Why Calvinism Is More than Five Points and Why the Young and Co-Allies Need to Know

In my daily update from Google Alerts on Calvinism came a link to an Emergent dude (“minister” seems to be the wrong term) who comments on the recent further shenanigans at Mark Driscoll’s network (“church” seems to be the wrong term). I gather that another case of discipline has revealed another round of hip servant-leaders with a heavy hand and despotic disposition. The blogger, Tony Jones, believes that he detects a pattern.

I am posting it because I think it’s a cautionary tale. I think, as my headline indicates, that the particular theology that Mark Driscoll has embraced since he left the emergent posse (n.b., he was not a Calvinist when I met him in 1998) is untenable. John Piper excommunicates his son, C.J. Mahaney is removed from leadership because he is jerk to his colleagues, and now it turns out that Mark Driscoll has fired pastors and elders who had the gall to question his leadership.

Jones ends by hoping that these celebrity-servants will find a theology different from Calvinism, one that is “more open, loving, and progressive.” Yikes! Progressive!!?? Doesn’t Tony watch Glen Beck?

If only we lived in a world where discussions of Calvinism were not limited to the five-points (or even merely the one of God’s sovereignty). But that is not where we are. The Young and Restless Ones, with their Gospel Coalition enablers, have reduced “Reformed” to three or four points of theology and all the religious affections that Jonathan Edwards could fathom. What is missing is attention to the whole counsel of God, which includes teaching on the sacraments and church office, for starters. Chances are that if Driscoll, Mahaney, and Piper were in communions reformed according to the word where they received assessment and review from presbyters, they might not have the problems that Tony Jones notes. But if you have to go to classis or presbytery four times a year, you might not have time for the conferences, interviews, and books. Which suggests that the cure for celebrity pastors is Reformed Protestantism.

But as long as Calvinism is popular because of celebrity pastors and the politics that comes with it (just see the Larry Sanders Show), the branch of Protestantism associated with cities in Switzerland will be associated erroneously with the genuine errors of Baptists and charismatics.

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  1. Richard Smith
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    mark mcculley:
    Quoting RS: It is by the righteousness of God that sinners are declared righteous, but how can a righteous and just God declare sinners righteous until they are either really righteous or have on who they are united to that they can be declared righteous based on Him? You can’t. God will only declares sinners righteous when He can be just in doing so

    mcmark: I notice again your attachment to the word “real”. I gather you think that legal imputation of sins is not real, and thus that it must be basis on something which is real. Your position sounds more like that of Osiander every day. I am trying to see what is Protestant about it. How could your doctrine of justification be different from Augustine or Acquinas?

    RS: I think you are missing my point. I do think that the legal imputation of sins is real, but that is what I am trying to get at. It is real because one is united to Christ. God cannot in a just way simply declare someone just when they are not just. That leaves two options, but the first one is heresy and the second is the Gospel: 1) The person actually becomes righteous in and of himself. Again, that is heresy and is a denial of the Gospel of grace alone. 2) A person is declared just based on a legal union with another. This is the Gospel of grace alone. Roman Catholicism accused the Reformers of a legal fiction because they asserted imputed righteousness. Rome would have been right except for the fact that the forensic declaration of God was based on the believer being united to Christ. All are sinners in Adam but all who are in Christ are declared righteous because of Christ.

    McMark: I am hoping that your problem is simply your continuing assumption that “union” is what’s inside the sinner and that “union” is not “reckoning” or “counting” (Romans 6).

    RS: I am asserting that every ounce/gram/atom of righteousnss that a believer needs to walk into the gates of heaven (so to speak) is given the sinner by the imputed righteousness of Christ. I am also asserting that this legal union and being united to Christ are one and the same. It is only legal because it is actual and it is actual because it is legal. Sinners are legally declared righteous because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them because the sinner is now the bride of Christ. They are one.

    McMark: But you sound more and more like you think that justification is based on regeneration, both before and after (to be done) justification. I hope not.

    RS: Regeneration precedes faith. One is declared just by grace alone and Christ alone when one has faith IN Christ. One cannot receive Christ Himself until one has faith, yet one cannot have faith until one is regenerated. The righteousness of Christ cannot be imputed apart from Christ Himself. One must not just have faith, one must have faith in Christ. Yet what does faith do? It receives Christ Himself. Since faith receives Christ Himself and is married to Christ and is of the body of Christ, that person has the righteousness of Christ imputed to him or her.

    McMark: If we can be “really” accepted by God based on what the Spirit will do in us, what need could we even have for Christ crucified?

