Neo-Gnostic Calvinism – The Correct Understanding
I can appreciate highfalutin language when I am armed with a large and trusted dictionary and thesaurus but I have no sympathy whatsoever with anyone who woefully, wilfully and deliberately contradicts himself and, worst of all, the Bible. Having said that, I suppose I should immediately tell you what prompted me to make such a statement. My entire dissertation is a response to Greg Fields’ Essays on Neo-Gnostic Calvinism.
Greg fields kicks off with a bumper sticker declaration that boggles the mind. Here’s how he begins one of his “Essays on Neo-Gnostic Calvinism.”
Who among us who have been illuminated by the Spirit of God to heartily embrace that exalted system of Pauline Theology commonly called “Calvinism” can forget the sublime joy experienced when these verities became manifest in our believing heart? For many of us grasping these truths or better, being gripped by these truths, was the real “second blessing” in our Christian pilgrimage. (Emphasis added)
The dictionary defines the word “grasp” and “grasping” as “to get hold of mentally; comprehend; understand.” What Fields says in effect is that one needs to understand or comprehend the exalted system of Pauline Theology commonly called “Calvinism” before you can experience a real “second blessing” on your Christian pilgrimage. And yet, he demeans and vilifies the Neo-Gnostic Calvinists’ assertion that a correct understanding of Calvinistic soteriology is the only requirement to be truly saved. Here are his words:
The major tenet of gnosticism (sic) was the acquisition of knowledge to achieve, N. B., salvation. Similarly they make the precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine the sine qua non of salvation. By utilizing a patina of super-spirituality, they create a psychological ambiance that can easily intimidate a young believer who may be new to Calvinism or a seeking Arminian (although most folk, if we are honest are utterly oblivious to this historical-theological debacle) to capitulate to this cold, unrelenting dogmatism, creating a vituperative unloving demeanor and ironically robbing them of the comfort and joy these glorious doctrines should inculcate in their hearts. This, to my mind, is the most utterly insidious forms of “works-righteousness” that I have ever encountered. By cleverly demanding that for one to truly be saved they must achieve a solid understanding of Calvinistic soteriology is to “make the cross of Christ of none effect”.
According to our well-spoken Calvinist it is OK to bring a correct understanding of the doctrines of grace into the equation when you want to experience a “second blessing” subsequent to your monergistic regeneration but a gross mistake, equal to the wielding of a dangerous tool to “make the cross of Christ of none effect” when you bring salvation/regeneration/redemption onto the playing Fields (excuse the pun). Has he forgotten what Jesus once said? “And ye shall know [gain an understanding of] the truth, and the truth shall make you free [save you].” (John 8:32)
Greg Fields piously expresses his concern for the young believer who may be new to Calvinism and for the seeking Arminian, who “may capitulate to this cold, unrelenting dogmatism . . .” but has no conscientious qualms about them not having to understand Calvinistic soteriology in order to be truly saved. At any rate, why would they need a correct understanding of Calvinistic soteriology when their doctrine of Total Depravity teaches that man is as dead as a corpse in sins and transgressions? The only thing a corpse can do is to lie still and be dead as a doornail. Pathologists would tell you without the slightest twitch of their mouth muscles that corpses cannot understand a thing, let alone Calvinistic soteriology.
Nevertheless, as the Americans would say, “You aint seen nuttin yet” while we delve deeper into Greg Fields insidious contradictions. His most amazing contradiction is where he says that Paul’s exalted system of theology is peculiarly Calvinistic. I find this extremely blasphemous because it belittles and begrudges the Gospel (making the cross of Christ of none effect). What does he mean when he says that Paul’s exalted theology is peculiarly Calvinistic?
- Paul did not receive the Gospel directly from Christ but by a strange sleight of coincidence from John Calvin himself who hadn’t even been born then, or,
- Jesus Christ’s Gospel is Calvinistic to its very core and Paul merely expressed it more precisely in his epistles.
IS PAUL’S GOSPEL WHICH HE RECEIVED DIRECTLY FROM CHRIST PECULIARLY CALVINISTIC?
If Paul’s exalted system of theology was uniquely Calvinistic he would have known and acknowledged that God sovereignly chose the elect unto salvation and damned the reprobate (non-elect) unto eternal damnation before the foundation of the world. Paul’s love and compassion for the entire nation of Israel (his brethren after the flesh who are consistently called God’s people in the Bible) prove that his exalted system was not in the very least uniquely Calvinistic. Let us now listen to Paul’s own words which boldly refutes the vial doctrines of Calvinism.
