Our 144th week of episodes comes to an end with a question to us from podcast listener Benjamin: Pastor John, in his Defense of Calvinism, Charles Spurgeon shares this:
"There is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus."
Now, I love Spurgeon — he is one of my most valued teachers. But it seems as though this would render, if true, ineffective the gospel that Arminians preach. What is your opinion? Can an Arminian preach the gospel effectively — Christ and him crucified?
Okay, I love Spurgeon too. And as he was unpacking those points about the foundations and the riches and the heights of gospel truth, I was saying, Amen!
So can an Arminian preach the gospel effectively?
My answer: Yes, he can.
- He didn’t ask: Can an Arminian preach the gospel fully?
- He didn’t ask: Can an Arminian preach the gospel without implicit or explicit theological defects?
- He didn’t ask: Can an Arminian preach the gospel without tendencies that lead the church in harmful directions?
- He didn’t ask: Can an Arminian preach the gospel in the most Christ-exalting way?
And my answer to all those questions would be: No, they can’t.
What he asked was: Can an Arminian preach the gospel effectively? Which I take to mean: Can an Arminian speak enough of gospel truth so that God is willing to use it to save sinners? And the answer to that is: Yes.
An Arminian can preach the gospel, but he cannot do so fully or without defects.
Now, let me say something about why I say this, because this is important. We need to not under-state or over-state the issues here. Why do I say that? Spurgeon said, “There is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism.” And then he unpacks some of what Calvinism means.
The problem with this way of saying it is that it creates an unrealistic picture of what really happens in preaching. He treats gospel preaching as all there or not there at all. And when he says it this way, it is misleading, because, in fact, preachers — Arminian and Calvinist — always preach aspects of the gospel in different ways of saying the gospel with different emphases on the gospel. And all of us use language in preaching that at least sometimes is not perfectly clear as to whether the words that we are using carry a Calvinistic meaning or an Arminian meaning. They could go either way, depending on what you are intending by the words. We don’t always specify. We can’t. We can’t qualify that often.
So whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian, you can’t qualify every sentence you speak as you preach Christ to make sure that every sentence carries a distinctive Calvinist or a distinctive Arminian meaning, which means that the same Bible sentences about the death and the resurrection of Jesus will be quoted by both preachers — both Calvinists and Arminians — and God can use those Bible sentences to save sinners, even if all the Arminian or all the Calvinist implications of those sentences are not made explicit.
So here is the gospel. Let’s see if a Calvinist and an Arminian could say what I am about to say. I am going to preach the gospel now.
God is a glorious, all-holy, all-righteous, all-just God, and he created us for his glory. All people have sinned by not living for the glory of God, but preferring other things over God and, thus, dishonoring God. And we are by nature rebellious and we cannot change ourselves without divine help. Therefore, we are all under the just and holy wrath of God. We will all perish eternally if we cannot be saved from his wrath.
“God gave his Son to bear our sins and to endure the wrath of all those who believe on him.”
But God in his mercy has sent his own Son into the world, Jesus Christ, to bear the sins and to endure the wrath of all those who believe on him. Faith alone unites us to Christ so that his death counts for us and his righteousness can be imputed to us. Everyone, therefore, no matter how terrible your background has been, no matter what your ethnicity is, or intelligence, or gender, or socio-economic status, or family background, everyone who believes — simply believes — on Jesus, that is, receives him as Savior and Lord and Treasure will be saved and have eternal life. So turn from your sins and give up all self-reliance and trust in Jesus.
End of gospel presentation.
Now I think both an Arminian and a Calvinist can say every word that I just spoke. Now, of course, we know that at several points in that gospel presentation our beliefs will take us in different directions as we explain those sentences, and those differences really do matter as people grow in faith. Calvinism and Arminianism are not a matter of indifference, but even before we make those differences clear, these gospel sentences are true as they stand and God can make them effective in the mouth of both Calvinists and Arminians.
The differences between Calvinism and Arminianism are important, but both can declare gospel truths.
This is a crucial statement: What people, who are hearing the gospel, believe when they hear those sentences — what they believe about what God really is like — that will become clear as people are taught the fuller and deeper truth. And if the God they believed in, the God that appeared to them as glorious and desirable, proves not to be the true God and the true Christ of the Bible, that will become plain as truth is unfolded to them. And the false believers will be revealed, and the true believers will be confirmed.
So my answer is: Yes, in this sense that I have just tried to unpack, an Arminian can preach the gospel effectively — Christ and him crucified.