Saturday, December 26, 2009

"The Fact That Not All Are Saved"

“The God of Scripture is able to save perfectly and completely all He desires to save: the fact that not all are saved leads inexorably to the truth of divine election. Therefore, CBF [“Chosen But Free” by Norman Geisler] denies this divine truth and instead replaces it with the idea of ‘determinately knowing’ already reviewed in chapter two" (James White, “The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s ‘Chosen But Free’”. Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000, pages 99-100).

There are two problems with White’s quote that I desire to tackle. The first involves his quote regarding God: “The God of Scripture is able to save...all He desire to save.” Is God able to save everyone He wants to save? YES. The Bible is unwavering in its view of God as the Almighty Sovereign...

However, the Bible tells us something different about WHO God actually saves (than White and other Calvinists). While God desires ‘all’ (everyone) to be saved, He does not save everyone. Why? According to White, God doesn’t want to save everyone. To the contrary, Scripture has something different to say:

“Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost (completely) THOSE WHO COME TO GOD THROUGH HIM, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25, NKJV).

God will save, but He will save under ONE CONDITION: that we come to God by grace through faith in Christ. This is the way God has, in His Sovereignty, chosen to save some and not others.

In Hebrews 5:9, we are told that those who receive eternal salvation are “all who obey Him.” Obedience is the condition by which some are saved and others are not. In addition, Paul calls faith “the obedience” in Romans 1:5 (NKJV calls it “obedience to the faith”), demonstrating that to obey Christ is to have faith in Him. Jesus’ words in John chapters 3 and 5 testify to belief as the condition for eternal life:

John 3:15---“whoever believes”

John 3:16---“whoever believes”

John 3:18---“he who not condemned”

John 5:24---“he who hears My word and believes”

John 5:40---“you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life”

Further chapters in John show the same thing:

John 6:29---“this is the work of God, that you BELIEVE in Him whom He sent.”

John 6:40---“everyone who sees the Son and BELIEVES IN HIM...”

John 6:47---“he who BELIEVES in Me”

John the Baptist tells of belief in Christ (3:36), and even John’s prologue talks about those who believe being “as many as received Him...those who believe in His name” (1:12). Last but not least, John challenges his audience in chapter 20:
“But these [things] are written that you may BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that BELIEVING you may have life in His name” (20:31).

I picked John’s Gospel as justification because the Gospel itself tends to be the favorite of Calvinists. And yet, there is so much Scripture pertaining to hearing His Word and believing in Him. I wonder what Calvinists say about these Scriptures? Hmmm...

Next, White claims that, because all do not come to Christ, Christ does not desire everyone to be saved. According to White, general revelation shows us truth about God: that God does not desire the salvation of everyone. However, Scripture also gives us truth about ourselves as human beings (Rom. 1:18-32), and the fact that many do not come to Christ is not because Christ doesn’t want them...but rather, they do not want Christ:

“because, although THEY KNEW GOD, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful...” (Rom. 1:18ff)

The heart of the matter is that, while man knows the truth, he refuses to live according to it. Instead, he “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). He chooses to live his life as though he were ignorant. As a result, God gives him over to his desire---if he wants to live as though he is depraved (1:28) in mind, then so be it; he will act as such.

James White and fellow Calvinists desire to place responsibility on God. But if God truly does desire the gospel to be preached to “every creature” (Mark 16:15), not just a select few, then doesn’t this imply universal opportunity for salvation? Surely it does! And it is this, coupled with the world-wide voice of creation (Rom. 10:17-18, Ps. 19:4) that testifies to a God who calls all people, every person, to Himself---while refusing to make them come...

Friday, December 25, 2009

God's Freedom

“It seems that Dr. Geisler’s position leads inevitably to the latter: that in the final analysis, man is the one that actively, willfully, freely determines what takes place in the human realm. God’s ‘sovereignty,’ if we can use the term, is limited to giving the gift of freedom...God’s “responsibility” is limited to giving men freedom: NOWHERE IN THESE DISCUSSIONS DO WE SEE ANY EMPHASIS AT ALL UPON GOD’S FREEDOM. While it is definitional in Geisler’s view that man be free, it does not seemingly follow that when it comes to actions in time, it is definitional that God be free as well” (James White, “The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s ‘Chosen But Free’”. Amityville, NY: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000, pages 60-61).