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5)
Here was a man who did not ask who were the elect and who were the reprobate among the Israelite so that he may navigate his prayers only in favour of the elect. However, let’s assume that Paul was a Calvinist whose exalted theology eulogized John Calvin’s doctrines of grace and that he was prepared to be cast into hell only in behalf of the elect among Israel. Any young believer who may be new to Calvinism would immediately know that this is one of the most obvious and silliest contradictions imaginable. Why would Paul be prepared to suffer an eternity in hell in behalf of the elect when they are all going to end up in heaven in any case? Even the young believer who may be new to Calvinism would accuse Paul of insufferable foolishness if he were to be prepared to suffer in hell when all the elect among the Israelite are going to enjoy eternal bliss in heaven. Fancy that, Paul who was an elect humbled himself to the level of a non-elect so that he may suffer in hell in behalf of the elect who are inexorably bound for heaven because God sovereignly chose them before the foundation of the earth.
Let’s flip the coin and ask ourselves: Why would Paul be prepared to suffer an eternity in hell in behalf of the reprobate among Israel when they are all going to end up in hell in any case? A similar contradictory situation would befall Paul if he were to suffer in hell for the non-elect. Imagine Paul crying in agony in hell while all the non-elect for whom he was prepared to suffer an eternity in hell are also in hell because God sovereignly chose them unto damnation before the foundation of the world. Calvinism is indeed stranger than fiction because it befuddles the mind of those who are shackled to its lies, even to the extent that they contradict themselves ad infinitum without realizing it.
Greg Fields not only contradicts himself but brazenly and wilfully contradicts the Bible. He wrote:
For me personally, sovereign grace teaching revivified my entire demeanor as a saint and delivered me from the morbid introspection engendered by Arminian, fundamentalist pietism.
Introspection can be forcefully destructive when the saint allows Satan to turn him inward to himself when he has already found forgiveness for things he may have done contrary to God’s will. In stead of looking in faith unto Jesus and receiving the forgiveness the Holy Spirit showers on him through the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1-2), he turns his eyes inward and woefully and depressingly laments his falling into sin again, even to the extent that he begins to believe Satan’s accusations and lies that God cannot forgive him. There is, however, a biblical introspection which I personally think Calvinists should take very seriously.
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2 Corinthians 13:5)
THE PURITANS AND THEIR VACILLATION BETWEEN CERTAINTY AND UNCERTAINTY
In the follow-up to his essay “The Bane Of Neo-gnostic Calvinism” which he calls “Further Reflections On Neo-Gnostic Calvinism,” Greg Fields elaborates on his rejection of the Neo-Gnostic Calvinists’ self-understanding, as he calls it, of the Gospel. He wrote:
This accords accurately with the pretensions of the neo-gnostic Calvinists who a priori demand a comprehensively cognitive grasp of Calvinistic soteriology in order for potential converts to be saved. This cognitive grasp fails to take into account what is theologically dubbed “the noetic effects of sin”. Simply stated, this means our minds are so affected by our native depravity that prior to regeneration, we are unable to spiritually apprehend any of God’s thoughts revealed in His word. (1 Cor. 2:14, Eph. 4:18, e. g. ) The “continental divide” between Arminian and Calvinistic soteriology is that in Calvinism, regeneration precedes faith. We must be born again to see the kingdom of God.
Whereas Greg Fields asserts that man ought to be regenerated first before he can understand the demands of the Gospel, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig adversely claims the following:
“The Fall brought about the perversion of human faculties, but it did not destroy those faculties. Human reasoning abilities are affected but not eliminated. This can be seen in the fact that the writers of Scripture often appeal to the minds of unbelievers by citing evidence on behalf of their claims, using logical inferences in building their case and speaking in the language and thought forms of those outside the faith.” (J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian worldview, ch. 1).
If man’s reasoning faculties hadn’t been destroyed by the Fall, it follows that he is at least capable of understanding and responding to God’s invitation, not only to approach him in prayer, but also to reason with Him.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18).
