Calvinism: An Introduction and Comparison with the Main Historic Christian Alternatives
With the Principal Relevant Historical Councils and Creeds
Stephen Paynter April 2020
I have been recently sent an online copy of Stephen Paynter’s new book, or rather a new version of a work done in 2014, by Academia.edu free of charge. This academic consortium has kindly provided me for several years with many gems both small and large from writers on theology, missiology and church history. It is rarely, however, that I receive works from them dealing solely with evangelical, Reformed issues. This is also the more surprising because Dr Paynter is a software engineer and neither a theologian nor a pastor.
The aims of the book
Paynter’s aim is to define the ‘Calvinism’ in which he believes via the doctrines of election, total depravity, effectual calling and regeneration, the way true Christians are kept in the faith and their ultimate salvation and justification by faith alone. He also deals with Christian alternatives to his own faith from early Church times to the modern Hyper-Calvinism debate and the tensions he finds in the Biblical accounts. On reading the latter words the first alarm bells began to ring. However, this is a brave undertaking to be accomplished in the 107 pages of the book and Paynter manages to deal with much of the material the Scriptures and Church History record. He concludes his first section which is his Introduction, by saying that:
‘The aim of this booklet is to argue that Calvinism gives a natural and complete understanding of the Bible’s teaching concerning salvation and God’s sovereign role within it, and that Calvinism is more compellingly biblical than the alternatives that have be proposed through Christian history.
In his second section, Paynter seeks to define ‘Calvinism’ and steps into his first difficulties. He allows for the fact that there are various interpretations as to what ‘Calvinism’ is and that Calvin would be horrified to hear how his name is misused today. Yet he goes on to describe a ‘Calvinism’ which Calvin would have scorned and in no way accepted as the ‘gospel’, nor would any other truly Reformed evangelical. Though I have studied Calvin and Calvinism minutely over the last sixty years, I have never come across Paynter’s interpretation but we live and learn. The pity is that the author soon shows that his reading and understanding of Calvin, and most of the other Christian apologists he mentions, is but scanty and most of what Paynter claims from Calvin is not taken from Calvin but secondary literature. His lack of knowledge of original works whether in Latin, French, German, Swiss-German or translations into English is most obvious. Of a knowledge of the Biblical languages involved there is no trace.
In his search for true Calvinism, Paynter confuses the teachings of Zwingli, Calvin and Bullinger on election in Christ within the Covenant of Grace, thinking them one in their opinions. Both Calvin and Bullinger objected to Zwingli’s stark fatalistic definition of election in this work with its pure philosophical reasoning and his determination not to view election from a Scriptural or Christological point of view. This Zwingli outlined in his 1530 work on the Covenant shortly before meeting his death on the battlefield in a war which he had mainly caused through striving to starve out the Roman Catholic Cantons who now rebelled. Zwingli is still in print and available in second hand book shops. I picked up some ten volumes of his works for a song. So, too Calvin is ready available from Christian publishers such as the Banner of Truth and Zürich University has been re-publishing Bullinger non-stop for decades. The internet is full of freebies from the pens of these three men so the amount of research material is immense.
Bullinger had been writing on the covenant for some ten yearsbefore this, dealing with the entire Scriptural teaching from Genesis to Revelation. Thus Bullinger’s great works on election and the Covenant of Grace were before either Zwingli’s or Calvin’s teaching and far more comprehensive and Biblically based. Calvin differed from Bullinger radically in his assuming that God created Adam so that he would sin so Bullinger had to warn him against preaching such a perverse gospel. I have come across this horrible decree from the mouths and pens of those whom Paynter praises in his work.
Bullinger saw election as being in Christ which was the reason for Christ’s creation and New Creation as outlined in the first chapter of John’s gospel. Neither Zwingli nor Calvin managed to explain the Christological aspects of election as did Bullinger. However, it is primarily Zwingli’s view of election which Paynter takes up in 2.5 as the ‘Calvinistic’ norm in spite of Calvin’s modifications of it and Bullinger’s thorough rejection of it. So too, Paynter makes the same blunder that modern Fullerites such as Curt Daniel make in regarding election as being foreordination in what they call ‘eternity past’ or ‘past eternity’. Here, there is a strong touch of Deism in Paynter’s ‘Calvinism’. Is Paynter unaware of the fact that the people and para-church organisations with which he allies himself call this teaching‘Hyper-Calvinism’ and condemn it strongly? Yet, to ward off criticism of their own unbiblical stance they call such as John Gill and William Huntington ‘Hyper-Calvinists’ though they correctly teach that God in Christ is always immanent in creation bringing in the elect through the Spirit’s work in the gospel, within the Father’s covenantal pact with his Son. God is eternity itself and ever present in time-bound creation and does not belong to an eternity in some distant past as the Deists and Paynter believe. Election is not a clock wound up to run from the Genesis period to Revelation but it is God in Christreconciling the world to himself. There is no election outside of the Covenant the Father made with the Son. Furthermore Paynter’s idea of an ‘eternity past’ in which God elected a People irrespective of the work of Christ has nothing to do either with traditional ‘Calvinism’ or the gospel. I usually find such ‘moderate Calvinists’ more Hyper-Calvinistic than Calvin himself.
Paynter’s ‘tensions’ in the Godhead
Paynter, however, is aware of his stance as a Christian and strives to bring in Christ into election by distinguishing between God the Elector and Christ the goal of the gospel as if he were writing of two different entities and two different elections one being in a fictive eternity past and one being administrated through the sinner’s belief in Christ. Painter thus postulates a double election, one in a supposed time before time began and the other through God’s sending of Christ in time, followed by the Holy Spirit in a time after. Here he clearly distinguishes between the Godhead, Christ and the Spirit as if they were entirely different gods, each acting separately. His efforts to deal with most of his ‘tensions’ like this is to separate rather than synergise.
