This is primarily a review of the book “Calvinism: Built on a Foundation of Sand” by Kevin Micuch. In this post I will attempt to give an honest response in constructive criticism of a short book that attempts to refute the tenets of Reformed Theology. This is by no means an exhaustive nor a full scholarly rebuttal to Brother Kevin’s book and much caution is given to addressing (or point out) only the issues raised within it.
As Kevin starts to dive into his issues with Calvinists, or what he prefers to call Reformers, he rightly begins with the sovereignty of God. He quickly reveals a reoccurring theme throughout the book when he says that you’ll not find any reference of terminology to God’s sovereignty in the Bible. He does this many times with other terms such as Predestination. He provides for his readers a dictionary definition to ‘sovereign’ “as a nation’s ruler or head of state…the greatest in status or power…the ultimate authority (pg. 9)”. While this is something the author would agree with he later goes on to say that “God is only sovereign because He created (pg. 12)”.
Where Kevin begins to address Calvinism in regards to God’s authority over Creation is he asserts that Reformed Theology is deterministic or fatalistic. In other words that mankind is a group of puppets or robots, having no volition or will in determining choice, since God had already established the decision. He states “In [the Reformers] view, God must orchestrate everything in order to bring glory to Himself (pg. 11,12)” and Kevin responds “God is love…[and] True love, godly love, is self-sacrificing, not looking to seek its own glory. Biblically and logically, this view of God is abhorrent…God only gets glory from His creation, not Himself (pg. 12)”.
So clearly we have both a faulty doctrine of God (the author’s) and some misunderstanding about Calvinist’s view of the sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty is no easy topic to address in this brief review, but suffice it to say that we (Reformers) agree with the Psalmists who say “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3)” and “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Psalm 135:6)”. We attempt to attribute to the Creator and Lord of all the rights inherent to His nature and ability to do what He pleases, without violating the choices of men. We believe that men do make volitional choice that is limited by their nature, strongest desires, and the autonomous free will of God. The free will of man is the next topic the author addresses.
Kevin reveals his full on Pelagianism (addressed later) in his understanding of the free will of man. He echoes Pelagius when he states “God gave us a free will…[and we] have the ability to choose between good and evil…We were made different than the animals… [and we are] not subject to our natures (pg. 16)”. He believes that Calvinists would say that man is not the “determiner of their own actions (pg. 15)”, thus making God responsible for evil. He goes on to say that God’s will is for us to know Him and only those who do what He desires will be with Him in eternity. He believes that men are fully capable of doing just that, as well as things outside of what God desires, namely sin. His self-deterministic autonomous free will ideas become more apparent as he addresses justification and perseverance.
He then moves into his thoughts on the ‘T’ of the acrostic TULIP (aka ‘The 5 points of Calvinism’ or ‘Doctrines of Grace’), which he labels both Radical Corruption and Original Sin. Here I want to spend a good bit of time because he taps into the recent trends of Traditionalist Baptists (Armenians/Semi-Pelagians) of linking the orthodox Doctrines of Man to Gnosticism. A practice I find to be most dishonest and ahistorical. Kevin claims from the outset that the doctrine of Original Sin originated by those who were called Gnostics during the 1st century and never promoted until Augustine in the 4th century. He comes to the conclusion that because Augustine was Manichean prior to his conversion and didn’t know Greek he had developed this illogical theory on sin and human depravity when he mistranslated Romans 5 (pgs. 19-20).
Now I’d like to take a step back and try to give some additional background that I think is relevant to this discussion. During the 1st century of the early church there were many controversies, including those concerning both the deity and natures of Christ. As Kevin mentions in his book, one of the issues with Gnosticism was the tendency to be next-level docetic (neglect Christ’s human nature), which stated that, because of their view of creation, Christ’s body was not human. The Gnostics believed that everything material, all things created, were evil and therefore Christ would not/could not enter creation as anything material. The early church of course refuted this and demonstrated that creation was not evil as God had created it (Gen. 1:31, 1 Tim 4:4). It is during this period that the Bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus, first alludes to the orthodox views of human nature and sin which Augustine would later expound upon.
One of Augustine’s contemporaries from the 4th century was a man named Pelagius. Pelagius, upon seeing the behavior in Rome and hearing a prayer by Augustine, had said that man by nature was good, could do all the things that God commands, and be perfect as God is perfect (Matt 5:48). It was in response to these concepts that Augustine had expounded upon the ideas of men’s nature, ability, and of sin. It was here that he developed the doctrine of Original Sin. This doctrine gives a biblical account for why mankind has the propensity to sin, none who are sinless, and the absolute need for grace. Original Sin is not the idea of passing down of Adam’s actual sin but the consequences of that sin to his offspring by the natural order of procreation. It is the cause for our enslavement to sin from birth. Pelagianism was condemned in 418 at Carthage.
Though the Roman Church had adopted some of the teachings of Augustine, they were by no means on board with everything he had postured nor did they hold to his teachings for a particularly lengthy period. In the book that I’m attempting to review, Kevin jumps forward to the 16th century with Martin Luther and the Reformation. He states that “Luther brought back Original Sin…[because he] read a lot of the writings of Augustine and was influenced by them (pg. 20)”. He also briefly mentions John Calvin arguing that, like Luther, he “was a huge fan of Augustine’s writings (pg. 20)” that he not only taught Original Sin but “added that because of this nature, man cannot even do anything that is pleasing to God…unless God’s Holy Spirit regenerated him first (pg. 21)”.
Kevin wants his readers to throw out the man-made doctrines of Original Sin because “it still is not found in the Bible nor in early Christianity (pg. 21)”. He goes on to say that “it’s not reasonable to believe in Original Sin because the Bible says that we get our spirit from God…Our spirit needs to be as pure as the Source it comes from (pg. 21)” and believes that Reformers only “equate being sinful to not understanding the things of God, but Scripture never does… (pg. 22)”. He also lays out his understanding of death (physical and spiritual) and his rejection of any imputed sin of Adam as a misapplication of Original Sin. He also makes it a point to remind us that we are “a spirit (soul) with a body (pg. 23)” and not the other way around. That’s not how I recall the creation account.
Later in the section the author claims that “the biggest refutation of this doctrine [Total Depravity] is that Jesus, who became human, would have gotten this ‘diseased nature.’ (pg. 29) and the Reformers reasoning against this idea would be an appeal to His deity but if Calvinists wanted to be consistent, he suggests, they would resemble the Gnostics docetic trend. All of which of course is a mischaracterization of what Reformed Theology holds to in regards to human nature, sin, and Christ’s nature.
Kevin treats the rest of the TULIP much the same, based on his own doctrine of God and of man. In the very next section he addresses Irresistible Grace, to him “the most asinine doctrine (pg. 31)”, because the Reformers view of grace is unbiblical. According to Kevin, grace can be considered favor or acceptance based on the individual. For example he says “These people [Noah, Moses, Mary] were accepted with God because they chose to follow His commandments (pg. 31)”. Kevin’s idea of grace is that it is a reward for doing what God commands, and the more we do the more grace we receive (pgs. 33-34).
In the following section, on Unconditional Election (Sovereign Election), he summarizes that the ideas of predestination are about “the end goal…resurrection (pg. 51)”. He goes on to say “if we’re found faithful to Him, in the end He will resurrect us just like He did with Christ, and we will be conformed to His image (pg. 52)” and Reformers get this wrong because they get hung up on the wrong definition of foreknowledge. He also says that what we’re predestined to has nothing to do with our conversion, but our adoption and final salvation, and “Reformers will conflate the different types of salvation… (pg. 54)”. But then Kevin goes on to reduce God’s election to choosing His apostles and ‘key players’ for specific duties (pgs. 56-57).
In his attempt to tackle the Reformed view of Atonement he ‘debunks’ Penal Substitutionary Atonement, while holding to a form Universalism. According to Kevin, “Christ died for all…[including] people that are weak in faith and may depart it…and even those that deny Him (pg. 70)”. He adamantly insists that nowhere in Scripture does it teach that we are covered by the righteousness of Christ, but that “through Christ…because of our faith in Christ, we are credited or accounted as righteous…[since], like wickedness, no one can be accounted for someone else’s righteousness (pg. 74)”.
He wraps up his take on the TULIP with ‘The Treadmill of Good Works in Preservation’ starting off with the bold statement “I hope by now I’ve reasonably shown that man is the one who has a hold of his spiritual destiny (pg. 75)”. In this section he mentions his idea that we receive “the forgiveness of our sins through baptism” and “salvation is a continuous process as we faithfully live the Christian life. After we contact the blood of Christ…when we sin, we must continue to apply it to our lives and make ourselves clean when we’ve become blemished (pgs. 76-77)”. He doesn’t understand how anyone can believe that you cannot lose your salvation when “the promise [is] to those who are faithful to Him (pg. 78)”.
In many ways and in many places throughout these sections, not only does he often misrepresent the Reformed view but he also demonstrates some unique views uncommon among Protestants and/or even Baptists. For a guy who considers himself non-creedal (subscribes to no man made doctrines or councils such as the LBCF, WCF, etc.) he often quotes early church fathers and in his conclusion he doubles down on the rejection of Augustine’s teachings and the assumed connection to Gnosticism.
The target audience of this book is for new Christians, those on the fence about Reformed Theology, or for those looking for fuel against it. It’s not necessarily the best representation of the 5 points, but it does at least attempt to make several points against them, by way of Scripture, through the muddied lenses of a poor doctrine of God and of Man. I give Kevin a lot of credit though for wanting to understand Reformed Theology and attempting to demonstrate his views against it. Soteriology is an important and highly debated topic over many years.
For more information on the 5 points and Reformed Theology, please read through my Soteriology series with the culmination of the 5 points. I hope this critical review helps, God bless!