March 6, 2009

Please Don't Call Wade Burleson A Calvinist. . .

Please Don't Call Me a Calvinist, But . . ."The following is a reprint of an article written by Wade Burleson, published in the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger in the June 1, 1995 issue," thirteen years ago. I e-mailed Wade and ask him for permission to dissect his Calvinism and post it to my blog. He graciously permitted me.

This is not the result of any problems between us but a discussion of his theology. I don't believe that this will destroy our friendship (which is merely cyberistic) rather we will grow closer. There will naturally be many who cannot comprehend wholesome debate. I am by personal persuasion a high Calvinist believing that the decree for the fall of Adam was ordained and not simply permitted. I reject any free offer to the sinner and believe that the atonement is limited to a particular people. The Holy Spirit applies salvation without any influence other than the will of the Father. I believe that this is the historic position that has been compromised by the Evangelical church today. This is not hyper-Calvinism and I am still searching for a meaning of this over used stereotype.


First, the doctrines of grace rest on the bedrock truth called The Total Depravity of Man. This doctrine teaches that all have sinned and that everyone has sin in the totality of his person. For example, the will is sinful, the emotions are sinful, the thoughts of man are only evil continually and all the actions of man are tainted with sin.
Worse, there is no one who seeks God, and as a result, every sinful person is separated from God and couldn’t care less about finding his or her way to God. Natural man is lost in his sin and he loves it. Self rules the heart and self is unwilling to change so that God rules the heart. Therefore, total depravity teaches that man is wicked and sinful in every part of personhood, and it is impossible for the sinner to embrace the Son and love the Lord Jesus Christ because the sinner is satisfied (in love) with selfishness and evil. The prophet asks, “Can the leopard change his spots? How can you who are accustomed to doing evil change your ways?”
Wade makes a good statement of Total Depravity Wade says: But . . . All we like sheep have gone astray. Our throats are like an open, stinking grave. For all of us have rebelled. (Lifeless sinners can not rebel)

Then he contradicts himself by saying: God graciously commands all sinners to repent rather than striking them dead immediately and bringing them before Him in judgment. God even more graciously commands all men to embrace His Son, the only Savior ever given for sinners.
If the sinner is totally depraved then why would Wade say God commands all sinners to repent? The command to repent and embrace is contradictory to what he has said about depravity. Sinners care nothing for the things of God.

But, no sinner ever will believe or repent. Not one sinner will obey God because the sinner loves his sin, hates God (or at least the true God of the Bible) and embraces self more than the Creator.
If the sinner is totally depraved he will not embrace the Son neither can you say he will embrace self rather than the creator. The sinner is blindly following the course of this world. He doesn't make a choice to do anything but follow the prince of the power of the air. My argument here strikes at the root of hypothetical universal atonement. No one rejects or refuses to embrace that for which he has no will. For some reason few people see the logic of this. For Arminians and hypo-Calvinist the sinner must be able to reject the work of Christ by faith something that the T in TULIP annuls.

The invitation to take up your cross and follow Christ is universally given, but unfortunately, it is also universally rejected by sinners.
Again this is a modified Calvinist statement- hypothetical Universalism, Amyraldianism; God desires the salvation of all men but wills the salvation of the elect. It rejects the Arminians by insisting on sovereign grace but charms Arminians by holding a free gospel appeal to all. It is a subtle sabotage of the truth in an effort to make God and His purposes more acceptable to those at enmity with God.

God does not choose to regenerate a sinner (make him spiritually alive) because of the sinners’s wealth, fame, skin color, nationality, sex, goodness (humanly speaking!) or any other conditions found within the sinner, for God is not a respecter of persons. God's choice to redeem and regenerate undeserving sinners is a choice based on pure grace.
Again Wade makes a good statement about UE and then contradicts his own view. If he will believe and repent, he will be saved, for the Gospel is a “whosoever will” gospel.
Isn't believing and repenting conditions for election according to Wade? Over and over Wade suggest that embracing the Son and grace are conditions for election. The choice for regeneration rest with God's good pleasure from the foundation of the earth.