According to James White, Geisler’s discussion of man and free will does not involve God’s freedom whatsoever. However, how was man given the freedom he has? He was given his freedom from God. And why did God give it? Well, as Calvinists are quick to state, God did it unconditionally---He was not bound to anyone or anything OUTSIDE OF HIMSELF that forced His hand or obligated Him to give man free will. The Lord decided to do this because He wanted to!

I do want to pause here for a moment and say that I think White is right: I think God’s freedom should be discussed. Don’t get me wrong---I’m not siding with White in regards to Calvinist theology; I think that Calvinism deprives man of his God-given dignity and privilege. However, he is right to require theologians to account for God’s freedom in man’s responsibility. If theologians do not start to address this, man’s freedom will begin to look like self-proclaimed autonomy and cultural accommodation!

Although I think James White is right in his point about God’s freedom, I still think his view of man’s responsibility is wrong. There is biblical evidence of God’s freedom in bestowing freedom and responsibility upon man. In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; LET THEM HAVE DOMINION...over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26, NKJV).

In verse 29, God tells the couple (Adam and Eve), “See, I HAVE GIVEN YOU every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; TO YOU IT SHALL BE FOR FOOD” (Gen. 1:29, NKJV). God gave the plants to the animals for food as well---but God first talks to the human couple and mentions what He has done for them. And why did God do it? Because He wanted to. He was not forced to do it.

Here we see a consensus of all three Trinitarian persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in the granting of privileges to God’s human creation. God is not coerced into doing this, hence, God’s freedom is present within the first chapter of Genesis.

In Genesis 1:28, God gives the couple explicit instructions: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28, NKJV).

The word here for “subdue” is “katakurieusate.” This Greek word is a compound word consisting of two words, “kata” (over) and “kurieusate” (to be lord, an imperative). Adam and Eve were “lords” over the earth; and what “lord” exists that does not have power? This is why wives are told in Scripture to “submit to your own husbands, AS TO THE LORD” (Eph. 5:22). While husbands are not “God,” they are “lord” of the home (Gen. 3:16, 1 Peter 3:6) and are to be respected as such. Because husbands are “lord” of the home, they have power in the home that the wife or the children do not have.

God’s freedom consists in His decisions to grant His image as well as certain privileges to His human creation. Not only is this the case with responsibility in the Garden, but also our responsibility to repent and believe the gospel (see my work on Romans 9-11).

I agree with White in the sense that more theologians need to discuss God’s freedom. However, I don’t think that God’s freedom NECESSITATES Him choosing some and damning others. While Arminians believe in the freedom of God (both Classical and “Open Theists”), they differ with Calvinists in the nature of God’s freedom; Arminians stress that God’s freedom resulted in Him granting salvation to all who believe, while Calvinists believe that God picks and chooses some for salvation and others for reprobation. Regardless of which side we fall on, we must be willing to assess the beliefs of the other side and match them up with the Scriptures.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Losing Salvation, Part I: Trashy Theology or Cherished Concept?

I am finished reading Norman Geisler’s work “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election.” After finishing the book, my curiosity drove me to read through some of the appendices. And one of the sections I wanted to read was titled “Appendix Four: Answering Objections to Free Will.” I noticed a statement Calvinists use in their attacks on self-determinism (free will allows man to make his own choices of his own choosing):

“Salvation is not dependent on man but on God, and so it cannot be lost by man. Salvation cannot be gained by man’s will (John 1:13; Rom. 9:16); therefore it cannot be lost by it” (Norman L. Geisler, “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election,” Second Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2001, page 185).

I think it’s safe to say that most of the evangelical world believes that salvation comes by faith in Christ alone. While God is solely responsible for salvation’s existence, God does not select human beings for faith--- rather, He allows all who desire to be saved to come to Him by faith. Our faith, like Abraham’s, is what God counts as righteousness, not our works (Romans 4).

So “salvation is not dependent on man but God,” if by this statement Calvinists mean that God did the work of salvation. I would disagree with them when they say that God chooses people to be saved and damns others. In the words of Norman Geisler, “There are no conditions for God’s GIVING of salvation; it is wholly of grace. But THERE IS ONE (AND ONLY ONE) CONDITION FOR RECEIVING THIS GIFT---TRUE SAVING FAITH” (Chosen But Free, 185).

While God gives salvation of His own desire to do so, He bestows it upon those who come to Him by faith in Christ. The Lord gives salvation of Himself, and we receive salvation by faith in Him. There is nothing contradictory about the “give-and-take” relationship regarding salvation between God and man.

