The 5 points that led me to leave Calvinism

Many have asked what specific points led me away from Calvinism.  Being a Professor of Theology that once affirmed TULIP gives me a unique perspective on this subject.  However, I do not claim to be an expert in the field nor do I begrudge those who disagree with my perspective.  I simply desire to interpret rightly the Word of God.  Hopefully this podcast and article can help you understand why I could not continue to support the Calvinistic interpretation of the text.

3dbookpotterspromiseI believe there are many who are hoping to convince someone they care about to leave behind their Calvinistic beliefs.  I hate to tell them, but it is doubtful a blog post or a podcast will accomplish that feat. It is very difficult to convince YOURSELF to leave a long held theological perspective and next to impossible to convince another.  For me it was a painstaking three year journey after I engaged in an in-depth study of the subject.  I had no desire to leave Calvinism and I fought tooth and nail to defend my beloved “Doctrines of Grace” against the truths my studies led me to see.  There was no single book, article, or discussion that led me to recant my adherence to the TULIP systematic.

In fact, I’m quite certain I could never have been “debated out of Calvinism.”  I was much too competitive to objectively evaluate my systematic in the heat of a contentious type discussion.  Even if I were to come against an argument I could not answer, I would have never admitted that to my opponent.  Few individuals would be able to get around the intense emotion and pride inducing adrenaline brought on by debating theology.  Our innate desire to be esteemed by others and seen as “smarter” than we really are often overwhelms any potential for learning and profitable dialogue.

If someone disagreed with me, my presumption was that they must not really understand my perspective.  So, instead of attempting to listen and objectively evaluate their arguments I focused on restating my case more clearly, confidently and dogmatically.  If I did not fully understand what they were saying I would often label them and dismiss them instead of taking the time to fully evaluate their point of view.  I am not attempting to suggest every Calvinist makes these errors — I am only reflecting on what I now view as my mistakes.

I competed on the state level in CX Debate in High School and College. Our debate coach drilled into us the SKILL of taking on both the affirmative and negative side of every issue. And believe me, that is a learned skill. It is very difficult to put down one view in the defense of another opposing view, especially if you are emotionally and intellectually attached to a given perspective.  It is rare to find real objectivity in a discussion among theologically minded individuals over a doctrine as emotionally charged and intimately personal as that of our salvation.  This is ESPECIALLY true of those who have made a living and developed their identity around a particular set of beliefs.  Imagine RC Sproul, for example, coming to believe he was mistaken on these points of doctrine.  Think how much it would cost him and his reputation as a scholar to recant those views. This is never an easy or painless transition.

I say all this to tell any Calvinistic readers who may have clicked on this link in order to refute my claims:  I am NOT so naive as to think this article or podcast is going to convince you to leave Calvinism, thus that is NOT my goal in creating it.  My goal however, is that you simply understand the reasons I left Calvinism.  That most likely cannot happen if you begin with an axe to grind or a point to defend.  Can we put down the weapons and first seek to hear and fully understand each other before launching into a debate?  If you finish this article or listen to my podcast and walk away still as Calvinistic as you are right now, but you understand why I felt I had to leave Calvinism then I will consider this a great success.

1aristotleI adopted all five points of the the Calvinistic TULIP when I was a freshman in college after digesting books from John MacArthur, RC Sproul, JI Packer and later John Piper.  Louie Giglio, the man who brought John Piper into the mainstream through events like Passion, was one of my father’s close friends.  My first ministry position was with GRACE at Hardin-Simmons University modeled after Louie’s ministry at Baylor University in the 80s.  Here is where I worked along side Matt Chandler, being discipled by the same mentor.  I grew very convinced in my Calvinism over the next decade of life even helping to start a new “Reformed” Baptist Church that split off from my home church.  (This is where my parents and all their friends were attending.  I only see now how much this must have hurt them.)  Later I served on staff at this church and then began working for the state convention.  We hired John Piper along with various other notable Calvinistic communicators to speak at many of the events I coordinate.  I very much loved being apart of this “brotherhood” of ministers who proudly affirmed the doctrine of Spurgeon and the forefathers of our Southern Baptist faith.  I was a card carrying member of the “Founders” of the SBC and would never have dreamed that one day I would be writing this article.

One morning I was reading a book by AW Tozer, a man I knew was respected in the Calvinistic community.  John Piper often quoted him and people referenced his works regularly in my Reformed circles.  Some of what he wrote simple did not fit into my paradigm.  “Isn’t Tozer a Calvinist,” I remember thinking out loud?  I distinctly remember how I felt when I learned that AW Tozer and CS Lewis, two men I greatly respected, did not affirm TULIP.  At that point I remembered what my debate training taught me and I realized I had never really objectively and thoroughly vetted the scholarly views that oppose Calvinism.  This started my journey.

Six months to a year into this sporadic study of doctrines I was not the least bit convinced that Calvinism was wrong. Even after being presented with several convincing arguments against my long held beliefs, I subconsciously felt I had too much too lose to leave my Calvinism.  My reputation, my friends, my ministry connections…all gone if I recant my views on this!  I had converted way too many people and hurt way too many relationships in defense of these views for me to go back on what I was certain to be true.  However, my years of training in debate helped me to recognize this bias and proceed with my studies nonetheless.  As I was trained, I forced myself to drop my preconceived ideas, my biases, and anything that might hinder me from fully understanding the other perspective.

5pointsoutIn that process there were five key truths that came to light which eventually lead me out of my Calvinism.  Below is a short summary of those views, but on the podcast titled “5 Points OUT of Calvinism I expound on each of these more thoroughly:

 POINT #1: I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation.  

I had so saturated myself with Calvinistic preachers and authors that the only thing I knew of the opposing views was what they told me. Thus, I had been lead to believe the only real alternative to Calvinism was this strange concept of God “looking through the corridors of time to elect those He foresees would choose Him.” Notable Calvinistic teachers almost always paint all non-Calvinistic scholars as holding to this perspective. Once I realized I had been misled on this point, I was more open to consider other interpretations objectively.

