My Unedited E-Mail to Dr. Ergun Caner after his Sermon from the Thomas Road Baptist Church Why I am Predestined Not to be a Calvinist
Dear Dr. Caner,
Just recently I heard a sermon that you preached at Thomas Road Baptist Church. I would first of all like to say that I am not a Baptist, I am a Presbyterian, but I have many friends who are Baptists, and many friends who are Calvinistic Baptists. Now, I have not written to try to change your mind about Calvinism. Only God can do that. However, I think that, seeing as how we are both men who value academics highly, I would like to express my concerns for what I believe is an unfair presentation of Calvinism. I think that in light of our status as Christians, this topic needs to be done with sound biblical exegesis, sound logic, and careful examination of the views in question as well as gentleness and respect. I have written to express my concern in these areas.
First of all, can you provide any documentation that would substantiate the claim that a five point Calvinist is a “hyper-Calvinist?” Hyper-Calvinism has a specific meaning historically referring to one who denies that God has ordained the ends as well as the means. What is worse, is I know from your dialogue with James White that he has already corrected you on this. So, I think if you are going to continue to use that word for five point Calvinism, it is only fair to ask you, from scholar to scholar, to substantiate that claim or at very least give a defense as to why you are departing from the normal historic usage of terms.
Second, you really did a lot of begging the question. For instance, you said that you were not a Calvinist or an Arminian, but a Baptist. The problem is that this begs the question as to whether or not these are mutually exclusive categories. This is something merely asserted and not proven by you. The issue of Calvinism is something that has been debated by Baptists from the beginning. This grossly begs the question as not only could people from the history of the Baptist movement be quoted as Calvinists [Spurgeon and Boice to name two big ones], but there are several modern day Baptists that are presidents of seminaries such as Albert Mohler at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and [although he is independent] John MacArthur. The only way out of this dilemma is to say that they are not all really Baptists. However, that is still begging the question as you have to explain then what about them, apart from their belief in Calvinism, makes them non Baptists. If you cannot answer, then you have again begged the question as to whether these are mutually exclusive categories.
In other words, to say that you are not an Arminian or a Calvinist but a Baptist is like me saying that I am not a conservative Christian or a liberal Christian, I am a Presbyterian. Unless, you can show that these are mutually exclusive categories, you have begged the question.
The next example of begging the question is when you are talking about reprobation. You say that the possibility is “a lie from the pit of hell” that there is such a thing as reprobation. Well, all you have done is engage in name calling and begging of the question in the highest degree. What if I turn around and say “the idea of free will is a lie from the pit of hell.” Now we are at a stand off. Dr. Caner, I would say that this is not addressing an issue head on; this is running far from it. You also called Calvinism an infection [without explaining what you meant or arguing for it]. You have not proven anything with these statements. All you have done is begged the question and engaged in name calling.
In your quotation of John Gill, you said that he “redefined” all to mean “all kinds of men.” You said that was a lie. Again, you have given no argumentation whatsoever. I hope to show below that you would not even deal with the fact that if we were to take your meaning of “all men” and apply it across the board, it would make nonsense out of the Bible.
Another fallacy I am concerned about is half truths. For instance, you mentioned a preacher who believes it is a sin to give “invitations.” Why didn’t you mention that within the teaching of the regulative principle of worship, the controversy is over altar calls not inviting people to believe? The issue is whether we should call people forward to “accept Christ” since we do not believe salvation happens in that manner. Yes Calvinism plays an important role in that discussion, but there is also the idea that we are to worship God in the way he commanded us, and since he has not commanded us to do this, it is wrong to do it. So, there are really two other things which need to be said here. First, it is the invitation to come forward and “accept Christ,” within the context of worship is what is disputed and that the dispute also has to do with the regulative principle.
The next set of problems are exegetical in nature. You have stated that we must “dance around” the term “all.” Yet you know as well as I do since I am a Biblical languages major that quoting a passage out of context and just assuming its meaning is just as much dancing around a passage as is misinterpreting it. Why? Because then the true meaning of the text may be hidden away because the verses around it were not quoted nor were they accurately examined in their proper context.
A good example of this is Romans 9. I happen to have detailed information about this passage as I am doing my final paper in New Testament Exegesis on this passage. However, you only quoted the following part of the passage:
Romans 9:13-14 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
However, you did not even quote the verses before it:
Romans 9:11-13 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." 13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED."
