Calvinist on Paper, Arminian (or Semi-Pelagian) in the Pulpit

I have to do something to regain my Calvinist street-cred after the Dispensationalist post so consider this:

Why do so many who espouse Calvinism act like practical Arminians?

For example, I know a pastor who thinks that Arminians are preaching a “different gospel” (as in Gal. 1:8 different gospel). I think that view is a bit extreme, but it demonstrates that he is at least a Calvinist. Yet, when he preaches, he regularly gives an “altar call.” How does one reconcile the two?

I believe in what is known as “the free offer of the gospel” and I agree that there should be an appeal during the message for people to trust in Christ. I also think that we Calvinist pastors should make ourselves more available should people want to discuss salvation. Perhaps you could make a habit of telling people at the end of the service that you welcome the chance to talk to them, asking them to call you or make an appointment to see you, etc. But how can you justify begging and pleading through endless stanzas of an “invitation” song for them to come forward and “get saved”?

Another example: We had a missionary through our church recently who is a Calvinist but who made the comment that he wanted to improve his language skills because he doesn’t want “anyone not to get saved and go to hell because I can’t speak Spanish.” When he finished his presentation I told him (and the church, by the way) that I was confident that “no one will ever die unsaved and go to hell because you can’t speak Spanish.”

How could I say that with such conviction and assurance? Because I know the Bible’s teaching regarding salvation: None of God’s elect will be left behind (sorry; I couldn’t resist).

Even if you could speak Spanish with the best of them, you can only plant or water, God must give the increase. (For many, there is no planting or watering on their part, which is not only a shame, it is also a topic for another post.) Why then do we act as if it is all about us?

I have an answer (three really):

(1) Pride. Plain and simple. We like to think that we can do what is necessary. We like to think that we have some measure of control over the fruit we bear. We don’t like to wait on God we want to “close the deal” ourselves.

(2) We don’t allow our theology to connect with our practice. We read the books and we preach the sermons and then we go out and do it the same way the megachurches do it or the way we’ve always done it rather than evaluating our method in light of our theology.

(3) Peer Pressure. If we don’t give an altar call, etc., the people will think we really don’t care about evangelism or the pastor of the (larger) church up the street will accuse us of “not caring about lost souls” and we give in because we don’t want to look lazy or be accused of being a hyper-Calvinist. But what is really going on there is that we are more concerned about pleasing men than pleasing God.

Anything I missed?

About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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4 Responses to Calvinist on Paper, Arminian (or Semi-Pelagian) in the Pulpit

  1. So does this mean the Sinner’s Prayer is out?

  2. Arthur Sido says:

    I am not sure the missionary in question was a calvinist, given the comment he made regarding people going to hell because of a lack of spanish speakers.I think it is a combo of this is the way we do church (i.e. the altar call) and not wanting to be chastised by peers as someone who is not a “soul winnnin’ preacher”

  3. Arthur:That’s precisely my point: I know that he is a committed Calvinist on paper(because I know his background and training and because we’ve talked about it) but then he makes such an un-Calvinistic statement. Sadly, he’s not the only one I’ve known to demonstrate the same contradiction (hence the point of my post).I agree with your assessment about our peers (I mentioned that in the post), but I can’t leave off the additional understanding that there’s a disconnect between his theology and his practice. Somewhere, he (and others like him) have failed to let their doctrinal stance influence the way they do ministry.

  4. Arthur:Thanks for your comment. I rzed that my response to your comment only repeated what I had said in the post so I thought I should clarify.When I speak of a disconnect, I think it lies fundamentally in their thinking. They think Calvinistically when preaching/teaching or discussing doctrine or critiquing others, but they think in Arminian categories when they think and talk about ministry, outreach, etc.They do this because their Calvinist theology has not “trickled down” from the abstract level. That is why someone who can speak so Calvinistically can sound so much like an Arminian (and do outreach like one, too).Once they begin to examine their ministry and outreach practices in light of their Calvinism, only then will they be able to make the connection. Until then, no matter how Calvinistic they are on paper or in personal conversation, they’ll always be practical Arminians.Hope that clarifies.

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