Yesterday I wrote this article in response to a publication authored by Dr. Tom Nettles which called churches to “get a Calvinist Pastor.” Today I received a response from Dr. Nettles in the comment section that I would like to interact with more fully here. He begins by responding to one sentence from my article:
Leighton: “I think it is obvious why Nettles did not address any of these actual distinctives of the Calvinistic worldview.”
Dr. Nettles: Seemingly it was not obvious enough. I don’t think you actually would contend that I have ever hidden the distinctive views of historical Calvinism, but am very glad to state them plainly and defend them sincerely.
Dr. Nettles is correct on this point, I do not believe he would ever hide his own support of historical Calvinistic distinctives. Of course, he is not looking for a job either. In fact, he has become pretty well known in Southern Baptist life as one of the most outspoken defenders of uniquely Calvinistic doctrines. But, we are not talking about the esteemed Dr. Nettles applying for a leadership position at one of our pastorless churches. We are talking about countless unknown pastors being interviewed by countless Pastor Search Committees who are trying to discern which applicant is a good fit for their congregation.
Does the Founders ministry instruct those applicants to “state their distinctive views of historical Calvinism plainly and defend them sincerely” when in the local church? I will let you be the judge. In a section subtitled “The Quite Revolution” from the Founders website there was an article giving Calvinistic pastors instructions on how to “reform their church” without stirring up suspicions. Here are some troubling quotes from this Founders’ article, which can be downloaded in a pdf by CLICKING HERE:
Practical Suggestions for Local Church Reformation
Richard Coords, of examiningcalvinism.com, asks,
“But why avoid those terms? If they accurately describe your theological beliefs, why conceal it? Sometimes what will happen is that a Church will be looking for a new pastor, and the candidate will conceal the fact that they are aggressive Calvinists, arriving with a secret Calvinist agenda. The result is an eventual Church-split and a lot of heartaches, but the Calvinist will deem any pushback as persecution for doing the work of God.”
A well known Arminian Theologian, Dr. Roger Olson, warns,
“Some Calvinists are attempting to impose Calvinism on Christian organizations that have traditionally been neutral with regard to Calvinism and Arminianism and have included both. They are often doing this under the guise of warding off open theism. Arminians need to band together, in spite of our differences over things like open theism (whether it’s a legitimate evangelical option or not) and push back when this happens.” <Beware of Stealth Calvinism!>
So, while we can all rest assured in knowing that if Dr. Nettles himself applies to one of these local churches they will likely already be fully aware of his stance on Calvinistic soteriology, I am not sure the same could be said of all the lessor known adherents to Calvinism who are secretly apart of the Founder’s “quiet revolution.” The point was not to suggest Dr. Nettles is unclear about his particular views on this subject, but that Calvinists in general, when being considered by a search committee, are not always so forthright about their actual distinctives. Dr. Nettles goes on to write,
“As you have properly discerned, I was interested in looking at evangelical doctrines upon which we agree, hopefully. That is why you could identify with each of the points. So I must have been clear on at least that much. My intent was to argue that the synthesis of doctrines historically given the nomenclature of ‘Calvinism’ would more consistently sustain those doctrines than a non-Calvinist system would. You, of course, would argue otherwise and I would be glad to see it.”
I appreciate the clarification of his intentions and once again he is correct in that I would argue otherwise. And, since he asked so nicely, here we go:
In my last article I already demonstrated why it would be more logically consistent for a Traditionalist to stand against manipulative means than it would be for a Calvinist, but unfortunately Dr. Nettles did not comment at that portion of my article. Maybe he was glad to see it, but not so glad to respond to it? 😉
Let’s look a few more from Dr. Nettles list of commonly held doctrines:
Inspiration of Scripture: Nettles writes, “Calvinism provides a more consistent rationale for inerrancy than other theological systems. One of the most often repeated objections to the divine inspiration of Scripture is that its assumption of perfect divine control of the process runs roughshod over human freedom and does not give sufficient room to human finiteness or human sin.”
A more consistent rationale? How is it more consistent to defend the uniqueness of divine inspiration by divine control when your system teaches that EVERY BOOK THAT HAS EVER BEEN WRITTEN was sovereignly and unchangeable brought about by an all controlling God for His own glory?
Certainly Nettles believes that his last published book is true, otherwise he wouldn’t have published it. And if he is consistent within the claims of Calvinism he would also have to admit that his book was “sovereignly and unchangeably brought about by God’s divine will.” Therefore, if Nettles is consistent, he must conclude that God sovereignly and unchangeably brought about the writing of truth by his own hands. So, on what basis does Nettles determine which truth is of God and which truth is not? Isn’t it all “of God” under the view of meticulous divine determinism being promoted by Calvinists today?
