In discussing the doctrines of divine grace, also known as Calvinism, one of the most frustrating facets is that many people simply do not understand what is being said, even when some think they do. It is not uncommon to hear someone assert that they have spent several days, or even several weeks looking at the issues surrounding Calvinism, and have come to a conclusion that each major point cannot possibly be true.
My concern is not that individuals come to a conclusion that differs from the Reformed perspective, but that they do not really comprehend what the Calvinist is trying to say. Despite several days, or weeks, they still do not comprehend what the Protestant Reformation was all about. There are reasons why this is so.
Some of the critics of Calvinism only read about the doctrines of grace. They have not taken the time to read the works of John Piper, R. C. Sproul, James M. Boice, J. I. Packer, Donald G. Barnhouse, S. Lewis Johnson, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, or John Calvin. They simply read what others have said about Calvinism. That is about the best that can be done in a few days, or weeks, with a busy lifestyle.
Another major problem is that the critics of Calvinism like to mischaracterize what is being said with shallow, but very emotional illustrations that are all man-centered. “I cannot believe that God will drag one person screaming and kicking into heaven, while another person who wants to be saved is barred from heaven because they are not one of the elect.” “If I had five children I would not love four of them and hate the fifth one.” “Why, all a person has to do is open their eyes to see the Light of the world and be saved.” “All a person has to do is reach down and pick up the golden coins of grace thrown on the ground before them.” “All a sinner has to do is reach out and grab the gospel lifeline that is thrown out to them.” Salvation is all about what man can do.
Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals what man cannot do, and does not do.
Man cannot come to Christ except the Father draws (Gk. helkuo, drags) him. Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).
Man cannot change his own nature. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23).
Man cannot be called a son of God apart from salvation. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-2)
Man cannot see the Light of the World until he is given sight. Light is not enough for blind men, and the nonbeliever is blind. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:10). “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Man cannot grasp the gospel lifeline thrown out to him, for dead men in the cesspool of sin, cannot grab anything, and the nonbeliever is dead in trespasses and sin. Dead men need to be regenerated, or brought to life. Only God can give life. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;” (Eph. 2:1).
Man cannot bend down and pick up free golden gospel coins, because the non-believer has no ability, in and of himself, to do anything in the matter of salvation, which is why he has to be born again. Dead men have no ability to crawl to Christ. Christ can go to Calvary for the sinner. The Holy Spirit can move upon those whom He will, but no spiritually dead man ever picked up something that would save him. Once a sinner is given life, then he can say,
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling’.
The new birth is the work of God, not man. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:6-7).
I have sat through more than one tortuous lecture against Calvinism with this type of emotional diatribe being put forth. It was obvious each speaker had no idea what the Bible says about the inability of the natural man, let alone what a Calvinist believes. Each speaker was like the preacher Charles Spurgeon spoke of, who, wrote in the margin of his notes, “Weak point, shout here.”
Arminians love to rail against Calvinist with emotional caricatures because their own theological points are weak. They exalt free will over free grace. They give man the final say in the act of conversion so that sinners ultimately save themselves with a wise “decision.” Salvation is not based on the illuminating work of God the Holy Spirit, but a decision to follow Christ. Arminians advocate a form of Pelagianism, or Semi-Pelagianism, that has been condemned by church councils, as Arminianism was condemned at the Synod of Dordt in 1618/1619.
To prove how clueless many are who speak against the doctrines of grace, I would challenge those who think they understand Calvinism to accurately present what a Calvinist believes about the following. Briefly define these words: Augustinianism; Total Inability; Pelagianism; Free will; Bondage of the will; Moral inability; Sem-Pelagianism; Sovereign election; Definite redemption; Effective grace; Good works; Divine preservation.
If none of these words, or only some of these words can be properly explained, than I would submit that the critic of Calvinism has no right to speak against the doctrines of grace without future honest evaluation of the ideas that gave us the Reformation and Protestantism. It might take more than a few days, or several weeks in a busy lifestyle, to comprehend the doctrines of grace. It is worth the labor. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).