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Leaving Calvinism, An Interview with Dr. Leighton Flowers – CTJ #51

We’ve hinted at this topic for a few episodes now and it’s finally here!  This week we interview Dr. Leighton Flowers on his journey of leaving Calvinism.  Dr. Flowers currently serves as the Director of Evangelism and Apologetics for Texas Baptists, an adjunct professor for Trinity Seminary, and host of Soteriology 101 podcast.  Our intention of this interview was to get the personal story behind Dr. Flowers journey into and out of Calvinism.  This discussion covers many aspects of the debate including definition of terms, humility in Biblical studying, the impact of “reformed” theology, and more.  Join us as we interview Dr. Flowers on leaving Calvinism.

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Sin and Suffering

This is something that I have actually been tossing around in my mind for some time. I am no scholar and would love input on my thoughts as well. Perhaps I am in fact incorrect in my thinking.

These thoughts were originally brought about after a discussion I had with a very strong Calvinist. The “L” in the T.U.L.I.P. acronym stands for “Limited atonement”. This would teach that Christ only died for the sins of the “elect”. Obviously if Christ only suffered for their sins then it would in fact be impossible for anyone else to be saved. I think this stems from a misunderstanding of sin, Christ, and the work of salvation.

Sin- at its core sin is the disobedience of the commandment of God. In the garden the commandment was to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam, who up to his point had no sin, was given that choice and a free-will to obey or disregard the commandment of the Lord. When Adam chose to disobey, the entire human race fell as a result because he was the “head” of the created world. Now Adam knew good and evil (which goes against the T of Total depravity). The sinful nature was born and plagues every human because of the fall of man. The result being seen in Romans 5:12. Sin is a problem which the human mind cannot fully comprehend. Sin has separated God from His creation and must have righteous judgment by the very nature of the God of eternity. A misunderstanding of the severity and depths of sin is the start of the misconstrued ideology behind the death of Christ. Sin has affected the entire creation, which will all be redeemed as seen in Revelations.

Christ- the divine, transcendent being who was manifested into a human body. A misconstrued idea of Christ would cause a huge error in the understanding of the death of Christ. I do not, and cannot, completely comprehend how God can become a man, but it doesn’t change the fact that Christ was and is God. The transcendent nature of Christ is vital to begin to understand His death/suffering. How can there be an infinite payment of sin in a finite amount of time? Because of the transcendent nature of God. Outside of our realm and our understanding the God of the Bible dwells. That is the Christ of whom we read “took upon him the form of a man” and “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh”. A transcendent, eternal, supernatural God in the body of a man.

Salvation- the payment of sin. May we first marvel at the plan which upholds the requirement of the punishment of sin while setting the offender free!

“Who is a pardoning God like thee, or who has grace so rich and free?”

As I understand it, one sin will never be unjustly punished twice. This would go against the character of God and the requirement of punishment. If Christ suffered for each sin as if God had a list and laid each one on Him, then we would be correct to assume that only certain people can be saved (or that all would be saved if Christ paid for ALL SINS). However, I do not believe that is how the work of salvation was completed. When Christ suffered in those three dark hours there was an infinite payment to God that was sufficient to cover the entire judgment for sin. The moment of salvation is when I accept that the judgment Christ bore was enough to cover my personal sin against God. Therefore I could never tell an unsaved person “Christ died for your sins”. That would lead them to the conclusion that their sins are already paid for and there is no way they would have to pay for them again so they need not even have to believe. The work of salvation was an infinite and not “one-for-one substitution” redemptive work. If the work was only sufficient for the elect then the non-elect would have an excuse for their unbelief in that “whosoever believeth” was not applicable because of the insufficiency of the atonement to cover their sin. This is what I see to be a huge misunderstanding of the work of salvation. Christ is an infinite being who paid the sufficient price to cover the full judgment of sin. However, the forgiveness offered is a gift and if the gift is not accepted than the work of salvation does not cover the sins of the rejecter and that individual will pay for their own sins as Christ did not pay for theirs.

An elaboration of the first point… the sinfulness of man.  Let me try to explain what I’ve been thinking.

Let’s look at the sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7).  Basically the entire sermon is about choices and why religion is no good and the words of Christ are transcendent.  Keep in mind he is dismissing the very teaching of Judaism.  I will write another note at some point on what I’ve been studying relative to dispensations (keep a lookout for that!).  Look specifically at 7:13-14.  Choices.  A narrow gate and a narrow road, or a wide gate and a wide road.  If we are all born on the “broad road” then why is there a gate?  Perhaps I am taking the example too literally but Christ was very specific about what He said and never slipped up or said too much.  Yes, I believe we are all born with a “sinful nature”; a propensity to sin.  But, I do not believe we are born on the broad road, or the narrow road.  Look at what Paul says in Romans 7:9, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”  Why is this relevant?  What I have been thinking about is the death of infants (sad yes).  An infant never had a chance to understand sin, God, salvation, the law, etc.  I cannot see a just and holy God condemning an infant to eternal damnation.  It goes against the character of who I see in the God of the Bible (yes the whole Bible, NT and OT).   A true Calvinist would hold that the baby would be guilty of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12… we were “in Adam” so we all sinned… in Adam).  This also goes against what I read in scripture.  No, I’m not Arminian either.  What I believe, is that there is an “age of accountability” let’s call it; a time where a child is old enough and aware enough to know when they are given a commandment that they must obey it.  Sin is the disobedience of a commandment.  When the knowledge of right and wrong sets in and that child knowingly chooses wrong for the first time, I would say they have stepped out from under the grace of God, through the wide gate and onto the broad way.  One sin will keep a person out of heaven so one sin is enough to send a person to hell (the depth and disaster of sin).  With this all in mind a sinner is punished not because of their sinful nature, but because of their sin.  It is almost as if prior to stepping onto the broad way the baby was also alive spiritually (but had a sinful nature pulling toward the broad way).  When the commandment came and sin came alive, the child died spiritually.  The sinful nature took its cause and now because of the law the bondage of sin is wrapped tightly around each person not in Christ.  But the work of Christ was accomplished so God could free the sinner while punishing the sin.  When a person trusts Christ for salvation, he/she is “made righteous” and “given eternal life”.  I was given the status of “RIGHTEOUS” because I am identified with Christ.  Yes, I still have my sinful nature, which is why I still sin.  I was taken from the broad road and brought through the door of salvation (Christ) and placed on the narrow road.

Let me know your thoughts…. I may have more on this later…