Fields cannot deny that the metaphors “shall be white as snow,” “red like crimson” and “be as wool” are all pure soteriological expressions which prove that man in his fallen state is capable of understanding the demands of the Gospel of salvation. I can understand why Greg Fields opposes the Neo-Gnostic Calvinists’ demand that a comprehensively cognitive grasp of Calvinistic soteriology is necessary for potential converts to be saved. Indeed, TULIP is so esoterically beyond any typical Tom, Dick and Harry’s thinking and reasoning abilities that Calvinists themselves proclaim that one needs to study Calvinism for many years before anyone can wrap his mind around it. Dave Hunt correctly summed up the esoteric high-mindedness of Calvinism as follows:
Should Calvinism remain a mystery for the common Christian? That very fact, if true, would be additional proof that Calvinism was not derived from the Scriptures. How could something so complicated possibly come from that upon which every person is capable of meditating day and night (Psalm 1:1-2)? If the essential nourishment God’s Word provides is to be every man’s daily sustenance for spiritual life (Deuteronomy 8:3), could Calvinism really be the biblical gospel and biblical Christianity and yet be so difï¬cult for the ordinary Christian to understand? Why should Calvinism be such a complex and apparently esoteric subject that it would require years to comprehend? Such an attitude could very well intimidate many into accepting this belief simply because such a vast array of highly respected theologians and evangelical leaders espouse it. Surely the great majority of Calvinists are ordinary Christians. On what basis, then, without the expertise and intense study that I apparently lacked, were they able to understand and accept it? (“What Love is This?” pp 26-27)
It was this kind of elitism that wreaked havoc among many Puritans (to whom Fields refers extensively in his essays to substantiate his claims) on their deathbeds.
As soon as faith in God and his Christ for one’s salvation is replaced by election the demon of doubt creeps in through the back door. Consequently the Gospel is no longer preached in the hope that lost sinners may be saved and immediately given the assurance that they are indeed saved, but in the hope that the elect may be made aware of their elitist predestination unto salvation before the foundation of the world and in the event have no assurance of salvation unless they persevere to the end which is, according to Calvinists, the proof that they are the elect. Is there any proof from history confirming that Calvinists doubted their election? Many Puritans in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries doubted their election on their deathbeds because they were taught the infamous lie that saints need to persevere to the end in order to be saved. If, as Calvinists believe, their salvation is divinely guaranteed and they can never lose it because God’s election is irreversible, why do they need to persevere – to maintain their salvation? It was this paradox, lingering between the assurance of election and the burden of perseverance to make their election sure, that led most Puritans to doubt their election. They taught that assurance is not so much a gift of the Holy Spirit as it is the result of their own performance in persevering to the end. Hence their exhortation that believers ought to pray fervently, work arduously, and struggle heroically, often for many years, in order at last to obtain assurance. In addition, Puritans taught that God only gives assurance of election (salvation) to a very few of His elitist children.
Now though this full assurance is earnestly desired, and highly prized, and the want of it much lamented, and the enjoyment of it much endeavored after by all saints, yet it is only obtained by a few. Assurance is a mercy too good for most men’s hearts, it is a crown too weighty for most men’s heads. Assurance is optimum maximum, the best and greatest mercy; and therefore God will only give it to his best and dearest friends. Augustus in his solemn feasts, gave trifles to some, but gold to others. Honor and riches, etc., are trifles that God gives to the worst of men; but assurance is that ‘tried gold,’ Rev. 3:18, that God only gives to tried friends. Among those few that have a share or portion in the special love and favor of God, there are but a very few that have an assurance of his love. It is one mercy for God to love the soul, and another mercy for God to assure the soul of his love. (Thomas Brooks, “Heaven on Earth: A Serious Discourse, Touching a Well-Grounded Assurance,” in The Works of Thomas Brooks, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, repr. 1980).
If you listened very carefully, you may have heard the hiss of the serpent in these pristine Puritan words who dares to associate the Almighty God with the pagan, Augustus who founded the Roman Empire and was its first emperor. In fact, if you listen closer you may hear Jesus’ words: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
This is absolutely shocking when you read what God says in his Word in 1 John 5:8-13. Is this the way the Holy Ghost works in his redemptive work of the elect? First He tells them they are elect and irrevocably bound for heaven and then that they cannot have the assurance of salvation unless they strive hard to persevere in prayer, in works and heroic deeds? Brother Paul of Tarsus, whom Calvinists revere as one of the originators of Calvinism, never boasted in his perseverance but in Jesus Christ and Him alone.
