“Pastor J.D., Are You A Calvinist?”

I get this question about once a week. To be honest, I’m actually grateful that I get it, because I hope I preach in such a way that makes people ask. That is, I wrestle with the glory of God and the awesomeness of the Gospel to such an extent that would imply to some that I’m a Calvinist, and then that I plead for people to come to Jesus in a way that makes people think I think it’s all up to me, which would imply that I am not.

I am not going to answer that question fully in this blog. I did preach a message (here) where I explain my position and my hesitations with both sides of the question more fully if you’d like some food for thought, or just something to put you to sleep at night.

Often Calvinists will say that Calvinism is the essence of the Gospel (see Piper, Sproul, Spurgeon, etc). Unfortunately, that statement often gets translated to mean that the particulars of the “5 points” are the essence of the Gospel, which they clearly are not. But I don’t think that’s what those guys mean.

There are 4 things Calvinists often teach, however, which really do get to the heart of a Biblical theology. Regardless of where you come down on the “5 points,” these are things I think Gospel-centered Christians should agree on.

The “priority” of God’s work in salvation: The Bible teaches that no person can come to God unless Jesus first works in Him. Our own hearts, naturally, are so dark and hard, that they hate God rather than love Him. It takes a work of God’s grace in us before we will desire to know God. How that happens, what role our cooperation plays in that… those things we might disagree on. But we must agree that God’s work must come before we can choose Him (John 1:13; Philippians 2:13; John 6:44).

The preeminence of God’s glory in salvation: Calvinists often emphasize, correctly, that the biggest reality in the universe, and the priority among God’s purposes on earth, is His own glory. Thankfully, God’s glory is most shown in our salvation, but God’s glorification takes priority over our salvation, because God takes priority over us. This is made very clear, for instance, in Ezekiel 36:22-23 and Romans 3:24-25. God is so incredible that He glorified Himself by emptying Himself, being trampled on and crucified for us (Philippians 2:5-11). This is important, because if the fact that God’s glory is ultimate in the universe were not true, then a lot of things in the Bible won’t make sense to us (Why is there an eternal hell? Why isn’t everyone saved?).

The sovereignty of God in the spread of the Gospel: Even if you don’t believe that God determines, individually, who will be saved and who will not, we have to recognize that God has maintained control of when and how the Gospel has been preached. It was Jesus who chose to choose 12 (He could have chosen more than 12, or even an army of angels to do it). It is He who chose where to send them. He told Paul to go certain places and steered Him away from others. He transported Philip into the desert. He chose to let me be born to Christian parents. God has an agenda He is pursuing and is, ultimately, in charge of. That is a promise to me that even the hardest, most closed Muslim places will one day experience the Gospel.

That God owes no man salvation: We all deserve hell, no exceptions. The fact that God saves any of us is an act of lavish grace. God does not award salvation, or even the chance to be saved, because of any good He sees in us. He didn’t choose me because He saw I’d believe. From start to finish, His work in those He saves is ALL grace.

Anyway, that’s my .02. I try to pray like it’s all up to God, and then preach Christ like it’s all up to me. The strange thing is, the more people I share Christ with, the more people seem to keep getting elected.

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  1. David (NAS) Rogers   •  

    “He didn’t choose me because He saw I’d believe. From start to finish, His work in those He saves is ALL grace.”

    I’m not sure how the second sentence is a clarification of the negation made in the first sentence. If someone were to say “God chose on the basis of a non-determining foreknowledge of belief”, I don’t see how salvation being ALL grace is contradictory to that. Paul clearly shows that faith is not “works”. Salvation is by grace through faith and not works. Faith is not “works”. A foreknowledge of faith does not introduce any non-grace concept into salvation.

    Also, “the strange thing is, the more people I share Christ with, the more people seem to keep getting elected” seems to be a rather loose way of explaining election from a Calvinist standpoint since Calvinism would seem to place election before the foundation of the world. A more concise Calvinist perspective would not define it from the human point of view of “seem” but from the doctrinal declaration.

    If that last sentence is your concise clarification then any Calvinism you may hold seems a little loose, and thus, the label of Calvinism may not be appropriate for you.

