Monday, February 25, 2013

Roy Fish on Calvinism; part 1 of 2

Evangelism Professor Roy Fish served Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) for almost 50 years. He occupied the L. R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism, also called the Chair of Fire. He changed the lives of countless students. He led “Revive This Nation,” that sent out hundreds of SWBTS students to preach Revivals in local churches around the country. I had the opportunity on several occasions to hear him preach and lecture; you were always inspired to be a better Christian and evangelist. 

Dr. Fish was a graduate of the University of Arkansas and SWBTS. He had a degree in Church History. He authored several books and numerous articles and essays on evangelism. He preached throughout the United States and the world.

Roy Fish served as interim president of the North American Mission Board, was awarded the W. A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), and the Charles G. Finney Award for Evangelism in Theological Education. The SBTC has established the Roy Fish Evangelism Award.

SWBTS president Paige Patterson, said, “Dr. Roy Fish was at once a fabulous lecturer and the most consistent soul-winner I know…God help us all to love lost people like he did.”

Dr. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tennessee said, “Without hyperbole, I can truthfully say I never met a man greater than Roy Fish…He turned down job positions where he could make more money than he made as a seminary professor but the wealth he turned down is not worthy to be compared to the riches he poured into students decade after decade. Nor is it comparable to millions who've heard the Gospel because of him training thousands of preachers.”

Roy Fish’s son Steve recalled numerous times when his father would share the Gospel with neighbors, strangers, waitresses and people they met on family vacations.

On August 11, 1997 Dr. Roy Fish preached a famous sermon at Cottage Hills Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama. The host pastor was Fred Wolfe. Fish’s sermon was on “The ‘C’ Word” or Calvinism. He did not leave anyone wondering where he stood.

Following are excerpts from that well-known sermon.


Many Shades of Calvinism
There are many shades of Calvinism. There are degrees to which people accept the basic tenets of this system, as I call it, of Calvinism. There are the “old school” Calvinists, the “hyper-Calvinists,” the “classic” Calvinists, the “moderate” Calvinists. And the modern thrust, as I understand it, is encouraging us to embrace all 5 of the major points of classical Calvinism.”

Assurance of Salvation
Asahel Nettleton was a great evangelist in the first 25 years of the 19th century. In fact you might call him the “Billy Graham” of that period of time…And thousands of people were converted under the ministry of this great evangelist. But Nettleton had this to say about his own salvation, being a very committed Calvinist, as almost all Christians in New England were at that time…Nettleton had this to say about his own salvation: “The most that I have ever ventured to say respecting myself is that I think it possible that I may get to heaven.”

It’s not that he was afraid of losing salvation. He knew that he couldn’t do that. He believed in the perseverance of the saints. He knew his salvation could never be lost. His fear was, this great evangelist, his fear was that he might never have had salvation in the first place. I ask you to compare this with the statement of the apostle Paul: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him against that day.”

Now, Nettleton was a very prominent man. He was a Calvinist. But he was an honest man. He was willing to admit that when tuned to its finest point, Calvinism eliminates the possibility of assurance of salvation.

Calvinism is extremely weak when it comes to giving assurance to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is very difficult to know for sure – if you are a committed Calvinist – it is very difficult to know for sure whether or not you have eternal life. Assurance in Calvinism is based on the quality of the life of the believer. It is a matter of obedience to the commands of God.

Now, I might say that it wouldn’t hurt most of us to do a little bit of introspection, not so much as to whether or not we are going to be in celestial mansions, as Ian Murray says, but just to see if my life is pleasing to Jesus Christ and if I am measuring up to Him.

If Christ didn’t die for all (and that is a part of the Calvinistic system, that He didn’t die for all), if Christ didn’t die for all, and if it is possible to have a sorrow for sin that is not true repentance (and Calvinism teaches that), and a faith which is not a true faith, and possessing of the Spirit which falls short of true regeneration, if despite any and every experience of the gospel there is a way to Hell almost from the gates of Heaven, if Paul himself, as they say, feared he would lose his own salvation, then what remains of assurance for a Calvinist?

