Gary: Welcome to Search the Scripture 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T. A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for being here. In today’s program, Tom wraps up a two-part series with guest Jim McCarthy. Here’s TBC executive director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Well, welcome back. I hope you had the opportunity to listen to the first part of the series. Jim and I are actually – we had last week, and we’re going to finish it up this week.
Our topic is Calvinism. But we’re approaching it a little differently. This is not an apologetics thing. We’re not arguing back and forth about Calvinism. What Jim is helping me with is over the years, Calvinism is one of the most puzzling belief systems, and if you’re familiar with The Berean Call, you know we’ve looked at quite a few things. But my concern here is that we’re talking about something within the church. We’re not talking about Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses or whatever it might be, in a cultic fashion. We’re talking about a belief system that has greatly influenced Christianity – Christendom – in the last 500 years. And it’s growing stronger. I could say, I think, and back it up, that today – or at least within the last ten years – it has become militant, aggressive; it has split churches. It’s just a burden for me and a concern that I have. Why? Because, number one, I have family members who are Calvinists. Number two, I have great friends – and I really mean good friends. We probably don’t go to this issue, although I would like to, from time to time, address these things because I’m concerned about the teachings and all of that.
Well, anyway, here to help me through this, as I mentioned, is Jim McCarthy. He’s the author of a terrific book, The Gospel according to Rome, which is, if you want to understand Catholicism, especially from an experiential standpoint, which very few books out there on apologetics related to Catholicism supply. But Jim was Roman Catholic for…
Jim: Twenty-five years, Tom.
Tom: So, again, Jim McCarthy is my guest. He also wrote John Calvin Goes to Berkeley, which I recommend. We talked about this last week because he just gave a slice of life…well, Jim, tell them why you…if they haven’t heard our first program, tell them why you wrote a book like that.
Jim: I wrote it because I was troubled over these doctrines myself and it was brought on by a student group that I was involved with at UC Berkeley, and we had several people in it that were strong Calvinists and many people that weren’t, and I was teaching this Bible study and I found myself in the middle of this, and found there are some pretty hard verses on both sides. And many years later I decided to write about it in the form of a novel. That’s what John Calvin is, and I set it there at UC Berkeley and retold some of the things that actually happened as a way of just kind of bringing out the different issues so that people could understand the controversy, understand what the Bible says, but also understand some of the attitudes and some of the divisiveness that comes about when people overemphasize these doctrines.
Tom: Jim, as we finished up last week’s program, one of the things I want to address in this session is predestination. And you could throw sovereignty in there, and so on. But last week we also addressed T.U.L.I.P., the five points of Calvinism. And, Jim, you mentioned just as we were closing down that the five points are connected. There’s a relationship between them. So if somebody says that they’re a four-point or a three-point or even a one-point Calvinist, there are issues that – they all seem to be connected and saying and supporting the same idea. And it goes back to lack of free will and God predestining some to hell and some…you know, it’s called double predestination, and that would be…I don’t know any Calvinist who could deny that. They may define it a little differently, but basically, before time began, God, for His own pleasure, had predestined millions, perhaps billions, to the Lake of Fire. And they had no say in it. So, that’s an issue, and I’m going to talk about that toward the end of the program, but going back to the five points, many would say, “I don’t believe in Unlimited Atonement.” So, Jim, my question is, “Are you saying you don't believe…[not you, but a Calvinist says he doesn’t believe] in Unlimited Atonement?” But doesn’t Irresistible Grace say the same thing? Or Total Depravity? Or Salvation of the Elect? Am I missing something here?
Jim: Well, I don’t think you are. All five points are inter-related and dependent upon each other. So when you talk about Unconditional Election, for instance, it’s the Calvinist doctrine that God…I wouldn’t say arbitrarily, but in His secret counsel, for reasons that we can’t understand, they say, chose which individuals go to heaven and which would go to hell. And then He sent His Son to die for those who He chose would go to heaven. And so you can see the relationship there. Like what’s the point of dying for somebody who can’t go to heaven? So it’s called a “particular redemption.” He died for a particular group of people.
And it’s the same with the other points of Calvinism – they’re all interrelated. If you really say you agree with one of them, as defined by the Calvinist, you sort of end up with all of them. For instance, the first one: Total Depravity. If you see that as not just that we’re unrighteous and sinful before God, but we’re like cadavers that can’t respond to God, well then you can’t choose to repent and believe in Christ. It’s something God must do for you because you’re unresponsive, and so you end up with Unconditional Election. There’s nothing about you…in fact, you can’t even move. And so it all fits together, Tom.
