Friday, July 30, 2010

An Addendum to Calvary

“There is no contradiction here, ‘as if God should will the damnation and salvation of Judas both at one time,’ for Preston is adamant that ‘it is most possible for a man to will and nill one and the same thing upon the same object if it be in different respects’” [Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology.” Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans, 2007, page 133; John Preston, “Riches of Mercy,” page 422. A Note from Jonathan Moore: “Preston has implicitly adopted Harsnett’s interpretation (Arminian) of 1 Timothy 2:4 over against that of Perkins (particularist, Calvinist].

I do not like contradictions. The word “contradiction” itself comes from two words, “contra” (against) and “diction” (speaking). To “contradict” something is to “speak against” it, whatever the thing may be. For example, to say that “I DO like chocolate” and then turn around and say “I DO NOT like chocolate” is to speak against the previous statement, “I do like chocolate.”

Contradictions, then, are illogical; and the only thing that can resolve paradoxes (or contradictions) is to qualify the opposites. For example, let’s look at the example from above:

“I do like chocolate”


“I do not like chocolate”

How do we resolve the contradiction here? We qualify the terms:

“I do like chocolate IN THE SUMMERTIME”


“I do not like chocolate IN THE WINTER”

The resolution is not the best one, but it is a good idea of how to resolve the contradiction (by stating seasons in which chocolate is favorable and seasons in which chocolate is not favorable).

Taking this concept into John Preston’s theology, we can see that he is right when he says that “it is most possible for a man to will and nill ONE AND THE SAME THING upon the same object IF IT BE IN DIFFERENT RESPECTS.” What Preston is saying here is, “Qualify the contradictory phrases”!

Preston then provides an example for us:

“A father will not have his son drunk, if he tie him up in a chamber he will not be drunk, yet he will not take such a course, though he hath a will his son should not be drunk, so God though HE DO WILL THAT MEN SHOULD BELIEVE AND REPENT AND BE SAVED, yet HE WILL NOT BE SAID TO USE ALL MEANS FOR THE EFFECTING OF IT IN ALL MEN, because He will glorify his justice as well as his mercy” (Moore, 133; Preston, “Riches of Mercy,” page 422).

There are problems with Preston’s statement here. First, the example never tells us why the father does not lock the son up in a chamber to prevent his drunkenness. Preston gives us no reason why; but when it gets to God not saving everyone, Preston provides an answer: “He will glorify his justice as well as his mercy.”

Next, in his statement on God, we see that, although God is responsible for making men and women come to faith, He will not effectually draw all to faith. And why?
“Because he will glorify his justice as well as mercy.”
In short, God has a “greater good” to which He has committed Himself, apart from the salvation of the world: that is, to display His justice.
But if God “must” display His justice with the damnation of many lives only God could have saved, then what about Calvary? Wasn’t the Atonement the ULTIMATE display of God’s justice and mercy? Didn’t God fully pour out His wrath on Christ on the Cross?

What does John tell us about Christ’s atonement?


So God sent the Son into the world with the intention of saving every creature. John is clear when he says that the purpose for Christ’s coming was not “that He might condemn the world.” God had no purpose of condemning anyone in Christ; therefore, the reason why anyone is condemned is because they do not believe in Christ (John 3:18).

And what about Paul’s words in Romans, which state that because of Christ’s righteousness “there is life-giving justification FOR EVERYONE” (Rom. 5:18, HCSB)? Or Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians that the message of reconciliation states that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, NOT COUNTING THEIR TRESPASSES AGAINST THEM” (2 Cor. 5:17)? If God sent Christ so that He could forgive the world of its trespasses, then doesn’t this mean that God has provided a way for every single soul to be saved, should he or she believe on Christ’s name?

The Scriptures portray a different God than does John Preston’s theology; rather, Preston’s theology doesn’t accurately portray the God of the Bible. If God has provided a way for the world to be saved, and His desire in sending Christ was to purchase the salvation of every single person, then how could God turn around and decide not to save every person? The problem with Preston’s theology is that he refuses to give up his Calvinism, with its doctrines of irresistible grace and unconditional election. As a result, he now has to come up with an answer for why the atonement “was not enough” to save the world---why, instead, the world now needs to see the damnation of souls to comfort the elect in their salvation. But doesn’t this provide “an addendum to Calvary?”

I shudder to think that the work of Christ on the cross was not enough to save every single person in the world. The Lord makes it very clear in His Word that He never created hell for any human, but the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). If this is true, then God has never outright intended to damn anyone apart from their rejection of Christ’s atonement and saving grace. God didn’t do a half-job at the Cross; rather, He completely purchased the redemption of the world. He has already judged the world for its sin in Adam; now, He need only judge the world for its rejection of the purchased salvation in Christ.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Revealed and Secret Wills in John Preston's Theology

For the last several posts, I have been covering John Preston and his theology, called “English Hypothetical Universalism.” Preston held to four-point Calvinism, the exception to the points being that he held to “Unlimited” instead of “Limited” atonement.

As a result of Preston’s view of unlimited atonement, his theology has been labeled that of “hypothetical universalism”: Jesus “could have” died for every person, but in actuality, He only died for the elect few.

Before I get started, I just wanna announce that I’ve added a link to a biography of John Preston as well as his works (free in the public domain) to the right hand side of the main blog page. For those who desire to do further study of Preston, please click on the link “Works of John Preston” to find all and more that you desire to know.

In this post, I wanna take a look at Preston’s view of the revealed and secret wills and how it ties in with his hypothetical universalism. Moore writes:

“Preston is well aware that he is getting himself into deep water at this point. Yet he is confident that he can make ‘stand together’ the fact that on the one hand ‘God desires that men should believe and live’ and ‘expresseth in...Scripture such an earnest desire to have men live and not die,’ while on the other hand, although ‘he hath it in his power to make them to believe...yet will not’” (Jonathan Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology.” Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans, 2007, page 132).

Here’s how Preston resolves the seeming paradox in his theology:

“The parable of the prodigal son ‘expresseth how willing God is to receive Sinners.’ Secondly, ‘there is a double consideration of the will of God.’ Considered ‘simply,’ ‘God being Holy and pure must needs be delighted in the faith and repentance and obedience of his creature.’...yet THIS IS OVERRULED BY ‘A SECRET WILL OF GOD,’ WHEREBY ‘FOR REASONS BEST KNOWN TO HIMSELF’ HE HAS MERCY ON SOME AND HARDENS OTHERS. Nevertheless God does pursue the salvation of the reprobate in the free offer” (Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 132; John Preston, “Sermons preached before His Majestie,” page 149 and “Riches of Mercy,” page 4).

So let me get this straight: In Preston’s theology, God has both a revealed will and a secret will. The revealed will shows that God desires the salvation of every human being, but the secret will shows that God only desires the salvation of some (since He only chooses some and not all). But if this is the case, then shouldn’t the “secret” will be the “revealed” one? I mean, If God reveals truth about Himself, and He only saves some, then doesn’t that mean (in Preston’s theology) that God should sincerely reveal His desire to save some? But what about His revealed desire in the Scriptures to save “every creature” (Mk. 16:15)? If God has revealed His desire to save every person, then why is this will “hidden” and the secret will of limited atonement revealed? This seems to make the words “revealed” and “hidden” mere psychobabble, since “revealed” can mean “hidden” and “hidden” can mean “revealed” at any time.

Secondly, it seems that Preston is at a crossroads in his theology: either give up the idea of universal atonement, or give up the idea of “irresistible grace.” If Preston strongly holds to irresistible grace and God “effectually” drawing the elect, then he needs to reinterpret certain passages he held as referring to “universal atonement” as showing "limited atonement" in order to show consistency in his theology.

There are special problems I have with the secret will itself. The one main problem I have with it is tied to what I wrote above about “revealed” and “hidden”: if these two words are synonyms and are interchangeable at any time, then how can we know that what is revealed is not deceiving us? Take the Incarnation, for example. If what is “revealed” is truly that which is “hidden,” then when Jesus states “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 11:9, Holman Christian Standard Bible), how can we believe Him? If Preston’s theology is right, Jesus does not reveal who the Father is; rather, the Father has a “hidden” identity. Jesus’ identity and claims to Godhood are nothing more than a “divine distraction” from the actual state of affairs. Jesus then, served as one whose identity “keeps us from finding out” the Father’s true identity. I don’t know about you, but I just refuse to believe that the Scriptures teach falsehood. I believe they teach truth in everything they report. The thought of God saying one thing but meaning something “hidden” is unsatisfactory if not downright heretical.

Preston has more to say about the salvation of some and the damnation of others...but I’ll reserve that for another post.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"The Pot and the Kettle," Pt. II: John Preston's Somewhat "Hypocritical" Stance

“For according to Arminius, though God did heartily desire the conversion of such a man, and offered him al the meanes of Grace that could be, yet it is stil in the free choise of his wil to convert, or not to convert; Their onely answer here is, that seeing God hath made a Decree, that man shal be a free Agent, though he doe most earnestly desire the conversion of such and such men, yet because he cannot disannul his Decree, he doth, and must leave it to the liberty of the Creature to doe contrary to even that himselfe desires. BUT WHAT IS THIS ELSSE BUT TO PUT GOD INTO SUCH STREIGHTS AS DARIUS WAS IN, WHO WOULD FAINE HAVE SAVED DANIEL, BUT BECAUSE OF HIS DECREE HE COULD NOT?...[W]hat is this else but to attribute griefe unto God, and so to detract from his Blessednesse?” (John Preston, “Plenitudo Fontis,” pp. 9-10; quoted by Jonathan Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 129).

In my last post, I focused a great deal on what Preston had to say regarding Arminius’s theology. He accuses Arminius of “limiting” God’s power and ability to achieve His purposes. I denied that this is what Arminius’s theology is actually doing and stated that God refusing to do contradictions is rather a good thing---the fact that “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) shows how dependable and trustworthy our God really is. The fact that He never changes is reassuring for us believers who live in an uncertain world where everything changes around us all the time. Even the psalmist wrote, “Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas” (Psalm 46:2, Holman Christian Standard Bible). And why would the writer not fear? Because “God is our refuge and strength, a helper WHO IS ALWAYS FOUND in times of trouble” (Ps. 46:1). Because God is always a refuge for His own, His children know what to do when trouble hits---that is, run to the Lord, whose name is a strong tower.

In today’s post, I wanna focus on Preston’s theological hypocrisy---that is, I wanna spend time looking at Preston’s own words to show that his theology places God in as “unpopular” a light as he believed Arminius’s theology does. Truth be told, he also “limits” God in his theology as well.

