‘Is the Gospel necessary to salvation in a Calvinistic worldview? The answer is clear: No. This is no mere critique of Calvinism or the apparent implications of operating within a Calvinistic framework. Some Calvinists themselves implicitly state that the Gospel is unnecessary for the salvation of lost souls, within their own theological context, when they espouse the deterministic philosophy of monergism and teach the error that regeneration precedes faith. Whereas the apostle Paul insists that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), the Calvinist is under no burden to adopt such a confession. Why is this the case, from my perspective?
While St Paul argues that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe (Rom. 1:16, 17), the Calvinist argues that the monergistic act of regeneration, which in Calvinistic logic precedes faith, is the power of God for salvation. Which source shall we trust? Is the Gospel the power of God for salvation? Or is the theory that regeneration precedes faith the power of God for salvation? The error that regeneration precedes faith renders the Gospel a mere afterthought in Calvinistic ideology. God, in Calvinism, regenerates His alleged unconditionally elect in His sovereign time, within or without the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tragically, this rationale also proffers God as pure Will or Power. God is, in such a scheme, the One who has unconditionally and arbitrarily decided from eternity past not only who will believe in Christ but also who will love Him. (The theory of unconditional election is arbitrary in nature, because God has no viable reason or purpose for unconditionally pre-selecting to save one depraved individual over another, equally depraved individual. Obviously, if God had a specific and eternal purpose for unconditionally electing to save one person over another then the purpose would require and impose a condition on election.) God is more than mere Will or Power. He is also relational, self-sacrificial, and defined as Love (never defined in infallible Scripture as Wrath).
We see evidence of God as pure Will, and regeneration making the Gospel irrelevant, in the theology of James White. From his book, The Potter’s Freedom, we read: “Irresistible grace, then, is simply the assertion that God’s grace, expressed in the sovereignly free act of regeneration, is irresistible. When God chooses to raise one of His [unconditionally] elect to life He can do so without asking permission of the dead creature.”1 He uses the illustration of dead Lazarus by way of comparison (cf. John 11:1-44), insisting that to be spiritually dead is tantamount to being physically dead, though the analogy maintains its own weakness: corpses cannot reject Christ as much as they cannot trust in Christ.
But note the tone of the Calvinist in this regard. God is portrayed as Power, or Will, and He acts irresistibly in and among His creatures, whom He regards as mere objects, rather than human beings. The Calvinist God can effect whatever happens on the earth, and among His creatures, and maintain His holiness, justice, and righteousness. One will search in vain in finding popular resources among Calvinists who insist that the Gospel, and prior reception of the Gospel by a sinner, is contextually necessary in order for God to regenerate and thus save (Titus 3:5) an individual. In Calvinism, the subject of salvation proper regards God as Power in the monergistic act of regeneration, which is the power of God for salvation to effect faith. (cf. Rom. 1:16)
According to Calvinistic philosophical-theology, God maintains the privilege to regenerate even the infant who is incapable of understanding the Gospel, and of receiving Christ by faith. Donald McKim explains that the Calvinistic doctrine “of regeneration has emphasized that God implants a divine ‘seed’ of life in the soul and, from this, true repentance and faith spring and grow. Thus God may or may not implant this divine seed when an infant is baptized.”2 We can clearly see how God is viewed as pure Will, and how regeneration and, hence, salvation is divorced from the Gospel of Christ, leading us to conclude that Calvinism is a Gospel-less theology. The Gospel, then, is rendered as secondary or subordinate historical truths to which one adheres due to or as a result of God’s monergistic regenerative act.
In Sinclair Furguson’s work on regeneration, in his book, The Holy Spirit, he attempts to refer to the Gospel, or the Word of God, as an operation used by the Spirit of God to effect faith, that is, to effect faith in the already-regenerated and, therefore, the already-saved: “At one level of analysis, the individual changes his or her mind (repentance), and turns to Christ (faith). But that — which he [or she] does although he [or she] was impotent to do it — he [or she] does through the renewing work of the Spirit.”3 So, then, we discover again the secondary nature of the Gospel in Calvinistic theology. In Calvinism, the Gospel is not the power of God to effect salvation in those who believe (Rom. 1:16). The monergistic act of regeneration is the power of God that effects salvation in the unconditionally elect so that the already-saved individual can believe. One will search in vain for scriptural warrant to support this theory. Hence, in Calvinism, one is saved by grace to faith and not through faith, as Scripture explicitly teaches (Eph. 2:8).
Prior to Dr. Ferguson’s comment above, he quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith, stating that God enlightens the minds of His unconditionally elect spiritually and
savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone [a decontextualized and thus misapplied Jewish reference of Ezekiel 36:26], and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them [emphasis added] to that which is good; and effectually drawing them [emphasis added] to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.4 (emphasis author's own)
That, allegedly, the already-regenerated of the so-called unconditionally elect “come most freely” to Christ is a bit misleading, especially as the phrase is qualified by their “being made willing by his grace” to come to Christ via regeneration. Again, though, we have evidence that this act is performed apart from the Gospel. God, as pure Will, or Power, exerts that power by His alleged monergistic act of regeneration, that effects salvation, thus causing the individual to believe in Christ, love the Lord, and “come most freely” to Christ. But come to Christ for what? Certainly not for salvation since God already saved them! This unbiblical approach to Christian theology has the cart before the horse.
God is the one who sovereignly saves sinners, and we Arminians relish in that fact, as we tirelessly promote the truth that He alone saves, that our faith does not save us, and yet that God has decreed or chosen or elected to save believers. (John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20) God does not save unbelievers. (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13)
Again, faith in Christ does not save — i.e., one’s “decision to follow Christ” does not save the individual — only God saves (Titus 3:5). Faith in the Gospel of Christ and, hence, in Christ Himself, is merely the instrumental means by which God is moved to save the believer. We do not cooperate with God to the effecting of our regeneration. We cannot effect our regeneration, nor can we add any work to the effecting of our regeneration, as only God is capable of regenerating the soul. To suggest that the Arminian “helps” God regenerate the individual, as admitted by R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer,5 James White,6 and others, is to misrepresent Arminian theology. By advocating the biblical teaching that faith in the Gospel of Christ is a condition to being saved by God’s grace, we in no sense endorse any concept of faith causing regeneration, or of helping or cooperating with God and co-effecting our regeneration.
In Arminian, and what we consider to be biblical (orthodox) theology, the Gospel of Christ is of absolute necessity in the process of one being saved by the grace and regenerative act of God. For in this Gospel of Christ the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith (Rom. 1:17 NRSV). St Paul explicitly teaches that hearing this Gospel is paramount to one’s salvation. (Rom. 10:14-16) Therefore, unless and until a person hears this Gospel and by grace responds in faith (Rom. 3:25), that person cannot and will not be saved or regenerated. How, then, can the Calvinist relegate the Gospel of Christ to an after-effect, which is really a demeaning of the God-ordained power in the Gospel (Rom. 1:16), rendering Christ’s Gospel to a secondary aspect? This is entirely unacceptable.’
source: Will Birch, “Is the Gospel Necessary to Calvinism? An Implicit Gospel-less Theology” (williambirch).
Note by crosstheology: while I agree with the general gist of this article, I do believe that God has different means of having His grace come to the sinner seeking to be saved. You can check out this article for more information. (I also do believe that, in a spiritual sense, God takes away our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, at the moment we come to Him in faith and repentance.)
1 James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free (Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 284.
2 Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, ed. Donald K. McKim (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 316.
3 Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 124.
4 Ibid., 123-24.
5 R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 24-26.
6 White, 287.