I hesitated to post this because I don’t want it come across as an attack against parts of the Body of Christ. Quite the opposite, my desire is that we would stop throwing our doctrinal rocks at each other. I genuinely LOVE all streams of the body of Christ, whether I agree with them doctrinally or not. Besides, Jesus seems to think the world will know we’re His by our love for one another, and by our union in Him, not by our doctrinal agreement (John 13:35; 17:23).
But I did post this because I’ve witnessed so many attacks over the years against Charismatics in general, and Bethel Church in particular. In 2013, John MacArthur practically condemned hundreds of millions of Christians around the world to hell for being Charismatic with his book, Strange Fire (See my post titled, “The Strange Thing about Strange Fire.”) Before that, the Word Faith people were the heretics. Most recently, the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) has become a favorite punching bag. And most of these attacks seem to originate from the Reformed/Calvinist part of God’s family.
Now, I will be the first to admit that we can find problems with all of these targeted groups. If you look at any stream of the body of Christ under a microscope you’ll find flaws. But from what I’ve seen and read, most of these attacks are nothing more than straw man arguments based on soundbites from followers behaving badly. And many of their doctrinal accusations aren’t even accurate and taken out of context.
It’s essentially one “Bible-believing” group condemning another “Bible-believing” group. Sadly, nothing new there in church history.
We ALL have our doctrinal issues we need to examine and hold loosely before the Lordship of Christ. And the best thing a leader can do is to teach people HOW to think not what to think. We need to learn how be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and practice the art of faithful questioning, not just parrot what we’ve been taught. While Scripture is inspired by God, our interpretations of it may not be.
For this reason, we all need to be honest with ourselves with regard to our tightly-held dogmatism. And remember that theology has consequences. If our theology doesn’t make us think, act, and love more like Christ, and produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23), then it’s bad theology no matter who may have come up with it.
Now, it isn’t wrong or divisive for believers to honestly have disagreement on Scripture interpretation. What’s wrong is labeling those we disagree with as “heretics” and false teachers,” Semi-Pelagian,” etc. (If you don’t know what Semi-Pelagian is, you are blessed!)
Frankly, this whole combative “us vs. them” smacks of teenaged drama and is quite tiresome to me. And I would say to those churlish souls who have appointed themselves as watchdogs for Jesus’ Church to remember that you will be judged by the same measure you judge others. More to my point, people who live in theological glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones.
And what might be John MacArthur’s (and those Reformed/Calvinist watchdog’s) glass house?
Well, for starters, a close look at the history behind the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity and double predestination (TULIP in general) reveals that its ultimate source is found in Stoic and Neo-Platonic philosophy and Gnostic/Manichean interpretations of Scripture.
While I (and most Christians) agree that all humankind was corrupted and will sin because they live in a fallen world, thus are in need of salvation by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, I don’t believe they’re born totally depraved, nor was this doctrine even taught by any church father before Augustine in the fifth century.
Dr. Wilson received his doctorate in theology at Oxford, with his thesis, Augustine’s Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to ‘Non-free Free Will’. This is a ponderous academic tome but he’s also graciously written a brief laymen’s version based on this work titled, The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism. It’s an easy read and only $5 US.
The following video is a fascinating interview with Dr. Wilson by Dr. Leighton Flowers, who himself is Southern Baptist. They talk in depth about some of these surprising sources of the doctrines of determinism, total depravity, and double predestination.
If you’re interested in investigating this further, I would suggest you go to Dr. Flowers YouTube channel; “Soteriology 101.” He’s very gracious and scholarly in his approach.
If you don’t have time to watch the above video, here’s a summary of Dr. Wilson’s scholarly work on this subject:
1. Determinism was widely known in the ancient world through Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, and Manichaeism. Augustine had been deeply shaped by Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, and had been a Manichean for 10 years before his conversion.
2. No Christian theologian from A.D. 95-411 embraced determinism and many argued against it as a pagan, heretical perspective.
3. Augustine himself argued against determinism and for free will in his early writings (386-411), but after 412, began to use the very same Manichaean arguments for determinism which he had previously ferociously attacked. When his contemporary critics pointed this reversal out, he responded with silence.
4. Luther and Calvin mistakenly believed that Augustine was reaffirming the determinism of Christian theologians before him when in reality he was introducing a pagan and, to that point at least, heretical construct into Christian theology.
The idiosyncratic concepts one finds in Calvinist arguments today were explicitly used by Stoics, Neo-Platonists, Gnostics and Manicheans as follows:
1. ‘Free will’ and determinism are internally consistent (Compatibilism).
2. Complete ‘regeneration’ precedes any expression of faith.
3. God does not love everyone.
4. God is good even though he ordains and choreographs every expression of evil simply because God is good and cannot do evil (the implication being that God’s ‘goodness’ is wholly other than human goodness).
5. Election is understood as God’s unilateral selection of a subset of humanity for salvation such that it is impossible for any of the non-elect to respond to God in a salvific way.
6. Monism: God unilaterally writes the script of how all creaturely reality will be expressed.
If you’re a devoted Calvinist, my hope is that sharing this did not upset you. I truly love my Calvinist brethren and my intent was not to be polemic or divisive. I brought it up so that we might ALL be a little less ready to condemn others we may disagree with and consider our own theological issues before throwing stones at our brethren from our glass houses.
35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NKJV)
NOTE: If you want to argue with me about these things, I encourage you to investigate it for yourself instead. I’m not in the Calvinist camp, nor am I in the Arminian camp. I’m also not in the NAR camp. I don’t see myself belonging to a camp; I belong to Christ.