Agreement on the Gospel? : A Case Study on the "ForCLT" Unified Sermon Series


Stephen C. Marcy / Sept. 2018 / Rev. Aug. 2019, Jan. & Feb. 2020


Introduction

            In September of 2018 many churches in Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County participated in a four week “Unified Sermon Series” titled “For Charlotte” in which the pastors of these churches preached on the same topic using the same text on the same Sunday.  Pastor Chris Payne and Pastor Clay Smith of First Baptist Church of Matthews originated the idea.  (Pastor Payne is the former pastor of the New Charlotte Church and is now pastor of the Church at Charlotte which has been renamed New City Church.  The two merged under the Evangelical Free Church denomination.)  These two pastors shared this idea with 8 to 10 other pastors who also wanted to participate.  They also shared the planned series with the organization “For Charlotte” (“ForCLT”) which recruited all the churches in their network consisting of various denominations.  As Dr. Payne described it, the “ForCLT” network is “an organization that many local churches started to unify the church and bear every resource we have as a church, capital “C” church, on our city.”[1]  The “FOR CHARLOTTE MISSION NETWORK” website stated, “The primary goal is that each church would hear the same Scripture verses and “Big Idea” each week.”[2]

            The first sermon in the series was “For the Gospel.”  The “Week 1 Sermon Outline” on this topic states,

               “Over the next 4 weeks, our church will be participating with 73 churches in the greater Charlotte area, reaching over 41,000 people at those churches in our city with a unified message.  To share what is at the core of what all Christians and churches value, no matter the denomination, or background.

               Over the course of these four weeks, we will talk about what it means for our churches to be:

                              For the Gospel

                              For the Church (Specifically, For the unity of the Church)

                              For our Neighbor

                              For our City

               The goal of the ForCLT unified sermon series is to cast a vision for how a unified body of Christ can transform our city together.” [3]

Purpose

            My purpose here is to examine the statement of the “FOR CHARLOTTE MISSION NETWORK” that the gospel is “what is at the core of what all Christians and churches value, no matter the denomination, or background” and the claim from a “For the Gospel” sermon that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel.”  I will assess these with respect to the difference between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies that are present in the network by interacting with the “For the Gospel” sermons delivered by Jim Kallam at the Church at Charlotte[4], Dr. Chris Payne at the New Charlotte Church,[5] Dr. Joe Clifford at the Myers Park Presbyterian Church,[6] and Dr. Luke Maybry of the Matthews Presbyterian Church[7] on September 9, 2018.[8]

            Pastor Kallam states,

               “You know Charlotte is known as the city of churches, over 900…And while we could look at that and say it’s a good thing, well there’s a reason why there’s over 900 and something churches, it’s because we have our own distinctions that separate us from everybody else, right?  And that’s how we typically look at church.  This is what we like.  This is our distinctive and this is who we are.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But every now and then I say what is it that we can agree on?  And over 70 of us that have come together to say well there are some things that we can agree on.  And one of those things we agree on is the gospel.”  (0:51 – 1:07, emphasis mine)

            The Network’s statement claims that the gospel is one of those things “at the core of what all Christians and churches value, no matter the denomination.”  The word “value” instead of “teach” or “believe” is suggestive of the diversity regarding the gospel that exists in the various denominations.  But pastor Kallam’s claim is more direct.  He states, “And one of those things we agree on is the gospel.”   These statements raise important questions like, “What is the gospel?”  Which gospel do these “Christians and churches value, no matter the denomination or background?”  Do all these churches “value” the same gospel?  If so, what is the precise content of that gospel? 

Distorting the Gospel and Paul’s Response

            The “For the Gospel” sermon text is Gal. 2:11-21 in which Paul confronts Peter for behaving in a way that was seriously inconsistent with the truth of the gospel.  Both Kallam and Payne’s sermons have Paul condemning Peter for behavior inconsistent with the gospel.  They both emphasize legalism as the problem here which is something antithetical to salvation by faith in Christ.  In addition Payne identifies the problem as hypocrisy and peer-pressure or appeasement and goes as far as calling it “racism,” (16:24 – 16:30).  We need not and cannot fully exegete the text here.  Whether the Galatian situation is simply a matter of “legalism” defined as earning one’s salvation “by works” or is more nuanced and complex than that (i.e., “covenantal nomism” or which “identity markers” indicate that one is part of God’s people, etc.[9]), the point is that Kallam and Payne maintain that the gospel was being distorted and that Paul vehemently opposed this distortion.  Paul is emphatic.  There is no “different gospel” or “gospel contrary to the one you received.” (1:6-9)  There is only one true gospel message.  There are not two gospels.  It is in light of this teaching and principle gleaned from the Galatians text that I want to assess the claim that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel.” 

            Kallam states,

               “And so now, here, he [Peter] distorts the gospel, and Paul calls him out on it.  He’s condemned.  That’s a strong accusation.  And what happens is there’s this contradictory behavior, listen it’s not just a matter of preference – he’s acting different than Paul thinks he should act –  it’s a contradictory behavior that’s causing a theological danger because it’s leading a drift from what the uniqueness of what the gospel is.  That’s the issue.”  (8:54 – 9:10)

            Note that Kallam sees this “not just a matter of preference” but “it’s a contradictory behavior that’s causing a theological danger because it’s “leading a drift from what the uniqueness of what the gospel is.  That’s the issue.”  Kallam seems to be saying that theology and the gospel are integrally related.  There is a theology or soteriology that is reflective of the truth of the gospel.  And there are behaviors that are inconsistent with that theology and the gospel that coherently reflects that theology.  The gospel was at stake here.  Kallam comments,

               “Paul goes that’s a problem, because what’s happening is this, you’re distorting the gospel.  You’re presenting something other than the gospel.”  (10:00 – 10:15)

            Kallam rightly emphasizes the seriousness of distorting the gospel, which amounts to something other than the true gospel.

            Kallam goes on to talk about the “cultural drift” we might add to the gospel thereby distorting it (e.g., being a good moral person, being of a certain political party, having certain religious beliefs).  (12:10)  The emphasis throughout the sermon is against adding “works righteousness” to the gospel.  Kallam’s main point is that nothing can be or should be added to the gospel.

            All this raises the question, “What is the gospel?”  Let’s examine the Calvinist soteriology and understanding of “the gospel.”

A Summary of Calvinist Soteriology and “the Gospel”

            The Westminster Confession is a standard of Reformed Calvinist doctrinal beliefs.  It lays out the core elements in Calvinist soteriology.  They are total inability, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the preservation and perseverance of the saints (known by the acronym “TULIP”).

God’s Eternal Decree and Sovereignty

            We need to begin with the Reformed doctrine of the eternal divine decree.  For the Calvinist salvation begins here.  Chapter 3 of the Confession, is titled “Of God’s Eternal Decree.”  Section 1 provides a clear doctrinal statement of the Reformed position on God’s sovereignty.

               “1. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”[10] (Emphases mine)

            The Reformed doctrine of God’s eternal decree maintains that before the creation of the world all the minutest details of whatever happens – past, present and future – have been predetermined by God’s will alone to occur as they do.  For the Calvinist this is what it means for God to be “sovereign.”  It is important to grasp the source, scope and fixity of this Reformed doctrinal teaching.  This decree is the expression of a) God’s will alone, b) it is comprehensive, and c) unchangeable.

            As to the decree as the expression of God’s will alone, the confession states, “God from all eternity did “of his own will ordain whatsoever comes to pass…”  Hence, the “whatsoever comes to pass” is the outworking of God’s will and nothing other than God’s will.  Secondly, what God’s will has preordained is comprehensive or exhaustive, that is, it encompasses “whatsoever comes to pass.”  The word “whatsoever” is universal in scope.  It means all thingsAll things have been predetermined to be and occur as they do by God’s will alone – from the existence and precise motion of every sub-atomic particle to every person’s thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, desires, actions and eternal destiny.  The scope of what God has willed to “come to pass” is exhaustive.  Thirdly, therefore, since “whatsoever comes to pass” has been ordained by God’s will alone to occur as it does, it is unchangeable.  It cannot be altered.  Fifthly, by logical implication, God is the ultimate and efficient cause of all that occurs.  If this were not so, what God has ordained to occur might not occur.

            The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, another standard of Reformed Calvinist doctrine, adds the phrase “all things.”  It reads,

               “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;…”[11]

            All Calvinists affirm this understanding of their doctrine of the eternal divine decree and God’s sovereignty. For instance, Calvinist Edwin H. Palmer states,

               “Nothing in this world happens by chance.  God is in back of everything.  He decides and causes all things to happen that do happen.  He is not sitting on the sidelines wondering and perhaps fearing what is going to happen next.  No, he has foreordained everything “after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11): the moving of a finger, the beating of a heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist – even sin.”[12]

            B. B Warfield states,

               “All things without exception, indeed, are disposed by Him, and His will is the ultimate account of all that occurs… It is He that… creates the very thoughts and intents of the soul.”[13]

            Writing on sovereignty and the decrees of God, the late Calvinist pastor and teacher R. C. Sproul states,

               “God in His sovereignty actively controls all that happens in creation, and He does so according to “the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).  In other words, our Creator has a wise plan for His creation, and He works in His creation to bring this plan to pass. As we will see, this plan governs everything that happens, from the most significant events of history to seemingly random events like the roll of a pair of dice…

               In the categories of systematic theology, we often refer to God’s plan as His eternal decree.  God has planned or decreed all things and thus they surely take place as He has planned, decreed, or ordained them.  We can speak of God’s plan in its entirety as His decree, or we can speak of individual elements, plans, or purposes within the overarching plan as His decrees.  Our Lord’s eternal decree for creation contains within it several individual decrees, each of which governs a specific event.”[14]

            Preaching on the decrees of God, Calvinist pastor Erwin Lutzer explains,

               “…the decrees of God have to do with the decisions that God made in eternity past regarding everything that will come to pass, that has come to pass and will come to pass.

               …It is an eternal decree as long as God existed.

               …The decree includes all things… All things are encompassed by the divine decree.” [15]

            Calvinist John Piper defines divine sovereignty as follows:

               “…when we talk about the sovereignty of God we are referring to his total control of all things, like the roll of the dice in every human game (Proverbs 16:33). Or like the fall of every bird from the branches in the forest in every jungle in the world (Matthew 10:29). That’s my assumption about the definition of the sovereignty of God.”[16]

            Calvinist Christopher M. Date gives his definition of God’s sovereignty.  He sates,

               “I prefer the phrase “meticulous divine providence” because of that word “meticulous” – I think it’s helpful.  Because what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.”[17]

            We can understand how this view conflicts with what we also read in Scripture about contingency along with human freedom and responsibility.  It also conflicts with what we know from our own experience that we are causal agents with substantial freedom of the will, and this freedom is presupposed in all human social relations and structures.

            It must be clearly pointed out here that the presence and nature of the controversy itself between sovereignty and free will confirms that the Calvinist defines “sovereignty” as an exhaustive and meticulous determinism which encompasses every person’s thoughts, desires, decisions, actions and eternal destiny.  If this were not the case, there would be no controversy.  It is not Molinism, Arminianism or any other variation or explanation of the divine decree or sovereignty that raises these problems.  This is a hard determinist view of God’s relation to his creation and human creatures.

            We must also note that God’s foreknowledge is based upon his comprehensive decree.  It is because God decreed everything that will occur that he foreknows everything that will occur.  Also, what God has decreed is not based upon a supposed foreknowledge of the free actions of his creatures.  The Confession states,

               “2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”[18]

            God foreknows all things because God has predetermined all things.  He knows what will happen in all circumstances because he has predetermined them to happen that way.  Therefore all things will happen as God has predetermined, and that is why he has foreknowledge of what is to occur and that knowledge cannot be mistaken.  The actions of all creatures, being encompassed in “whatsoever comes to pass,” are decreed to occur as they do and are therefore foreknown by God.  Hence, “whatsoever comes to pass” has been, is being, and will be brought about according to what God alone has willed through the exercise of his sovereign power and control.  And again, by logical implication, this means that God is the sole causal agent regarding all that happens.  This depiction of God and his sovereignty is what William Lane Craig rightly describes as “universal divine causal determinism.”[19]

            It is also crucial to realize that God having willed “whatsoever comes to pass” includes all evil thoughts, desires and actions.  This is what consistent Calvinists believe and confess.  When John Piper was asked by an interviewer, “Has God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe, such as dust particles in the air and all of our besetting sins?” his direct and unambiguous answer was, “Yes.”[20] 

John Piper also affirms Calvinist Mark Talbot when he states,

               “God…brings about all things in accordance with His will.   In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love Him; it is rather that He himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and His people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11: James 1:2-4).  This includes – as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem – God’s having even brought about the Nazi’s brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…”[21]

            We can now examine the soteriological implications of this “universal divine causal determinism,” or more simply put, “theistic determinism.”

