Can We Call a Truce?

Call a TruceAs a fundamentalist, I’m all for separation. However, as a Biblicist, I can’t escape the exhortation to endeavor to keep the unity in the church. When it comes to passages on separation, the Bible is clear that truth and error do not mix. But it’s obvious that error is a part of life. I think this is why we are to endeavor for unity. In other words, work at it, strive for it, because your human ways will make you all differ, and you all must learn to put up with one another.

The fact is the guy sitting next to you in the pew probably differs from you in more ways than you know. Yet if a certain author or preacher says one thing different from what we’ve come to believe, we are sometimes too quick to brand him a heretic.

What we need is to find that proper balance between both of God’s mandates: the mandate to separate and the mandate to unite. Of course, there are some things that we just cannot tolerate. But sometimes we all seem so close in belief and practice, yet so divided. I’ve chosen to use as my example for this post everyone’s favorite debate: the Calvinism debate.

There’s no doubt that theologians have been wrestling to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility for centuries. But many Internet scholars among us assume they have it all figured out. Whether it is Calvinism, Arminianism, or Calminianism, many Christians are ready to articulate why their particular view of the doctrines of grace is the correct one. Sorry, I just don’t buy that.

Calvinism is a man made system. This doesn’t make it wrong. But it does assume it could be wrong. It is a way of interpreting the Bible. So is Arminianism. So is dispensationalism. So is covenant theology. And so on. Some of these systems are better than others, but let’s face the facts: humans are responsible for their development, so they are all subject to error. So Calvinism might be right, wrong, or anything in between. The only thing we all can agree is 100% right is the Bible. This is true Biblicism. If we can all agree to that, we’re all Biblicists of some sort.

We establish, then, that the Bible has supreme authority in all matters. Here’s where the Bible’s exhortation to humility comes into play. Let us all lower ourselves under the supremacy of the Bible. You say, “I do that already, and I’m a Calvinist. . .or Arminian. . .or whatev. . ” Yes, that’s fine. But remember that your system is still to be ruled by the Bible. If you come to one with biblical conclusions, that’s fine. But here’s the point: we all feel that way! And we’re still arguing over the same things. Is there any possible way that we can call a truce?

“What do you mean by a truce? Are we to set aside the battle between Calvinism and Arminianism? Between God’s sovereign grace and man’s free will?” No, not really. I think there are certain things worth standing up for:

1. Salvation is entirely of the Lord. He initiates, He moves, He atoned, He resurrected, He calls, He draws, He justifies, He sanctifies, He glorifies.

2. God gets the glory in salvation at all times.

3. The gospel is to be preached to every creature.

4. Man does not have the power to manipulate a move of God.

I highlight these particular concepts because I share them in common with Calvinists, yet I can’t call myself a Calvinist. I’m not calling for a truce between those who think they can save themselves and those who think only God saves. I’m calling for one between those who call themselves Calvinists and those who believe the above statements without subscribing to all of Reformed thinking.

So what’s the problem?

The problem isn’t that James White answers his critics like George Bryson, Bob Ross, or David Cloud. These men have been vitriolic in their approach against Calvinism in a manner inconsistent with the Bible. The problem isn’t John Piper, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and John MacArthur spearheading an entire conservative evangelical resurgence back to biblical authority by means of Calvinism: they have helped me in everlasting ways. The problem isn’t Ray Comfort or Paul Washer calling the church back to biblical evangelism with a subtle Calvinistic under-girding, for their ministries have had such an amazing impact in such a necessary area. The problem is that it seems you can’t disagree at all with some Calvinists, because if you do, you attribute undue glory to man and undermine God’s sovereignty.

Am I allowed to say that I believe in God’s sovereignty and at the same time man’s responsibility in a way that’s different from Calvinist thinking? I fear if I do I’ll be labeled Semi-Pelagian. Can I not say that God is the lone Source and Initiator of salvation while still believing that man must repent and believe in order to be saved in a way that differs slightly from Calvinism? I fear if I do I’ll be labeled a synergist. This is not the way to keep the unity. As a fundamentalist, I’d like to do my part by admonishing non-Calvinistic fundamentalists everywhere to stop calling Calvinists “those who don’t go soul-winning.” There have been some examples of hyper-Calvinism through the ages, in which they abused the system of Calvinism to a point where they became stagnant. That’s not the norm, though, and fundamentalists need to stop being so critical of an ideology that has actually been way more helpful than hurtful. On the other hand, if I may, I’d like to plea with Calvinists to agree to hold differences with us without telling us that we somehow give glory to man with our beliefs. I think you all should continue to fight against Arminianism and real Pelagianism and any man-centered system for that matter. But please, if someone can agree with you about the above statements, is it at all possible to endeavor to keep the unity between us?

I hope I made myself clear. I am not an Arminian nor a Calvinist. I don’t want to say I’m a Biblicist because that would imply neither of the others are (in the sense that we all believe the Bible is the supreme authority). I’m a non-Calvinist who believes God is all sovereign and the sole source of salvation, to Whom belongs the glory alone in all things. Like many young fundamentalist, I have been extremely helped by Calvinists. Yet I have reservations about every tenet of Reformed theology. Can I still be in the club?


6 comments so far

  1. TJ on

    There are two sides to the same disputed coin.
    Many fundamentalists forget that the original fundamentalists were Calvinist and in many cases reformed in theology (Warfield, Hodge, Machen, etc.).
    At the same time, many Calvinists forget that the prominent orthodox Calvinist figures in American Christianity were the original fundamentalist (again Warfield, Hodge, Machen, etc.).
    In many cases, we’ve simply shot ourselves in the foot by emphasizing separation over unity and condemning our Christian brethren out of hand.
    Of course, we are against ecumenism. But why can’t we figure out how to be united against ecumenism, or modernism and religious liberalism for that matter.
    That’s what the original fundamentalists did. That’s what the old-time Calvinists did. Like it or not, they were the same group.

