By now we’ve all heard about the California Synagogue shooting carried out, allegedly by a young 19-year-old white male which happened Saturday, April 27th, a week from today. I heard about the story while taking a break from social media, i.e., Facebook when my phone’s news alert rang it in. I didn’t spend too much time on it, to be honest, and normally if a reported shooting doesn’t get up to about three alerts, with multiple fatalities from three different sources, I tend to consider it an incident, while no less terrible, as thankfully not a horrific slaughter.
This left one dead and multiple others wounded. It appears that the shooter (his name will not be mentioned) had a weapon malfunction. I suppose I should also be thankful that the shallow brain matter of these individuals tends to also mean they don’t know much about firearms and that unlike the Hollywood movies, they can in fact jam or have various other malfunctions. Californians aren’t typically known for their stellar firearm knowledge. Thank God for that too.
An Attack on Reformed Theology
But with the dark humor aside, what I want to do here is to really address the problem of the blame game at play by media outlets and people who are using this terrible event to attack what is known in Christianity as Reformed Theology. I thought it particularly useful for myself to address it, being among that denomination myself. I am a Reformed Christian of the baptist persuasion and a full-blown, five-point Calvinist. A Washington Post article has gotten a lot of attention recently on its attempt to expose the gunman’s theological beliefs, and tie his actions to that belief.
It doesn’t really surprise me that people who don’t know anything meaningful about Christian theology would commit a genetic fallacy here, and to straw man a particular aspect of Reformed theology, which is covenant theology (I will get to this later). What surprises me is how much I am seeing Christians, yes, Christians promoting and affirming this kind of cheap shot at the reformed community. And for that, I felt particularly compelled to respond to the claims of this article from the Washington Post and address this error.
As I said before, I didn’t give a lot of attention to this shooting at first. That was until I learned that the alleged shooter belonged to an OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church). That is a reformed church community. When I learned this, I became interested in the shooting, and especially because it was being politicized to shine a light on the reformed community as a whole.
As always, the attempt is made, by the Washington Post article, not to directly point a finger at a worldview, but to make it possible to do so. It’s a subtle form of the genetic fallacy, which is to falsify a perspective based on bad examples, or inconsistent examples of that perspective. That’s just what this whole thing is. It is an attempt to paint reformed theology as an extremist version of Christianity, and that its fullest form can lead to what this alleged gunman arrived at: antisemitism and white supremacy. But of course, the fullest form of reformed theology recognizes no such sinful ideologies. This is an utterly deficient view of reformed theology. It’s an insult to even say this is a subset, deficient view; it is not recognizable as reformed theology at all.
This straw man is what I will expose in this article, and then I will deal with the need to stop with this blame game exercise and instead be consistent (I certainly will be consistent with reformed theology) in rightly putting the blame where it belongs. Unlike the progressive think tanks out there who try real hard not to make socialist Venezuela real socialism by slapping “democratic” on the front to put lipstick on the pig as a way to create the false narrative of addressing straw men against socialism, we in the reformed community know what we believe, and are so confident in it, that we can truly defend it against these kinds of false attacks on our theology.
Calvinism as Justified Murder?
Evidently, the shooter was Calvinistic in his theology and used that to justify his shooting. According to sources, in his manifesto, he sums up Calvinism and how it views the triune work of God. He says that he was chosen by the Father, saved by the Son and is kept by the Holy Spirit. That is, in a nutshell, what Calvinism is teaching. Calvinism is the soteriological doctrine that salvation is a work of God, predestined before the world began.
It has a strong emphasis on God’s absolute sovereignty over all time and space, which means that the future is not simply a thing God knows about, but that it’s entire reality is decreed by God. Consequentially, that means that the ultimate destiny of all human beings has already been divinely predestined. For a further explanation of Calvinism, see my article here.
It would appear, then, that the shooter used predestination as a scapegoat to the shooting, and presumes on his own eternal security that, no matter what he does, he will not die in his sins, because he is elect. This of course is a gross violation of not only Calvinism, but a crucial element of Reformed Theology–dare I even say plain Christian theology. But particularly in the realm of Calvinism, you are hard pressed, browsing through reformed teachers for a few minutes, not to find one of them criticizing strongly the idea that because you were born in a Christian home, and even an orthodox Presbyterian home, baptized as a baby into the covenant, that you’re saved.
