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IS CALVINISM DANGEROUS?

by R. L. Hymers, Jr.,
M.Div., D.Min., Th.D., Litt.D.

A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, July 22, 2006
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible (Mark 10:26-27).


Some people who read my sermons on the Internet say that I am a Calvinist. They see, in my sermons, that I often quote famous Calvinists of the past, such as Dr. John Gill, the great eighteenth century Baptist commentator on the Bible, John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrims Progress, and especially C. H. Spurgeon, the prince of preachers. All three of these men were Baptists and all three of them were completely Calvinistic in their theology.

When people read my sermons they realize that I have great respect for these three men. They also see that I pay high honor to George Whitefield, whom I consider to be the greatest evangelist of all time in the English speaking world. Whitefield was a five-point Calvinist. Also, I often refer to great pioneer missionaries, such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and David Livingstone, who were all five-point Calvinists.

Yet, although I have the deepest admiration for these men, and the Puritans (who were also Calvinists), I do not consider myself to be a five-point Calvinist. I hold the first and last points of Calvinism, but I do not hold exactly to all that is taught in points two, three and four. Thus, I have sometimes been called a moderate Calvinist.

Speaking from this position, I will list the five points of Calvinism and give a brief description of why I do not fully agree with three of them. The five points of Calvinism form the acronym, TULIP.  I realize that my explanation may not please everyone.  In fact, it may not please anyone!  Nevertheless, I think I should give my view of TULIP before I defend the basic core of Calvinism. 

1.  Total depravity. This point, I believe, is completely Scriptural. It teaches that unconverted people are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), that unconverted men are dead in sins (Ephesians 2:5), that they have the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Ephesians 4:18). These Scriptures, and many others, show that man is totally depraved, dead in sin, with nothing in his depraved nature capable of responding to God. When the Disciples asked Jesus, Who then can be saved? He replied, With men it is impossible (Mark 10:27). Thus, I am in complete agreement with Calvinism on the first point total depravity. I believe this to be the true condition of man presented in the Bible.

2.  Unconditional election. This doctrine of Calvinism I do not believe. I am convinced that election is based on Gods foreknowledge of who will be converted. Rightly or wrongly, I believe that sinners are Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (I Peter 1:2). I believe that God chooses in advance (elects to salvation) those whom He knew ahead of time would stop resisting the Gospel, come to Christ, and be saved. My view of the second point may cause strict Calvinists to call me an Arminian. But I do not agree with the Arminian view of depravity. Man is not sick. He is dead. I do not think man has any hope of salvation apart from the unmerited grace of God. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us (Titus 3:5). So, although I do not hold the doctrine of unconditional election, I also do not accept the Arminian view either, that man is elected on the condition of obedience to Christ. That would be the error of synergism. The fact that God alone is the active agent in conversion and man is passive and becomes converted by God alone is known as monergism. The theory that man contributes something, however little it may be, is called synergism. Responding to the Gospel means ceasing to resist Gods grace, but does not mean adding any obedience to grace. Man can resist, but cannot respond, to the Gospel in his depraved state. How could man obey Christ, or do anything that adds to salvation, since he is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1)?

3.  Limited atonement. To me this is the weakest point of full Calvinism. The Bible plainly says, And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2). For God so loved the world [not just the elect] that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). I know that full Calvinists have answers to these and other such verses, but I have not been convinced by them. John Goodwin (1593-1665), a Puritan preacher and author, wrote a book against limited atonement called, Redemption Redeemed: A Puritan Defence of Unlimited Atonement (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004 reprint). It is well worth reading his rejection of limited atonement. I believe that Christ by the grace of God [tasted] death for every man (Hebrews 2:9).

