Misrepresentations of Calvinism Do, Indeed, Cause Some to Look More Deeply Into Reformed Teachings

No one likes to be misrepresented. Especially if you have carefully thought out why you believe certain things, it is frustrating to hear these beliefs mischaracterized. This is true in the natural realm, as people involved in politics can attest (the political conservatives I know are all sick of being painted as hard-hearted money-grubbers and those more politically liberal tire of being thought of as empty-headed communists). In terms of religious belief, we at Strange BaptistFire have been particularly concerned with the mischaracterizations in regards to Reformed theology coming from within the Baptist community. One consolation we Calvinists have, however, when straw men in our name are erected and knocked down, is that our strong convictions concerning the sovereignty of God allow us to confess that He is in control, so that we do not have to worry- trusting that the truths we insist upon cannot be fully and finally obscured.

So when we hear Reformed exegesis misrepresented, those holding to Calvinistic beliefs will often mention that God is using even the falsehood we hear for His glory, and that the outrageous comments made by some anti-Calvinist teachers will certainly cause some people to look into Reformed theology and immediately recognize the dishonesty in the presentations they have previously heard, thus becoming more open to the teachings of God’s sovereign grace in our salvation.

In order to demonstrate that the consolation mentioned above is more that merely wishful thinking, in this post I am presenting an account written by Evan Stewart, a friend of mine from Kosmosdale Baptist Church. When Evan was a student at Texas A&M, he had some questions about Calvinism, so his college minister suggested that he read Chosen But Free (hereafter, CBF) by Norman Geisler. At first, Evan enjoyed the book and thought Geisler was making a fairly good case, but gradually his opinion of the work changed. Finally, Evan became frustrated and discontinued reading the book altogether. Evan explains that the illustration offered by Geisler concerning Romans 8:28 was an obvious ‘red flag.’ Evan writes:

The illustration that he [Geisler] offers of the young man, Jim, and his two choices for a bride, Joan and Betty [on pages 69-70 of CBF], struck me as logically confusing and even faulty. Keep in mind that up to this point in the book I was more inclined to agree with Geisler’s position. I was raised in non-Calvinistic churches and I even held and defended the position that faith obviously precedes regeneration. God draws a person to the point of deciding for or against Christ, but then He stands back as to not interfere and awaits the decision of the unbelieving person. However, I thought that there were many errors in Geisler’s engagement scenario, errors that border dishonesty. I am wrong to presume that Geisler is purposefully employing faulty logic in his illustration, but I do think that he employs faulty logic [emphases added]. I could not agree (and still cannot agree) with his assertion “election is not based on or dependent on foreknowledge…it is merely in accord with it”.

[Geisler] writes, “Suppose further that the young man happens to know that if he proposes to Joan she will say yes and if he proposes to Betty she will say no. Suppose then, in accordance with this foreknowledge of how she will freely respond, that Jim chooses to propose to Joan…The decision of his part was entirely free, uncoerced, and not based on anything outside himself. But it was also a decision that was with full knowledge of the response and which respected the free choice of the person to whom he decided to propose. This is analogous to what the moderate Calvinists believe about God’s unconditional election.” The initial problem I had and still do have with this explanation is that I do not think it explains Geisler’s premise that “election is not based on or dependent on foreknowledge”. Within this example, that fact that Jim does foreknow Joan’s response to be positive will surely influence his election of her. Geisler seems to argue that Joan’s willingness is more of a happy coincidence with respect to Jim’s election, as if God by chance stumbles upon a willing spirit. I know that this is not Geisler’s intention or goal, but this is what his illustration implies. Furthermore, If the illustration is continued the question, “Why was Betty not chosen?”, is begged. We are left to assume, and rightly so, that Betty was not chosen because she was not willing. But if “election is not based on or dependent on foreknowledge” then why was Joan chosen and not Betty? This illustration is not consistent or even in line with the assertion Geisler hopes to prove. Although I questioned some earlier parts of the book, I remember it was at this point that I had to put the book down and question whether or not Geisler offered the best source of investigation for the salvation argument. I find that this argument is philosophically immature and contains mistakes that a theologian of Geisler’s caliber should not make.

However, it was not at this point that I decided that the Reformed teaching of salvation was more logically and reasonably solid. A few months passed before I purchased a copy of R.C. Sproul’s book Willing to Believe. I forget the primary motivation for this purchase, because I initially agreed with Geisler’s opinion of Sproul, that he was an extreme Calvinist and teaching a logically faulty soteriology.

Before this purchase I had not read any of Sproul’s work. Come to think of it, one reason as to why I decided to give Sproul a chance is because I was introduced to John Piper’s explanation of TULIP and his ministry altogether. Geisler lists Piper as an extreme Calvinist in his book and once I decided that Piper’s teachings did not seem to be extreme from a Biblical perspective, I decided that maybe Sproul had something to offer.

Once I read Sproul, I was shocked as to how Geisler misrepresented Sproul in his book. Geisler is highly critical of Sproul and seems to imply that he is a philosophically inept theologian. I do not have a problem with Geisler disagreeing with Sproul, but I do have a problem with an unfair and dishonest presentation of a fellow Christian and I think Geisler misrepresents Sproul. A clear example of this misrepresentation, whether by ignorance or purpose, is within the response to Romans 8:28. After using his engagement illustration to falsely present the “extreme” Calvinist position Geisler writes, “And since Jim represents God in the illustration, would not this make God into someone who forces Himself on others in violation of their integrity? It seems to me that this is precisely what the extreme Calvinists are affirming.” The main problem with this statement is that “extreme” Calvinists such as Sproul repeatedly insist and declare that this is not what they are affirming. One only needs to read any length of material by traditional Reformed theologians to know that the Calvin soteriology in no way violates man’s free will and out right denies a God who coerces His children.

