Originally published April 17, 2013
After nearly six years of research on the Reformation I have come to the conclusion that like all cults, its proponents deliberately deceive by changing the definition of familiar terms and using subtle verbiage. They condone this because they don’t think we are “ready” for the hard truth of the authentic Reformed gospel. John Piper said that outright during an interview while answering the question, “What would you say to the Pope if you had two minutes with him?”
A good example of this subtle deception is a recent article posted on SBC Voices. Here it is:
If you search through the blogosphere, you’ll see some who advocate Christians “preaching the gospel to ourselves” daily, and you’ll see others who are staunchly against “preaching the gospel to themselves.” I think some who speak against “preaching the gospel to ourselves” misunderstand and/or misrepresent what we mean. Here is why I preach the gospel to myself. Out of the gospel flows both justification (being declared righteous by Christ alone) and sanctification (the immediate positional adoption by Christ into God’s kingdom, and the progressive setting apart of our lives from the Devil’s kingdom into God’s kingdom). The gospel is the source of both, but the two are separate acts of the Spirit’s work in our lives. If you repent and have faith in Christ, trusting in His life, death, and resurrection for your salvation, you are immediately justified and sanctified, and you will be progressively sanctified as God works out salvation in you. Christ, the gospel, is the source of the Spirit’s work through faith alone.
This is a little less subtle than what followed in the same article, but the goal by the writer of said post is to sound biblical while trying to sell us Calvin’s progressive justification. The Devil is in the details. Like all cults, Calvinism distorts the Trinity by overemphasizing one member over the others. The Jehovah Witnesses overemphasize God the Father and destroy the role of Christ while others overemphasize the Spirit’s work to the exclusion of Christ and the Father. Calvinists overemphasize Christ and exclude the Father’s role in justification. Notice he states that Christ is THE gospel: “Christ, the gospel.” The definite article “the” is ever so subtle, and completely untrue. The Trinity is the gospel, not just Christ. Notice that he also states,
If you repent and have faith in Christ, trusting in His life, death, and resurrection for your salvation, you are immediately justified and sanctified, and you will be progressively sanctified as God works out salvation in you.
According to the post, we have to trust “in His life” as well as His death for our salvation. Did you catch that little subtle statement? That is the belief that Christ lived a perfect life on earth so that His obedience can be imputed to our sanctification while we are justified by His death. This comes from Calvin who believed that Christians are still under the jurisdiction of the law and it must be obeyed perfectly until we get to heaven where our final justification is verified. As long as we live by faith alone in sanctification, Christ’s perfect obedience is applied to our sanctification which prevents “making sanctification the ground of our justification,” a truism often uttered by John Piper.
This is where all of this living by the same gospel that saved us and preaching the gospel to ourselves comes into play. If we live by the same gospel (faith and repentance only) that saved us in sanctification to prevent our sanctification from being the ground of our justification, the perfect obedience of Christ to the law will continue to be imputed to our Christian walk. This promotes the idea that it is alright for Christians to remain under the law as long as Christ keeps it for us. This is why they say justification is “distinct” from sanctification but “never separate” because Calvin saw sanctification as a process that completes justification. That’s a VERY problematic gospel. Note:
Christ, the gospel, is the source of the Spirit’s work through faith alone.
The Spirit’s work? Is he talking about the Spirit’s work in justification or sanctification? Yes, because they believe they are both the same. And here is the kicker: if you don’t live your Christian life by faith alone (the same gospel that saved you) resulting in Christ’s obedience being imputed to your sanctification, you lose both justification and sanctification. So, you have to keep your salvation by living by faith alone in sanctification. Remember, you have to trust in Christ’s life, not just His death and resurrection. Note the following statement by New Calvinist Michael Horton:
Where we land on these issues is perhaps the most significant factor in how we approach our own faith and practice and communicate it to the world. If not only the unregenerate but the regenerate are always dependent at every moment on the free grace of God disclosed in the gospel, then nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image. Start with Christ (that is, the gospel) and you get sanctification in the bargain; begin with Christ and move on to something else, and you lose both.
