Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Philosophy of the Reformation and Its Historical Impact, by John Immel – Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 21, 2016

Taken from John Immel’s third session at the 2012 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
Published with permission
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2
Click here to read Part 4

In part two, I addressed the concepts of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. Then I explained how the progression of those concepts produces specific outcomes. The principle I highlighted was that all metaphysical premises determine epistemological qualification. Epistemological qualification defines ethical standards, and ethical standards prescribe political culture. Said another way, foundational assumptions determine how effective man is to understand his world. This defines man’s moral value, and his moral values prescribe the government use of force.

Christians say polity when they talk about church government. My goal is to tie the spiritualized word polity to the reality: polity = force.   Most people fail to understand that government is nothing more than a monopoly of force. Likewise, church polity is nothing more than a monopoly of force. The reason force becomes the primary crux of these metaphysical issues is because the central fight for the whole of human existence has been the question of “who owns man?”

Historically the predominant assumption has been that man is the property of the state. Government owns man. It doesn’t really matter what government. It doesn’t matter what age that government is in, whether we are talking about Sparta, or Rome, or the Holy Roman Empire and Charlemagne, the conclusion was that the state owned man. Man’s specific function was to lead his life at the behest of the state.

Some historical background:

From AD 350 to roughly AD 450, there was a massive evolution in Christian thought. Up until about AD 300, Christianity was a marginal religion in a much broader intellectual and religious world. Then a series of events brought Christianity to the forefront, and Christianity emerged as the state religion. This merged the quest for truth with the power of the state, forever changing the face of Christianity. Follow the logic: the moment government is the arbiter of religious orthodoxy (read doctrine) the government must be in charge of reality. And if the government is in charge of reality then government is in charge of compelling people to believe specific things. Always remember government is force.

comply

We know what is best for you!

So when Christians talk about polity aka government they are trying to take the sting off what they really mean. When a man insists that he has Biblical polity, what he is ostensibly advocating is the moral right to compel everyone else there to conform to what he says.

In the unfolding drama in modern American Christianity, one of the leading doctrines is the issue of submission to authority. When truth is placed in the hands of “authority” they are claiming for themselves the right to force people to believe what they believe. The loose logic reasoning goes like this: if right ideas were enforced all the bad things would go away.

But notice that the bad things never go away.

Notice this logic played out in Islam. Islam calls itself a religion of peace because it believes that as long as Islam rules the world, it will enforce peace. The world will be at peace because Islam will brook no dissent.

Now notice the same logic from Marxists. “The reason there’s bloodshed is because those dang bourgeoisie won’t give up all their money to the proletariat. If we compel evil rich people to do what is “right” there would be no more bloodshed.” And this is the trap that this always produces. The presumption is that the utopia will occur if everybody would just get their ideas right.

But it never happens because it cannot happen.   The moment you decide that one person, even a group of people, are somehow uniquely qualified to use force to defend truth, what you have is religious orthodoxy. Religious orthodoxy and political correctness are nothing more than two heads of the same beast: one is secular orthodoxy and one is a religious orthodoxy. It is the use of government force to tyrannize people to believe the same thing.

Through marketing and packaging, religious orthodoxy tries to portray itself as being done on behalf of God. And who can argue with things that are done on behalf of God?   Since God isn’t standing here to say otherwise, it is a pretty easy thing to get away with.

So where is the plumb line? How do you know who is in charge of what?

Some insist the answer is in the “bible”. They pound the book and say, “See, it’s all said right here.” But the moment anybody stands up and says, “Well, I don’t happen to agree with what that says. I don’t happen to agree with your conclusion on that scriptural “interpretation.”…

…Then what do you do?

The dirty little secret is that nothing gets resolved until somebody points a gun. The epistemological standard requires force.

mediator-bob-listen-to-me

Baghdad Bob…Mediator Extraordinaire!

Notice that those who govern “For the glory of God” call their form of government theocracy, when in actual fact, theocracy is always oligarchy. Since God is not personally dictating what happens next, dictating his will defaults to men who have – somehow – magically transformed themselves into the recipients of divine mandate. That means you have a very, very small group of men who believe they are uniquely qualified to define truth for everyone. This is oligarchy.

So this means that there are a few men who monopolize force to define God’s existence. It is a simple matter for them to say they are doing whatever they are doing on behalf of God. They get to define God on their terms. God’s will is the subjective whim of those using force. This is why faith and force are the destroyers of the world.