4.  Irresistible grace. Luther believed strongly in the bondage of the will. In fact, his most important book is titled, The Bondage of the Will. He held that no man in his own unconverted will has the power to decide, accept, or respond to saving grace. But Luther also believed that man did have the power to reject it. This is a major point of difference between Luther and Calvinism. I think Luther was right, and Calvinism is wrong on this point. Please do not think that I endorse everything Luther said! I certainly do not! But I think he was right about this. To the question of why some men receive grace and others do not, Luther simply said that is a mystery, not revealed in the Bible. Luther would say that some men resist the Gospel and others surrender to it, and let it go unexplained why this is true of some and not of others. I tend to agree with him that the Bible does not reveal why this is so. Therefore I do not believe in irresistible grace. Grace can be resisted, but it cannot be received or accepted by the will of unregenerated men, because salvation is solely the work of God. Who then can be saved? (Mark 10:26). With men it is impossible, but not with God (Mark 10:27). Man can reject salvation, but only God can give it. Luther said, Unbelievers resist the will of God. The Bible says, Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:51). Therefore, grace is not irresistible.

5.  Perseverance of the saints. This is the last point of Calvinism. I believe in it with all my heart, for it is clearly stated in Scripture, He that believeth on the Son hath [present tense] everlasting life (John 3:36). Jesus said, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish (John 10:27-28). Once a man has eternal life, it cannot be taken from him, or lost. Once a man is truly converted, he cannot be unconverted. Thus, I fully believe in the Calvinist doctrine of the eternal security of the truly converted.


This I think is what Richard Baxter (1615-1691), the man called Mister Puritan, meant by his term mere Christianity. This put him in a mediatory position relativeto Calvinism and Arminianism (Elgin S. Moyer, Ph.D., Who Was Who in Church History, Moody Press, 1974, p. 33). What Baxter desired was a mediation between the extremists in English religious life (J. D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Whos Who in Christian History, Tyndale House Publishers, 1992, p. 69). I find myself in agreement with Luther, the Puritan John Goodwin, and Richard Baxter on some of their doctrines concerning points two, three and four of the five points of Calvinism.

Does this make me an Arminian? Not in the modern use of the word. Modern Arminianism does not stress total depravity, salvation by grace alone, without any help from man, and Arminians usually reject the Scriptural teaching of the eternal security of the truly converted.

Some have told me that I am actually a moderate Calvinist. I am certainly not a hyper-Calvinist, for I believe in preaching salvation freely to all men. So I guess, that for want of a better term, I indeed am a moderate Calvinist, for I agree completely with Jesus answer to the question, Who then can be saved? Jesus was correct when He said, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible (Mark 10:26-27).

As I said, I know that my position as a moderate Calvinist will not please everyone. It may not please anyone! But I think it is what the Bible teaches. I do believe that the Word of God gives us the basic truths set down in this view of moderate Calvinism. Now, I will deal with (1) the attraction of Calvinism today; (2) the core truths in Calvinism; and (3) the need to apply these Bible truths.

I. First, the attraction of Calvinism today.

There can be no doubt that there has been a resurgence of Calvinism in Baptist life today. Dr. Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Theological Seminary, said,

In a Baptist paper recently, I read: Another church splits over Calvinism. Baptist news agencies have begun to investigate this mounting issue. Candidates for the office of president of the Southern Baptist Convention are pointedly asked, Do you view the Calvinism issue as threatening? I was returning home from an engagement last month when I met a director of missions. As we talked, he leaned in and whispered, The Reformed [Calvinistic] movement will not go away. They are slowly taking over some major churches (National Liberty Journal, June/July 2006, p. 1).

Why is the Calvinistic movement becoming so popular among many Baptists? I believe there are two major reasons.

First, most of our churches have become theologically rudderless. Many Baptists just dont know what they believe on the subject of salvation. And we are living at a time when the decisionist theology spawned by Charles G. Finney is falling apart all around us. We give the invitation, people come forward, we baptize them, and then we never see them again. Pastors are becoming disillusioned by this theology and method, and want something more solid. So, many of them turn to full Calvinism to find the answer, as Finneys old decisionist system falls apart all across our nation, and throughout the world.

Second, many thoughtful pastors have begun to realize that virtually all the Baptists up through about the time of Spurgeon were Calvinists. You cant hide that fact from a man who studies these things in Christian history and theology. When thoughtful, studious preachers read Baptist history, and the old books of Baptist theology, they come away realizing, They were all Calvinists! You cant hide that any longer from thoughtful men.