For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)
RE-IMAGINING FAITH THE GNOSTIC CALVINIST WAY
Reformed theologians aren’t satisfied with the way the Bible defines faith in Hebrews 11:1 and have contrived some “wonderful” new insights on faith. Greg Fields quotes a few of these new insights in his essay. The late Professor John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary wrote:
“Saving faith is not simply assent to propositions of truth respecting Christ, and defining the person that he is. Faith must rise to trust, and trust that consists in entrustment to him. In faith there is the engagement of person to person in the inner movement of the whole man to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. It means the abandonment of confidence in our own or any human resources in a totality act of self-commitment to Christ” – John Murray
In wholehearted agreement, Greg Fields responds by saying,
This fiducial character, consisting in entrustment to Christ for salvation, serves to correct misapprehensions. Faith is not belief that we have been saved, nor belief that Christ has saved us, nor even belief that Christ died for us. It is necessary to appreciate the point of distinction. Faith is in its essence commitment to Christ that we may be saved. The premise of that commitment is that we are unsaved and we believe on Christ in order that we may be saved. . . It is to lost sinners that Christ is offered, and the demand of that overture is simply and solely that we commit ourselves to him in order that we may be saved.
This is a far cry from “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, you and your household.” Faith now suddenly becomes “commitment” in order to be saved. The slightest inspection of his definition of faith exposes the core of his entire belief system which is nothing else than a works based salvation. This is yet another one of Greg Fields Calvinistic contradictions. True to his reformed disposition he first says that “regeneration precedes faith” and then wholeheartedly agrees with the Puritan, Thomas Watson, that knowledge without repentance is nothing.
If man’s total depravity and therefore his corpse-like death in sins and transgressions deprives him of any ability to repent or commit him to Christ in order to be saved, how on earth are Calvinists really saved? Repentance, as we all know is a change of mind (metanoia). It is common knowledge, at least among Christians, that the physical brain is the conveyer of non-physical thoughts that emanate from the soul and the spirit of man (the mind). If the brain is dead, the mind is dead as well. Calvinists argue that man is spiritually dead, which of course is a biblical fact but they interpret this as being equal to being dead as a corpse. Hence there reference to Lazarus’ resurrection as an analogy of regeneration. How can a person who is dead, repent? Oh, that’s very easy. The elect are monergistically regenerated and then given the ability to repent (change their mind) so that they may commit themselves to Christ in order to be saved. Really?
John Murray defines faith as follows:
Faith is a whole-souled movement of intelligent, consenting, and confiding self-commitment, and all these elements or ingredients coalesce to make faith what it is. Intellect, feeling and will converge upon Christ in those exercises which belong properly to these distinct though inseparable aspects of psychial activity” (Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner, 1977), Volume 2, pp. 257-260).
Once again the question arises: How on earth can a corpse exercise faith as a whole souled movement and intelligently commit itself to Christ when it is unable to do anything but lie as a stiff in a morgue or a graveyard? Calvinists in general won’t be able to stomach the rest of Murray’s definition of faith when he says that “intellect and will converge upon Christ in in those exercises which belong properly to these distinct though inseparable aspects of psychical activity.” Whatever! John Murray who died in May 1975 must have been one of the worst idolaters gracing the earth because he dared to bring free-will onto the playing Fields (excuse the pun). If regeneration precedes repentance, faith and commitment, then you don’t need any of them in order to be saved. Why would you need faith, repentance and commitment when you are already saved? That’s ludicrous to say the least.
It was only so much as a look of faith on the brass serpent Moses had to make that saved those who had been bitten by poisonous snakes. (Numbers 21:8; John 3:14). Moses didn’t gather the Israelite and say to them: “Now listen up, you rebels. God commanded me to make a brass serpent and set it upon a pole, and to tell you that you must make a whole-souled movement of intelligent, consenting, and confiding self-commitment to it because all these elements or ingredients coalesce to make faith what it is and THAT alone, my dear brethren, will save you.” Huh? Duh!
A faith of this calibre teaches sinners to look away from Jesus rather than to merely look upon him in faith for their salvation. What is a whole-souled movement of intelligent, consenting and confiding self-commitment? How do you know whether your whole-souled movement of intelligent, consenting, and confiding self-commitment has reached the degree of sufficiency where you can say “Now, at last, I am saved?” How do you measure a whole-souled movement of intelligent, consenting, and confiding self-commitment? Paul Washer wouldn’t hesitate a moment to call this kind of faith decisional faith where intelligence, the self, and free-will all converge to regenerate an elect person. Calvinism is falling apart. A house divided cannot stand.
