“A Better Gospel” Explained by a “Former Calvinist”

As I perused the SBC Today articles, I stumbled upon an article by Pastor Rogers (whose book I have already critiqued here: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, Conclusion, and which was summarily dismissed as “sophomoric” and misleading, which I dealt with in a Response).  Pastor Rogers has lately been on a bit of a tear regarding his opposition to Calvinism (seen on his blog), and because I have just finished my semester I feel I can now spend some time responding to this recent article.

The first thing I noticed was the continued profession of having once been a Calvinist; I may be inaccurate, and someone can correct me (because I can’t find it in the book presently), but PR has affirmed that he was in fact a 4-Pointer.  I have always had a difficult time attaching Calvinist to the end of that nomenclature, but for the sake of historic understanding I have given in; but let me say at the start that if PR was a Calvinist he was in fact not a “true” “former” “Calvinist” in a 5-point, 5-sola, Westminster (BC1689), Reformed, Covenantal, kind of way.  But rather than rehashing some of the things I’ve already pointed out in the review, let me hop in here (Pastor Rogers (PR) will be in white, with my comments in gray):

“The good news according to Calvinism is to be proclaimed to everyone everywhere, but it is not good news for everyone who hears.  I believe the gospel according to Jesus presents a better gospel.”

Let’s start with the thesis argued by Pastor Rogers.  Aside from the obvious assumptions/bias in the statement, perhaps Scripture would provide an interesting insight; 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says:

 …thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

Or 2 Corinthians 4:3-6:

…even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [that is, the Gospel].

So perhaps the statement has a certain emotional appeal, but when examined by the blunt realities of Scripture, it does not hold up as well as our ideas of “better” might desire.

In fact, Pastor Rogers has assumed a meaning of better that fits a man-centered view of the Gospel.  However it would be unhelpful to accept his definition of better so readily without thinking about the implications: better for whom?  One might argue that God receiving all praise, thanks, and glory for salvation is the “Best Gospel” there is…

Pastor Rogers goes on to explain how the minute differences between Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, etc. are not quite so minute, and have profound effects on our understanding and presentation of the Gospel.  I agree.

He says:

“I do think it is incumbent upon Christians to make clear that, even though these things are true, the differences between Calvinists’ and non-Calvinists’ perspectives regarding salvation do in fact influence the evangelistic and missionary endeavor. This influence is even determinative of what one can and cannot say to a lost and hell-bound world or a lost and hell-bound individual with whom we communicate the gospel.”

Precisely.  (You can read the remainder of his comments on the article itself, I just want to address some of his points).

In answering a question posed by John Piper, PR states:

“…when someone hears this glorious message [the Gospel], that same someone has a chance, by the grace and mercy of God, to receive the truth of the message by faith.”

I think there is a major misconception that PR ought really to purge from his thinking about Calvinism.  That is: man HAS a chance, but man CHOOSES sin, and man MUST be born again by the Spirit of God.  The biggest issue I have with PR’s position—and others like him—is the diminished view of the seriousness of original sin (or man’s initial depravity), and the effects it has on our nature.  It downplays the nature and condition of man, namely, that he is a rebel (Isa 53), blind, lame, actively suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness (Rom 1), dead (Eph 2), and unable to seek after God (Rom 3).  This always–ALWAYS–gets lost in this conversation.

Instead the idea becomes: “Calvinists think Jesus is simply toying with people when He offers the Gospel, knowing full well that they can’t without Him enabling.”  Making it appear that God is the one at fault, rather than the man who chooses his sin over the Gospel.  Let me make this as clear as I can:

**The reason men will not come to Christ is not BECAUSE God won’t enable them, it is BECAUSE of their sin. But they will not come UNLESS He enables them.**

“Further, without opportunity for all sinners to accept, Piper’s message should be changed to say, ‘Some can be glad in God if He predestined you’ or ‘God loves to exalt Himself by showing mercy to some sinners.’ This is the actual message of Calvinism, and everyone who understands Calvinism knows it. Unfortunately, it is popularly and ubiquitously stated in the manner cited by Piper (or similarly opaque phrases) that shield most from yet another disquieting reality of Calvinism. I would greatly appreciate Calvinists’ due diligence to speak in such a way that all can be reminded of this reality (as some Calvinists are very careful to do). To propose that this distinction is tertiary is baffling indeed.”