God knows no sinful man will naturally choose to repent and believe on His Son. Therefore He takes other steps, by His grace, to ensure that His Son will "see the travail of his soul and be satisfied." In other words, God will not allow His Son to die in vain. So God “unconditionally chooses” to change the hearts of literally thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand people, or what the Bible calls "an innumerable company." This doctrine of grace, often called Unconditional Election, simply teaches that God first loved us in order that we might love Him. If a man is to be justified through faith in Christ, and if no man can believe in Christ because his wicked heart desires no Lord but himself, then God must choose to perform spiritual heart surgery.
Regeneration, the new birth and quickening are all synonyms for this heart surgery God performs. Before a man will ever repent of his sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, he must be born again. This miraculous act of God, called "the new birth," is a work that He chooses to perform, and it is without conditions. (conditional on believing, repenting, embracing?)
Wade, do you believe that Regeneration, the new birth, takes place and then the regenerate repents and believes? If you do then you are a 'Calvinist' but if you believe that an enablement or awakening assist the sinner to repent and then he is born again then you do not truly believe in unconditional but rather conditional election. It does seem to me that there is no middle ground here either you believe in unconditional election or you don't. It seem that you believe this but then again you will contradict yourself by statements different to UE. Which is it?
You ask, “Why does He not choose to redeem and regenerate the heart of every sinner?” I respond, “Why does He choose to redeem and regenerate the heart of any sinner?” You ask, “Can a sinner believe on Jesus Christ without this work of grace in his heart?” I respond, “Will a sinner believe on Christ without this work of grace in his heart?”
You say a sinner will not believe without this work of grace in his heart. Again I ask, do you mean believing precedes this surgery or follows this surgery? If he will believe and repent, he will be saved, for the Gospel is a “whosoever will” gospel. Christ died as a substitute for a sinners who will trust in Him.
But when we see a sinner who is willing to believe in Christ, we give God the credit, "for in the day of His power, His people are made willing."I know some of you are saying, “But I thought God simply looked down through the ages and saw I would believe, and then He called me ‘elect’.” Frankly, it makes no difference to me if you believe God looked to the future and saw you would believe and then called you “elect,” or if you believe the traditional view that God graciously overcame your and stubbornness and enabled you to believe, as long as you believe the third doctrine of grace, which is the cardinal truth of Scripture: Christ died in the stead of His people.
Traditional view? I am inclined to believe that the traditional view is Calvinistic, orthodox. Where did this view "God overcame your stubbornness and enabled you to believe" originate? Wasn't it Wesley? I'm not sure myself but it is not the traditional view, I'm certain of that. You may mean that the current majority view of the SBC is the traditional view but that does not mean it is the Christian orthodox view. Your traditional SBC view is a mid-nineteenth century view. The traditional orthodox view is found in the reformation, Augustine and Pauline theology.
In other words, the death of Christ was a substitutionary death. Christ died as a substitute for sinners who will trust in Him. (conditional election)
He died in their place, and the righteous and pure anger of God due their sins was poured out on Him at Calvary.