    BTW, Dr. Mohler spoke on a topic very close to this one at the ’06 SBC Annual Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro, NC. The message is called “Reaching Today’s World Through Differing Views of Election.”
    (found here in part 1 and part 2)

  2. Pool on

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Pool!!

  3. […] the one to speak for the movement because its spokespeople just didn’t get it. I also wrote Can We Call a Truce as a way to ask for a ceasefire between Calvinists and those confused people who know they’re […]

  4. George Bryson on

    As I understand the term, to be “vitriolic” is to be “caustic” very harsh etc. Now if you say someone is vitriolic because you disagree with them, it seems to me that this is worse than being vitriolic. Since I am the one that is said to vitriolic I am curious as to what it is that you have heard me say or read in my writings that you consider vitriolic.

    This would give me an opportunity to defend myself against this accusation. It would also allow me (and others) to compare what I say about Calvinism and Calvinists and compare it with what you have said about me and my views. Since what I say about Calvinism and Calvinists is usually recorded in one form or another, this should be easy for you to do. I could easily say you are are constantly attacking motherhood and if I say it loud enough and repeated it often enough, some might believe it.

    If I am the “blue meanie” picking on Calvinists by saying unkind and unfair things about them, I would like to know what I have said that earned me such a reputation. Since you have made the accusation, the least you could do as a scholar and a gentlemen is to direct me to where is said something “vitriolic”.

  5. Damien T Garofalo on

    Brother Bryson,

    You’re right. What I said was certainly inaccurate, and I apologize. This is one of those cases in which someone made both a hasty generalization and an unsubstantiated accusation. That person was me.

    I’m not going to try to justify my comments, but let me just explain what I was getting at when I wrote this post. I wrote it in May of 08, about a year and a half ago. I was in the process of rethinking my theological positions (which I guess is a life-long process), and contemplating my future within Baptistic fundamentalism. As you’re probably aware, most independent, fundamental Baptists are non-, or even anti-Calvinists.

    I was being influenced at this time by more and more Calvinists, and was seeing the doctrines of grace more prevalent in the Bible, especially as I was coming closer to a consistent hermeneutic. But since I received the bulk of my theological training from a largely anti-Calvinist institution, I had a tainted view of Reformed theology and “jumping ship” didn’t seem like an option.

    So I read and watched and studied different perspectives within this issue. And, true to the post I had written, there was a lot of vitriol – on both sides. But most of that came from my personal experience. Some did come through things I read, too, but most of the “vitriolic” stuff was on the Internet, written by people who were not distinguished authors such as yourself.

    As you can see in the point of the entire article, I was tired of the two sides being so separate and throwing stones at one another. But as I look back, I mostly see my own ignorance. Yes, I was right to talk about the need to “unite” and “work together” and certainly to stop casting stones. But I didn’t fully understand the nature of the debate as I do now.

    Personally, I am now Calvinist. At least in the area of soteriology, I can confidently say I’m Reformed. You can see that in my more recent posts. So there is probably a lot in this article that I don’t even agree with now, or at least would write differently (and hopefully in a more articulate fashion!). But, there are still things I agree with, and I think my own personal journey can help me in these areas. For example, in the above post, I criticize Calvinists as well for not allowing anyone to disagree with them (or us) without accusing them of diminishing God’s glory. Do I think there’s some theological merit to that? Yes, but, I know in my heart that non-Calvinists (yourself included) are not willingly trying to diminish the glory of God and/or elevate man’s abilities simply for not believieng the doctrines of grace, as we see them. As a Calvinist, I hope I can display charity to those with whom I disagree.

    I obviously didn’t do that in the above article, and again, I am sorry. Truthfully, the people that I knew, along with others named (like Ross and Cloud) were being quite strong in their defenses against Calvinism, but I unfairly lumped you together with them. Even in the case of Ross and Cloud, I shouldn’t use the term “vitriolic.”

    Now, I have two of your books. The little one you wrote called The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed and Found Wanting was actually an assigned book in one of my classes at college. Looking back, I would say I disagree with your conclusions. But I do remember that it was a very charitably written book. The second one is The Dark Side of Calvinism, which, judging by the title does seem a bit stronger in tone, but admittedly I’m only about a quarter of the way through because I had other things to read and that was a bit off topic at the time. I will definitely finish reading it soon, but so far I can say that there hasn’t been any “vitriol” that I can remember.

    I am grateful, actually, that you called me out on this, despite this post being almost 2 years old, and my not updating this blog in a while. I thought things like this would simply phase out over time, but it’s a reminder that I have some editing and cleaning up on this website to do. Also, one of my pet peeves is for people to accuse others in such a broad fashion like I did without substantiation – and here I am doing that very thing! So I do thank you for bringing this error to my attention.

    I closed this blog for a while and do not know when I will start posting again, if I even decide to do again. I’m honestly still unsure what to do with it. I haven’t even responded to the last few comments I received, but when I saw the nature of your comment I knew I had to respond ASAP and deal with it. So, in the near future, I’ll be doing some things here. Part of me wants to leave this all up, to display my theological journey. That includes this post, to show my error, your correction of my error, and my response. On the other hand, maybe it’s good to take it down (or fix the error), so as to not slander your name. I will do whatever it is you suggest.

    Again, thanks for the comment, and I am sorry.

  6. george bryson on

    I accept the aplogy and look forward to hearing what you have to say after you have read the second book. By the way, intead of using the phrase Calvin used “A horrible” or “dreadful decree” I used the milder words “dark side. In Christ, George

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