Predestination, Unconditional Election and Effectual Calling

            On Calvinism, the doctrine of unconditional election or predestination carries through on the implications of the divine decree and sovereignty with regard to salvation.  These terms refer to the working out of God’s absolute decree and sovereignty as it applies to every individual’s eternal destiny.  Every person’s eternal destiny has, of course, also been predestined by God alone.  Some are predestined to everlasting life and others to everlasting death.  The Confession reads,

               “3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.”[22]

            Calvin defines predestination as follows,

               “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man.  For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.  Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death.”[23]

            John MacArthur, a well-known and influential Reformed Calvinist theologian, has defined election as,

               “…the doctrine that says God chooses those who will be saved.  And He does so sovereignly, according to His own will and His own purpose, uninfluenced by any other person, or by anything anyone does.  That is to say the choice is apart from any action on the sinner’s part…”[24]

            According to Calvinism, the terms “the elect” or “chosen” refer to those particular persons God has predestined to everlasting life.  Those particular persons he has foreordained to everlasting death are called “the reprobate.”

             The salvation of the elect is realized by an “effectual call” or “irresistible grace” that God works in them.  In section X of the Westminster Confession titled “On Effectual Calling” we read,

               “1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.”[25]

               “2. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man; who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.”[26]

            Hence, there are absolutely no “conditions” or “causes” or anything “in the creature” – not even the exercise of “faith” as an act or response that springs from the individual’s will or decision in and of themselves – by which one can become one of those “chosen in Christ” and have “everlasting life.”  The elect individual is “altogether passive therein” and at some point receives an “effectual call” which “is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man…”

            The Confession continues,

               “4. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished.”[27]

               “6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”[28]

            Here the Confession consistently carries through with the implications of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.  Since the decree is all-encompassing it also determines the ultimate destiny of all angels as well as all men.  Note that the eternal destinies of these angels and men are fixed.  They are “unchangeably designed” and “can not be either increased or diminished.”  No angel or man can change what God has predetermined to be their eternal destiny.  This is so because one’s eternal destiny rests solely upon what God has willed for that particular individual.  It is based only on the divine eternal decree and sovereign will of God.

            It is also important to note that God’s predeterminations are so absolutely comprehensive that all the “means” by which the elect are brought to salvation have also been foreordained by God.  This, of course, is logically entailed in the theistic determinism that results from the Calvinist’s doctrines of an eternal decree and the sovereignty of God.  Therefore nothing happens that has not been caused by God.  In the true sense of the word “agency,” God is the sole agent in the universe.  These determinations and decisions of God and their outcomes are not conditioned upon anything or anyone other than God himself.

            The Confession goes on to state,

               “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”[29]

            True conditionality is not an option within an exhaustive divine determinism.  Here the authors of the Confession seem to want to acknowledge conditionality, but then they retreat from this by the phrase “supposed conditions.”  Furthermore, Calvinists will say that God decides to do what he does for “reasons taken from within himself.” (Eph. 1:5)  He does what he does “according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Eph. 1:9)  The Confession states,

               “5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.”[30]

            Calvinist Phillip Ryken writes about Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in Isaiah 6:1-8,

               “What Isaiah saw, therefore, was a vision of God’s sovereignty.  The God enthroned in heaven is the God who rules.  From his throne he issues his royal decrees, including his sovereign decree of election, and also executes his plan of salvation, drawing sinners to himself by his efficacious, persevering grace.”[31]

He also states,

               “The doctrines of grace teach that, in salvation, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  This is true every step of the way.  Long before we could choose for God, the Father chose us in Christ (unconditional election).  When we were unable to remove our guilt (radical depravity), the Son died for our sins (particular redemption).  When we would not come to God in faith, the Spirit drew us by his efficacious grace and he will keep us in the way of salvation to the very end (perseverance).  The doctrines of grace thus require the sinner to accept God’s sovereignty in salvation.”[32]

            A person’s salvation, therefore, is not conditioned upon anything other than God’s will.  These concepts – predestination, unconditional election and the effectual call or irresistible grace – are therefore the inevitable outworking of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.  To accept these doctrines entails accepting “God’s sovereignty in salvation.”

            Finally, for the Calvinist predestination and sovereignty are practically synonymous and define what it means for God to be God.  For instance, the late Calvinist teacher R. C. Sproul wrote,

               “…if we don’t say that God predestines all things, we don’t have a God at all.   If He is not totally sovereign, He is only a “big man” like Zeus or Baal.”[33]

            For the Calvinist, the definition of God requires that he have predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass.”

            This is Calvinist soteriology.  It’s what they believe with respect to how and why a person is saved or not saved.  This soteriology is often referred to by Calvinists as “the doctrines of grace” or more briefly “sovereign grace.”[34]  For many Calvinists, this is the gospel.

            We should note here that the Calvinist soteriological doctrines are mutually exclusive with the non-Calvinist soteriological doctrines.  The non-Calvinist soteriology is not deterministic, but maintains substantial human freedom, contingency and moral responsibility.  Each person’s eternal destiny has not been unalterably predetermined by God before he created the world.  Whether one is saved and where they will spend eternity is a decision they make in light of the “good news” that God has provided for their salvation in Christ.  The death of Christ on the cross is a demonstration of God’s love for all sinners.  No one is excluded from God’s love in Christ.  Therefore, salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  It is by faith so that any and all sinners may receive it.  It may also be rejected in unbelief.  Therefore any and all persons may appropriate that salvation to themselves by simple faith and trust in Christ as their savior.

Defining the Gospel: Calvinist or Non-Calvinist?

            Kallam states that we need to know what the gospel is if we are going to bring it to others.  He defines the gospel as follows:

               “You see because what’s important is if we’re gonna be gospel-centered people, if we’re gonna take the gospel to our city, then we need to understand what the gospel is…Here’s what we believe the gospel is: That through Jesus, through Jesus, God has done everything needed to fix all that went wrong in the fall…and here’s the thing – he invites us to get in on it.  He invites us to get in on it.  That’s the gospel.  What Christ has done makes it possible for us to move from a state of guilt to a state of acceptance.  Why?  Because I have been justified.  Pardoned of everything I have ever done wrong in my life… It’s at the cross where the wrath of God met the mercy of God.  And so when we talk about the gospel, it’s only the gospel that has the power to save.  The gospel literally means “good news.”  (15:23 – 17:13)

            I think we are warranted in understanding, “he invites us to get in on it,” as applying to anyone, not only a predestined elect as in Calvinism.  That is, not only is the offer of salvation universal, but this “invitation” presupposes God’s desire to save and therefore the possibility of salvation for all who hear it.  Yet, I can also see that Calvinist saying “He invites us to get it on it” with the caveat that only the elect will respond to the “invitation.”  “Inviting” is something the Calvinist believes must be done in order for the elect to respond.  To “invite” is to “call” all those hearing, but only the elect will receive the “effectual call” and respond positively.  On Calvinism it would be more accurate to say, “He invites us to get it on it, but, of course, only the elect will end up “accepting” the “invitation.””  That would be consistent with the Calvinist “gospel” and more forthright.  And the more minimalistic and distant verbiage of “He invites us to get it on it” is not the same as the more precise language that “God loves you and Jesus died to demonstrate that love and to take away your sin.  God therefore desires that you be saved by believing in Christ and accepting his invitation to come to Christ and receive salvation by faith.”

            When Kallam states, “What Christ has done makes it possible for us to move from a state of guilt to a state of acceptance,” does the “us” refer to anyone?  We would think so.  Is this “move from a state of guilt to a state of acceptance” a possibility for all or a predetermined “given” only for those who are elect?   On Calvinism there are no “possibilities” in the sense of real alternatives.  One’s “state of guilt” or one’s “state of acceptance” has already been determined and fixed.  One cannot “move” from one to the other as if it is possible to do so in the sense that one’s eternal destiny is yet undecided.   And how is this “possibility” realized?  By faith?  And what is the nature of faith?  Can any sinner believe or are only the elect given faith as a gift from God as in Calvinism?

            The point is that Kallam seems to present a non-Calvinist gospel and that on Calvinism the biblical definition of the gospel as “good news” begins to erode.  Yet Kallam claims that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel” and that Calvinists “preach the gospel.”  (More on this below.)  If Kallam is a non-Calvinist in his gospel presentation – as seems to be the case thus far – then how does he reach the conclusion given the Calvinist soteriology in the “ForCLT” network that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel?” 

            Kallam goes on to give three of the five Solas of the Reformation as another definition of the gospel.  He states,

               “Here’s the gospel: by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  That’s the gospel.  By grace alone.  I don’t deserve any of it.  Through faith alone.  I put my faith and trust in what took place in Christ alone. That’s the message.”

            But a question comes to mind.  How does Kallam understand these Reformation tenets?  As a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist does?  Thus far we have evidence that he is not a Calvinist.  But whatever he is, will he clearly define and expound these tenets consistent with his fundamental soteriology?  Will his gospel message be coherent with his gospel as good news?”  He states,

               And that’s what got distorted here…Listen the greatest gift that we can give to the city of Charlotte is the gospel.  The only means for salvation.  And it means we need to be really careful in what we’re presenting.  If we’re distorting the truth of what Jesus did for us, then we’ll lead people into a drift that doesn’t represent the gospel as it’s talked about in Scripture.”  (17:27 – 18:29, emphasis mine)

            I agree.  We need to be really careful in what we’re presenting lest we distort “the truth of what Jesus did for us” and lead people into a gospel “that doesn’t represent the gospel as it’s talked about in Scripture.”  So what is “the truth of what Jesus did for us?”  For whom did he do it?  Do Calvinists and non-Calvinists really agree on “the truth of what Jesus did for us?”  Do Calvinists and non-Calvinists really agree on “the only means of salvation?”  Do Calvinists preach the same gospel Kallam has enunciated above?  How do Calvinists understand “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone?”  Obviously they understand these in accord with their “doctrines of grace” as I summarized them above.  These doctrines as the full and final explanation as to why and how one person becomes saved and another remains in condemnation.  Therefore what is the content of the “gospel” that is the “only means for salvation?”  What is “the truth of what Jesus did for us?”

            Given the mutual exclusivity of the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies and therefore their gospel content, it is interesting that Kallam tells us that while on sabbatical in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he tried to find an Evangelical Free Church to worship in but there were none.  He states,

               “Here’s what I found.  I found a little PCA church, Presbyterian Church of America.  I’m not PCA.  I have all my reasons why I am not PCA.  I have a son-in-law who’s a PCA pastor by the way.  We have some great conversations but we differ on some things.  But you know what I found out about this little PCA church?  They preach the gospel.  There worship service looked different than our worship service.  I could sit there and tell you all the things that we did that I thought we did better.  But I didn’t do that.  They preach the gospel.” (20:24 – 21:54)

            Note that the Presbyterian Church of America holds to a Calvinist soteriology.  Recall that Kallam states that “we need to be really careful in what we’re presenting” lest we distort “the truth of what Jesus did for us?”  So, again, in light of these mutually exclusive soteriologies and gospel messages,  what is the truth about what Jesus did for us?  And who constitutes the “us” for whom he did it?  One would naturally take this as meaning all sinners – every individual.  That whatever Jesus did he did for all people, meaning each and every person.  Did he die for “us,” meaning you, me and every sinner?  Can I or anyone hearing the “good news” be assured of that?  And if Jesus’s death is the expression of the love of God towards “us” (Rom. 5:8), does that love apply to you, me and every sinner?  Can each and every sinner, hearing about “what Jesus did for us,” be saved because God desires that every individual be saved and has made a way for them to be saved?   If they are saved “by faith alone,” can each and every sinner respond in faith to the “good news?”  If you answer “yes” to these questions, you are either not a Calvinist in your soteriology or you are an inconsistent Calvinist as compared to your “doctrines of grace.”  If you answered “yes” to these questions, your gospel message is obviously antithetical to that found in consistent Calvinistic Presbyterianism.

