Monday, October 13, 2014

An Open Letter to Ron Vietti and Jim Crews (Revised)

Dear Ron and Jim,

Your message entitled "Exposing Calvinism" has certainly made its rounds this past week. As one of the local Calvinist pastors who was essentially called a "wolf," who was said to be teaching a "doctrine of demons," and who was called a "heretic on steroids," I decided I should at least give some form of response. I have no intent in beginning a debate with you on Facebook. We all know those are rarely productive or generous. I hope to accomplish 5 objectives: 1) Provide a direct answer to your main question, 2) offer an apology, 3) give you a commendation, 4) suggest a few corrections, and 5) issue a few challenges.

1). Since there is some fear that Calvinist pastors around town may keep their views a "dirty little secret," let me start this by answering your primary question (or at least my paraphrase of it), "do you believe in predestination as Calvin taught it?" Yes. I absolutely believe Calvin properly understood the Bible with regard to the doctrines of predestination and election. Further, I think Calvin properly understood the biblical teachings of the guilt and corruption of man, the effectual nature of God's grace, the particular nature of redemption, and the perseverance of the saints. I have read much of Calvin's work and rarely find much in his commentaries or theology with which I take issue. Have you read his work? I commend it to you.

2). I want to apologize to you if you believe I have somehow attacked you personally. I barely know either one of you. I don't ever remember attacking you personally. I remember our personal exchanges always being kind and respectful. I bear no personal animus toward either of you. I thank God for men I get to work alongside of whom you personally benefitted. I have certainly taken issue with some doctrines you have taught. I have found some of them to be not only erroneous, but heterodox. It saddens me to think that the largest church in town is teaching doctrine which is heterodox. I don't glory in these concerns. Further, I am not a fan of the modern tendency to make truth personal. Thus, I don't take my problems with your doctrine to be an attack on your person. I believe truth is external to us, which is why I don't take your recent message to be an attack against my person. With that said, if I have said or done something which you have taken as a personal attack, I sincerely apologize.

3). I want to commend you for attempting to protect the flock from what you consider a false gospel and blasphemy against the character of God. In a cultural moment when so many are afraid to love others by speaking against false doctrine, I am thankful you reject this kind of modernistic sentimentality and relativism. I am thankful you desire to refute those who contradict and to silence false teachers (Titus 1:9ff).

4). I don't have the intent of staging a debate in this letter, but I want to offer four corrections:

First, what you represented to be Calvinist doctrine is unrecognizable to me. As someone who holds to the historic reformed confessions and who reads Calvin, Turretin, Hodge, Shedd, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, Sproul, Piper etc fairly regularly, I don't recognize what you called "Calvinism." Is it possible you misunderstood Calvinism? The 9th commandment commands us not to bear false witness. I would say this applies to our friends, opponents and enemies. Please don't misunderstand me. You are free to provide assessments of my doctrine I don't agree with. However, when you say, "person A believes X, then person A should be able to heartily agree that X is what he believes." I have never read any Calvinist theologian who denies man has a real choice, nor that God loves all people. Can you point me to one? Have you read "Spurgeon versus the Hyper-Calvinists" by Ian Murray? I commend this book to you. It is published by the Banner of Truth. Spurgeon was a Calvinist who had to fight off Hyper-Calvinists who believed God's love was not for the whole world. These Hyper-Calvinists taught a doctrine called eternal justification and denied the need for evangelism, missions etc. This was a perversion of Calvinism, much like the open-theist perversion of Arminianism taught by Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock etc.

Second, when you spoke about election and monergistic regeneration you spoke as if these doctrines arose from Calvin. Luther taught these same doctrines more often than Calvin did (see Bondage of the Will). He was before Calvin. Aquinas taught this nearly 5 centuries before Calvin. Augustine taught the same 11 centuries before Calvin. I would argue Paul and Jesus taught them as well, but that's the real debate, isn't it?

Third, your history of Calvin's life was just false. The city council of Geneva put Servetus to death for the heresy of denying the Trinity. Calvin was not on the city council of Geneva. Calvin was a pastor in Geneva. Servetus was on the run from the Roman Catholic Church for this heresy. He wanted to flee to Geneva, largely because far less people were put to death there than in the rest of Europe. Calvin wrote him a letter warning him not to come because the city council would try him. Servetus did not take Calvin's counsel and came anyway. He was put to death. Calvin actually asked that the city council do so mercifully. Should Calvin have spoken out more strongly against the State church and the use of capital punishment for heresy? Sure. Does his lack of doing so make him guilty of putting Servetus to death? No.

Fourth, Calvinists don't believe most babies are going to Hell. We make no claim as to what percentage of people are elect. We make no claims to know who the elect are. Our historic confessions teach that infants who die in infancy go to Heaven. We believe whole-heartedly in evangelism, missions, and prayer. In fact, arguably the greatest evangelists and missionaries in the last several hundred years of history were Calvinists (George Whitefield, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon). I could multiply this list for some time, but I think the point is made.

5).  Finally, I want to challenge you in three regards:

First, I would challenge you to read Calvin himself. Buy a copy of the "Institutes of the Christian Religion." The translation by Battles is particularly good. Read through it slowly. I am happy to meet and discuss this book with you. Since you believe Calvin's doctrine is such a growing problem, wouldn't it be worthwhile to read him first hand? This would help you to protect the flock from his growing popularity. I would be willing to bet that you may disagree with him, but you will find him anything but a wolf.

Second, I challenge you to either privately or publicly begin meeting with me to discuss our differences. I think public discussions have huge advantages in helping our congregations learn how to think well. However, they also have the disadvantage of creating a more defensive atmosphere. We may rightly conclude after such conversations that the doctrine of the other person is in fact heresy. However, we are commanded to love each other well. I doubt talking at each other will ever accomplish that. The worst case outcome is that we gain certainty our suspicions are correct. You name the time and place, and I will do my best to be present.

Third, I challenge you to issue a direct and full apology to local Christian high schools. There is no evidence that the doctrine of any teacher at any Christian high school is increasing the likeliness of suicide among their students. This was an incredibly uncharitable, inflammatory, and unsubstantiated charge to make. Many of the teachers at these schools are sacrificing better pay and benefits and lots of emotional time and energy to help parents educate their Christian children. We ought rather to thank God for their work.

I look forward to discussing this with you more. If you disregard everything else I write here, I ask you to consider issuing an apology to local Christian high schools. Thank you for your consideration.

For His Glory,
Chad Vegas

Purpose for Revision: Jim Crews contacted me and pointed out that they never mentioned Bakersfield Christian High School by name. He asked that I change my letter. I am happy to oblige. Between minute 19 and minute 22 of their video they reference pastors in Bakersfield and then go on to discuss local Christian high schools. I made the assumption they were referencing BCHS because I am not aware of any other Christian high schools in Bakersfield. This was an unfair assumption on my part. I sincerely apologize for making that assumption. There certainly may be Christian high schools I have not heard of in Bakersfield. Thank you!


NancyG said...

Praying for preparation of their hearts to receive and respond

Jordan said...

Thank you. Good words, very gracious.

Terry T said...

Well said Brother, well said. I pray they will rise to the challenges.

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Derek said...

Umm...I believe this angelic-voiced quartet already settled this once and for all. Next topic, gentlemen.