Born again, hell and other questions from a disbeliever

Here are a few questions from a disbeliever with my replies:

1.  So, the fact that John and Marion–John, Catholic and Marion, Anglican–do not see hell as my destination–that fact implies that God has not regenerated them?

Reply –  “Any man who thinks he deserves heaven is not a Christian. But for any man who knows he deserves Hell, there’s hope” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones) [This is the first thing I wrote in Hell in a nutshell]

2.  Is that why you have said that they, too, will land up in hell?

Reply –  Any person who thinks a disbeliever deserves heaven is not a Christian.

3.  How do Calvinists differ from Anglicans?

Reply – I quote a good answer.

Difference between Calvinism and Anglicanism

[Words in square brackets are mine]

  • Anglicanism is a Protestant Church that:

– Affirms the Apostolic Succession and the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, in contrast to Calvinist emphasis on the Presbytery and rejection of the Apostolic Succession.

– Accepts the Arminian view of predestination, as opposed to the Calvinist view of predestination. [The Arminian says that God predestines those whom he sees from eternity will become believers. The Calvinist says that salvation is 100% God’s doing; the believer’s joyful role is to receive it]

– Accepts the Monarch as head of the Church, as oppose to Calvinist rejection of the whole hierarchy, and, if they live in England and are not republicans or anti-Royalist, accepting the monarch not as a spiritual power, but simply as a temporal one.

– Anglicanism is divided into the High Church and the Low Church, the High Church being more ritualistic and more…Catholic, whereas the low church has these elements to a lesser degree, Calvinism reject all these Catholic Elements altogether.

– The above should not be taken as God’s truth about the two Churches, as the Anglican Church did include Calvinist and Arminians who frequently debated each other as to the evolution and formation of the Church…the Church of Scotland, for example, is explicitly Calvinist Presbyterian, while the Church of England become more and more ARMINIAN in its theology, though, it seems to me, mostly heterogeneous in its theology.

[When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it. There were many Calvinists in the early Anglican church, but very few today].

4.  Do you call yourself a born-again Calvinist or a Calvinist?

Reply- “Calvinist” is a label, nothing more. It is useful because Calvin is the most famous representative of the five solas (Latin for “alone”). The five solas are Sola Scriptura – Scripture, Alone
Solus Christus – Christ Alone,
Sola Gratia – Grace Alone,
Sola Fide – Faith Alone,
Soli Deo Gloria – The Glory of God Alone. With regard to the “Glory of God alone,” I argued in my most recent article (The weight of God’s glory. Wait!) that God will never share HIS glory; but this does not mean He won’t give us a little of our own. Humanistic modesty and Christian humility don’t mix. Christian humility is to acknowledge that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

No one calls themselves a born again Calvinist. It would be like calling oneself a born again Paulist (Paul the Apostle). “Born again Christian”  (or Calvinist!) is a tautology, because both terms mean that God has regenerated you.Every Christian is by definition born again. it is, of course, more informative to say that you are Christian than to say I am born again, which only Christians – not all by a long shot – will understand. Many “Charismatic” Christians regard “born again” as a second experience, which is unbiblical.

5.  If you call yourself a born-again Calvinist–how do you know that God has regenerated you?

– “Born again Christian”  (or Calvinist!) is a tautology, as I replied in 4.

I know that God has regenerated me because of the primordial reason that the Bible tells me so.

Related articles

 

Conversation between a Jewish agnostic and Jewish Calvinist

Although I have written about 20 posts on “Arminanism and Calvinism,” this topic is relatively a small part of my “bog” (My user name is “bography”). It is, however, very important because it deals with the role of man and God in salvation. 

When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it.

Here is a verbatim conversation between an agnostic and a Calvinist, moi. We both had Jewish parents. The agnostic did not grow up in a Jewish-keeping home whereas I  did. The issues discussed deal with differences between Calvinism and Arminianism in relation to faith, works and assurance of salvation. 

Conversation

Agnostic Jew (AJ): You say that it’s not ok for Arminians to ask God to forgive them and then go ahead and repeat their sin and then ask for forgiveness again etc and assume that they are saved.  (Because their being saved has nothing to do with their deeds, only with God’s choice).What about Calvinists?  You say they are saved because God has chosen them.  But what if these saved Calvinists commit murder or something? Are you assuming that, because they are saved, Calvinists never sin?