            Positive answers to the above questions and Kallam’s definitions of the gospel thus far are not what Calvinism teaches.  Therefore, again, how does he claim that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel” and that Calvinists “preach the gospel.”  For many Calvinists the gospel just is their doctrines of total inability, unconditional election, limited atonement,[35] irresistible grace and the preservation and perseverance of the saints.  That is how they understand “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”  For those Calvinists who say their “doctrines of grace” are not “the gospel,” we must ask then what purpose do they serve and how is it that one’s soteriology does not contain “the gospel” message?  So we are left wondering how Kallam understands these tenets and how he wants us to understand them.

            In other words, Calvinists understand salvation as universal divine casual determinism.[36]  A person can only “get in on it” if they have been predestined by God to do so.  Even if “invited” they only “get in on it” if they have been chosen by God to be saved.  They need an “effectual call” not merely the “general call.”  The grace in “by grace alone” is God’s “free” decision to save some in which he irresistibly works salvation.  The “faith” in “through faith alone” is a gift given only to those predestined to salvation.  The elect must be regenerated before they can be believe.  Only the elect are given the gift of faith to believe in Christ.

            We can begin to see how this has direct bearing upon the gospel as “good news.”

Myers Park Presbyterian Church: Predestination According to the PCUSA[37]

            One of the participating “ForCLT” churches is Myers Park Presbyterian.  In an interview, theologian Jane Dempsey Douglass speaks about what Myers Park believes as a PCUSA church regarding “Predestination.”  She says,

               “Calvin defines predestination as “God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each [person]. For … eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.”  So predestination is an act of God’s will through which God elects or chooses those whom God calls to faith and thus to eternal life, and through which God chooses those who will not receive faith.” [38]

            Douglass explains the beliefs of Myers Park on faith.  She states,

               “I think our experience is that faith comes as a gift from God; we understand that God comes to us with God’s grace–to which we can only respond with gratitude.  And Reformed predestination is a way of saying God has taken the initiative in giving us these gifts.

               Those of us who are called to faith can give thanks for God’s initiative in dealing with us so graciously.  But most contemporary Presbyterians are reluctant to assume that we know anything about God’s purpose for those who seem to have rejected faith.  We perceive it to be dangerous to move beyond the mystery of predestination to try to explain what God has not revealed.

               The whole history of theology reflects tension in relating a Biblical concept of calling or election or predestination with an equally Biblical doctrine of human responsibility.  The Reformed tradition has held that sinners are responsible for their sinful acts even though they are unable to turn away from them without the gift of God’s grace. But it has also insisted that God’s grace transforms the will so that it can freely obey God’s will, though not perfectly.”

She continues,

               “Both Calvin and Luther saw predestination as relieving the great late medieval anxiety about salvation; there was no reason for Christians to devote their energies to pious acts intended to improve their status in God’s eyes.  Because of the confidence Christians experience in faith, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in their hearts that comes with faith, Christians can rejoice in God’s gift of grace and in thanksgiving turn their energies toward serving the needs of their neighbors.

               As the natural consequence of a proper understanding of the doctrine of predestination the Reformers saw a great deal of energy released for serving the needs of other people.  Luther said there was no reason for buying indulgences; it would be better for people to spend the money instead on food for the poor.

               Luther rejoiced in the doctrine of predestination, which he believed is so clearly taught by Paul and, in fact, in the whole of the Scriptures — but he quickly stopped short of trying to explain why God works this way.  He simply said it is a mystery that God has not revealed.  If people are troubled by the doctrine of predestination and worried about whether or not they are saved, they should look at the wounds of the crucified Christ.  There they will see what they need to know, what God has revealed — that God loves sinners enough to die for them — and they will be comforted.”

            A fuller critique of the contradictory nature of these beliefs and the Calvinist’s flight to “mystery” in light of these contradictions cannot be given here.  I will only raise the point that if the “ForCLT” churches are concerned about countering the “salvation by works” that plagued Christendom in Luther and Calvin’s day and which still exists today as it seems in that these pastors interpret Galatians 2:11-21 to be against “salvation by works” or “legalism”, then they must ask whether the theistic determinism inherent in the Calvinist definition of predestination is the biblical remedy and does not distort or even obliterate the gospel as “good news” altogether.[39]

            Douglass states that “God loves sinners enough to die for them.”  But this statement is ambiguous.  “Sinners” is generic.  Which “sinners” does God love?  All “sinners” or just elect “sinners?”  More accurately and less disingenuously, on her Calvinism Douglass ought to say “God loves elect sinners” or “God loves some sinners.”   God may “love sinners,” but I need to know whether or not God loves me.  You need to know whether God loves you.  This is essential to the gospel being “good news.”

            Douglass says, “look at the wounds of the crucified Christ” and “there they will see what they need to know.”  But to “look at the wounds of the crucified Christ” does not provide what I need to know, that is, whether those wounds apply to me.  Given a deterministic predestination, to “look to the wounds of a crucified Christ” does nothing to assure me, you or anyone else that God loves us.  In light of limited atonement it does nothing to assure me that Christ died for me.  In light of unconditional election it does nothing to assure me that I have been chosen for salvation.  It is hard to see how this doctrine relieves “anxiety about salvation” rather than fostering it.

            In contrast to Calvinism, the “ForCLT” introductory video for this “For the Gospel” sermon stresses the acceptance, forgiveness and hope that there is in the good news of Jesus.

               “Everywhere you look our city is broken.  People are hurting.  At times things seem out of control, and hopeless.  And yet even in the midst of confusion and suffering there is hope.  When you feel empty inside, unworthy of acceptance or forgiveness, you are loved.  And when you feel lost with no direction for tomorrow, you are made for a purpose.  No matter where you are, you’re in good hands.  You were created to have a life full of joy, of peace and of hope.  Come and hear the good news.  This good news is a person.  And his name is Jesus.”[40]

            Taken as they stand, these assurances are inconsistent with Calvinist predestination.

            Note also the theologically and existentially important sentence, “You were created to have a life full of joy, of peace and of hope.”  This is correct.  To know that God desires for us the joy, peace and hope that is found in Christ is absolutely necessary for our psychological and spiritual well-being.  This hope and assurance is foundational and the essential truth we need to know for us to have value, meaning and purpose to our lives.  Indeed, that’s what we were created for.  Without it there is only depression and despair.  And if this joy, peace and hope is what we were created for, then it is a contradiction to also speak of a multitude of God’s human persons being created for eternal damnation.  This promise of hope, acceptance, forgiveness and love is placed in doubt by the Calvinist doctrine of predestination.  For example, note the hopelessness of a Calvinist named Martha Alexander Hazel.  I found her testimony in the obituary section of a local newspaper.  It read,

“I was born in Presbyterian Hospital in January 1919…My father…had been born the son of a Presbyterian preacher. …I am proud of my heritage, the Presbyterian faith I’ve practiced these many years… As a convicted Calvinist, moving beyond my long life on this earth, I am confident that my predestined fate is in God’s hands and that He knows best.  Amen.” [41]

Martha could not know whether heaven or hell was her “predestined fate.”  That was “in God’s hands” and “He knows best.”  Her “doctrines of grace” did not seem to provide her with any “good news.”  Recall Calvin’s definition of predestination.

               “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man.  For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.  Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death.”[42]

            Note that the “ForCLT” video states explicitly that “…you are made for a purpose.”  But for what “purpose?”  On Calvinism that purpose might very well be to show forth God’s justice, wrath and glory in your eternal damnation and separation from God.  Is that what is meant by “purpose” here?

            On Calvinism, the sad reality is that there are certain people hearing this “ForCLT” video for whom it does not apply.  God does not accept them.  God does not love them.  The “good news” does not apply to them and therefore they have no hope in this life or the life to come.  As Calvin says, “All are not created in equal condition.”

Matthews Presbyterian Church (PCUSA)

            Another “ForCLT” church is Matthews Presbyterian Church.  Reverend Luke Maybry read the Galatians text and began by using the YMCA as a sermon illustration.  The YMCA in Charlotte is somewhat unique in that it emphasizes the “C”, that is, that it is a Christian organization.  He then states, “It makes sense to me because Christian is in the name.  So if they don’t want to emphasize that, just take the “C” out.”[43] (3:58 – 4:18)

            He goes on to state that a friend raised the point that the YMCA is a misnomer.  It is not all “young” nor all “men” nor all “Christian, nor should it be.” (4:43-4:54)  Maybry proceeded to ask what difference would it really make if you were using a “Jewish treadmill, a Christian treadmill or a secular treadmill.  Really.  What difference does it make?  What difference does the “C” make – does the big “C” make.  It’s a great question.  And related to that question – it’s really the same question actually – how is the mission arm of the church specifically Christian?” (4:54-5:25) 

            He goes on to refer to the “Christian projects and missions” that they do at the church.  He spoke of the secular organizations the church is involved with, such as Habitat for Humanity and blood drives, which are not necessarily Christian.  He states, that when a person gives blood “it’s not Christian blood or Jewish blood or secular blood.  It’s just blood.”  He goes on to reference the Pete Seeger song, “If I Had A Hammer” and says,

               “If I had a hammer… a Pete Seeger song[44] we’re gonna sing.  Some would argue that it probably shouldn’t be in a worship service because it’s not a worship song, it’s a secular song and it never mentions God in it.  If I had a hammer I’d hammer justice all over the land, I think.  Well what difference does it make if it’s a Christian hammer, a Jewish hammer, a Muslim hammer or a secular hammer?  What difference does it make?” (6:06 – 6:32)

            He mentions hurricane Florence and asks whether the recovery is going to be “a Christian recovery.”  “Whether the church provides it (which it proudly does), or FEMA provides it – who cares?  What difference does the “C” make?  It’s a fair question?” (6:34 – 7:19) 

            So, what difference does the “C” make?  Maybry’s message centered on “the mission arm of the church,” asking how it is specifically Christian.  His answer focused on the assistance the church gives to the needy in society.  He argued that there is nothing specifically Christian about supplying these needs.

            He never expounded the Galatians passage, so we never learned what was going on in chapter 2 where “the truth of the gospel” was at stake.  We were just told that “it’s complicated stuff” about which volumes have been written.  But Maybry then states,

               “The one thing that’s clear is Jesus.  That God has entered human history in Jesus Christ, and has saved, restored, recreated, fixed, salvaged – however you want to put it – God’s world which has gone awry.  We all agree with that.  So by all means go swing your hammers all you want to because people need to know that they matter.  I think that is the fundamental message of the gospel actually, that you matter, you matter to God.  And people don’t know that, you know, people don’t think they matter.  The overall story of the culture is that you really don’t matter all that much.  And some parts of town matter less than others.  They just do.  And bad things happen when people get that message and internalize that message.  And we have a different message to tell people.  And sometimes the church doesn’t tell it well.” (8:22 – 9:27)

            Note Maybry states, “People need to know that they matter.  I think that is the fundamental message of the gospel actually, that you matter, you matter to God.”  But this is obviously inconsistent with the Calvinist soteriology of Maybry’s Presbyterian denomination as documented above.  Maybry is obviously referring to all people when he says “people matter to God.”  If he isn’t referring to all people then his message would make no sense, especially when he rebukingly points out that “some parts of town matter less than others.”  And if, as a Calvinist, he isn’t referring to all people he ought to say so.

            Indeed, we would expect him to qualify his universal statement because on Calvinism the fact is that many people don’t matter to God.  God has predestined them to eternal damnation.  Nothing God has done in Jesus – “saved, restored, recreated, fixed, salvaged – however you want to put it,” applies to the non-elect.  I can think of no clearer message that tells people that there is a large section of humanity that simply does not matter to God than the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and unconditional election.