I found a much more robust and theologically sound systematic in what is called “The Corporate View of Election,” which so happened to be the most popular view among the biblical scholars of my own denomination (Southern Baptists). Much more can be said about this view that I will not take the liberty to expound upon in this article. However, I must warn readers that the all too common phrase, “nations are made up of individuals too,” does not even begin to rebut the claims of this perspective. Individuals are just as much involved in the Corporate perspective as they are the Calvinistic perspective (maybe even more so). Anyone who believes the Corporate view is easily dismissed with that simple one-liner has not yet come to understand it rightly. In my experience, very few Calvinists give this view the attention it deserves because it requires a shift in perspective that, if recognized, would undermine their entire premise.

Do you understand “The Corporate View of Election”…I mean really understand it? Could you defend it in a debate if you had to? Could you explain it objectively to a classroom of students? Are you willing to study it and evaluate its claims?

 “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” -Aristotle

Point #2: I came to understand the distinction between the doctrine of Original Sin (depravity) and the Calvinistic concept of “Total Inability.”  

 Calvinists teach that “the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel,”[2] but I learned that is the condition of a judicially hardened man, not a natural condition from birth (Acts 28:27-28; John 12:39-41; Mark 4:11-12; Rom. 11).  Instead, God’s gracious revelation and powerful gospel appeal is the means He has chosen to draw, or enable, whosoever hears it to come.  Thus, anyone who does hear or see His truth may respond to that truth, which is why they are held response-able (able-to-respond).

Listen to my sermon at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on this subject HERE.

At the time while Christ was on earth, the Israelites (in John 6 for example), were being hardened or blinded from hearing the truth.  Only a select few Israelites (a remnant) were given by the Father to the Son in order for God’s purpose in the election of Israel to be fulfilled.  That purpose was not referring to God’s plan to individually and effectually save some Jews, but His plan to bring the LIGHT or REVELATION to the rest of the world by way of the MESSIAH and HIS MESSAGE so that all may believe (John 17:21b).

The vine the Jews are being cut off of in Romans 11 is not the vine of effectual salvation, otherwise how could individuals be cut off or grafted back into it?  The vine is the LIGHT of REVELATION, the means through which one may be saved that was first sent to the Jews and then the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16).  The Gentiles are being granted repentance or “grafted into the vine” so as to be enabled to repent. The Jews, if provoked to envy and leave their unbelief, may be grafted back into that same vine (Rom. 11:14, 23).

KEY POINT: God DOES use determinative means to ensure His sovereign purposes in electing Israel, which includes:

  • (1) the setting apart of certain individual Israelites to be the lineage of the Messiah, and
  • (2) the setting apart of certain individual Israelities to carry His divinely inspired message to the world (using convincing means like big fish and blinding lights to persuade their wills) and
  • (3) temporarily blinding the rest of Israel to accomplish redemption through their rebellion.

However, there is no indication in scripture that:

  • (1) all those who DO believe the appointed messenger’s teachings were likewise set a part by such persuasive means (especially not inward effectual means).
  • (2) all those who DO NOT believe the appointed messenger’s teachings were likewise hardened from the time they were born to the time they died.

As a Calvinist I did not understand the historical context of the scriptures as it relates to the national election of Israel followed by their judicial hardening. When the scriptures spoke of Jesus hiding the truth in parables, or only revealing Himself to a select few, or cutting off large numbers of people from seeing, hearing and understanding the truth; I immediately presumed that those were passages supporting the “T” of my T.U.L.I.P. when in reality they are supporting the doctrine of Israel’s judicial hardening.

“FROM AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, WESTERN CHRISTIANITY HAS TENDED TO INTERPRET THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF AND WITH REGARD TO INDIVIDUAL HUMAN BEINGS. DURING THOSE SAME CENTURIES THE DOCTRINE HAS BEEN FAR LESS EMPHASIZED AND SELDOM EVER CONTROVERSIAL IN EASTERN ORTHODOXY. IS IT POSSIBLE THAT AUGUSTINE AND LATER CALVIN, WITH THE HELP OF MANY OTHERS, CONTRIBUTED TO A HYPER INDIVIDUALIZATION OF THIS DOCTRINE THAT WAS HARDLY WARRANTED BY ROMANS 9-11, EPH. 1, AND I PETER 2? IS IT NOT TRUE THAT THE MAJOR EMPHASIS IN BOTH TESTAMENTS FALLS UPON AN ELECT PEOPLE — ISRAEL (OT) AND DISCIPLES OR CHURCH (NT)?” – James LEO GARRETT

 Point #3: I realized that the decision to humble yourself and repent in faith is not meritorious. Even repentant believers deserve eternal punishment.

Calvinists are notorious for asking the unsuspecting believer, “Why did you believe in Christ and someone else does not; are you smarter, or more praiseworthy in some way?” I asked this question more times than I can remember as a young Calvinist. What I (and likely the target of my inquiry) did not understand is that the question itself is a fallacy known as “Question Begging.” (or more specifically “plurium interrogationum” or “Complex Question”)

Begging the question is a debate tactic where your opponent presumes true the very point up for debate.  For instance, if the issue being disputed was whether or not you cheat on your taxes and I began the discussion by asking you, “Have you stopped cheating on your taxes yet?” I would be begging the question.

Likewise, in the case of the Calvinist asking “Why did you made this choice,” he is presuming a deterministic response is necessary thus beginning the discussion with a circular and often confounding game of question begging. The inquiry as to what determines the choice of a free will presumes something other than the free function of the agent’s will makes the determination, thus denying the very mystery of what makes the will free and not determined.

The cause of a choice is the chooser.  The cause of a determination is the determiner. It is not an undetermined determination, or an unchosen choice, as some attempt to frame it. If someone has an issue with this simply apply the same principle to the question, “Why did God choose to create mankind?”  He is obviously all self-sustaining and self-sufficient. He does not need us to exist. Therefore, certainly no one would suggest God was not free to refrain from creating humanity. So, what determined God’s choice to create if not the mysterious function of His free will?