By contrast when we are discussing reason, we are discussing the whole of human understanding, rationality, and logic. We are actually having the only exchange that cannot be resolved with violence. We are arguing the elements that are measurable and identifiable by anybody who chooses to enter into the conversation. So there is a right answer. There is a right conclusion. There is something out there whereby we can all arrive at the same plumb line.

The appeal to faith on the other hand is really an appeal to subjectivity. In fact the appeal to faith has become a license to subjectivity. The moment the world is subjective, force becomes the only means to compel other minds to enter in to like minded subjectivity. This is the real source of all religious wars. This is the background history that confronted our Founding Fathers. They were the first men to successfully challenge at the root the substantive cause of tyranny. For the first time in the world, these key elements were articulated:

  • Man owns himself.
  • The state is subordinated to the will of the individuals.
  • Truth can never be the property of the state.

This revolution of thought is directly tied to the Enlightenment. Remember the progression: Foundational assumptions determine how effective man is to understand his world, which defines moral value, which proscribes government force. The Founding Fathers believed in man’s competence. That was the central theme of everything for which they argued, that man was specifically competent to self-govern. This collides head-on with the Calvinist-Puritan construct: man equals incompetence.

Calvin believed this:

– Pervasive depravity has fully corrupted the whole of human existence.

– This determines that all good is a product of God’s specific sovereign action.

– This defines that man’s life is predetermined in action and outcome.

– This prescribes an elect few who are divinely appointed to shepherd the flock in God’s behalf.

The Puritans brought that mindset into the colonies. Puritanism was the most virulent strain of Christianity to come out of Europe and to land on these shores. It has always collided with the Enlightenment thought. Here is a summarization of some articles of religion from Puritan thinkers.

Puritan Leaders’ Impact On Colonial Religious Life

  • “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” is the lingering metaphysical worldview etched in the minds of men declaring God as a vindictive sovereign.
  • Whatever God’s benevolence might theoretically represent, ultimately, this worldview may seem wrathful and damning; terror is the only appropriate reaction to divine awareness.
  • Man’s depravity requires authoritarian government to stand between yourself and his lascivious impulses.
  • Pride in human ability is man’s leading vice and the outworking of wretched deception.
  • Salvation is the miracle of being approved access to heaven that this otherworldly utopia is granted or denied according to God’s mysterious plan.
  • The unintelligible nature of God’s intention in the feeble minds of men makes it capricious and malicious to every failing of human existence.
  • Men are pilgrims through this worldly realm, a hostile empire fraught with all manner of evil. Man is a depraved creature, entirely ill-suited in the bewildering environments, specifically prone to sinful self-destruction.
  • The boons of wealth and health are gifts. Therefore, man is merely the steward charged with a divine trust. The elect are then qualified to dispose of their brothers as the collective sees fit. Stewards in God’s appointment rule those siblings granted to their control.
calvins-hashtage

#religioushashtagsforcalvinists

This is why I point out the ultimate full philosophical power from metaphysics to politics. This is Calvin’s role. Very few human beings on the face of the planet have ever successfully integrated an entire philosophical statement – from metaphysics through epistemology, through ethics, all the way to politics – into something that can be digested for human consumption. While it is the single-most disastrous body of ideas ever perpetrated on man, he was still a genius.   The power of his ideas is fact that he parsed it in such a way that it was easily understandable from start to finish. Its power is its full statement.

What are the results of his ideas?

Civil War: Eventually, this body of thought becomes centered in England. Between the time of Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion in 1536, and the beginning of the Enlightenment period, England experiences three civil wars: the first from 1642-1646, the second from 1648-1649, and the third from 1649-1651. It will take a trivial amount of research for you to find the causes of the English Civil Wars: They were religious wars based on a fight over religious orthodoxy e.g. Calvin’s doctrine.

The Puritans: In modern American lore, the Puritans are everybody’s favorite Thanksgiving story. We like the Puritans because we think they are like us, but in actual fact there was a reason the Puritans were persecuted. They were militant ideologues who were determined to create a theocracy . . . somewhere. The closest they got in Europe was when Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector from 1653 to 1658. He called himself the Protestant Moses. The closest they got was to a theocracy was the Massachusetts colony.