            So when the Calvinist tells people “you matter to God,” that is not a sincere and honest statement about the non-elect’s true and actual ontological status before God.  On Calvinism you just don’t know who “matters” to God and who does not.  And to say things to people about how they matter to God and what he has done for them in Christ while not knowing whether they are true or not with regard to each person you are telling this to, is at best disingenuous and at worst a lie.  The gospel is not a “hit or miss” proposition.  In fact, and very sadly, as it is in culture, so it is in Maybry’s Calvinism.  The overall story of Calvinism is that some people don’t matter “all that much” and some people “matter less than others.  They just do.”  The very indifference, loneliness and despair people feel from others in our culture that communicate “you really don’t matter all that much,” is at the very heart of Maybry’s soteriology.  A whole host of people don’t matter at all to God.   Maybry’s “fundamental message of the gospel” is incoherent with the fundamental message of his Calvinist soteriology.

            Maybry is correct – “bad things happen when people get that message and internalize that message.”  This is why the Calvinist soteriology cannot be put into the service of the gospel as “good news.”  Here is an example of a Calvinist putting aside his Calvinist soteriology and adopting a more non-Calvinist message so that he can be preaching some element of “good news.”  This is also why so many people struggle with Calvinism, and rightly so.  The trick to being a Calvinist is to presuppose your own election thereby willfully refusing to internalize the message that you or others you know might very well be among the non-elect predestined to damnation.  You and they may very well be among those who don’t matter to God.  But that fact can’t matter to you.  That fact needs to be suppressed.  Maybry states, “And we have a different message to tell people.  And sometimes the church doesn’t tell it well.”  So true.  And if the message of the church is “you matter to God,” then the Calvinist churches need to acknowledge that their soteriology is inconsistent with that message.  If they are telling people that “you matter to God” they are speaking a message inconsistent with their own soteriology.  They are being duplicitous.  But, if as Kallam says “the gospel literally means “good news,” then the news Calvinist soteriology has to bring just simply is not that gospel.  It is not “good news.”

            So what is the gospel according to Maybry?  It is “you matter to God.”  And when we live that out through mission’s projects and speak the words “you matter to God” to others then “we are that message.”  Maybry states,

               “So yeah, we have some hammers to swing, some mouths to feed, but mostly we have a gospel to preach.  And we preach that message and we live that message and we demonstrate it, and if Christ is embodied in us, if Jesus Christ is really in us as this passage said, then we are that message…I know that’s a stretch, but to that degree we are the gospel.  That’s big “C”.  And we try hard at this church to live into that.  Every member of this church should be involved in some mission project…everyone should be because we are the gospel, we live the gospel, we tell the gospel, we proclaim it, we swing hammers, we put up – we do all that stuff, but we are the gospel, we are the message.  So go live it and be it.” (13:14 – 14:12)

            What is important to note here is that Maybry never states the objective doctrinal content of his Calvinist soteriology in a sermon specifically about the gospel.  Surely his Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are the content of his view of salvation.  They are the full and final explanation as to how and why a person becomes saved or not.  For the Calvinist these doctrines just are the message of salvation.  Or at least they should be.  So where are his “doctrines of grace?”  Why doesn’t he speak about “sovereign grace,” about sin and the total inability of man, the bondage of the will, unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace?  These are the great truths of salvation for the Calvinist.  If they are not the gospel for the Calvinist then what gospel message does the Calvinist preach?  What is its content?  Is it inconsistent with their “doctrines of grace?”  Maybry has stated, “The one thing that’s clear is Jesus.  That God has entered human history in Jesus Christ, and has saved, restored, recreated, fixed, salvaged – however you want to put it – God’s world which has gone awry.  We all agree with that.”  But how is this reflective of Maybry’s “doctrines of grace?”  If the “doctrines of grace” are the gospel then why don’t Calvinists preach them as the gospel?  And if they are not the gospel, then what purpose do these “doctrines of grace” serve in gospel ministry?

            What this silence shows us is that the Calvinist soteriology cannot be employed in the service of the gospel or evangelistic ministry.  There is no “good news” in Calvinism.  This is the major reason why evangelicals (the word “evangel” means “good news”) are a distinct body of believers because they see that the gospel is at stake in these other denominations.  When the gospel is at stake, division is both necessary and right.  Paul knew that as we see in Galatians.  We should stand on the authority of God’s word as to the content of the gospel for the sake of both “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude v. 3) and the works that spring from people who have been “born again” and are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

Myers Park Presbyterian Church Revisited: The “For the Gospel” Sermon[45]

            Rev. Dr. Joe Clifford, the pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian church, states that the

               “Unified sermon series is a great idea, but the only challenge is the church isn’t very unified.  And the question that divides us is how we define the gospel.  So as we’re all preaching on “For the Gospel,” the question comes, “What gospel?” (1:08 – 1:27)

            I give Dr. Clifford credit for his honesty at the beginning of his sermon.  He acknowledged that the gospel is the very thing that divides the church.  I presume he has his Calvinist soteriology in mind as compared to non-Calvinist soteriologies.  That the church “isn’t very unified” soteriologically and therefore in the gospel, is something evangelical churches are in denial about.  Here Dr. Clifford acknowledges it, but evangelicals will not.

            He recognized that if all these different denominations are preaching on “For the Gospel,” then the question “What gospel?” surfaces immediately and needs to be addressed.  Note that in saying that “the question that divides us is how we define the gospel” Dr. Clifford is affirming that there is an objective, substantive definition of the gospel.  If there wasn’t, what would there be to create the division he acknowledges?  If there is division over the gospel, then there must be some content to the gospel and that content differs substantially among denominations.  Let’s see if he gets at that gospel content and answers the important question he himself raised.

            He asks,

               “How do you define the gospel?  What is it?  …Every other Tuesday our staff meets and we start with worship.  And this past Tuesday…our parish associate led us and she asked us that question, “What is the gospel?”  She was playing on an article in The Christian Century that posed that question to Christian scholars to define the gospel in seven words or less…  So what were some of those answers?  Martin Marty, who was lead editor for The Christian Century, he came up with one that’s pretty good.  He said…“God in Christ loves you anyhow.” That’s not bad.  New Testament scholar Beverly Gaventa put it this way, “In Christ, God’s “yes” defeats our “no.””  I like that one.  …a great rap that’s on the internet [is] entitled “Life In Six Words.”  It’s an anagram of the word GOSPEL – God Our Sins Paying Everyone Life…I thought that was pretty good…” (4:48 – 6:15)

            Putting aside an analysis of these definitions in their own right, note that Dr. Clifford can’t but help assess these definitions of the gospel on some objective criteria or basis of their content.  He says “That not bad,” “I like that one” and “I thought that was pretty good.”

            Note also that the rap song states that everyone’s sins were paid for by God.  This is contrary to Dr. Clifford’s Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement.[46]  Dr. Clifford states “Love God with all you are, love your neighbor as yourself” is “also a pretty good summary” of the gospel, “though that’s more about what we do, and gospel is typically more about what God has done.”  So this then is really not a “pretty good summary of the gospel.”  Which is it?  Note that this too is an assessment that requires a knowledge of some objective content about what the gospel is.  So all this is not very helpful at getting at the definition of the gospel.

            He then asks the crucial question,

               “So what is the gospel?  This is the question that is at the heart of today’s reading.  Paul comes to Galatia and he founds a church of predominantly Gentiles.  He founds them on the gospel of grace in our Lord Jesus Christ – that in Christ God has claimed us all as God’s very own children.” (6:35 – 7:00)

            Here we have one definition of “the gospel of grace in Our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is, “that in Christ God has claimed us all as God’s very own children.”  According to Maybry this was the message Paul brought to unbelievers to found the church in Galatia.  But what does this mean?  Did Paul really preach this?  Where is this in the text or in other Scriptures?  What does he mean by “in Christ God has claimed us all as God’s very own children?”  Does Dr. Clifford mean to say that we are all – believers and unbelievers – God’s children?  In what sense?  As in the “fatherhood of God” over all his creatures, or as in salvation?  Therefore, is the gospel that “in Christ God has claimed you as his very own child?”  Is this the biblical gospel?  We need clarity here.

            He goes on to explain the passage.  In table fellowship the Galatians were divided among themselves.  Some Jews from James were saying that the Gentiles had to be circumcised to become real Christians and eat certain foods and practice certain disciplines.  Peter, along with Barnabas, separated themselves from the Gentiles, bowing to the peer-pressure of the Judaizers.  Clifford then states,

               “In Paul’s response we get a hint of what Paul believes the gospel is…Paul is undone by this hypocrisy…You see the table fellowship was at the heart of the gospel for Paul.  Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  He’s not just talking about himself.  He’s talking about every person who’s ever been baptized.  In baptism we are crucified to ourselves.  Crucified to those things that divide us.” (7:43 – 9:15)

            When Paul says “I am crucified with Christ” Dr. Clifford says this applies to “every person who’s ever been baptized.” (Including infants?)  We can agree if he is referring to believers.  But then he applies it to being “crucified to those things that divide us.”  He has broadened this text to mean that since we have been crucified with Christ in baptism we are also dead to those things that divide us.  In what sense?  In the context of this “Unified Sermon Series” presumably this includes the division among Calvinists and non-Calvinist over the gospel itself.  So what does the gospel have to become so that divisions over the gospel dissolve?  It seems that Dr. Clifford is proposing that the substance of what we believe is made irrelevant by our being “crucified to ourselves” in baptism.  But why would that nullify the content of what we believe, let alone its justifications?  And if being “crucified to ourselves” removes divisions, then I wonder if Dr. Clifford would be the first to renounce everything that divides him from other Christians – his Presbyterian form of government, his TULIP soteriology, the Westminster Confession, etc.  Since he has been “crucified with Christ” and crucified to himself these things do not matter anymore.  Do I have any volunteers among the different denominations to start off the unity effort by forever putting aside their denominational distinctives?  No takers?  I didn’t think so.

            Dr. Clifford’s says, “…the table fellowship was at the heart of the gospel for Paul.”  Was this really the case?  How so?

            Dr. Clifford attempts another “definition” of the gospel.

               “…for Paul the truth of the gospel is it’s ultimately not about me and it’s ultimately not about you.  It’s not about whether I’m a Jew or a Gentile, male or female, slave or free because I have been crucified with Christ and so have you and so have they and it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in all of us.  And so, we must be in fellowship, together, all of us.  I wonder what that question means when we bring it to the heart of the divisions of Christ’s church in our day.  What would it mean for us to really own that truth – I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  (9:53 – 10:52)

            Dr. Clifford is asking some honest, probing questions.  But reminiscent of Rick Warren, Dr. Clifford states, “…for Paul the truth of the gospel is it’s ultimately not about me and it’s ultimately not about you.”  So what is it about?  This is ambiguous. 

            Although Paul would hold that various distinctions among people have nothing to do with the gospel except that they are transcended by its message, it does not follow that there’s no objective content to the gospel by which it can be distinguished from false gospels.  What if someone was able to show from a sound examination of the Scripture that the gospel has objective and even multi-faceted content?  Would that biblical evidence justify dividing over the gospel from those who hold views incompatible with that evidence?  If not, then Paul could not divide from the Judaizers or amidst those who “want to distort the gospel” claim that there is only one gospel, that is, “the one we preached to you” (Gal. 1:7, 8). There was a particular content to the gospel for Paul and to fail to recognize that the Calvinist and non-Calvinist gospel messages are mutually exclusive is to ignore Paul’s words to beware of a gospel “contrary to the one you received” (Gal. 1:9).  To dismiss the fact of mutual exclusivity for the sake of unity is not to be “for the Gospel,” it is rather to ignore the gospel.  In fact, it just might be to preach a gospel contrary to the one Paul preached, and in that case, what Paul says in Gal. 1 and 2 applies in force.  If we were to really own that truth – I have been crucified with Christ – that would not mean that the gospel has no objective content.  It is not the content of the gospel that has been crucified with Christ.  In fact, crucifixion is an element of the content of the gospel.  The issue in this text is not “don’t divide at any cost” but that the objective substance of the gospel needed to be brought to bear on a particular historical, theological and social circumstance.

            “We must be in fellowship, all of us.”  That’s fine, but unless Dr. Clifford is willing to renounce his soteriology, I think this is going to be limited to social activities which as Dr. Maybry has pointed out are not uniquely Christian.

