12 January 2009

We're Living Proof that Depravity is Total

by Phil Johnson

ere's the closing zinger from an article in this weekend's New York Times Magazine:
[The] New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.

Reading that sentence made me feel a little like David must have felt when he was on the receiving end of Shimei's angry tirade in
2 Samuel 16:5-13. While I don't think it's a fair evaluation of Calvinism per se, there's enough truth in the remark to warrant a humble acceptance of the rebuke.

We can quibble about the "always." We can also argue that Mark Driscoll (he's who the article is about) is atypical in just about every way. We can point out that "Calvinism" is by no means the root of the Mars-Hill-Seattle idiosyncrasies the NYT writer was criticizing. We can also plead that in a postmodern world where doubt has been canonized as a virtue, any sort of strong conviction is going to be dismissed as "arrogant."

Still, that remark about Calvinistic arrogance has too much truth in it to be dismissed completely.

What do you think? Talk amongst yourselves.

(And let's not make this thread about Driscoll, OK?)

Phil's signature


SolaMommy said...

I felt like that whole article was a bad caricature of Calvinism.

Chad V. said...

What is meant by "The New Calvinism"?

Here's the thing, whether or not a person is humbled by biblical doctrine has nothing to do with it's truth. True believers will be humbled by their depravity. If the knowledge of your depravity causes you to become more bold in sin then you are perverting the gospel. If that's the case it's time to examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith. You may be one of those to whom Christ will say, depart from me you who practice lawlessness. i never knew you.

If however it makes you more bold in your proclamation of the gospel then that's exactly what it should do.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

Men hate the doctrine of Total Depravity because they think too much of themselves, and want to say that they're not that bad, and therefore can have a part in their salvation.

CGrim said...

I had a hard time taking the article seriously past this line:

"But what is new about Driscoll is that he has resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism, a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy."

Almost accurate enough for wikipedia!

Lee Shelton said...

Arrogance is hardly unique to Calvinism. It's a natural, sinful human trait. I think the "emboldening" statement could be said of many Christians in general, be they Calvinist or not. How many of us have run into those who were so "on fire" with their faith that they developed a holier-than-thou attitude? "You're going to Hell if you smoke/drink/hang out with non-believers/listen to rock music..."

Sir Brass said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Calvinist arrogance? Well, if I say it is not true, then I come across as arrogant. If I say it is true, then I come across as soft on my belief in total depravity.

In contrast with those who hold to the opposing view (the Arminian view), I would say that Calvinists are not typically arrogant. At least Calvinists are willing to have an open discussion with those who would disagree. Take a look back a month or so at the john 3:16 Conference and tell me which group is more arrogant...the ones who plead for discussion and debate (Building Bridges Conference), or the ones who gather around themselves only those who agree with them and then refuse to even consider a real conversation with others who hold to the doctrines of grace?

How about that!!! I didn't even use Driscoll's name in my whole...oh well.

Jay T said...

I thought, given the source, the article wasn't that bad.

Dorian said...

I guess it would take someone totally depraved to turn the doctrine of total depravity into a means of boasting...been there.

Tom Austin said...

First, I think the author is boiling down all of Calvinism to the "T", so to focus solely on depravity may miss his real point.

Perhaps Calvinism's effort to apply all of scripture without apologizing for the gritty parts attracts the pugilistic parts of the Body?

Or perhaps (to drag in a pernicious ethnic stereotype) the perceived belligerence is due to the fact that Calvinism's primary route to the US ran through Scotland?

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

A few comments on the comments;
1. One, who truly believes in The Doctrines of Grace will not have an
''holier then thou attitude.''
2. Preachers should preach ''Hell-fire and brimstone.'' Jesus spoke more about it, then He did Heaven.
3. Truth never changes.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz

Zachary Bartels said...

The doctrine of total depravity DOES ultimately embolden me, as it should! It also humbles me. In what crazy world are those two things opposites, mutually exclusive, or even related?

By the doctrine of total depravity, I understand that I had played no role whatsoever in my salvation (except maybe "running like hell" while God pursued and, ultimately, overtook me). That being the case, I recognize that any work for the Kingdom that I may do is not of myself and I do not deserve the glory. (i.e., it's humbling) As such, I don't need to worry about whether or not I have the ability to skillfully and masterfully "argue someone into faith." Instead, I can boldly make the historic claims of Christianity, declaring Christ's victory over sin and salvation by grace through faith, confident that Christ will use such proclamations to call his own to himself (i.e. emboldening).

