Calvinism Does Not "Line Up" with the Bible: Neither Does Arminianism

I often hear and read criticisms of Calvinism not "lining up" with the Bible, or Calvinism not "being biblical," or that Calvinism is "based on man's teaching." From Fundamentalist, King-James-only preachers David Cloud, and Bryan Denlinger, to countless other ministers and believers, these charges are regularly leveled against Calvinism. These charges are also leveled against Arminianism. "We don't follow Arminius. We follow Christ." "We don't believe in a man's system. We follow the Bible." The latter two statements are even confessed while defenses are perpetually constructed within a strictly Arminian context; these folks "don't follow a man's system" but they certainly espouse the same theology as staunchly as Arminius himself.

I want to help believers think properly about these matters. So, I will reveal a paradigm-shifting and inevitable truth, of which these same ministers appear completely ignorant: the teachings of David Cloud are "based on a man's teaching." The teachings of Bryan Denlinger are "based on a man's teaching." Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Laurence M. Vance, Peter Ruckman, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Chuck Swindoll, Jack Hayford, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius: the beliefs of every single preacher and Sunday school teacher are all "based on a man's (or a woman's) teaching." David Cloud, Bryan Denlinger, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius do not maintain the purely "biblical" view of any given subject that can be named.

I trust that I will be forgiven for dismissing the viability of anyone, no matter how apparently saintly he or she may be, claiming to be presenting us with "the biblical view" on any given topic known among fallen mortals. Use your God-given intellect while reading these titles:


In case my point escapes you: take, for instance, the two similar titles regarding homosexuality. The offering by Helminiak insists that the authors of Scripture do not define homosexuality as we define the notion today. Hence homosexuality, as we define it today, is to be celebrated. The book by DeYoung assumes the contrary notion: homosexuality, as we know it today, was known in the ancient world and is proscripted by God and deemed sinful. Both books claim equal status and command equal authority: What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality. But the authors of the Bible cannot contradict each other. (John 10:35) Therefore one of these authors is not presenting us with what the Bible really says about the subject matter. Which one? How shall we know?

When we purchase books with such titles we must understand a hard fact: none of these authors are granting us an absolutely objective view on the subject matter. In one thought: each author is promoting what he or she believes on the topic at hand. In other words, to name one's book What the Bible Really Says about ... is deceptive, since "the Bible" is not really "saying" anything. We are reading the Bible, we are reading the Bible through our own particular lenses, and we are then interpreting the Bible through those lenses. The reason why people disagree with "what the Bible really says" is because each person is reading the Bible within the socio-politico-theologico context that is particular to that person. No one reads the Bible objectively -- no one.

In other words, in what we call layman's terms, we bring to the Bible many preconceived ideas before we read the first text. This is inevitable. Every single person is guilty of this charge and not one person is excused -- not David Cloud, not John Piper, not Jacob Arminius nor John Calvin. This is reality and we must embrace this fact if we are to approach God's infallible and inerrant word with integrity, transparency, and godly humility. Jesus is our only exception.

Is Calvinism biblical? Is Arminianism biblical? Is Open Theism biblical? Is Dispensationalism biblical? Is Fundamentalism biblical? This type of question is framed improperly. The question is not the "biblical" nature of a particular teaching; the question is Why does one believe what he or she claims to believe? John Calvin reads the same Bible that you and I read. So does Jacob Arminius. So does Jonathan Edwards. So does Charles Finney. Yet all four of these men differ on certain theological points. Charles Ryrie and John MacArthur are both Dispensationalists and yet they disagree even within their own specific-theological system. They both read the same Bible. They both interpret the tenor of the Bible through a similar ideological lens. Yet they both differ on some theological points. Why? Is one man "biblical" but not the other?



Read this most famous verse: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16 NASB) You may not realize this, especially if you are a believer, but you already assume far too much about this verse to be reading it objectively. If you were a stranger to the Bible, and to Christian teaching, your questions would abound: What God is this? Does "world" mean the earth? This God has a Son? Who is the Son? What does "only begotten" mean? What does "believing in Him" mean? What does "perish" mean? How do we understand the word "should"? What is eternal life?

But a Christian who has been taught Christian theology wants to ask questions the answers to which are not provided in this verse. In what sense does God love the world of sinners? Did He give Jesus the Son for every person? Did Jesus die for each person in the same sense? How does one come to believe in Jesus? Can a person believe and later change her mind? Can "having" eternal life ever be lost? So, how do we answer such questions? Whose answers are "biblical"?