            Realizing that no one is going to compromise the content of their soteriology, Dr. Clifford finally has to give up on the substantive question “What is the gospel?”  He states,

               “Perhaps the question is not “What is the gospel?”  For when the question is “What is the gospel?” then we start fighting over its content – “We’re justified by grace,” “we baptize infants,” “we only baptize believers,” “we do this,” “we do that,” “you have to say the sinner’s prayer,” “you have to be born again,” “you have to go to the Catholic church.”  We come up with all these debates when the question is “What is the gospel?”  For Paul that’s not the question.  The question for Paul is “Who is the gospel?”  The gospel is Jesus Christ.  And I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live.  It is no longer Presbyterians or Baptist or Methodist or Lutherans or Mainline or Evangelical or Catholic or Orthodox.  It is no longer white people or black people or brown people.  It is no longer citizens or immigrants or human beings or aliens.  It is no longer democrats or republicans; no longer liberals or conservatives.  It’s no longer how I define the gospel or how you define the gospel.  It’s no longer how they define the gospel.  For it is no longer I who live.  It is no longer you who lives.  It is no longer they who live.  But Christ who lives within me, who lives within you, who lives within us, who lives within all of them.  Beloved, if the church of Jesus Christ could live into that reality in our city, if we could live into this gospel and be the living body of Christ for our city, that would indeed be the greatest gift we could ever give to Charlotte.  May it be so.  Amen.”  (10:53 – End)

            Here Dr. Clifford is jettisoning the content of the gospel by shifting our thinking from there being objective content to the gospel message to understanding the gospel as the person of Jesus.  Of course there is truth to this perspective, but when we acknowledge “the gospel” is a “who” it appears that we can cast aside those pesky definitions of the gospel that divide us.  But we get those pesky definitions from Scripture.  They come along with the “who” question.  They come along with Jesus Christ.  My fear is that in doing away with the “what gospel?” question, the authority of Scripture or at least the idea we can confidently interpret it goes away with it.[47]

            What is the gospel?  Clifford states, “For Paul that’s not the question.  The question for Paul is “Who is the gospel?”  The gospel is Jesus Christ.”  Well, how do we know this?  Sure Jesus is central to the gospel, but this is a minimalist and truncated view of the gospel as the objective message we need to speak to others.  Clifford’s idea is that if there is no “what” to the content of the gospel and just a “who,” with the “definition” of the gospel being merely “Jesus,” then there would be nothing left to divide us anymore.   When we don’t ask “What is the gospel?” but ask “Who is the gospel?” all division is supposed to cease.  But all substantive, objective content about what constitutes the gospel message vanishes too.  All Christians, by definition, acknowledge Jesus.  But what is it about Jesus that we acknowledge?  If someone were to ask me “What is the gospel?” according to Dr. Clifford I am supposed to tell them they are asking the wrong question.  They should ask “Who is the gospel?”  When they ask “Who is the gospel?” I would answer “Jesus.”  They might ask “What do you mean?”  At that point all I can say, “I mean the gospel is Jesus.”  “What” is off limits.

            So I am still asking what this gospel is all about that we are to “live into?”   What does it mean to “live into this gospel?”  What does it mean to “live into” Jesus?  Furthermore, has Dr. Clifford unintentionally moved from the message of the “evangel” or “good news,” to the matter of sanctification?

            If there is no objective content to the gospel with which we can discern “the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:5), Paul could never make a case as to why Peter and Barnabas were not acting in accord with the truth of the gospel.  The gospel is not merely “unity at all costs” and “We shall not divide over anything!  No never!”  The issue in this text has to do with the content of the gospel message and in order to understand the text we have to know what that content is.  If the content of the gospel is “unify” then the gospel has no content other than that.  And as far as being “born again” as one of those things we “fight over” and should put aside, the last time I looked it was Jesus himself who said to Nicodemus “You must be born again” (Jn. 3:3, 7; 1 Pet. 1:23).  Does the content of the gospel always lead to unity and non-division at any cost?  Is that the essence of the gospel?  Not according to Paul in Galatians when there are distortions and messages being spoken that are a “different gospel” (1:6).  But “not that there is another one” (1:7), but there are those who “trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (1:7).  They “preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you” (1:8).  And anyone who preaches “to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (1:9).  As well as pointing out the seriousness of this matter, Paul is indicating that two mutually exclusive gospels cannot be the case in the church.  But that is the situation that presently exists in contemporary Evangelicalism.  According to Paul, it needs to be reckoned with. 

            Clifford’s solution to the division “problem” is let’s just do away with all that theological content that causes division and live “in Jesus.”  But why are these divisions a problem in the first place?  Who says they are a problem?  And who says that the Church is less “effective” given those divisions?  What if one of those divisions is closer to “the truth of the gospel” than another?  Oh, but I forgot.  We don’t think of the gospel in terms of its truth content.  We just “think” about the gospel in terms of “Jesus.”  We don’t ask, “What is the gospel message?”  We can only ask, “Who is the gospel?”

            Moreover, how is it that because “it is no longer I who live” the gospel can no longer be defined by anyone?  The solution to theological differences is not to put our head and minds in the sand about them, but discern just how the Scripture is being interpreted so as to come to these different views and ask, “Is it being interpreted correctly or incorrectly?”  What we have here is the theological, soteriological and hermeneutical dumbing-down of evangelical Christians.  Don’t think.  Don’t get confused by theology.  Don’t interpret.  Just be “crucified with Christ” and believe that “the gospel is Jesus.”

            Clifford says, “The question for Paul is “Who is the gospel?””  But where is that in the text?   Clifford is avoiding the problem of the differences over the gospel that he raised at the beginning of his sermon – a problem that affirmed that there is content to the gospel – by changing the “What” to a “Who.”  The issue of “What is the gospel?” is not being faced head-on with sound biblical exegesis.

            Pastor Kallam insisted that “one thing we agree on is the gospel” and each of these pastors is struggling to make that agreement happen.  But we can see that it is impossible to claim agreement without substantive content.  Agreement presupposes some content to either agree or disagree about. Has that content been reduced to the nebulous phrase, “we agree on Jesus?”  And again, it is also impossible to claim agreement on mutually exclusive gospels.  So it seems that if there is going to be, or has to be agreement “for the Gospel” among denominations that have mutually exclusive soteriologies, then the gospel content has to be minimized and diluted.[48] 

            So, how can we agree on something about which there is no content?  What is being asked of us is to agree with Dr. Clifford’s idea that “the gospel is Jesus.”  What that means we cannot ask.  And how can we agree on soteriologies and gospels that are mutually exclusive?  This is what makes Pastor Kallam’s claim that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel” so baffling.

            Note that the biblical definition of the gospel as “good news” was never mentioned nor was it demonstrated as to how that definition might lend insight into discerning which of these incompatible gospels – Calvinist or non-Calvinist – might be closer to the biblical truth and which has gone awry.

            Note also the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” were not mentioned in answer to the question “What is the gospel?”  Did Dr. Clifford abandon those tenets of his faith, i.e., his objective content, when he shifted from “What is the gospel?” to “Who is the gospel?”  It would seem so.

            Dr. Clifford has stripped the “gospel” of its biblical content and definition to achieve some kind of “unity.”   But Paul would never have done this and that is not what he was exhorting the Galatians to do.  This is a difficult text to exegete and interpret.  It involves historical and theological nuances that given our contemporary Christian perspectives we are simply not familiar with.  We should be careful not to impose our own meaning upon any text or use it to support an agenda of “unification.” 

            We can begin to see how serious a matter this is.  This is an issue that has theological, ethical and evangelistic implications.  Most importantly it has implications for the character of God and the gospel.

Kallam and Payne Revisted

            Let’s return to Kallam and Payne’s sermons.  Given the above information, how is it that Pastor Kallam can come to the conclusion that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel?”  The point is that even though the circumstance in Galatians involved Judaizers influencing Jewish believers to revert to or adopt Jewish traditions as related to the gospel and salvation,[49] the “no other gospel” principle in Paul’s argument in Galatians 1-3 certainly applies here.  That is, if this Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy touches upon elements of the gospel that if altered would distort the gospel as the “good news” that it is (i.e., the assurance of God’s universal salvific will, the love of God for all sinners, the universal extent of the atonement, faith as the person’s humble, free will response to the gospel, etc.), as I think Calvinism clearly does, then it too falls under Paul’s warnings and condemnation in Galatian 1-3 and it becomes imperative that we preserve “the truth of the gospel” (2:5).  The point is that two mutually exclusive gospels cannot both be the truth of the gospel.

            So do Kallam and Payne define and understand the gospel as Calvinists do?  It appears they do not.  Dr. Payne states,

               “What does the word “gospel” mean?  Because it’s thrown around a lot and I’m throwin’ it around a lot today.  What does it mean that we’re for the gospel?  What does “gospel” mean?  The word “gospel” means “good news.”  Good news.  So we are for “good news.”  What is the “good news?”  Well let me let the apostle Paul explain it a little bit further in Romans chapter 1 verses 16 and 17.  This is what he says about the “good news” and its power to save people.” (24:50 – 25:09)

               “…What Paul begins to communicate in Romans, and he further clarifies here in Galatians chapter 2, is that we are justified through our faith in Christ alone…and what Paul is essentially saying is that you have been declared and made righteous in the sight of God our ultimate judge because of Jesus.  And that happened not because of your works – but look at the passage – because of your simple faith.  The power of God is the gospel of Jesus.  The power of God to salvation for all people is this simple truth that we can now be justified, not by our works, but by our faith in Christ alone.”  (25:39 – 26:15)

               “This is the greatest gift that we can give to Charlotte, because it’s the only gift that has the power to save people from their sins…When I was in 4th grade I was introduced to the gospel of Jesus – this understanding that through my simple childlike faith I can trust in Jesus and be made righteous before God.  That I could accept the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for me. That Jesus took my place.  And I could live into something greater than myself.” (29:28 – 29:37)

            Note that the gospel Dr. Payne heard as child came with the assurance that it applied to him – that he was included.  Also, his understanding is that he accepted this good news by faith.  He talks about being “justified” and “declared and made righteous” by “simple childlike faith” or “simple faith” as contrasted with “works.”  He states, “The power of God to salvation for all people is this simple truth that we can now be justified, not by our works, but by our faith in Christ alone.”  So, contrary to Calvinist unconditional election and pre-faith regeneration, we take it that all may be saved simply believing this “good news.”  On the basis of what Dr. Payne says here we are warranted in thinking that he does not hold to a Calvinist soteriology.[50]

            In addition to his definitions above Kallam states,

               “So what’s it look like for you and me to live as gospel-centered people?  When we come to accept that by faith, we accept the gospel and the good news, that we say it this way, Jesus did for you and he did for me what we could never – underline, underscore, highlight the word never – do for ourselves.  Then here’s what I believe it means – you’ve given up on yourself.  If you’ve accepted the gospel then you’ve given up on yourself….and everything comes by grace, through faith, in Christ. (23:37 – 24:39)

            He mentions “accepting” the gospel and what Jesus did “for you and he did for me,” along with “you’ve given up on yourself.”  In his closing prayer Kallam states,

               “Father, thank you for who you are in our lives.  And I thank you for the truth of your word.  I thank you for the gospel.  For the cross.  For the sacrifice that our Savior paid so that we might be justified – we might have all of our sins pardoned.  For all of us Father the greatest need of our lives is not happiness, it’s not a job, it’s not health, it’s not money.  The greatest need of our lives is to deal with our sin.  And you did that through the gospel.  And as we sit here, if the gospel has become part of your story, then just take a moment and say thanks, cause’ you gave up on yourself.  You let Jesus do for you what you could never do for yourself.  But I also know that you might be here this morning…and you still haven’t wrestled with that question of who Jesus is.  Can I invite you in on the greatest story the world will ever hear?  The greatest truth that will ever enter into your life.  And that’s the gospel.  For by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone God made a way to pardon us of all our sins.  Here’s the beauty of it.  Where you sit this morning, you simply ask him into your heart.  You respond to that gift that he’s given by saying Father I believe in what your Son did and he did it for me.  And I put my faith and my trust in Jesus.  Does it mean everything in life’s gonna go smooth, no, but it does mean that eternity is settled.”  (29:01 – 30:55)

            Much of what is said here presupposes or states explicitly that the gospel or God’s work of salvation is universal in scope: “…in Christ alone God made a way to pardon us of all our sins,” and “…he did it for me.”  This universal, personal assurance is essential to the gospel for it to be “good news” rather than just “news.”  That salvation is a “gift” implies that it can be received or rejected which in turn implies a degree of human freedom and involvement to receive the salvation God has accomplished on our behalf.  Note that the “gift” is salvation, not the faith to believe it as Calvinists interpret Eph. 2:6.  Believing is the sinner’s responsibility.  Kallam states, “You respond to that gift…,” “…you simply ask him into your heart,” “Father I believe in what your Son did…”  Since salvation is appropriated “through faith alone,” there is the possibility that every sinner may be saved – no one is excluded.  Kallam says that is “the beauty of it.  Where you sit this morning, you simply ask him into your heart.  You respond to that gift that he’s given by saying Father I believe in what your Son did and he did it for me.  And I put my faith and my trust in Jesus.”  In addition, the fact that by believing “eternity is settled” presupposes that it was not settled by God in eternity past through an unconditional election or predestination.  It is settled in time by a decision the person makes regarding what he has heard.  All these statements, invitations and assurances are consistent with a non-Calvinist soteriology and gospel message and inconsistent with Calvinist soteriology.

