Monday, March 15, 2010

Those Dangerous Calvinists!

by Bruce Mills
Recently another of the elders at the church I serve called my attention to information posted on Pastor Tom Ascol’s blog, Founders’ Ministries Blog, regarding documents that are circulating among Southern Baptist Churches in western Tennessee.  These documents are intended to teach people in those churches how to determine if any of their church staff are Calvinists and then get rid of any that they may find.  You can view them here.  This information is apparently being spread by individuals who consider the doctrines of grace to be heresy.
The first document is titled "Reformed Red Flags" and it contains a list of 16 "behaviors" to look for when seeking to determine who the Calvinists pastors may be.  Some of these “behaviors” are quite surprising.  Included on the list are:
“Use of the ESV Study Bible” – This is simply another way of promoting the KJV Only position.  Prior to the emergence of the ESV, most of the KJV Only proponents directed their assault on the NIV, but now that the ESV has become widely accepted among reformed evangelicals, they are now redirecting their slander on this fine translation.
“Moving the church to be under Elder Rule” – Perhaps these folks should go back and read Titus 1:5 where Paul clearly instructed Titus to appoint elders in the churches in the cities of Crete.  Apparently God, who inspired Paul to write that instruction, believes that elders are to be the leaders of the church rather than the congregation.
“Focusing on creating the ‘true’ church” – Clearly this is aimed at Grace Life Church of the Shoals in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a strongly Calvinistic Southern Baptist church which holds an annual “True Church” conference.  Closely related is another statement regarding the use of church discipline.  The unknown author considers the purpose of church discipline to be an attempt to purge the church of anyone who is not part of the “true” church.  While that is never the primary intent of church discipline, the purification of the church is a secondary result.  Apparently those circulating these documents consider that to be a bad thing.
“Look for the men they quote in their sermons; do they mainly quote Calvinists such as John Piper, R. C. Sproul, James White, Jonathan Edwards, and others?” – Wow!  Some of America’s greatest theologians and teaching pastors whose ministries have led countless hundreds and thousands to saving faith in Jesus Christ are persona non grata to these people. 
“Tendency toward a highly logical systematic theology…” – I think it’s clear that they prefer a highly illogical disorganized theology in which anything and everything is up for grabs.
The second page of the document purports to explain the theological differences between what the author describes as “Traditional Southern Baptists” and “Extreme Calvinists.”  For me, the most interesting statement had to do with God’s knowledge.  The writer states: “Traditional Baptists believe in an all knowing God, but they are not determinists, because they do not believe God has planned everything that happens (emphasis mine).  Through His eternal foreknowledge, He knows what is going to happen, but He doesn’t over-ride man’s freewill.” 
This statement clearly shows that the distance from Arminianism to Open Theism is very short!  I’m not sure what they believe the things are that God has not planned, because He stakes claim to both the good and the bad events of our lives and this world (Amos 3:6, 4:6-13; Job 1:12-22; Isaiah 45:7; Lamentations 3:38).  So the writer’s view isn’t significantly different than the Open Theist whose God sits in heaven, captive to the decisions of man, reacting only after man has exercised his sovereign freewill. 
Notice that the writer says that man has the ability to exercise freewill and that God knows what man will choose, but doesn’t override it.  The problem with such a view is that unregenerate man’s will is not free; it is enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6-20).  So man’s “freewill” really isn’t free.  And since the pursuit of sin is his nature, he will pursue sin.  A pig acts like a pig because it is the nature of a pig to do so.  And the same principle applies to sinful man.  And unless God steps in and overrides man’s will, drawing him to Christ, that man would never choose to believe.
So what’s my conclusion?  Simply this: It’s very, very sad when churches reach the point that their greatest concern is not making sure the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, souls are rescued from eternal hell, and God is glorified, but rather that they root out the dangerous Calvinists who might be lurking in their pulpits!  I pray that God will protect other churches and believers who might be tempted to fall into the same dangerous trap as have these men.