However, Calvinists do not stop there in their assessment of salvation. They go further:

“Salvation is not dependent on man but on God, and so it cannot be lost by man. Salvation cannot be gained by man’s will (John 1:13; Rom. 9:16); therefore it cannot be lost by it” (185).

Since salvation is dependent on God (who gives it), it cannot be lost by man (who receives it). There is a problem here, though, regarding giving and receiving the gift of salvation. If a person gives a gift and I receive it, once I receive the gift, it is MY responsibility to guard the gift. The giver of the gift no longer has the right to “guard” the gift for me. The giver no longer has responsibility for the gift. No matter what happens to the gift, I am now responsible for it (since the gift is now in my possession). The giver of the gift cannot give me the gift and keep the gift at the same time, guard the gift for me, etc. Once the gift has been given to me, I am to keep the gift and put it to good use.

This is no different with salvation and the Christian life. Peter tells us that we are “stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10)and that we are to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). If this is true, then we are supposed to guard the grace that we have been given, whether it be spiritual gifts or the gift of salvation. God is not responsible for guarding that gift for us. We are responsible to Him and accountable in the end for what we have done with what God has given us.

Matthew 25 is probably the most outstanding chapter in all of Scripture that addresses this truth. Starting in verse 14, Jesus tells the parable of a man who goes into a country far away, and leaves his money in the hands of his servants. He gives to one five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent. After a time, the master returns and calls each of the servants to come report on what they’ve done with the money. The first one gives a good report---he takes his five talents and makes five more. The second one also does well---he takes his two talents and makes two more. Both of these servants receive a “well done” (vv.21, 23).

What about the third servant? Well, he hid his master’s money in the ground. When he came before the master, he had an excuse:

“Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours” (vv.24, 25; NKJV).

The master was so outraged with the servant that he not only took the talent the servant had (v.28), but he also cast the lazy servant into “outer darkness” (v.30).

The parable itself is about the Lord, who is our Master. We are His servants, and the money represents the “talents” and abilities He has given us. For those of us who use our talents, we will be rewarded; but for those who abuse our talents and throw them away, we will suffer eternal punishment (v. 46).

Someone may very well say, “That’s all fine and good...but how does the parable of the talents connect with salvation?” Salvation itself is also a gift (Rom. 6:23), and we are charged not to neglect it (Hebrews 2:1-4). If we do, we will have to answer to God for how we wasted His grace. This is why the writer of Hebrews wrote,
“Therefore DO NOT CAST AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE, which has great reward. For YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Heb. 10:35-36, NKJV).

The word for “cast away” (NKJV translation) in the Greek is “apoballo,” which means “to throw away, to take off, to lose.” The writer is saying that we should not throw away our assurance. And how can we do that? By not enduring: “for you HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE.” Our assurance comes with our endurance. Without endurance, we have no assurance of our faith in the end.

Losing salvation is viewed by many to be the most ridiculous teaching ever passed on in the church. However, I think there is more biblical evidence for it than has been previously believed. The early church fathers certainly believed that one could only have PRESENT assurance of salvation (not final or future) and Calvin himself argued that God does not always bestow grace forever upon a person: “Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure forever” (Book 3, Chapter 2, Paragraph 11). In addition, he believed that God only gives “present mercy” to some (Book 3, Chap. 2, par. 11).

I will cover more on “losing salvation” in my next post.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in the Death of Christ

“Sometimes the twin truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility are expressed in the same passage. In one of the texts just mentioned [Acts 2:23], both God’s predetermination and man’s wicked free choice are present: ‘This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s SET PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE, and YOU...PUT HIM TO DEATH by nailing him to the cross’ (Acts 2:23). As before, while GOD DETERMINED THEIR ACTIONS FROM ALL ETERNITY, nevertheless, those who carried out the crucifying of Jesus were free to perform these actions---and were morally responsible for them. Here again, it is not either sovereignty or free choice; it is both sovereignty and free choice” (Dr. Norman L. Geisler, “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election,” Second Edition. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001, page 39).

I’ve started a bit of new reading regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Let’s just say that, every now and then, it’s good to have some material that helps you review the things you’ve studied. I’ve been blessed this year (2009) to study the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in massive detail. After over 40 books on the subject, let me admit with humility that there’s still so much I don’t know! What I have learned, however, I share with God’s people. And it is with this attitude that I approach Geisler’s book.

The above quoted Bible verse, Acts 2:23, is used in discussions of sovereignty and responsibility all the time! Notice that Geisler believes that “God determined their [the men] actions from all eternity.” First, though, I want to say that this contradicts what Geisler wrote several pages earlier in his work:

“God is morally accountable for giving the good thing called free will, but HE IS NOT MORALLY RESPONSIBLE for all the evil we do with our freedom. Solomon said it well: ‘This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes’ (Eccl. 7:29). In brief, God made the FACT of freedom; we are responsible for the ACTS of freedom. The fact of freedom is good, even though some acts of freedom are evil. God is the cause of the former, and we are the cause of the latter” (Geisler, “Chosen But Free,” page 23).

If men are the cause of their own evil actions, then what makes Geisler believe that the actions of the men in Jesus’ Crucifixion were PREDETERMINED BEFORE TIME with God? Which is it? Either the acts are determined or they are not.

Next, there is the philosophical error with Geisler’s claim. A choice can be “limited,” but not “determined.” There is no such thing as a “determined choice” in reality. The phrase “determined choice” is a logical impossibility, and the Lord Himself is able to do anything EXCEPT logical impossibilities (such as a square circle and round square, etc.). A determined choice is no choice at all!

Then, look at the text itself: Jesus was crucified “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God...” (Acts 2:23, NKJV) When we look at the verse, we see God’s plan and God’s foreknowledge mentioned.

I have a question: why did Jesus die on the cross? Did He die because the Father felt like sending Him? Did He die because the Father got bored in heaven and needed a little excitement? No---He died because of the FOREKNOWLEDGE OF THE SINS OF MANKIND! Jesus died because of the foreknowledge of sin in the Garden of Eden as well as all the sins that would follow. Hebrews records the following:

“...but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26b, NKJV).

Jesus gave Himself for the sins of man. It was the foreknowledge of man’s sin that put Jesus on the cross (not just the Father’s spontaneous declaration of Jesus’ Crucifixion).

The question now becomes, “well, if Jesus died for the sins of the world, then why did man sin?” How was man allowed to sin? Man was allowed to sin because God gave man a free will by which man was to make true, genuine choices. I ask Calvinists here: if man does not have a free will and can make choices, then how do we explain man’s sin producing such an effect that Jesus had to be offered up for it? Man’s sin is of such spiritual significance that even Christ, God’s ONLY Son, must pay the price for it! Man’s choice, although wrong, was pretty powerful. Why then, do Calvinists seek to weaken man’s choice today? It still remains potent---even if all we have a tendency to do with our freedom is sin.

Because God allows man to make decisions (like Adam naming the animals in the Garden, for example), God PREDETERMINED man’s ability to make choices. He PREDETERMINED MAN’S FREE WILL! However, I agree with Geisler here in that, while man has been predetermined to make choices (and given the power to do so), God is not responsible for what man does with his free will. Only man is responsible for that.

If we can see why Jesus was sent to the cross in the first place, it would help us understand the actions of the men involved in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. In God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, He knew that the men involved would do what they did. God allowed these things to happen in that, while He predetermined their ability to do what they did, He did not CAUSE them to do what they did (Pilate, for instance, did not have to hand over Jesus; after all, he did believe that Jesus was an innocent man). Rather, God incorporated the evil actions of these men into His Sovereign Plan to redeem the world through His Son.

I think foreknowledge is listed in Peter’s sermon to offset God being identified with evil. While God actively decreed the death of His Son (because of His righteous judgment), He did not decree the individual actions of the sinful men involved (He only decreed their POTENTIAL or ABILITY to perform such evil deeds). Rather, the deeds of the wicked men involved were deeds of their own choosing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Actually Escaped"

In the numerous books on Calvinism out in stores and on the internet, many will discuss the text of 2 Peter 2:20-22. And in many cases, there will be exposition on the false teachers--- how they left the faith and were never saved to begin with.

And I’m not going to disagree with that statement. It’s one thing to fall away from the faith...and another entirely to go on a campaign against the faith. To campaign and strategize “against” the faith is to declare oneself an enemy of the cross. Those who do so hate Christ and want His truth eradicated at all costs. They will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring Christ’s kingdom down (and to demolish His will being done in the lives of His people).