Calvinist Jew (CJ): One’s life  indicates whether one is regenerated or not. So whether you are Arminian or Calvinist, the evidence of your faith lies in the fruit it bears in your thoughts, actions and attitudes.

AJ: So, then it IS possible that a saved Calvinist can be lost if he/she sins?  So it DOES have quite a lot to do with the person him/herself?  So in spite of God’s choosing to save a particular individual, that person can still be condemned?

CJ: With regard to losing your salvation, a Calvinist says no, an Arminian says yes. In Calvinism, salvation is wholly a work of the Lord (monergism – mono “alone; ergon “work”). In Arminianism, salvation ultimately depends on man (synergism – syn “together”; ergon “work”), where man and God cooperate in salvation. 

In Calvinism, 1. if good works do not accompany faith, this means you had a false faith, and 2. you are assured  that you will never lose your faith. If you do “lose” it, it means you did not have true faith. 

In Arminianism, there are two main attitudes towards “works”: 1. The Protestant view – works cannot save you, 2. The Roman Catholic view – works (plus faith) save you. In all Arminian views, you CAN lose your faith again and again and again. The reason is that you get to decide your salvation, and you know how fickle the human heart is. I give a more comprehensive explanation here.

https://onedaringjew.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/did-you-accept-christ-before-or-after-you-were-regenerated-born-again/

AJ – I see what you mean.

End of conversation

Now, if an agnostic and a (clever) Jew to boot can see what I mean, why is it that Arminians (both Jewish and Gentile) kick against the pricks? Simply, as the Bible says, it is God who opens or keeps shut blind eyes – so that no one may (even be tempted to) boast.

Does the fact that we’re both Jewish contribute to the content? Not really, but the title did grab your attention. Crafty.

The pith of ”It’s not he who willeth.” Romans 9 and free will

This image was first published in the 1 st (18...

Arminius

Lately, I’ve been writing much on that “hellish” doctrine of the bondage of man’s will. Today I was listening again to gentle James White’s exposition of Romans 9 and reading again (which is always a gain) one of my previous posts, The Jew’s role in salvation and the future of ethnic Israel: Give John Piper his due.

Here are a few more comments on the bondage of the human will in salvation with reference to Romans 9, which encapsulate (but hopefully do not insulate) what I said in “The Jew’s role in salvation…”(URL above).

Jewish believers in Jesus are generally Arminians (a very few might be Armenians as well). Arminianism states that human dignity requires an unimpaired freedom of the will to choose salvation, which implies that the one who ultimately decides salvation is the believer. In contrast, the Reformed (Calvinist) position states that salvation is totally of the Lord. Christians are Arminians on their feet and Calvinists on their knees.

On feet – Jesus thank you for giving me, and my brothers and sisters I’m praying day and night for, this precious freedom to allow you to change my, and their, heart.

On knees – Jesus please please change their hearts.

Arminians are unable (until enabled) to see that the main focus of Romans is not about the pre eminence or eminence of ethnic Israel. Romans 9 is about individual salvation where Paul uses the example of two Jewish boys (Jacob and Esau, both rotters) to show that not all Jews are automatically part of God’s family. That’s the plain sense of Romans 9:13-16, that is, if you accept that you cannot accept the Gospel unless God makes you willing to do so.

To our Romans 9:

13 ”As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.

What about verse 16?

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.

Him” in v. 16 is an individual. It’s clear as day. So, to repeat, it’s not the person that wills, or runs (a parallel for “wills”) who ultimately saves himself (makes the final decision) but it is God’s mercy that saves. Arminians retort that there are many other parts of the Bible that command you to choose. That’s true, but those commands are the means God uses to call those on whom he will have mercy. No human being knows whom God has called – from eternity (irrespective of what he sees they’re going to do once on earth), so all an evangelist can do is make a general call. If you understand that, you’ve got the kernel of how one comes to Christ. No medals, though.

But hang on, consider what I said above about Jacob and Esau:

“Romans 9 is about individual salvation where Paul uses the example of two Jewish boys (Jacob and Esau, who both turned out to be rotters in their own way) to show that not all Jews are automatically part of God’s family.”

