Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Issue of New Calvinism May Be Simple to Understand After All

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 20, 2011

It has happened more than once until the lightbulb went on a couple of days ago. Susan and I often eat in the same booth at a local restaurant where I proposed to her and where she said, “yes.” In our discussions there on New Calvinism, she often gets a perplexing look on her face and asks questions that seem to indicate that she doesn’t get it. Then the light went on, and I said, “Honey, this point here, they really believe this stuff!”

Yes, often, we don’t connect the dots that lead to understanding because we reject the idea that intelligent people would really believe certain elements of a doctrine. I think that is what gives New Calvinism its cover in many cases. I stayed at Clearcreek Chapel for at least five years after knowing something wasn’t right because I was in denial. “Did he really just say that? Well, I don’t think he meant that exactly, he probably meant to say, you fill in the blank.

Folks wonder why I constantly engage myself in debating mindless, Kool-Aid drinking New Calvinists. The answer is simple; the linguistic exercise creates avenues in my mind that help me better articulate the doctrine. Has the most simplistic formula for understanding this doctrine been right in front of me for months now?  Though the calling card for New Calvinism is “the objective gospel outside of us,” I don’t think that my mind would let me connect the dots that these guys believe that the objective gospel is still “completely” outside of us in salvation. And “completely” is their word, not mine.

Now, when I say “gospel,” think, “justification.” Remember, New Calvinists, like their SDA ancestors, interpret everything through justification. Hence, sanctification can’t be separate, it must be a manifestation of justification in some way. Orthodoxy believes justification makes sanctification possible, New Calvinists (those who know what they believe and are functioning on more than soundbites) believe sanctification is justification in growing form. But justification can’t grow, it is a legal declaration that was accomplished once, and for all those the Father gives to the Son.

When we are saved (because we were justified before the earth was even created), something else happens: “You must be born again.” Justification makes this possible, or better said: it determines it will happen, but the new birth is not justification. At this point, New Calvinists cry, “foul!” And, “You are infusing grace (think, “justification”) into us, and inside of us, making a work inside of us the ground of our justification!”

Ok, what’s going on here? Well, at issue is our ability to participate in our own spiritual growth. Because they view everything through justification like their momma, Ellen White, we can’t be enabled to participate in justification. BUT WE AREN’T BEING ENABLED TO PARTICIPATE IN JUSTIFICATION, JUSTIFICATION IS A COMPLETED WORK.

We are born again, and we are not only declared righteous, we are righteous because we are “new creatures” and, “Behold, all things are new.” Us minus this body we are in, does equal perfection, and we long for the day that Jesus Christ will deliver us from it. But our efforts in sanctification are not an effort to participate in being justified, that’s impossible, we were justified not only before we were born, but before the earth was even created!  But New Calvinists refuse to separate the two, and insist that an inside enablement is an enablement to participate in justification. Let me repeat that: “But New Calvinists refuse to separate the two, and insist that an inside enablement is an enablement to participate in justification.” Which wouldn’t be a good thing.

Therefore, according to New Calvinists (those who know what they really believe, and aren’t mere followers), if we are enabled to participate in justification, that is infusing the righteousness of grace within us—that is making us righteous for the purposes of maintaining justification, or a “righteous standing before God.”  Hence, all righteousness that justifies must be OUTSIDE OF US. And since sanctification is “justification in action,” that active justification has to be fueled by a righteousness that is outside of us lest we be participants in justification. BUT WE CAN’T PARTICIPATE IN JUSTIIFCATION—IT’S A FINISHED WORK!

Also, all righteous works have to be apart from us and are the exclusive works of Christ. Let me repeat that: “….all righteous works have to be apart from us and are the exclusive works of Christ.” Because all righteous works are intrinsically connected to the gospel, or justification, all righteousness points back to justification.

New Calvinists believe that this was the crux of the Reformation. Rome infused righteousness within the believer—they infused the righteous works of Christ within the believer. No, Rome was guilty of the exact same thing that New Calvinists are guilty of, believing that justification has to be maintained through sanctification. The major difference is the following: Rome said that was obtained by ritual and their traditions from an infallible pope. New Calvinists say no to that, but yes to Jesus performing sanctification on our behalf and without our participation. Then they have made that issue “semper reformanda.” But both are guilty of the same thing, fusing justification and sanctification. When you do that, there can only be two results: works salvation (according to ritual and tradition), or let go and let God, or outright sanctified antinomianism (“Oh yes, the law is very, very important, but we can’t keep it, Jesus keeps it for us).