To me, saying that the T in TULIP has "emboldened, rather than humbled, Calvinists" is like saying that the metro bus system has reduced pollution rather than providing affordable public transportation. HUH???

Phil said...

Well, I haven't read the article. But limiting my comment to Calvinists as a general group,as Spurgeon once noted, being proud about grace is a real possibility. I think we can get that way when our conception of total depravity doesn't focus on the willing bondage of the will in self-righteousness, and smuggles in more than 'moral inability'; limits Christ's willingness and provision to save 'whosoever will'; makes grace something subjective before something full,free and objective,thus leaving people looking for evidence for something imparted that separates from others on the basis of superior performance; has too low a view of regeneration that leaves believers depraved by nature as new creations; thinks God views believers as wicked sinners by identity, and not righteous saints; and leaves us under law for sanctification.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

You have hit the center of the target. well said.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz

MarieP said...


I totally agree with you! I had the same reaction when I read that sentence...

And thanks once again for the Quick and Dirty Calvinism post! I need that smack upside the head every once in a while :-)

My thoughts are pretty much summed up by the words of a hymn we sung last evening:

O God of truth, whose living Word
Upholds whate'er hath breath,
Look down on thy creation, Lord,
Enslaved by sin and death,

Set up thy standard, Lord, that we
Who claim a heav'nly birth,
May march with thee to smite the lies
That vex thy groaning earth.

Ah! would we join that blest array,
And follow in the might
Of him, the Faithful and the True,
In raiment clean and white!

Then, God of truth for whom we long,
Thou who wilt hear our pray'r,
Do thine own battle in our hearts,
And slay the falsehood there.

Andrew N. said...

Phil, I agree with you. I felt the stinging rebuke of that statement when I read it. As you pointed out, there are many ideas in that statement that are open to debate, yet the rebuke remains.

If we think we know our own depravity absolutely we show just how little of it we truly do understand. A true understanding of it (coupled with a true understanding of God’s Holiness and Love) should indeed make us the most humble of men, but which of us can truly attain that understanding?

Mike Westfall said...

> the doctrine of total human
> depravity has always had a funny
> way of emboldening, rather than
> humbling, its adherents.

I wonder what the doctrine of secular news reporting has done for its adherents?

Phil Johnson said...


Good point. Boldness isn't necessarily arrogant.

But notice the article's title ("Who Would Jesus Smack Down?"); the remark she quoted about breaking the noses of stubborn subordinates; and the obsession with a shallow and unbiblical notion of machismo ("members say their favorite movie isn’t 'Amazing Grace' or 'The Chronicles of Narnia'--it’s 'Fight Club'").

Surely you don't think all the things that turned the NYT writer off can legitimately be defended as "holy boldness," do you?

Y'all know I have no problem with the judicious use of frozen meat and other instruments of force as physical weapons in certain contexts. I'm no pacifist arguing for "a Richard Simmons, hippie . . . neutered and limp-wristed" approach to faith and apologetics.

But I do think arrogance has sometimes been the besetting sin of certain Calvinists, and those of us who deplore the feminization of Christianity especially need to be on guard against it. There is a true sense in which the writer's point is valid: no one who truly understands total depravity ought to act as if cockiness is a spiritual gift.

And by no means would I exempt myself from that admonition. I'm saying I was smitten in my own conscience when I read that article.

Robert N. Landrum said...

I feel that most of my life has been marked with enough knowledge of calvinism only to be dangerous! I fear I have done more damage than good more often than not.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Lee, that Calvinists hardly have the market cornered on arrogance. In fact, most evangelicals with whom I speak on a daily basis are aggressively arrogant about their ignorance of that thing...oh, what was it called?...oh, yeah...the Reformation!

Having said that, I'm reminded of something Terry Johnson said in his book, When Grace Comes Home, "When one comes to understand the doctrines of the total depravity of man and the total sovereignty of God, it can be like a second conversion."

When the whole Truth of the whole counsel of God's Word comes home, it can create a passion which can easily slip into arrogance.

Anonymous said...

p.s. But, permit me to add that I have no respect for spiritually castrated Christians who will not boldly contend for the faith.

Unknown said...

