Is Calvinism the true Gospel?
The Calvinistic position (modified or extreme or partial) is this: God chooses to draw some to Himself, so that then, they “will” to serve him. But others He does not draw in the same way. Is this the gospel? No, Jesus said, "If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." The Gospel is that God does the same work for all sinners. Jesus died for all (1 Timothy 2:6), and He draws all to Himself. Those who respond by accepting Him have salvation. Those who choose not to respond are lost (John 3:16).
We wrote to a Calvinist pastor, who is a leading author on Calvinism at puritandownloads.com, a prominent Calvinist ministry, to understand the Calvinistic position towards free will and election. The following was his response (in italics). If you contact any modern day Calvinist and ask him to explain what Calvinism is about, you would probably hear something like this .
“God is absolutely sovereign in granting to men who are "dead" in their trespasses and sins new life (regeneration) in order that a regenerate man may freely will and do God's good pleasure by trusting in Christ alone for his righteousness (Ephesians 2:5-10; Philippians 2:12-13). The will of man is dead in regard to life in Christ (to use one biblical analogy) according to Ephesians 2:5, and is not free, but is enslaved to do the will of Satan and sin (to use another biblical analogy) according to 2 Timothy 2:26; Romans 6:20; Romans 3:11. Therefore, unless God supernaturally draws the sinner to Christ, no man would have either the life or will to come to Christ (John 6:44). A Christian freely embraces Christ by faith, but only after being granted new life and a new will to do so (just as Lazarus was physically unable to come to life on his own and certainly could not will to come to Christ out of the grave on his own, so likewise all men descending from Adam by ordinary generation are spiritually dead and unable [and do not want] to come to Christ in faith until Christ first grants them new life and a new will to do so).
God doesn't "force" any to receive Christ "against his will", but rather transforms the nature and will of a dead and enslaved sinner, so that he wants to come to Christ and is given the will and faith to embrace Christ as Christ is freely offered to the sinner in the Gospel. God thus receives all of the glory in the salvation of sinners, and work within the sinner both to will and to do His good pleasure.
Yes, a sinner must choose life over death, and must choose Christ over everything else, but the question is why do some choose and trust in Christ for everlasting life? It is because God has sovereignly worked within them by His free grace both to will and to do His good pleasure (whereas God has not so worked in the lives of those who choose death).”
Based on a surface reading of the above exposition, one might find it hard to distinguish between the Calvinistic position (God draws some to Him) and the Biblical position (God draws all to him). But notice carefully what the Calvinistic position states again:
Basically, a Calvinist would say that we are free to choose and must choose. But God transforms the will of the elect so that they will want to choose Christ. But He does not so work in the non-elect. So, the bottom line is that the elect are predestined to choose Christ and the non-elect are predestined to reject Christ. That means that the non-elect are punished for their "free" choice, but they had no option to choose otherwise. Now, this begs the question - why would God punish them when they were predestined to choose as they did? Hence, according Calvinism, God doesn’t grant to ALL the power of contrary choice. After all, unless there is more than one option, there is no choice involved at all, right?
But the Biblical position is that God is so sovereign that he can actually allow us to choose contrary to his will without abandoning his sovereignty. He allows us true freedom - meaning more than one option - and yet he has predestined the consequences of that choice. He has predestined that whosoever (not just the elect) believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved (John 3:16). He has also predestined that the soul which sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:20).
We wanted to write this article because we came across this video: Against the World - Calvinism is the Gospel by Jerry Johnson. He is the author of calvinismisthegospel.com - another prominent Calvinist, and a former Arminian.
In the above video, Jerry Johnson cites two interesting illustrations on Arminianism and Calvinism, which we thought we should touch on for the benefit of our readers. In case you did not know about Arminianism, it is based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius. He emphasized a lot on man’s free will, and from him comes the idea that God can draw anyone to himself and at the same time, man could reject God's drawing power in salvation. Calvinist or John Calvin, a French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation, on the other hand took a different take on man's free will. His view was that God draws only the elect to himself and the elect ware destined to be saved. You can find an explanation on the distinction between the two classes of beliefs here: Calvinism and Ariminianism.
So getting back to the illustrations, here is how the author of the video defines the two classes of thought:
Arminianism: A man has fallen into a pool of sin and he is drowning. The life saver, the thing that can save the man is the gospel. It is thrown to the drowning man by an evangelist or preacher and the man who is drowning must make a choice, of whether or not to grab on to the gospel, the life saver and be saved or continue to keep his head above the water.
Calvinism: The fallen man is already in a pool of sin. Calvinist do not believe that the sinner is drowning, He believes the sinner has already drowned. He is dead to the things of God.
Then Jerry Johnson goes on to say, “You can speak to a dead man all day and all night. He will hear nothing unless the dead man is made alive by the resurrection power of Christ. Arminiansim believes man is drowning. Calvinism believes the man has already drowned. Therefore he is dead. Which one lines up with the Biblical data?”
Which one is Biblical? Firstly, it is inspired counsel that remains our authority, not some human theological construct. While the Calvinistic idea seems to sound better, neither illustration works well to convey the Biblical idea. According to the illustration, spiritual death is illustrated by unconsciousness. But spiritually dead people are very much conscious. They love money, seek sex, get depressed, etc. They are conscious enough for God to get their attention, to move them, to teach them, to draw them to himself with love. And they are enabled by him to respond. So, neither illustration conveys the Biblical idea.
We wrote to a prominent Arminian and asked his view towards the above illustrations. This was his reply, which we agree with:
As an "Arminian," I feel that the illustration has distorted the true Arminian position. I would agree with the "Calvinist" assessment that the man is dead - not half dead. I can provide plenty of "Arminian" statement to verify this. However, "death" is an analogy. In Ephesians 2:1-2 where Paul declares that before our salvation we were dead, in the next verse he says we were walking. Thus, any illustration of the spiritual condition by a comparison with natural phenomenon breaks down. But the theological point is that both Arminianism and Calvinism affirms total depravity, the doctrine of man's total inability to save himself. I also accept Rom 3:11 that no one - in his natural state - seeks God. Of course, that passage must be reconciled with Isaiah 55:6 which command the sinner to seek the Lord.
So, since the Bible asks us to choose life, and choose this day (Hebrews 3:15), then we conclude:
1. There is no one who naturally seeks after God (Rom 3:11)
2. But God invites us to seek Him repeatedly (See 55 facts to know about seeking God ).
a. God provides us with power to seek him.
b. God provides us with motive to seek him.
c. God leaves it to us to seek him.
Jesus said, "If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." The TRUE Gospel is that God does the same work for all sinners (not just for the elect as Calvinist's teach). Jesus died for all (1 Timothy 2:6), and He draws all to Himself. Those who respond by accepting Him have salvation. Those who choose not to respond are lost (John 3:16).