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Words of Calvinism
The Word of God

The Teachings of Calvinism in Light of Scripture

Jeremy Myers

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The rallying cry of the Reformation centers around five solas (or in proper Latin, the five solae): Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria. Though not actually stated in quite this fashion until the 20th century, these five statements summarize what the Reformation was about. The Reformation was about authority, tradition, and justification, and the leaders of the Reformation believed and taught that everything we have from God, is Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria. In English we might say that what we have from God is “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the authority of Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.”

Let me state from the outset that I affirm all five statements. I consider myself to be a child of the Reformation. Yet I do not identify with either of the two main groups that came out of the Reformation; I am neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian. (I am not Lutheran either, for those Lutherans who see themselves as a group apart.) Certainly, there are many things I appreciate about John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, Martin Luther, and the other Reformers, but I have too many differences with the main theological arguments of each man to be comfortable identifying myself with the theological systems that bear their names.

Ironically, my main area of disagreement with Calvinism and Arminianism is that they do not take the five solas far enough. That is, the Reformers and their followers stopped short of fully reforming their theology around the five solas. Having begun with the revolutionary truths of the five solas, they failed to follow through on the full theological ramifications of these five statements. As a result, the Reformation sputtered to a halt and—in my opinion—ultimately failed.

How can I say this? If you were to compare the typical writings of the average Calvinist, Arminian, Lutheran, and Catholic theologians, you would discover that when it comes to the issues of faith, grace, the accomplished work of Jesus Christ, the authority of tradition over Scripture, and the goal of glorifying God in all of life, there is very little distinguishable difference.0 It is not just me saying this. There have been talks in recent decades between prominent leaders of these various groups to all reunite into one group. The primary sticking points, it seems, have nothing to do with the five solas, but center instead on issues like Mariology, the veneration of the Saints, and papal authority.

I believe that if the Reformers and their followers had resolutely held to the five solas, the spiritual landscape of the world today would be much different. The Reformation would have continued to do its work, so that grace, faith, love, and freedom would flow out of the church today in ways that have not been seen since the church began nearly 2000 years ago.

Of course, one cannot blame Luther, Calvin, Arminius, or any of the other Reformers for not fully following through on the ramifications of their own theological insights. Theological development is a multi-generational endeavor. We can, however, challenge both the contemporary and historical followers of the Reformers to advance upon the teachings of their forebears. No Reformer, I believe, ever thought that his beliefs were perfect and that nobody could ever improve upon his teachings or take his ideas further. They would agree, I think, with what some people say about the Reformation: “Always reforming; never reformed.” The reformation of church and theology is never over. Just as the Reformers sought to reform the church of their day, so also, they would want those who came after them to continue the reforms “till we all come to the unity of the faith” (Eph 4:13).

That is the purpose of this book. I hope that the information contained within this book will build upon the reformations that began during the Reformation and will lead to further reformation in the future. Specifically, I want to provide Calvinists and non-Calvinists with a perspective on certain passages of Scripture which will hopefully allow people to see that there are viable alternatives to Calvinism and it’s theological opposite, Arminianism. There is a balanced and biblical middle ground.

As we go through what Calvinists teach and compare it with what is found in Scripture, we will see that Calvinism, though it claims to defend sola fide, actually undermines it with every point of its theological system. We will also see that one need not be a Calvinist to believe in radical, outrageous, shocking, scandalous grace, and in fact, being a Calvinist might be detrimental to grace. I cannot write about faith or grace without mentioning Jesus Christ, and all of this will revolve around what the Scripture says, rather than on human or religious tradition. Ultimately, the entire discussion is for the glory of God as I seek to help others see the radiating grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ as He died on the cross for the sins of the whole world.

Hopefully, by the end of this book, you can cry aloud with me: Sola Gratia! Sola Fide! Solus Christus! Sola Scriptura! Soli Deo Gloria!

My History with Calvinism

Before we jump into the discussion of Calvinism, it might be wise for me to summarize my own history with Calvinism.

I am not really sure when I fully embraced Calvinism, but I do know that by the time I was in my early 20s, I was a five-point Calvinist. Since Calvinism was so inherently logical and apparently biblical, I was fully persuaded in my own mind that “Calvinism is the gospel, and the gospel is Calvinism” (as some Calvinists claim). I vividly remember debating Calvinism with many of my non-Calvinist friends, trying to convince them of what was eminently obvious to anyone with a working brain.

However, it was not long after this that one of my Calvinistic friends declared that he was no longer a five-point Calvinist, but was now a four-point Calvinist. He no longer believed in “Limited Atonement.” I told him that he had begun to slide down a slippery slope, for the five points of Calvinism are like five links on a chain: they stand or fall together and if one link in the chain breaks, it is only a matter of time before the whole system unravels.0 My friend assured me that nothing of the sort would happen to him, and he was still fully convinced of the other four points of Calvinism. I was skeptical, but he and I talked about it, studied the Scriptures, and read numerous books. It was not long before I too had given up on Limited Atonement as well. But I was convinced that I would remain a four-point Calvinist, just like my friend. As it happened, what I told him about the links in the Calvinistic chain turned out to be true—at least for me.

Later that year, I sat through a Bible College class on the General Epistles in which the professor, Dr. John Hart, had us read numerous books which challenged the fifth point of Calvinism: the Perseverance of the Saints. Among the books he had us read were two that really challenged my thinking and helped me see certain key texts in a new light: They are The Epistle of James by Zane Hodges and The Reign of the Servant Kings by Joseph Dillow (a revised and updated edition of the book is now titled Final Destiny). There were numerous other books I read and the class lectures of Dr. John Hart were influential as well, so within a year I had abandoned my belief in the Perseverance of the Saints, and was now a three-point Calvinist.

