Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part One

reflections-disenchanted-calvinist-disquieting-realities-calvinism-ronnie-w-rogers-paperback-cover-art

Let me start this review by saying, I have the utmost respect for the man who wrote this book, Ronnie Rogers (Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church; I will refer to him, at times, as PR throughout this review to save some time and the tedious nature of retyping his name). I believe he is a great pastor and a man devoted to God’s word. I do know him personally, and I have attended his church many times. However, I must respectfully disagree with most of the things contained in this book, in the same way that he has respectfully disagreed with the Calvinist position. In a day where any disagreement, especially between Christians, is viewed as something wrong and to be avoided, I feel the need to say that up front.

This book has been out for some time now, so some may wonder why I would bother now. My response is simple. First response: I’ve been busy. Second: there really are no new arguments against Calvinism, so this book is as good–and perhaps better because of his humility and knowledge of Calvinist beliefs–as any to respond to.

With that cleared up, I begin my review. The way I’ve chosen to do this is by taking each of his chapters and drawing out the main arguments, then responding to them. I’ll separate each chapter accordingly, that way what may become a lengthy review (probably several installments) will become more easily readable (in other words, you can skip around and not have to read every word of this review).  All of his comments will be in white, mine in gray, scripture is lighter gray, and the headings are orange.

     The Endorsements

Usually I wouldn’t even touch the endorsements, but there are a few that deserve a comment or two at the start.  One, is an endorsement I can agree with:

One of the major controversies in the church today is the doctrine of Calvinism.  Much of the controversy is due to the lack of understanding by laymen and pastors alike of these basic doctrinal issues. Pastor Rogers has graciously attempted to present opposing views as well as his personal struggle with these theological difficulties. …This is a valuable resource.” -Dr. Ronnie Mayes, Pastor, Rose Hill Baptist Church, Ashland, Kentucky (emphasis mine)

I highlight this endorsement, because I believe that it is true that much of the ire for either side is a lack of understanding (or the attempt to understand it) between the sides. I do not have the patience for those who give no attempt to understand my beliefs, when I try hard to understand theirs.  Also, I do believe Pastor Rogers does this graciously.

The second endorsement I copy here is actually the springboard for my entire thesis regarding this work:

“The spreading of Calvinism is wrongly portraying the nature and character of a loving God by basing a person’s eternal salvation solely on the choice of God made before a person’s birth. I am grateful someone has done the hard work of exposing and speaking to the inaccuracies of Calvinism.” -Max Barnett, [long credentials] (emphasis mine)

The italicized portion is important, because I want any person reading this to try and think of what the converse of this sentence might be. Perhaps it would sound something like this, “the right way to view the nature and character of a loving God is by basing a person’s eternal salvation solely on the choice of them.” Sure, this likely isn’t what would be said, but there certainly would be an element of man’s doing, working, or striving involved. One ought to begin wondering how verses such as Romans 4:5, Ephesians 2:8-9, and John 1:13 can be interpreted in such a scenario.

That is the point of this review, who ultimately gets glory? who is the initiator of salvation? who is the author and finisher? where does faith and repentance come from? is there room for boasting? With that we turn to the chapters and attempt to answer some of Pastor Rogers’s main objections, or…disenchantments…with Calvinism.

     The Introduction

Because most of this review will deal with things I disagree with Pastor Rogers about, I want to take a moment to give some credit where credit is due. The SBC, in general, has a very hit and miss nature due to its ecclesiology. One could attend a church in the SBC and have a great, godly, expository preacher, and attend another the next Sunday with a preacher you aren’t even sure knows he’s in the pulpit of God. Pastor Rogers writes,

“…I am writing primarly to the flock whom I love dearly and whom God is allowing me to shepherd.  One day I will give an account for them, something I take very seriously” (xiii).