In short, whether one appeals to mystery regarding the function of man’s will or the function of the Divine will, we all eventually appeal to mystery.  Why not appeal to mystery BEFORE drawing conclusions that could in any way impugn the holiness of God by suggesting He had something to do with determining the nature, desire and thus evil choices of His creatures?

What also must be noted is that the decision to trust in Christ for our salvation is not a meritorious work.  Asking for forgiveness does not merit being forgiven.  Think of it this way.  Did the prodigal son earn, merit or in any way deserve the reception of his father on the basis that he humbly returned home?  Of course not. He deserved to be punished, not rewarded.  The acceptance of his father was a choice of the father alone and it was ALL OF GRACE.  The father did not have to forgive, restore and throw a party for his son on the basis that he chose to come home. That was the father’s doing.

Humiliation and brokenness is not considered “better” or “praiseworthy” and it certainly is not inherently valuable.  The only thing that makes this quality “desirable” is that God has chosen to grace those who humble themselves, something He is in no way obligated to do.  God gives grace to the humble not because a humble response deserves salvation, but because He is gracious.

Point #4: I accepted the fact that a gift doesn’t have to be irresistibly applied in order for the giver to get full credit for giving it.

According to Calvinism, God does not merely enable people to believe (as the scriptures say), but He has to actually change their very nature so as to certainly make them believe. As a Calvinist I remember shaming other Christians for “stealing God’s glory” by suggesting they played any role in their salvation. I insisted they would be “boasting” to believe that they chose to come to Christ unless they first admitted that God irresistibly changed their nature to make them want to come. I recall a wise elder from my home church challenging me on this point by asking, “Why do you believe God’s choice of you for no apparent reason is less boast worthy than his choice of me for being a weak beggar?” I honestly did not know what he meant at the time, but I do now.

At the time of that encounter I had not reached the pigsty of my life. I was young and arrogant. I had never really been broken by my sin and brought face to face with my depravity. I thought I understood forgiveness and grace but truthfully it was not until much later in my life that I would be brought to the end of my self. I used to think the idea that God chose to save me before I was born and done anything good or bad was humbling, but it is not near as humbling as the reality that God would choose to save me in the middle of my worst sin, my brokenness, my humiliation and my shame. Like the prodigal who returned home from the pigsty of his life, broken and humiliated, seeking to beg for handouts, deserving nothing but punishment, receives instead the gracious love of a father, I too felt the choice of a Father to forgive me right then and there in the middle of my filth. It was not some theological concept of God picking me for no apparent reason out of the mass of humanity at some distant inexplicable time before time was. It was my Daddy choosing to love me in the middle of my deepest sin and pride crushing shame. No one…no Arminian, no Calvinist or any one in between…I mean NO ONE boasts about being forgiven like that. If they do, or they think others would, I cannot imagine they have ever been there.

“But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jer. 9:24)

Why can’t we give God all the glory for enabling mankind to respond to His gracious truth?  Why must he irresistibly cause our acceptance of that truth in order for Him to get full glory for giving it?

It in no way robs God of glory by suggesting He does not irresistibly determine men’s choice to accept or reject the gospel appeal. In fact, it seems to lesson His glory by making Him appear disingenuous in that appeal sent to all people.  Should not God get the glory even for the provision of those who reject Him?

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” – C.S. Lewis

Point #5: I came to understand that sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God that would be compromised  by the existence of free moral creatures.

Some seem to believe that for God to be considered “sovereign” then men cannot have a free or autonomous will.  Should sovereignty be interpreted and understood as the necessity of God to “play both sides of the chess board” in order to ensure His victory?  Or should it be understood as God’s infinite and mysterious ways of accomplishing His purposes and ensuring His victory in, through, and despite the free choices of creation?

I’m not pretending that we can really understand His infinite ways or the means by which He accomplishes all things in conjunction with man’s will.  We cannot even understand our own ways, much less His.  But, I’m saying that the revelation of God’s holiness, His unwillingness to even tempt men to sin (James 1:13), His absolute perfect nature and separateness from sin (Is. 48:17), certainly appears to suggest that our finite, linear, logical constructs should not be used to contain Him (Is. 55:9).

One point that really helped me to understand the apparent contradiction of this debate was realizing the divine attribute of sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God. Calvinists always argue that God cannot deny Himself or His eternal nature, which is true. God cannot stop being God. Based on this Calvinists conclude that because God is eternally sovereign that He cannot deny that sovereignty, an attribute of His very nature, by allowing for others to have any measure of control or authority.

What the Calvinist fails to see is that sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God. Sovereignty means “complete rule or dominion over creation.” For God to be in control over creation there has to be something created in which to control.  He cannot display His power over creatures unless the creatures exist.  Therefore, before creation the concept of sovereignty was not an attribute that could be used to describe God. An eternal attribute is something God possesses that is not contingent upon something else.

The eternal attribute of God is His omnipotence, which refers to His eternally limitless power. Sovereignty is a temporal characteristic, not an eternal one, thus we can say God is all powerful, not because He is sovereign, but He is sovereign because He is all powerful, or at least He is as sovereign as He so chooses to be in relation to this temporal world.

If our all-powerful God chose to refrain from meticulously ruling over every aspect of that which He creates, that in no way denies His eternal attribute of omnipotence, but indeed affirms it. It is the Calvinist who denies the eternal attribute of omnipotence by presuming the all-powerful God cannot refrain from meticulous deterministic rule over His creation (i.e. sovereignty). In short, the Calvinist denies God’s eternal attribute of omnipotence in his effort to protect the temporal attribute of sovereignty.  Additionally, an argument could be made that the eternal attributes of God’s love and His holiness are likewise compromised by the well meaning efforts of our Calvinistic brethren to protect their theory of deterministic sovereignty over the temporal world.

