A Sermon Against Total Depravity
In November, 2018, I was asked to review a sermon by an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor in Florida who is emotionally hostile to that system of theology called Calvinism. I was willing to do so for two very good reasons.
First, with Charles Spurgeon, I believe that the term Calvinism is simply another name for the gospel.
“And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that. We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, ‘We have not so learned Christ’” (Spurgeon’s Sermons, vol. I (Baker Books, reprinted 2007), 88-89).
Second, I want my children, grandchildren, and their children to be able to contend for and defend the faith given to the Church (Jude 3). I want others to be able to give a reason for the hope that is in them. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
The name of the speaker against the doctrines of grace is unimportant for it is the message, not the man that is under consideration. The speaker said nothing new, nothing unique, or memorable. Therefore, any comment made in analyzing what was said is not designed to be personal. All responsive observations are designed to be a defense of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When discussing Calvinism, I would prefer to use the phrase “the doctrines of grace” for that is ultimately what is being contented for by those of us who give God all honor and glory for our salvation. We believe that because of the Fall, man’s will is enslaved to sin. While man is free to sin, while man is free to act according to his fallen nature in Adam, he is not free to return to Christ because he is in bondage to the law of sin and death. He needs someone to deliver him. He needs a Savior who is mighty to save. Fallen man needs free grace, and a freed will. This is the truth that must be preached.
“I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, ‘You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself.’ My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will” (Charles Spurgeon).
A Review of the Anti-Calvinistic Sermon
The speaker began by reading a portion of Scripture. Once the following passages of Scriptures were read, they were not exegeted verse by verse, but set aside and only briefly alluded to later with a passing comment. Here are the Scriptures read to speak against the doctrine of total depravity.
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Rom. 5:12).
“For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:17).
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:22).
The Speaker’s Statement.
The speaker began with a pious affirmation saying, “I am not a Calvinist. I am not an Arminian. I am a Bible person.”
The first response to this statement is that it is irritating. Arminians and Calvinist, and those who claim to be neither, appeal to the Bible for their theological position, so to say, “I am a Bible person,” is merely religious virtue signaling and nonsensical piety on display. The Church of Christ people like to say, “When the Bible speaks, we speak. When the Bible is silent, we are silent.” The first principle of the Reformation was, “Sola Scriptura!” or, “Scripture alone!” An appeal to the Bible is not unique to the speaker.
A second response to the speaker’s statement is that initially, Baptist, in general, are historically Calvinist in their theological bias, reflected in the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1644. This Confession of Faith was enlarged and reaffirmed in 1689.
In 1689 there met in London a General Assembly of Particular Baptist churches. The emphasis on Particular Baptist identified them as believing in particular redemption (i.e. limited atonement). Calvinistic Baptist belief in Particular Redemption does not inhibit the preaching of the gospel. Article 25 states,
“That the tenders of the Gospel to the conversion of sinners is absolutely free, no way requiring, as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, terrors of the Law, but onely and alone the naked soule, as a sinner and ungodly to receive Christ as crucified, dead and buried, and risen again, being made a Prince and a Saviouyr for such sinners.”
Fundamentalist Baptist pretend they are not part of any Denomination, but that is a matter of semantics. Amazon provides the following blurb for an excellent work on this subject. “The Handbook of Denominations in the United States has long been the gold standard for reference works about religious bodies in America. The purpose of this Handbook is to provide accurate and objective information about the most significant Christian traditions and denominations in the United States today. It contains descriptions of over 200 distinct Christian denominations as well as overviews of the several major Christian traditions to which they belong—based on shared historical and theological roots and commitments. The information for each denomination has been provided by the religious organizations themselves and focuses on the denominations’ doctrines, statistics, and histories.” Time should be taken to read about the various groups that reject the label “denomination” but share a common heritage and style of worship.
The Speaker’s Statement.
Hyper Calvinism is something to be spoken against. It is to be opposed.
“Hyper-Calvinism” is a pejorative term, much like calling a rapid firing weapon an “assault rifle.” Both terms are manufactured, by critics, and are designed to generate emotion, without any fair comment or clarification. Terms should not be used loosely, and without explanation.