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:

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)


“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?

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:

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:

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.