Excerpt from Calvin on the Ropes (page 4)
To the Reader
Ordinarily, I’d want to wait on getting this first volume out until completion of the others - carrying us through to the end of Romans; however, in this case I don’t believe it’s necessary – largely because an exegesis of the first three chapters of Romans invalidates so many of the proof-texts used by Calvinists in Romans 9-11, and conclusively proves that those three chapters are not about God’s sovereignty, but the unfettered nature of God’s mercy.
But even more importantly, I’m convinced that there’s an urgent need to get what I’ve completed into circulation – and that there’s a ready audience for it across a wide spectrum of evangelical Christianity – from Baptists to Pentecostals.
At the moment, there are two powerful trends developing within evangelicalism – and here I’m speaking as a pastor – both of which surfaced initially at the academic level, but today are spilling out into churches and generating a powerful impact there:
- a pernicious postmodernism that demeans moral and intellectual certainty and presses for accommodation among competing “truths” – a postmodernism that’s now “institutionalizing” itself in the so-called “emerging churches” – some more so than others; and
- a resurgent five point Calvinism – which, though wrong, nevertheless casts itself in opposition to postmodernism and, therefore, appeals to college Christians who are desperately looking for a spiritual and intellectual mooring - a mooring that will safeguard their beliefs from being swept into the sea of relativism that’s engulfing so much of contemporary academic culture.
In short, the one, postmodernism and the relativism it’s producing among American intellectuals, has led to the other, a resurgence of five point Calvinism with all its rigor and internal consistency - along, of course, with its moral certainty.
In the past, five point Calvinists, though always scornful of Arminianists, were willing to negotiate a "modus vivendi" with so-called four point Calvinists who, by and large, shied away from the harsher conclusions that flow so inexorably from “tulip.” Now, however, they’re far less inclined to do so; they’ve been buoyed by a confidence they haven’t enjoyed for almost a hundred years and see little or no need any longer to rein in their disdain of four point Calvinists.
The resurgence of Five Point Calvinism has aroused my concern along several lines of thought - each of which is related to the other:
- First, is the horrifying portrait it sketches of God - a deity who, as James Montgomery Boice reluctantly acknowledges, assigns human destinies with an apparent indifference that calls into question his compassion and love. It’s a portrait that Calvinists, try as they may, can’t soften - not at least on an intellectual level. And, indeed, if that were the portrait an accurate exegesis of the New Testament sketched, then that’s the portrait we’d be stuck with - regardless of how repulsive it might seem. Simply put, however, it’s not an accurate exegesis.
- Second, Five Point Calvinism inevitably denigrates the Cross. For Calvinists, it’s election and reprobation that most vividly display God’s mercy and his wrath, meaning his hatred of sin. But that runs completely contrary to the whole corpus of the New Testament - which, in no uncertain terms, teaches that it’s the Cross, a single event occurring at a single point in time, that most vividly reveals God’s mercy and his wrath:
- his mercy poured out on mankind, and
- his wrath poured out on Christ.
- Third, Five Point Calvinism, as we shall see, assigns both mercy and faith only bit roles in the drama of salvation. The featured role is reserved exclusively for God’s sovereignty; mercy and faith are little more than corollaries of God’s sovereignty and can boast no independent reality of their own. In light of the importance Paul gives both mercy and faith in the book of Romans, that’s an awfully hard pill to swallow.
- Fourth, Five Point Calvinism makes evangelism superfluous - at least from an intellectual standpoint if not from an ethical one. For Calvinists, the drama of personal salvation is a fiction - because the outcome has already been determined. Yes, many Five Point Calvinists make a real effort to underscore the need for evangelism, but not because it will make any genuine difference in the lives of those they’re evangelizing, but only because it’s an all too obvious imperative woven into the fabric of the New Testament. That, however, begs the question, “Why would God send the church off on a wild-goose chase to evangelize the already chosen and the irrevocably damned?” It certainly seems a bit odd - to say the least; and strongly suggests, on the very face of it, that Calvinists have “got it wrong.”
- Finally, Five Point Calvinists, with a few exceptions, have never been on “friendly” terms with premillennialism. They have historically aligned themselves with postmillennialism – an eschatology that lends little if any legitimacy to the resurrected state of Israel and the continuing significance of the Jews as “the people of God.”
It’s with all this in mind that I’m anxious to get this first volume into the hands of American evangelicals without waiting on completion of the remaining volumes - and at every possible level: congregants, pastors and academicians - but especially college students, the pool from which most of our future leaders will be drawn and also the segment of American evangelicals likely to be most influenced by postmodernism and Five Point Calvinism.
May God bless you as you read this study; and may he reveal his staggering mercy to you - and so claim you for the cause of Christ.
Douglas R. Shearer