Indeed trying to divide up the work of the Trinity and is division of salvation into no less than three aspects and the tensions he imagines are involved in all his analytical work causes Paynter much difficulty throughout the book. The Bible tells us that the Godhead was working from eternity in the creation of the earth to bring in the elect through the one will of the undivided Godhead. Christ the Son was at work in creation (John 1:1) at unity with the Father and the Spirit because the Three were One. Paynter’s idea of the Godhead is at times Deistic and at other times polytheistic. His ‘tension’ theology is nether exegetically or doctrinally possible for one who wishes to keep to Reformed, evangelical preaching whether they call it ‘Calvinism’ or merely being clever.
Here, it is obvious, as Paynter says, that he is using the Westminster Confession as his guide which leaves a most jumbled picture of what election and the Covenant of Grace entails with no Article on this central Christian belief but a jumble of articles airing separate beliefs. Yet at other times, Paynter sees salvation and Christ’s Bride through institutional, allegedly Baptist, teaching which quite contradicts Calvin, the Westminster Confession and Scriptural record.
When anyone starts arguing from the WC, telling me I am in error concerning what the Bible says, my appeal to them to let the Bible speak for itself is often in vain and I am told that the WC is the Bible tuned down to its salient points. I beg to differ. Even if I could be proven wrong, as Presbyterians and some Baptists tell me I am, it would surely be safer to appeal directly to the Bible. I argue that the WC does not speak with one tongue concerning the Biblical Covenant doctrine which includes election and salvation and this is no wonder when considering the different theologies represented in the Westminster Assembly. The notorious Antinomian Controversy arose in Britain through the bickering which went on amongst those representing different theologies through both the secular and denominational members of the WC with the church organisation which had supplied Britain with most of its Reformers shut out.
Worse still, Paynter is obviously arguing with Andrew A. Woolsey’s 1988 thesis on the Covenant in mind which has long been overhauled by more proficient writers and found to be weighed and found to be very wanting. Seeing the WC as the standard declaration of election and the Covenant, he strives to go back through time proving that this was Calvin’s view all along, mistaking Calvin for Cartwright. As many have shown, in this Woolsey erred. But he is still given ear in certain ‘Calvinist’ circles. However Paynter sees the major difficulties throughout his book where he finds different ends which he cannot tie up in his Westminster understanding of salvation in general also as ‘asymmetries’ or ‘tensions’. Why cannot he teach clearly what Calvin taught without all his constant cutting and pasting collage work?
The spiritual deadness of the unregenerate
On coming to section 2.6 on the Spiritual Deadness of the Unregenerate, Paynter tells us that we must think ‘noetically’, which is a posh way of saying we must use our common sense, and tells usthat being bad does not mean being as bad as one can possibly be.What he means by that is difficult to say as the Bible does not speak of degrees of guilt but total guilt for all, the wages of sin (not the number of sins) being death but the gift of God being life. Paynteralso emphasises that God’s image in fallen man is not destroyed. It is difficult to follow Paynter’s translations here as he uses different pronouns and paraphrasing so those used to the AV or the Greek and Hebrew texts will be rather puzzled by what is meant. However, to sum up what he calls his ‘asymmetry’ here in 2.6. Paynter tells us that depravity is not part of the nature of man or is inherent in him and sin did not corrupt man totally. Here we have pure Fullerism as recorded in Fuller’s erroneous description of the Fall:
‘Or if the inability of sinners to believe in Christ were of the same nature as that of a dead body in a grave to rise up and walk, it were absurd to suppose that they would on this account fall under the Divine censure. No man is reproved for not doing that which is impossible; but sinners are reproved for not believing, and given to understand that it is solely owing to their criminal ignorance, pride, dishonesty of heart, and aversion from God.’
This Fulleristic thinking concerning the Fall leaving man in degrees of corruption is a denial of the Fall as outlined in Scripture where fallen man is dead in carnality to spiritual things. Hitherto, Paynter has thus neither given us Calvin’s Calvinism, nor the Biblical view of God and man both before and after the Fall. He has also reinterpreted the, albeit, jumbled accounts of these matters in the Westminster Confession.
In Section 2.7 on Particular Redemption Paynter deals withpropitiation, redemption and reconciliation leading to the conquering of Satan, the latter being a very important issue which most writers on the Atonement quite leave out. But still, I am not satisfied with Paynter’s approach as he uses that dubious word ‘image’ to describe redemption where no imagery is stated nor intended. He also concludes the section by stating that:
‘Christ’s atonement was designed to be effective only for the elect, but it was sufficient for each and every one. It has infinite worth, because it was the second person of the trinity who suffered and died.’
This can neither be concluded from Scripture which Paynter does not cite in his description of Particular Redemption, nor is it by any means ‘noetic’ as the fact that Christ suffered and died effectively does not necessitate its being ‘sufficient for each and every one.’ Paynter himself uses the example (he calls it again an ‘image’) of a slave being bought free, but this does not indicate that there was a price involved which could have bought other prisoners free, too. If Paynter were correct, we must ask him, keeping to his slave-freeing ‘image’, why was the redemptive money available not paid out and its purpose of universal redemption gained? I believe that Christ died for His elect Bride which entirely covered her debt and both the efficacy and sufficiency of this redeeming act were covered in the Atonement. Oddly enough, Paynter appears to accept this when in 2.7.5, he says:
‘In considering these verses, it is important to remember that what is at stake is not so much the extent of the atonement, but the nature of it. In particular, the question is whether it was a universal but ineffectual (i.e. merely potential) atonement, or an effectual atonement that actually saves a specific people.’
Painter nevertheless argues for a universal sufficiency of the Atonement though he realises that this proves ineffectual in the non-acceptance of the gospel by unbelievers. Why not simply believe that the efficacy and sufficiency of the Atonement is the lot of Christ’s Bride alone and the foreign idea of an ineffectual sufficiency which is an insufficient sufficiency has no room in Christian thinking?