  2. Art Dunham   •  

    Well said, Brother!

  3. Joe Dupree   •  

    Pastor J.D.,

    I couldn’t agree more with your points. I think you said what a lot of us (Calvinists or those with such-like views) have been trying to say for a while.

  4. Steve Martin   •  


    He elects in His Word (the gospel)…Romans 1:16

  5. David (NAS) Rogers   •  

    Also the phrase “it’s all up to me” is a rather crude contrast to Calvinism and does not really represent any non-Calvinist evangelical perspective that I am aware of.

    Here’s my modified question to you: Would your doctrinal soteriology motivate a five-point Calvinists to offer correction on any matters? a four-point? a three-point?

  6. Andrew   •  

    The link to your sermon is broken. Is the one we’re supposed to get “The Assurance of Salvation – John 5:10-13” on 10/2/2011? Would love to hear your thoughts more deeply expounded.

  7. dr. james willingham   •  

    Everyone seems afraid of the Sovereign Grace interpretations and applications. Please remember that such theology, call it Calvinism or what you will, is the theology of the First and Second Great Awakenings and of the launching of the Great Century of Missions. If we are to have another awakening, the Third Great Awakening, then we must have the theology that produces, namely, Sovereign Grace or Calvinism (though I do not care to call a biblical theology by a human name as my many years of researches in church history revealed people dying for belief in predestination, election, etc. Molinism and Amyraldism are apparently Romish attempts to water down the gospel. The answer, of course, if that all five points of TULIP and Predestination and Reprobation are invitations of the most pressing nature, winsome, compelling, persuasive in the best sense of the term. Apparently no one has heard or knows anything of therapeutic paradoxes. So they can’t preach these truths which produce humility and awakenings, and our churches feel the effect of it in pride and no visitations of God. Concern was apparently shown for a fellow who thought SEBTS was a calvinistic school and an effort is being made for him to see that it is not. Can the same be said for one who wants to know that the fellows of the Abstract of Principles do have total depravity, unconditional election, and efficacious grace are being taught by some faculty members and that the current practice of allowing for differences is decidedly traceable to the five point calvinists of the Separate and Regular Baptists in their union of 1787 which allowed for a few folks that believed Christ tasted death for every man to be a part of the calvinistic fellowship of both Separates and Regulars in the new United Baptist union? Well?

  8. Scott H   •  

    Third Great Awakening in the future? There was a great revival in the late 1850’s often called the Prayer Revival or the Layman’s Revival and another great revival in Wales in 1904 that eventually went around the world. I think it would be more properly stated that Great Awakening 5 is what we are waiting. And I don’t believe those first two awakenings happened because everyone got their Calvinist theology “right”. Wesley and Asbury certainly didn’t. No, God often moves in Calvinist, Arminian, and In-Between camps to the befuddlement of many going “how can that be?”.

  9. dr. james willingham   •  

    If you wish, but I look on the first and second Great Awakenings as two of the greatest events in world history, indeed, as the climax of the Reformation. They made effected a tremendous change in Protestantism, society and culture at least in the United States, producing a government with freedoms and launching the Great Century of Missions, an attempt to win the world with persuasion. These two awakenings were underwritten with a theology more than equal to the task, whereas the prayer meetings of the late 1850s and the revival produced thereby was not as influential. The Welsh Revival of 1904 promised to be such, but Evan Roberts pulled the plug on it after the Azusa Street people tried to link the two or so it seems from some info. I have seen on the internet. Thus, I regard what is coming as the Third Great Awakening and see the possibility in the neviving of Sovereign Grace Theology. However, most of the leaders today have yet to realize just how intensely evangelistic and irresistibly winsome the doctrines of grace are. One thing is sure: Such theology has regard essentially and primarily to the glory of God, and, if the world is to be filled with His knowledge and glory (Isa.11;9;Hab.2:14), then it follows that theology which promotes His glory must come to the fore and become the undergirding of the evangelistic preaching for such a visitation. Witness Edwards and Whitefield in the First. Check Timothy Dwight and others in the Second.

  10. Dave M   •  

    I would love to check out the sermon you mentioned but the link is broke. Can you provide an updated link? Thanks for the article!

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