Critical Calvinists and Pride (Hughes, Bridges)

Preaching the Word: Sermon on the Mount—The Message of the Kingdom  One thing I’ve noticed over the years is the fact that some Calvinists are also very critical of others.  I know that some people in general are critical by nature, but to me it seems worse when someone who holds to the doctrines of grace is always super critical about others.  Maybe you’ve seen it: these people are always pointing out the flaws in someone’s theology, they’re quick to find fault in someone’s beliefs, they generally don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, and you won’t hear this type of person speak loving or kind words to those with whom they disagree.  To be honest, I sometimes struggle with a critical spirit, so I’m not claiming the higher moral ground here!  My point is that a critical spirit is not a Christian attitude or mentality.  And further, the more we understand the truths of the doctrines of grace, the more our critical spirit should decrease and decline.  Why?  Because the doctrines of grace kill pride and produce humility.

I appreciate how Kent Hughes describes this as he comments on Matthew 7:1-5:

A critical spirit, a judgmental, condemning spirit, is endemic to the human situation. The media, our social relationships, our schooling, and our work situations are immersed in it. And though we often joke about it, experiencing it is most unpleasant. Few things are more exhausting and debilitating than harsh, unloving criticism.

Even sadder, the church of Jesus Christ is itself full of those who make a habit of criticism and condemnation. Some seem to think their critical spirit is a spiritual gift. But the Lord does not agree. In the opening verses of Matthew 7 (the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount), our Lord sets the record straight in no uncertain terms. He tells us how we should relate to our brothers and sisters in this matter of judgmentalism, especially in respect to the fact that we will all undergo a final judgment.

…When a critic discovers faults in another, he feels a malignant satisfaction and always sees the worst possible motives in the other’s actions. The critical spirit is like the carrion fly that buzzes with a sickening hum of satisfaction over sores, preferring corruption to health.

…We see critical spirits all around us—in our media, in our schools, in our social relationships. But it should not be a part of the church. May God purge it from our lives and from our churches. We would each do well to ask ourselves, who have I been critical of this week? Has my focus on their faults blinded me to my own? Then we need to ask God to help us see ourselves as we are. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 227–228.)

Jerry Bridges also wrote well on this when he discussed sins like pride, bitterness, envy, and an unforgiving spirit:

One of the most difficult defilements of spirit to deal with is the critical spirit. A critical spirit has its root in pride. Because of the “plank” of pride in our own eye we are not capable of dealing with the “speck” of need in someone else. We are often like the Pharisee who, completely unconscious of his own need, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). We are quick to see—and to speak of—the faults of others, but slow to see our own needs. How sweetly we relish the opportunity to speak critically of someone else—even when we are unsure of our facts. We forget that “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” by criticizing one to another is one of the “six things which the Lord hates” (Proverbs 6:16–19).

All of these attitudes—envy, jealousy, bitterness, an unforgiving and retaliatory spirit, and a critical and gossiping spirit—defile us and keep us from being holy before God. They are just as evil as immorality, drunkenness, and debauchery. Therefore, we must work diligently at rooting out these sinful attitudes from our minds. Often we are not even aware our attitudes are sinful. We cloak these defiling thoughts under the guise of justice and righteous indignation. But we need to pray daily for humility and honesty to see these sinful attitudes for what they really are, and then for grace and discipline to root them out of our minds and replace them with thoughts pleasing to God.  Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1978), 122.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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He Does Really and Actually Save!

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 What does Reformed theology teach about the extent of Christ’s atonement?  Francis Turretin (d. 1687) explained definite atonement well:

“The common opinion of the Reformed is that Christ – from the mere good pleasure of the Father – was appointed and given as a Redeemer and head, not to all men, but to a certain number of men.  By the election of God, these compose his mystical body.  For these alone, Christ, in order to fulfill the decree of election and the counsel of his Father, was willing and determined to die, and also to add to the infinite price of his death a most efficacious and special intention to substitute himself in their place and to acquire faith and salvation for them.”

Turretin then  went on to mention the texts in Scripture that talk about Christ’s death being for “his people,” “his sheep,” “his friends,” “his church,” and “his body” (Mt. 1:21, Eph 5:23, Jn 10:15, Jn 15:13, etc.).  Turretin also noted how the acquisition and application of redemption are inseparable from the extent of it.  In other words, Jesus redeemed his people and applied redemption to the same ones, his elect.

“It is gratuitous [unwarranted] to say that Christ is the Savior of those for whom salvation is indeed acquired, but to whom it will never be applied.  Even the very word ‘to save’ denotes the actual communication of salvation, and Christ is Jesus, not only because he is willing and able to save and because he removes all obstacles out of the way of salvation, but because he does really and actually save his people, not only by his merit acquiring salvation for them, but also efficaciously applying it to them, which was the intent of God in sending Christ and the end of his mission (as the angel clearly intimates by the imposition of the name ‘Jesus’).

Jesus is not possibly a Savior; he’s not a potential Redeemer.  He actually saves and is a true Redeemer!

