Phil Johnson Fans the Flames

Don Elbourne and Phil Johnson

Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You and curator of the Spurgeon Archive, has finally lit the fuse on his own blog, Pyromaniac.. His first substantive post, Quick-and-Dirty Calvinism, has already sparked a firestorm of comments. Ostensibly taking his cue from the Discerning Reader and the Internet Monk, Phil points to smoldering problems within the ranks of cyber-Calvinism. He bemoans neophyte five pointers who too often exhibit fanaticism, non-evangelism, polemicism and anti-intellectualism rather than attitudes more consistent with the doctrines of grace. He urges green theologians to get their feet wet with “the historic mainstream Calvinist authors, not from blogs and discussion forums on the Internet.” I won’t mention the irony since its such good advice. 🙂

I first ran into Phil on The Fightin’ Fundamentalist Forum several years ago. I mentioned to him I had only read one of John MacArthur’s books, Charismatic Chaos, and most of my familiarity with MacArthur had come from the anti-Lordship Salvation crowd. A few days later a box of three or four complementary books arrived on my doorstep from Grace to You. Those books, along with Spurgeon’s writings set my feet on the path toward embracing Calvinism. Apparently I had already been leaning in that direction without really realizing it, but God used these influences to kindle the fire. Founders Ministries helped me along the way and John Piper pushed me over the edge.

Summer before last, my wife competed in the National Cycling Championship in California. On the trip we had the privilege of worshiping with Grace Community Church. Phil and his wife treated us to a wonderful lunch. We snapped this picture. I’m the “beardless Calvinists” on the left.


Hey Don,
Baptist or not, if you buy the Calvinist T-shirt, you are expected to grow the beard.

That’s a snazzy picture of you and Phil. I hope you stopped along the way to put flowers on the graces of Pastor Hugh Jass and his family.

It took me eight years to make the journey to five-point Calvinism, and one thing I learned from it was that God was not in a hurry to get me there. Learning Christ is more important than learning Calvinism, and I fear that the fanatical Calvinists who needlessly assault the faith of other who live in good conscience towards God have bypassed the Cross of Christ on their way to the tulips.


Amen Jeri!
Was Jesus not a Calvinist?
Why is it in Mark 6:6 he is amazed at their lack of faith.
Hadn’t he heard of total inability?
What about Peter? In Acts 2:40 he’s asking folks to save themselves! What’s he doing here? Didn’t he know that they couldn’t save themselves? That’s God’s business isn’t it?

I’m confused here. Got any ideas how I should interpret these texts in light of Calvin’s teaching?

Jeri said ” Learning Christ is more important than learning Calvinism, and I fear that the fanatical Calvinists who needlessly assault the faith of others who live in good conscience towards God have bypassed the Cross of Christ on their way to the tulips.”

Well spoken Jeri! I have remained aloof from any of the current blogging on Pyromaniac due to what I perceive to be much of the same attitude I encountered in the 14 years I spent in the Reformed Baptist movement. I know Phil resents Monk and others characterizing him as a self appointed sheriff in the calvinistic Baptist movement. Yet, methinks I see some of the same attitudes towards some with whom he disagrees as I saw in some of the pastors I knew in RB churches here in the NE. As one of the early emails he received on his blog noted, “to a man with a torch the world looks like a pile of kindling wood.” I can tell you from experience that if you don’t cross every “t” and dot every “i” in conformity to the Westminster and Second London Confessions you might as well openly declare yourself to be a heretic even though your doctrinal agreement might be in 98% range.

If I ever happen to be in NC I might look you up. It would be interesting to spend some time comparing notes on my experience in the RB movement and yours in the IFB movement. Though the legalisms may be different, you might be surprised at how closely SECRET RADIO and STANDARD CHRISTIAN describe the Reformed Baptist movement. The authoritive man of God and submission mindset is as common there as in the IFB. How well I remember the young couples who needed permission from the elders to start their families, the submission of one’s checkbook to the scrutiny of the eldership in order to verify your level of giving to the church, the Heb. 13 mindset of submission and the day I heard from the pulpit “When I stand and preach to you I am the voice of God!” It almost ruined my marraige.

You are quite right, Jeri, would that we had a generation of Calvinists who were as quick to reflect the Grace of the Doctrines as they are to defend the Doctrines of Grace. When I preach or teach I am very careful to not use certain terms, qoute certain writers and cite certain confessions and theologies. It is interesting to see how the exposition of the text can bring people to the same convictions doctrinally, even when some of them would fight calvinism to the death because of the way they have been treated or the way it has been represented. The abuse of the theology is, perhaps, far wider than just a few isolated examples on the internet.



