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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Calvinist, Interrupted: The Debate That Never Was (A Deconstruction of Ergun Caner's Theology)

"A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's Truth was attacked and yet would remain silent." -- John Calvin

My original plans for blogging this month have been altered, due to the recently cancelled and much anticipated debate on Baptists and Calvinism to be held at Liberty University on October 16, as well as the outlandish comments made by one of the would-be participants on the Anti-Calvinist side of the argument, Ergun Caner. To be sure, I was definitely disappointed to hear that the debate had been called off. I’m aware of the fact that there has been a resurgence of interest in Calvinism within the Baptist community as of late, and being originally from a Southern Baptist background (now Presbyterian), I was encouraged to hear that this would be the topic of discussion.

All was at peace in my world. Though a little disappointed, I would live. No biggie; we live to debate another day. I wasn’t upset or anything. Then Caner made this statement in an online interview:


A: Yes, absolutely. For a small portion of these people, just daring to question the Bezian movement is heresy. They will blog and e-mail incessantly. I call it a “Calvinist Jihad,” because just like Muslims, they believe they are defending the honor of their view. They can discuss nothing else. I have even had a few call for my head! Dr. Falwell and I have laughed about it, because they are so insistent, and they miss the point completely. There are plenty of schools to which the neo-Calvinists can go, but Liberty will be a lighthouse for missions and evangelism to the “whosoever wills.” Period. The difference is, Muslims know when to quit - for these guys, it is the only topic about which they can talk.

Oh no…Tell me he didn’t just say that. But, he did. I’ve come to find out that Ergun says a lot of things.

Since I am what you would call a “Calvinist”, I will be the first one to tell you in a very plain manner that Dr. Caner has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. His rhetoric and speak is what can easily be defined as ignorance on fire. Lesson 1: Never get your Calvinism from a non-Calvinist (more on that later). He shouts, he screams, he talks in circles; Caner never makes a rational point—he only draws attention to himself and stirs up the emotions. But we all know that emotional responses to things can be very misleading. I want to make it clear from the start; I have no problems with people who do not subscribe to the Calvinistic (Reformed) school of thought on the issues of predestination (election and reprobation). I have friends and family who themselves do not. However, I do encourage those that do not to search the Scriptures to find out whether or not these things are so. This brings to my major point of contention with Caner—not once have I seen him responsibly handle Scripture or draw from the texts of the Sacred Word to make his case. For that matter, he can’t even properly handle texts outside of scripture! He makes an attempt to use a quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Romans 9 as a proof text for his stance against the idea that God elects some and reprobates others:

Just some food for thought, from the 1859 sermon by Charles Spurgeon entitled JACOB AND ESAU.

“Why does God hate any man? I defy anyone to give any answer but this, because that man deserves it; no reply but that can ever be true. There are some who answer, divine sovereignty; but I challenge them to look that doctrine in the face. Do you believe that God created man and arbitrarily, sovereignly — it is the same thing — created that man, with no other intention, than that of damning him? Made him, and yet, for no other reason than that of destroying him for ever? Well, if you can believe it, I pity you, that is all I can say: you deserve pity, that you should think so meanly of God, whose mercy endureth for ever.”
CITATION: Charles Spurgeon, Sermon: JACOB AND ESAU (January 16, 1859)

I read recently that I “turned Romans 9 upside down.” Well, then I stand in good company … with Spurgeon … against those who embrace reprobation.

He may indeed stand in good company, but he doesn’t rightly belong there. Caner is obviously confused. Here’s the rest of what Spurgeon said in that sermon—in its proper context:

Right before this passage, Spurgeon says,

"Now, I say if the character of Jacob, be as I have described it, and I am sure it is—we have got it in God's word—there was, there could have been nothing in Jacob, that made God love him; and the only reason why God loved him, must have been because of his own grace, because "he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy." And rest assured, the only reason why any of us can hope to be saved is this, the sovereign grace of God. There is no reason why I should be saved, or why you should be saved, but God's own merciful heart, and God's own omnipotent will. Now that is the doctrine; it is taught not only in this passage, but in multitudes of other passages of God's Word. Dear friends, receive it, hold fast by it, and never let it go."

