Calling Heresy for the Wrong Reasons: Some Thoughts on the Latest Steven Furtick Outrage

Steven Furtick. Photo Credit; Cheyenne Schultz (via Wikipedia)

Popular preacher Steven Furtick is under fire from other pastors. Again.

The pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC is no stranger to controversy, and the Christian blogosphere is currently abuzz with reactions to a recent sound-bite from one of his sermons. In the clip (which you can see here), Furtick discusses a scene from the Gospels where Jesus did not perform miracles in his hometown of Nazareth because of the townspeople’s unbelief (see Mark 6:5-6; Matthew 13:58).

In Furtick’s words, “There’s one thing that Jesus can’t do. One thing the Son of God can’t do. Even Jesus cannot override your unbelief.”

Now before we talk about this statement and the outcry it sparked, let me state from the outset that I personally am not a fan of Furtick. I see a lot that is problematic with his ministry methods. So I have no interest in defending him personally with this post.

Rather, my concern is with why people are so upset with this particular video, and with the commentary I’m seeing it generate.

What’s been getting some folks upset is Furtick teaching the idea that Jesus does not override unbelief. This clashes with the Calvinist doctrines of “unconditional election” and “irresistible grace,” which hold that God does and, in fact, must override the unbelief of the elect and place faith in them so they will be saved.

Those who’ve spoken out against Furtick’s video have mainly sought to defend their belief that God must grant them their faith, and in the process they’ve vilified Christians who believe differently about how faith works.

Now, if Furtick thinks that Jesus lacks the power to potentially override unbelief if he wanted to, then yes, that’s just plain wrong. As the Son of God, Jesus can do whatever he pleases. (Furtick seems to equivocate on this, since he later says, “He [Jesus] wanted to. He was prepared to. He was able to.“) Teaching that God’s ability is limited by whether or not we “activate” his power by faith is indeed an unbiblical teaching, of the “Word of Faith” cult variety. On that, I’m in agreement with the critics.

But the question I want to focus on is, does Jesus override unbelief? This is where good and honest Christians have genuine disagreement, and the fact that many within the Calvinist camp are calling “heresy” on those who disagree with their doctrine of irresistible grace is something I cannot abide.

The Arminian position (the primary, orthodox alternative to Calvinism) holds that even though God certainly could override someone’s choice and make them believe (y’know, since he’s God), nevertheless he has freely and sovereignly chosen to give his creations the power to choose for themselves whether they’ll have faith or not.

In that sense, Jesus wouldn’t override the unbelief of those people in Nazareth because that was their choice, and they will rightly face judgment because of it.

From this perspective, the reason Mark’s Gospel says Jesus “was not able to do a miracle there” is not because of a deficiency on Jesus’ part, but because of his policy of not giving handouts to people who had already rejected him (alternatively, it could have been because the people didn’t have faith enough to even bother asking for help — probably it was a bit of both).

So here are the viable options:

Arminian View: God could override unbelief if he wanted to, but he has sovereignly chosen not to so that humans can make a responsible choice. God graciously offers salvation to everyone, but it must be received by faith.

Calvinist View: God not only does but must override unbelief and place faith in a person, but he only does so to those he has unconditionally elected to salvation before time began. This is considered gracious because no one deserves salvation.

Well-meaning Calvinists and Arminians all look to Scripture to inform their views, and these two perspectives have long sought to do justice to the twin truths of God’s total sovereignty and human moral responsibility. They just do so in different ways. The questions and doctrines associated with this subject continue to spark ongoing debate because we, as humans, simply don’t have all the answers on how these truths all fit together.

Those who believe that Jesus chooses to respect human free choice are not heretics; they are solidly within the majority of historic, mainstream, orthodox Christianity. Those who believe that God must grant faith to people or else they would never believe are likewise not heretics; they, too, are solidly within a longstanding tradition of historic, orthodox Christianity.

So rather than call the other side a bunch of heretics, how about we all politely agree to disagree? Then we can focus on criticizing actual heresies.

If you’re going to criticize Furtick, make sure it’s for the right reasons.

If you wanted to disagree with a pastor living in a multi-million dollar mansion, I’d be with you. If you wanted to disagree with his use of crowd-manipulation tactics to manufacture high numbers in his church, I’d be 110% with you!

But don’t call someone a false teacher just because they aren’t a Calvinist. Or because they aren’t an Arminian.

