By Stephen C. Marcy © August 2020
For the context to my assessment below, you can listen to Voddie’s sermon here.
I submit that Calvinist theistic determinism and unconditional election are incoherent with both the definition and the content of the gospel message understood as “good news.” As such, Calvinism is distorting and eroding the true biblical gospel as “good news” in our evangelical churches, some of which, being substantially influenced by Calvinist theology and soteriology, can no longer be called “evangelical” in the true sense of the word. So what is the gospel?
Calvinist Voddie Baucham attempts to answer this question in his sermon with the same title, “What is the Gospel?” He makes the point in a number of places that the gospel is just as much for believers as it is for unbelievers. This point is well taken. He emphasizes that we never outgrow the gospel. It is always at the core of who we are and what we are about as Christians. It is not only the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, but also remains the context for Christian discipleship, growth to maturity and meaningful ministry. We need to be constantly reminded of the gospel message and live out of its truth. Non-Calvinists will agree with all of this. The words of the old hymn capture this truth.
“I love to tell the story,
for those who know it best;
are hungering and thirsting,
to hear it like the rest.”
That is why this question, “What is the gospel?” is so important. So on these points we can agree with Voddie. But given that the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies are mutually exclusive, and one’s soteriology informs their gospel content and proclamation, we must ask Voddie what “gospel” are we talking about? What “gospel” is Voddie talking about? Again, “What is the Gospel?” We look forward to what Voddie, as a Calvinist, has to say about “the gospel.”
Voddie begins by saying,
“Number one. The gospel is not just how we get saved.”
Now, by the words “not just” I take it that Voddie is telling us that the gospel is more than “just how we get saved.” Ok. But let’s take care here. If the gospel is more than the message of “how we get saved,” it is certainly not less than that. So I think Voddie is acknowledging that the gospel is at least the message of “how we get saved.” And yet, I sense that he wants to take us in another direction. And that’s fine. But we can conclude here that whatever else “the gospel” is, it does tell us how we get saved.
Now “how we get saved” will be an interesting matter for Voddie to explain to us as a Calvinist, because we know that the Calvinist’s “doctrines of grace” (i.e., TULIP) are the full and final explanation of why and how certain persons get saved and all others do not. These doctrines are the explanation of “just how we get saved.”
So, even though Voddie is going to talk about “the gospel” in terms that go beyond “just how we get saved,” I would anticipate that in a sermon that attempts to answer the question “What is the gospel?” that Voddie is also going to at least include “how we get saved.” That seems to be an essential aspect of the gospel that even Voddie has acknowledged. But if that is the case, then it would also be reasonable for us to conclude that for Voddie, as a Calvinist, “the gospel” is going to be his soteriological “doctrines of grace” because, again, those doctrines are the full and final explanation of precisely how it is that a person gets saved or remains lost in their sin. So at this point I am wondering whether or not for Voddie these “doctrines of grace” are equivalent to “the gospel” message. I would think so since they are about “how we get saved.” And if they are not “the gospel,” then why aren’t they “the gospel?” And if they are “the gospel,” then how are they “good news?” So Voddie, as a Calvinist, has some unique challenges here. His Calvinism raises lots of questions at the start and we’ll have to be patient and see how Voddie will answer them for us, if he does so at all.
“You talk to the average Christian and you ask them what the gospel is and more than likely they are going to give you a plan of salvation. The gospel is not the plan of salvation. The gospel is not the four spiritual laws. The gospel is not just how we get saved.” 
Now this is somewhat confusing. Voddie clearly states on the one hand that the gospel is not “a plan of salvation” like “the four spiritual laws.” But if “a plan of salvation” provides us with the fundamental biblical truths about our sin and the salvation that God has provided for us through Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf and that by believing this “good news” we will be saved, then that “plan of salvation” would be “good news.” It would be the gospel. Indeed, the purpose of a “plan of salvation’ is to give you the “good news” of your salvation and tell you how to get saved. So why does Voddie have an aversion to “a plan of salvation?”
Again, we can agree that the gospel is not just how we get saved, but it is certainly not less than that, and Voddie seems to affirm this fact. He would have to, for I cannot imagine any evangelical Christian claiming that the gospel is not about how we get saved. That would be absurd. And yet although Voddie has said that “The gospel is not just how we get saved,” he has also emphatically stated that “The gospel is not the plan of salvation. The gospel is not the four spiritual laws.” But when we look at these “plans of salvation” we see that they do contain “good news,” and therefore they are the gospel, albeit not all that can be said about the gospel.
So if, according to Voddie, “the plan of salvation” or “the four spiritual laws” are not “the gospel,” then what is the gospel? We are curious as to what “the gospel” is according to Voddie. So the question that immediately comes to mind is, “According to Voddie, as a Calvinist, what precisely does a sinner need to hear, know and do in order to be saved?” According to Voddie, what is the precise content of the gospel message? So we sense that Voddie is struggling with the idea of a “plan of salvation.” But we still await how he will answer the question “What is the gospel?”
Voddie says many Christians ask him, “Will this be a gospel message or will it be for believers?” Again Voddie warns against thinking of the gospel as something you graduate from after you have gotten saved. We agree that this is a mistaken dichotomy. Believers need to continually hear the gospel just as much as unbelievers. So again, Voddie’s point here is well taken. Voddie continues,
“We say a person preached the gospel if a person preaches a Billy Graham crusade salvation message, designed and geared toward the altar call at the end, but if they preach something that is not designed and geared toward the altar call at the end we say it’s not the gospel.” 
Voddie states, “We say a person preached the gospel if a person preaches a Billy Graham crusade salvation message, designed and geared toward the altar call at the end…” I would say that is correct, fine and true. Voddie then says, “…but if they preach something that is not designed and geared toward the altar call at the end we say it’s not the gospel.” I would say that is not necessarily true, but it might be true that what was preached was “not the gospel.” Whether it was the gospel or not would depend upon the content of what was preached, not whether there was an “altar call” or not. Surely to think an “altar call” determines whether or not the gospel has been preached is ridiculous.
So Voddie seems to be emphasizing the perception that people have that the gospel is only for unbelievers and requires an “altar call.” Ok. So let’s put aside the issue of the “altar call” for a moment and focus on the content of the message preached. The question we need to ask and answer is, “Did Billy Graham preach the gospel?” Is Voddie resisting the content of Billy Graham’s message or just an “altar call?” Why would he resist the content of Billy’s message? Dr. Graham preached, “You are a sinner!” “God loves you!” “Jesus died to save you from your sins!” “Come to Christ by faith and be saved!” “You can have eternal life!” “Follow Christ in a life of discipleship!” It’s hard to see how anyone would object to the preaching of these truths or reject them as part of the essential gospel message.
But we can see how the Calvinist must object to the presentation of these gospel truths. Voddie, as a Calvinist, is resisting Billy Graham’s gospel message because it includes a call for a personal decision. It calls for a decision of the will which Dr. Graham asks people to confirm by “coming forward” or by an “altar call.” In Voddie’s mind the “altar call” represents a personal decision to believe the message preached which subsequently brings about a person’s regeneration and salvation. It is this element of decision that Voddie, as a Calvinist, must take issue with as inconsistent with his doctrines of total inability, unconditional election, effectual calling and irresistible grace. We can see that this is antithetical to his Calvinist soteriological doctrines and therefore the Calvinist concludes that all such preaching and calls to come forward must be manipulative and therefore wrong. We begin to suspect that Voddie’s Calvinism is resistant to a gospel, the content of which presupposes human libertarian free will. This is probably why Voddie rejected “the four spiritual laws” as “the gospel.” The gospel presentation in that “plan of salvation” reflects a libertarian free will soteriology that is antithetical to Voddie’s Calvinist soteriology. It seems, therefore, that Voddie is attempting to remain consistent with his Calvinist soteriology. We applaud him if he is. But then the question comes to mind, “Where has the good news gone?” So we are still left wondering whether Voddie thinks the content of the message Billy Graham preached is the gospel or why “the four spiritual laws” are not the gospel. Moreover, we are also still wondering whether Voddie’s “doctrines of grace” are “the gospel,” and if not, why not? And if they are “the gospel,” then how so? How are they “good news” for sinners?
“So mistake number one. We see the gospel as just how people get saved. The gospel the A, B, C. Acknowledge your sin. Believe in Christ. Confess him as your savior. Ya’ll heard that one? That’s not the gospel. It’s a cheap substitute. That’s not the gospel. Nor is it correct to say that unbelievers need the gospel, but believers need something more. Folks, there is nothing more than the gospel…you never become too sophisticated for the gospel. If you think your too sophisticated for the gospel, you don’t know what the gospel is.” 
Here Voddie becomes more emphatic against what most of us thought were at least some of the truths of the “good news.” Why is “acknowledge your sin, believe in Christ, and confess him as your savior” not the gospel, and even worse, a “cheap substitute.” We are left wondering what Voddie would tell people when he brings them the gospel? What would Voddie’s authentic gospel of “good news” be? What would he change about these statements since he thinks they are a perversion of “the gospel?” What is Voddie’s gospel message if these points are “not the gospel?”
Voddie goes on to say that the gospel is not just the two great commandments nor is it the moral teachings of Jesus. These are just the same as salvation by works righteousness. Ok. These point are also well taken. We agree here, so let’s move on.
What is the Gospel?: Romans 9:30-33
We should note that Voddie is preaching on Romans 9:30-33. He will comment on these verses to answer the question “What is the gospel?”  He states that Paul is conveying “the elements of a gospel-centered statement” in the quote from Isaiah in verse 33. Voddie states,
“Paul is not saying here that this is the gospel, but if you look at the elements in the statement that he makes, what you see are the elements of a gospel-centered statement.” 
So this is not the gospel according to Paul, but this verse contains “elements of a gospel-centered statement.” This is confusing. Can you have a “gospel-centered statement” without having the gospel? This leaves us wondering what Paul’s gospel was, and why Voddie has chosen a text that merely has “the elements of a gospel-centered statement” but not the gospel itself in a sermon titled, “What is the Gospel?” Voddie then reads the Isaiah quote in Romans 9:33.
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Voddie then states,
“That is a succinct statement that has all the major elements of the gospel.”
Now Voddie tells us that this verse “has all the major elements of the gospel.” This is encouraging. I guess we are going to hear the gospel after all. We have been wondering what the gospel is according to Voddie as a Calvinist. Voddie goes on to explain six things about what the gospel is. He states,
“First of all the gospel is news. …The gospel is news. The word for gospel, euangelion means “announcement.” It means news. The gospel is news. …
You might be immediately astonished by the noticeable absence of the adjective “good” in Voddie’s definition of the gospel here. This is, of course, a very meaningful and crucial observation. Why Voddie does this and what it means for the “the gospel” will be discussed below. But first let’s look at the following two quotes. Voddie continues,
“The gospel is news about what God has done in Jesus Christ.”
“The gospel is news from, about, for, through God. Because the gospel is God-centered. The gospel is not just news, but it is God-centered news. The center and the core of the gospel is what God has done, not what I have done.” 
Note again that nothing at this point is said about the gospel being good news, which is the biblical meaning of “the gospel.” “The gospel is news about what God has done in Jesus Christ.” So what has God done in Jesus Christ? What is it that “God has done?” What is it that I have not done? We are still waiting for this “news,” and to learn how it will be “good news” given the Calvinist soteriological doctrines. Voddie continues,
“If you are at the center of your discussion about the gospel, then it’s not a discussion about the gospel. If it’s a discussion about the gospel, God will be at the center of it, not you.”
Ok. But, “What is the gospel?” We still don’t have an answer. Voddie states,
“This also means the gospel is not man-centered. The gospel doesn’t begin with ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.’ The gospel is not about you. The gospel is about God. The gospel is about creation, fall, redemption and consummation. Creation by God. Fall from God. Redemption to God. Consummation through God. It is God-centered. What role does man play in the gospel? The role that man plays in the gospel is the foil. You’re the problem in the gospel. But the way we usually talk about the gospel is not at all God-centered, it’s man-centered. And here’s what it sounds like. ‘You are so awesome, that God made the world just so one day he could look at you, and, you also are so awesome that God sent his son Jesus because he couldn’t imagine life without you in eternity. And so he stands here right now, pleading with you, begging with you; because he just cannot imagine his life without you, would you please do God the favor of accepting Christ so that he can finally be at peace because he’s got you.’ That is not the gospel.”
If Voddie is attempting to bolster his Calvinist “gospel” (whatever that might be because we have not heard it in any detail yet), over and against a non-Calvinist soteriology and gospel message, then he ought not to paint such a gross caricature that no informed Christian, Calvinist or non-Calvinist, could ever agree with. If this is an attempt to disparage the non-Calvinist soteriology it is a horrendous mischaracterization. Every non-Calvinist Christian I know would agree that what Voddie described above is not the gospel. They would say that this is a distortion of the gospel. But they would also insist that in order to affirm the God-centered “gospel” that Voddie is stressing and avoid the caricature of the “gospel” Voddie has presented they don’t need to become Calvinists in their soteriology. And this is where Voddie is going with this point. Calvinists believe salvation is “all of God” defined as theistic determinism. The sinner is totally passive in salvation. Election to salvation is unconditional. The sinner is not involved in their eternal destiny in any way. The sinner cannot even believe. Faith is caused by God only in the elect. Non-Calvinists can also affirm salvation is “all of God” in that no plan or purpose of man could ever work salvation. Salvation is all God’s doing. But this does not preclude the libertarian exercise of a person’s free will which the Bible everywhere teaches us is the nature of faith. Faith is the response of the sinner by which they appropriate the salvation which God and God alone has brought about for all sinners.
Voddie states, “The gospel is not about you. The gospel is about God.” Of course those statements need clarification and elaboration. But from within Voddie’s Calvinist determinist soteriology that teaches total inability, unconditional election, effectual calling and irresistible grace we can understand some of his rationale for these statements. But it is not God that needs saving. So as far as salvation is concerned, the gospel is about us. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The gospel is about God’s love for all of us sinners (Jn. 3:16). The point is that Voddie’s Calvinist determinism has God as the only actor on the stage of human history. We humans have been predetermined to think and do what we think and do by God. So that being the case, everything is about God.
Voddie still hasn’t made it clear what he thinks “the gospel” is other than “God-centered.” He hasn’t explained “what God has done in Jesus Christ.” He has told us the gospel has to do with the broad theological themes of Scripture – creation, fall, redemption and consummation. This is not yet very helpful in answering the question “What is the Gospel?”
The Negative Effects of Calvinist Determinism on the Gospel as “Good News”
“The gospel is not about how special you are. The gospel is about how sovereign God is. The gospel is not about how much God needs or wants you. The gospel is about how much you need God. The gospel is not about how bad things are going to be for God if you don’t come. The gospel is about how bad things are for you and will continue to be for you throughout eternity if you do not get God-centered like the gospel. That’s the gospel.”
Thus far Voddie’s “What is the Gospel?” sermon has been odd in several respects. The first oddity should be obvious to any informed Christian, that is, that Voddie never describes the gospel as “good news.” As Voddie puts it, the gospel is merely “news.” It is never “good news.” It is astonishing that Voddie simply leaves out the adjective “good” and seems perfectly comfortable in doing so. Again, I think this is because Voddie is struggling with the implications of his Calvinist soteriological doctrines in relation to “the gospel” which should be “good news.” I suspect Voddie knows his Calvinist “doctrines of grace” do not contain “good news,” and so, making an attempt at being soteriologically honest and consistent, he talks about the gospel as merely “news.”
