Is Your Vision of God Too Small?

Before getting to much the folks at BF have posted, I want to pick up on something Floyd said in my last thread.

He writes: I found the statement ‘calvinism is man-centered’ to be very interesting. I became a Calvinist because I was and remain convinced that the doctrines of grace were and are biblical. However, one of the many surprises that came with it was a large, more comprehensive understanding of who God is and His work in creation.

This is a marvelous observation, and I would like to take a moment to point out something I don’t think many of the folks at Baptistfire understand about what we affirm.

Calvinism has narrow and a broad meaning. It can refer to the famous Five Points or it can have much broader meaning, referring to a worldview and a particular view of God.

Calvinism is the gospel by way of dogmatic usage, in that, as a comprehenisve, systematic soteriology it identifies the source of salvation, the condition of men, the nature of the atonement, the necessity of grace, and the assurance of salvation for all who will believe far more accurately than Arminianism. This is what Spurgeon meant. It is also a worldiview that shapes much of the way we view the world.

Arminianism is a mixture of truth and error as a system and a worldview. How can anybody look at historical theology and not see this? Arminianism is inherently Unitarian at a functional level. It puts, in its more Pelagian forms (like the easy believism of Dave Hunt)m both election and regeneration outside a chain effected by grace; only the cross is in view. Ergo, this is functional Unitarianism. In classic Arminianism, the kind with a real doctrine of prevenient grace (in the former this is explicitly equated with common grace, cf. Elmer Towns), a person is enabled to believe from a state of equipoise effected by grace, so, while regeneration is outside the chain of grace directly, indirectly it resides inside of it, because faith would not result in it apart from this grace. The Father, however, because He bases election on foreseen faith, is still outside the chain of grace. Ergo, this is “Bi-Nitarian.” It’s not without reason that Arminianism has historically flirted with Socinianism as a result of this. Let’s not forget the General Baptists and early Arminians in general turned to Socinianism relatively quickly, and it was only via the New Connection that they survived among Baptists. The crossroads of theological liberalism also tends to lie near or in Arminianism. Moreover, Arminianism tends toward neo-sacramentalism in Baptist churches where it takes hold, contrary to our eccelsiology. We do not affirm baptismal regeneration, yet so much emphasis is put on aisle walking and hand raising and sacramental prayers (decisional regeneration) that we end up creating neo-Campbellite sacraments of our own when we do this.

That said, it is also true not all Arminians are of the same stripe. I don’t want to paint them with a broad brush.

If you define “gospel” in exegetical terms, both Arminianism and Calvinism affirm the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and the necessity of Sola Fide and personal conversion.

When “gospel” is defined in this manner, closer to exegetical usage, the essential issue addressed by the Gospel is that man is a sinner, under the condemnation of God. The Gospel never calls upon the unregenerate to believe that they are unable to believe. Rather, it calls upon us to recognize our guilt before God, and to see Christ’s sacrificial death as the sole remedy for our guilt and condemnation.

The Gospel message is about guilt, condemnation and forgiveness. It is not about “Who chose whom?”, or “Where does faith come from?” Gospel-faith is trust in the person of Christ, having the confidence that He, by means of His Substitutionary death, has borne our sin and is fully able to forgive everyone who calls upon Him for salvation. Gospel-faith recognizes that Christ saves only those who trust in Him. It does not necessarily recognize the truth that this trust is God-given. One need not know or believe that God is the one behind your repentance and faith to experience repentance and faith. One need not understand the nature of justification before he experiences it. One need not believe in eternal security in order to be eternally secure; one need not believe it is impossible to fall away and fail to persevere in the faith in order not to fall away and persevere in the faith. Ergo, in this sense, both Calvinism and Arminianism can be said to encapsulate the gospel.
What, exactly, is there in the offer of the gospel (or whatever we want to call it) that we should not urge upon elect and reprobate alike? Take repentance. Don’t all men have a moral duty to obey God? And if they sin, don’t they have an obligation to repent? Total depravity subtracts from their ability, but not their duty. To say otherwise is to say that the more wicked we are, the less responsible we are for sin. By that line of logic, the more evil I am, the more innocent I am. Talk about another gospel! What about faith in Christ? If it is true that Christ is the Savior of the world and the Lord of the universe, then shouldn’t everyone believe that and trust in him? Isn’t there a standing obligation on the part of everyone to believe in whatever is true? Ah, but if Christ didn’t die for the reprobate, then they are not qualified to believe in him, right? Wrong! It’s Arminians who define the offer of the gospel in those terms. In the examples of Gospel preaching in the New Testament, you never run across a conversion formula which consists of believing that Christ died for me as a condition of salvation. The *fact* that Christ died for the elect alone is a condition of salvation, but *believing* that Christ died for the elect alone is not a condition of salvation. Since the Scriptural offer of the gospel is never framed in those terms, it is applicable to elect and reprobate alike.

