Tom: My guest for today’s program is Dr. Robert Congdon. Rob is the founder of Congdon Ministries International, CMI, a ministry that has sought to assist local churches in Great Britain and the US and now has expanded the work to include other countries. A primary focus of CMI is a defense of dispensationalism and premillennialism and biblical hermeneutics, the literal, historical, and grammatical interpretation of God’s Word. In that pursuit, Rob has written a number of booklets that are critical of Calvinism, and one of his recent teachings concerns what is, well, what he calls “New Calvinism,” which we plan to discuss. Rob, welcome back to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Rob: Well, it’s good to be with you today.
Tom: Before we get started talking about a development [that] you term “The New Calvinism,” I think it would be very helpful to many of our listeners to define the fundamentals of Calvinism found in the acronym TULIP. As you know well, Rob, defining terms used by Calvinists are critical because, well, the way I’ve seen it, many non-Calvinists, even many of those who call themselves Calvinists, they don’t know what the sanctioned definition of major Calvinism terms are, so more often than not there’s a presumption that the terms are biblically consistent.
So, Rob, as best you can, give us a brief definition of the TULIP and how the basic terms differ from what the Scriptures teach.
Rob: Well, that’s right, Tom. What is called TULIP, that’s the acronym, as you mentioned, for Calvin’s five key doctrines. Now, his doctrines originated with Augustine in the fourth century, so there’s nothing new about Calvinism today in that sense. The five…take each of those letters: the first is Total Human Depravity. As you mentioned, most people put their own definitions into these terms, rather than see what Calvin has taught. Everybody thinks, Well, yes, mankind is depraved, turned away from God, and that’s terrible. But as defined by Calvin, “Total Human Depravity” means that a human being has absolutely no ability — none whatsoever — to understand or take in anything about true God in terms of what God would be teaching through His Word.
They’re, literally, as a Calvinist would teach, basically a stone. They can’t hear Scripture, they can’t understand it, they can’t see Scripture, they’re just totally blinded in their human depravity so that in no way could they understand if God were calling out to them. And that leads to the second point which is “Unconditional Election.” Sadly, most people take a…actually a Greek philosophy viewpoint, thinking there’s only two choices: either there is an election or there can’t be an election. There really is a third view, which perhaps we’ll be able to get into.
But Unconditional Election teaches that because man in totally depraved, he can never respond to God apart from God doing something; therefore, God had to pick who would go to heaven and who would go to hell. Now, many Calvinists say, “Well, no, He just only picked those who would go to heaven.” But if you read almost all the teaching, not only by Calvin, but most modern Calvinists, yes, God chose some people to go to hell and some to go to heaven, and only God knows how He chose them. So that’s Unconditional Election.
That leads to a Limited Atonement. Therefore, they would say that Jesus Christ was wasting His shed blood on the cross if He atoned for all mankind. So, therefore, they say, “No, He atoned only for this elect group that is elect to heaven.” And, fundamentally, their definition of atonement ignores the Bible definition of atonement as would be taught by both the Old and New Testaments, which is really a reconciliation. The Scriptures teach that God was reconciled to the world. I always picture it like God turning His face to mankind. That has to occur before mankind could ever turn their face to God. Calvinists would say, “No, God only had Jesus Christ atone for the elect,” and the elect being those that were “called out” by God.
Obviously, they can’t have God fail, so they believe in the next point, which is the “I”; it’s Irresistible Grace. Irresistible Grace says the Holy Spirit goes to the elect person and regenerates them before they have any acts of faith or belief. That regeneration could be when they’re in the womb, when they were created, when they were born, or perhaps early in their life. It’s an automatic process. You can’t resist it. The Holy Spirit regenerates you, and you are a part of the Elect. So, therefore, God has to do that, because God could never “fail” by offering us salvation and having it rejected, especially being offered to the “Elect.”
And the final point, the fifth point, which I find is totally misunderstood by most people is the “P” of TULIP. It’s Perseverance of the Saints. Now, to many of us, that means once you’re saved, you’re always saved. That’s not what Calvin teaches. Calvin teaches that you’ve got to keep working your entire life doing good works to gather evidence that you are the elect. And that evidence will be presented at the Great White Throne Judgment, where, if enough evidence is shown that you’re the elect, then you have eternal life with God. If there isn’t the evidence there, then that proves you weren’t the elect, and you would not go to heaven.
And that’s why, which I find very interesting, is men like John Piper, who are major New Calvinists today — he basically teaches that you can’t know for sure that you’re saved until the day you die.
So, basically, we have five doctrines — five key doctrines of Calvinism — that are based, if you really study them in depth, about 80 percent on Greek philosophy, as originated by Augustine in the fourth century. Biblically there are many, many verses that would show that the Bible doesn’t teach the doctrines as Calvin defines them, and most of those you could find by seeing some of the videos on our website.
