Saturday, December 27, 2008

Congruent Election

Now I know what Richard Land was talking about, when he referenced his understanding of Election as being a “congruent election,” at the John 3:16 Conference. This principle is taken straight from the Compatibilist, Norman Geisler, who describes a “congruency between predetermination and free choice.” (p.42)

Repeatedly we are told by Geisler, that Determinism and Free Will are perfectly compatible concepts. Echoing Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, Geisler states: “God’s predestination and human free choice are a mystery, but not a contradiction. They go beyond reason, but not against reason. That is, they are not incongruous (there’s that word again), but neither can we see exactly how they are complementary. We apprehend each as true, but we do not comprehend how both are true.” (p.54) This is precisely what Spurgeon stated, when he similarly affirmed the mystery of Determinism & Free Will:

Spurgeon: “Now, have I not answered these two questions honestly? I have endeavoured to give a scriptural reason for the dealings of God with man. He saves man by grace, and if men perish they perish justly by their own fault. ‘How,’ says some one, ‘do you reconcile these two doctrines?’ My dear brethren, I never reconcile two friends, never. These two doctrines are friends with one another; for they are both in God’s Word, and I shall not attempt to reconcile them. If you show me that they are enemies, then I will reconcile them. ‘But,’ says one, ‘there is a great deal of difficulty about them.’ Will you tell me what truth there is that has not difficulty about it? ‘But,’ he says, ‘I do not see it.’ Well, I do not ask you to see it; I ask you to believe it. There are many things in God’s Word that are difficult, and that I cannot see, but they are there, and I believe them. I cannot see how God can be omnipotent and man be free; but it is so, and I believe it. ‘Well,’ says one, ‘I cannot understand it.’ My answer is, I am bound to make it as plain as I can, but if you have not any understanding, I cannot give you any; there I must leave it. But then, again, it is not a matter of understanding; it is a matter of faith. These two things are true; I do not see that they at all differ. However, if they did, I should say, if they appear to contradict one another, they do not really do so, because God never contradicts himself. And I should think in this I exhibited the power of my faith in God, that I could believe him, even when his word seemed to be contradictory. That is faith.” (Jacob & Esau)

Geisler: “There is no contradiction in God knowingly predetermining and predeterminately knowing from all eternity precisely what we would do with our free acts. For God determined that moral creatures would do things freely. He did not determine that they would be forced to perform free acts. What is forced is not free, and what is free is not forced. IN BRIEF, WE ARE CHOSEN BUT FREE.” (p.55)

This is essentially Compatibilism, and it’s certainly not Arminian, and absolutely Calvinistic, and hence Geisler refers to himself as a “Moderate Calvinist.” In contrast, Geisler refers to Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, as an “Extreme Calvinist” (p.68), for rejecting the free agency of man. However, the joke is that both are Compatibilists! Sproul decries the “equal ultimacy” of what he terms, “hyper-Calvinists” or “anti-Calvinists” (Chosen By God, p.142). Sproul is not a Hard Determinist, and for that matter, neither is Calvinist, James White, who is a self-professed Compatibilist, who wrote the “Potter’s Freedom” in refutation to Geisler’s supposed Arminianism. The whole thing is one big charade, very much like the “free choice” of Compatibilism, in which free choice is made consistent with what is Determined, by eliminating all other “free” choices to only that which just so happens to be predetermined. That is hardly consistent with the “power of contrary choice.” Here is a caricature of this notion: “Sure they have Free Will. They have the freedom to do everything that they have been predetermined to do. See, we Determinists believe in Free Will too.”

Geisler echoes Spurgeon, when he agrees with several Arminian proof-texts, but which are merely made to conform to Determinism. For while he agrees with several Arminian arguments, he simultaneously agrees with the Deterministic Calvinists by stating:

“...only those the Father preordains to do so will come to Christ (John 6:44).” (p.40)

Geisler adds: “...only those who are elect will believe, for Luke wrote that ‘all who were appointed for eternal life believed’ (Acts 13:48).” (p.17)

Geisler espouses the same views as any Calvinist would at John 1:13 (pp.51-52) and Romans 9:16 (p.52), and thus rejects Arminianism as follows: “...if God’s choice to save was based upon those who choose Him, then it would not be based upon divine grace but would be based on human decisions.” (p.51) Notice what Geisler pits grace against: human choice. And what is human choice? He then goes on to reject Irresistible Grace (pp.47-48), and none of this is contradictory mind you. The “Extreme Calvinist” gets a nice helping of John 3:16 (p.50), as well as a terrific analogy against Preterition, in the form of a farmer illustration (p.50), which was disputed by James White at youtube. However, instead of redefining Geisler’s illustration, White should have tried to defend how letting the other two boys drown, can in any way, still be a genuine act of love, compassion and kindness, because the impression that Geisler had attempted to convey, is that casual indifference is not any “kind,” “level” or “type of love.” This is why there are aspects of what Geisler had stated, that both sides of the debate can agree with.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Grading the John 3:16 Conference

If you have either attended or listened to the Conference, please grade the presenters.

T - Total Depravity - Paige Patterson: D

U - Unconditional Election - Richard Land: C-

L - Limited Atonement - David Allen: A+

I - Irresistible Grace - Steve Lemke: C

P - Perseverance of Saints - Ken Keathley: A+

David Allen and Ken Keathley absolutely hit home runs. Buy the DVD and see for yourself. However, take notes. They move fast.

Richard Land gave an enjoyable presentation on Unconditional Election (which I wish that he had gone on longer), arguing for a "congruent election" (that is, congruent with Scripture), from the "eternal now" perspective of C.S. Lewis, but his argument for how his view successfully bridged the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, was mostly left undeveloped. Land disputed that one is saved by faith, but instead by a "God-completed faith." Land cited God's foreknowledge, and his eternal relationship with the "elect" vs. "non-elect." In those terms, Land raises the dichotomy between "will be saved" vs. "must be saved," but again, did not develop that point as much as I would have preferred. Land contrasted the Abrahamic Election of the Old Testament with the Salvific Election of the New Testament, in relation to Romans chapters 9-11, citing Harry Ironside for support, but his presentation was very light on Scriptural analysis. There probably should have been two speakers to address this topic. Neverthess, Land gave a fine historical presentation of Baptist history, including the impact of Sandy Creek. Land gets a negative mark for stating that a person cannot believe in Eternal Security and simultaneously be an Arminian (especially in light of the articles of the Remonstrance).

Ken Keathley really hammered home on the impact of "Perseverance of the Saints," in terms of the "temporary faith" taught by Beza (his predacessor, John Calvin, similarly taught "temporal grace") and it's historical impact upon the Puritans. Keathley pointed out that assurance comes from the revealed word of God, rather than the presumption of election, and thus with Calvinistic election, the Calvinist is logically denied assurance. Keathley uses an excellent example of Job, in terms that Job did not rely upon his experiences for assurance, but upon the revealed word of God. I also found his summarization of the Universalist, Karl Barth, and his connection to supralasarian Calvinism, to be quite fascinating.

David Allen entirely quoted Calvinists in his presentation, and revealed that 5-Point Calvinism was actually rejected by the founders of Calvinism. He really did a good job in analyzing John Owen, though I was disappointed that he ran out of time before getting into Own's "double jeopardy" argument. Neverthless, Allen provided follow-up research material via web links. However, what I found most interesting was his discussion on the Westminster minutes, concerning the internal debate over Limited Atonement. Allen moved at such a brisk pace that even the microphone couldn't keep up, and required emergency replacement. This presentation was a homerun for the John 3:16 Conference. I particularly liked his argument on 1st Corinthians 15:3, which is absolutely crippling to 5-Point Calvinism.

Steve Lemke tackled "Irresistibe Grace" by highlighting Scriptural references to the grace of the Holy Spirit being resisted. He did a good job of pointing out that the Calvinist belief on Irresistible Grace constitutes preemptive regeneration and preemptive new birth, though he did not get into what I feel is the real heart of the matter, namely, that Calvinists believe that they must be "in Christ" preemptively, in order to irresistibly "believe in Christ." Nevertheless, credit Lemke for digging into Scripture, though he did wander off topic a bit, such as raising the issue of 1 John 2:1.

