Thursday, June 29, 2006


I recently stumbled upon this post by Ergun Caner, Dean at Liberty University, and antagonist regarding Calvinism and the doctrines of grace. Without speaking negatively of Caner or defending my personal views on the issue, I simply wonder if any of the following statements are true. The article is titled "Predestined Not To Be A Hyper-Calvinist". You can read it here ( in its entirety.

Before we examine the statements, let me say that what troubles me about what is happening in the SBC regarding Calvinism is simply that there is so much misinformation about Calvinism. As is clear in this post by Caner, many Calvinists are being unfairly labeled hyper-calvinist. To be sure, hyper-calvinism is real and it is a danger, but true hyper-calvinists are relatively small in number among Southern Baptists. However, if you listen to people such as Caner often enough, you are left with the impression that there are a large percentage of aggresive, power-hungry hyper-calvinist trying leading a mutiny against the historical theological convictions of Southern Baptists (which, interestingly, is historically Calvinistic). This simply is not the case.

Caner says that the real problem facing the SBC regarding the issue of Calvinism is hyper-calvinism, or what he calls "Neo-Calvinism". These are obssessed Calvinists who relate every theological issue to Calvinism and filter every doctrine through the prism of Calvinism. Such people are aggressive and perhaps even abusive in their theology claims. They are extreme in their views in that they believe that anyone who doesn't believe as they do are heretics. Here are the claims of these Neo-Calvinist as stated by Ergun Caner. According to him, this type of Calvinist believes:

1. Double Predestination. Simply put, they believe that a small group of people are predestined, even before the Creation, for heaven, and that the vast majority of the world is predestined, even created for, hell.

It is a true statement that a genuine hyper-calvinist believes in the doctrine of double predestination. In their mind, the logical conclusion of predestination is that since God has predestined some to salvation, others have been predestined to condemnation. My problem here is the assumption that seems to be implicit in Caner's hostility toward this doctrine. It seems that there is no real sense that all men deserve hell because are are, by nature, children of wrath (Eph 2:3).

That being said, I find myself in agreement with Caner on this point. The doctrine called double predestination overstates the doctrines of election and predestination. It is true that all men, in their sin, are destined for condemnation(1Pet 2:8). This does not necessarily mean that God has predestined men for condemnation as much as it means that God has left men in their sin and they have earned a just punishment. He has, before the foundation of the world, passed men over who have willfully rejected him in pursuit of their own desires and pleasure. Scripture never speaks of predestination negatively, particularly not in regards to condemnation. The doctrine of predestination is intended to encourage and give hope to those who have confessed Jesus and we see its use in Scripture in only positive language (Rom 8:29-30).

2. Not all babies who die go to heaven. They do not say outright that "non-elect babies who die go to hell." They simply say that they leave such issues to the sovereignty of God. This raises the issue of the very nature of God, doesn’t it? Thankfully, most theologians through the centuries have denied this teaching.

There is absolutley no explicit teaching in Scripture that says all babies go to heaven. This doesn't mean that babies do not go to heaven when they die prematurely. It simply means there is no conclusive statement in Scripture that gives us absolute clarity on the issue. What is wrong with leaving such issues to the sovereign, wise counsel of a loving Creator Father? In what way is the above statement contrary to the nature of God. How is it contradictory to what we know about God to say, "This is an area that we lack clarity on in Scripture. We have hints that infant children do indeed go to heaven, such as King David's statement in 2Sam 12:23 about going to where his dead child has gone, and based on what we know about God's character we can say with some measure of confidence that God will act rightly on behalf of those who have not willfully rejected Him by consciously sinning. However, we must also acknowledge that infants share in the trespass of Adam (Rom- 5:12-21), and therefore, do not deserve heaven."

If these "Neo-Calvinists" do not outrightly say that infants do not go to heaven, then why is Caner attacking their position at all because they have said nothing outside the boundaries of the historical postion of the Church?

3. God’s "love for mankind" must be redefined. Yes, they will say, God does love the world, but His love is a matter of degrees. He can love a person and still predestine them for hell. Citations such as John 3:16, II Peter 3:9, and others, are redefined or reassigned to some other topic, such as eschatology. They do not believe that God wants a relationship with everyone. That would go against their system and theology.

Implicit in this objection is a man-centered, man-glorifying view of God's purpose in salvation. The point of salvation is not to make much of man. It is God making much of Himself thorugh the redemption of sinners so that we could, by God's grace, enjoy God for all eternity. What are we do to with texts that speak of the love of God for humanity as well as texts that speak of God's hatred for sinners (Psalm 11:5)? At the very least, even if those critiqued by Caner have gone too far in their language and attempts to explain the love of God for both the elect and non-elect, there is at least an attempt to reconcile the mystery that is God's ability to express two seemingly contradictory emotions towards His creation.