Why is not everyone in Heaven? Because Christ did not die for the sinner who refuses to embrace Him. (conditional election)
To believe that Christ died for “the goats” as well as “the sheep” negates the symbolism of the Old Testament sacrifices and the direct teaching of both covenants of Scripture. Only the believing sinner had a substitutionary sacrifice. Only the sinner who laid his hands upon the sacrifice had the anger of God placated.
Wade, the whole nation of Israel had a substitutionary sacrifice, not just the 'believing' Jews. Was not this sacrifice unconditional? Did not the priest lay hands on the sacrifice that was to placate the wrath of God. The individual Jew just stood and watched! They observed what was done for them. It was truly substitutionary.
Christ died as a substitute for sinners who will trust in Him. If a sinner rejects his Creator, if he refuses to embrace the Son and if he dies while spitting in the face of the only Savior ever provided for sinners, then that sinner bears his own sin in hell.
Christ died for everyone of the elect. There are no qualifiers. God insures that everyone elected are regenerated and believing!
Wade, do you believe in original sin? The reason that men perish in hell is because of the sin of Adam. Actually a sinner can't reject his creator, refuse to embrace the Son and does not have proximity to the Savior to spit in His face. Really, only the regenerate can do these things. Don't you know of Christians who are doing these things today? Now come on, be honest!
...then the sinner bears his own sin in hell. The sins of every man will be punished; either at Calvary or in hell.Wade, do you still believe in original sin? The reason men perish in hell is because of the sin of Adam. If you believe in limited/particular atonement/redemption then it is true that the sins of every man will be punished either at Calvary or in hell. The elect will be saved from Adam's destiny. The non-elect will be passed over to destruction.
It is the historic position of most who hold to the doctrines of grace that Christ atoned for the sins of all infants who die in infancy and the mentally challenged who die in their retardation. Thus, infants who die in infancy and those without mental capacity are in heaven, not because they are innocent (death is only for the guilty, and all died in Adam), but because Christ died for them and the Holy Spirit graciously regenerates them.
Historic position, tradition? The belief that election is unconditional and that it includes infants and mentally challenged goes back to the Bible!
With the exception of infants who die in infancy and imbeciles, the unbelieving sinner will be punished for his own sins in an eternal hell. But those who trust Christ will be delivered.
Your belief implies that there are two ways to be saved. One way for infants and the mentally challenged and another for unbelieving sinners. Actually the T in TULIP implies that the sinner is not just hopefully lost but is also helplessly lost, no better no worst than the infant or mentally challenged. There is only one way of salvation for all.
Often times this doctrine is called “Particular Redemption” to emphasize that not all men will be redeemed (universalism), but that only the bride of Christ, the church of God, believers, those who trust Christ, are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (i.e. "the death of Christ"). True, Wade, YOU JUST DON'T SAY IT CONSISTENTLY.

Every sinner experiences the grace of God in some form or fashion, for the sun rises on the righteous and the wicked.
There seems to be a hint of Pelagianism in this statement. It conflicts with total depravity and seems to affirm general atonement. Because the sun is shining on everyone doesn't mean the light of the Son is shining in everyone. John 1:9 is often quoted without 1:10 ...the world knew him not. It doesn't say the world rejected the light, it did not comprehend the light. The only ones who rejected the light was the ones who knew him covenantly, Israel, his own. Everyone is hindered from experiencing the grace of God because of Adam, they comprehend it not. The ones who should have comprehended it, Israel, willfully rejected it. Those outside of the covenant had no will to reject it. Why, Adam's sin. This is justice and mercy. Think about this Wade, the only ones rejecting the grace and the light today are the regenerate. They have the will to do so. The truth that we can be regenerate, repent and be baptized and go on to reject the truth and live a lie is a neglected truth. The passages we quote to the sinner are actually directed to you and me! In the meanwhile the Holy Spirit is busy regenerating sinners who are brought into the same quandary we have built and we make them worst for having been born!

The preaching of the Gospel is an act of grace, as is being born into a Christian family, as is living in a nation that is Christian. However, as we have already seen, sinners are so wicked that all of these advantages are null and void to them. The sinner hears the Gospel but he is deaf spiritually.
The sinner is like the infant, it hears but does not understand. If it was a case of an adult without hearing he would have an alternative to hearing ie. sign language. He has the ability to understand, the sinner doesn't. The sinner is hindered not just by the degree of wickedness but by the sin of Adam. The source of his inability is Adam, the wickedness is just a by-product. Your statement again implies that the infant and mentally challenged are excused from justice and automatically have mercy. All have sinned and Christ's death atoned the elect, emotionally we would like to think the mentally challenged have mercy but that is not our judgement to make. That resides with God alone.
The sinner is commanded to repent and believe but he is a rebel at heart. Therefore it takes a wonderful work of the Holy Spirit to change his heart and cause him to be willing.
Am I am wasting my time repeating what I feel is important. The sinner is not rebellious. He does not have it in him to be rebellious. He may rebel toward our offers of repentance, that only means he is tired of us. I sympathise with him in that and I grow weary with the Christians trying to convert the sinner. I have been third party too many times to a pal trying to convert a sinner and I just want to say, "close the pie hole!" He doesn't comprehend that he is offensive to God. That understanding comes with regeneration and rebellion is a practice of the regenerate toward God's. Wade, will we ever get this straight?
The fourth doctrine of grace is usually called “Irresistible Grace.” A better adjective would be the word effectual rather than irresistible. God’s grace is often resisted, but the Holy Spirit is an effectual worker. He gets the job done.
Does He still get the job done when you resist him, you do resist him, don't you? Isn't this the same with the sinner who is regenerated? Now does the unregenerate really resist the Holy Spirit? If you believe he does who is convincing you of this? Is it the voice of the flesh arguing against truth and insisting that man has free will? I believe that the commandment is plain and obvious and should be discerned by the spiritual. This is an oracle of the Lord. I Cor 14:36-38