Jonathan Moore writes:

“Although he [Preston] attacks Arminius for detracting from God’s blessedness by implying a frustrated will in God, Preston, INCONSISTENTLY or otherwise, IS FOUND DOING THE VERY SAME THING. He states that ‘Christ offers himselfe, we make offer of him, when we preach the Gospell, in the Sacrament he is offered, he is made like a common dole, all may come that will, and certainly all that hunger doe come.’ However, some do not respond to this offer, and to such Preston says, referring to Matthew 23:37, ‘thou art one of them, whom he would gather, and THOU WILT NOT.’...the reprobate within the visible church who reject the free offer ‘take the grace of God in vain’ by ‘FRUSTRATING THE END of’ the ‘manifestion’ of God’s riches” (Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology.” Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans, 2007, page 134).

Look at Preston’s words. The reprobate in the church who rejects Christ is guilty of “frustrating the end” or frustrating the goal of God’s riches of mercy. But, didn’t he say, “What is this else but to PUT GOD INTO SUCH STREIGHTS AS DARIUS WAS IN, WHO WOULD FAINE HAVE SAVED DANIEL, BUT BECAUSE OF HIS DECREE HE COULD NOT?” (quoted by Jonathan D. Moore, page 129) Didn’t he say in the quote from page 134 above that “thou art one of them, whom HE WOULD GATHER, and THOU WILT NOT”? In the Arminian system, God cannot “force” a person to be saved; but isn’t God limited as well in that sense in Preston’s theology (“he would gather, and thou wilt not”)?

In either the Arminian system or Preston’s, God still cannot coerce a person into receiving Christ. While He can certainly draw them and compel them to come to Him, He can do nothing more. Preston’s theology, in some way, becomes an indirectly “Arminian” theology, whether he realized it or not.

Preston continues:

“When we preach the Gospell, and offer Christ, we are friends of the Bridegroom: our businesse is, to present you as a pure Virgin of Christ...Christ comes and tels a man, I will have thee...I am willing to marry thee. When this is done on the holy Ghosts part, & WE ON OUR PART COME TO RESOLVE TO TAKE HIM, now the match is made betweene us, and this is faith indeed’” (quoted by Jonathan D. Moore, page 135; John Preston, “The Breast-plate,” I:197-198).

According to Preston, the Holy Ghost woos men and women, and then “we on our part” make a decision to come to Christ. Wait a minute, though! Doesn’t the Lord “irresistibly” draw some to Himself? According to Moore,

“Despite his hypothetical universalism...Preston describes the gospel promise in STRICTLY PARTICULAR TERMS. This is because PRESTON IS STILL DESIROUS TO DEFEND THE ‘IRRESISTIBLE WORKING’ OF ‘quickning Grace.’ Indeed, in the face of a rising Arminianism, Preston, in his treatise ‘Irresistiblenesse of converting Grace,’ goes so far as to say that in one sense ‘QUICKNING GRACE’ IS NOT EVEN ‘OFFERED TO ANY, BUT THOSE IN WHOM IT IS EFFECTUALL’” (Moore, 128; John Preston, “Irresistiblenesse of Converting Grace,” page 14).

The question for you, the readership, is this: how can man be responsible for failing to come to Christ if Christ draws people to Himself by “irresistible” grace?

Here’s a syllogism:

Premise #1: God draws people by irresistible grace.

Premise #2: Irresistible grace is grace that cannot be resisted.

Premise #3: No human is able to fight against such magnetic grace.

Conclusion: Those who come to Christ are “made willing” by irresistible grace.

If no human can fight irresistible grace, and God only draws some with this kind of grace, then how could the others be responsible for a grace that was never extended to them? There is only responsibility for such stubborn persons IF grace itself can be resisted, and is only “enabling” grace, not “enforcing” grace. Once again, Preston’s theology is inconsistent.

Before I continue, let me just state that no proper theology can have a grace that is BOTH irresistible and resistible at the same time. This is why believers once resisted the grace of God before salvation, and in many ways, continue to resist the grace of God in our moments of temptation and sin. While we are being daily conformed to the image of God’s Son, we still battle our human depravity, like it or not; and our human depravity influences us at times to resist God’s work in our lives. If grace were truly irresistible, sin would not be sin (rather, it would be annihilated).

In another place, Preston uses the imagery of Christ knocking on the door in Revelation 3:20---

“God awakens sinners, but what kinde of awakening is it? With such awakening that they fall asleep againe. God may send many messengers of wrath to knocke at the doore of their hearts, which perhaps disquiets and troubles them a little, but they returne to their rest againe. And this God may not onely doe outwardly, but he may cast many sparkes of his displeasure into their hearts, which may there lye glowing for a time, but they last not, they goe out in the end. And this is the condition of most men” (Moore, 136-137; John Preston, “Saints Qualification,” I:22).

But notice what he says about God and the work of the Spirit:

“But when ‘wee cannot deny his knocking at our doores, and yet wee will not come in,’ then in his wrath he will destroy such, saying ‘I WOULD HAVE PURGED THEE, and THOU WOULDEST NOT BE PURGED, therefore thou shalt never be purged till my wrath light on thee.’ It is then that ‘GOD WITH-DRAWES FROM A MAN HIS SPIRIT AND SPECIALL PROVIDENCE, BECAUSE HE LOATHES HIM’” (Moore, 137; John Preston, “Saints Qualification, I:21; this is Preston’s own translation of Ezekiel 24:13).

In Preston’s own words, God knocks at the door of every human heart; but when the person refuses to open up their heart and accept Christ, God “withdraws His Spirit...because He loathes him.” Preston makes God sound here as if He gets very angry and hurt when someone does not receive Him. Jonathan Moore says it best when he writes:

“While loathing the god of the Arminians, therefore, Preston was not afraid of almost giving THE DISTINCT IMPRESSION OF A FRUSTRATED WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT” (Moore, pp. 137-138).

To sum up John Preston: on one hand he could say “the heart of every man by nature is so shut up against Christ...unless God himselfe shake off the bolts, and open the gates...we will not admit him, but keepe him out” (Moore, 138; Preston, “The Breast-plate,” I:160); but then, he could turn around and say, “open thy heart and let him in” and think nothing of it (Preston, “Riches of Mercy, pg. 177; Moore, 138).

I think Preston has shown us contradictory theology at its best. When one examines his theology, he seems to be an English Arminian who wanted to hang on to Calvinism in any form. What is most appalling about Preston’s theology is that it still exists today in four-point Calvinist and Molinist systems. Take Molinism, for example: it desires to have a genuine universal atonement, but it also includes a predetermined “unconditional” election. How there can be a genuine atonement with a cold hard predetermined election is anyone’s guess...

There is more on John Preston to come.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"The Pot and the Kettle": John Preston On the Reprobate and the Gospel Call

I’ve often heard statements about “the pot calling the kettle black.” Usually, people use this phrase when someone is saying something about someone else and accuses himself or herself in the process. The point of this response is to say that, should a person be guilty of something, they should first “pick the mote and beam out of their own eye” before trying to pick the log out of someone else’s.

Theologically, though, we find John Preston in the state of “the pot calling the kettle black.” If you look back at the posts on John Preston so far, you’ll notice that he separates the atonement of Christ from the intercession of Christ: while Christ atones for all, He only intercedes on behalf of the elect, His special chosen ones. So the question becomes, if Christ died for all, but only intercedes for some, then how could Christ have given all a genuine opportunity? It seems that, if He intercedes for some, then He only desires that “some” genuinely be saved. Why would He die for people that He would not intercede for?

John Preston, however, was staunchly opposed to Arminius and his theology. Regarding Arminius, Preston records the following:

“For according to Arminius, though God did heartily desire the conversion of such a man, and offered him al the meanes of Grace that could be, yet it is stil in the free choise of his wil to convert, or not to convert; Their onely answer here is, that seeing God hath made a Decree, that man shal be a free Agent, though he doe most earnestly desire the conversion of such and such men, yet because he cannot disannul his Decree, he doth, and must leave it to the liberty of the Creature to doe contrary to even that himselfe desires. BUT WHAT IS THIS ELSSE BUT TO PUT GOD INTO SUCH STREIGHTS AS DARIUS WAS IN, WHO WOULD FAINE HAVE SAVED DANIEL, BUT BECAUSE OF HIS DECREE HE COULD NOT?...[W]hat is this else but to attribute griefe unto God, and so to detract from his Blessednesse?” (John Preston, “Plenitudo Fontis,” pp. 9-10; quoted by Jonathan Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 129).

Preston strongly disagrees with Arminius’s assessment of how God saves mankind. His reason? “What is this elsse but to put God into such streights as Darius was in...?” According to Preston, to claim that God could not “force” the creature to believe is to “limit God’s power” in such a way that God cannot ever be assured of achieving His purposes.

The apostle Paul answers John Preston’s response to Arminius in the book of Romans. In the beginning of Romans chapter 9, Paul is burdened for the salvation of his kinsmen, the Jews; but in verse 6, he answers his burden: “but it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” (Rom. 9:6-7a, Holman Christian Standard Bible). The remainder of the chapter show’s that God “elects” some and not others. What is the means of election, though? Is it God’s arbitrary whim or faith? The Gentiles obtain salvation because they have obtained “the righteousness that comes from faith” (Rom. 9:30), while the Jews failed to obtain salvation because they were aiming to obtain salvation “as if it were by works” (v.31).

Romans 11 is the summation of Paul’s discussion of Romans chapters 9-11; as such, it mimics Paul’s words in chapter 9 that the word of God had not been nullified, despite the unbelieving majority of national Israel: “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Despite the unbelieving majority, the nation as a whole will be saved (even though every Jew in all of human existence will not). Here, corporate election is discussed, not individual election. This can also be seen in Hebrews 3-4, where the writer tells us that the wilderness generation (with the exceptions of Joshua and Caleb) failed to reach the Promised Land because the good news that was preached was not met with faith in the hearers (Heb. 4:2). While the corporate election of the nation is unconditional (as Rom. 11:26ff teaches), individual election is conditional upon faith (Rom. 9:30-32; Rom. 10:9-10).

Secondly, how is it “limiting God” to say that God will not renege on His word? God promised Noah that He would never flood the earth again with water (Gen. 9:11-17); does this somehow make God “less God” because He cannot flood the earth again with water? No! Rather, it shows that God is who He is---one who keeps His promises. What about the Jews inheriting the land of Canaan? According to Joshua, God kept every promise He made (Joshua 21:45; 23:14). God made the promises, and then He made good on them. Does this make God “less God” because He kept His word? No---rather, it proves, once again, that God is One who never changes (Malachi 3:6).