DigitalDisciple said...

Your first link was just to the blog itself. Here's the link to the specific article: Here

Unknown said...


I agree. Bad form. However, when it comes to throwing dirt at their siblings and using the word heresy in every other sentence the reformed cohorts are second to none. Or course, when one has the absolute truth on every issue one is obligated to defend it. Right?

- Leo

J N Brown said...

Thanks for your teaching, especially on this subject. I have so many relatives that are being taught that to be referred to as a Calvanist is a very bad thing, but they cannot explain why. In love I will share this with them and pray that they will understand.
Thanks again and keep up this wonderful work.
Joe & Dottie

Ed Franklin said...

Leo says: "...using the word heresy in every other sentence the reformed cohorts...."

Not above a bit of hyperbole yourself, eh, brother? Or perhaps you can cite a few of the infinite examples?

Anonymous said...

Leo, that's because Arminianism and Open-theism are both heresy.

Ed Franklin said...

Basically then, it's just this: "If you're not a 5-point calvinist, you're a heretic."

Frankly, I'm not old enough or bold enough to say that, and hope I never make it there.

Romans 14 allows for the idea of "weaker brethren"....guess I'm a "librul" for thinking Wesley is not in Hell.....

Anonymous said...

I didn't say that anyone who was not a 5-pointer was a heretic, but full blown arminianism is. My use of heresy is not equated to apostasy as yours is. Arminianism is harmful to the believer and the church and should be opposed as a falsehood, rather than embraced as a various opinion. I don't know where Wesley is, but his piety does not determine truth, scripture does. If he is in heaven, he's a 5-pointer now:)

Ed Franklin said...

Yes, perhaps "heresy" is less damning in your view than in mine....Maybe we could discuss doctrinal error with less emotionally-charged words....Christians are stooping to levels previously known only to politicians.

To paraphrase a fellow who seems pretty astute:

"but...dogmatism does not determine truth, scripture does."

I am curious, however, since you pronounce "full blown" arminianism to be heresy, how about the half-hearted arminian?...or the 3 (or 4)-point calvinist (who is merely a confused arminian) ?

Unknown said...


Hyberbole? Me? OK, you got me.

I think Russell proves my point though. If you do a Google search for "Open Theism" and "Heresy" you will find ample evidence of this attitude.

You seem to have a problem with that attitude as do I.

The problem, as I see it, consists of equating our interpretation of scripture with "absolute truth" and elevating dogma created by humans to equate that of "God says". When that happens we run, IMHO, the risk of worshiping our statement of truth rather then the God we're all attempting to learn more about.

This is, I think, a form of idolatry. Just as we are not supposed to make an image of God and worship the image neither should we make a written statement of God and worship those human constructs and worship it as God. It's one thing to have strong opinions about God - and share those thoughts and discuss them with other believers - but not in such a way that we elevate our view of the "truth of scripture" with the scripture themselves. We've gone from "Holy Scriptures" to "Holy Theology" and there is, a lack of humility, in that approach.

Thus, your point about hyberbole is well taken. Is there one human being - apart from Jesus - that have had the "perfect" view of God in every way? Arminius? Calvin? Greg Boyd? Russel Taylor?

- Leo

Anonymous said...

I agree that doctrinal error is probably more appropriate. My apology. Point by point, I believe there are certain errors that are harmful to the believer.

1. Ephesians 2:1-10 makes it clear that we were dead in sin, meaning that we were pursuing the desires of the flesh and the world. Apart from the regenerating grace of God we would continue to choose sin rather than righteousness. Anyone who trusts in the flesh or will to save them or keep them rather than grace is in a frustrating error. Man’s will is never said to be free in the scriptures. The idea of “free will” is based in philosophy, not Scripture. Scripture teaches that man’s will is enslaved to sin before conversion and enslaved to righteousness after.
2. Election is based on God’s mercy, not on man’s choice or will. The Arminian view that election was based on God foreknowing man’s choice and then predestinating him to choose is not logical nor consistent with the biblical uses of foreknowledge when related to election.
3. The atonement of Jesus Christ actually satisfied the wrath of God on behalf of everyone who ends up in heaven. People in hell are suffering God’s wrath themselves.
4. Regenerating grace is as resistible as Lazarus’ potential of resisting his resurrection at Christ’s command to come forth.
5. Once God has regenerated a man, he will not unregenerate him.