Voddie is trying to maintain his Calvinism in a sermon that biblically speaking is supposed to be about “good news.” But this is obviously tough for Voddie to do, if not impossible. We have already seen how Voddie drops the adjective “good,” thus allowing him to hold to his Calvinist soteriology with whatever consistency he can muster. But he has also begun to smuggle in terms that have unique meanings for Calvinists. For instance, he introduces the word “sovereign” when he states, “The gospel is about how sovereign God is.” Granted, any biblical doctrine can be related to the “good news” in some way, but Voddie’s statement, “the gospel is about how sovereign God is,” seems artificial here. He doesn’t explain the point and therefore it comes across as if Voddie feels compelled to wedge it in somehow because sovereignty, defined as theistic determinism, is a bedrock doctrine in Calvinism. But as a theistic determinism it has to be forced like a square peg into the round hole of the biblical definition of the gospel which is “good news” for all sinners. The point is that we know what the word “sovereign” means for a Calvinist. It is equal to theistic determinism. And that means that God has determined all things, including who will and will not be saved. As a Calvinist Voddie is obliged to go this determinist route. But what affect does theistic determinism have on the gospel as good news? In effect it removes from the gospel anything that makes its “news” good. And again, Voddie has affirmed this by repeatedly leaving out the “good” from his definition of the gospel and merely stating that “the gospel is news.”
Moreover, the Calvinist’s theistic determinism presents logical and moral problems for Voddie’s “gospel.” For instance, Voddie states, “the gospel is about how much you need God.” Well, if we all, being sinners, need God, will God supply that need for all sinners or only a limited number of sinners predestined to salvation? If only a limited number, then why? If we all need God, then does God love and care for all of us who need him or only some of all of us who need him?
Also, it is incoherent for Voddie to state “The gospel is about how bad things are for you and will continue to be for you throughout eternity if you do not get God-centered like the gospel.” It certainly seems that Voddie is saying that your eternal destiny is a contingent matter, that is, that two possibilities are still open to you and where you will spend eternity depends upon what you decide to do. Contrary to Voddie’s theistic determinism and unconditional election, this “if” implies libertarian freedom of the will and a contingent reality. “If” entails that we can do otherwise. Logically, there can be no genuine or meaningful “if” of contingency in Voddie’s deterministic worldview and soteriology.
Furthermore, although we agree that God is exalted in the gospel, Voddie’s attempt to exalt God by defining that “gospel” as “how sovereign God is” seems to fall short of explaining God’s love for all of us as sinners. God is not exalted in ‘the gospel” by limiting his love for sinners and removing the possibility of a mutual response of love from the sinner to God due to the love God demonstrated to the sinner in Christ and his death on the cross. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:14, 15) And Jesus also says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Jn. 12:32) And again, “I have come into the world as a light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (Jn. 12:46-48)
Theistic determinism is an unbiblical representation of the biblical truth about the God / man relationship. Such determinism eliminates the free response of grateful love to God and faith in Christ that the “good news” of God’s love for them and Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf brings to each and every sinner. And as God’s love is demonstrated in this way, that is, in Christ being lifted up for all to see and look to for eternal life, it is thereby offered and available to all sinners as they look to Christ.
Is it correct to say that in no sense whatsoever are sinners “special” to God? What about if God himself made man “special” by creating him in his very own image? And is it really correct to say that in every sense whatsoever God doesn’t “want you?” Certainly he does not need us. But surely nuanced distinctions about God’s view of his human creatures must be made here. It is true that there is nothing in us as sinners that commends us to God. And yet we can ask ourselves why he would lay aside his glory and “make himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross?” (Phil. 2:7, 8) What God did for his own glory did nevertheless involve his love for us. Certainly the glory of God is primary and always to be acknowledged, but it seems that the two concerns of God – his glory and our salvation – are not mutually exclusive. God glorifies himself in our salvation because we were in a hopeless and helpless state and could not save ourselves. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) This is the meaning and demonstration of God’s grace. Of course there can be no boasting in light of the love and grace God has demonstrated to us in the death of Christ on our behalf. And of course the gospel is about how much we need God. But it must also in some sense be about how much God loves us, not because there is anything in or about us that he should love, but out of his own nature of love, he loves us. “God is love.” (1 Jn. 4:8) And what God loves he values and cherishes. Therefore, all of us have value and worth in the eyes of God. Indeed, your value and worth come from God. Therefore he values us and wants the best for us. In that sense, in the sense of what God did for us out of his love for us, the gospel is about us, but only in that it humbles us before him. All true worship stems from a knowledge of the truth that I am valued and loved by God because of his love and grace shown to me “in Christ.” He desires my salvation which he provided. and that renders us eternally grateful to him. Any pride in this matter would be a complete misunderstanding of who we are by nature – sinners in need of salvation. It is about what God does for us in providing for our salvation. This is the biblical view of the relationship between God and sinners.
But the Calvinist view contains an inexplicable limitation of God’s love based in his will to love or not to love certain people. Voddie bends over backwards to avoid the gospel being “about us” but distorts it in the process by introducing a definition of God’s sovereignty as theistic determinism that shows up in his soteriology as unconditional election. Calvinism, therefore, can have none of man involved in salvation, not even to love God and believe on Christ as a reciprocal response for God’s love and grace shown to them as a sinner. God’s love and grace to the sinner is put in doubt by the doctrine of unconditional election and thereby the gospel as the “good news” that you too are loved by God and can be saved is destroyed.
Furthermore, Voddie’s thinking is muddled in his attempt as a Calvinist to answer the question “What is the Gospel?” For instance, what could Voddie possibly mean when he says things are “bad” for you “and will continue to be for you throughout eternity if you do not get God-centered like the gospel?” What could he possibly mean by “get God-centered like the gospel?” How does one get “God-centered like the gospel?” I suspect he means that one must accept his definition of divine sovereignty as theistic determinism and his doctrine of unconditional election because nothing could be more “God-centered” than these doctrines. But nothing could be further from the biblical truth about God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of election. Well, whatever he means, according to Voddie’s Calvinism the person would have to be predetermined by God himself to “get God-centered.” Voddie’s determinism requires that to be the case. All things are predetermined by God. So to “get God-centered” is not something you do, it is something God must cause to occur in you. Therefore, on theistic determinism, all such warnings and “if” statements, which are inherently contingent in nature, become meaningless. So attempting to establish a “God-centered” Calvinist “gospel” Voddie is eroding the true biblical “good news” by making obscure statements and proposing ambiguous concepts. Non-Calvinists also believe the gospel is “God-centered,” but being “God-centered” does not equate to theistic determinism nor is such determinism an explanation of the message of “good news.”
More needs to be said about this truly baffling statement. I believe most Christians would have thought that he would have said, “The gospel is about how bad things are for you and will continue to be for you throughout eternity if you do not believe in Christ” or “The gospel is about how bad things are for you and will continue to be for you throughout eternity if you do not trust in Christ as your personal savior and appropriate the salvation God provided for you in the cross of Christ.” In fact, Voddie seems to be talking in circles when he says “The gospel is about how bad things are for you and will continue to be for you throughout eternity if you do not get God-centered like the gospel. That’s the gospel.” Really? That’s the gospel?! How does the gospel message amount to “get God-centered like the gospel?” Where is Voddie going with this? I submit to you that he is trying to conform “the gospel” to his Calvinism. I suspect he wants to say “the gospel” is my “God-centered” Calvinist soteriological doctrines of “sovereign grace” as opposed to the man-centered “gospel” in which man is called on to exercise faith and “make a decision for Christ” which has man contributing to his salvation and boasting in his ability to believe. In contrast to these mischaracterizations of the non-Calvinist position I have explained some of the biblical “good news” above. Suffice it to say here that these Calvinist critiques of the non-Calvinist position are serious mischaracterizations. And by the time you run through the Calvinist soteriological doctrines of “sovereign grace” (TULIP) you don’t have the gospel anymore – at least one that is good news. You just have “news,” something which Voddie has confirmed to us thus far, and something that is not biblically accurate.
In fact, it will be difficult for Voddie to retain logical and moral coherence between his deterministic and exclusivistic soteriological doctrines and statements as he will be forced to sacrifice them to the non-deterministic and universal terms that the gospel message seems to require for it to be “good news.” We have seen how he has eliminated the word “good” from his definition of the gospel, most likely to accommodate his Calvinist soteriological “doctrines of grace.” He says, “First of all the gospel is news” and also “The gospel is about how sovereign God is.” In fact, Voddie made clear that “The gospel doesn’t begin with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”” But what is the alternative on Voddie’s Calvinist soteriological doctrines? It must be that “The gospel begins with knowing that God predetermined certain people to be saved and receive eternal life and all others to receive eternal death.” Or, “The gospel begins with knowing that God may love you or he may hate you. God may have a wonderful plan for your life and salvation as your eternal destiny, and then again he may have an evil plan for your life and damnation as your eternal destiny, or he may have predetermined a mix of one or the other! It all depends upon what he has predetermined for you. And that has nothing whatsoever to do with you or anyone or anything else.” That is not a mischaracterization of Calvinism. That is just a factual, practical application of the Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” 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.”
“Thirdly, the gospel is Christ-centered. ‘Behold I lay in Zion,’ what, ‘a stumbling stone.’…we see that the stumbling stone is a reference to Christ.” “Behold” – news. “I lay in Zion” – God-centered. “A stumbling stone” – Christ-centered. Christ is the crux of the matter. The gospel is Christ-centered… The gospel is news about what God has done in Christ. So the gospel is a proclamation of news. It is a God-centered proclamation of news, and it is a Christ-centered proclamation of news.”
Note again the obvious elimination of the word “good” from the meaning of “the gospel.” That’s because we haven’t had any “news” that we can assuredly say applies to all sinners. We haven’t heard any “news” that tells them of God’s love for them, that Christ died for them and that they can be saved. We haven’t heard any “news” that offers them the hope of eternal life. Although all this would be too “man-centered” for the Calvinist, nevertheless, it is biblical, for it is the only perspective that turns what amounts to hopeless “news” of God’s unconditional election of some to salvation and all others to reprobation without knowing who is in which group, into the “good news” of salvation for all in Christ by faith.
We Are Still Waiting
So far, according to Voddie, “the gospel” is:
- “not just how we get saved”
- “not the plan of salvation”
- “not the four spiritual laws”
- not “acknowledge your sin. Believe in Christ. Confess him as your savior.”
- “news about what God has done in Jesus Christ”
- “news from, about, for, through God”
- “God-centered news”
- “not man-centered”
- “about creation, fall, redemption and consummation”
- “not about how special you are”
- “about how sovereign God is”
- “about how much you need God”
- “a God-centered proclamation of news”
- “a Christ-centered proclamation of news”
Up to this point Voddie has either eliminated the summary “good news” that is contained in “the plan of salvation” and the “four spiritual laws” or spoken in vague theological terms about what “the gospel” is or isn’t. He has not yet substantively clarified what “the gospel” message is as far as it applies to every sinner in a personal way. We still don’t have anything that might tell us how “the gospel” becomes “good news” instead of just “news.” We don’t know anything about God’s thoughts about us, our salvation or how a person becomes saved. So we’re still waiting for Voddie to answer the question, “What is the Gospel?”
Voddie then refers to Christ as “a rock of offence” and the skandalon or “scandal” of the cross to make the point that the gospel is cross-centered.
“It is the cross that makes the gospel scandalous news. The fact that the God of the universe killed his only begotten Son, pouring out his wrath on sin that is justly deserved by every human being, but has been poured out on his Son as a substitute for those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.”
Voddie has said, “Acknowledge your sin. Believe in Christ. Confess him as your savior… That’s not the gospel. It’s a cheap substitute. That’s not the gospel.” And now we learn more of why Voddie has concluded this. As we suspected all along, the statements listed above, several of which were probably surprising to most Christians, are influenced by his Calvinism. But in the last phrase in the above quote Voddie’s Calvinist theology clearly emerges. Christ died on the cross as a substitute “for those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.” This is in reference to John 6:37 and 39. Calvinists interpret these verses as referring to their doctrines of unconditionally election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. Christ died only for those individuals whom God predestined to receive salvation. Christ’s death accomplishes salvation only for those whom God has predestined to salvation. And God works that salvation, faith, etc. irresistibly in those who are elect. Therefore, according to the Calvinist “doctrines of grace,” Christ did not die for all because all are not saved.
So what is Voddie’s “news” this far. Christ died “for those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.” But we are still left wondering how this doctrine can ever be proclaimed as “good news” for sinners. We are left asking for whom did Christ die? You, me, our neighbors? Am I included? How can I know? If we are to bring “the gospel” to others, what is the content of the message that we are to speak to them? In other words, does God love you, me and them? Did Jesus die for you, for me and for them? I think you would need to know whether that is true or false. I would want to know whether that is true or false. But Voddie can’t answer these questions because given his doctrine of predestination or unconditional election he just doesn’t know. He doesn’t know who God has elected to salvation. He doesn’t know who God loves in a salvific sense or to whom Jesus’ death savingly applies. All he knows for sure is that God does not love everyone, and, as many Calvinist’s believe, Jesus did not die for all.
Finally Voddie Gives Us Some Good News, While Contradicting His Calvinist Doctrines
Voddie quotes from Acts 2:22-24 and 1 Cor. 1:22-24; 2:1-2 and Gal. 3:1, and then recalls the first Passover in which the blood was placed on the doorpost so the death angel, when he saw the blood, would pass by. He also talks about the serpent lifted up in the wilderness when the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people. Those who were bit could look at the serpent on the pole, be healed and live. He then states,
“And now Jesus Christ, him who knew no sin, becomes sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him… that is God vindicating his righteousness, and allowing himself to still have mercy on you – a sinner – who deserves to hang on that cross and then spend eternity separated from God in hell. But the gospel scandal is that it wasn’t you. It was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who died in your place. That’s the gospel.” 
Well, now we are getting somewhere! This seems to me to be more than just “news” for sinners. This seems to be approaching upon “good news.” But it is very similar to a “plan of salvation” like “the four spiritual laws” and the content of the gospel preaching by Billy Graham that Voddie distanced himself from previously. So it certainly seems that Voddie has finally come full circle to a message very much like that delivered by Dr. Graham or is summarized in “a plan of salvation” or “the four spiritual laws.”
But note that in order for his news to be good news Voddie has had to speak inconsistent with his Calvinist soteriology. Above he says that “Jesus Christ…who knew no sin, becomes sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” And that God is “vindicating his righteousness, and allowing himself to still have mercy on you – a sinner” and that “It was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who died in your place.” Voddie then declares, “That’s the gospel.” But he has already made it clear that God’s wrath “has been poured out on his Son as a substitute for those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.” So contrary to this exclusivity of unconditional election that Voddie has affirmed previously, the quote above sounds very much like the inclusivity of a universal salvation that applies to any and all who read or hear these words. It seems that Voddie has now answered the questions we raised above as affirming that it is true that God loves you, me, our neighbors and all sinners throughout the world and that therefore Jesus also died for them. It is also important to note that when Voddie refers to the Scriptures, – here he is echoing 2 Cor. 5:21 – that they witness to a non-Calvinist soteriology of truly “good news.”
