A few months ago on our radio broadcast, “Pastor’s Perspective,” I made the comment that Calvinism seems to me to be Christianity without Jesus. That comment led to all kinds of speculation about my knowledge and acceptance of Scripture. It was suggested that I must be one of those who reject Paul’s writings and only believe the “red letters” to be inspired.
I clarified my statement the other day, saying that Calvinism (pure Calvinism, or what some would call hard Calvinism or hyper-Calvinism) lacks the heart of Jesus in as much as it seems to miss the love, grace, mercy, longsuffering, and compassion that Jesus demonstrated toward all sinners while He was here on earth.
In response to that clarification, a “Reformed” apologist accused me of not understanding what the Bible says about the heart of Jesus and insisting that I have invented a sentimental Jesus who wants to save everybody but can’t. He also accused me of being a syncretist (one who seeks to blend different religions or philosophies); of being entangled in tradition; of refusing to allow all of Scripture to speak; of misquoting and misinterpreting Scripture; and essentially of being unbiblical because, according to him, only Calvinism has the true biblical understanding of who Jesus is, what He did, and what His purposes are.
Now, according to this apologist, Jesus does not want to save everybody. He never intended to save everybody, and I am greatly misrepresenting Him by suggesting He does. He only ever intended to save the elect. Therefore, He only died for the elect, and at the end of the day those who are in heaven are there because they were predestined to be there, and those who are in hell are there because they were predestined to be there. End of discussion!!! He’s a rather dogmatic fellow.
He went on to propose a series of questions to me that I would like to respond to, not because I think that my answers will have any effect on him, but because I believe it’s important to show that the Calvinists are guilty of the very things they accuse others of doing i.e. imposing their unbiblical theological views on Scripture, and conveniently ignoring or spinning biblical texts that don’t fit their theology.
The first question posed had to do with how I could reconcile my view of the heart of Jesus (a heart of love, grace, mercy, longsuffering and compassion toward all sinners) with Matthew 11:25-27 that says, “At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
In Luke’s account we are told that Jesus rejoiced in his spirit and said, I thank you, Father…
The emphasis of this apologist was on Jesus rejoicing that God had hidden these thing from the wise and the prudent, implying that Jesus took special delight that God had Himself prevented these men from receiving His message and being saved.
Thus proving, at least from his point of view, that Jesus not only doesn’t want to save everybody, He delights in damning certain people.
I find that interpretation difficult to accept in light of verses like Ezekiel 33:11, where the Lord declares that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, or Hosea 11:8, where the Lord cries, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart churns with in Me; My sympathy is stirred. That hardly sounds to me like one rejoicing over judgment.
It seems to me that Jesus is simply thanking God that in His wisdom He has resisted the proud and given grace to the humble.
I don’t deny that what is being described here is a judicial blindness upon the “wise and prudent” but the bigger question is why were they blinded? Was it the result of the decree of God in eternity past or was it the result of their refusal to receive the one who came to save them? I believe it to be the latter.
Who were the wise and prudent that Jesus described in this text? Undoubtedly, they were the religious leaders who opposed Jesus throughout His ministry. These are the ones who would prove not to be His sheep and therefore not drawn to Jesus by the Father. But again, the question arises, why were they not His sheep? Was it because they were decreed by God not to be His sheep or was it because they were unwilling to believe and thus not be counted among His sheep? Again I believe it to be the latter.
My apologist friend referred to several verses from John’s Gospel, particularly verses from chapters 6, 8, and 10, to support his view that Jesus did not want to save these men who were rejecting Him; but statements in chapters 5, 7, 9, and 10, which were made to the very same group, state that He did want to save them.
“You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you might be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. But I have a greater witness than John’s for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:33-40).
Here in verses 34 and 40, we see that Jesus wanted to save these men and that it was their unwillingness to come to Him that kept them from salvation, not an eternal decree by God that they should be damned.
We have a similar reference to the will being the determining factor in a man’s salvation in John 7:17: “And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” And Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do his will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:15-17).
Again in chapter 9 Jesus put the blame for the Pharisees spiritual blindness back on their own shoulders. “And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains” (John 9:39-41).
Again, their inability to “see” and thus be saved was due to their unwillingness to humble themselves, not to God having eternally decreed their spiritual blindness.
One last passage from John 10, that great chapter on the Shepherd giving eternal life to His sheep: “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:37-38).
Contrary to the view of my apologist friend, Jesus was clearly seeking to persuade men to believe in Him, which leads to the logical and obvious conclusion that He wanted to save people who, in the end, would not be saved because they were not willing.
