Dr. James Leo Garrett, an esteemed Southern Baptist scholar, wrote of a “Westernized hyper individualization” of certain biblical doctrines:
“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 …?”
Let’s just be honest. We, as American Westerners, do tend to think everything is about us, the individual. We tend to read the text with an ego-centric bent. If someone tells the story of David slaying the giant, we see ourselves as the hero in that story and feel as if it is a lesson about how we can slay the “giants” in our lives too. However, it’s much more likely that we are better represented by the Israelites hiding in fear while Christ, the actual hero of the story, slays our “giants.” And despite what you may feel about the title of this article, I am objective enough to realize that it is typically the Calvinistic pastors who are pointing out this tendency.
However, when we read of God setting certain people apart for noble tasks, it is the Calvinist that most tends toward a self aggrandizing interpretation of those text by assuming God must have set us, as individuals, apart in a similar manner. For instance, how often have you heard someone quote, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit” (Jn. 15:16) to prove that they were individually chosen to be effectually saved?
And what about passages where certain prophets or apostles were set apart by God, such as:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace” (Gal. 1:14-15).
Have you ever heard someone use these types of passages to prove that they were set apart and called by his grace before they were born too? Not only is this an ego-centered method of interpretation, but it undermines the very important doctrines of “Apostolic Authority” and “Divine Inspiration.” The Pulpit Commentary states,
“THE APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY IS CONFERRED. It does not originate in the man who possesses it. He is “one sent,” a messenger, a missionary, an ambassador. As the prophet is the man who “speaks for” God, the Divine spokesman, so the apostle is he who is sent by his Lord, the messenger of Christ. Thus the apostolic authority is very different from that of the philosopher which depends entirely on his own intellectual powers, and that of the religious founder which grows out of the man’s own spiritual ideas, and all purely personal authority. It is derived from the authority of Christ. Natural gifts can no more make a man an apostle than they can give a free-lance the right to command a national army.”
When people misuse the scriptures to suggest that they are set apart, called and sent out by the same sovereignly effectual means as the divinely appointed prophets and apostles, it undercuts the uniqueness and thus the authority of these holy messengers and their inspired message. Throughout the scriptures we see God uniquely choosing certain individuals for very specific holy purposes. For instance:
“The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses. Aaron was set apart, he and his descendants forever, to consecrate the most holy things, to offer sacrifices before the LORD, to minister before him and to pronounce blessings in his name forever” (1 Chronicles 23:13).
“Know that the LORD has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him” (Psalm 4:3).
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:1-5)
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:39-43).
Who had God “already chosen” according to Peter in the text above? God had already chosen His witnesses, not those who may or may not believe their witness.
This is a common mistake made by Calvinistic scholars. They point to instances where God has sovereignly used external normative means (such a big fish or blinding lights) to ensure His message is delivered as proof that God “sovereignly” uses inward effectual means (such as regeneration) to cause preselected individuals to believe their message.
However, proof that God chose and persuaded Jonah, for instance, to deliver His message of redemption to the Ninevites, does not prove that God preselected which individual Ninevites would or would not believe that message. So too, proof that God has preselected a nation and individual messengers from that nation to bring the good news of redemption to the rest of the world by sovereign means does not prove God has preselected which individuals will or will not believe that good news.
Now, I realize that Calvinists do not feel as if they are undermining the teaching of apostolic authority or divine inspiration. Most, if not all, Calvinistic scholars do in fact teach in defense of these doctrines. My contention is that their support of these doctrines is undermined by their soteriological premise and their understanding of divine sovereignty (as meticulous determinism).
Allow me to present one example. Many Calvinists maintain that all things are ultimately brought to pass by God’s sovereign will. <link> This would include the salvation, calling and writings of Dr. John Piper, would it not? One of Piper’s most famous quotes is:
“God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him.”
- Do you believe that is a true statement?
- Was that statement written by a man set apart for effectual calling before birth?
- Was that statement brought about by God’s sovereign decree?
- Did Piper come up with this statement alone or did it ultimately come from God?
If you answered all of these questions in the affirmative, as a consistent Calvinist must, then what sets apart Piper’s writings from that of the Apostle Paul’s?
The Calvinist may say, “Well, the Apostle Paul’s writings were divinely inspired and Piper’s were not.”
Ok. So, what is the difference between true statements that were inspired by God in the scriptures, and true statements that were sovereignly decreed to be written by God in a book brought about by His own sovereign will?
Do you see the issue?
Calvinists have undermined the unique characteristics of the Apostle’s calling and the sovereign means of His divine work within our world. They have done this by suggesting that all saints are saved in the same effectual manner that the messengers were called and all things are brought to pass by God’s sovereign will. They have left nothing, absolutely nothing, to be considered somehow distinctly “of God” so as to be contrasted to that which is not.
Other verses to be considered:
 James Leo Garrett, Systematic Theology: Biblical Historical, and Evangelical Vol. 2. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 500:
 The Pulpit Commentary: http://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/adeney/apostolic_authority.htm