Example 11 – Erwin Lutzer’s Blatant Contradiction

Back to Chapter 11 – Examples of Calvinist Interpretive Incoherence

Recall what has been documented above in examples 9 and 10 about Lutzer’s views on predestination and unconditional election.  In a sermon on predestination Lutzer stated,

“…today we’re going to begin with the difficult doctrine of predestination, which means exactly what we think it means, that God predetermines what happens on earth. And He predetermined you and your salvation as a believer.” [1]

Recall him answering the question, “Who are the elect?”  Lutzer stated,

“So who are the elect?  They are the ones whom God marked out from the before the foundation of the world, that he would overcome their darkness, overcome their unbelief, and savingly believe on Jesus.”[2]

Lutzer says that,

“Many are called.  This is a general call.  Few are chosen.  But many are called and few are chosen, and you can find out whether or not you are among the chosen.” [3]

Lutzer explains unconditional election.

“You say, “Well, what was the basis upon which He did the choosing?”  Good question!  The Apostle Paul, struggling with that in Romans 9, gets to that point and basically says (I’m sure he says it kindly, and this is a paraphrase), “Keep your mouth shut.”  That’s the answer.  He says, “We’re now at the edge of mystery, and God has not revealed that.”  So we have to accept that the potter has power over the clay to make one lump to honor, and another to dishonor, so we stand in the sovereignty of God, and we allow God to be God, and we don’t understand it all.” [4]

Recall Lutzer’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:4.

“Ephesians 1:4 reads, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Such verses—and there are many others—teach that (1) God made the choice as to who will be saved, and that (2) it was made before the creation of the world.  Attempts to soften such verses by saying that the choice was not related to salvation and only refers to God’s decision for us to be “in Christ,” or to say that the choice was that we be “holy and blameless,” but not the choice of salvation—such attempted interpretations ignore the plain implications of the verse and the other passages that teach that God does the choosing unto salvation.”[5]

Now listen to Lutzer in a sermon on evangelist D. L Moody.  He states that after Moody preached in Glasgow, Scotland he then went to London.

“And he was in London about four months, night after night, filling halls and auditoriums and theaters and stadiums, and the people simply couldn’t get enough of this man.  When he was there he preached the gospel.  Now the people in Great Britain had sort of thought that the good news of the gospel is that God receives saints, and Moody was there to tell them God loved sinners.  And this was news to a lot of people, because they had bought into some of the extremes of what is known as Calvinism where only the elect are saved, which the Bible does teach, but they had so emphasized that to the exclusion of ‘whosoever will’ that people were glad to know that God actually did love sinners.

One day when Moody was preaching he said these words, “A young man told me last night that he was too great a sinner to be saved. Why they are the very men Christ came after.  This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.  The only charge they could bring against Christ down here was that he was receiving bad men.  They are the very kind of men he is willing to receive.  All you’ve got to do is to prove to me that you are a sinner and I will prove to you that you’ve got a savior…So I preach the old gospel again, the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  That’s the way D. L. Moody preached…a plain man, preaching the plain gospel, and preaching it plainly.”[6]

Note Lutzer’s description of Moody’s gospel message and the people’s response – “…people were glad to know that God actually did love sinners.”  But were the people glad that Moody was merely informing them that God loved sinners or were they glad because Moody was telling them that God assuredly loved them as sinners?  Note that before Moody came the people “had bought into some of the extremes of what is known as Calvinism where only the elect are saved.”  But this is precisely what Lutzer believes.  He admits as much in all his preaching and here also when he says “which the Bible does teach.”  So we are baffled that Lutzer inconsistently affirms Moody’s universal inclusive love of God for all sinners.  All sinners are included in God’s saving will and have a savior in Jesus.  And yet Lutzer, in contradiction to that affirmation, also subscribes to unconditional election. You can see the blatant contradiction.

Contrary to Moody’s good news,” Lutzer’s Calvinism teaches that God loves only those he has unconditionally chosen to save.   Lutzer tells us that this had a negative effect on the people with respect to understanding God’s love for them.  Of course it does. I argued this very point in the previous example dealing with Lutzer’s preoccupation with and explanation regarding how one can know they are a member of the elect.  When Lutzer notes that the Calvinists had so emphasized unconditional election “to the exclusion of ‘whosoever will’,” Lutzer is affirming the universal, inclusive, free will gospel that Moody preached.  But this is in direct contradiction with Lutzer’s limited, exclusive, deterministic soteriological doctrines. Furthermore, Lutzer is affirming that unconditional election understandably places God’s love for any particular individual in doubt.  He says the gospel needs ‘whosoever will.’ Why be glad that “God loves sinners” if God only loves certain sinners whom he has predestined to salvation.  This fostered doubt in the individual as to whether or not they are among the elect.  “God loves sinners” is just “news” unless the hearer can know that God loves them in particular.  “God loves sinners” is not good news if the word “sinners” refers only to “elect sinners.”  “God loves sinners” is not “good news” until I can be assured that God loves me, or that God loves you or that God loves us all and desires that we come to Christ by faith and be saved.  That is “good news” and that is the biblical definition of “the gospel.”   That is what Moody preached. But that is not what Lutzer preaches if he wants to remain consistent with his Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” And that is a serious problem within Calvinism – the inconsistency between what is often preached (e.g., ‘whosoever will’) and their soteriological doctrines.