This is great to see from a pastor, something to appreciate and acknowledge; and if you have a pastor like this you should not hesitate to express your appreciation. This book proves at least one thing, Ronnie Rogers believes it is important to express his convictions, coherently and exhaustively, to his flock. Many preachers–these days–would be like nailing jello to a wall with regard to their beliefs. So this attitude from a pastor is not to be taken for granted.

Another example of Rogers’ attitude:

“…to the best that I am able, I have presented an accurate picture of the teachings from either all, some, or most Calvinists and this depending on the specific topic I am addressing.  I have absolutely no desire to play with straw men or misrepresent my godly mentors and comrades” (xiii).

Again, Pastor Rogers makes a good point, we must be careful to avoid the strawmen.  We must strive to take people at their word and seek to understand their position the best we can.  Whether PR does accurately represent Calvinism is another issue, but the fact that it is his desire is commendable.  Also, PR admits that many of his mentors in the faith, heroes, role models, what have you, are Calvinists (I know this to be a fact personally; I’ve heard him read from Calvin, MacArthur, Reformers, Puritans, etc.).

To understand PR’s book, we must understand what he defines as a disenchanted Calvinist; in his own words, “disenchanted Calvinists are dissatisfied with the logic, exegesis, theology, and conclusions of Calvinism…We find the acronym of the TULIP to be an unsatisfactory acronym for representing the salvific truths of the scripture” (xv). Simply put, he says that he was once a Calvinist but, upon deeper reflection, became disenchanted by the “disquieting realities” of Calvinism. To this point I have only one thing to say, and that is this, most people who claim to have been Calvinists at one point often weren’t (some will reveal that they were always 4-pointers, which often means that there was more doubt in the other 4 because of the 1, due to the internal logic of the TULIP). This is not meant to question the truthfulness of PR, but to simply say that most who believed themselves to be Calvinists were never truly Calvinists. I would not want anyone to think I am stating this without reason, but as it will be demonstrated throughout this review, PR does show that he does not fully understand the positions he is attempting to refute.

Before I really get into the arguments themselves, there is another important distinction I want to make.  Pastor Rogers says, “…it is simply imprecise for a Calvinist to dismiss people like me by labeling us Arminian” (xv).  There was a time in my life where I would label anyone who wasn’t a Calvinist an Arminian, but I find myself agreeing with PR here.  Instead let me propose a different dichotomy: Monergist (Calvinistic) and Synergist (Non-calvinist).  I think this will prove to be a more useful distinction, and one that I do not believe even Pastor Rogers would disagree with–despite running the risk of becoming an “either/or fallacy” (xvii).  Calvinist believe salvation is ALL the work of God, Synergists believe that man plays a part.  Moving on.

Pastor Rogers accuses the Calvinists of fitting the scriptures to their man-made system, which results “in the malformation of those Scriptures rather than readjusting their own system.  This approach does not allow the straightforward teaching of Scripture to reign regardless if it is harmonizable by man’s theological system.  An example of this is the work that is done by Calvinists in restricting terms like world, all people, all nations, everyone, etc., in certain verses in order to bolster support for limited atonement” (xviii). I think Pastor Rogers has to admit something at this point: that his position does the same thing. When he reads words such as world, all people, all nations, everyone, he assumes something about those words (often that they speak of a universality, with no restrictions, which of course comes dangerously close to universalism). There is a quote from a well-known apologist named James White, and I believe it applicable here, “those who do not recognize their own traditions are enslaved to them.”  PR must recognize that the synergistic side does the same thing with verses that do not fit his system.  We will see that Pastor Rogers must do what he accuses the Calvinist of doing when dealing with Ephesians 1, Romans 9, John 6, John 10, and John 17.