Tom: Now, again, the reason I want to talk about this is because in this belief system of Calvinism, some people don’t get all of it but they’re attracted to it, they get some of it. Jim, my heartbreak here is that if this – to say it kindly – mischaracterizes God, and some would say it’s a slander against the character of God, but if these things that we’re going to be talking about – if they are contrary to the character of God, then we’ve got some problems. We’ve got some real problems, and I’m going to talk about that in a minute. But, for example, how bad can this get? Well, I’m going to quote you John Calvin, who said, “I say with Augustine,” (we talked about that last week, Augustine, the doctor, father of the Roman Catholic Church), “I say with Augustine that the Lord has created those who, as He certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and He did so because He so willed. Why He willed? It is not ours to ask.”
This is where the “mystery” comes in, and, for example, John MacArthur, whom I respect in many ways for his teachings, but that’s what he would say that… I don’t know if I said this or if you said it, but it’s a “mystery,” according to him. You know, you can get so far within the system, and then you’ve just got to bail out and say, as we said as Catholics, “It’s mystagogy.” (There’s another Catholic connection.) But let me show you how far this goes.
This is Calvinist R. C. Sproul, Jr. - he writes, “God wills all things that come to pass… God desires for man to fall into sin…God desired for man to fall into sin…God created sin.”
Again, another Calvinist writes, “God is in back of everything. He decides and causes all things to happen. He has foreordained everything after the counsel of His will: the moving of a finger…the beating of a heart…the laughter of a girl…the mistake of a typist. Even sin.”
Not good, Jim. Not good.
Jim: Well, you know, Tom, that’s exactly what they teach, and I don’t understand it. These guys are a lot brighter than me, and yet when I hear them say these things, it just strikes me as not only odd, but incredibly unbiblical.
Jim: And what you’ve just said about God controlling every single thing, John Piper says the same, even to the dust motes floating in the air. And he goes on to say that if you really think about God controlling every aspect of life down to the last minute, it’ll drive you crazy, it’ll simply drive you mad, is what he says. But what doctrine? What true doctrine would drive a person crazy? Doesn’t it kind of tell you there’s something absurd about this, and you’ve gone down the wrong somewhere and we’re lost? When you end up with a conclusion like R. C. Sproul, Jr., that God is author of sin? It’s ridiculous!
Tom: You see, and I’m…folks, I’m not trying to rail against Calvinism. What I’m trying to do is appeal to…just as Jim articulated, we’re trying to appeal…to say, “Wait a minute! Let’s come to your senses here. This makes no sense whatsoever!” And look, not that we lean on our understanding, but wait a minute! We’re talking about the Word of God. It does not line up.
And I know there are going to be those out there who say, “You know, you’re talking about hyper-Calvinism.” Jim, I don’t know any Calvinist that does not push the sovereignty of God and this idea of predestination. And Calvinists teach that God’s foreknowledge actually foreordains things to take place. So where’s free will?
Jim: Well, there is no free will. You know, and I’m sure we have some people listening to this, Tom, who are going, “This is… this is an exaggeration. They don’t believe this.” And I would just invite any of your listeners, go on YouTube and search on “Has God predetermined every detail in the universe including sin?” and there’s a short clip there of only six minutes by John Piper, and he’ll say it in his own words for you. There’s no free will, and so God has to be the author of sin because Adam didn’t have free will, you and I don’t have free will. It’s all determined by God. Everything that happens.
So you could view life as just a giant puppet show! We are playing out the script that God has ordained, and God is sitting back and watching us do what He has ordained us to do and is somehow getting pleasure from this!
I don’t know what you – you grew up in the world with your dad being a psychiatrist – is that psychosis? Are we losing a touch with reality?
Tom: Well, again, that’s what puzzles…(that’s really the wrong word). That’s why this is an enigma. Because as you mentioned, Jim, some of these guys are good Bible teachers. And this stuff is so off…missing the mark, so far off the wall that I don’t get it. And again, I don’t want to just apply the Scriptures to it, but in 2 Thessalonians 2, and this could be directed at anybody, but 2 Thessalonians:2:9, 10, 11…somewhere in there, that those who have not a love of the truth, God will send strong delusion that they believe the lie. Now, Jim, that could happen to you or to me, as I set up my own agenda, or case, that’s contrary to the Word of God. But it’s a problem.
You know, Dave wrote an article for The Berean Call – he was addressing the promotion of sovereignty – the push of “sovereignty” among Calvinists. And I think the title of his article was “What a Sovereign God Cannot Do.” Jim, what is it that God can’t do?
Jim: Well, He can’t sin.