The phrase “God loves sinners” falls short of the assurance that God’s love and desire to save includes me, you and all sinners.  “God loves sinners” is an example of the verbal fudging or legerdemain that Calvinists are forced into if they are going to eke out some degree of gospel message that can be construed as “good news.”  But we know that what the Calvinist must mean by this phrase is “God loves elect sinners.”  This is what Lutzer believes. Therefore that is what Lutzer ought to say.  His speech ought to remain consistent with his soteriological doctrines.

Now, even though Lutzer is trying to play both sides of a contradiction here, he certainly seems to be contrasting the universal “good news” of Moody’s gospel with the exclusivism of Calvinist unconditional election.  Lutzer admits that the Calvinist doctrine played no constructive role in the lives of believers and was not in accord with the gospel as “good news.”  Moody’s “good news” broke into the minds and hearts of these people who had “bought into” the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. Lutzer points out that the people were glad to hear and know that salvation was for “whosoever will.”  Contrary to hearing about unconditional election, they were glad to hear Moody’s message that salvation was for all sinners – including them.  Yet, even in the midst of telling us about Moody’s “good news” of salvation for all, Lutzer insists upon affirming this very same Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.  Incoherent with what he has just explained as to the content of Moody’s gospel preaching, Lutzer states,

“And this was news to a lot of people, because they had bought into some of the extremes of what is known as Calvinism where only the elect are saved, which the Bible does teach…”

Lutzer claims that Calvinist unconditional election is what the Bible teaches.  So, again, what was this “news” that came to the people who had “bought into” this Calvinist doctrine that “only the elect are saved?”  Lutzer states, 

“…but they had so emphasized that [only the elect are saved] to the exclusion of ‘whosoever will’ that people were glad to know that God actually did love sinners.”

Now, how can it be coherent to hold to the doctrine of unconditional election that “only the elect are saved,” while also affirming “whosoever will,” that is, “whosoever will may come to Christ and be saved?”  Lutzer’s account and explanations here are incoherent.

Now, you must ask and answer for yourself whether such incoherence a reliable indicator of the truth of a matter?  Is it a tell-tale sign of the invalidity of an interpretation of the biblical text?  Can Lutzer’s position, as incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory be a true interpretation of Scripture?

The late Ravi Zacharias instructs us in this regard.  He tells us about the test for truth in apologetics.  He states,

“…when you deal with apologetics, there are three tests we put for truth normally – logical consistency, empirical adequacy, experiential relevance.  What does that mean? We are looking for this to be logically consistent… Logically consistent, empirically adequate and experientially relevant.  It makes a difference in how you feel and think and act.  There is an existential aspect to it, even if not central, there is an entailment.  It follows naturally.”[7] 

Note that two of the criteria stand out as pertinent here.  We see that logical consistency is essential for discerning what is true from what is false.  On this criterion Calvinism fails.  It proves itself to be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory.  But the matter of experiential relevance is also important and can be seen in Lutzer’s account of the state of the people’s spiritual life and psychological disposition under Calvinism as compared to the assurance of forgiveness and gladness they experienced upon hearing Moody’s message of “good news.”  Moody’s message rang true, not just biblically, but also experientially. The people’s spirits were lifted and they were given the hope of inclusion, acceptance, forgiveness and salvation.  Their experiential response to Moody’s message as compared to their Calvinist beliefs was a “test” of experiential relevance. That relevance confirmed the biblical truth of Moody’s gospel and the problematic nature of the Calvinist message.

Also, Lutzer cannot circumvent this incoherence by floating the idea of “emphasis” when he says, “but they had so emphasized [that only the elect are saved] to the exclusion of ‘whosoever will.’” Unconditional election is not an “emphasis” that is compatible with “whosoever will may come.”  Unconditional election is a foundational Calvinist soteriological doctrine that is in contradiction with “whosoever will may come.”  This idea that while they preached unconditional election they ought to have not neglected preaching “whosoever will may come” will not work to preserve the biblical credibility of Lutzer’s doctrine of unconditional election because logically the two are mutually exclusive.  To teach unconditional election just is to nullify “whosoever will may come.”  And vice versa. Could it be that Lutzer does not see the problem here? I think he does see it, but he has also trained his mind to simply ignore the contradiction, that is, rationalize it away (i.e., mystery, incomprehensibility, etc.) Lutzer is being incoherent here and ignoring the interpretive implications of this incoherence.  Obviously, therefore, coherence is not part of his hermeneutic.