After having supposedly proved his point from verses 25 and 26 he went on to give his take on verse 27 where Jesus says, “no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” His argument suggests that there are some sinners to whom Jesus does not reveal the Father, rather, Jesus chooses to reveal Him only to the elect. This is not what the passage is saying or teaching. In fact, the passage never says that Jesus only wants to reveal the Father to some sinners. Rather than Jesus taking delight in hiding the Father from sinners, a better approach sees Jesus seeking their salvific good when in this very context he invites His listeners to “come unto Me” and “take My yoke upon you” (vv. 28-29). That is to say, a balanced perspective of Scripture understands the passage in the sense that Jesus only reveals himself personally to the willing among sinners. This is what Jesus meant in John 7:17 when he says “If anyone wills (chooses) to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God. This in no way removes God’s choice to reveal Himself to sinners since man is dependent upon the sovereign act of God to initiate a revelation of Himself. That is, we would have no revelation of the Father unless Christ first chooses to reveal Him. Therefore, verse 27 would be more appropriately speaking of the sovereign act of God to reveal Himself and not a statement about hiding himself from sinners apart from the sinners’ own willful disobedience and refusal to receive Christ’s revelation.
I have no doubt that this apologist will have some spin on all the verses to which I’ve just referred. And in seeking to spin them in favor of his position, he will only prove to be guilty of the very thing he is accusing me and all those others who disagree with his theological views of, namely, refusing to allow all of Scriptures to speak.
His next question was basically this: did Jesus want to save the poor Amorites but found Himself in conflict with His Father who ordered Joshua to destroy them?
Obviously, this is a ridiculous question but the point that this apologist was driving at is that God didn’t want to save the Canaanites; He wanted to eternally damn them, and that Jesus was, of course, in harmony with God and thus the heart of Jesus was actually to damn not to save.
The problem in this view lies in a false assumption and the confused notion that the Canaanites all went off into an eternal state of punishment. God ordered Joshua to destroy them but the Scriptures say nothing about the state of their souls eternally. To assume God’s destruction of persons equates eternal perdition is shortsighted (cf. Lev 10:1-3 Nadab and Abihu, Acts 5:1-10 Ananias and Sapphira) and places words in God’s mouth that are simply not there. Therefore, to assume that they all, children included, perished eternally is to see God in a light that I don’t think He revealed himself in, in the Scriptures. This is a misrepresentation of God that is so often presented by Calvinism. Didn’t God express concern for the inhabitants of Nineveh (surely as wicked as the Amorites) who did not know their right hand from their left? Actually, Jonah acted a lot like some of our Calvinist friends who are seemingly upset that we would suggest God’s heart toward all sinners is one of mercy and compassion, and His desire is that they would turn from sin and receive His salvation.
The next challenge was to explain, in light of my claim that the heart of Jesus is to save all people, why in John 17, when Jesus was praying, did He specifically say that He wasn’t praying for the world? “I pray for them [His followers]. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me …” (John 17:9). How anyone could draw from that statement that Jesus did not want to save the whole world is a mystery to me. He was simply stating that His focus in prayer was for those who had believed in Him. He didn’t say, I’m not praying for the world because I don’t want to save the world, or, I’m not praying for the world because they are not part of the elect, and My Father and I have decreed from eternity past their condemnation for good and wise reasons known only to ourselves. He simply noted that His prayer was specifically for those who had received Him. Besides, Jesus didn’t come to pray for the world but to die for the world! Yet in fact, Christ did pray for sinners on other occasions (Lk 23:34, “Father, forgive them [his crucifiers] for they know not what they do”). In addition, Jesus wanted his followers to pray the Lord send more laborers into the harvest (Lk 10:2) though He knew not all would be saved. Even if it could be proven that Scripture does not record Christ praying for the non-elect, it does not mean He did not love sinners nor die for them. A limited view of Christ’s love and atonement for all sinners does not fit well with Paul’s statements as well. Paul’s mission and passion and prayer was for God to save Israel (Rom 10:1) yet he knew only the “remnant” would be saved (Rom 11:1-5).
Finally, I was accused of misquoting and misinterpreting Matthew 23:37:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
I will admit that I might have paraphrased it and so perhaps that is why I’m being accused of misquoting it.
As far as misinterpreting it, I didn’t do that. It says what it says no matter how hard some Calvinists try to spin it. What does it say? It says the reason the inhabitants of Jerusalem were not saved is because they were unwilling to come to Christ, since the text plainly states that Jesus “wanted” and “longed” for Jerusalem to be gathered together. It says nothing more or nothing less than that. Any interpretation that denies that the passage teaches (albeit indirectly) that man’s will plays a role in his unmerited receiving of salvation is misinterpreting the passage.