Notice that Paul says two things of significance here. That this idea of Jacob being loved and Esau being hated was before they were born or had done anything good or evil and it was not because of works. Therefore, it could have had nothing to do with “Esau did.” Not only that, but you also forgot to quote the next verse:
Romans 9:14-16 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Now, here is the big question. If you are right and the hatred of Esau is because of what Esau did, Paul has a ready made answer for his explanation. He can just say there is no injustice with God because God was merely reacting to what Esau did. However, he doesn’t say that. He said that it is his nature as God to have mercy on whomever he desires, and in verse 18 he adds that he also has the ability to harden whomever he desires. Notice how radically different Paul’s conclusion is from your conclusion. In verse 16 he says it does not depend upon human willing or effort but upon God who has mercy. Yet, in what you presented, it would be dependent upon what Esau did.
With regards to 2 Peter 3:9, you even misquoted the passage. Here is how you quoted it:
He is willing that no one should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Now, here is what the text actually says. The objection completely disappears when it is quoted accurately:
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
What a difference context makes. Now the “any” of which he does not want anyone to perish and the “all” of which he wants to come to repentance is the people to whom he was writing, that is, the “you.” One needs only to turn to 1 Peter 1:1 to find out who that is:
1 Peter 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
In 1 Timothy 2:4 you just simply assumed that the phrase “all men” means all humanity without even giving any commentary. You even said John Gill was lying when he did not do that. I want to first of all point out that you turn the Bible into absolute chaos if you would apply this assumption across the board:
Acts 22:15 'For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.
Did Paul encounter every single man woman and child on the face of the planet, even the ones who lived before he was born?
2 Corinthians 3:2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
So, did all of the people in the kingdoms of Africa and the people who lived long before Paul was born also know of the Church at Corinth?
Philippians 4:5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
Does that mean that we have to go to every man woman and child on the planet, take a time machine and go to every individual in the past, and future, and show them our gentle spirit? If that is the case, you had best get started. Here the text clearly refers to all kinds and classes of men. This is going to become an important definition as many of the cases you allege in the texts you post support universal redemption by this phrase can actually be contextually demonstrated to have the meaning "all classes of men."
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
So is Paul saying that he is going to present every man complete in Christ? Isn't that universalism?
1 Thessalonians 2:15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men
So, is Paul really saying that they are hostile to people who they have never met, hostile to people who lived before them and who will be born after they die?
Now to the text at hand. First of all, you mentioned that “all men” is used back in 1 Timothy 2:1. Let us see if your definition fits there:
1 Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,
Now, let me ask you, does that mean you are to pray for Clyde who lived in the twelfth century? Does that mean you are to pray for people whom you will never know because they will live after you? Does this mean that you have to find a list for every person in the world and be offering prayers for every single person on the planet? Obviously such is ridiculous. In fact, there is strong parallelism here between verses one and two in the Greek as both the phrase “on behalf of” in verse 1 and “for” in verse 2 both use huper. Hence, there is some parallelism going on here. Hence, he is talking about a meaning similar to the meaning in Philippians 4:5. What is worse is that you quote the following passage as confirmation of your position, but it actually supports Gill’s position:
1 Timothy 2:7-8 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8 Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
Notice that Paul here mentions another class of men, namely, the gentiles. Notice that he also says that this refers to men in every place. This is further confirmation that we are talking about all kinds of men as in Philippians 4:5.
So, I have to ask, why is it that your view assumes a certain meaning of “all men,” makes nonsense out of verse 1, misses the fact that all men has more than one meaning in the NT and ignores the rest of the text which clearly gives away what he is talking about by the phrase.
Also, you mentioned Romans 2:15 as establishing an age of accountability. Actually, the context is saying nothing of the sort. Notice the entirety of the context:
Romans 2:14-18 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. 17 But if you bear the name "Jew " and rely upon the Law and boast in God, 18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law,
Paul is here proving that Jew and gentile are alike under sin [3:9]. What he is saying is that the gentile who does not have the law is condemned by his continence, and the Jew who does have the law is condemned because he knows the ordinances and still does not follow them. However, this says nothing about whether infants are still under condemnation for original sin. In fact, note what Paul says just a few verses later:
Romans 3:12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one."
Hence, I would say that even infants are included in this.