Robert Peterson is no different in his attack on the false teachers. He writes:

“I hold this view [false teachers as unregenerate] for three reasons. First, Lucas and Green correctly point to verse 22 as aiding in the interpretation of the false teachers’ identity. In the proverb, the dog and pig do not change nature---they remain unclean animals. Similarly, though the false teachers experience outward changes, they are never regenerated.
Second, as Lucas and Green mention, Jesus refers to unbelievers as ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’ in Matthew 7:6, and Peter likely uses these terms in the same way in 2 Peter 2:22. Therefore, Peter’s comparison of the false teachers to the same animals makes it more likely that he regards them as unbelievers than as apostate Christians. Third, we noted that Peter quotes Proverbs 26:11 in verse 22. And the ‘fool’ of Proverbs 26:1-12 is better understood as a person never saved than as a believer who later repudiated his faith. Peter’s description of the false teachers in 2 Peter 2:20-21, then, when considered in light of verse 22, the Old Testament background of that verse’s first proverb, and Jesus’ saying in Matthew 7:6, leads me to regard the teachers as unregenerate persons affected for a time by Christian morality”
(Robert A. Peterson, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009, pages 184-185).

I will not disagree with Peterson regarding false teachers. However, I think Calvinists should engage Arminians not on the false teachers, but those who are enticed by the false teachers:

“For when they [false teachers] they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, THE ONES WHO ACTUALLY ESCAPED FROM THOSE WHO LIVE IN ERROR” (2 Peter 2:18, NKJV).

The word here for “actually” in the Greek is “oligos,” meaning “scarcely, barely.” The word “oligos” is a Greek word from which our English word “oligarchy” comes. An oligarchy refers to a few people in control over a territory. So those who “scarcely” or “barely” escape leave the corruption of the world by “small” increments. While they have come to Christ, they have made the right decision but still yearn in some sense for the things of the world. These people, then, are those who, like the soil that falls away in Jesus’ parable of the Sower, “have no root” (Lk. 8:13). However, according to Peter, they have still escaped the world. They are saved, even if they are “barely” saved!

My question to Peterson and all Calvinists would be, “What about those who have ‘actually escaped’? What about those who are saved, but are “barely” saved? What about this group? I think it’s easy to sit and debate about the false teachers...but it’s a lot harder to talk about this group that, while believing, is still very much in love with the things of the world (still lusts for the things of the world). These people, then, the “barely-escapers,” have begun to listen to the words of the false teachers. Are the followers saved?

I want Peterson and all other Calvinists to tackle this little thorny problem in 2 Peter 2:18. If the followers of 2 Peter 2:18 are saved, can they return to the world? And if so, does this mean that they were saved?

If we are faithful to the biblical text, we have to admit that the followers are saved. However, they are “barely” saved...and what does this mean? That, unless they continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18), they too can become entangled with the world again. This doesn’t mean that they were never saved---it just means that they fell away because of temptation.

Monday, December 21, 2009

God's Fault?

“Fruitfulness, therefore, is evidence of salvation and preservation, and fruitfulness is evidence of the opposite. So, ‘every branch that does not bear fruit’ is cut off, discarded, ‘thrown into the fire, and burned’ (John 15:2, 6). Fruitlessness reveals no eternal life, because God’s salvation is real and shows up in fruit (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:7-8). This is the problem in passage after passage in Paul’s condemnation of the false teachers in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. In a word, ‘they profess to know God, but deny him by their works’ (Titus 1:16). If professed Christians do not persevere, this is a very bad sign. IT MAY POINT TO THE FACT THAT GOD HAS NOT SAVED AND PRESERVED THEM” (Robert A. Peterson, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009, page 203).

The sentence in the above quote (capitalized) is probably the most shocking statement I’ve read in any book in regards to the Calvinist-Arminian debate (second to the idea that God reprobates men and women to hell from before the foundation of the world). I think what is most shocking about the quote is that it blames God for the fact that some believers do not persevere.

Most Calvinists that I know will argue that God picks people; but they will then turn around and blame the person for not persevering. In fact, I engaged in a conversation with a Calvinist friend of mine once. She told me that if a person does not persevere, that they were not sincere about their faith. What I told her is, that if the person was saved at some point, and God chose the person to be saved (which is the Calvinist presupposition), then it is “God’s fault” that the person did not persevere. According to the Calvinist perspective, God “let the rug out from under” the person, and so stole their perseverance. Augustine argues in a work called “The Gift of Perseverance” that EVEN SOME OF THE ELECT do not get perseverance! In Augustine’s view, there are the non-elect, the elect with perseverance, and the elect without perseverance. So even if you’re part of the “elect,” you can still not be sure that you will finally reach eternal life.

