The following are my comments on Vincent Cheung’s comments about the spiritual state of Arminians (e.g., those whose main heresy is that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception). Cheung writes:
~ from email ~
I think that most people who claim to be Christians are not saved, whether they call themselves Calvinists, Arminians, or something else.
And yet Cheung’s “most people” allows for the following people:
“More than a few Christians have succumbed to the teaching that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have bodies. These believers do not realize that the doctrine is a heresy, and that it is closer to a Mormon doctrine than a Christian one” (Vincent Cheung, Systematic Theology, p. 53).
I wrote to Cheung about these comments in December of 2006 (he did not reply). This was how I concluded the 2006 e-mail (which included me quoting Romans 1:21-31):
“Why are you judging those above as ‘Christians’ and ‘believers,’ when the Apostle Paul clearly would call them undiscerning God-haters?
Thanks in advance for answering my questions.”
The quote above was taken from the 2003 edition of Cheung’s Systematic Theology (the original edition was 2001). Here is how the most recent (2010) edition reads:
“More than a few people, who claim to be Christians, have succumbed to the teaching that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have bodies. But it is heresy; it is a pagan doctrine rather than a Christian one” (Vincent Cheung, Systematic Theology, p.62)
When a person uses the name “Christian” they do not necessarily mean a regenerate person; they might just mean a mere professing Christian. But in the quote from the 2003 edition Cheung clarifies by saying “these believers do not realize…” Cheung says, “believers.” But in the 2010 edition he leaves that embarrassing line out.
So we need to examine the people, and not only the labels. Most people who call themselves Christians, including real Christians, have never considered or even heard of Calvinism and Arminianism. It is true that the proper way to preach the gospel is to present the whole spectrum of Christian theology (albeit not necessarily in a technical or academic manner), but a person can be saved with much less information.
In view of Cheung’s editing out of “anthropomorphite believers,” the “much less information” would not be that “fuzzy” or “muddled.” Both the people and the doctrinal labels ought to be examined. Whether a person has considered or even heard of Calvinism and Arminianism is NOT relevant. Paul judged and prayed for the salvation of people who had never considered or heard of Calvinism and Arminianism (Romans 10:1-4).
Many false converts have entered the church because the gospel that they heard was superficial and promised salvation to anyone who would repeat a prescribed prayer or slogan. However, many people have been saved this way despite the imperfect method.
Most likely Cheung refers to the damnable false gospel seen in the popular Arminian “sinner’s prayer” (the “‘imperfect’ method”). In Cheung’s view this false gospel creates converts false AND true.
Just as the thief on the cross was indeed saved, if someone truly believes that Christ saves him apart from his own works and merits, but only on the basis of grace – he does not even have to think about it in these words – then he is saved even if he only looks up to heaven and says, “Jesus!” It does not take more than the “sinner’s prayer” to be saved — it takes much, much, much less. Jesus paid the price for salvation – all of it – and we do not pay part of it by much learning and seeking. On the other hand, one can have a doctorate in systematic theology and remains unsaved, because he does not truly believe.
Scripture says that “Isaiah [is] very bold and says, I was found by the [ones] not seeking Me; I became manifest to the [ones] not inquiring after Me” (Romans 10:20). Also contained in Scripture are verses like Jeremiah 31:34, Romans 10:1-4, and 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. Do ANY of these verses even remotely imply the false teaching that we somehow “pay part of salvation” by receiving by God’s regenerating power, the redemptive knowledge of and humble submission to the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the gospel?
“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” (Isaiah 45:20).
To use Cheung’s reasoning. Now wait a minute there, Isaiah. Jesus paid the price for salvation – all of it – and we do not pay part of it by much learning and seeking. Same goes for Paul in Romans 10:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 and Jeremiah in 31:34.
The typical Christian repeats the doctrines that he has been taught. He would do this even if he believes something else in his heart, and he might not even realize that he believes something else.
