Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call with T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. It’s great to have you along. In today’s program, Tom wraps up a two-part series with guest Rob Congdon as they address the topic: What’s New with Calvinism? Here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. My guest for our second part of this series is Robert Congdon. He’s the founder of Congdon Ministries International, CMI, and it’s a ministry, as we mentioned last week, that has sought to assist local churches, earlier in Great Britain and particularly in the US, but now he’s expanded the work to include other countries. And, as I mentioned, a primary focus of CMI is dealing with the defense of dispensationalism, premillennialism, and we talked last week about the importance of biblical hermeneutics – how anyone who reads the Bible and wants to know what God is saying…we have two other terms, “exegesis” and “eisegesis.” Well, eisegesis is when we approach the Scriptures with what we want it to say, or imposing our own ideas on it, whereas exegesis is trying to figure out what God is saying, and that’s the heart of CMI. And, Rob, welcome back to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Rob: Well, it’s good to be back with you again. I’ve looked forward to it.
Tom: You know, Rob, as I mentioned, one of the values of this is to give our audience some insights into you and your ministry, but also we have a conference coming up at the end of August, and you’re going to be one of our guest speakers. Last week we talked about some things that you’ll possibly be addressing, and this week, I’m sure, [this] will be a topic – an important topic – for at least one of your sessions, and that is what you call New Calvinism.
Now, Rob, I’ve read a number of your books that addressed that, but explain to our listeners “New Calvinism.” Why do you use that term?
Rob: Okay, what I like to do is say to people, “New Calvinism is just a repackaging into today’s world’s format, if you will, of fundamental Calvinism, but it’s designed for a specific group. Now, if we were in the business world (and they actually use this term – New Calvinists do) they would target the audience as the millennials. That’s people who are twenty to forty years old. The New Calvinists have aimed all of their teachings to that age group. They’ve done it through the Internet, and what they’ve really done is just sort of put into this new format what I call fundamental Calvinism – true Calvinism.
You know, I grew up thinking I was a Calvinist until I finally looked at the definition that Calvin gave and what the definition the New Calvinists are using, and I said, “Hold it! That’s not me.” It’s just making it very attractive to that age group because once they get the twenty to forty-year-olds, those twenty to forty-year-olds will bring their parents, they’ll bring younger kids into their churches, and they’ll be growing from there.
So it’s…New Calvinism is only new in that it’s very current today.
Tom: Rob, as you know, I just returned…at the time of this recording, I just returned from Albania, and I was asked to come there to speak to a number of churches there because they’ve been having issues with Calvinism, certainly some of…whether it be an individual in the leadership – or whatever it is – has brought in these ideas, these teachings. (And we’ll go over a few of them.) But it created a really serious problem in that it split churches, it created ideas and teachings that many of the teachers there or the churches wanted to have addressed. And that’s why I was there.
Now, you mentioned at the beginning you thought you may have been a Calvinist because of what you were told, but then when you checked it out, you decided, “Wait a minute. That’s not for me!”
I know many people have been told that they’re either Calvinists or Arminians, and if they believe that they can lose their salvation, they would be called Arminians, and if they believe in the eternal security of the true believer, that is, that they can’t lose their salvation, well, according to the teaching, that would make them a Calvinist. Now, is that the case? Is there no other option?
Rob: There is another option, and I often chuckle, because back when people started labeling Calvinists and Arminians, they were heavily influenced, as is Calvinism, by Greek philosophy – [which] always says there are two views, two poles, one or the other, and therefore, the world believes that you have to be either a Calvinist or an Arminian. No! There’s no law that says there can only be two views. There’s a third view, which, for lack of a better term, I call the Biblicist view. That’s what the Bible actually teaches. I mean, you take the Bible in what we talked about last week: the literal, grammatical, historical approach, [and] you’ll come up with a third view, and that third view is what, I believe, is truly of God.
And so, one of the things, when I went to Britain, and Britain has been overtaken by Calvinism, and now the United States is seeing the same movement, the same destructive tendency of Calvinism here. I started studying in depth, and I started saying, “Hold it! I can’t even call myself what I used to say, a four-point Calvinist. Maybe I’m three.” So I studied a little harder, and I said, “No, I’m two-point.” “No, I’m one-point.” And pretty soon, I said, “Hey, I’m not Calvinist at all. I’m a Biblicist.”
And that’s why we wrote one of our books, called, Oops! I Thought I Was a Four-Pt Calvinist. I realized there is another position.