I stayed this way for quite a while, until, after Seminary, I began my first pastorate in Montana. It was there, where the rubber of theology hits the road of life, where the final three points of Calvinism finally fell. The sources of influence were numerous and varied. One elder named Bob Weaver challenged me to view God differently than I had before. I read some books which were recommended to me by others. God’s Strategy in Human History was helpful, as were various books by Samuel Fisk, Harry Ironside, C. Gordon Olson, Laurence Vance, and Dave Hunt. Also, I was preaching at this time through the book of Ephesians, and my research and study on Ephesians 1 helped me to see that this chapter does not teach Unconditional Election as many Calvinists claim. Somewhere during those first five years as a pastor, all three of the remaining points of Calvinism crumbled in my mind.

It was an exciting but scary time. It was exciting because my theology was changing and I was discovering new vistas on about the grace of God and the role of faith and works in the life of believers. But it was scary because I kept wondering how deep the rabbit hole went. I didn’t want to be an Arminian, but at the same time, I knew I could no longer be a Calvinist. In an attempt to stay true to my quickly fading Calvinistic beliefs, I read every Calvinistic book I could get my hands on. Not only did I read John Calvin, I also read John MacArthur, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice, Philip Graham Ryken, A. W. Pink, Edwin Palmer, and dozens of other such authors, all of whom vigorously defended Calvinism. In the end, though, none of them wrote anything in their books which persuaded me that my new belief system was wrong.

In fact, it often seemed to me that these Calvinistic authors themselves had never heard of the views which I myself held. They kept arguing against non-Calvinistic beliefs which I, as a non-Calvinist, did not believe! It seemed to me that they had not read any of the books I had read, or even knew anything about the way of reading Scripture which I had adopted. At the time, I did not know exactly if these Calvinistic authors were trying to refute Arminian beliefs (which I had not read much of), or if they had simply erected anti-Calvinistic straw-man beliefs which were then easily knocked down. Looking back now, and having read many books on Arminian theology, I have to say that it was the latter. Most Calvinists, it seems, rarely read books or listen to teachers that are not Calvinistic. It is exceedingly rare to find a defense of Calvinism which actually deals with the documented beliefs and ideas of Calvinistic opponents. A typical Calvinistic defense seems to consist of stating the Calvinistic beliefs, quoting numerous Calvinistic authors, and referencing several biblical texts which seem to support the Calvinistic perspectives.

This pretty much brings me up to the present day. Over the past fifteen years, I have continued to read both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic authors, and study biblical texts from the various perspectives. With every passing year, I am more and more convinced that Calvinism reads Scripture incorrectly, distorts the gospel of Jesus Christ, and has ultimately abandoned the roots of the Reformation. All this will be seen later in this book.

The Approach of this Book

Based on my experience of reading numerous books defending Calvinism which seemed not to deal with most of the basic arguments against Calvinism, I wanted this book to reveal that the Calvinistic arguments I hope to refute are actually held by Calvinists. So rather than tell you what Calvinists believe and then seek to provide a different perspective, I will do my best to allow the Calvinists to speak for themselves.

Each chapter will begin with a brief summary of the Calvinistic idea that will be considered in that chapter. I will present a summary of what Calvinists believe and then a short explanation of what I believe Scripture teaches on this matter. Following this, each chapter will include a section which contains numerous quotes from Calvinistic authors regarding the topic at hand. In this way, I will allow them to share their views in their own words. Finally, each chapter will conclude with a section in which we look at numerous biblical texts which Calvinists often use to defend their theological beliefs, and I will provide an explanation of how these texts can be understood differently.

The book begins with two introductory chapters. Chapter 1 contains a brief history of John Calvin as well as a brief summary of Calvinism. In other words, it provides an overview of John Calvin and Calvinism for those who are unfamiliar with either. Chapter 2 begins where every argument should begin: with defining the terms. I often find that arguments erupt between people groups simply because one group defines a term differently than the other, and if they could come to an agreement on the definition of words, most of their debate would simply fade away.

Following these two introductory chapters, the final six chapters consider the Five Points of Calvinism. Why are six chapters needed to consider five points? Because although Calvinism traditionally has five points, there is a sixth point of Calvinism which often goes unnoticed and which undergirds and supports the other five. The fact that that this sixth point forms the foundation of the other five logically makes it the one and only point of Calvinism, but I will deal with it in the last chapter since it is not formally one of the Five Points of Calvinism.

Obviously, this book will not persuade all. Even after reading it, many will still have questions, concerns, and criticisms. Some Calvinists will feel that, despite my best efforts to let Calvinists speak for themselves, that I have unfairly represented Calvinism. There will undoubtedly be prominent Calvinistic scholars I have not consulted and numerous biblical texts which are used to support Calvinism which I do not explain. Nevertheless, I hope that the information shared in this book will provide non-Calvinists with a framework by which to live within the five solas of the Reformation without succumbing to the Five Points of Calvinism, and I hope that Calvinists will be able to see that their system of theology is not so impregnable as often claimed, and that there is a logically reasonable, exegetically biblical, theologically viable, God glorifying, church edifying, faith building, grace focused alternative to the system of belief known as Calvinism.

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