The Bible tells us that God will never deny His nature and character (2 Tim. 2:13). But in Preston’s theology, it is perfectly justified for God to say and do one thing and then turn around and take it back. Evidently, he never read Peter’s words that “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay” (2 Peter 3:9).

Last but not least, the Atonement itself testifies to the consistency of God’s character. Why was Jesus sent to die? “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:25b). By sending Christ as the “propitiation” for our sins, or the atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:25), God “would be righteous” (in His judgment) “and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus” (the one who trusts in the work of Christ on the cross), Rom. 3:26. But if God had not been just, but decided to take back His judgment on mankind made in the Garden of Eden (“you will surely die”), then He would have said, “if you eat you die; you have eaten of the forbidden fruit---but you will not die.” God would be “giving with the left hand what the right hand takes away,” so to speak. He would be saying, “you will die,” but then He would turn around and say, “you will not die.” How can “you will die” and “you will not die” make any sense in that imaginary scenario?

That day in the Garden, God “smoothed” out the seeming paradox: Adam and Eve “would die” a physical death but they “would not die” a spiritual one (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20). Why? because justice and mercy would both meet in Jesus Christ, the unique Son and Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world (John 1:29).

In my next post, I will continue my discussion of John Preston and why he is rather hypocritical in his attack on Arminian theology. It truly is another instance of “the pot calling the kettle black.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Basis of Assurance: John Preston and the Conditionality of Discipleship

“It is not that the sinner is to be presented with no conditions whatsoever, but rather that THESE CONDITIONS ARE TO BE UNDERSTOOD AS DUTIES THAT ARE TO FOLLOW FAITH. He insists that ‘there be conditions following after, though not going before faith.’ These conditions are, ‘you must serve him in all his commands, and leave all your sinnes.’ The gospel promise is unconditional, but FINAL SALVATION IS CONDITIONED UPON PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION. This side of the coin ‘is another part [of the gospel]’ and constitutes the covenant of grace expressed conditionally” (Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology.” Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans, 2007, page 127; quotes by John Preston, “A Liveles life,” I:76 and “Saints Qualification,” III:16).

I ended my last post with a discussion of John Preston and his theology regarding life in Christ. He argued that the promise of Christ (whoever should believe will be saved) is unconditional; however, the life in Christ after faith involves conditions that the believer must fulfill. In this post, I am gonna deal with an issue tied directly to life in Christ: that is, once I believe, how do I know that I am saved? How do I know that I stand in the Lord’s hands?

Many would say that our assurance is based on faith in Christ. Dave Hunt, internationally-known writer and lecturer as well as co-host of the radio program “Search the Scriptures Daily,” affirms faith as the basis of assurance:

“OUR ASSURANCE IS NOT IN BAPTISM, GOOD WORKS, OR DENIAL OF CHOICE. John declares, ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life’ (1 John 5:13). BELIEVING IN CHRIST IS OUR ASSURANCE” (Dave Hunt, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 399).

Similarly, Ken Keathley writes:

“Like [Martin] Luther, I argue that A PERSON FINDS ASSURANCE WHEN HE TRUSTS THE JUSTIFYING WORK OF CHRIST ALONE” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 165).

James Arminius himself would affirm the same:

“I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between...(1)‘it is possible for believers to decline from the FAITH; and (2) ‘it is possible for believers to decline from SALVATION.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted;---IT BEING IMPOSSIBLE FOR BELIEVERS, AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, that power of God would be conquered which he has determined to employ in saving believers. On the other hand, IF BELIEVERS FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH AND BECOME UNBELIEVERS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO DO OTHERWISE THAN DECLINE FROM SALVATION,---that is, provided they still continue unbelievers” (James Arminius, “Works,” I:741-742).

Arminius’s words sound like Paul’s to the Gentiles in Romans 11:20-22 and Peter’s words to the Jews of the Diaspersion in 1 Peter 1:5. To summarize his words above, we stand by our faith; however, should we throw off our “shield of faith, whereby we are able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one,” we can do no other BUT fall from salvation (Eph. 6:16). He did agree, however, that faith is the basis of assurance. Faith is how we know that we are saved.

The words of John Preston in the starting quote of this post testify to salvation by faith alone. Preston writes,

“godly sorrow and grace followes [sic] faith, but are not required before it.”

However, it is not merely faith alone that builds one’s assurance in their salvation; bearing spiritual fruit (good works) can build one’s assurance of salvation as well. Regarding good works and assurance, Preston wrote:

“come to a beleever going out of the world, and aske him WHAT HOPE HE HATH TO BE SAVED, AND WHAT GROUND FOR IT? He will be ready to say, ‘I KNOW THAT CHRIST IS COME INTO THE WORLD, AND THAT HE IS OFFERED, AND I KNOW THAT I AM ONE OF THEM THAT HAVE A PART IN HIM; I KNOW THAT I HAVE FULFILLED THE CONDITIONS, as that I should not continue willingly in any knowne sinne, that I should love the Lord Jesus, and desire to serve him above all; I know that I have fulfilled these conditions, and for all this I have the word for my ground, if the ground whereon our faith is builded be the Word, then it is builded on a sure rocke” (Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology,” page 127; quote from John Preston, “Saints Qualification, III:16).

In Preston’s theology, coming to faith is the result of the divine promise (which requires no works), but remaining in the faith is a matter of the work of Christ and the work of the believer. This is why, after Preston quotes the work of Christ above in regards to assurance, he then goes into “I know that I have fulfilled the conditions,” etc. Why are conditions required for final salvation? Because “this side of the coin [works] is ‘another part [of the gospel] and constitutes THE COVENANT OF GRACE expressed conditionally” (Moore, 127). Here with Preston, we see him reconcile the words of not only Paul (“justified by faith”,” Romans 5:1), but also the words of James (“justified by works”, James 2:21).

I’ve explored Preston’s views on the atonement, and he is rather inconsistent when it comes to Jesus dying for all but only interceding as priest for “some.” However, here in his theology, I think he is most right. His words confirm those of James to the scattered Jewish believers:

“Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was ACTIVE TOGETHER WITH HIS WORKS, AND BY WORKS, FAITH WAS see that a man is justified by works and NOT BY FAITH ALONE” (James 2:20-22, 24, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The basis of assurance (justification by faith or works?) has been one that has plagued the church since the first century until now. How then shall we answer the question, “What justifies a man: faith or works”? Should we answer, “faith alone,” we must negate works altogether; if we answer with “works,” then we nullify faith and create a different gospel. In order to reconcile “justification by faith” and “justification by works,” we must understand that “by works, faith [is] perfected” (James 2:22). Once we grasp this, we will have no problem affirming the necessity of BOTH faith and works for final salvation. As the writer of Hebrews wrote,

“So don’t throw away your confidence which has a great reward. FOR YOU NEED ENDURANCE, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised” (Heb. 10:35-36, HCSB).

Does my response nullify the gospel? No, not at all. After all, are we not “His creation---created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:9, HCSB)?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Calvinist Betrayal

I mentioned, some posts ago, that I heard a sermon earlier this year regarding the Doctrine of Apostasy---which involves the issue of “Losing Salvation.” In the sermon, the preacher, whom I called “John,” stated that “we are not saved by anything we do.” He then used this statement as a “stepping stone” from which to say that “if we didn’t do anything to be saved, we can’t do anything to be unsaved. If our works don’t save us, then our works don’t unsave us.”

But then, John seemed to modify his position a little. He began to tell the congregation that we can’t just go live anyway we want to because we’re saved by grace; no---rather, we are supposed to live in accordance with godliness.

On Father’s Day, the pastor exhorted the congregation after one of the directors of the Men’s Ministry preached. His exhortation was, “Fathers, let us be the husbands and the fathers that God has called us to be; for these things are OF ETERNAL SIGNIFICANCE.”

Let’s stop here for a moment. That’s right: what you just read is what the pastor actually said! He told the men in the congregation that to be godly husbands and fathers was “of eternal significance.” But how? How can these things be of eternal significance if we are acquitted of all our sins (past, present, and future) by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? If none of our sins can stand against us on Judgment Day, then how can any of these human God-given responsibilities be of ANY eternal significance? This all sounds like double-talk to me.

In case you’re wondering, however, I’ll go ahead and tell you that such Calvinist argument is nothing new. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). Calvinists have done the same thing the two preachers above did in their sermons: they have always “played both sides of the theological fence” when it comes to justification and sanctification. And John Preston fits right in with the ranks of other Calvinists, for he does the same.

In Moore’s chapter on “The Gospel Call,” he gives the reader Preston’s dichotomy between a “gospel covenant” and a “gospel promise.” The gospel promise is offered to all:

“Preston is quite clear that the gospel promise can, in one sense, be said to be general. Another example of God’s ‘generall promise’ is ‘Whosoever will beleeve, shall be saved.’ To the extent that Christ is thus ‘offered to every creature’ so far do the promises ‘belong unto him.’ Thus what Preston is at pains to communicate by saying ‘Gods promises are generall,’ or with the phrase ‘a generall pardon,’ is that it is ‘without exception of persons, or sinnes’” (Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 126; Preston, “A Liveless Life,” I:174; “Saints Qualification,” I:122; III:43).

For Preston, “the gospel promise is ‘free without any condition,’ in that it is wrong to ‘looke for sorrow and holinesse before thou takest Christ’” (Moore, 127). According to Preston, the only thing that the sinner can do is profess faith in Christ. It seems then, by the term “unconditional,” that he is referring to works of righteousness.

Let me say here that Classical Arminians agree with this. We do not deny Paul’s words when he says that “He saved us---not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5a, English Standard Version). Contrary to popular belief, Classical Arminians do not argue works-righteousness in their theology. Rather, the only condition we argue is faith, to believe...which is not a “work of merit”; rather, faith is trusting in the merits of Christ, not our own (for we have nothing to boast or brag about, Eph. 2:9).

In case I seem heretical in my belief, let me note that scholars Ken Keathley (Molinist), Thomas Schreiner (Calvinist), Dave Hunt (Non-Calvinist), and Jacob Arminius himself (father of Arminianism) hold to the same definition of perseverance. Ken Keathley and Thomas Schreiner both refer to perseverance as “persevering IN FAITH” (see Ken Keathley’s “Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 185; see my section titled “Doctrine of Perseverance” to read Keathley’s quote of Schreiner and his affirmation of Schreiner’s definition); Dave Hunt refers to “faith” as the believer’s assurance (see “Debating Calvinism,” page 399, where Hunt states, “Believing in Christ is our assurance”); and Arminius himself stated that faith is the condition whereupon a person can either be joined to Christ or severed from him (Arminius’s “Works,” I:741-742).