4. Invitations are an insult to the sovereignty of God. Disturbing as this may sound, some ministers of this stripe have stopped giving invitations in their services.

I would like to meet any minister who would say that an "invitation is an insult to the sovereignty of God". It is true that a genuine hyper-Calvinist would not likely "invite" a person to receive Christ and would simply trust that it would happen without having to say, "Would you like to receive Jesus?"

I doubt, however, that this is Caner's point. It is much more likely that the last statement reveals what Caner is really talking about when he says that "ministers of this stripe have stopped giving invitations in their services." Bingo! We have a winner! Caner's real gripe is that some Calvinists (would he know the difference between a Calvinist and hyper-Calvinist) no longer have "altar calls" at the end of their service.

I find it shameful that Caner would call someone out for doing away with a practice that isn't even a biblical mandate. The altar call was made popular during the revivals of the 1800's and was championed by the late Charles Finney, a man with some very strange and questionable theological convictions in his own right. Many people have moved away from the "altar call" simply because it has been a practice used to manipulative and emotionally cojole people to respond to Christ. The result has been many false professions, giving literally thousands of people an unsubstantiated false sense of security regarding their relationship with Christ simply because they walked an aisle, prayed a prayer and know the time and date of their "conversion".

Any minister worth his salt knows that the "invitation" to respond to Christ comes throughout the proclamation of the gospel. As we speak about Christ we should be inviting them to respond to the message of Christ. But that response is not limited to an open aisle and song of response at the end of a service. This doesn't mean that altar calls are inherently bad. It does give a person the opportunity to publicly respond to the gospel. However, we must remember that our public response is intended to be baptism, not walking the aisle.

If a minister is inviting people to respond Jesus - whether there is an altar call or not- they are not guilty of saying that invitations are an offense to the sovereignty of God. They are merely guilty of recognizing that a person doesn't have to walk an aisle as a formal invitation to respond to Jesus.

5. Calvinism is the only Gospel. Simply put, when a person holds this narrow view, they become exclusivists. They believe that Calvinism, and only Calvinism, is the preaching of the Gospel. One historian wrote, "Calvinism is just another name for Christianity."1 If that is true, what does that say about the myriad of preachers throughout Church history who were not Calvinists? Were they even saved?

If in fact the above statement is true, then any person who would say that "Calvinism is just another name for Christianity" has put their boast in systematic theology, not Jesus Christ, and they are in danger of the sin of idolatry. We have an indebtedness to John Calvin and the Synod of Dort, but we are not accountable to him. We must be accountable to the Word of God and Jesus Christ alone.

However, in defense against the claim of exclusivity, is it wrong for a person to believe that their truth claims are, in fact, true? What kind of belief, other than beliefs rooted in relativism, states that this is true, but not true for all? It is not wrong to hold to a particular belief in the doctrine of election, predestination, the gifts of the Spirit, eschatology, modes of baptism, church government, etc, and defend those beliefs, even defending them staunchly, as true, as long as these beliefs come with much prayer, study of Scripture, and leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, many godly men have been in Calvinistic camp regarding the issue of election/predestination (Spurgeon, Edwards, Piper, Sproul, Whitfield, etc). Godly men have also been Arminian (John & Charles Wesley), while others find themselves somewhere in the middle - which is where most Southern Baptists set up camp (Paige Patterson, Norman Geisler, Ergun Caner, etc). But in every case, I assure you that these men all believed that their particular view regarding these matters is the representative view of Scripture. In other words, they believed they were right even though there was debate about their particular conviction.

To say that you believe your convictions are right and biblical simply means that you believe that others who differ are wrong and misguided. It doesn't necessarily mean that you think those people aren't Christian - as long as their is agreement on the fundamental, essential issues of the Gospel. As long as there is agreement on how a person comes to Christ, there is room for conversation on the intricate nuances of what is taking place in conversion (what is God's role? What is man's role? What is the basis of God's predestining? etc) I think Caner is guilty of over-stating point #5.

Initially, it seems to that Caner's point is to call out the kind of person that Al Mohler described during the Pastor's Conference at the SBC convention, as the Calvinist who will "fly across the globe to defend Calvinism but won't cross the street to tell someone about Jesus". If this is Caner's intent, then I applaud him for calling us all to be more passionate about reaching the nations with the Gospel so the end will come (Matt 24:14).