So, would Voddie consider this merely “news” or is this “good news” for all sinners. Would Voddie consider this an offer of salvation and an invitation to any and all sinners to receive that salvation? If so, this is not only “good news” but it is also in contradiction to Voddie’s Calvinist soteriology as to how a person becomes saved. Voddie claims that it is only “those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began” that can and will be saved. This is his doctrine of unconditional election which excludes from salvation all persons not predestined by God to salvation. It is what Voddie means when he says, “The gospel is about how sovereign God is.” Just how sovereign is God? For Voddie God is sovereign over who and who does not receive salvation – not in reference to whether or not they accept Christ by faith or reject Christ and remain in unbelief which is the sinner’s decision – but by the premundane decision of God as to who he will save and who he will condemn in the sense that he has preordained “whatsoever comes to pass.” God is sovereign only if he has predetermined and causes, down to the minutest details, everything that occurs. This includes everyone’s eternal destiny. That is fixed by God. It cannot be altered, and has nothing to do with the sinner as far as the exercise of their own will being genuinely under their control. On Calvinism such free will is a fiction. In contrast to human freedom of the will, Calvinism teaches an “effectual call” by God and an “irresistible grace” that causes a reorientation of the elect person’s desires so that they “will” to believe. But Voddie’s Calvinist salvific determinism is at odds with his universal and inclusive statements about God “vindicating his righteousness, and allowing himself to still have mercy on you – a sinner” and that “It was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who died in your place.” These words entail both a universal and well-meant offer of salvation. What is clearly being communicated is that any and all sinners who hear these words can be saved. But this is morally problematic if any of those God has not elected to salvation – the reprobate – hear such words.
We can agree that there can be man-centered presentations of the gospel, but this does not mean that the gospel doesn’t involve telling sinners about how God loves them, that Christ died for them and that they have worth in the eyes of God as created in his image. That is not a “man-centered” gospel. That there are manipulative presentations of “the gospel” does not preclude the gospel message from including a call or invitation to believe the message of good news. It requires a call to faith and trust in Christ as savior that the sinner either accepts or rejects. Again, this does not mean that such a presentation is “man-centered.” It is God-centered in that God provides the way of salvation in Christ and the God-ordained means by which that salvation is appropriated by the sinner to themselves – their exercise of faith. The sinner simply puts his faith and trust in Christ.
Yes, we are sinful, and therefore cannot save ourselves. We are without hope unless God acts on our behalf. But that does not negate the hearer’s responsibility to make a decision about the gospel message when they hear it. It does not mean that they are unable to respond to it, either by accepting or rejecting it. The Holy Spirit is present in the proclamation of the true gospel and he enables the hearer to respond positively to the “good news” of their salvation. Indeed, that is his desire. The Holy Spirit is present for the purpose that the sinner should believe. In order to avoid a man-centered gospel, Voddie overstated the case when he says, “Acknowledge your sin. Believe in Christ. Confess him as you savior….That’s not the gospel. It’s a cheap substitute. That’s not the gospel.” These certainly are key elements of the gospel message. And when he said, “The gospel is not the plan of salvation” or “the four spiritual laws,” that is, in my opinion, the careless rhetoric of a theistic determinist who misinterprets the Scripture at key texts to maintain his Calvinism despite the incoherence it creates within the Scriptures. (e.g., ignoring the biblical data on the nature of faith as a free will response to the gospel and mischaracterizing it as a “work” that “contributes” to one’s salvation.) Determinism cannot allow for any other wills to be real and meaningful. God is the sole actor on the stage of history. The Calvinist’s determinism cannot allow for any personal faith response from the individual sinner to the message of God’s saving grace to them in Christ.
So we are left with a contradiction between Voddie’s Calvinist, deterministic, limited, exclusive soteriology and what appears to be an affirmation of an inclusive and universal salvation. As far as this contradiction is concerned, recall that when he stated, “The gospel is not just how we get saved” we asked “Well, Voddie, if it is at least “how we get saved,” then what does” the gospel” say about that?” Again, if “the gospel” is more than “how we get saved” it certainly is not less than “how we get saved.” And it certainly seems that at this point Voddie is telling us “how we get saved.” What could be clearer? “And now Jesus Christ, him who knew no sin, becomes sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him… that is God vindicating his righteousness, and allowing himself to still have mercy on you – a sinner – who deserves to hang on that cross and then spend eternity separated from God in hell. But the gospel scandal is that it wasn’t you. It was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who died in your place. That’s the gospel.” But then what “good news” Voddie has given us with one hand he takes away with the other. He also says that the wrath of God “has been poured out on his Son as a substitute for those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.” Which is it? Does this gospel apply to everyone or only an limited number that God predestined to believe it? So what was universal and inclusive about God’s salvation and Christ’s substitutionary atonement from 2 Cor. 5:21 now becomes limited and exclusive in contrast to much of the teaching in 2 Cor. 5. Now, if Voddie emphatically declared about the former, “That’s the gospel,” and that seems to be “good news,” what’s the latter but something other than “good news?” It must be merely “news” as Voddie has been stating all along. So Voddie’s Calvinism lands him in contradiction with what certainly seems to be the biblical teaching on the universal, inclusive nature of Christ’s atonement and salvation.
Voddie Leaves Out the Call to Faith
Now, note what else is conspicuously missing from Voddie’s “gospel.” You were probably waiting for mention of the sinner’s need to respond in faith to what God has done for them. Voddie does not mention the response of faith in the above inclusive and universal description of the gospel. The invitation or call to believe is missing. That is because his Calvinism will not allow for it. Due to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity, even upon hearing the good news of their salvation, the elect sinner cannot respond in faith. (Note that i say “the elect sinner” because to the non-elect sinner the “gospel” is not the good news of their salvation. There is no salvation for them.) Faith is something God gives to the elect only. God causes the elect to believe. They do not believe of their own accord. The unconditionally elected persons will find themselves believing in due time. Those who are not elect cannot respond in faith and therefore cannot be saved. Therefore, on Calvinism, “the gospel” would not include an invitation or challenge to the hearer to believe, let alone a request to act on a decision to believe (e.g., coming forward). These are not practices consistent with Calvinist determinism. But they are consistent with a free will theology like that of Billy Graham and as found in “the four spiritual laws” or 2 Corinthians 5.
Will Voddie add such an invitation to answer his question “What is the gospel? I have my doubts because this too would be contrary to his unconditional election.
Voddie’s Convoluted Exegesis of Romans 9:30-33
Returning to the quote from Isaiah in Romans 9:33 that Voddie claims “is a succinct statement that has all the major elements of the gospel,” he continues,
“The gospel is grace-centered… And then look…whoever believes in him. Whoever believes in him. That’s the answer. Here’s the amazing thing – and a lot of people will go here and they will say, ‘Well see right there. There’s the work that man does. Man does the believing work.” You’re absolutely right. Man must believe. He must believe. But, watch this. Go back to verse 30. ‘What shall we say then? The Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness’ – except for the fact that they made a determination and … no – ‘have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith.’ Well, faith was the pursuit. Well if faith is the pursuit then the first clause is a lie. The first clause says they did not pursue. If faith was a pursuit, then the first clause is not true. In other words, even in this statement you have election. It’s grace. It’s the grace of God.” 
Here again Voddie is confusing. He says “faith was the pursuit.” I don’t know how he draws this conclusion from the text but it certainly seems the confusion here is produced by his attempt to impose Calvinism where it just doesn’t fit. As a Calvinist Voddie is obliged to somehow and someway make a text like this teach election. So the gist of Voddie’s interpretive gymnastics here seem to be geared to presenting the Calvinist doctrines of total inability, pre-faith regeneration and unconditional election. On total inability no sinner can do anything with respect to their salvation, including believing or having faith. They are dead in trespasses and sins. Therefore, God has to first regenerate them. Only then does God give them faith. So faith must come from God. Faith is an element in one’s unconditional election and therefore it is God given. Faith must be a gift God gives to the elect otherwise for the Calvinist is becomes a “pursuit” or “work” – which again is a misunderstanding of faith in Scripture. Note that Voddie’s Calvinist “news” now includes the exclusion of sinners from the possibility of believing or exercising faith in Christ. On Calvinism the sinner cannot believe, which is contrary to the clear universal implication of this text which states “whoever believes in him…” (Rom. 9:33) But Voddie finds in this text which clearly states “whoever believes in him,” a “sovereign grace” that equates to unconditional election. Voddie concludes that “even in this statement you have election.”
Voddie is grasping for Calvinist straws here to put faith beyond the responsibility of the sinner and place it within God’s “grace” which, according to Calvinists, is defined as the decision of God made in eternity past to save certain sinners out of all who were undeserving of salvation. Calvinist’s call this “sovereign grace.” This “grace” comes only to those that God has unconditionally elected to receive salvation. The unconditionality eliminates anything a person can do, which includes believing or exercising faith.
This is not the biblical teaching on the nature of either grace or faith. The result is a very convoluted and obviously flawed exegesis of this text. Voddie even places the text in contradiction to itself. He seems to argue that the nature of faith on any other grounds than the Calvinist understanding would be “a pursuit” or a “believing work” or “the work that man does.” Since Paul says the Gentiles did not pursue righteous, therefore their faith could not have been something they themselves exercised which would be to “pursue righteousness.” It must have been given to them by God.
But in fact, Paul’s intent is to show that righteousness comes by faith as opposed to “a law.” The Gentiles were not acquainted with the requirement of righteousness and righteous living in the way the Jews were. God called the Jews to such living in the light of his presence by giving them the law. But the law was not a substitute for the response of faith, but rather provided an opportunity to exercise that faith. God always wanted a response of faith from his people. The law was given so that they could learn the ways and character of their God so as to understand and represent him better to the nations. They were to witness to the reality of the one true and living God. One way they did that was through their obedience to the law he revealed to them. Their obedience to it would be an expression of their faith in him. It was not to be a way to become righteous before him. Recall that it was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4: 3-9). But the Jew began to view the law as establishing them as especially privileged before God to the exclusion of all others (i.e., the Gentiles) Their possession of the law and obedience to it was the means by which one could remain righteousness in God’s sight. And their status as God’s chosen people was integrally related to the keeping of the law. The law was for the Jews as the “chosen people of God” the means by which God’s blessing remained upon them. It marked out their special status and provided them with a saving relationship to God. All this was was to the exclusion of the Gentiles. The Gentile had no relationship to the one and only true God of the Hebrews. The Gentiles were not given the law or circumcision, therefore they were outside of his saving grace. But the Jews thought that keeping the law retained for them their privileged position with God. It is what defined them as God’s “chosen people.” But the Gentile had no such relationship to God or any law given to them by God. Now what does Paul in Romans observe about all this? He explains that the Gentiles did not pursue righteousness as the Jews did, that is, by “a law.” But although they did not pursue righteousness in this way, the Gentiles “attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith.” This declaration that the Gentiles could now attain righteous by faith was an offense to the Jew. They were “the elect people of God” who had forgotten that faith was always the basis of relationship with God. They had now become proud and exclusive in their privileged position. There is nothing here about God granting certain individual’s faith based on their election, but there is everything here about the elect people of God, the Jews (Israel), not having attained the righteousness they were seeking. Paul asks, “Why?” He answers, “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works.”
Notice that contrary to Voddie’s point about Paul teaching that one cannot pursue righteousness by faith otherwise it would be a “work that man does” or a “believing work,” Paul’s point is that the Jew should have pursued righteousness by faith. Indeed, Paul contrasts faith and works and thereby does not place faith in the category of work. Paul understands that faith is part of what it is to pursue righteousness. Contrary to Voddie’s confused exposition, Paul is in fact saying that it is the person’s response of faith to God and his saving work in Christ that makes a person righteous. Paul is clear. The Jew should have understood the matter of righteousness in the context of the exercise of faith. Paul places the exercise of faith squarely with the person themselves. And because that is the case, now the Gentiles can be saved. And that was God’s plan from the beginning with Abraham and the establishment of Israel. Abraham was to be a blessing to all the peoples on earth (Gen. 12:3) and Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6, 60:3; Luke 2:31, 32; Acts 13:47, 26:23). Paul states “that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.” He then asks “Why?” His answer is, “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based in works.” Faith is placed in contrast to works, therefore it is wrong to consider the response of faith that is of the person’s own will – “whoever believes – “a work” and therefore faith is made to be the result of one’s unconditional election and effectual calling.
Voddie’s Calvinism Won’t Allow for “Good News”
Voddie is manipulating the text to fit his theology. It is a distortion of the text with regard to both the nature of faith and Paul’s intended purpose of explaining the present spiritually hardened state of the Jews in light of God’s saving work in Christ being brought to the Gentiles (Rom. 9-11). Voddie admits “You’re absolutely right. Man must believe. He must believe.” And yet Voddie, as a Calvinist, must show that man cannot believe because as a Calvinist Voddie defines such faith as “the work man does. Man does the believing work.” This not only mischaracterizes faith, but Voddie is being disingenuous in using the words “man must believe” to describe what Voddie believes only God gives to those who he irresistibly and effectually calls on the basis of their being unconditionally elected to salvation. Voddie never comes out and says precisely what he means by “Man must believe. He must believe,” but this certainly sounds like the content of a Billy Graham evangelistic sermon or “the four spiritual laws” that Voddie has rejected as the gospel. For Voddie, this believing must be produced by God and it only occurs in the elect. “Man must believe. He must believe” means that God must cause this believing and that this will happen only in certain predestined individuals. No one else can or will believe. So these elect ones are believing only in an instrumental sense. They are irresistibly and effectually caused by God to believe. It would be more honest for Voddie to say what he means, that is, “Man must be made to believe by God’s effectual and irresistible work. He must believe, but he, in and of himself, cannot believe, so only those God has elected to salvation will evidence the faith that God alone gives them.” The faith they exhibit is not in any way of themselves as free agents who are choosing to believe or remain in unbelief. The fact that one person is saved and another is not, happens according to the predetermined plan of God. Therefore, Voddie is laboring under the Calvinist misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God as universal divine causal determinism and therefore faith must be caused by God in the elect. If it were something outside this theistic determinism – which by definition it cannot be – it therefore would have to be defined as “a synergistic work” in which man “contributes” to his salvation. Here we have the logic of theistic determinism coming to bear on the nature of faith, grace and the gospel. It grossly distorts these doctrines and the good news.
Again, Voddie sees unconditional election in this text. For Voddie, “the grace of God” equals unconditional election. This is presupposed by the Calvinist to be what the word “grace” means in Scripture. It is the eternal divine choice of certain people for salvation. Hence we hear the Calvinist talk about “the doctrines of grace” and “sovereign grace.” But we know that this is not what the text is teaching because such an interpretation is in logical contradiction with, a) the words “whoever believes in him” and b) the contingent nature of the salvation and unbelief as Paul will explain in Romans chapters 10 and 11.
Voddie goes on to quote John 1:16 and 17; Acts 15:11; Romans 5:15 and Eph. 2:4-9 to point out that the gospel is grace-centered.
So an element in the gospel is grace, and grace for Voddie means unconditional election. So part of the gospel must be this unconditional election or “sovereign grace.” Recall Voddie said, “The gospel is about how sovereign God is.” Recall how Voddie qualified the extent of the substitutionary death of Christ to only “those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.” And now, again, in Romans 9:30 Voddie concludes that “in this statement you have election. It’s grace. It’s the grace of God.” If by “in this statement you have election” he is speaking about anything other than his Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election then he ought to make that clear. So we take it that he means unconditional election.
“Finally, the gospel is eschatological. …When it says he will not be put to shame that is reference of the judgment to come. That is a reference to that day when you will stand before God. That doesn’t mean that you poke your chest out. Why would you? There is no boasting when you understand that it is of grace. Where is boasting then, Paul argues earlier on. It is excluded. There is no boasting. …This is eschatological. We have hope in the gospel.”
Given that the gospel is grace-centered and this grace equates to unconditional election, it is true that there is no boasting. How could there be boasting? More can be said on this matter, but suffice it to say here that on the basis of the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism, if there is or isn’t boasting, that would be up to God who has predetermined and causes all human attitudes and actions.