Now, it says the following in verses 11 and 12, which I had not included above: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls–she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

So, if God’s purpose of election does not depend on Jacob, or Esau (or you or me) doing anything good or bad, what has not  doing anything good or bad  to do with the twins turning into rotters later on in their life? Surely, a rotter is a doer.

Paul provides the answer in Chapter 5 of the same Epistle. It’s called the doctrine of ”Original Sin”:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

(Romans 5:12-19)

In Ephesians 2:1-3, we read:

”And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

The first sentence “dead through trespasses and sins,”could very well be talking about personal sins we commit throughout our lives, and, therefore, is not dealing with the concept of being born in sin (as spelled out in Romans 5 above). Later in the passage, however, we do read that we (Christians) were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (all other human beings).”

There are swathes of Arminians who hate the doctrine of ”original sin” ( clearly explained in Romans 5 above) so much that they will insist that ” by nature children of wrath” definitely does not mean ”born with a sin nature.” Here, for example,  is Wayne Jackson’s conclusion to his Are Infants “by Nature” Children of Wrath?

”The Bible does not teach the doctrine of inherited depravity. The dogma is strictly of human origin. ”And it is a serious tragedy that those who profess to be friends of the Scriptures will teach this error, thereby subjecting the Christian system to unjustified criticism. Ephesians 2:3 does not teach inherited depravity.”

Barnes’ notes on the Bible takes a neutral position, which, implies that he is not out to promote the doctrine of ”total depravity.” ”Radical corruption” is a more accurate term, because ”total depravity” suggests ”utter depravity,” which would suggest that no one can be good enough to love his dog, or Beethoven. Barnes is a Methodist, therefore, an Arminian. He couldn’t be anything else, for it is only an Arminian who hates the doctrine of ”Original sin” and her daughter ”total depravity.” Here is Barnes (my italics):

”And were by nature – Φύσει Fusei. By birth, or before we were converted By conversion and adoption they became the children of God; before that, they were all the children of wrath. This is, I think, the fair meaning of this important declaration. It does not affirm “when” they began to be such, or that they were such as soon as they were born, or that they were such before they became moral agents, or that they became such in virtue of their connection with Adam – whatever may be the truth on these points; but it affirms that before they were renewed, they were the children of wrath. So far as this text is concerned, this might have been true at their very birth; but it does not directly and certainly prove that. It proves that at no time before their conversion were they the children of God, but that their whole condition before that was one of exposure to wrath.”

Let us grant that Barnes’ neutral position is true. What, however, about ”just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given…” (Romans 5 above).

When it comes to biblical exegesis, Calvinists are accused of being more ”philosophical” than biblical. Too much noggin is the complaint. Too much pride, pomposity, assumptions, presumptions, presuppositions, interpretations, categorisations, ratiocinations – in short too much philosophy.

The upshot: whereas Barnes is painfully neutral, Calvinists are painstakingly neural. I think the root of the differences between the Arminian and Calvinist goes deeper than the core text or the cortex, into what the psychologists call ”conation.”

”Conation”  is a term that stems from the Latin conatus, meaning any natural tendency, impulse, striving, or directed effort. It is one of three parts of the mind, along with the affective and cognitive. In short, the cognitive part of the brain measures intelligence, the affective deals with emotions and the conative drives how one acts on those thoughts and feelings” (Wikipedia).

The Bible calls these three areas, the mind, the will and the heart. With regard to ”radical corruption,” the Calvinist exegesis is that when Adam ”fell,” all three, mind, will, and heart, became radically corrupted. The Bible is adamant that the whole human race fell in Adam. How this happened, the Bible doesn’t tell us. In my book, and in my Bible, that is the only hard doctrine hard to swallow whole. Why should I suffer because of what my father (umpteen generations ago did)?

The Arminian, in contrast, is obsessed with ”conation,” with the coronation of his ”free” will,  free to love God.  And so, in his endeavour to hold tight on to his ”free will,” he plays footloose with the doctrine of ”Original sin,”  distorting  it into a aboriginal monstrosity. The boot is on the other foot.