Much more could be said, but I think you get the picture. The author of the post furthers his position by referring his readers to seven elements pertaining to the same subject by a Rick Phillips. Phillips is much more subtle, but his first element reads as follows:
1. Justification and Sanctification are twin benefits that flow from union with Christ through faith. Christ is himself the center of the gospel, and through faith we are saved in union with him (Acts 16:31; Eph. 1:3). Justification and Sanctification are distinct benefits flowing through union with Christ by faith alone.
Regardless of whatever else these guys say, this is the bottom line: if we remain in union with Christ by faith alone, justification and sanctification continue to flow by “faith alone.” What did James say about that? John Piper:
We are kept by the power of God through faith [emphasis mine].
It’s works salvation by living by faith alone in sanctification; i.e., the same antinomianism they claim to refute. Because we are supposedly still under the law, Christ must keep it for us so His perfect obedience to the law will cover us at the judgment day. But the only obedience of Christ that is part of the atonement is His obedience to the cross—we don’t need obedience to a law that we were justified apart from. We are now enslaved to the law and its righteousness, but it can’t judge our justification. It has no jurisdiction over our justification, period.
The Devil is in the details.
New Calvinism is not only dangerous to one’s soul, it is very subtle, and its proponents are deliberately covert. A post on what to look for is overdue, and my thanks to the reader who wrote and reminded me of this need. First, know this: in our day, New Calvinist churches will be the rule and not the exception. When you visit a church, assume that it is in the process of being taken over by New Calvinists, or has been in that camp completely for a period of time. Churches that have been solidly New Calvinist for a number of years will have cult-like characteristics.
Now, let me first begin my list by specifically answering the readers question and then I will expand from there: “….and would like to have a few questions to ask a Pastor to be able to know for sure if he is or is not in the NC camp by how the questions are answered. At the top of your head what questions would you recommend be asked that would be very telling?”
1) The biggie: “What hermeneutic do you use when you are preaching? Do you use the grammatical historical hermeneutic, or the redemptive historical hermeneutic?” Whether the pastor is NC or not, a deer in the headlight look will follow because most parishioners of our day do not know any theology. Think about it for a moment. These are two very different ways of approaching the Bible with the results being radically different; but yet, 99% of the parishioners out there have no idea which one their pastor uses.
GHH seeks to be exegetic; all ideas about everything are drawn from the text. RHH has an eisegetic approach; the sole purpose of the Bible is to gain a deeper understanding of Christ. It is sometimes called the “Chrstocentric” hermeneutic.
If the pastor admits that he is RHH, he is a NC. If he becomes aloof, for example; “Well, why don’t you come and see what we are about at one of our services, and then if you still want to talk about theology, we can do that” (by the way, that’s an actual quote from a pastor in response to my question concerning his hermeneutics), he is suspect. If he claims to be both, he is also suspect. If he is NC, he will know the very second you asked that question that he does not want you in his church.
2) Ask him who his favorite teachers are (you may want to word the question in a different way). If aloofness follows, he is suspect. If his favorite teachers are the likes of John Piper et al, he is either undiscerning or NC. In other words, he’s suspect.
3) You can ask him about his view on obedience, but you have to ask it this way in order not to be roper-doped: “Does all legitimate obedience and duty come out of a deeper understanding of our salvation? And when it does, is it a ‘mere natural flow?’”
4) “Do you believe that we are sanctified (set apart) by contemplating the gospel that saved us, or colaboring with the Holy Spirit in applying the word to our life.”
Bottom line: a skilled NC pastor can get around all of these questions except question number one. Even then, he can claim that he uses both hermeneutics.
Things to Look For
5) Is everything going on in the church about the gospel and Jesus? Is all of the music about redemption? Are all the messages about salvation, even though it’s a Christian setting? Is God the Father and the Holy Spirit rarely mentioned?
