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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Sovereignty, Responsibility, Moral Inability: Problem Solved by John Hendryx | Main | Paul’s Definition of a Christian »

    An Evangelical Calvinism: Lessons From Iain Murray

    An Evangelical Calvinism: Lessons From Iain Murray By Marco Gonzalez

    Murray.bmp

    What is an Evangelical Calvinism? What does it look like? What does it represent? When this blog was in the fore works of being created a decision had to be made. The mission and goal of the blog had to be determined. There are tons of God-honoring biblically-saturated blogs, so we had to ask ourselves “what else can Reformation Theology offer to the digestion and edification of readers?” Eric Costa, John Hendryx, John Samson and myself all have the same underlining conviction: promoting an Evangelical Calvinism. These brothers and myself have a deeply embedded desire within in our souls to raise up bold teachers and preachers who believe Calvinism is harmonious with evangelical preaching.

    In addition to raising up believers with a strong conviction for the melodious harmony of Calvinism and the gospel, what we need more then ever is powerful preachers and teachers. Many of the negative thoughts surrounding the word “Calvinism” would dissipate if more authorative and influential preachers and teachers were birthed. The word “evangelical” simply means gospel, Spurgeon use to refer to “Calvinism” as a nickname for the gospel. It is only when “Evangelicalism” and “Calvinism” are in agreement that we realize both have the same goal. The greatest revelation ever given in scripture is the truth that through the gospel we may inherit reconciliation with God.

    Iain Murray has been influential in helping me to create an understanding of Evangelical Calvinism. If you have never read Murray, I highly recommend you get your hands on everything he has written. Iain Murray is by far the greatest Christian historian of our time. Murray’s blend of history/ theological eloquence is sensational. Murray in his book, “Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching,” shows and displays the heart of a true Evangelical Calvinist. This book should be read by every Christian. It is a book concerning Charles Spurgeon’s battle with Hyper-Calvinism in the younger days of his ministry. Murray outlines for us what we can learn from the conflict.

    1.“The danger of scriptural truths presented to the Non-Christian in the wrong order”

    Spurgeon believed wholeheartedly in the doctrines of grace. However, Spurgeon did not believe that those truths needed to be presented in order for non-Christian conversion. A fatal error for many of our Calvinistic brethren is exactly this same error Spurgeon fought against. Time and time again I have heard Calvinistic brethren express the importance of Divine Election. I believe in divine election and affirm it strongly, but divine election is not the entirety of Calvinism. In fact, it isn’t even the premise of Calvinism. This type of emphasis negates the powerful proclamation Calvinism presents. The premise of Calvinism is “sin.” It is a high view of sin and a correct understanding of human depravity. Divine election is a secondary point. It is because of human disobedience and spiritual anarchy that God graciously elects. The understanding that divine election is the central point of Calvinism undermines human reasonability to respond to the gospel call. This understanding also deflects from Christ as the centerpiece of the gospel. Therefore, my recommendation is to let people believe in Christ before we try to convince them of our theology. The main point of the gospel is faith and repentance. Even scripture affirms:

    The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. John 3:8

    This scripture is a clear indication that not all individuals are systematically saved through the order of each point of Calvinism. The “wind,” symbolic for the Holy Spirit, blows where it does and regenerates as it wills. The doctrine of election is not the “milk of babes” Paul refers to. If divine election becomes the central point of the gospel then inevitably we will end up with a bunch of non-believers asking questions such as “How do I know that I’m elect?” instead of respoding in faith and repentance. Although our creeds and doctrinal statements reflect God’s decree and providence, this should not be the starting place for preachers of the gospel. It is an unknown to fact to many that John Calvin in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” (in later editions) placed the doctrine of election following after Justification. When election is seen as the forefront, it obscures and deteriorates the gospel to non-believers. There is a quote by John Bradford that sums up all that I have said:

    “Let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance before he attends the University of Election.”

    Back to Murray on Spurgeon:

    2.“When Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic, it becomes more concerned with theory than with the salvation of men and women.”