Please understand, sovereignty is most certainly an attribute of God, but it is a temporal attribute. The Omnipotent God has not yet taken full sovereign control over everything on earth as it is in heaven. Is not that His prerogative? Passages throughout the bible teach that there are “authorities” and “powers” which are yet to be destroyed, and that have been given dominion over God’s creation.

Isaiah 24:21
A time is coming when the Lord will punish the powers above and the rulers of the earth.

Ephesians 6:12 
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Colossians 2:20
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world.

1 Corinthians 15:24

Then the end will come; Christ will overcome all spiritual rulers, authorities, and powers, and will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father.

Don’t misunderstand my point. I affirm that God is greater than these powers and authorities. He created them after all.

Colossians 1:16
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

And one day God will strip them of that authority:

Colossians 2:15 
God stripped the spiritual rulers and powers of their authority. With the cross, he won the victory and showed the world that they were powerless.

Much more could be said, but in short we must refrain from bringing unbiblical conclusions based upon our finite perceptions of God’s nature.  We must accept the revelation of scripture. He is Holy (Is. 6:3).  He does not take pleasure in sin (Ps. 5:4). Some moral evil does not even enter His Holy mind (Jer. 7:31). He genuinely desires every individual to come to Him and be saved (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). No man will stand before the Father and be able to give the excuse, “I was born unloved by my Creator.  I was born unchosen and without the hope of salvation.  I was born unable to see, hear or understand God’s revelation of Himself.”  No! They will stand without excuse (Rm. 1:20). God loves all people (Jn. 3:16), calls them to salvation (2 Cor. 5:20), reveals Himself to them (Titus 2:11) and provides the means by which their sins would be forgiven (1 Jn. 2:2).

“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” – A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God

Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.

 


[2] http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/

howtohelp

Here are some helpful quotes regarding how we should approach this discussion:

“Paul did not mean, that this (being puffed up, i.e. arrogant) is to be reckoned as a fault attributable to learning—that those who are learned are often self-complacent, and have admiration of themselves, accompanied with contempt of others. Nor did he understand this to be the natural tendency of learning—to produce arrogance, but simply meant to show what effect knowledge has in an individual, that has not the fear of God, and love of the brethren; for the wicked abuse all the gifts of God, so as to exalt themselves.” -John Calvin

“We got into an argument over the color of love. I said it was pink, and he said it was red.  So you see, I had no other choice but to stab him.”  ― Jarod Kintz

“Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of ignorance.”
Robert Quillen

“The most important tactic in an argument next to being right is to leave an escape hatch for your opponent so that he can gracefully swing over to your side without an embarrassing loss of face.”  ― Stephen Jay Gould

“I am very cautious of people who are absolutely right, especially when they are vehemently so.”  ― Michael Palin

187 thoughts on “The 5 points that led me to leave Calvinism

  1. Dr Wagner,

    Thank you for reminding Dr Flowers about my questions. Thank you also for sharing your thoughts about Calvinism.

    As I mentioned before, I am a Calvinist, and I am fully aware of the issues you raised regarding its harm. In fact, last Friday, from the pulpit, I expressly warned my church the dangers of hyper-Calvinism. There will always be the harmful elements or potential harm in any theological construct. This is when one does not realize the limits to such constructs and begin to take it to its so-called rational/logical end, turning a blind eye to Scriptures that do not support or contradict the systematized construct, or twist/mold the contradicting Scriptures to fit the construct. Then, we will see the ugly side or the harmful side of any theology, hence, we see hyper-Calvinism, hyper-Arminianism, hyper-dispensationalism, replacement theology, and the list goes on. This is when theology becomes ‘inspired’ by its proponents and those who dsagree are either in ‘error’ [and need to be shown the errors of his/her way] or worse.. being given the label ‘heretic’ and ‘damned’.

    I adopt an approach, that there are limits to any theology and never go overboard. A Calvinist or be it an Arminian [I personally do not like putting labels] must be aware of the limits and even flaws in the theology and be honest about it. This side of eternity, we with all our human limitations to understand and the fact that Scriptures do not reveal everything now and it will take perhaps whole eternity for us to fully grasp…. one can only be humble and say ‘I do not have all the answers’.

    Just to share, in Malaysia, sharing the gospel to certain group of people means prosecution. There are two pastors that really touched my life, one is an Arminian [kidnapped and no one knows where he is.. may be martyred already] and another is a Reformed Baptist, who spents his evening going around on his bicycle searching for opporyunity to share the gospel, who daringly share to anyone who is willing to listen despite the fact he can land up in jail… Do I for a minute even think such people are, especially the Reformed pastor, is doing it out of duty? Never crossed my mind. I also know, a Calvinist brother, who despite being a diabetic, having spinal problem… drove his SUV into the interior to reach out to the native people living at the fringrs ofthe jungle…. he did it not because it is a duty. Yes, he may not have all the answers with regards to how to balance everything between God’s sovereignity, human responsibility, election, predestination… etc. but one thing is clear he would not have done this ministry unless there is a genuine love for the lost.

    1. Thank you Edlic for sharing those wonderful stories of faithful brothers identified with different theologies but each serving the Lord in risk of their lives in Malaysia. I wish I was on the front lines there with you and them.

      Like you, those faithful men probably do not push the issue of election if they are Calvinist, or the issue of losing salvation if they are Arminian, or push whatever controversial issue they believe is true whatever the theology of which they have been convinced. They just want to see souls saved.

      And I truly hope their main motive is love for Christ and His love for the all who are lost. Persecution certainly keeps pretenders in the faith to a minimum. But they can still exist, even in the midst of persecution. And some men unfortunately “love” the thrill of risk and the honor they receive from others for taking it. Usually you can tell how much they truly love the lost by how much the love the brethren also.

      Please address me as Brian. We may only know each other in these few words we’ve shared, but we are brothers, and the Lord doesn’t want us to greet each other with titles (Matt 23:8-10). Thx.