Paige Patterson did not cite Church history, no quotes from Calvinists or non-Calvinists, did not get into the logical implications of Calvinists (in terms of Total Depravity extending to Total Inability), did not discuss the controversy of Total Depravity between non-Calvinists and Calvinists, was relatively light in Scriptural analysis (despite reading Romans chapters 1-3), and his illustrations primarily were never developed, and some were more embarrassing than others (i.e. illustration of Abraham and Sarah, and nakedness in the Garden of Eden). It seemed that very little research was put into this presentation, and was by far the most disappointing. I hope that he gets a chance at redemption with a do-over in a future conference.

Jerry Vines was a terrific Bible Teacher in really digging into the meat of John 3:16, and addressed the Calvinist interpretations of the famous passage. He was so excited to speak on the matter, that he ran way over time, but his passion on the matter was a joy to witness.

Charles Stanley is Charles Stanley. His presentation on the love of God was terrific.

Johnny Hunt spoke on evangelism and obedience to God.

The Q&A session turned into a testimonial session, and which had to be cut short. There was too much griping and venting, and not enough Q&A. Perhaps next time, a moderator will need to be utilized. In that event, questions from the audience can be written on index cards, and then be presented by the Moderator to the Speakers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

James White & the Purpose of Sin

Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, writes: “If any of you want to know what I preach every day, and any stranger should say, ‘Give me a summary of his doctrine,’ say this, ‘He preaches salvation all of grace, and damnation all of sin. He gives God all the glory for every soul that is saved, but he won’t have it that God is to blame for any man that is damned.’ That teaching I cannot understand. My soul revolts at the idea of a doctrine that lays the blood of man's soul at God’s door. I cannot conceive how any human mind, at least any Christian mind, can hold any such blasphemy as that.” (Jacob and Esau)

In other words, Spurgeon is arguing against the kind of “equal ultimacy” that Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, had also warned against, in that God’s decrees toward “the elect” vs. “non-elect” is not a positive/positive schema, but a positive/negative schema. This concept involves God’s positive (active) action for the one, and negative (passive) action for the other (i.e. permission).

The only problem is that a permission-based, positive vs. negative view of God’s decrees doesn’t seem to work well with Determinism, as Arminians, Walls and Dongell, point out:

“But if God only permits certain things without specifically causing them, it is hard to see how this would square with the Calvinist claim of all-embracing determinism.” (Why I am not a Calvinist, pp.126-127)

Additionally, they point out: “...it is hard to see how Calvinists can speak of any events or choice as being permitted.” (Why I am not a Calvinist, p.129)

“In a normal case of permission, the person granting permission does not determine the choices of the one who is granted permission.” (Why I am not a Calvinist, p.131)

“Calvinists can insist on using the language of permission, but we think it’s strained and unnatural, given their view that all things--including our choice--are determined.” (Why I am not a Calvinist, p.132)

“The notion of permission loses all significant meaning in a Calvinist framework.” (Why I am not a Calvinist, p.132)

“The dilemma is part of what motivates many Calvinists to ‘bite the bullet’ and embrace a thoroughgoing determinism.” (Why I am not a Calvinist, p.132)

Losing “permission,” from the Calvinist position, comes at the cost of losing Compatibilism, which is the Calvinist alternative to Determinism, which attempts to reconcile the polar opposites of free will and determinism. However, there is an even bigger problem, which should put the final nail in the coffin of Compatibilism. I cite a youtube clip of James White, where he states concerning the Arminian perspective: “It’s far better to have a God, who in creating this universe, does not create with a sovereign decree, that determines actions in time. …God created all that evil, and has no purpose for it, none whatsoever. At least the Reformed person can say that God uses means, we can look at the Compatibilism that’s plainly presented in Genesis chapter 50, Isaiah 10, Acts 4, we can talk about the purity of God’s motivations and the impurity of man’s motivations, ect.” (Theology Matters: The Parable of the Farmer--Geisler)

Here’s the problem. If God has a “purpose” in a depraved person committing sin “A,” then doesn’t it stand to reason, that God doesn’t have a purpose in them committing sin’s “B” through “Z”? So if it’s God’s purpose for the depraved person to commit sin “A,” then the depraved person’s freedom of choice to commit sin’s “B” through “Z,” is therefore a threat to the purpose-driven will of God. The purpose-driven decree of God, must therefore restrict the depraved person’s range of sinful choices down to only one sinful choice, amongst a multitude of other sinful choices. Therefore, how would God reduce a depraved person’s choice, to only that one single choice which God has allegedly purposed for them to commit? God would have to remove any semblance of free choice (thereby eliminating Compatibilism), and instill within the depraved person’s heart, a desire which matches His one lone purpose. Now consider that the decree of God, according to Calvinism, is an all-encompassing decree. It’s not hard to imagine from here, how every choice of every man, depraved or regenerate, must be restricted to only a preset course of action, amongst a multitude of other potential actions.

Using an illustration, suppose that I have a purpose in you driving home drunk tomorrow night, and getting into a life-changing car accident. For my decreed purpose to be achieved, I cannot have you going to the movies instead. I cannot have you staying home. I have to get you out of the house, and instill a desire to drink alcohol, rather than drugs, and only so much that you are still able to operate a vehicle. With so many competing sins, I’d have to restrict all of your choices down to one clear path, to the point of meticulous programming. So the challenge, here, is not about a depraved person doing something good, but about a depraved person doing some other depraved action, besides the one that has a specific purpose. Therefore, for a Compatibilist to suggest that Compatibilism still provides a basis for judgment, because God can still judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart, is overthrown by the fact that God would have to meticulously instill the thoughts and intentions of that person’s heart. Their thoughts and intentions could in no way be there own, since anything genuinely of their own might conflict with the decreed purpose.

Now if you were to say that God only decrees certain sins of depraved people, and not all of their sins, then the concept of an all-encompassing decree, falls as well. There is no way out. Either you have an all-encompassing, purpose-driven will for the depraved sinner, or you have people committing such sins as child sacrifice to Molech, which never entered God’s mind that they should commit, as per Jeremiah 32:35. So once James White insists that sin must have a purpose, he cannot look at such things as Compatibilism as a solution, contrary to what he stated in his youtube clip.

http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/files/Articles/whyitfails.html

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Supralapsarianism? What's that?

Laurence Vance writes: “If God has ordained everything for his glory then the reprobation of the wicked is his ‘determinate counsel’ (Acts 2:23) and takes place ‘according to the counsel of his own will’ (Eph. 1:11) no matter which lapsarian system one adheres to.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.298)

The contention is whether or not there is any real difference between Supra-lapsarianism vs. Infra-lapsarianism, or whether the purported distinction is merely a false dichotomy, where a system of jargon is invented for the sole purpose of Special Pleading. In other words, the charge is essentially whether any Calvinism inevitably boils down to the hyper Calvinism of Supra-lapsarianism.

First, what is Supra-lapsarianism?

To begin, I will first define the Calvinistic lapsarian terms, and then I will cite a couple of quotes, and then ask you three simple (Yes/No) questions.

The word “lapsarian” comes from the Latin word lapsus, which means the “doctrine of the Fall.” The prefix supra means above, while the prefix infra implies below. So the perspective of the former is “before the Fall” while the perspective of the latter is “after the Fall,” or in lieu of the Fall.

1) Supra-lapsarianism: The damnation of the [alleged] “non-elect” is according to the secret purpose of God, without regard to their sin. Creation, the Fall, and sin must all be the manifestation of the secret counsel of God, having created the [alleged] “non-elect” by necessity. This is also known as Double Predestination or Unconditional Reprobation. Its logical order is:

1. Election and Reprobation

2. Creation

3. Fall

4. Atonement for the elect

5. Salvation for the elect

Here is a statement of Supralapsarianism:

John Calvin writes: “...God has chosen to salvation those whom He pleased, and has rejected the others, without our knowing why, except that its reason is hidden in His eternal counsel.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.53)

Calvin explains: “When God prefers some to others, choosing some and passing others by, the difference does not depend on human dignity or indignity. It is therefore wrong to say that the reprobate are worthy of eternal destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.120-121)

In other words, Reprobation is just as unconditional as Election.