However, in spite of his many contradictory statements concerning a fatalistic election and Christ’s actual work, the idea of the efficiency of the Atonement not been based on its sufficiency, Paynter comes down on the right (Biblical) side of the Atonement by concluding, though in a most round about manner:
‘In summary, therefore, if Jesus died for all, including the reprobate, then he intercedes for all, including the reprobate. If those he died and intercedes for includes those who will finally fall – the reprobate – then the fact that Jesus died and is interceding for us is no comfort at all, undermining Paul’s argument in Romans 8. Clearly, our salvation is secure because Jesus atoned for our sins, and is interceding for us – and Jesus will lose none whom the Father has given him.’
Turning to Common Grace which Paynter obviously sees as a basis for the all-sufficiency of the Atonement, I realise that once one starts being critical one finds a skeleton in every cupboard but I do believe in the fact to me that Christ created mankind with a view to preparing a place for them on the earth where they are a privileged race in spite of their disbelief and are often favoured in Providence. It is from this environment that Christ’s chooses His own elect Bride for His New Jerusalem alias Heaven. We must not therefore think that God is not mindful of this environment but controls and often blesses it. This is quite a different providential situation to what Paynter’s view of ‘Common Grace’.
Particular Redemption and Covenant Theology
In Section 2.7.6 on Particular Redemption and Covenant Theology Paynter again makes distinctions where the Bible does not, separating what he merely calls ‘the Covenant’ from what he calls the ‘Covenant of Redemption’ seeing the latter through the eyes of J.V. Fesco as being ‘the root of the Spirit’s role to anoint and equip the Son for his mission as surety, and to apply his finished work to the elect.’ Again, we see that Paynter distinguishes between atonement made and atonement applied as if there were a time-lag in between. Surely the Atonement is the application. It is the Atonement which frees Christ’s Bride from her sin.
Though Painter has a rough idea of what his Covenant of Redemption is, he does not describe what he means by ‘Covenant’ in terms of the Biblical Covenant of Grace and we are not told what its function is within the application of both Law and Grace, nor what role Christ and the Spirit play in this Trinitarian plan of salvation. He appears to believe that when he uses his term ‘Covenant Theology’ all will know exactly what he means. Anyway, he merely quotes Fesco and Carl R. Truman on the unsatisfactorily defined Covenant of Redemption and the latter’s ideas of Owen’s debates with Baxter. These explanatory quotes on the Covenant of Redemption certainly do not back up Paynter’s notion of the alleged separate works of the Members of the Trinity.
Regeneration and Calling to Faith (2.8)
Here I found Paynter difficult to follow because of his quite unnecessary attempts at a more ‘Modern English’ in interpreting the Bible. This criticism is not merely limited to Paynter’s re-translations but also his use of quite unnecessary neologisms in his theological language. The old, Biblical idea of imputed righteousness to man and, we presume also imputed sin to Christ, is dropped until later in the book and we read here of ‘credited righteousness’, and ‘credited faith, and thus I infer ‘credited sin’ but Paynter does not deal with Christ’s role in imputation at all in his book.
The term ‘credit’ is very diverse in its meanings and is much more difficult to define than ‘impute’. So, too, ‘credit’ is not merely associated with lack of payment but also a measure of praise. In my way of thinking, to be given credit means chalking up my debts on a blackboard and having them rubbed out on payment. In my childhood days in England, we were often confronted with a sign saying ‘No Credit’. So what does Paynter mean by ‘credited righteousness’. Is it righteousness chalked up or my credit payed? Is this a reference to the righteousness which we owe or righteousness which is paid for us? I fear Paynter means neither the one nor the other but tells us that ‘the righteousness which arises from faith is being contrasted with wages credited as an obligation.’ But this is only more confusing, we do not want to know here that wages are attached to an obligation to work but what is ‘credited righteousness’? We understand via Paynter, that it is not the wages for work but then what is it and what is the use of introducing a new word such as ‘credited’ which is not a synonym of the old word ‘imputation’ and never explained? Nor does Paynter explain what he means by ‘imputation’ when he comes to it.
Paynter obviously sees faith and righteousness as unmerited gifts with which all Reformed believers would agree. He is also obviously approaching the Biblical teaching on justification which I believe is the making righteous of the elect, and perhaps here, I thought, he would explain what he means by ‘credited righteousness’. However, instead of leading us on to the subject of how righteousness is imputed to us and sin to Christ in the atoning work of justifying the ungodly, Paynter now tackles the subject of the Final Perseverance of the Saints though we have not been told clearly how saints are created.
The Final Perseverance of the Saints
Again, I found it difficult to follow Paynter’s new ‘Christian’ jargon which changes good New Testament Greek-based English thinking and what has come to be called the Language of Sion into a strange lingo which begs for clarification. No word is considered holy by him and he even changes that lovely, expressive word ‘fellowship’ as in Philippians 2:5 into the mundane word ‘partnership’. However, allowing for his new jargon, Paynter is true to Biblical and Reformed theology in stressing that once we are in Christ’s arms He will never let go.
The Fairness of God
Section 2.10 now deals with the rather odd subject of ‘Calvinism and the Question of the Fairness of God.’ It took me some time to realise that when Paynter speaks of God being ‘fair’, he means God is just. Why did not Paynter say this in the first place? ‘Fair’ is not a synonym for ‘just’, nor is ‘partnership’ a synonym for ‘fellowship’. Nevertheless, Paynter succeeds in demonstrating the justice of God. Where his version of ‘Calvinism’ comes into this, however, is another matter as the term only exists in the title but not in the explanation.
Justification by Faith Alone
This also goes for Section 2.11 which Paynter entitles Calvinism and Justification by Faith Alone but at last, with somewhat of a detour, we are back to the subject of how God makes the ungodly righteous. Here, Paynter uses that important word ‘impute’ in connection with righteousness but waters it down to make it mean ‘declared righteous’ but does not tell us what ‘to be declared righteous’ means. Section 2.11.1, however, takes up this question under the title ‘The Meaning of Justification.’
What does justification mean?