Before closing his introduction, Pastor Rogers again tries to dodge any historical labels (i.e. Calvinist, Arminian, Molinist, etc.), “I am satisfied with simply being a Biblicist, which is not to imply that Calvinists cannot be as well, but just to say that is the only banner I care to wave” (xxi).  I understand the sentiment, and sometimes I do not care to call myself a Calvinist, I wish to more often call myself a Christian (or Biblicist); however, when I am pressed, I will label myself a Calvinist for clarification sake.  I feel that what Pastor Rogers is attempting to do is avoid the labels so as to make his position seem like it is not man made but gleaned solely from the Bible.  I am not accusing his position of being man made, as I would not like mine to be accused of being so, but there are historical terms for positions…and attempting to avoid them is attempting to dodge the issues associated with them.  He is a Synergist, whether he wants the label or not…he is.  We’ll see why.

The issues already presented in the Introduction are many, but I have avoided answering many of them because they will come out later in the book.  But I feel reviewing his introduction gives a few things to consider as we move into the book itself.  Let me finish this part by quoting his last words:

“Again, let me reiterate my love, respect and appreciation for the vast majority of theologians and Christians who wear the name Calvinist.  I am indebted to them for all they have taught and still teach me and am honored to serve our Lord Jesus with them” (xxii).

Let me just say, ditto, good sir.

     Chapter I: Sovereignty of God

Each of Pastor Rogers’s chapters begins with an affirmation of what he believes (and some chapters have multiple affirmations with further details below), I will attempt to draw out his main arguments and deal with each in turn.

His first affirmation is that of God’s sovereignty over all things and includes these words:

“I believe that creating a world where men are given a real choice demonstrates God’s sovereignty rather than undermines it. By real free choice, I mean that by grace, God gave man the ability to believe the gospel or not to believe the gospel; as a result, the ones who believe could have not believed, and the ones who disbelieve could have believed unto salvation” (1).

The first real problem here is simply this: there is no scripture to prove it.  As with most things in this book, I will be constantly asking, “where is the Scriptural proof?”  The argument may sound plausible, it may sound logical, philosophical, etc. ..but is it Biblical (this is an important question, especially when posing it to one who considers himself a Biblicist, and nothing else).

Second, the converse of this statement is troubling because it is alluding to a straw man argument (something I know PR wishes to avoid, but must inevitably do so because of the constant misunderstandings of Calvinism found in the book).  The converse would be that Calvinist do not believe in a “real” choice, as if man were a neutral being (not a depraved rebel) who has been given a choice with the ability to do or not to do. But is this really the picture given in Scripture?  Is man a free moral agent that can choose between good (salvation/Christ) and not good (sin)?  I would argue that the only way one comes to a conclusion such as this is to have a misunderstanding of man’s true nature prior to God’s work in him.

Let’s take a look at Ephesians 2:1-10, and it should be enough:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankindBut God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christby grace you have been saved…For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast…”

This verse truly ought to be enough to prove many things.  1) We were dead in our trespasses and sins, 2) these verses show nothing of our desires, seeking, or longing after God prior to His work, 3) BUT GOD…made us alive together with Christ, 4) By grace you have been saved…this is not your own doing.  It does not get much more clearer than that.  But just for argument sake, what would Romans 8:7 have to say about man’s real choice? What about Romans 9:11-13?  Again, this is a straw man that has been erected because it does not account for the Calvinist understanding of man’s nature, namely, that he is totally depraved, he is a slave to sin, he is blind, he is lost, he is [insert another biblical analogy]; he does not submit to the law of God, nor can he.  Not understanding the depravity and sinful nature of man is the first step to not understanding any of Calvinism.

That being said, it is not true that a Calvinist does not believe in a real offer (or that God does not expect a real choice) of the Gospel.  Only that man, left to himself, is not able.  “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44).  The Gospel is offered to all, and it is required that man repent, but each has gone his own way; we have all chosen sin instead.

“I affirm that God’s sovereignty is not minimized because He sovereignly chose to provide a real choice for everyone to accept or reject the gospel.  This includes deliverance from eternal hell, men’s just desert, for anyone and everyone who acts in concert with His grace enablement and follows Christ” (1).

