By: Greg Fields
Recent dialogue regarding the excesses of a certain group(s) of "calvinist" zealots has prompted me to write ths brief followup to my essay The Bane Of Neo-gnostic Calvinism,that was disseminated via email and posted on a few websites.It is not my intention to exacerbate but to D.V.,illuminate the discourse regarding the neo-gnostic propensities of these sincere but heretical folk.I write this out of concern for those, who not yet grounded in the faith "once for all delivered to the saints"(Jude 3),may become ensnared by the subtle,specious "logic" of the neo-gnostic "calvinists".The reason I persist in putting calvinism in quotes when applied to the zealots,is because their "calvinism" , when closely scrutinized,is a radical departure from historical biblical calvinism.Calvinism,in the excellent words of Basil Manly,an eminent 19th century Southern Baptist theologian is "that exalted system of Pauline theology commonly called calvinism".It is indeed a thoroughgoing God-centered system of biblical/systematic/historical theology that displays the Majesty of the Triune Sovereign Lord,unfettered by the dictates of carnal human reason.It is ipso facto antithetical to the aspirations of the natural man who under the adamic curse would "be as gods".This natural aspiration of the fallen intellect is,in point of fact,one of the major tenets of gnosticism.
The focus of gnostic redemption is not on God,but ultimately upon the individual's self-understanding and the resulting freedom it provides.This accords accurately with the pretensions of the neo-gnostic calvinists who a priori demand a comprehensively cognitive grasp of calvinistic soteriology in order for potential converts to be saved.This cognitive grasp fails to take into account what is theologically dubbed "the noetic effects of sin".Simply stated,this means our minds are so effected by our native depravity that prior to regeneration,we are unable to spiritually apprehend any of God's thoughts revealed in His word.(1 Cor.2:14,Eph.4:18,e.g.)The "continental divide" between Arminian and Calvinistic soteriology is that in Calvinism,regeneration precedes faith.We must be born again to see the kingdom of God.It is quite possible for the unregenerate to give merely notional("bare assent")to Scripture,deceiving themselves into thinking what the Puritan divines called "fancy" is true faith.The eminent Puritan,Thomas Watson ,wrote in regard to this:
Some bless themselves that they have a stock of knowledge, but what is knowledge good for without repentance? It is better to mortify one sin than to understand all mysteries. Impure speculatists do but resemble Satan transformed into an angel of light. Learning and a bad heart is like a fair face with a cancer in the breast. Knowledge without repentance will be but a torch to light men to hell (Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance (Edinburgh: Banner, 1987), pp. 12-13, 59, 77).
The neo-gnostic calvinists in similar vein exalt the bare mental assent to the doctrines of grace as being the sine qua non of entrance into the "kingdom of God's dear Son".The late Professor John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary has a most felicitous comment to refute this:
"Saving faith is not simply assent to propositions of truth respecting Christ, and defining the person that he is, nor simply assent to a proposition respecting his sufficiency to meet and satisfy our deepest needs. Faith must rise to trust, and trust that consists in entrustment to him. In faith there is the engagement of person to person in the inner movement of the whole man to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. It means the abandonment of confidence in our own or any human resources in a totality act of self-commitment to Christ.
This fiducial character, consisting in entrustment to Christ for salvation, serves to correct misapprehensions. Faith is not belief that we have been saved, nor belief that Christ has saved us, nor even belief that Christ died for us. It is necessary to appreciate the point of distinction. Faith is in its essence commitment to Christ that we may be saved. The premise of that commitment is that we are unsaved and we believe on Christ in order that we may be saved...It is to lost sinners that Christ is offered, and the demand of that overture is simply and solely that we commit ourselves to him in order that we may be saved.
Faith is a whole-souled movement of intelligent, consenting, and confiding self-commitment, and all these elements or ingredients coalesce to make faith what it is. Intellect, feeling and will converge upon Christ in those exercises which belong properly to these distinct though inseparable aspects of psychial activity" (Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner, 1977), Volume 2, pp.257-260).
It is utterly amazing and soul-vexing to see how folk who discover the wonderful doctrines of grace via excellent christian literature like A.W. Pink's The Sovereignty of God or Boettner's The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination or the books of R.C. Sproul,Michael Horton,James Boice,et.al.,can so easily become infatuated with their own learning and misconstrue that learning(as vital as solid theological understanding is!)as the alpha and omega of their relationship with Christ.He is the Alpha and the Omega."Of Him,to Him,and through Him are all things,"not whether or not we have things right in our minds.Knowledge is indeed vital brethern.Let us never discount this.Anti-intellectualism is indeed one of the terrible legacies of American fundamentalism,primarily derived from Arminian presuppositions.But,alas,new converts to Calvinism can so easily be seduced by their own incredible arrogance and so overemphasize one aspect of Calvinist soteriology,that they become blinded to other important areas of biblical revelation and lose all sense of proportion in their thinking.The neo-gnostic spirit is spawned by spiritual pride.The whole counsel of God,contained in Holy Writ, must be assiduously studied and obeyed(!) in the power of the Holy Spirit with a contrite heart to arrest this nefarious impulse before it takes root in the heart.
It is my earnest plea to all who read this,either seasoned saints or new converts, to take heed to the admonition of the great apostle Paul(whose great epistles contain the richest truths of sovereign grace):"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord,so walk ye in Him:rooted and built up in Him,and stablished in the faith,as ye have been taught,abounding therein with thanksgiving.Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,after the tradition of men,after the rudiments of the world,and not after Christ.For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.And ye are complete in Him,which is the Head of all principality and power."(Colossians 2:6-10)