Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Tension Between Calvinism and the Gospel



I came across the above interview with John MacArthur, titled: “The Tension Between Calvinism and the Gospel”. That is a strange title. Describing the relationship between Calvinism and the gospel in terms of a “tension” is curiously optimistic. Calvinism is the antithesis of the gospel of Jesus Christ; it is the very negation of it. And an analysis of this interview in that regard will prove instructive. The interviewer begins by asking him the following question:

“Well, speaking of that; and it is perfect transition into the first question that we had several of, and that relates to last night in your discussions about the atonement; and the question is, If that is true [i.e. the Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement, unconditional election, and predestination to salvation and damnation], then why witness [i.e. proselytize]? How do we tell people God loves them, and that Jesus Christ did not die for them? Or do we tell them that?”

To this John MacArthur gives the following reply:

“Well, you tell them whatever the Bible tells you to tell them; and the Bible tells you to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. And that is what you do because that is what the scripture says.”

That is a disingenuous response, and dodges the question. The question being asked is, What kind of gospel message do you give them? Do you tell them that Jesus died for, and atoned for their sins, or don’t you? What if they are not among the “elect,” according to Calvinistic theology; and Jesus didn’t in fact die for them, and didn’t atone for their sins? Then you would be lying to tell them that he did! That is the question that is being asked. Dodging the question doesn’t help.

The commandment of God in the Bible is, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). And the “gospel” is the good news that Jesus has died for, and atoned for their sins. If in fact he didn’t (according to Calvinism), and you tell them that he did, then you are lying, and making God to be a liar too. If Calvinism makes God a liar, then it cannot be of God. If the Bible tells you to go and preach the gospel to everyone without exception, telling them that Jesus died for and atoned for their sins—when in fact he didn’t according to Calvinism—that is preaching a lie according to Calvinism. Either God is lying, or Calvinism is false, take your pick. You can’t believe the Bible and Calvinism at the same time. He continues:

“Any tension you have between that and the nature of the atonement; any tension you have between that and the doctrine of divine election and predestination; any tension you feel in those areas, I feel. I feel the same tension. I ask the same question.”

I am sure he does; but that doesn’t get him off the hook for accepting and preaching a false theology. There is no “tension” in the Bible. The “tension” exists when you believe in a false theology that is contrary to the Bible. When that happens, the solution is to ditch the theology, not endure the “tension”. And his smug, self-confident, “I am right” attitude isn’t going to help him either. He continues:

“I don’t know that there’s some kind of quick answer to the question.”

There is! The quick answer is that Calvinism is false. It is not biblical. He continues:

“I am, however, happy to concede that God can resolve things that I can’t. Really!”

Even God can’t resolve Calvinism. The only way to resolve Calvinism is to ditch it. And that is what he needs to do, not God. God didn’t invent Calvinism; he picked it up from somewhere else. He continues:

“I don’t expect of you, and you shouldn’t expect of me, to be able to unscrew the inscrutable. You really don’t think that I’m going to solve all the vast theological dilemmas that have existed since the scriptures were penned.”

Calvinism is not a “theological dilemma” that needs to be “resolved;” it is a heresy that needs to be abandoned. Calvinism is heretical and false all the way through. There is absolutely nothing right about Calvinism. Ditching his false theology of Calvinism is the only option he has. At this point the interviewer retorts: “Actually some people do!” to which John MacArthur replies:

“Yeah! The best answer to this question is, My brother, I feel your pain! That is the best answer to that question.”

That is his pain, not my pain! I believe what the Bible teaches; and there is no “pain” in that. The pain comes when you try to reconcile his false theology with the Bible, and the two are irreconcilable. I don’t have that problem, so I don’t have any “pain”. His attempt at imputing his “pain” to everybody else doesn’t solve his problem. Nobody can take painkillers on his behalf. He will have to take them for himself. He continues:

“I’m not here to give you an answer, but I will tell you this: I do not believe that Jesus died for nobody; I believe he died for somebody; and I believe he died specifically for those who would believe in him. And those who believe in him are those who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit based upon the eternal sovereign electing purpose of God.”

The Bible says that he died for everybody; and that “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). How hard is that to understand? He continues:

“I think his atonement was an actual one, not a potential one. I don’t think it was a general one, I think it was a specific one. I think it was a real death for sin. The issue here is the nature of the atonement.”

No idea where he gets those strange words and ideas from. Calvinism has led him far astray! The Atonement is actual and potential, specific and general, and everything else that it can be and needs to be. Some aspects of the Atonement are indeed universal. The resurrection is universal. Everybody will be resurrected, the wicked as well as the righteous: “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Salvation and eternal life, however, depends on their faithfulness. Jesus’ Atonement makes it possible for everyone to be saved. The choice is theirs: “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). The choice, the decision is theirs. That is why the gospel is preached to everyone, not just to the “elect”. How hard is that to understand? He continues:

“Forget the dilemma; you are going to have the dilemma no matter what you do.”