As the appendix to the 1646 London Baptist Confession of Faith states in Article VII, “The Spirit of God doth not compel a man to believe against his will, but doth powerfully and sweetly create in a man a new heart, and so makes him to believe and obey willingly.”
This was compiled in a day when men understood biblical grace. The Spirit does not compel a sinner against his will. Drawing and compelling are two different operations. You are familiar I'm sure with R. C. Sproul's illustration of drawing water out of a well. You do not compell water to come to the top! You lower a bucket and dip it into the water and pull the rope till the bucket reaches the top. You do not woo the water up!
So if you have a loved one who is a hardened sinner, a rebel toward the things of God, the absolute most important thing you can do for him is pray
We are most certainly encouraged to pray for the salvation of the lost. Wade, what do you pray?

What is a "hardened sinner"? It is probablly a sinner who is tired of being bomblasted by a saved relative every Thanksgiving and Christmas! Anxious believers who do more harm than good. Psalms 37:1
God can save our families and nation without our prayers, but it seems He chooses not to save unless we pray, lest we take credit for the salvation of the lost ourselves.
When we pray for the lost our prayers are directed toward the lord of the harvest. In my church when a general altar call is given I pray that the unregenerate will not respond in confusion.

Finally, the fifth doctrine of grace is called “The Perseverance or Preservation of the Saints.” Perseverance simply means a graced person keeps on believing in Christ and keeps on repenting of sin until he dies. Preservation is the divine side of perseverance and simply means He who began a good work in you will carry it on until the day of Christ.
I agree with this statement however I want to point out the problem with conditional atonement is that if a decision is the condition of salvation it can be the sourse of a later denial.
If we can accept Christ we can later reject him. Of course we both know that is not true but you are flirting with conditional salvation as is most Evangelical s today. What is happening is conditional beliefs mean that in many cases pseudo-regeneration takes place and many who thought that they were saved are not really saved and later give up.

Hell is experienced because the sinner refuses to obey God. What about the sin of Adam?
IF the sinner were to obey God fully and completely He would be embraced by God. This is Paul's argument in Romans 1-3. If we loved God, kept His commandments, and willinging embraced His Lordship over our lives, then we would be right with Him.
We experience hell because we refuse to embrace God for who He is.
So, if we are in hell, it is our fault, not God's. If, however, we embrace the Savior who delivers His people from hell, then we have been redeemed by God from experiencing His wrath. So the fault for hell is our own. The credit for escaping it goes to God. The credit goes to God if we are saved and if we perish the credit goes to Adam. We suffer the consequences of his sin. We are born sinners. It is not the degree of wickedness that we have done that gets us into hell it is the result of Adam's sin. Hitler, infants and the mentally challenged are in need of a savior. We are not just hopefully lost but helplessly lost.
There are no degrees of lostness.

Now, some wish to say that the everlasting, unconditional love of God is upon every sinner. If it is, then I can guarantee you that everyone will be in heaven, because the love of God redeems, regenerates and restores that which is broken.
In other words, universalism is based on the belief that God's redemptive love is upon everyone. But the Scripture says that God has redemptive, eternal love for His people.