Anyway, given unconditional election or deterministic predestination how can Voddie, with integrity, say to all persons that “we have hope in the gospel?” Who is the “we” he is referring to? On his Calvinist soteriological doctrine of unconditional election only certain people have this hope – the unconditionally elect ones. But what kind of hope is it when no one knows who these unconditionally elect persons are. It is the kind that says, “I hope God predestined me to salvation.” It’s the “I hope so” kind of hope. Neither you nor I or anyone else know for sure whether or not we are unconditionally elected or predestined to salvation. That’s what unconditional means as far as our salvation is concerned. We have nothing to do whatsoever with where we will spend eternity. God alone has predetermined that. And given unconditional election there is no hope for the non-elect who supposedly hear the same “gospel” of hope.
So what has Voddie said thus far about what he calls “the gospel” that provides us the hope or assurance of salvation? How has his “gospel” assured us that salvation is for all his listeners? When the words “gospel,” “grace” and “hope” are run through the sieve of theistic determinism and the doctrine of unconditional election, we can see that these biblical words become distorted and obscure any sure hope. Christ has died only for “those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.” So how is that good news for sinners? Voddie says “the gospel is eschatological.” This seems to refer to “the judgment to come.” But what will God be judging? The thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions of the persons who are genuinely responsible for them because they were done freely on the basis of their libertarian free-will, or, is God judging people for their thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions that he predetermined and irresistibly caused them to think and do? The former makes sense. The latter is nonsense.
Voddie is simply ignoring the logical and moral implications of his own deterministic theology and soteriology while attempting to explain that he has “a gospel” to bring to sinners. How do his “doctrines of grace,” which just are his soteriology and from which his “gospel” must be consistently drawn, provide any hope to sinners? Attempting to be true to his “doctrines of grace” he has defined and reduced “the gospel” merely to “news.” What is this “news” that brings hope to sinners? Is it that Christ has died only for “those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began?”
The Confusing and Distorting Effects of Calvinism and Ignoring the “Good News” Texts
Voddie has told us what the gospel is not. It is not, “Acknowledge your sin. Believe in Christ. Confess him as you savior….That’s not the gospel. It’s a cheap substitute. That’s not the gospel.” He also said that “The gospel is not the plan of salvation. The gospel is not the four spiritual laws.” So what is the gospel according to Voddie? Well, Voddie did give us a definition of “the gospel” when he stated,
“Remembering in the desert the serpent that was placed high on that cross and that they would look at him and live. And now Jesus Christ, him who knew no sin, becomes sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him… that is God vindicating his righteousness, and allowing himself to still have mercy on you – a sinner – who deserves to hang on that cross and then spend eternity separated from God in hell. But the gospel scandal is that it wasn’t you. It was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who died in your place. That’s the gospel.”
Here is one of Voddie’s answers to the question “What is the Gospel?” I am going to take it as the authoritative answer because it is the only answer that also includes “good news.” Granted it leaves out the call to faith, but at least it doesn’t state a theological point that is merely related to “the gospel” like “the gospel is God-centered” or “the gospel is grace-centered,” etc. But my problem with Voddie’s sermon all along has been that his Calvinist soteriology is in contradiction to whatever “good news” he has managed to eke out as stated above. This description is inconsistent with Voddie’s Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” Note that his statements here are very similar to the content of the message he previously rejected as the gospel. So he is not only inconsistent with his own soteriological doctrines, he is also conflicted in that he wants to say something his Calvinist soteriological doctrines don’t allow for. This is an indication that the Calvinist doctrines cannot be put into the service of true gospel evangelism because they do not contain “good news.” Voddie has affirmed this over and over by avoiding the biblical definition of the word “gospel” which means “good news.” He has referred to the gospel merely as “news.” It is both sad and astonishing that in a sermon titled “What is the Gospel?” Voddie cannot let the words “good news” pass his lips. Indeed, I submit that this phenomenon reflects the fact that there is no good news in Calvinism. There is only “news.”
So this back and forth confusion as to “What is the Gospel?” marks this whole sermon. Voddie makes his Calvinism clear when he states “the gospel is grace-centered” and defines grace as unconditional election. From Romans 9:30 he concluded that “in this statement you have election. It’s grace. It’s the grace of God.” Voddie also said, “The gospel is about how sovereign God is” and we know that for the Calvinist “sovereign” is defined as a universal divine causal determinism. Voddie also qualified the extent of the atonement to only “those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.” So it seems that “sovereign grace” or unconditional election is part of the gospel message for Voddie. And that is why he cannot bring himself to say this is “good news,” because his Calvinist doctrines are not “good news” and Voddie knows this deep down inside.
What we see is that Voddie’s soteriology is having a confusing and distorting effect upon what he is confronted with in Scripture, that is, the universal and well-meant offer of salvation.. In a sermon about the gospel, Voddie completely avoids verses that speak directly about this universal well-meant offer of salvation along with the responsibility and possibility of faith which makes the “good news” good. (SeeJn. 3:16-18, 5:40, 20:31; Acts 7:51, 13:46; 1 Cor. 15:1-3; Gal. 3:7-9; Rom. 10:11-13, 11:32; 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 Tim 2:3-6, 4:10; Titus 2:11, 14, 3:4-8; Philemon 14; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Jn. 2:2, 4:14, 16; Rev. 22:17). And although he does make his Calvinism clear, he is compelled at times by Scripture to speak of the gospel in ways inconsistent with his “doctrines of grace.”
Calvinism Offers No Hope for Sinners or Assurance of Salvation
“Now, mind you, because it’s eschatological what do we eliminate? We eliminate any possibility that somehow the gospel is just how we get in, and then we have to work to keep ourselves. If that were the case, I have no eschatological hope. Are you saved? ‘Yeah I am right now but it depends upon how firmly I hold onto this thing.’ And we laugh at that, but do you live like it? Do you live like it? Do you believe that the grace that saves you is the grace that keeps you? Do you believe that you will stand before God one day because of this news about what God has done, in Christ, through the cross, by grace for your eschatological hope? 
So for Voddie, “the gospel is eschatological” equates to the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance and preservation of the saints, that is, eternal security based on unconditional election. Voddie states, “We eliminate any possibility that somehow the gospel is just how we get in, and then we have to work to keep ourselves. If that were the case, I have no eschatological hope.” Voddie hasn’t clearly told us how “we get in,” not at least in terms of his Calvinist soteriological doctrines which again are the full and final explanation as to why one person is saved and why another is not. So we are baffled as to why Voddie does not preach his “doctrines of grace” as the gospel “news.” We want to know “how we get in.”
Nevertheless, as Voddie puts it, “the grace that saves you is the grace that keeps you.” We can make the following observations.
Firstly, for the Calvinist, “how we get in,” or “the grace that saves you,” rests in whether you are among the unconditionally elect. So “the gospel” just is “the news” that there is a number of unconditionally elect people that will be saved and all others will not and cannot be saved. The reality is that you are predestined to be one or the other. This is the “news about what God has done, in Christ, through the cross.”
Note that this idea of having to “work to keep ourselves” is another mischaracterization of the non-Calvinist position, although it certainly is an error in thinking that Christians may labor under. As I. Howard Marshall convincingly argues, we are kept by the power of God. Therefore, this idea of “working” to keep our salvation is a mistaken view of the non-Calvinist position on “eternal security” and a mischaracterization that Calvinists use against the free will position. Voddie is referring to “eternal security” or what he calls “eschatological hope” or working “to keep ourselves” as if that is what an acknowledgement of free will must entail. It does not. Voddie’s concern is with whether or not one will remain saved. The free will position does not entail working to keep your salvation. It exhorts the believer to continue to live by the very attitude of submission to God by which they appropriated God’s gracious saving work to themselves when they first heard the “good news,” that is, by faith. We are saved by faith and we live by faith. Just as God saved us and his Spirit was at work when we believed, it is God, by his Spirit that keeps us as we believe. But again, on Calvinism, only the unconditionally elect will be saved and of course they will remain saved forever.
So Voddie’s “gospel” includes his doctrine of unconditional election. For Voddie this has “eschatological” implications. Of course “the grace that saves you is the grace that keeps you” because it involves an unalterable decree of God to predestine certain persons unconditionally and irresistibly to salvation. But note, again, that on Calvinism a person only presumes that they are among the elect. Their “hope” lacks assurance and is therefore no hope at all because they cannot know their salvific status as elect or non-elect.
Secondly, Calvinism may provide eschatological hope to those who have convinced themselves that they are among the unconditionally elect. The logical result of unconditional election is eternal security, but one has to presume they are among the elect. But how can a person know they are elect? It must be by their personal “Christian” experience. They must be among the elect because they exhibit certain “spiritual” indications of their election. Most basically, that they find themselves believing. But can you actually know you are among the elect or not? Isn’t your personal “Christian” experience a frail reed to lean on here? Would you not rather have the assurance that what God has done in Christ definitely applies to you and therefore you can base your eternal destiny on what you assuredly know Christ did for you and place yourself in the hands of a God who loves you and desires your salvation? This surely is a better foundation than trying to discern whether you are among the elect of not on the basis of your personal or emotional experiences, whether elated to today and depressed tomorrow. Base you hope on the sure work of Christ on your behalf.
Now, the fact that no one knows whether God has chosen them to salvation or not raises interesting problems for the Calvinist.
First, Calvinists often say “Well, we don’t know who is elect and who is not elect so we preach the gospel to everyone. God has commanded it be preached to all.” Now assuming the gospel of truly “good news,” as I and even Voddie at one point has affirmed above, is being preached, what is happening is that the promises of God are going out to the non-elect as if they applied to them when they certainly do not. So how does the Calvinist’s ignorance of the person’s elect or non-elect status give the Calvinist moral license to speak as if what is being said is true of all when they don’t know whether of not it is true of all? That is what is happening when you preach a message of salvation to the non-elect. To give the impression that what you say is true about the person’s to which you preach (i.e., God’s loves you, Jesus died for you, come to Christ and be saved, etc.), when you do not know and cannot know whether it is true of those persons is to lie to the one for which it is not true.
Secondly, how does the Calvinist know they themselves are among the elect? If they say no one should concern themselves with the issue of their unconditional election then the whole doctrine becomes an irrelevance. It seems that this biblical doctrine (as the Calvinist defines it) really has no meaningful application to salvation or practical living. In fact, I argue that the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election cannot be put into the service of the gospel as “good news” and is indeed antithetical to the gospel message. This in and of itself is a strong indicator that it is biblically incorrect. I find it hard to detect positive meaning, purpose or rational coherence in knowing that God has predetermined everyone’s eternal destiny in such a way that it remains hidden from them and therefore they have to think and live as if libertarian free will were true. The Bible testifies to the complete opposite of the worldview of Calvinist theistic determinism. Just knowing that God has chosen some people to be eternally saved and others eternally damned is at best a nebulous kind of knowledge with respect to anyone’s believing, thinking or living, and at worst, a depressing fatalism.
Therefore, thirdly, if the Calvinist responds, “Only our doctrines of deterministic sovereignty and unconditional election can provide the assurance that we will live out a life pleasing to God with confidence because it is all up to God and not us,” we may ask “How so?” Again, we have the presumption by the Calvinist that they are among the elect. The non-Calvinist response is that one’s claim and confidence that they have been unconditionally elected by God amounts to a presumption one makes about themselves. Right now you may think you are among the elect by your manifest evidences, but what plans does God have for you in the end and into eternity? You do not know. Rather, we rest on the work of Christ on our behalf and the power of God to keep us, not a presumption that we are among a limited number God predestined to salvation. And if the Calvinist affirms it is the work of Christ and the power of God that keeps them too, not on the basis of their election which they cannot know or be assured of, but by believing in the work of Christ on their behalf and God’s keeping power, then the Calvinist has shifted away from determinism and unconditional election and is saying precisely what the non-Calvinist is also saying. Unconditional election evaporates into salvation by faith and perseverance and preservation in believing. We all must live out of our continual faith in Christ and trust in God to preserve us faithful until the end. Therefore the doctrine of unconditional election results in no practical difference between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist positions. Both require salvation by faith and perseverance in faith.
Fourthly, if the Calvinist says they know they are elect by the witness of the Spirit or “manifest evidences” that accompany salvation, then they are basing their salvation in their own subjective experience. If they say “No, we base our salvation on the saving work of Christ on our behalf,” then they are presupposing that Christ’s saving work certainly applies to them. And if they can presuppose Christ’s saving work certainly applies to them, then all persons may presuppose it certainly applies to them too. But then we have an all-inclusive or universal atonement with a good-will offer to come to Christ and be saved. We have a gospel of “good news” that encompasses the salvation of all – a salvation that any sinner my appropriate for themselves by faith in the same way the Calvinist appropriated it to themselves. Thus the doctrine of unconditional election is irrelevant.
So what is there to assure the Calvinist that his experiences are genuine indications of unconditional election? What is there to assure the Calvinist that these will be lasting indications of their unconditional election? Isn’t there a degree of uncertainty in a doctrine of election that is unconditional and thereby unknowable? Indeed, Calvin himself places this uncertainty upon us when he writes,
“There is a general call by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word – even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death [cf. 2 Cor. 2:16], and as the occasion of severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believer alone…Yet sometimes he also causes those whom he illumines only for a time to partake of it; then he justly forsakes them on account of their ungratefulness and strikes them with an even greater blindness.”
Therefore personal experience or “manifest evidences” are a frail reed when it comes to the assurance of one’s unconditional election. Although you think you are saved because you experience something you equate to an evidence of your unconditional election, you may actually not be among the unconditionally elect. Calvin admits this,
“God certainly bestows His Spirit of regeneration only on the elect…But I do not see that this is any reason why he should not touch the reprobate with a taste of His grace, or illumine their minds with some glimmerings of His light, or affect them with some sense of his goodness, or to some extent engrave His Word in their hearts. Otherwise where would be that passing faith which Mark mentions (4:17)? Therefore, there is some knowledge in the reprobate, which later vanishes away.”
And in the Westminster Confession of Faith article 10, “Of Effectual Calling,” in section 4 we read,
“Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved.” (Italics mine.)
So these “manifest evidences” which are the only thing the Calvinist has to convince them of their salvation given their doctrine of unconditional election leave them ignorant as to the objective foundations upon which we can place our faith (i.e., God’s love for us, the atoning work of Christ on our behalf, the express will of God that we be saved, the call and enablement by the Spirit to freely exercise faith). These “manifest evidences” are not sufficient for the assurance of salvation.
Fifthly, the question must be raised as to what was the precise content of the “gospel” message Calvinists first heard so that God could effect in them the salvation he predestined for them? I suspect that the Reformed soteriological doctrines they now hold were not what they heard when they first believed. This is confirmed by the Calvinist’s evangelistic admonition that these doctrines be kept a secret until one becomes a “believer.” This is a tacit admission that the doctrines do not support evangelism. They can only be embraced by those who may be inclined to deem themselves among the unconditionally elect after they are told “God loves you” and “Jesus died for you” and are “invited” and/or “commanded” to believe the true biblical “good news” so that you may be “born from above” and have eternal life. Calvinists become saved by hearing a different message than their own theology. Calvinism is a post-Arminian-conversion theology. They must have been assured that God loves them “in Christ” and that atonement was made for them personally and individually and that they can and should believe this “good news” that surely applies to them. They must have heard a message of biblical hope, not “I hope so.” To have first heard the soteriology of Calvinism would have left them without any hope or assurance that they are among the unconditionally elect unless they were encouraged to presume so. Therefore, the Calvinist, only subsequently, for various reasons as they understand them, embraces Calvinism as their theological system.
The point is that a person must be able to know the sure foundation for their spiritual life and eternal destiny. But the Calvinist can never know this, either objectively on the basis of their interpretation of Scripture, or subjectively on the basis of their experience.
