Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call with T. A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for being here! In today’s program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest Jim McCarthy. Here’s TBC executive director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. As Gary mentioned, our topic for today is Calvinism. It’s a theology, a belief system, that’s had an impact on Christianity for about 500 years, depending who’s credited for starting it off. Since the theology is named after John Calvin, and based upon much of his writing, few would argue against starting with him. And of course, he lived from 1509-1564. Our guest, who will discuss the subject, is Jim McCarthy. He’s the author of a number of books including John Calvin Goes to Berkeley. His other books include: The Gospel according to Rome, which, in my view - and I’ve told you this many times, Jim - in my view it’s the best book out there for a view on Catholicism from a biblical perspective. And Jim, like myself, grew up in a Roman Catholic family, and, I should add, an extended Catholic family that included aunts who were nuns and uncles who were priests. Now I mention that because Jim’s books supply information regarding the experiential side of his former faith, which to me is a major part of the practice of Roman Catholicism. Jim’s ministry is Good News for Catholics. He’s also very much involved in a discipleship program, primarily for young adult Christians.
Jim, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Jim: Thank you, Tom, it’s always good being with you.
Tom: You know, Jim, regarding your work, and as I’ve told you many times, incredibly important work in my view is your work in the discipleship of young Christians. Now, I mention that because did those years of experience with mostly college-age Christians have anything to do with your motivation to write John Calvin Goes to Berkeley? And if not, what was the motivation?
Jim: Well, Tom, you know when I was…I did nine years of apologetic ministry at UC Berkeley, and during that time our student group got into a bit of controversy over the doctrines of Calvinism, and that forced me to do a lot of study on this topic. I was a young believer at the time, and it was a big topic. It was very difficult. Several years later, I decided to write a novel on this topic. I set it in Berkeley, and that’s how I got the title John Calvin Goes to Berkeley. It’s about a fictional student group that gets all caught up in this controversy, but it’s based on a lot of things that actually happened. In fact, some of the crazier things that actually happened in the book are true to life. So it was a real-life experience for me.
Tom: You know, and as I’ve mentioned to you, we offer the book, and we’ve had people writing back and saying…you know, a mother worried about her son who’s in a college group, a Bible study group or whatever, and, Jim, what your experiences [were] and what you wrote about, it’s happening all over. It’s amazing – absolutely amazing.
Jim: It is, Tom, and the conversations, issues that are dealt with in the book, they’re real to life. It’s not just meant to entertain. It’s meant to help the reader understand the controversy, understand the scriptures on both sides, and understand some of the attitudes that go along with this controversy that are dividing the church and causing a lot of damage to the Christian church. And just so your readers know, I’m not a Calvinist. The Calvinist side of the article doesn’t come out as well because I’m not a Calvinist! I can’t really represent a view truly that I disagree with, but I try to be honest and fair about it. And people have objected, Tom, they say, “Oh, you know, it’s…the Calvinists get beat up at the end and lose the argument.” And all I can say is, “Write your own novel! If you want a different ending, that’s the freedom of fiction. You get to write your own book. That’s my book.”
Tom: And, Jim, you’re going in a place that…I don’t mean this to be cavalier or even to be sarcastic, but as you know, The Berean Call, we’re no strangers to controversy. And we don’t look for it. Dave never did, but yet it’s just the way things play out. So I’ve had people say, “Hey, I heard you say this on your radio program. I’d like to come on and give our point of view,” and so on.
My response is, “Hey, if you want to do that, get your own radio program.” And that’s not to be smart-alecky or whatever. The point is that we have a perspective. The people listening to our program today are going to get a perspective from you and from me. They need to be Bereans and search not only the Scriptures but check things out themselves.
But we are giving a view – just as you mentioned with your book – you had to do a lot of research; you had to figure out what this was all about. Dave Hunt, when he wrote What Love Is This?, had to do the same thing. And I remember, after the first edition, he said, “Tom, I laid some stuff out, but I have to go deeper to get better prepared to handle this.” Because they do make it – and I mean this – they make it incredibly complex, which is one of the things that we’ll talk about.
But before we get to our concerns about the teachings of Calvinism and although the number of those subscribing to them is growing quite rapidly, there are yet many Christians – especially young Christians, and I know you’ve run into this, Jim – who give you a blank look when you mention the term “Calvinism.” Now, on the other hand, if they’ve never heard of it, it could be a good situation because, well, they’re not being subjected to it. However, an ignorance of what others are trying to entice a person with can make him or her very vulnerable to what’s being taught.
So mounting a defense or generating discernment would be difficult at best. So, in case we have some listeners who know little if anything about Calvinism, we could certainly recommend books like Dave Hunt’s, as I mentioned, What Love Is This?
