The Sixth Tenet of the Calvinist Faith

Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.1

I am a 6+ point Calvinist, or Spurgeonist, taking a cue from Paul Washer. This self-identifying label is spoken mostly tongue-in-cheek, in order to disabuse the creedalist version of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God. Five Point Calvinism or T.U.L.I.P. shares all the inherent problems, when humanity attempts to encapsulate an interconnected framework of Biblical understanding into bullet points; whether creeds are called by that name, or confessions of faith, catechisms or whatever.

As a pedagogic tool for entry-level understanding of the mysteries of the doctrine, it is useful. However, it has been much abused; a gavel of persecution2 by ‘know-nothingness’; from intellectualist and derivative understanding, which leads to lack of empathetic appreciation of it is difficulties and the conundrums it can erect

I propose that T.U.L.I.P. is heterodoxy! This provocative criticism is not derived from disagreement with any particular tenet of this creed. Rather, in truncating the full understanding of the doctrine into bullet points, it discourages rumination of the organic and logical unity of the framework in all its complexity and subtlety.

In acronymic reductionism, it distorts and destabilizes the framework, tending to logically veer its adherents toward a HyperCalvinist presumption. It is not that adherents necessarily become HyperCalvinists. However, the adherent, in order to retain proper perspective on Sovereignty of God, must fight against the natural ramifications contained within the internal logic of a truncated and insufficient creedal version of the doctrine.

A substantive heterodoxy and dangerous modification consists of altering this truism…

Those, who are Elected by God, could be saved and/or come to God in Christ, regardless of our actions.

into this one…

Those, who are Elected by God, would be saved and/or come to God in Christ, regardless of our actions.

In reference to transmitting the Gospel, the argument will be (and heard personally): God hardly needs other human beings in order for conversion/regeneration to occur. Indeed, human beings are unable to sustainably come to faith or convert others, without direct intervention of God. However much that is true, something I fully and heartily endorse; it is nevertheless also true that God elects to require the use of other human beings in order for conversion/regeneration to occur. And although I cannot conceive of any moral/legal obligation on God’s part to achieve conversion through this modus operandi, I can speculatively understand the Wisdom behind His choice.

And thus, I return to the opening Scriptural passage of this chapter. The plain and apparent inference made by Christ was that unlike those who lived in Hebrew towns Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum in His age, the hearts of the inhabitants of those Gentile towns Tyre, Sidon and Sodom were prepared; only waiting for the appearance of a Preacher to ‘seal the deal’ for repentance and conversion?  

Was Christ just whistling Dixie? Was His declamation merely a rhetorical device to repudiate the hard-heartedness of His hearers? Does Christ spout superfluous comments? Or was Christ revealing a Truth?

Modern Evangelicalism, with its Universalist yearnings, might take away from this passage that with their hearts prepared; the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom are saved children of God; merely lacking opportunity to convert to God in the prescribed way.

God will judge the unreached on the basis of their response to His self-revelation in nature and conscience… that the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice can be applied to them without their conscious knowledge of Christ.3

Considering the depravity of Sodom, for instance, with far fewer than 10 righteous men, this explanation defies credulity. Besides, Christ said that it would be merely more tolerable for the inhabitants of these towns at the Day of Judgment. This is a curious turn of phrase to suggest that these ‘otherwise saved unrighteous people’ would find their heavenly abode, merely more tolerable. It would be a curiousity how these unreached had actually repented (turned) to God, (which automatically implies a turning away from all else) on the basis of His self-revelation in nature and conscience.

No. It suggests that the inhabitants of these Gentile towns would have emulated Ninevah if a Jonah had been compelled to give witness to these towns, and who did mighty works, (the modus operandi, appropriate as witness to these inhabitants). One might suggest that surely the depravity of Sodom was evidence of an incorrigible hard heartedness. However, even as John Bunyan experientially acknowledged; 4 if one does not have a reasonable hope of salvation, one might as well ‘eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die’. “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint.”5

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 6

Does it not seem straightforward that conversion and trust in Jehovah and His Christ requires human conduits as part of the equation of Election, just as there is a likewise requirement for the Spirit of God to prepare and persuade the hearts.

The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest.7

But what if those who come to Him do not come to Him because of the refusal / neglect of the laborer to gather in the harvest? What if the person sent refuses to go? Or is caught up in self-indulgence that he neglects his duty? Will these already prepared hearts come to faith without that person? Will God just simply send another? Will God just simply bring them to faith in absence of a Preacher? Or would these would-be converts simply be lost? And does this course of events violate the doctrine of the Sovereign of God.

God may or may not save them by other means. However, I would assert that many a prepared, would-be convert will be lost because opportunity was denied them due to failure of would-be messengers. And some of those messengers would have presumed upon the Sovereign Will of God; thereby, sitting on their fat duffs, ‘pissing the night away’8; convinced that those, who are Elected by God, would be saved and/or come to God in Christ, regardless of our actions.