No you don’t! The dilemma exists only if you believe in Calvinism, and try to reconcile that with the Bible: which are irreconcilable. There is no “dilemma” within the biblical teaching. He continues:

“The dilemma is, Why didn’t he send everybody to heaven? The dilemma is, Why is there hell, and why are people going there? That is a legitimately difficult question to ask.”

That is Calvinism’s dilemma. It is not the gospel’s dilemma, or the Bible’s dilemma. The Bible tells you why there is a heaven and a hell, and why there are people going there. John 5:29 quoted above (and lots more scriptures like it) gives the answer. Why that is so hard for Calvinists to understand, I have no idea. He continues:

“The only answer I can give you is that if God purposed to do that—Romans 9—who are we to question his purpose? If he gets glory from judgment the way he gets glory from salvation, who are we to question that?”

But what if he doesn’t? What if it is his Calvinistic theology that is wrong? His real difficulty is that he is too sold out to Calvinism to allow for that possibility, and get in line with the Bible. He continues:

“The other issue is, nobody goes to hell for any other reason than that they are guilty of sin and unbelief. How that fits, I don’t know.”

He doesn’t know because his theology has led him astray. If one sticks with the Bible, that question doesn’t even arise. That problem is the byproduct of Calvinism and predestination, which are not biblical. He continues:

“But there are a lot of things I don’t know. I’ve said this so many times. I don’t even know how my own spiritual life works. I don’t! Look, Paul says in Galatians 2:20, I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I. He didn’t know either. He didn’t know! So you know if you have I asked you the question, who lives your spirit, who lives your Christian life, who lives your spiritual life, who is in charge of your spiritual life? Well some of us are going to rise and say, Well it is the Holy Spirit. I don’t really think you want to blame him! And if it is all the Holy Spirit, what are all the commands in the Bible about? And yet … you know, you must obey; and the Spirit must work; and it is the mystery of how that comes together. It is the same issue between the security of the believer held in the father’s hand, and the necessity of perseverance of faith, a persevering faith. It is the same issue that we have in the in the volitional aspects of salvation and in the sovereign aspects. There is a sort of a resolution in the center of that that is known only in the mind of God. But I will not resolve the problem of the lost any other way than to do what the scripture tells me to do, and that is that the Bible affirms to me that God loves the world, the specific people in the world, the specific human beings. I don’t know who they are. Spurgeon said, If you will pull up their shirts and show me an E stamped on their back, and I know the elect, I’ll limit my work to them. But since there is no such stamp, I am committed to obey the command to preach the gospel to every creature.”

The reason why the commandment is to preach the gospel to “every creature,” is that every creature is capable of being saved. That is why the “preaching” has two effects: it not only saves those who believe (and repent); it also damns those who don’t. That is why the responsibility is to preach the gospel to everyone, not just to the “elect”. If the gospel was only preached to the “elect,” the rest would have an excuse. They would say on judgement day, “We never heard!” “Nobody told us!” Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). If they never heard the word of God, they would have an excuse for not believing. That is why the “elect” are not “predestined”. The “elect” become the “elect” by their own choice—by hearing, believing, and repenting. That is why there is no “E” stamp on anyone’s back. No one is “predestined” to be the elect. All have the ability to be, if they would believe and repent. It is their choice. That is why the gospel is preached to everyone, so that the “unbelievers” (by their own choice) are left without excuse—while the “believers” (by their own choice) are saved. The fact that God knows ahead of time who will believe and who won’t (and “elects” them accordingly), does not make them “predestined”. He continues:

“And I can say to them that the love of God has been expressed through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, and you will know and experience that love if you put your faith in Him.”

Unless they are among “reprobate” rather than the “elect,” in which case they are out of luck before they start, according to Calvinism! He continues:

“And if you don’t do that, you’ll perish in your sins; and Jesus said, You will perish in your sins because you believe not on me.”

Unless they are among the “elect,” in which case they won’t have to worry about that, and he will be wasting his time! He continues:

“I am very comfortable to just take the biblical aspect; but I don’t think it is a good solution to diminish the nature of the atonement, and have Jesus dying for everybody.”

What “diminishes the nature of the Atonement” is to say that Jesus didn’t die for everybody, when the Bible says that he did. That is the greatest “diminution” of the Atonement that has been invented so far. He continues:

“If you say that he paid in full the penalty for all the sins of all the world, then what does anybody doing in hell?”

