I have been getting a few hits from a Reformed discussion board that linked here. I thought it was only fair to give them a little attention as they have seen fit to give my blog some attention. I also wanted to address some of the discussion from here since I am not permitted to comment on their discussion board (one must adhere to several Calvinistic Creeds and confessions in order to register).
The link was to a post on Paul Washer which was simply a question on my part as to Mr. Washer’s theology. It was in response to posts written by Rick Frueh here and here. I haven’t listened to Paul Washer, nor have I read anything he has written, but Mr. Frueh quoted from one (or more) of his sermons and pointed out that his preaching seems inconsistent with his apparent Calvinism. But really the board was not much concerned with Washer (though I will address a few of those related comments), but with a quote from Wesley on the left side bar of my site. Someone on the board quoted the Wesley reference and looked to generate discussion on it while linking to my site. It seems that the person just happened to link to the Washer post while linking to my blog (rather than a general link to my site, it is a specific link to the Paul Washer post). So first I will address the outrage at the Wesley quote and then in my next post address some of the comments on Paul Washer.
The initial poster at The Puritan Board wrote:
Wesley calls Calvinism a Plague
“Answer all [the Calvinists’] objections, as occasion offers, both in public and private. But take care to do this with all possible sweetness both of look and of accent…Make it a matter of constant and earnest prayer, that God would stop the plague.”
Paul Washer: Calvinist, Arminian, or Confused? Arminian Perspectives
This was met with some shock by those who read it on the board. These responses seem strange for a few reasons. First, these posters are quite fond of Spurgeon’s quote that Calvinism is just a “nickname for the gospel”. For instance, one poster quickly wrote:
Yeah, the gospel [or a nickname for it–calvinism] is a plague to Wesleyan man-made man-glorifying religion.
This poster then quoted 2 Cor. 2:15 which states,
For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
So we see that these Calvinists believe that anything other than Calvinism is not the gospel and those who reject Calvinism should fall under the condemnation described by Paul here in 2 Cor. 2:15. In light of such comments one wonders why these Calvinists would be bothered by Wesley calling Calvinism a plague? They can say that anything other than Calvinism is false gospel which causes death in those who adhere to it, but Wesley has crossed the line in referring to Calvinism as a plague? What else do these Calvinists have to say about those who reject Calvinism? Here are few more comments. One poster wrote:
There is a sense in which I can agree with him. God often uses plagues to judge and purify his people (Like the one in Joel), plus they are often spoken of as His army. So if Calvinism is a plague- an army of God marching judgment upon the unfaithful, I’m there!
Amen! The Gospel is a scandal to those whom are outside, believe in decisional or baptismal regeneration, or works of man for salvation. They want Jesus as Savior, but on their terms, not His. In other words, it is the Lordless Salvation, which is an abomination unto the Lord.
How about that one? Anything “outside” of Calvinism is “outside” the gospel. But if this person thinks he is describing Arminianism he needs to study the other side a little more. Arminians do not believe that a decision or act on the part of man causes regeneration. Only God can and does regenerate. We do not regenerate ourselves by trusting in Christ. Rather, the Holy Spirit regenerates those who trust in Christ. God responds to faith, not works, and God is the sole agent in regeneration. And it was God’s sovereign and free decision to make faith the condition that must be met before God will save. God had the right to make salvation conditioned on faith and we have not the right to deny God that divine privilege. And so Arminians believe that it is the Calvinist that is trying to create his or her “own terms” with regards to how God is allowed to be “Savior”.
Now if Calvinism is just a “nickname for the gospel” then anything other than Calvinism is under the curse of God (Gal. 1:8, 9), results in eternal condemnation, and is certainly a plague. So the Calvinists who seem to think that Wesley has gone too far in calling Calvinism a plague affirm wholeheartedly that anything not Calvinism is “outside” the gospel and a savour of death (2 Cor. 2:15).
Second, Wesley did not believe that Calvinists were “outside” the gospel in the way that these posters seem to think any non-Calvinist is “outside” the gospel. Wesley was concerned with the fruit of Calvinism, which in his day was a lack of zeal for evangelism and holy living. He was especially concerned with antinomianism (lawlessness) on the part of many practicing Calvinists. Calvinists often retort that their doctrines can never lead to antinomianism, but Wesley encountered antinomianism among Calvinists countless times in his travels and ministry.
If a Calvinist in Wesley’s day had said Calvinism can never lead to antinomianism, Wesley would have just pointed to all the antinomian Calvinists who practiced lawlessness as a direct result of their Calvinist convictions. The problem was so bad that John Fletcher wrote a massive work entitled Checks to Antinomianism to address the problem. He not only attacked and refuted antinomianism as unbiblical but demonstrated how Calvinism can lead to such ungodly practice. So Wesley was not saying that Calvinists cannot be saved as these posters at The Puritan Board seem to believe that non-Calvinists cannot be saved (since they adhere to a cursed and false gospel). Wesley saw Calvinism as a plague in the church because its doctrines encouraged sinful living and discouraged evangelism. Certainly anything that would do that is a plague on the church. Yet Wesley believed that Calvinists who were not antinomians were surely saved since they were trusting in Christ for salvation, despite being wrong about how God goes about saving people.
But perhaps they should be excused for not knowing the background of the Wesley quote they found so distasteful. One poster complained,
On a side note, this is one of my pet peeves (this is not against you JM, but against the posting on the original link): quotes with no reference, especially when there is an ellipsis in the quote.
I am afraid the context probably won’t provide all the background necessary to understand Wesley’s quote (since one would have to be familiar with the antinomian controversy that Wesley faught against), but I will provide the context nonetheless. The quote is taken from the Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD by Ages Library. It is under “Works of John Wesley Vol. 08” on the CD, pg. 373. Here is the quote with surrounding context. I have highlighted (in bold) the portions quoted as well as the portion that reveals the issue of antinomianism in connection with Calvinsim is being addressed:
Q. 74. What is the direct antidote to Methodism, the doctrine of heart-holiness?
A. Calvinism: All the devices of Satan, for these fifty years, have done far less toward stopping this work of God, than that single doctrine. It strikes at the root of salvation from sin, previous to glory, putting the matter on quite another issue.
Q. 75. But wherein lie the charms of this doctrine? What makes men swallow it so greedily?
(1.) It seems to magnify Christ; although in reality it supposes him to have died in vain. For the absolutely elect must have been saved without him; and the non-elect cannot be saved by him.
(2.) It is highly pleasing to flesh and blood, final perseverance in particular.
Q. 76. What can be done to guard against it?
(1.) Let all our Preachers carefully read over ours and Mr. Fletcher’s Tracts.
(2.) Let them frequently and explicitly preach the truth, though not in a controversial way. But let them take care to do it in love and gentleness; not in bitterness, not returning railing for railing: Let those who preach it have all this to themselves.
(3.) Do not imitate them in screaming, allegorizing, boasting: Rather mildly expose these things when time serves.
(4.) Imitate them in this: They readily seize upon any one that is newly convinced or converted. Be diligent to prevent them, and to guard those tender minds against the predestination poison.
(5.) Answer all their objections, as occasion offers, both in public and private. But take care to do this with all possible sweetness both of look and of accent.
(6.) Very frequently, both in public and private, advise our people not to hear them.
(7.) Make it a matter of constant and earnest prayer, that God would stop the plague.
I hope that clears things up some. I understand wanting the quote cited and not liking the ellipses, but it would have been quite cumbersome to quote all of this on the side bar. At any rate, the context and reference is now available for anyone who may be interested. I will address the comments concerning Paul Washer in my next post.
Filed under: antinomianism, Calvinism, calvinist polemics, John Fletcher, John Wesley, Paul Washer, The Puritan Board | 14 Comments »