But that may not help some of our listeners right now. So, what I’d like to do, Jim, is just briefly go over some basics, and I think the way to do it is to deal with the acronym T.U.L.I.P., which lays out the major tenets of Calvinism. So, maybe we can get through this briefly, Jim. What I want to do is I’ll give what the letters stand for “T.U.L.I.P.” And then maybe give me just a brief definition or a perspective on that.
So, the first is “T” for T.U.L.I.P. – “Total Depravity.” What’s that?
Jim: Total Depravity is the belief that as a result of Adam’s sin, man is desperately corrupt, in total bondage to an evil nature, spiritually dead, and cannot respond to God. He’s just completely and so thoroughly corrupt that for all practical purposes he’s like a cadaver in response to God.
Tom: We totally believe in…well, I shouldn't use that…but we believe in total depravity – but not to the point where somebody can’t cry out to God based on our reading of the Scriptures. Would you agree with that?
Jim: Well, the way I put it, Tom, is the term “Total Depravity” carries a lot of theological significance with it, that it’s a term associated with the Five Points of Calvinism. And I think you’d agree, Tom, and certainly I do, that man is a sinner, and there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves…
Jim: There’s nothing we can do to make up for our sins. We’re all sinners. We’ve all “fallen short of the glory of God…There’s none that’s righteous, no, not one” (Romans:3:23, 10).
But the term “total depravity” is not a biblical term. And if we want to use that to describe what I just said, we’re taking on some theological “baggage,” if you will, that’s associated with Calvinism. So I don’t like to use that term anymore because I don’t believe that we’re unresponsive to God. I don’t believe we’re so in bondage to sin that we can’t even respond to the drawing work of the Holy Spirit before we’re born again. I just don’t see that in Scripture.
Tom: Well, you see, that’s why I like you pointing out the term “cadaver.” That’s the way they explain it. “You’re just like a cadaver.” Wait a minute! Can a cadaver sin? So, we have some options and some points in there.
All right, “U” in T.U.L.I.P. – “Unconditional Election.” What’s that?
Jim: Well, unconditional election is a belief that before God made the world, He chose, or elected, for salvation those whom He pleased to save. And His choice was not conditioned. It wasn’t based upon any virtue in these individuals, any meritorious acts. It wasn’t even based on the fact that they would one day believe in Jesus. This choice was independent of all influences. It had its origin solely in the secret counsel of God and in this sense, it was unconditional.
Tom: Right. And, they would add, “based on God’s good pleasure.” That’s what they would throw in here. So that’s Unconditional Election.
What about Limited Atonement?
Jim: Limited Atonement is the belief that Christ’s blood was of infinite value but limited in its purpose and applications. He died only to redeem the elect – those whom the Father had given to Him. And it’s sometimes called the Doctrine of Particular Redemption.
Tom: Right. What about Irresistible Grace, the “I” in T.U.L.I.P.?
Jim: That’s the belief that Calvinists hold that when God calls somebody by the Holy Spirit, that person will and must come to faith in Christ – that He cannot resist the grace of God.
Tom: And the final one of T.U.L.I.P. is the “P” – Perseverance of the Saints?
Jim: This one’s a little bit difficult, because it sort of sounds like when you say “Perseverance of the Saints” that a person can know they’re saved, and if you’re saved, you’ll be eternally saved. But it’s not exactly that belief. It’s the belief that if you are saved, you will persevere to the end of your life, walking in grace and obedience to God, and you will be eternally saved. And so it actually results in a fair measure of uncertainty because nobody really knows till they get to the end if they’re really going to make it.
Jim: And so, it’s the view that the elect cannot fall from grace, but you only know you’re amongst the elect if you persevere to the end.
Tom: Now, Jim, as I mentioned earlier, for our listeners, if they need more details, more…as I said, Dave has a book; he also did a book with James White, a Calvinist apologist, and in that book you’ll get two perspectives: you’ll get Dave’s perspective and James White’s. So I would refer to that or point you to those books, which we offer here. But I don’t want this – we’re having a conversation here - it’s not meant to be an apologetic for our side vs. their side. Over the years that I have looked at Calvinism, just like you did in writing your book, Jim, but even beyond that, there are some things that just mystify me - that are a puzzlement – because…I’m sure it’s the same with you, we have some really good friends…I have family members who are Calvinist. And they’re bright, they’re intelligent, they claim to love the Lord, and I have no doubt about that, and so on, but I don’t get it - how some of these things that we’ll address here, how they can rationalize, how they can understand them. Anyway, it makes no sense to me. And that’s the way we’re going to treat this. These are just general observations about Calvinism that I would love for people to think about – certainly pray about – especially if they’re attracted to Calvinism.
As I said, we could spend…we just gave the five points, and we could spend probably a couple of sessions on that. But rather than that, I want to approach the things, or speak about the things, that are, in my mind, puzzling, and things that are contradictory to what the Scriptures teach.
