I have been asked by some who love me, and who have served as reviewers of this work, why I would devote an entire chapter to the refutation of that false spirit we know as, “Calvinism.” I think the answer lies in the fact that not only is it a very prevalent and dangerous theology, but that it is also very common in today’s modern, denominational world. All the mainstream Protestant denominations, and most of their offshoots, are rooted and grounded in Calvinist ideology. As we go about actively living and sharing our faith in the modern world, the new covenant children of God are going to continually run in to this false spirit at virtually every turn.
What is Calvinism? Slick (2012), in The Calvinist Corner, states, “Calvinism is a system of biblical interpretation taught by John Calvin. Calvin lived in France in the 1500’s at the time of Martin Luther who sparked the Reformation” (para. 1). Slick goes on to explain a few things that are good about Calvinism—and, like most false spirits, it does make a few good claims—saying:
The system of Calvinism adheres to a very high view of scripture and seeks to derive its theological formulations based solely on God’s word. It focuses on God’s sovereignty, stating that God is able and willing by virtue of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, to do whatever He desires with His creation. (para. 2)
However, perhaps no other religious teaching today comes as close to illustrating the age old adage that, “the closer to the truth, the better the lie; and the best lie is the truth when it can be used that way,” as does the theology of Calvinism. Slick (2012) goes on to unwittingly reveal some of the more dangerous aspects of Calvinism, saying:
It also maintains that within the Bible are the following teachings: That God, by His sovereign grace predestines people into salvation; that Jesus died only for those predestined; that God regenerates the individual where he is then able and wants to choose God; and that it is impossible for those who are redeemed to lose their salvation. (para. 2)
Slick (2012) says, “Basically, Calvinism is known by an acronym: T.U.L.I.P.” (para. 4). While he sets forth this acronym in a good light—as being a good thing—some among God’s covenant children recognize it as false teaching; and have even come to refer to it as, “the toxic tulip”; here’s why:
T = Total Depravity
(Also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
While Calvinists, Catholics, and many others readily buy in to variations of this false teaching known as, “total depravity,” or “original sin,” the Bible nowhere affirms it. Some go to Psalm 51, a poem of contrition composed by King David after the prophet Nathan had convicted him of committing adultery with Bathsheba, then murdering her husband, Uriah. David writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5, NASB). Sadly, some modern translations, such as the New International Version, translate the text, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). But the actual Hebrew word that is translated as “brought forth,” or “birth,” is “chovlaleti” from the word “chuwl” (khool) meaning: “to twist or whirl [in a circular or spiral manner], i.e. to dance, to writhe in pain [especially of parturition – childbirth]” (Psalm 51:5, 2013). A more accurate word-for-word translation of this text is: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Holy Name KJV). The meaning of the text is not that David was sinful at birth, but rather, David feels as though, from conception, through childbirth, and throughout his life, he has always been surrounded by sin and inundated by sinful influences and examples. However, he is not offering this as any kind of an excuse to God, but only acknowledging the deceitful spirits that have influenced him throughout his life.
The Bible sets forth the righteousness and justice of God when the prophet Ezekiel says:
The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
(Ezekiel 18:20, NASB)
The Bible also recognizes the innocence of children. In an ancient prophecy concerning the Christ child, it is written:
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsake.
(Isaiah 7:14-16, NASB)
However, the teaching of total depravity, or original sin, is dangerous because it does not recognize the innocence of children and condemns innocent babes to eternal punishment, holding them responsible and guilty for sinful deeds committed by their original ancestors. People confronted with this doctrine would have every right to call God, “unjust”—and, sadly, some do!
U = Unconditional Election
(Also known as Predestination)
In his effort to propagate the doctrine of Calvinism, Slick (2012) says:
God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual. He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will… without any consideration of merit within the individual… Nor does God look into the future to see who would pick Him. Also, as some are elected into salvation, others are not… (para. 8)
Slick (2012) cites various scripture references, such as Ephesians 1:4-5 and Romans 9:11,15,21 to support these claims. While these passages do, indeed, acknowledge God’s predetermined election, or choosing, of the ekklesia—those who have surrendered their hearts and lives to Him—they do not remotely teach that God arbitrarily picks and chooses between individual people. Paul was not writing to specific individuals, but to groups of people, the ekklesia at Ephesus and Rome. In fact, though he used individuals as examples—“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13, NASB)—in the context of the passage, Paul is talking about the broader distinction between Jews and Gentiles and how people from both groups will be saved, saying:
And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
(Romans 9:23-24, NASB)
The doctrine of unconditional election is dangerous because, like the doctrine of total depravity, it makes God out to be capricious and unjust. It also perpetuates hopelessness, unbelief, and rebellion against God. It pretty much takes the good news right out of the Gospel and renders it nothing more than news. The message becomes: “Guess what, here’s the news—wish it were better news, but anyway—God has arbitrarily chosen a few of us for salvation, but He has relegated the overwhelming majority of you to condemnation.” And so, rather than being drawn to Christ, people are turned away.