Here Paynter sticks to his understanding of imputation as being declared righteous but tells us that Christ is declared righteous because he is righteous. Amen, but how does Christ’s righteousness become the believer’s own? He tells us in 2.11.2 that this is through faith alone which is the ‘Non-Meritorious Instrumental Cause of Justification.’ Again, I agree that faith is not merited by man but we still are not told what the righteousness which comes by faith is but Paynter only tells us that faith is credited as righteousness, again forgetting to explain what he means. However, what Paynter makes obvious, and this was really a surprise, is his argument in 2.11.1 that the very idea of Christ’s righteousness being linked with the meaning ‘made righteous’ is ‘offensive’. Paynter has missed the point. Arguing against the idea of ‘justification’ carrying the meaning ‘made righteous’ because God and Christ are righteous and therefore do not need to be made righteous, he infers quite wrongly that thus, when applied to saved sinners, it cannot mean that they are ‘made righteous’. But is this not the main point of the Atonement? Because we are not righteous of our selves we must be made righteous by Christ who is righteous by nature and clothes us with His natural righteousness. Being made righteous means we are given Christ’s righteousness in exchange from our righteousness which is but filthy rags.
Is Christ’s righteousness with which sinners are enabled to enter Heaven ‘offensive’? It obviously is to scoffers. What does Paynter mean? I would recommend that Paynter should read the works of that great Preacher of Righteousness James Hervey here, especially his Theron and Aspasio to find out what the righteousness which saves is all about. He might also care to read New Focus and Go Publications books which have been preaching Christ’s righteousness given to fallen sinners for many decades. Is this not the gospel which is worthy of all acceptation? Though Paynter tells us correctly in the words of Galatians 2:15-16 that we are justified by faith as a gift of grace, he does not tell us that Galatians 2 tells us repeatedly that it is the genuine faith of Christ which is given to us in the gospel and nothing man-made or ‘as if’. Indeed, our new life is Christ’s righteousness in us. This is how I understand Galatians 2:20:
‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. ‘
Here, there is no mere ‘declaration’ or ‘credit’ given but the teaching that an actual righteous faith is present in all believers. If this is offensive, then it is the offence of the Cross. But Paynter does not mean this at all. He means that it is wrong to believe that we have anything else but an ‘as if’ or ‘pro forma’ indwelling of Christ. He would then empty our faith of belief. But it is the actual indwelling of Christ that takes us to Heaven. No one comes to Heaven without Christ’s righteousness within him. This is called in the Bible ‘making just men perfect’ so that they can say ‘Christ in us, our hope of Glory.’ This is a present status and not one only reached after the resurrection. However, Paynter keeps on telling us that our righteousness is only ‘credited’ as if Christ’s righteousness in us were not real. Here he uses Abraham as an example explaining that he was merely ‘labelled’ righteous and there was nothing ‘intrinsically’ or ‘inherent’ involved. Who is Paynter trying to kid? Is Christ’s righteousness in us nothing but a mere ‘label’ stuck on us? Is this what Paynter means by ‘credited’ or ‘declared’ righteousness? If Christ’s righteousness is not inherent then we are still in our sins. I, however, believe in the intrinsic and inherent and therefore real righteousness of Christ indwelling the believer. Christianity is Christ and not a make-believe label or logo! God’s word is Truth!
Paynter tries to get over the stumbling block he has laid for himself by using another entirely unhelpful word. He tells us that Abraham was given an ‘alien righteousness’. The word ‘alien’ to me means ‘foreign’, ‘repugnant’, ‘estranged’ and is used for describing certain mental illnesses. Paynter does probably mean that our righteousness is that of Another, Christ’s, however, this makes it a real righteousness and not a ‘labelled’ fiction.
James on Justification
I thought it again odd that Paynter, who throughout has used terms which he never explains and misuses, now deals in Section 2.11.3 with ‘James on Justification By Works’, a topic usually aired in a manner foreign to James who sees righteous works coming from God given faith. This is clearly taught in Chapters 1 and 2. Paynter, after giving us a host of contrary theories which merely clouds the issue, apparently believes that Paul and James had different concepts of faith whereas I read both as teaching that faith alone does not rule out the fruits of faith but certainly includes them. Surely the doctrine of faith alone includes faith’s works. The faith which Christ shares with us is always active in the aid of sinners and to the glory of God otherwise it is not Christ’s faith. But again, Paynter has not explained what Christ’s faith is. It is good that Paynter is not a pastor otherwise his hungry sheep would look up to him for food but receive none.
Imputed Righteousness the Ground of Justification
After beating about the bush for section after section, Paynter gets down to brass tacks in Section 2.11.4 on ‘Imputed Righteousness: The Ground of Justification’. This ought to have come much earlier when the author was discussing the nature of ‘credited righteousness’ and ‘declared righteousness’ which was never spelt out. Paynter tells us that this righteousness is from God through faith in Jesus Christ as illustrated by Rom. 1:17 and Romans 3:21-22. He also points out that we are talking about the righteousness of God Himself. So anyone would conclude that the justified believer is endued with God’s righteousness. That is too simple an explanation for Paynter and therefore he rejects it. Apparently we cannot say ‘The Lord our Righteousness’ as Isaiah and Jeremiah boldly proclaimed. Paynter tells us that though righteousness has God as its origin, it remains ‘outside’ of the believer to whom it is ‘alien’. Now I admit that God’s righteousness is outside of and alien to the unbeliever but not to the believer as this righteousness makes him a believer. There is no such thing as an unrighteous child of God.
The author is trying to ward off the idea of righteous being ‘infused’, as he calls it, into the believer from outside but as we (but obviously not Paynter), have seen, it is Christ within us which makes us righteous. Though this is one of Paynter’s longer sections, I still left it with the feeling that Paynter’s understanding of the many Scriptures he quoted left the reader wondering at his novel interpretations and again, as so often in his book when Paynter seems to be reaching an agreeable end, he blocks it and goes on to the next section. So we leave yet another unfinished section to go on to 2.11.5 entitled:
Justification: A Once-for-All Anticipation of the Eschatological Verdict.