When the Calvinist reads the Bible, he sees man freely following his heart. The man thinks, he desires, and his mind directs that desire to its object. The will is not a noun, it is a verb, a present continuous, always willing, moving, in its natural state, away from God (of the Bible). Man is dead, totally dead, totally deprived of the love for God; in other words, totally depraved. And that includes his willing. And that is the original Bible doctrine of ”original” sin; willy-nilly.

Ipad 3 explains salvation and a Calvinist sees the light

“Don’t touch my Ferrero Rochers. Too late! You’ve gone ‘n ruined the friendship. And if you even as much as blink at my ipad 3!

Calvinist: “Ouch, wazzat for?” ipad 3 owner: “That includes the back.” And don’t talk back to me, especially about free will, ’cause no one must tell me I didn’t freely choose my irresistible ipad and to-die-for Ferreros? So don’t go telling me I’m not free to choose my saviour. You give me the willies. I’m not that dead that I can’t will to buy my ipad 3 and my Ferreros, or will to give you one if you go near them. So why in Heaven’s name am I, you say, too dead to be able to choose Jesus. Can’t you see that God has said – in the Bible! – that he requires my co-operation to come to Him. And, naturally, he helps my will along with his grace; otherwise I’d just be like my ipad 3 in His hands; press button, whoops, ipad am born again, ipad believe. Now, I’m not saying that I contribute anything to my salvation; of course I don’t; I merely cooperate with God. God doesn’t only want to love me, He wants me to love Him back. That’s what relationship is all about. I’m not His ipad, or His Rocher. In fact he’s my Rock. Love’s a two way street. And without this mutual love and respect for each other’s free will (God ordained it that way) God’s whole plan of salvation – the Son taking on flesh, suffering, dying, and so on for me, who was, before I made the right decision, deadish in sin – would be pointless. Now, perhaps you’ll understand what Paul is going on about in that passage from Ephesians that you Calvinists love to quote. Come read it slowly with me and you will see that you’re not a pathetic dead ipad that only springs to life (lachaim) when God presses your belly-button; you would say “quickens you unto life.” Hang on a mo. Let me find the Bible app. Wow, there you go; quick, no fuss. I loooove my ipad 3 – reminds me of the trinity:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of humanity. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Calvinist: When we read, ”But God, being rich in mercy…,” it makes me think that we don’t only need to be saved by God, but saved from God. From what? His wrath; otherwise what does God’s mercy mean? The from, therefore, is pivotal to salvation. So, we first have to be saved from God’s wrath before He can bless us in his Beloved (His Son, Jesus, Ephesians 1:6) and when God does so, we also become the beloved of the Father exactly in the same way that Jesus is beloved of his Father: “…that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me”(John 17:23). You know, that word “dead” in the passage bothers me, for if you’re merely deadish, why does the passage say ”dead.’ In Hebrew we would say you’re a dead ISH, a dead MAN. And dead men don’t even blink (as I was afraid to do at your ipad). So, what kind of dead ISH – and dead ISHA (woman) – is able to decide to be raised from death and be born again? A dead ISH (man), ISHA (woman)? A Jewish zombie? Eish! Eisha!

On passivity, mood and free will in Christian regeneration: With a little help from Glen Miller and Little Richard.

In Walking backwards to the Cross: The Passivity and Suffering of the Passion of Christ, I examined the meaning of the “Passion of Christ.” The heart of the “Passion” lies in its historical (etymological) meaning. “Passion” comes from the Latin root passio “to render,” “submit” “be passive.” So, the ground of Jesus’ Passion was his submission to causes that deprived him of his freedom and well-being. Jesus’ passivity, however, was not the passivity of resignation: “Oh well, I’ll have to do what my Father commands me to do; come to earth, suffer and die for sinners.” Not at all. The Father’s will is also the Son’s will, is also the Holy Spirit’s will. It was the Tri-une God’s will that the Son should take on flesh to give his life to “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Revelation 7:9).

“…though he was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

What was the main reason why the Apostle Paul wrote Philippians 2:6-8 above? The main reason lies in the preceding verse, Philippians 2:5): “ Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself …”

So, the Christian is admonished to diminish himself. To do so, he has give up some of his rights, he has to curtail his freedom, as Jesus did. In other words, every Christian must suffer (undergo) his own “passion” (submission).

