Two noted pastors denounce casual Christianity and proclaim a recovery of the fundamental doctrines of the faith: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints.
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About the Author
JAMES MONTGOMERY BOICE was senior minister of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for thirty years and a leading spokesman for the Reformed faith until his death in June 2000.
Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals.
R. C. Sproul (1939–2017) was founder of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian discipleship organization located near Orlando, Florida. He was also founding pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor ofTabletalk magazine. His radio program, Renewing Your Mind, is still broadcast daily on hundreds of radio stations around the world and can also be heard online. Sproul contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, spoke at conferences, churches, colleges, and seminaries around the world, and wrote more than one hundred books, including The Holiness of God, Chosen by God, and Everyone’s a Theologian. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.
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Why Evangelicalism Needs Calvinism
How marvelous, how wise, how great, How infinite to contemplate: Jehovah's saving plan. He saw me in my lost estate Yet purposed to regenerate This faithless, fallen man.
The world should realize with increased clearness that Evangelical-ism stands or falls with Calvinism." The great Princeton theologian Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield wrote those words a century ago. At the time, Calvinism still had a major influence on evangelicalism, helping to define its theology, shape its spirituality, and clarify its mission. That is no longer as true as it once was. Increasingly Calvinism is defined over against evangelicalism, and while many Calvinists still consider themselves evangelicals, most evangelicals are suspicious of Calvinism.
On a first reading, therefore, Warfield's claim seems excessive, and probably false. One doubts whether it would find widespread acceptance in the contemporary church. What has Calvinism to do with evangelicalism? And why would the vitality of the evangelical church in any way depend on Calvinist theology?
As surprising as it may seem, Warfield's claim is the thesis of this book, namely, that evangelicalism stands or falls with Calvinism. To put this in a slightly less provocative way, evangelicalism needs Calvinism. In order to see why this is so, it helps to remove the labels. By "Evangelicalism," Warfield essentially meant what German Lutherans meant when they first started using the term during the Protestant Reformation: a church founded on the gospel, the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And when Warfield spoke of "Calvinism," he was referring to the Protestant Reformation, with its insistence on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. To put it more simply, evangelicalism stands for the gospel and Calvinism stands for grace. What Warfield was really saying, therefore, is something that every Christian should and must believe: the gospel stands or falls by grace. As Warfield recognized, the gospel is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace; in other words, the gospel is only good news if it announces what God has done to save sinners. And if that is true, then the gospel stands or falls with the doctrines of grace.
THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE
The doctrines of grace — these words are shorthand for five distinct Bible teachings that were linked together in response to the theology that developed in Holland in the late sixteenth century. This theology was associated with the name of Jacob Arminius (1560–1609). Arminius and his followers stressed the free and therefore self-determining will of man, which led them by a logical process to deny John Calvin's (1509–1564) doctrine of strict predestination, and especially the teaching that Jesus died only for the elect, those whom God had chosen. The Synod of Dort (1618–1619) was called to respond to the theological deviations of the Arminians, and from it came The Canons of the Synod of Dort, containing the classical summation of the five doctrines of grace known today as TULIP, or "The Five Points of Calvinism."
TULIP is an acrostic, the letters of which stand for the doctrines that were most in dispute: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. These are not the wisest or the most accurate ways of speaking about these doctrines; however, they are the most common way, and the acronym is a convenient handle for remembering them. These doctrines are important because they take confidence away from any spiritual good that might be thought to reside in man and instead anchor it in the will and power of God alone.
Although these doctrines constitute the purest expression of Calvinism, Calvin did not invent them, nor were they characteristic of his thought alone during the Reformation period. These truths are contained in the Old Testament Psalms. They were taught by Jesus, even to his enemies, as recorded in John 6 and 10 and elsewhere. The apostle Paul confirmed them in his letters to the Romans, the Ephesians, and others. Saint Augustine argued for the same truths over against the denials of Pelagius. Martin Luther was in many ways a Calvinist (as, in important respects, Calvin was a Lutheran). So were Ulrich Zwingli and William Tyndale. For this reason, it is perhaps more accurate to describe this theology as "Reformational" rather than "Calvinist." The Puritans were Reformed theologians, too, and it was through their teaching that England and Scotland experienced some of the greatest and most pervasive national revivals the world has ever seen. Among these Puritans were the heirs of the Scottish Reformer John Knox: Thomas Cartwright, Richard Sibbes, John Owen, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, Thomas Boston, and many others. In America many thousands were influenced by Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather, and George Whitefield, all of whom were Calvinists.