Now, back to John Preston. Preston states that no holiness can be expected from someone who comes to Christ for the first time. By “condition,” Preston means “works of righteousness.” And to that, as I stated above, every Classical Arminian would agree. But notice his comments regarding life in Christ:

“However, as if fearing antinomian deductions from the unconditionality of the promise, Preston immediately in this same passage QUALIFIES THIS UNCONDITIONALITY. IT IS NOT THAT THE SINNER IS TO BE PRESENTED WITH NO CONDITIONS WHATSOEVER, but rather that THESE CONDITIONS ARE TO BE UNDERSTOOD AS DUTIES THAT ARE TO FOLLOW FAITH. He insists that ‘there be conditions following after, though not going before faith.’ These conditions are, ‘you must serve him in all his commands, and leave all your sinnes.’ The gospel promise is unconditional, but FINAL SALVATION IS CONDITIONED UPON PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION. This side of the coin ‘is another part [of the gospel]’ and constitutes the covenant of grace expressed conditionally” (Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 127; Preston, “A Liveles [sic] Life,” I:176).

In case you missed Preston’s argument, please read this last quote of Jonathan Moore’s (and Preston’s) again. Preston says that there are no works of righteousness required BEFORE Christ; but works are required AFTER Christ. Of the entire quote above, this is the part I loved most:

“The gospel promise is unconditional, but final salvation is conditioned upon progressive sanctification.”

With this last sentence quoted, many people would deem me a semi-Pelagian, Pelagian, or a downright heretic (perhaps Preston would be labeled such as well). The bottom line is, that Preston read Scripture and came to the conclusion that works will play a role in one’s eternal destiny on the Day of Judgment. What must a person do in order to reach final salvation? “You must serve him in all his commands, and leave all your sinnes.” There is a lifestyle of response that God requires from us if we desire to obtain salvation, whether we like it or not.

Now here is where Molinist Ken Keathley will disagree with Preston (and my view, of course). In his view, there must be a distinction between justification and sanctification:

“The doctrine of forensic justification is crucial for assurance of salvation. ‘Forensic’ means that justification is the legal act where God declares a sinner righteous through Jesus Christ. This is in contrast to sanctification, which is the lifelong work of grace whereby God makes a sinner righteous. It is this distinction between justification and sanctification that liberated Martin Luther from the bondage of attempting to merit salvation. Luther tells of meditating on Rom 1:17 (‘For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith’) and coming to the realization that God’s righteousness was A GIFT GIVEN TO SINNERS rather than a standard that sinners must meet” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 165).

It is true that we are “justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1) and that sanctification is the work of the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13); however, it is also the case that believers have a role to play in their sanctification as well (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4). While it is the Spirit who sanctifies, the Spirit will not sanctify a person who daily chooses to yield to the flesh instead of “denying himself.” Yes, we are saved by faith; but faith must be supplemented by works. When James wrote, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), James was not saying that faith without works is “nonexistent”; what James is saying here is that, in contrast to a faith that works, the dead faith is present but has no life in itself.

Imagine that you have an 8-pack of Duracell batteries in your possession, and that the goal of the batteries is to light your flashlight. So you put two batteries in the flashlight at once (it takes two for operation) and the light comes on. The batteries serve a purpose---that is, they provide you with light. But one day, the batteries stop working altogether. The batteries are, in a word, “dead.” The question now becomes, “Are the batteries non-existent because they don’t work? Did the batteries just “poof” out of existence? No! The batteries did not self-annihilate when they ran out of energy; rather, they still exist (materially), but they have no purpose (they are fit for nothing). According to James, our faith is the same: even though we may have faith, if it does not serve a purpose, it does no more for us than the person who has no faith at all. I wanna make a note here, however, that one who has faith is distinguished from one who does not; nonetheless, our faith does not work for us, should we have it and yet have no works to supplement it. In short, we are as “handicapped” spiritually as if we were unbelieving, should our faith be “ineffective.”

John Preston has more to say about final salvation and sanctification, so there are more posts to follow...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hypothetical Universal Atonement

Before I start this post, I’d just like to take a moment to talk about some of the changes made around here at the site. The major change made recently involved the addition of an “I’m Currently Reading” section and a "Just Finished Reading" section here at the Center for Theological Studies. From now on, all my readers will now stay informed regarding my reading material. I want you all to know books on which I’m reading so that you may be able to know what good literature on theology is out there online and in bookstores alike. This way, you will not have to waste time reading through material that will be of no spiritual benefit. That’s right: I wanna save you the frustration of “weeding through” bad material.

I’ve been doing some work for the last few days on the Doctrine of the Atonement here at CTS. Surprisingly, the book that I’ve been reading on in the last few weeks involves John Preston and his view of “Hypothetical Universalism.” Now, in this respect, Preston stands in the ranks of the French theologian Moises Amyraut (known for his theological system of “Amyraldianism”). Amyraut, like Preston, held to four points of Calvinism but argued that there was some universality (although hypothetical, meaning “possible”) to the atonement for all humans. In this respect, such “four-point Calvinists” stand out to us all by showing us that inconsistencies have always existed within the Calvinist system. Calvinists just “cannot take the plunge” when it comes to affirming “Limited Atonement” (Jesus died for some). And that was no different with John Preston in seventeenth-century England.

First, just what is “hypothetical universalism”? It is a doctrine that teaches that, while it is possible that everyone could have been saved, Jesus only died for a few. In reality, then, only the special elect whom Jesus chose to be saved will actually receive the benefits of the atonement.

Let’s look at the words of John Preston to see this definition at play. In his sermons and writings, Preston noted that Jesus died for only a few, as Jonathan Moore notes:

“In his ‘opera’ Preston never explicitly states that Christ died ‘for the elect.’ Nowhere is there a ‘Perkinsian’ treatment of classic universalist texts involving ‘all’ or the ‘world.’ However, Preston does not hesitate to take up scriptural imagery of particular grace with regard to the death of Christ, and he does sometimes employ terminology associated with particular redemptionist formulations. Christ came ‘to take away the sinnes of his people; hee came to take away sinnes of all sorts.’ Christ ‘hath purchased his Wife with his owne bloud,’ and ‘such a relation there is between Christ and us,’ as ‘between the Shepherd and the Sheep; the Shepherd that gives his life for the sheep, and the sheep that are redeemed.’ Preston also taught that

‘as in the time of the Law, the Priest was to offer up sacrifices for the people in all humilitie, so Christ in the Gospell on the Crosse with a broken and a contrite spirit, offered a sacrifice FOR ALL HIS CHILDREN, and makes them acceptable unto God’”
(Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology.” Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans, 2007, pages 98-99; Moore also quotes from Preston’s “The Breast-plate,” I:248, II:142, and “Remaines,” page 237).

In addition, Preston also argued that the atonement was efficient for believers and that God accomplishes His purposes:

“In broad terms Preston taught that Christ could never fail of his intent. For ‘WHATSOEVER THE LORDS END IS, HE NEVER FAILES OF.’ Because the Father ‘is not willing to have his Sonnes bloud spilt in vain,’ there must be an efficacy to Christ’s satisfaction, at least on one level or for some people...because ‘Christ came to redeem them for this end that they might be zealous,’ and ‘CHRIST WILL NOT LOSE HIS END,’ then ‘they that Christ will save shall be zealous’” (Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” pages 100-101; Preston quotes taken from Preston’s work “Saints Qualification,” II:20; Preston’s “The Golden Scepter,” I:275, and his work “Riches of Mercy,” page 90).

The question then becomes, “How can the atonement be for all if God only permits “some” to come to Him?” In Preston’s thought, Jesus could die for all on the one hand and some on the other hand because of a division between Christ’s work as redeemer (for all) and His work as intercessor (praying on behalf of the elect, see John 17:9). In the words of Jonathan Moore,

“Preston therefore drives a significant wedge between the twofold high-priestly work of Christ as atonement-maker and intercessor. The effectual source of the ‘golden chain’ is not Christ’s satisfaction itself, but an almost separate work of Christ, namely his intercession. The extent of the former can be totally different from that of the latter. Christ as High Priest makes satisfaction for all without exception, but Christ as High Priest makes intercession only for the elect. It would appear that the decree of election can be removed almost altogether from propitiation and lodged solely in the limited and discriminating intercession of Christ” (Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology.” Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans, 2007, page 102).

In John Preston’s theology, there is a dichotomy between the extent and intent: while the atonement extends to all, it is only intended for the elect. Christ as High Priest only prays for the elect (those He desires to be saved). What happens to the others? “Hypothetically” (for argument’s sake), they could be saved...but Christ will not save them. And somehow, he can still turn around and say that those who are not elect are non-elect because of their own fault:

“so it is in this offer of Christ, all is ready Christ is slain, and his blood is poured out, if you do not come and take it, YOU PUT AWAY FROM YOU THE BLOOD OF CHRIST, and so in as much as in you lieth YOU MAKE THE DEATH OF CHRIST OF NONE EFFECT, and so by consequence you shall be guilty of the blood of Christ...whosoever refuseth Christ is guilty of the spilling of his most precious blood” (Preston, “Riches of Mercy,” pp.427-28; quoted by Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 109).

This statement places blame for unbelief on the individual, not Christ.

In another place, Preston said:

“the death of Christ is like a medicine, that hath efficacy enough to heal all mankind, IF THEY WILL APPLY IT, now if men will not take it, and receive it, it is not out of defect in the thing itself, but out of the CONTEMPT AND STUBBORNESS OF THEIR OWN WILL” (Preston, “Riches of Mercy,” p. 423; quoted by Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 110).

One moment, Preston is saying that the individuals themselves must apply the medicine; the next, he is saying that only God can apply the medicine needed (that men are unable to do this at all). In short, men are “able” to save and “unable” to save all at the same time, in the same way.

If there is one sentence I could end with in this post, it would be a one-liner from the words of John Preston: “freely given to all, yet God intends him onely to the Elect” (Jonathan Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 113; Preston, “The Breast-plate," I:9). One of the things that you, my readership, will discover as we plow through Preston is that Preston is speaking contradiction...and will soon come head-to-head with his contradiction and be forced to face himself. When he does, the reading of my posts will be so worth it. How exactly does he respond? Well, for the answer to that, you’ll just have to keep reading.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"The Whole World" in 1 John 2:2

We’ve been studying the Doctrine of Singular Redemption here at the Center for Theological Studies for the last few days. I’ve covered John 3:16-18, 2 Corinthians 5 as well as 2 Peter 3:9.

