When non-Calvinists bring up (not too graphically, I hope) Calvinism, they are generally referring to the doctrine that “salvation is of the Lord.”—Jonah 2:9, that is, salvation is 100% of the Lord (see Charles Spurgeon).
Arthur Cunstance, in his “Sovereignty of Grace,” summarises the Calvinist position:
“Men are not born again by human will, nor because of blood relationships, nor even because out of their own inner being they desire to be saved (John 1:12, 13). It is perfectly true that whosoever will may come, but it is also true that whosoever may, will come. [Cunstance “may” means “are invited to.” Here is a clearer rendition: “Those who desire to come are invited to come, but it is also true that those who are invited will definitely come]. We will to come only because God has graciously worked upon our wills to turn them about. We may come only because He has opened the way for us and in us, making it possible. Whosoever will, may come; and whosoever may, will come. When God makes it possible by converting our wills to seek his face, then we may come, and only then. At the same time, because of his sovereignty, once this turnabout has been wrought in us by his Holy Spirit, then the rest is certain, no matter how long it takes. We shall come.”
The question is: how much understanding of this doctrine is required to be a true Christian? Greg Fields is outraged by the “neo-gnostic Calvinist” (Fields’ term) assertion that without a comprehensive grasp of the Calvinist/monergist doctrine described by Custance above, no one can be saved. I shall examine Fields’ description of “neo-gnostic Calvinism” and compare it with Charles Spurgeon’s contrast between the “seed of the flesh” and the “seed of the promise.”
In his “The Bane of Neo-Gnostic Calvinism, Greg Fields writes:
“Who among us who have been illuminated by the Spirit of God to heartily embrace that exalted system of Pauline Theology commonly called “Calvinism” can forget the sublime joy experienced when these verities became manifest in our believing heart? For many of us grasping these truths or better, being gripped by these truths, was the real “second blessing” in our Christian pilgrimage. For me personally, sovereign grace teaching revivified my entire demeanor as a saint and delivered me from the morbid introspection engendered by Arminian, fundamentalist pietism. I have a passionate commitment to Calvinistic soteriology and am quite emphatic in my apologia for these truths that so exalt and glorify the grandeur of the Sovereign Triune Lord. Thus, it is with both sadness and reticence that I issue this urgent caveat regarding an extreme chimerical form of Calvinism that is spreading great mischief among the elect of God and dear souls seeking spiritual solace.”
This “extreme chimerical form of Calvinism” is the “heresy” (Fields’ words) of the recent form of Calvinism called “Neo-Gnostic Calvinism.”(Greek neo “young,” gnosis “knowledge”).
“The main tenets of this aberration of Calvinism, Fields continues, involve primarily a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist or seeking Arminian is truly considered “saved” by these ersatz-Calvinist “teachers”. The subtlety involved in this neo-gnostic Calvinistic soteriology is that they vigorously promote truths that any committed believer would commend. For example, they incessantly exhort all to focus on Christ’s imputation of Righteousness as being indispensable to one’s salvation. Of course this is true and this needs to be emphatically declared in our presentation of the gospel. Particular Redemption is stressed with great vigor. Again, a hearty amen to the vital importance of this great doctrine is in order. They clearly enumerate the “five points” with undiminished zeal. Again, I concur and wish we all would stress these great doctrines with the zeal demonstrated by these men.”
“If this was the focus and crux of what these men taught, I would be promoting their writings and encouraging all interested Calvinists to bookmark their websites and to participate in their e-group discussions. But, alas, these glorious doctrines are merely the frosting on the cake of their real agenda. After elucidating these verities they then go on to add to these truths a dogmatic unsubstantiated requirement for salvation that in effect nullifies all the peace and joy that should attend sovereign grace. They assert with bellicose intensity that unequivocally, all Arminians are lost because “Arminianism is a false gospel” and under the anathema of Gal. 1:8-9. They set the stage for this “leap of logic”, by describing the five points of Arminianism and showing how incompatible Arminianism is with the gospel of grace. Again, any thoroughgoing evaluation of Arminianism would demonstrate this to be truebut they then use this evaluation to assert that all who have never yet grasped the doctrines of grace to be by default, Arminians, thereby validating their “lostness”. The insidious nature of their neo-gnosticism becomes manifestly transparent here. The major tenet of gnosticism was the acquisition of knowledge to achieve, N. B., salvation.”
The first sentence of these two paragraphs is reiterated in the last sentence:
First sentence: “a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist or seeking Arminian is truly considered “saved,”
Last sentence: The major tenet of gnosticism was the acquisition of knowledge to achieve, N. B., salvation.”
Fields seems to agree that the five points of Arminianism are incompatible with the gospel of grace, and under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9. Here is the Galatians passage in its wider context:
 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).