For, I claim that Scriptures assert that the implementation of the Election of God includes both a receptive heart to hear and accept the message and correspondingly, a receptive heart to transmit the message; to which God works in the background. “For, it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”9 To borrow a Beatles song title (but shift its meaning), the Sovereignty of God works ‘within you and without you’; inside the person and outside the person.

Be it true that God does not need us to transmit the message to save His Elect. Abraham was called directly by God. However, since Christ, God has elected that the conversion of souls requires both spiritual contending and wooing/prodding from within the potential convert (which is not the same as regeneration) and spiritual contending and wooing/prodding from without the potential convert. I know of no published Scriptural, historical or biographical report whereby a person was converted to Christ on gospel terms without an external source of witness.

The Scriptures of Isaiah remains opaque to the Ethiopian eunuch until the sent Philip explains the Scriptures, in light of recent events about Christ. 10 Unconverted Gentiles send for Peter, after God destroys nativist prejudices of the kind that the prophet Jonah exhibited.11 The Gentiles conversion / regeneration, already evidencing a prepared heart, did not occur until the witness.

Under the terms of ‘Calvinist’ thought, Total Depravity prevents a human being, by default, from coming to faith in Christ. If God does not woo/prod a person sufficiently, that person will not come to faith. The impediments are too many and varied. It is for this reason that the Gospel of John infers that humanity is already condemned.12(Double predestination is such superfluous nonsense; since Divine efforts to thwart a person’s quest for God and His salvation, is an unnecessary task, in light of the default human condition.)

By the same token, God could choose not to bring a person, whose heart is prepared, to faith by not sufficiently impressing upon any messenger to speak to that prepared heart. The non-Election of that soul is accomplished. The manner, by which that non-Election occurs, differs. In this understanding, a great part of the failure to convert must be borne by the would-be Christian witness. It satisfies the terms of the doctrine of Sovereignty of God. It however, also places direct responsibility and blame on our (Christian) actions and inactions.

The Sovereignty of God is not violated in this assertion. For, rather than God not intervening insufficiently in the hearts of the recipient to receive the message, it will be a matter of God not intervening sufficiently in the hearts of the sender to transmit the message. God is still Sovereign who “will have mercy on whom [He] will have mercy, and [He] will have compassion on whom [He] will have compassion”13. However, the man who disobeyed the commanded will of God in presuming upon the Sovereign Will of God will be found wanting and judged.

For, God wants His Elect to know that He does not play games! He does not desire to create a free-willed people with whom He has to keep picking up after them all the time! Furthermore, He wishes to impress upon His Children that we are interdependent, although ultimately dependent upon our Creator. Our individual conversion and salvation is accomplished through the interaction of the saints with whom we come into contact (directly or indirectly). And by this, God binds His family together.

Many Calvinists witness to unconverted neighbours because of Scriptures commands them to do so. They confess to not understanding the effectual purpose of their actions within the framework of the Sovereignty of God. They witness but fail to believe that there is ultimate meaningful effectiveness to their witness. And it is because of their truncated or distorted perspective, assisted by the natural inferences of this T.U.L.I.P. creed. This truncated creed rationally and psychologically enervates and undermines the will to witness.

It is because of this, that I detest the T.U.L.I.P. creedal formulation of the doctrine of Sovereignty of God. For, in truncating the interwoven Sovereignty of God framework, a proclivity toward presuming that the Elect will come to faith regardless of what we do, is made.

And thus we could change T.U.L.I.P. into T.U.L.I.P.E. (E for evangelism) for acronymic remembrance. TULIPE is a French translation of the flower, which is grown en masse in Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec. Considering that Calvin was from Geneva, French Switzerland, this would seem most linguistically appropriate. However, even this partial distillation of the doctrine would remain heretical, by virtue of truncation.

©Copyright Johnny Hutchinson

NOTES

  1. Matthew 11:21-24. Also Luke 10:13-15
  2. Dutch Calvinists persecuted Arminians (silencing, expelling (ecclesiastically and geographically), imprisoning and killing some. (circa early 17th Century).
  3. Dr. William Lane Craig, Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?  Debate between William Lane Craig vs. Ray Bradley, (Vancouver: Simon Frasier University, 1994), Opening Statement, accessed http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell-the-craig-bradley-debate on June 25, 2013.
  4.  John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666.
  5. Proverbs 29:18 (NIV)
  6. Romans 10:14-15
  7. Luke 10:2
  8. For those more horrified by vulgarisms than vice, the expression ‘pissing the night away’ is a British idiom meaning drinking all night. See Tubthumping, Chumbawamba (song), 2006.
  9. Philippians 2:13
  10. Acts 8:26-40
  11. Acts 10
  12. John 3:18
  13. Romans 9:15
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