Because the Atonement saves people on condition of repentance. There is no scripture that says that the Atonement saves people unconditionally. Faith and repentance are necessary prerequisites. And repentance is a volitional act. We decide whether to repent or not; God doesn’t do it for us. And repentance is made possible by the Atonement. If there had been no Atonement, no one would be saved, with or without repentance. The Atonement brings about the condition of repentance, which makes it possible for people to repent and be saved. But the choice is theirs.

The reason why he thinks that a universal Atonement would necessitate a universal salvation is because his theology is based on predestination. The will of the creature plays no part in his salvation or damnation. All has been predestined and predetermined by God beforehand. God has predetermined who will be saved and who will be damned, and there is nothing that anybody can do to change that. And God has only atoned for the sins of the “elect” who are “predestined” to be saved. Under those criteria, a universal or unlimited Atonement would necessitate a universal salvation. The only trouble with that is that it is not biblical. Predestination is a damnable heresy. There is no other way to describe it. It is false. He continues:

“That is double jeopardy. That doesn’t work.”

Why? He needs to explain that. He continues:

“So people don’t want to say that, so they say, Well, he died a potentially saving death. In that sense he died for nobody in particular, and everybody in general; and the sinner who is depraved is the one who activates the potential atonement. Well that is impossible.”

People “don’t want to say” what? And what is “impossible”? He died for everyone in general, and everyone in particular. There is no sense of the term in which he didn’t “die for everyone”. The Bible places conditions for salvation and redemption. It is not unconditional. That is written all over the Bible. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven …” (Matt. 7:21–22). “… they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life …” (John 5:29). The list is endless. The Bible does not teach Calvinism. Calvinism and the Bible are diametrically opposed. Calvinism is abhorrent to everything that is taught in the Bible. He continues:

“So I just don’t want to find the answer to the dilemma of the death of Christ by diminishing the nature of the atonement.”

He has already diminished the nature of the Atonement by denying its universality and unlimited nature. He continues:

“It is a real death for those who died in him. That is what the text says. ‘I lay down my life for my sheep,’ and we looked at that.”

There are two answers to that. Firstly, a primary rule of sound biblical exegesis is that you don’t take a verse in isolation. You examine it in the context of other biblical passages that have a bearing on the same subject; and there are many more verses in the Bible that teach an unambiguous universal or unlimited Atonement, such as these:


Secondly, although Jesus’ Atonement is unlimited and universal, only those benefit from it who will believe and repent—whom he calls his “sheep”. The rest don’t. Therefore when he says that he “lays down his life for his sheep,” that is a rhetorical way of acknowledging his sheep. It does not mean that the Atonement was limited to his sheep. He continues:

“So it is a good question to answer because you guys want to be very careful in the tensions that are in this; and it flows through every major doctrine in Scripture that connects the sinner with God.”

The “tension” only exists when you believe in his false theology. There is no “tension” in the biblical narrative. He continues:

“You don’t want to resolve that tension by asking philosophical questions. You always want to live in that tension by being obedient to Scripture, okay?”

That is his way of saying, “Don’t ask hard questions which challenges my false theology which I don’t have answers to!” He continues:

“But I do feel your pain because I don’t have an answer to all those questions; and I’m at times profoundly exercised over the non-resolution, because I like to find the resolution to things.”

That is his “pain,” not my pain. And the cause of his pain is his false theology. The Bible does have an answer to those questions; it is his false theology that stands in the way. Ditch that, and his “pain” will disappear fast. At this point the interviewer asks him this question:

“But the issue on why witness, you wouldn’t suggest bringing up the discussion of the limitations of the atonement in a witnessing context?”

To this he replies:

“I think we have to be careful of what we say. I think there are unlimited benefits tied into the atonement. You can show in the New Testament that you know the expression of God’s love in the atonement is the expression of the same love that is demonstrated in common grace. He rains, you know, on the just and the unjust. There is common grace, there is a kindness of God; there is even a salvation of God, demonstrating in the temporal way. He is the Savior of all men, temporally, physically, in this sense that the world is full of sinners who aren’t dead. What is that? That God is saying to them, You don’t get what you deserve, when you deserve it; that is my nature. So that demonstration is there for them to see temporarily.”

I see! So those who are predestined to be damned should still be grateful to God because he did not damn them fast enough! How very generous of God! I am sure those who are predestined to be damned will be very appreciative of God’s generosity and goodness towards them. LOL! What a joke. He continues:

“But especially of those who believe, he is the Savior of them not temporarily and not physically, but eternally and spiritually. But he puts his saving nature on display even in the gospel offer, and in common grace, and in the withholding of judgment. And so I think we can say to sinners that God is merciful, and God is compassionate, and God calls you to repent, and calls you to believe, and he has offered his son as a sacrifice for those who do, and that is the way I would say it.”

Unless they are predestined to be damned, and know that there is nothing that they can do to change it! I wonder what his answer will be to Acts 10:34–35: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”

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