In more recent times the modern missionary movement received its direction and initial impetus from those in the Reformed tradition. The list of these pioneers includes such great missionaries as William Carey, John Ryland, Henry Martyn, Robert Moffat, David Livingstone, John G. Paton, and John R. Mott. For all of these men, the doctrines of grace were not merely an appendage to Christian thought; rather, these were the central doctrines that fueled their evangelistic fires and gave form to their preaching of the gospel.
In short, the doctrines known as Calvinism did not emerge late in church history, but find their origins in the teaching of Jesus, which has been preserved throughout the church in many periods, and which has always been characteristic of the church at its greatest periods of faith and expansion. It follows from this that the evangelical church will again see great days when these truths are widely and fearlessly proclaimed. If that is true, then nothing is more needed today than a recovery of precisely these doctrines: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints (or, as they are identified in this book, radical depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, efficacious grace, and persevering grace). These gracious doctrines have been prominent in the minds and hearts of God's people in some of the church's finest hours.
TODAY'S FALSE GOSPEL
Sadly, this is not the church's finest hour. We live in an age of weak theology and casual Christian conduct. Our knowledge is insufficient, our worship is irreverent, and our lives are immoral. Even the evangelical church has succumbed to the spirit of this age. Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? — the book that serves as a prologue to the present volume — argued that the evangelical movement has lost its grip on the gospel.
Perhaps the simplest way to say this is that evangelicalism has become worldly. This can be demonstrated by comparing it with yesterday's liberalism. What was once said of liberal churches must now be said of evangelical churches: they seek the world's wisdom, believe the world's theology, follow the world's agenda, and adopt the world's methods. According to the standards of worldly wisdom, the Bible is unable to meet the demands of life in these postmodern times. By itself, God's Word is insufficient to win people to Christ, promote spiritual growth, provide practical guidance, or transform society. So churches supplement the plain teaching of Scripture with entertainment, group therapy, political activism, signs and wonders — anything that promises to appeal to religious consumers. According to the world's theology, sin is merely a dysfunction and salvation means having better self-esteem. When this theology comes to church, it replaces difficult but essential doctrines like the propitiation of God's wrath with practical techniques for self-improvement. The world's agenda is personal happiness, so the gospel is presented as a plan for individual fulfillment rather than as a pathway of costly discipleship. The world's methods for accomplishing this self-centered agenda are necessarily pragmatic, so evangelical churches are willing to try whatever seems like it might work. This worldliness has produced the "new pragmatism" of evangelicalism.
Another way to explain what is wrong with the evangelical church is to identify major ideas in contemporary thought, and then see whether they have made any inroads into the church. Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? identified six major cultural trends: secularism, humanism, relativism, materialism, pragmatism, and anti-intellectualism or "mindlessness." Secularism is the view that the universe is all there is; God and eternity are excluded. Humanism is the belief that — in the words of the ancient pagan philosophers — "Man is the measure of all things." This inevitably leads to the worship of self. Relativism teaches that because there is no God, there are no absolutes; truth is relative. Materialism is closely related to secularism. If nothing exists except the here-and-now, then the meaning of life can be found only in personal possessions. Pragmatism measures truth by its practical utility. What is right and true is whatever works. Mindlessness is the overall "dumbing down" of popular culture, the shrinking of the American mind, which television has done a great deal to accelerate. Most people have short attention spans, especially when it comes to discussing anything worthwhile or important. In the lyrics of one popular entertainer, "I'm not aware of too many things."
These are some of the prevailing trends in American culture at the dawn of the new millennium. If the church has become worldly, then we would expect to find these same attitudes in evangelical churches. And of course that is exactly what we do find. As surprising as it may sound, evangelicalism has become increasingly secular. In an effort to make newcomers feel comfortable, pastors teach as little theology as possible. Worship has become a form of popular entertainment rather than transcendent praise. New church buildings are designed to look more like office parks than houses of worship. All of these trends con-tribute to the secularization of what once was sacred.