After I studied the Calvinist position as taught by traditional Calvinists (such as Sproul, Mohler, Piper, and Spurgeon), I began to see a serious problem with many anti-Calvinist and even “moderate” Calvinist (if there honestly is such a position) teaching; those whom argue against Calvinism do not usually understand what the Reformed position actually teaches. Any number of Reformed authors have explained, and explained quite clearly, that God is not a puppet master and that He does not coerce any person to believe. A crucial understanding of Reformed thought that is often excluded when arguing against Calvinism is the nature of the will and the Reformed teaching that God does not coerce but gives the desire for any person to believe. I do not mind if a Christian does not agree with this position, but I am angered that anti-Calvinist theologians and teachers do not properly and honestly present the Reformed position.

Therefore, over the past year I have come to agree more with the Calvinist understanding of salvation because I think that it is more logically honest, philosophically consistent, and most importantly biblically accurate. The weak arguments for the anti-Calvinist position with which I was raised pointed me towards Calvinism and not away from it.

With the rise of anti-Calvinist rhetoric in some circles within the Baptist community- which rhetoric is almost entirely dependent on questionable works such as CBF and What Love is This? by Dave Hunt- we can expect to hear more and more stories like the one above in years to come.

SDG

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7 Comments on “Misrepresentations of Calvinism Do, Indeed, Cause Some to Look More Deeply Into Reformed Teachings”

  1. Peter Says:

    Nice post Andrew. This is certainly true with the Arminians in that they are almost always labeled as semi-pelagian, dubbed man-centered, or a theology created around the goal of obtaining free-will so that we won’t have to give all glory to God.

    About 90% of the time I can’t help but be dismayed by Calvinists who seek to be theologically founded in their arguments, but once their anti-Arminian rhetoric comes out, they almost always end up dissappointedly dumbfounded by a few citations from the actual writings of Arminius. Why? Because they too like to read Arminianism from second-hand sources (preferably Calvinistic ones). Its a wakeup call to both sides.

    SDG

  2. Seth McBee Says:

    this comes on the heels of me reading an article by an independant fundamental baptist out of California. He truly misrepresented Calvinism so badly that I had to write a full refutation.

    Here is that refutation of Dr. John Goetsch…

    Check it out and let me know any thoughts on the subject:

    http://contendearnestly.blogspot.com/search/label/Dr.%20John%20Goetsch

  3. Barry Estill Says:

    I was under the impression that Calvin was part of the protestant reformation.

    I was also under the impression that the multitude of Baptists do not consider themselves as among the protestant reformation ilk.

    What gives?

    Thx.

    Barry


  4. Barry:

    Calvin was a major part of the Protestant Reformation. Along with Luther and Zwingli, Calvin is usually considered one of the chief figures of what is known as the “magisterial reformation,” an attempt to achieve reform by winning over the magistrate of particular regions to the Protestant cause. (As a Baptist, I, of course, believe that the magisterial reformation was wrong-headed concerning church/state relations.) Though the Anabaptists, arising at the same time as Luther, Zwingli, etc., were the first group practicing believers’ baptism to exist into modern times, contemporary Baptist denominations have stronger historical ties with the seperatist tradition rising out of English Puritanism- a movement strongly grounded in Reformed theology. [An interesting aside: the Anabaptists did not begin to regularly practice immersion- rather pouring water on the head of their converts- until after the influence of English Baptists.] Of course, individual churches within the Baptist movement have, from the very beginning, sought to draw more or less upon their Reformed roots.

    Hope this helps.

    In Christ,
    -Andrew

  5. Barry Estill Says:

    Andrew,

    Anything you say helps.

    I have only recently begun to grasp some of the more important aspects of Baptist leanings (if the phrase be permitted).

    I just find it interesting that Spurgeon and Calvin are names that are bandied about so often here.

    You know what I’ve discovered on my own this past year? It is a sudden realization that almost every follower of a particular Christian movement thinks that they are representatives of the most true Christian.

    I don’t know why it took me 58 years to figure that out.

    Calvin’s accomplishments were astounding. Servetus aside, he was amazing.

    I have a weakness for the Reformation period–I never get tired of studying it.

    Thanks again.

    Barry


  6. re: It is a sudden realization that almost every follower of a particular Christian movement thinks that they are representatives of the most true Christian.

    -When you say “thinks that they are representatives of the most true Christian” I could only agree to that statement if it is made of a ‘movement’ as a whole. In other words, I don’t think any certain individual could be viewed as “the most true Christian” due to strengths and weaknesses in each of our characters. I would, however, affirm the Particular Baptist tradition as being the modern expression of Christianity that is most in line with what is taught in the Bible, in terms of both the teaching of the Word and the practice of the ordinances. If I (or anyone else at SBF) thought otherwise, we would certainly be doing something else with brothers in Christ from another tradition.

  7. Barry Says:

    Right.

    I just thought it was illuminating when I discovered that people from all movements feel the same.

    I personally don’t feel that any movement has the corner on representing what a true Christian is. This is particularly true when you realize that the movement has conveyed predjudice and intolerance which are very un-Christ like.

    So, I end up with a feeling that people from every movement are just telling a story to placate themselves.

    Thx.

    Barry


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