Again, Paynter emphasises that the justified are justified for keeps, criticising John Wesley’s quite un-Biblical view of limiting God’s justification to the moods of the sinner coming into and going out of faith. I remember once when preaching in the doorway of a bank in Bradford how a drunkard mocker shouted that he had been saved five times but it had not worked. So he took to drink! Thus Paynter concludes this brief section by saying:
‘Furthermore, the monergistic nature of salvation, whereby God is the sole worker of the salvation of his elect, means that salvation is certain. This fits perfectly with a “justification” that is God’s declaration that a person who has come to faith in Christ is actually seen to be righteous in his sight.’
This sounds quite orthodox were it not for the unexplained usage of ‘declaration’ and the fact that God’s saved ones are ‘seen to be righteous’ but the actuality of the saved sinner’s righteousness is not declared. I am not being over-critical here as Paynter never declares how the unrighteous are made righteousness. Seeking sinners want to know.
Calvinism, Assurance and the Christian Life
This is the topic of Section 2.12. Here Paynter discusses what Calvinism is not, some ideas being new to me. He insists rightly that Christianity is not a morbid faith of struggling to keep oneself righteous but a holy and joyful trust in God and a knowledge of His guiding presence where pride and arrogance in being ‘the Elect of God’ is quite out of place. He also points out that ‘Calvinists’ are particularly active in evangelisation and world missions. Paynter seems to imply, and I would thoroughly agree with him here, that when we are in service for Him, we notice the He is with us.
The Ordo Salutis
The next section is taken up with ‘Calvinism and the Logical Order of God’s Decrees’ which is followed by the closely related ‘Calvinism and the Ordo Salutis’. Here the author discusses the rather academic or theoretical (so John Gill) distinction between Supralapsarian and Infralapsarianism. I cannot find Paynter’s seven logical steps in God’s decrees in the Scriptures according to Painter’s system, nor his seven logical steps according to what he defines as Supralapsarian. Indeed, Paynter’s Infralapsarian logic starts with steps traditionally called Supralapsarian and he separates election from the work of Christ in true Zwinglian style in both systems of logic. Obviously both of Paynter’s systems overlap so Paynter writes: ‘However, arguably no reformed confession has explicitly ruled out supralapsarianism.’ I have honestly never met a Christian theologian, Calvinist or otherwise who kept to Paynter’s seven point theories. I agree with Gill in seeing all this as idle theorising at worse or to use a phrase of Lessing’s ‘Mental Gymnastics’.
Paynter also lists what he believes is the Amyraldian logical system of coming to faith which he also sees as coming under seven points. I wonder whether Alan Clifford would agree to this list? Paynter does, however, highlight the same difficulties which I have had with Clifford in his idea of Christ making redemption possible for all yet electing some people to Life and allowing others to die by their own reprobation. If Christ made redemption possible for all, He would have made election possible for all, one would think. This conundrum, I find appears to be equally found in modern Fullerism.
It was John Gill who led me to drop the idea of an ordo salutisin Scripture as he gave ample evidence that God acts differently according to the needs of individuals and groups. The fact that the Spirit blows where he will and the very different conversion accounts in all the Scriptures thus make the term ordo salutis inappropriate and inapplicable. Paynter makes the term more complicated by speaking also of a historia salutis revealed by God in Scripture which he sees as a general view of the history of salvation whereas he believes the ordo salutis is what happens to the individual. He associates a rejection of any teaching on his ‘order of salvation’ as being the New Perspective on Paul’ error. It appears that Paynter is troubled with the idea that salvation accomplished is not salvation applied whereas I would boldly say that the Atonement does not distinguish between its accomplishment and its application but the accomplishment is the application. This is what ‘Atonement’ means, the reconciliation of the sinner to God. The idea that Christ’s Atonement is on ice until some future sinner repents is foreign to Scripture. Christ died in the fullness of time and His death was efficacious throughout all time past present and future. Again this is the teaching of Gill which our ‘Hyper-Bashers’ cannot follow as they have a jumbled view of salvation, stumbling over their faulty views of both eternity and time. There is no delayed salvation anywhere at any time in Christ’s Atonement.
Here again, the two-elections theory of Paynter is his background thinking, that is, of an election in ‘past eternity’, whatever that means to him, and an election in time through Christ. Paynter quotes Romans 8:28-30 to back up his delayed salvation in instalments theory but he forgets that God is not ruled by time which is a creation of God to bring in the elect. God rules from eternity and eternity is always with us and we Christians are in God’s eternal care.
Calvinism and the Gospel
Section 2:15 leads on to a group of sections which make up the major part of his book. Here, he divides his ‘Elements of a Proclamation’ into the performative, invitational, promise-bearing, appealing, demanding, proclaiming work of the gospel giving examples of ‘Models of Conversion’. These subsections are in turn full of highfaluting phrases such as ‘illocutionary force’ and ‘perlocutionary effect’ which were too ‘high’ for me. Reading between the lines, Paynter seems to be more or less orthodox here and I found myself reading orthodox Biblical meanings into his, at times, most un-Biblical language. I disagree strongly, however, with his ideas of ‘development’ in evangelistic theories where he follows the hunches of most questionable ‘experts’ instead of keeping to the clear Biblical details. When he comes up with ‘Evangelistic’, ‘Catechumenate’, ‘Protestant’ and ‘Puritan’ models and the alleged differences in them, I began to wonder if Paynter could make a quilt out of all his patches. I began to think that the original, single piece of cloth was far better. Furthermore, I object to the way Paynter defines the ideas of original writers in terms of ideas which have obviously originated in secondary writers and commentators. Where is Paynter’s original source research?
