by Christopher Adams
On several web sites, one can find a series of four articles by Greg Fields on so-called "Neo-Gnostic Calvinism." The titles of these articles are "The Bane of Neo-Gnostic Calvinism," "Further Reflections on Neo-Gnostic Calvinism," "True Calvinism versus Neo-Gnostic 'Calvinism,'"and "To Humble Ourselves Under The Mighty Hand of God." Mr. Fields has also posted this series of articles to several message boards under the topic of "Neo-Gnostic Calvinism." Although he never says so explicitly, he is obviously directing his comments at Outside the Camp, judging from some remarks made near the end of the first essay. None of his arguments are new; they have all been refuted in this space before. But for the benefit of those who weren't paying attention the first time (e.g., Greg Fields), we'll go over them again.
But first a warning to the intrepid reader who wishes to review the source material: Greg Fields's writing is unbelievably irritating, and it's not just because his arguments are tired and worn out. Mr. Fields's unbridled plethora of expansive verbiage endeavors to become an insurmountable barrier to the reader's incommensurate powers of intellectual analysis. But with the aid of a good dictionary, the whole conundrum disappears!
If only Mr. Fields's conundrums could disappear so easily. He begins with the assertion that he has "a passionate commitment to Calvinistic soteriology" and is "quite emphatic in [his] apologia for these truths." [Apologia: "a defense esp. of one's opinions, position, or actions," Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition.] But, of course, he also has a passion to "issue this urgent caveat regarding an extreme chimerical form of Calvinism" [chimerical: "existing only as the product of unchecked imagination," ibid.] which he considers a great danger to "the elect of God and dear souls seeking spiritual solace."
He goes on to accuse us of holding to a very subtle form of works-righteousness:
"The major tenet of gnosticism was the acquisition of knowledge to achieve, N. B., salvation. Similarly they make the precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine the sine qua non ['something absolutely indispensable or essential,' ibid.] of salvation. By utilizing a patina ['a superficial covering or exterior,' ibid.] of super-spirituality, they create a psychological ambiance ['a feeling or mood associated with a particular place, person, or thing,' ibid.] that can easily intimidate a young believer who may be new to Calvinism or a seeking Arminian (although most folk, if we are honest are utterly oblivious to this historical-theological debacle) to capitulate ['to surrender often after negotiation of terms,' ibid.] to this cold, unrelenting dogmatism ['positiveness in assertion of opinion esp. when unwarranted or arrogant,' ibid.], creating a vituperative ['uttering or given to censure: containing or characterized by verbal abuse,' ibid.] unloving demeanor and ironically robbing them of the comfort and joy these glorious doctrines should inculcate ['to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions,' ibid.] in their hearts. This, to my mind, is the most utterly insidious forms [sic.] of 'works-righteousness' that I have ever encountered."
This quote alone deserves several comments. First is the "precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine." Yes, Mr. Fields, before we consider someone saved, we certainly do demand that they understand all those "difficult" concepts like "trusting in Christ alone" versus "trusting in self." That's about as precise as you can get. But here is where Mr. Fields runs into his first conundrum. If Arminians can be considered saved because they merely have a less "precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine," what about Roman Catholics? After all, they only have a less "precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine." For that matter, what about the Jews? Or Muslims? They, too, merely have a less "precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine."And I could go on and on. If you want to make excuses for Arminians' not believing the necessary implications of the Gospel, where do you stop?
The questions above clearly put the lie to the charge that Outside the Camp is putting forth a form of "works-righteousness" by refusing to judge someone saved who doesn't believe the necessary implications of the Gospel. Is it a form of works righteousness to insist that all true Christians believe in the deity of Jesus Christ? Or to insist that all true Christians believe in the Trinity? If the answer here is "No," then you have just agreed with us that professing Christians should not be judged by their sincerity, reputation, good works, or any other standard than their doctrine. On the other hand, if the answer is "Yes," then by refusing to judge saved and lost by the doctrines of the Gospel, you have just opened up your fellowship not only to Jehovah's Witnesses and Unitarians but also to Buddhists, Satanists, and Atheists.
Mr. Fields's next conundrum is what the Scriptures have to say about the relationship of knowledge to salvation. Isaiah 45:20 says, "Gather yourselves and come; draw near together, escaped ones of the nations; the ones who set up the wood of their carved image, and the ones who pray to a god who cannot save; they know nothing." What was it, precisely, that "the ones who pray to a god who cannot save" were missing? Knowledge. And verse 21 goes on to tell us exactly what that knowledge was: "And there [is] no God other than Me; a just God and a Savior; [there is] none except Me." These idolaters were missing a knowledge of the character of God as both a just God and a Savior. Or, as Greg Fields might put it, they were missing a "precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine."
Another important verse on this subject is Romans 10:3: "For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God." Why could Paul judge the Jews lost? Because they were "ignorant of the righteousness of God." Yes, even those "seeking" Jews were considered lost, merely because they were missing a knowledge of the character of God as both a just God and a Savior. Or, as Greg Fields might put it, they were missing a "precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine."
Now does Scripture make knowledge a prerequisite for salvation? Obviously not. Scripture clearly teaches that there is NO prerequisite at all for salvation (John 1:12-13; 6:29; Acts 13:39; Romans 9:16; 11:6; Ephesians 2:8-9; see also Christian Confession of Faith V.C.4). But that does not mean that God saves His people by allowing them to attribute their salvation to themselves. After all, salvation is for the glory of God, not the convenience of Man. How would it glorify God if His people attributed their salvation in part to Him and in part to themselves? God is only glorified when His people attribute their salvation to Him alone. Therefore, God saves His people through the Gospel, a Gospel which reveals God as both a just God and a Savior. It reveals His righteousness in imputing the sins of His people to Jesus Christ and causing Him to endure the full wrath of God that those sins deserve, so that those sins are paid for and can never condemn the sinner again. This Gospel also reveals God's righteousness in imputing the righteousness of Christ to the sinner, so that he is as perfect in God's sight as Jesus Christ Himself and therefore entitled to all the blessings of fellowship with God. This "precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine" is by no means a prerequisite to salvation; it is the means God uses to save his people, and belief of it is the immediate and inevitable fruit of regeneration, and therefore, no sinner can be considered saved apart from it.
At this point, we come to Mr. Fields's third conundrum, which is that the doctrine of Universal Atonement is not merely a watered-down version of this Gospel; Universal Atonement is not even a "less precise" version of this Gospel. Universal Atonement is the exact opposite of this Gospel. It teaches that God punished all the sins of all men on the cross and then goes on to punish those same sins again in Hell, thus making God unjust. Universal Atonement also denies that the righteousness of Christ demands the salvation of all to whom it is imputed when it teaches that a believer can lose his salvation and end up going to Hell, thus denying that God is a Savior.
This brings us to Mr. Fields's charge that we "scare off" young believers: "By utilizing a patina of superspirituality, they create a psychological ambiance that can easily intimidate a young believer who may be new to Calvinism or a seeking Arminian ..." (Translation: they "scare off" young believers.) But the problem with so-called "seeking Arminians" or those who don't understand the doctrines of grace is not that they don't have a precise understanding of a historical-theological debate; it is that they don't know, and therefore can't believe, the Gospel! They don't have any understanding of why the blood of Jesus Christ demands the salvation of all for whom He died. Or, as Greg Fields might put it, they are missing a "precise apprehension of soteriological doctrine." Therefore if anything, it is not young believers who are being scared off, but unrepentant unbelievers!
Don't forget that the Gospel is not only a savor of life unto life - it is also a savor of death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:16). Regenerate people smell it as a sweet smell, because they know the voice of their Shepherd. But to the unregenerate it is the stench of death! God's purpose in sending forth the Gospel is to evoke both reactions, and God is glorified by both reactions. Our goal in life is not to coerce people into either view of the Gospel but to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, knowing that God decides whether He will cause any one individual to love or hate that Gospel. If Mr. Fields is so "passionately committed" to "Calvinistic soteriology," where is his belief in Irresistible Grace? God is both willing and able to cause His elect to believe a Gospel that glorifies Him and Him alone.
This leads me to the remarks I mentioned above, the ones that clearly indicate Mr. Fields has us in mind:
"As one gleans their writings on this matter, one amazingly discovers that according to this chimerical premise, the most eminent saints in church history are apparently 'lost'! A. A. Hodge, Spurgeon, D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Gordon Clark, Van Till [sic.] ad infinitum, ad nauseum [sic.], are consigned to God's wrath by the unmitigated temerity ['unreasonable or foolhardy contempt of danger or opposition,' ibid.] of these neo-gnostics."
Calvinists are probably more offended by our "Heterodoxy Hall of Shame" than anything else we print. But has it ever occurred to these people to ask themselves just why we print such things? Is it really because we like being mean? Is there no other possible explanation? Notice that Mr. Fields hasn't made the slightest effort to deal with any of the quotes we provide from these people. No defense of their heretical statements, no explanation of their heretical views. Just the mere assertion that they are saved, and no one is allowed to question that fact. This is blatantly judging by reputation and outward appearance, contrary to all the commands of Scripture (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Isaiah 8:20; Matthew 7:15-20; John 7:24; 1Corinthians 5:11-12; 1 John 4: 1,6; see also Christian Confession of Faith V.E.1-5).
In fact, one searches Mr. Fields's web site in vain for any judgments of saved and lost at all. Like so many tolerant Calvinists, Mr. Fields loudly and boldly proclaims his "passionate commitment to Calvinistic soteriology" but refuses to value the Gospel by using it as the standard for judging saved and lost.
Mr. Fields concludes his first article by saying: "To make mere cognition the predicate of entrance into the kingdom of God's dear son is to despise God's sovereignty, Christ's finished work on the cross, and the blessed Holy Spirit's sovereign application of the redemption accomplished to 'the apple of his eye', his beloved elect." In an abstract sense, of course, this is true. But no one at Outside the Camp teaches that knowledge is a prerequisite for regeneration. Rather, we believe that all regenerate people believe the Gospel and that the Gospel must be known and understood to be believed. So by refusing to judge exclusively by the standard of the Gospel, Mr. Fields would love to let people into heaven who deny God's sovereignty, trample the blood of Christ underfoot, and spit on the Holy Spirit's application of redemption accomplished.
Mr. Fields's second essay merely offers more of the same, although admittedly he does manage to employ even more expansive verbiage than in the first article. The second article accuses us of failing to take into account the "noetic" effects of sin:
"The focus of gnostic redemption is not on God, but ultimately upon the individual's self-understanding and the resulting freedom it provides. This accords accurately with the pretensions of the neo-gnostic Calvinists who a priori ['formed or conceived beforehand,' ibid.] demand a comprehensively cognitive grasp of Calvinistic soteriology in order for potential converts to be saved. This cognitive grasp fails to take into account what is theologically dubbed 'the noetic effects of sin'. Simply stated, this means our minds are so affected by our native depravity that prior to regeneration, we are unable to spiritually apprehend any of God's thoughts revealed in His word. (1 Cor. 2:14, Eph. 4:18, e. g.)"
No one at Outside the Camp has ever "a priori demand[ed] a comprehensively cognitive grasp of Calvinistic soteriology in order for potential converts to be saved." Of course the minds of unregenerate people "are so affected by [their] native depravity" that they "are unable to spiritually apprehend any of God's thoughts revealed in His word." We have never denied this, and nothing we believe denies this. In fact, we affirm this! Unregenerate people are unable to understand and believe the Gospel! We do not require a knowledge of doctrine prior to salvation! But this goes right back to the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. When God regenerates someone, He overcomes the noetic effects of sin. The newly regenerate person's mind is no longer totally depraved and is now able to spiritually apprehend God's thoughts. God causes His elect to know (including to "cognitively grasp") and believe the Gospel. To claim otherwise is to say that our unbelief is too strong for God and that God's people continue to believe in salvation conditioned on the sinner after regeneration.
The third and fourth articles in this series do little more than accuse us of spiritual pride:
"Many of the 'grass roots' Sovereign Grace fellowships emerging from this malaise have seriously truncated the sweeping grandeur of God's Redemptive Plan by focusing almost exclusively on the 'Five Points Of Calvinism'. This emphasis can very quickly lead to incredible arrogance."
Mr. Fields goes on to quote from Robert Bolton, John Armstrong, William Cunningham, and Stephen Charnock, to the effect that biblical learning should humble us, not puff us up. The fourth article is a longer quote from John Owen with the same point. But while Mr. Fields is admittedly good at quoting the Puritans, he seems totally unable to quote us. Not a single quote to prove our arrogance, harshness, bigotedness, or pride; only the accusation that we consider some popular Calvinists lost. One wonders if he has ever read anything from our newsletter or web site beyond the "Hall of Shame."
For that matter, one wonders how much Mr. Fields has read Scripture. There is no discussion of even one verse of Scripture; only three Scripture references are given, and one of those is in the quote from John Owen. (The other two are quoted above.)
Ironically, a quick check through Scripture would show Mr. Fields that God's people were often considered arrogant, harsh, bigoted, unloving, and proud: Moses, David, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul were all accused of these things (Numbers 16:3; 2 Samuel 6:20; Job 11:1-6; Psalm 56:5; Jeremiah 18:18; Matthew 26:59; 27:20; Acts 18:12). And they were accused of these things for precisely the same reason that Mr. Fields is accusing us: they refused to speak peace based on good works, appearance, reputation, sincerity, or any other standard but the Gospel and the Gospel alone. I would rather stand accused with them than with Greg Fields doing the accusing. Even if a dictionary does come in handy for understanding those accusations.