If you have been around church functions as long as I have you have seen just about every kind of motivation to get people to “come to Jesus” or just to “walk the aisle.” And let’s just face it, sometimes people go way overboard in their attempt to “get people saved.”
I remember in my first VBS as a young pastor one of the workers coming to me with a group of over 20 kids ranging from ages 3 to 13 who she insisted were ready to be baptized. She apparently had taken it upon her self to offer the children an “altar call to avoid hell” in her recreation time. Surprise, Surprise, not one of the kids wanted to go to hell! As a compromise to her request, I agreed to meet individually with each child and try to assess if any were indeed ready for such an important decision.
One by one each child came into my office and, as I expected, proved not to have understood even the basics of the gospel appeal to repentance. That was until Kimberly came in and sat down. Kimberly was a delightful twelve-year-old girl who always wore a bright cheery grin. But she wasn’t smiling this time. I asked her why she came to the front to pray, fully expecting the same kind of shallow answers from the other kids. She looked to the ground, shuffled her feet a bit, and then, to my shock, she looks at me with tears welling up and said, “Brother Leighton, I have sinned and I know only Jesus can forgive me.” We talked for while and I found a spirit of broken submission. Repentance marked this young tender heart. She was the only one we baptized that next Sunday. Oh, and that VBS worker was not at all upset with me. It just so happened that Kimberly was her oldest daughter.
At the time this happened I was a Calvinist. I hated manipulation tactics or even the hint of an “easy-believism gospel.” False teachers, money hungry TV Evangelists, and health wealth prosperity preachers made my blood boil. I certainly was not about to allow an overzealous VBS volunteer manipulate a bunch of children!
So, now that I have left Calvinism one may think I embrace such evangelistic tactics? Or maybe that I have at least mellowed out a bit against such things?
When I was a Calvinist at least I could fall back on my belief that false teachers did not have the chance of preventing the “elect ones” from being saved. I did not see these manipulators of the gospel as a real threat to the eternal souls of people. After all, my systematic taught me that God would certainly save all His chosen ones. So, while I had a righteous indignation, I really did not see them as the threat they actually are in this world.
Sometimes I wonder why it is the Calvinistic believers who are the first to repudiate such tactics when it is those who believe as I do that should be the most indignant given what is at sake.
We all know strong faithful believers who first came to church or walked an aisle as a result of “questionable tactics” employed by “questionable motives.” So, were these tactics the means God ordained for His Holy ends? If so, then should we not respond to those means with the grace Joseph responded to his criminal brothers by saying, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good,” and let it go at that?
Why do manipulative means bother you?
1. Do you believe God ordained manipulative means to come to pass for His greatest glory?
2. Do you believe God purposed such unbiblical tactics to irresistibly draw out his elect ones (because He not only ordains the ends but the means)?
3. Do you believe God is indignant toward some of the very means He ordained to draw His elect ones to salvation?
Do you see the problem with adopting the idea that God actually purposed the evil tactics to come to pass; rather than, His redeeming evil tactics to bring about a good purpose?
Inquiring as to how God brought about the good end without meticulously determining the means is tantamount to asking how an undefeated chess master soundly defeated every opponent. Whatever answer you might attempt to offer, would you ever speculate that the chess master is somehow secretly determining his opponents every move in order to ensure his own victory? Or, would it be more beneficial to the “glory” of the chess master to conclude that he is so wise and great at the game of chess that every free move of his opponent was masterfully countered and turned into a victory?
God is a Master Redeemer. He knows how to take any move of his opponent and redeem it for His greater purpose. How? I have no idea and if I could figure it all out then it probably would not be all that impressive, because I am not all that bright. No human is, by the way. Some of us just haven’t come to that realization yet, in my humble (but accurate) opinion.
Think about all the human discoveries, studies, and disciplines that most of us cannot even begin to understand. Neuroscience, molecular biology, thermodynamics, genetics, complex engineering and the list could go on and on. Even the greatest minds in each of these fields admit how little we really know or can understand of these disciplines. Are we so naive as to think we can put our peon minds around the inner workings of our infinite Creator God simply because we have a theology degree hanging on our wall? The subject matter of a theologian makes all other subjects look like child’s play in comparison. We would be naive to presume we can explain exactly how our infinite God works within our temporal world.
All this to say that we cannot begin to draw hard and fast conclusions about God that may impugn His very character. I would much rather appeal to the mystery of man’s capriciousness than to impugn God’s character. It makes little sense for God (or His followers) to express outrage against things that God Himself has determined beforehand will be the means to ensure His greatest glory. There is no rational answer against the charge of divine culpability for moral evil if Calvinism’s claims are true. Calvin himself admitted as much when he wrote:
“How it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author or approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance…. I daily so meditate on these mysteries of his judgments that curiosity to know anything more does not attract me.” (there are quotes from Piper, MacArthur, and Sproul appealing to this same mystery)
In the Calvinistic way of thinking, any critique of that which has come to pass becomes a criticism of God’s eternal self-glorifying plan. This interpretation requires the response of any and all rebukes of questionable means or evil actions to be answered with the all too commonly misquoted proof text, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”
If a Calvinist says, “Arminian preacher, you shouldn’t manipulate people with your seeker-sensitive easy-believism gospel!”
A consistent answer would be: “Who are you to question God?”
When another Calvinist complains saying, “Lifeway, you shouldn’t sell heretical books in your bookstores.”
An appropriate answer may be, “Who are you to question God?”
If a Calvinist podcaster states, “Churches, you shouldn’t become a country club that tickles the ears of your listeners.”
What keeps us from saying, “Who are you to question God?”
God has not brought these evil choices to pass! He is not the one who ordained specific evil desires and deeds. We should be angry at such abhorrent actions because God is genuinely angry too, and He is not angry at Himself (His secret hidden will) or His eternal plan of self-glorification. He is angry at THEM for their CHOICES, period. We can and should join God in his rebuke of bad choices without feeling that we are rebuking God’s secret eternal unchangeable plan of self-glorification. <more HERE>
We can rest in the truth that God is supernaturally able to redeem the evil intentions and actions of His creatures to bring about His greater good. But nothing, absolutely NOTHING, suggests we need to adopt any systematic (or philosophical theistic theory) which even implies that God brings about manipulations of His gospel, evil desires, choices or actions through “meticulous providence” or some kind of “divine sovereign decree.”