Tom: That’s right!
Jim: He can’t do anything contrary to His character.
Tom: Absolutely! Absolutely.
Jim: He can’t do anything contrary to that which He said is true.
Jim: He can’t appeal to men and women to repent and believe the Good News and then determine for them whether they will repent and believe the Good News.
I mean, you can’t have it both ways, Tom. Either he’s truly appealing to us, either as the Scripture says, He truly doesn’t want anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance and salvation – or He doesn’t. And if He doesn’t, but He’s saying these two things, He’s being contrary to His own Word, which will never happen.
Tom: Right. Right. Now, along that line, you have to go to the Great Commission. And they like to point to some men out in the mission fields who are Calvinists and so on. But, Jim, it doesn’t make sense! Why would a Calvinist evangelize…. And they say…some I’ve heard say, “Well, it’s just out of obedience.”
Wait. I’m not asking for “obedience.” I’m asking for “make some sense of this for me!” Have you got an answer?
Jim: Well, that’s a hard one, Tom. I think what happens is there are some very difficult verses in the Scripture that those who are not Calvinists have not been very forthright with. John:6:44 is an example. The Lord said, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” And not willing to really deal with what does that mean, it’s left a vacuum to those who will say, “Well, it means this…” And their answer has been the five points of Calvinism.
But that’s part of the problem. The non-Calvinist, I don't think, has does a very good job of explaining some of those hard verses. The other thing I’ve noticed, Tom, is in trying to understand how does this come about, is it’s very rare to find a Calvinist – I don’t know if I’ve ever met one – who didn’t become one through the influence of another Calvinist. In other words, it’s not through an inductive, pure study of Scripture. It’s more buying into a theological overlay that seems to work and answer those difficult verses.
And I would propose to you, Tom, that the solution for all of us is mutual respect, but let’s put aside all the theologians, and let’s go back to Scripture and do an inductive study and say, “What do those verses mean, and how do you reconcile them with the others that seem to very clearly speak of human choice and free will, and find the solution in Scripture.” And I think there is a solution. That’s why I wrote the book John Calvin Goes to Berkeley. But if you want to read the Puritan writers and strong Calvinists, and all their writings, you end up with what you’re seeing. In my opinion, you end up with a view that has a very distorted view of God and of salvation, but it’s not a biblical view. It’s a theological one.
Tom: Well, Jim, the reason I bring up the Great Commission, you spelled it out. Double predestination. And they all…even though they say, “Well, no, I don’t believe in Limited Atonement,” wait a minute! That doesn’t fit! Or it doesn’t reconcile the issue of God predestining people to the Lake of Fire who never had a chance!
So, just a few other things, because I want to move along and just touch on some things, as I have said, that trouble me – that bother me. We’re not trying to offer “case-closed” kind of apologetics here, but I just want people to think about these kinds of things.
In Romans 8-9, it talks about “those whom He foreknew, He predestined.” But – and you correct me here, Jim – the way I’ve heard that taught by Calvinists is that those whom (it really turns out to be) those whom He predestined, He predestined. In other words, His foreknowledge sovereignly gets a person to act. Is that the way you understand it?
Jim: Well, I think that’s a good example of what happens when we allow a theological overlay to interpret Scripture for us. The word “to predestine” and the word “to elect” and the word “to ordain” are different Greek words, with different meanings. And when we say “to foreknow” is to predetermine or to ordain, we’re mixing concepts and words, and we’re redefining scripture. And we’re getting that definition not from scripture but from our theology. And I think we’ve just got to go back and do the word studies. What does it mean… how does Scripture use the word “predestine”? How does it use the word “elect”? And let it speak for itself.
Tom: Right. So, on the one hand, what you just described is eisogesis. It’s man imposing his view, his agenda, as it were, on the Scriptures, as opposed to…wait a minute! Here’s what God is saying to us! Not what I think He’s saying and I’m imposing my agenda on Him. That’s a problem
Jim: That’s right.
Tom: Now, I’ll take you to another thing that just…I don’t get it, Jim! I’m sorry! The Great White Throne Judgment. Now how can that make any sense in the picture of Calvinism? How can anyone be judged when everything you articulated – John Piper, we gave R.C. Sproul, Jr. – when they’re saying God is the author of everything - sin and everything - what are these people doing, standing in Revelation, you know, what are they doing standing before the Great White Throne Judgment being judged? What for?
Jim: Well, the whole thing becomes a charade. I mean, that’s just not the God of the Bible. He doesn’t deal in the absurd. You’re right, Tom, the books are opened and the dead were judged according to the things which they’re done – their deeds. I mean, if God did those deeds, He should be judged, not them.