Now, let me pause here and cite some quotations:

Author: What do you think the unique theological findings of the Forum were in light of history? Robert Brinsmead: “Definitely the centrality and all sufficiency of the objective gospel understood as an historical rather than an experiential event, something wholly objective rather than subjective – an outside of me event and the efficacy of an outside-of-me righteousness.”

When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel

~John Piper

Thus, it will inevitably lead not to self-examination that leads us to despair of ourselves and seek Christ alone outside of us, but to a labyrinth of self-absorption.

~ Michael Horton

So what does this objective Gospel look like? Most importantly, it is outside of us.

~ Tullian Tchividjian

The blessings of the gospel come to us from outside of us and down to us.

~ John Fonville

If we happen to say No to one self-destructive behavior, our self-absorption will merely express itself in another, perhaps less obvious, form of self-destruction. Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. He was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. We need help from outside ourselves—and he helps.

~ David Powlison

The saving action of God took place “outside of me” in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

~Robert Brinsmead (Australian Forum)

It robs Christ of His glory by putting the Spirit’s work in the believer above and therefore against what Christ has done for the believer in His doing and dying.

~ Geoffrey Paxton (Australian Forum)

But to whom are we introducing people to, Christ or to ourselves? Is the “Good News” no longer Christ’s doing and dying, but our own “Spirit-filled” life?

~ Michael Horton

And the new-birth-oriented “Jesus-in-my-heart” gospel of evangelicals has destroyed the Old Testament just as effectively as has nineteenth-century liberalism. (footnoted to Paxton’s article with above quote).

~ Graeme Goldsworthy (Australian Forum)

In it [Goldsworthy’s lecture at Southern] it gave one of the clearest statements of why the Reformation was needed and what the problem was in the way the Roman Catholic church had conceived of the gospel….I would add that this “upside down” gospel has not gone away—neither from Catholicism nor from Protestants.

~ John Piper

Geoffrey Paxton convinced Robert Brinsmead that the SDA fusion of justification and sanctification via our participation was not the ticket (works salvation). Instead, they devised a fusion of the two that was not “justification by works.” But the base error is the same, and the brilliant John Piper cartel has bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

But how does it all work in “real life.”

So how is this all packaged to appear orthodox? That is what we refer to as “Gospel Sanctification.”

What is Gospel Sanctification?

First, let’s look at a traditional view of sanctification. The Scriptures make it clear that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, it is a work of God alone. But once we are born again we are new creatures set apart and enabled by God to dependently work with him in the sanctification process. Sanctification is the spiritual growth process that takes place until God brings us home. Most evangelicals would agree with that definition. However, proponents of gospel sanctification would say: “No, no, no, God alone saved us but now you say we can work for our sanctification? No we can’t, that’s bunk. The gospel saved us and it also must sanctify us, both are a work of God alone. We are saved by the gospel and sanctified by the gospel.” Hence the term gospel sanctification. As Jerry Bridges often says: “We must preach  the gospel to ourselves every day.” Therefore, we are saved by the gospel and must live by the gospel every day (there is some element of truth to this; for instance, everyday repentance likens somewhat to our original repentance at salvation, but in fact, is not exactly the same [Jn 13:10]). The next logical question is: how does that apply to our everyday walk with God? As a friend of mine often says, “Put feet on that.” Well, think salvation. The main key to gospel sanctification is that you couldn’t do anything to be saved and you therefore cannot do anything to be sanctified. Dana L. Stoddard, in his treatise on gospel sanctification in the Journal Of Biblical Counseling entitled “The Daily Christian Life,” put it this way:

“It is by virtue of Christ’s perfect life, death on the cross and resurrection-plus nothing-that we are justified (made and declared right with God) and sanctified (set apart, kept, and viewed as right in the Lord’s eyes by virtue of his obedience). Christ is our holiness. Christ is our sanctification.”

Therefore, according to Stoddard in this article which is an excellent representation of the gospel-driven life, both justification and sanctification are brought about by the life and death of Christ “plus nothing.” Stoddard further drives this point home by quoting John Murray who calls this view definitive sanctification (sanctification by virtue of the indicative alone): “Being made and declared holy is a definitive act of God alone in Christ” (emphasis mine). Therefore, gospel sanctification by virtue of its definition alone is necessarily a passive approach to sanctification. It seeks to synthesize justification and sanctification as much as possible making everything a total work of God alone. Is it biblical? And if it isn’t, what are the ramifications?

But first, let me say that  proponents of gospel sanctification would be very quick to answer a charge of let go and let God. Gospel sanctification does have a practical application. But again, it is necessarily limited by its passive definition and attempts to make sanctification as monergistic as justification (or otherwise as passive as possible). In other words, our contribution to the sanctification process is limited and narrow. Paul David Tripp, a propagator of gospel sanctification, even refers to biblical thinking as a  “technique that is not sufficient for real change.” For all practical purposes, he says in one of his books that 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 is unbiblical:

“But this approach again omits the person and work of Christ as Savior, Instead, it reduces our relationship to Christ to think his thoughts and act the way Jesus would act” (How People Change pg. 27).

When you warn readers that even our own efforts to change our thinking to the mind of Christ is a work that eclipses the person and work of Christ, that is excessively passive. Also, note that the crux of the matter in Tripp’s mind is “omitting the person and work of Christ as Savior” (emphasis mine). This is a very defining statement in regard to gospel sanctification; we cannot exclude Christ as Savior from the sanctification process. Any effort on our part, even an attempt to align our thinking with the mind of Christ is to exclude the person of Christ from the sanctification process. Proponents of gospel sanctification make no distinction between justification and sanctification; both are monergistic and obtained by the gospel. Of course, this approach would be a really hard sell to Christians at large if there was no real-life application. So then, what are the primary working dynamics of gospel sanctification, if any? In other words, is there a practical application? As one person asked me, “So what are we supposed to do?” (GS proponents often say that very question is indicative of a grave spiritual problem).

Deep Repentance

Remember, think  gospel. What did you have to do to get saved? Believe and repent. The sanctification process is then no different. Daily repentance is the primary thrust of gospel sanctification because it is the lowest common denominator of passivity that proponents can come up with. Remember, we are dealing with a narrow concept, so whatever elements they have must be greatly embellished. So, we have deep repentance as opposed to regular everyday biblical repentance. This is a process in which the heart is emptied of any desire that exceeds our desire for Christ. This can be done through our recognition of daily sin but not stopping there, we must determine what desire led to the sin (good luck).

Theology of the Heart

This is the process that is used to determine the sinful desires of the heart (see “How People Change,” chapter 6). It involves a knowledge of how the heart supposedly works in the milieu of life and often explained through visual charts. Besides outward sin and response to circumstances, desires can be evaluated by asking ourselves  “X-ray questions.” Paul Tripp supplies a list of thirty-four with two or three phrases in each that ask additional questions in each separate question on page 163 of “HPC” for a total of about 100. The most popular one that you will hear often is: “What did you want?” Imagining possible future circumstances of life and thinking about how we might respond while asking ourselves the right X-Ray questions is yet another way to determine desires of the heart that cause sin. We empty our heart of idols that distort our desires by confessing them daily, and then Christ fills our hearts with himself resulting in an effortless flow of obedience. Supposedly.

Belief and Identity

Once we have emptied our heart of  idols, we then “rest and feed” on the living Christ who then fills our heart with Himself, replacing the idols of the heart (idols that create desires that exceed a desire for Christ, “HPC” pg. 28). We also focus and learn about who we are, and what we have in Christ to fill the void left by the eradication of sinful desires / idols  effected by deep repentance.

New Obedience

The result of this process is new obedience. Or as Tripp explains it in “HPC”: “New and Surprising Fruit” (chap. 14). Or as others explain it, obedience is always a “mere natural flow” (The Imperative Command is Grounded in the Indicative Event, “Vossed World” blog). In other words, we are walking along and holy fruit just starts popping up everywhere without any effort and to our surprise. However, Philippians 2:8 says Christ was obedient to the cross. Now go to Matthew 26:36-46 and read about the struggle Christ experienced as he faced the cross. Hebrews 12:3,4 says: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (emphasis added).

Nevertheless, according to proponents of gospel sanctification, Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins and justify us before God, but also lived an obedient life in order to obey for us as well (remember what Stoddard said about us being justified and sanctified by the “life” and “death” of Christ with His active obedience being imputed to us, not just righteousness). To accept anything less is to exclude the person of Christ from the gospel, so they say. Some call this belief monergistic substitutionary sanctification. Christ was not only a substitute for the penalty of sin; but was also, and presently is, a substitution for all our works in sanctification as well.

Joy

So how do we know when we are obeying God in our own efforts or when it is the work of Christ through us? Easy, our obedience is accompanied by joy and all willingness, that’s how we know according to proponents of the gospel-driven life. Joyless obedience is always in our own efforts and not pleasing to God. Please do not misunderstand me, I realize there is much obedience in the life of a believer accompanied by joy and complete willingness, but sometimes that joy comes as a result of the obedience at a later time. Knowing this often helps us to endure accordingly: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Here I must pause and interject a very important note: Paul Tripp is the guru who has articulated the supposed practical application of the gospel- driven life via “How People Change.”

John Piper is the guru who has articulated the experience of gospel sanctification via Christian hedonism and other such writings. Much of the theory in regard to how the gospel-driven life is experienced is through the writings of John Piper.

What does that look like?

This is a gospel sanctification (GS) buzz question / mantra that replaces “how do we do that?” How, is now the wrong question to ask because it indicates there is actually something we can do to participate in the sanctification process, a crime worthy of death. If you doubt the wide spread influence GS has today, take note of how often you here that  phrase. Even the terminology must be changed to discourage some kind of effort on our part in the sanctification process that might imply some verb to follow.

The GS Hermeneutic

But what about all of those pesky Bible verses that seem to contradict gospel sanctification’s passive approach? Like say for instance, 1 Corinthians 9:27; ”No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” No problem. GS has its own process for interpreting the Bible through the lens of a gospel perspective so everything comes out redemptive. It’s called the redemptive-historical hermeneutic, or the Christocentric hermeneutic, or the cross-centered hermeneutic; so you have the theology of GS doing the interpretation.

GS Characteristics

Gospel sanctification is well suited for American culture. It’s new, It’s easy, and claims to have a low failure rate. It also has a strong intimidation factor. To speak against GS is to be against Christ and his gospel. To be against GS is to propagate the “legalism” of self-discipline and hard work in the sanctification process. Worse yet, if you believe that obedience is an exercise of the will to please God, you are supposedly engaging in works salvation. First of all, any Christian knows that we cannot please God apart from His life giving Spirit, but neither are we merely potted plants in the process:

“We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith” (1 Thess 3:2, emphasis mine. Some translations: “coworker”). “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15, emphasis mine).

GS is destructive error for the following reasons:

It takes away from the word of God in regard to elements of biblical sanctification.

Our resources and guiding truth concerning sanctification in the Bible are many faceted and numerous. GS is a narrow approach that excludes or ignores key truths of sanctification such as satanic strategy and our battle with the flesh. According to GS proponents, these kinds of considerations, and many others distract us from “owning our own sin.” They say that the flesh is not our problem, the heart is the problem, the flesh is a realm (I expand on this in the other essays). As only one example among many, most GS teachers do not see Satan as being in the loop of spiritual warfare, regardless of clear warnings from the Scriptures. This is no trite matter.

The following quote concerns John Piper’s Christian Hedonism which is the articulation of how gospel sanctification is experienced. But, the same concerns expressed by Dr. Masters below can also be applied to gospel sanctification as a whole. Gospel sanctification applies, and confines sanctification to the same elements of justification which are much fewer; namely, by faith alone.

“But Dr Piper’s formula for its use undoubtedly alters the understanding of sanctification long held by believers in the Reformation tradition, because it elevates one Christian duty above all others.

Delighting in God, we repeat, is made the organizing principle for every other spiritual experience and duty. It becomes the key formula for all spiritual vigor and development. Every other Christian duty is thought to depend on how well we obey this central duty of delighting in the Lord. The entire Christian life is simplified to rest upon a single quest, which is bound to distort one’s perception of the Christian life and how it must be lived. Whatever the strengths of Dr Piper’s ministry, and there are many, his attempt to oversimplify biblical sanctification is doomed to failure because the biblical method for sanctification and spiritual advance consists of a number of strands or pathways of action, and all must receive individual attention. As soon as you substitute a single ‘big idea’ or organizing principle, and bundle all the strands into one, you alter God’s design and method. Vital aspects of Truth and conduct will go by the board to receive little or no attention.”

It denies specific biblical instruction.

GS denies that the Bible includes specific instruction. The hit list of GS includes: living by lists; do’s and don’ts; put off and put on; biblical thinking; discipline; and a traditional view of obedience among many others. Yet 2 Timothy 3:16 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

It redefines obedience and the gospel.

It makes obedience in the sanctification process synonymous with works salvation. Therefore, it redefines Christ as a Lord that does not require obedience, and in fact, rejects it. Is it therefore a half gospel that presents Christ as Savior only? Yes.

It redefines spiritual warfare.

This can best be summarized by a statement I make in another essay contained in this book:

“Tripp’s battleground location would suggest a totally different form of warfare as opposed to warfare with sin that abides in the flesh. For one thing, warfare with the flesh is much more defined as opposed to the subjective nature of what the Bible calls the heart. As a matter of  fact, Jeremiah suggested that we cannot know the heart to begin with. These are two separate paths of sanctification. Saints would do well to choose their path carefully.

The Church for the most part defines spiritual warfare as Scripture describes it, a warfare between our regenerate heart and the flesh. Disciplines that feed our spirit God’s pure milk and deprive the flesh of provisions is not merely an outside warfare verses an inside warfare, it is the biblical prescription.”

It robs Christians of assurance of salvation.

Throughout Scripture, striving in obedience to the word of God is said to result in assurance of salvation. Most notably, 2 Peter 1:5-11. This is a far cry from the prescription for assurance by Jerry Bridges who counsels us to have assurance via “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.”

CONCLUSION

It boils down to this: when we are saved, and born again, is God’s righteousness imparted to us? And if it is—is that working for justification? I believe orthodoxy answers that second question with an unequivocal NO!

paul

3 Responses

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  1. Lydia said, on December 20, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    “Gospel sanctification is well suited for American culture. It’s new, It’s easy, and claims to have a low failure rate. It also has a strong intimidation factor. To speak against GS is to be against Christ and his gospel”

    Exactly. And I am picking up on something else with these guys after reading over at an SBC Reformed blog and other Reformed blogs: If you are deemed to have correct doctrine concerning this, you can get by with just about anything. It is one reason they totally ignore the antics of Driscoll and Mahaney. See, they have correct doctrine and that is more important than what they do. But one would think that correct doctrine would bring about doing the right things at some point.

    it is shocking what so many pastors are willing to dismiss because they think these celebrity pastors have “correct doctine. As so many of them said concerning Driscolls ‘I See Things” video or his new book on marriage affirming sodomy in marriage…..well….I don’t agree with that but he has correct doctrine. Do they not see their own “cogntive dissonance”?

    Like

  2. Gracewriterrandy said, on December 20, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    Paul,

    I was wrong. I am able to get online here after all. It occurs to me that at least a part of the reason for our disagreement concerning some of these issues may be your original assumption that I agree with the views of New Calvinism because I believe in New Covenant Theology. I know this is not something you want to believe but I can assure you that because I believe we are sanctified by the same gospel that justified us, that does not mean that we are passive in sanctification. Just because I believe sanctification is by faith, does not mean that believers are sanctified by faith ALONE. Still, it is just as wrong to say we are not justified by faith as it is to say we are justified by faith alone. Both statements are wrong.

    It is simply a fact that we are declared righteous because God imputes to our account an obedience that is not our own. It is objective, outside of us. We do not contribute to it at all. To believe that does not make one a New Calvinist; it simply makes him a Christian. The gospel is not “He who believes will be regenerated (a work God does in us), but he who believes will be saved, i.e. justified. It is regeneration and calling that enables us to believe in the first place.

    I can offer you statement after statement from my writings that show I don’t believe we are passive in sanctification. Additionally, I can show you many statements that indicate I don’t believe the saints are helpless in the matter of obedience.

    As I have said to you often, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If these guys are misusing the clear doctrines of Scripture, I will be the first to stand with you in opposing them. But, don’t assume that because I use the same terms they use, we mean the same things.

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  3. paulspassingthoughts said, on December 21, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    Lydia,

    http://wp.me/pmd7S-161

    Like


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