Pardon the lack of sugarcoat: this is silly to me.  We [Calvinists] speak in the language of the Bible, that speaks of how Christ both died “for sinners” (1 Tim 1:15) and that those who “come” are those whom the Father draws (John 6:44).  Remembering that no Calvinist claims to know who the elect are, there is no reason to insert such pedantic qualifications into every Gospel proclamation.  I am actually surprised at this type of comment, which is really some form reductio ad absurdum; or at the least making the other side look ridiculous by adding absurdities.

In speaking about a hypothetical missionary to Canada, Pastor Rogers tries to prove his point by example (my comments embedded within brackets):

“It is quite another for [a] missionary to look into the eyes of a lost and perishing Canadian and say God loves you and desires you to receive the good news of the gospel, which is the friendliness of the gospel in Scripture [as I have said before, I have dared someone to find me this Apostolic message…in the way the PR means it; does an Apostle ever say to a large group, “God loves you, Jesus died for you, all you have to do is believe”?  Serious question; and yet despite the assertion that this is Scripture…one is not cited]. The former has an abstract quality about it that the latter does not have (like the difference between saying I love Canadians and then really loving the one who moves in next door). A Calvinist can say, “Believe in Jesus for the remission of sins,” [which seems to be a more accurate presentation of the Gospel from the Scriptures: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16)] but there is a secret aloofness imbedded in the invitation for the vast majority of individuals who hear the gospel; an aloofness the Calvinist is very aware of and staunchly committed to [because we believe it to be much more scriptural; and I for one am not ashamed to admit what is perceived as a “disquieting reality”].

He goes on:

“This abstract quality transforms the simple straightforward gospel as seen in Scriptures from being exoteric (available to all) into an esoteric gospel (only available to some).”

Why has “Scripture” been alluded to several times in this article, but each time none can be found…this is a disquieting reality to me (no joke, I am sincerely disquieted by this practice).

“Actually, according to Calvinism, the gospel is good news for some, but inherent in their understanding of the gospel is that for most with whom they speak the good news, it is the ghastliest horror one could ever imagine (whether a sinner desires to believe or not does nothing to palliate this point).”

Who actually disagree with this, I am genuinely interested.  How could the Gospel be good news to all if not all accept?  Of course the Gospel is only good news  for those to whom it is applied, otherwise that Good News immediately become Bad News upon rejection.  Why are we playing games here?  Why is it that no one thinks about the implications of their conclusions much anymore?

“To wit, if a Calvinist shares the gospel in such a way that the hearers believe that God loves them, desires for them to repent and be saved by faith in Jesus, something that by God’s grace they can do, then the Calvinist has been true to the Scripture but not to Calvinism.”

An argument built on a straw man and misunderstanding at this point.  Again, which Scripture (I am beginning to get very uneasy at this point that there is no ACTUAL scripture to support these assertions; I amm a TA in history, and I grade a lot of papers…the students I grade do not get away with this type of argumentation.  They will have evidence to support their assertions/disagreements, or I will take points off).

“I am simply asking Calvinists to be clear in presenting what they so doggedly believe to be the whole good news, and I do not think that is too much to ask.”

I’m good with that.  We should be clear.  But first you need to be clear in your understanding of Calvinism in order to rightly critique their approach.

This tactic may be convincing to some (that is, to obscure the true beliefs, assume what they believe, and reduce their conclusion to absurdity, then pick it apart).  By the time we get to the end we aren’t even talking about the same thing anymore, and this response becomes superfluous as I have already responded to his book as fully as I could.

“Calvinism’s understanding of the gospel disallows any meaningfully eternal difference in the gospel if they simply said, ‘God hates you and has a terrible plan for you because the elect will get saved and the non-elect will not.’”

Again, the absurdity that seems unbecoming of a man I respect in most other areas.  The same reason I won’t tell every individual that “God loves them” is the same reason I won’t tell them “God hates them.”  I will implore them to repent and believe lest God deal with them in judgment rather than love….because!…that is all I know.  To speak beyond that is simply being dishonest to the unbeliever you are witnessing to.

The rest of the article is rather redundant, read for yourself and attempt to apply what has already been said to those assertions.

Interesting Stat:  “Scripture” is said at least 5 times, only 1 is cited throughout (that I can find; it’s John 3:16).  Am I to simply assume or agree to his conclusion because he is a pastor and it sounds good to my human nature?

Please, I hope you approach your own pastor with a more Berean spirit than that…for Christ’s sake,




~ by TSL on December 14, 2013.

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