The Act of Uniformity: The Church of England decided, after a series of wars, to dictate a specific form of public prayer, the sacraments, ordination, and church rights. The Puritans thought the Church of England was far too permissive, and when they couldn’t establish their doctrinal “purity” by force they left England because of “persecution”. They were not looking for religious freedom. They were looking for a place where they would be unopposed in setting up a religious tyranny.

The Salem Witch Trials: These occurred between 1692 and 1693. Again, a trivial amount of research will reveal these were specific religious persecutions, the merging of civil force with religious orthodoxy to create a culture of death. I know that is not popular and I’m sure that will make you nervous. That’s fine. I want you nervous. I want you to see the trend of social destruction.

Jonathan Edwards: To the Neo Reformed crowd, Jonathan Edwards is their homeboy. However, if you have ever read “Sinners in the Hands of a Angry God” you know it is a vicious piece, and you know that Jonathan Edwards was an evil little man.

(continued in part 4)


Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2
Click here to read Part 4

Helping Tim Challies and Other Calvinists with Evangelism

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on September 29, 2016

Originally published January 29, 2015

ChalliesYesterday, I was sent the following article about Calvinist evangelism written by blogger Tim Challies: How To Offend a Room Full of Calvinists. Miffed by the suggestion that somebody knows better than me how to offend Calvinists, I immediately read the article.

Apparently, according to Challies, Calvinists get offended when people suggest that their soteriology hinders evangelism.  According to Challies, the argument goes like this:

Many people are firmly convinced that there is a deep-rooted flaw embedded within Reformed theology that undermines evangelistic fervor. Most blame it on predestination. After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel. Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Protestants en masse think Calvinism’s greatest sin is weak evangelism, and of course, that makes them very angry because it’s supposedly the last criticism standing. I could start with the fact that Calvinism is works salvation under the guise of faith alone, or progressive justification, or salvation by antinomianism. Pick one; any of the three will work. But I have a mountain of data on that subject already; let’s do something different. Yes, let’s use Challies’ own words in the post to refute his argument. Before we call on Challies to refute his own protest, we will address his take on church history.

We go to history to show that the great missionaries, great preachers, and great revivalists of days past were Calvinists, and that Reformed theology was what fueled their mission… There are only so many times I can point to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, or William Carey and the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, or Charles Spurgeon and the countless thousands saved under his ministry. Sooner or later I have to stop looking at my heroes and look to myself. I can’t claim their zeal as my own. I can’t claim their obedience as my own.

In the post, Challies argues that we know that a straight line can be found from Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal because of history. Supposedly, Calvinists throughout history were driven directly by this deterministic gospel to reach thousands. It is very interesting when you consider the examples given which will aid in making my point.

The Great Awakening had absolutely nothing to do with Reformed soteriology. We should know this as a matter of common sense to begin with because the Holy Spirit doesn’t colabor with a false gospel. The Great Awakening was fueled by the ideology of the American Revolution and was expressed to a great degree in churches, especially among African Americans. Fact is, guys like Edwards and Whitefield then got on their horses and rode around the countryside bloviating and taking credit for the freedom movement tagged with “The Great Awakening” nomenclature.

Fact is, the Great Awakening was a pushback against the Puritan church state driven by Reformed soteriology that came across the pond as a European blight on American history. I would liken Challies’ assessment to our present President taking credit for things he is against when the results are positive.

What about Spurgeon? That example is just too rich because it makes the last point for me. Spurgeon, who once said Calvinism was no mere nickname but the very gospel itself, was the poster boy for getting people to come to church in order to get them saved. That’s important, hold on to that because it’s our last point.

But before we get to the last point, let’s look at the major point: Challies argues against the idea that fatalism hinders evangelism, and then confesses that he doesn’t evangelize like all of the great Calvinists in history because of…fatalism. Calvinism doesn’t cause fatalism resulting in lame evangelism, but Challies doesn’t evangelize because of fatalism.

After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel… We go to the pages of Scripture to show that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible, but that people truly are both free and bound, that God both chooses some while extending the free offer of the gospel to all.

So why does Challies not evangelize according to him? First, because he just doesn’t, but secondly, he is responsible:

It is my conviction—conviction rooted in close study of God’s Word—that Calvinism provides a soul-stirring motivation for evangelism, and that sharing the gospel freely and with great zeal is the most natural application of biblical truth. But it is my confession—confession rooted in the evidence of my own life—that my Calvinism too rarely stirs my soul to mission. The truths that have roared in the hearts and lives of so many others, somehow just whisper in me. The fault, I’m convinced, is not with God’s Word, or even with my understanding of God’s Word; the fault is with me.

