Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Unstated In the Verse," Pt. 2: Thomas R. Schreiner's Critique of Dr. Brian Abasciano

“It reminds me of a time when I was teaching a class on Ephesians, and I asked, ‘What is this verse teaching?’ And one student replied, ‘It teaches that we must choose God to be saved.’ I replied, ‘Does it not seem strange that the wording of the verse emphasizes just the opposite of what you said? It stresses God’s choice, not ours.’ This is seen in Eph. 1:5 as well, where as though to oppose the Arminian interpretation of God’s choice Paul adds that God ‘predestined us according to the purpose of his will’” (Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, “Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 2 (June 2006): 380).
In my last post on Schreiner’s critique of Dr. Abasciano’s conclusion regarding Romans 9 (that it is primarily about conditional election and that only), I stated that in the logical ordering of decrees in eternity, we can posit (a safe interpretation) that God decreed Christ as Savior before believers were decreed as elect in Christ. As a result, there is a case for corporate election (as Abasciano espouses) in Ephesians 1. The phrase “in Christ” tells us that faith is what joins us to Christ...but the fact that “He chose us” points to God’s sovereignty, that He determined that believers would be saved by virtue of faith in Christ. In other words, the fact that there are even believers is a testimony to God’s sovereignty; had God not established grace and faith as the conditions for salvation, and granted them to us, man would never have ever been “elect.” Instead, we all would have been “reprobate.”
Schreiner attempts to make Ephesians 1 all about individual election and God’s choice. But Ephesians 1 also points to human choice as well. And that is the concern of this post: to establish the fact that man makes choices in salvation, and God makes choices as well. This all goes to show that divine sovereignty and human responsibility work together...that the two concepts do not create a “paradox” or provide “tension” in the biblical text.
Ephesians 1:13 states---
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13, NKJV).
The phrase “in Him” is used twice in this verse, some eleven times or so in Ephesians 1 [Eph. 1:1,4,5,6,7,10,11,12,13 (2X)].
Notice that the text says “you also trusted.” The believers at Ephesus trusted in Christ after hearing the gospel (called “the word of truth”).
But Ephesians 1 is not alone in describing genuine human choice; Romans does the same. Romans 5 finds Paul discussing the parallel between the physical union in Adam and the spiritual union with (in) Christ:
“For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
There are similarities between the union with Adam and union with Christ: for one, Christ is called “the second Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15. Secondly, both involve choice: that is, in Adam, all humanity willingly chose to Christ, one must choose to receive Christ’s atonement. However, there is a difference: one is born in union with Adam, but one is not born in union with Christ as God’s elect. One must receive salvation in order to be elect (due to faith in Christ, the “Elect One”).
Dr. Schreiner attempts to focus on God’s choosing Christ and choosing believers in Christ; but what about Romans 5, which indicates that man chooses to receive salvation? If the interpretations of the passages I have provided are correct, then Schreiner’s ideas of the Arminian view are not entirely correct.
It is an interesting thought indeed: God chooses in Ephesians 1, and humans choose in Romans 5. How can we reconcile these two texts? Schreiner would say that the answer is found in his view of compatibilistic freedom. And how exactly does this work? I will share more of Schreiner’s view in posts to come.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Unstated In the Verse": Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner's Critique of Dr. Brian Abasciano

“When it comes to Eph 1:4, ‘just as he [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love,’ Abasciano maintains that ‘the election of Christ is surely part of the background and meaning of the verse’ (p.18). Such a statement is not necessarily at odds with my own view. The point I was trying to make in my previous article is that in Eph 1:4 human beings are the direct object of God’s election, not Jesus Christ. Hence, the emphasis in the verse is not on the election of Christ, but the election of human beings...what Paul does not emphasize in Eph 1:4, however, is that God chose Christ as the corporate head, and then the election of the church becomes a reality insofar as human beings put their faith in Jesus Christ. What Paul emphasizes in the verse is not Christ’s election (even if it is in the background), but the election of believers. Arminian interpreters place their emphasis on a matter that is unstated in the verse, and at the same time undercut Paul’s stress on divine election of human beings [Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, “Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 2 (June 2006): 380].

I have a biased interest in the doctrine of election. Here at the Center for Theological Studies (CTS), I believe in pursuing all sorts of doctrines in the Christian faith; however, I do love studying what the Scriptures teach concerning election. And from time to time, I find myself back in the debates concerning election over and over again.
Today’s post places us in a disagreement between Drs. Brian Abasciano and Thomas Schreiner over the issue of corporate and individual election. As always, Ephesians 1 is the top text in the debate.
Schreiner’s first response (involving Ephesians 1) is that “in Eph 1:4 human beings are the direct object of God’s election, not Jesus Christ” (380). I agree with that. The verse says, “He [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world...” The phrase “in Him” is in the dative case in the Greek, and the dative case is used for indirect objects. The direct object is “humas” (Grk. us). Schreiner is right to say that the emphasis of this verse is humans. Schreiner also goes on to say that Paul emphasizes “the election of believers.” As a Reformed Arminian (Classic Arminian), I agree with this statement. The issue in Ephesians 1 is the election of believers. In his Disputation 49, titled “On the Union of Believers with Christ,” Arminius describes the union as follows:
“We may define it or describe it to be that spiritual and most strict and therefore mystically essential conjunction, by which believers, being immediately connected, by God the Father and Jesus Christ through the Spirit of Christ and God, with Christ Himself, and through Christ with God, became one with him and with the Father, and are made partakers of all his blessings, to their own salvation and the glory of Christ and of God” (James Arminius, “Works,” Disputation XLVIIII, Sec. 3).
It is “believers” who are unified with Christ. Arminius uses the word “believers” because such are “made partakers of all his blessings”...and sinners cannot partake of the divine blessings until they confess and believe on His Name. I disagree with Schreiner’s view that God selects individuals for salvation; but I do not disagree with the idea of an individual election (provided that individuals are predestined for salvation on the basis of God’s foreknowledge, as Arminius himself agreed to).
Having said that, Ephesians 1 is about believers being elected in Christ. While Christ is not the center of the statement in Ephesians 1:4, Christ is involved in election. The phrase “in Him” is used throughout the Scriptures to refer to salvation by grace through faith. Even in Ephesians 1, we see how important the phrase “in Him” is: “IN HIM we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7, NKJV). Only by union with Christ is there salvation.
But Schreiner’s words go too far when he writes the following:
“Arminian interpreters place their emphasis on a matter that is unstated in the verse, and at the same time undercut Paul’s stress on divine election of human beings (380).
How do Arminians attempt to eliminate divine election?
“...God chose Christ as the corporate head, and then the election of the church becomes a reality insofar as human beings put their faith in Jesus Christ” (380).
According to Schreiner, this is “a matter that is unstated in the verse.” The issue of faith in Christ comes as we read Ephesians 1:4. The words “in Him” are a simplified verse of “through faith in Him,” “by Christ Jesus” (a phrase that is also used in Eph. 1:5).
What about the idea of Christ as corporate head? This idea can be seen in Ephesians 1:4, to the contrary of Dr. Schreiner. Believers are chosen “in Christ.” So, in the eternal decrees, Christ was there while humanity was not. To deal with sin, the decree to send Christ had to precede the decree to elect certain individuals. As I’ve said in previous posts, had God decreed to elect persons before sending Christ, then God would be choosing sinners who would still bear their own guilt on their heads. Placing Christ before humans in the eternal decrees (before time) is how God deals with sin before justifying sinners through Christ. Sinners need justification...and only Christ can justify sinners. After all, God sent Jesus when He did “that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Only those who believe are justified.
I already stated that Christ must be decreed as Savior before anyone could be saved “in Christ.” Once God decreed to send Jesus, then (only referring to a logical order of the decrees, not a chronological order) God could decide to elect persons. At this point, grace and faith were decreed as conditions by which man would be saved. And all those who exercised faith in Christ would be deemed “elect.” Of course, they would be “elect” because of their faith in the “Elect One,” that being Christ.
Now someone could say, “What biblical evidence do you have for your philosophical argument?” Well, the Scriptures teach us that Christ is the Elect One (Matthew 12:18, quoting Isaiah 42:1; Luke 23:35; 1 Peter 2:6, quoting Isaiah 28:16). Those who believe in Him are elect (1 Peter 2:4, 9; Revelation 17:14). If Christ is “the head of the church” (Eph. 1:22-23), then those who believe constitute the church, which Ephesians 1:23 also calls “His body.” If Christ must pay the penalty for our sins (and we can contribute nothing of merit to our salvation), then we can only be justified through faith in Christ. Only after the Elect One is placed logically before elect persons can we see the importance of corporate election (built upon the elect individual, which is Christ). The election described in Ephesians 1 looks like this:
Decree #1: Christ dies for the sins of the world.
Decree #2: God sets the terms of salvation (as stated in John 3:16-18); He then decrees to dispense grace and faith needed for salvation.
Decree #3: Those who believe are given an individual election, which was foreknown by Christ before time.
Decree #4: God declares that those who believe are the church, which is Christ’s body. The saints not only have an individual election, but also a corporate one.
Schreiner states that “Arminian interpreters place their emphasis on a matter that is unstated in the verse, and at the same time undercut Paul’s stress on divine election of human beings.” How do I respond to Schreiner? I’ll reveal that in my next post.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