      Blessings.

  2. Bro. Brian,

    It is our Asian culture to address someone with title.. it is a sign of respect, unless that person is someone we have known for a longer time.

    I can assure you their motive is love. Yes, it is true some men ‘went to war’ for the adventure, glory, booty… but there are many who risked their lives out sacrificial love of God.

    There will always be diversity of theological views and as long as they do not violate cardinal truths that all of us across the divide hold so dearly, there should be liberty and respect. What saddened me the most is how fellow believers ‘bashed’ each other over theological differences when the focus should be ‘preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom ….. to all nations… and the end shall come’ , just like John wrote… maranatha… looking forward to His coming Kingdom.

    1. Bro. Edlic I appreciate that you dropped the “Dr.” in your greeting address to me. Cultures can have very good motives behind their traditions, but Jesus is clear about commanding His disciples not to greet one another based on titles for positions they might hold in ministry. Christianity is to be prescriptive to culture not descriptive of culture except when to win souls, but always under submission to Christ’s law.

      More teaching needs to be done on how important it is to discern what the gospel is, what sound doctrine is, and how all else are doubtful matters to be held personally but not used to divide the brethren. The gospel must divide between who I call “Brother” and sound doctrine must help me discern who is qualified to shepherd God’s people and who is not. But teachings of the gospel and sound doctrine are very clearly written out in Scripture. They are not formulated by theological inference or extrapolation and definitely not from man-made tradition outside of Scripture.

  3. Bro. Brian,

    Thanks for sharing. Concerning culture, there is nothing wrong as long as it does not violates biblical principles. On hindsight into history, one of the main stumbling block to Christian mission in some parts of Asia, was a very Western centered approach… meaning bringing a person to the faith was also to Westernized a person. Mission work came with imperialism and no less cultural imperialism. Missionaries to China later learned to live like Chinese, speak Chinese to reach out to Chinese people.

    I do not see any problem in greeting a person formally [especially when you hardly know the person personally] and do not fully agree with your interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10. If you have not visited Malaysia, perhaps a trip to my country and visit to Chinese, Tamil, Indonesian, Borneo, and Native churches, you will see how culture has been adapted to biblical truths. I am not sure about your background or societal backdrop, I live in a very diverse society.

    “More teaching needs to be done…………. They are not formulated by theological inference or extrapolation and definitely not from man-made tradition outside of Scripture.”

    I say Amen.

    By the way, going back to my main reason for visiting this website, will Dr Flowers answer my questions soon? It is alright if he is not free to do so although I would really appreciate if he could.

    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Bro. Edlic… I just reminded Leighton again last night. I agree with what you said about missionaries or foreign believers adopting as much cultural norms as possible and greeting formally with formal secular greetings… similiar to Mr. or if a judge or king or secular doctor whatever title fits that culture. But the command not to greet those in ministry by a title is a command. There is no room to miss the clear meaning.

      1. Bro. Brian, thanks for your reply. I hope he would reply soon.
        I need some answers also insights into TGC’s agenda especially in Malaysia. I want to know their link with certain seminars/conferences and their organizers in Malaysia. I want to be aware because the young adults in my church have been actively attending them and now are promoting those seminars from the pulpit.
        I, even though a Calvinist, I certainly do not agree people pushing their theological views in the expense of church unity, communion, and the leadership of affected churches. I think it is very unscriptural that someone pushes a certain theology without regards for the leadership of a church no matter how convicted or convinced the person is.
        For example, I reject certain teachings of the Pentecostals/Charismatics, but when I was invited to preach in an Assembly of God church, I will talk on issues we disagree on simply because out of respect of leadership unless being asked to.
        I am worried that TGC through their Malaysian partners are pushing Calvinism and undermining non-Calvinist churches.

      2. I’ll try again… to remind him. I’ll paste this comment from you in an email to him.

      3. Hi Edlic
        Do you have Facebook? Message me there. There is a man named KL NG on Facebook who lives there in Malaysia who may be able to give you more insights.

  4. I will NOT talk on issues we disagree on simply because out of respect of leadership unless being asked to. [mistake]

      1. Hi Edlic! Here are the email addresses Leighton gave me to pass on to you. They are the ones who invited him to come to Malaysia during his last visit there.
        Wing Choong Cheah – cheahchang@gmail.com,
        “Anthony K. K. Too” -kktoo@gmail.com,
        Andrew Wong – andrew.wong@compass.com.my,
        Dexter Ng – sagcfamily@yahoo.com,
        Adrian Low – adrianlcw@gmail.com,
        Kien Ng – kienlock.ng@gmail.com

        Hope this is of some help to you in your research!

  5. Bro. Brian, thanks. I do not know any of them in the list. Would Dr Flowers answer my questions? I wish to communicate with him. I have been waiting for more than two weeks.

    1. Edlic, you asked for those addresses… Do you feel awkward writing to any of them? I would think they would have a better idea of your situation than Leighton, and I would think they would hold the same theological perspective as him.

      But if you can list your specific questions again in a response here, I will copy and send them to Leighton. I may try answering them also. Blessings.

  6. Bro. Brian, yes I did ask for the address of someone Dr Flowers referred to as KL Ng. I thought Dr. Flowers would give me some information regarding that person first. Those on the name list are total strangers to me and this issue about the spread of Calvinism is to a certain degree sensitive. Just to put into perspective, my church,s interim moderator (we do not have a pastor since the previous one left) is supportive of seminars related to TGC. Here are my specific questions again for Dr Flowers and perhaps you could also shed some light. Some of them may be just a repeat .. please bear with me.