He is responsible, but not often stirred. And what’s his solution? There isn’t one, it is what it is; he is responsible, but not called to evangelism. No corrective solution is offered in the post. Why not? Because, as he said, we are responsible, but unable. Responsibility and inability are not incompatible. So, Calvinism doesn’t hinder evangelism, but if you don’t evangelize, there is no solution. Others did it, and you don’t, the end.  Well, I suppose that approach doesn’t prevent evangelism either!

And funny he should cite Edwards. Susan is doing a session on Edwards for TANC 2015 and is studying his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. She approached me and wanted to discuss something about the sermon that she was perplexed about. Edwards spent the better part of an hour addressing the total hopelessness of man and his likelihood of ending up in an eternal hell, but in the end offers no counsel on how to escape. Why? Because if God is going to do something, he is going to do it, and man is responsible either way.

This now brings us to the final point with a bonus; we are going to help Challies with his evangelism shortcomings. There is, in fact, a solution for Tim’s lack of evangelistic zeal. He doesn’t properly understand Calvinism and its history. This isn’t about saving Tim from the false gospel of Calvinism, this is about being a good evangelist in the context of Calvinism. If I can’t save a Calvinist, I can at least teach them how to be a better Calvinist. Really, it’s disheartening when Calvinists don’t properly understand Calvinism.

This is how we will help Tim Challies. We will bring him back to the historical significance of Spurgeon using some of his own observations. First, let’s get a lay of the land; how does true Calvinistic evangelism work? First, it is the “sovereign” gospel which means the subject must not be told that they have a choice. This is some fun you can have with Calvinists. Ask them if they tell the recipients of their gospel message that they have a choice. Most will avoid answering because they don’t want to admit the answer is, “no.” By their own definition, that would be a false gospel speaking to man’s ability to choose God.

Secondly, if God does do something, if “the wind blows,” that puts the subject in two categories according to Calvin: the called and those who persevere.  The called are those that God temporarily illumines, but later blinds resulting in a greater damnation. Those of the perseverance class are the truly elect. So, the “good news” is that you have a chance to make it. But, if you don’t make it according to God’s predetermined will, your damnation is greater than the non-elect. God has either chosen you for greater damnation or the jackpot, but I guess it’s worth a try if God so chooses.

But hold on, and this is huge: all of that can be bypassed by Calvin’s “power of the keys.” What’s that? If you are a formal member of a Reformed church, and the elders like you, whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven.

Furthermore, according to Calvin, sins committed in the Christian life remove us from salvation, but membership in the local church and receiving the “impartations of grace” that can only be found in church membership supply a perpetual covering for sin. And here is the crux: one of those “graces” is sitting under “gospel preaching” of which Spurgeon was chief. In one way or the other, Spurgeon sold this wholesale and the results speak for themselves.

See, the solution for Challies is simple.  There is a solution for the disobedience he himself is responsible for: simply invite people to church in order to “get them under the gospel.” And that often looks like this…

Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Problem solved. That’s how Calvinism is a straight line from its theology to evangelism—you are saved by being a formal member of a Reformed church, and your salvation is sustained by remaining a faithful member of that church and obeying everything the elders tell you to do and think. But let’s not call it intellectual rape, let’s call it “keeping ourselves in the love of Jesus.” Let’s call it “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.” Let’s call it “being faithful to the church every time the doors are opened.” Let’s call it “putting ourselves under the authority of Godly men.” Let’s call it “trusting God with our finances.”

You’re welcome Tim, glad I could help.

paul

Susan Dohse: Jonathan Edwards, Strange But True – 2015 TANC Conference: Session 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 30, 2016

The following is an excerpt of the transcript from Susan Dohse’s 2nd session at the 2015 TANC Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny.


I may be showing my age by asking this: who remembers Ripley’s Believe It or Not television show? It aired in 1985 and Jack Palance was its narrator. How about the museum at Niagra Falls? How about some of these believe it or not ideas Jonathan Edwards wrote about and believed?

Frank Viola’s blog helped me condense some of Jonathan Edward’s beliefs and kept me from jumping from one book or article to another collecting my specific thoughts. With his help, how about these shocking beliefs of Jonathan Edwards:

1) He was a strong advocate for Indian rights during his day. He was bitterly critical when New Englanders stole land from Native Americans, commanding them to pay for the land they took. The logical Reformed personality was a “social activist”? Peculiar isn’t it, since many contemporary Edwards followers turn their noses up at anything to do with social activism or social justice today.