Again, the former part of this passage has to be proven from scripture, unfortunately you will not find it.  “He sovereignly chose to provide a real choice [or free will is what is meant]…”  It sounds good, but it is not there.

The latter part of the sentence is the definition of synergism (or semi-pelagianism, as it is sometimes called).  As was pointed out above, I don’t think PR can deny that he falls into the category definition of a synergist.

“…I affirm that man…can choose to seek God, such as the Bereans, where it says because they studied the Scripture, ‘therefore many of them believed’ (Acts 17:12)” (1).

I have a big problem with this statement.  It conflates things to such an extent that PR can once again be cited for erecting straw man arguments in order to make it appear that a Calvinist would have a problem with this statement.  I would have to ask Pastor Rogers, at what point were the Bereans regenerated?  Many people in history have read the Bible and subsequently been converted (it is the same Spirit who wrote it and works in men’s hearts, after all), I fail to see how this proves that men–in their depraved/godless state–can “choose to seek God” apart from His enabling power.  You can affirm that men can choose to seek God, but the Scripture to support it cannot be found.  Instead you find this in Romans 3:10-12: “…as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.'”  So speaking of words like ‘all’ meaning ‘all,’ ‘all’ the time, what do you think “no one” “not one” and “none” mean?

“[Calvinism teaches] that God only actually offers salvation to some because only that particular some can actually believe; those are the ones He monergistically causes to believe by changing their nature against their will.  Calvinism teaches that regeneration is monergistic–God alone–and man has no part in it.  After regeneration there becomes a synergistic relationship between God and man, and man exercises faither because he cannot choose to do otherwise.  This is a disquieting reality” (3).

Unfortunately, I find myself thinking that it is a “disquieting reality” that he would think it such an awful thing that God would take us out of our mire and filth and make us clean creatures in Christ.  All I can really do is refer someone back to Ephesians 2:1-10 (specifically verse 5, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive [or as Pastor Rogers might say, forced us against our will] together with Christ…”), because I honestly do not see how anyone can see it any other way than what the Calvinist describes (or what Pastor Rogers describes, albeit somewhat biased in tone).

“I disaffirm that salvation is monergistic, which means that God actively causes some to be saved by forced regeneration…and that until regeneration, man is totally passive and becomes active only after regeneration.  I disaffirm that there is nothing that can be done prior to regeneration with regard to salvation” (3).

This passage edges dangerously close on works-based salvation (and indeed I would say it is), but of course they would never have any of that.  I cannot comprehend the “forced regeneration” idea (some have gone so far as to call it cosmic rape); it boggles my mind that anyone would think that they had such a large part in their salvation, even to the extent that they were able to pull themselves out of their depravity (by the bootstraps) and make themselves savable.

Who would ever say that it was forced love if you were to adopt a child out of a foreign nation, and make that child your own, and love that child? Even in a human sense we would marvel at the love of those parents to adopt that child, to make them their own.  What about having a child who is addicted to drugs?  Would we say that the parents were unloving if they forced that child to seek rehab and took away all their drugs?  No. I doubt it. But look at what we’ve done to the idea of God in salvation…  We want so badly to have a say in our salvation that we deny God’s freedom in having “mercy on whom He will have mercy, and compassion on whom He will have compassion” (Romans 9:15).

“Calvinism asks us to believe that God chose eternal torment for the vast majority of His creation…They want us to rejoice in a God who desired and chose for the vast majority of his creation to go to hell when He could have redeemed them” (3).

All I will say to this is that the synergist often tries to push theodicy and problems such as this onto the lap of the Calvinist alone.  But really, how does this solve anything, even for the synergist?  You are still left with the fact that God could save all men, but chooses not to, gives them free will, and allows them to go into hell for eternity.  What is solved by rejecting Calvinism?