And, as a practical matter, the reprobate will never believe it any way, while only the elect will believe it, so where’s the harm? The elect will believe that Christ died for them as a result of believing in him. Let’s not get the cart before the horse.

Again, the point is not that the preacher goes self-consciously out of his way to target the reprobate. No, the point is that he shouldn’t be inhibited by any self-conscious scruples and anxieties. Leave the sorting out of the sheep and the goats to God on the Day of Judgment.

Arminians agree that one need not believe in general atonement to be saved. Only hyper-Calvinists state you must believe in particular redemption for example, and one does not need to believe in a particular scheme of election to be saved. The means of salvation is the gospel alone and the grace of God alone. The object is Christ alone. The method is faith alone. The object of that faith is not a particular scheme of doctrines. Faith in a range of doctrines does not save. Saving faith is more than mental assent; it involves a clinging or a trust, what the Reformers called “fiducia,” but it’s object is not the five points of Calvinism, the Remonstrance and the Opinions or the Baptist Faith and Message. The object is Christ.
Broadly speaking, Calvinism is a worldview. J.I Packer put it this way in his intro to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

In the first place, Calvinism is something much broader than the ‘five points’ indicate. Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible – the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.

Then, in the second place, the ‘five points’ present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive evangelical values. The negative cast of the ‘five points’ is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel – that Christ is a redeemer who really does redeem. Similarly, the denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church.

I would strongly encourage you to take the time to read the rest here: http://www.all-of-grace.org/pub/others/deathofdeath.html

So, we are left to reply to this, as I did on the Founders blog awhile back:

Why do Calvinists say things like this: “to point people to worship the God of scripture rather than the god of one’s own imagination.” To me, it is arrogance to say if you don’t believe what I believe (among Christians), then you’re worshipping a God of one’s own imagination?

Again. Packer in that same essay put it this way:

Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind – election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit – as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, all who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the ‘five points’, as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the areas in which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.

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10 Comments on “Is Your Vision of God Too Small?”

  1. Josh Buice Says:

    You said, “Calvinism is the gospel by way of dogmatic usage, in that, as a comprehenisve, systematic soteriology it identifies the source of salvation, the condition of men, the nature of the atonement, the necessity of grace, and the assurance of salvation for all who will believe far more accurately than Arminianism. This is what Spurgeon meant. It is also a worldiview that shapes much of the way we view the world.”

    I say – I agree wholeheartedly! If people would stop listening to the skewed definitions of Calvinism in the community and start reading the Bible according to proper hermeneutics and in its proper context – Calvinism would be the typical outflow of theology. Calvinism exalts God to His proper throne and places man in his depraved state in need of redemption.

    For the glory of God and the God of glory!

    Rev. Josh Buice
    Practical Theology Discussions
    http://www.joshbuice.blogspot.com

  2. Stan Barringer Says:

    Wow, every posting so far has been such a rich blessing– and the comments too. Can I make a brief aside?

    In the past three days this blog has moved VERY quickly. There have been 8 posts, all of significant weight. The issue I would raise is that, like Founders’ Director’s Blog and Sharper Iron, there could be a danger of moving too fast for any real benefit. It seems like one article per day would be much easier to digest, consider, and follow along with. Anyway, thanks for the blessings, brothers, and may God sustain you in your work!

    -Stan

  3. Gene Says:

    Thanks, Stan. We’re actually working that out. Two of our posts have been about rules (to establish them) and discipline (to demonstrate their enforcement). Another (my last post to Tory) was done in a separate post to show folks here exactly how we intend to handle differing opinions…not to say we’ll make separate posts of them all, but to show that we do deal openly and charitably with those with whom we differ.