Tom: Yeah, and of course, the term I would use – I think Biblicist is fine – I want people, if they’re going to have a label, or be called something, it would be a “biblical Christian.” The value of that is now you have an objective resource to see if what I’m saying or what I’m teaching or if what somebody else is saying or teaching is really true. Is it true to the Word of God? And a biblical Christian, that’s where he or she has to turn and bring others who are bringing other views to the Scriptures. “To the law and the testimony,” as Isaiah said, “If they speak not according to this word, there is no light in them.” And that’s what we encourage. That’s what we call being a “Berean.”
Rob: Absolutely, and you know, it’s crucial today. We talked earlier in the other session about definitions. The New Calvinists today play with words, and they use words that we’re used to but we define differently than they do. So we need to look carefully. We have to be discerning today because Satan is bringing all kinds of doctrines in to divide the church, and significantly, the New Calvinism is doing away with not only evangelism but mission programs as we know missions, also. So, this is a serious danger in our churches today.
Tom: Yeah, and our exhortation, encouragement, to those – just as you mentioned, with you, Rob, here are some definitions, and many people don’t check out what a Calvinist…how a Calvinist is defining a particular word. What am I talking about? “Sovereignty.” Take a look at what the Calvinists mean by sovereignty. “Election.” Same thing there. '”Predestination.” And compare that to what the Scriptures teach. How about “Unconditional Election”? Is that found in the Scriptures? “Limited Atonement.” You know, that’s the one of the Five Points, the T.U.L.I.P., in Calvinism that if a Calvinist is going to back away from the five points, that probably will be the one that’s selected. What about “Total Depravity”? The Bible definitely teaches depravity. It teaches election. But what does the Word of God mean by these terms?
And that’s where we would encourage anybody, whether you call yourselves a Calvinist or you have friends, family members, and so on, who are there, you need to, yourself, check out these terms and come up with a biblical definition and encourage those who call themselves Calvinists to do the same.
Rob: Absolutely. And I stress to people – and we’ve been dealing with quite a number of churches and helping them enormously – I stress to them: When you’re talking terms, keep things simple. Don’t get into “election.” Worry about that a little bit down the line, but just talk to them very simply about what is “Giving out the gospel?” “When do people received the Holy Spirit?” “When are they (very technical term) regenerated – but we like the term ‘born again.’ When does that occur?”
And very quickly, that will divide a person from Calvinism and Biblicism.
Tom: Rob, again, it’s so important to – especially if you’re confronted with this: either it comes into your church or…I know people have said to me, “Tom, I’ve been in this church for twenty years [whether it be Presbyterian or Reformed Theological…the perspective of the church is Reformation Theology, and so on] and I’ve never heard these things taught from the pulpit.”
Now, why? In many cases, pastors – not all of them – would say, “Well, you know, this is really too advanced. I’m not going to get into a discussion with Lapsarian/Supralapsarian (whatever the Calvinist definition might be)…I’m not going to get into this with my congregation.”
Now, that was then. But people have written to me and said, “No! Now we’re getting it from the pulpit, and it’s something that never happened before, and it really distresses us.” Do you see that going on?
Rob: Oh, absolutely! In fact, there has been a major change. And I use the term “1890’s Calvinists.” The 1890’s Calvinists and the ones I tended to grow up with in the church that I was in, they believe that their sole purpose to share the gospel was to obey the command of Jesus Christ, where it’s to go out and share and proclaim the gospel. They believe that God had already elected people either for heaven or for hell, but they were doing it in obedience to God. The bottom line was they were sharing Scripture, the Holy Spirit worked in people, and people got saved under that!
But today, the New Calvinist says, “No, no, no, no…we don’t have to go out and share that gospel because people are either saved or they aren’t saved, and no longer do we need missions that are doing that. No longer do we need to share the gospel.”
So there’s been this change, and people are starting to recognize that change, and surprisingly, you know, instead of giving people peace, they’re saying, “Well, they’re either saved or they aren’t, so now I don’t have to go out and share the gospel and face that ‘scary’ moment with talking to people.” Instead, people are starting to dig into Calvinism. The more they dig into it, they find it’s a very insecure belief of their eternal salvation, and so they become quite uptight and either wind up saying like you said, typical answers: “Well, it’s too complicated, so I’m not going to worry about it,” or they drift away. It’s a serious problem today, and the churches – I heard one person in Arizona say it’s like a wildfire spreading through our country. It is, and it’s really hurting younger adults. That’s why we’re not seeing them in churches as much anymore.
Tom: And based on your term, “The New Calvinism,” the New Calvinists – they’re not coming up with something new. As you mentioned, their documents, primarily the Westminster Confession of Faith – I mean, that’s been around for a couple hundred years, and as they look to those things, or they look to Calvin himself, to his Institutes of the Christian Religion, that’s what they’re bringing out and bringing forth.