    1- What TGC really stand for and what is their main agenda?
    2- Are they purposefully spreading Calvinism without regards for leadeship of churches who do not hold their theological views, i.e. TULIP? Is it their policy to do that?
    3- Who are the key leaders in TGC and are they hyper-Calvinist, e.g. believe in double predestination, fatalism etc.?
    4- What define hyper-Calvinism according to you and Dr Flowers?
    5- Who are TGC’s main contacts or should I say collaborators in Malaysia? I know roughly there are some Christian para-church groups that are actively organizing seminars.
    6- Is what is happening in United States and somehow in Malaysia too is what some termed as New-Calvinism that appeals to young adults?
    7- Does TGC really promotes a balanced view of Scriptures via a sound bible study approach (e.g. historical-grammartical and literal) or are they imposing a theological grid on Scriptures. and ends up doing eisgesis?
    8- Waht do you think about John MacAuthur, he is a 5 pointsCalvinist, and pre-mill… in many ways my own views are very simikar to what is taught in Master’s Seminary.
    9- What is TGC’s agenda for Malaysia through their local partners?
    10- Based on what you know [Dr Flowers] how critical is the situation in Malaysia with regards to Calvinism vs others, please elaborate? [I think it must be bad enough that they invited you an ex-Calvinist and a professor of theology to come to Malaysia.
    11- What do both of you think concerning ‘Christ-centred’ or Gospel-centred hermeneutics, seemed to be popuar with these people? [I personally think it actually divert people from an objective study of Scriptures though it sound so ‘spiritual’ or so ‘Reformed’]

    These are my questions. Just to be open, I am asking them because I want to do what isright within my small sphere of influence. I am a nobody in the Malaysian church. I hold no office.Nonetheless, I preached and teach regularly in my church; do missio work among native people; and sometimes get invited to preach in other churches.

    My biggest concern is that people get distracted from the preaching of Kingdom Gospel, unity of the body, compassion for the needy and fellow believers because of theological ‘conflicts’. I am reminded of how even after the Reformation, even some evangelical groups got persecuted almost the same way the Roman Catholic church did it on heretics just because they did not agree with the theology of those in power in Protestant Europe. I also remember that Martin Luther depite been almost ‘venerated’ by some was ruthless against if I am not mistaen the Anabaptists and definitely was an anti-Jew. His writtings later on inspired a monster like Hitler who adored him in his book Mein Kampf.

    I also fear that by systematically and continually exposing a person to just one theological perspective, the ability of believers to think critically and objectively is impeded. Hence, we can end up in the scenerio where someone believes something is correct because of theological in-breeding.. affirming one another without even truly considering other valid views. I say this with humility as a Calvinist, I am onvicted about the theology I hold BUT I will never consider it fautless or flawless.. in other words ONLY the Scriptures are inspired NOT my theology… and an Arminian brother or sister can be as just as convicted as I… I want to promoted thinking not in-breeding.. so to speak.

    Thanks Bro Brian and Dr Flowers

  7. Hi Edlic,

    Not sure why your pressing for Leighton to answer these questions on this post it is about the Potter’s Promise an amazing book that explains Romans 9 very thoroughly!
    Where you say this below I find hope, because I agree no systematic held above God’s Word should be arduously held to!

    Hence, we can end up in the scenerio where someone believes something is correct because of theological in-breeding.. affirming one another without even truly considering other valid views. I say this with humility as a Calvinist, I am onvicted about the theology I hold BUT I will never consider it fautless or flawless..

    I did not go through theological training, but what I can tell you is when I was first introduced to your systematic in 2013 after only 5 short years as a believer it made me confused🤔 By that I mean the over whelming love I knew that came into my heart because of what Jesus did for me on the cross was not for me alone!!! This was from my reading of the Scriptures alone with the guidance of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. I knew what was being presented to me didn’t line up with what He had taught me in His Word. When I finally (Praise God alone!) stumbled upon Leighton’s site I knew finally minus older works that the revelation in Scripture was enough and for all people. Of course because God is so gracious and Amazing He also gave me a (now) close friend who was going through similar things in her family that I was going through very encouraging!!! We are made in God’s image and I think we know what love is and for God to make people specifically to go to hell goes against His character. Here is a good post to read along with many others you can find.

    https://soteriology101.com/2018/12/23/critique-of-tgc-article-how-does-a-mom-pray-as-a-calvinist/

    But the main point here is your desire to know about the TGC it can be found online at; https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/sections/arts-culture/

    Thank you for caring about the lives of others
    In Him alone we can stand

    1. Thanks for sharing brother. I am actually corresponding with Bro. Brian and have posted earlier some questions for Dr Flowers [which remained unanswered]… if you would follow the conversation you will understand the context in which those questions were posted.

      God bless you.

  8. Bro Brian and also Dr Flowers,

    I have re-listed my questions and posted them on April 6. I have been waiting for almost a month now. I do not want to sound rude, but if Dr Flowers is not keen or is not available to answer my specific questions just be frank with me. I will not continue asking after this. Thanks.

    There are some that I may be able to find some kind answers on TGC website BUT I sincerely do not think I will find out clearly what is their agenda.. people can say all kinds of things on their website so to speak.

    Thank you for your time.

    1. Edlic, let’s try this… email me directly – brianwagner@vbc.edu. That way I will have your email address and will forward it to Leighton’s personal email. That’s about the best I can do. Leighton has become very busy in the last months. I am sure it is just an oversight on his part, trying to grapple with all the contacts that are being made to him. But have you tried emailing any of those in your country, using the email addresses I gave you? If not, why not? Is there a problem taking that kind of initiative in your culture. Thanks.

      I would not believe TGC is trying to “undermine churches with their agenda”, though that is indeed what may be happening. I would tend to believe that these are true brothers in Christ who are just loyal to some pretty harmful teaching, having trusted their teachers’ authority for it, instead of the clear teaching of Scripture. They would not see it as “sheep stealing”, I wouldn’t think, but again, that may end up being the result. That happens with all dogmatic theological positions. Paul warned clearly about this to the elders/pastors of Ephesus –

      Act 20:28-31 NKJV – 28 “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”

      1. Brother Edlic, I have not received an email from you yet. Have you sent it, and if so, can you double check if you copied my address correctly? Also, I was still wondering if you did try to contact any of your fellow Malaysians from the list of email addresses Leighton provided. Thanks.