Therefore, it certainly seems that Moody implicitly denied unconditional election when he preached that “God actually did love sinners” and that ‘whosoever will may come.”  By “God loves sinners,” Moody’s hearers must have understood that God loved each and every one of them individually.  They must have understood that the message of the saving love of God applied to them and was not merely the message that “God loves sinners” in a generic sense, that is, those sinners, whoever they are, that are elect.

When Moody spoke to the young man who thought his sin was too great for him to be saved, Moody assured him that the salvation Christ wrought applied to him.  There were no doubts raised by a doctrine of unconditional election.  That man could respond to the gospel and put his faith and trust in Christ because he was told and therefore knew God loved him personally in Christ.

The point is that Moody, contrary to Calvinist teaching, was preaching what was at the heart of the gospel – the proclamation that “God loves you!”  That is the message to which the people were responding and being saved.  It certainly seems they were glad to hear that they were included in God’s saving work in Christ in contrast to the doubt engendered by the Calvinism that up to that point they had been taught.  It seems they were converted from the darkness of Calvinism to the light of the universal love of God in Christ.  They had been believers before, but they were now assured of God’s love.  Having to presuming they were among those who were unconditionally elected to salvation was no longer necessary. All doubt and fear about God’s saving disposition towards them was relived. Salvation can be had by all persons by faith because of God’s grace and love demonstrated to them in Christ’s death and resurrection on their behalf.  Just as they no longer thought that the gospel message was “God receives saints,” that is, a “gospel” based on “good works,” they also came to reject the definition of the “gospel” as an unknown, arbitrary, unconditional election, that is, that “only the elect are saved.”  Rather, every sinner’s salvation was provided for and made secure on basis of God’s sure love for them in Christ.

Now, I think we have to ask how it is that Lutzer, as a Calvinist, can affirm Moody’s words when he preached, “All you’ve got to do is to prove to me that you are a sinner and I will prove to you that you’ve got a savior…”  Moody’s point was that every person has a savior in Christ Jesus precisely because every person is a sinner in need of a savior.  That we are all sinners makes it the case that we are all in need of a savior, that we all have a savior, and that salvation has been made available to us all in Christ.  The universal applicability of salvation was Moody’s message.  Lutzer calls that “the plain gospel.”  But how can Lutzer affirm Moody’s message, including that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” which means each and every sinner, when Lutzer does not believe salvation applies to or is made available to every person.  For Lutzer himself has “bought into some of the extremes of what is known as Calvinism where only the elect are saved.”  As a Calvinist, this is precisely what Lutzer believes.  He believes that “only the elect are saved” (unconditional election) and he believes this is what Scripture teaches, for he clearly states, “…which the Bible does teach.” Therefore according to Lutzer, only the elect can be saved, but that is in direct contradiction to “whosoever will may come.” The point is that this incoherence is not hermeneutically significant to Lutzer.  It can simply be ignored in his preaching and his interpretation of Scripture.

Back to Chapter 11 – Examples of Calvinist Interpretive Incoherence / Table of Contents / Home

Go to Example 12 – Erwin Lutzer: How His Calvinism Expunges His Good News

[1] Erwin W. Lutzer, Sermon Series “The Inheritance of the Redeemed,” Sermon 1 “The Gift of Predestination.” January 17, 2016.  Accessed May 1, 2020.  https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/inheritance-redeemed/gift-predestination/#.W8S7qo-WxD8 

[2] Erwin Lutzer, Sermon Series “The Power of a Clear Conscience,” Forgiven Forever, Part 4 of 4, Oct. 20, 2018. (6:57 – 8:45)  https://www.moodymedia.org/radio-programs/running-to-win-15/forgiven-forever-part-4-1/#.W9oOJo-WxD8  Last accessed 10/31/2018.

[3] Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Gift of Predestination.”

[4] Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Gift of Predestination.”

[5] Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Doctrine of Election,” https://www.moodymedia.org/articles/doctrine-election/  Accessed May 1, 2020.

[6] Erwin W. Lutzer, “Running To Win” Program, “D. L. Moody a Hero of Faith, Part 2.” April 6, 2008.  Accessed May 1, 2020.  https://www.moodymedia.org/radio-programs/running-to-win-15/d-l-moody-hero-faith-part-2-2/#.XG7XCI-WxD8  (1:42 – 3:42) or see transcript.

[7] Ravi Zacharias, “East and West, Part 1,” April 18, 2020. Accessed May 1, 2020. https://www.rzim.org/listen/let-my-people-think/east-and-west-part-1

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