Steve Gaines revives the caricatures of Calvinism

I hope I live long enough to see the day when the common caricatures of the doctrines of sovereign grace have been so widely exposed that any self-respecting preacher will be ashamed to keep serving them up as if they were irrefutable critiques of what John Broadus called “that exalted system of Pauline truth which is technically called Calvinism.” Honestly, I don’t know what keeps some men from being ashamed of doing so in this present day, given the numerous refutations of those caricatures over the last twenty years. Some doctrinal misrepresentations seem to have a shelf life that is longer than most urban legends.

Steve Gaines illustrated this point again last week in his chapel message delivered at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. Here are a couple of the straw men that burned to the ground with much ado. After warning his hearers not to “get caught up in [that] theology that says that God just wants to save some” and citing Scriptures that he believes disallow particular redemption, Gaines says (at the 20:20 mark),

It would emaciate my evangelism if I couldn’t walk up to a total stranger and say, “Jesus died for you.” There’s some people who can’t do that. They can’t do that. They say, “Jesus died for the elect, I hope you’re one of them.”

I would hate to think that my evangelism would be emaciated by the elimination of something that the New Testament knows nothing of! Nowhere in God’s Holy, inerrant Word do we find an evangelistic appeal based on the idea that Jesus died for the particular person being appealed to. Where is there any record of any apostle going up to a person, stranger or not and saying, “Jesus died for you”? Jesus died for sinners as sinners. The promise of salvation is for all who will, through faith, receive Him as Lord. “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31), not “Believe that Jesus died particularly for you.”

What does it say about one’s understanding of evangelism when it would be “emaciated” unless a statement that the Bible nowhere makes nor instructs us to make can be said? I mean no disrespect, but this highlights much that has gone wrong with the conservative resurgence in the SBC. Too many are willing to thump their Bibles and boldly declare its inerrancy while denying its sufficiency in for matters of faith and practice. If the Bible is inerrant (and I am fully convinced that it is), then shouldn’t it be treated with more respect than is shown by those who blatantly neglect (church discipline) or add to (evangelism) its clear teachings?

Gaines’ caricature of how those who believe in particular redemption evangelize needs no comment. It is dishonest on its face and I challenge him one example of a Christian who would make such a statement. If such a miscreant were to be found, I would be the first resist him and his God-dishonoring engagement of lost men and women.

Next, Dr. Gaines repeats a canard that should have been put to rest long ago. It was a key point of Jerry Vines’ diatribe against Calvinism in 2006. It stems from equating regeneration with the whole work of salvation. Regeneration is sine qua non to salvation, but it is not the full content of salvation. Failure to make that distinction leads to the following fallacious critique (beginning at 24:00):

You cannot be saved until you repent. The same theology that says that Jesus only died for some says, no, no, no, no, no, you repent after you are saved. Number one, that’s not even logical. But, number two, it is not biblical. You say, “Oh no, no if you believe you have to repent to be saved then that’s works!” You know what that’s like” [It’s like] saying, go downtown to Dallas, find a guy on the street; he’s a beggar, he’s sitting there and you go up to him and you say, “You know, I want to give you some money. But, now, don’t you reach out your hand because that would be works. Don’t you reach out your hand! In fact, when I hand it to you, don’t even open your hand because that would be works. I’m just gonna throw it on you and somehow you need to get hold of it. I don’t know how. I’m just gonna zap you with some money. Don’t you say anything! That’ll be works, too.” How ridiculous have we gotten. “Oh but that’s my system.” Get rid of your system and go back to the Bible. Quit reading the Bible through your theology and start getting your theology from the Bible.”

Now, I applaud Gaines’ insistence that repentance must be preached in the preaching of the Gospel. That is no small thing in this day and age of minimalist preaching. The confusion that his words reflect, however, between reformed theology and dispensational theology is astounding. It is the Reformed understanding of the Gospel that has insisted on the preaching of repentance in the face of those who have attempted to separate repentance from faith.

The recognition of the priority of regeneration in relation to faith and repentance cannot legitimately be construed as teaching that repentance comes only after salvation. It is a misrepresentation that no honest theologian–Reformed or otherwise–would ever make.

Teachers like Zane Hodges have asserted that repentance is not part of Gospel and should not be insisted on in evangelism. But he does so as an advocate of “non-lordship salvation.” Gaines would have done much better to take that teaching–that does exist–and critique it rather than building a straw man out of his ill-informed understanding of reformed soteriology and destroying it.

Some will regard my review of Dr. Gaines’ remarks as unkind or perhaps even harsh. Such is not my intent. I look forward to the day when this kind of review will be unnecessary because the caricatures that call them forth will have died away. Until that time, those who unabashedly misrepresent the theology and teaching of a growing percentage of Southern Baptist pastors and churches should be held accountable for their words. If doing so causes embarassment, let the cause be rightly traced to the those who perpetuate the caricatures and not to the ones who simply call attention to their misrepresentations.

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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