By non-Reformed Evangelicalism I am thinking about mainstream Evangelicalism. The two biggest camps of Evangelicalism are the non-Reformed and the Reformed camps. While I do not personally know Alistair Begg, I do know quite a bit about what he believes and teaches. In widely circulated articles, books, audio/video messages (etc.), Begg speaks clearly, not only about what he believes and teaches but why he believes and teaches it. While I disagree with Begg on his doctrine of soteriolgy (i.e.,the doctine of salvation and damnation) Begg strikes me as a very godly and gifted believer. You do not have to agree with someone on everything to respect and appreciate what he says on some things. I do respect, agree with and appriciate much or what Begg teaches. I have heard him say very few things that I disagree with.
Concerning what is important for this article, Begg is a Reformed Evangelical. Why is that important? It is because a Reformed Evangelical is a theistic fatalist. Theistic fatalism is the poison of an otherwise mostly healthy doctrinal diet. A theistic fatalist says that God is in control but man is not free concerning where he will spend eternity. If a Calivinst succeeds in convincing a lost man that he cannot be saved (because God never did anything for him so that he could be saved) (see John 3: 15-18) it is fatal poison to his soul. Begg is not only a theistic fatalist, he is also a council member in the coalition of confessing Evangelicals, a Reformed Association for Reformed and Lutheran ministers connected to men like R.C Sproul Sr. This is one of America’s largest and leading theistic fatalist organization. On the website of The Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals it says:
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is a broad coalition of evangelical pastors, scholars, and churchmen from various denominations, including Baptist, Congregational (Independent), Anglican (Episcopal), Presbyterian, Reformed, and Lutheran who hold the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed faith and who proclaim biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today’s Church. The purpose of the Alliance’s existence is to call the Church, amidst a dying culture, to repent of its worldliness, to recover and confess the truth of God’s Word as did the reformers, and to see that truth embodied in doctrine, worship, and life.
A Reformed awakening is to discover that you are going to heaven or hell and there is nothing you can do about going to hell unless God chose you to go to heaven. You can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with an unbeliever, but unless he has been chosen to go to heaven it will not benifit him. For more information about what a Reformed Christian believes see The Dark Side of Calvinism-The Calvinist Caste System, The Five Points of Calvinism-Weighed and Found Wanting, What Love is This? And The Other Side of Calvinism.
While not all who identify with the church groups mentioned above are Calvinists, those in this Alliance are, Reformed leaning or are committed to a Reformed soteriology (otherwise known as the Calvinist doctrine of salvation and damnation (i.e., uncoditional election or unconditional reprobation). In addition to what Begg has written and spoken, his association with (and in some cases leadership of) various Reformed ministries and organizations, Begg makes it clear that he is unashamedly Reformed in his soteriology (i.e., in his view of who can be saved and why). This is important because many non-Reformed Evangelicals do not know that Begg is Reformed and that being Refomed makes him a theistic fatalist.
Soteriologically, the Reformed view is about Reprobation and Election or unconditional salvation and unconditional damnation. As already noted, it is about theistic fatalism. A theist says there is one all powerful, all knowing, present everywhere at once God, just as do all Reformed and non-Reformed Evangelical Christians. Fatalism is the belief that the future, especially where a person goes when they die, is predetermined and fixed by God, as is the case of all Reformed and Calvinist believers. Theistic fatalism teaches that a person is from and to all eternity locked into salvation or damnation and cannot alter their destiny one way or the other. If a person does not embrace theistic fatalism he does not believe in the Reformed doctrine of grace.
- According to Calvin, God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined those chosen or elected to salvation.
- The reprobate (non-elect for salvation) is doomed for destruction.
- The eternal and immutable counsel of God determines this destruction.
- God passes by the non-elect, excluding them from his saving will or his decree of salvation. Reformed theology calls this “preterition.” It is defined as God’s sovereign passing by of the non-elect, thus excluding them from his decree of salvation.
- This determination was made by the pleasure of God.
- The determined destruction of the reprobate is without respect to human worth.
- God is just (in those he gives life) and blameless (in those to whom he dooms to destruction).
- God’s judgment is beyond our understanding.
To me, the word Reformed is not used pejoratively but is simply a fair and accurate designation of a particular theological leaning or interpretation of Scripture related to salvation and damnation. Begg is not only clear but interesting, engaging and frankly just about as good a speaker as one can find. Begg is not only greatly appreciated by a large so-called lay audience, including those in his own very large church, but is also respected among many scholars and theologians both inside and outside the Reformed community. There are many things that Begg believes and teaches unrelated to Reformed soteriology that I (along with many other non-Reformed Evangelicals) wholeheartedly agree with.