This disunity is possible, as the Bible says, “They draw near to me with the lips, but their hearts are far from me.” An Arminian can repeat doctrines about free will and so forth, just because that is what he has heard, so he thinks that is what he is supposed to say. Meanwhile, he might sincerely believe in his heart that he was saved entirely because of grace, so that he contributed nothing, not even his choice. He might even feel uncomfortable repeating the Arminian doctrine, but he does not know why. This is because if he is truly saved, then the Spirit of God is in him, teaching him the truth (1 John 2:27). Someone like this might immediately, or at least very quickly, change to believe in the Bible’s teachings about divine sovereignty, grace, and so forth, once someone presents these to him. He might even exclaim that he has believed all of these in his heart all along, and that now everything finally makes sense. I would say that this person has been saved all this time, even though he has been an “Arminian.” He has always believed in God’s grace, but now finally someone comes and gives him the liberty to affirm it explicitly.
And this is the typical tolerant Calvinist explanation of how it is possible or conceivable that a regenerate person can simultaneously believe in things like universal atonement and free will AND salvation by grace alone, contrary to Romans 11:5-6.
This illustrates why the teaching ministry is so important, even after a person has become a Christian. It will eliminate confusion, and make the heart and the mouth consistent. It has this effect on unsaved church members as well. They say that they believe in Christ, but in their hearts they do not. Many will change their tune and curse God once they realize what he really teaches in the Bible. So their hearts are revealed.
The teaching ministry is very important. But Cheung’s teaching ministry foolishly lays a false foundation of self-righteous sand and then seeks to build upon it (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10-11). This is just more of the typical tolerant Calvinist rejecting and jettisoning of the Stone of Stumbling by beginning their so-called “newly regenerate Christian life” with a false christ whom the apostles did not preach (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:4-15).
On the other hand, many Calvinists are in love with their Calvinism, and the idea that they affirm Calvinism, much more than they are in love with Jesus Christ. They take up the doctrines about God’s grace just because they have been taught this way, or because these doctrines better satisfy their intellectual tendencies, or some other worthless reason.
There is some truth to this spiritual and intellectual pride among typical tolerant Calvinist connoisseurs who prefer the more consistent wine of efficacious atonement to the inconsistent wine of the universal atonement of their brothers in Satan (though common grace is expressed in some way or other even among men like John Owen, John Murray, John Gill, and James R. White). I would wonder, though, WHICH JESUS is Cheung in love with? The true Jesus who is a Stone of Stumbling and Rock of Offense? Or the false jesus who is an inconsequential and non-essential pebble over which Cheung and his fellow universal atonement brothers in Satan can agree to disagree about?
They enjoy debating about them, harassing people with them, and winning arguments with them. They could not care less about God, but they care about their Calvinism — not as doctrines about God, but as their own personal philosophy. They are repeating these doctrines about grace just like some Arminians repeat the doctrines on free will. They are very proud of their Calvinism, but in their hearts they are stubborn, arrogant, and cruel people.
Again, there is some truth to this. Some new Calvinists (e.g., pejoratively called “cage-stagers” by the more “mature” and “balanced” tolerant Calvinists) harass many Arminians with their particular understanding of the “precious doctrines of grace” they deem as optional or non-essential. But since Cheung does not consider the absolute sovereignty of God an essential gospel doctrine, then why cannot someone say that Cheung is arrogant and cruel in his critiques of those Calvinists who hold to what Cheung correctly labels as “compatibilism”?
They claim to believe in divine sovereignty and grace, but whenever they run into problems in debate or in life, they compromise these assumptions to make room for things that are more important to them at the moment. You will see this sometimes when Calvinists criticize me. It is strange and funny to watch. In attacking me, one Calvinist even argued against the idea that God is “in control” of everything, and so he made his doctrine even weaker than the theism of many Arminians. He did this because a consistent application of divine sovereignty obviously endorsed my position in the context of the disagreement. You see, he hated me more than he loved God, and he wanted to defeat me more than he wanted to defend the truth. Is such a person better than an Arminian, or more likely to be saved? He is probably less likely to be saved.
And, so what? The doctrine of divine sovereignty is a nonessential gospel doctrine to Vincent Cheung.
This is why I do not identify with Calvinists or Reformed Christians. Their doctrines of divine sovereignty, election, reprobation, and so on, are in fact weak, unbiblical, often heretical, and poorly formulated. Much of the time they cannot even distinguish between theology proper and soteriology, or between metaphysics and ethics. This is one reason they messed up the whole “author of sin” business. Utterly shameful and incompetent. Yet they pretend to be the champions of orthodoxy and intellectualism.