Pastor Rogers goes on (Page 4) to ask why we ought to “reason” with men, why did Paul try to “persuade,” why did he beg them to be reconciled?  But what is the argument here?  That people can actually be converted by plausible arguments, reasoning, persuasion, coercion, etc.?  Is the argument that men are able to come to a certain knowledge prior to the Spirit in order to make them more able to be converted?  The argument falls on all fronts, especially the Scriptural one.  It is the Spirit that converts (all orthodox Christians believe this), to try and express otherwise comes close to Pelagianism.

“Moreover, according to monergism, if they ever did respond, it would have nothing to do with anything Paul or the respondent had done…” (4).

Um…yes! Exactly.  Because salvation is not dependent on man, but upon God who has mercy (Romans 9:16; John 1:13). How else does one understand 1 Corinthians 3:6-7?  “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

“…contrary to Calvinism, He gave free will, paid everything necessary for the salvation of all, sent the call out to receive by faith, provided grace enablements and predestined to salvation those who would receive and respond to His grace” (5).

For the record, these statement is very very close to Arminianism, the only thing different is that PR does not believe someone can lose their salvation.  But it is strange to think that they can’t; after all, if men have so much choice in making themselves saved, why can’t they unchoose that choice?  God wouldn’t force them to do something against their will, right?

The last few words are definitionally Arminianism, “[he] predestined to salvation those who would receive and respond to His grace.”  That is, God looked down the corridors of time, saw who would ‘receive and respond’ and then predestined them.  Notice something crucial here: It is all dependent on the work/actions/will of man.  There is absolutely no way around it.

“While I do agree with the Calvinists’ assertion that God would be just if He sent everyone to hell because everyone is a sinner, and it is grace if He chooses to redeem one; I disagree that this truth in any way answers this dilemma for Calvinism or satisfies the boundless, matchless, and majestic grace, love, and mercy of God presented throughout the Scripture” (6).

This is a flippant dismassal of the fact that God is free to do as He wishes with his mercy, love, and grace.  Pastor Rogers does not actually deal with this assertion, he simply gives it lip service, and then dismisses it without any scripture to back it.

“It is rather perplexing to see how a Calvinist can sign the Baptist Faith and Message because it says of God, ‘He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.’  Since Calvinism teaches that God actively elected to withhold salvation from most of the lost people of the world, it seems fair to ask in what way is that fatherly” (6).

I have a few responses to this.

1) I would never sign the Baptist Faith and Message.  It is so ambiguous and imprecise that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Talk to me about the Baptist Confession of 1689, and then maybe…but at that point I’ll just take the WCF.

2) How does this “dilemma” fit this passage (and this is just a random example):  “And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them” (Jeremiah 19:9).  I, for one, do believe God to be “fatherly” (to His children)…but in what way does this fit the BF&M when you try to define things such as Pastor Rogers is doing?  What kind of father would make his people eat their sons and daughters and neighbors?!

3) Once again, this is a false dilemma for Calvinism.  Theodicy and the fact that God would allow large sums of people go to hell is a question that every Christian must answer to the unbeliever who asks.  It just so happens that Calvinism can account for God’s desire to glorify Himself; Synergism simply leaves you saying, “He’s trying to save everyone, He just won’t infringe on your free will.”

This concludes the first installment of this review; obviously I was not able to hit every point he made without retyping his entire chapter, with all of my comments.  Hopefully the main issues were addressed, and more will come out as we move forward.  If there are any question, specific concerns, or just complaints, you may comment and I will attempt to address them.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Jon

See the author’s response to my review: here.

Advertisements

~ by TSL on February 6, 2013.

6 Responses to “Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part One”

  1. Wow thank you for this lengthy review of a book which title already makes me cautious…

  2. […] dealt with all introductory remarks in the last post, I believe we can go ahead and jump right in to his words.  Remember, each of his chapters begins […]

  3. […] For introductory remarks refer to my first post in this series of blog posts. Also, I am hoping to pick up the pace here and be a little less […]

  4. […] For introductory remarks refer back to the original post in this […]

  5. […] Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, & Conclusion […]

Comments are closed.

 
%d bloggers like this: