Why Every Self‐Respecting Premillennialist Isn’t a Calvinist
“One’s eschatology will be consistent with their view of justification—unless you’re John MacArthur.”
At the 2007 Shepherds’ Conference, Pastor John MacArthur gave the opening message titled, “Why Every Self‐Respecting Calvinist Is a Premillennialist.” The message caused a hyper hissy fit among the authentic Geneva style Calvinists that used to associate with MacArthur. Most of the hysterical reviews were whining rants about how the message was an “ambush.” They came to the conference to hear solid fatalistic Reformed doctrine while enjoying sweet fellowship among philosopher kings and instead were personally dressed down at the very beginning of the conference that they attended with hard earned parishioner money. It just ain’t right.
No doubt, the message left amillennialism naked and freezing outside in the cold. Well, sort of, depending on your understanding of Calvin’s election construct. This is why the various responses danced around the real issue and were in bondage to MacArthur’s fundamental misunderstanding about what Calvinism is while calling himself one. Paul warned the Corinthians that elitist academia is not the venue that God works from, and this fiasco is just one good example among many as to why that is so. The Geneva popes could not expose the fact that MacArthur’s fundamental premise is wrong—that would expose what Calvin really believed about election—a truth that the totally depraved artisans can’t handle.
MacArthur said this during the message:
But bottom line here, of all people on the planet to be pre-millennialist it should be Calvinists; those who love sovereign election. Let’s leave amillennialism for the Arminians. It’s perfect! [laughter] It’s ideal. It’s a no-brainer. God elects nobody and preserves nobody. Perfect! Arminians make great amillennialists. It’s consistent. But not for those who live and breathe the rarified air of sovereign electing grace. That makes no sense. We can leave amillennialism to the process theologians . . . The irony is that those who most celebrate the sovereign grace of election regarding the church, and its inviolable place in God’s purpose from predestination to glorification, and those who most aggressively and militantly defend the truth of promise and fulfillment, those who are the advocates of election being divine, unilateral, unconditional, and irrevocable by nature for the church, unashamedly deny the same for elect Israel. That is a strange division.
Ok, so MacArthur highlighted one of the assumed positive notes that can be taken from the idea of Calvin’s election: Once saved always saved. And, absolute assurance of salvation because it is God’s work alone—we can’t mess it up. And, how can you proffer election for the individual and ignore the fact that Israel was elected? This put the Geneva popes in a tough spot because they know that this apparent contradiction fits perfectly with Calvin’s doctrine of election.
Calvin believed in three categories of election: the non-elect, the called elect, and the chosen elect. This necessarily denies assurance because the called elect don’t know for certain whom among them have been chosen. Calvin stated this in no uncertain terms:
Let us, therefore, embrace Christ, who is kindly offered to us, and comes forth to meet us: he will number us among his flock, and keep us within his fold. But anxiety arises as to our future state. For as Paul teaches, that those are called who were previously elected, so our Savior shows that many are called, but few chosen (Mt. 22:14). Nay, even Paul himself dissuades us from security, when he says, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” (1 Cor. 10:12). And again, “Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee,” (Rom. 11:20, 21). In fine, we are sufficiently taught by experience itself, that calling and faith are of little value without perseverance, which, however, is not the gift of all (CI 3.24.6).
You can be called, and you can have faith, but that doesn’t seal the deal, said Calvin:
The expression of our Savior, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” (Mt. 22:14), is also very improperly interpreted (see Book 3, chap. 2, sec. 11, 12). There will be no ambiguity in it, if we attend to what our former remarks ought to have made clear—viz. that there are two species of calling: for there is an universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the word, invites all men alike, even those for whom he designs the call to be a savor of death, and the ground of a severer condemnation. Besides this there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. Sometimes, however, he communicates it also to those whom he enlightens only for a time, and whom afterwards, in just punishment for their ingratitude, he abandons and smites with greater blindness (CI 3.24.8).
So, this fits perfectly with Calvin’s eschatology; Israel was temporarily elected just like many individuals are temporarily elected. The logical conclusion of Calvin is that God’s word did, in fact, fail (Romans 9:6). Moreover, and in direct contradiction to 1John 5:13, authentic Reformed doctrine has always denied assurance. This is reflected in many contemporary authentic Calvinists:
There is danger on the way to salvation in heaven. We need ongoing protection after our conversion. Our security does not mean we are home free. There is a battle to be fought (John Piper: Bethlehem Baptist Church Minneapolis, Minnesota; The Elect Are Kept by the Power of God October 17, 1993).
Words mean things. Piper is clearly saying that our battle in sanctification is a battle for justification. If you really understand the Reformed view of justification, you know the following: the “battle” is against our supposed propensity to gain favor with God through works in sanctification (effot to please/love God changed to; merit for salvation). There is no separation of justification and sanctification so works in sanctification must be sanctified with a faith alone formula. It’s salvation by Christ plus not doing any works in sanctification (Christ + antinomianism to maintain our salvation). We must be sanctified the same way we were justified so that we can properly finish justification. Therefore, Calvin believed that sins committed in the Christian life separate us from grace, and a continual repentance, the same repentance that saved us, is needed to maintain our salvation. Unless we live by faith alone in sanctification, Christ’s blood will not be applied to the new sins we commit. This is the battle Piper is talking about. Said Calvin:
…by new sins we continually separate ourselves, as far as we can, from the grace of God… Thus it is, that all the saints have need of the daily forgiveness of sins; for this alone keeps us in the family of God (John Calvin: Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles; The Calvin Translation Society 1855. Editor: John Owen, p. 165 ¶4).
And, guess what? It just so happens that your local Reformed elder, via the Reformed power of the keys, has the authority to forgive those pesky sins that take away your salvation. Who would have thunk it?
To impart this blessing to us, the keys have been given to the Church (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). For when Christ gave the command to the apostles, and conferred the power of forgiving sins, he not merely intended that they should loose the sins of those who should be converted from impiety to the faith of Christ; but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.22).
Secondly, This benefit is so peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in the communion of the Church. Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it. Of the public reconciliation which relates to discipline, we shall speak at the proper place (Ibid).
Calvinism is an egregious false gospel being flaunted in broad daylight by academic elitists who are in reality clueless, which brings me to my second point. This is where the vast majority of American Christians are functioning Calvinists…among many other ways while vehemently denying Calvin. Specifically, the whole idea that eschatology is a “secondary issue.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Eschatology is gospel; you cannot separate the cross from eschatology. One’s eschatology will be consistent with their view of justification—unless you’re John MacArthur.
The number of resurrections and judgments, and who stands in those judgments, are indicative of a particular view of justification, and election in particular. MacArthur’s dispensationalism coupled with naming the name of Calvinistic soteriology, which really isn’t Calvin’s soteriology, to begin with, is a dumbfounding contraction that leaves one without words to fully explain. Calvin’s eschatology calls for one resurrection and one judgment at the end of time where everyone sweats it out while waiting to find out if they were antinomian enough. Some of the books at the Great White Throne Judgment are the books of the law that will be used by God to judge the works of those standing in that judgment. As one aspect of Christian security, we will not stand in that judgment because we are not under the law. Furthermore, we don’t wait to see if our antinomianism sufficiently utilized the “doing and dying” of Christ to cover our sins—our sins have been completely eradicated.
The number of resurrections and judgments speak to our view of what part of Christ’s works on the cross are finished and not finished, the separation of justification and sanctification, the new birth, election, and future Israel. Eschatology is gospel.
That’s why every self‐respecting premillennialist isn’t a Calvinist, and why MacArthur isn’t a Calvinist, but he thinks he is a Calvinist. As stated by Richard Muller,
There is every likelihood that John MacArthur’s “Calvinism” would probably not be recognized by Calvin himself.
It’s all simply pathetic.