Men such as A.A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, R.L. Dabney, and W.G.T. Shedd are some who “messed up” the “whole ‘author of sin’ business.” But what of it, Cheung? Are they your spiritual brothers or not?
They are usually not more saved than the Arminians, just much more hostile and hypocritical. Of course this is a generalization, but it is a true generalization, and I would not like to be one who comes under it.
If we are talking about those less-than-forthright dualistic atonement Calvinists who assert that Jesus Christ died for the elect and reprobate in different senses, and that God “ardently desires” the salvation of those whom He has decreed not to save, then, yeah. It appears Cheung identifies better with certain types of Arminians, obviously.
So most people do not know or think about these doctrines. This does not tell us whether they are saved or unsaved.
What if they do not know about the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ revealed in the gospel (Romans 10:1-4)? So, not knowing (i.e., ignorance) about God’s righteousness “does not tell us whether they are saved or unsaved”? Did God through the apostle Paul get it wrong (cf. Romans 10:3)?
What makes a person less likely to be saved is when biblical doctrines are presented to him, and he continues to resist. The more these doctrines are explained to him, and the more he continues to resist, the less likely that he is saved. Jesus said that his sheep would follow his voice, but this person hardens his heart against God’s word more and more. I am not saying that he changes from being saved to unsaved, but that by this we discover how likely he is a real believer in the first place.
So unregenerate Israel (Romans 10:1-3) is NOT necessarily unregenerate UNLESS they continue to resist? But with Cheung, these judgements are NOT based upon the true gospel. And besides, they only contain within them “degrees of likelihood” anyways.
This does not apply only to the doctrines about divine sovereignty and grace, but on a number of other doctrines. How about the doctrines concerning the Holy Spirit, faith, prayer, healing, and miracles? Cessationists harden their hearts more and more each time they are confronted with the Bible’s clear teachings on these things. They make up fancy theories and impose them on the Bible. They explain away the words of Jesus and they make the apostles into idols. They hide behind creeds and traditions, also made up by men.
Cessationism is a chief heresy. It is a most alarming issue. Cessationism attacks part of the gospel, even the very start and center of it (Acts 2:38-39, Galatians 3:1-5), so that it is many times more harmful and reprehensible than errors in other areas. When it comes to salvation, it is not that cessationism itself might mean that a person is unsaved (just like an “Arminian” could be saved, for reasons stated above), but I wonder about the kind of person who would believe such an abomination.
This is bombastic bluster bereft of backbone even on his false standard of judgment. Cheung wrote the following in his “Neither Unbelief or Fanaticism” (which was also adapted from e-mail correspondence):
”The Reformed probably represents the best overall theological tradition, but much of it is still human tradition. As human tradition goes, it invents things that complicate and undermine the system of truth, and it often rebels against God’s commands and teachings. Compatibilism is one example. As for cessationism, it is perhaps one of the most harmful false doctrines in human history. It is not only a result of a difference in opinion, but I regard it as a doctrine of demons” (Vincent Cheung).
Is he a person who wishes to protect the Bible as a finished revelation? No, come on, that is a scam. He is more in love with the idea that the Bible is a finished revelation – and even more in love with the idea that he is in love with it as a finished revelation – than actually believing and obeying what this finished revelation tells him. It tells him to desire spiritual gifts. It tells him to pray for the sick and expect miracle healing. It tells him a number of other things that he outright condemns.
Thus to answer your question, you need to get to know the person to form your opinion about him, instead of letting his label settle the issue. If you pick out random Christians, I do not think that any “Calvinist” is more likely to be saved than any “Arminian,” because both of them are most likely unsaved, and even the real Christians are just repeating what they have been taught. We should be disappointed if we are making Calvinists or Arminians or Pentecostals out of people instead of Christians. Nevertheless, it might be true that the Calvinist cessationist is less likely to be saved than the Arminian Pentecostal. Both are just as unlikely to believe in God’s grace, but the second one is at least more likely to believe in God’s power.
By Cheung’s lights it is NOT about the true gospel at all, but about non-cessationist/continuationist power. This “power” is what Cheung is in love with.
Marc D. Carpenter 4-part series on Romans 10:1-4