6) Another biggie: The missing transition communication technique in teaching and conversation. Like number one, this is huge. A message will begin with the subject of our Christian walk, but then will move into the subject of salvation without a transition in subject, as if the two are the same thing. Really, number one and number six are the most significant answers to the reader’s question.
7) The either/or communication technique, or the missing option C communication technique. The classic example is this prayer I heard spoken by a New Calvinist elder: “Lord, forgive us for obeying you in our own efforts.” The prayer insinuates that it’s either all of our effort, or all of something else that we don’t need forgiveness for. New Calvinists use this communication technique over a wide spectrum of teachings.
The Danger Zone
8.) Don’t forget, New Calvinist elders believe they have authority over you if you are a professing Christian and you are in their neck of the woods. Never, never, never, never meet with an elder or a group of elders ALONE. Never. And document everything. If you find yourself trying to ascertain where a church is doctrinally, and things are getting uncomfortable—that’s a New Calvinist church, or a cult, one or the other. Also, in this type of situation in a NC church, they consider these meetings to be steps of Matthew 18. They also consider any type of formal or informal counseling to be part of the discipline process. Regardless of whether you are a member or not, they will formally excommunicate you from the church universal in a Sunday morning service. And by the way, you have no legal grounds for a lawsuit in any state. Please, please, avoid these situations.
9) Watch for signs of exclusiveness; such as, “We preach the scandalous gospel,” ect. Or, “We teach this, as opposed to the ‘vast majority’ of other Christian churches.” “This is what makes us unique.” If you hear verbiage like this, gather your family and run for the nearest exit door. And don’t look back.
10) Watch out for love bombing. An overemphasis on love usually replaces things that are missing—like TRUTH! True loving relationships, even among Christians, are developed over time.
Also, in a NC church, if you are thought to be discerning, you may be approached by an elder with an unsolicited offer to “disciple” you on a weekly basis. This is more than likely for the purpose of neutralizing you as a threat. In many NC churches, this is considered counseling/discipline whether you are aware of it or not. It is known as “redemptive church discipline.” The goal is to bring you to a “redemptive” view of sanctification.
Originally Published February 27, 2013
I think I have taken my last trip to SBC Today .com and SBC Voices .com. I have been referred over there a number of times to observe truth tone deafness on steroids. A heretic is running our flagship seminary, but the big news is that Tim Tebow cancelled his speaking engagement at FBCD. The big hero this time in the ongoing drama of SBC folklore (in our own pitiful minds) is Dr. Jeffress, who like all other SBC notables has never called out another leader for the same scandalous filth that is going on in most denominations. He will call out homosexuals, but the rape cover-ups in the SBC are a taboo subject. We call out the sins of the world, but to call out our own sin is “gossip.” All of these guys just really make me want to puke. Because they are sorry excuses for leadership—we are a joke in the eyes of the world and rightfully so.
Other articles posit the supposed strength of Calvinists and non-Calvinists working together in the SBC. So, the likes of David Platt will gladly play along while believing that synergistic sanctification is a false gospel and works salvation. This is a simple thing, Jerry Vines needs to call Al Mohler on the phone and ask him if synergistic sanctification is works salvation. I think the answer would surprise him if Mohler has a rare moment of truth telling. Of course, if Vines decides to do something about it, he then has to explain how he missed this all along and focused on symptoms rather than the issue of Calvin’s false gospel. I have been a lay pastor since 1986, and I missed it. Why? Because I was clueless, that’s why. More studied than a lot of Christians, I had a very poor understanding of justification, sanctification, and covenants, and still have a lot to learn. What’s so hard about that? Just admit it! What’s the big deal?
All of this conversation in the SBC about getting along with Calvinists could just as well include the Jehovah Witnesses or the Moonies. There is no difference; a false gospel is a false gospel and a cult is a cult. Calvinism was the epitome of a cult in Calvin’s Geneva and still is. You could slip a playing card in-between Calvin’s Geneva and Jonestown save the fact that Jonestown wanted to go out with a bang. But more to the point let’s talk about Calvin’s false gospel—the gospel that SBC yesomites say we should work together with.