I’m back to continue the current theological agenda. Today’s text will involve a controversial one: 1 John 2:2. The verse reads as follows:

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, English Standard Version).

Some weeks ago, I was reading a work called “‘That You May Know’: Assurance of Salvation in 1 John” by Christopher D. Bass,” and Bass tackled this verse in his work (since the book itself was all about 1 John). When Bass arrives at the verse in his work (on page 81), he presents the two views of what is meant by “the whole world”:

“Some contend that this passage speaks of God’s redemption with a universal scope in its potential. In this interpretation the ‘whole world’ should be understood as ‘all inclusive,’ thus Jesus is the propitiation for all men without exception...others argue that when John speaks of the ‘whole world,’ he is referring to all the elect of both Jews and Gentiles. In other words, in 2:2b, John is making the point that Jesus’ death did not apply to Jewish believers only (i.e., ‘ours’) but also to the elect Gentiles (i.e., ‘the whole world’)” (“That You May Know: Assurance of Salvation in 1 John.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2008, page 82).

How does Bass interpret “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2?

“The ‘whole world’ would include all believers everywhere throughout the world. Therefore, Jesus was not only the propitiation for the sins of one little group of believers in Asia Minor but for the children of God all over the world” (Bass, “‘That You May Know,’ page 84).

For Christopher Bass, “the whole world” refers to believers only, Christians throughout the world.

This would work if it didn’t conflict with textual evidence within the Epistle of 1 John itself. Robert E. Picirilli gathers information within the letter surrounding “the whole world” to determine its meaning. Here is what Picirilli gathered:

2:2 (our text)--> its first appearance

2:15-17 (6 times)-->The Christian is not to be loving the world or the things in the world. The world, and its lust, IS PASSING AWAY.


3:13--> Do not be annoyed if THE WORLD IS HATING YOU.

3:17--> Whoever has the means of life of the world and does not share with one in need is not demonstrating the love of God.


4:9--> God sent His Son into the world in order than[sic] we might live through Him

4:14-->The Father sent the Son to be SAVIOR OF THE WORLD.

4:17-->As He is, so are we IN THE WORLD.


5:19-->We are of God, and THE WHOLE WORLD LIES IN THE EVIL ONE.

(Picirilli’s verses and textual evidence can be found in his work, “Grace, Faith, and Free Will; Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism.” Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002, page 125).

If only one of the verses referenced above grabs you, it should be 1 John 5:19--- “We know that we are from God, and THE WHOLE WORLD LIES IN THE POWER OF THE EVIL ONE” (ESV).

What this tells us is that the whole world, controlled by “the evil one,” that is “Satan,” is the same world that Jesus is the propitiation for in 1 John 2:2! If this is the case, then Bass’s interpretation contradicts Scripture’s teaching on the meaning of the phrase. If the whole world refers to only the elect throughout the world, then this means that, to plug Bass’s meaning in 1 John 5:19, “the elect in the world lie in the power of the evil one.” This is a sad thought, indeed. After all, doesn’t this possibility of the elect being under Satan’s control contradict Jesus’ prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (“I...ask...that you keep them from the evil one”, John 17:15)?

Picirilli noted it in his analysis above...but there is later evidence within 1 John 2 that tells us that the world is opposed to the recipients of John’s epistle:

15(Z) Do not love the world or the things in the world.(AA) If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—(AB) the desires of the flesh and(AC) the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And(AD) the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17, English Standard Version)

First, John tells the believers “do not love the world or the things in the world.” I don’t think he is telling the elect in the receiving congregation to not love the other elect brothers and sisters in the world---so we can rule out this portion as referring to “the elect throughout the world.” Next, he states that, “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” To love the world is to hate the Father. I don’t think the elect are against the Father---so this would refer to the unbelieving mass as well. In verse 16, John tells us what the world offers: lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes, and pride in possessions. Never in Scripture are believers told to lust after the flesh; in fact, Paul tells believers that “those in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). Notice as well that “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Life everlasting is found in the one who seeks to please the Lord, not drift along with the world. But not only will the material possessions of the world be destroyed and burnt up---so will “those of the world,” “the worldly,” the ungodly.

I’ve examined clues within the text of 1 John 2 itself as well as the meaning of “the world” throughout the First Epistle of John. As has been shown, there is simply no justifiable reason for Bass’s interpretation of “the whole world” as “believers throughout the world.” Such an interpretation stems from historical interpretive tradition...and a particular theological slant.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Any of You": The Universality of the Atonement in 2 Peter 3:9

In the last few posts, I’ve been going through passage after passage of verses pertaining to what many believe to be the universality (and yet, exclusivity) of the atonement. The atonement has been seen as that which corresponds to the Doctrine of Singular Redemption: this doctrine states that, while the atonement is “sufficient” for every person, the atonement is only “efficient” for those who believe. In other words, while Christ purchased the redemption of every man, only those who believe receive the purchased redemption. Only those who believe are accurately called “the redeemed” (Exodus 15:13).

In this post, I will explore the passage of 2 Peter 3 to see what insight it can provide in regards to the Doctrine of the Atonement (the teaching that Christ died for the sins of the world).

Let’s read the passage together:

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9, English Standard Version).

I once saw a video of James White on Youtube where he responded to a sermon by Ergun Caner, delivered at Liberty University, titled “Why I Am Not a Hyper-Calvinist.” Ergun Caner used 2 Peter 3:9 as a prooftext for universal atonement (that Jesus died for every person). James White responded to this prooftext by arguing that the “any” of the verse itself did not refer to any person, but rather, “any of you,” the recipients of Peter’s letter.

This is problematic, however. If Peter is writing to fellow believers, then why would he tell them that the Lord desires “that all should reach repentance”? Haven’t the believers of the letter ALREADY repented?

In 1 Peter 1:1, Peter calls the recipients of his letters “the elect exiles of the dispersion...” This tells us, then, that the Jewish exiles are “elect,” or “saved”. In the same chapter, Peter tells the believers, “he [Christ] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the an inheritance that is...kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4, ESV). The believers are “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed” (1 Peter 1:5). The recipients are referred to as “obedient children” (v.14) who “call on him as Father” (v.17). These Jews have “purified [their] souls by [their] obedience to the truth” (v.22) and “have been born again...of imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God” (v.23). These Jews are “now God’s people” and “have received mercy” (2:10). In 2 Peter, the Jews in question are addressed as “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). They are told to “be all the more diligent to make [their] calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10), which tells us that they are “called” and “elect”. In 2 Peter 3, Peter tells the Jews that “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth” (3:13) and that they are to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (3:15).

All of the above language testifies to the Jews as being believers, Jewish Christians. So if these believers are genuine, which it seems they are (according to Peter), then why are they to “ensure their calling and election” and to “count the Lord’s delay as salvation”? If James White’s assessment of the “any of you” phrase is correct (not willing that any of you should perish, 2 Pet. 3:9), then James White has just betrayed his own Calvinist theology; for, how then, will Calvinists handle this verse? If even the elect have to ensure their election, doesn’t this tell us that there is no eternal security? If Peter must write, “take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and LOSE YOUR OWN STABILITY” (2 Pet. 3:17), doesn’t this imply that, by “losing one’s stability,” one’s standing in Christ is not “eternally guaranteed”?

By trying to fight the Arminian view of the atonement, James White finds himself at a checkmate theologically: he has nowhere to go. If one’s election in Christ has to be “ensured” by the person, then doesn’t this imply that one’s salvation is “eternally” ensured by “eternally” persevering in the faith? Doesn’t this imply that the elect have to continue to “work out [their] soul salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12)?

Despite my disagreements with James White in regards to his Calvinist theology, I agree with James White on one thing: context must first determine the interpretation of a passage...once context has determined the interpretation of a passage, we can then see how that passage fits with other similar passages of Scripture. Because these hermeneutical principles stand firm, I can agree with White and say that the “any” within 2 Peter 3 refers to the Jews of the Diaspersion who have come to faith (Jewish believers); however, when placed within the canon of the entire Bible (and not just 1 Peter and 2 Peter), the “any” of 2 Peter 3:9 refers to the “every creature” of Mark 16:15 that must hear the gospel and believe in order to be saved.

Once again, the doctrine of singular redemption still holds: the Lord desires the salvation of every person (sufficient for all); however, a person who desires to be saved must come by faith, for “without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is the condition for salvation (efficient for all who believe, Romans 1:16).

More on the Doctrine of Singular Redemption is to come. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Reconciling the World": The Beauty of Universal Atonement (2 Corinthians 5:14-19)

In my last post, I tackled John 3:16-18 and demonstrated that “the world” cannot refer to the elect only...for if it does, then “the world might be saved” implies that the elect “might not” be saved (which is not a belief Reformed theology holds to). “The world,” then, must be more inclusive than the exclusivist view of the Reformed camp (which argues for “Limited” Atonement).

In today’s post, I will tackle the passage of 2 Corinthians 5:14-19, another passage used by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn in their book, “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented.”

The passage reads as follows:

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, IN CHRIST, GOD WAS RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF, NOT COUNTING THEIR TRESPASSES AGAINST THEM, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:14-19, English Standard Version).

While verses 14 and 15 reference “all” three times; but we don’t receive clarity on “all” until verse 19: “that is, in Christ God was reconciling THE WORLD to Himself, not counting THEIR trespasses against THEM.”

What do we do with “the world” here? Calvinists could easily say, “this refers to the elect”; but if they do, they are defeated exegetically once more---for the believers are not the only ones whose sins count against them; the unbelievers’ sins count against them as well (which is why unbelievers receive eternal damnation because of unbelief). This can be clearly demonstrated in Peter’s Second Epistle to the scattered Jewish believers:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, EVEN DENYING THE MASTER WHO BOUGHT THEM, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).