I’m not Presbyterian, as I said (I am reformed baptist), but even I will defend my Presbyterian brothers here fervently that what it seems like is this young man used his baptism into the covenant as a means to presume he is saved. That is absolutely not what the paedobaptist position believes for a second. It is, as I said, a gross and serious misunderstanding of the position. The paedobaptist position is rather a means of grace, a sign of the covenant, and a faithful covenantal father fulfills his duties as the head of a house to initiate his children into the new covenant as they did with circumcision in the old covenant. It was not to declare the child saved, it was rather the duty of a father, faithful to the covenant to baptize his children.
The kicker, of course, is that we all know that Scripture teaches clearly that just because a boy was circumcised, did not mean he got his ticket to heaven punched. Just as the concept of the sign of the covenant continues into the new, so does the concept of reprobation (even being within the covenant community) carry over.
Election Unto Repentance: True Faith
Furthermore, if you read Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin spends laborious time on the doctrine of faith and repentance to explain what it does to a genuine, elect believer, and as an antithesis, what it does not do. Yes, salvation is a work of God, but the consequence of this is that God will begin to work in the heart of His elect to a degree that brings repentance, stronger faith, and servant-hood to God and to others. If the opposite is happening, that’s a sign of reprobation, not a sign of salvific election.
The elect of God are known by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). The good fruit we are speaking of is the growing in holiness, the obedience to God’s laws (Psalm 1, 19) and increasing faith and knowledge in Him. As Jesus says, if you love him, keep his commandments (John 14:15). One of those commandments is that you shall not commit murder (Exodus 20:13). If someone is not heeding to any of this, they can spout their election all they want, it’s a false profession.
Paul, in Ephesians 2, also says that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We are elected unto good works, righteous deeds, love, kindness, forgiveness and gentleness towards others. Not to murder others. Vengeance is absolutely forbidden for a Christian. Paul prohibits this idea strongly in Romans 12:19, declaring by the Holy Spirit that it is God who takes vengeance. So even if one makes the argument that the Jews of today are responsible for the death of Jesus, to kill them in response is vengeance, strictly forbidden by God.
Hence, the shooter evidently shows a massive deficiency in understanding what the doctrine of election means, and proves the contrary, that he is under the judgment of God, not under His grace. Using God’s predestination as a license to sin is also another symptom of reprobation. The author of the Hebrews warns his audience in a similar context:
[26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.] -Hebrews 10:26-31 (ESV).
If you are familiar with Hebrews, what is most striking about its totality is that contextually, the author is exhorting, rebuking and warning, not pagan idolaters, but professing covenanters of God. Yes, that is professing believers.
A true child of God, elected and regenerated by the Spirit (and the Spirit does not entice anyone to sin) desires to obey Him, to put off their own sin, and they do not use God’s sovereign provision of forgiveness, justification and eternal security in Christ as a means to sin, and sin so deliberately as to commit murder. This is a fundamental teaching of Calvinistic doctrine. Election is not based on our presumption, it’s based on the God-breathed testimony of Scripture as to what a true, regenerate sinner acts like.
I’ve dealt with this accusation already in another article here, where I write a more extensive and detailed argument for covenant theology. So I will not waste time here going through what anyone can find easily on my blog, and all over YouTube with a simple search. But, it’s worth while to make brief comments on this straw man against covenant theology.
The section in which the Washington Post article criticizes (and therefore tries to make a connection to antisemitism) begins by articulating a dispensational position:
“Evangelical leaders often point to the strong support of Israel by conservative Christians in the United States as evidence that evangelicals today embrace Jews. That support of Israel is based in part on Christian theology that claims Jewish people must be in their homeland of Israel to bring about the eventual second coming of Jesus.”
That is what dispensationalism believes. It believes that the land promises God made to Abraham have to be fulfilled. It goes on from there to say this:
“But the branch of Christianity that [the shooter] comes from does not share that belief, Messiah College historian John Fea pointed out. In Reformed denominations, including [the shooter’s] Presbyterian tradition, “replacement theology” teaches that the Christian church has replaced the Jewish people in God’s biblical promises to Israel.”
That there is the straw man. Reformed theology does not teach that the church has replaced Israel. Again, for a fuller explanation, either go look at covenant theology explained by reputable teachers, or read my article on the subject. Covenant theology argues that God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham when He brought Israel, led by Joshua, to the promised land (Joshua 1, 4). That promise to Abraham had already been fulfilled. But even the author of Hebrews says that the land promise was not the true promise of God that we were to look for (Hebrews 4:8).