But Paul has not left us in doubt here. For one to know if God’s love is extended to them, that God is kindly disposed towards them, that they have the assurance of God’s Spirit who will never leave them or forsake them, that nothing can separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus and that He will always provide the needed strength and support until life is over, one can and should continue to look to Christ and the cross! This stands in complete contradiction to a settled decree regarding one’s eternal destiny which can never be altered and one can never know with respect to themselves or others. It is not the cross but God’s decree as to who will be saved and who will not that stands at the center of Calvinist theology and soteriology. But what Paul has written stands in complete contradiction to the idea of presuming one’s own election and looking for evidences to confirm that election. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is quoted as saying, “What matters is not what I feel is true about myself at any moment, but what I know is true about God at every moment.” So what is true about God with respect to you and your salvation? God either loves you or he does not. Christ either died for you or he did not. You can either believe and be saved or you cannot. In contrast to this salvific ignorance, “in Christ” I know God loves me. In that I know God loves me, therefore I know Christ died for me and I can be saved. In Calvinism God’s love for me is unknowable, for upon what basis does the Calvinist assure himself or others of God’s love? God’s “love” on Calvinism resides in an inscrutable decision of his will made in eternity past as to what he ordained to become of each and every person. Christ reveals nothing of that decision with respect to any person. Each person’s fate is ultimately referenced to that divine decision and that divine decision alone. We can see how this issue is critical in the proclamation of the “good news” to sinners. Even those who are indifferent to hearing the gospel or listen without visible response, need to hear and know that Christ died for them and God loves them.
Now Calvinists will object that they too look to the cross to know the love of God for them. But these words ring hollow in light of their prior deterministic doctrine of unconditional election. And they are also incoherent with that determinism. Lurking behind their own presumption of God’s love for them and telling a sinner to know the love of God in Christ and look to Christ on the cross for salvation, is the absolute decree which has fixed all things in a dark mystery. That absolute decree over-shadows any message that might otherwise be “good news” to the sinner. This is why, contrary to Scripture, Calvinists don’t invite sinners to come to Christ or call for a decision or plead with them to believe. Within Calvinism, Christ merely implements God’s eternal decree for those chosen to salvation and he leaves all others in their sin. There is nothing about what Christ has done that can be proclaimed as applicable to all sinners. As such, Calvinism is not a Christ-centered soteriology. We are left with a curtailed “gospel” that cannot be proclaimed as “good news” that brings light or assures hope and salvation. How will I know I am among the elect? Has Christ died for me? Does God love me? Where has the good news gone?
So I still fail to see how Voddie’s unconditional election offers the assurance of the hope of salvation to sinners, whether present or eschatological. Unconditional election provides hope for the unconditionally elect, but we don’t know who they are, and there is no basis upon which you can be assured that you are one of them or assure anyone else that they are among them. That’s what unconditional means in this matter of salvation. So where’s the true biblical definition of a hope that rests in the assurance of God’s desire to save and his provision of salvation for you, me and all sinners. On Voddie’s “doctrines of grace” the mass of humanity have no hope of salvation. And to offer it to them all when you do not know who is elect and who is not elect is disingenuous and will not change a thing. Voddie states,
“Listen to John Hendryx. ‘In short, the gospel is the life altering news that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God became man, lived a sinless life under the law, died for sinners and rose again to reconcile them to himself; eternally victorious over every enemy that stood between God and man. Now, because of this redemptive work, there is nothing that separates those who believe from their Creator, and all the benefits that he promises in him.’ That’s the gospel.”
Note two key phrases in that definition of “the gospel” that we would normally take as inclusive of all sinners and a good-faith offer to all sinners. They are “died for sinners” and “those who believe.” Now, on Calvinism, the phrase, “died for sinners,” means “died for sinners who are unconditionally elected to salvation” or “died for unconditionally elect sinners.” So the death of Christ is limited. And if not limited, as some Calvinists will claim, it makes no difference with respect to one’s eternal destiny which is already predetermined. Many Calvinists feel that they must be able to say “Jesus died for you” to every person because they are convinced the Bible teaches it. They realize that to say this to all and yet believe in a limited atonement, as some of their Calvinist brothers and sisters still do, is disingenuous. But their position of unlimited atonement is of no consequence given unconditional election. To be able to genuinely say “Jesus died for you” does nothing to alter what God has predetermined for each individual. Indeed, it makes things worse. The ethical dilemma is still present in saying “Jesus died for you” to the non-elect! Jesus may have died for you, but you may still be among those predestined to eternal damnation. Whether Jesus died for you or not, you are still either unconditionally elect or not. Indeed, I submit that these logical and moral problems and inconsistencies only reveal that unconditional election is misinterpretation of the scriptures on the matter of election.
And, on Calvinism, the phrase “those who believe” means “those who evidence believing because they are among the unconditionally elect who experience the irresistible work of God to bring about faith in them.” Not just any sinner can believe. Only the elect can and will believe. Therefore, “whosoever will may come” holds true in the mind of the Calvinist because God changes the wills of the elect so that they will come. But this completely ignores the plain sense and meaning of the word “whosoever” in conjunction with the word “will” as referring to a genuine ability for that person to exercise their will in a decision to believe or reject the salvation God offers them in Christ. We can see that you have to process the words Calvinists speak or else you might think they mean what the words actually say! But we can also see that Calvinists do not speak forthrightly according to their “doctrines of grace.” The reason is that they cannot speak those doctrines, especially in an evangelistic setting, and still have a gospel that is truly “good news.” Calvinists will do as much as they can to “fudge,” rationalize, redefine or simply not expand on their wording so that they may appear to be presenting some message that at least has some vestige of “good news” in it. But it does not accurately or clearly represent their soteriological “doctrines of grace.”
But Voddie is at least forthright in one thing. Since he does not have “good news” he labels his “gospel” as just “news.” This flawed definition of the biblical word euangelion is the result of the influence his soteriological “doctrines of grace” have on the definition and content of “the gospel.” There is nothing of the good news of salvation in those doctrines. It is as Voddie says, it’s just “news.” Calvinist soteriology is not the biblical gospel.
Voddie Never Answers His Own Question
So “What is the Gospel?” For Voddie the gospel is these six things.
- The gospel is news. (Not “good news.”)
- The gospel is God-centered, not man-centered. “The gospel is about how sovereign God is.”
- The gospel is Christ-centered. The gospel is news about what God has done in Christ.
- The gospel is cross-centered. The gospel is scandalous news. The death of Christ applies to “those whom the Father had given to the Son before the world began.”
- The gospel is grace-centered. It has to do with unconditional election. God’s grace is defined as his choosing certain individuals to be saved.
- The gospel is eschatological. This refers to the judgment to come. There is no boasting when you understand the gospel is of grace or unconditional election.
So what are we to make of all this? Having listened to the whole sermon two troubling things become clear. The first is that Voddie never uses the phrase “good news” to describe the gospel message. The second is that there is nothing in this explanation of “the gospel” which makes it applicable or personal to any sinner. In other words, where’s the “good news” in this Calvinist expression of “the gospel?” I submit to you the following points.
- So, what is the gospel? At one point when he is explaining that the gospel is Christ-centered, Voddie could not escape sliding into incoherence with his Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” Voddie had to confess that “Jesus Christ who knew no sin, becomes sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him… that is God vindicating his righteousness, and allowing himself to still have mercy on you – a sinner – who deserves to hang on that cross and then spend eternity separated from God in hell. But the gospel scandal is that it wasn’t you. It was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who died in your place. That’s the gospel.”  To this I can say a hearty “Amen!” But this is of course inconsistent with Voddie’s other Calvinist soteriological doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement that he specifically referred to in his sermon.
- Voddie’s Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement have direct bearing upon how one answers the question “What is the gospel?” This is because the gospel has to do with salvation, that is, who can be saved and how they get saved. But note that while Voddie does mention his Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement these are only cursory references. He avoids the implications of his Calvinist soteriological doctrines in reference to the gospel. This makes the sermon both inconsistent and somewhat esoteric with regard to answering the question “What is the gospel?”
- So what is the gospel? Although Voddie gives us the definition stated in number 1 above, in light of his Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement we are left with the incoherence between the two, that is, the definition above and his Calvinist doctrines. He has left us confused about how his Calvinism coheres with the gospel as he has defined it in #1. He has described “the gospel” as merely “news,” but seems to give us, at least in this instance, a definition that is in accord with the “good news” of a non-Calvinist soteriology.
- The question “What is the gospel?” was answered by six broad points that although they are legitimate theological and soteriological themes don’t actually tell us what the gospel is. To say “The gospel is ____ – centered,” is to fail to tell us what the actual content of the gospel message is as “good news.” What does Voddie say to a person when he brings them the gospel? Apart from the inconsistency issue raised above, we are still left wondering what “news” we should tell unbelievers so that they may be saved. According to Voddie we cannot give them a “plan of salvation” and it’s not “Acknowledge your sin. Believe in Christ. Confess him as your savior.” So what is the message of “good news?”
- Voddie’s states that the gospel is God-centered, Christ-centered, cross-centered, grace-centered and eschatological. But these do not support the monergism that his soteriology demands. The non-Calvinist agrees with all these theological observations. So what we see here is that Voddie cannot clearly bring his Calvinist soteriology to bear on “the gospel.” As such, it has no place in evangelism. Since we know Voddie is a Calvinist, and he does not clearly bring his Calvinist soteriology to bear on this question, “What is the Gospel?”, I submit that Voddie is being evasive of his “doctrines of grace” and therefore disingenuous. That conclusion is hard to avoid especially when he describes his soteriological beliefs as “doctrines of grace” and that they are the full and final answer as to why one person is saved and other persons are not. What could be more pertinent to “the gospel” and evangelism? For the most part, these “doctrines of grace” are conspicuously absent when Calvinists preach about “the gospel.” Voddie attempted to introduce them at points in this sermon, but he did not provide us with a clear exposition of what he believes explains why and how a person becomes saved or remains unsaved. But this is to be expected because even Calvinists realize there is no “good news” in their deterministic soteriology.
- Throughout this sermon Voddie’s Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement are at work behind the scenes to erode the gospel as “good news.” Again, we note the following:
- Voddie redefines the gospel to mean merely “news.” He avoids calling it “good news.” His Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement are presupposed as biblical truth and hamper any expression of the gospel as “good news.” These doctrines pressure Voddie to redefine the gospel to merely “news” or an “announcement.”
- He sends a confused message as to whether there is gospel content in a “plan of salvation” like “the four spiritual laws.” He never tells us how a person can be saved.
- He completely denies that to “acknowledge your sin,” “believe in Christ,” and “confess him as you savior” is the gospel. He says, “It’s a cheap substitute.” It seems that he is saying that these are not even elements in a biblical gospel message. But Voddie has to tell us what “gospel” these phrases are a cheap substitute for?
Simply put, given his Calvinist soteriological doctrines, Voddie has nothing he can confidently present as “good news” for sinners. He has “news” to give them according to a theological exposition that he attempts to relate to “the gospel.” And he cannot expound on his Calvinist “doctrines of grace” which just are his doctrines of salvation because he knows that they do not contain “good news” to the hearers. His “doctrines of grace” cannot be put into the service of evangelism and preaching the gospel as “good news.” So his sermon, although his theological points are well-taken, becomes confused as to the content of the gospel message and at times inconsistent with his Calvinist soteriology.
God Uses the Gospel to Call Forth Those He Has Unconditionally Elected to Salvation
The inconsistency with whatever “good” news Voddie was able to eke out of his sermon (see point #1 above) is clearly exemplified here when he states that,
“God has decreed that it’s the gospel that he will use to call forth his elect.”
This is an interesting claim. And we are still asking Voddie to please tell us what this “gospel” is that God “uses to call forth his elect.” Voddie’s aversion to defining the gospel as “good news” doesn’t help us understand what seems to amount to God using almost anything that is preached to call his elect. As long as the gospel is just “news” it seems that Voddie can have the theological points he has just preached work an effectual call or irresistible grace only in those who are unconditionally elected without suggesting that this “news” is for everybody. But that the gospel is for everyone is one essential truth that makes it “good news.” If it is only for a select few then what “news” do they need to hear? What could Voddie say as a Calvinist speaking consistent with his Calvinism that would make it “good news?” What makes it “good news” is precisely what Voddie, as a Calvinist, cannot say in good conscience. What makes it “good news” is its universal applicability and good-faith offer, that is, any and all hearers can actually be saved by putting their faith in Christ. The gospel includes the assurance to the sinner that Jesus is indeed their Savior and Lord. Therefore, it is inconsistent to think that God uses a message of inclusive, universal salvation and a good-faith offer of it to all sinners to bring to pass an exclusive salvation that is a limited to only those individuals God predestined to receive that salvation.
We have struggled to see how unconditional election can honestly be employed in a message of “good news” to sinners. I think we must conclude that it cannot. And that is why Voddie has avoided the phrase “good news” and refers to the gospel as merely “news.” And yet, Voddie says “the gospel” is what God uses to “call forth his elect.” So I guess that as long as we accept Voddie’s definition of “the gospel” as merely “news,” we can understand the connection between “the gospel” and unconditional election. I guess this “gospel” is “the news” that Voddie has just preached, this is, that God’s work in salvation is God-centered, cross-centered, grace-centered, etc. But these are not “the gospel.” They are basic theological facts that may bear upon the gospel as Voddie preached them, but they are neither Voddie’s “doctrines of grace” nor are they the gospel message of an inclusive, universal salvation and a good-faith offer of it to all sinners. So what “gospel” does “God use” to “call forth his elect?” Voddie still hasn’t told us. We still don’t know.
If all this seems somewhat convoluted I suggest it is because Voddie is attempting to make his Calvinist soteriology relevant to something that resembles “good news.” But his Calvinism keeps eroding any definition of “the gospel” that can be considered truly “good news.” There was one time Voddie gave us an expanded definition of “the gospel.” He said that Jesus “becomes sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him… that is God vindicating his righteousness, and allowing himself to still have mercy on you – a sinner – who deserves to hang on that cross and then spend eternity separated from God in hell. But the gospel scandal is that it wasn’t you. It was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who died in your place. That’s the gospel.” He uses universal pronouns like “we,” “us” and “you” in phrases like “we have hope in the gospel” and that Jesus “becomes sin for us” and Jesus “died in your place.” The plain meaning of these words and phrases communicate the universal applicability and good-faith offer of salvation to all sinners. But this is antithetical to Calvinist soteriology. These statements accord more with a non-Calvinist “good news” gospel. So we are confused by Voddie and his Calvinism because his Calvinism is not coherent with the plain meaning of these words. And it is disingenuous for the Calvinist to lead us to think these words should be taken as meaning the universal applicability and good-faith offer of salvation to all sinners when that is not what the Calvinist believes at all. Calvinists should say what they mean. So we see that Voddie seems to be double-minded about “What is the gospel?” So I think this whole presentation strains to avoid this “good news.” And try as he might to make it seem otherwise, in Voddie’s Calvinist “doctrines of grace” there is no “good news.”
Some Important Issues for “Good News” Evangelism
So we are left with the following important issues and questions. The first is whether it is integral to “the gospel” as “good news” that there be some type of call to believe in Christ; to make a decision to accept what has been proclaimed about salvation. I submit that there needs to be an invitation to faith, and even an imperative command to believe, because one’s eternal destiny is at stake in their decision. When presenting the gospel in a public forum, whether this call to believe includes physically “coming forward” or not is a secondary matter. It is not even an issue in one-to-one witnessing. Therefore, it is the call to believe and the believing that is most important. There needs to be a dynamic element of response from the sinner. I think this is an integral part of the gospel if it is to be “good news” because any invitation or call to believe can only be genuine if one understands that this salvation is applicable to all who hear it without exception. The Calvinist maintains that salvation is for those chosen for it without distinction, that is, for all types of people. But this falls far short of providing the assurance that God desires the salvation of any and all who hear his “good news.” Therefore, the Calvinist who believes in unconditional election and irresistible grace fails to center God’s grace in Christ as the one who is lifted up for any and all to look to for their salvation (Jn. 3:14, 15). In contrast, on Calvinism one’s salvation is found in the inaccessible decision of God in eternity past to save certain individuals and not others. This reorientation to an eternal decision of God as to who will and will not be saved erodes the confidence and assurance of God’s salvific will for all who look to Christ for their salvation. God’s premundane decision that predestines only certain people to salvation trumps the cross of Christ as the event to which one may look to know God’s love and saving work on their behalf. In contrast, Calvinist determinism turns the “good news” into merely “news” and results in a lack of assurance of God’s salvific will for the individual sinner. No one knows whether they have been chosen by God for salvation or assigned to eternal damnation. This problem plagues Voddie’s sermon throughout.