            Kallam states,

               “I wanna live out the gospel.  I wanna live out by displaying love and grace and generosity and truth across all of Charlotte so that others can hear and be in on the good news of what Jesus has accomplished…If you’ve been let in on what God did through Jesus, if that’s become a part of your story, then you know what, you have the privilege and the responsibility to let all other people who come in contact with you in on that same thing.” (27:02– 27:39) [51]

               “What I wanna live out is the gospel.  That’s it…I don’t care if they believe other things different than me.  What I care about is what they do with Jesus.”  (28:13 – 28:30)

            Besides the fact that the phrase “what they do with Jesus” is somewhat nebulous, “what they do with Jesus” is a very different matter from within each of these soteriologies.  For the Calvinist “what they do with Jesus” will just be what God has predetermined “they do” with Jesus.  Neither you, nor they themselves, have anything to do with “what they do with Jesus” or where they will spend eternity.  On Calvinism, when you “let all other people who come in contact with you in on the same thing” it is not as though “what they do with Jesus” is an open issue for them.  The matter is closed for them.  It is closed for every one of us.  We are all predestined to either eternal life or eternal death.

            Therefore, what is the nature and content of the message about what “God did through Jesus” that you have the privilege to bring to others?  What is it that you are letting them in on?  What is the content of the “good news” you will tell them?   Will it have elements of divine love, grace, possibility, potentiality, contingency, command, invitation, personal responsibility, urgency, warning, etc.?  Will it provide assurances of God’s love and Christ’s death on their behalf?  Will it call them to believe as something they can and must do?  What Kallam seems to be saying is that we are responsible to bring the gospel to others and they are responsible for their acceptance or rejection of that message.  So what is the content of “the good news” we bring to others?

Calvinists or Non-Calvinists: What Do These Pastors Believe?

            Since the very gospel is involved here, we would like to know – and these pastors have the responsibility to tell us – where they stand on this matter of the gospel in relation to the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies.  It seems that as far as their “For the Gospel” sermons go both Kallam and Payne are not Calvinists.  But this is a tricky thing to discern at times because as we are already observing, pastors and teachers can be non-committal, vague or even double-minded on this issue for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty that the Calvinist view has with being “good news.”

            One way to gain more insight here is by listening to sermons on key texts like Ephesians 1 or Romans 9.[52]  In his “For the Gospel” sermon Kallam has said,

               “My point is what brings us together is the gospel.  And the essentials of the gospel are by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  That’s what I want to present.”

            Yet, as I noted above, these Reformation tenets, “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” – tenets that have everything to do with soteriology and the gospel as Kallam points out – are ambiguous as to their definitions and soteriological implications without further explanation.  A Calvinist will of course explain their meaning in a way that is incompatible with how a non-Calvinist will explain them, and which one is believed bears upon whether the gospel can be genuinely spoken of as “good news” or just “the news.”  For the gospel to be “good news,” and for the messenger to avoid hypocrisy and disingenuousness in its presentation, the salvation spoken of must actually be what God desires for the hearers and the hearers must be able to respond in faith to appropriate that salvation to themselves.  If they remain unsaved it is because they continue to reject the offer of salvation in unbelief.  For it to be “good news” the gospel must be applicable to the one hearing it.  As to the gospel content, if it is to be “good news,” every hearer must be assured and know it to be a genuine and sincere word from God for their salvation.  God is speaking truth, that is, what matches the reality of the situation for them in the gospel.  Of course, the consistent Calvinist need not and should not present the gospel in ways inconsistent with his soteriology.  But that requires they avoid statements like “God loves you” or invitations to “believe in Christ” or “come to Christ and be saved.”  The question then becomes whether this inclusion of all without exception is a “truth of the gospel.”  If it is, then Calvinism’s exclusion – that is, speaking about salvation for “all people” and simply meaning all without distinction – is not the true gospel.  Kallam seems to concur with the non-Calvinist gospel when he says God “invites us to get in on it.”  Again, this idea of invitation suggests God’s universal saving intent – that anyone can “get in on it.”  That everyone is included.

            Kallam continues,

               “What’s my point?  My point is what brings us together is the gospel.  And the essentials of the gospel are by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  That’s what I want to present.  You know why?  Because it’s God’s design that all people – all people – come to him through Christ.  And we need to have the courage to declare that with clarity.  Because that’s what brings us together.” (22:40 – 23:00)

            Now, when Kallam emphasizes, “It’s God’s design that all people – all people – come to him through Christ,” what does he mean by “design” and “all people?”  Does he mean merely that God has designed salvation such that all people without distinction come to him through Christ, or does he mean that it’s God’s desire that all people without exception should come to him and therefore he designed salvation to be through Christ by faith?  What does he mean by “God’s design?”  Is he emphasizing God’s saving design over God’s saving desire?  “Design” can be impersonal.  “Desire” is personal.  Is he saying that it’s God’s design that “all people,” used generically (i.e., “all people” without distinction), come to him through Christ (i.e., as the only way), and only those people that are elect will come, or is he saying that it is God’s desire that all people come to him and be saved and therefore he has “designed” salvation to be through the work of Christ on their behalf to be received by faith so anyone can be saved?

            You may think I am splitting hairs here, but I am just clueing you in on how words can mean different things to the Calvinist and non-Calvinist.  I am looking for clarity from our pastors and teachers in a controversy in which the gospel is at stake.  I think they owe it to us who listen to them week after week and would presumably have us to take what they say seriously.  I think it natural to be a little suspicious when Kallam can make the astonishing claim in light of the mutual exclusivity of the Calvinist and non-Calvinist gospels that “one thing will agree on is the gospel.”

            I think it is reasonable to expect that those who identify as Calvinists ought to present the gospel in a way consistent with their underlying soteriology, lest they find themselves involved in the very duplicity or hypocrisy Paul condemned in Peter.  But this raises a question as to what the Calvinist could say that would be consistent with his soteriology and also be “good news” to the hearer.  Those who do not hold to a Calvinist soteriology ought to do the same.  They ought to state what they believe and why.  But we can see that these are very different soteriologies and each has direct bearing upon the meaning and message of “the gospel” and whether or not it can be considered “good news.”

            Kallam is unclear here on God’s design or God’s desire as well as the meaning of the Reformation tenets.  The point is that we would hope that from what our pastors and teachers say, we would be able to know where they stand on this issue.  As those who sit under their preaching and teaching that is not too much to expect.  Whatever one’s position, they should say what they believe and say it with clarity.  If they have thought the matter through they certainly can’t believe both.  All this takes courage.  And whether one is a Calvinist or non-Calvinist, as Pastor Kallam says, they “need to have the courage to declare that with clarity.”  But given the mutual exclusivity of these soteriologies, the claim that “the one thing we agree on is the gospel” seems to me to lack both courage and clarity.[53]

            This lack of clarity is disappointing in the context of this multi-denominational network that is claiming agreement on the gospel.  Why wouldn’t a non-Calvinist or a Calvinist hold to his convictions when it comes to the gospel – especially when dealing with the text of Galatians where Paul gives us the example of non-compromise on this issue?  Which of these two incompatible messages do these pastors have the courage to declare with clarity?   Where is the courage to be clear about the precise content of the gospel?  Have they embraced soteriological relativism?  What is driving this forfeiting of logical thinking?  Recall also that Kallam has warned us that “…we need to be really careful in what we’re presenting.  If we’re distorting the truth of what Jesus did for us, then we’ll lead people into a drift that doesn’t represent the gospel as it’s talked about in Scripture.”  I agree, and so would Paul as we read in Galatians 1.  So which of these is the gospel “as it’s talked about in Scripture?”

            I am left baffled as to how someone can conclude that these Calvinist and non-Calvinist pastors agree on the gospel when their gospels are mutually exclusive.  On purely logical grounds, any claim that both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist preach the same gospel is false.  Two mutually exclusive propositions cannot both be true.  So this pretention about gospel agreement is perplexing.  Why would someone think there is such agreement, let alone affirm that there is?  Is it a matter of unity at all costs?  Is it “peer pressure?”  If we take Kallam’s warning that we need to be “really careful” in what’s being presented as the gospel, could one seriously maintain that there is no significant difference between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies with respect to the gospel?  Could one maintain and demonstrate that there is agreement between these soteriologies and gospels?  I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that any agreement claim is disingenuous. 

            I fear that the result of all this is a version of the hypocrisy that Dr. Payne warns against in his sermon.  It is saying something you really don’t believe.  I would like to escape this conclusion, but again, it can’t be that these pastors don’t see that there really is no agreement here.  In light of these case studies, I fear a “dumbing-down” of the content of the gospel – using words to describe the gospel that are so ambiguous as to render the word “gospel” void of substantive content.  If by “the gospel” one claims that two mutually exclusive soteriologies can be included in that definition, then they have created confusion as to what “the gospel” is by ignoring both the logical implications of their interpretation and the practical implications of the biblical definition of the word gospel or evangel, which means “good news.”  To fail to distinguish between to mutually exclusive soteriologies is to fail to see that the gospel is at stake in this controversy.  It is to disregard the matter of Scriptural authority, biblical interpretation and hermeneutics in favor of a watered-down unity which certainly seems is not a unity in the gospel.

            If Kallam himself speaks a non-Calvinist message, why then does he ignore the difference between his soteriology and gospel and the Calvinist’s soteriology and gospel by claiming that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel?”  If he is not a Calvinist, why doesn’t he make a distinction between his gospel and the Calvinist “gospel” when something as important as the gospel is at stake?  Of course it is not necessary to be continually refuting Calvinism in sermon after sermon.  But surely it needs to be addressed when the text requires it.  And given this context of networking Calvinist and non-Calvinist churches “For the Gospel” it is not too much to ask for clarity as to where a preacher stands on this matter.  Recall that the “ForCLT” materials state that this is one of “four topics that are at the core of our faith.”[54]  And also, “If we get the gospel wrong, we get everything wrong.”[55]  Let alone Paul’s perspective on the matter in Gal. 1-2!  Is this then a case of the appeasement Paul identified and condemned in Peter?  Do pastor’s “put on a mask” to avoid dealing with this issue?  If the gospel is at stake in this controversy, as I believe is evident, then the “no contrary gospel” principle Paul lays down in Galatians 1 applies.

            Certainly this Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy is not the identical situation Paul confronted Peter about in Galatians 2, yet the principle surely applies.[56]  The controversy in Galatians was a gospel message controversy, and so is this.  Paul’s warnings about “turning to a different gospel” (1:6), “distorting the gospel of Christ” (1:7), “a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you” (1:8), and “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (1:9), obviously apply in any situation where there are contrary, incompatible, opposing gospels.  Obviously if there are two mutually exclusive gospels in the evangelical church today that have logically and theologically contradictory foundational soteriological beliefs and profoundly different practical ministry and evangelistic implications, then there is “another gospel” present from the one Paul preached.  Which one was the one Paul preached?  The Calvinist or non-Calvinist gospel?  It cannot be both.