Our Response to Gospel Preaching
Paynter deals at length with gospel preaching and our response to it. Here, he airs various theories, the one worse than the other only to conclude that Calvinists are not of one mind on this subject. Nor does he appear to be of one mind with Calvin. His main struggle is with his own ideas of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility which Paynter never describes correctly so never comes to a set conclusion. He is ever weighed down by his dualistic conceptions of election which he cannot reconcile as one. The easiest solution for Paynter would be to drop all his unscriptural ‘tension’ thinking. Why try to reconcile two conflicting opinions which are purely philosophical mental gymnastics and cannot possibly be drawn from Scripture? Why try to be a devil’s advocate? Paynter’s advice that we should always believe both sides is at fault because he draws dividing lines artificially.
In his theory of Atonement, Paynter stresses the dignity of Christ as God in His death on the cross and as being above the Law and not his vicarious work as a Man amongst men and His voluntary, vicarious sufferings under the Law for his Bride’s sake. Greater love can no Man have than that which Christ’s shows in His atoning work. Paynter’s doctrine is a head-on challenge to the Biblical doctrine of redemption and Incarnation. Considering his idea that the efficacy of the Atonement is not in keeping with its sufficiency, quoting Owen Thomas, Paynter claims again that we must ‘maintain both truths however inconsistent they might appear.’ This is Paynter’s Gospel of Contradictions.
Paynter’s Dualism Grows More Apparent
From now on, Paynter’s dualism become more and more apparent as he speaks of the two wills in God, the two doctrines of election, one in ‘past eternity’ and one in time through Christ’s mediation when the sinner comes to faith and an fictive offer to all though it really is an offer merely to some according to his election in ‘past eternity’ theory. Paynter’s ‘well-meant’ offer is no offer at all. Paynter deals with election purely as an act of God which is somehow manifested to the believer at regeneration or is it at conversion? We are not really told. Even here Paynter’s cutting up of doctrines continues. He forgets that Elohim in His plurality of majesty was at work in Christ with the Spirit in creation and that not one thing was made that Christ did not make. We also know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself in all ages. Now, to make belief in Christ more complicated, Paynter emphasises an ordo salutis in separating regeneration from conversion. Indeed, Paynter makes the one faith in Jesus throughout his book a matter for the butcher’s knife. So he talks of God having two wills, one He keeps secret and the other He reveals, yet, surprisingly enough, Paynter claims to know the unrevealed will of God, which elsewhere in the book he says it is an idea that only Hyper-Calvinists have. He thus tars himself with the same brush that he tars others. I believe that to know Christ is the full will of God in salvation. Need we know anything else?
Calvin and the Gospel
In 2.18 Paynter summarises Calvin and the Gospel emphasising again that the elect have been determined in eternity past with Christ’s work coming in like a post-creation Plan B. What Paynter is describing here is certainly more Zwinglian than Calvinistic. Calvin did often air philosophical fatalism but always kept his distance from Zwingli whom Calvin thought over-emphasised matters. However, Calvin was certainly Zwinglian in his believing that God created Adam to sin. This, happily goes against Paynter’s grain who speaks of God permitting sin in terms reminiscent of John Gill. A pity he did not follow Gill in other matters.
Paynter, in spite of his many paged thesis has not come anywhere near describing the Calvin we know from his letters, commentaries, essays and the various editions of the Institutes. I wonder if Paynter has read all these works. I believe I can say I have or at least the greater bulk and I have obtained quite a different picture of Calvin as outlined in my printed works on Bullinger, Lambert, the British Reformers, Gill, Hervey, Toplady, Huntington, Fuller and in a number of other writings. Paynter has years of intense study ahead.
The Public Response to Conversion
Concerning one’s public response to conversion, Paynter moves from his otherwise insistence on preaching the gospel and pointing the hearers to Christ’s atoning work and sees baptism as the way to make the best public confession. Helpful as this might be, it would be only a one-time confession and not a permanent witness. Preaching back from our baptism is not preaching from Christ’s baptism for the dead to which it ought to point. Paynter is comparing this, however, as a better method and useful alternative to the ‘going forward’ ‘agony seat’ and ‘hand-raisin’ methods so often used in evangelism. Be this as it may, Paynter sees baptism as a looking back to one’s own conversion and testifying to that and one’s own step of faith through obedience, whereas Biblical baptism is an evangelistic preaching forth and pointing to the gospel of what Christ’s baptism means and how one can receive repentance and faith through the washing away of sin in the sacrificial, vicarious blood of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world to win His Bride, the Church. This forward and outward witness in baptism should always point to Christ and is not a back-looking pointer to a step in the ordo salutis.
Baptism as the third step in the ordo salutis
The fact is that Paynter, indeed, sees baptism as the last step in salvation which is, for him, ‘repentance, faith and baptism’. The Scriptural passages which Paynter removes from the overall Biblical teaching on baptism, nevertheless show up Paynter’s ordo salutis to be faulty. Baptism is a forward looking, evangelistic testimony to all men of the one God-Man Christ Jesus and not a backwards looking biography of one man, whether he be called Steve Painter or whatever. Somehow Paynter realises this as he says that ‘Baptism must be followed by the fullest possible instruction’, still thinking of the baptised one and not of the One baptism points to. But was not baptism preached by John as pointing to the needful repentance and the remission of sins for all and not the pointing back to the self-confessed repentance of one? This ought to be our major impulse in responding to the gracious gift of salvation which makes us ambassadors for Christ. Baptism points to Christ’s faith and what He did to grant us faith and not to our faith and what we did to procure it in ‘obedience’. We remember that John’s baptism was also Christ’s baptism proclaiming New Life and the New Birth for all those who should repent and believe, die in Him and be resurrected with Him. This is why John greeted Christ at His water baptism as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Baptism misused is not a response to the Great Commission in the gospel.