So, for all the legitimate but broader theological points Voddie has related to “the gospel,” as a Calvinist he still hasn’t told us what the gospel message is that is consistent with his Calvinism. And the personal dynamic that calls the sinner to believe the “good news” is conspicuously missing in his sermon. But this call to faith is integral to the gospel as “good news” because faith is the God ordained means of appropriating salvation allows for salvation to be universal. Salvation by faith just means salvation obtainable by all. That is the purpose and function of faith in relation to salvation. Hence, there must be a good-faith offer of salvation given and a call to come and put your faith and trust in Christ to receive salvation. There needs to be an invitation to the hearers to accept the message of Christ by faith so they can be saved. This can happen in many different ways, but this is an important aspect of “the gospel.”
Scripture witnesses to this call and dynamic of faith as integral to God’s dealings with man, especially where the preaching of the “good news” of salvation is concerned. (Rom. 4, 9-11; Gal. 2:15 – 3:29; Heb. 11) God is in dynamic relationship with his human creatures not a static relationship as in Calvinist theistic determinism. God has decreed that salvation would be on the basis of a dynamic faith response from the sinner to the proclamation of Christ and the cross. This dynamic of the response of faith from the sinner to what is heard, which again we find throughout Scripture, is completely absent in Voddie’s message. That is because such a thing is anathema for Calvinists. A call to faith or an invitation to believe involves a decision the sinner must make, which, in the Calvinist’s mind is a “work” that “merits” salvation, or a “contribution” the sinner makes to their salvation. Sinner’s do not “save themselves,” as the Calvinist mischaracterizes the exercise of faith, God saves sinners and this requires unconditional election and irresistible grace or the effectual call. God, therefore, causes the elect to believe. This is, of course, a complete misunderstanding of the biblical teaching on the nature of man and the nature of faith. The response of faith is always ultimately the sinner’s own response. Certainly the Spirit is at work in the “good news” for the salvation of the sinner, but the Spirit does not work upon the sinner effectually or irresistibly based on a premundane decision of God to save some and not others. And this dynamic between the Spirit and the will of the sinner is integral to Paul’s anthropology and gospel message. The nature of faith as humble submission and trust in the work of another on your behalf has been distorted by the Calvinist doctrine of “total inability.” But the biblical doctrine of faith entails universal applicability and accessibility of the salvation God has provided. That is the point of having salvation be “by faith.” It is “by faith” so that salvation can be appropriated by any and all individuals. Faith transcends all other privileges, capacities and resources that one may mistakenly think earn them favor with God – even the fact that they may be God’s own chosen people which is an issue Paul discusses in Romans 9-11. Salvation is not just for a limited elect number of persons without distinction (i.e., race, ethnicity, culture, social or economic status, religion, education, etc.), but for every individual without exception. The sinner appropriates the salvation accomplished by God for them by faith. So, without this dynamic of a call to come to Christ, without an invitation and call to decision, we do not have a biblical gospel of “good news” for all sinners. We are just left with “news” about the salvation God accomplished for some and not others. And as to which group you are in, you will just have to wait and see what God will do or not do in you. How depressing this is in contrast to the biblical truth that when Christ is lifted up on the cross, whoever looks upon him in faith will be saved. This is the meaning of Jn. 3:14, 15, which was a passage Voddie referred to. But the truth of this passage is inconsistent with Voddie’s Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace.
In addition, although Voddie makes valid theological points about the nature of God’s work in salvation (i.e., God-centered, cross-centered, grace-centered, etc.), we have seen that these still needed further definition and clarity. How are his theological points to be construed? In Calvinist or non-Calvinist terms? This is important because we are naturally asking whether or not this salvation applies to us personally? Am I included? Although we can agree with his theological points (except for his Calvinist interpretations at several points), the lack of “good news” in Voddie’s sermon is where it falls short of its title, let alone the fact that he never clearly answers the question “What is the Gospel?” Therefore, Voddie states,
“God has decreed that it’s the gospel that he will use to call forth his elect.”
What “gospel” is Voddie talking about? If the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are the biblical truth about salvation, why then aren’t these doctrines preached by Calvinists as “the gospel” message? Obviously Voddie’s soteriological doctrines are not the answer to the question “What is the Gospel?” otherwise he would have expounded on them in this sermon and demonstrated how they are “the gospel.” Those “doctrines of grace” were not the content of the “news” Voddie provided for us in this sermon. Voddie and other Calvinists do not preach their soteriological doctrines of total inability along with pre-faith regeneration, unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace when they preach “the gospel,” and yet these doctrines are the full and final explanation as to how and why some persons are saved and others are not. For the Calvinist these doctrines have everything to do with salvation. When Voddie says that “the gospel” is what God has decreed “to call forth his elect,” we must ask, “What gospel is Voddie talking about?”
The Bad News Message of Calvinism
So why don’t Calvinists preach their “doctrines of grace” as the “good news” of the gospel? Because there is no “good news” to be found there. Think about it. If one were to preach “sovereign grace” or the “doctrines of grace” as Calvinists define them, it is certainly hard to see how these would be “good news” for those hearing them and not merely “religious news” or soteriological facts. This tug-of-war between a message that is truly “good news” and Voddie’s soteriological “doctrines of grace” is what Voddie is struggling with in this sermon. Under the pressure of an immovable soteriological determinism, he finally had to resort to referring to the gospel merely as “news.” Through some kind of message that Voddie labels “the gospel,” God effectually calls his elect and saves them. What is that message?
Let’s consider what it would be like to preach the Calvinist soteriological doctrines as “the gospel.” It strains credulity how informing people of the following points of Calvinism could ever be what it means to preach “good news” to them.
- That as sinners they are totally unable to respond to the message you are bringing to them.
- That there is a limited number of persons that God has elected for salvation.
- That election, that is your salvation, is unconditional, which means that salvation has nothing to do with you or anyone or anything else other than the will of God.
- That Jesus’s death provided atonement only for those unconditionally elected individuals.
- That you may be among those predestined to salvation if, as you wait on God, he effectually calls you, regenerates you and irresistibly works faith in you so that you at some time in your life find that you believe in Christ.
- That if you are not among those unconditionally elected to salvation you cannot believe and be saved.
I find no “good news” here. Do you? If so, how so? I submit that this is why Voddie never called the gospel good news throughout this whole sermon. These “doctrines of grace” are simply not the gospel message and the Calvinist knows it.
We made the observation that God has to use a non-Calvinist gospel message that is truly “good news” and not the preaching of “the doctrines of grace” to “call forth his elect.” This is not only inconsistent, it is also ironic. It tells us that Calvinism is a post-Arminian-conversion theology. People only become Calvinists after they are saved by hearing the actual “good news” gospel message contained in the non-Calvinist’s soteriology. Why doesn’t God “call forth his elect” by the preaching of the “doctrines of grace?” At least God would be speaking consistently if he did. His message would reflect just how he says he works in salvation. But not even God uses the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” to call his elect. And perhaps he doesn’t work this way because this theology is a misinterpretation of his divine revelation.
Therefore, finally, we should ask whether one should be able to preach a gospel message that is consistent with their soteriology, and if they cannot what that might say about the biblical validity of their soteriology. Should there be consistency and coherence between what one claims is the “good news” of the gospel and one’s soteriology? If not, why not?
Hermeneutical and Exegetical Reflections
All this establishes the point that just because someone produces something they call “an exegesis of the text” in support of their soteriology or theology doesn’t mean that it is correct exegesis. A sound hermeneutic doesn’t ignore objections to an exegesis when that exegesis generates philosophical, moral and practical ministry problems as I have been pointing out here from Voddie’s sermon.
The claim to have done an exegesis of Rom. 9:30-33 is no guarantee that such an exegesis reflects the meaning of the text or the intent of the author. The Calvinist cannot make the point that we should believe what the Bible teaches (a point we all agree upon which rests upon taking seriously the inspiration and authority of Scripture), and then also claim that an exegesis of the text need not conform to the axioms of logical thought, our moral intuitions and the immediate and broader canonical context. That exegesis can be a good exegesis or, as we have here, a somewhat confused, poor exegesis which allows Voddie to play both theological sides of the issue. It seems to me that we have here a very good example of eisegesis. As a Calvinist, Voddie is committed to his “doctrines of grace” and therefore reads those doctrines into Roman 9:30-33. This lends to struggling to find “good news” there, so he must default to a non-Calvinist gospel presentation, one he clearly resisted and rejected at certain points in this sermon. The result is an inconsistent, confusing and ultimately empty sermon on the question “What is the Gospel?”
So here, again, we have an example of the hermeneutical divide. As a Calvinist, it is not important to Voddie that his interpretations be consistent and coherent with the immediate context, the broader context, the canonical context, other biblical doctrines and experiential reality. Voddie presupposes his Calvinist soteriological doctrines are biblical truth and this requires him to interpret the text accordingly regardless of the incoherence his interpretation generates with other texts in the same context (e.g., chapters 10 and 11) or within his own sermon. And the Calvinist will always ultimately chalk up these philosophical, moral and practical problems to the “incomprehensibility” and “mystery” of his “doctrines of grace.” As such, the Calvinist holds to a hermeneutic of incoherence.
Obviously for Voddie his “doctrines of grace” are not to be equated with “the gospel.” If he were to believe this he could have easily and clearly said so. In fact, it could be argued that every Calvinist should claim their “doctrines of grace” are the gospel message so they could at least speak consistently when talking about the gospel and salvation. But I have also documented elsewhere that for many Calvinists their soteriological “doctrines of grace” are the definition of the “gospel.” But if they are going to preach a message that is inconsistent with their “doctrines of grace,” that is, a non-Calvinist gospel message that is truly “good news,” then the problem becomes that God has chosen a means, the content of which implies both free will and universality, both of which are contradictory to Calvinist divine determinism and unconditional election. In other words, the Calvinist presupposes in his gospel message the freedom of the will and universality of salvation that are in direct contradiction to his soteriological doctrines of divine sovereignty and unconditional election. The Calvinist cannot avoid being hypocritical as to his soteriology and gospel presentation if he is going to present anything close to “good news.” In contrast to Calvinist soteriology, the content of the gospel, as “good news,” indicates that God loves all sinners, that Christ died for them and that the hearer has the responsibility – and therefore the ability as the Spirit works through the true gospel message – to simply trust, believe and receive the salvation offered to them or remain in unbelief and reject it to their own condemnation. This universal nature of salvation is inherent in the gospel message itself when it proclaims “God loves you,” or “Jesus died for you,” etc., while the conditionality is inherent in the element of faith. The hearer of the gospel call is to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and when they do, God’s promise is that “you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) This conditionality is inherent in the gospel as an invitation, offer, call, command, plea, etc. We know of no other gospel that is “good news.”
But all this is inconsistent with the Calvinist’s soteriological doctrines. This conditionality of the gospel content is incoherent with the Calvinist’s theistic determinism and their doctrine of election as unconditional. Calvinist James White clearly states,
“It’s divine election that will determine the response to the message that is preached.”
But if that message must be something other than the Calvinist soteriological doctrines, then the means Calvinist’s claim God has chosen to bring salvation to the unconditionally elect is a means that is incoherent with their doctrinal determinism and that very doctrine of unconditional election. As such, their claim is self-defeating. God would be effecting the salvation of a predetermined elect number by a gospel, the content of which presupposes human freedom, post-faith regeneration, the possibility of accepting or rejecting the offered salvation, the conditionality of election and the universal offer of salvation. These are logically incompatible with their Calvinist “doctrines of grace.”
Therefore, if Calvinists wish to remain logically consistent, they need to deny human free will and avoid it and its corollaries when preaching the “gospel.” Can they do that and still have “good news?” I don’t think so. And I suggest to you that Voddie’s sermon has affirmed this conclusion.
Evangelical Inconsistency and Denial: The Gospel is at Stake
Therefore, this matter of the consistency or inconsistency between soteriology and gospel content and preaching has bearing upon the credibility of the evangelical Church. To the degree that Calvinists preach the gospel as truly good news with that preaching being inconsistent with their deterministic soteriology, the true “good news” will go forth. And non-Calvinists are glad for this. But surely this Calvinist inconsistency between proclaiming a truly good news message and their Calvinist soteriological doctrines is not good. It reveals poor thinking and interpretation. Furthermore, it is hypocritical and also confuses people as to what Christians really believe. And if there should be consistency between one’s soteriology and gospel message, and two mutually exclusive soteriologies and gospels cannot both be the truth of Scripture, then the very heart of the Christian message is at stake in this controversy.
The two mutually exclusive views of salvation in the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies cannot both be the biblical truth on the matter. Born-again, Bible-believing evangelical Christians are not saying anything remotely similar when it comes to the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies and their corresponding versions of the gospel. And the difference is not trivial. It is substantial. The content of the different gospel messages are not at all compatible. How can this be? How have we gotten into such a situation? What are the ramifications of this confusion over the precise content of the gospel? Can’t the Bible be accurately interpreted and understood with regard to its central message of salvation? To the degree that the evangelical church does not speak with a unified biblical voice as to soteriology and the precise content of the gospel, it has lost its theological bearings, lost its credibility, and forfeited “the gospel” which is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Rom. 1:16, NIV) The true gospel transforms the individual life in holiness and the church for effective service. Perhaps the lack of understanding and proclamation of the true, biblical good news in our day is a contributing factor to the rise in lawlessness, violence and anarchy. Perhaps an absence of the truth of the gospel is allowing for the erosion of our exceptional American political principles and social structures. Billy Graham has stated,
“I am convinced if the church went back to the main task of proclaiming the Gospel it would see people being converted to Christ and it would have a far greater impact on the social, moral, and psychological needs of people than anything else it could possibly do.”
But this presumes we know what the biblical gospel is. I have documented elsewhere the content of Dr. Graham’s gospel message and shown that it is contrary to the Calvinist soteriological doctrines and the “gospel” that is in accord with those doctrines. The word “gospel” is used continually by Christians, pastors and teachers. Ministries and churches claim that the reason they exist is to teach and proclaim “the gospel.” But what do Christians and Christian ministries mean when they talk about “the gospel?” When we ponder the Calvinist/non-Calvinist divide on this matter we must conclude that even the evangelical church does not have a clear understanding of what constitutes the biblical gospel. Voddie’s sermon is an example of this problem. Many want to ignore this matter altogether so as not to cause disagreements or divisions. But this attitude only shows up the theological and hermeneutical immaturity of many evangelicals and their churches. Getting the gospel right has profound implications for the effectiveness of the church to be a channel for real and meaningful individual spiritual transformation which results in the social transformation needed in our time and culture. The message of the gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16, NIV). The Evangelical church needs to ask itself, What is that message? What is the Gospel?