THE ALPHA AND OMEGA OF CALVINISTIC LEARNING AND INSTRUCTION
Although Greg Fields emphatically declares that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of one’s relationship with Him, he does not allow for a Berean mind-set of self-instruction or self-learning. He encourages Calvinists to read the books by esteemed and well known Calvinists and to abide by their insights and instructions. This is what he says:
It is utterly amazing and soul-vexing to see how folk who discover the wonderful doctrines of grace via excellent Christian literature like A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God or Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination or the books of R. C. Sproul, Michael Horton, James Boice, et. al. , can so easily become infatuated with their own learning and misconstrue that learning (as vital as solid theological understanding is! ) as the alpha and omega of their relationship with Christ. He is the Alpha and the Omega. “Of Him, to Him, and through Him are all things,” not whether or not we have things right in our minds. Knowledge is indeed vital, brethren. Let us never discount this. Anti-intellectualism is indeed one of the terrible legacies of American fundamentalism, primarily derived from Arminian presuppositions. But, alas, new converts to Calvinism can so easily be seduced by their own incredible arrogance and so overemphasize one aspect of Calvinist soteriology, that they become blinded to other important areas of biblical revelation and lose all sense of proportion in their thinking. The neo-gnostic spirit is spawned by spiritual pride. The whole counsel of God, contained in Holy Writ, must be assiduously studied and obeyed (!) in the power of the Holy Spirit with a contrite heart to arrest this nefarious impulse before it takes root in the heart.
Greg Fields’ statement that it is “not whether or not we have things right in our minds” that counts but merely the fact that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, is very dangerous. He suggests that doctrine is not important when you merely need to consent to the fact that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. Demons too consent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of the living God (Matthew 8:29) and they tremble (James 2:19). You’re so right Mr Fields – IGNORANCE IS POWER. Indeed the best way to wield power over the laity is to keep them shrouded in a cloud of unknowing or ignorance.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1:9)
I have been told on numerous occasions that the wonderful doctrines of grace are found in the Bible. Now we are told that one needs to discover these wonderful doctrines “via excellent Christian literature like A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God or Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination or the books of R. C. Sproul, Michael Horton, James Boice, et. al.”
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see through Greg Fields’ suggestion that Calvinists shouldn’t try to understand and interpret the Scriptures but that they should rather turn to the more enlightened Calvinists for guidance. Needless to say, this is yet another piece of chaff the wind of apostasy has blown from Roman Catholicism into the Calvinistic fold. As far back as 1199 Pope Innocent III decreed the following RCC law.
… to be reproved are those who translate into French the Gospels, the letters of Paul, the psalter, etc. They are moved by a certain love of Scripture in order to explain them clandestinely and to preach them to one another. The mysteries of the faith are not to [be] explained rashly to anyone. Usually in fact, they cannot be understood by everyone but only by those who are qualified to understand them with informed intelligence. The depth of the divine Scriptures is such that not only the illiterate and uninitiated have difficulty understanding them, but also the educated and the gifted (Denzinger-SchÃ¶nmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum 770-771. Source: Bridging the Gap – Lectio Divina, Religious Education, and the Have-not’s by Father John Belmonte, S.J.)
The Council of Toulouse, which met in November of 1229, about the time of the crusade against the Albigensians, ruled in part the following:
Canon 14. We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; unless anyone from motive of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books. (Source: Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, Edited with an introduction by Edward Peters, Scolar Press, London, copyright 1980 by Edward Peters, ISBN 0-85967-621-8, pp. 194-195, citing S. R. Maitland, Facts and Documents [illustrative of the history, doctrine and rites, of the ancient Albigenses & Waldenses], London, Rivington, 1832, pp. 192-194. Additional Sources: Ecclesiastical History of Ancient Churches of the Albigenses, Pierre Allix, published in Oxford at the Clarendon Press in 1821, reprinted in USA in 1989 by Church History Research & Archives, P.O. Box 38, Dayton Ohio, 45449, p. 213 [Canon 14].)
Despite clear evidence from history (of which the above two examples is a drop in the bucket) that the RCC forbade their followers to read the Bible, RCC members adamantly refuse to believe it. Calvinists like Greg Fields are merely perpetuating these RCC Canon Laws.