Moreover, while I do not know Begg I know people who do know him and they assure me that he is a good and godly Christian man and I do not doubt this assessment for a moment. While Begg may speak at conferences related to a non-Reformed movements. In non-Reformed churches, Begg could never be a pastor of a non-Reformed evangelical church, unless these churches became Reformed or Begg renounced his Reformed soteriology. I point this out only because some young non-Reformed pastors (who seemed to be leaning Reformed in their soteriology) are asking: if Reformed soteriology is not compatible non-Reformed soteriology, why is Begg speaking at non-Reformed conferences and in non-Reformed churches?
While Begg speaks to some non-Reformed audiences, he never teaches a Reformed soteriology when he does. I suspect that if he did, it would be his last invitation to a non-reformed conference or church. While his doctrine of salvation may be one of the most important of all subject matters to him, and it is, he does have other topics to talk about. He is so engaging and good when he is ivited to speak to other groups of believers, that non-reformed churches seemed to overlook the fact that he is reformed in his soterology. Some Reformed leaning pastors are saying non-reformed churches and groups should allow non-reformed pastors to become Reformed in their soteriology without having to admit that they are Reformed in their soteriously.
- It is argued that the difference between Reformed soteriology and non-Reformed soteriology, especially when expressed in what is called neo-Calvinism, is not that great. The fact is, the difference could hardly be more important or more pronounced, as is evidenced by the fact that no non-Reformed pastor is allowed to pastor in a Reformed church or in an association of Reformed churches.
- It is also argued that a non-Reformed church should not be closed to non-Reformed pastors because one’s view of who can be saved and why is a secondary and not a primary or central issue.
Of course, no Reformed church or association of churches argue this way because they know that allowing non-Reformed pastors into their Reformed churches would create division, lead to a lot of confusion within that Reformed church or association of churches. The only people that argue this way are extremely naïve or people who would like to see non-reformed churches go Reformed.
I have never even heard of a Calvinist in a Calvinist church or association of churches say that one’s view of who can be saved and why, are secondary issues and should be ignored as far as affiliation is concerned. It is also interesting that once a church leader or the church leadership goes Reformed they exclude the non-Reformed from preaching and teaching soteriology in the now Reformed church. So what is that Begg believes and teaches versus what non-
Reformed pastors believe and teach (or say they believe and teach) about who can be saved and why?
THE REFORMED DOCTRINES OF GRACE
According to Alistair Begg, Mark Driscoll, J.I. Packer, Tim Keller, Wayne Grudem, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur Jr., R.C. Sproul Sr., Francis Chan, David Platt and most all (if not all) mainstream Calvinists say that the Reformed doctrines of grace insists that:
- Regeneration precedes and produces saving faith in Christ. Only those unconditionally elected for salvation can and will be born again. All of the elect will be regenerated.
- God unconditionally elected to save some lost sinners and not all lost sinners. Only the elect will (or even can) be saved. All of the elect will be saved. None of the non-elect can be saved.
- Christ did not die for all the sins of all sinners and in fact He did not die for any of the sins of many sinners. For the elect and only the elect Christ died for their sins. That is, Christ only died savingly, redemptively or propitiously for the elect.
- Only the elect are inwardly, effectively, efficaciously, or irresistibly called to saving faith in Christ. To the non-elect, a Gospel proclamation is necessarily “waters on a ducks back” or totally ineffective.
- All of the elect will persevere in faith and righteousness unto the end, and no one can be absolutely certain they are one of the elect until they have persevered in faith and holiness to the end. And only after the final judgment is it possible to know for sure that the faith and righteousness someone is persevering in, is in fact the true faith and righteousness one need to persevere in (to the end) to be saved.
THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINES OF GRACE
According to Chuck Smith Sr, J. Veron Magee, Zane Hodges, Charles Stanley and (by definition and affirmation) all non-Reformed evangelicals (as well as all other mainstream non-Reformed Orthodox Evangelicals) agree that the Biblical doctrines of grace say that:
- Saving faith in Christ always and immediately results in regeneration and any and all lost sinners can believe in Christ and be born again (Jn. 1: 10-13, 20: 30-31).
- God desires all men to be saved and has determined that all can and will be saved on condition they believe in Jesus Christ (Jn. 3: 15-18, 1 Tim. 2: 3-4, Acts 16: 27-31).
- Christ died savingly, redemptively, or propitiously for all the sins of all sinners (1 Jn. 2: 2, 2 Cor. 5: 14-15).
- God calls all lost sinners to a saving faith in Jesus Christ through a Gospel proclamation and by believing the Gospel all lost sinners can and will be saved (Rom. 1: 16, 1 Cor. 15: 1-3).
- All those who believe in Jesus Christ and are thus saved (regenerated and justified) are called to live a life to please, honor, and glorify the Lord and that living this life (although possible for and expected of the believer) is not automatic or inevitable for the believer (Rom. 12: 1-2, Eph. 4: 1-3, 2 Pet. 1: 1-10).or inevitable for the believer (Rom. 12: 1-2, Eph. 4: 1-3, 2 Pet. 1: 1-10).