The 5 points could be nuanced forever, but the essential error of Arminian theology is that it leaves brethren leaning on their goodness and potential rather than God’s work in Christ. It leaves Christ’s work wanting to man for completion.
As a former Arminian it was not Calvinism that set me free in Christ. It was Ephesians. A man may quarrel with the language of theologians and philosophers, but let him be a friend with the text of scripture. I believe that the explanations, though very imperfect, of what is historically Calvinism square with the exegesis of biblical truth on these issues. Arminianism as a whole, does not, and is therefore, doctrinal error. However, Open Theism, is even worse.

Ed Franklin said...

Leo: We might not be on the same page theologically but I'm with you regarding the need for a bit more humble approach to those in error. Just yesterday on a blog, I wrote "They lay claim, falsely, to a hold on Absolute Truth within themselves..."--precisely what you've said here.

Russell: I'm not defending arminianism at all, and certainly not open theism, which I agree is worse (and plead guilty to having called it heresy here and there probably).

Mostly, we suffer from the Humpty-Dumpty Rule of Semantics: Words mean precisely what I want them to mean, nothing more, nothing less.

I'm just trying to figure out if I was a heretic 30 years ago when I was wobbly on the "L"...

Anonymous said...

Leo, I agree that it is easy to fall into the trap of defending or loving a system rather than the truth. However, absolute truth does exist and it is our responsibility to learn it and teach it. Every time I give an accurate interpretation of the relevant texts, some one is going to label me a Calvinist. So be it. I care very little about the systems of Calvinism, Arminianism, Covenantalism, Dispenasationalism, etc. But if faithfulness to God and his Word puts me under one of those umbrellas, then I can't avoid it. Labels are as useful as any other trade language. Every group who communicates intelligently with one another uses categories and labels to identify and communicate ideas. The resistance to labels or systems is fruitless. The resistance or affirmation of the truths they represent and communicate is commanded. It is not the category or label of "open theism" that I have a problem with. It's the false God that it teaches. Idolatry is a sin whether it's the golden calf of the Israelites or of the "open theists".

Unknown said...


About your earlier comments – you say:

"1. Ephesians 2:1-10 - - Scripture teaches that man’s will is enslaved to sin before conversion and enslaved to righteousness after."

First, if we are "enslaved" to sin in the way you define "enslavement" as having absolutely no options to do anything but sin how does that square with God's justice. Why send someone to hell for something that they can't help but do? Is that the loving thing to do? Is that how you treat your children?

Secondly, a personal question, since you are now admittedly "enslaved to righteousness" does that mean you don't sin any more? Meaning, before your conversion you could not but sin and now, after your conversion you can not sin?

You say:

"2. Election is based on God’s mercy, not on man’s choice or will. The Arminian view that election was based on God foreknowing man’s choice and then predestine him to choose is not logical nor consistent with the biblical uses of foreknowledge when related to election."

[Lennart] Correct me if I am wrong, but I think we both agree that the devil wants everyone to go to hell but you are saying that God only wants some people to go to hell? Do I get that right?

What is so "merciful" about God choosing some people to spend eternity with him and choosing others to spend eternity in hell?

Especially given the fact that you just told us in point #1 that they can't help themselves?

IMHO words like "love", "justice" and "mercy" takes on a whole different meaning when they are defined by a Calvinist. In fact, those words means something completely different to a Calvinist then they do to everyone else and, most importantly, to how Jesus used those words. Your God is way beyond the bounds of any universal concept of love that our Lord himself used and defined for us.

