HomeResourcesArticles




 

Has Francis Chan Repudiated The Reformed Doctrines of Grace?

At the outset of writing this brief article let me say that I am convinced that Francis Chan is a sincere and devout believer. While I clearly disagree with some of what he believes and teaches (specifically some of what he focuses on and emphasizes) I also agree with some of what he believes and teaches on many of the most important biblical doctrines of the Christian faith. Although I do not know Chan personally, he is my brother in Christ and what I say about what he believes and teaches I say about what a brother in the faith and not an enemy of the faith believes and teaches. To me this a family discussion.  I agree with Chan when he says:

…There is GOOD NEWS—GOD LOVES YOU, IN FACT HE IS CRAZY ABOUT YOU AND HAS DONE SOMETHING SO THAT YOU WON’T HAVE TO GO TO HELL.

Such a statement seems to be a repudiation of the Reformed doctrines of grace. I would like to believe it is. Chan wrote these words to people who would read his book Crazy Love. He had to know that some readers would not be Christians. But it is possible that the “you” that he refers to here are the Christians that he expected or hoped would read his book. But the very nature of what he is saying suggests that the “you” includes non-Christians as well. Does it, however, include everyone or just some who might read Crazy Love? I agree with what Chan seems to be saying here because it is biblical, whether they are Christians or not. The question that we still must ask is; who is the “you” that God loves according to Chan? Who is the “you” that God is crazy about? Who is the “you” that won’t have to go to hell because God has “done something” for them? What kind of love does God have for the “you” in Chan's thinking and theology? Is it a saving or redemptive love? Or is a saving love for some and a non-saving love for others as is suggested by MacArthur, Piper and Packer? Chan is more than capabable of agreeing with or disagreeing with these men on the issues of which this article is concerned.

According to the Reformed doctriness of grace, saving love is reserved for a special class of humanity Calvinists call the elect. If Chan agrees with John MacArthur Jr., the “you” cannot be everyone. If Chan agrees with Piper the something  God did (i.e., that means a person does not have to go to hell) He only did for the elect. That is, according to the Calvinism that Chan seems to believe in and identify with, says that Christ only died for the sins of the elect and no others.

Could it be that Chan believes (as does MacArthur and Piper) that those that are unconditionally elected for salvation will be irresistibly drawn to Christ and will and must be regenerated before they believe in Christ for salvation (i.e., 4th and 1st points of Calvinism respectively)? Could it be that Chan believes that the “you” to which he refers may or may not be “you” unless Christ chose to save “you” and then died on the cross for “you”, making “you” one of the elect (2nd and 3rd points of Calvinism respectively)? Chan has not given us many options. (1) He either believes what it seems he is saying he believes, and he is not a Calvinist and therefore does not believe in the Reformed doctrine of grace, or (2) he does not believe what it seems like he is saying he believes (i.e., in the above quote), and he is misleading folks who think he believes what it seems like he is saying he believes.

I would love to find out that Chan really does believe what it seems like he is saying he believes. I suspect however (because of Chan’s close association with leading Calvinists, like Piper, Driscoll etc and his statement of faith) that Chan does not believe what he seems to be saying he believes. Chan could settle this matter once and for all by repudiating the Reformed doctrines of grace. To do this he would have to say that He really does believe anyone can receive Christ by faith before they are born again so that that they can be born again (or stated differently) so that by believing in Jesus Christ they will be born again. He can also say that he believes Christ savingly or redemptively died for all of the sins of all sinners and not just all the sins of some sinners. That would go a long way in clearing up the matter up for me. It would also get him into a lot of trouble with his Calvinist friends and he would probably no longer be invited to the many Reformed rallies and conferences that he presently speaks at.

But like others in the hypo-Calvinism (i.e., those who stop short of Calvin on the Reformed Road) movement, Chan sometimes uses language that often conceals more than it reveals. That is, he gives what can only be considered lip service to the anyone can potentially be saved doctrine but when pressed to be more precise, he admits to believe in what abouts to hypo-Calvinism. This is a view that says not everyone can potentially be saved for several reasons we will consider momentarily. Hypo-Calvinism is the Calvinism of John Piper, John MacArthur Jr., J.I. Packer  and R.C. Sproul Sr., and Mark Driscoll It is sometimes referred to as popular Calvinism or even Calvinism-Lite. It is often characterized by belief in "paradox, antinomy, and mystery". In this way of thinking, two views which are contradictiory to us, and reconciled in God but cannot be understood by us. I am not suggesting that Chan is deliberately misleading anyone. I am saying that what he seems to be saying he believes, no matter what his intensions, is misleading. The statement of faith for Eternity Bible College (the Bible College he started) says:

“We believe that before the foundation of the world God freely and graciously chose those individuals whom He would save. He did this based upon His own sovereign choice and not based upon any foresight or anticipation of an individual’s decision. The grace of God encompasses the gift of salvation and the means of receiving the gift. All and only those whom the Father draws [i.e., the elect and the elect alone according to the Reformed doctrines of grace] will come in faith, and all and only those who come in faith will be received by the Father (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:4, 11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:1-2; John 6:37,40, 44; Acts 13:48).”

 

And:

 

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for all mankind as a representative, vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice; and that the sufficiency of this atoning sacrifice to accomplish the redemption and justification of all who trust in Him [note that only the elect will do this and only the elect can do this and they do this because they are the elect and cannot do otherwise, according to the Reformed doctrines of grace], is assured by His literal, physical resurrection from the dead (Romans 3:24-25, 4:25; Ephesians 1:7; I Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; I Peter 1:3-5, 2:24; II Peter 2:1).

