Why Is Calvinism Such a Hot Topic?
In this regular feature Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here is this week’s question.
Dear Dave and Tom: “I see from your newsletter, which I like very much, that you are writing a book about Calvinism. I have Calvinist friends who have tried to win me over to their camp, but many of their views are difficult for me to reconcile with scripture. Maybe I don’t have enough of a theological mind to grasp what they are saying. On the other hand, much of it simply doesn’t add up. What troubles me is these are very bright people and they quote some of the most respected evangelicals in America. I feel a bit intimidated here, so I’d like to hear some of your thoughts.”
Tom: Dave, we’re getting lots of mail, and a lot of the mail isn’t too kindly, as it were, with regard to things that we are saying about Calvinism, or Reformed Theology. In our next newsletter coming out, I don’t know when this program is going to air, but you have addressed it, but this is a concern to us, isn’t it?
Dave: Tom, it’s a controversial subject. Why should it be controversial? I don’t know. The Calvinists are not restricted in what they say, what they write in promoting it. Now, if we should question, you know, as the Bereans—this is Search the Scriptures Daily—if we should search the Scriptures to see whether what John Calvin or his mentor that he took most of his ideas from, Augustine, if what they said was really biblical, what could be wrong with that? That’s one of the things that concerns me, Tom, because we have gotten some very angry letters accusing me of not knowing anything about Calvinism. Well, if they want to walk into my study and see the many, many books that I have read by leading Calvinists, both past and present, Calvinist Institutes that I have all highlighted, and Augustine, whom I’ve read, and Luther, and so forth. I think I probably know more about Calvinism than most of the people who call themselves Calvinists.
But they have this attitude that we shouldn’t dare touch this, like it’s a sacred cow. And, they get very angry, and we get pastors, you know, who have written in and say, “Take my name off your mailing list! And I’ve told all my congregation not to get your newsletter.”
Could we not have open discussion about this without disfellowshiping one another? I don’t understand that part of it, Tom.
Tom: Let me add to that, Dave, because we’re not interested in just Calvinism. The name of this program is Search the Scriptures Daily. The name of the ministry is The Berean Call. They searched the Scriptures daily to see if what the apostle Paul was saying was so. Now, our concern here is with the Scriptures and how people understand the Scriptures, because I know there are listeners out there who say, “I’m clueless. I don’t know what Calvinism is about and Arminianism. I don’t know any of those things, and I’m not particularly interested.”
Dave: Well, Tom, just a second, let me interject a moment. I remember a letter recently from a pastor, and he begins by saying: “We’ve been taking The Berean Call for many years. We have agreed with you 100 percent right down the line, how you’ve exposed error and how you stood firmly for the truth . . . . But now, as soon as you say a word about Calvinism, all of that is out the window.” We dare not touch this—that really concerns me.
Tom: Well, let me tell our listeners how basic this is, and I think this shows you what we’re concerned about. First of all, take the first scripture that anyone in Sunday school—any Christian would learn. It’s John:3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Now, somebody would say, “Well, I know that scripture. So what?” How would a Calvinist—now I’m being honest here, Dave, and I know you will be, too—how does a Calvinist have to interpret that critical, very important, very wonderful verse?
Dave: Because of their peculiar belief in predestination of a certain nature—of irresistible grace, and so forth—that God has predestined some to go to heaven and predestined others to go to hell. Therefore, it can’t be, for “whosoever.” They believe in limited atonement, that Christ did not die for all. Therefore, they have to change “world” to “elect.” Whosoever must be whosoever of the elect.
The next verse, verse 17, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” On and on it goes, with so many verses! The Bible ends, “Whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely.” But no, you can’t say that’s whosoever because only the elect are allowed to do that, and, in fact, no one can unless God regenerates them first. So, you have to be born again before you get saved, before you can have faith to believe the gospel, so why would God be saying, “Whosoever will, let him come?” Why would Jesus say, “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest”? Do only the elect labor and are heavy laden, or is He just saying that to the elect?
See, so we have hundreds, even thousands, of verses—you could go to Isaiah 55, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” Or, He goes on and He says, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” He does call upon us to seek him, and yet nobody can unless they have been regenerated. It doesn’t make sense, but it is a concern, Tom.
Tom: Well, it’s a concern because—and we believe that this needs to be addressed because—it has to do with how you interpret God’s Word. And look, we’re not saying that they’re dead wrong in everything, and I don’t want them to say that about us. But let’s wrestle, let’s go through the scriptures, let’s search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.