Now, Jim, as you know, because I sent you the article…for December, the article in The Berean Call is “The Enigma of Calvinism,” which, hopefully you read, and then I point out some things that are mystifying to me. That can’t be squared with either Scripture or common sense. And I pointed to many of those things – pointed them out over the years, and I have yet to get reasonable responses to just some of these questions that I’ve had on my heart and mind. For example: Calvinism is historically protestant. That is, it “protests” against the Catholic Church. Now, just to let our viewers know, Jim, you are a protestant; I am a protestant. But anybody who’s just an evangelical isn’t necessarily a protestant. Because we came out of the Roman Catholic Church, so we protested against it.
Now, that being said, some Calvinists are militantly anti-Catholic. Yet all Calvinists, including John Calvin himself, esteem Augustine, who was the father/doctor of Roman Catholicism, almost to the point of idolatry. He’s numero uno. Some people think it’s Calvin, but Calvin looked to Augustine. What is the Catholic connection, Jim, with Calvinism?
Jim: Well, I think the first thing I’d want to say, Tom, is that there is a strong connection. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong because some things in Catholicism are correct, for instance the doctrine of the Trinity.
Jim: But it does cause us to realize when you look at the five points of Calvinism and what Calvin taught about predestination-election, if it comes from Catholicism, at least we should re-examine it and realize this not a distinctive protestant doctrine. Most people don’t realize that John Calvin as a young man studied for the Catholic priesthood. He studied at the University of Paris and as a young man transferred over to Law. His father had a bit of a falling out with the Church and persuaded him to go into Law instead of the priesthood.
He was very young when he started studying the Bible and left the Catholic Church – 24 years old. It’s a little bit unclear exactly when he had a conversion experience. He actually says very little about that.
But when he was 25, still a very young man, he wrote Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is considered the most influential, important book of the Protestant Reformation. And it’s a very large book, often published in two volumes, and when you go to the section on “Predestination” and read it, just in the section on Predestination, he quotes Augustine 27 times. And if you look at his wording and compare it to the wording of Thomas Aquinas, the primary Catholic theologian of the Middle Ages, a lot of it’s almost word for word. And what appears happened is that when he wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion and tried to explain the full breadth of Christian doctrine, a lot of it he just carried over from his training for the Catholic priesthood. And the section on Predestination Election is essentially Roman Catholic. He says what Aquinas says. And if you look at Aquinas, Aquinas quotes Augustine – it goes back to Augustine, who was one of the Doctors of the Roman Catholic Church. And Augustine says the number of the predestined is certain – it cannot be increased or decreased. That’s what Aquinas says. That’s what Calvin says.
So it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. It just means - it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right, because John Calvin, the great reformer of the protestant reformation, said it. The fact that he rejected so much of Roman Catholicism, particularly the gospel of salvation, would cause one to say, “Well, what about his doctrine of predestination? Is that biblical?”
Tom: Yeah, but Jim, to me, there’s more to it. I hear and see and read these individuals so esteeming Augustine that it just knocks me backward. For example, certainly Augustine’s teaching on predestination, but we have so much more that he bought into, or influenced – maybe even inspired. We have the Mass, the major dogmas of Roman Catholicism, the real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine in Mass, the Eucharist as a sacrifice – an ongoing immolation; that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. He taught that Mary was sinless and a perpetual virgin, and that the Apocrypha was part of the Old Testament Canon. And of course the popes were a fulfillment of apostolic succession, and that Christ would not literally reign – here we have amillennialism - that Christ would not literally reign a thousand years on the earth, and that all spiritual authority…he taught that spiritual authority rests in the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, here’s a quote from Augustine, and I know people have been saying, “Well, he didn’t really say that; didn’t really mean it.” But this was from…you know, he dealt with the Manichaeans, and he wrote a letter to Mani…well, the letter is “Against the Letter of Mani Called ‘The Foundation.’” But here’s what Augustine had to say: “If you should find someone who does not yet believe in the gospel, what would you answer him when he says, ‘I do not believe’? Indeed, I would not believe in the gospel itself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so.”
So, again, why this man is such an icon with the Calvinists, I find it just hard to believe and certainly contradictory.
So, Jim, I continually hear – and here’s a simple one; maybe people out there, somebody’s pressed them with this – they would say, a Calvinist, for example, would say, “So what are you? Are you a Calvinist, or are you Arminian?” meaning, as the Calvinist would say, well no, they believe in eternal security. You alluded to that earlier, and that the Arminian believes he can lose his salvation, so you’re one or the other. Are you, Jim? Are you one or the other?