God's Higher Commitment

“Ninth, evangelical Arminians share with Calvinists the belief that even though God, in some sense, wills the salvation of all people, they are not all saved. They simply differ concerning what it is that God values more highly than the salvation of everyone, which accounts for the fact that some are not saved...John Piper puts the point succinctly: ‘God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all.’ For Arminians, this higher commitment by God is to ‘human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God.’ To Calvinists, it is ‘the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor. 1:29)’” (Dr. Terrance L. Tiessen, “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, page 99).
For all the differences between Calvinists and Arminians, there are a few similarities. For one, we believe that five-point theological systems should be logically consistent: that is, that each point logically leads to the next. In addition, both Classic Calvinists and Classic Arminians hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation. Classic Arminians believe that God can do what He pleases; we just don’t believe, like the Calvinist, that God damns people to Hell. After all, He did not create Hell for one single individual (Matt. 25:41).
Today’s post, however, will deal with the issue of sovereignty. Because God is sovereign over all things, nothing happens unless God allows it. Therefore, if God allows many to not be saved, He must have a reason as to why He allows many to go to Hell. Matters are made worse when one considers that the Lord desires that “all men be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
This puzzling question requires an answer from both Classic Calvinists and Classic Arminians. As Dr. Tiessen notes in the above quote, Classic Calvinists claim that God sentences individuals to eternal damnation for His glory; Classic Arminians argue that God allows many to go to eternal damnation because He is committed to libertarian freedom. God will not force Himself on a person or make an individual believe. After all, He has stated that man has two choices: either belief or unbelief (John 3:18). I mentioned in an earlier post that Christ Himself is rejected on earth, particularly by the Pharisees. He faces rejection by the rich young ruler and others as well...but the main reason why Classic Arminians argue for libertarian freedom is because of the fact that Christ Himself was rejected by those, like the Pharisees, whose salvation He desired. John 1 tells us that Christ came to the Jews and yet the Jews rejected Him. If Christ is rejected, it is because Christ allows Himself to be rejected. This, however, takes nothing away from His sovereignty; and this is the point that Classic Arminians try to get across to Classic Calvinists all the time.
Dr. Tiessen, however, seems to waver a bit. In the quote above, he argues that God’s glory is the reason why some are damned, quoting John Piper: “To Calvinists, it is ‘the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor. 1:29).’” According to Thiessen (and Piper, whom he quotes), God is not fully God until He damns certain individuals. This is to display “the full range of God’s glory.”
But then, Tiessen turns around and commits a gross inconsistency. When discussing the evangelized, he takes the stance of a five-point Calvinist and argues for damnation as a manifestation of God’s glory; when he discusses the unevangelized, however, Tiessen breaks from this and argues for the divine character:
“If we portray God’s judgment in ways that run counter to everything we expect in proper human jurisprudence, we will have to provide good explanation for doing so. God’s ways are often beyond our comprehension, but God’s justice is the standard of human justice, and I fail to see why we would attribute to him something that we would never accept from a human judge (142).
Now, all of a sudden, the divine character matters, and God is not allowed to damn the unevangelized. But what happened to “the full range of God’s glory” that Tiessen was so willing to acknowledge in the damnation of the evangelized? Does Dr. Tiessen want us to believe that God cares more for the unevangelized than He does the evangelized? Is God “a respecter of persons”? In this last quote, he says, “I fail to see why we would attribute to him something that we would never accept from a human judge”; however, would we expect a judge to sentence an individual to life in prison simply because he wanted to enhance his glory and reputation? Would that be okay with anyone watching the criminal proceedings? No. We would expect the judge to have ample evidence before he would make such a ruling. To sentence for life without evidence would make the judge unjust. And yet, in Tiessen’s theology, God is allowed to damn if it manifests His glory...that is, only some of the evangelized. The unevangelized are untouchable.
Is it right for God to damn someone simply because He wants to, without any blame or guilt on the part of the individual? In five-point Calvinism, the answer to this question is “yes.” But, if we wouldn’t expect a judge to rule in this manner without proper evidence (as Tiessen states), then why would we expect God to damn without evidence? If the Judge of the earth will do what is right, and it is right to reward the good and punish the wicked, why would God damn someone simply because He wanted to?
This is where some Calvinists would say, “Well, mankind is already condemned because of his it’s okay if God only pulls some out of Hell fire.” However, if someone is drowning, and a person came along, saw the man drowning, and turned and walked away, would he or she not be guilty for doing so...even if the man decided to swim despite his inability? Calvinists focus on the fact that sin has already been committed, but the issue is not the sin (which is a given) but the ability of the aider to help. If Christ is the only one that can help lost humanity, and He only pulls some out of the pool of damnation, is God not responsible for those reprobate souls? He is responsible---He, and He alone.
Calvinists have to learn to own up to their Calvinism with all of the good as well as the horrific. If God is sovereign enough to damn a portion of the evangelized, He is sovereign enough to damn some (if not all) of the unevangelized. If God is "sovereign" in one area (and can do what He wants), He is "sovereign" in all areas (concerning those who have never heard the gospel). When all the chips have fallen, Calvinism cannot stand the weight of its own claims. At some point within the system, Calvinists must talk of God’s character---something that does not matter if the Sovereign God of Calvinism commands us to do what is right while breaking His own rules.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Rather Difficult"