We see that there is both an active and a passive element to the “passion” (submission).

I would like to discuss now the following question that a Roman Catholic asked me in a comment on “Walking backwards to the Cross: Passivity and Suffering in the Passion of Christ.”

“I am at the moment curious to know how do you act ‘passively’ in your being protestant/Calvinist, in your being part of your church?”

Back of that question lies, I suggest, the view that Calvinism teaches that we have no free will. That, of course, is not true, but no matter how much you try and explain to an Arminian (someone who maintains that we have to co-operate with God in our regeneration), they don’t get it. And I have tried in every which way in a clutch of essays so far – this one is my 17th – to  disabuse the Arminian, but to no avail and much travail  (Calvinism and Arminianism). The etymological meaning of essay is “try,” hence the French essayer “to try.” Try, try, try again.

Here is the Roman Catholic’s question again together with related question in her follow-up comment, followed by my reply:

Questions: “How do you act ‘passively’ in your being protestant/Calvinist, in your being part of your church? And “You have yet not answered my question about how you are in a ‘passive’ mood in your denomination.”

My reply:

Your oxymoronic question: how do you act (tee hee) ‘passively’ in your being protestant/Calvinist, in your being part of your church? And your further comment: You have yet not answered my question about how you are in a ‘passive’ mood in your denomination.

There is the passive “mood” in grammar and being in a passive mood as in Glen Miller’s “ïn the mood;” 

Grammar: Active mood: “Christ saves me.” Passive mood “I am saved by Christ.”

Our issue, of course, is not the grammatical mood because in both the active and the passive mood, the agent and recipient of the action is the same. In my example, it is Christ who is the active party in both the active mood and the passive mood: He gives the faith; I receive it.

The question is: is my will passive in the reception of this faith. Not at all. I actively accept the faith that Christ has gifted to me. But I can only will (move my heart) to accept once – as Christ says – Christ has made me free. So I was passive (indeed dead) before God regenerated me and then (logically, not chronologically) gave me faith (Ephesians 2:1-3), but once I was made alive, I accepted (received actively) with joy – as did the last sower in the parable of the sowers – the faith that God planted in my regenerated soul And that’s Calvinism AND the biblical view.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:44. If you are drawn, you come; if you come, you WILL be raised on the last day.

Here is a bit from my “Anthony Flew and CS Lewis come to God.”

Whether one is forcefully persuaded, as in Flew or “gives in” as in Lewis, they both, in Lewis’ words, were “given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open.”

Brothers Lewis and Lazarus have been dead and buried for four days, and stinketh by now. Jesus says “Lazarus and Lewis come forth!” Lazarus exercises his atrophied muscles, rolls off the slab, staggers erect and stumbles out the entrance of the opened tomb. Lewis exercises his free choice to rise from the dead, get off the slab and move to the closed door. But look, the door is already open. I could’ve done that myself, says Lewis, but thanks for the gracious help.

As Lewis didn’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture, it would have been hard for me to appeal to what Jesus says in John 6:44:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Like a good Arminian, he believes that Jesus is knocking at the door of his will, and pleading: “Let me in, let me in, please, I beseech you.” I’m reminded of Little Richard’s Keep a nockin’ but you can’t come in…come tomorrow night and try again.” One of the comments on that song was “Everything anyone ever needs toknow about rock and roll is in this song.” And everything that is wrong with Arminianism is in their interpretation of “I stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20).

What does John 6:44 really mean? It means that God enables a sinner to come to him., which does not mean come as far as the moment of decision (shall I or shan’t I believe). No, “coming”means “believing,” And we need his grace to come to Him; that is indisputable.

Eureka; I’ve got an idea of how to get through to Muslims. Instead of talking of the “Passion of Christ,” let’s try “The Submission of Christ.” Actually that might not only open the door to Muslims it might also open the door to many a Christian’s understanding of the Passion of Christ – for the first time in his lethargic life.

Calvinists, Neo-gnostic Calvinists and Seeking Arminians

 

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.”

(My underlining).

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:

[6] 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— [7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8] 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. [9] 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:

[14] 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. [15] The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. [16] “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:

[8] 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 [9] 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— [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] 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?