2) “Edwards owned slaves and believed that being a slave-owner was NOT incompatible with being a follower of Jesus. While Edwards was an advocate of Indian rights and denounced the transatlantic slave trade, he himself was a slave owner.”

So, for “America’s greatest theologian” to own slaves and think it okay, is well, shocking, don’t you think?

3) Knowing how Calvinists hated Arminians and Arminians were mutual in their love for Calvinists, “Edwards did not believe that Arminians were disqualified from ministry or the Kingdom of God. He defended a pastor who had anti-Calvinistic views. The pastor (Benjamin Doolittle) was being denounced by his own church for owning a slave”. To defend an Arminian minister is “shocking to some hard-core Calvinists who believe that ‘unless you receive John Calvin into your heart, you cannot be saved’, or at least…”you are a heretic.”

4) “Edwards believed the Pope was the Antichrist; apologies to our Catholic friends.
This fact sobers popular notions that Edwards always interpreted Scripture correctly.

5) “Edwards believed that God hates sinners worse than you hate poison. Just read his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

6) “Edwards believed that the revival that was happening in 1740 was the prelude of the consummation of the ages where ‘the world would be renewed’ and that God’s great and last work on the earth began in America.

7) “Edwards believed that emotional outbursts that included bodily manifestations were normal during a revival…He explained that this was a human response in some people to the power of the Spirit.

8) “Edwards believed that mystical experiences were part of the Christian experience.” (Mystical meaning “…an experience that’s spiritual that goes beyond the faculties of the frontal lobe.”) “On one occasion, a vision caused him to weep aloud for almost an hour. He points out that he had experiences like this numerous times: ‘I have many times had a sense of the glory of the third person in the Trinity, in his office of Sanctifier, in his holy operation, communicating divine light and life to the soul.’”

Have you ever met a Calvinist who described a personal spiritual experience like this? Maybe, if you know a Charismatic Calvinist.

9) Edwards believed that God’s sovereignty requires that He create the entire universe out of nothing at every moment. (Frank Viola, “Shocking Beliefs of Jonathan Edwards”, November, 2014)


Watch all of Susan’s 2nd session below.

TANC 2015 – Susan Dohse, Session 3 – Jonathan Edwards: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on October 5, 2015

Jonathan Edward’s  famous sermon Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God delivered to a congregation in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741, is often the only thing written by him some will ever read. American literature courses in high school and college include excerpts, and maybe the entire sermon in literature anthologies. It is usually presented to portray the awfulness of the Puritans and their Calvinistic religion. This was not the only hell fire sermon he delivered, yet, it is the one selected to represent Edwards and the Great Awakening movevent.  Contrary to YouTube and others who do dramatic presentations of this sermon, Edwards was not a pulpit pounding, foaming at the mouth, shouting minister. All of his messages were delivered in his low voice, almost monotone, with little emotion.

The old Puritan Way was eroding in New England for political and demographic reasons. They were no longer the majority population and most people living in 1720  who were born in the Congregational churches took it seriously, but did not regard the ministry or church doctrine with the respect their forebearers had felt.  Congregationalism wasn’t dead; most Congregationalists were still very concerned with their souls.  They just did not respond passionately to traditional Congregationalism anymore.  Voila! Enter the First of the Awakenings sometimes referred to as the Small Awakening. The revivals caught on. They addressed the people’s desire to be passionate about religion again.  In the absence of a literal wilderness to fight against, New Englanders in the 1730’s and 40’s fought against a spiritual wilderness. Preachers such as Whitfield and Edwards fought against the apathy and religious complacency that had replaced the Puritan religious zeal. Puritan religious zeal was more and more being transferred to politics.

Edwards appreciated the religious revivals because it brought people back to church and got them passionate about religion again. After all, true conversion was connected to the church.  Edwards being the theo-philosopher, and amateur psychologist of his time, was given opportunity to study and document the psychological steps involved in religious conversion.  Pre-occupied by this documentation, he did not realize that many who came to church in fear of damnation, did not come to believe that they were saved and fell into despair. Some took their own lives, such as Edwards’ uncle,  Joseph Hawley, who slit his throat in despair of his soul’s damnation.  Is there any question as to why this awakening faded in 1735?