The other night I read the doctrinal statement of one of our Baptist schools. Here is that statement, given in the schools catalogue regarding Of Grace in the New Creation:

We believe that in order to be saved, sinners must be born again; that the new birth is a new creation in Jesus Christ; that it is instantaneous and not gradual; that in the new birth the one dead in trespasses and sins is made a partaker of the divine nature and receives eternal life, the free gift of God; that the new creation is brought about in a manner above our comprehension, not by culture, not by character, nor by the will of man, but wholly and solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the Gospel; that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, faith, and newness of life.

That statement is pure Calvinism. And doctrinal statements like that appear in the catalogues of most of our Baptist schools.

How can we expect thoughtful students to respect us when they read those Calvinistic doctrinal statements and then hear the exact opposite taught by professors in the classrooms of the same schools that put these doctrines in their catalogues in the first place?

So, the first reason that Calvinism is growing in our Baptist movements is because our preachers are looking for doctrinal standards, beginning to reject Finneys decisionism, and discovering that nearly all the old-time Baptists were Calvinists, and that many of these Calvinistic beliefs are being carried over from the past into the very statements of faith they read in our college and seminary catalogues! I think those thoughts help to explain the attraction of Calvinism and its resurgence today.

II. Second, the core truths in Calvinism.

The major reason for the resurgence of Calvinism is that it is true to the Scriptures in its main emphasis. We may not completely agree with the second, third and fourth points of Calvinism, but we cant avoid the truth that man is really lost and unable to do anything to save himself apart from the intervention of Gods grace. I think thats why John Newtons Amazing Grace is still the most popular of all hymns in Baptist circles. Who would disagree with the first stanza?

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
   (Amazing Grace, by John Newton, 1725-1807).

And yet, that first stanza gives the heart of Calvinism, that man is in a wretched, totally depraved condition, that he must be found by God, and that his spiritually blind condition can only be reversed by grace. Grace is amazing because it is undeserved, and unmerited. As that Baptist catalogue put it in their doctrinal statement,

In the new birth the one dead in trespasses and in sins is made a partaker of the divine nature and receives eternal life, the free gift of God; that the new creation is brought about in a manner above our comprehension, not by culture, not by character, nor by the will of man, but wholly and solely by the power of the Holy Spirit, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the Gospel

There you have the core of Calvinism, which I believe is true to the Bible. Man is dead in trespasses and sins. Man is then made a partaker of the divine nature and receives eternal life, the free gift of God. The new creation [new birth] is brought about in a manner above our comprehension [understanding], nor bythe will of man, but wholly and solely by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives the dead sinner obedience to the Gospel.

This is salvation by Gods grace, not salvation by mans decision. The sinner is born again,

not of blood [not by culture, not by character], nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man [nor by the will of man], but of God (John 1:13).

God in Christ is both the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). As the prophet Jonah put it, Salvation is of [from] the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

In theology, this is called monergism. That means God is the sole author and finisher of saving faith. It means that salvation

is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Charles G. Finney tore the heart out of salvation by grace when he began teaching that man could contribute to his salvation (synergism) by an outward decision, such as coming forward, raising the hand, or saying the words of a sinners prayer. Thus, the first stanza of Amazing Grace no longer had any real meaning under Finneys theology. The second stanza also lost its meaning under the sway of Finneys false teachings.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The grace of God alone produces fear of judgment for sin. The grace of God alone relieves those fears when the sinner is drawn to Jesus Christ alone for salvation. That is the core teaching of all our old-time Baptists. We contribute nothing to our own salvation. Salvation is all by the grace of God in Christ.

The Holy Spirits first work is to convince the lost person of his sin.

And when he is come, he will reprove [convince] the world of sinOf sin, because they believe not on me (John 16:8-9).

Only when the unconverted person is convinced of his sinful, lost condition, does the Holy Spirit glorify Christ in his mind and heart.

He [the Holy Spirit] shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you (John 16:14).

III. Third, the need to apply these Bible truths.

The core truth of Calvinism is that man is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1, 5), and can only be made alive by God in Christ. The raising of Lazarus is a perfect picture of salvation by grace alone, through Christ alone.

Lazarus was dead. He was really dead! His sister said,

Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days (John 11:39).

That typifies a lost sinner. Not only is he dead, but he stinks in the sight of God in his dead condition. His lost mind

is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be (Romans 8:7).