The fact is, the Apostle Peter says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NASB). People who have lived beyond the age of innocence, having attained to the age of accountability—wherein they are fully mature and can be held responsible for the decisions they make in life—are quite capable of choosing between good or evil. And, as the above verse indicates, God wants every one of us saved. But there is something people can do and, in fact, must do in order to enter into the grace of God and not perish—Peter calls it, “repentance.”
L = Limited Atonement
(Also known as Particular Atonement)
In Slick’s (2012) own words, this doctrine teaches that: “Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all. Jesus only bore the sins of the elect” (para. 9). Support for this position is drawn from various scriptures which Slick and his compatriots take completely out of context. He makes the point that, in John 17:9 Jesus, while in prayer, interceded for the ones given Him, not those of the entire world; and in Acts 20:28 and Ephesians 5:25-27 it is stated that only the church was purchased by Christ, not all people; and that Isaiah 53:12 is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion in which it is stated that he would bear the sins of many (not all).
This doctrine of limited atonement is dangerous because, again, it limits the scope of God’s sacrificial love to those few individuals who are allegedly predestined—arbitrarily chosen—by God. But what people need to hear and know, more than anything else in this world, is that they are so loved by God, in fact, the whole world is so loved by God, that “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB).
Hopelessness is dispelled and people will be drawn to God when they come to understand the price that Jesus has already paid for each and every one of us. The Apostle John writes:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation [price paid to satisfy the demands of God’s justice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
(I John 2:1-2, NASB)
And the Apostle Paul said:
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
(Romans 5:18-19, NASB)
It’s a bit ironic, in light the preceding doctrine—unconditional election—but this doctrine of limited atonement not only calls into question the righteousness and justice of God, but also His unconditional love. It takes away the glory due a sacrificial Savior who has poured Himself out in unconditional love for all humanity, whether people ever respond to His gift of love or not.
What do all people everywhere, the world over, need to know? They need to know they are so loved that blood has already been spilled for them. They need to know that, because God loves them so much more than they can imagine, Jesus has already paid the price for their sins. Because His love is truly unconditional, He has already purchased their pardon and gained entrance for them into the eternal kingdom of God. The work is already done! The price is already paid! All they have to do now is respond in living faith to that incredible gift that He has made available to them; and start learning how to love Him back. But whether they ever choose to do that or not, God’s love for them can never be disputed. The blood of Christ stands as immutable testimony to the impartial lovingkindness of the Lord; and no one will ever be able to say, “Well, I guess He just didn’t choose to love me!”
I = Irresistible Grace
In his continued defense of Calvinism, Slick (2012) goes on to say:
When God calls his [sic] elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. (para. 10)
Wait a minute! Am I missing something here? Is Slick (2012) indulging in a bit of word play? First he says, “they cannot resist,” and “it cannot be resisted.” Then he says, “they willingly and freely come to God.” What kind of “double-talk” is that? It seems to me as if, either our response to God is irresistible, or we come freely and of our own volition; but it cannot be both ways.
Slick (2012) then goes on to denote a number of passages, again taken out of context, to support this doctrine. For example, he uses Romans 9:16 which says, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” But what Slick and company do not seem to grasp is that the context of the passage, again, does not refer to an individual sinner choosing to come to Christ, but to the Jewish people thinking that, because they are the physical descendants of Abraham, they are still the one and only chosen race; and that no Gentiles can come to Christ unless and until they become proselytes to the Jewish faith. This fact is seen at the beginning of the passage where it is stated that:
…it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
(Romans 9:6-8, NASB)
And it is seen again at the end of the passage where it is stated:
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
(Romans 9:30-31, NASB)
Everything that falls within these statements must be interpreted in accordance with the context in which they were written. The passage is not about individual men and women coming to Christ and surrendering to Him as Lord and Savior. Rather, it is about those who think that they know better than God and who think that, by the exertion of their own will, they can manipulate history, influence the will of God, and determine who among the nations of the earth should and should not be saved.
