I recently stumbled upon this post by Ergun Caner, Dean at Liberty University, and antagonist regarding Calvinism and the doctrines of grace. Without speaking negatively of Caner or defending my personal views on the issue, I simply wonder if any of the following statements are true. The article is titled “Predestined Not To Be A Hyper-Calvinist”. You can read it here (http://www.falwell.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=37) in its entirety.

Before we examine the statements, let me say that what troubles me about what is happening in the SBC regarding Calvinism is simply that there is so much misinformation about Calvinism. As is clear in this post by Caner, many Calvinists are being unfairly labeled hyper-calvinist. To be sure, hyper-calvinism is real and it is a danger, but true hyper-calvinists are relatively small in number among Southern Baptists. However, if you listen to people such as Caner often enough, you are left with the impression that there are a large percentage of aggresive, power-hungry hyper-calvinist trying leading a mutiny against the historical theological convictions of Southern Baptists (which, interestingly, is historically Calvinistic). This simply is not the case.

Caner says that the real problem facing the SBC regarding the issue of Calvinism is hyper-calvinism, or what he calls “Neo-Calvinism”. These are obssessed Calvinists who relate every theological issue to Calvinism and filter every doctrine through the prism of Calvinism. Such people are aggressive and perhaps even abusive in their theology claims. They are extreme in their views in that they believe that anyone who doesn’t believe as they do are heretics. Here are the claims of these Neo-Calvinist as stated by Ergun Caner. According to him, this type of Calvinist believes:

1. Double Predestination. Simply put, they believe that a small group of people are predestined, even before the Creation, for heaven, and that the vast majority of the world is predestined, even created for, hell.

It is a true statement that a genuine hyper-calvinist believes in the doctrine of double predestination. In their mind, the logical conclusion of predestination is that since God has predestined some to salvation, others have been predestined to condemnation. My problem here is the assumption that seems to be implicit in Caner’s hostility toward this doctrine. It seems that there is no real sense that all men deserve hell because are are, by nature, children of wrath (Eph 2:3).

That being said, I find myself in agreement with Caner on this point. The doctrine called double predestination overstates the doctrines of election and predestination. It is true that all men, in their sin, are destined for condemnation(1Pet 2:8). This does not necessarily mean that God has predestined men for condemnation as much as it means that God has left men in their sin and they have earned a just punishment. He has, before the foundation of the world, passed men over who have willfully rejected him in pursuit of their own desires and pleasure. Scripture never speaks of predestination negatively, particularly not in regards to condemnation. The doctrine of predestination is intended to encourage and give hope to those who have confessed Jesus and we see its use in Scripture in only positive language (Rom 8:29-30).

2. Not all babies who die go to heaven. They do not say outright that “non-elect babies who die go to hell.” They simply say that they leave such issues to the sovereignty of God. This raises the issue of the very nature of God, doesn’t it? Thankfully, most theologians through the centuries have denied this teaching.

There is absolutley no explicit teaching in Scripture that says all babies go to heaven. This doesn’t mean that babies do not go to heaven when they die prematurely. It simply means there is no conclusive statement in Scripture that gives us absolute clarity on the issue. What is wrong with leaving such issues to the sovereign, wise counsel of a loving Creator Father? In what way is the above statement contrary to the nature of God. How is it contradictory to what we know about God to say, “This is an area that we lack clarity on in Scripture. We have hints that infant children do indeed go to heaven, such as King David’s statement in 2Sam 12:23 about going to where his dead child has gone, and based on what we know about God’s character we can say with some measure of confidence that God will act rightly on behalf of those who have not willfully rejected Him by consciously sinning. However, we must also acknowledge that infants share in the trespass of Adam (Rom- 5:12-21), and therefore, do not deserve heaven.”

If these “Neo-Calvinists” do not outrightly say that infants do not go to heaven, then why is Caner attacking their position at all because they have said nothing outside the boundaries of the historical postion of the Church?

3. God’s “love for mankind” must be redefined. Yes, they will say, God does love the world, but His love is a matter of degrees. He can love a person and still predestine them for hell. Citations such as John 3:16, II Peter 3:9, and others, are redefined or reassigned to some other topic, such as eschatology. They do not believe that God wants a relationship with everyone. That would go against their system and theology.

Implicit in this objection is a man-centered, man-glorifying view of God’s purpose in salvation. The point of salvation is not to make much of man. It is God making much of Himself thorugh the redemption of sinners so that we could, by God’s grace, enjoy God for all eternity. What are we do to with texts that speak of the love of God for humanity as well as texts that speak of God’s hatred for sinners (Psalm 11:5)? At the very least, even if those critiqued by Caner have gone too far in their language and attempts to explain the love of God for both the elect and non-elect, there is at least an attempt to reconcile the mystery that is God’s ability to express two seemingly contradictory emotions towards His creation.