However, in light of Caner's recent comments regarding Calvinism, I'm not sure he is being as gracious as Mohler was. Caner appears to have an agenda and he seems angry. My advice, make a Calvinist friend who loves Jesus and sinners and discover that you have much more in common than you even realize.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Spiderman 3

Spidey is coming in 2007! Check it out.

million dollar Jesus

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. Check out this link and watch this regional story about Million Dollar bill gospel tracts. I'm amazed that Darrel Rundus would play the "We're being persecuted by the government" card so quickly. Does he really think that the Secret Service, who seized the Million Doller Bill gospel tracts, is trying to stop the proliferation of the gospel? Isn't it more likely that these tracts really do violate counterfeiting laws? At what point do the principles of Romans 13:1 come into effect in this situation ("Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.") I don't doubt that there is soon coming a day when the government will begin to persecute the church with zeal, but I believe this will come in the form of censorship and declaring that churches are not allowed to speak against sins such as homosexuality, abortion and the like.

The Secret Service hasn't declared the dissemenation of the Gospel unlawful. They are simply asking that this evangelist make sure that one side of the tracts are black and white and that they are not the same size as US currency. Ah, but I forgot, this is a form of persecution. Right.

Monday, June 26, 2006

to the uttermost

"...He [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25).

Think about it. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost. Some translations render this word "completely". Jesus is able to save completely those who draw near to God through him (by faith - which is quite explicit throughout Hebrews). Jesus is able. He is capable. He is willing to save us completely by faith. No dark recess of our hearts will be left unexposed to the grace of God. All spiritual melanoma will be cut out by the scalpel of God's Word and Spirit by His grace.

What did you think when you woke up and looked in the mirror this morning? Did you see a wretch or a man doing his best to bring something to the table in your hopes for salvtion? Did you stare down a Pharisee? Did you wink at a legalist? Did you brush the hair of one who is pretentious enough to treat the grace of God as a license to sin?

Jesus died to save that wretch and Pharisee. He canceled the written code by which we often live by as legalists. He came to set straight that pretentious rebel. Jesus will save us to the uttermost when we draw near to God.

But he won't stop there. The means of setting us free, completely free from our cycles of sin: our tongues of wrath; our wandering, lustful eyes; our sharp, angry words; our yearning hearts of envy and jealousy for the success of the wicked in this world; our covetous desires; the means of grace is the intercession, the prayers of the Son of God who always lives to intercede for us. He is always before the Father, pleading our case on the merits of His work.

He's there, in the presence of the Father, praying that we won't fall away in persecution (as was the case for some in Hebrews). He's praying that we might find our satisfaction and delight in God who is far above the pleasures of sex and food and futbol and mind-numbing television and beautiful women and money and our feeble reputations. He is praying for His children in temptation, praying that we would not turn a blind eye to the Helper given to us in Christ.

He is able. He will save completely. He is intereding. Always.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Terror, Resolutions and God's Right

None of these subjects are related, so if you've been touched with a bit of ADD, then this post should be right up your alley...

I looked into the face of terror on Thursday. I was watching the US National team's final dismal performance in the World Cup and preparing my daughter's lunch. Emeline is a big fan of blueberries, strawberries and grapes. As I handed her a plate full of grapes I was struck with a sense of dread. I can't explain it. It's the same feeling I had momentarily before watching one of my 14 year-old student's get clothes-lined off of his four-wheeler by a barbed-wire fence several weeks ago. I had this strange feeling that something was about to go terribly wrong. I watched Emeline put a grape into her mouth and stayed there long enough to make sure that she began to chew. She started to chew, so I stepped into the kitchen for a brief moment and then I heard her groan and then begin to gurgle. It was a sickening sound and fear began to rise in the pit of my bowels immediately. She was choking. She was still making some sounds so I knew her airway wasn't completly blocked. I tried to turn her over and do what you are supposed to do to babies if they are choking but she was resisting me (Emily later told me that toddlers get the Heimlech manuever). I turned her back over and she had the most haunting look of distress I have ever seen in the face of another human. I flipped her on her stomach again and forcefully patted her on the back several more times, as her arms flayed in panic. Finally the grape came out and she began to cry. I did too. As I held her she said, "Daddy, I don't want anymore grapes." All I could think about was God's mercy. Suddenly the premature departure of the US World Cup team from the tournament didn't seem so important. I spent a bulk of the day declaring this truth in my heart: "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Psalm 103:8).