Those who hear the gospel experience the power of God so that they may believe. Those who yield to the Spirit of God in the gospel and believe, experience the power of God giving them eternal life and sanctifying them in spirit and body thus providing a transformative and preserving presence in the world. The two dichotomous gospels abiding in evangelical Christianity today cannot both be the true gospel. Which one is the true gospel, or the message closest to it? It behooves the Christian church to confront this fact, and no longer live in denial of it. The unsaved may not be hearing the true “good news,” and if they are not, then the Spirit, because he is the Spirit of truth, will not be at work through a false gospel. Jesus said “As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself” (Jn. 12:32). The Spirit, as the Spirit of truth, will not be at work to bless a false and erroneous “gospel.” A church that is confused regarding its fundamental message will lose its credibility and power. Furthermore, in the words of the old hymn, “those who know it best are hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.” The true gospel remains the impetus for the Spirit of God to be at work among even the most mature believers. It is “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.” “The story of Jesus” is “the message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.” This is the “good news” both the unsaved and saved need to hear.
The content of the biblical gospel as “good news” is becoming more and more obscure in the Evangelical church. This is happening because churches are embracing the soteriological, theological and interpretive relativism that is required to accept two mutually exclusive soteriologies and the different messages they entail. There is a anti-intellectualism that in our churches that has allowed this relativism to take hold. Many Christians are simply indifferent to clear thinking and the principles of biblical interpretation. Christians gravitate towards the superficial and entertaining in worship and preaching. Personality cults, celebrity-style worship teams and showy musicians, along with preachers and teachers who do not deal with the biblical text in any depth, ignore alternative interpretations or completely skip over the more difficult texts and theological issues, provide the believer with little by way of Scripture’s theological depths let alone its central message of the “good news” of salvation. Pastors and teachers, either intimidated by Calvinists and Calvinism, or having embraced it themselves, shy away from the gospel as “good news” and reduce it to mere “news” as Voddie has in this sermon. And in a grand irony, although you are more likely to find more mature and in-depth theological preaching and teaching in the Reformed Calvinist churches, you will not find the gospel as “good news” there. And the Spirit cannot do a work of salvation where the truly “good news” of salvation by faith is not being proclaimed. In our evangelical churches you will find little interest to get at the truth of Scripture on these important soteriological and theological doctrinal issues. To avoid division they label this gospel controversy a “non-essential” or “secondary” matter. This breeds an anti-intellectualism in which tough issues are simply ignored as the gospel becomes more and more obscure. Adult Bible classes become socially oriented and intellectually superficial. There is little to no substantive group engagement and discussion about the biblical text. Food, fun and fellowship hold top priority. Believers, young and old alike lose their spiritual zeal and sense of God’s guidance and their purpose in life. Young people abandon the church during their high school and college years. Meaning in life is found in work or pleasure. We are captivated by temporal worldliness because we are no longer captivated by the eternal gospel which exalts Christ and glorifies God. As one gospel song puts it, “Comfort came second, Jesus came first, that’s why they called it a church.”
Although the word “gospel” is used everywhere, it is left undefined and there is little interest within Evangelicalism to admit the presence of two incompatible soteriologies and to address and finally resolve this matter. To put off this question is to leave many, if not most churches, without the true gospel of “good news.” Without the true gospel message being preached, attending “church” becomes a mere formality, spiritually powerless, intellectually unsatisfying, and with little transformative effect.
I submit that if you were to ask Calvinists who say that proclaiming “the gospel” is the most important task of their ministry and ask them what they mean by “the gospel,” and compare their answer with their Reformed Calvinist theology and soteriology, you would find troubling inconsistencies and contradictions. But if we do not find these inconsistencies and contradictions between message and theology hermeneutically significant, then I submit that we have embraced a soteriological, theological and intellectual relativism that will cripple the church in the years to come. If there are two incompatible gospels in evangelicalism today we obviously have not arrived at a consensus regarding “the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:5), and one side or the other, or perhaps both, are in serious error. We need to hear the gospel of good news again. Satan would have it otherwise. Therefore the critical theological question for our time is, “What is the biblical gospel?”
 Voddie Baucham, “What is the Gospel? – Romans 9:30-33.” 4/24/2011. Accessed 8/19/2020. https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=42511113392
 From the hymn “I Love to Tell the Story,” 1866. Words by Katherine Hankey (1834-1911). Music by William G. Fischer (1835-1912).
 Voddie Baucham, “What is the Gospel? – Romans 9:30-33.” 4/24/2011 https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=42511113392 (5:32 – 5:36)
 Ibid. (5:41 – 5:58)
 Ibid. (6:30 – 6:48)
 Ibid. (7:50 – 8:46)
 Ibid. (20:52 ff.)
 Ibid. (21;51 – 22:05)
 Ibid. (22:35 – 22:40)
 Ibid. (23:40 – 24:07)
 Ibid. (26:01 – 26:06)
 Ibid. (26:40 – 27:06)
 Ibid. (27:22 – 27:36)
 Ibid. (27:58 – 29:33)
 Ibid. (29:40 – 30:13)
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 926.
 Voddie Baucham, “What is the Gospel? – Romans 9:30-33.” 4/24/2011 https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=42511113392 (30:30 – 32:11)
 Ibid. (32:50 – 33:25)
 Ibid. (40:00 – 40:40)
 One that comes to mind is the “try God” statement we often hear in evangelical preaching and invitations to believe. This completely misrepresents the imperative nature of the situation of man in sin, the importance of what God has done in Christ and the decisive nature of the divine call of God. Soren Kierkegaard describes well this imperative. He said, “No man shall presume to leave Christ’s life in abeyance as a curiosity. When God lets himself be born and become man, this is not an idle caprice, some fancy he hits upon just to be doing something, perhaps to put an end to the boredom that has brashly been said must be involved in being God – it is not in order to have an adventure. No, when God does this, then this fact is the earnestness of existence. And, in turn, the earnestness in this earnestness is: that everyone shall have an opinion about it.”
 Ibid. (41:04 – 42:47)
 This is the phrase William Lane Craig uses to describe Calvinism. I think it advantageous because it specifically mentions the universal and causal elements in Calvinist determinism. It is important to realize that the Calvinist’s definition of the divine eternal decree and sovereignty are deterministic in a way that encompasses all things down to the minutest detail (universal) and makes God out as the cause of all that occurs (causal), including evil. I also use the phrase “theistic determinism” by which I mean to imply universal divine causal determinism. Dr. Craig uses the phrase in his five-fold critique of Calvinism in which he concludes “that the Calvinistic view of universal divine causal determinism is one that is unacceptable for Christian theology.”
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. Accessed 8/14/2020.
 Voddie Baucham, “What is the Gospel? – Romans 9:30-33.” 4/24/2011 https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=42511113392 (44:29 – 45:32)
 Ibid. (39:52 – 40:40)
 Ibid. (45:33 – 46:38)
 See I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God, 3rd ed., (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995).
 John Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.8
 I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God, 3rd. ed. (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995), 143.
 From Josh Moody, No Other Gospel: 31 Reasons from Galatians Why Justification by Faith Alone Is the Only Gospel, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 189.
 Voddie Baucham, “What is the Gospel? – Romans 9:30-33.” 4/24/2011 https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=42511113392 (46:44 – 47:17)
 Ibid. (40:00 – 40:40)
 Leighton Flowers, “Critique of Voddie Baucham on Predestination and Election,” July 24, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ0dfyzP4hw Accessed 8/19/2020. (1:09:20)
 Leighton Flowers, “Critique of Voddie Baucham on Predestination and Election,” July 24, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ0dfyzP4hw Accessed 8/19/2020. (1:09:20)
 James White, “God Made Man and Woman. PERIOD. Then Back to William Lane Craig and Presuppositionalism.” July 27, 2017 Accessed 8/19/2020. (1:19:33). https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2017/07/27/god-made-man-woman-period-back-william-lane-craig-presuppositionalism/
 Russ Busby, Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador (San Diego: Tehabi Books, 1999), 255. From Franklin Graham, Billy Graham in Quotes, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 60.
 From the hymn “I Love to Tell the Story,” 1866. Words by Katherine Hankey (1834-1911). Music by William G. Fischer (1835-1912).
 “They Called It a Church,” by Tom T. Hall (BMI), Dixie Hall (BMI) and Billy Smith (ASCAP).
4 thoughts on “Calvinist Voddie Baucham’s No Good News “Gospel”: An Assessment of His Sermon on Romans 9:30-33”
You seem to take umbrage in the fact that Voddie believes the doctrines of grace are biblical and that he didn’t say that the “gospel” is “good” news. Maybe he didn’t say that it is “good” news is because the message of the cross is offensive and it is not “good” news to most people. As Paul stated in 1 Cor 1:18:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us
who are being saved… God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the
Notice that Paul calls the message foolishness, not “good” news, because it does sound like foolishness to the man who has not been ordained to life (Acts 13:48).
“23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”
That doesn’t sound like “good” news to the Jews or the Gentiles..
“24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom,”
Now that’s “GOOD NEWS”, but only to some: “those who are called.” It’s pretty obvious that all are not chosen. Jesus said, “all the the Father gives me will come to me.” If the Father gave everyone to the Son then everyone would come and obviously that doesn’t happen. (Election) Paul continues to speak of God soverignly choosing some and not others.
“26 Brothers, consider your CALLING: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many
powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has CHOSEN what is foolish in the world to
shame the wise, and God has CHOSEN what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God
has CHOSEN what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring
to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. 30 BUT IT
IS FROM HIM THAT YOU ARE IN Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our
righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts
must boast in the Lord.”
I don’t know about you but my hope is in what God has done for me and not that I had the wherewithal to chose Him and make myself born from above. IJS
Hi Le Grand,
Thanks for reading my piece on Voddie Baucham’s Sermon and for your comments. I would make the following observations in response, but please bear with me in its length. Not only do I appreciate you commenting on my piece and thereby deserve a thoughtful and thorough response, but such a treatment may provide answers to others who may be grappling with the issues you raised.
As I see it, the foremost issue that we would need to resolve here is whether or not the Calvinist interpretations of the passages you cite are correct. In other words, does Paul reflect what today we know as the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” in his writings and particularly here in 1 Corinthians 1? Looking at this matter from a broad perspective, Calvinism is a universal divine causal determinism. As such, the Calvinist doctrines are incoherent, inconsistent and/or contradictory to the overwhelming witness in Scripture to the contingent nature of reality, the nature of saving faith, human freedom and responsibility and divine judgment. As I seek to demonstrate on my website, Calvinism is simply at odds with the biblical worldview in so many ways. So this problem, which is ultimately a problem in the Calvinist’s hermeneutic has to be reckoned with. It is a hermeneutical problem, that is, it involves the interpretive principles the reader brings to the text that will enable them to accurately discern its meaning. The incoherence of Calvinist theistic determinism forces me to conclude that Calvinists have misinterpreted passages like the ones you refer to here and many others they use to support their view of God’s sovereignty and their soteriology or “doctrines of grace.” Therefore, in that I do not believe Paul holds to a determinism that would produce incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction among his own writings, let alone with the broad scope of the biblical witness, I have to conclude that the Calvinist doctrines are not what Paul teaches here or in his other epistles.
In accord with the above point, what also makes me think the Calvinist is misinterpreting these passages is that there are so many passages that the non-Calvinist can quote, even from Paul himself, that directly contradict the Calvinist’s “doctrines of grace.” These passages clearly speak of God’s desire to save all persons (1 Tim. 2:3-6), his love for all individuals (Jn. 3:16-18; Rom. 5:8), Jesus’ death on behalf of every sinner (2 Cor. 5:14-15), and that all sinners can believe, are responsible to believe and are called to believe the gospel when they hear it (Jn. 5:34, 39-40; 20:30-31). And these passages have the advantage of being simpler and clearer to understand over what Scripture says about election, calling, predestination, etc. These more complex theological concepts are rooted in the work of God with Israel in the Old Testament. That Old Testament context has to inform their meaning and application in the New Testament context. For instance, the term “elect” or “chosen” which referred to the special status of “the people of God” (Israel) in the Old Testament is now taken up by Paul and applied to “those who believe” in Christ in the New Testament. Those who believe in Christ become God’s elect one’s in that they are now in the Chosen one – Jesus Christ – and are described in the same terms that applied to the people of Israel in the Old Testament. I refer you to 1 Peter 2:1-9 as a passage with similar themes to 1 Cor. 1 and 2. Hence, “elect” or “chosen” is a term Paul uses for “believers,” without any reference to their being unconditionally elected to salvation, for that would be inconsistent with the content of the gospel message as a call that goes out to all individual sinners to believe and be saved. It would also be inconsistent with the nature of faith which is presented by Paul, and throughout the New Testament, as a genuinely free response the sinner makes to that “good news” of their salvation. Therefore, “the called ones” in verse 24 are “the ones believing” in verse 21, and the “good news” was and still is good news even to those for whom Christ crucified is a “stumbling block” and “foolishness,” that is, to “the wise,” the scribe,” the debater” (v. 20) and to “those who are perishing.” The “good news” of the gospel applies to them too. Despite their rejection of it, it is still the message of their salvation. We should not read Calvinist unconditional election into the text here.
We have all experienced the futility of Calvinists and non-Calvinists merely quoting verses to each other without effect. This is why I would say this practice is not sufficient to get at the heart of the issue here which is how we can know whether our interpretation of the passages that we use to support our particular theologies and soteriologies accurately reflect what the biblical author intended to communicate to us. I argue that one essential and indispensable way of knowing we are accurately interpreting Scripture is to examine our interpretations to see if they are coherent, consistent and non-contradictory with other clear teachings of Scripture. If you think about it, this matter of coherence is just what it means to interpret in context. It is important that our interpretations make sense out our all the Scriptural data that needs to be taken into account. Here we would need to interpret 1 Cor. 1 in light of the whole letter and also 2 Corinthians, Paul’s other epistles, and the broader canonical context. Le Grand, if you agree that one’s exegesis and interpretations, along with the theologies and soteriologies built upon them, must exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction for them to be considered valid interpretations of the text, then I do not see how you can remain a Calvinist, for the Calvinist interpretations generate incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. On the other hand, if you are going to remain a Calvinist it seems to me that you will have to adopt this hermeneutic of incoherence. But if you do so, you will have to defend it in an intellectually and theologically responsible way.
Moreover, I am compelled to conclude Calvinists are misinterpreting these texts because non-Calvinists offer interpretations of the passages you mention and the others relevant to this controversy that are exegetically responsible and do not place Paul and the other biblical writers in contradiction with themselves or among themselves. Again, I argue that this non-contradiction or coherence among the biblical writers is an essential hermeneutical principle. The biblical author’s do not contradict themselves or each other. The Bible does not contradict itself. Therefore, coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are necessary elements in determining valid interpretations. They are not sufficient elements, but they are necessary. In other words, one may offer a coherent interpretation of a text or several texts and it still be wrong, but you can be certain that interpretations and/or theologies have gone awry when they show themselves up as incoherent, inconsistent and/or contradictory. I would ask you to examine the very verses you quoted for their coherence with Calvinist determinism. On this website I seek to provide the evidences and arguments that the Calvinist interpretations are incoherent. Again, you will have to come to grips with this hermeneutical issue if you are to continue to embrace Calvinist theology and soteriology. For instance, can you read 1 Corinthians or any other of Paul’s epistles from the Calvinist’s deterministic perspective and still have it make sense? Is it important to you that your interpretations make sense?
