“Is John Calvin in Heaven?”

That is the title of an article that appeared recently in Northwest Florida Daily News. Its author, Rev. Joel M. McDuffie, Jr., is pastor of First Baptist Church of Valparaiso. He quotes Dan Corner’s essay on Michael Servetus entitled, “His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin,” as follows:

“At best, Calvin was spiritually blinded by his hate and therefore, spiritually hindered from rightly dividing the truth. At worst, which was apparently the case, John Calvin himself was unsaved, according to Scripture.”

Leaving aside the question of why the Southern Baptist McDuffie would cite the 5 point Arminian Corner as a trustworthy evaluator of a dead man’s salvation “according to the Scripture,” the assertions in this article are breathtaking in their arrogance and ignorance. Here is a sampling:

  • “The heart of Calvinism contradicts the heart of everything revealed in scripture.”
  • “The one who believes in Calvinism is fighting all of scripture.”
  • “If choice and self-determination is [sic] not real, then why does everything God create demonstrate this ability[?]”
  • “How does sovereignty from the Calvinist point of view, explain the meaningless and futile events of history, mankind and more importantly the cross [sic]?”
  • “Calvinism reduces God and this creation to the awful experiment in futility that the atheist, agnostics and the lost world say it is if God is behind it.”
  • “Calvinism also sets God up as a liar and fraud.”

McDuffie does include some sentences that have the appearance of argument but which are little more than the gratuitous assertions listed above. Here is one of his most ambitious efforts:

“If Calvinism is true, everything in Eden, [sic] is a great big hoax. Man is nothing more than an unfortunate victim in a sick drama he had not choice to play in. In this drama he is subject to illusions, lies and manipulation by his creator [sic]. He is told not to eat of the tree or he will die, he is shown a tree of life by which he can live forever, but then God makes the decision for him and damns him for it. A Calvinist will never express their [sic] view to such extremes, but these are unmistakably the implications of what they are [sic] saying.”

Consistent with his assertions, McDuffie does not treat one verse of Scripture in his essay. Although he does not directly answer the question posed in the title of his article, he certainly implies that the answer is a resounding “No.”

The misrepresentations so permeate this article that a thorough refutation would require far more words than what McDuffie has written. His erroneous presuppositions would have to be debunked and there are so many of them a complete response would almost get sidetracked dealing with them before getting to his actual assertions.

I will only comment on two of his statements cited above, because I have confidence that even mildly alert readers will recognize the disingenuousness that characterizes his comments.

“If choice and self-determination is [sic] not real, then why does everything God create demonstrate this ability[?]”

Why don’t we go ask a rock? But, let’s give McDuffie the benefit of the doubt that by “everything” he only means “people.” Choice is not the same thing as self-determination. Of course we have the ability to choose. McDuffie exercised his ability to choose in publishing his article and I am exercising mine in responding to it. But the capacity to choose does not mean that one is free to choose any and everything which he might determine for himself. McDuffie cannot, by self-determination, choose to live on Pluto just as I cannot choose to run 100 meters in 6 seconds (I am not even sure I could choose to do it in 15 seconds!). Why is that? Because in both cases, our choices are limited by our natures. He is not a space alien and I am not a cheetah. Let me say it again, our ability to choose is limited to our natures. There is a detailed history of theological debate clarifies this in terms of a man’s moral ability and natural ability. Suffice it to say that a fallen man’s chooser is limited by his sinful nature.

“How does sovereignty from the Calvinist point of view, explain the meaningless and futile events of history, mankind and more importantly the cross [sic]?”

Here McDuffie reveals how anemic his worldview is and how unbiblical his thinking is. There are no meaningless and futile events in history. Let me limit myself simply to one verse–Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Even apparently “meaningless and futile events in history” are included in this verse. To claim otherwise is to parrot existentialist and atheistic writers.

The kind of screed that McDuffie has published will work against any efforts for Calvinists and Arminians to work together in the SBC. Such extreme, uninformed and inflammatory remarks should be rebuked by all Bible-believing evangelicals.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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