THE GREG FIELDS DICHOTOMY OF GNOSTIC CALVINISTIC LEARNING AND INSTRUCTION
In total contrast to what Greg Fields said about the necessity to gain knowledge in his essay “Further Reflections On Neo-Gnostic Calvinism,” that self-learning and self-instruction should be discouraged and budding Calvinists should rather discover the wonderful doctrines “via excellent Christian literature like A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God or Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination or the books of R. C. Sproul, Michael Horton, James Boice, et. al,” he now says in his essay “True Calvinism versus Neo-gnostic “Calvinism” the following:
When understandably recoiling from the baneful theological pontificating of the neo-Gnostics, we need to stress that there is an urgent need in the present theological malaise of modern evangelicalism to comprehensively study and teach the salient features of Calvinism biblically, systematically, and historically. Many of the “grass roots” Sovereign Grace fellowships emerging from this malaise have seriously truncated the sweeping grandeur of God’s Redemptive Plan by focusing almost exclusively on the “Five Points Of Calvinism”. This emphasis can very quickly lead to incredible arrogance. Each fresh discovery of Sovereign Grace (as exhilarating as this is!) can easily obviate other equally vital truths, such as “pursuing holiness in the Fear of God”, “mortifying our members which are upon the earth”, “Setting our minds on things above”, and many other exhortations to greater conformity to Christ.
I find it extremely offensive when someone refers me to “the excellent Christian literature” like that of “A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God or Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination or the books of R. C. Sproul, Michael Horton, James Boice, et. al,” advising me to learn from them how to “mortify our members which are upon the earth” and to “set our minds on things above” when neither Pink nor Boettner even once refer to these two great Christian doctrines in their books. I haven’t scrutinized any books by Sproul, Horton, Boice, et al but I wouldn’t be surprised if they too never once mention them in their books. The reason I say this is because of the Westminster Confession of Faith “emphatic statement”, “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; . . .” If God ordained and decreed everything that happens, then he must have ordained the elect’s mortification of their members and the setting of their minds on things above even before the foundation of the world. God has already done it in their behalf before the foundation of the world. Therefore it is a certainty they cannot alter, even if they wished to. No one, not even the elect, can change God’s decrees.
The irony is that A.W. Pink, Lorraine Boettner, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, James Boice et al have all almost exclusively focused their writing on the “Five Points of Calvinism,” the reason being that most Calvinists regard TUILIP to be the warp and woof of the biblical Gospel. John Piper writes:
“The doctrines of grace (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints) are the warp and woof of the biblical gospel cherished by so many saints for centuries.” (John Piper, TULIP: The Pursuit of God’s Glory in Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethlehem Baptist Church, 2000), back cover.)
C.H Spurgeon wrote:
. . . those great truths, which are called Calvinism . . . are, I believe, the essential doctrines of the Gospel that is in Jesus Christ. Now I do not ask whether you believe all this [Calvinism]. It is possible you may not. But I believe you will before you enter heaven. I am persuaded that as God may have washed your hearts, He will wash your brains before you enter heaven. (Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vols 1 and 2, “The Peculiar Sleep of the Beloved” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 48).
Nowhere in the entire Bible do we see that Christ needs to wash your brains so that you may understand the reformed doctrines of grace before you enter heaven. Apart from its near blasphemous nuance, it was downright silly of Spurgeon to make such a statement. Think of it: If only the elect are saved who “have a passionate commitment to Calvinistic soteriology and are quite emphatic in their apologia for these truths that so exalt and glorify the grandeur of the Sovereign Triune Lord,” it is quite obvious that their brains have already been washed in the “pure waters” of Reformed Theology. The non-elect or reprobates’ brains don’t need to be washed in the “pure waters” of Reformed Theology because their hearts are irretrievably un-washable. They have been doomed to eternal damnation even before the foundation of the earth. So, Mr Spurgeon, who else is there whose brains need to be washed before they enter heaven? We have ruled out both groups who make up the entire world of sinners – the elect and the non-elect. So, who remains to have their brains washed? Nobody, Zilch, Nada. I have always maintained that Calvinism is an unreasonable and downright dumb theology. They consistently contradict themselves and even their own Doctrines of Grace they so highly revere.