    One disadvantage to group blogs is that they move fairly quickly. My home blog is http://www.triablogue.blogspot.com. We have six or more on staff there and we move some days with no posts, but on others, like today, half a dozen. We’re discussing archiving by topic and/or author to help folks keep up with items they miss. In addition, we moderate comments, and this gives us a good idea of which posts are still “active.”

    Give us a week or two to work out the kinks, and we should be able to make things more workable for everybody.

  4. Mike Ratliff Says:

    Reading these posts is like drinking from a well of very cold water on a hot, sultery day. You can’t gulp it too quickly, even if you want to. Instead we must drink it in in smaller portions so we can meditate on these treasures, read the associated truths from God’s Word pertaining to them so the Holy Spirit can confirm them to our hearts and consciences.

    I invite all of our Arminian or non-Reformed friends to prayerfully do that as well. Let God speak the truth to your hearts. After all, that is the only anitdote I know of to defeat the doctrines and traditions of men.

    I am enjoying this. I mean the genuine Christian should be overwhelmed with joy when encountering all of this focus on the Atonement, the Gospel and especially all of the emphasis on God’s glory alone.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  5. Gayla Says:

    I’m just glad I have a job that allows me to spend a lot of time on the internet!

    I’ve been toggling back and forth between here and Baptistfire. I decided to spend some time reading all of their links to various articles, just so I can get a handle on what’s being said.

    You guys are a wealth of information, and I really appreciate the time you take to refute with the Truth. God bless your efforts.

  6. David Hewitt Says:

    Wow… glad to have found this site! I’m definitely adding you all to my blogroll….and… need another writer? 🙂

    SDG,
    DH

  7. 4ever4given Says:

    I do not think I am really capable of making my vision of God as big as He truly is… I think I would literally DIE on the spot if God granted me even a mere glimpse of the vision of His true greatness. What He has granted for me to see as I study His Word is that which causes me to work out my salvation with appropriate fear and trembling…


  8. David,

    We are excited to hear about the desire of many like you to write about these important matters. At this moment, we are currently drafting a policy for SBF for those wishing to submit an article. Once the policy is agreed upon by all in admin, we will make that known. Thanks for the words of affirmation (and everyone else for that matter), and we look forward to seeing the vindication of God’s truth through humble, yet unapologetic responses to the baseless and reckless attacks which have for too long gone unaddressed.

  9. Bart Neighbors Says:

    I have a friend named “Nick” who gave me a very good desrciption of Matthew 7:13-14. He said that reformed doctrine is narrow and only encompasses God as the Author and Finisher of true salvation. While the broad road is filled with all the errors of man-centered, easy believism and false ways to salvation.

    When one thinks of this passage this way you see God’s sovereignty and His glory in reformed theology.

    If one studies the scripture with the intent of God getting, not a piece but all of the glory, how can you come to any other conclusion.

    I have been accused of being mean and serving a mean God because of my reformed views but I do not see it that way. I know me and my heart. I am prone to sin if it were not for God intervening in my life. I would never have wanted to leave my sin if someone had not convicted me of the horrible offense to a Holy God. That someone was the Holy Spirit working out the Father’s will, pointing me to Jesus Christ.

    I think that is where we go wrong, that is, we do not understand God’s holiness and our utter sinfulness. We are dead in our sin with no hope except someone with the power to raise us from death. There is no power in a dead person. There is great power with a holy, pure, righteous and all powerful God


  10. […] Sometimes, folks like to point to supralapsarianism and say that this is the essence of hyper-Calvinism. There are several problems with this. First, of all supras and infras both affirm the TULIP, double predestination, etc. All hypers are supras, but the majority of supras are not hypers. Supralapsarianism leads to hyper-Calvinism the way that Arminianism leads to Unitarianism and Socinianism. It’s high time those raising this objection, particularly in the Baptist community, to realize this.  John Bunyan was a supra. I don’t see them teaching Bunyan was a hyper-Calvinist. The anti-missions movement is sometimes attributed to the rise of hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism, as such has a historical definition. Most Calvinists reject this doctrine. It says one or more of the following : […]


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