    1. Bro Brian, I double checked your e-mail … I did not realize it does not have the usual country extension.. unique to me. I will e-mail you now.

  9. I have tried to find a way to reach Dr. Flowers and cannot. So this is the best I can do. I have just started reading “God’s Provision for All” and appreciate it very much. We have, in our Bible studies, a young lady who had Calvinist friends and she is quite confused. We have helped her quite a bit, I think, and Dr. Flowers’ book is a valuable resource.

    But in the introduction I found two things that bear comment. The first is regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve already knew good — they knew God. More information and knowledge down that road is always desireable. All they did not know was evil — the results of disobedience. Dr. Flowers seemed to indicate that it was simply the increase in knowledge that was bad, and that might need to be re-thought. Increase in the knowledge of God, and of His creation is not bad. It was the knowledge of evil that was so bad.

    The second thing has two parts: regarding Noah’s Flood. If you check the ages of the sons and the age of Noah when he entered the Ark, you will find that the building time was much less than 100 years. The 120 year limit mentioned in Genesis 6 has to do with the final lifespan of a man, which is what we have today.

    And about the children dying. The clue here may be found in Abraham’s discussion with our Lord before the Sodom destruction. 50 righteous men? 40? 30? …down to ten. If there had been only ten righteous men in Sodom, the city would have been spared. The point is that children being raised up would have a choice between good and evil. But they didn’t. We read, essentially, the same in Genesis 6. No choices left for the children. So God collected them, if you will, despite a moment’s pain and panic. It was a mercy on God’s part, not the vindictiveness some claim.

    My husband is Barry Setterfield and we have been Bible students for, collectively, about 80 years. I am 71 and he is now 77. About 25 years ago I was the coordinator for deaf interpreters for the Ligonier Conferences on the west coast. I had no idea at the time what Reformed theology was and I can remember vividly the first time I heard about predestination. I was not the interpreter at the time and I remember looking around in shock to see if others were stunned by it, but they all seemed to accept it. I went home and spent about 2 years combing through the Bible to find out how anyone could believe that. Actually, the answer was very simple, in Genesis itself. “If….then….” Why all those warnings if no one had a choice? There are lots more reasons for my resignation from working with Sproul, but that is the first.

    At any rate, if there is any way Dr. Flowers is interested in these comments, great. If not, that’s fine, too. God bless you all.

    In Christ,
    Helen Setterfield

  10. I could add another reason to leave Calvinism. Have you ever seen the video of a Calvinist preacher evangelizing an atheist named Pinecreek. Pinecreek asks the preacher…tell me about Jesus and salvation. The evangelist starts out as you would normally expect but within a minute Jesus takes a back seat to Election. It causes you to want to jump through the TV screen and grab that preacher and say STOP! He keeps jumpimg back and forth between belief in Jesus and election. It literally makes you cringe. I truly felt sorry for the atheist, that he had to hear this sermon posing as the gospel. It’s truly unbiblical and awful. But don’t take my word for it…google “evangelistic calvinism pinecreek”.

    1. Thank you for this post Richard!

      Based on the search string you provided, I used it in a youtube search.

      The first one listed has this title:

      Kris and Calvinism: How do I get the desire to Repent?

      The atheist mind thinks RATIONALLY.
      The Calvinist mind is reliant upon DOUBLE-SPEAK TALKING-POINTS.

      The atheist asks a question and you can see the Calvinist trying to line that question up with a TALKING-POINT.

      When the questions start – the Calvinist has no problem finding an applicable TALKING-POINT.

      But as the questions begin to drill down and become more pinpointed – the Calvinist starts to struggle for a few seconds trying to find a TALKING-POINT that will fit the question..

      As the questions drill-down they start to reveal contradictions.
      And in those cases the Calvinist evades the question altogether and simply recites some TALKING-POINT that is almost randomly selected – just to be able to say he responded to the question.

      This video is REVEALING!

      1. Br.D,

        This line of thought seems ever so uncharitable. Shouldn’t you be rebuking the implied assertion that the behavior of a particular claimed proponent of a theological system can form a basis for rejecting that system? Adding something like this to Dr. flowers five well-articulated objections will only devalue them and lead away from substantive conversation about the merits of Traditionalism or Calvinism.

        Further, you offer broadbrush descriptions of Calvinism that certainly will apply only in selected cases. This is also uncharitable and seems to reveal a prejudice rather than a commitment to objective, rational discourse around the issues. What if I or some other Calvinist came along and said Traditionalism should be rejected because we saw a traditionalist argue in a certain way, or present the Gospel in a certain way? I suspect you would take us back to Scripture and ask us to ground our arguments there.

        As Christians, we should be basing our views on Scripture and not building them from ad hominem arguments. Dr. Flowers’ general approach to theological debate seems opposite to what I am observing in this morning’s comments.

        Blessings,
        THEOparadox

      2. br.d
        Hello THEOparadox and welcome.

        THEOparadox
        This line of thought seems ever so uncharitable. Shouldn’t you be rebuking the implied assertion that the behavior of a particular claimed proponent of a theological system can form a basis for rejecting that system?

        br.d
        Actually its simply being realistic – based upon consistent observable characteristics. There is a consistency over time and with the general population of Calvinists which is highly repeatable. Additionally I make the observation not to present some form of rebuke. But to highlight what is observable so that others can be informed and benefit.

        THEOparadox
        Adding something like this to Dr. flowers five well-articulated objections will only devalue them and lead away from substantive conversation about the merits of Traditionalism or Calvinism.

        br.d
        That may be one’s perception – but it certainly isn’t mine. Again see answer above.

        THEOparadox
        Further, you offer broadbrush descriptions of Calvinism that certainly will apply only in selected cases. This is also uncharitable and seems to reveal a prejudice rather than a commitment to objective, rational discourse around the issues.

        br.d
        This argument is often presented in a response to statistics and demographics on crime. There does not need to by any prejudice for persons involved. Such prejudice is only projected in the mind of an objector.
        In this case the phenomenon is quite consistent.