 

Typically, Calvinists say that Christ’s death was sufficient for all but efficient only for believers or for the elect because Christ only died for some and not for all. Sometimes some Calvinists use the term believer instead of the word elect -see MacArthur's Study Bible-to communicate the same Calvinist concept. Those unfamiliar with Reformed doctrine might not immediately see the difference between what the Bible teaches about who can be saved and why (i.e., anyone and everyone who trusts in Christ for salvation can be saved) and what Chan believes. What Chan believes, if he believes in the Reformed doctrines of grace, is that only some (i.e., the elect) can trust in Christ for salvation.

According to the Reformed doctrines of grace, they do not become the elect because they trust in Christ for salvation but they trust in Christ because they are elect and as the elect God does a number of things in, to and for them that insures they will trust in Christ for salvation. There is a big difference between the Reformed doctrines of grace and what the Bible teaches as to who can be saved and why. Again, the Reformed doctrines of grace says that only some (i.e., the elect) can be saved and that they will believe because they are elect and because of what God does in, to, and for them (i.e., regenerates them, giving them faith in the process, sent Christ to die propitiously for them etc ) that insures that they will believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. For these (and these alone) the Calvinist says that God did something for them-in sending Christ to die for them and their sins (and their sins alone). According to Calvinism this something also guarantees they will be saved. In contrast, the Bible teaches that all who trust in Christ for salvation (i.e., the unregenerate) will be justified and regenerated when they believe in Christ for salvation ( 1 Tim. 2: 3-5, 2 Pet. 3: 9. Jn. 3:15-8, Acts. 16: 16: 27-31, 1 Jn. 2:2). Just as clearly the Bible teaches that God did something for all sinners, not just some sinners so that all sinners can potentially be saved. When all is said and done, Chan seems to be just one more Calvinist who also seems a little more reluctant (than most Calvinists) to admit or reveal that he is a Calvinist. While his statement of faith is an affirmation of unconditional election and limited atonement (that could be a little more straightforward) Chan is better known for his agreement with (and emphasis on) the 5th point of Calvinism, or the Reformed version of perseverance of the saints. That is:

 “...A lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven”.

Like Paul Washer, who admittely and obviously is not nearly as charming as Francis Chan, Chan is an advocate of the examime yourself movement that focus a whole lot more on the performance of man than the promise of God for assurance of salvation. Statements like the one above, do not leave you with  many options. If you have someone in your church who at one time seemed “on fire for Christ” or who seemed truly dedicated and devoted to the Lord and now is “luke-warm” (1) he was never a true Christian because a true Christian cannot become luke-warm and a true Christian cannot ever become a non-Christian (i.e., Lordship Salvation of the Reformed kind) or they were true Christians but “cooled down” to the point of becoming luke-warm and lost (or threw away) their salvation (Wesleyan-Arminianism).

If you are trying to reach someone you would describe in your church as luke-warm (and you are a Calvinist) you need to Evangelize them because they are not saved and never were. Since they cannot believe to be saved until after they are born again and they cannot do anything about being born again because that is only for the elect and they cannot choose to be one of the elect, as a minister your hands are tied until God regenerate them if they are one of the elect. If they are not one of the elect, there is nothing you can do for the luke-warm in your church because their only options are to be spiritually cold (i.e., spiritually dead and eternally so) or luke-warm (i.e., spiritually dead and eternally so) as one of the non-elect.

If you are trying to reach someone in your church who is luke-warm (and you are not a Calvinist but believe they are now lost again because they are luke-warm) you need to re-evangelize them so that they can once again be born again, believe in Christ for salvation again and justified and regenerated again because in their luke-warmness they ceased to be a Christian, and became unjustified and spiritually dead again. If Nicodemus were a back-slidden or luke-warm Christian Jesus would have said to him “you must be born again again”, assuming the reliability of this kind of Weslyan-Arminian theology.

I can only think of one other possible option. There are real luke-warm Christians who need to repent and get right with God in our churches. Not so that they can receive the gift of eternal life and justification through faith in Christ but for good and close fellowship with God, an abundant life now, rewards in the next life, to please, honor, and glorify God in sanctification and faithfulness to Christ and thus to be saved from the daily and potentially devastating power of sin. For my Calvinists friends, I think I have some good news for you. Francis Chan has not (in my opinion) repudiated the Reformed doctrines of grace, though I would be happy to discover that he has done so. If you are a non-Reformed Pastor or youth pastor, Chan and Crazy Love comes with a warning sign. For the biblically literate it should be very easy to see it for what it is. Chan does not represent the more muscular version of Calvinism found in Vincent Cheung or even a James White. But Calvinism-Lite is the entry ramp to the Reformed road.

By himself, Chan will not take anyone to where Calvin wanted them to go (logically and theologically). Think of Calvinism-Lite it as a kind of "gateway theology" to the "theologically harder stuff". My Reformed friends should get a few good laughs out of that anology, but there is a reason that Reformed websites enthusiastically endorse Chan. Perhaps Calvinism-Lite is even more of a threat to mainstream (non-Reformed) Evangelicalism because it is easier for folks to swallow because it seems (on the surface) to be more palatable. I see it as dilluted but still dangerous theological poison. Before you start giving out books and videos of Chan like candy to your young people, think about where it can lead them. Folks may be critical of Chan for two very different reasons. One group (i.e., non-Calvinists, which include but are not limited to Arminians) because of his association and promotion of the Reformed doctrines of grace or the five points of Calvinism. The other group (i.e., consistent Calvinists) because he does not go far enough down the Reformed Road though he seems to be saying that he believes in the Reformed doctrines of grace. He is like the Civil War soldier wearing black trousers and a blue shirt. Both believe they have valid reasons to shoot at him.