In Response to Dr. Leighton Flowers’ “The 5 Points that Led Me Out of Calvinism”

In Response to Dr. Leighton Flowers’ “The 5 Points that Led Me Out of Calvinism”

Introduction

Dr. Flowers, Adjunct Professor of Theology for Trinity Seminary, has become an ardent opponent to “Calvinistic” beliefs. Once an avid supporter of Calvinistic principles, he has “seen the light” and has adopted a hodgepodge of various teachings which he has compiled into his own soteriological philosophy. An article he authored in 2014 has been making its rounds on social media sites of late. The article, [The 5 Points that Led Me Out of Calvinism], presents five viewpoints which he uses to dispute sound doctrine. The following is a retort to his mistaken and misleading article.

Point 1: “I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation. “

Flowers has adopted what is known as “The Corporate View of Election”. He notes its popularity among many Southern Baptists. The best way to understand what he means by this viewpoint is to read his own summary, [The Corporate View of Election]. Simply put, Flowers’ idea of election “refers to God choosing in Christ a people whom he destines to be holy and blameless in his sight”. This means that the doctrine of Election is quite generic in the sense that God “elected” “a” church, “a” bride, for His Christ. Anyone who wants to be a part of that bride can come on in. While that sounds good superficially, it dangerously removes the individuality of the believer and the fact that God knows and chooses the Elect individually — not corporately or collectively.
As a moral defense of this doctrine, Flowers says, “In fact, one could argue that it is MUCH more personal because it is a choice of an individual WITH ALL THEIR SIN IN FULL VIEW.  Calvinistic election to salvation is said to take place prior to the creation of the world and without any regard to the personhood, choices, actions of the individual.  What is more impersonal than that? Ask any woman if she would rather be loved by a man who chose her based on a prearrangement with her parents without regard to anything about her personally before she was born, OR a man who knew her fully, faults and all, and chose to love her anyway!”
In this defense, he ties the noose with which his doctrine hangs itself. By supposing Corporate Election to be more personal and intimate than being chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), Flowers ignores the omnipresence (“always present”) and omniscience (“all knowing”) of God. God’s omnipresence and omniscience are not limited by time. God does not have to “look into the future” and he certainly doesn’t need to “wait” like we do for the passing of time. God knows the future because He is there. While God’s election has nothing to do with “personhood, choices, or actions of the individual” (as Flowers puts it), that in no way means that He does not know us personally — our character, our personalities, our features, and even our flaws. Rather, He knows all about us. He knew about us and He knew us individually before we were born (Jeremiah 1:5). Contrary to Flowers’ Corporate View of Election, the Bible Doctrine of Election teaches that God determined to save the Elect, individually and out of no merit of their own, while knowing everything about us — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Point 2: “I came to understand the distinction between the doctrine of Original Sin (depravity) and the Calvinistic concept of ‘Total Inability.’”

In his second point, Flowers takes objection to Paul’s doctrine in 2 Corinthians 4:3,4 that the lost are blind to the gospel. In short, Flowers takes opposition to the notion that a person cannot come to God on their own. The doctrine of the Total Depravity of man says that man is so lost and so depraved that, apart from being drawn of God, there is no way that he would ever turn to God for salvation (John 6:44). Flowers categorically denies this truth. His fuel for doing so is by trying to demonstrate “determinative means to ensure His sovereign purposes in electing Israel.” This means Flowers believes God qualifies individuals based on something within them — moral, personal, physical, etc. This implies a limit to the sovereignty of God in that He must make decisions based on “what he has to work with” or that God must work within the constraints of this world. This is in direct contradiction to His omniscience, omnipresence, and His omnipotence (having all power). Man is not capable of picking himself up by his own bootstraps and coming to God. Man is completely and utterly lost and undone without God. There is no good and no righteousness in His fallen creation — not a seed or a spark. God does not choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen.

Point 3: “I realized that the decision to humble yourself and repent in faith is not meritorious. Even repentant believers deserve eternal punishment.”

This argument is a straw man that vainly implies Calvinists teach that repentance is an act that merits God’s favor. This idea would be in direct contradiction to the first principle of Calvinism that Flowers has a problem with — Total Depravity. ‘Nuff said. Let’s move on.

Point 4: “I accepted the fact that a gift doesn’t have to be irresistibly applied in order for the giver to get full credit for giving it.”

