In a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan’s head spin, Leighton Flowers recently released an hour-plus long video on … Calvinism! In his latest installment of Quantity over Quality, Leighton joins his friend, Eric Kemp, in trying to smoke out the Hyper-Calvinist of John Piper’s doctrine by setting a stadium’s worth of strawmen on fire. They review a video where Piper warns against the dangers of Hyper-Calvinism, and they allege that no one’s sure who these Hyper-Calvinists are anyways, but, at the same time, Hyper-Calvinism is a great, looming danger, and Piper’s views would lead to Hyper-Calvinism if consistently applied!
If you were looking for compelling reasons why Hyper-Calvinism is the inevitable conclusion of biblical orthodoxy (also known as Calvinism), you’ll be disappointed. The same miserable, sunken-eyed arguments are again mustered to the front lines as the Chobham-armored Holy Bible steadily rolls through. Such arguments have been answered time and time again, including quite excellently by Sean and Dan, hosts of the Particular Baptist Podcast. Essentially, all Leighton’s points boil down to his inability to grasp compatibilism, and that the certainty of ends doesn’t diminish the significance (or culpability) of the means which accomplish those ends.
There’s no need for me to replicate the work of my brothers. Rather, the concern of this article will be the selfish, man-centeredness of Leighton Flowers’s position, borne out especially by several statements made by him and Eric in this video. Cast under the light of Scripture, the many miles of distance between their human philosophy and the inspired, God-honoring teachings of the Holy Spirit will be made patently clear. And, as a bonus, I will conclude by addressing that supposedly “unanswerable” objection that Leighton brings up towards the end of the video.
No doubt stemming from a bad conscience, Eric complains that Calvinists, like Piper, are “so polemical and pejorative” (1:10:00) whenever they rebuke their autonomous free-will, mini-gods theory. He asks, “Can popular Calvinist pastors and pundits make arguments without calling [people like me] a self-idolater?” Well, it’s hard to blame Piper when synergists like Eric tell us (in the same video) that one of his problems with Calvinism is that it results in God doing something that doesn’t depend on him or his skill as a preacher (32:15, 36:04). Oh, what a ghastly thought! The horror of thinking that the power of salvation might not rest on me and my abilities as a preacher, but on the message preached (1 Corinthians 1:17-21)! To think, as the Bible says, that the Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), and not me and my ability to “meet people where they are … to come off as genuine,” as Eric affirms (36:10).
In contrast to Eric and Leighton, the only skill the Bible demands a preacher to have – when it comes to salvation – is the skill to get out of the way. This was the boast of the Apostle Paul:
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.“1 Corinthians 2:1-5
While a pastor’s erudition, ability to convey information, compassion, and other gifts may serve him well in other areas of the ministry, the Gospel itself can only be hindered when one trusts in his own abilities to save souls. Accordingly, the Apostle Paul, and the greatest preachers since his time, such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, took great pains to take themselves out of the preaching of the Gospel, trusting that the Holy Spirit works best when the means of salvation is laid bare in its pure form without admixture. Spurgeon says of his ministry:
“I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!”Charles Spurgeon. Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563
The Holy Spirit has thus testified, both in Scripture and in His planting of His Church since then, that the Gospel – not the eloquence of man – is what saves. And so the ministry of selfishness which cries, “Me! My! Myself!” will never save a tenth of the souls saved by the ministries of a Paul, an Edwards, and a Spurgeon, who proclaimed, “God! God! God!“
Comparing the difference of attitude, we see that Piper’s charge of self-idolatry was not unwarranted. These are men who hear Paul ask, “Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? (Romans 11:35), and don’t think that the question is rhetorical.
The general man-centeredness of Eric and Leighton was exposed further when they criticized Piper for daring to ground our motivation for evangelism in the Bible. Piper rightly says in his video, “The Bible tells us: preach the Gospel to everyone! And the sheep will hear the Shepherd’s voice in the preaching and follow Him” (5:26). What’s the problem with this? Dr. Flowers explains: “The reason we preach [in Piper’s view], is not because we love everyone and desire everyone’s salvation, because God loves … and wants everyone’s salvation … that’s not the reason you preach, the reason you preach is because we’re told to. In other words, law, not love” (33:12).