In today’s church words don’t mean things because if they did we would have to do something about it. And we are mostly business as usual loving spiritual slugs. That’s what we need more than anything in the church today: leaders who take words seriously and will act accordingly. They will be easy to spot. When the sun is out during the day they will be walking around rather than sunning themselves on flat rocks like the majority. So, let’s talk about words.
“We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” Really? Does this raise any red flags? No. It is so, so indicative of how mindless Christians are in our day. “Wow, that sounds pretty cool. More fish anybody?” Come now, let’s be honest; do we really believe that we have been appointed stewards of God’s life-giving word? Is that how we function? A name that has come up in this ministry a lot this week is Miles McKee. He states a lot of things on his Facebook page that brings hearty kudos from many because their eyes immediately gravitate to the word, “gospel” in the sentence. “Oh there it is! The word gospel! Amen brother!” But let’s
look at his statements more closely. Here is the subline of his Facebook page:
“Preaching Christ crucified to the saved and lost alike. The goal is to pack this web site with rich gospel goodies.”
Yes, and that is exactly what Christian children in adult bodies seek in our day, “rich gospel goodies.” Yum, yum, yum. We can’t take the word of God and help people in real trouble; we are too busy feeding on our gospel goodies. Note the picture at right—that’s us. It is also how the world sees us, and rightfully so.
But note that we are supposed to be preaching Christ crucified to Christians. This doesn’t raise any red flags. Note that the same message preached to unbelievers is also fundamental to the message Christians still need to hear daily. Still no red flags. Particularly alarming should be the idea that Christ’s crucifixion is perpetual in the Christian life. That’s what Calvin believed. He believed the atonement is perpetual. He believed Christ’s death is continually reapplied to the Christian’s life by faith alone until we reach heaven. We are then judged according to whether or not we continually appropriated Christ’s death in our life by faith alone until that day. It’s keeping our salvation by staying at the foot of the cross. We are saved by faith alone, and at any given time that we are not living our Christian life by faith alone we lose our salvation (or they say we were not really saved to begin with). That’s why we preach the same gospel to the saved as well as the unsaved.
It would therefore seem that the new birth would have to be redefined, and you would be right about that. This doctrine necessitates the denial of the new birth. Hence, McKee also states the following:
“Contrary to much of today’s evangelical preaching, we must state that the message of New Birth is not the gospel.”
Regardless of the fact that Christ’s own gospel presentation to Nicodemus was, “You must be born again,” this doesn’t raise any red flags either. The mindlessness truly boggles the imagination. Graeme Goldsworthy, the foremost hermeneutical authority recognized by Calvinists in our day footnoted (with full agreement) an article written by Anglican Geoffrey Paxton entitled, “The False Gospel of the New Birth.” Yes, the gospel that SBC dimwits think they can colabor with denies the new birth in no uncertain terms. This isn’t rocket science: if the gospel that is good for the goose is also good for the gander; this assumes that no change takes place inside of the believer. And in case you haven’t read the papers lately that’s exactly what Christians are acting like.
Moreover, Calvinists think the evangelical new birth gospel is works salvation: “It would be better to die a heathen than to live a religious life and die without Christ” (McKee). And trust me, synergistic sanctification is the “religious life” being spoken of here.
The Calvinist gospel, the centrality of the objective gospel outside of us, is a perfect storm of deception that perfectly facilitates the confounding of salvific terms—I get that. But yet, I see a prevailing arrogance among Christians that since we are so smart, deception will always be evident to us. We are so good at doing Christianity we don’t need practice or diligent study. Our claim that faith is pure and simple is a cloak of arrogance that covers for our bankrupt spirituality and the brunt of jokes among the heathen. If there is a God, where is His representation upon the earth? “Well, we don’t attempt to be the gospel with our own works, we only preach the gospel.” And to that the heathen say,