This argument is also a straw man with no basis nor much need for a response. Flowers’ attempt to flank the Calvinistic principle of Irresistible Grace is based on the straw man or false argument that Calvinists are prideful that they are too depraved to be saved without God working a change. Flowers calls it boastful and considers it prideful to declare that one is utterly damned and lost and that out of nothing they did other than believe, God has been merciful and bestowed grace and salvation. That notion is in stark contrast to being prideful or boastful. There is nothing conceited, pompous, or egotistical in a lost sheep being found by the Master.

Point 5: “I came to understand that sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God that would be compromised  by the existence of free moral creatures.”

Flowers says, “One point that really helped me to understand the apparent contradiction of this debate was realizing the divine attribute of sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God.” God has three immutable attributes. These never change. They are omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. Flowers erroneously claims that God is not currently sovereign over his creation. He does so because he cannot reconcile the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Flowers goes on to imply that (hang on for this), “the Calvinist denies God’s eternal attribute of omnipotence in his effort to protect the temporal attribute of sovereignty”. He then goes on to use Scripture references about the powers of this world and the pending judgment to come. In this folly, Flowers has obviously forgotten that Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. An omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God has never NOT gotten His way.

Summary

Early in his article, Flowers quotes Aristotle. Aristotle is known as the father of Aristotelian or Boolean Logic. Flowers’ argument collapses upon itself as being illogical. He clearly does not comprehend the unity of the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Additionally, his overall perspective of God seems to be that of a “watcher” or observer who must accept things as they turn out to be rather than one who truly entangles Himself in the pursuance of men’s souls.
God’s work did not end at Calvary, the risen tomb, or at the ascension on the Mount of Olives. His work continues today on Earth through the Holy Spirit who is, as Francis Thompson said it, that Hound of Heaven who pursues us down the nights and down the days, down the arches of the years, down the labyrinth ways of my own mind and in the mist of tears. Thompson, in his great poem talks about the strong feet that followed after but with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed and majestic instancy until Thompson found himself tracked and caught by the Hound of Heaven.
We serve a big God. We serve a sovereign God. Calvinism is not what is at stake in Flowers’ article. It is the very definition and understanding of who God is and how relevant He is in our lives on a daily basis as well as in salvation. Professor Flowers presents a theology in his article where God’s attributes are diminished and man’s is elevated. The man that Jesus called “great” said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

We Have a Works Salvation Where God Does All the Work

Romans 10:13-17 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

In this Scripture, we see how to be saved. Additionally, we see the work of salvation. Salvation requires works, but all of these works are done by God and not man. In order to be saved, one must call upon Christ. How can one do so unless they believe? How can one believe unless he has heard? How can one hear without a messenger? How can there be a messenger unless he is sent? Let us then review the work of God in salvation:

  1. God gives the messenger.
  2. God gives the message.
  3. God gives faith upon hearing the message.
  4. God enables us to believe through the faith He has given.
  5. God draws us to Himself.
  6. God imputes righteousness upon the believer.

Now we shall consider our part:

  1. Believe

That is all we must do. Full provision has already been made for our souls. Every arrangement is in order. There is no wonder as to why the writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote:

Hebrews 2:3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;

Knowing that salvation is not of our works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:9), we can be secure in our salvation because it is God who has done all the work. Our part is but to accept Him. If you have not yet done so, please call on Him now before it is too late.

From the pastor,

Jonathan Burris

A Personal Blessing at Autumn Care

Today’s visit to Autumn Care was one of the most eventful times in my 20 years of ministry. As always, we had a good showing from the church. Some were missing due to sickness, but Pastor Terry Warren and his family showed up for a visit and joined in the service. I suggested that their attendance become commonplace. We routinely have between 12 and 15 residents, staff, and family to attend our services. Today’s attendance dwarfed the average. The dining room as full.

I came into the service with no clear direction for a message. I had begun to get peace on a thought at lunch, and as the group sang, The Lord gave me a thought on Psalm 63:

[1] O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; [2] To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. [3] Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. [4] Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. [5] My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: [6] When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. [7] Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. — Psalm 63:1-7 KJV

The Lord blessed in a marvelous way. I felt liberty and power like I had not experienced in years. I can only compare it to one other service I was in many years ago shortly after the start of my ministry in 1994. After the service, an African American visitor told my wife that “I preached like a black preacher”. She hoped we would not be offended by such a statement. I understood completely what she was implying and it was a humbling comment that made my day more than she will ever know. She was so sweet. She shared a personal note with me and Mrs. Jennifer that warmed our hearts. God met a need in her life today through the ministry of New Center Christian Church and He also used that thoughtful Christian lady to be a tremendous blessing to me.

I went with the intentions of worshipping and hoping to be a blessing and I ended up being the one greatly blessed.

— JB