It was sparked back to life in 1740 when the famous English Anglican minister George Whitfield answered Edwards’ request to come preach in Northampton. Whitfield convinced Edwards to preach the full revival.  What some do not know is the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was delivered by Edwards at least four times to four different congregations. He studied the make-up and psychology of each audience, and made changes to the sermon to accommodate each one. The first time he delivered the sermon was in his home church of Northampton and he was able to give the full sermon without interruption.  He repeated the sermon at Enfield, but his preaching reduced the audience to wailing, and loud crying, that drowned out the voice of Edwards before he could arrive at his hopeful conclusion.

In the sermon, he crafted his words, illustrations, and metaphors to inspire terror, to lead his listeners systematically and authoritatively to repent and humble themselves before the grace of a loving God in the hope of obtaining salvation.   His sermons were never concerned with persuading sinners to come to Christ or accept salvation. For the devout Calvinist only the arbitrary election of God determined who would be saved. (Voices of Democracy (2006)

The puzzles of his sermon:

  • He tells people they are in immediate danger of hell, urges them not to continue in their sinful ways, and seek a remedy for their sin. As a Calvinist, he cannot tell them to accept Christ and be saved—he doesn’t believe that. So the remedy is very vague, ie, “Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.”
  •  The emotional nature of his sermon is a puzzle. Edwards disliked hysterical emotionalism that was often connected to these revivals. Remember the Three Bears principle.  He did not approve or encourage his listeners to cry out in church, throw themselves on the floor, or any other dramatic thing. But he could not get the congregation to calm down so that he could finish his message.
  • Puritan ministers usually did not deliver hellfire sermons. He usually focused on the process of searching for God’s grace, the technical points of how to read God’s word, and how to live godly lives.   They were not focused on hell and damnation because he assumed that most people in the audience did not know their state and so haranguing them about hell would be counter-productive.
  • Edwards tells them that very few humans are saved, and even says that most of their friends and loved ones who have died, are undoubtedly in hell. It’s puzzling that he admonishes them to seek the remedy.
  • It’s puzzling that being a Calvinist purist he included Arminian ideas: that God can change your heart (the Puritans believed that to be impossible because God never changed his creation); that humans can become good (Puritans thought that impossible); and that God can decide to save someone previously condemned to hell (again, Puritans believed your fate was determined before the world was created). He repeats that there is nothing humans can do to avoid Hell, and then says humans have to do something, ie, “Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it.”  Saying if you continue in it clearly implies that you can choose not to continue in your sin, and thus can do something to save yourself.

It makes you wonder if Edwards would be surprised to know that “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” would seal his everlasting fame. It was only one of his hellfire revival sermons, and not indicative of the bulk of his work. If he had his druthers, he would likely have chosen his writings on the conversion process, the qualifications one needed for full church membership, even his study of spiders and rainbows to have lived on in popularity instead.

Regardless of this sermon, let’s take a look at the “afterglow” of Jonathan Edwards’ legacy.

Mark Driscoll preaches that God personally hates you and preached a sermon from Mars Hill that drew much comment and complaint.  Rick Holland in his book Uneclipsing the Son tells the reader that God is rightfully angry with us and at us, ie, “Our sin draws His wrath like a magnet draws steel.”  Jonathan Edwards’ sermon depicts an angry God, as does his treatise The End of the Wicked; and Driscoll, Holland and Piper follow in the bend of their beloved icon.

Example:
John Piper’s version of Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God after the bridge collapse in Minneapolis: “That is God’s message in the collapse of this bridge. That is his most merciful message: there is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which he is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world. The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that we are sinners and need to repent.”

Those of the Calvinist bent inherited from John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards a picture of God who is constantly angry about something or someone and use portions of Scripture such as Nahum 1 as proof texts: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes, and vents his wrath against his enemies.”

We fail to appreciate the difference between an angry God and a God who gets angry.  Jonathan Edwards is the poster child for the angry God group, ie, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”

According to a study which analyzed the results of a Gallup survey, belief in an angry God is “significantly associated with an increase in social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion.”  When you are told repeatedly that you are totally depraved, worthless, and deserve God’s wrath, your mental, emotional, and spiritual health is in peril.  Who would want to join in a relationship with someone who is angry with you all the time? Edwards’ God is bound by His anger, and according to the theology of this American icon, has no choice but to be constantly angry at mankind, that’s His fundamental nature.

