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.