Today’s Gospel and Apostolic Exhortations: A Study in the Presentation of the Gospel, by A. G. Randalls. Windmill Hill, East Sussex, England: The Huntingtonian Press, 1997. 103 pp. Price unknown (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
Promising much, this book delivers little. It claims to be “the first book to set in order true principles regarding the way in which it is safe to address mixed congregations expounding those passages of Scripture which for too long have been misrepresented” (back cover). It intends to set forth the biblical mode of preaching, particularly the call of the gospel, against the error of a gracious offer to all who hear.
But, in fact, it merely restates the position of certain English Baptists, that the external call of the gospel—the command, or summons, “Repent! Believe!—is to be restricted to those hearers who are already regenerated. According to these English Baptists, the Calvinistic preacher may call no one to believe in Jesus Christ of whom he is not sure that he is already born again. God commands no one to believe on His Son whom He has not already regenerated.
The book, therefore, misses a grand opportunity. At the present time, the Reformed faith is being subverted by means of a doctrine of the preaching of the gospel that presents the preaching, particularly the call, as God’s grace to all men without exception. This is the doctrine of universal, ineffectual grace that is inimical to the Reformed faith and that destroys the entire Reformed system wherever it gains entrance. The book reacts to this heresy by denying the creedal Reformed doctrine of the external call of the gospel altogether. It does this in the name of genuine Calvinism. Thus, the book actually gives aid and comfort to the enemy, who now can say that the alternative to their doctrine of universal, ineffectual grace in the preaching is a doctrine that makes promiscuous preaching impossible.
One fatal weakness of Randalls, if not of his whole movement, is the ignoring of the Reformed confessions. How can a writer who claims to be giving the Calvinistic doctrine of the preaching of the gospel completely ignore Article 5 of the second head of doctrine of the Canons of Dordt?
Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.
Although Randalls makes no contribution to the issue of the promiscuous preaching of the gospel, he does make certain things plain beyond the shadow of a doubt.
First, the position on preaching that he represents emphatically denies that God or the preacher extends the external call to any but the elect and regenerated person (see pp. 36, 41, 42, and 76).
Second, according to Randalls and the position that he defends, God does give the unregenerated person in the audience of the preaching of the gospel a certain command. This is not the command to believe on Christ presented in the gospel. But it is the command to believe the Bible and to believe in God as Creator with a “natural” faith that the unregenerated is supposed to be capable of (p. 37). That any professing Calvinist could think that the commanding God could be pleased with such a “faith” as this is astounding.
Evident in this odd doctrine is a fundamental error of all the English Baptists who, like Randalls, have denied that God commands unregenerated people to repent of their sins with genuine repentance and to believe on Christ with true faith. This is the error of thinking that a divine command implies the ability to obey the command. I have charged elsewhere that the English Baptists who deny the external call are guilty of the same basic error that characterizes the Arminians whom they oppose. On the basis of the notion that a command implies ability to obey the command, the Arminians teach that all men are naturally capable of repenting and believing (free will). On the basis of the same notion, such English Baptists as Randalls deny that God commands any to repent and believe but the regenerated. Randalls is aware of my charge, but dismisses it (see p. 83).
Third, the position that denies that the gospel externally calls all to repent and believe must grievously distort the clear teaching of the Bible. Acts 17:30 is conveniently explained as referring merely to a “natural” repentance of which everyone is capable by nature, not to genuine repentance. Evidently, God will be satisfied with this. Acts 3:19 refers only, we are told, to a “national repentance” on the part of the Jews, which was a “natural duty,” of which, presumably, Peter’s audience was naturally capable. Matthew 22:14, which is the death-blow to the position of Randalls and the English Baptists, is quickly brushed aside by the explanation that “called” in the text merely means “hear the Gospel.” This, in spite of the fact that the preceding verses state that “called” consists of God’s ministers commanding reprobate, unregenerate people, “Come unto the marriage.” Simon the magician is transformed into a “bona fide believer” in order that Peter in Acts 8:22 may not be found commanding an unbeliever to repent (see pp. 37, 38, 46, 49, 53, 54, and elsewhere). This is sinful twisting of the Holy Scriptures.
The Protestant Reformed Churches must firmly and publicly decline to be associated with the Gospel Standard magazine in its opposition to “offers”:
The Gospel Standard magazine stands almost alone (with the Protestant Reformed Church [sic] and the British Reformed Fellowship set up in 1990) in their opposition to indiscriminate “offers” (p. 83).
The Protestant Reformed Churches, representing the Reformed, confessional tradition, differ sharply with the Gospel Standard magazine on the important issue of the preaching of the gospel. The Protestant Reformed Churches do indeed reject and condemn the “well-meant offer,” in the sense of preaching to all as God’s love for all and desire to save all. This is the Arminianism, or “free willism,” condemned by the Reformed churches in the Canons of Dordt. But the Protestant Reformed Churches teach and practice the earnest external call of the gospel to all hearers without distinction and without exception. That is, these churches hold that God Himself seriously commands, or summons, every hearer, unregenerated as well as regenerated, to repent of his sins and believe in Jesus Christ. Here, the Protestant Reformed Churches differ sharply and significantly with the Gospel Standard magazine. I am confident that the British Reformed Fellowship also declines to be associated with the Gospel Standard magazine.