Nonetheless, this kind of garbage proves how intensely and passionately loyal Calvinists are to their Reformed Theology, even to the extent that they call it the warp and woof of the biblical Gospel. If this were true we must conclude that two of the major doctrines in Christianity, i.,e. the “mortification of our members that are on the earth” and the “setting of our minds on the things above” are inherently part of the Five Points of Calvinism (TULIP). Therefore, Greg Fields’ compassionate plea that Calvinists should not focus almost exclusively on the Five Point of Calvinism but to expand their horizons to the doctrines of the “mortification of our members which are upon the earth” and the “setting of our minds on things above” is invalid. The reformed warp and woof of Calvinist soteriology, ensconced in TULIP, already contains these doctrines, according to some of the most esteemed and well-known Calvinists.
THE GREG FIELDS GUIDE TO HUMILITY
Jesus Christ once said:
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
Jesus made it very clear that just as He is the essence of love, He also is the essence of humility. Humility, therefore, is not a natural trait of humankind but a uniquely godly one, and the only means available to man to learn how to be meek and humble is to deny himself, take up his cross, to follow Christ and to learn from Him experientially. I say experientially because it is in and through circumstances, and most often very difficult circumstances, that the saint learns how to humble himself in a Christ-likeness way. There is no other way. Kapisch? Ah, but our friend Greg Fields has found a new way to guide us into the bliss of meekness, lowliness and humility. It is the Calvinistic way and is called “The Puritan, John Owen Way – our guide to how to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.” Greg Fields begins his essay with these words:
This essay is an attempt, using the great Puritan theologian John Owen as a guide, to present what I have observed to be sadly lacking from professing calvinists (sic) in this so called post-modern era of church history. What is urgently needed among brethern who have been gripped by grace, who have (at least)intellectually embraced Reformed theology and Calvinistic soteriology, is a Spirit-Wrought, God-centered, Scripturally grounded, and Theologically articulate apprehension of the Fear of God. After writing two previous essays of a polemical nature against the egregious arrogance of some professing “calvinists” (sic), I have earnestly desired to write a third essay that would didactically promulgate the essence of authentic Biblical Calvinism. Recently, I have been reading and meditating upon two striking passages from Owen’s magisterial seven volume An Exposition of the Epistle to The Hebrews that majestically encapsulate this essence. I will defer to that “mighty Apollo among the Puritans” as commentary on this vital matter. I will use ellipses to endeavor to capture the kernel of Owen’s exposition. The passages are contained in Volume III of The Banner of Truth Trust Edition of 1991. It is my earnest prayer that these sublime words will humble your heart, illumine your mind, and ignite your will to live Soli Deo Gloria.
Would you please take note of the word “meditating” in the above quote. I deliberately want to focus your attention on the word because the Puritan, John Owen. made much of it as a means to be conformed into the image of Christ. He said:
“First, let us exercise ourselves unto holy thoughts of God’s infinite excellencies. Meditation, accompanied with holy admiration is the fountain of this duty. Some men have over busily and curiously inquired into the nature and properties of God, and have foolishly endeavoured to measure infinite things by the miserable short line of their own reason, and to suit the deep things of God unto their own narrow apprehensions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Our duty lies in what God hath revealed of Himself in His Word. . . . . . . . . . with holy admiration, reverence, and fear. . . . . . . . . . . . . Heb. xii. 28, 29. In this way serious thoughts of God’s excellencies and properties, His greatness, immensity, self-sufficiency, power, and wisdom, are exceedingly useful unto our souls. When these have filled us with wonder, when they have prostrated our spirits before Him, and laid our mouths in the dust and our persons on the ground, and when the glory of them shines round about us, and our whole souls are filled with astonishment, then, – Secondly, let us take a view of ourselves, our extract, our fraility, our vileness on every account. How poor, how undeserving are we! What a little sinful dust and ashes, before or in the sight of this God of Glory? What is there in us, what is there belonging unto us, that is not suited to abase us;-alive one day, dead another; quiet one moment, troubled another;fearing caring, rejoicing causelessly, sinning always;in our best condition “altogether vanity?”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . in ourselves we are inexpressibly miserable, and, . . . . . . . . . . . . . “less than vanity and nothing. “. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Thirdly, let the result of these thoughts be a holy admiration of God’s infinite love, care, grace, and condescension, in having any regard unto us. . . . . . . . . Hence will praise, hence will thankfulness, hence will self-abasement ensue. ” (pages 352-353, emphasis added)
“A continual view of the glory of Christ will have the blessed effect of changing us more and more into the likeness of Christ. Perhaps other ways and means have failed to make us Christ-like. Let us put this way to the test.” (‘Meditations on the Glory of Christ’)
It is interesting to note that the word “meditate” appears more in the Old Testament than in the New. Of the 14 verses only two are in the New Testament and no less than nine verses are in the Psalms. Now, that’s very interesting and a real eye-opener when you look at it more closely. Two words are used to describe meditation in the Old Testament – the one is (see’-akh) A primitive root; to ponder, that is, (by implication) converse (with oneself, and hence aloud) or (transitively) utter: – commune, complain, declare, meditate, muse, pray, speak, talk (with) and (haw-gaw’), A primitive root; to murmur (in pleasure or anger); by implication to ponder: – imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter, roar, sore, speak, study, talk, utter. Both seem to have the same meaning but when you look closer it seems to be more of an internal dialogue while the other seems to be an audible muttering and even in a loud speaking or talking tone. It is more of a prayer where the saint actually silently talks with God in his most inward being while the other means to ponder, think on, muse over, to study God’s Word in order to know Him and his intrinsic character more precisely.