4. Invitations are an insult to the sovereignty of God. Disturbing as this may sound, some ministers of this stripe have stopped giving invitations in their services.

I would like to meet any minister who would say that an “invitation is an insult to the sovereignty of God”. It is true that a genuine hyper-Calvinist would not likely “invite” a person to receive Christ and would simply trust that it would happen without having to say, “Would you like to receive Jesus?”

I doubt, however, that this is Caner’s point. It is much more likely that the last statement reveals what Caner is really talking about when he says that “ministers of this stripe have stopped giving invitations in their services.” Bingo! We have a winner! Caner’s real gripe is that some Calvinists (would he know the difference between a Calvinist and hyper-Calvinist) no longer have “altar calls” at the end of their service.

I find it shameful that Caner would call someone out for doing away with a practice that isn’t even a biblical mandate. The altar call was made popular during the revivals of the 1800’s and was championed by the late Charles Finney, a man with some very strange and questionable theological convictions in his own right. Many people have moved away from the “altar call” simply because it has been a practice used to manipulative and emotionally cojole people to respond to Christ. The result has been many false professions, giving literally thousands of people an unsubstantiated false sense of security regarding their relationship with Christ simply because they walked an aisle, prayed a prayer and know the time and date of their “conversion”.

Any minister worth his salt knows that the “invitation” to respond to Christ comes throughout the proclamation of the gospel. As we speak about Christ we should be inviting them to respond to the message of Christ. But that response is not limited to an open aisle and song of response at the end of a service. This doesn’t mean that altar calls are inherently bad. It does give a person the opportunity to publicly respond to the gospel. However, we must remember that our public response is intended to be baptism, not walking the aisle.

If a minister is inviting people to respond Jesus – whether there is an altar call or not- they are not guilty of saying that invitations are an offense to the sovereignty of God. They are merely guilty of recognizing that a person doesn’t have to walk an aisle as a formal invitation to respond to Jesus.

5. Calvinism is the only Gospel. Simply put, when a person holds this narrow view, they become exclusivists. They believe that Calvinism, and only Calvinism, is the preaching of the Gospel. One historian wrote, “Calvinism is just another name for Christianity.”1 If that is true, what does that say about the myriad of preachers throughout Church history who were not Calvinists? Were they even saved?

If in fact the above statement is true, then any person who would say that “Calvinism is just another name for Christianity” has put their boast in systematic theology, not Jesus Christ, and they are in danger of the sin of idolatry. We have an indebtedness to John Calvin and the Synod of Dort, but we are not accountable to him. We must be accountable to the Word of God and Jesus Christ alone.

However, in defense against the claim of exclusivity, is it wrong for a person to believe that their truth claims are, in fact, true? What kind of belief, other than beliefs rooted in relativism, states that this is true, but not true for all? It is not wrong to hold to a particular belief in the doctrine of election, predestination, the gifts of the Spirit, eschatology, modes of baptism, church government, etc, and defend those beliefs, even defending them staunchly, as true, as long as these beliefs come with much prayer, study of Scripture, and leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, many godly men have been in Calvinistic camp regarding the issue of election/predestination (Spurgeon, Edwards, Piper, Sproul, Whitfield, etc). Godly men have also been Arminian (John & Charles Wesley), while others find themselves somewhere in the middle – which is where most Southern Baptists set up camp (Paige Patterson, Norman Geisler, Ergun Caner, etc). But in every case, I assure you that these men all believed that their particular view regarding these matters is the representative view of Scripture. In other words, they believed they were right even though there was debate about their particular conviction.

To say that you believe your convictions are right and biblical simply means that you believe that others who differ are wrong and misguided. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you think those people aren’t Christian – as long as their is agreement on the fundamental, essential issues of the Gospel. As long as there is agreement on how a person comes to Christ, there is room for conversation on the intricate nuances of what is taking place in conversion (what is God’s role? What is man’s role? What is the basis of God’s predestining? etc) I think Caner is guilty of over-stating point #5.

Initially, it seems to that Caner’s point is to call out the kind of person that Al Mohler described during the Pastor’s Conference at the SBC convention, as the Calvinist who will “fly across the globe to defend Calvinism but won’t cross the street to tell someone about Jesus”. If this is Caner’s intent, then I applaud him for calling us all to be more passionate about reaching the nations with the Gospel so the end will come (Matt 24:14).

However, in light of Caner’s recent comments regarding Calvinism, I’m not sure he is being as gracious as Mohler was. Caner appears to have an agenda and he seems angry. My advice, make a Calvinist friend who loves Jesus and sinners and discover that you have much more in common than you even realize.

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