Tom: Right. Right. Now, this is…and we’ve got about six minutes, Jim, but I really want to fill it with this because, again, this is what this program - part one and part two - are all about. The teaching of Calvinism reflects…somebody who buys into it reflects their attitude toward God…
Jim: That’s right.
Tom: …and if I have God wrong…look, when you became born again, when I became born again, we’re new creatures in Christ. All right? All things are new for us, even though we have an old nature, and there’s a battle going on. But nevertheless, I’m to grow in my relationship with God. I’m a new creature in Christ. The great commandment: I’m to love the Lord with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, with all my strength. Now if I’ve got an erroneous view about the character of God, these things that we’ve been mentioning over these two weeks, Jim, how’s that going to affect…I’m supposed to have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, okay? How do these errors affect my relationship with Him? It’s heartbreaking. And…it honestly is. Because you know those people love the Lord, but if they’ve got these ideas about Him, I don’t know how you can match up a mischaracterization for Him to be kind, maybe even a slander, with the person that they’re to love with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, with all their strength? I don’t see it happening.
Jim: Well, what does it say about God, too, that it would determine that a person will love Him? That if it isn’t a freewill choice to love God, what does it say about God? It’s the equivalent of a shotgun wedding. It’s saying, “You will be my bride. You will love me, whether you like it or not.” And that’s just not the God of the Bible.
I mean, Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. Why? Because the Father predetermined that they would reject Him as the Messiah? Why would He weep? It just ends up with one absurdity after another.
Tom: It does. And as I said, this has got to influence somebody’s understanding about God. I mean, there are some really difficult scriptures, Jim, in terms of how God acts and what He’s done. Old Testament and New Testament. So, why don’t I just say, “Oh forget this. God’s going to do that.” No. I’m growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ and my understanding of God. And as I know the character of God, that He’s right, He’s righteous, He just, He’s truth. What is it, Deuteronomy:32:4? I know about the character of God, so if I’m getting a little, you know, upset with what I think the character of God is, I’ve got to change my thinking, because it doesn’t line up with the character of God.
Now, in terms of having a love relationship with Him, we’re supposed to reflect His traits. And if I’ve got the traits wrong – what traits am I talking about? His holiness, His tender mercies, His lovingkindnesses, and so forth – we’re going to have a distorted view of His characteristics, and that’s going to play out in our lives.
Now, Jim, I want you to comment on this. That has been demonstrated – that consequence of mischaracterizing God – in Geneva. What John Calvin did in Geneva. The Puritans. Not that they didn’t do some things that were worthwhile, but look at what they did. Jonathan Edwards, for example, wrote some great stuff, but where’s the other side of the love of God, and so on?
And then of late we’ve had theonomists and reconstructionists – these are Calvinists who want to apply the law and go by the Old Testament Law. So, to me – here’s my point – this stuff plays out, Jim, in somebody’s life, maybe to a small degree, but maybe even to a great degree, and that’s not right.
Jim: Well, I agree with you, Tom, and all I can say is if people disagree with you, go back to the Scriptures and read the Scriptures as a whole and ask, “Is this a revelation of a God who is all day long holding out His hands to a sinful and disobedient people, who wills that they come to salvation, but they will not. (They) reject God’s purpose for them. I mean, it’s so clear in Scripture that God has done everything He can possibly do that every man might be saved, but they are not willing to come to God. And to turn that whole thing on its head and say, “The reason is that He’s not willing to allow them,” terribly distorts the Scriptures, the gospel, and the person of God.
Tom: Well, Jim, that’s what I wanted to…you know, my last question to you was how does one who’s caught up in the belief system of Calvinism, how does he turn away from it? And you just laid it out. The chorus of the Charles Wesley hymn comes to me: “Amazing Love, how could it be that Thou, my God, wouldst die for me?” That’s why Dave named his book What Love Is This? It doesn’t…what we’ve been talking about does not reflect the love of God, who sent His Son to die for all of us. Yeah, we have to receive that by faith and by faith alone. But God did it. He did it all.
So, Jim, we’re out of time, but I thank you for getting on board with me in terms of discussing some of these issues, and I just think they’re important. And I know I can speak for you in this in this. Our prayer is that those who are attracted to this be a Berean. Search the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so.
So again, Jim, thanks for being with me. God bless you, bro.
Jim: Thank you, Tom.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7, 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 a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contract us at PO Box 7019, Bend, Oregon 97708; call us at 800-937-6638; or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for being here, and we hope you can come alongside again next week. Until then, we encourage you to search the Scriptures 24/7.