As with every truth of God, the Devil has worked to deny or distort every single one of the doctrines of grace, resulting in various errors and imbalances, as the following distortions highlight:

Distortion 1: Heartless Calvinism

Some have used the doctrines of grace to excuse a lack of mission or evangelism. They say that if God has elected a certain number of people and that they will definitely be saved, what’s the point of doing evangelism or missions? Many who wouldn’t actually say that, effectively practice it by rarely witnessing and reaching out with the Gospel to those around about them. However Calvinism does not necessarily produce such heartlessness. In fact it has produced some of the biggest-hearted evangelists in church history.

In Does Calvinism Kill Missions?, Jason Helopoulos produced the following list of famous Calvinist missionaries and evangelists: John Calvin, John Eliot, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, William Tennent,  Samuel Davies, William Carey, Robert Moffat, David Livingstone, Robert Morrison, Peter Parker,  Adoniram Judson, Charles Simeon, Henry Martyn, Samuel Zwemer, John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, D. James Kennedy. And there are many, many more Calvinists whose names are not so well-known but who have given up all to bring the Gospel to the lost.

Far from hindering evangelism, the doctrines of grace are our only hope in evangelism. Without God’s election, none would choose Christ.

If the doctrines of grace do not make us missionaries and evangelists of grace, it’s unlikely we have ever understood or embraced them rightly.

Distortion 2: Hyper-Calvinism

Similar to the above, some have taken the position that if not all will be saved, we cannot offer the Gospel to everyone in our preaching.

It’s true, we certainly cannot promise universal salvation to every hearer: we cannot promise all our hearers that God has planned their salvation, that Christ has died for their sins, and so on. However, we may and must give universal Gospel invitations to every hearer: we can promise them that if they repent and believe they will be saved. We don’t believe in universal salvation but we do believe in universal invitations.

Other hyper-Calvinists say that we cannot call men and women to be born again, to repent and believe, if they lack the ability to do so. However, this is to put human logic above biblical revelation which confirms our inability and yet commands us to be born again, to repent, and to believe in Christ. For example, Christ knew the man with the withered hand could not stretch it out and yet he commanded him to do so. Our responsibility is not limited by our inability. With the command comes enabling grace.

Distortion 3: Half-hearted Calvinism

Some don’t want to go all the way with all the five points. For many, the sticking point is limited or definite atonement. Others reject the idea that no believer can ultimately fall away from the faith. But as Steve Lawson points out, “compromising any one of the five points dilutes and diminishes the grace of God.” He went on:

To speak of a mere partial corruption of man, one in which the lost sinner is only spiritually sick in his sin, makes a misdiagnosis that grossly diminishes the grace of God. Likewise, to espouse a conditional election that is dependent upon God’s foresight of man’s faith corrupts the grace of God. To teach that Christ made a universal atonement, making salvation possible for all (though actual for none), cheapens the grace of God. To believe in a resistible call that allows for the free will of man compromises the grace of God. And to think of reversible grace, which would allow man to fall away from the faith, contaminates the pure grace of God. These views undermine the grace of God, and because of that, sad to say, they rob God of His glory… To whatever extent one deviates from any of the five doctrines of grace, one marginalizes the glory that is due to God alone for the salvation of sinners.

Distortion 4: Hateful Calvinism

Some Calvinists not only produce a reaction of hatred in their manner of communicating the doctrines of grace, they also seem to be full of hate towards those who differ from them.

Usually (hopefully) this is just an quick phase that some go through when they first embrace the doctrines of grace (see Early Warning Signs of Adult Onset Calvinism). Sadly, it sometimes seems to go on much longer. This has been called “cage-stage Calvinism” where the baby-Calvinist tries to ram the five points down everyone’s throat, making the points as sharp as possible, often writing off anyone who disagrees with the doctrines they had only recently discovered themselves. As somebody said, “We begin with a humbling doctrine, but we end as prideful jerks.” In Why Are Calvinists So Negative? John Piper wrote:

I love the doctrines of grace with all my heart, and I think they are pride-shattering, humbling, and love-producing doctrines. But I think there is an attractiveness about them to some people, in large matter, because of their intellectual rigor. They are powerfully coherent doctrines, and certain kinds of minds are drawn to that. And those kinds of minds tend to be argumentative. So the intellectual appeal of the system of Calvinism draws a certain kind of intellectual person, and that type of person doesn’t tend to be the most warm, fuzzy, and tender. Therefore this type of person has a greater danger of being hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive, or intellectualistic.

If Calvinism makes you proud, you’re not a Calvinist. The doctrines of grace should produce graciousness.

Distortion 5: Hollow Calvinism

The doctrines of grace should never be considered apart from Christ. To do so is to hollow out their core and just view their remaining shell. It’s like looking at clothes hanging in J. C. Penney racks rather than viewing them on a supermodel. Every doctrine looks so much better when it clothes Christ, when it is understood in connection with Christ. The doctrines of grace are the doctrines of Christ. Be warned, you can embrace this system of doctrines and fail to embrace Christ.

Previous Posts in this Series:

There’s More to Calvinism than the Five Points of Calvinism

There’s More to the Doctrines of Grace than THE Doctrines of Grace

Three Ways to Present the Doctrines of Grace

  • Steven Birn

    Only five?

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  • Seeking Disciple

    Thankful to be a non-Calvinist.

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  • Nancy Matheny

    I heard a seminary professor say
    that he wanted his daughters to go to heaven but he was not sure if they were
    “elect”, and therefore it would not be possible for them to be saved. I wanted
    to blurt out “Why don’t you just win them to Christ and they will be elect!”
    Which comes to my point, what effect does this doctrine have on those who
    believe it?