“Since salvation is of grace, it is, by definition, not deserved by anyone, and so God has a sovereign right to choose those whom he will save. But I am uncomfortable with the grounds for the condemnation of those who are left in their sin as these have been stated traditionally in Calvinist theologies. I have also found it rather difficult to understand some passages of Scripture that describe God’s distress at the unbelief of those who reject him. A case in point is Jesus’ pain at the rejection by most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood unders her wings, and you were not willing!’ (Mt. 23:37, emphasis mine). Why, I have wondered, is Jesus so disturbed when he knows that only those whom the Father draws will come to him (Jn. 6:44) and that all of them will do so (Jn. 6:37)?” (Dr. Terrance L. Tiessen, “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, page 234)
I’m still reading through Dr. Tiessen’s work titled “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” Let me just say, before I head into the post itself, that I think everyone should read Dr. Tiessen’s book. There are some things he says that I do agree with. For example, he supports the idea that God reaches those peoples it is impossible to evangelize by granting them a special revelation of Himself. What I’ve been thinking about while reading his book is that there are many people, unknown, who have never seen a human missionary. And so, the question of the unevangelized is one that we all must wrestle with. Dr. Tiessen seems to think that too many people turn to general revelation as a way out of the problem; in response, Dr. Tiessen suggests that special revelation be thought of as containing more than just the Scriptures themselves. He argues that special revelation also concerns dreams and visions, which he still believes are being given today (especially in Muslim countries). I for one agree with him. I think that broadening our impression of special revelation will keep us from becoming inclusivist and turning to general revelation as a salvific source (which is Clark Pinnock’s view). This may sound shocking, but Moises Amyraut, founder of Amyraldianism (four-point Calvinism), held to the idea that general revelation is salvific.
Today’s post will concern some dilemmas of Scripture that Dr. Tiessen has. What blessed me most reading the quote above is that Dr. Tiessen struggles with the Bible’s emphasis on human freedom and self-determination. I always had an assumption (we can safely call it that) that Calvinist theologians rarely (hardly) struggled with such passages in Scripture. However, the opposite is apparently the case. Calvinists do struggle with these kinds of passages. For Arminians, that should encourage us because we struggle with Calvinistic passages a whole lot less than Calvinists struggle with Arminian passages. In fact, I will be bold and state that Classical Arminianism can incorporate Calvinist passages into their system without leaving Arminianism (this may shock Calvinists and Molinists).
There are two underlined statements above. The first is this:
 I have also found it rather difficult to understand some passages of Scripture that describe God’s distress at the unbelief of those who reject him.”
The Calvinist notion of grace is “Irresistible Grace”, letter “I” of the “TULIP” (acronym for five points of Calvinism). Irresistible grace says that those the Lord chooses for salvation will be drawn to Him in such a way that they cannot refuse the Lord’s wooing. They can do nothing but confess and believe because God first regenerates them before faith. Some Calvinistic theologians have found this hard to embrace and have instead attempted a “hybrid” approach, merging irresistible grace with some form of “resistible grace.” The result of the merging of these two opposing notions of grace is what Molinists label “overcoming grace.” Overcoming grace posits that initially, believers resist God’s advances...but ultimately, believers “must” give in. It is inevitable in the overcoming grace model that God wins. In Calvinistic theologians, God always wins the soul of one He selects for salvation.
Dr. Tiessen quotes Matthew 23:37 as a testimony to the idea that humans can really choose to be saved. The part that most stands out in the verse is “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood unders her wings, and you were not willing!” This part of the verse shows God’s desire to save people who are not “willing” to be saved. How else can this be explained but a case where humans resist God’s desires and reject Him? This is at least testimony to Classic Arminians that our interpretations of the text are not crazy; that is, that we are not proof-texting in our theology...rather, we are reading Scripture correctly. The fact that a five-point Calvinist can affirm our interpretation of Matthew 23:37 is pretty shocking, indeed!
The last part of the quote that seems to shock Dr. Tiessen is how he attempts to reconcile Matthew 23:37 and John 6:
“Why, I have wondered, is Jesus so disturbed when he knows that only those whom the Father draws will come to him (Jn. 6:44) and that all of them will do so (Jn. 6:37)?”
When Dr. Tiessen says, “ Jesus so disturbed,” he is assuming that his interpretation of Matthew 23:37. However, he finds it “rather difficult” to reconcile this text of Jesus’ frustration with Jerusalem when he thinks that he has a correct interpretation of passages that state that only certain ones will come to God. Tiessen’s dilemma is that, if only certain people will come to God, then, consequently, those that God did not pick will not come to Him. If God rejects the “non-elect”, why would God be frustrated that the “non-elect” would not come to Him?
The answer is very simple: within Matthew 23:37, we see that Jesus desires to gather Jerusalem to Himself. He desires that they come to Him. If God desires everyone to come to Him, then what do we do with John 6:44? Tiessen claims that the text states, “only those whom the Father draws”; however, the text does not state this: rather, the text states that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him.” There is a difference, however: Tiessen’s interpretation of the text (“only those whom the Father draws”) implies that there are those the Father does not draw. This is a philosophical belief that the theology of the Scriptures does not confirm. The verse simply states that man, of his own, is unable to come to Christ without the drawing of the Spirit. This just affirms the need for the Spirit’s work in salvation; it is not a text that limits the number of persons the Spirit draws in salvation.
If we affirm that the Spirit excludes the non-elect from salvation, and yet Jesus is frustrated with the non-elect, it makes Christ fit the philosophical notion of God present within Open Theism: that is, God becomes frustrated with those who do not come because He did not know of their actions in advance. Rather, Christ expresses frustration regarding Jerusalem because it is the very Jews that Christ came for. John’s Gospel states that He “came unto His own,” His own being the Jews (John 1:11), but they did not receive Him.
John’s Gospel blames the Jews for their rejection of the Messiah. God does not reject the Jews because of some unknown decree made in eternity (which Scripture does not teach). In the end, Tiessen’s struggle with these texts is not because he cannot understand them (like Matt. 23:37); rather, he is frustrated within because these clear texts do not fit the interpretations of the Calvinist texts he has so dearly espoused. If you ask me, Tiessen does not have a problem with my Arminianism...rather, it’s his Calvinism that proves problematic.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Parallel

“Seventh, particular intent maintains the parallel between our solidarity with Adam and our solidarity with Christ. As Neal Punt puts it, Romans 5:15-17 ‘[does] not say that one of the differences between Adam’s transgression and Christ’s obedience is that the transgression resulted in actual death while the obedience merely established a potential or possibility for life. Instead of making such a distinction, Paul, using the identical grammatical construction, makes a parallel application of actual death and actual life in verse 18. Calvinists are unmistakably correct in noting that Romans 5:12 through 21 says‘acquittal and life’ actually come to all those represented by Christ just as certainly as it declares that‘sin and death’ actually came upon all those represented by Adam’” (Dr. Terrance L. Tiessen, “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, page 98).

