Posted by: reformbama | May 3, 2009

Clarifying Calvinism Parts 3 and 4

Clarifying Calvinism (Part 3)

(By Phil Johnson)

The Great InvitationPart III: Some book recommendations

Before we go further in this series, let me recommend a handful of books. The first book I want to recommend is a new book by Roger Olson, who is himself an Arminian, and he has written a defense of Arminianism titled Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. You might be surprised to hear me recommend this book because I published a review of it on my weblog a few months ago, and the review wasn’t altogether positive. The review was written by my friend Gary Johnson, who is pastor of The Church Of The Redeemer in Mesa, Arizona. Gary’s mentor, by the way, was S. Lewis Johnson. And even though we are all three named Johnson, none of us are related. (Though I would be very happy to be related to either S. Lewis Johnson or Gary Johnson.) Anyway, Gary’s review was in several parts, and he titled it “Calvinists in the Hands of an Angry Arminian.” So it wasn’t a completely positive review, and I agree with practically all of Gary’s complaints about the book.

But I have to say that Olson’s book is the best book in defense of Arminianism I’ve ever read. Some readers might be aware that I didn’t have a very high opinion of Dave Hunt’s anti-Calvinistic screed. When I reviewed Hunt’s book in a Shepherds’ Conference seminar a few years ago, someone told me the only reason I hated the book was because I’m a Calvinist and Hunt stepped on my toes.

And I said, “No, it’s just a really bad book, written by a guy who has no clue what he is talking about.”

My friend challenged that: “Name one well-written book, written after 1950, either defending Arminianism or attacking Calvinism, written by someone who does know what he is talking about.”

I admit it; I was stumped. But now Roger Olson has bailed me out. If anyone ever asks me that question again, I can point to Olson’s book. It’s a good defense of Arminianism, and although I disagree with virtually all his conclusions, he pretty much knows what he is talking about, and he explains the differences between Arminianism, Pelagianism, and semi-pelagianism pretty well.

If you read that book, you’ll need to read at least three or four good Calvinist books to get the taste out of your mouth. So I’ll recommend three. Two are standard works that I routinely recommend every year. The first is a massive syllabus, written by Curt Daniel, called The History and Theology of Calvinism. These are notes Dr. Daniel wrote when he taught this material, and the tapes of his teaching are downloadable for free from the internet. Dr. Daniel is currently working on developing that material in book form, to be published by P&R. My guess is you’ll have to wait 2-3 years for that, so buy the syllabus; download the sound files for free download.

The other standard work you must have is the book by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, Lance Quinn, titled The Five Points of Calvinism (also by P&R). It is an encyclopedic collection of key Scripture references and some wonderful essays explaining and defending Calvinism from the Bible.

And then one of my favorite books — hard to find for a long time but recently published in a quality edition by Audobon Press, The Great Invitation, by Erroll Hulse, subtitled “Examining the use of the altar call in evangelism.” The book deals with the question of altar calls, as the subtitle suggests, but it’s greatest value, I think, is that this is a classic example of the kind of warm-hearted, evangelistic, classic Calvinism that I appreciate, and it’s a great antidote to the ugly Calvinism I spoke about that you find in Internet forums. Erroll Hulse is a greatly respected British Reformed Baptist leader, and this is one of my all-time favorite books.

Clarifying Calvinism (Part 4)

(By Phil Johnson)

Part IV: One more recommendation, and an explanation of why this issue is important to me

Phil at Shep. Conf. 2005Here’s a recommendation for your iPod: If you are someone who is resistant to Calvinism, or you don’t feel you fully understand enough about it, and you want a single, simple overview of the substance and the history of Calvinism, I gave a message to our college students almost two years ago titled “The Story of Calvinism,” where I did my best to cover all that ground in one shot. It’s on the internet with the rest of my sermons, and you can download it for free. The web address is swordandtrowel.org, and look for the title “The Story of Calvinism.”

In that message, I explained that I have not always been a Calvinist. I grew up in a family that had been Wesleyan Methodists for generations — and even after I became a Christian, it was several years before I finally came to the point where I could affirm the biblical doctrine of election without trying to explain it away.

One of the things that first got me thinking seriously about the sovereignty of God was an incident in a college Sunday School class, in a Southern Baptist Church, in Durant, OK, where I had a Sunday school teacher who hated Calvinism with a passion and wasted no opportunity to make an argument against the sovereignty of God. And his continual emphasis on the subject got me thinking about it a lot.

Then one Sunday, while this guy was taking prayer requests, a girl in the class raised her hand and asked, “Should we really be praying for our lost relatives? It seems like it’s a wasted effort to pray to God for their salvation if He can’t do any more than He has already done to save them.”

I vividly remember the look on the face of this Sunday School teacher. This was clearly a question that had never occurred to him. So he thought about it for a moment, and you could see the wheels in his head turning while he tried to think of a good reason to pray for the salvation of the lost. And finally, he said, “Well, yeah, I guess you’re right.” From that Sunday on, he never accepted any more prayer requests for people’s lost loved-ones.

That just didn’t seem quite right to me. I had just done a Bible study in Romans 10:1, where Paul says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” Not only that, I began to wonder why we should pray about anything in the realm of human relationships if God never intrudes on the sanctity of human free will. You know: Why should I pray for God to move my English teacher to look favorably on my work when she graded my paper if she is ultimately sovereign over her own heart? Those were questions I couldn’t answer, and I really struggled with questions like that.

But the more I studied the Bible, the more it seemed to challenge my ideas about free will and the sovereignty of God. One by one over a period of more than 10 years, the doctrines of election, and God’s sovereignty, and the total depravity of sinners became more and more clear to me from Scripture.

Every time one of my arguments against Calvinist doctrines would fall, and I would embrace some doctrine that I was desperately trying to argue against, it never felt like I was undergoing any major paradigm shift. It was more like I was resolving a nagging conflict in my mind. Because I kept discovering that the major ideas underlying the doctrines of grace were truths that I had always affirmed: God is sovereign, Christ died for me, God loved me before I loved Him, He sought me and drew me and initiated my reconciliation while I was still His enemy. Those were truths I believed even when I was a rank Arminian. Embracing Calvinism was natural — and inevitable — because all I was doing was ridding my mind of wrong ideas and faulty assumptions about human free will and other notions like that, which are not even taught in the Bible — so that I could wholeheartedly affirm what I really believed anyway: That God is God, and He does all His good pleasure, and no one can make Him do otherwise, and He is in control and in charge no matter how much noise evildoers try to make. And not only is He in charge, He is working all things out for my good and His glory.

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