Consider this: God is not an angry God; God is a God who sometimes gets angry. A God who gets angry when anger is needed, like we see in Isaiah. God is angry at the hypocrisy of his children. He is angry with their evil deeds and ungodly behavior. But in His anger He gives the remedy: “[w]ash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17) Quite a different remedy from the one of Edwards, isn’t it? “Therefore let everyone who is out of Christ fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of God is  now undoubtedly hanging over a great number of you.”

Consider this:  churches justify the spiritual abuse of their members because they work out of a place of anger, fear, and hate, thinking this is how God wants them to act. This is what ministers have been taught over the years, and this is what they teach to their congregations. So they pour out their wrath from a never dry well because they are embodying in themselves the type of God they believe in—a God who is fundamentally angry, and who has to be constantly angry otherwise He won’t be the omnipotent Being they need him to be, and want to be themselves, powerful and angry. (Zack Hunt)

We need God to get angry. When He sees oppression, injustice, spiritual abuse and tyranny in His house, we need Him to get angry because this is not the way He created us to be. God is not an angry God who wants His people to suffer, God is a God who gets angry when He sees His people suffer.

As believers, we are under the law of love, not under the law of condemnation. Let’s rejoice in that truth, let’s raise our hands and shout Amen to that truth of Scripture, not elevate dead men to hero status. Let’s refuse to make their false doctrines, their misrepresentations of God, and misuse of God’s Word as mission statements and church constitutions.

The insanity must end. We must continue to work to end it.  John 17:17 says, “Father, sanctify them through the truth, thy word is truth.”

Session 3, Blog TalkRadio Podcast

Helping Tim Challies and Other Calvinists with Evangelism

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on January 29, 2015

ChalliesYesterday, I was sent the following article about Calvinist evangelism written by blogger Tim Challies: How To Offend a Room Full of Calvinists. Miffed by the suggestion that somebody knows better than me how to offend Calvinists, I immediately read the article.

Apparently, according to Challies, Calvinists get offended when people suggest that their soteriology hinders evangelism.  According to Challies, the argument goes like this:

Many people are firmly convinced that there is a deep-rooted flaw embedded within Reformed theology that undermines evangelistic fervor. Most blame it on predestination. After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel. Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Protestants en masse think Calvinism’s greatest sin is weak evangelism, and of course, that makes them very angry because it’s supposedly the last criticism standing. I could start with the fact that Calvinism is works salvation under the guise of faith alone, or progressive justification, or salvation by antinomianism. Pick one; any of the three will work. But I have a mountain of data on that subject already; let’s do something different. Yes, let’s use Challies’ own words in the post to refute his argument. Before we call on Challies to refute his own protest, we will address his take on church history.

We go to history to show that the great missionaries, great preachers, and great revivalists of days past were Calvinists, and that Reformed theology was what fueled their mission… There are only so many times I can point to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, or William Carey and the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, or Charles Spurgeon and the countless thousands saved under his ministry. Sooner or later I have to stop looking at my heroes and look to myself. I can’t claim their zeal as my own. I can’t claim their obedience as my own.

In the post, Challies argues that we know that a straight line can be found from Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal because of history. Supposedly, Calvinists throughout history were driven directly by this deterministic gospel to reach thousands. It is very interesting when you consider the examples given which will aid in making my point.

The Great Awakening had absolutely nothing to do with Reformed soteriology. We should know this as a matter of common sense to begin with because the Holy Spirit doesn’t colabor with a false gospel. The Great Awakening was fueled by the ideology of the American Revolution and was expressed to a great degree in churches, especially among African Americans. Fact is, guys like Edwards and Whitefield then got on their horses and rode around the countryside bloviating and taking credit for the freedom movement tagged with “The Great Awakening” nomenclature.

Fact is, the Great Awakening was a pushback against the Puritan church state driven by Reformed soteriology that came across the pond as a European blight on American history. I would liken Challies’ assessment to our present President taking credit for things he is against when the results are positive.

What about Spurgeon? That example is just too rich because it makes the last point for me. Spurgeon, who once said Calvinism was no mere nickname but the very gospel itself, was the poster boy for getting people to come to church in order to get them saved. That’s important, hold on to that because it’s our last point.

But before we get to the last point, let’s look at the major point: Challies argues against the idea that fatalism hinders evangelism, and then confesses that he doesn’t evangelize like all of the great Calvinists in history because of…fatalism. Calvinism doesn’t cause fatalism resulting in lame evangelism, but Challies doesn’t evangelize because of fatalism.

