Recently a Desiring God blog article entitled The Tragic Hypocrisy of Joyless Calvinism was posted by David Mathis. Mathis plugs a new book called Gospel Wakefulness by a pastor in Vermont named Jared Wilson. Mathis presents the following sample from Wilson’s book:
I have discussed with other Calvinists just where the (well-earned) stereotype of the graceless Calvinist comes from. Shouldn’t belief in total depravity necessitate profound humility? Shouldn’t belief in unconditional election preclude a spirit of superiority? And yet there is a doctrinal arrogance infecting Calvinist Christianity. This culture then produces doctrinaires like Baum’s man of tin: squeaky and heartless.
Cold-hearted rigidity is not limited to those of the Reformed persuasion, of course. You can find it in Christian churches and traditions and cultures of all kinds. In fact, to be fair, I have found that those most enthralled with the idea of gospel-wakefulness, those who seem most prone to champion the centrality of the gospel for life and ministry, happen to be of the Reformed persuasion. So there’s that. But gracelessness is never as big a disappointment, to me anyway, as when it’s found among those who call themselves Calvinists, because it’s such a big waste of Calvinism.
Why? Because it’s a depressing irony and a disgrace that many who hold to the so-called “doctrines of grace” are some of the most graceless people around. The extent to which your soteriology is monergistic—most Calvinistic nerds know what I’m talking about here—is the extent to which you ought to know that your pride is a vomitous affront to God. The hypocrisy is incongruous. . . .
Here’s the deal, I think: the problem is not the Reformed theology, as many of my Arminian friends will charge; it’s not the Calvinism. No, the problem is gospel wakefulness (which crosses theological systems and traditions), or the lack thereof.
A joyless Calvinist knows the mechanics of salvation (probably). But he is like a guy who knows the ins and outs of a car engine and how the car runs. He can take it apart and put it back together. He knows what each part does and how it does it. A graceless Calvinist is like a guy who knows how a car works but has never driven through the countryside in the warm spring air with the top down and the wind blowing through his hair.
Gospel Wakefulness, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 83–84.
Jared Wilson’s quote is mainly a springboard for me to talk about those pernicious theological connoisseurs known as “tolerant Calvinists.” But before I do that the Lord willing, I’ll briefly comment on what I surmise Wilson’s thinking to be (this is admittedly speculative on my part). I surmise that Jared Wilson is basically saying that Calvinists should be less like Augustus Toplady, John Owen, and James White and more like John Newton, Charles Simeon, and John Piper. Why’s that? Because while BOTH groups have “Arminians” (e.g., universal atonement advocates) as their brothers in Satan, only one of these groups express a greater degree of false humility, charity, and sinister irenicism towards their spiritual brethren.
I speculate that Wilson might judge a “graceless” Calvinist as one who does not get along very well with Arminians. James White has had to battle with arrogant, irrational, and rabid Arminians like Ergun Caner, Roger Olson, and others. Toplady had to deal with that pernicious porcupine, John Wesley. It appears that Toplady judged John Wesley lost (though Toplady did not consider all Arminians to be lost). On the other hand Charles Simeon’s spiritual fornication with God-hater John Wesley was nicer than the spiritual fornication that James White does with Ergun Caner (White considers Caner to be an impenitent habitual liar but a spiritual brother nevertheless).
Okay. Now switching gears a bit …
I’m wondering what kind of doctrinal car Jared Wilson is driving? Some kind of sports car probably. And certainly the Calvinist who has truly experienced this “gospel wakefulness” must not have a look of disdain or condescension as he vroooms right on passed his Arminian brother who to the Calvinist is inconsistently struggling with his theologically rusty-dusty clunker.
“Shouldn’t belief in unconditional election preclude a spirit of superiority?”
Of course. But what if a person considers that particular essential gospel doctrine to be ultimately non-essential or optional?