Now, my big concern here is, because I have many friends, I have family members who lean toward Calvinism, and so on, but I don't think they really understand the definitions of these terms that the Calvinists put forth. If they did, it would be a simple thing to say, “Well, wait a minute. Give me chapter and verse.”
Now, Rob, we’re going to talk a little more about this, but I just want to give you one example of how they can possibly reconcile a teaching. Now, according to Calvinism, God has predestined – before time began – for His own pleasure, millions, perhaps billions, to the Lake of Fire for His own pleasure. I’m not making that up. That basically is a teaching. Now if that’s the case, how does that fit in with the Great White Throne Judgment of Christ? In other words, if I’m in that position – let’s say I’m lost, and I’m standing before Christ at the Great White Throne Judgment, why is He judging me? Don’t I have…can’t I say, “Hey, wait a minute! What am I doing here? I was predestined – this was set forth before time began. Is this a charade?” Am I pushing the envelope on that, Rob?
Rob: Not at all. In fact, you bring up a very key point. New Calvinism teaches that every human being will stand before Christ at the Great White Throne Judgment. Those, according to New Calvinism, who are elect to eternal life, will demonstrate through looking back at the works of their life that they truly were the elect. So, in other words, if you look at the works they did, that would show that they’re elect. The non-elect, or those that are elected to hell, will show that their works all rightfully sent them to hell. And, therefore, it’s like a giant display of works for people saved and unsaved.
Now, if you think about what that really means, Tom, it’s a frightening thing. I heard a well-known Christian Bible teacher say that he wouldn’t know for sure that he was saved until the day he died. The reason he said that is the Calvinist teaching on the Perseverance of the saints – it isn’t meant that once you’re saved, you’re eternally saved. What it means is that you must keep demonstrating, your whole life, that you are the elect by doing your works. And if you don’t do works, then you should question if you’re elect. So you never know till the end.
Scripture says, “…that you may know that you have eternal life.” So, these doctrines start building on each other and start creating great insecurity, and I see that especially among university-aged young people, because they start saying, “Well how do I know that I’m the elect?”
And then they take the final step, which is to start saying, “Well, what kind of loving God would do this type of situation?”
And, of course, that isn’t the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is offering salvation.
Tom: You know, Rob, what grieves me in all of this, is I had thirty years of that – that kind of tension, anxiousness, and so on, as a Roman Catholic, and that’s why it is more than a misnomer. It’s so misleading for those that might say, “Well, I’m a one-point Calvinist because I believe in eternal security.”
Rob, all we have to do – and you know this – go back to the Puritans, who were primarily Reformed Theologians, and so on. This was something that gave them heartaches. Isn’t that the case?
Rob: Well, interestingly, New Calvinism is building heavily on Puritanism. Because when you study Puritanism, you find that it was a lot of works to demonstrate that they were the elect. And also (this ties into last week), by doing all these works, they’re also going to bring in the kingdom.
So what we have is several concepts all coming together, and I pointed out in a recent writing what the reality is. And this is why I get so concerned that the true gospel is given out. The reality is, if you’re a young person – or an older person – and you think you’re the elect, but let’s say you have never made a decision to receive Christ as your Savior. You’re just the elect, so you’re set. And you’re “church-y.” You do a lot of nice, good works. Sadly, when the Rapture occurs, if it occurs now, they’re going to be left in this world. Only the true believers are removed.
They will go in thinking that true spiritual life is to do a lot of works, and, according to Puritanism, to punish those who don’t do the works in some way to make them better, you’re set up beautifully to work with the Antichrist, who will certainly be against true believers. They unknowingly are being pulled into this path.
Tom: Absolutely. You know, I think about the issue of being saved. Rob, I don’t know anyone – and maybe somebody could email me – I don’t know anyone who was saved through the teaching of Calvinism. In other words, they were born again – and many have been! I believe that with all my heart. Many have been, yet then they applied the system – the theological system of Calvinism – to their beliefs.
Do you know of anybody – any Calvinist – who said, “Well, yeah, I came to Christ…or I was saved…or I recognized that I was one of the elect through Calvinism,” and that was the beginning of their being born again, if you could use that term.
Rob: Right. What I have found is that most people who are saved in the Calvinistic church – and as I said, I grew up in one; I was led to the Lord by a Calvinist because he shared the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit convicted me of being a sinner and needing a Savior. So I responded to the Scriptural call that God brings.
But what happens is you tend to not get into the teaching of Calvinism. You merely hear the messages of the Scriptures, or some good, nice sermons, which is the kind I grew up under, and you never think about these things.