And right after he states,

"You are quite right when you say the reason why God loves a man, is because God does do so; there is no reason in the man. But do not give the same answer as to why God hates a man. If God deals with any man severely, it is because that man deserves all he gets. In hell there will not be a solitary soul that will say to God, O Lord, thou hast treated me worse than I deserve! But every lost spirit will be made to feel that he has got his deserts, that his destruction lies at his own door and not at the door of God; that God had nothing to do with his condemnation, except as the Judge condemns the criminal, but that he himself brought damnation upon his own head, as the result of his own evil works. Justice is that which damns a man; it is mercy, it is free grace, that saves; sovereignty holds the scale of love; it is justice holds the other scale. Who can put that into the hand of sovereignty? That were to libel God and to dishonour him;"

As we can see, Caner conveniently forgot to complete the thought. He does indeed turn Romans 9 upside down, as it has been so aptly stated. The text could not be any more direct; even including Paul’s answer to the expected objection by those who may reject the idea of God’s sovereign choice in the salvation of souls:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son." And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call-- she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory--even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? –Romans 9:6-24 ESV

As can be clearly seen, when held up to the light of Scripture, the mantra of “those who elected were selected” is crushed under the weight of the passage. The appeals to the “whosoever will” statements and an isolated exegesis of John 3:16 don’t help to make the case either. In the beginning of the Gospel of John, we find:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. –John 1:12-13 ESV

In using scripture as its own interpreter, let us see the consistency in statements made by Christ himself:

Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 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 3:3-8 ESV

There you have it; so much for our decision in the salvation process. Now here is Caner’s key “whosoever” text—in context:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God." –John 3:16-21 ESV

In other words, reprobation and condemnation is the default state of man as a result of his inherent sinful nature, unless he is granted the grace of regeneration and faith by the Holy Spirit. As John the Baptist testifies a few verses later,

“A person cannot receive one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” –John 3:27 ESV

So from all that we have seen in Scripture, the “whosoever” that Caner wants to appeal to are only those whom have been given the gift of the divine and supernatural light to see the truth. As Jesus affirms:

"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil." He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him. –John 6:63-71 ESV

And again:

Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." –John 8:42-47 ESV

And just in case you are still not sure:

But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. –John 10:2-5; 14-15 ESV

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. –John 15:16 ESV

Caner and others like him, who hold to their staunch anti-Calvinistic/anti-Reformation viewpoints need to take serious heed to the passages presented here. While their intent may be to attack John Calvin and the men who followed, it actually turns out to be a very vicious attack on the Word of God itself. I am astonished by men like Ergun Caner, who hold powerful positions as teachers and educators of the gospel, yet the lack of (or disregard for) knowledge for the sake of making a name for themselves by way of personal attacks and inflammatory statements is ridiculous. I don’t know about his claims of people “calling for his head”, but I’m definitely all for someone calling for his job. Teachers should be held to a higher standard due to their influence over impressionable minds and he has been extremely negligent in his duties of imparting the truth of the Word to his students at Liberty Theological Seminary. Not once has he offered a solid biblical defense for his position on this issue. My guess, is because there isn’t one.

Another of his outrageous claims is that the view of salvation held by the Calvinist camp causes them to be impotent in terms of evangelism. Once again, his lack of knowledge of Church History rears its ugly head. Many of the greatest evangelistic/missionary campaigns throughout history have in fact come out of the Reformed and Calvinistic tradition. There’s one he should be familiar with; I believe William Carey was a Baptist and a Calvinist—that’s just one example. If anything, the doctrine of election shows us how amazing grace really is, for it shows that we bring nothing to the table when it comes to our salvation. It is all God through Christ from start to finish. It serves to humble us and drive us to make it know that we love Christ only because he loved us first. The Great Commission to preach the gospel to all men is not hampered by such belief; it is ignited.

The bottom line is this—election and reprobation are clearly taught in the Bible. But as a doctrine, its bearing on Christian behavior is indirect. God’s decree of election is secret; which persons are elect and reprobate will not be revealed before judgment. Until that time, God’s command is that the call to repent and believe be preached to everyone.

At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." –Matthew 11:25-30 ESV

For many are called, but few are chosen. –Matthew 22:14 ESV

“It is no novelty that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, that are by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth as it is in Christ Jesus.” –Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Soli Deo Gloria,


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