Why I Am Not a Calvinist

A Biblical Look at the Calvinist’s Position

I personally know men who hold a Calvinistic view of Theology, yet have accepted the Biblical command to “preach the Gospel to every creature.” These men are faithful, fervent soulwinners. They have not used their commitment to a theological system as an excuse to rationalize away their responsibility to win people to Christ. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. Five-point Calvinism has, in our generation, been a disincentive to soulwinning, a hindrance to evangelism, and sadly, a source of intellectual pride.

The five points of Calvinism are an acrostic spelling the word “TULIP:”

T—Total Depravity

What Calvinists believe: While all of us would agree that man is depraved—and is depraved in every area of his nature, the Calvinists would say that man is so depraved that he is incapable of accepting God’s gift of eternal life. Unless God first does a work in his heart, no man can accept God’s offer of salvation. “Because of human depravity, there is nothing in a fallen, reprobate sinner that desires God or is capable of responding in faith.” (John MacArthur, Faith Works, p. 62)

It is this point that will cause a Calvinist to believe that a person must in fact be saved before they can believe. MacArthur, while acknowledging that “the saving transaction is all a single instantaneous event”, nonetheless says “from the viewpoint of reason, regeneration logically must initiate faith and repentance.”

Why I must disagree: Jesus says in John 5:40, “And ye will not come to me that ye might have life.” And in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Note that in both verses the Lord Jesus indicates that salvation is rejected because of the choice of the sinner. It is not a matter of the sinners’ inability; it is a matter of his unwillingness.

U—Unconditional Election.

What Calvinists believe: “If man is unable to save himself on account of the fall in Adam being a total fall, and if God alone can save, and if all are not saved, then the conclusion must be that God has not chosen to save all.” (W. J. Seton, The Five Points of Salvation, Edinburgh Banner of Truth Press, 1970, pp. 7, 8)

“Those of mankind who are predestinated unto life, God before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose and the secret counsels and good pleasure of His will has chosen in Christ and to everlasting glory out of His mere free grace and love without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.”  (Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 3, Art. 5)

Why I must disagree: Romans 8:29 says, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The Bible clearly teaches that God’s predestination is 1) based on His foreknowledge and 2) is not to salvation, but rather to conformity to the image of Christ. In fact, a careful study of the Word of God will demonstrate that when such terms as “predestination” and such phrases as “chosen before the foundation of the world” are used, they invariably refer not to our becoming children of God, but to how we live and what we are given after we become children of God. Romans 10:13 very clearly says that “whosoever will” may come.

A Calvinist once said to a preacher, “I would like to explain why I believe as I do. Suppose a man went to an orphanage. He had predetermined by his grace that he would adopt a certain boy and certain girl and take them into his family. Can anyone reasonably accuse the man of being unjust or unfair because he chose those two and left the others?”

The preacher replied to the Calvinist, “Certainly not! As you have explained the situation, I would find no problem of any kind with the man’s purpose and his choice.” Then the preacher said, “But suppose the man went to the orphanage and sent word to all the children saying, ‘WHOSOEVER WILL may come!’ and then refused to take any but the two he had originally intended to take. With that I have a problem which Calvinism cannot resolve.” (Kent Kelly quoting Harold McKay, Inside the Tulip, Calvary Press)

L—Limited Atonement

What Calvinists Believe: “Christ died positively and effectually to save a certain number of hell-deserving sinners on whom the Father had already set his free-electing love. The overriding question must always be the Divine intention: Did God intend to save all men, or did He not? If He did not intend to save all men without exception but only the elect, then the work of Christ on the Cross is a glorious success. If on the other hand, it was God’s intention to save the world, then the atonement of Christ has been a great failure for vast numbers of mankind have not been saved.”—Seton

Why I must disagree: John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish; but have everlasting life.” 1 John 2:2 says, “And He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” You can color it any way you want to. You can qualify it with all the theological terminology you wish, but when you get it all done, the Bible most clearly and plainly says that Jesus Christ died for the world.

Recently our church had a special attendance day. We called it “Open House Sunday.” We passed out 35,000 flyers inviting people to attend our Open House Sunday. Our total attendance was slightly less than 10% of the number of flyers passed out. As a matter of fact, if all 35,000 people to whom we gave a flyer had come we would not have had room for them. We could not have parked the cars. Was our invitation then insincere? No, there was not a single person to whom we gave the flyer that we were not willing to have attend. There was not one we would not have included in our dinner on the grounds. However, our experience with past special attendance days made us aware that most people receiving the invitation would not accept it. This does not make the invitation invalid, insincere, or unavailable. Likewise, God’s offer of salvation is a legitimate, sincere offer to the entire world. God in His foreknowledge is aware that not all will accept His offer. Their unwillingness to accept His offer in no way invalidates His sincerity in offering the Gospel to all.

I—Irresistible Grace

What Calvinists Believe: “There is not only an outward call (to salvation), there is also an inward call. The outward call may be described as the ‘words of the preacher’, and this call when it goes forth may work a score of different ways in a score of different hearts producing a score of different results. One thing it will not do however is this: it will not work a work of salvation in a sinner’s soul. For a work of salvation to be wrought, the outward call must be accompanied by the inward call of God’s Holy Spirit, for it is He who ‘convinces of sin and righteousness and judgment’. When the Holy Spirit calls a man or a woman or a young person by His grace, that call is irresistible: it cannot be frustrated; it is the manifestation of God’s irresistible grace.” –Seton, p.14

Why I must disagree: Matthew 23:37 and John 5:40 as quoted above clearly contradict this position.

P—Perseverance of the Saints

What Calvinists believe: “A false security of salvation commonly rests on the ground of our belonging to a privileged body: the church, or to a privileged class: the elect. Both are equally fallacious. Neither members of the church nor the elect can be saved unless they persevere in holiness. They cannot persevere in holiness without continual watchfulness and effort.” (Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Baker Book House, 1980. p.181)

Why I must disagree: Before I studied this issue carefully, I would have said I agree with the Calvinists. I believe in what is commonly referred to as eternal security. A person who is truly saved can never become lost. However, Calvinists understand this doctrine somewhat differently.

Note again the words “…nor can the elect be saved unless they persevere in holiness. They cannot persevere in holiness without continual watchfulness and effort.” This philosophy is strangely close to works salvation. How ironic that both the Calvinists and the Arminians should come so near each other in the final analysis—at least on this point. This doctrine would put Noah, his wife, their sons, and their wives hanging on hooks attached to the outside of the ark and “persevering” until the flood was over!

1 Peter 1:5 says, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.” Noah and his family were not hanging on outside the ark. They were secure inside after God had shut the door. No effort was required on their part to secure their safe passage through the flood. The faith which took them into the ark sustained them throughout the entire flood. Those of us who have trusted Jesus Christ as our Saviour are not persevering; we are preserved. We are kept by the power of God unto salvation. It is not our effort, it is His.

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