An Evangelical Calvinism: Lessons From Iain Murray
An Evangelical Calvinism: Lessons From Iain Murray By Marco Gonzalez
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 â€œwhat else can Reformation Theology offer to the digestion and edification of readers?â€ 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 â€œCalvinismâ€ would dissipate if more authorative and influential preachers and teachers were birthed. The word â€œevangelicalâ€ simply means gospel, Spurgeon use to refer to â€œCalvinismâ€ as a nickname for the gospel. It is only when â€œEvangelicalismâ€ and â€œCalvinismâ€ 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. Murrayâ€™s blend of history/ theological eloquence is sensational. Murray in his book, â€œSpurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching,â€ shows and displays the heart of a true Evangelical Calvinist. This book should be read by every Christian. It is a book concerning Charles Spurgeonâ€™s battle with Hyper-Calvinism in the younger days of his ministry. Murray outlines for us what we can learn from the conflict.
1.â€œThe danger of scriptural truths presented to the Non-Christian in the wrong orderâ€
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 isnâ€™t even the premise of Calvinism. This type of emphasis negates the powerful proclamation Calvinism presents. The premise of Calvinism is â€œsin.â€ 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 â€œwind,â€ symbolic for the Holy Spirit, blows where it does and regenerates as it wills. The doctrine of election is not the â€œmilk of babesâ€ 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 â€œHow do I know that Iâ€™m elect?â€ instead of respoding in faith and repentance. Although our creeds and doctrinal statements reflect Godâ€™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 â€œInstitutes of the Christian Religionâ€ (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:
â€œLet a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance before he attends the University of Election.â€
Back to Murray on Spurgeon:
2.â€œWhen Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic, it becomes more concerned with theory than with the salvation of men and women.â€
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 wasnâ€™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 Calvinismâ€™s purity. I believe we should stand up and proclaim as B. B. Warfield did:
â€œCalvinism 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.â€