After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel… We go to the pages of Scripture to show that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible, but that people truly are both free and bound, that God both chooses some while extending the free offer of the gospel to all.

So why does Challies not evangelize according to him? First, because he just doesn’t, but secondly, he is responsible:

It is my conviction—conviction rooted in close study of God’s Word—that Calvinism provides a soul-stirring motivation for evangelism, and that sharing the gospel freely and with great zeal is the most natural application of biblical truth. But it is my confession—confession rooted in the evidence of my own life—that my Calvinism too rarely stirs my soul to mission. The truths that have roared in the hearts and lives of so many others, somehow just whisper in me. The fault, I’m convinced, is not with God’s Word, or even with my understanding of God’s Word; the fault is with me.

He is responsible, but not often stirred. And what’s his solution? There isn’t one, it is what it is; he is responsible, but not called to evangelism. No corrective solution is offered in the post. Why not? Because, as he said, we are responsible, but unable. Responsibility and inability are not incompatible. So, Calvinism doesn’t hinder evangelism, but if you don’t evangelize, there is no solution. Others did it, and you don’t, the end.  Well, I suppose that approach doesn’t prevent evangelism either!

And funny he should cite Edwards. Susan is doing a session on Edwards for TANC 2015 and is studying his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. She approached me and wanted to discuss something about the sermon that she was perplexed about. Edwards spent the better part of an hour addressing the total hopelessness of man and his likelihood of ending up in an eternal hell, but in the end offers no counsel on how to escape. Why? Because if God is going to do something, he is going to do it, and man is responsible either way.

This now brings us to the final point with a bonus; we are going to help Challies with his evangelism shortcomings. There is, in fact, a solution for Tim’s lack of evangelistic zeal. He doesn’t properly understand Calvinism and its history. This isn’t about saving Tim from the false gospel of Calvinism, this is about being a good evangelist in the context of Calvinism. If I can’t save a Calvinist, I can at least teach them how to be a better Calvinist. Really, it’s disheartening when Calvinists don’t properly understand Calvinism.

This is how we will help the Challies. We will bring him back to the historical significance of Spurgeon using some of his own observations. First, let’s get a lay of the land; how does true Calvinistic evangelism work? First, it is the “sovereign” gospel which means the subject must not be told that they have a choice. This is some fun you can have with Calvinists. Ask them if they tell the recipients of their gospel message that they have a choice. Most will avoid answering because they don’t want to admit the answer is, “no.” By their own definition, that would be a false gospel speaking to man’s ability to choose God.

Secondly, if God does do something, if “the wind blows,” that puts the subject in two categories according to Calvin: the called and those who persevere.  The called are those that God temporarily illumines, but later blinds resulting in a greater damnation. Those of the perseverance class are the truly elect. So, the “good news” is that you have a chance to make it. But, if you don’t make it according to God’s predetermined will, your damnation is greater than the non-elect. God has either chosen you for greater damnation or the jackpot, but I guess it’s worth a try if God so chooses.

But hold on, and this is huge: all of that can be bypassed by Calvin’s “power of the keys.” What’s that? If you are a formal member of a Reformed church, and the elders like you, whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven.

Furthermore, according to Calvin, sins committed in the Christian life remove us from salvation, but membership in the local church and receiving the “impartations of grace” that can only be found in church membership supply a perpetual covering for sin. And here is the crux: one of those “graces” is sitting under “gospel preaching” of which Spurgeon was chief. In one way or the other, Spurgeon sold this wholesale and the results speak for themselves.

See, the solution for Challies is simple.  There is a solution for the disobedience he himself is responsible for: simply invite people to church in order to “get them under the gospel.” And that often looks like this…

Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Problem solved. That’s how Calvinism is a straight line from its theology to evangelism—you are saved by being a formal member of a Reformed church, and your salvation is sustained by remaining a faithful member of that church and obeying everything the elders tell you to do and think. But let’s not call it intellectual rape, let’s call it “keeping ourselves in the love of Jesus.” Let’s call it “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.” Let’s call it “being faithful to the church every time the doors are opened.” Let’s call it “putting ourselves under the authority of Godly men.” Let’s call it “trusting God with our finances.”

You’re welcome Tim, glad I could help.

paul

%d bloggers like this: