Ron Vietti and Jim Crews (Vegas Campus) are co-pastors at Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield, CA. Being the largest church in town, their recent exposé on Calvinism caused some Calvinists to experience complete meltdown. Vietti predicted with amazing accuracy the chatter splatter he would personally receive because of the stance he would take.
But rather than focus on what some of the more hackneyed critics had to say, I'd like to turn our attention to an open letter written by Chad Vegas,1 Lead and Founding Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church also located in Bakersfield. I encourage the reader to follow the links to get the entire letter's content.
Vegas opened the letter by self-identifying as 'one of the local Calvinist pastors who was essentially called a "wolf," who was said to be teaching a "doctrine of demons," and who was called a "heretic on steroids."' If I recall correctly, while all of those monikers were employed within the course of the video, neither Vietti nor Crews personally identified Vegas in their talk. In fact, Veitti repeatedly affirmed he had no intentions if identifying any church or any person since he did not want to make his point into something personally destructive toward either an individual or a particular church.
That's why I find it incredible when Vegas later on in the letter writes:
I have certainly taken issue with some doctrines you have taught. I have found some of them to be not only erroneous, but heterodox. It saddens me to think that the largest church in town is teaching doctrine which is heterodox. I don't glory in these concerns (all emphasis mine)
See what I mean? On the one hand, even when, out of courtesy, Vietti refuses to name names and target specific churches, Vegas presumptuously claims Vietti named him. On the other, Vegas explicitly and personally takes exception to some doctrines Vietti teaches, and identifies those doctrines to be heresy (heterodox remains nothing more than a synonym for heretical). So, when non-Calvinists like Vietti and Crews dub doctrine they understand to be unbiblical, anti-benevolent, and downright dangerous as heresy, there's a problem. But when Vegas and other Calvinists dub some doctrines Vietti teaches heterodox, there's no perceivable problem at all.
Next, Vietti offered to his listeners a question they could ask if they were not sure what a particular church believed pertaining to the Calvinistic doctrine of double predestination. "Do you believe in divine election the way John Calvin believed in it?" In response, Vegas wrote:
Yes. I absolutely believe Calvin properly understood the Bible with regard to the doctrines of predestination and election. Further, I think Calvin properly understood the biblical teachings of the guilt and corruption of man, the effectual nature of God's grace, the particular nature of redemption, and the perseverance of the saints. I have read much of Calvin's work and rarely find much in his commentaries or theology with which I take issue. Have you read his work? I commend it to you.
According to Vegas, he closely follows Calvin on election and predestination and apparently remains fairly proud to do so. Presumably, Vegas feels he's on the right side of the issue. Why he therefore would suggest what Vietti "represented to be Calvinist doctrine is unrecognizable to me" becomes puzzling. 'I don't recognize what you called "Calvinism"' Vegas retorts. Here is another habit far too many Calvinists practice. The old you-just-don't-understand-Calvinism line. If I had a nickel for every time either a Calvinist said that to me or I read where a Calvinist was saying that to someone else, I would have retired to Panama City Beach a long, long time ago. It's almost become expected now. What's more, Calvinists--even very inexperienced Calvinists--will make no distinction at all toward whom they feed that line. It makes no difference if the person to whom the Calvinist is addressing a biblical scholar of repute, a automotive mechanic, a secretary, a Sunday School teacher, or a seasoned seminary professor, the line will inevitably be cast, you-just-don't-understand-Calvinism.
Here's the deal.
If Calvinism is as hard to comprehend and understand as so many Calvinists imply, then we can be darn sure Calvinism is not biblical. The Bible is God's revelation of Himself. Scripture reveals God. God wants us to know Him and His will. But Calvinism conceals Him. God remains hidden behind special distinctions, uncommon definitions, endless speculations, logical obsessions, and, when all else fails, and you're backed in a corner, unfathomable mysteries which defy the obsessive logic Calvinists so often adore. God remains unknowable even when He authors a Book to reveal Himself to the world.
What is more, while Calvinists seem to make knowing God into knowing the right set of theological Propositions--Propositions apparently only Calvinists themselves can understand--God chose to reveal Himself in His Magnum Opus, the Person of Jesus Christ. It's not too much to say that in Calvinism's historic understanding of election and predestination, Jesus Christ is more an after thought, an addendum to a set of speculative intellectual Propositions than He is the Centerpiece of Divine Revelation.
In the end, if people in general cannot understand Calvinism as so often Calvinists themselves imply, I think we can safely, without any spiritual harm whatsoever, bury Calvinism in the ash heap of useless theological speculation and go about our lives seeking God in the Scriptures and not in the theo-philosophical system historically known as Calvinism.
God says, seek me and you'll find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. Calvinism says you've got to understand the right set of Propositions to understand God. Jesus says come to Me and I'll give you rest. Calvinism says study these distinctions and learn these definitions and deduce these doctrines, and you'll be knowledgeable and orthodox. Jesus says if you know Me you'll know the Father. Calvinism says if you know theology you'll know about God. Jesus says I am the way and the truth and the life, and he or she who comes to Me, I will not cast out. Calvinism says it's impossible for everyone to come to Me since I chose before the foundation of the world everyone's eternal fate. Those I chose cannot not be saved and those I rejected cannot not burn in hell. Jesus says whosoever will let him or her come. Calvinism says whosoever God chose before they were born will come and whosoever God rejected before they were born cannot come. Jesus said God so loved the world He gave His Son. Calvinism says God so loved the elect He gave His Son. Jesus said you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Calvinism says you cannot know the truth until you understand Calvinism.
There are some other issues I could raise which cause me pause toward Vegas' open letter. Neither Jesus nor Paul, for example, taught Vegas' doctrine of regeneration precedes faith contrary to Vegas' claims. Only recently did a Calvinist comment on a thread here attempting to argue for the Calvinist understanding. I queried him several times to offer just one single verse which exegetically substantiates the claim that regeneration precedes faith. He continued to speak about theology while I continued to ignore his musings only to repeatedly ask for a single verse which seems to demonstrate the Calvinist doctrine that regeneration must precede faith. He could not. Not a single line. Why? Because there is no verse which demonstrates such a doctrine exists. Instead the doctrine of regeneration precedes faith is a deduction from other Calvinist teachings like total depravity and unconditional election. In other words, regeneration precedes faith is a necessary part of Calvinism even if the Bible never mentions it!
Another claim Vegas made which caught my attention was the way Vegas described Calvin's Geneva and the circumstances surrounding Servetus. Vegas claims Vietti's version was just false. He then went on to suggest what he claims is a corrective:
The city council of Geneva put Servetus to death for the heresy of denying the Trinity. Calvin was not on the city council of Geneva. Calvin was a pastor in Geneva. Servetus was on the run from the Roman Catholic Church for this heresy. He wanted to flee to Geneva, largely because far less people were put to death there than in the rest of Europe. Calvin wrote him a letter warning him not to come because the city council would try him. Servetus did not take Calvin's counsel and came anyway. He was put to death. Calvin actually asked that the city council do so mercifully. Should Calvin have spoken out more strongly against the State church and the use of capital punishment for heresy? Sure. Does his lack of doing so make him guilty of putting Servetus to death? No.
I've not read such a squeaky-clean scenario of Calvin and Servetus since James White's historical hooey he tried to pass off as scholarly correction (here, here, and here). Perhaps Vegas depended upon White's version. Perhaps further Vegas might like to engage my understanding of Calvin and Servetus, an engagement James White apparently felt he just needed leave alone.
Finally, contrary to Vegas' claim, historic mainstream Calvinism embraced what Vietti and Crews described as the ugliest doctrine they'd ever seen--babies burning in hell. A few years ago, I made this very claim on my site to the unsettling of many Calvinsts who logged on to challenge my insidious slander toward their most precious heritage. My response was to demonstrate historically what they apparently did not know. Namely, historic Calvinism has a long, rich history of teaching non-elect infants who die in infancy burn in hell.
Indeed I wrote so much about the subject, I created three categories (overlay exists) on it for my site, arguing that Southern Baptists, unlike Reformed churches, have always held a specific fondness toward concluding infants dying in infancy--elect or not--were safe (or saved): infant damnation; infant salvation; infants dying infancy. Besides these, I wrote a two part piece entitled "Calvinism and Infant Salvation: A Brief Proposal" (part 1, part 2). Those pieces should assist the reader in determining whether or not Vegas raises a legitimate point against Vietti and Crews' contention that Calvinism teaches--or at least many, many mainstream Calvinists have historically taught--babies really do burn in hell.
1the pic I chose of Chad Vegas is not the best I realize. A better shot is on the church website. However, that shot is a family pic and was not appropriate for this venue.