But Jesus came to the grave of Lazarus and

cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forthJesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go (John 11:43-44).

That is a perfect picture of monergism salvation by grace alone, through Christ alone. This is the heart of Calvinism, that part of Calvinism which is true to the Bible, that all the old-time Baptists believed, and which must once again be preached in our churches.

Is Calvinism dangerous? Only when the lesser parts of it are stressed as absolute dogma. Only when all five points are crammed into peoples minds, as though these doctrines of grace could save them. But I say that the doctrines of grace in Calvinism never saved anyone. All that this doctrine, taught for doctrines sake, does is cause church splits and divisions.

Earlier in this message I quoted Dr. Ergun Caner, who said that Calvinism is a mounting issue among Baptists. Im sure hes right. It represents yet another fad, as Baptists and other evangelicals twist in the wind, trying to figure out how to grow solid churches. The charismatic emphasis came and went. The purpose driven movement came and is now swiftly becoming old hat. Before that it was buses and Sunday Schools. Before that it was big evangelistic crusades. We go galloping from one fad to another hoping that somewhere along the line we will find out how to add solid converts to our churches. Now were trying five-point Calvinism. But I predict that it will be seen in the future as just another passing fad. Nothing will actually add solid Christians to our churches except real conversions! And we are not going to have very many real conversions unless we change our preaching from verse-by-verse twiddle-twaddle back to old-time, thundering law and gospel sermons and unless preachers themselves (no delegating!) make appointments to see inquiring souls several times before baptizing them. Then, and only then, will we have found the answer to our dilemma.

The five-point Calvinistic emphasis will not add real converts. It will simply add more unconverted people who have a strong knowledge of Calvinistic theology. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a good chapter on that in his book The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Banner of Truth Trust, 1996 reprint, pp. 170-190). The chapter is called Sandemanianism. Robert Sandeman was a five-point Calvinist who taught that mental belief in the doctrines of grace saved a man. That is the lie of Sandemanianism. And I fear that this error lies at the heart of the resurgence of Calvinism today.

When George Whitefield was preaching in Boston, a very old minister came to him alone and said, Mr. Whitefield, I have preached the doctrines of grace for a long time, but I believe I have never felt the power of them in my own soul. Tears streamed down the old pastors face. Whitefield counselled him several times to make certain he was now converted.

I must say again that the mere teaching of the doctrines of Calvinism leads only to what Dr. Lloyd-Jones called the heresy of Sandemanianism. All this Calvinistic doctrine, taught for its own sake, will lead to nothing but more confusion. It will not add solid new converts from the world to our churches. The Sandemanian Calvinism, so rampant today, will only lead to more church splits and divisions.

But the heart of Calvinism the depravity of man and salvation by grace alone through Christ alone brings life! And that is the message which must be preached (not merely taught) but preached, at the top of our lungs to this present untoward generation (Acts 2:40).

And when we have preached sin and Hell to depraved sinners, and when we have preached salvation by grace alone through Christ alone to dead sinners then we must, as all our old-time Baptists did counsel them until we hear them give a real testimony of salvation by grace through the atoning Blood of Christ.

Every pastor should counsel the lost individually in the privacy of his office until he is certain that each one has been saved by grace alone through Christ alone and until the sinner shows clearly in his testimony that the blood of Jesus Christ his Son has cleansed him from all sin (I John 1:7).

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible (Mark 10:26-27).

(For more information on the errors of synergism and decisionism read Todays Apostasy: How Decisionism is Destroying Our Churches, by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Dr. C. L. Cagan. You can order it by phoning (818)352-0452).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


THE OUTLINE OF

IS CALVINISM DANGEROUS?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible (Mark 10:26-27).

(Ephesians 2:1, 5; 4:18; I Peter 1:2; Titus 3:5; I John 2:2; John 3:16;
Hebrews 2:9; Mark 10:26-27; Acts 7:51; John 3:36; John 10:27-28)

I.   First, the attraction of Calvinism today.

II.  Second, the core truths in Calvinism, John 1:13; Hebrews 12:2;
Jonah 2:9; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 16:8-9, 14.

III. Third, the need to apply these Bible truths, John 11:39;
Romans 8:7; John 11:43-44; Acts 2:40; I John 1:7.