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.