        THEOparadox
        What if I or some other Calvinist came along and said Traditionalism should be rejected because we saw a traditionalist argue in a certain way, or present the Gospel in a certain way? I suspect you would take us back to Scripture and ask us to ground our arguments there.

        br.d
        That of course depends upon whether or not that is observed as consistent or inconsistent.
        In this case – that is taken into consideration.

        THEOparadox
        As Christians, we should be basing our views on Scripture and not building them from ad hominem arguments. Dr. Flowers’ general approach to theological debate seems opposite to what I am observing in this morning’s comments.

        br.d
        In the realm of debate or dialog there are always two things to concentrate on. (1) The actual subject matter of the statements made. (2) the FORM of which those statements are made. This is where we get our list of logical fallacies.

        THEOparadox
        Blessings,

        br.d
        Thank you THEOparadox – and blessing so to you also. :-]

  11. To br.d
    I’m not sure you saw the right video. Let me be more specific….google/evangelical Calvinism/pinecreek….it’s listed on Soteriology 101, A discussion with a Calvinist, Eli Ayala….the point in seeing this video, is that instead of Scripture, counter Scripture arguing, as important as that is, this let’s you see Calvinism in action. Namely a cringe worthy gospel presentation never encountered in the pages of the Bible.

    1. Ok thanks Richard – there appears to be two.
      One with Dr. Flowers and the other one prior to that with the Athiest interview.

      They are both on Youtube and the one with the Athiest interviewing Eli Ayala is titled:
      Christian presup Eli Ayala and I talk about worldviews.

      The one with Dr. Flowers interviewing Eli Ayala is titled:
      A Discussion with a Calvinist: Eli Ayala

      So anyone who wants to see both of those can use those titles in the Youtube search

      I’ll go ahead and watch both of them

    2. Hi Richard – I just watched Dr. Flower’s interview with Eli Ayala

      Maybe its because I’ve been exposed to Calvinist language for so many years – I don’t know – but what this Calvinist said did not at all surprise me. It may be that years ago listening to it for the first or second time I would have had a response of disgust over his language. But its been a number of years now for me and nothing they say shocks me anymore.

      On this Calvinist Eli Ayala – I see the same exact language patterns that I find typical with Calvinists.
      They will firmly reject a certain concept in one statement. And then in the next statement they will smuggle that concept right back in.

      For example, Dr. Flowers shows a small clip of this Calvinist’s interview with Doug the Atheist.
      And Eli when asked “What can I do to desire god” instantly moves to craft statements that are HIDDEN SUBJUNCTIVE CONDITIONALS.

      A subjunctive conditional is an IF-THEN statement

      For example:
      IF and only IF god decrees you can/will [X] then you can/will [X]
      Otherwise you cannot and will not [X].

      When the Calvinist says “you must repent” and omits the IF condition he is HIDING the most critical aspect of his theology. And this is what is meant by a HIDDEN subjunctive conditional.

      I found this Calvinist doing the exact same thing both with the Atheist and with Dr. Flowers.
      He uses language that allows for the very things he rejects.

      I simply think Calvinist are taught to use misleading language because it works for them.
      But I wasn’t shocked by anything he said.
      Perhaps I’m just numb to the evilness of it?

    1. A very illuminating question I find – is:
      If Calvinism REALLY is the true Gospel – then why is it always enunciated with DOUBLE-SPEAK?

  12. I think we should drop the name Calvinism and replace it with Fatalism. If you watch the video, that’s how Mr. Pinecreek perceived it. This is the depths to which the Gospel has sunk to.

    1. Although there are some Calvinists who are new-bees to Calvinism who will in ignorance enunciate elements of fatalism – the serious Calvinists know the difference between fatalism and determinism.

      It is the tiny little difference between “Necessary” and “Certain”.

      Still – even some serious Calvinists who should know better will craft statements that enunciate fatalism.
      But still there is a difference between it and determinism.
      However the difference is very slight.
      And that’s why we see Calvinists going there.

  13. Really great stuff here. I’m in the process of really developing a more biblical view on these controversial issues. I have identified more with non-Calvinistic views but really enjoy listening to John MacArthur because I he really explains the scriptures clearly. Now that you have come to a newer stance in your convictions, what do you think and how do you feel about these men that you use to really follow? Thanks!

    -Angel V.

    1. Hello Angel and welcome!

      I think if you review articles and posts here by non-Calvinists you’ll find they don’t trust Mr. MacArthur as an intellectually honest person.
      I know that sounds a little extreme – but when one understands the bulk of the dark implications inherent in Calvin’s doctrine – and the degree of misleading and sometimes duplicitous language strategies used by Calvinist speakers – designed to hide those implications – then you’ll understand the basis for that observation. We always want to remain open minded so we allow ourselves room to recognize such things.

      Blessing!

  14. If God granted all your prayers for the week, how many people would be saved?

    (FullyFreeFilms.com)

    This is an in-house debate, correct?
    Those who do mot agree are treated that way?

    Sam

  15. This a general comment that may or may not be helpful to anyone but me relating to free will. How does God wish to be worshiped?

    From the Woman at the Well parable;
    John 4:23-24 (NASB)
    23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
    24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

    All of God’s creation, especially the inanimate where science excels, does exactly as it was created to do. The problem comes with living beings having free will; angels, humans, and pets as “In the dog house.” if we were the automatons of TULIP and nothing more where’s the Spirit and Truth? Where’s the Chumba Wumba as in “I get knocked down, but through in Him, I’m overcome by His Spirit and the Truth, His love and forgiveness I get up again?” -with a constant ratcheting up of Oh yea, now I see it. What an idiot I’ve been!

    Our worship of God, must be in spirit and truth. If we are not growing in faith we are not worshiping in spirit and truth.

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