The “neo-gnostic Calvinist,” says Fields, then uses this passage to infer by a leap of false logic that not only are all Arminians lost, but also those Calvinists “who have never grasped the doctrines of grace.”
I’m not sure whether Fields means that a person can only be saved if he believes that salvation is 100% of the Lord (Calvinism/monergism), and where Fields and “neo-gnostic Calvinism” differ is that the latter asserts that such a person can only be saved if he has a “a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist orseeking Arminian is truly considered ‘saved.’” (Fields above).
If the “neo-gnostic Calvinist requires the “seeking Arminian” to have a strong commitment to monergism, that would indeed be a bizarre requirement, seeing that Arminianism, by definition, is synergism. That is not to say, of course, that Arminians have a poor comprehension of monergism, for many do. Commitment is not the same as comprehension: “And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7 ESV). Even the demons shudder.
Charles Spurgeon (in his “God Promises you,” 1995, Whitaker House) says that if one believes that one cooperates with God in salvation, then one has started “in the flesh,” and as one starts, one ends – in the flesh. He compares Ishmael, “son of the flesh,” with Isaac the son of promise. The promise is the believer’s inheritance ,which is also the believer’s “test and touchstone” (p. 13). Spurgeon describes the Calvinist/monergistic position on how we come to faith, which is identical to Arthur Custance’s description above:
“Let us use the test at once by seeing whether we have been formed by the power which fulfils the promise…How were you converted?…You profess to have been born again. Here did that new birth come from? Did it come from god in consequence of his eternal purpose and promise, or did it come out of yourself? Was it your old nature trying to do better, and working it up to the best form? If so, you are Ishmael. Or was it that you, being spiritually dead and having no strength whatever to rise out of your lost estate, were visited by the Spirit of God. Did God put forth his divine energy and cause life from heaven to enter into you? Then you are Isaac. All will depend on the commencement of your spiritual life and the source from which that life at first proceeded. If you began in the flesh, you have gone on in the flesh, and in the flesh you will die.”
But an Arminian/synergist, would say we certainly need grace, lots of it; but man must make the final decision, because “forced love is rape, and God is not a divine rapist!” (Norman Geisler in “Chosen but free”). According to the “neo-gnostic Calvinist,” Norman Geisler is damned – twice over: first, because he rejects the monergist doctrine that man plays no part in his salvation; second, because on such a view of salvation, there’s no possibility of having even an infinitesimal grasp that salvation is 100% of the Lord. Recall that Greg Fields’ complaint is that “neo-gnostic Calvinists” believe that to be saved, both the Calvinist and the “seeking Arminian” must have a comprehensive knowledge (gnosis) of the ordo salutis “order of salvation.”
I agree with Fields that “neo-gnostic Calvinism” must be rejected. What worries me though is Charles Spurgeon’s “If you began in the flesh, you have gone on in the flesh, and in the flesh you will die”(two paragraphs above). In other words, the “Ishmaels” (born of the flesh) are not saved, while the “Isaacs” (born of the promise) are. The logic of this position is that Arminians are lost, while Calvinists are saved. I am almost in awe – like so many – of Spurgeon’s magnificent legacy, but this point, however, namely, that Arminians “end in the flesh,” leaves me disturbed. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 we read:
“ The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” (Paul is quoting Isaiah 40:13) But we have the mind of Christ.”
Spurgeon seems to be saying that the “we” (the saved) in verse 16 applies only to those who do not “start in the flesh.” If this were true, it would follow that the Wesleys, Alan Redpath, Paris Reidhead, CS Lewis, Oswald Chambers and many others “ended in the flesh.” I am sure that all these great names I have mentioned believed the following passage from Philippians 3 with all their hearts:
“ Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV).
Yet earlier in the same chapter of Philippians we read (verse 3): “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— ” (My italics). Now, if one believes that salvation is ultimately the decision of the flesh, of the human will, and not as John 1:13 proclaims – “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” – then has such a person began in the flesh, in the sense that he believes that although God’s grace is necessary for salvation, it is not sufficient. He believes that Christ teaches that grace is not sufficient for salvation, because he believes that God has sovereignly decreed that the his free will to choose Him is sacrosanct. This means that a person is saved because of something in himself, and not because of everything in God: I (ultimately) did it my way). And that’s what Spurgeon means by “what begins in the flesh, ends in the flesh.”
I hardly comprehend because I find it hard – morally, more than intellectually, hard. Where does that leave me, my “neo-gnostic Calvinist” friends?
- Archibald Alexander and how we come to faith: Thank God that he never depends on human understanding to bring us to faith (onedaringjew.wordpress.com)