Along these same lines you also said, “God does not judge based on original sin. Original sin tells us our direction, but God will judge based on consciousness.” I really find it odd that you say you are not an Arminian, and yet you are rehashing the arguments of the Semi-Pelagians and the Arminians that say that original sin does not make a person guilty before God, that only ones “consciousness” does. But I suppose there is no incoherence with you rehashing those arguments. Anyway one wonders how one would get around the idea that original sin causes death:
Romans 5:16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.
This text says that the judgment for Adam’s sin was condemnation. It says nothing about consciousness.
1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
Notice, the text says that all in Adam die, not, all those in consciousness die.
Ephesians 2:3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
How can the rest be children of wrath if some are infants and do not have continence?
Also, to say that original sin has nothing to do with God’s judgment means that it also has no function in theology. Within systematic theology our standing before God therefore has nothing to do with the fall. You see, once original sin’s severity is lowered to the level of a pointer it looses its entire function. That is why I, and even a Lutheran who heard your sermon said, this view functions the same way as a system that denies original sin.
I was also quite disturbed with the misrepresentations of Calvinism you present. Again, I have to wonder if you have read Hodge, Berkhoff, Reymond, or any Reformed Baptist systematic theologies such as Wayne Grudem. For instance, you said that since we say that everything is predestines, we have no problems saying God is the author of sin. However, the Westminster confession of faith says just the opposite:
WCF 3:1 God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:(1) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,(2) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.(3)
There is a distinction in Reformed theology between first and second causes. God decrees whatever comes to pass, and it is actualized in the author of sin which is second causal in nature. Whether you agree or disagree with that, why say that we believe something when Westminster contradicts it flat out?
Second, you also assumed we can know who the elect are. No Calvinist would every say we could know whether or not the person written in these people’s Bibles was reprobate or not. This is also why we can pray for people because God has ordained the ends [human salvation] as well as the means [our prayers]. God accomplishes his sovereign will through the means of his followers and the work he has created them unto [Ephesians 2:10].
The next misrepresentation is that you say that a Calvinist does not believe God is all loving if he reprobates people. This is simply a rehashing of the problem of evil. Your argument seems to go like this.
1. God is all loving.
2. God is sovereign over everything.
3. People will go to hell.
The problem is that this is only part of the truth. We need to only add one premise and the problem is gone:
4. God has a morally sufficient reason for the condemnation of the wicked in hell.
Now, there is no paradox at all. This completely escapes the problem altogether. Even an atheist philosopher such as Michael Martin recognizes that at this point the problem of evil is solved.
However, I don’t know if you have realized that the problem can be turned back on you:
1. God has exhaustive knowledge of future events.
2. Therefore, God knows what each man will do.
3. God is not obligated to create any human.
4. God is all loving.
5. There are people that are going to be in hell.
The problem is that now the incoherence comes in the question “If God knows when he creates person x that person x will reject him and end up in hell, then why does he then create person x?”
It is also a misrepresentation of Calvinism to say that we cannot evangelize. We can evangelize because of two things: Our human ignorance of who the elect are and the fact that God has both ordained the salvation of people and the means for their salvation. Consider a thunderstorm. We all believe that God is in control of nature. However, God uses the means of updrafts, warm fronts, cold fronts, evaporation, and condensation in order to cause a thunderstorm. In the same way, God has ordained that one of his means of bringing his yet unsaved elect people to salvation is through the proclamation of the word. The exciting thing about evangelism is that you never know if God may use what you say to regenerate one of his people. Since I do not know if the person I am witnessing to is one of God’s elect, I can preach the gospel with the exciting possibility that God will use my preaching to convert that person to Christ. You did not address this and instead decided to beat down a straw man.
I also wonder if you have considered the implications that a universal atonement would have on evangelism. In fact, most Calvinists I am aware of argue that I denial of particular atonement shatters evangelism. That is that particular redemption is the precondition for evangelism. Is not evangelism proclaiming the good news from God about personal salvation? Here is how Dr. Greg Bahnsen argued this very point:
First, it is the prerequisite for the proclaiming of the gospel. Notice the effect of the atonement:
Luke 19:10 "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Unless you would try to argue that Christ did not accomplish this mission, I think it would be fair to say that salvation was accomplished at the cross.
1 Timothy 1:15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
Again, Christ saved when he came into the world.
Hebrews 10:10-14 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
Notice, again, that the cross of Christ actually perfects those for whom it is made.