To Think or Not to Think? : The Evangelical Church in Soteriological and Gospel Denial

            The Church at Charlotte purpose statement reads,

               “Church at Charlotte exists to be an authentic community of Christ followers who are bringing gospel hope and renewal to our city and world.”

            Kallam states that they want to be “a community of Christ-followers bringing gospel renewal to our city and world.” (27:18 – 27:27)  He says, “What I wanna live out is the gospel.  That’s it…I don’t care if they believe other things different than me.  What I care about is what they do with Jesus.”  (28:13 – 28:30)  But a careful consideration of what is being presented as “the gospel” will reveal that the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies are mutually exclusive with respect to the gospel.  So we cannot help but care about the “other things” that they believe that are different than what we believe with respect to the gospel.  The “ForCLT” week 1 small group handout rightly asks, “What “good news” do the people of our area need to hear?”

            In light of all that has been presented above, unless one is willing to ignore the fact that two mutually exclusive soteriologies cannot both be true by embracing theological and interpretive relativism, then we must face this fact – one or the other or both of these gospels are a distortion of “the truth of what Jesus did for us.”  Dr. Payne speaks against relativism in his sermon. (22:55 – 23:57)  But if one can ignore the logical contradictions within one’s soteriology,[57] or the logical contradiction that exists between two different soteriologies, then we have embraced theological relativism.  Somewhere there is a distortion of “the truth of the gospel.”  And therefore, if we want to “live out…the truth across all of Charlotte,” then we have to know which of these is the “truth of the gospel.”   It seems to me therefore that it is not intellectually responsible nor accurate to claim that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel.” 

            Granted, there are differences among denominations that are less important and therefore do not hinder cooperative ministry efforts.  In his commentary on Galatians, Richard N. Longenecker writes,

               “Paul seems able to be magnanimous with regard to certain matters (the so-called adiaphora) only because he knows what the fundamental issues are.  Where, however, foundational matters are at stake, he is prepared, without hesitation, to draw clear lines and to speak with fervor in defense of “the truth of the gospel” (2:5, 14).  And that is what he does here, as well as elsewhere in his letters where the gospel itself is at stake (cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15; Col. 2:8).”[58]

            As magnanimous as we can and should be in other areas of theological difference, this is an instance that strikes at the very heart of the “evangel” and therefore what it means to be bringing “gospel hope and renewal.”  It is essential to what it means to be doing true “evangelistic” ministry. 

            This issue bears upon intellectual and personal integrity.  Two soteriologies that are mutually incompatible cannot both be true.  Thus, when the claim that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel” involves the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies, that claim is simply false.  This fact cannot be ignored.  It truly is a matter of “a different gospel” and therefore Paul’s views on this matter in Galatians apply.

Conclusions

            Dr. Payne stated, “If the greatest gift the church can give to Charlotte is the gospel, then if we get the gospel wrong, we get everything wrong.” (6:44-6:54)   Kallam is right, “we need to be really careful in what we’re presenting.  If we’re distorting the truth of what Jesus did for us, then we’ll lead people into a drift that doesn’t represent the gospel as it’s talked about in Scripture.”  Given the difference between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist gospels it is obvious that “the gospel” is not “one of those things we all agree on.”

            What is the content of the gospel Paul preached in light of the mutual exclusivity of the two gospels that exist in the evangelical church today?  That is the question that needs to occupy the best thinking and resources of those who call themselves “evangelical Christians,” that is, believers of the “good news” and followers of Christ.  We need to be thinking hard about why there are two mutually exclusive gospels and why we are in denial of this fact.

            What these “For the Gospel” sermons have demonstrated to me is that the evangelical church is in denial about the issue of “the truth of the gospel.”  More accurately it is an issue of the denial of truth and the way we know it.  This controversy exposes the propensity of the evangelical church to ignore the rules of thought in hermeneutics.  It is a hermeneutical and interpretive relativism that says “Incompatible interpretations are just fine.”  The problem here is we are saying “your interpretation is good for you and my interpretation is good for me” while the interpretations are contradictory with each other.

            Only when we have the courage to admit that we have been dismissing the fact that there are two incompatible soteriologies and gospels in the evangelical church today and that this is intellectually dishonest, will there be any movement towards true biblical unity, which needs to be first and foremost unity in truth and in the objective content of the gospel.  If this problem is not confronted and clarified, the evangelical church will damage its credibility, forfeit the effectiveness of its Christian witness, erode the substance of the gospel message and sink into the morass of theological relativism.

            What these pastors are refusing to acknowledge (they surely know about it) is that there is a “distinction” between their theologies that is not merely a “preference” but involves mutual incompatibility.  I say “refuse to acknowledge” because certainly knowing about it (which of them has not wrestled with the issues Calvinism raises), they still claim that “one of the things we agree on is the gospel.”  They claim they are all “for the Gospel.”  But they are ignoring the issue as to what gospel each of them is “for.”  The Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies are not in agreement as to soteriology and the content of the gospel.  To insist that this unity exists when it certainly does not is duplicitous.  It is willful ignorance in this matter, a cause of confusion among believers and diminishes the effectiveness of the gospel ministry.

The gospel is accompanied by the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit is the Spirit of truth.  He will not work – indeed, he cannot work – through a distorted or false gospel.  The gospel is at stake in this controversy.  Kallam is right when he says, “…if we’re gonna be gospel-centered people, if we’re gonna take the gospel to our city, then we need to understand what the gospel is…”  So, what is the gospel?  What will you tell them?  Will your words be consistent with your soteriology?  Amid all the definitions of the gospel given in these sermons, the question “what is the gospel?’ still needs to be answered with respect to the Calvinist/non-Calvinist controversy.  It needs to be answered because “if we get the gospel wrong, we get everything wrong.”  What we do know is that someone here has got the gospel wrong.


Home


[1] Dr. Chris Payne, “For the Gospel” sermon, (Unified Sermon Series),  http://newcharlotte.org/sermons/for-clt/for-the-gospel (1:49 – 3:41)

[2] https://forcharlotte.org/resources/unified-sermon-series/

[3] Week 1 Sermon Outline, p.1. (Emphases mine throughout) You can access the sermon series materials here: https://forcharlotte.org/resources/unified-sermon-series/   The series was preached on the Sundays from 9/9 to 9/30/2018.

[4] Jim Kallam, “For the Gospel” sermon, (Unified Sermon Series),  https://s3.amazonaws.com/cac-podcasts/9-9-18+SouthPark.mp3  See also www.chruchatcharlotte.org

[5] Dr. Chris Payne, “For the Gospel” sermon, (Unified Sermon Series),  http://newcharlotte.org/sermons/for-clt/for-the-gospel  The New Charlotte Church has since merged with the Church at Charlotte.  They are now called New City Church.

[6] Dr. Joe Clifford, “For the Gospel” (Unified Sermon Series), Sept. 9, 2018  https://myersparkpres.org/project/sermons

[7] Reverend Luke Maybry, “For the Gospel” sermon, (Unified Sermon Series), Sept. 9, 2018.  http://www.matthewspresbyterian.org/worship/sermons-local.cfm

http://s3.amazonaws.com/fws3_matthews/MPCSermon-2018-09-09-ReverendLukeMaybry.mp3  Last accessed Oct. 1, 2018.

[8] My assessments of these sermons are of their content with respect to the issues under consideration – the influence of Calvinism in the sermons, whether Calvinism is consistent with the gospel as “good news,” whether Calvinism is influencing pastoral preaching and sermon content and whether pastors are comprehending and clearly articulating the biblical gospel.  Nothing is to be construed as critical of the persons themselves.  That is not my intent and I have been careful to avoid gratuitous criticism and ad hominem attacks. 

[9] For a good treatment of this issue see A. Chadwick Thornhill, The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015), 135-146.

[10] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.1, p. 30.

[11] The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, https://www.the1689confession.com/1689/chapter-3  Last accessed 2/4/2019.

[12] E. H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009, p. 30. As found in John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 54.  Lennox footnotes “We should note, however, that the Westminster Confession explicitly states that “God is not the author of sin”; Art. 3, Para. 1.”

[13] B. B. Warfield, “Biblical Doctrines” art., “Predestination,” p. 9, quoted in L. Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 1971, pp. 31-32.  From John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 54.

[14] R.C. Sproul, “God’s Decree and Creation.” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/gods-decree-and-creation/  Last accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

[15]Erwin Lutzer, “The Mysteries of God” Series, Sermon 3, “The Decrees of God.”  Oct. 18, 2015. https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/mysteries-god/decrees-god/#.XD5GEo-WxD8  Last accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

[16] John Piper, “Why Does God’s Sovereignty Make Some Ambitious and Others Apathetic.”  Desiring God Website.  https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/why-does-god-s-sovereignty-make-some-ambitious-and-others-apathetic  Last accessed Jan. 11, 2018

[17] “Unbelievable” with Justin Brierley – “Does God Predetermine Everything?”  April 26, 2019. https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Does-God-predetermine-everything-Chris-Date-and-Leighton-Flowers-debate-scripture  (12:09 – 12:47)

[18] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.2, p. 30.

[19] William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10.  Oct. 21, 2012.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/  Last accessed Aug. 24, 2018.  I highly recommend reading the transcript or listening to the lecture at this link.  Craig offers a five-fold critique of Calvinism and concludes, “For those reasons I think that the Calvinistic view of universal divine causal determinism is one that is unacceptable for Christian theology.”  If you believe logical and moral coherence are reliable determiners of interpretive validity, then on the basis of these philosophical observations you would agree with Dr. Craig that Calvinism is an unbiblical soteriology and theology.  The question that remains is whether or not such philosophical and moral reasoning are essential to a sound hermeneutic.  Non-Calvinists believe they are essential, while Calvinists do not.  Hence, the Calvinist’s flight to mystery in the face of the incoherence of their interpretations.

[20] From the edited transcript of an April 24, 2010 interview titled “Has God Predetermined Every Tiny Detail in the Universe, Including Sin?”  https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/has-god-predetermined-every-tiny-detail-in-the-universe-including-sin  Last accessed 1/30/2018.

[21] Mark R. Talbot, All the Good That Is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us, John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77.  As found in Leighton Flowers, The Potter’s Promise: A Biblical Defense of Traditional Soteriology (Trinity Academic Press, 2017), 77.

[22] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.3, p. 32.

[23] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 926.

[24] From the radio broadcast transcript “Answering The Key Questions About The Doctrine of Election”, by John MacArthur.  Found at http://www.gty.org/resources.php?section=transcripts&aid=GTY106_T

© 2005-2007. Grace to You. All rights reserved.

[25] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978.), X.1, p.88.

[26] Ibid., X.2, p. 88.

[27] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.4, p. 32.

[28] Ibid., III.6, p. 35.

[29] Ibid., III.2, p.30.

[30] Ibid., III.5, p. 33.

[31] Phillip Graham Ryken, What is a True Calvinist? Basics of the Reformed Faith Series, (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing, 2003), 9.

[32] Ibid. 17-18.

[33] R. C. Sproul, “The Doctrine of Reprobation,” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-doctrine-of-reprobation/   Last accessed July 9, 2018.

[34] For an example of how a Calvinist takes comfort in his doctrine of predestination see “Predestination is Biblical, Beautiful and Practical” by Jeff Robinson, The Gospel Coalition, July 30, 2018. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/predestination-biblical-beautiful-practical/  Last accessed 9/26/2018.  

[35] Many Calvinists do not hold to limited atonement.  But denying this tenet does nothing to relieve Calvinism of its logical and moral incoherence which is rooted in its determinism.

[36] Again, this description is from William Lane Craig’s five-fold critique of Calvinism.  See William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10.  Oct. 21, 2012.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/  You can read the transcript or listen to the lecture at this link.  Last accessed June 9, 2018.

