Dort and Evangelism

I had occasion last night to read through parts of the Cannons of Dort for a Bible study class at my church. The Cannons of Dort were written by the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. They lay out the system of doctrine that has been known as ‘Five-point Calvinism’ ever since.

We are doing the Amazing Grace study, and one of the sections is Calvinism vs. Arminianism, which concentrates on the Synod of Dort (see here, here and here for information on this synod). I was once again struck by the way in which Dort defined the issues.

One of the bitterest criticisms of Five-point Calvinism that has been leveled has been the idea that it undermines evangelism. I find this criticism hard to justify in view of these statements:

Cannons of the Synod of Dort:

The First Main Point of Doctrine, Article 3: The Preaching of the Gospel

In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).

The Second Main Point of Doctrine, Article 5: The Mandate to Proclaim the Gospel to All

Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

God sends messengers to share the gospel, and we should be involved in that endeavor (Matthew 28:16-20). This gospel is to be shared to all without playing favorites or looking for the work of the Spirit in their hearts. Dort would have us to know that God regenerates the heart through the Word of God, through means.

The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Article 17: God's Use of Means in Regeneration

Just as the almighty work of God by which he brings forth and sustains our natural life does not rule out but requires the use of means, by which God, according to his infinite wisdom and goodness, has wished to exercise his power, so also the aforementioned supernatural work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul...

Does Dort answer all of our questions? No, and they admit as much. But their statements should at least leave us with a question of our own.

Why do some insist that Calvinism stifles evangelism?

It cannot be from the statements or actions of Calvinists themselves (excluding the hyper-Calvinists). We have held the central role of evangelism since Calvin himself. A look at church history and the work of George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, William Cary and the like gives lie to the notion. And think of the work of modern Calvinists like John Piper and D. James Kennedy.

I, for one, would like to hear the case against Calvinists’ evangelism laid out carefully and critically in their own words. Do not tell me what the system supposedly requires. Tell me what the Calvinists have actually said or did.


Law and Gospel

Someone told me recently that the law is like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law never gives any power to do what it commands. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train. - Tullian Tchividjian

I have a hard time understanding the role of the gospel in my sanctification sometimes. I treat it like a safety net. When I fall, the gospel catches me and allows me the chance to try again. There is value in an approach like that, but I know there is more.

I am grateful for what Christ has done for me. This is a motive for good works. In that sense, the gospel provides motivation (power) to live the Christian life. But I have the feeling that there is more to it than that.

I have some more thinking to do…


Are Christians free to teach that homosexuality is wrong?

Today’s BreakPoint commentary from Chuck Colson describes an alarming situation:

When we wrote the Manhattan Declaration last fall, we warned about “the decline in respect for religious values in the media, the academy and political leadership.”

An example of this decline is on display currently in Georgia. Jennifer Keeton, who is a 24-year-old studying for a master’s degree in counseling at Augusta State University, has been threatened with expulsion. The grounds for the threatened expulsion are not poor grades or misconduct – they are Keeton’s beliefs.

Specifically, they are Keeton’s beliefs about the morality of homosexuality. In written assignments and classroom discussions, Keeton has said that people’s sexual conduct is “the result of accountable, personal choices,” and not “a state of being.”

These statements caused officials to question “her ability,” I’m quoting now, “to provide competent counseling to gay men and lesbians.” So they gave her a choice: participation in a re-education plan or expulsion.

Since when does a person have to agree with all points of particular psychological theories to work in the field of psychology? It is ridiculous to require blind obedience to theories of human development and behavior. The theories are wide and varied. The research is often incomplete. This is a travesty of justice and a violation of common sense.

Further information can be found here, here and here.

Incidentally, I had chosen not to sign the Manhattan Declaration earlier because it reminded me so much of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document which I could not sign out of conscience. Catholics and Presbyterians differ too much on important doctrines like justification by faith alone for me to sign. I have now re-read the Manhattan Declaration and have signed the document. I commend it for your signature.


Real Evil

Evil is all around us. Some even try to use the existence of evil as an argument against God's existence.

I am not about to try to give a comprehensive explanation for how evil came to be. I do not claim to be the kind of person who can mount a theodicy of any consequence. God created men with the ability to sin and the ability not to sin, but I cannot reason beyond that. I do not know the “how”; I just know the “is.” I know that evil exists. I know evil is present. I know evil is real.

What must exist in order for evil and suffering to be truly wrong? Does not the existence of evil itself require a standard of good?

Should I just accept evil as a part of the way the universe works? Should I accept a view of evil based on social convention, or the DNA encoded in my cells? These things vary from one person to the next, but we do not find a definition of evil that changes greatly from person to person, place to place, or time to time. We always seem to have a notion of the way things ought to be.

I want a worldview that accounts for the reality of evil and suffering. I want it to be called evil, not just the absence of happiness that is a social construct of mere men. I know that this standard of good and evil must be real. Life makes no intuitive sense without it. The denial of it is impossible in view of the pain and suffering we see around us. I want cruelty to be profoundly wrong. For this, I need an absolute standard for what is right.

Christianity allows for this standard. It allows evil to be “evil.” Non-Christian views of the world do not allow for this. From Greg Bahnsen:
… it is crucial to the unbeliever's case against Christianity to be in a position to assert that there is evil in the world -- to point to something and have the right to evaluate it as an instance of evil … the problem of evil turns out to be, therefore, a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful -- which is precisely what his unbelieving worldview is unable to do.
Knowing that evil “is,” that it exists, is enough to convince me that there is a God. We cannot define evil without defining good. Evil is in some way good’s opposite, a falling short of the good. Knowing that evil “is” leads us relentlessly to a God who is the definition of the good. Without Him, we would not know evil when we saw it.

Of course, Christianity does not stop there. It also offers hope for deliverance from evil. In the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ we find ultimate deliverance from “the last enemy,” death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). In Christ, we find deliverance from the power of evil and the forces that bring it about (Colossians 2:8-15). I have found Christ to be my life and my hope in the face of real, tangible evil I find all around me.


The Problem of Pain is Not the Problem

Ligonier Ministries is highlighting a primer by John H. Gerstner titled “The Problem of Pleasure” here. I am looking forward to the series.

Gerstner is quoted in the first article:

As long as there is sin, there can be no problem of pain. A good God, if He is omnipotent, would have to make the sinner suffer. … Troubled by the non-problem of pain, most people do not feel the real problem. The real difficulty is the problem of pleasure. While in a sinful world, pain is to be expected, and pleasure is not to be expected. We should be constantly amazed at the presence of pleasure in a world such as ours.

The problem is not, “Why do good people suffer?” There are no good people. The problem is “Why do bad people experience pleasure?” The old problem is turned on its ear.

Search This Blog