I do agree with you that the Arminian view is illogical but then again that's why I am an Open Theist.

I'll leave points 3-5 to be discussed another day. Needless to say I have a completely different view on each of those points.

The point I would like to make is that your view of God does indeed present itself with some problems that both Arminiansim and Open Theism tries to resolve.

You blame Arminians for being "illogical" but I've not come across one Calvinist that does not ultimate resort to the "mystery defense" or to blame those that disagree for basing their views on "philosophy". You don't think you have that problem yourself?

I agree with John Sanders (in the book "Perspectives on the Doctrine of God") that this debate is a bit like the war between the Hatfield s and the McCoy's. It might not be settled for a great while.

In the mean time perhaps we can agree to disagree and keep the lines of communication open.

You say (hopefully I am not putting words in your mouth) that mans free will destroys Gods sovereignty and I say that God can of course "sovereignly" create human beings with free will if he so chooses. I think your God is too small.

Additionally, I think my sovereign God is as much threatened by my "free will" as I am threatened by a bunch of "free will" mice in my basement. Why would the sovereignty of the uncreated be threatened and held hostage by the created? THAT is preposterous if you ask me.

- Leo

Anonymous said...

To avoid confusion, I'll limit my response to the first point. I did not define enslavement "as having absolutely no options to do anything but sin", but that we desire sin rather than righteousness. The bible states it just that clearly. John 3:19 "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." Man rejects Christ because of love. His love determines his choice. He prefers(loves) sin, thus rejecting the Christ who would take it away. The regenerate man loves righteousness, thus receiving Christ who will give it to him. The natural man cannot see the Kingdom of God, therefore he must be born again.
It is completely natural to raise questions about God's justice when faced with the fact of his election. That's why Paul responded to the question in Romans 9:14-18.
It is also natural to ask the question about why God holds us guilty if his dealings with us are based on election. That's why God responds to this question in verses 19-24.
You are the clay, not the potter.

Unknown said...


Well, I am sure glad to hear it is a natural thing to "raise question about God's justice when faced with the fact of his election." :)

You say that you "did not define enslavement 'as having absolutely no options to do anything but sin', but that we desire sin rather than righteousness. That's fine I don't want to put words in your mouth.

However, the problem is still unresolved. We can NOT but desire sin, right? We do not have any other choice? Or, as Bob Dylan put it:

I was blinded by the devil,
Born already ruined,
Stone-cold dead
As I stepped out of the womb

So, just as it would be unfair (humanly speaking - I understand your definition is different) to send someone to hell for being a blond, since they can't help it, they were born that way, why is it fair to send someone to hell for desiring sin, since they can't help it?

The truth remains, according to your view the devil wants everyone to go to hell but God only want SOME people to go to hell. He has arranged it that way.

- Leo

Anonymous said...

Can you stop sinning?

Unknown said...


Once upon a time there was a young man, recently converted, that approached his pastor with a question. This young man loved Jesus and his ultimate intention and supreme choice was to serve him forever.

The young man asked his Pastor "can I live for the rest of my life without sinning?". The Pastor smiled kindly at the young man and said "No my friend, you can not live for a year without sinning. That is not possible for any human".

The young man went away but returned the next day with a new questions. "Pastor", he said "can I live for one full month without sin?" The Pastor did not even stop to think answered quickly "No, young man, you can not live for one month without sinning."

The young man, a bit disturbed by the older mans words since he really wanted to please God with all his heart and being, went away with a heavy heart only to come back the next day with a new question.

"Pastor", he asked, "Can I live for one week without sinning?". The Pastor, now a bit annoyed at the persistence of the young man, answered him again without any pause and with some aggravation in his voice. "No, you can not live for a week without sinning. That is simply not possible!".