In recent posts, I have discussed in great detail the Calvinist notion that God’s sovereignty involves the necessity of salvation for all those God intends to save. Since the Scriptures and experience teach that every individual does not come to faith, Calvinists reason that this is evidence in favor of the Calvinist position of limited atonement. God did not die for every person; therefore, every person cannot be saved. As a result of Calvinist logic, the phrase “all men” in Romans 5:18 has been twisted to mean “all men that Christ intends to save.”

But today, I wanna examine this concept in the text of Romans 5 itself to see if the Calvinist interpretation plays itself out. Did Christ’s atonement not only purchase but THROW the gift of salvation into the laps of certain individuals? Or did Christ’s atonement purchase salvation while allowing individuals to receive or reject it? For the answers to these questions, we now turn to the Scriptures themselves.

Tiessen (and Neal Punt, in the quote above) argues that Romans 5 details the parallel unions between Adam and Christ (the “second Adam,” 1 Cor. 15). In order to keep the parallel (according to Neal Punt, whom Tiessen quotes), we have to argue for efficacious grace; that is, that “all” that Christ intended to save were made alive and justified because of Christ’s obedience. If we don’t argue the Calvinist logic, we lose the parallelism of Romans 5.

But why is this the case? I will get into that momentarily. If one reads Romans 5, one will quickly notice that Neal Punt (and Dr. Tiessen) quickly skirt over verses that seem to undermine their interpretation of the passage. For example, they point to verse 18 (in the above quote) but what about verse 17? Verse 17 states that “those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (NKJV). So here, the gift is given to those who “receive” it, not just given to a select few. The gift is not automatically given without reception. The condition for possessing the gift is reception of the gift. One must reach out and grab it, otherwise, salvation becomes of no use.

But what about the parallelism of the passage? Doesn’t Romans 5 loses the parallelism if we interpret the text the way I did above, that “all men” are those who “receive abundance of grace of the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17)? Actually, no. Dr. Tiessen and Neal Punt err when they make such a statement. Why? Because, if you look at the text, you’ll notice that Romans 5:12 states that Adam sinned, death spread to all, and that “all sinned”. Every single human being sinned in Adam. When Adam chose to disobey God, every human being (by virtue of mortal union with Adam) disobeyed God as well. Paul tells us in the text that “all sinned,” asserting that it was a deliberate choice on the part of humanity to sin against God.

So, if “all sinned,” then what does the text mean by “all will be made alive”? As I aforementioned, the “all” of the text in verse 18 refers to “those who receive” the grace and gift in verse 17. “All will be made alive” means “all those who receive the grace and gift of salvation” will be justified. The parallelism of Romans 5 has not been lost. Every single person CHOSE to sin in Adam; there must be a choice if someone is to be made alive in Christ. The mortal union involved a deliberate choice to sin; the spiritual union with Christ involves a deliberate choice to receive God’s grace and His gift of salvation. Where has the parallelism been lost in this interpretation?

But what about Ephesians 1? This is the classic text used by Calvinists to claim that humans don’t make choices...rather, God picks and chooses. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,” they say (Ephesians 1:4). The problem with the Calvinist interpretation is that they don’t see the phrase “in Him.” How is one united to Christ? Romans 5 tells us: we are united to Christ “by faith.” The spiritual union with Christ comes to those who “receive abundance and the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17). God chose humans before the foundation of the world to be His own...but He did not choose individuals without regard to Christ. Rather, He set faith as the condition for salvation and, on that basis, chose believers to be His own.

To end the post, I’d like to talk more on Ephesians 1. I just stated here that God “chose believers to be His own.” This is a significant statement indeed: God could not choose individuals without regard to grace and faith because, prior to this, we were all “children of wrath.” Calvinists often read Ephesians 1 but fail to read Ephesians 2; yet, it is in Ephesians 2 that we realize we were under the wrath and condemnation of God prior to faith. So if God chooses us without regard to faith, God chooses to smile on sinners and their sin---which is something that the Bible states God cannot do. Whenever a Calvinist says, “God chose us to be in Christ,” what he is really saying is “God was delighted to smile on us while we were yet sinners.” If God favored us as sinners, why then, did He require Jesus to go the cross? Why was Christ the penalty for our sins, if God smiled on us as sinners? Paul states that the reason Jesus was sent to Calvary was because

“in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, TO DEMONSTRATE AT THE PRESENT TIME HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, THAT HE MIGHT BE JUST AND THE JUSTIFIER OF THE ONE WHO HAS FAITH IN JESUS” (Rom. 3:25-26).

Part of the purpose of Calvary (aside from purchasing the salvation of every person) was to deal with sin. “The wages of sin is death,” Paul writes (Rom. 6:23). Christ came not only to purchase our salvation, but to suffer the penalty for our sin (1 John 2:1-2; 4:10). If this be the case, then God must first have dealt with sin in the eternal decrees before granting salvation. This is why Classic Arminians hold to the idea of conditional election. When it says that God “chose us in Him,” we understand that only by the divine gifts of Christ, grace, and faith, are we chosen for salvation.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Calvinist Notion of Divine Sovereignty: "Pharisaical" by Nature?