What is it about Southern Baptists are our resolutions? It's not that I'm against resolutions, but why don't we resolve, as a convention, to be against or for things that are significant and pertinent to our culture and the plight of sinners? Yes, I'm angered by the resolution by the SBC against alcohol. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not angered because I like to partake alcohol on a regular basis. I do not. I'm angered because this resolution isn't biblical. I know all the arguments and I also know about the evils of the abuse of alcohol. Spare me. I know what Scripture says about the stronger and weaker brother. I know what Scritpure teaches us about Christian liberty. I know that there are well-meaning, godly believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who believe that the consumption of alcohol is a sin in spite of the fact that there is not one shred of biblical evidence to support this claim. My frustration is not with the argument for or against alcohol use or whether or not true believers in the Lord Jesus should or should not abstain. My frustration is that this resolution passed, though not without debate, while another resolution, the one regarding church membership, was tabled, assumingly for political reasons. If you ask me, the casual consumption of alcohol by confessing believers is of less importance than the impact that meaningless membership is having in crippling our churches effectiveness in the culture. How are we, as Southern Baptists, dealing with the reality that thousands of Southern Baptist church members likely have a false assurance of salvation based solely on their church membership and our neglect to disciple and discipline in the way that we are called to by Scripture? The names of thousands of people litter our church rolls who rarely if ever attend the churches where they are members, and we have no strategy or response as a collective body of believers as to how to engage them for the purpose of saving their souls, as such people are living in direct disobedience to an explicit command of Scripture (Heb 10:25), whereas those believers who choose to drink a Guinness on occasion are not in direct violation of a clear command of Scripture. Isn't something wrong here?

Finally, as I read through the book of Isaiah during my morning devotions I'm astounded at how explicit it is that God is right to do whatever pleases him. I am equally amazed at the arrogance of men to question the Creator's privilege to do as He pleases with His creation. As God raises up Assyria as an instrument of jugdment, He does so knowing full well that He will also condemn Assyria for their willing actions of destruction, even though they were also an instrument of God's judgment. The King of Assyria boasts of his conquest of God's people (Isaiah 10:12-14), and in his arrogance God will bring Him low.

"Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood! Therefore the LORD God of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire. The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day. The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the LORD will destory, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few that a child can write them down" (Isaiah 10:15-19).

God has the right, as we learn in Romans 9, to do with His creation as He pleases because what He has created belongs to Him. May we never be guilty of presuming upon God's rights over our lives to act in any way that He pleases. We, like the King of Assyria, are so quick to boast in our accomplishments, our gain, and fail to recognize that all that we have and are is a gift from God.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I've been thinking about God's providence over the past day or so, primarily because of news of sadness. Last week we learned that missionary friends of ours from China are facing what appears to be the inevitable death of their child (Isaac Paul Burgess) due to severe complications. Cathy already lost a child two years ago when my wife and I were pregnant with our first child. I can't imagine the sadness that they feel during these days.

On Monday morning I received an email from our church pianist. It was basically a "good-bye" to those who love her. Lori has been battling cancer for over a year. My grandfather died of cancer. I hate cancer. Later that morning I received news that the young lady (Leah Walls) who designed our church logo and the student ministry logo here at Concord was killed, along with her husband and two children (Miller, 6, and Mallory, 4) in Phoenix, Arizona. A 29 year-old man plowed into the backend of their Mazda SUV at approximately 65 mph while the family was waiting at a traffic light at the end of an exit ramp. How does someone who has over 300 feet of clearance not see a stationary vehicle and red light? He was sober. He just didn't see them. How does this happen? Why does this happen?

I don't have all the answers about why children are born with birth defects, why young women die of cancer, and why a family of four is instantly killed? But I am comforted by God's provision and how he handles even the smallest of details in our tragedy.

A week before Chris, Leah, Miller and Mallory Walls were killed a man from their home church in Alabama entered the pastor's office and donated four cemetery plots to the church. The pastor had no idea what he was going to do with four burial plots. What would you do with them? It seems like the most ridiculous of donations. And yet, here, one week later, the bodies of the Walls' family will be laid to rest in those four burial plots at Chris and Leah Walls home church in south Alabama, the same cemetery where Chris Walls father is buried.

You may be asking, "What comfort is there in that?" It is amazing that God, in His sovereign care, would arrange the burial details of the Walls family. It may seem like a small thing, but it is no small thing when you consider the weight of the grief that this family is enduring during these days. I can't imagine what it would be like to bury one person I loved, much less four at one time. God provided a place of rest for the bodies of these four souls. Chris and Leah were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is likely that Miller and Mallory were too young to even comprehend the Gospel. At the resurrection of the dead this family will be reunited with their bodies, back at the very place where God provided a place for their flesh and bones to lie in state, and they will meet the Son of God Jesus Christ in the air!

For the LORD himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel,
and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive,
who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the LORD of the air, and so we
will always be with the LORD. Therefore, encourage one another with these words (1Thess 4:16-18)

Sometimes the enormous sadness and despair we feel in life blinds us to God's hand at work all around us. Many people would see the donation of four burial plots as a mere coincidence. I choose to see it as evidence of God's care for His children, that even in the overwhelming sorrow of the loss of life, God is at work to point our attention to His goodness, even as we cry out in anguish against our enemy, Death. Thanks be to God for the undeniable reality that Jesus Christ is alive, that He has dealt death a mortal wound, and that one day death shall be no more and those who are His by faith will reign with the Son of God Jesus Christ for all eternity.