The doctrine of irresistible grace is dangerous because it takes free moral agency completely out of the equation. If, as Slick (2012) says, people “cannot resist,” then they are reduced to being no more than a puppet on a string. But God is not looking for puppets, or for robots, or for people who do what they do because they have no choice in the matter. He’s looking for people who will choose to love Him openly and freely.
Love always involves the freedom of choice. Since the day humanity was created “in the image of God” we have be granted choice. The whole purpose for putting the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden was to provide Adam and Eve with choice. This false doctrine would leave people, as Slick (2012) says, sitting around waiting for an “internal call” that “cannot be resisted” (para. 10) instead of heeding the call of the Holy Spirit through the scripture, imploring: “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Corinthians 6:2, NASB).
P = Perseverance of the Saints
(Once Saved Always Saved or Eternal Security)
Slick (2012) says, “You cannot lose your salvation. Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those thus saved are eternally secure” (para. 11).
The problem with Slick’s (2012) logic is that it directly contradicts clear Bible teaching. The Apostle Paul says, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4, NASB). While Slick and company would say that Paul is only referring to people who never actually had God’s grace to begin with, we ask, “Well then, from what have they fallen?” How could these people in Galatia “have fallen from grace” if they had never stood in God’s grace. How could they “have been severed from Christ” if they had never really been in Christ?
The Hebrew writer also elaborates on this idea that while God says “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB) and Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28, NASB), still, we continue to have our own freewill in the matter; we read:
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.
(Hebrews 3:12-14, NASB)
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
(Hebrews 6:4-6, NASB)
While no one can “snatch” us out of the Lord’s hand against our will, we can certainly choose to leave of our own volition. God’s children are protected by covenant. But a covenant must be maintained. A covenant can be repudiated and dissolved by one party or the other. God, for His part, has said that He will never desert us or forsake us. But our part of the covenant requires that we never desert or forsake Him, either. We must remain faithful to Him and never repudiate the sacrifice of the One who died on our behalf.
The doctrine of perseverance of the saints is dangerous because, again, it effectively dispenses with the freedom of self-determination. It takes free will, choice, and thereby love out of one’s personal relationship with God. It purports that we say and do the things we do in service to God not because we love Him and want to please Him, but only because we are controlled and compelled to do so.
For some of those who do not live up to God’s high standards, the doctrine is taken to mean that they were never among the chosen people of God to begin with; so, again, rather than repent, people are prompted to just give up their faith. Others are induced to live selfish, materialistic lives of want and hedonism thinking that, because they were once saved—therefore forever saved—nothing they say or do will ever make one bit of difference to their own eternal salvation, or to that of others, either way. Hence, untold harm is wrought in the hearts and lives of others as these people go their own way, playing church, but refusing to submit to the authority and teachings of Christ.
This kind of thinking seems to have greatly plagued the church of the 1st century. In fact, this false doctrine had become a catalyst for licentiousness—a license to sin—in the minds of many. The Apostle John had to write and warn the children of God concerning this dangerous hindrance to faithful living, saying:
Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.
(I John 3:7-8, NASB)
Other passages of scripture also warned against this kind of licentious thinking; speaking of certain persons who:
…have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness [license to sin] and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
(Jude 1:4, NASB)
Putting aside Calvin’s doctrine of perseverance of the saints, we need to heed the Hebrew writer’s warning:
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
(Hebrews 10:26-31, NASB)
While the Calvinist will try to say that this passage of scripture, like others, is meant to be applied only to those who had opportunity to know the truth and be saved, but who refused and were never a part of the saved body of Christ, we should point out that the passage is dealing with people who were, at one time, sanctified by the blood of the covenant—the very blood of Christ. So, of course, it has in view those who were, at one time, saved covenant children of God, but who have since rebelled, given up their faith, and turned away from following Christ. These people are like Esau of old—a man who God says He hated (Romans 9:13)—who despised his birthright and sold it for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:27-34). The Bible warns us not to become like him, saying, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:15-16, NASB).
And so, through this brief study, we have seen that each of the major tenants of Calvinism—total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints—illustrated through the acronym T.U.L.I.P., while immensely popular in today’s world, is in direct contradiction to Bible teaching. No authentic covenant child of God can long adhere to these false spirits. The ekklesia—called out body of Christ—does not endorse or propagate the theology of John Calvin. The religious reformers of the 16th century, regardless of how famous they may have become, carry no weight with the children of the new covenant. Rather, we turn our eyes toward, and base our faith upon, “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20, NASB).
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