Only one word is used for “meditation” in the New Testament – “meletao” (1 Timothy 4:15) and its derivative “promeletao” (Luke 21:14) and simply means to think and think ahead (anticipate).
Having seen what the meaning of the words for “meditation” in the Old and New Testaments are, let us now briefly return to John Owen’s statement “Perhaps other ways and means have failed to make us Christ-like. Let us put this way (the meditative way) to the test.” Perchance I would be stretching it a little too far if I should venture to find in John Owen’s meditation something of the Desert Fathers’ contemplative meditative disciplines. However, as soon as you begin to substitute the only way given by God to become Christ-like (Matthew 11:29-30; Luke 9:23), red lights begin to flicker. You can mediate on the Word of God day and night until you are blue in the face; it will not benefit you one little bit in being sanctified to the level of Christ-likeness unless you obey Christ’s commands in Matthew 11:29-30 and Luke 9:23.
Yes, of course it is vitally important to think on, ponder and study the Word of God in order to get to know God, his Son and the Holy Spirit more and more and better and better. However, John Owen seems to shun human reason in favour of meditation in one’s quest to measure infinite things. We dare not expel cognitive reasoning and understanding from our endeavors to worship God on his terms. Meditation, as the Benedictine monks taught it, aimed to dislodge biblical meditation from its properties of cognitive understanding, reasoning, learning and pondering and devised the mystic form of Bible reading called Lectio Divina.
Wikipedia defines Lectio Divina as follows:
The focus of Lectio Divina is not a theological analysis of biblical passages but viewing them with Christ as the key to their meaning. For example, given Jesus’ statement in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you” an analytical approach would focus on the reason for the statement during the Last Supper, the biblical context, etc. But in Lectio Divina rather than “dissecting peace”, the practitioner “enters peace” and shares in the peace of Christ. In Christian teachings, this form of meditative prayer leads to an increased knowledge of Christ.
The roots of Scriptural reflection and interpretation go back to Origen in the 3rd century, after whom St. Ambrose taught them to St. Augustine. The monastic practice of Lectio Divina was first established in the 6th century by Saint Benedict and was then formalized as a 4 step process by the Carthusian monk, Guigo II, in the 12th century. In the 20th century, the constitution Dei Verbum of Pope Paul VI recommended Lectio Divina for the general public. Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of Lectio Divina in the 21st century.
In the 16th Century, Protestant Reformers, such as John Calvin, continued to advocate the Lectio Divina. A Reformed version of the Lectio Divina was also popular among the Puritans; Richard Baxter, a Puritan theologian, championed the practice.
These facts do not only strengthen my suspicion that the Puritian, John Owen, practicied and promoted Lectio Divnina, but that Calvinism is a gnostic tehology to its very core.
IS CALVINISM A MODERN-DAY CONTINUATION OF OLD PAGAN GNOSTICISM?
I would like to conclude my rebuttal of Greg Fields essays with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:5
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)
David Bercot wrote:
The early Christians didn’t believe that man is totally depraved and incapable of doing any good. They taught that humans are capable of obeying and loving God. There was a religious group labeled as heretics by the early Christians . . . They taught that man is totally depraved. The group I’m referring to are called the Gnostics. (“Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up,” p.66).