Tom: Right. Rob, it was really important for me to have you lay this out for our listeners, because, you know, as you’ve pointed out in your teaching, many don’t understand. They think, just as you’ve described…they have an interpretation of it which is not consistent with TULIP, which is not consistent with the given understanding or promotion of these doctrines by Calvinists, so it’s critical, especially as we’re going to address — and you, particularly — we’re going to address New Calvinism and the offshoots of Calvinism, which are really growing today no matter what they might be. So, again, that’s important, and, Rob, I know you say in your teaching that this is the cornerstone — this is the foundation — for, whether we call it Neo-Puritanism, contemporary New Calvinism, and Neo-Calvinism, which have some differences, but all of them hold to, for the most part, the Five Points. Is that correct?
Rob: That’s correct. Actually, to be a New Calvinist today — and this is the way they would define it — is anyone who holds to those five points of TULIP and holds to them defined the way Calvin does, is a New Calvinist. After that, we have a vast spectrum of views and beliefs within New Calvinism. And they stress… they call it their freedom of expression. You can be a New Calvinist, believe the five points of TULIP, and after that, believe almost anything you wish. And, in fact, that’s why on one end of the spectrum, the Neo-Puritans believe very strictly in a legalistic Christianity, whereas the Neo-Calvinists believe in complete freedom to do anything you want, and, in fact, they say that the more you sin, the more you glorify Christ because He had to pay for more sins!
So, you have this wide range of beliefs once you get past the first five, but if you don’t hold the first five, you can’t be considered a New Calvinist.
Tom: Yeah, again, for me, and hopefully for our listeners, why this is so important, because you could ask somebody if they’re a Calvinist, which I do from time to time. And they may say…well, if they say yes, I say, “So what are you? A 27-point, a 17-point, a 5-point, 4-point, 3-point, 2-point, a 1-point? Are you a Lapsarian? Super-lapsarian?” In other words, what I’m getting at here is that there are all kinds of ideas that come into it, but they all hold, basically, to the TULIP, as you’ve described. Now, some would say, “I’m a 4-point Calvinist, because I don’t believe in Limited Atonement. In other words, I believe Christ died for everyone.” Or you could even have somebody say (and I loved the way you described the “P” — Perseverance of the Saints, because they say…) “I’m a 1-point Calvinist because I believe in eternal security.” And, Rob, as you described, “Hold on a minute!” That’s not what the “P” stands for! It’s the very opposite!
So, hopefully, this will be very informative for our listeners. Now, let’s go back to Neo-Puritanism. How did this come about? I mean, the Puritans? People would say, “Well, wait a minute. That’s Jonathan Edwards, and that was really a kind of a legalistic, very strict point of belief system. How did that relate to Calvinism?”
Rob: Well, it’s interesting. First of all, what most people don’t realize is that the Puritans believed Covenant Theology, which is an area of Calvinism. So, the Puritans, to start with, were Calvinists. What has really picked up is that good men — and I say it that way — good pastors who have looked around at their young people, and they see them living all kinds of lifestyles that would seem to be contrary to the Scriptures, and as a reaction they have started stressing the Puritan goals of holy living and piety and the need for that. And that ties in, again, to the Perseverance, because they’re pointing out that if “we don’t see these good works in you, young adults, then maybe you aren’t the Elect.”
And so, it’s almost a technique of fear. And Puritanism lends itself to that very well. Plus, Puritanism has an element that people tend to forget, and a leading Puritan divine, as they would call him, said, “You must submit to the ruler’s authority, whether your ruler be good or bad.” And the ruler is the minister of the church — of the Puritan church. Puritans taught that you’ve got to obey your leader and you have to obey the civil government that is designed to carry out those laws of the church. So, therefore, it’s a reaction to the free lifestyles of the ’60s and ’70s that developed. And many, many New Calvinist men today have various elements of this Neo-Puritanism.
John Piper — he’s the chief spokesman. He’s getting older now, like many of us, but he’s the chief spokesman of New Calvinism. And he stresses that Jonathan Edwards was the key teacher he had for his understanding of theology and life, and he’s written books on Edwards, and he stressed that New Calvinists should be reading all they can by the Puritans. And therefore, they have become a major, major element in the New Calvinist circles today.
Tom: Yeah, you mentioning John Piper — one of the things that somebody, you know, certainly you have, and I’ve spent time with Dave Hunt and his book What Love Is This? and we’ve looked at Calvinism and the way it’s played out, and it’s a great concern, but the one thing that you’ve seen and that we see as well in inconsistency. When you mentioned John Piper, you know, he could be described as a…certainly a Calvinist, but also a charismatic, but also a mystic. And, folks, you just…if you’ve taken the time to read some of his books, that’s what we find here. So you have teachings that seem to be in contradiction, you know, by these individuals to another aspect of Calvinism, which they adhere to. But, as you pointed out, they’re going to still be accepted as long as they hold to the Five Points.