What does all of this mean? Well, it means that, since these verses say Christ actually saved those for whom he died, there would be no reason to proclaim the gospel, because even an unbeliever will be saved. If it is not necessary for people to become believers to be saved, then we can just forget about evangelism. However, the Bible teaches that only believers will be saved, and hence, particular redemption is the only thing that can make sense out of evangelism at this point.
Also, it is the prerequisite for proclaiming good news. Most Calvinists would maintain that universal atonement is bad news. This is because universal atonement states that Christ died for all men, but not all men will be saved. In other words, you do not bring a saving atonement. Faith then must become a basis for salvation rather than an instrument of salvation. The problem is that the Bible says man cannot do anything to believe. Notice what it says:
Genesis 8:21 And the LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.
Jeremiah 13:23 "Can the Ethiopian change his skin Or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good Who are accustomed to doing evil.
John 6:44 "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
Romans 8:7-8 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
1 Corinthians 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
So, if man’s soul is evil from its youth, unable to change, not able to come to God, unable to submit to God, unable to please him, and cannot accept and understand the things of God, then you can there have to be some action on their part for them to be saved? According to these verses it is impossible for anyone to do it. Hence, when you say that there will be people in heaven from every tribe tongue people and nation, I just simply reply that this is impossible since on your view man must add some “free will” action. These texts say he cannot do it. Therefore, no one will be saved. That is really bad news.
Second if this is the case then you cannot bring news of salvation at all. The best you can bring is a hope or moral advice. If Christ will ultimately not accomplish his work of salvation when he said he came to seek and to save what his lost, then it might also be possible that he will not save believers either.
Also, it is the prerequisite for proclaiming personal salvation. You see, universal atonement depersonalizes salvation. If Christ went to the cross for everyone in general, then he went there for no one imparticular. This kind of an atonement would be no more personal then the giveaway coupons at the grocery store. It is not a gift that is marked for me, but for just anyone who decides to pick it up. How does this fit with a shepherd who calls his sheep by name?
How then can a person who believes Christ died for everyone proclaim the good news from God about personal salvation? I would like to submit that he cannot. However, what if I now went and said what you said:
So if you don’t want to preach and teach and reach, then you got a choice: take your little doctrine of universal atonement and find you a tree, and reach others who believe in universal atonement for your little doctrine. But if you ain’t willing to preach and teach and reach, I’m gonna tell you right now don’t come to any reformed church, because we will infect you with a gospel fervor, and a heart and a desire to see souls saved, so that the day we come around that throne you are gonna look around and see every color, every stripe, every tongue, every nation, every people, and I’m gonna be the one standin on top of my hands, standin on top of my feet, standing on a stump, and crying out, “He accomplished his work, and did not fail so as to leave it up to man. God elected us, and called us by name, and did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Do you honestly think that even in that instance that kind of language is necessary? I mean, Greg Bahnsen actually made a case for the fact that a consistent belief in universal atonement makes evangelism impossible, and I still think those statements are inappropriate. It is nothing but unfair rhetoric without substance. I hope in the future you will use much more Christlike ways to deal with an issue. Remember what Paul said to Timothy:
2 Timothy 2:24 -25 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Do your words and the way you said them sound gentle and patient? By any meaningful definition of the words I would say no. Yes, this is a hot button issue. However, we are called as Christians keep our gentleness and patience even on these issues. In fact, people in my own church such as J.Gresham Machen, Dr. Cornelius Van Til, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Michael Butler, John Frame all came or come from my denomination and are notorious for there proclamation of the gospel as these men have even done it in debates with people like Gordon Stein, Michael Martin, Dan Barker, Edward Tabash and George Smith. You have to have a whole lot more than a gospel fervor and a desire to see hearts saved to challenge the folks on that list. You have to have a belief that God can save anyone he wants to, even the most hard hearted atheist. It is therefore really odd for someone to challenge people on that list when they do not have a gospel fervor.
Let me put what I have said altogether. In one thirty minute sermon you have engaged in linguistic revisionism, begged the question, engaged in name calling, engaged in half truths, and did not consider any contextual matters nor any Calvinist responses to the texts you brought up. That is what I am concerned about. I think it is great that you want to have discussions about this issue, but I pray that you will please not engage in these things using these methods. I do pray that one day you will embrace the doctrines of grace. I just hope that you will dialogue with your Calvinistic Baptist brethren in a way which glorifies Christ by using sound exegesis, crystal clear logic, careful examination of the views in question, gentleness, and respect.