Getting the Gospel Right
Steven Anderson’s second reason why he hates Calvinism I saved for last because, as he said, it’s the most important one. Steven Anderson hates Calvinism because it gets the gospel wrong. Anderson claims,
Calvinists often mix faith and works.
Anderson’s second reason for believing Calvinists don’t know the Gospel is over an issue we refer to as Monergism. Monergism- as opposed to synergism -is the belief that God alone is the effectual mover in bringing a person to saving faith, though it does not deny that the person must exercise saving faith. Anderson believes that since faith is a divine gift according to Calvinists, Calvinists must then reject the notion that faith is a condition of salvation. Because God grants faith, He does not save us on the basis of faith, and therefore, we reject faith alone. He claims that Calvinism “mixes” faith and works because neither gets a person into heaven. Therefore, Calvinists deny that faith justifies, or that faith saves.
Anderson has two different reasons for thinking this (although he communicates them very poorly). He claims Calvinism misses the Gospel both because it claims faith is not a condition for salvation, and because it espouses that sinners must repent of their sins to be saved.
Calvinists affirm justification, as the Reformers came to explain it, is on the basis of sola fide, faith alone. That faith is a gift does not exclude it from also being a condition. I can gift you a condition. I am free to lend you the $20 you need to get into my party, for example.
For Anderson, since calvinists believe men are unconditionally elected, then “faith” ought put into the same category as works, that category being things which do not save us. More on that in a minute. However, the doctrine of unconditional election does not reject faith as the means of accessing justification. Being elected unto salvation means we are elected unto all the means God prescribes for salvation. Thus, we are elected unto faith.
All this is to say that Calvinism still rightly recognizes a person must have faith to be justified. The fact that faith is a divine gift, elected by God to be given, is entirely irrelevant to the fact that Calvinists still maintain a person must have faith in order to be justified. Thus, Anderson has painfully misrepresented Calvinism. In so doing, Anderson makes his listeners acutely aware of his misunderstanding of the difference between regeneration and salvation. In Calvinism, regeneration leads to the faith by which man is justified, but regeneration is not the basis of justification, nor even the means of justification. Thus, when Anderson says that neither faith nor works are a condition of salvation, since God has to regenerate and save you before your faith and works, he has simply lied about Calvinism. In his own words, he represents the Calvinist’s position this way:
They say “Oh you get saved first, you get regenerated first, and then faith follows, and then works follow. They say “God unconditionally elects you!”
Notice the equivocation. Anderson claims Calvisnism teaches salvation precedes faith. In so doing, he is equating regeneration and justification. But we Calvinists do not such thing. He is equating temporal order with logical order and he is equating justification with regeneration.
He misrepresents the Calvinistic understanding of how to respond to the Gospel.
Anderson makes this point with a silly demonstration that serves as visual manipulation. He brings faith and works together- represented by two young men standing next to one another- and places them side by side under an invisible category, “Conditions for salvation.” Since Calvinists place both faith and works in the “divine gifts” category, in Anderson’s words,
What have [Calvinists] just done? They’ve mixed faith and works.
There are many categories where Anderson himself would “mix faith and works.” If the category is “Things the Bible says are good” would the two gentleman be standing side by side? If the category was “Things God commands of men” would the two gentleman remain mixed? Of course they would.
The charge of “mixing faith and works” (the Galatian heresy) only has teeth if the discussion is in reference to the means through which we are justified. That’s the only category that matters. And if the category on that stage was “How is man justified?” Calvinists would put more distance between those two fellas than Anderson puts between himself and fair representation. They would be farther apart than Faithful Word Bible Church and an NIV Bible. In fact, I think one of them would have to exit the building if we want it to be anything close to scale.
Anderson regularly criticizes Calvinism, as he also does in this sermon, on the controversy that has come to be known as “Lordship Salvation.” The name implies the hypothetical question of whether or not Jesus can be your savior without being your Lord. Put more specifically, is repentance part of the Gospel? Must we call men to repent in order to be justified? Or is repentance merely a term for sanctification, which proceeds saving faith, and does not have to exist in a justified person at all?
Anderson firmly believes and teaches in this sermon that the call to repentance is a works based Gospel.
[Calvinists say] you gotta have works, it’s just that the works come later, but you gotta have them.
He goes on to call this “garbage.” The problems with this are that the Apostles preached a Gospel of repentance, and the Apostles taught that works are the fruit of saving faith.
There is no contradiction between calling men to repent and the doctrine of Sola Fide. On the other side of the faith coin is repentance.
For your reading entertainment, here are some relevant select passages:
“[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Matthew 4:17).
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 2:38).
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19).
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
What leads to life? Repentance. What will prevent one from perishing? Repentance. In Jesus’ own ministry, to what did He call sinners? Repentance. What makes the angels celebrate in heaven? Repentance. What blots out sins? Repentance.
Jesus and His Apostles teach repentance and faith are how a person is initiated into the Kingdom. An unrepentant faith is not the biblical response to the Gospel. The demons have unrepentant faith.
So as it turns out, it is actually Anderson who fails to believe rightly in Sola Fide because his definition of “fide” is not biblical. Anderson does not believe faith to be what Jesus and His Apostles taught it to be. In fact, James has a relatively lengthy explanation of this:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (James 2:14-26).
For James, an unrepentant faith is no faith at all. For James, a Gospel which brings about no transformation is no Gospel at all. This is all very consistent with the fact the Bible very clearly presents a repentant lifestyle as being the fruit of saving faith. Works validate our faith claims. In that sense the Calvinist says “works must follow,” and in that sense, the Calvinist is right.
Perhaps the most cherished and well-known text as it relates to the doctrine of Sola Fide is Ephesians 2:8-9.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Anderson claims to believe this. He even bursted out into an a’capella hymn that set these lyrics to song during his sermon. The problem for Anderson is that he ignores the very next verse, which begins with a linking word:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
What happens to those have have been saved through their faith by grace? They walk in good works. So what about those who do not walk in good works?
Well, I’ll let you do the math.