Rob, I’m sure you’re familiar with John MacArthur, when he did the Strange Fire Conference at his church and all the speakers were Calvinists. And one of the individuals that was missing, a big name, was John Piper. And the objection to John Piper was, “Well, you know, he’s a little bit off in this…. He’s a bit Charismatic…. He’s a bit…” because the Strange Fire Conference dealt with the abuses within the Charismatic movement and so on. One of the things I think we need to alert our listeners to is: Don’t expect this to all make sense. What Rob has pointed out, and so on, here’s the trends. Here’s the way they’re going, but if you think it can be put together in a coherent approach to these teachings without contradictions, they’re going to misread it, right, Rob?
Rob: Yes, they will. One of the key things — I spent years studying the New Calvinism before I could really put it together and try to make it clear enough for the average person to understand it. Dwight Pentecost said, “One of the signs of the Latter Days of the Church Age will be apostasy and confusion,” and you’re absolutely right about the confusion. I have Piper’s “Twelve Features of the New Calvinism,” a major doctrinal statement he made, and six of the twelve items all fit the Neo-Puritan Calvinism. But if you look at the other six, they’ll fit the other two categories of contemporary New Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism. So there is this total confusion, and so you not only have a confusion of doctrine, because within those five points there are grave contradictions of each other that people readily see, but then you have this…one man will be very strong in one area, and you say, “Okay, I can put him in this category.” But the next day, he’ll say something just the opposite, and that’s why it’s so hard to pigeonhole these men and their positions.
When I came up with titles, and I sort of put the characteristics of the titles, I did my best to name men that fit in the category — that are predominantly in there. But they all seemed to vary. And there is that very looseness of definition of what is a New Calvinist.
Tom: Yeah, again, as you were talking about that, I think of some of the…well, some of the writings that we have related to what John Piper was in, and for a while there, a big deal for him was hedonism. But it was Christian hedonism! Now, wait a minute, no matter what he said on that part, what does that have to do with...now his view dealing with Neo-Puritanism? Again, folks, look, we don’t want to confuse you out there. We’re just laying out what these men have written and the different areas, as Rob is pointing out — the different parts of Calvinism that are affecting and influencing lots of people. But the issue is to be a Berean. No matter who it is or what it is they’re promoting, your mindset has to be, “Fine. Give me chapter and verse. Show me from the Scriptures how this is true, not just because it appeals to me, but I want to know what the Word of God says.” I think that’s the anchor they need to hang on to, right?
Rob: Well, it is, and what I stress, because I went for several hours talking to a well-known Christian evangelist in the Fundamentalist circles, and he kept trying to say, “Show me one word in the Bible where Jesus Christ says that you have to accept Him as your Savior.”
Well, I showed him verses, and I showed verses where the word in English was “received.” And I said, “Now look at the Greek meaning,” I showed him a Greek lexicon, where it says it means “to accept.” He said, “No, it doesn’t say that in the Bible. It says “receive,” not “accept,” therefore I can’t accept it.
So the best you can do is present the scriptural verses exactly as they’re written, and leave it there. Because you’re not going to be able to argue a Calvinist out of his viewpoint by just sheer logic. You’ve got to pray that the Holy Spirit works in his heart, and don’t ever forget that many Calvinists, or people who say they’re Calvinists, are saved. They have received Christ. I was led to the Lord by a Calvinist who believed these five points, but he felt that his duty in life was to proclaim the gospel that the Scriptures said to proclaim, and that’s all he was doing. That fact that I received Christ by hearing it by faith, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” I accepted Christ. I’m saved. But from his viewpoint, he’d say, “Well, okay, you must have been the elect.” But he proclaimed it. Today’s New Calvinists are not proclaiming the gospel anymore. They are figuring either you’re elect or you’re not elect, and let’s move on from that step.
Tom: Well, the sad thing is, I have family members who got involved in Calvinism — certainly, some of them from John MacArthur’s Master’s College, and even Master’s Seminary. But the point is, these family members helped lead me to Christ before they had a clue as to who John Calvin was. In other words, it’s a theology. Once you’ve received Christ, which I did, and which they did, before they had any idea about it, but it’s a theology that’s added on: “Oh, here’s how it works!” But it doesn’t work that way, folks.
And again, Rob and I, for all that we’re saying here, we would appeal to you — if you’re interested in or you’re being led into some of this, search the Scriptures. Search the Scriptures. Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, is in opposition to these beliefs.
Now, I want to, Rob, I want to move on to the next category that you’ve addressed, and that is Contemporary New Calvinism. Now just from that title, I would think, well, this is somebody who’s taking Calvinism — maybe a traditionalist in it — and is trying to set it up for this millennial generation, the millennials, or perhaps just for a contemporary thing, to make it more acceptable. That’s just my view of the titles, but you tell us more about that.