Section 3 and the sections following is a collection of diverse essays on Augustine, Palagianism, Semi-Palagianism, the Second Council of Orange, Medieval Theology, the Council of Trent and what Paynter sees as the ‘Calvinist Response’ to Roman Catholicism and Trent. Here Paynter again discusses justification which he has never rightly defined hitherto but here his definition is merely analytical and rather confusing. He tells us, ‘The Roman Catholic position uses justification to refer to a composite property that Reformed theologians typically separate into the event justification and the process of life-long sanctification.’ This separation was new to me and quite unacceptable. But Paynter always likes his ‘tensions’ in doctrines that are clear and unified for others. He then claims that the RC position is synergistic, which I always thought was the Reformed position, then he tells us that the Reformed position is monergistic. This is splitting hairs as the synergism of salvation shows that all things work together in Christ and monergism deals with how God in Christ brought this into being. There is no synergism without monergism in salvation. So, I could not follow Paynter here. Again, however, Paynter argues that ‘justification’ has nothing to do with being made righteous and denies that the Greek word has any such connotation. He does not say which Greek word he is referring to but are they not all causative and point to Christ’s sharing His righteousness with His Bride thus making her just and righteous? Indeed, the English term our Reformers used for making us righteous is ‘justification’ which means ‘made just’. Similarly, the Germans speak of Rechtfertigung, Berechtigung, Rechtfertig machen and Luther of course emphasised being actually made just or righteous in passages such as Galatians 3.6-8. It is Luther’s declaration of being made righteous through faith which was seen as one of the great truths of the Reformation. Sadly it is now dropped by the pseudo–Reformed who now denigrate upholders of the Reformed doctrine. It appears that Luther’s great commentary on Galatians has lost its Reforming power for many of today’s writers such as Paynter. My Swedish translations speak too of ‘rätfärdiggörelse’, which means clearly ‘making righteous’ as in my favourite 1903 translation, and the French Bible tells us ‘Aussi l’Écriture, prévoyant que Dieu justifierait les païens par le foi,’ which means the same.’ My various Dutch translations echo the same truth, going back to Abraham called the Father of the Faithful who was made righteous in Christ. Even my Bible in today’s Greek confesses the same truth. All these great translations, including the original Greek are wrong according to Paynter.
In this selective overview of the historical positions which Paynter finds foreign to his own brand of ‘Calvinism’, he places, as was to be expected by his many hints hitherto, Hyper-Calvinism. This is of special interest as Paynter shows strong traces of what he calls Hyper Calvinism in his own system, especially in the case of election and his presumed knowledge of a secret will in God. However, I have never seen this bogey-man of modified Calvinists defined and attacked in a way that indicates anything but a straw-man, an Aunt Sally or a Plot Night effigy. This is certainly one of the pet myths false Calvinists have nourished and developed over the years.
After writing to Walter Chantry of the Banner of Truth dealing with all their definitions of Hyper-Calvinism which they piled on me and showing how they did not apply, Chantry told me he had other definitions up his sleeve which apparently he thought fitted me but he did not spell them out. Nor does Paynter give us any names to go by but merely refers us to Peter Toon’s ‘The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity 1689-1765’ which drops as many names as bricks but picks up no factual proof of any Hyper-Calvinism at work, whatever Hyper-Calvinism may be. To me Hyper-Calvinism is that which Andrew Fuller developed during his Soham pastorate and which he reduced to nine members through his gospel-less preaching and then Abraham Booth told him he had not lost this Hyper-Calvinism even years after writing his ‘Gospel Worthy’. Paynter should read contemporary documents here, especially the Christian periodicals of the day and the reports on the Socinianism of Soham.
Paynter truly ties himself in knots here hampered by his fatalistic election and his idea that the Atonement dealt with particular sins and not with sin itself. So too, Paynter believes that Hypers do not believe in a general call to repentance and faith. I remember Engelsma dealing with my biography of Gill in the Standard Bearer and quoted Gill as saying such. He challenged me to prove him wrong and he would give me the last word in the debate. I told him to read a little further from the passage he had quoted and he would find Gill writing in the evangelical sense of calling all to repent and believe. My ‘last word’ was not printed. Indeed, he told his readers that I had not risen to his challenge. On sharing this with a leading Reformed pastor and theologian, back came the answer that he had been treated in exactly the same way.
On this subject Paynter is also totally and absolutely at sea but far worse than Engelsma who has condemned that Arch-Liberal Curt Daniel for holding to similar myths as those Paynter propounds. Paynter merely muddles the Biblical call alongside his fellow Hyper-Hunters who nowadays appear like McCarthy who is said to have suspected a communist (a red) under every bed. Paynter must look under his bed every night in fear that a Hyper-Calvinistic bogey-man of his own fantasy lies there. Here he reminds me of Calvin but not the one at Geneva but the one in the comic strip who always imagines that there are monsters under his bed. I must ask, however, how Paynter would recognise them as such as no Anti-Hyper has apparently a real knowledge of whom he is criticising and most Hyper-Bashers hold to strongly conflicting ideas with which to hide their weak dogmas that have no reality. Even here, however, Paynter holds to his dualistic tension theory which such as Gill and Huntington never had. He says Hypers emphasis one side of the truth at the exclusion of the other. This is, of course, a situation which we all, as Paynter, must avoid. Paynter, however is always given us tensions by dividing doctrines to the extent that they appear to be contradictory to him and he strives to accept his self-made opposites. One does not find Gill being so muddled.
Furthermore, Paynter by now waffling on the difference between ‘ability’ and ‘obligation’ gives the impression that he is not sure himself to what extent man is responsible for his sin, possibly because of his view of election which would implicate certain men being born to be damned irrespective of the gospel. Here, Paynter should turn to Andrew Fuller who was Hyper-Calvinistic according to Paynter’s definition, to a high degree but on reading Gill, he realised that man was entirely responsible for his own state.
The Warrant of Faith and the Universal Duty to Have Faith
One always knows where Paynter’s thoughts are leading and now in 11.4 he tells us of ‘The Warrant for Faith and the Universal Duty to Have Faith’. First, however, he must find another Hyper Bogey-man and tells us that he is against those who see justification from eternity or from birth. Now justification must be from eternity as God is eternal and dwells in eternity so from where does Paynter think that justification comes? If it is not from our eternal God, it is nothing. I have never come across the novel idea of justification by birth but only by the New Birth.