In my last post (“Binding the Strong Man”) I examined Dr. Terrance Tiessen’s statement regarding biblical interpretation. Having yielded to the Calvinist notion of divine sovereignty, Tiessen says that he then went back to the passages affirming some sort of “universality” and reinterpreted them. This is what every theologian or believer does when changing from one theological system to another. My issue with Dr. Tiessen’s statement is not that he changed some tenets in his system; rather, my issue with Dr. Tiessen’s statement has to do with his presupposition that Christ did not come to make the world “savable” when John 3:17 tells us that God sent His Son into the world “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” If anyone seems wrong in their interpretation, it is Dr. Tiessen: Christ did not come to reprobate the majority of humanity...but rather, to save them. If only those intended for salvation are those who do come to faith, then we have a problem: for the saved make up a very small portion of society. And yet, Jesus says He came for the world. Who will we believe: Tiessen or Jesus?
Today’s post serves to answer the question I posed in my last post: “could it be that Tiessen’s (and the Calvinist) notion of divine sovereignty sounds a bit ‘Pharisaical’?” My answer to this question will be a resounding “Yes.” In so doing, I will also show why the Calvinist God is not the God of the Scriptures, but rather the God of philosophical reasoning alone.
Remember the Jewish notion of the Messiah? Jesus’ twelve disciples believed the coming kingdom to be earthly: “Lord, will you at this time RESTORE THE KINGDOM TO ISRAEL?” (Acts 1:6, NKJV) The Jewish expectation was that Jesus would wage a war, a revolution, and overthrow the Roman government. But Jesus does not do this. The disciples, becoming impatient, desire to see Jesus fulfill what they’ve believed about the Scriptures. Instead, Jesus places them in a much different mission altogether: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me...” (Acts 1:8)
The disciples missed it; but what’s worse is that the scribes and the Pharisees, the interpreters of the Mosaic Law, missed it too! They simply didn’t understand Jesus’ mission. We see this in Nicodemus’s dumbfoundment over regeneration. He simply did not understand (John 3:3-10). At every place Jesus walked, the Pharisees were there, trying to undermine His authority. They saw Jesus as just Joseph’s son, a carpenter’s son. That’s all He was, all He would be. They simply looked at Him on earth and decided He was a mere mortal, nothing more.
But...had they not read the Old Testament Scriptures concerning Christ? What does Isaiah tell us? Does Isaiah the prophet not say that
“He [Christ] has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. HE IS DESPISED AND REJECTED BY MEN, A MAN OF SORROWS AND ACQUAINTED WITH GRIEF” (Isa. 53:2-3)?
Isaiah clearly spoke to the Pharisees in the Scriptures, relaying to them that humanity would label Christ “the rejected one,” while God the Father would label Him “My Chosen One” (Isa. 42:1).
Had the Pharisees not read that Christ would be marred, that He would have no physical beauty to behold? Christ would be everything that humanity would consider worthless. And yet, the Pharisees rejected Christ too...all because He didn’t fit their notion of what “The King of the Jews” should be.
And as unfortunate as this may sound, I feel compelled by my conscience to make a concession: It is a belief of mine that Calvinists have created their own “theonotion” (my word) instead of accepting what God is. Like the Pharisees, they have trumped up their own profile of the Savior: He must be strong, all-powerful, needing no one, concerned with His own glory, facing no rejection, displaying no mercy. God does what He wants to, whether it is consistent with His character or not. He has no standards of justice, save for the ones He arbitrarily creates. He has no compassion on the lost of humanity and has damned them simply to “glorify Himself.” He cannot be rejected; instead, He is the one who rejects. He must “beat the reprobate to the finish line” and cast them away from eternal life before they can reject Him because, to let them do it first would mean losing His sovereignty (He is only sovereign if He can damn without mercy). The God of the Calvinists performs the actions of King Lear: He is only concerned about “flexing his muscles,” showing the world what power and might He has. He accepts the Machiavellian principle that “it is better to be feared than to be loved,” and He allows no one to get close to Him and love Him. No---He never “lets His guard down” because He fears that if humanity gets too close, they will desire to assert their “autonomous will,” oust Him from His throne, and sit in His place. In other words, God is still “shivering” in fear from the Fall in the Garden; and what’s worse? He fears that it may happen again.
But did Isaiah not say that “He is rejected of men”? Not if Calvinists have their way! Rather, Christ Himself is the one sitting “in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1). And do we not have the words of the apostle John himself, stating that “He [Jesus] came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11)? And do we not read Jesus saying to the Pharisees, the ones that blatantly rejected Him, “I say these things that you may be saved” (Jn. 5:34)? And what about Jesus’ statement that “you [the Pharisees] are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (Jn. 5:40)? And what about Luke’s own account that “the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (Luke 7:30)? What do we do with these instances where it seems clear that Jesus is being rejected by the Jews, not to mention the Pharisees whose salvation Christ desired? Is it not evident that Christ was rejected in these examples? And if the Bible is relevant for today, is it not clear that there are many who will hear the gospel and reject Christ because they can?
Why does Dr. Tiessen, as do many Calvinists, argue so strongly for limited atonement? They do so because of a faulty notion of God. That’s right--- just like the Pharisees, they reject God as revealed in Scripture because He just doesn’t fit their expectations. To Calvinists, the Sovereign King of the universe is not obligated or bound to anyone; and yet, the Lord obligated Himself to His creation in Genesis 1 (and renewed this in Genesis 9 after the flood). To Calvinists, the Sovereign King of the universe does not owe an explanation as to why He died for some...and yet, the Lord came for all, including His own, whom He knew would reject Him. To Calvinists, the Sovereign King of the universe should be born in royalty...instead, the Lord of all Creation was born in a feeding trough because “there was no room for Him in the inn.” And yet, even though every knee should have bowed and confessed Christ’s Lordship, Christ was actually despised, rejected, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death despite His innocence.
Well...I for one am thankful that Christ came meek and lowly. Had He not come that way, I don’t think I could understand that He identified with my sorrows in His earthly life. The fact that Christ was The Sovereign Lord and yet, The Suffering Servant at the same time shows just how powerful He really is. To my Calvinist brethren I say, “Christ is Sovereign, just the way He is.” He may not be Sovereign in the way Calvinists want, but He is “altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Binding the Strong Man": How Interpretation Affects Theology

“Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Matthew 12:29, NKJV).
“Unquestionably, Scripture makes statements concerning the death of Christ that use the language of universality, so it is understandable that many Christians, including many who are otherwise Calvinistic (or monergistic), have concluded that we must affirm that Christ died ‘for’ everyone. I suggest, however, that we should formulate our position on the basis of BIBLICAL TEACHING REGARDING THE ACTUAL EFFECT ACHIEVED BY CHRIST’S DEATH AND RESURRECTION...putting together the strong assertion that CHRIST SAVED THOSE FOR WHOM HE DIED and that not everyone will be saved, I have had to reexamine the texts that sound initially as though they are stating that CHRIST DIED WITH THE INTENTION OF SAVING EVERYONE” (Terrance L. Tiessen, “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, page 95).
How do you rob a house? As Jesus says, you first must bind the man in the house! You cannot rob a house that is guarded by someone unless you overpower the owner of the house (or the guard) first. Fascinatingly enough, most action movies have the main characters fighting off police, palace guards, bodyguards, etc. The Bible, though the farthest thing from the minds of Hollywood producers, shows up in most films produced in the modern world.
Now, on to a question that is closer to home: how do you rob a passage of one meaning? You reinterpret the meaning in a different way. If you start with a different presupposition, you will end up in a different place. Take Molinism, for instance. Molinism assumes that there is “biblical tension” in the text (see “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” pages 126-129); however, what happens if someone assumes there is no tension (like five-point Calvinists and five-point Arminians)? Without tension, inconsistency goes out the window...and Molinism is forced to either conform to Classic Calvinism or Classic Arminianism.
In the case of Dr. Terrance Tiessen, however, his theological system moved him to rethink certain interpretations of Scripture. First he notes, “Scripture makes statements concerning the death of Christ that use the language of universality...” What this means is that the language refers to “all” or “everyone,” etc. There are statements about the death of Christ that refer to “all people,” thus giving the idea that Christ died for every person.
However, Tiessen goes on to say that such an interpretation (Christ died for every person) is a flawed one: “I suggest, however, that we should formulate our position on the basis of BIBLICAL TEACHING REGARDING THE ACTUAL EFFECT ACHIEVED BY CHRIST’S DEATH AND RESURRECTION.” Why is there such an emphasis on the effect of the death and resurrection of Christ? Why is it that salvation’s worth only comes from the results of salvation? By “stacking the deck” of his argument, Tiessen already assumes what he’s trying to prove.
And just what is that, exactly? His point is to focus on the “intent” of the atonement. Calvinists believe that God only intended to save a few, so reconciliation only occurs for those God picked to be saved before time as we know it. Arminians believe that the atonement is for every person, that Christ died for everyone and salvation is free to all who believe.
As one digs further into Tiessen’s rhetoric, it becomes clear that he believes the atonement
“saved people. God did not simply MAKE SINNERS SAVABLE, he redeemed them, reconciled them to himself, satisfied the demands of justice on their behalf, paid the penalty for their sin and overcame the powers of evil that bound them” (“Who Can Be Saved?,” page 95).
Tiessen states that when Jesus went to the cross at Calvary, He did not go to grant the opportunity for salvation; rather, He went to purchase it for select individuals, whoever they are. But if this be true, then Tiessen’s own words contradict simple passages like John 3 which clearly tell us that the world itself is savable (John 3:16-17). In verse 17, the Lord states, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but THAT THE WORLD THROUGH HIM MIGHT BE SAVED.” The word here for “might be saved” is sothe, which is from the Greek word “sozo” (verb form “to save”). The Greek verb “sothe” is in the subjunctive mood, which indicates potentiality. A.T. Robertson writes:
“It [subjunctive mode] is the mood of doubt, of hesitation, of proposal, of prohibition, of ANTICIPATION, OF BROODING HOPE, of imperious will” (A.T. Robertson, “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament In Light of Historical Research,” Fourth Edition. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1923, page 928).
Subjunctive mood indicates possibility, which is why, in John 3:17, we see the phrase “might be saved.” The word “might” here is only one of many words expressed by the subjunctive mood, but the point here is that “might” acknowledges two options: the world can receive Christ and be saved, or the world can reject Christ and experience eternal damnation. The word “might” is neutral in that it does not cancel out either option. The point here is that the world is “savable.” If this is the case, then Tiessen’s words regarding specific individuals God intends to save cannot be correct. There are other verses of Scripture that provide subjunctive language. Tiessen uses two of them in his section titled “The atonement is effective”: 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Titus 2:14 (see Tiessen, page 93). The Greek verb for “might become” (2 Cor. 5:21) is “genometha.” The “o” is a long sounding “o” in this Greek word, which is the proper form of the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood itself lengthens the original sound of vowels, changing a short “e” into an “eta” (long “e” in Greek), a short “o” into an “omega” (long “o” in Greek).
In all of these subjunctive phrases (John 3:17, 2 Cor. 5:21, and Titus 2:14, etc.) the word “hina” precedes the subjunctive verb form. “Hina” introduces a purpose/goal clause, which signifies to the reader that there is a goal or purpose behind the action. So, looking at John 3:17, we can ask, “Why did God send His Son into the world?” He did so “in order that” or “for the purpose of” saving the world through Christ. Christ was the Savior sent to save the world. But the subjunctive implies that, while a goal or purpose is given, it MAY or MAY NOT be achieved. And this is where Dr. Tiessen fails in his argument. He overlooks such language in his interpretation of the Scriptures. Subjunctive mood implies possibility, not probability or actuality.
Dr. Tiessen, however, approaches his view of the text with Calvinist lenses, which explains why he quotes H. Ray Dunning’s statement that “the logical either universalism or a limited atonement” (Tiessen quotes H. Ray Dunning, page 94). Universalism implies a “necessity” that everyone will be saved, while limited atonement implies a “necessity” that only certain intended recipients of salvation will be saved. I contend that the Scriptures teach neither universalism nor limited atonement. Rather, through the use of subjunctive language, the Scriptures teach “possibility” of salvation: that is, that, while salvation is free for all, it will only be appropriated to those who believe. It is limited in extent, NOT in its intent. It is intended to save all, but will not save a person apart from faith in Christ alone. If the world is “savable,” as John 3:17 teaches, then Christ must intend for every person in the world to be saved.
Why then, does Terrance Tiessen hold to the idea that God only intends to save some? Tiessen holds to this idea because of his (Calvinist) notion of sovereignty. If God is strong, mighty, and all-powerful, and God “cannot” save all He intends to, then, in the mind of Tiessen, God has failed in His mission. He then becomes weak, impotent, and “less sovereign” in His nature and character. But is this necessarily the case? And could it be that Tiessen’s (and the Calvinist) notion of divine sovereignty sounds a bit “Pharisaical”?  Stay tuned: you won’t wanna miss my next post.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Putting the Cart Before the Horse": Having a Robust Philosophy With a Robust Theology in the Driver's Seat