Rob: Yeah, well, in many ways you’re correct. Contemporary New Calvinism — and remember, these three categories are…others have used it, but I kind of define it, too, based on my studies. They include men like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, D. A. Carson — these men are more what you would see as the traditional viewpoint. They hold, really, some very often denominational traditions and ties. They really are tied heavily to schools, and so they sort of…the graduates of one school will tend to follow each man. A key element vs. many of the neo-Puritans is they believe that the gifts of the Spirit have ended. Therefore, John MacArthur would be opposed to Piper, who says the gifts of the Spirit continue.
This same group, Contemporary, will avoid mysticism, where you’ll find in some of the other groups, they’ll be very mystical and they’ve merged with Emergents in many areas.
And the other thing you’ll find, though, in this group is that they’re quite free about joining with other denominational groups and other people, and they don’t have much of a view about separation, and, basically, they kind of bend a line based on circumstances, so they’re more your traditional. But what I’m going to stress, and I’ll stress it over and over again, they will hold a much stronger position of Calvinism than you would have found fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, I could have enjoyed fellowship with a Calvinist. We probably would have avoided prophecy, because that would have been a problem. We would have even gone out and shared the gospel.
These men today no longer will hold that type of freedom with a non-Calvinist. They will feel that they just can’t have much to do with me any more. And yet, they will be quickly joining with any of these men who hold even divergent views from their own on theology or the Scriptures as long as they hold to TULIP.
So, there’s been a real change in Calvinism in the last forty years, and that change has been dramatic.
Tom: Well, let me add to that, because right after…. Well, just to underscore something: I was involved with a ministry called Reaching Catholics for Christ. And this was a ministry to bring Catholics to understanding the gospel as opposed to the gospel of Rome, and so on, and many of our churches where we had conferences were reformed churches. And they opened the doors to us, okay? To minister! Because, you know, that’s kind of…I think it’s a bit of a myth, because now my understanding of Calvinism is it’s very Roman Catholic. But, folks, that’s time for another program. But the point being is that the doors were shut, and many people, after Dave wrote What Love Is This?, many people wrote to us and said, “I don’t know what’s going on, because I’ve been in this church for twenty years and we’ve never heard this from the pulpit. We’ve never heard ‘TULIP,’ or anything like it, but it was a reformed church.” Or, if it was thrown out, it was mainly the pastor and some within it, but it was not promoted. But now we have a militancy among especially young Calvinists.
I’ve been to Albania. I was invited there to speak about Calvinism because they had Lincoln Center, which was a kind of outpost of John MacArthur’s ministry, and they were infecting and destroying — splitting — churches, young vibrant churches in Albania. And they’d had Dave’s book translated into Albanian, and so I agree with you. There is a new militancy, there’s a new growth in this, but the problem is it’s not the old Calvinism, which you could, you know, maybe pin down a little bit. But now, as you pointed out, Rob, it’s so diverse — you know, it’s subjective. It’s…people are going by moods and feelings and all this stuff but still trying to hang on to TULIP, which is, as I said, confusing at best but nevertheless effective in terms of affecting people.
Rob: Well, it is, and it’s quite serious because as I’m seeing it moving — just as you briefly touched on it, I’ll briefly touch on it, too — a lot of the New Calvinist movements are moving to doctrines very close to the Roman Church and returning to it. What I see as the gravest danger of all — and I see this as a grave danger — is New Calvinists are trying to stop missionaries from going out into the world who are proclaiming the true gospel of salvation, and they are discouraging and stopping evangelism in church after church. Therefore, what you’re going to see as a result of New Calvinism is a whole lot of people who have what I [call] a “head-scholarly knowledge” of Jesus Christ and have never received Him as their Savior. If the Rapture occurred tomorrow, those people move into the Tribulation, and because of this heavy Neo-Puritan influence, they’re going to be ready to look for a strong leader who’s united with the government who will persecute anybody who doesn’t hold to the religion of that strong leader.
So what we have is the danger of many people we love not really knowing Christ as their Savior because New Calvinism doesn't talk about “Have you received Christ?” It talks merely [about] “Do you have a belief in Jesus? That’s a knowledge of Him.” And you’re going forward and they’re going…we’re talking about eternal consequences here; we’re not just talking about how you form, how you worship in a church service. So it’s quite, quite serious.
Tom: It is. Folks, my guest has been Rob Congdon, of Congdon Ministries International, and this is part one of our series. Rob, we’re out of time for this session, but I’ve enjoyed what you had to say. I hope our listeners have been blessed, but we welcome them to come back next week as we pick up on session 2 dealing with Neo-Puritanism, Contemporary New Calvinism, and Neo-Calvinism. Rob, thanks a lot, brother.
Rob: Glad to be with you.