Who is “denying the Master who bought them”? Those denying their Master, Christ, are the “false teachers.” This implies two things: (1) even those who are redeemed can turn from the righteous way of salvation. Peter writes of these same teachers in 2 Peter 2:15 that they are “forsaking the right way” and “have gone astray.” (2) from 2 Peter 2:1, we see that the Master bought even those who stray, who ultimately reject the grace of God. If God “redeemed” these teachers who would ultimately go astray, then He purchased the redemption of many who will not accept Him. This is an important point to make because it refutes the Calvinistic Doctrine of Limited Atonement. As Steele, Thomas, and Quinn write,

“Historical or mainline Calvinism has consistently maintained that Christ’s redeeming work was DEFINITE IN DESIGN AND ACCOMPLISHMENT---THAT IT WAS INTENDED TO RENDER COMPLETE SATISFACTION FOR CERTAIN SPECIFIED SINNERS, AND THAT IT ACTUALLY SECURED SALVATION FOR THESE INDIVIDUALS AND FOR NO ONE ELSE...Christ did not die simply to make it possible for God to pardon sinners. Neither does God leave it up to sinners to decide whether or not Christ’s work will be effective. ON THE CONTRARY, ALL FOR WHOM CHRIST SACRIFICED HIMSELF WILL BE SAVED INFALLIBLY. REDEMPTION, THEREFORE, WAS DESIGNED TO BRING TO PASS GOD’S PURPOSE OF ELECTION” (“The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented,” Second Edition. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, pages 39-40).

So, “the world” in 2 Corinthians 5:19 refers to both believers and unbelievers alike.

Now, this makes sense in light of the references that “one has died for ALL,” “ALL have died,” and “he died for ALL.”

But there is a particular redemption, however. Only “those who live” are those who receive the purchased redemption. As Paul told the Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were DEAD IN OUR TRESPASSES, MADE US ALIVE together with Christ---BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED...” (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV)

Those who have been “made alive with Christ” are those who have received the purchased redemption of Christ’s suffering on the cross by faith in Christ Jesus. “Those who live,” then, are those who have received the grace of God in Christ.

The beauty of the atonement has been demonstrated not just in this post, but in the post on John 3: that being, the atonement is offered to all but is only obtained by faith. As a result, while all CAN receive the atonement of Christ, only some WILL take hold of it by faith.

I will cover more on the Doctrine of Singular Redemption in posts to come...

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Application of the Atonement (John 3:16-18)

Timote Afu, one of the followers of this site (Center for Theological Studies or “CTS”), e-mailed me recently about the application and appropriation of the atonement. I promised him that I would begin to blog on this issue, so I decided to start doing that now. For the next few posts, I will work through some simple passages regarding “all” and what “all” means in those specific contexts.

I will begin with comments from “The Five Points of Calvinism”:

“There are two classes of texts that speak of Christ’s saving work in general terms: (a) those containing the word ‘world’ and (b) those containing the word ‘all’ reason for the use of these expressions was to correct the false notion that salvation was for the Jews alone. Such phrases as ‘the world,’ ‘all men,’ ‘all nations,’ and ‘every creature’ were used by the New Testament writers to emphatically correct this mistake. THESE EXPRESSIONS ARE INTENDED TO SHOW THAT CHRIST DIED FOR ALL MEN WITHOUT DISTINCTION (i.e., He died for Jews and Gentiles alike), BUT THEY ARE NOT INTENDED TO INDICATE THAT CHRIST DIED FOR ALL MEN WITHOUT EXCEPTION (i.e., He did not die for the purpose of saving each and every lost sinner)” (“The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition” by David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 50).

Interestingly enough, the quote above provides “all” (and in this case, I do mean “all) of the explanation of these men regarding universal atonement. They have nothing else to say on these verses, which leaves me wondering if they had nothing else to say because they didn’t know how to explain these passages in their system (which says that Christ died only for some). However, the most interesting thing happens: when they attempt to explain their view, they give one-and-a-half pages worth of Bible verses. I think I smell a rat here...

Let’s tackle one of the Bible references provided that argues for a universal atonement: John 3:16-17. I selected this passage because it seems to be a familiar one that every Christian knows. At least in my experience, it seems to be the case that, no matter how young of a Christian you are, one can always recite John 3:16-17 by heart.

The text reads:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, English Standard Version).

Here’s a question I would pose to Calvinists: explain the use of “world” in this verse. What does “world” mean here? If a Calvinist says, “all the elect in the world,” then I would pose this question next: “So then, does that mean that the elect in the world can be condemned?” They may say, “Yes, the elect were condemned as fallen humanity”; but if they do so, the word “world” must be broadened to include the “non-elect” as well (since the non-elect are also part of the world). If they say “no,” then I would respond, “so God sent His Son into the world so that “the ELECT MIGHT BE SAVED through Him” (substituting "elect" for "the world")?

This last question is one that will make even the Calvinist stumble. If God sent Jesus to die on behalf of the elect, then how is there a way that they “might be saved”? If Jesus died for the elect, then their salvation is certain, right? So if the elect will infallibly be saved, why does the language itself include “possibility” and not “certainty”? Look at the phrase “might be saved”. The word used here in the Greek is “sothe,” which is a Present Passive Subjunctive. The idea of the “subjunctive” indicates potentiality (“might, could, should, would, may”). These words demonstrate possibility, but not certainty. The world “could” be saved (there is the opportunity for universal salvation), but this doesn’t mean that the world “will” be saved (does not provide certainty). And as experience shows, there are those in the world who die everyday without coming to faith in Christ. The subjunctive “might be saved” is more of a potential opportunity (more truth-telling) than most people realize.

If you get a Calvinist to admit that the elect will infallibly be saved, then they will have to deny that “the world” of John 3:16-17 involves just the elect; they will also have to include the non-elect, for fear of making it possible that the elect could fall away or not be saved at all.

A little further into John 3 shows that my interpretation of “world” is correct. Read the next verse:

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18, ESV).

Notice there are two types of people mentioned in verse 18, not just “the one who believes.” This supports my argument above about what is meant by “the world” in John 3. In addition to the believer, there is also the non-believer, “whoever does not believe.” Now, notice what Jesus says about the non-believer:

“whoever does not believed is condemned already, BECAUSE HE HAS NOT BELIEVED IN THE NAME OF THE ONLY SON OF GOD” (Jn. 3:18b).

Is the non-believer guilty for not believing? Yes. And why? “because he has not believed,” because he has refused to exercise his faith in God. The non-believer is not guilty because he has been damned from before the foundations of the world (as many Calvinists seem to say); no, the non-believer is guilty because he is “able to believe” but refuses to do so.

The fact that “the world” includes “the one who believes” and “the one who does not believe” testifies to the universality of the atonement. Christ died for every human creature.

However, while there is universality to the atonement, there is also exclusivity (or restriction). Only those who believe will receive redemption: “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM should...have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Christ died for both those who believe and those who do not (3:18); but without faith, one will not be saved. The condition for salvation is faith (“the one who believes”).

What about those who do not believe? Ken Keathley writes:

“So what about those for whom the Savior died who yet reject Him? In their case, the atonement testifies against them, and serves as the basis of condemnation. As John declares, ‘Anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God’ (John 3:18b)” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 196-197).

The reason why the unbeliever can be condemned is that he had a genuine opportunity and genuine ability to believe.

I will deal with more passages regarding universal atonement or reference to “the world” in the coming posts.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Preserved Through Death, Part II

“...God, foreseeing the sins into which the just would fall if they remained in this life for a long time, in His mercy often takes them from this world---this according to Wisdom 4:11, ‘He was snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul,’ and a bit later at 4:14, ‘His soul was pleasing to God; because of this He hastened to lead him out of the midst of iniquities.’ Since, therefore, those sins were numbered among the future contingents and were foreseen by God and yet were never going to have existence in reality, it follows that it is not simply because things exist in eternity that God knows future contingents with certainty” [Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge” (“Concordia,” Pt. IV). Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell Paperbacks, 2004, page 118].

I ended my last post with the above quote, which uses references to passages of renown to prove that God “eternally secures” His own; that is, at least “often.” My last post also dealt with quotes from John MacArthur and Loraine Boettner regarding preservation of the saints. The idea, common to most believers, that God will “kill” His own to preserve them eternally is not a novel idea that originated within the last twenty-five years; rather, the idea itself was held even by theologians such as Molina (and some of the church fathers perhaps). Ideas don’t just spread over night...they evolve as well.

Now, let’s take a look at the Apocryphal work, the Wisdom of Solomon. Wisdom of Solomon chapter 4, verses 10-11 (Seputuagint), reads:

“One who became well-pleasing to God was beloved, and, while living amongst sinners, was taken; he was seized in order that wickedness should not affect his understanding or guile deceive his soul” [Wisdom of Salomon 4:10-11, New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS)].

Notice that the godly person (the “beloved”) was snatched out of life “in order that wickedness should not affect his understanding or guile deceive his soul.” The explicit purpose as to why the “beloved” was taken was so that he would not fall away and be condemned with the world. The word “herpage,” from the verb “harpadzo” (meaning “to snatch,” “to seize”) demonstrates the action. He was “taken out” of the world.

Let’s look at verses 13-14 of the same chapter:

“But being perfect in a short time, he [the beloved] fulfilled long years; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, THEREFORE HE HASTENED HIM FROM THE MIDST OF EVIL” (Wisdom of Salomon 4:13-14, NETS).

The Lord took the “beloved” “from the midst of evil”; according to the Wisdom of Salomon then, the purpose for God’s action was to prevent the believer from falling away.

Molina notes in his “Concordia” that there seemed to have been a dispute as to who is being referred to in the Wisdom of Salomon:

“I realize that Cornelius Jansen, along with Ambrose, reads this last text as having to do with the translation of Enoch. BUT THE COMMON INTERPRETATION---following Cyprian in ‘De Immortalite’ (near the end) as well as in Book IV of ‘Ad Quirinum’ and Augustine in Letters 105 and 107 and in ‘De Praedestinatione Sanctorum,’ chap. 14---is that IT HAS TO DO WITH THE TRANSLATION OF THE JUST BY DEATH. See Lyranus and Dionysius Carthusianus on the same text. Moreover, this interpretation comports with what precedes and what follows in that chapter, and indeed with the preceding chapter and the following chapter” [“On Divine Foreknowledge” (Concordia, Pt. IV), page 118].

Most agreed that the passage in the Wisdom of Salomon (Solomon) was about more than just the person “Enoch,” but about all the saints. Luis de Molina argues why he thinks the words refer to the righteous saints (according to context). For those who wanna match up Enoch with the words of Wisdom of Salomon 4, we have the words of Genesis 5:21-24 for reference:

“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for GOD TOOK HIM” (Gen. 5:21-24, English Standard Version).

Enoch was “snatched” or “seized” out of life. Notice that it says he “walked with God,” which means that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord. He then, would surely have been “beloved” by God, and “well-pleasing” to the Lord. God did take Enoch...but for most of those who lived at that time (and all who live today), the normal way to die is to physically deteriorate, not be snatched out of the world.

I wanted this post to reveal a little about the “textual” reasons behind why even Molina (and modern-day Calvinists) use the expression about the Lord “killing” someone to preserve them from falling away. Notice, however, that even Molina says, “He often takes them from this world,” not that “He always” does this. The fact that we do not have a standard rule for this leaves this idea as a fanciful one that Scripture gives no support to. We don’t know why God takes some early and others so late in life. While God “often picks the best roses in the garden,” as my mother used to say, we don’t know if those roses were the best...or whether or not they were called for other reasons known only by the Divine Himself. If this be true, then Calvinists will have to stop using this expression of God killing someone for preservation purposes and focus on what the Scriptures reveal: that true believers can fall away (Matthew 13, Luke 8:13, Mark 4:17).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Preserved Through Death, Part I

I was once asked the question, “Isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says that the Lord will kill someone off in order to keep them from falling away from the faith?” I mentioned to the friend, “Well, I know Luis de Molina mentioned it in his ‘Concordia.’ But as far as the Bible itself, I haven’t seen a verse that says anything like that.”

I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in my experience of hearing this statement about God taking someone from this life in order to preserve them spiritually so that they go to heaven. Many of you, my dear readership, have probably heard something similar to the above statement made by a friend of mine. For some reason, it seems to be valid statement in the minds of many believers.

Charles Stanley has stated something similar to the above statement in his own study questions on the Doctrine of Eternal Security in his book “Eternal Security”: “If Christ came to seek and save that which was lost, and yet we can somehow become unsaved---and therefore undo what Christ came to do---would it not be wise for God to take us on to heaven the moment we are saved in order to ensure we make it? Isn’t it unnecessarily risky to force us to stay here?” (Charles Stanley, “Eternal Security," page 4).

And Charles Stanley is not alone. Read the words of Calvinist theologian Loraine Boettner (1901-1990):

“In regard to those who become true Christians, but who, as the Arminians allege, fall away, WHY DOES GOD NOT TAKE THEM OUT OF THE WORLD WHILE THEY ARE IN THE SAVED STATE? Surely no one will say that it is because He can not, or that it is because He does not foresee their future apostasy. WHY, then, DOES HE LEAVE THESE OBEJCTS OF HIS AFFECTION HERE TO FALL BACK INTO SIN AND PERISH?...but who can really believe that the heavenly Father takes no better care of His children than that?” (Loraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1932, page 183)

Calvinist preacher-theologian John MacArthur of the Grace Community Church had this to say in Part II of his series on the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-34)(

“And verse 32, he throws in a beautiful verse, fantastic verse, wish we had more time as we've got to hurry. But somebody by now is going to say, "Oh, man, this is too much, brother. I can't handle this, I'm going to come to the table and if anything's wrong then zappo. I mean, I...I may wind up in hell, you know, what's the deal?"
I love this, "But when we are judged," he says, "we are chastened of the Lord, we are krima of the Lord that we should not be katakrima with the world." We are chastened by the Lord that we might not be damned with the world.
You want to hear something? No Christian, no time, under no circumstance will ever be damned with the world. People say, "Oh, does this mean I lose my salvation? Does this mean I'm lost?" No. You will never be damned with the world because short of that you will be...what?...chastened by the Lord. The worst thing that could ever happen to a Christian would be the ultimate chastening. And what's that? Take you to heaven. You say, "That's not too bad."

John MacArthur states what he does about 1 Corinthians 11:32 because of the words of Paul to the Corinthians in verses 29 and 30: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor. 11:29-30, English Standard Version).
According to MacArthur, some backsliders in the Christian faith (near the point of apostasy, or spiritual divorce) are killed by the Lord Himself so that they will not fall away from the faith and experience the second death (Hell eternal). Although he has Scripture for it here as a punishment of God, we cannot say that in every young death (of a believer), that God took them in order to preserve them in heaven. Ananias and Sapphira are another case, according to MacArthur (Acts 5). Still, though, it’s safe to say that physical death was a consequence of showing utter disregard for the Lord’s Supper.

In his “Concordia,” Molina points to physical death as a means of preservation for the “stumbling” believer:

“...God, foreseeing the sins into which the just would fall if they remained in this life for a long time, in His mercy often takes them from this world---this according to Wisdom 4:11, ‘He was snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul,’ and a bit later at 4:14, ‘His soul was pleasing to God; because of this He hastened to lead him out of the midst of iniquities.’ Since, therefore, those sins were numbered among the future contingents and were foreseen by God and yet were never going to have existence in reality, it follows that it is not simply because things exist in eternity that God knows future contingents with certainty” [Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge” (“Concordia,” Pt. IV). Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell Paperbacks, 2004, page 118].

Molina’s words above regarding the Apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Solomon will take us into an interesting study. Suffice it to say that, for now, Molina used the quotes from the Apocrypha to argue that God knows not only things that “will” happen, but things that “will never happen.” Most eternal securitists argue today that “hypothetically” (in the words of William Lane Craig; see “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach”), a person can fall away...but won’t. While Molina seemed to hold to some form of preservation from apostasy (as shown in the quote above), he did argue that apostasy was a genuine option, for such is the nature of choice (see Freddoso’s translation of “Concordia, Pt. IV,” pages 245-246).
I will unpack Molina’s quote in my next post.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Classical Arminianism and Molinism: A Comparison and Contrast Between Two "Mediate" Theologies, Pt. V-B: "Evangelical" Molinism?

“Arminius used such language consistently in his defense of his theological views. But I wanna make it clear here at CTS that Arminius used this ‘contingency’ language in accordance with Luis de Molina’s theology. If contingency exists, then there is the possibility of falling away and repudiating the faith.”

But what about contemporary Molinism? That is a good question indeed. According to Ken Keathley,

“William Lane Craig...asks that if the believer’s will is so overwhelmed by God’s grace, then why does God give the warnings at all? And if the warnings themselves bring about perseverance, does this mean that the believer is capable of apostasy, even if he does not apostatize? HYPOTHETICALLY, AT LEAST, THE ELECT CAN FALL AWAY, but God, using middle knowledge, HAS CHOSEN TO ACTUALIZE A WORLD IN WHICH SCRIPTURAL WARNINGS WILL OPERATE AS MEANS TO KEEP HIS CHILDREN FROM APOSTASY. THIS IS A NOVEL UNDERSTANDING OF PERSEVERANCE...” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 186)

Craig asserts then, that there is a possibility of falling away, but a “certainty” that believers will not do so (in other words, the probability is greater that believers will persevere than fall away). Interestingly enough, Arminius confirms Craig’s view with that of the early church fathers:

“On this very subject, too, the greater part of our own doctors lay down a difference: for they say, ‘THAT IT IS POSSIBLE FOR SUCH PERSONS TO FALL AWAY, if their nature, which is inclined to lapses and defection, and if the temptations of the world and Satan, be the only circumstances taken into consideration: but that they will not FINALLY fall away, BECAUSE GOD WILL BRING BACK TO HIMSELF HIS OWN ELECT BEFORE THE END OF LIFE.’ If any one asserts, ‘THAT IT IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR BELIEVERS, in consideration of their being elect persons, finally to fall away from salvation, BECAUSE GOD HAS DECREED TO SAVE THEM,’ I answer, THE DECREE CONCERNING SAVING DOES NOT TAKE AWAY THE POSSIBILITY OF DAMNING, BUT IT REMOVES DAMNATION ITSELF. For ‘to be actually saved,’ and ‘a possibility of not being saved,’ are two things not contrary to each other, but in perfect agreement” (Arminius, “Works,” 1:741).

In other words, the certainty of perseverance does not take away the possibility of non-perseverance. Some at the time of Arminius were saying, “It is not possible for believers...finally to fall away from salvation.” What these believers were saying, however, was that it was “necessary” for believers to persevere. However, no choice is “necessary,” as if it must happen; a choice can only be “certain.” Only when something is “necessary” are other options are “not possible.”

For example, if it is necessary that I go to bed, then this means that I don’t have any other choice. If it is “certain” that I will go to bed, this still leaves the possibility that I might not go to bed. Necessity implies that something is "imposed" on me (such as attendance and homework in classes), while certainty is more related to one's own volition (I may or may not go to the school dance, etc.).

I fear that contemporary believers have the same approach to the Doctrine of Apostasy. Instead of arguing for “certainty of perseverance” and “possibility of apostasy,” they argue for “necessity of perseverance” and “no possibility of apostasy.” This however, simply leads to the idea (as stated in the Doctrine of Eternal Security) that “God MUST persevere me to the end; God CANNOT allow me to fall away.” And what this does, ultimately, is two things: One, it places “necessity” on God, which takes away from God’s freedom to do as He pleases; two, it eliminates human decision; it forces God to “take back” the libertarian freedom He willingly chose to bestow on His creatures. And, remember the words of Molina?

“otherwise, such a conversion to the faith and such perseverance in confessing it would not be meritorious...since there can be neither merit nor moral goodness in any act UNLESS THERE IS FREEDOM, whether of contrariety or of contradiction, with respect to the opposite” (Molina, “Concordia, Pt. IV,” page 246).

For the person who endures to the end, they always had the possibility of falling away; and to the one who does not endure to the end, he or she always had the possibility of persevering. If Molinists intend to be consistent in their view of contingent, creaturely decisions (or “contingents of creaturely freedom,” CCF), then they must acknowledge the possibility of apostasy. One cannot argue “contingency” in his or her theology, and then turn around with perseverance and argue “necessity.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Classical Arminianism and Molinism: A Comparison and Contrast Between Two "Mediate" Theologies, Pt. V-A: The Consistency of Arminius's Theology

“ is also required that there be a predetermination to call, assist, and comfort the man (a martyr) in question by means of the extraordinary aids of prevenient and cooperating grace, without which the man’s faculty of choice would be unable to persevere. Still, these and the aforementioned predeterminations and aids leave him able, at the instant at which he is converted, not only not to be converted but even to dissent from the faith and to repudiate it; and they leave him able afterward, as long as his torments last, all the way up to the end of his life, to succumb and to repudiate the faith” (Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge” from “Concordia, Pt. IV.” Trans. by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 245).

As I declared in my last post, Molina held to the idea of contingency in perseverance---that is, that within perseverance, there are two options: one COULD persevere, but one could also NOT persevere. For such is the nature of choice.