Paul, in Romans 4, takes that very promise, looks forward to a greater fulfillment that is in Christ, and that promise is to inherit the world (Romans 4:13). The idea that God still has a land promise to fulfill to ethnic Israel is not taught in Scripture. Does this mean that ethnic Israel is cut off and now can be condemned by God? Not at all. The whole point of the nation of Israel was to be the catalyst for God’s greater and ultimate purpose for Jew and Gentile to be redeemed in Christ (Galatians 3:28) and hence, being such, we inherit the world–the world is the promised land, not Palestine.
Paying Penance to Society
The title to this section is, I know, somewhat out of place. But there’s a purpose to the dramatic nature of it. The other day, in a Facebook group, I stumbled across a post from someone who appeared to be trying to use the shooting as a means to justify criticism of Calvinism. This was not posted by a secularist, but by a Christian. That, I think, is very significant. In the Washington Post article, it cites a Reverend Duke Kwon who appears to have made the audacious claim that while many people rejected the idea that the shooter was espousing genuine Christian beliefs, he believed differently.
The person in that Facebook group I just mentioned had a history of using genetic fallacy argumentation to connect Calvinism to slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Now they are using this shooting to connect Calvinism to antisemitism and an evident desire for mass shootings. I think any Calvinist, and reasonable person outside Calvinism can and ought to see how absolutely offensive this is, not to mention absurd. This is the first time in modern history of a shooting done by a professed Calvinist, and now suddenly Calvinism is treated as if it is causing mass shootings? This was, at best, an anomaly.
I made sure this person knew how offensive that is, and what I get in response is the accusation that I, as a Calvinist, am trying to downplay this man’s sin. The Washington Post article pulls a similar move:
But while some said [the shooter’s] background in the church has nothing to do with his alleged crime, and the church shouldn’t have to answer for him, others called for a moment of reckoning.
That’s a huge problem right there. As I told this individual, I as a Calvinist am not responsible for the utter abuse of its theological system by another sinner, and I refuse to apologize for it. I have nothing to apologize for. That man is responsible for his own sin, and he will answer for it. The reformed worldview is not responsible for this twisted version that I have shown here to be a twisted, unbiblical view of reformed theology. The article attempts to expose a double standard (again, all of this ultimately is to attack biblical, conservative Christianity) on evangelicalism:
“When there’s an act of ‘radical Islamic terror’ — somebody claiming they’re motivated by their Islamic faith — if we’re going to call upon moderates in Muslim communities to condemn those things, we should do the same. I wholeheartedly, full stop, condemn white nationalism,” said Chad Woolf, an evangelical pastor in Fort Myers
I don’t know who pastor Chad Woolf is, but I can tell him that I too condemn white nationalism, or white supremacy, but I don’t do that as some form of penance that I owe to society for the actions of a man who happens to claim for himself, not simply the religious worldview I adhere to, but to a theology within that worldview that I also adhere to.
Additionally, I do not, nor have I ever, after an Islamic terrorist attack condemned the religion of Islam for it. I don’t ask or demand Muslims around the world to separate themselves from these radicals or be accused of aiding and abiding them. That’s virtue signalling and I refuse to engage in such mob-like tactics. Instead, I will do what all Christians ought to do, and hold the evil-doers accountable before God, and that they will answer for their actions.
The sinful depravity of fallen, corrupted man leads evil men to do evil things. Yes, that is a reformed doctrine. There is nothing reformed about holding a group of people accountable for the sins of their ancestors. Religion doesn’t lead men to commit vile acts of sin. Religion becomes a catalyst, a gateway to act upon what is already deep inside the very core of their being. Sinners sin. Hence, the removal or shaming of a religion doesn’t do anything to end the disease.
The Bible teaches that man is desperately wicked (Romans 3) and that he uses any means he can to suppress the truth (Romans 1), and that comes in the form of religion, even. So what is the solution? The solution is that men need a new heart, not a new lifestyle, nor a new religion. The doctrine of regeneration (a reformed doctrine, by the way) teaches that no man will ever truly change, repent and be restored unless he is given a new heart.
[ 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.] -Ezekiel 36:25-26 (ESV).
The prophet Ezekiel declares on behalf of the LORD that God, in the new covenant, will cleanse His people, and give them a new heart. That’s what we need–a new heart. This Jesus taught consistently, and especially in the gospel of John, where Jesus talks about the very heart and core of a person, and that it was because of this that we did not need new life lessons, or moral reminders–we all knew about it clearly. What we needed was a rebirth in such a way, into such a new life that we would be able to obey that which God commands of us.
But until that happens, a person will always run off into sin and love the sin. They will never see the world in the way God does, and hence never seek to reconcile His creation to Him as He seeks to do. The reprobate never desire any of this. And since this man saw fit to murder image-bearers of God in such cold blood, how can it be said he is one of God’s children?