<NOTE: Before you accuse me of misrepresenting Calvinists as being overly deterministic, please READ THIS>
Traditionalists have a much higher view of God’s inspired truth because we believe it’s authorship was UNIQUELY CONTROLLED by God and that it actually accomplishes the purpose for which the apostles say it was sent, “so that you may believe that He is the Christ and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). On Calvinism, the inspired word of God remains insufficient to enable the lost to respond willingly to it appeals. That seems to be a much lower view of the power of divine inspiration than that which we affirm.
Maybe Dr. Nettles can explain why God sovereignly ordained the scribal varaints within the manuscript copies we have today without appealing to mistakes brought about by libertarian free will? If the inerrancy of the autographs is so crucial to maintaining the Christian faith wouldn’t it make sense for God to sovereignly and unchangeably preserve those original inerrant documents? Could it be that libertarianly free creatures made errors in transcribing God’s word and that is not something “God sovereignly brought about for his own glory?”
Trinity: Nettles goes on to argue that Calvinists are more staunch defenders of the doctrine of God’s triune nature. Yet, I would suggest that Calvinism, if consistently applied, actually pits Christ the Son against God the Father with regard to His love for all people. Allow me to demonstrate what I mean by this because I realize that is a fairly serious charge.
Given the biblical definition of love as “self-sacrifice” (1 Cor. 13), let us consider Christ’s command to love our enemies. Is this an expectation Christ himself is unwilling to fulfill? In other words, is He being hypocritical in this command? Of course not. The very reason He told His followers to love their enemies is “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matt. 5:45).
The meaning is undeniable. We are to love our enemies because God loves His enemies. He loves both “the righteous and the unrighteous” in exactly the same way we are told to love our enemies. The greatest commandment instructs us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-38). “And who is our neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). The pagan Samaritans, who were detested as enemies of God.
In short, Jesus is teaching us to self-sacrificially love everyone, even our worse enemies, because that reflects the very nature of God Himself.
Now, we know that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law in every way (Matt. 5:17-18), which would have to include the greatest commandment. Christ’s self-sacrificial love for His enemies was certainly as encompassing as what He demanded from His followers in Luke 10. Without a doubt, Jesus loved everyone, even his greatest, most undeserving enemies; otherwise, He would have failed to fulfill the demands of the law.
Paul taught, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” And again in Romans 13:8: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Thus, to deny Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for everyone is to deny that He fulfilled the demands of the law. This would disqualify Him as the perfect atoning sacrifice.
If we accept that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law by self-sacrificially loving all people, then how can we conclude that God’s love is any less far-reaching than that which is reflected in the Son? Would God expect our love to be more encompassing and self-sacrificial than His own? Consistent five point Calvinists cannot claim that God self-sacrificially loves everyone in the manner Christ did, which demonstrates a blatant inconsistency within the Divine Godhead.
Atonement: For the sake of brevity I will refer my reader to Dr. David Allen’s ground breaking book entitled, “The Extent of the Atonement,” in which he more than sufficiently answers the objections brought by our Calvinistic brethren.
Religious Liberty: Need I point out the unavoidable and troubling conclusion that God sovereignly and unchangeably brought about the lack of religious liberty and the abuses associated with it for generations if Calvinism’s claims are true?
Beyond that, let’s consider at least one of the first stalwart defenders of religious liberty, Balthasar Hubmaier. His contribution is especially significant because of the stark contrast that his soteriological belief had on his faith and practice as compared to that of more Calvinistic leaning theologians of popular renown during his day.
In Geneva, for example, where Calvin ruled, a child was beheaded for striking his parents and his own step-daughter and son-in-law were executed for adultery. Jacques Gruet dared to disagree with Calvin, calling him “ambitious” and a “haughty hypocrite.” Calvin ordered Gruet to be nailed to a stake by his feet where he was tortured until eventually beheaded for “blasphemy and rebellion.” A friend of Calvin, Sabastian Castellio, rebuked his intolerance and cruelty by saying in part, “If Christ himself came to Geneva, he would be crucified. For Geneva is not a place of Christian liberty. It is ruled by a new pope [John Calvin], but one who burns men alive while the pope at Rome strangles them first.”
In contrast, lessor known leaders, like Balthasar Hubmaier, laid the foundation for the Reformation while standing for religious liberty, believer’s baptism and many of the same Christ-like values we hold to today. Before the rise of Luther or Calvin, Hubmaier and others like him, took on the abuses of the Catholic church while defending even the atheist’s right to live in peace. While Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and many other reformers who left Catholicism continued to rely on state powers for the execution of “heretics,” great men like Hubmaier stood for Christian love and respect, even for his enemies, which sounds a lot like Jesus.