[37] PCUSA stands for Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

[38] Jane Dempsey Douglass, “Predestination: A theologian discusses the history of a much misunderstood tenet.”  Interview by Vic Jameson.  https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/predestination/  Last accessed 8/21/2018.  This article originally appeared in the September 1985 issue of Presbyterian Survey (now Presbyterians Today). The quotes to follow are taken from this article.

[39] Furthermore, as much as it is right for Christians to be “serving the needs of their neighbors” and providing “food for the poor,” it’s hard to see how a deterministic understanding of predestination engenders and motivates these deeds.  My point here is that we should not think that these matters of Christian charity depend upon embracing a Calvinist definition of predestination as Jane Dempsey Douglass indicated.

[40] Dr. Chris Payne, “For the Gospel” sermon, (Unified Sermon Series),  http://newcharlotte.org/sermons/for-clt/for-the-gospel  (00:00 – 1:24)

[41] The obituary of Martha Alexander Hazel, The Charlotte Observer, Friday, June 2, 2017, p.12A.

[42] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 926.

[43] Reverend Luke Maybry, “For the Gospel” sermon, (Unified Sermon Series), Sept. 9, 2018.  http://www.matthewspresbyterian.org/worship/sermons-local.cfm

http://s3.amazonaws.com/fws3_matthews/MPCSermon-2018-09-09-ReverendLukeMaybry.mp3  Last accessed Oct. 1, 2018.

[44] Pete Seeger, “If I Had A Hammer,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl-yszPdRTk Last accessed Oct. 1, 2018.  The lyrics can be found at http://lyrics.wikia.com/wiki/Pete_Seeger:If_I_Had_A_Hammer_(Hammer_Song)

[45] Dr. Joe Clifford, “For the Gospel” (Unified Sermon Series), Sept. 9, 2018  https://myersparkpres.org/project/sermons

[46] Granted many Calvinists reject limited atonement, but this does not help when you retain unconditional election.  Note that what Dr. Clifford is doing here is typical of the Calvinist.  When talking about the gospel, they simply ignore their Calvinist soteriological doctrines.  Why this happens could be anything from the need to appear coherent to the need to please others and not offend non-Calvinists.  Either way it is hypocritical of Calvinists to pretend to be what they are not.  This hypocrisy is the very thing Dr. Clifford recognizes as the problem in Peter’s behavior in the text for this sermon.

[47] We could examine the social implications of this tendency to shy away from objective biblical truth, especially with regard to the gospel.  For instance, in the “Social Issues” section on the Presbyterian Mission website we find their position on “Sexuality and Same-Gender Relationships.” The PCUSA mission website states,

               “At the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis in June 2018, the Presbyterian Church voted unanimously to pass three Overtures.”  Overture 11-12 states, “On Affirming and Celebrating the Full Dignity and Humanity of People of All Gender Identities: Acknowledges the church’s past mistake in being unwelcoming to transgender and non-binary individuals, encourages the welcoming and acceptance of all gender identities, and affirms their right to live free from discrimination in any arena; this overture also specifically mentioned the rights of transgender students.”  It continues, “Standing in the conviction that all people are created in the image of God and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for all people, the 223rd General Assembly (2018) affirms its commitment to the full welcome, acceptance, and inclusion of transgender people, people who identify as gender non-binary, and people of all gender identities within the full life of the church and the world. The assembly affirms the full dignity and the full humanity of transgender people, their full inclusion in all human rights, and their giftedness for service. The assembly affirms the church’s obligation to stand for the right of people of all gender identities to live free from discrimination, violence, and every form of injustice…These affirmations and this commitment are rooted and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the breadth of Scripture, and in the Reformed Tradition. Scripture affirms that all people are created in the image of God. In God’s creation, we see and experience God’s image expressed across a broad and life-giving expression of gender. Honoring the breadth and variety of our gender identities and expressions is one of the ways we can come to an even deeper understanding of who we are created to be in relationship to God and each other. The Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospel, and the Reformed Tradition affirm the dignity and worth of all people and call on individuals and communities to work for the well-being and protection of all people. Because we recognize that people of all gender identities are created equally in the image of God, we also recognize that we share a mutual obligation to stand for the right of all people and all gender identities and gender expressions to live free from discrimination and from violence. The image of God expansively and specifically includes people of all gender identities including transgender, cisgender, gender non-binary people, and people of all gender expressions.” (Emphases mine)

               They go on to state,

               “As the rationale for Item 11-12 so eloquently explains, we live in a time when “language is inadequate to keep up with the depth of human experience.” Presbyterians are being asked to recognize and affirm language that best describes the deep feelings of identity that many people are experiencing. Gender and sexual identities are being described in new ways with new terminologies. As the rationale for 11-12 reminds us: the church has declared a commitment to using language in such a way that “all members of the community of faith [may] recognize themselves as equally included, addressed, and cherished by God.” Approval of this item will give evidence of that commitment.” (Emphases mine)

               And also,

               “As a community of discipleship, seeking to embody the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the PCUSA has an opportunity to declare that the love and justice of God is for all people. Making clear that “all people” includes transgender and gender non-binary persons will demonstrate that Presbyterians intend to be a “community of people known by its convictions as well as by its actions.” Let us be seen as a denomination that continues to grow in compassion and knowledge about the full expression of our individual and respective gender identities.” (Emphasis mine)

               My concerns here are threefold.  They have to do with the gospel, biblical interpretation and the unity issue.  I cannot fully assess these here.  I just want to point out that the PCUSA’s position on gender identity is “rooted and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and ask whether this “gospel” is the same as what Kallam and Payne understand the gospel to be.  Would their “gospel” have the same implications, and if not, how is it true that “one of those things we agree on is the gospel?”

               Secondly, the PCUSA’s gospel claims here are inconsistent with their own soteriology of unconditional election and predestination.  Their theology of divine exclusion is inconstant with their claims here of divine inclusion.  They state, “…the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for all people.”  They affirm “…the love and justice of God is for all people.”  They claim that, “The Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospel, and the Reformed Tradition affirm the dignity and worth of all people” and that all people are “created equally in the image of God.”   Whatever is being resolved here, as far as soteriology is concerned, it is not “rooted and grounded…in the Reformed Tradition.”

               A third concern is this idea about “the use of language.”  They state “the church has declared a commitment to using language in such a way that “all members of the community of faith [may] recognize themselves as equally included, addressed, and cherished by God.”  This seems, at least in sentiment, similar to the EFCA’s “significance of silence” that places unity above resolving the problem of two mutually exclusive interpretations of Scripture on the matter of the gospel.  This stress upon unity over substance and a diminished confidence that we can come to objective truth about the gospel through the proper study and interpretation of Scripture is troubling.  It is also akin to the use of language by Calvinists to cloak their Calvinism to avoid offence, disunity or division.

               Note also that according to “the Reformed Tradition” as to their doctrine of the eternal decree and sovereignty of God, whatever and however a person thinks, desires, believes and acts has been predetermined by God.

See https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/social-issues/ for the PCUSA’s beliefs on social issues.

See https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/sexuality-and-same-gender-relationships/ on “Sexuality and Same-Gender Relationships”

See https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000312 for the Recommendations, Comments and Rationale on Overture 11-12.  All last accessed 10/5/2018.

For the EFCA resources see https://www.efca.org/resources/document/theological-definitions-positions  Last accessed Aug. 1, 2018.  See also https://www.efca.org/resources/document/efca-distinctives  See also “Evangelical Convictions” of the EFCA.

[48] The EFCA, for instance, has deemed the Arminian/Calvinist soteriological controversy a secondary matter or a non-essential of the faith.  See my paper, “Two Incompatible Gospels: A Serious Matter for the Evangelical Church.”

[49] Again, see A. Chadwick Thornhill, The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015), 135-146.

[50] But compare his sermon on Ephesians 1:3-14. http://newcharlotte.org/sermons/be-united/ephesians-13-14

In this sermon Payne not only sends an ambiguous mixed message about salvation but avoids a substantive treatment of Paul’s theology of election and predestination that is integral to a full understanding the passage.  He seems to take the tack that most pastors do – attempt to evade these doctrines as much as possible.  But what he does say is quite confusing.  And if he is not a Calvinist then why can’t he preach the passage as he understands it as a non-Calvinist?  And if he is a Calvinist, then why doesn’t he preach the passage as he understands it as a Calvinist?  My point is that it seems that many pastors and teachers have a hard time being forthright and honest with their listeners on this matter. Are they feeling the “peer pressure” or the need to “appease” that Dr. Payne mentioned in his “For the Gospel” sermon was the cause of Paul’s rebuke of Peter?  Payne states,

               “Look at it for yourself.  Ephesians chapter 1 verses 3 through 6.  We see the work of the Father through something we call election…When did God choose to save you?  Before the foundations of the world.  Before you personally had ever made your first mistake…Before you even made your first mistake, God already had a plan to save you.  He’s a good, good Father.  The Father was working in election, in his plan, predestined all people that they should be in salvation with him.  Now this is a point of conflict for many theologians, of who is the elect and who’s this – I don’t know.  But here’s what we do know.  For those who are in Christ – you’re elect.  And here’s what we know as a church – for those of us who are elect, who are in Christ – we preach the gospel.  That’s what we do.  We’re in sales.  God’s in management.  Ok?  That’s how it works.”

               See my paper “Two Incompatible Gospels: A Serious Matter for the Evangelical Church” for a fuller assessment of this sermon.

[51] There are oddities in the presentation that could be taken as a Calvinists attempt to avoid the problem of insincerity in offering the gospel to the non-elect.  The question, “Can I invite you in on the greatest story the world will ever hear?” is very strange in light of the gospel being an imperative for each sinner.  Another oddly worded phrase is the conditional statement, “If you’ve been let in on what God did through Jesus, if that’s become a part of your story.”  Why the conditional “if?” And what is meant by “let in on?”  It has the connotation of being “let in on” something secret as someone more special than others.  The gospel is not a secret for a limited number of special people as in Calvinism.  What is meant by “if that’s become part of your story?”  It’s as if the gospel may or may not have become part of a person’s “story” apart from the person’s response to it.  What’s one’s “story?”  How does it become part of one’s “story?”  Rather we might say that once people have heard the gospel, they have either accepted Christ as their personal savior or rejected him. 

[52] For Dr. Payne on Eph. 1:3-14 listen here – http://newcharlotte.org/sermons/be-united/ephesians-13-14

For Jim Kallam on Eph. 1:3-10, Nov. 1, 2015 “The Church” Series – “The Plan All Along” and on Eph.1:11-14, Nov. 8, 2015 “The Church” Series – “On Display”  www.churchatcharlotte.org 

[53] Again, see Jim Kallam on Eph. 1:3-10, Nov. 1, 2015 “The Church” Series – “The Plan All Along” and on Eph.1:11-14, Nov. 8, 2015 “The Church” Series – “On Display”  www.churchatcharlotte.org

[54] Week 1 Sermon Outline, p.1.

[55] Ibid.

[56] For a different interpretation of what Paul is addressing in Galatians than the standard take that the Judaizers were promoting a legalistic obedience to the Law so as to earn one’s salvation see again A. Chadwick Thornhill, The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015).

[57] Jane Douglass identified one of these contradictions above when she stated,

               “The whole history of theology reflects tension in relating a Biblical concept of calling or election or predestination with an equally Biblical doctrine of human responsibility. The Reformed tradition has held that sinners are responsible for their sinful acts even though they are unable to turn away from them without the gift of God’s grace.”

               And here we meet the core of the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy.  The Calvinist does not take logical and moral coherence on board in their hermeneutic as reliable indicators by which we can discern a valid interpretation from an invalid one.  But for the non-Calvinist, logical and moral coherence are essential to the interpretive task for discerning an interpretation’s validity.  This is what I call the hermeneutical divide.  Until this divide is both acknowledged and reckoned with there will be no resolution to this controversy.  If the Calvinist can jettison the principles of logical thought and our moral intuitions when their exegesis and interpretations do not comport with these, then the only tools we have for ultimately determining interpretive validity have been abandoned.  Any exegetical interpretative claims would then be valid.  In effect, the Calvinist has established interpretive relativism as a hermeneutical principle and thereby insulated their soteriology from exegetical, philosophical and moral critique.

[58] Richard N. Longenecker, “Galatians”, Word Biblical Commentary, vol 41 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 19.

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