On the Absurdity of Calvinism, part 5 of 7: Evangelical Doublethink

part 4, Scriptural Inconsistencies.

We’re going to cut right to the chase on this one. [14] It is disingenuous to call people to accept the gospel while maintaining that they have no part in doing so. Phrased another way, the Calvinist cannot talk about evangelism while remaining a Calvinist. Whenever a Calvinist speaks of spreading the gospel, the person inevitably begins to use language completely antithetical to the doctrine they profess to believe. Bruxy Cavey (see part 1c) shares a humorous anecdote in one of his sermons about guest-preaching to a youth group at a Calvinistic church in which he did a sort of evangelical “altar call” at the end and was met with dumbfounded looks from the other teachers! If one genuinely believes that conversion is wholly the work of God, then evangelism becomes nonsense and discussion of it becomes gibberish.

Even J. I. Packer is not immune to this phenomenon. He labors against Arminianism, free will, and human choice for over half his essay, and then instantly undoes all his work as soon as begins to speak of evangelism. We have already seen a few instances of it since they overlapped with previous posts. As he defines what “preaching the gospel” looks like for the Calvinist, he outlines four points. In the first point, “all men are sinners, and cannot do anything to save themselves”; yet in the fourth point, “God has made repentance and faith a duty,” required “of every man who hears the gospel”. The elect believer must accept that Christ is “able to deliver and save … them that come to God by him,” that is, “every soul that shall freely give up themselves unto him for that end.” Are you tracking with me here? I’m not making this up. He actually quotes the phrase “freely give up”. Could anything be further from the Calvinist concept of salvation? Again, shortly below, Packer says that Christ offers Himself “as Saviour to all who truly turn to Him.” This is active language, not passive. Even when Packer backs off a little by saying the responsibility of the potential believer “is simply to exercise faith” (which has been given by God), the exercising of faith is a personal choice. What of an elect person who does not exercise their faith?

Packer provides a large quote from the work of John Owen in which Owen suggests what the message of Jesus should be to the “unconverted”. This includes such phrasing as “why will ye not have compassion on your own souls?” (So it is my lack of self-pity that prevents me from being one of the saved?) “Look unto me, and be saved; come unto me … Come, I entreat you … put me off no more; eternity lies at the door”. (Though Packer later scoffs at the idea of Jesus “tapping forlornly at the door of the human heart”.) “Do not so hate me that you will rather perish than accept of deliverance by me.” (My self-hatred is more powerful than God’s saving love?) And then Packer calls these invitations “universal” and “real”, as though Jesus begs each person to accept Him and would gladly allow them to do so, while sovereignly knowing that many, even most, are in no way capable of doing so because He has not chosen them. Yet everyone should believe and accept this personal invitation! Indeed, “God commands all to repent and believe”, which to the Calvinist ought to sound as silly as the incumbent united states president commanding every citizen to vote for him, or Alexander Graham Bell commanding everyone in the world to give him a call minutes after inventing the telephone.

The pinnacle of Packer’s doublethink is unquestionably the following section, which I will quote in full: “[T]he old gospel, while stressing that faith is man’s duty, stresses also that faith is not in man’s power, but that God must give what He commands. It announces, not merely that men must come to Christ for salvation, but also that they cannot come unless Christ Himself draws them. Thus it labours to overthrow self-confidence, to convince sinners that their salvation is altogether out of their hands, and to shut them up to a self-despairing dependence on the glorious grace of a sovereign Saviour, not only for their righteousness but for their faith too.” Here Packer fully acknowledges that God demands an impossible task, and that the gospel convinces sinners that they can do absolutely nothing to contribute to their salvation while at the same time beckons them to freely come and accept it.

Packer then constructs a straw man out of the phrase “deciding for Christ”, as if salvation were as simple as saying “yeah sure, I’d like that.” (Note that the Bible itself often uses just such simple language, i.e. Romans 10:9.) For him, “It is not at all obvious that deciding for Christ is the same as coming to Him and resting on Him and turning from sin and self-effort”. Personally, I think it’s not at all obvious that that isn’t the case. Of course deciding for Christ carries connotations of some life change based on this decision, if it is any real decision at all. Also, how am I to turn from sin and self-effort without, um, self-effort?

Finally, the rubber hits the road, and Packer gives his practical answer to the question “what must I do to be saved?” If he were honest with his Calvinism, his response would have to be “Nothing; just let God save you. Or not. His choice.” But no, he betrays his doctrine and offers the following string of imperatives: believe on Jesus; know yourself to be a sinner; abandon your ideas; cast yourself on Jesus; exchange your sinfulness for gratefulness; look to Christ, speak to Christ, cry to Christ; confess your sin; again, cast yourself on His mercy; ask Him for a new heart and new behaviors; turn to Him and trust Him “as best you can” (!!!); pray for grace; use that grace; seek to draw near to Him; watch, pray, read, and hear God’s word; worship and commune with God’s people; continue until you are absolutely sure that you are saved. By my count, that’s twenty-three actions I can take to move toward salvation, which seems like an awful lot for someone who doesn’t believe you can do anything to save yourself.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: On the Absurdity of Calvinism, part 6 of 7: Theological Unsavoriness « Not By Hands
  2. Trackback: On The Absurdity Of Calvinism, part 1 of 7: Introduction | Not By Hands

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