Calvin follows this same train of thought in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”:

“Perseverance is the gift of God, which he does not lavish promiscuously on all, but imparts to whom he pleases. If it is asked how the difference arises---why some steadily persevere, and others prove deficient in steadfastness, we can give no other reason than that the Lord, by his mighty power, strengthens and sustains the former, so that they perish not, while he does not furnish the same assistance to the latter, but leaves them to be monuments of instability” (Book 2, Chap. 5, Paragraph 3).

In another place, Calvin distinguishes the “superior grace” of the elect from the “inferior grace” of the non-elect:

“Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only forever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an INFERIOR OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT from taking its course in the reprobate...the reprobate NEVER HAVE ANY OTHER THAN A CONFUSED SENSE OF GRACE, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only...the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY...THUS WE DISPOSE OF THE OBJECTION THAT IF GOD TRULY DISPLAYS HIS GRACE, IT MUST ENDURE FOREVER. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterward proves evanescent” (Book 3, Chap. 2, paragraph 11).

Last but not least, this is probably the most well-known of Calvin’s shocking statements:

“There is a special call which, FOR THE MOST PART, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. SOMETIMES, HOWEVER, HE COMMUNICATES IT ALSO TO THOSE WHOM HE ENLIGHTENS ONLY FOR A TIME, and whom afterwards, IN JUST PUNISHMENT FOR THEIR INGRATITUDE, HE ABANDONS AND SMITES WITH GREATER BLINDNESS” (Book 3, Chap. 14, Paragraph 8).

So even some of the non-elect receive the special call. Then, “in just punishment for their ingratitude” (whatever this means), the Lord ABANDONS THEM!
I wanted to quote Calvin here after Peterson to let you, the readers, see that Peterson is being a cold, but consistent Calvinist. Calvin himself explained away the soil that believed for a while (Luke 8) by saying that God removed his grace from the person. Remember his words above about grace? “Thus we dispose of the objection that if God truly displays His grace, it must endure forever.”

As hard as it is for most people to believe, Peterson is being consistent in his theology. If someone doesn’t persevere to the end, whose fault is it? God’s. Most people will respond and say, “well, it was that person’s fault”; but in the Calvinist system, people are picked by God to be saved...and, should they fall, they fall because God “lets the trampoline go from under them.” God “pulls out the rug from under them” and kicks them to destruction. In the Calvinist system, the person’s responsibility is absent from the scene altogether!

And this is what is so dangerous about Peterson’s conclusions regarding perseverance and apostasy. If God preserves a person no matter what he or she does (because He has handpicked him or her for salvation), then how does their choice work? How does man’s responsibility and action work? If man will infallibly persevere because God picked him, then man’s choices and responsibility play no role in the Bible whatsoever---or in man’s relationship with God. Peterson, like many Calvinists, cannot claim that divine sovereignty and human responsibility work (Peterson’s book “Election and Free Will”) and then turn around and argue that God necessarily keeps us to the end (which negates man’s responsibility of perseverance). If God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are actual and real BEFORE coming to faith (God completes the work of salvation and man believes in Christ), then divine sovereignty and human responsibility also matter AFTER a person is in the faith (God supplies the strength man needs, while man continues to have faith and perseverance until the end). In both the PRE- and POST- salvation states, God gives us what we need (faith and the fruit of the Spirit post-conversion) to please Him; and we use what He gives us for His glory, to live lives according to His Word.

Inclusive Language

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NKJV).

To whom does Jesus refer in Luke 9:23? The only way of knowing the answer to this question is to look at the language Jesus uses. He refers to “anyone,” which is the indefinite pronoun “tis.” An indefinite pronoun uses inclusive language, or “language that includes everyone.” Because “tis” is an indefinite pronoun, everyone is involved here. So when Jesus says “if anyone” wants to follow Him, He is alerting the disciples that everyone CAN follow Him, but those who so choose MUST do the following things that He lists in the verse above. Following Jesus comes with conditions; either we accept those or nothing at all.

“Tis,” as stated above, is an indefinite pronoun. If this is the case, why then, does Robert Peterson make the indefinite pronoun DEFINITE? In his work on “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy,” he makes the following comment regarding Hebrews:

“This emphasis on individuals fits with my view that although the writer is assured of the spiritual status of the preponderance of his audience, he has real concerns for a SHAKY MINORITY in the congregation. It is individuals in this minority who are addressed in the texts above” (Robert A. Peterson, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009, page 174).

Peterson advocates a view of Hebrews where a “shaky minority” is thinking about turning back to Judaism. However, upon close reading of the verses Peterson mentions, one will see that the language includes everybody and does not single out one person over another. Let’s look at Peterson’s evidence:

“Beware brethren, lest there be in ANY OF YOU an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12-13, NKJV).

