I try to stay out of most of the discussions in the SBC on Calvinism. It’s been my experience that more heat than light is delivered in these debates. So, it’s with some trepidation that I even write this article. Or rather rewrite this article and update it a bit for our Voices audience. (Original is here)
Ken Hemphill seems like a nice guy and a solid choice for SBC President. But I’m a bit bothered by the way in which he is being promoted as the pro-John 3:16 candidate as if JD Greear isn’t. Or that Ken Hemphill is a man who can say “whosoever will may come” whereas JD Greear cannot. I believe the missions track record of The Summit Church should decry any notion that this brother isn’t passionate about telling everyone about the gospel. And he’s not being inconsistent when he does this. That’s what I hope to show today.
All of this reminded me of an article I read awhile back by Ronnie Rogers at SBCToday. In the article Rogers urges Calvinists to “speak in such a way that all can be reminded” that not everyone will respond to the good news. He tweaks a quote from Piper and says this:
…without opportunity for all sinners to accept, Piper’s message should be changed to say, “Some can be glad in God if He predestined you” or “God loves to exalt Himself by showing mercy to some sinners.”
Rogers believes that in order to be consistent Calvinists ought to share the gospel in this way. My response is to urge him—and others—to not force Calvinists to speak in a way that the Bible doesn’t.
Someone once explained it this way (I say someone because I think I’ve heard Spurgeon, Ironside, Barnhouse, and Moody credited with the saying—but its mostly attributed to Spurgeon):
When the sinner comes to the gates of Heaven, above the gate it reads “Whosoever will, let him come” (Rev. 22:17). As he accepts this gracious invitation and goes through the gates into Heaven, he sees written on the other side – “Chosen…in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
That is the way that we, Calvinists, believe that the Bible speaks. There is no gospel presentation in the Bible that says to unbelievers, “make every effort to make your calling and election sure.” The gospel proclamation is always, “repent and believe. Come to Jesus.”
That double-sided placard (“whoever will” on one side and “chosen before the foundation” on the other) is not one that can be flipped. It’s not like the open/closed sign on the barber shop. It’s immovable. The Bible never urges us to speak differently.
Most Calvinists that I know are less concerned with being “faithful to Calvinism” and more faithful to the Bible. That’s why we speak in the language that we do.
For All Who Hear?
Rogers goes on to question the “righteous legitimacy of indiscriminately declaring the gospel so construed that, in any way, intimates that it is for all who hear because it is emphatically not…” In other words, it is dishonest for a Calvinist to tell every man that the gospel is for him.
As I read that sentence I have to wonder what Rogers means that the gospel is “for” all those that hear. Does he mean that all who hear the gospel are called to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and if they do, they will be saved? If he does, then I don’t see how a Calvinist cannot say this.
I think we both believe that the gospel is only good news for those that repent and believe. The reign of King Jesus is not good news if you remain a rebel to that kingdom. It’s only good news if “kiss the Son”. For that reason, I’d prefer that we say that the gospel is for all who believe—rather than all that hear.
I have no problem speaking biblically to any sinner. There is no hidden motive or wink when I tell men and women, “repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”. Jesus Christ is the rightful King. He is rooting out of His world all sin and unbelief and replacing it with passionate worshippers from every people, tribe, tongue, and nation. Believe in the Son and you’ll be saved. Reject him and you’ll be rooted out of His kingdom.
That is what the placard says to every unbelieving man and woman.
We can discuss what we believe it says on the other side of the placard, but let’s not force brothers and sisters to speak to unbelievers in a way that the Bible doesn’t speak.