Well clearly they should have done better at defining calvinism and the historical references really were taken out of context to make Calvin look almost evil the over all point of the article got one thing right about calvinism... That man doesn't earn salvation and contribute to it. The secular writter realizes this point and says so. She clearly realizes there is an distinction between that and evangelical armianism even though the arminian would protest and say they believe they contribute nothing but they just ''accept it''. And I know the request was not to make it about Driscoll but I have to add just one thing... I rather like Driscoll given my non-christian background and I'm young-even though I am an egaltarian and padeo-baptist.

Rachael Starke said...

Phil J.-

I found some of the comments attributing all the writer's errors and choice of things to highlight to her unregenerate state / journalistic bias somewhat disheartening. Of course she's blind!

But what ought our response be when we see a blind person trying to cross a busy street? Mock her each time she trips over someone who cuts her off, or stumbles as someone roughly pushes her out of the way? Sigh piously and step over her?

Or ask her politely if you can help, take her arm gently and guide her across the street?

I wonder - what would our response be if such an article was written about our churches, or homes?

Unknown said...

I agree with your article Phil. But like you, the title of the article: "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?" says more about Driscoll than Calvinism - which I think the real point of the article was.

Total Depravity is a biblical certainty. The gospel according to Fight Club tactics in the name of Calvin is not.


David said...

Phil, if you feel like Shimei, then does mean Pecadillo will avenge his father at some future point? Woe, NYT.

Some of the emboldenment may be derived from having to do unending defense against Pelagian misunderstandings. At the risk of sounding like a broken CD, see the John 3:16 Conf. as Exhibit A.

Ed de Blieck said...

> the doctrine of total human
> depravity has always had a funny
> way of emboldening, rather than
> humbling, its adherents.

This is logical disconnect. If anything emboldens it is not that doctrine. To know and understand that we are all depraved *is* a humbling thought, when it is faithfully received. If anyone is not humbled by that thought, there is something depraved about them...

There is nothing wrong with being emboldened by the prospect of grace, but nobody is ever emboldened by knowing that they are a sinner who needs it.

I write as a belligerent Scot, from many generations of Calvinist ancestry. (And I'll break anyone's nose who disagrees.)

Unknown said...

Sadly true. We're all too like Jonah, it's one thing to "believe" in the grace of God - it's a whole other thing to work it out in life, and most of us aren't anywhere as humble as the doctrines we believe should make us. Or, maybe it's just me.

NiftyDrewFifty said...

I think Calvinism is inherently arrogant. Yes there is the total human depravity element which is humbling, but in the end people believe that God chose to save them in particular, for no particular reason known to them. No one would believe God hadn't chose them.

Its like the horoscopes, no one really believes them to be true-they say, but horoscopes still are printed everyday in the paper because people can't help themselves not to sneak a peak just in case the universe really is all about them.

Scott Shaffer said...

Some random thoughts on Phil’s question:

1. In my experience - I’m in my early 50’s and have held to the doctrines of grace for more than 30 years – the zealousness of a new “convert” to Calvinism is similar to that of someone who just quit smoking, or someone who recently started exercising and lost a lot of weight, etc. In each case there seems to be two common ingredients: a genuine desire to share the good news; and a touch of pride.

2. It also seems that proclaiming the doctrines of grace are especially prone to be misinterpreted. The gist of a typical conversation can turn into something like this: “What do you mean God chooses some for salvation? You mean he chose you and not me? How arrogant!” In other words, we need to be careful how we present the message; otherwise, we run the risk of being viewed, either correctly or incorrectly, as arrogant and proud.

3. Is the same accusation hurled at us when we proclaim that Christ alone is the way of salvation?

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

Dear fifty drew,
To think that God chose such a wretch of a sinner and saved me humbles me. I am nothing, and have done nothing to deserve His love and grace.
you are probably better than I am, and ever will be. But the doctrine of election humbles me.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz

FX Turk said...

I read that article whe JT linked to it this weekend, and what offended me wasn;t the back-hand at total depravity: it was the back-hand at election, which the writer was intentionally characterizing as a callow little doctrine that causes people to see themselves as special and everyone else as deservedly-counted-out.

That's why she thinks "calvinists" are arrogant: she thinks that we count ourselves as special and superior -- when in fact election proves we are unable, unwilling, and unworthy.

It's a shame she listens to Mark Driscoll's jokes but ignore the straight lines. There's a parable in there someplace, but I am working late tonight and I can't spell it out for you people.


FX Turk said...


You should compare your statement here about self-interest to your epistemology. There's a parable in there someplace, but I'm working late tonight and I can't spell it out for you.