The above quotes are found in volume 2 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 458 & 461.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Unconditional Election: A Motive to Missions

 Sometimes people say that the doctrines of grace (aka Calvinism) are a hinderance to missions and evangelism.  The reasoning goes like this: why share the gospel with someone if he might not be elect?  Why share the gospel with someone if Jesus didn’t die for him?  While hypercalvinists might say “Good point!” to those questions, biblical Calvinists answer those questions something like J. M. Boice did:

“People suppose that if God is going to save certain individuals, then he will save them, and there is no point in our having anything to do with it.  But it does not work that way.  Election does not exclude the use of the means by which God works, and the proclamation of the gospel is one of those means (1 Cor. 1:21).”

“Moreover, it is only the truth of election that gives us any hope of success as we proclaim the gospel to unsaved men and women.  If the heart of a sinner is as opposed to God as the Bible declares it to be, and if God does not elect people to salvation, then what hope of success could we possibly have in witnessing?  If God does not call sinners to Christ effectively, it is certain that we cannot do so either.  Even more, if the effective agent in salvation is not God’s choice and call – if the choice is up to the individual or to us, because of our powers to persuade people to accept Christ – how could we even dare to witness?  For what if we make a mistake?  What if we give a wrong answer?  What if we are insensitive to the person’s real questions?  In that case, people will fail to believe.  They may eventually go to hell, and their eternal destiny will be partly our fault, and how could any thinking, feeling Christian live with that?”

“But on the other hand, if God has elected some to salvation and if he is calling those elected individuals to Christ, then we can go forth boldly, knowing that our witness does not have to be perfect, that God uses even weak and stuttering testimonies to his grace and, best of all, that all whom God has chosen for salvation will be saved.  We can be fearless, knowing that all who are called by God will come to him.”

This excellent quote was taken from Boice’s chapter on unconditional election in The Doctrines of Grace (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009).

shane lems

Definite Atonement, Particular Redemption

For me, one of the most comforting doctrines of grace is the biblical teaching that Christ’s death actually accomplished salvation for his people.  In other words, Jesus’ atoning death didn’t merely make salvation possible – it actually saved people from sin and misery.  In Calvinism this is called ‘limited atonement,’ though I prefer the terms ‘definite atonement’ or ‘particular redemption.’  In Jesus words, he said that he laid down his life for his sheep whom no one can snatch from his hand (cf. John 10).  Elsewhere in scripture his people are called the “elect” whom no one can bring a charge against because it is God is the one who justified them (Rom. 8.33).  I’ve been enjoying Mike Horton’s book, For Calvinism, to prepare for an upcoming sermon series on the doctrines of grace, and his chapter on definite atonement is a great explanation of this truth.  Here are a few excerpts.

“All orthodox Christians maintain that the atonement is limited either in its extent or its nature.  Calvinists believe that it is limited (or definite) in its extent, but unlimited in its nature or efficacy: Christ’s death actually saved the elect.  Arminians believe that it is unlimited in its extent, but limited in its nature or efficacy: Christ’s death makes possible the salvation of everyone, but does not actually save any.”

“As the seventeenth-century Puritan John Owen observed, every position that recognizes that some will finally be lost places a limit on the atonement at some point – either it is limited in its extent or in its effect.  Owen summarizes the points: Christ died for (1) all of the sins of all people; (2) some of the sins of all people, or (3) all of the sins of some people.  If unbelief is a sin and some people are finally condemned, there is at least one sin for which Christ did not make adequate satisfaction.”

Horton then gives some explanations that help prove the doctrine of definite atonement (I’ve summarized them):

“First, this view maintains that Christ’s death actually saves.”

“Second, this view emphasizes the relationship between the Trinity and redemption.”

“Third, this view places the focus entirely on Christ rather than on the believer.”

Near the end of the chapter Horton writes this (with which I’ll conclude).  It brings us back to the application of this doctrine: it is a great comfort for the Christian.

“…The depths of God’s love are revealed in the fact that he sent his Son to accomplish everything necessary to our salvation, not merely to make humanity ‘savable.’  He did not come halfway, as if to say, ‘I did my part, and now you need to do yours.’  Rather, he has carried his loving purposes all the way, accomplishing and applying redemption to those who were ‘dead in… trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2.1).”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, chapter 4.

shane lems

The Cage Phase

  Here’s a great excerpt from M. Horton’s new book, For Calvinism.

“Critics have frequently confused Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism, and sometimes contact with hyper-Calvinists proves the caricature.  Often, bowled over by a sense of God’s majesty and grace, new Calvinists enter what we call ‘the cage phase.’  Like any new convert, we can be hard to live with when we’ve just experienced a radical paradigm shift.  Why weren’t we taught this when it seems so evident in Scripture?  How can our fellow Christians ignore these doctrines and even squelch any discussion?  In this condition, enthusiasm can turn to frustration and even to arrogance and divisiveness.  Only superficially acquainted with Reformed teaching at this stage, we swing from one extreme to the other, misunderstanding and misrepresenting these doctrines.  This often proves the caricature.  No doubt, many critics of Calvinism have encountered this, and it puts them off from taking a second look at the position.”

“However, mainstream Calvinism has been associated with personal renewal as well as doctrinal reformation.  In fact, Reformed piety has resisted the false choice between head and heart, doctrine and life, church and individual.  In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, both Lutheran and Reformed traditions reflected a concern for doctrine and life as one integrated pattern.  Like the Reformers themselves, the evangelical movement was deeply impressed with the significance of Christian truth for daily living.  That is why the Bible was translated into the common languages of the people and widely distributed to parishes and households, along with catechisms, prayer books, and psalters.”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 13-14.

shane lems