Calvin adds: “If what I teach is true, that those who perish are destined to death by the eternal good pleasure of God though the reason does not appear, then they are not found but made worthy of destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.121)

In other words, the Unconditional Reprobation of the wicked is not in lieu of their sin, but in lieu of God’s alleged decree, which establishes their “lot” in life:

Calvin writes: “…the reason why God elects some and rejects others is to be found in His purpose alone. … before men are born their lot is assigned to each of them by the secret will of God. … the salvation or the destruction of men depends on His free election.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.203)

Calvin writes: “There are some, too, who allege that God is greatly dishonored if such arbitrary power is bestowed on Him. But does their distaste make them better theologians than Paul, who has laid it down as the rule of humility for the believers, that they should look up to the sovereignty of God and not evaluate it by their own judgment?” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, pp.209-210)

Calvin adds: “At this point in particular the flesh rages when it hears that the predestination to death of those who perish is referred to the will of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.208)

2) Infra-lapsarianism: The damnation of the [alleged] “non-elect” is strictly according to the sin of man. This is called Single Predestination, and closely associated with Preterition, which conveys the meaning that the [alleged] “non-elect” are simply “passed by” and left out of the will of God. It rejects the idea that God creates sinners by “necessity,” and to ultimately damn them for the glory of God.

1. Creation

2. Fall

3. Election and Reprobation

4. Atonement for the elect

5. Salvation for the elect

Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, explains: “If any of you want to know what I preach every day, and any stranger should say, ‘Give me a summary of his doctrine,’ say this, ‘He preaches salvation all of grace, and damnation all of sin. He gives God all the glory for every soul that is saved, but he won’t have it that God is to blame for any man that is damned.’ That teaching I cannot understand. My soul revolts at the idea of a doctrine that lays the blood of man’s soul at God’s door. I cannot conceive how any human mind, at least any Christian mind, can hold any such blasphemy as that.” (Jacob and Esau)

So it seems that according to John Calvin, the sentiment expressed by Chares Spurgeon is nothing more than an example of how “the flesh rages” against the “arbitrary power” of the “sovereignty of God.”

3) Sub-lapsarianism: As a close relative of Infra-lapsarianism, the prefix sub also implies below or after. This designation accommodates the atonement views of the 4-Point Calvinists, so that Election and Reprobation are placed in a logical order which follow the atonement:

1. Creation

2. Fall

3. Atonement for all

4. Election and Reprobation

Salvation for the elect

4) Conclusion: Now we come to the conclusion, which is the question of whether any of these designations are legitimate distinctions, or merely worthless jargon used to confound, confuse and obfuscate:

Calvinist, G.C. Berkouwer, states: “We cannot speak of before and after in God’s eternal decrees as we do in time, hence the difference between supra and infra can be called imaginary because it implies the application of a temporal order to eternity.” (Divine Election, p.261)

Berkouwer adds: “The fall must ultimately have been part of God’s counsel and therefore it ‘rests’ in God’s sovereign pleasure. But in that case the infra concept says the same as the supra.” (Divine Election, p.261)

5) Question:

A) Based upon the reasoning provided, do you believe that John Calvin was a Supra-lapsarian? (Yes/No?)

B) Based upon the reasoning provided, do you believe that G.C. Berkouwer was a Supra-lapsarian? (Yes/No?)

C) Does Berkouwer’s argument violate any principle of logic? (Yes/No?)

No answer will be permitted, unless it first answers all three of these simple (Yes/No) questions.

Friday, November 7, 2008

John Gill answers the question

Here is the multiple choice question:

When does a person technically become "in Christ"?

A) Before the foundation of the world, certain "elect" people are already "in Christ," not that they are chosen to become in Christ, but already are in Christ, from eternity past. As a result, when they are born, they already are "in Christ," without even knowing it, until such time as Irresistible Grace makes them aware of it.

B) Certain "elect" people are born "in Adam," but at an appointed time, are preemptively made Born Again "in Christ," regenerated with a new heart and a new spirit as the "new creture" in Christ, and thus are efficaciously drawn to Christ.

C) A person is born "in Adam," and does not become "in Christ" until he hears and believes in the Gospel, and then is "sealed" in Christ, as per Ephesians 1:13.

I believe that Calvinist, James White, taught (B):

James White: “When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’). Hence, we are not saved ‘without’ faith, but at the same time, Christ’s atonement is not rendered useless and vain without the addition of libertarian free will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.191)

Jacob Arminius taught (C):

Arminius: “God regards no one in Christ unless they are engrafted in him by faith.”

I personally believe that Paul taught (C) as well:

Paul: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” (Ephesians 1:13)

However, I couldn't find a single major Calvinist who was willing to espouse (A), until now.

In his commentary on 2nd Timothy 1:9, John Gill states: "which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began; it is a gift, and a free gift, not at all depending upon any conditions in the creature, and entirely proceeding from the sovereign will of God; and it was a gift from eternity; there was not only a purpose of grace in God's heart, and a promise of it so early, but there was a real donation of it in eternity: and though those to whom it was given did not then personally exist, yet Christ did, and he existed as a covenant head and representative of his people; and they were in him, as members of him, as represented by him, being united to him; and this grace was given to him for them, and to them in him; in whom they were chosen, and in whom they were blessed with all spiritual blessings. The Ethiopic version reads, "in Christ Jesus, who before the world [was]"; but without any foundation." (http://www.studylight.org/com/geb/view.cgi?book=2ti&chapter=1&verse=9)

Now the interesting thing is, if they were "in him," that is, Christ, from eternity past, "as members of him," then compare with 1st John 2:23-24: "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father."

So if a person could be "in the Son" from before the foundation of the world, doesn't it stand to reason that they were "in the Father" from before the foundation of the world, also?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Federal Headship: In the Father


Adrian Rogers has two quotes that I'd like to highlight:

Adrian Rogers explains: “In Adam, we became the enemies of God, deserving His wrath. ... Everyone who remains in Adam will face the wrath of God. ... In Adam we sin and collect our wages (death), but in Christ we are forgiven and collect our free gift (eternal life). This is the much more of God’s grace. ... Make sure today that you have abandoned Adam and accepted Jesus. There is much more in Him, both now and for eternity.” (Foundations for our Faith, Vol.II, A Study In romans Chapters 5-9, pp.15, 17)

Rogers adds: “When you lay your sins upon Jesus, you become a child of the King, righteous in His sight, and justified by His blood. Friend, we gain much more in Christ than we ever lost in Adam.” (Foundations for our Faith, Vol.II, A Study In romans Chapters 5-9, p.16)

Humanity is subdivided into two camps: In Adam and In Christ. Either you remain lost In Adam, or become saved In Christ. However, Calvinism inevitably introduces a third federal headship: In the Father, where the lost “elect” are simultaneously In Adam and In the Father, as John Calvin explains:

John Calvin writes: “First he points out the eternity of election, and then how we should think of it. Christ says that the elect always belonged to God. God therefore distinguishes them from the reprobate, not by faith, nor by any merit, but by pure grace; for while they are far away from him, he regards them in secret as his own.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.393)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The other side of the Coin

Hello everyone,
I've not posted in a while because of my busy job handling insurance claims for Hurricane Ike. However, I wanted to drop in and cite an article that I found interesting.
An Australian Catholic Priest, Peter Dresser, has written a book entitled: "God Is Big. Real Big", in an attempt to clear up, what he feels are errors in Christian religion. Highlighted in these alleged errors, includes his rejection of the deity, virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Most notably, he states: "No human being can ever be God, and Jesus was a human being. It is as simple as that." When he says that no human being could ever be God, what he's really saying is that God could never be a human being. He's ignoring the flipside to his argument and presumed a restriction upon the power of God to condescend to the human level, and in doing so, declares the matter settled. In essence, he's set out to make "sense" of the very thing that he rejects, and thus he must entirely redefine "Christianity" into Humanism, in order create a brand of Christianity that appeals to his human senses.
The relevance is that I've had a similar argument against Calvinism, insomuch that Calvinists sometimes overlook the flipside to their own arguments. Here is one:
  • Man is so depraved, that God must use an Irresistible Grace.
What's the flipside? God is so limited, that He is forced to use an Irresistible Grace. It's not a matter of God "won't" use an alternative, but that God "can't" use an alternative, because the very moment that a Calvinist admits that it's a matter of preference (i.e. won't use an alternative but could), then they have created a logical basis for Arminian "Prevenient Grace." Most Calvinists will simply say, "You just don't understand the extent to human depravity." Actually, I do understand it, just as I also understand the extent of the power of God to ovecome it by alternative means, an alternative which you entirely reject, borne entirely out of theological bias.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

James White & Election

Calvinist, James White, writes: “Jesus begins where Christian salvation begins (and ends!), with the Father. The Father gives a particular people to the Son.” (Debating Calvinism, p.118)

Question: What makes these people, the Father’s eternally “particular people,” which He thus gives to His Son? Is that an unfair question? However, we are only told that it is an unknowable, mystery on the part of God. John MacArthur plainly states that he does not know why. John Calvin calls it an “arbitrary” choice, and accuses those who deny God’s right to make such an arbitrary choice. But all of that misses the point. The point is this: What is Christ’s role in these having become God’s eternally “particular people”? Hint: Calvinism is not front-end Christocentric. Back-end yes; front-end, no. And that really is the nature of why Arminians so often hammer the matter of election being “in Christ” over the heads of Calvinists. Just about every Arminian book that I read, when dealing with Election, focuses strongly on how Arminian election is an “in Chrirst” election, in contrast to Calvinism. Time and time again, I see this.