At the same time, evangelical churches have become much more humanistic. This is inevitable: the less we talk about God, the more we talk about ourselves. Sermon content is determined more by the intended audience than by the sacred Scripture. This quickly leads to relativism in thought and conduct. Moral convictions are no longer determined by careful argument on the basis of biblical absolutes; they are uninformed choices based on personal feelings. The church is also materialistic. The evangelical attitude toward money is captured in the title of a book recently edited by Larry Eskridge and Mark Noll: More Money, More Ministry. When financial prosperity becomes a significant priority, churches find themselves forced to figure out what works. This quest both derives from and results in the new pragmatism mentioned earlier. Most pastors want their churches to be bigger and better, but even if they are not better, it would be better if they were bigger! Not surprisingly, their parishioners want to be healthier and wealthier, too. Behind all these worldly attitudes there lurks a pervasive mindlessness, an unwillingness to think very seriously about anything, but especially Christian doctrine. Evangelicalism has become a religion of feeling rather than of thinking.
So when we ask the question, "Whatever happened to the gospel of grace?" the answer turns out to be that many evangelical churches have exchanged godliness for worldliness. This happens in too many ways to count, but "The Cambridge Declaration" includes a helpful summary: "As evangelical faith has become secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and his cross have moved from the center of our vision." What happened to the grace of the gospel? It was lost in the church study, when the minister decided to give his people what they wanted rather than what they needed. It was lost in the Christian bookstore, somewhere between the self-help section and the aisle full of Jesus merchandise. And it was lost in our minds and hearts when we decided to accept the world's theology of human achievement, saving room for our own personal contribution to salvation.
What has replaced the gospel of grace is a message that is partially biblical but ultimately self-centered. Like everything else in creation, the human soul abhors a vacuum. When something essential disappears from our theology and our spirituality, something else rushes in to replace it. When God himself disappears, what replaces him is the self. To quote again from "The Cambridge Declaration," "Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of the fallen human nature. This false confidence now fills the evangelical world — from the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works."
One place to observe this misplaced confidence in human ability is in the area of Christian witness, where a self-centered gospel has produced a self-absorbed evangelism. When evangelicals think of evangelism, rather than thinking first of the gospel message they are prone to think of a particular response to that message. This perhaps explains why testimonies of saving faith tend to emphasize personal experience rather than the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, as J. I. Packer warned in his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, there is an inherent danger in defining evangelism "in terms of an effect achieved in the lives of others; which amounts to saying that the essence of evangelizing is producing converts." Such an approach inevitably turns evangelism into another form of pragmatism. However, the essence of evangelism does not lie in the results; it rests in the message itself — the good news of salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that the gospel message does not demand a response. Of course it does. But that response is not the work of the evangelist; it is the work of God, and this is most clearly understood when the presentation of the gospel is grounded in the doctrines of grace.
It is sometimes thought that the Five Points of Calvinism tend to dull one's passion for sharing the gospel. This view is mistaken, both in its understanding of Calvinism and in its understanding of evangelism. The truth is exactly the opposite, namely, that the doctrines of grace establish the most solid foundation and provide the most enduring motivation for the most effective proclamation of the gospel. As we shall see, only thoroughly biblical convictions about divine election, particular redemption, and irresistible grace give confidence that the gospel has the power actually to accomplish God's saving purpose.
One of the brightest examples of better evangelism through Calvinism was the nineteenth-century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon was one of the greatest evangelists England has ever seen, as well as one of the country's staunchest defenders of the doctrines of grace. He wrote:
I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the Gospel and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the Gospel ... unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the Gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of his elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend the Gospel which allows saints to fall away after they are called.
If Spurgeon was right, then Warfield was right, too: evangelicalism stands or falls with Calvinism. Or to restate our thesis, the doctrines of grace preserve the gospel of grace.
THE FIVE POINTS OF ARMINIANISM
The heart of this book is an exposition of the doctrines of grace from Holy Scripture. But before giving a thorough biblical defense of these doctrines, it may prove useful to offer a brief overview summarizing the theological issues at stake whenever we consider God's grace in the gospel.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Doctrines of Grace"
Copyright © 2002 Linda McNamara Boice and Philip Graham Ryken.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: The Doctrines of Grace,
1 Why Evangelicalism Needs Calvinism,
2 What Calvinism Does in History,
Part Two: The Five Points,
3 Radical Depravity,
4 Unconditional Election,
5 Particular Redemption,
6 Efficacious Grace,
7 Persevering Grace,
Part Three: Rediscovering God's Grace,
8 The True Calvinist,
9 Calvinism at Work,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If I ever have any Christian friends that ask me for a book about Calvinism, this is the book I will hand them and when they balk at the doctrine of Election, I will hand them Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul.