Thursday, September 02, 2021

Neo-Calvinism: Rotten TULIPs

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

I’m a no-point Calvinist.

I used to think I was a “three-pointer”, but that was only because I didn’t really understand what Calvinists actually thought their points meant. Now that I do see it, I’m a no-point Calvinist … as in “the neo-Calvinists have no point”.

For anyone who hasn’t heard, neo-Calvinism is the new hip thing among naïve evangelicals today. Under banners like “The Gospel Coalition” and “The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals”, or “The Reformed-whatever”, the acolytes of a whole new slew of theological gurus are out to get you. Following after charismatic leaders like John Piper, John MacArthur or Al Mohler, they proclaim unto you a new gospel — that unless ye be Calvinist, you shall in no wise be saved.

The Old Calvinist Song

What is it they’re spouting? Essentially, it’s the old five-point Calvinist song. For memory-aid purposes, they convert it into the acronym “TULIP”, standing for the following points:

  1. The Total Depravity of Man
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. The Perseverance of the Saints

I used to think I agreed with 1, 2 and 5. I always disagreed with 3 and 4.

I did not believe that Christ died only for a limited selection of people and doomed others to hell before the foundation of the world, and I did not believe that it was impossible for a person to resist the grace of God. I saw plenty of warrant in scripture to simply dismiss these ideas as absurdities. I could see that God loved the world, not just some “elect” few, and I could see many people resisting the universally-gracious call of God, so it was just common sense to throw out those middle two points.

But on the other three I was confused. I thought that Total Depravity meant “all have sinned”. I thought “Unconditional Election” meant “the favor of God cannot be merited by human works”. I thought “Perseverance” meant the same as the doctrine of Eternal Security — namely that, once saved, a person could not be lost. But when I looked closer at what the neo-Calvinists were actually teaching, I was stunned to realize that they did not mean any of these things. And I saw that there wasn’t a thing in their whole package of teaching that I, as a Christian, could believe — or should ever want to believe.

A Primer on New Calvinism

In a nutshell, here’s what these smooth new salesmen want you to buy.

They want you to believe that human beings are not just sinful but “depraved”, meaning not only that there is no good thing at all in being a human being but that human beings have zero capability to realize or understand anything at all about God.

They want you to believe that because of this “depravity”, there’s no way for you to be saved unless God arbitrarily picked (“elected”) you before the creation of the world to go to heaven, and everyone else to go to hell; and that other than God’s arbitrary picking of some and not others, there’s no mechanism of salvation.

That is why, they say, Christ died only for the “elect”, and did not did not die for unsaved man. The offer of salvation is only to the “elect”, and it’s a futile offer, since they cannot refuse it. There is no sincere offer to the “non-elect”, and if you were picked for hell you go there regardless.

But if God “elected” you, then you have no choice; you are among the saved, and you have no choice either: the outcome is “irresistible” either way.

Finally, you have no guarantee that you really are among the “elect”, even if you think you are, or even if you’ve believed the gospel so far as you can tell. So you must spend the rest of your Christian life working hard to prove to yourself that you’re going to heaven — and hope you’re right, because if you’re wrong you’re off to hell. Only those who “persevere” to the end thus prove they are in the “elect”.

Divine Determinism

Ironically, the New Calvinists have fallen prey to an old error. In philosophy, we call this thing “Determinism”. It’s the belief that free will is an illusion, and that reality is preset in some form. Materialist Atheism is based on it. Materialists believe that the only things that exist in the universe are material laws (like the Law of Gravity or the Law of Entropy or the Law of Survival of the Fittest) so that from the Big Bang until now, no person has actually had free will; rather, all our choices are “pre-determined” by these physical laws, and were fated to happen long before we ever thought we “made a choice” of any kind.

New Calvinists are Divine Determinists: they take out the idea of physical laws, and substitute for the iron fist of Determinism the iron fist of a totally arbitrary “God”. God, they say, pre-determines all actions and choices, so that no person has any free will at all. And they rejoice in the freedom this gives them from fear, responsibility and uncertainty. They claim this gives them great personal peace.

Well, dead things are also free from choice, responsibility and uncertainty, but I wouldn’t recommend that option. There’s nothing more peaceful than a graveyard.

The Point

Why am I bothering you with this stuff?

Because very soon, somebody else will; and when they do, it would be great for you if you had some idea of what to think about it. They will enthuse that they’ve “rediscovered the gospel”, and that if you go along with them you can too. They’ll tell you that everyone who’s “faithful” and “committed to the gospel” is coming along. They’ll have videos for you to watch, books for you to read, conferences for you to attend, and then they’ll drop names of preachers you’ve heard vague good things about in the evangelical community.

At that moment, it’s just possible you might not know what to think of their sales pitch.

So what are we to think? How should we react to the New Calvinism, especially if we hear it coming from our cherished friends or from reputed teachers of the Word? I don’t want to be harsh. In fact, I’m not going to be. I’m just going to tell you what the scripture says is the right reaction to things like neo-Calvinism. No less a teacher than the Apostle Paul himself writes:

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

Then, just in case we missed the point, he does something that God only does when he really desires to make a point abundantly clear and unequivocal. He repeats himself:

“As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

In Short

Now, I’m not saying we ought to hold any witch hunts here. I’m not saying kill the Calvinists or run them out of town. I wouldn’t even say we should necessarily break off relations with someone who is under the neo-Calvinist spell, particularly if that person has been caught up in their error accidentally, through ignorance or naïvity. Personally, I hope that God grants them the blessing of coming to their senses and escaping the snare of the devil.

Until then, we should address ourselves to sharing the sound doctrine on the gospel “with gentleness and reverence”. Those people we need to give help if we can.

But if we take the word of God seriously, we may find that there are those who are not so naïve among them, and who are calling on us to reject the gospel in favor of their “new gospel”. If so, it’s one of those moments when our loyalty to Christ is being tested at the deepest level, a sword is among us, and we must choose what we truly believe … and ultimately, Whom we really love.

I have a sense that soon, very soon, this is going to become a key issue in many local churches. As a favor to you, I just want to give you a heads-up about what is involved.

I hope this little primer helps.

[Claims made in this post are examined in greater detail, along with the relevant scriptures, in the Calvinism series in our left sidebar — Ed.]

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