Among the charges, Rolley accuses Calvinists of consigning all non-Calvinists to heathendom for being “culpably . . . obstinately . . . heretically resistant” to the truth, and that to take the Reformed view of faith in salvation “is to take our eyes off Christ and His finished work...”
Most of Calvinism itself, he contends, is “utterly bankrupt.” And he suggests that to believe it is to glory in something other than the cross of Christ.
Rolley’s response to my article seems odd, especially since the intention and message of my article was to call Christians from all traditions—Calvinist, Arminian and Catholic alike—to embrace their common, historic theology of sin. In furthering this end, I even quoted Jacob Arminius, founder of Arminian theology and Calvin’s chief opponent in history.
Now, I’m not interested in making a full defense of Reformed Theology here. As a freshly minted Calvinist, I lack the training or credentials to speak with any authority. But like Rolley, I can recall years on the opposing team, and a firm (if ill-informed) conviction that Christians who believed otherwise had been seriously hoodwinked. There was even a time when I called what I now cherish heresy.
Nevertheless, through the patient effort of friends, my study of the Scriptures, and deepened understanding of history, I eventually admitted that my salvation—like that of every true believer—rests upon the rock of God’s sovereign choice, not my works or willingness. And though everything in my flesh hated the thought, I had to confess that, unless the words of Romans 8, 9, 10 and 11, John 6 and 17, and Ephesians 1 and 2 are unintelligible, God chose me, not because of anything in me or about me but purely “for the pleasure of his will,” and “for the praise of his glorious grace.” (Ephesians 1:5-6)
But most importantly, like Charles H. Spurgeon, I realized that nothing save God’s irresistible grace could account for the reconciliation of a sinner as stubborn as I am:
“Looking back on my past life,” Spurgeon writes, “I can see that the dawning of it all was of God; of God effectively. . . . I did not commence my spiritual life—no, I rather kicked, and struggled against the things of the Spirit: when He drew me, for a time I did not run after Him: there was a natural hatred in my soul of everything holy and good. Wooings were lost upon me—warnings were cast to the wind—thunders were despised; and as for the whispers of His love, they were rejected as being less than nothing and vanity. But, sure I am, I can say now, speaking on behalf of myself, 'He only is my salvation.'”
Is faith “by its very nature, a repudiation of works” as Rolley insists? Yes. But this is only half of the story. Scripture makes it clear that even our cry of faith, by which we surrender to God’s grace our attempts at self-justification, is itself a gift of grace.
Contrary to Rolley’s generalizations, Calvinists do not view as rebels or heretics those brothers and sisters who lack a full understanding of God’s sovereign grace. The Lord's decision to save us does not depend upon our compete comprehension of that salvation. This is why I expect to meet in Heaven anyone whose faith rests in Christ alone—whether they be Reformed, Arminian, Catholic, Protestant, or whatever our friend Rolley is.
But as fully as I count my non-Calvinist brethren among God’s elect, I can no longer confess any Gospel but the one which so plainly leaps from the pages of Scripture—the Gospel of sovereign, unmerited, unsought grace which Isaac Watts so beautifully immortalized in his hymn, “How Sweet and Awesome is the Place”:
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
"Lord, why was I a guest?"
"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?"
'Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May, with one voice and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
For the curious seeking further reading on this subject, I commend to you three of the resources which changed my heart and mind: Charles Spurgeon’s A Defense of Calvinism, a brief (and powerful) video from R. C. Sproul laying the foundation of sovereign grace in salvation, and a sermon from pastor Jim McClarty on total atonement.