    It is a dangerous thing when Calvinism becomes intellectual and not practically applied. This is exactly the prejudice held by most Christians concerning Calvinism. A Calvinism that is not gospel-driven can only produce this type of mentality. I have had fellowship with many believers who felt the preacher wasn’t Calvinistic enough. If we are to be Calvinists then we must become evangelists. If our fellow brethren are ever going to come to an understanding of true Evangelical Calvinism then we must take these steps forward. There are many movements in Calvinists circles that should concern us regarding Calvinism’s purity. I believe we should stand up and proclaim as B. B. Warfield did:

    “Calvinism is evangelism in its pure and only stable expression, and when we say evangelism we say sin and salvation. It means utter dependence on God for salvation. It implies therefore, need of salvation and a profound sense of this need, along with an equally profound sense of helplessness in the presence of this need, and utter dependence on God for its satisfaction. Its type is found in the publican who smote his breast and cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" No question there of saving himself, or helping God to save him, or of opening the way to God to save him. No question of anything but "I am a sinner, and all my hope is in God, my Saviour!" This is Calvinism, not just something like Calvinism, or an approach to Calvinism, but Calvinism in its vital manifestation. Wherever this attitude of heart is found and is given expression in direct and unambiguous terms, there is Calvinism. Where this attitude of mind and heart is fallen away from it however small a measure, there Calvinism has become impossible.

    The Calvinist, in a word, is the man who sees God. He has caught sight of the ineffable Vision, and he will not let it fade for a moment from his eyes--God in nature, God in history, God in grace. Everywhere he sees God in His mighty stepping, everywhere he feels the working of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart...Calvinism is just Christianity. The super-naturalism for which Calvinism stands is the very breath of the nostrils of Christianity; without it Christianity cannot exist...Calvinism thus emerges to our sight as nothing more or less than the hope of the world.”

    Posted by on October 19, 2005 11:37 PM

    Comments

    If non-believers are asking questions such as “How do I know that I’m elect?” perhaps a good answer is as follows: Do you believe promises in the gospel? Do you have no hope but in Christ alone?. Do you justly deserve the wrath of God save his mercy in Christ?. If "yes" then the Spirit is doing a work of grace in you. If you are putting your faith in Christ, His finished work and believe that God raised from the dead, repenting of trusting in all your good works, then we can assure them that their sins are forgiven.

    This is because an unregenerate man simply has no affection for Christ or the gospel. It is the most pride humbling news in the world that you are spiritually bankrupt and must wholly rely on Jesus Christ. The act of belief is the contrary to human nature and thus is the best evidence of the Spirit turning our heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Check out the following text:

    "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." 1 Thess 1: 4, 5

    "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."
    1 Thess 5:23, 24

    - I may need to clarify a bit.

    The doctrine of election should not be placed on the forefront of gospel calls. When the doctrine is placed above faith and repentence it restricts individuals from the gospel call. A true Evangelical Calvinist knows that no one man can be of the elect if the appointed means of salavation are negelected. Faith and repentence are the means of salvation. Making election the primary goal of the gospel delludes what the gospel is. Therefore, leaving people to ask "Am I elect" instead of responding to the gospel in faith and repentence. This wasnt really an issue of assurance of salvation. But hyper-calvinism tendencies.
    Thx for the added addtions thought. Very hepful to what I didnt cover.

    I had the pleasure of meeting, and talking in some detail, with Iain Murray during a conference this year.

    We discussed this very subject; I really was able to learn a lot just in the brief moments we spoke.

    He is a kind and patient man, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him.

    BTW, I have several of Iain Murray's books including Spurgeon and the Hyper-Calvinists. Wonderful writing!

    I tend to agree with you that we preach the Gospel to the unsaved, not Divine election, and I am sure this is a good principle. However,I am not sure we can make this a hard and fast rule. If we look at Jesus' ministry in John 6:36-45, John 8:44-47; John 10:24-31, we see Jesus standing before unsaved people and articulating the doctrine of election.


    I dont believe it to be an obsolute rule either. However, many who fail to understand calvinism incorrectly come to the conclusion that election is the supreme manifestation of the gospel.

    Marco:

    You said some may >>> "come to the conclusion that election is the supreme manifestation of the gospel."

    Indeed, I agree with you. Election does not actually save anyone. It is God's eternal blueprint of what He intends to accomplish redemptively in Christ. Jesus Christ is the one in whom we are elect(Eph 1) and thus it is accomplished historically and applied by the Holy Spirit (during the life of who he has set his affection on) by uniting us to Christ. A full-orbed Trinitarian salvation.

    Ok, all is fine and good. But for anyone to think they understand the mind of God is lunacy. Calvinism and election implies that our God has respect of persons and favors one person over another. This is sheer lunacy.

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