This idea that Christians and most especially Calvinists have a special penance to pay as a result of the wicked heart of this young man is truly offensive, and as I said, I won’t be doing any such thing. Instead, as a consistent Christian and Calvinist, I will point to the real, biblical problem of his heart. He is evil and wicked at the core, and needs a rebirth of the heart that would cause true Christian living. That goes for everyone. The answer is, and always will be the gospel.
It’s one thing for the secularists and the progressives to harp onto this idea of a group or sect paying penance for the sins of one who allegedly belongs to their group, it’s another for Christians to be calling for it from others. That is not a biblical idea by any stretch of the imagination. One might try and say that it is taught clearly in the fall and headship of Adam, but the argument demonstrates further a misunderstanding of this fundamental Christian doctrine.
We are not punished for Adam’s particular sin of eating the fruit. That is not accounted to me in Original Sin. What is mine to bear is the corruption that Adam passes down to me as being under his federal headship. That corrupt nature that affects every aspect of my being is what leads me to sin, and what brings me under the righteous judgment of God. That isn’t the same thing as the racial, or cultural concept of original sin. That is unbiblical. The truth of Scripture is that every single one of us, all on an equal level, stand condemned and in need of mercy before a holy God, and hence the gospel of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation is the answer, through and through for all sin and pain.
Antisemitism, Predestination and Reconciliation
I saved this section for last because what I wish to say here I think is a fitting end to this article I have written in response to the Washington Post article, and to those, particularly Christians, who wish to use this tragedy to score political points against reformed theology.
Here I will tackle the notion that the shooter believed he was justified in his targeting of Jews because it was the Jews who murdered Jesus. That’s actually not entirely true. It is true, particularly at Pentecost, Peter rebukes the Jews, charges them with murder against their own Messiah (Acts 2:23). But later, the Bible says it was also the Romans and the cowardly governor Pilate who were held accountable for the murder of Jesus too:
[27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.] -Acts 4:27-28 (ESV).
That is, Jews and Gentiles were responsible for the death of Jesus. So if the shooter were to really take his argument to its conclusion, he should be killing anyone on sight. Antisemitism based off of biblical language is absolute foolishness, evil, and utterly senseless. It has to take Scripture and twist it. As I said, it is a subset, sub-biblical concept. It takes bits and pieces here and there and ignores everything else. No one who is truly desiring to honor God, and thereby honor His word by basing their theology off a full understanding of all of Scripture would ever come to this debase, disgusting idea of antisemitism.
Notice again that this event was indeed predestined by God. Yes, it was God’s plan all along that the Messiah would be crucified. That is, God used the men involved in the crucifixion to fulfill His own purposes, which are always good.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” -Genesis 50:20 (ESV).
This right here is crystallized in the gospel. What men mean for evil, God always, always means for good. The same is in the crucifixion, which is the apex of this verse. What the evil Jewish leaders meant for evil, what the Gentiles meant for evil, to murder their God, God always intended it to save many who yet live, who will live eternally, to inherit that promise. That day was evil and wicked, but God, as He always does, redeemed it in the person of Christ because He is able, He is God, He is unstoppable. He is that good.
That is what God does for all of us who believe in Christ. All our pain, all our suffering has a purpose. As Paul says, God works all things to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He knows more than anything your pain and suffering, because He predestined it. Why? Because He has a purpose in it. Ephesians 1 gives glory in our election to God and God alone because He is merciful (Ephesians 1:3-5).
Therefore I would like to submit here to all those who have suffered as a result of this terrible tragedy and the wicked sins of an individual who used God’s sovereign decree by which that man had no right to use for sin, and he will be judged for it, to all of those affected by this, as a Calvinist, I propose to you the God of the Bible, who holds your destiny in His hand. He knows you deeper than you ever could, because He formed you. I would submit to you that your suffering, being under His divine authority, and Him always having a good purpose in all that He decrees, has a good purpose for you in that suffering. He can redeem your pain if you trust in Him. I don’t know how He will, as I am today still seeing my own pain being reconciled.
But my great comfort in knowing all the pain I endure daily is that God has a purpose in all of it. I know that whatever happens to me is for my good, and God knows that better than anyone. I rest in that sovereignty and that God I propose to you. Be reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ. Jesus is that Messiah that the Jews were waiting for–the Scriptures declare it. And now you need a God who can reconcile the pain you feel. So be reconciled to Him, and repent and believe in Jesus Christ today.