    “Be not carried about with divers and strange
    doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace;
    not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied
    therein.” (Hebrew 13:9) If it is not of God, it does “not profited”. If you ask them what
    benefit is there in believing this, they will usually respond by saying, “It’s
    the truth”, but people on both sides of any argument believe their side is
    right. But the question remains, how does it profit Christians? If someone
    believes there is a hell, he is much more likely to get saved, and also be
    concerned about his loved ones and friends getting saved; but if he does not
    believe, then “let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.”

    Things that are believed have an effect on us, for good if true, and for harm
    if false. For 40 years I have been asking those who believe this belief, what
    profit is there in it? The only real answer I have received in all this time
    was that they say it takes away all pride from man, as he has nothing to do
    with it, but salvation is already “not of works, lets any man
    should boast.” (Ephesians 2:9) Besides, people can have
    pride about anything including saying, “I’m elect”. One Christian I knew who
    came out of Hyper Calvinism told me it appealed to his intellectual pride.

    Even those who believe in this
    doctrine already know there are possible problems (sometimes serious problems)
    associated with it. It has split churches and more Bible colleges than any
    teaching I know of! It is also used by some as an excuse for not winning souls.
    After all, if God wants to save them, they will be saved even if I do nothing,
    and If God does not choose them for salvation, then according to their belief,
    no matter what I do they will not be saved. But Paul said, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that
    I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you
    all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27) Why would Paul say a thing
    like that if it did not to some degree depend on him? See The Layman’s Biblical Handbook

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  • Philip Thompson

    Great points. I enjoyed Randy Alcorn’s gentle and balanced presentation of Calvinism in this interview, here:

    One of the great points he makes that connects to your fourth point is: “It’s fine to label ourselves, but I think it’s wise and kind to avoid labeling others. No one likes being put in a box. (I am always amazed to hear people tell me what I really believe!) When it comes to terminology, especially in conversations regarding God’s sovereignty and meaningful human choice, I’d recommend using our definition or understanding of terms in place of the terms themselves until we know we’re on the same page. It may take longer to explain, but we’ll know what we’re really talking about.”

    Defining terms as your opponent defines them is helpful in promoting the kind of graciousness you’re encouraging.

  • Josh Stribling

    On point 3, it sounds like Steve Lawson might not have a very good handle on scripture…

    ///To speak of a mere partial corruption of man, one in which the lost sinner is only spiritually sick in his sin, makes a misdiagnosis that grossly diminishes the grace of God.///

    That’s a BOLD assertion, considering what Christ Himself said:
    Mark 2:17
    “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them,
    They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick:
    I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

    Many stage 4 cancers are terminal, where if you have it then you are essentially counted for dead. Sin is very much like cancer. Once we have it, it spreads and if not cut out, it will consume us.

    ///Likewise, to espouse a conditional election that is dependent upon God’s foresight of man’s faith corrupts the grace of God.///

    Again, BOLD assertion probably based on a former false presupposition.
    Jesus is God’s Elect, and we are then made elect through our faith in Him, which comes by hearing the word of God, and believing unto righteousness (see Romans 10, the whole chapter).

    ///To teach that Christ made a universal atonement, making salvation possible for all (though actual for none), cheapens the grace of God.///

    Christ reconciled ALL things to Himself through His finished works on the cross, even the “false prophets” who “privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1)

    All who sleep will be raised at the resurrection of the dead, though who keep the commandments and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will be raised to eternal life, and those who continue to live in unrepentant sin will be raised to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:1-4, Revelation 22:14-15, 2 Corinthians 5:10, etc.)

    ///To believe in a resistible call that allows for the free will of man compromises the grace of God.///

    Absolutely false, God is love, and love by definition must be “given” it cannot be “taken”. We love Him, because He first loved us. We respond to His grace freely BECAUSE He chose to love us while we were still in our sins. We being the corporate “whosoever will”, not individuals cherry picked before creation.

    God has commanded ALL men EVERYWHERE to repent. He does not command things that are not possible, and if we have not sinned and have need of saving, then there would be no reason for the call to repent. So all sinners have the ability to repent, and God has commanded us all to do so, but we tend to be stiff necked in our pride, which is the whole purpose of the Law, to break our proud hearts through knowledge of sin, so that we humble ourselves to seek His grace. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

    ///And to think of reversible grace, which would allow man to fall away from the faith, contaminates the pure grace of God.///

    Nonsense, let God be true but every man a liar. We are called to endure in our faith to the end, believing unto to the saving of our souls, not turning back to perdition. But some do fall away, forgetting that they WERE purged from their old sins. (Hence 2 Peter 1:1-11, and Hebrews 10:35-39, Matthew 24:11-13, etc.)

    ///These views undermine the grace of God, and because of that, sad to say, they rob God of His glory…///

    Nothing can “rob God of His Glory”, we are completely unable to save ourselves apart from the finished works of Christ on the cross. He is the one who saves, and who sets the requirements for who is worthy to be saved. Even when we are faithful to do all that is required, by repenting and keeping His word, we are still unprofitable servants who do not “deserve” to be saved, but He has chosen to forgive us of our past sins anyway by His grace. Grace is grace because we do not deserve it. Salvation is a gift because it simply cannot be earned or taken, just like love, it must be given.

    ///To whatever extent one deviates from any of the five doctrines of grace, one marginalizes the glory that is due to God alone for the salvation of sinners.///

    False. They simply reject the flawed logic of men by accepting what clear scripture teaches.