What we have different today, and I stress this, at our universities – and I’m talking about Christian universities – the Calvinists are working overtime teaching young people these concepts of Calvinism, and the result is that the students think that they’re really into deep scriptures that their parents can’t understand, because this if for the more elite understanding of Christians. And they don’t think it through very deeply. And by doing that they just take it on surface value, they move along happily, thinking they’re secure, and my worry is that they’ve never really heard the gospel unless the Scriptures were presented to them, because “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” And so, Calvinism can be very dangerous. To the person who stops and thinks, they will search it out, and they will start seeing the truth.
Tom: Now, my guest is Rob Congdon, and he’s going to be one of the speakers at our conference, and I’m trying to explore some of the things that Rob will be addressing at our conference.
Now, Rob, here’s something that concerns me greatly. How important is the Calvinist belief that you must be regenerated – you must be regenerated before you can believe the gospel? Now, does it deny, reject, or alter what the Scriptures teach to the point of making it another gospel, as Paul points out in Galatians?
Rob: First of all, I agree 100 percent. It is another gospel. The division between Biblicist and Calvinist is over the gospel, and actually the most fundamental issue there is, is their first point - what they call Total Depravity.
When they say Total Depravity, they don’t mean that we’re sinners as we’re born, and we’re going to live a sinful life unless we receive Christ. They mean the totally depraved person is like a stone that is incapable of receiving any spiritual input at all, and then unless the Holy Spirit comes into them and “melts” them, so to speak, they aren’t ready to ever receive anything spiritually true from the Scriptures.
So therefore, what they’ll teach – and it depends on the Calvinist – either when they were conceived, when they were born, maybe when they’re three years old, the Holy Spirit basically comes in and softens that hard spiritual stone and makes it pliable, and then…oh, around twelve, the church tries to confirm that they must be the elect to see if they agree with the doctrines. So, there’s never a point of true decision. It’s a point of recognition.
And you won’t hear them – Calvinists - often talk about “receiving Christ,” but Calvinism teaches the Holy Spirit was in you before you even acknowledged that Jesus Christ would be a Savior. A non-Calvinist – a Biblicist – according to the Scripture says that you read the Scripture, you hear the Words, because you are spiritually blind (we would agree with Calvinists on that), but they say you’re spiritually deaf, and I say, Oh, no, no, no! The Scripture says “hearing comes from the Word of God.” You hear the Scriptures; the Holy Spirit starts convicting you that the Scriptures are true and that you are a sinner needing a Savior. That moment that say, “I accept Christ as my Savior, as my substitute who paid for my sins,” we believe the Scriptures clearly teach that’s when the Holy Spirit indwells you, and you are born again, and the Spirit now dwells and is permanently indwelling you from that point on. A major difference! When does the Spirit come into the person’s life? And that what separates the Calvinist from a Biblicist. And therefore, it really…the heart of the issue is: Are you capable (and that’s what a Calvinist says you are not) – are you capable of hearing the Scripture or of reading the Scripture? Is the Holy Spirit capable of convicting you of your need for a Savior, and your total - as the Calvinists like to say, it’s a work, but it’s not – your belief, your acceptance of that, is when Christ comes into you, and the Holy Spirit dwells in you, and you’re saved! Total difference between the two, and that’s the fundamental difference.
Tom: Rob, we’re out of time for this session, but as I mentioned, as a former Roman Catholic, some of the things that concern me greatly - we know that all the Reformers were Catholic – either Catholic priests or involved in the Catholic Church. And more and more, as I understand the teachings and so on, I’m telling you, Rob, this seems like Roman Catholicism. And I remember the words of B.B. Warfield, who was one of the icons – he was a professor at Princeton Seminary; I don’t know if he was the head of the seminary, and so on, but an incredibly bright man, and he made two statements: he said, as you mentioned, I think, in last week’s program, he said that “Augustine is the father of the Roman Catholic Church.” That’s a slam dunk. No doubt about that. But then he said in the next breath, “He’s also the father of the Reformation.” Now, I thought, Wait a minute! This is giving me a brain cramp here! But as you look more and more toward the teachings of Calvinism, you know, not only the baggage that they brought: infant baptism, the idea that if you’re baptized and in a Calvinist family, you’re going to be one of the elect. Well, folks, this is just some of the things that we plan on addressing at our conference. So, Rob, thank you so much for being with me on Search the Scriptures 24/7, brother. It’s been really insightful.
Rob: Well, it’s been a pleasure to be with you and your listeners.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7, featuring 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 a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019, Bend, Oregon, 97708; call us at 800.937.6638; or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for being with us, and we hope you can tune in again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.