been streamed live over the Internet. Some have claimed the Internet is the reason for the rapid growth of interest in the meetings, though leaders point to the “healings” of serious illnesses. The “evangelist” has even claimed over two dozen individuals have been raised from the dead as a result of the services.
Bentley is scheduled currently to lead “revivals” in Los Angeles, Louisville, Spokane, and overseas (including the UK and Sudan). Ignited Church plans on continuing the “revival” and holding services each night after the Canadian’s departure. Some have surmised his leaving is a result of a negative Nightline feature. Stephen Strader, one of the leaders at Ignited Church, will take the helm. He expects crowds to diminish, though, after Bentley leaves. Bentley plans on retaining an office in Lakeland, in addition to his Fresh Fire Ministries headquarters in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
Despite the crowds and the claims, even some fellow Pentecostals question whether Bentley’s meetings have placed enough emphasis on preaching and calls for repentance. A recent set of guidelines from the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, seems to question the Florida Outpouring’s emphasis on miracles. Local pastors have also expressed skepticism about exaggerated claims. None of the recent news reports covering the meetings have been able to verify a single claim of healing. Strader commented that privacy concerns and laws forbidding the release of medical records have prevented “revival” officials from releasing complete information about the identities and conditions of people claiming to be healed.
Here are some examples of Bentley’s anti-theology…
…and speaking about kicking a woman in the face and choking a man and hitting another man and knocking the tooth out of a man’s mouth and leg-dropping a pastor healing…
…and “being obedient to the Lord” by kneeing a cancer patient.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this seems an apt description of Bentley’s antics and anti-theology:
UPDATE (July 26): Bentley is heading to California to “Open Portals in LA with Che Ahn.” The meetings to be held in California are being called “33 Nights of Glory,” and will be hosted at the Ambassador Auditorium by Harvest International Ministry and Che Ahn. Speakers will include Bill Johnson, Cindy Jacobs, Stacey Campbell and Jim Goll. Bentley is speaking tonight, tomorrow and Monday. HT: Wolf Tracks