No punches can be pulled here. This is one of the most perverted, man-centered, and unbiblical contrasts I’ve ever seen drawn up by a confessing conservative Christian. Leighton sets the commandments given by God, who is Love (1 John 4:8), as OPPOSED to love. How can he justify this odious distortion? True, the condemnation the Law of the Old Testament brings is contrasted to the salvation of the Gospel, but this is not a contrast between law and love. Rather, the Law is an indictment against our love, because we did not love God and neighbor enough to fulfill it. But to have fulfilled it would have been the perfection of love, as Jesus Christ did. To say that obeying the commands of God – even those given in the New Testament – is at odds with love is utterly indefensible. No squirming will get Leighton around the plain teaching of Scripture, which says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS” (1 John 5:2). Far from being at odds with love, keeping God’s commandments is the highest way of showing our love for Him, and it’s impossible to love Him or even genuinely love others if we don’t strive to keep them. But in Leighton’s twisted worldview, whatever chemical fizz, effervescing sentiments, or passing indigestion we associate with feelings of love is a higher motivation than the command of Love Himself – the Perfect, Holy, and inexhaustibly Good God! I cast the “feelings of love” in such terms not because I’m a stoic, but because that’s all such feelings amount to if they’re divorced from true love, which is always manifested by obedience to the One who is Love. By making his own passing feelings towards others a higher motivation than “Thus saith the LORD,” Leighton erects his own feelings up as a god to be preferred over the true One. This is idolatry, pure and simple. And until he repents of pitting “love” against obedience, it’s appropriate to say as much of him.
The Unanswerable Challenge!
I would’ve wanted to end here, as I believe this is already more than enough material for one blog post. However, towards the end of the video, Leighton issued a challenge that I can’t resist. He issues a great, unanswerable challenge, concerning which he says, “I have not yet heard [Calvinists] actually engage on that point” (55:00). What is this challenge?
“But in a sense they’ve created a good and evil within God by saying there’s … two wills within God, the prescriptive one and the secret one .. within a view of One God you have competing desires” (53:40).
Yeah, that’s right. Never been answered. It’s so unanswerable, in fact, that the first Google suggestion that comes up when you search “God two wills” is an article by the very man they’re critiquing, who provides answers to this question. That article was written 25 years ago, and quotes other men who answered it hundreds of years before that. For a man who’s dedicated his online ministry to attacking Calvinism, you’d think by now he’d have done enough research on the view he consumes himself with that he’d have noticed that some of the most prominent Calvinists in history have addressed his “insurmountable problem,” especially when they can be found via a simple Google search.
So, what’s the answer? Different men have different ways of articulating it, but the “problem” basically stems from a category error on the part of the question. The synergistic challenger imagines that the prescriptive will and the secret will are two of the same kinds of things, and thus make for some kind of contradictory dual nature in God, when, in fact, they bear little resemblance to one another. The secret will is the unified, eternal decree of God which He accomplishes, but the prescriptive will is that which is given to His creatures to accomplish. Unlike His secret will, He does not decree to accomplish His prescriptive will except insofar as it overlaps with His secret will. Instead, the prescriptive will consists of the demands that His creatures must fulfill to live in His presence. God demands perfection – a perfection that was only satisfied in His Son, Jesus Christ – and He cannot allow sinners to abide unpunished who don’t attain it. Sin is loathsome in His sight, hence the Lord says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). There’s nothing inconsistent in God’s secret will not including our fulfillment of His prescriptive will, because there’s nothing inconsistent in God not willing a sinful creature to live in His presence. What’s more miraculous is that He has willed some sinful creatures to live in His presence by decreeing that they fulfill His prescriptive will to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, justice is satisfied, and His fulfillment of the entirety of God’s prescriptive will is imputed to us without charge. And not ending there, His Holy Spirit gives us new hearts to desire what He desires, so that His will may be our highest delight – our greatest motivation – rather than our own subjective feelings. Truly, He enables us to make Him our God, that we may abandon the idols of selfishness for good, glorying in the One who has done all of the work, deserving all of our praise.
Soli Deo Gloria