I take it that from your capitalized words you are presupposing a Calvinist interpretation of 1 Cor. 1 ff. I cannot go into a full treatment here of 1 Cor. 1 or Acts 13:48 and John 6:37 which you also reference, but I suggest that you are reading your Calvinism into the 1 Corinthians verses that you quote. You stated that “Maybe he [Voddie] didn’t say that it is “good” news because the message of the cross is offensive and the message of the cross is not “good” news to most people.” You then quote 1 Cor. 1:18 in support of this statement. But I submit that you are presuming that Paul’s words, “those who are perishing,” equate to those who are not elected to salvation. I also get the impression that you think that when Paul speaks of “Christ crucified” being “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” you mean to say that such persons are not among the elect. You think that the reason they are among “those who are perishing” is that they have not been chosen by God for salvation. But why is that what we should conclude from the message of the cross being “an offence” or “a stumbling block” or “foolishness to those who are perishing?” Why should we think that they are not chosen by God for salvation and therefore the message of the cross is not the good news of their salvation? I don’t see why we should take Paul as thinking or communicating this here. And what would a gospel message of “good news” be if it was not “good news” to all? Why would God bring a message of “good news” to those to whom he has predetermined could not believe it? You seem to conclude that the message of the cross does not apply to them because Paul describes certain persons as “perishing” and that must me they are not among the elect. But this is to conflate all these terms and descriptions without sensitivity to the Corinthian context into which Paul is speaking and the issues he is addressing. It is to read the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election into the passage as an explanation for why Christ becomes “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (Rom. 9:33 from Isa. 28:16; see 1 Pet. 2:6, 7). Perhaps Paul is describing what has occurred with people who have allowed their own hearts and minds to be formed and shaped by their own worldly expectations (both Jew and Gentile) so that when they hear the message of Christ crucified (which always remains the “good news” of their salvation) this message becomes “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” for them. Perhaps it is not because God has predetermined the eternal destiny of each and every person who was every born that they cannot accept the message or that the message is not for them. And if it is not “good news” for them, then what is the content of the message that is “good news” for some and not others who also hear it? What would you proclaim as the “good news?” What precisely do you tell others when you give them the gospel message? Do you explain to them the “doctrines of grace?” As a Calvinist you should, for those doctrines are the full and final explanation as to why and how anyone is saved or why and how they are not saved. But how is it “good news” to tell someone that “God alone has preordained your eternal destiny which cannot be altered. You are either predestined to life or predestined to eternal death, and where you spend eternity has nothing to do with you and you cannot know to which group you belong. Only God knows that?” How is this good news to anyone? It is merely informing that person that God has certain people he will save and all others he will not save. But that is just “news.” It can provide no assurance of God’s love for them personally and individually, no assurance of his saving work on their behalf, no assurance that he desires to saved them in particular and no assurance that they can be saved. You also wrote, “I don’t know about you but my hope is in what God has done for me…” But what has God done for you? It seems that you are presuming you are among the elect. It seems that you would have to presume this given your doctrine of unconditional election. But can you be assured you are among the elect? How so? Is your hope in the fact that God has elected you? That would seem to be where your hope must lie, for that is the ultimate reason as to why you would be saved. If you are not unconditionally elected by God to salvation you cannot be saved. Therefore, you are faced with the question, “Has God elected me to salvation?” But how would you know that? You cannot. Therefore, as a Calvinist you merely presume your election. You do you know you are among the elect. Now, if you can presume that what God has done in his work of salvation he has done for you, then what can’t everyone presume this? But if that is the case, then God has done for everyone what he has done for you and this would nullify the doctrine of unconditional election. You also added, “…and not that I had the wherewithal to chose [sic] Him and make myself born from above.” This indicates a misunderstanding of the non-Calvinist libertarian free will position which I cannot address here.
The point is that I fail to see how the Calvinist soteriological doctrines are good news to the hearer. How are the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” the “good news” of salvation for that individual sinner? In contrast to this, it is important to note that Paul adds that “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:32). Along with the fact that throughout Scripture the nature of faith is always presented as a responsibility of the sinner involving a decision of their own will, which is made possible due to the Spirit’s work in the gospel content and call to faith, the “whoever” means that any and all sinners may believe and be saved.
I submit that you are failing to interpret Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1 within the fuller context of what Paul is dealing with in 1 and 2 Corinthians. That the message of the cross is “offensive” to some doesn’t at all support the idea or prove the Calvinist doctrines that those that find it offensive do so because they are not among the elect. And Paul is certainly not communicating that “the message of the cross” contains the doctrine of unconditional election which is going to be offensive to some and therefore “a stumbling block” or “an offense” or “foolishness” to the non-elect. That would to completely misunderstand the text here by imposing Calvinism upon it. But this would accord with the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” and the Calvinist will refer to Romans 9:20 to drive home the point – Romans 9 being a section of Scripture that Calvinists also misinterpret because that fail to place it coherently in the context of chapters 10 and 11.
So what is Paul addressing in 1 Corinthians 1-3? He is exposing certain influences and perspectives on life that cause those who hold them to refuse to accept the way God has chosen to bring about salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross. By presupposing and imposing Calvinism onto the passage you are reading past Paul’s emphasis that what certain wise and intelligent persons consider foolish and weak, Paul affirms to be God’s way of wisdom. And the “foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). In this context, the cross or Christ crucified is an “offence” to those whose worldview rejects the idea that God could work salvation through sending his Son to die in our place on a Roman cross. To the Jew that was offensive – a “stumbling block.” To the Jews, God would never bring about salvation in this way, let alone include the Gentiles. (See Paul’s epistle to the Romans) But what God did was overturn their worldly wisdom and what they conceived in their own minds as to the possibilities and impossibilities of God’s ways in salvation. The Jew in Jesus’ day presumed that as “the elect” or “the people of God” they held a privileged salvific status and relationship with God through the Law, and that the Messiah or the Christ as crucified was impossible, hence a ‘stumbling block.’ They also refused to accept Jesus as from the Father (see John’s gospel) and any way of salvation apart from being incorporated into “the people of God” through circumcision and adherence to the Law of Moses. It was especially egregious that salvation be offered to the Gentiles on the basis of faith alone. Yet, many Gentiles, or the philosophers of the age, being wise in their own eyes, simply rejected the idea that God would bring about salvation through the death of his Son on the cross. To them that was foolishness. But salvation was not going to be according to the expectation of the Jew or in conformity to the Gentile philosophies of the day. God overturned both Jewish privilege and pride, along with Gentile wisdom through the preaching of the cross. That message was the wisdom of God. “God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption— in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:27-31). The “choosing” here are God’s determinations about how he was going to work salvation apart from all human works, deliberations and expectations.
When Paul refers to the “offence of the cross” he is not thinking that its cause lies in the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. That certainly is not a necessary interpretation and smacks rather of reading one’s Calvinism into the text. Indeed, the passage makes good sense on a non-Calvinist reading. “Those who are perishing” (v. 81) are those who refuse to accept God’s way of salvation as found in the cross. (See 2 Thess. 2:9-12) We are all in the process of “perishing” according to Jn. 3:16, that is, until we believe “in Him.” At that point the one believing (“whosoever”) will not “perish but have everlasting life.” So Paul is describing many who are perishing and for which the cross is foolishness, not because they are among the non-elect, but because they will not alter what they consider wise in their own eyes and intelligent according to their own thinking. They see things only in terms of the possibilities of this physical world, their religious traditions or their naturalistic philosophical worldviews. To make this point Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the intelligence of the intelligent.” This contrast between worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God in Christ’s death on the cross is clearly Paul’s concern here and continues through the end of 1 Cor. 2. Paul wants the Corinthian believers to know that among all these worldviews it is the cross that is the power of God to salvation.
So the issue is not that some people are elect and others are not and the elect are being saved and the non-elect cannot be saved and are thereby predestined by God to perish. “Those who are perishing” refers to those who, having heard the good news of their salvation, reject it as foolishness and choose to continue in unbelief. While they do so they are perishing. Others who believe that message are being saved. Paul does not mean to say that “those who are perishing” cannot be saved. He is evaluating the situation among the Corinthians who have been heavily influenced by these different viewpoints in their thinking and living which led to rivalries and factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17). Paul defends his coming to them “not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). There were Jews who, asking for signs (v. 22), failed to understand that Jesus is their Messiah sent from God the Father. There were Gentiles, who seeking worldly wisdom (v. 22), could not accept Jesus as their Savior. All these, who because they were viewing things only from within their traditional thinking (see the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus in Jn. 3), worldly wisdom or their own philosophies failed to believe, and if they persist in unbelief, they will perish. As it stands, in that they refuse to believe, they are perishing. Paul asks, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of what is preached” (1 Cor. 1:20-21). Now note whom God is pleased to save. It is “those who believe” the message of the cross that Paul preached. “Those who believe” equates to “those who are the called.” This “call” refers to the gospel coming to them – both Jews and Greeks. Paul elaborates on the “call” in verses 26 ff. Sinners are saved by simple faith. There are obstacles to faith – worldly wisdom and worldly strength (v. 27), and “things that are” (v. 28) – but that does not mean those obstacles are predetermined by God according to a divine premundane unconditional election of some to salvation and all others to reprobation. The message of the cross remains the message of their salvation.
You said “the message of the cross is not good news to most people.” How so? What you mean to say is that most people think it foolishness, which is something very different. Even if it they think it foolish it is still the “good news” of their salvation. It is “good news” to everyone who hears it despite the fact that they chose to reject it. It is still inherently the good news of their salvation. In short, the gospel is presented as ‘good news’ for every sinner and faith as the means by which the divinely accomplished salvation is appropriated by the sinner to themselves when it is offered in the message of good news. Of course no one can be saved apart from the Spirit’s work upon them, but that is precisely what occurs when the gospel is proclaimed. The Spirit is at work to convict of sin and enable faith. The Spirit does not irresistibly cause the sinner to believe on the basis of their being unconditionally elected to salvation. The cause of their believing is their positive decision made possible by the Spirit, and believing is the only appropriate response to the work God has already accomplished on their behalf in Christ for their salvation. God has already accomplished the work of salvation and faith is simply a response of surrender to God’s work in Christ. The biblical data never portrays faith as a “work” the sinner performs as if he were contributing to his own salvation. Indeed, Paul always contrasts faith with works, even though it is up to the sinner to exercise faith and to trust in Christ for salvation. The gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
Therefore, what is the content of your gospel that would be consistent with your Calvinist soteriological doctrines? As a Calvinist, what is it that you tell a person when you present the “good news” to them? If you are going to be consistent with your Calvinist soteriology you would have to tell them that “God, from before the creation of the world, has elected only certain people to be saved while rejecting all others who cannot be saved, and you may fall into one or the other of these groups, but neither you, nor I, nor anyone else can know which group you are in.” That is not good news.
I take it that for the gospel to be good news it must contain the assurance of God’s love for the hearer in that he desires that person to acknowledge their sin and believe in Christ’s death as his substitute for his sin and be saved. For the gospel to be good news the individual sinner must know of God’s love for them and his positive salvific will for them and that God’s promise of salvation by faith is genuine and sincere. I take it that any preacher of the gospel must be able in good conscience proclaim such truths. But I don’t see how the Calvinist can do so. The gospel, if it is to be truly good news, would exclude any concept of unconditional election or predestination as Calvinists define them. For these concepts place these assurances outside the knowledge of the sinner or any of us. Who will and will not be saved is locked up in the secret counsel of God. Hence, Calvinism merely has religious news to tell people. The news that God has an elect whom he will save, not only despite themselves, but completely apart from themselves. But the biblical gospel message contains God’s assurance of his love for all and salvation for all in Christ to be received by faith. The biblical gospel is news that is applicable to all sinners everywhere. That’s what makes it good news and not merely “news.”
Regarding Voddie’s sermon on Romans 9, I do not see how an evangelical Christian pastor can speak directly on the topic of “the gospel” and never once say that it is good news. That to me is simply baffling. And given the above discussion, I take it that his Calvinism is a contributing factor as to why he could not do so. You yourself seemed to be comfortable with the idea that for all those who are not elect, there is no “good news” for them. In saying this you are at least being a consistent Calvinist, but I suspect that it would make you hesitant to teach or preach a gospel that is good news, which I argue must contain the elements I pointed out above because the truly good news is inconsistent with the Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” So the Calvinist has a problem here. Be consistent or disingenuous. I suspected that Voddie was also being a consistent Calvinist in avoiding defining his Calvinist “doctrines of grace” as “good news.” For in doing so he would need to stray from his Calvinist soteriological doctrines. I actually think that he knows what it takes for the gospel to be good news, but also knows that as a Calvinist he cannot genuinely offer this to sinners (i.e., the assurance of God’s love, the assurance that God desires the hearer and all persons to be saved, the assurance that they can be saved by simply believing, etc.) Hence the seriousness of this matter. In short, the true gospel is being suppressed or simply ignored under the influence of Calvinist soteriology. Calvinist’s cannot coherently proclaim these biblical truths. And we are also touching upon the moral and practical implications of holding to Calvinist soteriology. Can you tell everyone that God loves them and Jesus died for them and they can be saved by believing this good news of their salvation? If so, then wouldn’t this be disingenuous in light of your Calvinist soteriological doctrines? If not, then as a Calvinist, what does your gospel consist of? What is your gospel message? Why is it good news? And remember, the biblical definition of the gospel is “good news.”
In closing, let’s return to the fundamental issues here amidst our alternative interpretations of the controversial passages you referred to. Here are the interpretive/hermeneutical questions you must answer as a Calvinist. Can exegeses and interpretations that generate logical and moral incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions among the biblical texts be valid interpretations of those texts? If you answer “No,” then you cannot embrace Calvinism. Are incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction among one’s textual interpretations, and in the theology constructed from them, a reliable indication that that somewhere there is a misinterpretation of the text? If you answer “Yes,” then you must entertain other non-Calvinist interpretations of the relevant texts. In other words, are coherence, consistency and non-contradiction indispensable elements of a sound hermeneutic and reliable indicators of the validity or invalidity of one’s interpretive conclusions? If you answer “Yes,” then you have adopted a hermeneutic of coherence and intellectual integrity would require you to reject Calvinism which produces interpretive incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions. The other option is to embrace Calvinism which requires you affirm a hermeneutic of incoherence. You will have to affirm that the Bible contains incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions. And simply to declare them a “mystery” is ad hoc and to beg the question.
Finally, I would recommend you read more broadly on my site and also reference the books in the bibliography. You may want to start with the two book set “Why I Am Not An Arminian” and “Why I Am Not A Calvinist.” These present the reader with an exercise in compare and contrast, which is helpful in processing the issues. I would also recommend I. Howard Marshall’s book “Kept by the Power of God.” It provides excellent exegetical treatments of all the controversial passages by examining them in biblical theological format, that is, within the context of their own New Testament books. In addition, you may want to subscribe to a podcast titled “Soteriology 101” produced by Leighton Flowers. He does a very good job of presenting alternative interpretations of the passages Calvinists use to support their Calvinism. In fact, he recently critiqued one of Voddie’s sermons in a podcast titled, “Who is the ‘Objector’ in Romans 9.” I would recommend listening to this podcast as an example of Calvinist misinterpretation of this issue in Romans 9.
Thank you for reading this long response. I pray you will find it helpful. Further feedback is always welcome.
Very thoughtful and insightful analysis and critique. I suggest that more people might actually read the entirety of your arguments, if the principal points of your arguments were not obscured by overabundance of wordiness and repetition. That said, certain of your points are especially powerful, i.e., concerning the utter inability of Calvinism to give “hope” to anyone – in view of the total mystery (in Calvinism) regarding the actual identity of the “elect”. I have also elucidated and written about those same consequences of Calvinism….
Very good work. Keep it up.
(pen name “HeadJanitor”)
Sherrywills, Thanks for your compliments and justified critique of my writing style. Others have said the same. But I’m glad you hung in there and found some worthwhile points. I see that you yourself have thought about and discovered the problems with Calvinism and are writing about them. That’s great! Keep it up and spread the “Good News!” Thanks again, Steve