So What About…Calvinism?

Posted on March 2, 2012


Sometimes a single misapprehension or sticky question stands in the way of an honest believer’s examination of the doctrines of grace. John Samson answers those questions with a pastoral heart, yet with biblical fidelity. –Dr. James White, Alpha & Omega Ministries, on John Samson’s new book, Twelve What Abouts

There is no greater joy than what comes through a deeper understanding of God’s grace and His particular love for His people demonstrated by the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither is there a more humbling doctrine of Scripture than God’s sovereign election in the salvation of men. Yet, the more we grow in our understanding of grace, the more reason we have to rejoice that God would save us, not according to our will or anything good we have done (including exercising the faith to believe), but according to His glorious will and purpose all to the praise of His glorious grace!

Many Christians struggle with the doctrine of election, which is helpfully summed up in what is commonly called “Calvinism“. You might be familiar with the acronym “TULIP”, which to Calvinists is a cheerfully embraced biblical abstract of how the Gospel works.  Charles Spurgeon, fondly known as the “Prince of Preachers”, went so far as to say,

[T]here is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation (source).

Yet, many Christians struggle with the idea that God would save some and not others – that God would choose some and not others. But as I’ve heard before, the amazing thing is not that God saves some and not others, the amazing thing is that God saves any at all! Even still, what Calvinists esteem as the “doctrines of grace” are difficult to reconcile for some believers, and even repudiated and scorned by many more (especially in today’s man-centered church culture).

Perhaps you are such a believer who is struggling through these doctrines but desires to grow in the knowledge of God’s grace. Maybe you have difficulty with the “problem verses” in Scripture that seem to speak against God’s absolute sovereign election. Or, you might be one who admittedly hates Calvinism, but you are curious as to how Calvinists deal with these “problem verses”. Even still, perhaps you already embrace Calvinism and are looking to refine your understanding of God’s sovereign grace. Well, I have just the book for you!

In January, I had the opportunity to proofread my good friend John Samson’s new release titled, Twelve What Abouts: Answering Common Objections Concerning God’s Sovereignty in Election. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing John since 2010 when he began his blog Effectual Grace (some of you may know John from Reformation Theology). He has a shepherd’s heart and a way of explaining things in very simple terms. In fact, Twelve What Abouts was written for the purpose of reaching the lay person, or average “Joe Christian”, to help them deeper understand God’s amazing grace.

As I read the book, I was often reminded of the extremely helpful articles written by John in the last couple of years that God used to give me greater understanding of these doctrines. For instance, in his post Three Views on Man’s Condition, John explains how Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is a depiction of God’s work of regeneration in the heart of the elect:

Lazarus, being a lifeless corpse in the tomb, did not cooperate with Christ with regard to his own resurrection. Jesus simply cried out “Lazarus come forth!” and this call was powerful and sufficient in and of itself to bring dead Lazarus back to life. Christ did not interview the dead man Lazarus and ask if he would like to be resurrected, and once he got the “all clear” went ahead with his plan, now having obtained Lazarus’ permission and assent. Nor did Lazarus, once brought back to life, immediately take Jesus to court in attempt to sue him for violating his free will – his libertarian rights as a dead man to stay dead! No, for the rest of his earthly life, Lazarus was deeply grateful for the unspeakable mercy he had received from the Master.

This is a beautiful picture of what God does in our regeneration from spiritual death. Man, once receiving this grace of regeneration, then infallibly responds in faith to the effectual call of God.

John has also tackled what he calls “those pesky Arminian verses” in various articles – verses such as John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9. John writes in his article, Understanding 1 Timothy 2:4:

Now, if “all men” refers to every individual on earth, then firstly, Christ often fails in his work as the mediator – for the Scripture makes it plain that God’s wrath will indeed be poured out on many in hell. Secondly, we are left with a ransom that in the case of those who end up in hell, does not actually pay for sin – they are in hell paying for their sin. If Christ actually paid for the sins of those who end up in hell, what did Christ’s sacrifice actually achieve for them? The answer is nothing at all. We would be left with an atonement that does not actually atone – a mere hypothetical redemption that achieves nothing in all actuality, for the lost sinner. We would be left with Christ as a failing Mediator who provides a redemption that does not actually redeem. I hesitate to even write those words, such is the scandal of them, but this is what we are left with if “all men” means everyone.

These are just a couple of examples of what you can expect from reading Twelve What Abouts. If you are familiar with the work of Jim McClarty or James White, then you will love John’s book. It is easy to understand and sometimes humorous, but very rich in truth as properly and faithfully explained from the texts.

John deals with the following 12 “what abouts”:

  1. What About the Love of God?
  2. What About Free Will?
  3. What About God’s Foreknowledge?
  4. What About John 3:16?
  5. What About 2 Peter 3:9?
  6. What About 1 Timothy 2:4?
  7. What About Matthew 23:37?
  8. What About 1 Timothy 4:10?
  9. What About John 12:32?
  10. What About Reprobation?
  11. What About Lost Loved Ones?
  12. What About Prayer and Evangelism?

At 160 pages and very short chapters, Twelve What Abouts is a quick read and very helpful as a reference book. Especially if you have struggled in understanding God’s electing grace, this just might be the book that God uses to illuminate Scripture like you’ve never seen it before. I hope you get a copy of Twelve What Abouts, that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would become even more special to you!

You can read the book’s foreword by John Hendryx, creator and editor of Monergism.com, here: From the Foreword…

The ebook version can picked up for $4 at Monergism Books

Paperback edition available for $9.25 at Solid Ground Christian Books