Strong Tower said...

I am wondering what Molly's opinion is founded upon. If it is Driscoll, then she has warrant. He is not a survey of Calvinism or of the DoG, however.

I wonder how deeply she has looked into the center-fold of Calvinist's around the world. If you knew my current pastor, you would think that mild mannered mouse was the typical. Then again, if someone wants fire there is Piper or Azurdia. Neither can be considerd "smack-down." There is a host who could be considered as talking smack, but only those in the hood would get it anyway.

Unfortunately, I think that it is Driscoll himself who is giving the DoG a black-eye, to further the analogy, and it is self-inflicted. If only he would have listened. But that is Driscoll, haughty, arrogant, and never wrong just growing. More disturbing is that this will be used by the "non-Calvinists" as feed stock for theirs. After having fought for a "kinder-gentler" conservative Christianity since the demise of the Moral Majority, the fundies stand to move ahead in their agenda of bless and be blessed politics and the smack-down of Calvinism at the same time.

Something tells me that if Driscoll becomes the new poster boy for a caricatured Calvinism, it will weld itself to the secular mind and find pleasant pasture in the anti-Calvinist camps within the Chruch. Driscoll's movement had already shifted the ballast, lets hope his populist bent doesn't capsize the resurgence.

I get the rebuke. We all need it. That is the problem that has tagged along with Driscoll, which he seems not to care a bit about. He plods on, and why not, heck, now he has made the big time.

Woops, derailed the meta? I don't think so. I think it is a false accusation that has some grounding in reality, but mostly adheres to Driscollistas and clones.

"What is meant by "The New Calvinism"?"

Precisely. This would tend against the posts here of Spurgeon, whose condemnation of novelty is important. The new devices of this fringe of Cavlinism is like a giant pimple. It isn't the normal look of the face, but it will distract from all other features until it is removed. By that time though, all who see the face with it, will think that it is the norm.

Unknown said...

Can the "New Calvinism" be considered an over-contextualization of the system, wherein the culture is embraced too much to the hurt of the system?

Or perhaps, staying too long in the "cage stage"? LOL.


Matthew Lawrence Woodwork said...

While I do not embrace every bit of his brief book, Richard Mouw's Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport (Zondervan 2004) gives gentle criticism to Calvinists who tend toward arrogance (and I have been one of them).

There are two thoughts I have begun to keep at the forefront of my mind:

1. Christ summarizes all of the law as loving God with all your heart, soul and mind and then loving your neighbor as yourself. I have never done either of these things for one second in my entire life and I never will. Yet, despite this, God condescends to call me to Himself. That is mighty humbling to consider.

2. As a result of His condescendsion, there will be that "great multitude that no one could count (Rev. 7:9)" Therefore, I rejoice that God works through to history to bring his own to himself. That also is mighty humbling to consider.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

Dear Red and Black Redneck,
Amen and amen. History is HIS STORY.

James Scott Bell said...

This post is why this Arminian respects Phil Johnson.

I've seen stupid, irrational Arminian attacks on Calvinism that rightly draw ire because they misrepresent the latter. I've also seen attacks on Arminians based upon ignorance of their theology (News item: Most Arminians believe in Total Depravity!).

I have a theory. Calvinism is attractive to very intelligent people, because it is a system that requires a lot of brain power to cohere. I think it is attractive especially in contrast to the more, shall we say, emotive alternatives. And very smart people can deliver very sharp jabs. The sin of pride lurks around all of us. I, too, do not exempt myself.

Thanks for posting this, Phil.

chopstickschan said...

hey johnny,

i´ll tell you something better than theory. i grew up anglican, and attended an arminian bible college--my introduction to arminius and calvin. being in that environment, i kind of went along with it, not being an intellectual, but could never quite settle for their explanations of predestined, elect, etc. about a couple of years ago, i went through a crisis that just ripped my life apart. at that time, i also came across piper and spurgeon (thanks again phil!). i can scarce begin to describe what happened to me as the doctrine of grace was made known to me, though everyday mommy's quote of terry johnson is a good description. it was like a solid steel core of truth within that nothing could shake. and it continues to hold through the aftermath. the difference in my faith is vast. nothing is the same. how differently i perceive things around me, that happen to me. how His hand has worked and works yet!

sorry about the typing, but i broke my right arm recently, and that's another story of God's sovereign grace itself, and too long for here :) may the Lord keep you, Johnny.

Anonymous said...


Count me in as one who, while unimpressed with the article itself, was still stung with the rebuke.

It saddens me and I hate that it's true about me, but way too often it is.

Thanks for the post.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

Hallelujah.... I remember when the Holy Spirit opened my etes to grace. It came by way of revelation, as I read the Word of God.

Only He can open one's eyes and heart to the truth.

I am rejoicing with you.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz

Morris Brooks said...

Unfortunately, there is an air of arrogance, a thread of theological smugness that has run through the Calvinist camp. Of course, not all Calvinsts come across like that, but enough of us do to leave an unpleasant odor.

One of the things that bothered me for several years was the lack of humility evidenced by several well known and out-spoken Calvinists. There does seem to be more humility among those who are currently carrying the Calvinistic banner in the Evangelical arena.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Subtle and not-so-subtle connections that I saw in the article:

Calvinism = authoritarianism = misogyny = dictators = long sermons = arrogance

Anonymous said...

What I think is, skip this and make more po-motivators!


Highland Host said...

When did boldness, rather than arrogance, become a bad thing?

FX Turk said...

Morris --

There are no smug Arminians or semi-pelagians, I am sure. No trend of triumphalism or cultural-transformation mandate because our way is the best way (and it's God's way, btw) in those people.

They definitely have that over Calvinists.

Gov98 said...

The point being made is interesting, I know for myself I have struggle with pride as it relates to my frusteration with Calvinism.

My brother grew up in the same church that I did and ended up going to an OPC church later in life, and has now gone pretty far reformed (which is not bad at all, just creates some debate.)

I end up finding things humorous when my brother tells my parents things they must do about my younger brother who gets in trouble, because to some extent I feel like if he really believed in predestination and total depravity then there is nothing that my parents can do if my brother is unelect.

This however is a response of arrogance and is sinful pride.

The hard thing is, and I always try to remind myself is that in my own mind some aspect of free will is certainly true (suffice it to say Scripture says "Choose you this day,") but also that sovereign election is true as well.

This doesn't really make sense, but just to accept that the things revealed belong to us, and the secret things belong to God.

Calvinism sometimes seems to have an intellectual pride, I've figured out how God works...

Arminism has a human pride in it, I can make the right choice to choose God.

Calvinism or Arminism isn't the problem, instead it's that the treasure is in Earthenware vessels, but oh how Great a Gift that is!

danny2 said...

i certainly could be wrong, but my impression of the article was that the author has a ax to grind regarding calvinism. is this the fault of calvinists? i don't know. but i would say the way she summarizes the teachings surely conveyed an attitude of offense at the doctrine, not just the teachers of it.

while i do not minister in ways that driscoll does, i do think this article kind of shows the "no win" situation he is in:

toning down his language is acknowledged but equally dismissed. restructuring the leadership so that it is more balanced and spread out is only given one sentence and the fact that a projection screen comes down so they can simulcast at a campus is seen as his arrogant trumping of the cross. i think those accusations are rather unfair.

you're right though, phil. this should give us pause to make sure our lives are not an offense. perhaps i'm reading into the article, but my impression was that the author is much more offended by what driscoll believes (calvinism, complimentarian) than with the way he says it.

Unknown said...

What am I missing here? I thought the article was fair and balanced. The author exposed Driscoll for what he is: a pastor trying to appeal to the culture by being cool and shocking. She is also correct historically as to how evangelicalism has arrived at its current persona. She maybe a bit inflated on her reformed pigeon-holing, but is mostly on target.

God forbid that any of us should even remotely defend the NYT's; but this author was pretty fair. I understand from the comment thread at Justin Taylor's that she has studied at L'Abri and is a thoughtful student of theology.

Maybe some humility is warranted on our behalf without diminishing sound reformed theology.

steve said...

Calvinistic arrogance?

Yes, it definitely exists. Tim Challies graciously addressed this problem on his blog some time ago.

There's nothing wrong with taking a bold stand for truth. But some who call themselves bold fail to recognize they're actually arrogant. If I were to say there's a particular segment of Christianity that brings the trait arrogance to mind, it's Calvinists.

Not all Calvinists are that way, but enough that the moniker arrogant Calvinist is fairly consistently applicable.

I myself am in full agreement with the doctrines of grace. But at times I am embarrassed to be identified among the proponents because of their cockiness.

It makes me appreciate all the more those spiritual leaders who teach the doctrines of grace and live a life of gracious humility. May we learn from their example!

Solameanie said...

I'm not conceited. Just convinced.

(Solameanie ducks to avoid Iraqi-style shoe-throwers)

Kay said...

I think the temptation for Calvinists to get snotty and proud comes from the 'complete system' element. So much modern Christian teaching is rather piecemeal - someone discovering the Doctrines of Grace for the first time may find their intellectual pride being puffed up because they have found something which makes coherent sense of much of scripture which they may never have really addressed before.

It's ridiculous, because the Doctrines of Grace should only engender humility in those who hold to them. Calvinists should be the most humble people on the planet. But sometimes we are not, because we have our doctrinal ducks in a row, and that, for some people, is enough for them to think they have 'made it'.

chopstickschan said...


i know i felt incredibly stupid when i first discovered the doctrines of grace, because, really, they were there all along--and i was blind to them. i don't think i ever felt arrogant about it (more often, terrified about "what if God hadn't chosen me?"), but i have recently become aware that it is easy to not fight sin quite so much--God will do His work anyway, right? that sort of loathsome thought. and having been in the arminian camp, i saw there was a subtle enough arrogance at times that "we're not arrogant like those calvinists" floating around.

Daniel said...

I have noticed that an empty barrel makes more noise than a full one.

There is a kind of believer who zealously defines and defends the particulars of the same faith he himself fails to live out, and I presume that these being the more vocal and visible thereby become the poster children for the whole.

There is a "full" boldness, and then there is a sort of "vacuous" boldness, and the latter (lacking the grace of the former) is more often the one that the world associates with the label.

Unless one can adorn the doctrine of election (for instance) with a rubust, personal evangelism - their doctrine is just an intellectual argument, and they are merely spouting it to improve their perceived standing amongst the brethren.

Calvinism, however correct, or "better" - by no means guarantees the sort of life that ought to adorn it.

That's how I see it at least.

Morris Brooks said...


I was addressing the question that Phil asked concerning the arrogance of Calvinists. If you will notice, I used us refering to Calvinists, as I am one. Are arrogance and smugness confined to only the Calvinists? Of course not, as pride inhabits all flesh. Just ask Paul why he needed the thorn in the flesh.

Arrogance is unbecoming in anyone, especially in one who is a believer. No matter which side of the theological divide one is on concerning God's sovereignty in salvation, arrogance gives out a particularly foul smell and acts as a repellant.

As those who hold to a Reformed soteriology we can be right (and are right), and be humble. We can be confident, and be humble. We can be sure without being cock-sure. We can and should be sincere in our apologetic without being smug. We are to speak the truth in love, and love is not arrogant.

Jim Crigler said...

Re: [The] New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.

First, boldness and humility are not opposites (as many responders have noted): The opposite of boldness is timidity, and the opposite of humility is arrogance. The statement in the NYTM is therefore posing a false dichotomy.

Second, as Doug Wilson has pointed out many times, humility is a relationship with respect to some other outside the self. This means that if I am to be humble toward God and His Word, I may have to be bold (and perhaps perceived as arrogant) toward others.

Steve Scott said...

As one who has been a Calvinist since five years before my conversion, I can testify that the most arrogant, self-righteous, condescending, character slandering, belittling (okay, I'll stop here) people I've ever known have been staunch, five point Calvinists. Knowledge puffs up, and the highest knowledge puffs up the most.

No, and I'm not confusing this with boldness or strong conviction or "internet" Calvinism or a miscaricaturization by the article.

Kevin Williams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Williams said...

I don't think there's any doubt that learning Calvinist theology tends to produce pride in many people, and a tendancy to look down on others who don't adhere to the inferences they've learned.

I think this is because people learn a theology on a blackboard, but don't live it. It's all head knowledge but not heart.

That's why there are so many people who can quote Scripture as good as any Pharisee, and debate Calvinism all day long, yet they can't even be bothered to witness to the lost people on the street they live in. Jesus said you will know them by their fruits, and the fruits indicate there are a lot of lost Calvinists out there, who are still as spiritually dead as the depraved and unregenerate man they keep debating about.

Living out Calvinism should produce humility.

Anonymous said...


I agree, there's too much truth in that statement to ignore and one of the reasons I've taken almost a 2 year hiatus from even talking with other Calvinists.

Please don't get me wrong. I am by no means changing my theology. But there are moments where I feel there isn't really an awakening underway. We're merely another bus and people are trying to catch a ride. Unlike the other ones, we don't have all the works; it's all book knowledge, completely devoid of faith or compassion.

I hope I'm wrong and there's really more to this apparent resurgence.

Mike Anderson said...

Once again, great posting brother. On another note I received this link http://www.americanvision.org/article/a-defense-of-dispensationalism/
from a brother that is a partial preterist. He is pretty dogmatic saying Dr. MacArthur avoids addressing the preterist argument for reason listed out in the article. I am pre-mil pre-trib along with Dr. MacArthur. Is there any cross comparisons that have been done By Dr. MacArthur on this topic or would there ever be a chance that these two could do a debate or a joint book debate such as the one done by Dr. White and Dave Hunt? Just curious.

John said...

I quite enjoyed Molly's article, despite the use of hyperbole, characature, mischaracterization, and (barely masked) angst. It is the NYT, and they have a product to sell. But her last sentence was a false dichotomy. It is actually a "both-and", rather than an "either-or". You see, from Molly's perpective, humility and boldness are mutually exclusive. In fact, humility is generally expressed by doubt - by conceeding that the truth you have found is your own only. In fact, the humility Christianity spawns is coupled with duty - a duty to proclaim the truth. Thus Moses, no shrinking violet, was caled the meekest man alive. Moses could afford to be bold, because he was humbled by God's glory. All that mattered before - all the treasures of Egypt, fame, and popularity - were nothing compared to the promise. So Moses banded with a ragtag bunch of slaves and tromped through the wilderness for a generation.
Realization of ones total dependancy upon God (whether one is a Calvinist or not) should lead to humility, but humility is the first step toward true boldness. Only after we have first been freed the weight of the world's expectations can we truly proclaim the truth that sets free.

Unknown said...

As with all doctrinal positions I regret that most proud "calvinists" also will not likely take this true rebuke that is fundamentally a restatement by Phil of 1 John 1:10 "If we say that we have not sinned we make Him a liar and His Word is not in us." The ground is level at the foot of the Cross. By some Divine appointment I was moved to reread In His Steps by Charles Sheldon (free, both text and mp3, at www.ccel.org, though the free mp3s are sadly of inferior audio quality and omit significant parts, yet still valuable to me, the text in e-Sword Bible format at www.e-Sword.net), and while it can of course be criticized in all manner of ways as to synergism and Finneyite “altar call” and social gospel error or heresies, and ironically worldly WWJD bracelets, etc., etc., etc., all of those understandable criticisms STILL pale to nothing compared to the power of Holy Ghost conviction in it God has wrought, using it for more than a century (since its 1896 creation), rightly skyrocketing it to the most published Christian work in the world after the Very Word of God Himself. I just now was listening to the mp3 of chapter 28 where Burns is taken captive by liquor lust and thinking of how sickeningly aloof many proud “christians” today are from the world's suffering (e.g. me), just like those in Raymond.
I highly and wholeheartedly commend for your consideration and conviction
(no matter that it calls for the usual requisite Acts 17:10-11 Berean discernment regarding when one must “take out the bones” when partaking)
for those “lordship salvation” folks really wanting to take God seriously; he who has ears to hear let him hear. God save us!

Unknown said...

A word of warning re the free www.ccel.org mp3s of "In His Steps" mentioned above: for some strange reason (probably time constraint) there are 24 mp3s weirdly allotted for the book's 31 chapters, with, as I said before, a significant amount of text omitted.

Patrick Eaks said...

An over emphasis on ANY biblical doctrine can lead to spiritual pride. That is why we must always preach and teach the whole council of God. Some of the greatest men of God throughout the ages were always balanced in their approach to doctrine. Spurgeon was good at lifting up God’s Unconditional Election, without forgetting to emphasize man’s responsibility. And this is the challenge to all bible teachers and preachers, being steadfast in finding true balance in our doctrine, according to the word of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to warn people about the preacher who beats the same drum over and over again, he would say that we need to watch doing that in our preaching or we will present a false balance (my paraphrase).

Kohman said...

I think we can be arrogant because we know so much, and we know we're right.

My brother John, as TMS grad, recently said in a sermon, "When I was young, I loved learning the Bible and learning doctrine. But knowledge was the ends to those means. It was the wrong ends. Learning and growing in knowledge is the means, and loving God more is the ends." I know in my own life I get puffed up with pride because of how much I know... wrong ends.