    RS: So that He (Christ crucified) would earn, purchase, and procure the Spirit who would apply what needs to be applied. Sinners are only really accepted by God based on what Christ has done, but part of what Christ has done is to purchase the Spirit for His people (Gal 3:13-14) who will apply to sinners what must be done. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “You MUST be born again.” That is true of every person. But for a person to be born again, the wrath of God for that person’s sin must be satisfied, that person must have a new nature, and that person must be made a new creature. So Christ lived, suffered, died, rose again, ascended, and is now Mediator so that His elect would be born again and be new creatures united to Him.

    McMark: I note, for dgh’s sake, that I like to ask this same question not only to RS but to various evangelicals associated with the gospel coalition. Too bad they are not in the OPC, where clergy who follow Norman Shepherd are set straight.

    RS: I follow Christ.

  2. Richard Smith
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    mark mcculley: I quoted Galatians 4:6 which is about God sending the Spirit to people who are already legally sons. RS protested that the text was not about imputation and justification. (And presumably not about the atonement either, since that’s something he doesn’t think we need “to hold out in evangelism”.) I suggest we read the context.

    RS: The context of a text of Scripture or another human being’s writings is always a good thing. So note that your comments about my comments about the atonement were taken out of context. They were in response to your question. Taken alone, sure enough they sound like heresy. But when they are read in light of your question, something different emerges.

    But I would argue that the context of what Paul was speaking about meant that his language in those words does not mean that the Spirit has no activity in the sinner before justification. The Spirit has work to do in sinners before they are justified (conviction as in John 16), in regenerating them, and then in working all blessings in them after they are justified. The fact that God sends the Spirit or pours out His Spirit on people does not in and of itself mean that the Spirit does not regenerate sinners before they are justified. God can and does pour out His Spirit on those who have been believers for years. The Spirit was poured out in Acts 2, but surely many of those people in the upper room were already believers.

    Gal 3:3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed AS CRUCIFIED. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was COUNTED to him as righteousness”?

    mcmark: hearing what? hearing about hearing, or hearing about the cross as satisfaction of law?

    RS: So they began by the Spirit? Notice that faith is the gift of God which the Spirit works in His people. So if people have faith and then they are declared just, we have the work of the Spirit before there is justification.

    Gal 3:12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ REDEEMED us from the curse of the law by BECOMING A CURSE FOR US —for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is HANGED ON A TREE”— 14 SO THAT IN CHRIST Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith…

    RS: Here are the verses I have stressed before. Christ became a curse for His people for what purpose? So that in Christ His people would receive the promised Spirit through faith. But again, who is it that works faith in the sinner? The Spirit.

    Gal 3:24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we would be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for IN CHRIST Jesus you ARE SONS of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized INTO CHRIST have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

    RS: So it is only when a person is in Christ that a person can know that s/he is an heir according to promise. Indeed only those who are in Christ are sons of God through faith. But again, faith is the work of the Spirit in regeneration.

    Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, BORN UNDER THE LAW TO REDEEM THOSE WHO WERE UNDER THE LAW so that we would receive adoption as sons.

    6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

    RS: So are you saying that sinners become regenerate without the Spirit and come up with faith without the Spirit and are adopted without the Spirit and then God sends the Spirit into their hearts? I hope not. It is the Spirit who convicts of sin and it is the Spirit who regenerates sinners and gives them faith so that the elect can receive Christ Himself. The sons of God are indeed those with the Spirit in them crying out “Abba.” But this can be said for those who have been justified for years as well. For anyone to truly call God “Father”, whether newly converted or not, it takes the work of the Spirit to do that.

  3. Dan Elifson
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    I could couldn’t agree more with Dr. Hart. Although I don’t think Jonathan Edwards is responsible for the present mess.

  4. Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Dan E., I wouldn’t blame Edwards either, but an undue esteem for Edwards is not helping.

  5. mark mcculley
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    D A Carson seems to me very much like John Stott. I guess some folks thought Stott was a “Calvinist”

    Carl Trueman: “Stott’s answer at each step of his career seems to have been to declare ‘Be reasonable: do it my way. After all, I am John Stott. Remind me again: who on earth are you?’ That is how it went within Anglican evangelicalism; and most notoriously it is how it went with the Lausanne movement. He was not the first leader to handle criticism in such a way and he certainly was not the last. There are lessons here for our current parachurch religious culture in the USA which is arguably more enamoured today with the idea of the big celebrity
    leader than at any point in the recent past.”

  6. mark mcculley
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Doctrinal aversion, radical individualism, unexamined subjectivism—these are only a few of the problems afflicting the evangelical church. In The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman wisely applies his vast historical knowledge to offer a remedy for such deficiencies. This book is especially important for so many believers whose Christian life, like mine, grew out of the soil of vibrant experience with insufficient doctrinal moorings. And beyond merely correcting errors, the lessons here have great potential for protecting the church, reinvigorating our cherished beliefs, and fostering greater unity in our worship. I’m grateful for Carl, and I’m grateful he wrote this book.”
    —C. J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries

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