How is the language of Hebrews 3 singling out a minority? The writer refers to “any of you.” Now, imagine that a friend sits five monetary bills in front of me ($5, $10, $20, $50, $100) and says, “you can pick any one of these bills for a Christmas gift.” I can pick the $5 so as to not offend their generosity...or I can pick the $100 bill and walk away extremely happy! If the person says that I can pick “ANY ONE” of the bills placed in front of me, then all five bills are available to be chosen. None of the five bills are excluded.
If this is the case, then with Hebrews 3, “any of you” refers to ANY MEMBER of the entire congregation, not a shaky minority.

Peterson points out another verse:

“Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest ANY OF YOU seem to have come short of it” (Hebrews 4:1, NKJV).

Once again, we see the words “any of you,” referring to “anyone of you.” The word for “any” here is “tis,” which, as I stated above (with Luke 9), is an indefinite pronoun. If the word is an INDEFINITE pronoun, then how can it be referring to a DEFINITE group of the congregation (and not the entire congregation itself)?

What about Hebrews 6:11?

“And we desire that EACH (Gk. hekaston) ONE OF YOU show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end” (Heb. 6:11, NKJV).

Go back to my dollar bill example. If “each one of these bills” or “any one of these bills” I can take, then the $100 bill is just as much an option as the $5 or $10 bill. None of the bills are excluded. Once again, I don’t see here how the writer of Hebrews is distinguishing between a “saved majority” and a “shaky minority.” He refers to “each one of you,” which means that he is giving great care to EVERY PERSON in the congregation.

The next example Peterson uses comes from Hebrews 12:

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which NO ONE will see the Lord; looking carefully lest ANYONE fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15, NKJV).

The Greek word for “anyone” is our favorite word again---“TIS”! Once again, as an indefinite pronoun, the word refers to ANY MEMBER OF THE CONGREGATION! There is no “shaky minority” here. Look at verse 15: “any root of bitterness” can cause “many” to “become defiled.” This shows that one person hardened by sin can lead many others down a destructive path. Many can “become defiled,” which means that they were not defiled before. No one is immune from sin and its deleterious effects.

Peterson claims that the warnings refer to certain people in the congregation...but as we’ve seen, the words refer to “anyone” and “each one” of the members of the congregation. No one seriously believes that Jesus’ reference in Luke 9 refers to “a believing minority” of those who choose to follow Christ (and excluding others). If Luke 9’s “anyone” refers to any person, then why not Hebrews? Why must Hebrews refer to a “shaky minority” instead of the entire congregation (whether shaky or not)?

I think it’s good to defend what you believe; but when Scripture works against it, we should acknowledge that our belief is our “preference” and not “scripturally prescribed.” I think Peterson would do well to acknowledge his preference here. Other Calvinists have done so (as did Buist Fanning; see my posts on the “Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews”)...and Peterson does not have to be an exception to the rule.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More Certain Than Not

“Fairness leads me to conclude from Paul’s making final sanctification dependent upon Christians’ perseverance in faith that one could deduce the possibility of their losing salvation. But it is important to note that the apostle himself does not draw that conclusion here. Frankly, Colossians 1:21-23 CAN BE INTEGRATED INTO EITHER AN ARMINIAN OR CALVINIST SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY. THE PASSAGE BY ITSELF DOES NOT PROVE OR DISPROVE EITHER THEOLOGICAL SYSTEM” (Robert A. Peterson, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009, page 133; caps mine).

I’ve been blogging excessively on Peterson’s book titled “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” However, I’ve started reading his newest book in the “Explorations in Biblical Theology” series, titled “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.”

In the above quote, Peterson is giving his analysis of Colossians 1:21-23, as he has presented various opinions on this passage. He presents the view of I. Howard Marshall:

“The need for perseverance in faith is also stressed in Colossians the construction, ‘provided that...’ (ei ge) allows, but by no means demands, THE POSSIBILITY THAT THE CONDITION MAY NOT BE FULFILLED” (132).

Then Peterson presents the view of P.T. O’Brien, who disagrees with Marshall’s conclusion:

“The Greek construction ‘ei ge’, translated ‘provided that,’ DOES NOT EXPRESS DOUBT...The words in this sentence may be paraphrased: ‘at any rate if you stand firm in the faith--- AND I AM SURE THAT YOU WILL’” (132).