Did Arminius hold to Molina’s emphasis of contingency in human decisions? Yes indeed. In 1608, Arminius along with Adrian Borrius (a minister of Leyden), was accused of heterodoxy and heresy in his teaching. He was forced to give an “Apology” or “Defense” regarding certain articles that were circulating in the Low Countries. Two of the articles Arminius had to defend dealt with faith; one of these articles dealt with apostasy, or the idea that one could fall away from salvation. This is what Arminius had to say:

“I say, that a distinction ought to be made between ‘power’ and ‘action.’ For it is one thing to declare, ‘that it is POSSIBLE for the faithful to fall away from faith and salvation,’ and it is another to say, that ‘THEY DO ACTUALLY fall away.’ This distinction is of such extensive observance, that even ANTIQUITY ITSELF WAS NOT AFRAID OF AFFIRMING, concerning the elect and those who were to be saved, ‘that it was POSSIBLE for them NOT TO BE SAVED;’ and that ‘THE MUTABILITY BY WHICH IT WAS POSSIBLE FOR THEM NOT TO BE WILLING TO OBEY GOD, WAS NOT TAKEN AWAY FROM THEM’ one time I certainly did say...’that it was POSSIBLE for believers finally to decline or fall away from faith and salvation.’ But at no period have I asserted, ‘that believers do finally decline or fall away from faith or salvation’” (Arminius, “Works,” 1:741).

Do you see what Arminius was emphasizing here? Arminius distinguished the “possibility” of falling away from the “probability” of falling away. These two distinctions are important. As Ken Keathley notes in his work, “Salvation and Sovereignty”:

“At this point some lodge an objection against the concept of contingency, namely that GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE OF WHAT CHOICES AN AGENT WILL MAKE REMOVES ANY POSSIBILITY of that person making a different choice...THEREFORE CONTINGENCY MUST BE AN ILLUSION, or at least merely hypothetical, and all choices are made of necessity...Molinists point out that the ‘foreknowledge entails necessity’ objection of theological fatalism CONFUSES NECESSITY WITH CERTAINTY. God knows all truths with certainty...but God necessarily foreknowing an event does not entail or require that the event necessarily happens” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 31-32).

A good example to demonstrate “certainty” and “necessity” would be, “Deidre is awake now at 2:40am in the morning.” God knew I would be (in the past, before now), and He knows now that I am awake. And He knows when I will go to bed this morning. All of these statements of information are certain. However, they are not NECESSARY; for they did not have to exist. Suppose that God never allowed me to be born. If the Lord had not allowed me to be born to my parents, James and Teressa Richardson on August 21, 1984, then I would not exist...and the Lord would not know that I would be awake. Knowledge is that which is “true”...and if the Lord had never willed my birth, then it wouldn’t be “true” that I am awake (for I wouldn’t be alive, and the statement itself would be false). This is why, for example, God doesn’t “know” a half-man, half-beast human. Half-beast humans don’t exist. It’s the same as saying God knows a “round square” or a “square circle.” Such things are nonsense and do not exist!

The fact that God’s knowledge of human decisions exists only makes the events certain (for the individual); it does not make the events necessary (or inevitable). Here is what Arminius was saying: there is a possibility that believers will fall away, not that it is necessary that they do (or that it is even an actual event). However, the fact that it may not ever be actualized does not eliminate the possibility of the event. If you go to 1 Samuel 23, you will see that even though Saul did not come down to the town of Keilah and the men of the city did not hand David over, it was POSSIBLE in that moment of time when God told David it would happen. However, it was not necessary, since David did not get captured by Saul.
But what about “contemporary, evangelical Molinism” in regards to perseverance? I will get to this in my next post.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Classical Arminianism and Molinism: A Comparison and Contrast Between Two "Mediate" Theologies, Pt. IV: Contingency in Perseverance

“...let us take as our example an action that is supernatural and extremely difficult, namely, A CONFESSION OF FAITH UNDER TORTURE ALL THE WAY UP TO THE END OF ONE’S LIFE, A CONFESSION THAT MAKES THE PERSON IN QUESTION A MARTYR; and let us assume that this confession is elicited from an unbeliever, who is justified through it. Clearly, for an action of this sort it is not only necessary that there should exist all the divine predeterminations spoken of above with reference to the aforementioned indifferent or morally good action, but it is also required that there be a predetermination to call, assist, and comfort the man at the time in question by means of the extraordinary aids of PREVENIENT AND COOPERATING GRACE, without which the man’s faculty of choice would be unable to persevere. STILL, THESE AND THE AFOREMENTIONED PREDETERMINATIONS LEAVE HIM ABLE, AT THE INSTANT AT WHICH HE IS CONVERTED, NOT ONLY NOT TO BE CONVERTED BUT EVEN TO DISSENT FROM THE FAITH AND TO REPUDIATE IT; AND THEY LEAVE HIM ABLE AFTERWARD, AS LONG AS HIS TORMENTS LAST, ALL THE WAY UP TO THE END OF HIS LIFE, TO SUCCUMB AND TO REPUDIATE THE FAITH...otherwise, such a conversion to the faith and such perseverance in confessing it would not be meritorious---indeed, they would not even constitute a morally good act, since there can be neither merit nor moral goodness in any act unless there is freedom...with respect to the opposite” (Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge” (Pt. IV of the “Concordia”), Disputation 53, section 8. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988, pages 245-246).

This post will focus on the last of the tenets of both five-point systems of Classical Arminianism and Molinism. Now, I’ve made it no secret that both systems are similar in terms of their view of depravity and atonement. They even hold to three logical moments (not chronological) of God’s knowledge (natural, middle, and free knowledge). Molina himself held to prevenient grace and cooperating grace (as Arminius does in his “Works”), but Keathley denies the contemporary “evangelical Molinist” that option. Now, in this post, I am gonna dive into both the Classical Arminian and Molinist views on perseverance.

I provided the quote above to make a point. Most people believe that, since Molina argued for an “unconditional” election (without regard to foreseen faith), he clearly would not argue for the libertarian freedom of man to make choices. Much to the surprise of many, however, he argued that free choice was of such a nature that a man could turn from his conversion, even in the last hour (and minute) of the man’s life. Simply put, because he argued for contingency in his system (the idea that man can make self-determining choices), he realized that even perseverance was covered under “the umbrella of contingency.”

Here is what Molina had to say after the above quote in his “Concordia”:

"But since God foresaw that, BECAUSE OF THE MAN’S FREEDOM, this confession and perseverance right up to the end of life would occur...through the volition of His well-pleased will He willed this act, greatly pleased that it was going to occur in that way because of His gifts together with the free volition of the faculty of choice. And it is for this reason that He is said to have predestined and predetermined this action, as was said above concerning morally good actions” (Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge [Part IV of “Concordia”]”). Trans. by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 246).

In other words, God saw the actions of the person in question, that the convert would persevere; and as a result, willed the act of the creature because of His commitment to libertarian freedom. And even with the foreknowledge that creatures will choose the right, “the predetermination to confer such assistance [for perseverance] in no way deprives the faculty of choice of its freedom not to elicit the action in question or even of its freedom to dissent from it” (Molina, “Concordia,” Part IV, page 246).

The Lord allows creaturely freedom, even evil, because He will not go against His declaration and force the creature to do good (even if the good is what He desires for them). In every situation in which the creature does that which is bad, he or she still had a choice. Molina’s words echo those of the apostle Paul:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. GOD IS FAITHFUL, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation HE WILL ALSO PROVIDE THE WAY OF ESCAPE, THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO ENDURE IT” (1 Corinthians 10:13, English Standard Version).

God is always “for us,” that we would choose the good over the evil; but God will not force us to do so. In every temptation, the Lord will provide the aids we need to resist Satan and sin. If we don’t choose to flee the temptation, however, we cannot turn around and ask, “Where was God?”; for when we ask that question, we fail to understand that God was already there strengthening us to resist the sin that we decided to commit.

How does this tie into our discussion on perseverance? Well, it ties in because 1 Corinthians 10 shows us that God has aided every believer to endure trials and tribulations, to fight the Devil and his demons, and endure until the very last breath of mortal life. Where’s the proof? Look at the armor of God that allows us to stand against the Devil (Ephesians 6); if that’s not enough, consider the fact that our faith serves as a keeper, a preserver, for final salvation (1 Peter 1:3-5); so we have all we need to fight sin, Satan, and the world. What else can God do for us that He hasn’t already done? We don’t need to look for the strength in our toughest moments because He’s already given divine strength to us to face the days ahead.
Because we have the divine power we need to persevere and endure the race of life, we can endure to the end.

But at this point, someone will say, “You do hold to perseverance of the saints, right?” I would respond, “Yes, I do hold to A perseverance of the saints.” Do I think the saints are to persevere in order to be saved? Yes. However, where I disagree with most who espouse the traditional view of “perseverance of the saints” is that the traditional view often teaches what’s called “The Doctrine of Eternal Security” (see my section so labeled to the right of the main page). The Doctrine of Eternal Security

“ called by Baptists, eternal security or once saved always saved. Those of us who are Reformed call it the perseverance of the saints. But we mean the same thing. AND THE DOCTRINE STATES THAT ONCE YOU’RE SAVED, YOU’RE ALWAYS SAVED, THAT GOD HOLDS YOU, THAT YOU WILL PERSEVERE TO THE END” (Steve Brown, Midday Connection, Moody Cassette Ministry, “Eternal Security,” air date: 4/28/93).

Arthur C. Custance states this about the doctrine:

“Perseverance of the Saints denotes what today is commonly referred to as the eternal security of the believer...THE SECURITY OF THE BELIEVER IS BOUND IN WITH THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD, THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF HIS PURPOSE, AND THE CONSTANCY OF HIS GOOD PLEASURE. IT IS THE FAITHFULNESS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND NOT THE FAITHFULNESS OF THE BELIEVER that guarantees this security” (Arthur C. Custance, “The Sovereignty of Grace.” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979, page 84).

The doctrine states that you are “eternally secure” in your salvation, no matter what happens. Now I know that some Calvinistic theologians might say, “Well, we believe that the person should also bear fruit to attest to their salvation,” but this is foreign to the idea of “eternal security.” This doctrine says that one’s security is UNQUALIFIED because there is nothing you’ve done to get security in Christ, and there is nothing that can take that away. Simply put, bearing fruits of repentance doesn’t even nullify it (since according to this view, “nothing can take you out of the Lord’s hand”). Therefore, you can be eternally secure and bear no fruits of salvation whatsoever. Although Calvinistic theologians do not like the doctrine espoused in such a manner, I’m only taking the doctrine to its logical conclusion.

In my next post, I will examine Arminius’s “Works” regarding the Doctrine of Apostasy (Falling Away) and contrast Arminius’s view of perseverance with the Molinist view of eternal security. Keep reading.