What Love Is This? Introduction
Today we begin blogging through Dave Hunt’s What Love Is This? Our selections this time around are from the introductory chapter (“A Brief Word”). I will refer to each chapter by its name. I had originally planned to cover both the introduction and first chapter, but due to the volume of this response I will allow the introduction its own post. Let’s get started.
A Brief Word
This short, one page introduction reveals volumes about the perspective the author takes in this book. This is most apparent in the following quote:
Most shocking of all, however, is Calvinism’s misrepresentation of God who “is love.” It is our prayer that the following pages will enable readers to examine more carefully the vital issues involved and to follow God’s Holy Word and not man. (p. 13)
This is an ironic statement to me. Here we have a mere man claiming that a theological position is a misrepresentation of God, but in the same breath cautioning his readers not to follow the teaching of any man. This is a much overused statement in Christian circles today, one that we really need to get over. Paul was just a man, yet (if we are not liberals or Emergents) we don’t say we need to listen to Jesus (or “the words in red”) and not some man. Our pastors are mere men, yet we don’t say we don’t need to listen to them! Dave Hunt is a fallible man, yet he expects his readers to take his word on Calvinism as Gospel truth. He makes a statement and expects his readers to agree with him, not just to “examine more carefully the vital issues.”
Interestingly, in this brief introduction Hunt claims that
Many sincere, Bible-believing Christians are “Calvinists” only by default. Thinking that the only choice is between Calvinism (with its presumed doctrine of eternal security) and Arminianism (with its teaching that salvation can be lost), and confident of Christ’s promise to keep eternally those who believe in Him, they therefore consider themselves to be Calvinists. (p. 13)
Not only is this claim not true, it is an incredible assumption. If we are to make an assumption about the theological leanings of “many sincere, Bible-believing Christians,” the proper assumption to make is that they are not Calvinists. Expecially given Hunt’s follow-up claim that “It takes only a few simple questions to discover that most Christians are largely unaware of what John Calvin and his early followers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries actually believed and practiced.” If these people are “unaware” of what Calvinism believes, is it not a logical leap to say these people are “Calvinists by default?” I myself have always believed in eternal security, but that did not and does not make me a Calvinist. All it means is that I agree with the Calvinist position, no more! On top of that, I (and likely most “sincere, Bible-believing Christians”) was unaware there was such thing as a “Calvinist position” for many years. How could I (and those other Christians) be a “Calvinist by default” if I (and they) had no idea what the “Calvinist position” taught?
Hunt has loaded the deck in his favor by making this assumption. Notice how he does it: he presents only two options (Calvinism or Arminianism), and says most Christians identify with the option that has one common doctrine they believe (Calvinism). Furthermore, he states that most Christians think these are the only two “options” they have. That’s just not true at all. If it were, we would not have so many people whom are not Arminians but whom are not Calvinists, either. I think a more true statement would be to say most Christians don’t even know there are options!
My argment in the above paragraphs is only bolstered by the recent LifeWay studies that show graphically that 90% of Southern Baptist pastors are not Calvinists. From that we can say that 90% of Southern Baptist churches, and by extension the vast majority of Southern Baptists, are decidedly not Calvinists! Hunt has used very sloppy arguments in claiming what he has claimed.
Hunt also tries to portray modern Calvinism as fractured and detached from what Calvin and his followers believed and practiced:
Although there are disputed variations of the Calvinist doctrine, among its chief proponents (whom we quote extensively in context) there is a general agreement on certain core beliefs. Many evangelicals who think they are Calvinists will be surprised to learn of Calvin’s belief in salvation through infant baptism, and of his grossly un-Christian behavior, at times, as the “Protestant Pope” of Geneva, Switzerland.
Okay. Let’s tackle the first statement. Why is it a problem that there is a core agreement and peripheral disagreements? Baptists have core agreements and “disputed variations” as well, yet no one (to my knowledge) claims Baptists “misrepresent God who is love” in their stated theology. The same holds true for Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopals, and so on. This is a worthless, throwaway statement by Hunt, likely intended to get the reader on his side by attempting to drive a wedge between his readers and Calvinists. “See, Calvinists don’t agree with each other despite common beliefs, therefore they must not be biblical!” This is the same argument Roman Catholics use against Protestantism, and the same argument many of you have encountered while witnessing to the lost. They cannot agree with each other, therefore the whole system must not be true. This is a blatant falsehood.
As to his second statement, why should Calvin’s beliefs be surprising? He is, for all intents and purposes, the founder of Presbyterianism. We all know (don’t we?) that Presbyterians believe in baptizing babies (baptismal regeneration), yet we don’t condemn the Presbyterian church as “misrepresenting God” nor do we claim the Presbyterian church is “un-Christian.” We might have objections to this belief, but we do not claim our Presbyterian brethren are not of Christ!
Calvin’s “grossly un-Christian behavior, at times” is another throwaway statement by Hunt. What if I were to write a book purporting to refute What Love Is This? and included as a point of refutation: “Hunt’s grossly un-Christian behavior, at times” as a reason not to believe what he believes? Hunt would rightly accuse me of libel, slander, character assasination, uncharitableness, gossip, backstabbing, and any number of other unbiblical, un-Christian behaviors on my part. Further, some of the greatest thinkers, theologians, pastors, presidents, etc. in history acted in ways that in modern days we might find morally repulsive. One common example is that some of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention fully supported the institution of slavery. Today we find slavery to be morally repugnant, yet in their time it was believed by many to be morally acceptable. Hunt fails to take Calvin in the context of his time, when heresy meant death by the Roman Inquisition. And in failing to consider Calvin in his social context, he grossly misrepresents Calvin the man.
Finally, Hunt claims that “the first edition of this book was greeted by fervent opposition and criticism from Calvinists.” I know that James White has addressed this book both in print and in debate. I know that many Calvinists have looked on this book with something approaching sadness and pity. But what I have most noticed from Calvinists and my Calvinistic friends is that, to a person, all agree that this book is an insult and caricature of them and what they believe, rather than a serious, well-researched, well thought-out book about Calvinism.
Why would they not “fervently oppose and criticize” it? Hunt has stated that Calvinists “misrepresent God,” that they are fractured and disputatious, that they follow a man and not the Bible, and that the one who first systematized their theology was “grossly un-Christian.” For Calvinists not to fervently oppose and criticize this book would mean that there is some element of truth in what Hunt has written. That they have done so should tell us that there is more to this story than Hunt would have us believe. As Paul Harvey would say, we need to know “the rest of the story.”
Join us next time as we delve into chapter 1, “Why This Book?”