Paynter now speaks of ‘a universal warrant for faith’ but what does he mean by this? A warrant is a guarantee but what guarantee have all men that they are bound to believe? Even Paynter says that ‘Clearly there is not (nor should there be) a universal duty to believe that one is one of the elect – for some are not.’ He also writes, ‘Calvinists, in contrast, reject a direct link between the extent of the atonement and the gospel call.’ I do not reject such a link. Paynter seems to be separating the Atonement from the Gospel call. Surely the call is to bring in the Elect and is fully effective in bringing in the sheep. So does this make me a Hyper for believing in the effectivity of God’s call for which His Grace is sufficient? If so, I am on the side of the Bible which says that Christ’s sheep hear His voice and follow Him. Only Paynter’s fictive Hyper’s would deny this but as they do not exist, Paynter is wasting words in his gospel. Gill, Huntington, Hervey, Romaine and all our great Reformers would disagree with Paynter here. But Paynter thinks he must stick to his un-Biblical theory that God’s Atoning work is sufficient for all though it is not efficient enough to do the full work. Here again, Paynter is quite mixed up in his ‘tensions’ thought arguing both that the gospel is a warrant for faith all-inclusive and that ‘the gospel call is a conditional promise made by God, and the fact that God made it is warrant enough to believe it’ This is muddled thinking indeed. When God warrants our salvation, then he gives us it with no conditions attached. God warrants faith for His elect unconditionally because Christ has fulfilled all the conditions for His Bride so there are no conditions to now be filled by her. Those who are in Christ have been given repentance and faith conditioned within the Covenant of Grace between the Father and the Son because men could not keep such conditions themselves. To think he could and is thus duty-bound to meet them thus makes a mockery of the Atonement, the folly of man and the love of Christ.
Next Paynter comes up with the highly rational theory which he has been striving to force on us all along. He tells us, ‘Arguably the determining doctrine of Hyper-Calvinism is the rejection of the idea that everyone has a duty to believe’. Arguably, Gill would answer that everyone has a duty to repent because everyone has broken the Law but nobody breaks Christ’s faith freely given as it is there for keeps by its very nature. Either sinners do not have faith or they have it. Even Paynter argues that those who are given faith never lose it. Fallen sinners as such have never had it. When faith comes, we cannot say it is an attribute of our fulfilled duty but we can say it is an attribute of God’s fulfilled Grace. If man could fulfil all duties, as Christ points out, he would simply be doing his duty and no more. This is his ‘reasonable service’ but still he would be void of saving grace. In his criticism of the argument that exercising faith is incumbent on all men as a duty, Styles, who he uses as an example of a ‘Hyper’, was correct and Paynter wrong. Again, Paynter claims that it is the doctrine of election which gets in the Hyper’s way. I claim it is Paynter’s false teaching on election which gets in his way. It is Paynter that has a tension-filled doctrine of election but Styles believed in grace, however, ‘High’ or Low’ he might have been in his Calvinism. It is grace which saves and not duties to believe which no man can exercise.
After closing his groundless diatribe on faith as a duty and not as a gift Paynter draws his final conclusions which he explains as being moved by ‘monergism’ and ‘compatibilism’. He alters the original meanings of both terms, claiming that as sinners are responsible for their actions they are responsible for believing. However, believing was never an action of fallen man so how can he be responsible for faith not yet given? Here we must talk about man’s irresponsibility because fallen man has never managed to be actively faithful, nor does he, of himself, wish to be and knows no duties leading to faith in Christ. Naturally one can be responsible for ones sins but this does not make one responsible for God’s free gifts of Grace.
I read this strange and most off-putting defence of an imagined ‘Calvinism’ sorrowfully as it demonstrates the low ebb of today’s so-called evangelical, Reformed faith. We can only pray as a Church, ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief’ and ‘Lord, revive Thy Church!’
Revive thy work, O Lord,
thy mighty arm make bare;
speak with the voice that wakes the dead,
and make thy people hear.
Revive thy work, O Lord,
disturb this sleep of death;
quicken the smold’ring embers now
by thine almighty breath.
Revive thy work, O Lord,
create soul-thirst for thee;
and hung’ring for the Bread of Life
O may our spirits be.
Revive thy work, O Lord,
exalt thy precious Name;
and, by the Holy Ghost, our love
for thee and thine inflame.
George M. Ella is a historian, author and biographer. His writings may be accessed at the online archived, ”Biographia Evangelica”.
George M. Ella, born February 1939 in Yorkshire, England, has lived most of his life on the European Continent. He is a retired Senior Civil Servant formerly employed in teaching, post-graduate teacher-training, chairing examination boards and curricula work. He holds degrees from London, Hull, Uppsala, Essen, Duisburg and Marburg universities with doctorates in English Literature and Theology. Dr. Ella has written regularly since the seventies for a number of magazines and newspapers and published numerous books on Church History, including biographies of William Cowper, William Huntington, James Hervey, John Gill, Augustus Montague Toplady, Isaac McCoy and Henry Bullinger besides works on doctrine and education. He is currently finishing the third volume of his series 'Mountain Movers'; a biography of John Durie; a work on Law and Gospel and further study material for the Martin Bucer Seminar. Dr. Ella is still internationally active as a lecturer and is a Vice-President of the Protestant Reformation Society. He is keenly interested in missionary work and has written on the spread of the Gospel amongst the Same people of Lapland, the people of India and the Native Americans. This present volume follows Dr. Ella's 'The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism', also published by the Martin Bucer Seminar. George Ella is married to Erika Ella, nee Fleischman, a former government administrator, and they have two sons Mark (41), Director of a Polytechnic College in Bremerhaven and Robin (39), Leading Senior Physician in a newly-built Geriatric and Psychiatric clinic in Dessau.