"You shall call his name Jesus for he SHALL save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Now, the million dollar question is a simple one: Who are His people? The answer: Those who will embrace Jesus Christ, for the evidence of God's love is the willingness to kiss His Son. (conditional atonement)
"But you are saying I can't kiss Jesus unless God loves me enough to overcome my stubborn selfishness, my desires to sin and rebel against Him, and my naturally hard heart. You say I can't accept Christ unless God brings me to brokenness and gives to me the ability to love Him because I've come to the end of myself. Right?"Right. So I ask you. "Do you desire Him to break you of your self-love, your longing for sin, and bring to you a love for Christ and the things of God?"If you say, "Yes! I want God to do that in my life." (conditional atonement and prevenient, enabling grace)
Then I say on the authority of God's Word, He will, because He never turns a deaf ear to a helpless sinner who calls to Him. (conditional atonement)
He is leaving you alone."I guess, Stephen, the answer to your question lies at the very heart of true salvation or deliverance. God does NOT violate your will, for "The Spirit of God doth not compel a man to believe against his will, but doth powerfully and sweetly create in a man a new heart, and so makes him to believe and obey willingly.” The London confession is not dealing with the response of God toward the sinner but the regenerate. I think that many today are assuming for personal convenience that this confession is toward the sinner. The hypo-Calvinist want it to be so but the London Confession follows closely the tenets of Calvinism in Dortian fashion. They also want to reinterpret Dort as well.
Good point Darby.I, like Luther, think the better adjective for the will is "the bondage of the will" in the sense our wills are in bondage to the desires of our hearts.I sometimes do an experiment with my people during Bible study. I ask how many are on a diet. After a show of hands, I make them a friendly bet. I tell them that I can, with 100% accuracy, tell them what they will choose next time they are tempted to eat a piece of cake or a bowl of ice cream. I will tell them, with 100% accuracy, whether they will choose to eat the goodies or they will choose to say no to the cake and ice cream. Then I give them the punch line. They will always choose what is the greatest desire in their hearts at the time. The chooser always follows the inclination of the heart. NOBODY forces the will - this is what theologians mean when they say we are "free moral agents." We choose what we desire.The only fallacy with your McDonald's illustration is that God has set before a sinner how he can be right with God. He can fully, perfectly and eternally keep His laws. The fact that the man or woman CHOOSES to violate those laws is an indictment on the desires of our hearts. We are in bondage to our sinful nature, and we need deliverance from it. Sometimes people choose to reform themselves, but "what thaws in the sun will once again freeze in the shade."What is needed is a change of nature, and this is what God brings to the helpless sinner who cries out to Him.
Thu Dec 04, 11:08:00 AM 2008

Wade, the fact is that a man and woman are born with the consequences of Adam's sin. It is not insignificant that a man violates the law but he does what is his nature to do naturally not willingly. He is not just in bondage to his sinful nature but is in bondage to the prince of the power of the air. He is in Satan's hold.

The 'helpless' sinner cannot cry out to God. He is like an infant who hears but does not have the ability to understand. That is helpless. I have a retarded cousin who is just a few months my age. She is like an infant she hears well but has no intelligent understanding of what anyone says. She is helpless and has been so for over 62 years.
Excellent point SL1M,When people see the obedience, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that which saves His people, then we can easily see that faith and repentance of gifts from God who, having given us His Son, will likewise give us all gifts associated with Him. Babies who die in infancy and the mentally challenged are redeemed the same way all sinners are redeemed; through the obedience, death and resurrection of Christ for His people. God simply has chosen to redeem them without giving to them the gifts of faith and repentance for they lived short or challenged lives where those gifts could not be manifested.
Thu Dec 04, 11:21:00 AM 2008

Wade Burleson said...
And the adult sinner, who wonders whether or not he or she can be saved, we simply point them to Christ and say, "He is the only one who can deliver you. Ask Him, and He will."Or ignore Him and He won't.
Thu Dec 04, 11:22:00 AM 2008

Wade, you can't have it both ways, either salvation is unconditional as it is with infants and rely on the mercy of God or it is conditional as with responsible adults with cooperation with God in receiving mercy and infants are left in a state of limbo.

For anyone who has read this far I have used Sam Storms' book: "Chosen For Life" as a guide for analysis. Pages 215-219 gives a good summary of the different views of Calvinism as to God's decrees.

My belief is the High Supralapsarianism view. Wade is being analysized by a high Calvinist which adds to the bias of the review! In my opinion Wade is an Ammyraldian Infralapsarian, a four point or less Calvinist. This view is also called hypo-Calvinism, hypothetical universalism. This is the view IMO of the vast majority of Evangelical Calvinist today. A hypo-Calvinist cannot be a five point-Calvinist.

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