There is a grave danger within fundamentalism to want to shoot those on the same team or to want a pound of flesh (like old Shylock) from those we disagree with. I am convinced that unity can exist where agreement does not, therefore; I have resisted in my public ministry from lobbing critical grenades at those who are on my side even if I think they are horribly mistaken. This includes those so called “conservative evangelicals” and those “hyper-separatists.” The bottom line is that I do not have time to worry about what every other ministry is doing and saying frankly because there are sheep within my local assembly that need prayer, counsel, and feeding. However, I do try to stay up with current Christian news and especially news from those who call themselves fundamentalists. Recently I read a newsletter from one such organization, that I have never felt a closeness to, yet I believe they are on the same team. I do not desire to criticize their ministry, but I must make a comment about a trend that disturbs me. This newsletter attributed well-known pastors John MacArthur and John Piper as embracing reformed theology-and considered that a danger to fundamental baptists. I find this really disturbing for several reasons.
1) It is well known that JM and JP are strong Calvinists, but the newsletter implies that reformed theology and Calvinism are one and the same. This flies in the face of history and experience. One must be a Calvinist to be reformed, but one does not necessarily have to be reformed to be a Calvinist. Calvinism is a subset of doctrine held within reformed theology. Maybe I could best express it this way. Baptist have historically held to baptism by immersion; in fact, one must hold to baptism by immersion to be considered a baptist but many groups besides baptist dunk their followers. Just because one dunks their followers does not mean they must be called baptists. Reformed theology and Calvinism have a similar relationship.
2) There is a great implication (in this particular newsletter and in other conversations I have had) that equates Calvinism with a lack of evangelism. This is blatant blindness to history and a failure to understand the doctrines of grace. For this to be true, one would have to discount the evangelistic ministry of Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, John Owen, John Newton, George Whitefield, David Brainerd, Jon Edwards, and many more Calvinist missionaries and evangelists. History has proved that adherence to the doctrines of Grace strengthens one’s call for others to come to Christ. I suppose that there are Hyper-Calvinists that will not evangelize, but that is an obedience problem, not a Calvin problem–and I have never met such a bird either.
3) It is insulting to me personally to be told that I am Calvinsitic(ish) because I read and listen to such men. I have come to my position on the doctrines of grace through study of the Word of God. Romans, Ephesians, and Peter- they were my teachers. I did not come to my theological positions via the school I went to. My positions and system of theology began to solidify 2-3 years after graduation as I began to dive deeply into God’s Word and wrestle with texts and contexts. This is an argument from experience with is a week argument, but it is true for me none the less.
4) There have always been reformed brethern within fundamentalism and Calvinistic men within fundamental baptists. There are some who would say that fundamental baptists have been non-Calvinists, but that is just not true. Many of the great fundamental leaders who fought against the errors of the liberals had calvinistic soteriology. I am bothered by this revisionist history and do not think it is right.
In conclusion, there must be a willingness to discuss the issue of Calvinism without using tired rhetoric, inflammatory statements, or flat out revisionism of history. If we have to tell what is wrong with everyone else in order to be right we are weak indeed.