“If Christ actually bore the punishment for sins in a substitutionary way--- if he paid the penalty for our sins and if the Father accepted that payment--- it would be grossly unjust of him to demand it again from an unbeliever. If he bore the punishment vicariously for everyone, we have full-blown universalism. As John Owen said, if Christ died for the sins of all and if unbelief is a sin, then he died for their unbelief too, in which case they cannot be punished for it. Hence, either unbelief is not a sin or Christ did not die for it and his death was, therefore, not universal in its intent and effect” (Terrance L. Tiessen, “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, pages 93-94).
I’ve already made plans for new classes this coming Spring 2011. Lord willing, I should graduate May 2011 (Praise the Lord!) and pursue a Master of Theology degree (ThM, postgraduate degree) either Fall 2011 or Spring 2012. As a result, I’ve begun some reading rather related to soteriology regarding world religions and salvation for the unevangelized, etc. One such book is Terrance Tiessen’s work titled, “Who Can Be Saved?”. This morning, I read his chapter on “Whom is God trying to Save?”, and the chapter itself was basically comparing and contrasting Classic Calvinism versus Classic Arminianism. Tiessen uses the argument in the quote above that Christopher Bass also uses in his 1 John work done with Broadman and Holman Academic Publishers. Owen’s argument can be syllogized as follows:
Premise #1: Christ died for all sins.
Premise #2: Unbelief is a sin.
Conclusion: Therefore, Christ died for unbelief.
Once one accepts this, another syllogism appears:
Premise #1: If sin is committed, a penalty must be paid.
Premise #2: Unbelief is a sin.
Premise #3: Since unbelief is a sin committed, a penalty must be paid.
Premise #4: Jesus paid the penalty when He died on the cross for all sin. (Penal-Substitutionary Atonement)
Premise #5: Since unbelief is a sin committed, and sin requires a penalty, and Jesus paid the penalty for sin, no more penalties can be required (only one penalty is to be paid for sin).
Premise #6: for unbelievers, then, they are to be saved because Jesus has already died for their unbelief. Unbelievers then, end up saved, just like believers do.
Since Jesus paid for all sin (and unbelief is a sin), then Jesus has already atoned for unbelief. As a result, unbelievers have no need to worry about their eternal destination. They will end up with God.
Tiessen uses Owen’s argument to separate sin and the atonement: if unbelief is a sin, then Jesus died for every person; if unbelief is not a sin, then Christ did not die for every person. He seems to think that the logic is impeccable.
But there is a problem with Tiessen’s (and Owen’s) logic above for a few reasons. First, unbelief is a sin. Jesus condemns the Pharisees for their unbelief (John 5:38-40) and states that those who do not believe are already condemned (John 3:16-18).
However, unbelief is an eternal sin that places an individual in the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). If you read the list of individuals who will experience Hell fire (Rev. 21:8), you will find that they all committed sins that “could be” (key phrase here) forgiven: the “cowardly” could be forgiven of their lack of boldness; the “unbelieving” could receive Christ and be saved. They did not have to live forever in their unbelief. Look also at “the sexually immoral.” These individuals did not have to continue in their sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:9-11). They could have received salvation and stopped practicing these sins. It is the duration of the sin (lifetime) and the subsequent rejection of Christ’s atoning sacrifice (for a lifetime) that puts them out of reach for final salvation. As the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27, NKJV). Unbelief is a sin; but it is a sin that, like other sins, cannot be tolerated forever. God cannot forever tolerate sin and those who practice it. At some point, evil must be punished and done away with. If not, then good never triumphs.
Back to Tiessen’s dilemma: “either unbelief is not a sin or Christ did not die for it and his death was, therefore, not universal in its intent and effect.” Unbelief is a sin, so the normal conclusion (if we follow Tiessen’s argument) is that Christ did not die for unbelief and his death was not for everyone in the world. But if this logic holds true, what about the other groups in Revelation 21:8? If Christ did not die for every sin, then He only died for specific sins---and, as a result, only died for specific people. But is this not what Tiessen assumes to begin with (limited atonement)?
Why does God allow those practicing specific sins (unbelief among them) to experience eternal damnation? Because the duration of these sins (in the lives of those who practiced them) was eternal. While these sins could be forgiven through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, such individuals refused to accept that forgiveness and persisted in their sin. Since Christ is the just judge who judges rightly, He will give an eternal punishment for the one who has eternal unbelief. An eternal sin deserves an eternal punishment.
The idea that Christ did not die for eternal sin is clearly seen in the temporary call to faith that the Lord gives to all mankind. Dr. Ken Keathley writes:
“There is no reason to believe that the opportunity for any particular person to be saved is open-ended or indefinite. God warns that His Spirit deals with men only for a period of time (Gen. 6:3). Isaiah exhorts Israel to ‘seek the Lord while He may be found; call to Him while He is near’ (Isa. 55:6), and Paul urges, ‘Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation’ (2 Cor. 6:2)...the window of opportunity for salvation is real, but temporary. Some are gloriously saved on their deathbed (and for that we praise God), but none should presume that God will continue to deal graciously with them until their final hours. The author of the book of Hebrews uses the Kadesh Barnea incident (Numbers 14) to build a sustained case that grace must be responded to while it is available. The children of Israel refused to enter the promised land, so God sentenced them to forty years of wandering. Even though they later feigned repentance, it was too late (Num. 14:39-45)” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 133-134).
God calls us to faith, but He will not forever call us to repentance. The call is “for a limited time only,” and the forgiveness is only for a short time. Those who persist in their sin risk throwing away their only hope for eternal life. So don’t play around with God’s kindness; accept Him today. Grab ahold of the forgiveness He offers in Christ His Son, and experience the newness of life that will be fully realized in the world to come.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Decrees and the Divine Will: The Activity of God in Salvation, Pt. 3: Molinism's Flawed Critique of Classical Arminianism

“As we will see, one feature that distinguishes Molinism from Arminianism is the way it understands God’s foreknowledge. Arminianism solves the problem of reprobation by presenting God’s decision concerning individuals as something entirely passive. God decrees to elect the church as a corporate body, and those individuals who choose Christ are then viewed as the elect, while those who reject Him are reprobate. In this respect Arminians view God’s decrees as the mere ratification of human choices. But the Bible presents God’s electing decision as something much more active and decisive. Unlike Arminianism, Molinism describes God as using His foreknowledge in a sovereign, unconditional manner” (Dr. Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 141-142).
In the last two posts, I have dealt with issues of the sovereignty of God, as well as God’s active role in salvation. Contra Dr. Keathley, Classic Arminians do not assume that God is passive in salvation. Since we hold to the antecedent/consequent wills approach (see part 2 of the series), we believe that the sovereign Lord of creation has placed salvation before every individual due to His own decision. Since Christ not only purchased our redemption but offers it on His own terms, He has been more active in salvation in the Classic Arminian view than Molinists give our theology credit for.
In today’s post, I am back to critique the caricaturized version of Arminian theology that has been placed upon us--- that is, the idea that we only hold to corporate election.
What I failed to place in the quote above is a footnote. After the statement that Arminians see the decrees as God’s concession to human decision, there is a footnote there. The footnote references Robert Shank’s “Elect in the Son,” pages 45-55. I own Robert Shanks’ work and I took the time today to look through it. Shank does indeed hold to corporate election. Shank writes on page 45, “A second aspect of election is implicit in Paul’s Ephesian doxology: the election to salvation is corporate as well as Christocentric” (Robert Shank, “Elect In the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election.” Grand Rapids: Bethany House Publishers, 1989, page 45).
However, Dr. Keathley’s error is that he attributes Shank’s view of election to all of Arminianism itself. This is problematic when one considers that Arminius held to both corporate AND individual election. As Arminius writes regarding the decrees in his section titled “My Own Sentiments on Predestination”:
“To these succeeds the FOURTH decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere,---according to the before-described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere” (James Arminius, “Works” I:653-654).
Notice the phrase “save and damn certain particular persons”? This should clear up any misconceptions about Arminius. He writes in his own theology that he held to both corporate AND individual election. The problem with Dr. Ken Keathley’s assessment is that he takes Shank’s view and applies it to all Arminians. In actuality, to hold to only corporate election is to hold to a somewhat Open Theist view of election (see “Perspectives On Election: Five Views by Brand where Clark Pinnock holds to an “Open” View of election). If the truth be told, Classic Arminians hold to individual and corporate election just as much as Molinists and Classic Calvinists. If Arminians are deemed “less orthodox,” it cannot be on the basis of their view on election. Our doctrine of election is as robust as any other accepted theological system present in evangelicalism today.
Classic Arminians do hold to God’s active role in salvation. God Himself decided to send His Son to die for the sins of the world; He then decided to allow us to come to faith, set the conditions for the reception of salvation, and decreed to dispense grace and faith so that all could believe; last but not least, God knew within Himself, from before the foundation of the world, who would and would not believe and endure until the end. The Classic Arminian God may not pick some individuals and abandon others, but He does have an active role in the salvation of mankind. God does not just “ratify” human choices; He designed salvation to be given upon human reception of eternal life. As Dr. Keathley himself has said, “If man is to choose between heaven and hell, it is because the Lord of Creation has placed the choice before him” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” 60). If that makes God passive, then I will boldly say that the Scriptures affirm it...rather than let my notions of divine sovereignty drive my own conception of the divine.
More to come at CTS...Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Decrees and the Divine Will: The Activity of God in Salvation, Pt. 2: Molinism's Flawed Critique of Classical Arminianism

“As we will see, one feature that distinguishes Molinism from Arminianism is the way it understands God’s foreknowledge. Arminianism solves the problem of reprobation by presenting God’s decision concerning individuals as SOMETHING ENTIRELY PASSIVE. God decrees to elect the church as a corporate body, and those individuals who choose Christ are then viewed as the elect, while those who reject Him are reprobate. In this respect Arminianism views God’s decree as the mere ratification of human choices. But the Bible presents God’s electing decision as something much more active and decisive. Unlike Arminianism, Molinism describes God as using his foreknowledge in a sovereign, unconditional manner” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” 142).
I stated in my last post that there were problems with this response from Dr. Ken Keathley’s work “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” This post will consume itself with tackling the above quote.
According to the quote, Arminianism views God as “passive” concerning the decrees. But what about the antecedent/consequent wills approach Dr. Keathley mentions in his chapter on “Does God Desire the Salvation of All” (see part one of the title)? In the last post, I quoted Dr. Keathley as stating that “the antecedent/consequent wills approach,” which both Molinists and Classic Arminians hold to, “understands God to be THE SOVEREIGN INITIATOR AND GRACIOUS COMPLETER OF REDEMPTION. If man is to choose between heaven and hell, IT IS BECAUSE THE LORD OF CREATION HAS PLACED IT BEFORE HIM” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” 60).If God has placed salvation and damnation before humanity and given each individual the options of heaven and hell, how could God be passive in salvation? After all, did He not decide to give salvation to all and set the terms and conditions? Robert E. Picirilli writes:
“Surely God’s sovereignty means that He acts freely, under no conditions than that He be true to Himself. Neither a priori (from our logic) nor a posteriori (from Scriptural evidence) is there any reason to believe that God could not sovereignly establish any condition He chose (or no condition at all, did He so choose) for salvation. As Arminius put this, ‘The freedom of the goodness of God is declared...when He communicates it only on the condition, which He has been pleased to impose’” (Robert E. Picirilli, “Grace, Faith, Free Will---Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism.” Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002, page 57).
God had the freedom to set no terms at all, if that is what He desired to do. However, He did set terms, and Christ declares this to Nicodemus (John 3:16-18).
Let’s use an example. Say you were hiring employees for your company that just got up and running off the ground. In order to hire employees (or have potential employees), you must alert the public that you are in business and intend to hire workers. The first thing you do, then, is place an ad in the newspaper and on the internet about job openings. In the newspaper ads and internet statements, you give a sketch of the type of person you would be interested in hiring. One such characteristic of an ideal worker might be experience. This might cut out some of your work base, but at the same time, you might like the idea of bringing workers into the company that can provide ideas and direction for the company that you may lack at the moment. Or, you may simply just want to hire experienced workers because you don’t wanna bother with training “newbies.” As another characteristic, you might look for someone who has good computer skills, can type a lot of words in a small amount of time. You may need to do a lot of typing and printing at your job, and you need someone who will not take all day to type up one article. You might want someone with a certain type of college degree, whether it be simply a batchelor of arts, batchelor of science, master of arts, master of science, doctorate of arts, doctorate of science, or a doctorate of philosophy degree. Requiring a certain educational experience might be ideal for you because someone with such educational knowledge may provide skill that others will not possess. If you are just starting a company, you may want more for your money. If you hire someone with lots of knowledge, you will get more for your dollar.
And then comes the day when you must conduct interviews. Once you have some resumes sent in, you must go through those resumes meticulously and decide whether or not you have more interest in someone as a result of their resume. Some resumes may not appeal to you and you may simply dismiss certain resume senders. But there may be other resume senders that really intrigue you, so you decide to call them and set up an interview where you can meet with them and talk even further of your job expectations.
This example may not be an ideal one for the issue of salvation, but the emphasis of such an example is to make the case that as the employer of a company, you have a right to conduct affairs the way you want to. You have a right to put out ads and announcements with specific characteristics for the kind of employee you’d like to have. You have a right to interview certain individuals, reject others outright, have further meetings with intriguing individuals, etc. And, after all interviews have been conducted, you have the right to hire only those individuals you please and reject those you just don’t think will be good for your company. All of this power comes with the fact that you own the company.
If we apply this to the issue of salvation, then, if God is sovereign (has all power), can He not do with that power what He desires to? The answer to this from Calvinists, Molinists, and Arminians is a resounding “Yes.” The next question becomes, “If God can do what He wants, then can He not allow salvation to be granted on the basis of faith?” Here is where Calvinists and Molinists get off the train. Calvinists will argue that God being sovereign entails God picking and choosing certain individuals for salvation. Molinists will say the same (“Sovereign Election,” from “Salvation and Sovereignty”), which is why Dr. Keathley notes that Arminians label God as “passive” in their view of salvation. The problem with this, however, is that God has not revealed that He picks and chooses individuals for salvation in His Holy Word. Rather, this notion of God’s work in salvation is derived from certain philosophical notions of the sovereignty of God that the text does not affirm.
Dr. Keathley himself rejects the idea of God granting salvation to individuals on the basis of faith when he writes that Arminianism presents “God’s decision concerning individuals as something entirely passive” (141). My question to Molinists would be: “If God must pick and choose who will be saved, why does He need to set conditions for faith?” If God decides by His mere whim who will be saved and who will not, then why set faith as a condition? It’s the same as an employer who sets requirements for a job: if the employer will pick certain individuals because he likes them, why require things like educational experience, work experience, computer skills, etc.? For God to set conditions when He will choose individuals apart from the conditions is to go against His own word, to deny Himself. How can God require conditions and then go against those conditions in salvation? Dr. Keathley argues that faith is the condition for salvation (119-121, 196), but then turns around and argues that election is “unconditional” and that God actually determines who will be saved by “whether I...have the opportunity to respond to the gospel, or am placed in a setting where I would be graciously enabled to believe,” which he also notes as “sovereign decisisons made by Him” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” 155).
Molinists leave the reader with the impression that there are two conditions (God’s selection and faith) that are divorced from each other. I would say that divine selection and faith are not divorced, but united. To use a verse that I hold dear, “Without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that comes to Him must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV).
There are other problems, but I will address them in the next posts.