2010 Ligonier National Conference - Burk Parsons
Reverend Burk Parsons serves as associate minister at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, Fla., and he is editor of Tabletalk. He holds the Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, where he is also completing his Doctor of Ministry degree. He speaks regularly at various conferences and schools in the United States and abroad and has contributed to various books and journals. He is author of the forthcoming booklet Why Do We Have Creeds? (P&R, 2010), and he is editor of the books Assured by God and John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology. Rev. Parsons brought a message entitled Is Calvinism Good For the Church?
There has been a stream of interest in Calvinism in recent years. Time magazine and Christianity Today both mentioned “the new Calvinism” as an important new trend. Some think that the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement is a fad that will come and go. But Rev. Parsons thinks otherwise, because God’s truth does not return void. Reformation is indeed going out throughout the country and the world.
Yet the Rev. Parsons has not primarily referred to himself as a Calvinist. He does not believe that Calvin or Jesus Christ would like it. We need to rethink our Calvinism; we ought not to promote a man, but the only God-man, Jesus Christ our Savior.
Dr. MacArthur helped us understand salvific Calvinism from Romans 9. True, MacArthur wasn’t working out a full-orbed Reformed perspective; he was looking only at God’s sovereignty in salvation. We have important differences, we speakers here at the Ligonier National Conference. Yet we all agree on the God of the Bible - we have a common doctrinal thread: We herald the God who is sovereign over all. God is God.
Charles Spurgeon, “Calvinism is the gospel and nothing else…..Simply put, Calvinism is the belief that God saves sinners.” Yet John Wesley said, “Calvinism represents the one true God as worse than the devil.”
This is Rev. Parsons’ 15th Ligonier Conference. He wrestled mightily with Calvinism. He too thought that Calvinism was a distortion. Yet he learned that theology must come from God. If theology does not come from God, and if it does not lead us back to God, then it is not sound theology. What we’re being sold today is a theology that comes from men. We need a Bible Calvinism. We need a theology that drives us to our knees. It has been said that Calvinism is Christianity on its knees. But it begins as a Calvinism with Christ on His knees.
THOSE GIVEN TO THE SON BY THE FATHER
In John 17 we find the high priestly prayer of Jesus Christ. Jesus begins that prayer with, “…glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (vs. 1-2). Jesus consistently referred to His people as those given to Him by the Father. In John 6, Jesus repeatedly made this point, “It is only the Father drawing sinners which can lead to our coming to Christ.”
We often have so little appreciation for the depth of our depravity. We come into this world dead on arrival. We resist Christ, and we have no desire to come to Him. In our natural state, we hate God. When He came in human flesh, we killed Him.
And what is eternal life? “That they might know you the only true God.” Not just have nice thoughts, or experience “your best life now”. But rather to know the true and living God, and to be with Him face-to-face again. Not just living perpetually, but living in an entirely different way.
JOHN 17:6 ” I HAVE MANIFESTED YOUR NAME…”
But didn’t Jesus tell everyone the truth? Yes, and many left in droves. But He manifested God to His own, to those whom the Father gave to Him. And notice the past tense here: “They were Yours.” He didn’t say, “They are Yours.” No, the true disciples of Jesus were God the Father’s all along.
This is another strand of biblical evidence that God did not look down the corridor of time and recognize that the conditions were right for us to believe in Jesus. No, God overcame our stubbornness and drove us to our knees and said, “You are mine. I loved you from all eternity.”
Jesus said hard words. Of those who did not believe and receive Him, He said they were already condemned. Of those who believed and received Him, Jesus said, “They were yours.”
Here in John 17, Jesus prays for His own, not the world. He prays that God will keep them. He does not simply pray that they will be joyful. He is not even praying that they would have joy because of the works which await them. He prays that His disciples would have His joy. Likewise, we take on His yoke, and that’s why it is light — Jesus has already accomplished salvation. He lived a perfect life on our behalf.
We often think about definite atonement and look around our neighborhood and think surely our neighbors are reprobate. If it were up to us, half the world would be reprobate. Anyone we’ve ever quarreled with would be reprobate. But we don’t truly appreciate the gospel unless we recognize that Osama Bin Laden could be the elect of God. God can truly save anyone.
SANCTIFY THEM IN THE TRUTH
Jesus prays for the sanctification of His people. We need the gospel just as much today as when we were converted. Our obedience — our personal holiness — is important. God is displeased when we sin, but He doesn’t hold us at arm’s length. In Fatherly love, He invites us to come to Him. Only God’s loving hand of chastisement will help us to mortify sin. It is a daily gospel need.
When we understand Calvinism, we can rely on God’s means of grace to accomplish God’s goals (our sanctification and the extending of God’s kingdom). Prayer, reading Scripture, the Lord’s supper. We don’t need to fall into loving the worldly methods. The means that God has given us are in His word.
Jesus isn’t just praying for His present disciples. He prays for the future generations of disciples — those who will hear the Word by the means of our bringing it to them, and will repent and believe in Jesus. God is working through the Word we bring to others, and He draws and saves.
To what end? The end of our salvation is that God would be glorified. So Jesus prays that the world would believe that God sent Him. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” It is an amazing thing — God loves His people as He loves His own son.
IS CALVINISM GOOD FOR THE CHURCH?
Calvinism is biblical, so we could say, “If it is biblical, it must be good for the church.” Many however, view the whole Calvinism - Arminianism debate as a mystery: Why bother? We cannot figure it out! Surely, God’s mind is beyond us! But God’s word pushes us, and reveals hard things, forcing us to grapple with the depth of our depravity and just how lost we were when God saved, bringing us into His marvelous light.
Yet we are called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light in order that we might go back into the darkness to help others see the light. How are we to conduct ourselves? Ephesians 4:1-2: “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” We ought to be patient and loving to Christians who are saved by a happy inconsistency, not yet embracing the truths that we have learned (just as we, once, did not yet embrace these things).
Strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should watch how we speak about other Christians; we will be spending eternity with them. We are to speak the truth in love. True Calvinism is good for the church, because that which makes us know God more ought to make us love God more, and that which makes us love God more ought to make us love our neighbors more.
If your Calvinism doesn’t make you love God and neighbor more, then your Calvinism is not biblical. It is not about wearing a badge or a T-shirt to give evidence that you really are a Calvinist. It is about living our entire lives for God’s glory, to make Him known through our words and deeds.