Odd as this may appear, what I am hoping at this juncture is that you are uncomfortable, because that means you are finally understanding the complexities of interpretation. (If you are comfortable then I assume you already understand this subject.) From my limited experience with Christians in the West, the majority I have encountered think that their particular "reading" or interpretation of the scriptures is "biblical," and by that term they mean right, orthodox, uncontested truth. Whether the subject matter is the pre-Tribulational rapture, congregational church governance, male-headship in pastoral ministry and in the home, general atonement for all, once saved always saved, or the continuance of spiritual gifts, whatever position they hold, they are convinced that their pastor "preaches the Word of God," meaning absolute truth as God knows the truth, and they, therefore, believe what they are taught to believe -- they interpret the Bible as they have been taught to interpret the Bible. What is wrong with this approach?

Let us assume this same mentality but apply it to the Mormon. He has been taught all his life in the Mormon church the doctrines necessary for him to believe. He accepts what he has been taught as being unquestionably "biblical," the very truth of the Word of God and of God Himself, as expounded upon by his pastor and teachers, and so he interprets the Bible, and the Book of Mormon -- Another Testament of Jesus Christ -- by the uncontested doctrines of Mormonism. Is he not validated in his Mormonism? Is he not holding to the absolute truth of God's word? No? Why not? Many believers are in this same position: holding to views that contradict what other believers defend and argue. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is "biblical"? Who gets to decide?

Here are some comments we must not make dogmatically lest we appear the fool: 1) Total Depravity cannot be true because "the Bible says" that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16); Unconditional Election cannot be true because "the Bible says" whosoever will may have eternal life (John 3:16); Limited Atonement cannot be true because "the Bible says" Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2); Irresistible Grace cannot be true because "the Bible says" that men resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51); Perseverance of the Saints cannot be true because "the Bible says" that some names are erased out of the Book of Life (Ps. 69:28). Believe this statement, or not, the Calvinist's Bible contains the very same verses. Many respond to Calvinism as though Calvinists neglect to consider their proffered proof-texts. Mind you, some Calvinists are skilled in this practice, as well.

The point should be obvious: All teaching from all respective pastors, Bible teachers, and Sunday school leaders are promoting what they believe the Bible is communicating to all of humanity. Yes, the various authors of the Bible at times are teaching on various topics, but we approach these authors with emotional, sociological, and even theological presuppositions that can cloud a purely objective interpretation. We must resist the naïve attempt of thinking that, merely by our reading of any given text, we possess the absolute truth on the matter. Do we not rely on the teaching of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26)? We can and should rely on His leading. However, we must be extremely careful here, and not assume that because we have prayed about a proper interpretation of Scripture then our conclusions are "biblical" and right and orthodox and the absolute truth of God. Can we not, then, know truths in the Bible? Yes, we can. How?

Christianity is grounded on faith. Though we have an inner testimony of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:16), what we call an experiential hermeneutic, we also have faith -- not "blind faith," but a reasonable faith, an intellectual as well as relational faith: "though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory." (1 Pet. 1:8, emphases added) We have no scientific proof of God's existence or of the eternal reality of Jesus Christ. But by a rational, reasonable, spiritual faith we embrace what we learn of Jesus, and the salvation offered by God the Father by grace through trust in Him, as noted in the Bible. For the believer, if Jesus confesses that God's word is truth (John 17:17), and since Jesus Himself is declared to be Truth Incarnate (John 14:6), then trusting in the teachings of the Bible grants us warrant for proper belief. But we must always seek to avoid equating our particular views on any given topic with the very infallible Word of God.

Moreover, we must also consider that the Word of God -- Scripture, the Holy Bible -- "performs its work in [us] who believe." (1 Thess. 2:13) Again, through faith in Christ, God's Word is a sufficient testimony of its authority, infallibility, and reliability. Our systematic doctrines and theological confessions are not authoritative, infallible, and reliable. Only God's Word is authoritative, infallible, and reliable. I think that most sincere believers -- lovers of God's Word -- try their very best to "rightly divide the word of truth," or, better, to be "accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15 NASB), seeking solely to honor God and His Word. This is commendable. But let us not confuse nor conflate our rightly-motivated interpretations of Scripture, most notably in secondary and tertiary issues, on the same par as the Word of God.

__________

Understand that I am using the term Fundamentalist, with a capital F, in its slang or non-critical usage and not in its classical form, as referring to the fundamentals of Christian theology, as propounded by the likes of John Nelson Darby, R.A. Torrey, and Lewis Sperry Chafer.

0 comments:

Post a Comment

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

My photo

My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.