I’m stunned to know this. I always thought that any Reformed Baptist Church would be a lot better than the IFBx. How do these control freaks get into office?

On the other hand, when I was saved out of Roman Catholicism, my IFB church was a very good church, with many very well grounded Christians but no (or very, very few) Calvinists. A person doesn’t *have* to be a Calvinist to be a believer.

I always do find it ironic that the very people who insist that the knowledge of such things can come about only by the direct act of God will hammer and berate the brethren and try to force onto others what they themselves confess cna come only by God’s express will.

I also add that what really convinced me of Calvinism was a stark view of my own sinfulness. Profound awareness of sin did anticpate profound awareness of Grace. But it was so painful I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

None of us ever gets to the mastery of that knowledge of personal sinfulness, and it’s God who propels us into those revelations. If He doesn’t propel everybody as far into those hard truths as He does others, that’s His choice, and that’s also a type of Grace.

I’ve known plenty of non-Calvinists who love God whole heartedly but are not Calvinists. And they still trust Him sweetly and confidently (better than I do, in fact). God will give them what they need.

Anyway, end of soapbox proclamations. Yes if you come to NC look me up. Perhaps, in the meantime, you will consider blogging about your experiences in abusive churches.



Thanks for your reply here. I trust Don does not object to a bit of discussion on his blogsite. Actually, it would be interesting to have his input as one who is affiliated with the SBC and the Founders movement.

Observations: I don’t want to suggest that my time in the RB movement was all wasted. The level of preaching is much above what you will find in the average fundamental church. My wife and I learned much about the home, family, marriage relationship, as well as many other ethical and moral aspects of the faith. So much so that it gets us in trouble in our current church due to the fact that people just don’t understand that there can be a level of preaching and teaching that is above average. In trying to encourage a higher level of preaching I have been regarded as an elitist, an academic, a theologian, a snob, etc., all with a view to relegating the kind of preaching I love and attempt to do to the realm of the irrelevant. It seems that many in the pew aren’t interested in the level of preaching and teaching that I love. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this and a consideration of them is probably outside the scope of this format. I just want to emphasize that my experience was not all bad.

Another observation I would make is that while Baptists tend to be “independent, autonomous, etc.”, there was a time when they had the means to deal with the kinds of situations that you are concerned with in your work. The old associations and conventions provided a mechanism to which a church or individual could appeal when the occasion warrented it. I’m sure Don could explain the structure of the SBC much better than I could. In theory, the structure is there to deal with all kinds of issues that might arise in the churches – doctrinal, ethical, orgaizational, etc. It is this structure that does not exist among RB’s. Consequently, when situations arise where abuse of people or churches exist the people in the pew have no means by which they can seek a resolution of the situation. In my experience the situation could only be resolved when 21 families left the church. A few years later the church collapsed when the “pastor” was caught in a situation much as you describe in SECET RADIO and STANDARD CHRISTIAN. It has been a source of grief to learn of how many men I have met or known personally in the RB movement who are not in the ministry today. I have come to the conclusion that wether one is RB, IFB, SBC, GARBC or whatever, sin appears to transcend the expressions of denominational life. There is a sense in which I think we Baptists could take a page from you Presbyterians. You at least have the structure to hold men accountable and the means to deal with those who do transcend the biblical principles that should characterize the task of shepherding. This will be, I think, the fundamental weakness of the Founders movement in the SBC. Most RB’s I know are really immersing Presbyterians and they attempt to bring the Presbyterian polity into Baptist churches. This allows for the development of the concept of the eldership that places an emphasis on strong and authoritative preaching and ruling without the checks and balances in of the Presbyterian structure.

Just some further thoughts, hope they help. Don, feel free to add any observations of your own.


wow, was the reformed baptist church that was so power hungry part of the Arbca?

Hello, I’m sorry that I don’t know who to address. I’ve been looking for a church to belong to for 2yrs. I finally found one that has bible teaching, but are confused by the Pastor’s opinion on John MacArthur- Christ’s blood on the Mercy seat/ 5 point Calvinism.
Grace To You has been my lifeline in the last few years- but the doctrinal issues were over my head. This is an ‘independant Baptist’ church. They also believe that the KJ is the only preserved Word of God.

Please help, Dat To