The young man, not content with waiting until the next day asked "What about one day?". "Can I live my life ONE DAY without sinning?".

At this the Pastor stopped for a brief moment to ponder his answer. "One day?" he repeated. After a few moments the answer came, "no my son, we can not live even for one day without sinning".

The young man, now speaking with some intensity asked "What about one hour, can I live ONE HOUR without sin?".

At this question the Pastor had to think for a bit longer and there was silence in the room. However, after giving it some thought the Pastor said with a somewhat heave and sad voice although the young man thought he could detect a sense of uncertainty. "No, no, I don't think even that is possible."

"How about one minute?" the young man retorted. At this question the Pastor stopped to think again. He thought about his own love for Jesus and how he had dedicated his live to His service. "Yes, yes... YES", he said, with a reluctant smile on his face. "I think that we can live without sin for one minute!". "Yes, I think that is indeed possible.".

"Oh, Praise God" said the young man as he started to jump around the room in excitement and joy. "Now I know what I need to do" he shouted to the surprised looking older man, "all I need to do is to live my life one minute at a time!".

- Leo

Unknown said...


Do you believe, like Augustine, that a one day old baby sins? And, if you think they do, will God send them to hell for that sin?

- Leo

Bruce Mills said...

Well, I never imagined that my post would generate so many comments, nor that they would take off in an unexpected direction.

Without getting into a lengthy back-and-forth debate (which I will not do), let me weigh in on these issues and that will be all I have to say. I will not get caught up in a running debate on these matters.

Leo, you say the Arminian view is illogical but then proclaim yourself to be an Open Theist. So rather than embracing a view which I concur is guilty of doctrinal error, you choose rather to embrace outright heresy. I know from what you wrote in one of your posts that you think such a strong accusation is over the top. However, both Christ and the apostle Paul never hesitated to point out false teachers and false doctrine, and Open Theism is heretical false doctrine. Open Theism denies the doctrine of God's omniscience, leaving Him in the position of having to respond to man's actions, which may require that He change His intentions and purposes and even promises. That in turn impugns the character of God because His faithfulness and integrity are slandered. Any careful reading of Boyd and Saunders must reach the logical conclusion that their view does exactly that. It has been well-countered by John Piper in numerous articles and sermons. I suggest you go to and read some of them.

You also question the nature of man's enslavement to sin. Romans 6:6-20 clearly describes unregenerate mankind as slaves to sin. It also describes regenerate mankind as slaves to righteousness. A slave serves his master, so the unregenerate heart will pursue sin because it is his nature to do so. That doesn't mean he sins every moment, but it does mean that the nature of his heart is to pursue sin rather than to pursue righteousness.

In addition, your last two posts seem to indicate that you either do not believe in the doctrine of original sin, or have adopted a Semi-Pelagian view of man and his sinful condition. I hope that is not the case. However, clearly it isn't just Bob Dylan who stated that man was stone cold dead when he stepped out of the womb. Scripture says the same thing (Ps. 51:5, 58:3).

Ed, I appreciate your efforts to clarify how Calvinists and Arminians should interact. While I am a five-point Calvinist, I wasn't always. Up until a few years ago, I was what a friend of mine described as a one-point Arminian because I didn't hold to the Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption) point. However, after a great deal of study, I came to the conclusion that God has redeemed a particular people and His atonement accomplished what it was intended to accomplish for His elect people. That does not mean that I think we should slander and ridicule Arminians as though they are a bunch of idiots. Rather, I attempt to instruct them in what I believe is sound doctrine with the hope that they will see the error of their position and embrace the doctrines of grace. I have a great many friends who are Arminians and we get along quite well and have wonderful fellowship together.

Well, those are my thoughts on this whole discussion. As I said before, I will not get into further debate on the matter; I'm simply far too busy. It's hard enough to find time to write a blog post a few times each month. But since I was the one who put up the original post on my blog that started this whole discussion, I figured I ought to throw in my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I agree.