Jim: Well, I don’t think I would like to be put in those two categories. The truth be known, Tom, the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is not that great. Jacob Arminius essentially was a Calvinist. He studied in Geneva under Theodore Beza, who was John Calvin’s successor at the academy in Geneva. And he went back to Amsterdam as a Calvinist reformed pastor. And he objected to not Calvin but to what the next generation had turned Calvin into, which was essentially the five points of Calvinism that we reviewed. His argument was that under Theodore Beza, Calvin’s position had become more extreme and unbiblical. And he was arguing against that. And I would say, Tom, that we would be wise to step out of that whole historic debate and just go back to Scripture as good Bereans and say, “What do the Scriptures teach?” Frankly, I don’t care what Augustine taught. I don’t care what Aquinas taught, or Calvin taught, or Arminius taught. What do the Scriptures teach? And I think that’s where we’re going to find the answers and we’re going to find the truth.
Tom: I couldn’t agree with you more, Jim. And that’s why I’ve gotten away – even though we’re giving some reasons and some answers here for these things, but the heart has got to be the solution not just to the controversy of Calvinism and Arminianism; it has to do with “What does the Word of God say?” We’re in the apostasy. I don't think anybody could deny that. Well, what’s the solution? What’s the prevention program? The B-I-B-L-E, the Word of God. It’s God’s direct communication to us, to mankind. So, on the one hand, I’m not saying that God can’t raise up teachers – you know, the Word of God says that. But no, we start with “the law and the testimony. If they speak not according to this word,” as Isaiah wrote, “there’s no light in them.” So that’s our heart.
Now, Jim, I do want to mention something about eternal security. You know, I’ve had people tell me, “I’m a one-point Calvinist. I don’t buy those other four. But I do buy the ‘P’ – Perseverance of the saints.”
So I have to say, “Well, could you explain that to me?” And just as you explained it, it has to do with a kind of… “How do I know that I’m one of the elect? Well, I’m going to know it by my fruit. I’m going to know it by my performance,” and all that. Jim! That’s not eternal security! That’s what we had…How long were you a Roman Catholic?
Jim: How long was I a Roman Catholic? Twenty-five years.
Tom: Yeah. Okay, I had 30 years in it. That’s what we…that was it. You know, you sin, you go Mass – well, you go to confession - and then you go to Mass, and then if you get a mortal sin again, you’ve got to do it over and over. It’s a works salvation process, and to me, that’s why I point to Perseverance of the saints – as Catholics, we had to persevere. We wanted to – if we were going to die, or…when we die, we wanted to be in the state of Sanctifying Grace, right?
Jim: That’s right. That’s right.
Tom: So, it’s just kind of a problem. Now, Jim, we’ve got about three minutes left, and I tell you what I want to do in our next session. You know, as I mentioned, I have loved ones, I have friends, people I have just the greatest respect for, and some of them are really terrific Bible teachers – except for this area! At least, in my view. So what I want to talk about, and primarily it deals with predestination. You know, that’s really the heart of it. And some people say, “Well, you know, I’m not an extreme Calvinist. I’m not a hyper-Calvinist,” and so on. But, Jim, we just went through the T.U.L.I.P. – the five points of Calvinism – and they’re all connected! You could say, “Well, I don’t believe in Limited Atonement.” Well, wait a minute. Do you believe in Irresistible Grace?
They’re just connected. That’s my point. So, the Lord willing… Well, do you want to comment on that? We’ve got a couple of minutes – we’ve got about two minutes. Do you want to comment on that and then, by the grace of God, we’ll get going and we’ll pick up with this next week. So what do you have to say?
Jim: Well, I agree, Tom. You can’t take part of the system without taking the whole system. I could agree with portions – some things that are said in the definition of all five points. But when I say I hold to one of those points, they all kind of fit together – if I’m going to take one in its fullness, you’re kind of locked into the others. And people need to realize that, because you can’t be a four-point Calvinist. It just doesn’t really make sense if you understand the theology of it. If you’re a four-point, you’re a five, whether you like it or not.
Tom: Yeah, and as we mentioned earlier, you talked about doing the research. This is an incredible system, because if you say (going back to) “I’m a one-point Calvinist,” well, that’s not realistic. Most of them would say I’m a four-point, dropping off Limited Atonement, and so one. Well, wait a minute. There are twenty-seven points, there are sixteen-point Calvinists. There are lapsarian, super-lapsarian, there are amillennial – John MacArthur claims to be a pre-millennial. So there are all kinds of… So I like to ask them when somebody says they’re a Calvinist…and somebody could say yes to all these things that I’ve mentioned. It’s, again, my trouble with it is it’s a complex system. It's not the simple gospel that I’ve come to know and accept from the Scriptures.
So, anyway, Jim, thanks for going through this first part with me, and the Lord willing, we’ll get back at it next week.
Jim: Thank you, Tom.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T. A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019, Bend, Oregon 97708; call us at 800-937-6638; or visit or website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael, thanks for joining us, and we hope you can tune in again next week. Until then, we encourage you to search the Scriptures 24/7.