Hubmaier was a popular preacher in his day and is said to have baptized around six thousand persons in Nikolsburg alone. Not long after enduring months of torture under the rule of Ulrich Zwingli, for teaching believer’s baptism, Hubmaier and his wife were arrested by authorities and tried for heresy. On March 10, 1528, he was burned alive and three days later his wife was tossed into a river with a large stone tied around her neck.
Hubmaier taught a non-Calvinistic soteriology. Much like Traditionalists today, he believed that it was by the means of the gospel that God takes the initiative in drawing all people to himself. As the gospel is proclaimed, God’s Spirit convicts human hearts and leads them to confess Christ. While God takes the initiative, he does not make the decision for man. By His “attracting, drawing will . . . God wills and draws all men unto salvation. Yet the choice is still left to man, since God wants him without pressure, unconstrained, under no compulsion.”  According to Hubmaier’s own testimony, his belief that God genuinely loved and desired the salvation of all His enemies influenced his views on religious liberty, arguing “a heretic is not convinced by our act, either with the sword or with fire, but only with patience and prayer.”
Shall I go on? I would love to tackle the other doctrines on Nettles list and maybe I can in a later article, but for now this much will need to suffice.
In conclusion, I briefly wish to reply to this final comment Nettles made in response to my first article:
“As for your footnote recitations of Calvinist affirmations of crushing providences I can provide several others. ‘This man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men’ Acts 2:23; ‘And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled.'”(Revelation 17:16, 17)
Let it be noted that Nettles does not seek to contend with the troubling claims of “crushing providences” quoted from notable Calvinistic scholars, such as the first one listed in my footnotes by Desiring God Ministries with John Piper, which says, “God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory… This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child… Nothing that exists or occurs falls outside God’s ordaining will. Nothing, including no evil person or thing or event or deed. God’s foreordination is the ultimate reason why everything comes about, including the existence of all evil persons and things and the occurrence of any evil acts or events.”<link>
Instead of denouncing this quote, Nettles “adds to it” by citing two passages from scripture:
(1) Acts 2:23: “This man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men.”
How does a passage that demonstrates God’s working to bring about the redemption of sin by means of Calvary likewise suggest that God brought about all the sins that were redeemed on Calvary? Was God merely working to redeem his own determinations or was he working to redeem our sinful determinations? <more on this HERE>
(2) Rev. 17:16-17: “And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled.”
For the sake of time and space I will refer you to THIS PODCAST where I respond to Matt Chandler going through many Calvinistic proof texts, including this one reference by Nettles. I recommend listening to the entire episode to fully understand the context, but if you wish only to listen to the portion where I cover this passage in specific you can fast foward to 33 minute mark. I pray this is helpful.
 All of the above information about Geneva can be found in Will Durant, The Reformation, pp. 472-476. Durant cites his sources. See also Calvin’s Geneva: An Experiment in Christian Theocracy – published in The Radical Resurgence and Calvin’s Geneva: Applied Critical Thinking – published in The Radical Resurgence
 Quoted in How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West by Perez Zagorin.
Many of the citations and quotes on Luther and Calvin can be found in journal articles submitted by Frank Viola under his series, “Shocking beliefs.” Viola puts these facts in right perspective saying, “The point is not to put the greatest influencers of the Christian faith in a bad light or disregard their legacy. Rather, it’s the opposite. It’s to show that even the most influential Christians who have changed the lives of countless people for good — Calvin [or Luther] being one of them — believed things that were surprising, shocking, and even outrageous. So tread carefully the next time you come across another follower Jesus who doesn’t believe just like you do on every doctrinal point.” Web site accessed: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/
 Hubmaier’s treatise, Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524), was the first treatise on behalf of complete freedom of religion produced in the sixteenth century. He argued that the nature of the gospel precludes coercion and insisted that the state has no jurisdiction in religious matters. He extended liberty even to law abiding atheists, “It is well and good that the secular authority puts to death the criminals who do physical harm to the defenseless, Romans 13. But no one may injure the atheist who wishes nothing for himself other than to forsake the gospel.” (Estep, Anabaptist Beginnings, p. 51)
 Bergsten, Torsten. Balthasar Hubmaier: Anabaptist Theologian and Martyr. Translated and edited by Irwin Barnes and William Estep. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1978.
 Balthasar Hubmaier: Schriften. Edited by Gennar Westin and Torsten Bergsten. (Heidelberg, Germany: Guetersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1962), 322
 Hubmaier’s treatise, Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524), 202