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And He Himself gave some to be....evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...
- Ephesians 4:11-12

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Location: The Hill Country of Texas

Pastor - Providence Reformed Baptist Church
Director - TIME in the Word Ministries

Monday, April 17, 2006

What Do These Words Mean?

UPDATE - April 17, 2006

As most of you know, Matt posted a response to this critique on A Puritan's Mind - Coming to Faith: Examining Theological Paradigms Pertaining to Neophytes and Heretics in the Essentials of Christianity, and now after some time in the Word and in prayer, after a brief email discussion with him, and after consulting with a group of pastors to whom I am accountable and with whom I fellowship, I have written a final response from my point of view that I hope will make the issues surrounding this debate clear for everyone to see. I do not know if this disagreement will be resolved. But I know that with God all things are possible. I leave it in His hands then.


Has Dr. C. Matthew McMahon denied the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Matt penned an article and published it on A Puritan’s Mind and provided a link on the Puritan Board titled The "god" of Arminianism is not Worshippable. The post that introduced this article has been the most replied to thread on the Puritan Board and is the second most viewed discussion on the forum. It introduced one of the most heated debates that we have ever seen on the Puritan Board. It led to attempts on the part of many to clarify what one must believe in order to be saved.

In that discussion, several people defended the work. Others saw what I saw in the article. They wanted to know why Matt would write an article making the case that anyone who did not know and understand the doctrines of grace was a heretic.

This thread and particularly Matt’s response to challenges to his article troubled me. It seemed that Matt and those defending what he had written were in fact denying the gospel of salvation by free grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. To be clear, my concern from the very start of this debate has been that the gospel was not being clarified but was being clouded or even denied.

Is that a serious charge? Absolutely. Any minister of the gospel who loves the Lord and desires to be faithful to the Word of God would shudder and be offended at the charge! Any minister of the gospel should be offended if he is told that he has denied the gospel. But along with that offense, and even the resultant anger, a minister of the gospel should be the first to be sure that what he has preached and written lines up with the Scriptures. Few should desire to be teachers because those who teach the Word of God will be held to a higher standard by God. (James 3:1)

Further, if a minister is presented with any evidence that what he has preached or written has been misunderstood, confused, or has indeed been incorrect, then that material should be edited and the record corrected. In other words, if a minister of the gospel teaches error then when he becomes aware of it he should recant.

A recent example of this is presented to us within the very history of the Puritan Board and A Puritan’s Mind. Matt was formerly a Reformed Baptist and he had written several articles defending believers baptism. When he changed his view and embraced paedo-baptism, he, in his own words, “retracted and recanted the Reformed Baptist position” – he removed the articles that defended believers baptism and wrote an article of recantation for every one of them.

As a result, I trusted that if Matt was presented with evidence of error in his writings that he would be open to retracting or recanting those errors. I stated in the thread on his article that I feared that he was indeed presenting the case that unless one embraced the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) in full then they could not be saved. And again, I was not alone in assessing this from the article.

It seemed clear to me and others that Matt was defending a Hyper-Calvinistic position, so I took the time to read every article that he has written and posted on A Puritan’s Mind that deals with the topic of salvation, the doctrines of grace, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was not angry. I was not mad at Matt. I was not trying to dig up dirt or uncover some ambiguous statement with which I could manufacture allegations of heresy. It was not a witch hunt or a hasty rant. I was truly out of love and concern for Matt worried that he was either being misunderstood or had mis-stated his own beliefs.

Honestly, Matt has written a very useful article that defines and attacks Hyper-Calvinism. He has written several very good gospel tracts. He has written a lot about Calvinism and the Reformation. All good and useful. But when a minister of the gospel writes or preaches contradictory things then we must press them to be sure that they mean what they say and say what they mean. All teachers must be held to this high standard – what we teach must be tested by the Word of God. (Acts 17:11)

As a result of what I found and my ongoing discussions with Matt on the topic, I posted a very brief critique of several statements that he had made and published on the internet that were cause for concern. My purpose for doing so was simply to give Matt an opportunity to clarify what he meant by what he had written. I never for one minute believed that Matt himself had begun to believe that a person who was ignorant of the doctrines of grace could not go to heaven. I never doubted the state of his own soul. That is not for me to judge. I love Matt, and out of concern for what he was writing and defending I wanted him to clarify his position.

I truly believed that he would answer quickly that I had misunderstood what he had written. However, his response has puzzled me even more than the discussion around the article that started this all. He has defended what he has written. In fact, he has gone to great lengths to defend what he has written. There has been no retraction, no recantation, and no direct answer to the questions put to him about his statements as I quoted them in my critique.

The truth is that this whole “conflict” could easily be resolved with the answer to one question. I asked Matt this one question and asked for a one word reply. That’s right. This whole debate can be settled by one question with a one word answer.

The question?

Can a person who never hears or understands the doctrines of grace go to heaven?

The answer is either “yes” or “no”.

Simple? Yes it is. And it goes to the very heart of the matter being discussed. Can a person believe on the Lord Jesus Christ without ever hearing the terms total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, or perseverance of the saints?

A great illustration of what I am trying to say can be found in a discussion I was having today in a hospital waiting room with a friend of mine whose mother was recovering from surgery. As we discussed the gospel, one family member brought up the thief of the cross next to Jesus. He trusted Christ alone to save him and simply asked, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus responded to this saving faith bestowed by grace by saying, “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” As Romans 10:13 states, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And when the Philippian jailor asked, “What must I do to be saved?”, Paul replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:30-32).

So can we present Biblical evidence, or a proof text of any kind, that would indicate to us that one must hear, understand, and embrace the five points of Calvinism in order to be saved? No. There is no such Scriptural evidence.

When I asked Matt this simple question what did he say? Did he say, “Yes”? Did he say, “No”? He said, “It is not that simple.”

And that is why I am writing this one last time. I am asking Matt to clarify what he has written and published on the internet so that there is no confusion as to what he believes about the gospel. I do not want quotes from theologians, footnotes, and pages and pages of material. That is all unnecessary. It is my sole desire that Matt will clarify whether or not he believes that one must hear, understand, and embrace the doctrines of grace in order to be saved or as proof that they have been saved. That is what he has seemed to have stated in the statements that I have called into question. Those statements are included in my original critique.

To show why I am concerned, in his response to my critique he stated the following (emphasis from the original):

Asking the question, “Is TULIP the Gospel?”, is a question that must be qualified. Generally speaking, yes, TULIP is the Gospel.

There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief. Varying degrees of unbelief demonstrate a denial of aspects of the Gospel, and it’s content. To deny all of its content is to reject the Gospel. To misunderstand, or deviate from historical orthodoxy on parts of its content, may hinder the apprehension of the propositional truth in the Gospel. However, this certainly does not hinder the movement of the Spirit through the Word preached affecting a particular change (regeneration) on any person that God decreed election. However, it is important to note that Calvinists agree that TULIP demonstrates the doctrines of grace, and as Luther said, that election and grace are the heart of the Gospel.

The Bible does not call men to believe the refined nature of the five points of Calvinism, but to believe the promises of God, that ultimately compiled and understood would eventually demonstrate a hearty Calvinism….

Surely, Beza and Perkins in outlining the “basics” and “fundamentals” of the Gospel would resort to telling their people just a few key points about John 3:16, or maybe outline a short two paragraph statement about how God’s love is seen in the work of Christ. Well, no, that is not what they did. Instead, they created charts on the fundamentals of true religion that covered God, the law, the fall, Jesus Christ, His work, His benefits, regeneration, faith, justification, glorification, and how many other “side notes” (such as apostasy) that many preachers today could not discuss intelligibly. This does not mean that when Perkins’ preached a simple Gospel message that he expected a neophyte convert to know everything about the Gospel at one time. Rather, he expected them to know enough, and then later, to embrace the rest. Beza was of the same opinion. The charts were created and used so that even people who could not read could follow the “circles” placed on the chart like stepping stones as Perkins explained what each one meant. It was an interconnected grid of biblical information about the basics of true religion.

Elect Neophytes are under God’s sovereign grace of regeneration. After they are regenerate, they will grow in faith according to the Word. They certainly will not grow under contemporary theology today. Contemporary “arminian” theology is a mess. Its good for nothing. But neophytes will grow, being nurtured by the Holy Spirit as they read the Word and believe the Gospel.

Now listen to this carefully. I am not saying this lightly. And I do say this intentionally and with great care given to the words I use –

Matt, if you believe that a person must hear, understand, and embrace the doctrines of grace in toto in order to be saved or as proof of their salvation as they mature in Christ, then you have in fact denied the gospel of Jesus Christ. Coming to faith and maturity in Jesus Christ is not synonymous with embracing TULIP.

There have been many great and godly men throughout the history of the church who were not Calvinists. There have been countless numbers of people who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone who have never even heard the term “The Doctrines of Grace.” There have been Christians in every age who were completely ignorant of systematic theology. What did they know and believe? They knew that they needed to be saved and that Jesus alone could and would save them if they trusted Him. They took Him at His Word, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Matt, if you believe that this is the position that you have presented in your articles, then many people are misreading you. Those who have defended you have argued for Hyper-Calvinism and against the gospel itself. It should alarm you that those who defend you also defend Hyper-Calvinism! If what you have written does indeed confuse the content of the gospel and cloud the simple truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, then you must be encouraged to retract what you have written and recant the errors that you have published. It is not enough to write new material to defend what you believe. You and I must be willing and ready to correct any errors we find in our writing and preaching as we both continue to grow in grace.

If you are satisfied with what you have written and do not see any need to retract, recant, or edit a word of it then I do truly fear that you have slipped into Hyper-Calvinism and that people will take your writings and with them justify their own denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I leave it between you and God. I have nothing more to say on the matter to anyone. And in fact, I will not comment further. I have no desire for an ongoing conflict that is disagreeable and unfruitful. I write this not because I am responsible for you or your ministry, but because I am responsible as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ to defend that gospel and to give every man an answer for the hope that all Christians have in Christ Jesus. In doing so, I am going to be held accountable by God for every word I speak, write, and think. So will we all.

Think about what you have written. Does it present the gospel of Jesus Christ in the clearest terms possible? If not, cast those things aside and strive only to preach Christ and Him crucified.

For our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,

Phillip M. Way

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