White adds: “...God brings His elect to Himself in love....(Debating Calvinism, p.306)

Question: How did these become “His elect” in the first place? White, as far as I can tell, does not say. Instead, that is left to an “inscrutable mystery.”

Again, I quote White: “I just also believe the undisputed and unrefuted fact that I come to Christ daily because the Father, on the sole basis of His mercy and grace, gave me to the Son in eternity past.” (Debating Calvinism, p.306)

Question: What's the basis for such a giving? Yes, Arminians do seek a basis.

Now you might say, “Why do you keep pressing this point? We get the message. Calvinism is not as Christocentric as Arminianism.” Well, the reason is because of John 14:6. Calvinism seems to be in plain violation of the principle of John 14:6, and thus is one of the strongest reasons that I can give for rejecting Calvinism. John 14:6 states: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

James White: Regeneration & In Christ

Concerning Calvinism and Arminianism, there is much to talk about, but I'd like to stay on the theme of what it means to be "in Christ," in contrast to what I believe that Calvinism requires, which is an eternal state of being "in the Father," though Calvinists are unwilling to admit to such. I've argued that it's absolutely essential to what Calvinism is all about, and documented the quotes here: http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/CalvinistElection.html

So now I'd like to touch on the matter of Regeneration, as it pertains to "in Christ." Calvinism teaches that not everyone can be saved, but only those to whom God elects to give an Irresistible Grace. So what exactly is that? It's also referred to as an "effectual calling." It's said that in the foreordained time, God makes an "elect" person preemptively Born Again, regenerated and with a new heart, and thus naturally comes to Christ, as a consequence of such a regeneration. Obviously, Arminians such as myself, absolutely insist that no one outside of being "in Christ" is entitled to such a new birth and regeneration. Arminians argue that only when a person hears and believes in the Gospel, and is sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit, as per Ephesians 1:13, does he then receive regeneration, the new birth and a holy calling (i.e. vocation in Christ). That's why I'd like to highlight a particular statement from James White, concerning Regeneration & In Christ:

Calvinist, James White, writes: “When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’). Hence, we are not saved ‘without’ faith, but at the same time, Christ’s atonement is not rendered useless and vain without the addition of libertarian free will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.191, emphasis mine)

White believes that “the elect” are already in Christ, despite being unbelievers. Why? Because he needs what is reserved in Christ alone, namely, Regeneration, to be given to unbelievers in order to become believers. He correctly recognizes that regeneration is alone reserved in Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:17), and that with such regeneration, comes the new birth of being made Born Again with a new heart and a new spirit. The new heart is what Calvinism needs for the decision for Christ to be rendered irresistible, as in Irresistible Grace. However, and this is where Calvinism gets in trouble, Calvinism requires that regeneration (born again, new birth, new heart) be made preemptive (given to unbelievers) in order to overcome Total Inability, and since regeneration alone comes in Christ, being in Christ, therefore, must also be rendered preemptive as well. But it’s not, since being in Christ also carries with it, Redemption (Romans 8:1), and Redemption requires faith in Christ (John 3:18), and faith precedes the sealing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:13) Therefore, when in Christ is shifted forward into a preemptive state, you can see how much damage it does to these other verses. So the answer to the question of “When do you become in Christ?” is after believing in the Gospel, which we already knew from Ephesians 1:13. (For more details on this point, see also: http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/files/Articles/when.html)

How can a condemned and judged old creature in Adam (John 3:18), simultaneously live in Christ? Answer? They cannot. You must spiritually die in Adam and become raised to new life in Christ. When we are crucified with Christ, according to Galatians 2:20, William MacDonald explains: “It means the end of me as a child of Adam, as a man under the condemnation of the law, as my old, unregenerate self.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.1180)

Being a "new creature" is the mark of identification of being in Christ. Being the "old creature" is the mark of identification of being outside of the body Christ, namely, in Adam. Since being in Adam and being in Christ are Mutually Exclusive, you cannot simultaneously be in both. Those who are in Adam are judged. (John 3:18). Those who are in Christ are redeemed, and are free from condemnation. (Romans 8:1) Hence, Calvinism is a non-starter, unless there is such a thing as a regenerate, redeemed unbeliever who thus, by being preemptively placed in Christ, will now unfailingly come to believe in Christ.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

J. Vernon McGee: Why we need a Mediator

We are told that Calvinism is “Christocentric” on the grounds that God purposes His elect to be Redeemed by Christ.

However, the Arminian criticism is that this is merely back-end Christocentric, rather than front-end Christocentric, as Arminians wish to know from Calvinists exactly how and why “the Elect” supposedly became the Father’s “elect” in the first place? Did it have anything whatsoever to do with Christ, and if so, how? This is the challenge that Arminians have historically put to Calvinists, which Calvinists have not adequately answered, as the following quote by a Calvinist demonstrates:

One Calvinist explains: “Do Calvinists secretly believe that God chose them for some reason other than their need for salvation? Would I, as a Christian, believe that God chose me for some other reason than my need for salvation? Yes, I do. God chose me for His glory, for His pleasure, for His purposes. Sure I had a need for salvation. But that is not why He saved me primarily. In the Bible, God does not say He chose us because of our desperate need. He chose us before our need ever arose.”

Keep that quote firmly in mind, as we now delve into commentary by J. Vernon McGee:

J. Vernon McGee writes: “We need a mediator, we need a priest, and we have one, the Great High Priest.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, p.38)

Why would "the Elect" (in the Father) “need” to be mediated to the Father, if they were already, eternally mediated to Him according to His secret purposes, as John Calvin states: “…the elect always belonged to Godfor while they are far away from him, he regards them in secret as his own.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.393) So again, what “need” have they of being mediated? The historical Arminian complaint against Calvinism is that it renders Calvary as little more than divine pageantry and symbolism, rather than an authentic saving act, and it’s actually a good point, which Calvinists need to ponder before shooting off a quick answer.

J. Vernon McGee: “Job’s heart cry even in his day was, ‘Neither is there an daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both’ (Job 9:33). In effect, Job was crying out, ‘Oh, if there were somebody who could take hold of God’s hand and then take hold of my hand and bring us together that there might be communication and understanding between us!” Well, my friend, today we have a Mediator--the Lord Jesus Christ has come. He has one hand in the hand of Deity because He is God. He is able to save to the uttermost because He is God, and He has paid the price for our salvation. He is a Mediator because He has also become man. He can hold my hand; He understands me. He understands you; you can go to Him, and He is not going to be upset with you. He will not lose His temper or strike you or hurt you in any way. You may say, ‘Well, I’ve failed. I’ve done such-and-such, and I’ve come short of the glory of God.’ My friend, He knows that, and He still loves you and wants to put His arm around you.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, p.38)

This is why we “need” Jesus, because He is able to stand between God and man and reconcile the two, but this is rendered absurd if the roles of Father and Son are blurred in order to try make Calvinism front-end Christocentric.

McGee adds: “And you should go through Him, because there is really no use coming and telling me your troubles. I may not be sympathetic with you; I might not really understand your case. He does. He’s human. He is a daysman, a Mediator. He has put His hand in mine. I don’t put my hand in His; He puts His hand in mine and taken hold of me, but He also holds on to God because He is God, and He has brought us together.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, p.39)

But all of this is pure absurdity if the Father is already holding your hand through secret Election, as John Calvin writes: “This way of speaking, however, may seem to be different from many passages of Scripture which attribute to Christ the first foundation of God’s love for us and show that outside Christ we are detested by God. But we ought to remember, as I have already said, that the Heavenly Father’s secret love which embraced us is the first love given to us.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, pp.76, emphasis mine)

If that’s true, then the whole process of Christ being Mediator between us and God the Father is one big charade. Again, Arminianism is not about doing homage to Free Will, as alleged so often by Calvinists, but rather Arminianism is about preserving the integrity of both Scripture and of God’s character.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

McGee on Salvation being "all of God"

J. Vernon McGee writes: “Because He bore it for us upon the cross, our sins are forgiven, and we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, you don’t have to do anything so that God will forgive you; Christ has already done it when He died for you. All you have to do is believe and receive Christ.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Hebrews, p.63)

Is McGee being illogical? Clearly, believing and receiving Christ is doing something, is it not? Yet, John Calvin stated it in nearly the same way as McGee:

Calvin writes: “Now it may be asked how men receive the salvation offered to them by the hand of God? I reply, by faith. Hence he concludes that here is nothing of our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all praise, it follows that salvation is not of us. … When, on man’s side, he places the only way of receiving salvation in faith alone, he rejects all other means on which men are accustomed to rely. Faith, then, brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.144)

So what's going on? Where is the logic in this?

Question: How can a faith-alone salvation equate to a grace-alone salvation? How can salvation be “all of God” and “none of us,” if we come to God with something, namely, with faith in Him?

Answer: Consider a broader context than just Calvinist vs. Arminian. For instance, lost people come before God saying, “Look at my life. I was a good person, and that should count for something, and if my life isn’t good enough for You, well then….” Meanwhile, the Christian comes before God and says, “I don’t come to you with my life. I come to you with His life. I come to you with the life that Jesus lived, and not my own.” In that way, the Christian comes before God “empty-handed,” as John Calvin puts it. This is why the Arminian (and McGee and Calvin), ultimately say, “It’s all God” when they come before God with nothing but their faith in Christ. However, most Calvinists of today will object, by pointing out that if we come to God with our trust in Christ, then aren’t, in fact, coming to God with something? However, the solution is in what kind of “something” that we come before God with. The lost person comes before God with self-righteousness, while the Christian comes before God seeking Jesus’ Imputed Righteousness. That’s a technical term simply to mean that we get credit for what Jesus did, simply because God said that He would do this for whoever places their trust in Him. Faith in Christ is not reflective of man’s goodness, but of the goodness of the One in whom we place our trust. This is why boasting is overthrown by a law of faith, as Paul states: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” (Romans 3:27) One person explained: “Calvinists say that if you say that YOU believed, you are boasting, but the verse points out something that refutes that idea, which is that when you believe, you can’t boast.” And the reason why you can’t boast, is because faith in Christ removes the logical basis for which one might try, since since faith in Christ credits the One in whom you are placing your trust. This is also why Paul contrasted faith and works, rather than to link them together as one: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

Since faith is treated as a contrast to merit and works, there is therefore a logical basis for which to insist that trusting in Christ reduces to “nothing that you do,” being “all of God,” since what you do, points solely to what Christ did, and therefore faith is merely the channel through which God imputes righteousness to the believer. A faith-alone salvation is indeed a grace-alone salvation, and while Calvinists are free to insist otherwise, I am free to insist that Calvinists are just being stubborn. I like having Romans 3:27 and Romans 4:5 to bolster my argument, and it doesn’t hurt to cite a few Calvinists in agreement with you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What makes a Calvinist, a "Calvinist"?

I've seen Calvinists anathematize each other. I've seen Calvinists call other Calvinists "wicked," simply because the other Calvinist rejected that Calvinism is "the Gospel." Often, I've witnessed the 4-Point Calvinist being looked down upon as the retarded step-child of Reformed Theology...and then here I come along, suggesting that there is not a dime's worth of difference between a 4 and a 5-Point Calvinist. In fact, I've argued that John Calvin himself could rightly be classified as a 4-Pointer, though in the Hard-Deterministic, Supralapsarian mode, which I would consider the most extreme mode.

So what makes a Calvinist, a Calvinist? Or, you may ask, what makes a person "truly Reformed"? On this very Blog, a Calvinist insisted that John MacArthur was not truly Reformed.

I'd like to cite Laurence Vance on how he unites all Calvinists under one banner: The doctrine of Unconditional Election. Calvinists can disagree over many of the finer points of Reformed Theology, but any Calvinist who rejects Unconditional Election, is simply not a Calvinist at all, and thus cannot rightly ride under the banner of a "moderate Calvinist." I would like to quote Vance, and then offer my thoughts:

Laurence Vance: “All Calvinists, whether they be Presbyterian or Reformed, Primitive Baptist or Sovereign Grace Baptist; all Calvinists, whether they be premillennial or amillennial, dispensational or covenant theologist; all Calvinists, whether they go by that name or not; all Calvinists have one thing in common: God, by a sovereign, eternal decree, has determined before the foundation of the world who shall be saved and who shall be lost. To obscure the real issue, a vocabulary has been invented to confuse and confound the Christian. The arguments about supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, total depravity and total inability, reprobation and preterition, synergism and monergism, free will and free agency, common grace and special grace, general calling and effectual calling, perseverance and preservation, and the sovereignty of God are all immaterial. The stumbling block for the Calvinists is the simplicity of salvation, so upon rejecting this, a system has to be construed whereby salvation is made a mysterious, arcane, incomprehensible, decree of God. Thus, the basic error of Calvinism is confounding election and predestination with salvation, which they never are in the Bible, but only in the philosophical speculations and theological implications of Calvinism: the other side of Calvinism.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.35, emphasis mine)

What makes a Calvinist, a Calvinist? Belief in the doctrine of Unconditional Election.

In simple terms, it's the belief that God has an eternal flock of sheep, that is, "the eternal flock of the Father," whom He alone truly loves, and has eternally "purposed to glorify," as one Calvinist explains: “Do Calvinists secretly believe that God chose them for some reason other than their need for salvation? Would I, as a Christian, believe that God chose me for some other reason than my need for salvation? Yes, I do. God chose me for His glory, for His pleasure, for His purposes. Sure I had a need for salvation. But that is not why He saved me primarily ... in the Bible, God does not say He chose us because of our desperate need. He chose us before our need ever arose.”

In technical terms, whereas the New Testament speaks of us being "in Christ," for Calvinism, the elect must eternally reside "in the Father," which is a point that I stress again and again, in order to have a proper understanding of Calvinistic Election.

Here are my thoughts on Election, as I constrast Arminian Election with Calvinistic Election:

http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/ArminianElection.html

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Quotes from J. Vernon McGee

J. Vernon McGee is a 4-Point Calvinist. He is a beloved preacher. He passed away in 1988. His sermons continue to be broadcasted on the radio. On my site, I have some youtube clips from him, and it gives some perspective to his views. He definitely believes in the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election, though sometimes he discusses Election in terms that Jacob Arminius also spoke of, as it relates to Election being in Christ, and hinging upon the doctrine of Identification. Nevertheless, here is a selection of some of the quotes that I found from him, that I would like to incorporate in the main website. Here they are:

“The Lord Jesus died to save you. He lives to keep you saved. He is going to come someday to take you to be with Himself and to consummate that salvation.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: First and Second Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p.19)

I would like to use this quote at 1st John 2:2 since it speaks of Jesus as our Advocate and Defender, who "lives to keep you saved." I do believe that Jesus died for the Church (positive affirmation). I also believe that He died for the world (positive affirmation), with the view that having died for the world, whosoever within the world, whom He died for, believes in Him, may become incorporated in the Church that He loves. The point is that I do not see how an argument can be raised that uses God's love for the Church as a basis to negate His love for the world.