Some professing Calvinists (e.g., the more moderate ones) would accuse the “higher Calvinists” (e.g., James White) of exuding a spirit of superiority. The “high Calvinists” would reject such an accusation since to them it’s due solely to the “effectual working of the Holy Spirit” that they’ve finally “come into” this wonderfully non-essential gospel doctrine of unconditional election after MANY emotionally painful, intellectually breaking, & theologically arduous years.
What the apostle Paul clearly presents as basic gospel 101 (hello Ephesians chapter one), these theological chameleons (see 2 Cor 11:12-15) implicitly present as turbid and unclear. Of course, they desire to acknowledge the perspicuity of Scripture so they will say it is clear NOW but it wasn’t clear before — not due to lack of Scriptural clarity but due to their own thick and muddled head they might say.
Consider Paul’s presentation of Christianity 101 in Romans chapter the ninth. Also consider the truth put forth in 1 Corinthians 2:14:
“But a natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
I surmise that the aforementioned theological chameleons would consider Romans 9:11-23 to be at least a 301 or 401 doctrine. This allegedly advanced 401 course allows ample time to wrestle and struggle with these deep and controversial doctrines. However, entry into the 401 course requires plowing through various and sundry Calvinist/Reformed writings as prerequisites to moving on to the more “intellectually advanced” course.
What these deceitful workers of Satan (who seek to transform themselves into Christian ministers of gospel knowledge light) don’t get is that the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural (i.e., unregenerate) man. Christianity 101, basic, fundamental, elementary essential gospel doctrine does NOT fit into the unregenerate mind; it is deemed as foolish.
So what these “ministers of false light” (cf. 2 Cor 11:14) do with such doctrines as efficacious atonement (cf. all of Hebrews) and the “Godness of God” (cf. Romans 9:20) is repudiate their essential nature as immediate & inevitable fruits of regeneration (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6). The aforementioned doctrines are included in the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
These glorious gospel doctrines are repugnant to the natural man and so the ministers of false light seek to distort, dilute and misrepresent them (e.g., their theological fable of a permissive decree). If these ministers do not distort the truth of these doctrines but articulate them with precision and relish, they will nevertheless, like pernicious theological connoisseurs, relegate them to the optional non-essential doctrinal wine cellar.
What these ministers of Satan do with an essential gospel doctrine such as the efficacious atonement of Jesus Christ is obscure and denigrate it by diluting its offensiveness to the natural man as an essential gospel doctrine.
The dilution of the Word of the cross (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18) is so great that it becomes palatable to some unregenerate men. But if the Word of the cross is actually preached as the power of God to salvation to everyone believing then it no longer becomes palatable but foolishness and a scandal.
Those angels of light who initially profess to boast and glory in Christ crucified will show their true Satanic colors once the power of Christ’s cross is boldly and uncompromisingly proclaimed.
To these unregenerate agents of Satan the powerful and efficacious Work of Jesus Christ is professed to be wonderful and glorious, JUST SO LONG AS YOU DON’T GO PROCLAIMING THAT IT IS FOOLISHNESS TO THOSE BEING LOST, AND THE POWER OF GOD TO THOSE BEING SAVED.
If you preach that all who deny that the cross of Christ is the dunamis (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18, 24) of God to salvation are lost, then you will arouse their ire.
If you say that upon regeneration, when God saves the elect that, Pow!! Dunamis!!! They know and believe that Jesus Christ is the wisdom and power of God and His cross is actually and efficaciously dunamis (1 Corinthians 1:17-31; 2 Corinthians 4:6), then you will see what these tolerant Calvinists really think about the professedly “wonderful and glorious” Work of Jesus Christ. Watch them rail against it.
“And Simeon blessed them and said to His mother Mary, Behold, this One is set for the fall and rising up of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against; yea, a sword also will pierce your own soul, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
“As many as desire to look well in the flesh, these compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:12).
“But what I do, I also will do, that I may cut off the occasion of those desiring an occasion, so that in that which they boast, they be found also as we. For such ones are false apostles, deceitful workers transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And did not Satan marvelously transform himself into an angel of light? It is not a great thing, then, if also his ministers transform themselves as ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).