One other thought comes to mind in regard to the heart of Jesus in relation to Jerusalem. Luke 19:41 tells us that Jesus “wept” over the city. Now I would interpret the weeping to be a sign of the heart brokenness of Jesus over the coming destruction of Jerusalem and I think most people would understand it that way. But if you follow the logic of the hard Calvinistic view, rather than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem he should have been rejoicing over its coming destruction. After all, wasn’t the sinful lost state, and eternal damnation of the majority of the population of Israel decreed by God from all eternity for good and wise purposes known only to himself? Why is Jesus weeping if he in the counsels of eternity along with the Father and the Spirit had already determined the eternal destiny of the non-elect? Did Jesus get a little sentimental and momentarily break ranks with his Father? Is he only pretending to be sorrowful? According to the hard Calvinism espoused by this apologist, there can be no room in the heart of Jesus for weeping over lost damned sinners, because they are damned by his eternal decree for his eternal glory and not loved in a salvific way by God. This is a confused, distorted and unbiblical view of God. It is not the person who believes that “God desires all men to be saved” that is unbiblical, but the person who rejects that “God desires all men to be saved” that is unbiblical! If God does not desire all sinners to be saved, He cannot be all-loving, at least in a salvific way, since He does not love all sinners enough to save them even though He could if He wanted to. It seems the hard Calvinist must now choose whether they want to maintain God’s all-loving nature, or their current position on God’s relationship to sinners and limited atonement. The Calvinist position on God’s love to some sinners appears to be contrary to Christ’s clear teaching that we should follow God’s example of perfect love as entailing the love of sinners (Mt 5:43-45). Besides, if Christ loves some sinners, why is it not possible to love all sinners equally? To reply that God does love all sinners equally but does not save all sinners implies God does not love all sinners in an equally salvific way, which is not really “equal” divine love. The best explanation of why only some are saved while God loves all equally in a salvific way is to understand that sinners are not willing to receive the free gift of salvation. In this sense then God can remain all-loving, and sinners are responsible for their own responses to the conviction of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Unfortunately, the phrase “for good and wise purposes known only to himself” that I’ve employed on a couple of occasions is the Calvinistic panacea, the magic formula that takes every extreme Calvinistic absurdity and makes it one of the glorious mysteries of God’s sovereignty.
If anyone is guilty of syncretism I would have to say that it is the Calvinists who seek to force the Scriptures into their 5-point system and in the process ignore, disregard or alter the plain and obvious meaning of the text.
Now, I do want to retract something I originally said, because I generalized and I don’t want to do that. I said something like, Calvinists miss or don’t really understand the heart of Jesus. I should have said, some Calvinists.
Having said all I’ve said, I am not an anti-Calvinist per se if we are talking about Calvinists’ like Henry, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, Packer, Carson, Keller, Grudem, and others like them who, I believe, held or hold a more balanced position, and haven’t let their theological views divide and polarize the body of Christ. The problem to me is the extreme position taken by some Calvinist, my accuser being one of them. I think Lloyd-Jones understood this issue and therefore made it a point to refer to himself as a Biblical Calvinist. He let the Bible interpret Calvinism rather than Calvinism interpret the Bible. May I suggest my reformed friend seek to be more like Lloyd-Jones and less like John Gerstner.
It was brought to my attention by someone who read the previous post that I had said that my accuser referred to me as being a “syncretist,” when in fact he accused me of being a “synergist,” which I think was actually the case. So, what is a “synergist”? In this context, it would be a person who believes that salvation is a cooperative effort between God and man, i.e., God provides salvation, but man must exercise his will in order to receive that salvation. The opposite of a synergist would be a monergist, or one who believes that salvation is dependent on God alone, i.e., God decrees, God elects, God regenerates, God imparts faith, man is saved. Well, given those two positions, I would have to say that I hold to the former rather than the latter position. But I would disagree with the Calvinists’ accusation that in holding to that view, I am denying that salvation is entirely of the Lord.
I don’t deny that at all. I thoroughly believe that the decision to save men from sin and subsequent damnation originated in God Himself without any consideration of any other factor, meaning, God did not base His decision to save because He knew that there would be some who would respond to His offer of salvation. This position would have man being the impetus behind salvation, and we know from Paul’s statement in Romans 9:16 that the impetus of salvation is not man but God alone. “It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” So when it comes to the possibility of salvation, the fact that there is an alternative to damnation, God alone is responsible for that possibility. But when it comes to whether or not I benefit from that offer of salvation or perish eternally, I make the choice.