“Under the Law the best man in the world is absolutely condemned, but under the gospel the worst man can be justified if he will believe in Christ.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: First and Second Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p.27)

McGee is a Calvinist, so sometimes he will clarify his statements as "anyone can be saved if they want to," with the caveat that only those who are effectually called will "want to." Watch for this. Nevertheless, I see 1st Tim 1:15 as a great cross reference to John 3:16.

“The Lord Jesus gives you eternal life when you trust Him as Savior because He paid the penalty for your sin.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: First and Second Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p.93)

I couldn't help but notice the mention of "when" as it provides a timeline for when a person receives eternal life. Must one have eternal life in order to believe, or does one receive eternal life only after he believes? So I may use this quote at the write-up for Ephesians 1:13.

“We are to pray for whoever is in power. Remember that the man who was in power in Rome when Paul wrote was bloody Nero, yet he says we are to pray for kings, whoever they are.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: First and Second Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p.36)

This was McGee's commentary on 1st Timothy 2:1-4, and I see that he uses the phrase “all men” within an indiscriminate context of "whoever" is in power, indiscriminately. My view is that God desires that you pray for everyone, indiscriminately, because God desires that everyone, indiscriminately, be saved. That's how I view the passage, so I would naturally like to incorporate his quote in that write-up.

Now he gives a commentary on 1st Timothy 4:10, which I really like: “Whoever you are, He’s your Savior and He’s the only Savior. ‘Specially of those that believe.’ He is the Savior of all men, but you can turn Him down if you want to. Let me illustrate this for you. They say that a plane leaves the Los Angeles International Airport every minute, and I could get on any one of them (if I had the courage!). All I need to do is get a ticket and get on the plane. It’s a plane for everybody, you see, but not everybody will take it. Christ is the Savior of all men, but only those who believe will be saved (see John 3:16; 1 John 2:2).” (Thru the Bible commentary series: First and Second Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p.66)

I've heard people view this passage within the context of a "town doctor" illustration, such that the town has only one doctor, and the doctor is available to everyone in the town, but only those who actually visit the doctor will receive his treatment. In the same way, then, Jesus is the only Savior that this world has, and only those who spiritually visit Him will receive His treatment (i.e. eternal life).

“…it was about fifteen hundred years before He stated as He does here that He loved Jacob.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Proverbs through Malachi, p.993)

I'm throwing this in here. It was brought up in some previous discussions, and I came across this quote as a I checked out another commentary of his (OT commentary). The verse, "Jacob have I loved and Esau I have hated" was uttered in Malachi, not Genesis. I will be quoting McGee here because I think that it's an important reminder since sometimes people think that God said that He hated Esau before he was born.

“But let’s understand one thing: God never said this until Jacob and Esau had become two great nations which had long histories.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Proverbs through Malachi, p.993)

Exactly.

“We need to understand that the difference here between loving and hating is simply that the life of the nation that came from Esau, which is Edom, and the life of the nation which came from Jacob, which is Israel, demonstrate that God was right when He said that He loved one and hated the other.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Proverbs through Malachi, p.993)

That's the point that I was trying to make, and Paul added to his quoted reference with "just as the older will serve the younger" which can only apply to the nations and not the individuals since Jacob specifically declared himself to be the servant of Esau, when he bowed low before Esau when they met.

“The histories of the nation of Israel and the nation of Edom are altogether different. God says that because of Esau’s life, because of the evil which was inherent in this man and which worked itself out into the nation of Edom, He is justified in making this statement.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Proverbs through Malachi, p.993)

I'm still trying to process this statement. Nevertheless, I believe that Paul's usage of the passage is to demonstrate the sovereignty of God at Romans 9, in terms of why God may save whom He will, namely, the despised Gentiles. I feel that one point that is lost on the discussion of Romans is that it's focused on the issue of Jews & Gentiles, being a running discussion from Romans 9 to Romans chapter 11. I believe that Paul has the Jew in mind, and he anticipates the Jews attributing injustice to God, and then turns to the Jew to say, in so many words, 'who are you o man?, does not the Potter have right over the clay.' I believe that the message is that God will save whom He will (i.e. the Gentiles), and in the way that He will (faith vs. works). Often, you will hear Arminian preachers stating that we are saved by the grace of God, and not dependent upon man, being "all God," and the Arminian means it from the standpoint that receiving God's grace is not a matter of willing & running, that is, will-power and man-power, but simply about surrendering and receiving the free gift of eternal life. Calvinists will often insist that this amounts to a works-based salvation, but perhaps that is simply a matter of perspective. Sorry for the run-on quotes and thoughts. I'm simply thinking out loud. McGee is one of my favorite preachers. I absolutely recommend his commentaries. They are a real joy to read, especially when he quotes well known preachers and adds his own experiences. The only downside is when he sometimes gets into hand-wringing.

I will be more active in posting again in the next few weeks, Lord willing, unless we get a hurricane.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

J. Vernon McGee comments on the Atonement

J. Vernon McGee: “God wants his children to live lives which are not marked or spotted with sin. He has made every provision to absolve them from all blame. ‘My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye not sin. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:1-2). By the way, that answers once and for all the question of a limited atonement, that is, that Christ died only for the elect. This verse in 1 John makes it clear that He died for the world. I don’t care who you are, there is a legitimate offer that has been sent out to you today from God, and that offer is that Jesus Christ has died for you. You can’t hide and say, ‘I am not one of the elect.’” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Ephesians, p.29)

J. Vernon McGee: “The Lord has extended the invitation. Whosoever will may come. Don’t try to say that you are left out. God so loved the world.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Ephesians, p.30)

Is McGee another victim of the special nuances of Scripture that Calvinists have corrected to mean “the whole world of the elect”? Or is McGee spot on?

http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/files/RollCall/McGee.html

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Imagine if...

Sometimes theology can make us frustrated, and the Calvinism / Arminian controversy has been making Christians frustrated for centuries. But this can be a good thing if it drives us closer to God in seeking Him.

Be forewarned, this is going to be an odd post, because it’s going to deal with hypotheticals. Imagine, if you will, that God sent a prophet to answer a “Yes/No” question, in terms of whether Calvinism or Arminianism was the correct theology. Imagine for a moment that the hypothetical prophet told you something that you didn’t want to hear, that yes, your theology was wrong and that the other theology was right. Now I ask you, what is your immediate reaction, and then after reflecting on it, what is your reaction?

I did this myself. I imagined what it would be like if I found out that Arminianism was false and Calvinism was true. I imagined how I would feel if I found out that “everyone” at Hebrews 2:9 actually meant everyone of the elect, and that the “world” at John 3:16 actually meant an elect world, and that the “whole world” at 1st John 2:2 actually meant the whole word of the elect, and that “all men” at 1st Timothy 2:4 just meant the elect men, and that “any” and “all” at 2nd Peter 3:9 just meant all of the elect and any of the elect. My immediate reaction was anger. It would not just be anger for the deceptive way that the Bible would be written, that is, by the use of universal terms in an unrestricted, unbounded and unqualified manner without an explicit, that is, explicit clarification, but also anger at the thought that a laymen such as myself had any business trying to read and understand the Bible, when yet an expert scholar is needed to clarify when these special nuances must be applied. Honestly, if I found out that Calvinism was true, I would set aside my Bible forever and just read commentaries, so that I can be told when red means blue, up means down and left means right.

I believe that the Arminian, John Wesley, also imagined for a moment, what it would be like if Arminianism was wrong and Calvinism was true. What resulted was a rant that Erwin Lutzer, in his book “The Doctrines that Divide”, called the harshest criticism of Calvinism ever written. Here is the quote:

“…one might say to our adversary, the devil, ‘Thou fool, why dost thou roar about any longer? Thy lying in wait for souls is as needless and useless as our preaching. Hearest thou not, that God hath taken thy work out of thy hands; and that he doeth it much more effectually? Thou, with all thy principalities and powers, canst only so assault that we may resist thee; but He can irresistibly destroy both body and soul in hell! Thou canst only entice; but his unchangeable decrees, to leave thousands of souls in death, compels them to continue in sin, till they drop into everlasting burnings. Thou temptest; He forceth us to be damned; for we cannot resist his will. Thou fool, why goest thou about any longer, seeking whom thou mayest devour? Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men? Moloch caused only children to pass though the fire: and that fire was soon quenched; or, the corruptible body being consumed, its torment was at an end; but God, thou are told, by his eternal decree, fixed before they had done good or evil, causes, not only children of a span long, but the parents also, to pass through the fire of hell, the “fire which never shall be quenched; and the body which is cast thereinto, being now incorruptible and immortal, will be ever consuming and never consumed, but “the smoke of their torment,” because it is God’s good pleasure, “ascendeth up for ever and ever.”’” (Free Grace, Sermon 128, Preached at Bristol, in the year 1740)

Now I would like for Calvinists to try this. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I’ve read where some Calvinists had taken the impression that it made them feel that God was weak and aloof. In my own experience, having left a Calvinist Church, leaving Calvinism made me feel that I was never secretly saved, but really was unsaved, and really was on the path to an eternal Hell, and that God really would have let me go there, had I rejected His Son. It gave me the impression of a God who really was impartial, and that grace was not upon select sinners, but only upon the redeemed in Christ. It gave me the impression that I was less relevant and Christ was more relevant. It gave me the impression that my standing with God the Father was not based upon any special favor to me, but my standing with Christ alone. Thoughts?

Monday, August 4, 2008

SEA: Society of Evangelical Arminians

I would like to bring your attention to the recently formed organization called, "The Society of Evangelical Arminians," which now has a website that was designed, in part, to provide resources for comparing and contrasting Calvinist and Arminian theology and to provide a forum where Arminans could gather to discuss theology. Essentially, it's a central hub for Arminians. Soon, it will feature a section with a verse-by-verse commentary on verses relating to Calvinism and Arminianism, much like the format of my own website, except that SEA will provide reviews from many more commentators. However, my favorite aspect of SEA is the google group, where dozens of Arminian members exchange emails daily on topics pertaining to Calvinism and Arminianism. If you are an Arminian, I certainly recommend it. Here is the contact page in order to become a member:

http://www.evangelicalarminians.com/contact

What about Calvinists? They are Christians too, and the purpose of SEA is not to make our Calvinist Christian brothers seem like outcasts or second rate Christians. This is why many of the articles posted by SEA have links to the original Blog post, where follow-up discussion and fellowship is available. Here is an example of just such a Blog by contributor, Keith Schooley:

http://www.evangelicalarminians.com/node/156

Simply scroll down to the last sentence, and follow the link to the discussion.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An analogy of Prevenient Grace

What analogy do Arminians most often use in order to illustrate how God saves and rescues the lost? According to the Arminian book, "Why I am Not a Calvinist?", the answer will vary between what is termed a "Contemporary Arminian" and a "Classical Arminian." In the following illustration, an analogy is offered which explores the difference in perspective between a Contemporary Arminian, a Calvinist and a Classical Arminian:

"The contemporary Arminian addresses the sinner as a convicted criminal standing at the gate of the penitentiary. Standing under a legal obligation to enter into eternal imprisonment, the prisoner will be escorted into inescapable confinement and punishment upon death. There at the front gate, an evangelist offers release from the coming horror and urges the convict to accept the gift of total pardon.

In contrast, Calvinists and classical Arminians see the sinner as already imprisoned in the deepest corner of a terrorist camp. Bound, gagged, blindfolded and drugged, the prisoner is weak and delusional. Calvinists and classical Arminians know that the preacher at the gate cannot reach the prison through the layers of confinement and sensory distortion. The prisoner can't even begin to plead for help or plan an escape. In fact, the prisoner feels at home in the dank squalor of the cell; she has come to identify with her captors and will try to fight off any attempted rescue. Only a divine invasion will succeed.

The Calvinist view of divine invasion is simple. God invades the camp, carriers the prisoner out, strips the prisoner of her shackles and blinders, and injects 'faith' into the prisoner's veins. The former prisoner, having already been rescued from prison and positioned outside its walls, now trusts the Deliverer because of the potency of the administered faith serum. God has been the lone actor throughout, in the sense that the human response of faith is directly and irresistibly caused by God. Whether this saving action of God takes place over a longer or shorter period of time, faith is the inevitable result of divine illumination.

The classical Arminian believes that God steals into the prison and makes it to the bedside of the victim. God injects a serum that begins to clear the prisoner's mind of delusions and quell her hostile reactions. God removes the gag from the prisoner's mouth and shines a flashlight around the pitch-black room. The prisoner remains mute as the Rescuer's voice whispers, 'Do you know where you are? Let me tell you! Do you know who you are? Let me show you!' And as the wooing begins, divine truth begins to dawn on the prisoner's heart and mind; the Savior holds up a small mirror to show the prisoner her sunken eyes and frail body. 'Do you see what they've done to you, and do you see how you've given yourself to them?' Even in the dim light, the prisoner's weakened eyes are beginning to focus. The Rescuer continues, 'Do you know who I am, and that I want you for myself?' Perhaps the prisoner makes no obvious advance but does not turn away. The questions keep coming: 'Can I show you pictures of who you once were and the wondrous plans I have for you in the years to come?' The prisoner's heartbeat quickens as the Savior presses on: 'I know that part of you suspects that I have come to harm you. But let me show you something--my hands, they're a bit bloody. I crawled through an awful tangle of barbed wire to get to you.' Now here in this newly created space, in this moment of new possibility, the Savior whispers, 'I want to carry you out of here right now! Give me you heart! Trust me!'

This scenario, we believe, captures the richness of the Bible's message: the glory of God's original creation, the devastation of sin, God's loving pursuit of helpless sinners and the nature of love as the free assent of persons.

Here also is room for tragedy, for the inexplicable (but possible) rejection of God's tender invitation by those who really know better and who might have done otherwise. Sin shows up in its boldest colors when it recapitulates the rebellion of Eden and freely chooses to go its own way in the face of divine love and full provision. The tragedy of such rejection is the risk God took in making possible shared between creature and Creator, the very love shared between the Father and his eternal Son (Jn 17:23-26).

As we see it, the prisoner's trust in the Rescuer was not caused by God, though God caused every circumstance that made it possible. God did all the illuminating, all the clarifying and all the truth telling. The prisoner's trust possessed no power of its own, for it didn't remove one shackle or take one step on the way to freedom. God alone shatters all bonds and lifts the emaciated body on his own shoulders. The prisoner's trust had no monetary value for enriching the Rescuer or compensating him for his wounds. Since God bore all the cost, took all the initiative and exercised all the power required for the saving event, God owns exclusive rights to all praise and glory for the miracle of redemption." (Why I am Not a Calvinist?, pp.68-70)

The author adds: "The prisoner did not will herself out of captivity with a grand display of grit and determination (Jn 1:13) but surrendered her will to a saving God. Throughout Scripture, faith is the supreme condition for salvation, and it never obscures to the slightest degree the grace of God or dilutes his role as the only Savior." (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.70)

Wednesday's post will highlight the author's view of the atonement as a "provision." That should prove interesting too.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Salvation without faith?

Calvinist, James White, writes: "It becomes tiring to respond constantly to the repitition of such falsehoods as this one: 'Calvinism must hold the unbiblical view that Christ's death saves without faith.' No, God not only commands faith, but He mercifully enables us to believe by freeing us from our sin. The point is that faith is not the human 'capacity' that makes man's will the ultimate decision maker in salvation. Christ's substitutionary death in behalf of His people is a real and finished work: It is not dependent upon the human act of faith for success or failure." (Debating Calvinism, pp.190-191)

First, what is White saying is 'not dependent' upon faith?

Answer: The benefits of the atonement.

But if that's the case, then it would seem to me that Hunt's accusation is right on target. For if the benefit of the atonement is independent of faith, then salvation is independent of faith, and thus Hunt's perception of Calvinism as a theology whereby 'Christ's death saves without faith,' logically holds. It seems to me that White has contradicted himself. Feel free to jump in and help me understand why you do, or do not, feel that White has contradicted himself.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Molinism (Middle Knowledge)

Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell are two Arminian professors at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. In their book, "Why I am Not a Calvinist," they explore a concept known as Molinism, named after Luis De Molina, a Jesuit theologian in the 16ht Century, who taught that God possesses "Middle Knowledge," which is essentially that God knows everything that everyone would ever do in all possible circumstances. It is the knowledge of contingencies, providing non-Determinists with a viable explanation for how God could providentially govern the universe:

Walls and Dongell: "...God arranges the world as he chooses based on his middle knowledge. God exercises sovereign control in the sense that he creates the person he wishes to create and brings about the circumstances he wills, knowing just what choices all those persons will make in the circumstances he has brought about." (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.137)

Walls and Dongell: "Unlike the Calvinist determinist, the Molinist believes God's decrees are dependent on what he knows creatures would freely do in various circumstances." (p.137)

That almost sounds like a kind of "Compatibilism," and yet it is not true Compatibilism since it rejects Hard Determinism.

Walls and Dongell: "Molinism is an attractive position in many ways. It offers an account of providence that explains how God can have a highly particular degree of control over various circumstances without resorting to determinism of human choices. For those who are attracted to Calvinism's account of providence and sovereignty but are hesitant to embrace determinism, Molinism may seem like the perfect alternative." (p.138)

In my opinion, it offers a very logical explanation for Genesis 50:20. One of the Bible's clearest examples of Middle Knowledge is found at Matthew 11:20-24. Moreover, I believe that 1st Corinthians 10:13 also lays the groundwork for Middle Knowledge. So is Middle Knowledge a middle ground that Calvinists can embrace?

Walls and Dongell: "...at the end of the day, Molinism is not a compromise position that Calvinists can embrace; rather, it is a variation on Arminianism. As Muller has recognized, if Molinism were accepted as a middle ground position, 'the Reformed would need to concede virtually all of the issues in debate and adopt an Arminian perspective.' It is clear, then, that Molinism, despite its strong account of particular providential control, does not represent enough divine control for the truly Reformed." (pp.138-139)

Perhaps the reason for this, is because for Calvinism, God's knowledge does not guide His decrees, but rather, His knowledge is the result of His decrees, insomuch that God's knowledge is the "transcript of His decrees."

Additionally, here is an interesting article that I located concerning Middle Knowledge.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Arminianism = Pelagianism?

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “Semi-Pelagianism salutes the necessity of grace, but under close scrutiny one wonders if the difference between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is a distinction without a difference.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

The basis for this charge is because although God takes the first step in seeking, convicting, knocking and opening hearts to receive Him, “this step is not decisive, and can be thwarted by the sinner. If the sinner refuses to cooperate with or assent to this proffered grace, then grace is to no avail.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

So in other words, any theology whereby God sovereignly gives a person the power of contrary choice, must be Pelagianism by definition. That is the argument.

Sproul continues: “The problem is this: If grace is necessary but not effectual, what makes it work? ... Why does one sinner respond to the offer of grace positively and the other negatively?” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

In other words, if one person receives Christ, but another does not, then what makes the difference? (To the Calvinist, God is the decisive difference, illuming one but not the other.)

Sproul writes:Does grace assist the sinner in cooperating with grace, or does the sinner cooperate by the power of the flesh alone? If the latter, it is unvarnished Pelagianism. If the former, it is still Pelagianism in that grace merely facilitates regeneration and salvation.” (What is Reformed Theology, pp.187-188)

This gets back to the original point, so here comes the key argument for Sproul:

Sproul states:If God merely offers to change my heart, what will that accomplish for me as long as my heart remains opposed to him? If he offers me grace while I am a slave to sin and still in the flesh, what good is the offer? Saving grace does not merely offer regeneration, it regenerates. This is what makes grace so gracious: God unilaterally and monergistically does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.188)

Why would Sproul think that Prevenient Grace is just an “offer” rather than some actual operation taking place at the heart level? Acts 16:14, concerning Lydia, states that God opened her heart to respond to the Gospel. Note that it does not say that her old stony heart was swapped out for a new heart of flesh. (Calvinists commonly read that into the passage.) Why shouldn’t we understand the passage simply to mean what it says, in that God enabled her to believe? Why shouldn’t we conclude the same thing about others who hear the Gospel, that is, that God gets down at the heart level, convicts them of their sin, and enables them to believe, though not being decisive, that is, a determinant, but instead forces the person into a one-way-or-the-other choice? Is God sovereignly entitled to do so? The question seems absurd, but is also quite realistic, since it is often insisted that for God to give someone such a choice, namely, the power of contrary choice, would be tantamount to God giving away His sovereignty.

Sproul summarizes: “What the unregenerate person desperately needs in order to come to faith is regeneration.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.188)

Why? If you say, “Man is so depraved that God must....” then all that you have done is limited God. Think of it this way: There are at least three types of God-can’ts. There is the illogical can’t, which is really not true inability, but rather a logic puzzle, such as whether God can make a square circle, or create a rock so big that even He cannot lift. There is also the type of God-can’t where God can’t sin, which is not true inability, in that God lacks capacity to sin, but instead is a God-can’t due to preference, in that God’s preference is not to sin, due to His nature. Finally, there is the God-can’t which is true inability, in that God simply lacks power to do something, and this is precisely what many allege, if it is maintained that God lacks the divine power and capacity to sovereignly deliver a person the power of contrary choice. I'd rather that Calvinists insist that God uses Irresistible Grace, rather than Prevenient Grace, out of preference rather than a “lack of other options.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

D. James Kennedy: Solving Bible Mysteries

D. James Kennedy was not your average Calvinist. In his book, “Solving Bible Mysteries,” in the chapter on, “Whis is True--Predestination or Free Will?”, He made some statements that Arminians can point to in agreement. For instance, he flatly denied Double Predestination. He believed in some kind of Free Will, though he also believed in Total Depravity, clarifying the difference between freedom to do what we “want” vs. freedom to do what we “ought.” But surprisingly, he also believed in an Unlimited Atonement. Kennedy believed that Jesus died for all men:

D. James Kennedy writes: “So God makes His sovereign selection from among the human race, a race of sinful and corrupt people, all of whom deserve condemnation. But God extends mercy to a vast multitude. He must be just, but He doesn't have to extend mercy to any. Those whom He selects are saved---a great number out of every tribe and tongue and nation. He sends His Spirit to them to draw them to Himself. But what about the rest? Note carefully: God invites them all to come. With a sincere invitation, He offers them a free salvation, paid for at the cost of His own dear Son.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.30)

Did you catch that? Who did Kennedy say that Jesus died for? He’s referring to “the rest,” that is, those whom he believes were excluded from the “sovereign selection.” Clearly, he's indicating a universal provision, though one must believe in Christ in order to receive the blessings of Christ, which Arminians fully agree.

Kennedy adds: “The Bible never says that anyone is predestined to Hell.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.29)

D. James Kennedy writes: “Again and again we see that people are predestined (elected) to salvation--but nowhere do we see that anyone is ever predestined to condemnation of Hell. When we thing of God as unfairly, arbitrarily electing people to Heaven or Hell, it is as if we have a mental picture of a row of people sitting on a fence, and God passes down the line and points at each one, ‘It’s Hell for you, Heaven for you, Hell, Hell, Hell, Heaven, Hell...’ Now, that would be unfair--and absolutely capricious! But that's not the kind of God we love and serve.” (p.29)

Kennedy writes: “God has graciously created human beings with a free will.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.29)

He goes on to describe the bondage of the will, in agreement with the doctrine of Total Depravity, but the point is clear: Kennedy rejects Hard Determinism. At the very least, this makes him a Compatibilist (Soft Determinism).

Kennedy adds:God does not cast anyone out. He does not bar the door. Those who are outside are outside by their own choice, because they keep God away.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.31)

However, if it’s their “own” choice via Hard Determinism, then it’s frankly not their “own” choice, but someone else’s choice. As most Compatibilists recognize, that’s part of the complexity that they must attempt to resolve, without simply deferring to paradox.

What did Kennedy teach about predestination and foreknowledge?

Kennedy writes: “For that is what predestination is--a decision that our sovereign, gracious, loving Almighty God made from all eternity when He looked ahead to a world of lost and rebellious sinners. It’s a decision He made to save a vast multitude of them through His Son, Jesus.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.31)

“Looked ahead”? As an Arminian, I believe that God, being eternal and dwelling independent of all time and space, can look back upon our future as if it was the past. So I don't necessarily think that God needs to “look ahead,” since God is not trapped by time as mankind is.

In any case, these were some of the interesting quotes that I found from this particular book by Kennedy, who was widely admired and appreciated by those on both sides of the denominational isle of Calvinism and Armininianism.