Danger of Calvinism to Evangelism
There is the danger of what Calvinism can do to evangelism and missions. Now, I want to surprise you by saying that this is not always the case. A moderate kind of Calvinism has been the most vital and virile kind of evangelism this country has ever known. And yet Calvinism has undercut missionary and evangelistic efforts.

Calvinism has led many churches and even entire denominations away from a belief in instantaneous conversion. As I read my New Testament I cannot help but believe that conversion is an instantaneous experience. It is possible that you do not remember precisely when it happened, but whether you do or whether you don’t, conversion is instantaneous. And Calvinism had led churches to the point where they believed that you had to go through a series of stages, maybe 3 or 4, and these stages could take months. And then after 9 months or 12 months, only then were you a real candidate for conversion.

A kind of Calvinism has virtually brought to a standstill evangelism in certain Baptist groups. They believed that if God were going to save people, that He would not do it through human instruments. Like [John] Rylans said, “If He wants to convert somebody, He’ll do it without you or me.” And they believed this. So they ceased to try to win people to Jesus.

They were a large Baptist group in the 19th century. Today they are only a handful. We call them the “Primitive Baptists” or the “Hardshell Baptists,” who have just about gone out of existence because they rejected evangelism and the winning of people to Jesus Christ through sharing the message with them.

I listened to a tape yesterday of a contemporary preacher who addressed the issue of evangelism. He is a 5-point Calvinist. He has spoken at many of our Baptist meetings. And referring to people as either spiritually dead or spiritually alive, he made this statement, “It is impossible to evangelize the spiritually dead.” I couldn’t believe my ears! “It is impossible to evangelize the spiritually dead.” If we don’t evangelize the spiritually dead, that leaves us with one option, and that is to evangelize those who are spiritually alive! And if I understand what it means to be spiritually alive, those who are spiritually alive don’t need evangelism!

Dead in Sins and Regeneration Before Faith
Is mankind so depraved that he cannot respond to God in repentance and faith? The answer of the Calvinists at this point is “Yes. Man is so depraved that he cannot respond to God in repentance and faith in that depraved condition. We are dead in trespasses and sins,” the Calvinists would say, “and dead people cannot respond.”

I want to remind you that when Adam and Eve sinned against God, they spiritually died. But when God spoke to them in the Garden, they heard him. People who were dead in trespasses and sins, Adam and Eve, heard the voice of God. They not only heard the voice of God, they were convicted about what they had done, and they obeyed God. they put on themselves skins of animals. So to say that a person who is dead in trespasses and sins simply cannot hear God speaking does not have biblical basis.

Every time the scripture speaks about life, whether it’s John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” or whether it’s John 5:24, “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that hears My word and believes on Him that sent Me has everlasting life,” when you hear or read those terms “everlasting life,” friend, I want to tell you that life comes out of this new birth. It is a reference to the life that God gives to us, and the New Testament is transparently clear that one believes or trusts into eternal life! It’s not something that you already have! You believe into it! You don’t have it until you trust!

So don’t hear me saying that one comes to a grasp of saving faith apart from the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit – and this is the point – the Holy Spirit does not have to make us alive before we have this saving faith. Rather as passage after passage says, saving faith in Jesus and His redeeming work makes us alive in Him.

That regeneration precedes repentance and faith is nothing but sheer implication, faulty logic, and glaringly lacking in biblical basis.

-Dr. Roy Fish, Excerpts from “The C Word (Calvinism)” preached August 11, AD 1997 at Cottage Hills Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama. Part 1 of 2.

-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, February 25, AD 2013. 

Dr. Roy Fish on Calvinism, Predestination; part 2 of 2
Other Articles on this and many other subjects in lower right margin.


  1. Thank you for the post. I have been doing my own study on comparing Calvinism to what I believe and have come to many of the same points. It has caused me to grow by digging deeper into the basic understanding of salvation. Waiting for part 2. :)

  2. Thanks, bridger, for your encouragement.

    I should be putting up Part 2 in the next few days. Part 2 may be better than Part 1.
    David R. Brumbelow


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