Such behavior doesn’t help remove false teachers. All it does is alienate multitudes of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Categories: Calvinism/Arminianism, Contemporary Issues/Ethics, General

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Loved this!!!

    >> Nikki Dodson >> 214-636-0800 >> >> Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. >> – Martin Luther King, Jr.



  2. I attended Elevation for a couple of years and while I now view the church as “cultic” I certainly cannot say that I ever heard any heresy from the actual teachings of Furtick. Like you said, he is misguided in many areas of ministry but preaching was not one of them. Now, I have not listened to every sermon he has ever preached, or read every book, but in the two years that I attended I never heard anything unbiblical in the sermons. At least nothing that was glaring at me.


  3. Is he teaching Heresy when he said that, the disciple were upset when Jesus told them he was leaving them, he said that Jesus said, I am not leaving you, I am just changing “Form” Isn’t that denying the Trinity?


    • Yep, that certainly sounds like the classic heresy of modalism. As I mentioned above in the post, I don’t personally support Furtick. I just saw an occasion to talk about how matters of Calvinism vs. Arminianism shouldn’t lead to accusations of heresy.


  4. It’s curious that you refer to Arminian position (the primary, orthodox alternative to Calvinism), given that Arminism was determined to be heretical:
    Having been condemned by the Synod of Dordrecht (Dort) in 1618-1619, Arminianism is indeed a heresy, a serious departure from the historic faith of the Christian church.
    While it is common/popular in the modern church, that does mean it is orthdox.


    • The Synod of Dort was not an ecumenical council; it was an in-house debate among Dutch Reformed churches. And it was more political than theological — the deck was unfairly stacked against the Remonstrant (Arminian) spokesmen. The Calvinist delegates not only refused to welcome the Remonstrants as actual delegates to the council, but they baselessly accused them of being in league with Spain (the national enemy at the time), ensuring their position would be shut down. Not even everyone in the Reformed churches at the time accepted the conclusions of Dort, and once the Calvinists’ patron, Prince Maurice, died, his successor and many of the churches decided to allow Arminians to return to the ministry. So, sorry, but I don’t accept Dort as an authoritative declaration on orthodoxy. That may put me outside the bounds of what you’d consider to be Reformed, but it does not determine what is or is not Christian.


    • Arminianism is wrong but is not heresy. Five point Calvinism is wrong but it is not heresy. People sin when they elevate interpretations on doubtful disputations to the level of core saving doctrine.


  5. I want to interject a word the HOLY SPIRIT laid in my heart not long ago. Everything that makes you who you are is from GOD! HE said HE knew you before the foundations of the Earth were created. Nothing you are was because of you! HE made everything about you, the very breath in you is HIS! You are not your own! So HE made everything you are & gave you life. But HE also gave you a choice. To take what HE’S freely given & waste it, or give it all back to HIM to use for HIS GLORY! I believe HE loved us so much HE gave us that choice. Though it breaks HIS HEART, because HE wishes no one should perish, but all would have everlasting life, HE didn’t want robots! HE want you to love HIM freely of your own will! That’s the MOST HIGH GOD I serve! HE love us enough to give us a choice!


  6. I agree with many of the things said.. but I wish more people would take the word “religion” out of communication or any other holistic viewpoint. We are all spiritual creatures living out a human experience. When the final question is asked: “What is the purpose of Life?” How will you respond? Same thing for this Mans sermons.. how do you respond? Is it even worth responding to? Only you can determine that. And here we have an example of free will at its best!

    But my own response to the one thing the Jesus really can’t do… he can NOT interfere in the natural development of a person or society. What I mean by that is considering his kind and generous nature, he cant force someone to really do anything. That goes against his own nature and principles. He has his own ways of doing things, quite mysteriously at that. We can question him, we can even question each other but what good does that do? I’m not going to say I’m authority on anything or I’m better than anybody else but I’m quite a knowledgeable thinker.. there’s always a point or purpose to everything. There’s always usually a lesson to be learned in most everything in the cosmos too. At the end of the day I’m a sinner in need of my Savior everyday! I thank him for his kindness and grace to allow me to Live and learn from my surroundings. I do Love him even though I make mistakes. I do try to Love others even from a distance.. and I’m pretty sure Jesus sees that from all of you. Just live in Peace and I think more people will come together thru Faith better that way than any other way.


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