This is not to say that Randalls has got everything wrong. It is of crucial importance to recognize and insist that the gospel’s address of the thirsty in Isaiah 55:1 and of the laboring and heavy laden in Matthew 11:28 is the Savior’s loving call to His own in whom the Spirit has worked these spiritual characteristics. This tender, particular address is the call in its full, saving reality: external summons accompanied by the internal drawing of the Holy Spirit.
Sincerity Meets the Truth, by John K. Pedersen. Audubon, New Jersey: Old Paths Publications, 1997. Pp. vii + 56. $5.95 (paper). (Reviewed by the editor)
In the clean and decent town of Evangelical Religion (across the tracks from the depraved city of Badstuff) was a loving, caring Reformed church. Its name was Kindlove Reformed Church. The minister, Nuance Greytone, was a friendly, popular pastor. Polished, positive, and tolerant, he knew how to please everybody. He reserved his criticism for “the T. R. Crowd,” that is, those Reformed people who thought, and claimed, that the Reformed faith was the one, only, true gospel—the “Truly Reformed.” Into this church, of a Sunday morning, came a guest minister, Faith Not-His-Own. He preached the good news of salvation by grace alone, grace that is freely and sovereignly bestowed upon the elect, grace that is truly grace. In the course of preaching the gospel, he condemned the teaching that salvation is conditioned by man’s own will (Arminianism). He condemned it, not as an inferior form of the gospel but as “the Lie.” This divided the congregation. Some were outraged, including Pastor Greytone. Others were saved from their evangelical self-righteousness and enjoyed the comfort of the gospel of grace for the first time.
Another result of the unwanted preaching of grace that is really grace was that Sincerity, a “nice” member of the church (with a public penchant for Sunday afternoon football games on television that kept him from the evening service and a private delight in the depravity of Badstuff), met the Truth. He will meet Him again at the book’s end. Both times, this “nice” church member painfully discovers that sincerity counts for nothing with the Truth.
This is the story in John Pedersen’s powerful allegory, Sincerity Meets the Truth.
As every reader of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress knows, an allegory tells an interesting tale. This tale of life-and-death struggle in a Reformed church, with its life-and-death implications for one of the church’s members, is interesting. My 18 year-old son picked the book up and read it straight through without any urging.
An allegory is peopled with aptly named, memorable characters. In addition to Sincerity and Greytone, Pedersen’s allegory includes such familiar church members as Mr. Sly Humble, Mr. and Mrs. Pants (Smart and Wear), and Want Pity. Want Pity can respond to the faithful preaching and defense of the gospel only by lamenting unfulfilled personal needs:
I sensed no desire in this Faith Not-His-Own to meet my needs. None. I am a hurting person. I need someone who wants to extend the gentle touch of a caring shepherd. I got nothing but talk about sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit was absent from all this talk about gospel this, and gospel that. I feel empty, uncared-for.
The Christian allegory teaches some spiritual truth. It is a veiled sermon in writing. This Christian allegory is a vehement protest against the denial of grace in Reformed churches by means of an affirmation of “grace” conditioned by the will of the sinner, or by means of the approval of Arminianism’s conditioned and conditional “grace” as a legitimate form of the gospel. The author himself explains in his preface:
There has never been a more subtle expression of false doctrine than that which affirms all the “truths” of the Christian faith on the basis of human effort, merit of works, foreseen faith, or “free will.” To affirm grace on the condition of works is the ultimate perversion. It is The Lie. And the “Reformed” establishment has made peace with it. Apologists for the truth of the “Reformed Faith” have become apologists for Arminianism, defending the false gospel as a less consistent version of the same religion as that of the Apostle Paul, of Calvin, Knox, Turretin, and Owen.
The allegory is a protest. But the protest arises from the passionate love of the truth of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Mrs. Hope Against-Hope gives expression to this love:
The heart of the good news—the grace of God—the right of God to give his grace to whom he will, for his own Glory; and his power to do this through the work of Christ on the cross—this precious truth—(is) … the one thing that matters over everything else!
The message of the allegory is that of the Bible, positively and negatively. For this, the Reformation contended (I write this review on October 31). It is the confession of all the Reformed creeds. But it is anathema in many Reformed and Presbyterian churches today, corrupted as they are by their associations with American evangelicalism, that is, American Arminianism; by their own commitment to the doctrine of a love of God for all and a desire of God to save all; and by their lust to grow numerically. To preach the message of the allegory is to bring down upon one’s head the wrath of nominal Reformed Christianity. John Pedersen is likely to find this out.
This brief work is a little bombshell.