Abandoning the Idea of a Calvinist Remnant

Abandoning the Idea of a Calvinist Remnant

A New Life Booklet—Fact 1

This morning I listened to a Glenn Beck interview with Voddie Baucham.

Using the Old Testament concept of a “remnant,” and quoting Reformed leaders J. Gresham Machen and Abraham Kuyper, these men uncritically presupposed a remnant theology to support their views of the world today.

Since Christians often assume a “remnant theology” to support our views, on this Reformation Day, it is useful to hear why Jack Miller concluded that “we must abandon the idea of a Calvinist remnant” in this age of abundant grace.

[T]hose promises God gives us in Scripture are not an abstraction—instead, practically speaking, “each promise is a hook for pulling our faith into the heavens. There we catch God’s missionary vision of a world filled with His praise.” [Jack Miller] began to diligently chart these promises of God throughout the pages of Scripture.

In his studies that summer [in 1970], Jack saw that the Old Testament prophet Isaiah drew a contrast between two distinct ages: the former age—which Jack himself also referred to as the old age—and the new age, or the last days. Isaiah compared the desert that had been central to the old age with the divine promise of a watered garden that would come in the new age. God promised that in the new age there would be an outpouring of water—which signified his Spirit—on those who were thirsty and that streams of water would flow on the dry ground (see Isa. 35:6–7; 41:17–20). Where there had once been only withering and desolation, he promised a new age of abundant fruitfulness—an age that would even include the Gentiles. Whereas the Lord had left only a very small remnant during the old age (see Isa. 1:9), he promised that in the new age his righteous servant would justify many by the knowledge of God (see Isa. 53:11). After the Lord’s house would be cleansed by a spirit of judgment and burning in Isaiah’s age, his glorious presence would cover the whole of Mount Zion and her assemblies (see Isa. 4:4–5). All the nations would flow to the mountain of the house of the Lord (see Isa. 2:2), and he would make a feast of rich food for all peoples (see Isa. 25:6–8). These Old Testament prophecies applied to the new age that has begun with the coming of the Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and will continue to the new heavens and new earth.

As he studied these promises, Jack reached several conclusions that radically differed from those that are commonly held by Reformed people.

Many Reformed Christians tend to believe that they live in an era of increasing apostasy and expect only a small number of people to be saved. Under this assumption, an embattled Reformed church construes its primary role as one of defending the truth. One pastor summed it up when he said, “Apostasy has reduced us to a remnant. We should really rejoice that ours is the privilege of purifying and strengthening these few.”

But Jack rejected this assumption: “Today we have the banquet of abundant grace! We must open the eyes of faith to the wonder of God’s saving purpose, reaching out . . . to embrace the nations.” Though a remnant-minded church might view it this way, evangelism could not be secondary; it was, Jack said, “God’s first priority for His Word and His Church.” He concluded, “In the new age, the state of life and power is normal for the church. . . . Rather than only a few people saved during an age of apostasy, Scripture itself characterizes the New Testament as fields white for harvest and the gathering in of large numbers of people.” Jack argued that many will be saved, rather than just a few—that we live in the age of abundant life. In view of what happened at Pentecost, Reformed people must “abandon the idea of a Calvinist remnant.”

Jack next abandoned another misguided notion: the idea that “Arminians are bound to be more successful evangelists” than the Reformed are. He was glad that Arminians took evangelism seriously; nonetheless, he believed that if God’s promises in Scripture are true, then Reformed people should be the greatest evangelists of all. The absolute sovereignty of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ provide believers with the greatest possible motivation and confidence for evangelism.

Finally, Jack questioned a view that was common among Reformed people regarding prayer and evangelism. Calvinists tend to agree that prayer changes the one who is praying. They also agree that prayer is important for missionary work and has been commanded by God. But Jack argued that many Calvinists had the idea that “[because] God is sovereign . . . nothing much is going to happen in prayer”—leaving them unsure how or why prayer was important and thus also leaving them with little motivation to pray.

In contrast, [Jack] concluded that the sovereign Lord had ordained prayer as the means for Christians to activate the fulfillment of God’s missionary promises. He explained,

“Christians . . . have missed the exciting link between prayer and God’s purposes in the world. It is, simply, that prayer starts the promises of God on their way to fulfillment! In prayer, God allows us to lay hold of His purposes as these are expressed in His promises. . . . By claiming God’s promises as we petition Him in prayer, we set God’s work in motion (Luke 10:1–3, Acts 4:23–31). Unbelievable as it may seem, the omnipotent God permits our requests to activate the fulfillment of His mighty promises in history (Rev. 8:1–5). As the laborers pray, He begins to ripen the harvest for reaping (Acts 13:1–4).

When I pray and do evangelism, I have laid hold of God’s own . . . method [of salvation],” Jack wrote. Therefore, he concluded elsewhere, “we must get down to knee-work.”

Michael A. Graham, Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller (2020), P & R Publishing, 80-83.

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