With whom does Peterson agree? Neither. Instead, he sides with the opinion of Douglas Moo:

“...Pauline evidence POINTS IN BOTH DIRECTIONS, Galatians 3:4 falling into the former category and 2 Corinthians 5:3 and Ephesians 3:2; 4:21 into the latter...nevertheless, THE CONDITION IS A REAL ONE, and it is very important NOT TO ROB THE WORDS OF THEIR INTENDED RHETORICAL FUNCTION” (133).

In the analysis that Peterson provides from O’Brien, for example, there are problems. According to O’Brien, the Greek particle “ge” (gei) emphasizes assurance: “and I am sure that you will.”

According to some lexical sources, the word “ge” means “indeed, truly.” The word “ge” however, placed within the verse of Colossians 1:23, is meant to give assurance of the concept itself, not of the perseverance of the Colossians.
Let’s look at some other examples where “ge” is used:

“And he said, ‘Well done, good servant; because we faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17, NKJV).

The word for “well done” in the Greek text here is “euge,” where the prefix “eu” stands for “good” or “well.” The word “ge” means “indeed.” So the master, when he says “well done,” is really saying “well indeed” or “good indeed.” By saying “good indeed,” the master is affirming the good job of the servant. He’s simply affirming what is done---not adding anything to the servant’s work.

The next verse from Luke is Luke 11:8—

“I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, YET because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs” (Luke 11:8, NKJV).

The word for “ge” in this verse is the English word “yet.” Here Jesus is affirming the response of the friend to a friend outside of his house who has a need. He is talking about persistence in prayer, and He is telling the disciples that if they continue to pray, they can be ASSURED or CERTAIN that the Lord will grant what they ask for. There is nothing that the word “ge” adds to the text---except certainty of what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying this with assurance.

The last example is Luke 18:5—

“YET because widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Lk. 18:5, NKJV).

Jesus is telling the story of the judge and the widow. The widow continually kept coming to the judge, until one day the judge decided to grant her request (so she could stop bothering him). This is why he says, “though I do not fear God nor regard man, YET because this widow troubles me...” (Lk. 18:4, 5) The judge decides here to give consent to the widow’s request, even though he felt no reason to do so (except that the woman worried him to death). So here, the word “ge” overturns the previous clause, “though I do not fear God nor regard man.” Because he is fearless, he was not worried about granting the woman’s request; but because he doesn’t want her to keep bothering him, he grants her request. It is her annoyance that gets her the blessing, not his good-heartedness or kindness...or even his willingness to help...but instead, her constant pestering.

Looking at Colossians 1:23 again, we can now put the word “ge” into proper perspective (looking at two senses in which it is used in the Gospel of Luke).
When Paul says, “if INDEED you continue in the faith,” he is affirming the truth of this statement. In the immediate context, he discusses what God has done for them (v. 21) and what God’s goal is for them (v.22); but in verse 23, he does two things. First, he encourages them with the words, “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel...” Next, Paul affirms the need to continue: “if INDEED you continue...” He is sounding confident in their continuance in the faith while still urging them to remain nonetheless. His assurance of their walk in the faith doesn’t cancel out his need to exhort them to “continue” in the things they have walked in.

Last but not least, I want to talk on the issue of assurance. According to O’Brien, Paul seems assured that they will continue in the faith. But why is Paul assured? Is he assured because their continuance in the faith is GUARANTEED---or is he assured because of their fruit? The answer? Because of their fruit. Let’s read Paul’s words to the Colossians:

“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, SINCE WE HEARD OF YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS AND YOUR LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, AND IS BRINGING FORTH FRUIT, AS IT IS ALSO AMONG YOU SINCE THE DAY YOU HEARD AND KNEW THE GRACE OF GOD IN TRUTH” (Colossians 1:3-6, NKJV).

Notice that the Colossians’ faith and love have been demonstrated. In addition, their hearing the gospel has “brought forth fruit...also among them” from the time they heard the word of the gospel up until this point (the writing of Paul’s letter). It is because of Epaphras’s report to Paul and Timothy, “for this reason,” that “we also, since the day we heard it, DO NOT CEASE TO PRAY FOR YOU...” (Col. 1:9)
Their work in the faith from their conversion until the time of Paul’s writing gives Paul and Timothy confidence regarding the spiritual growth of the congregation. Paul and Timothy are not praying for good things because they are guaranteed these things (unconditional guarantee); no---they are praying for the good things to come because of the constant good reports being given concerning the Colossians. The congregation seems to be headed in the right direction.

Paul does the exact same thing with the Philippians congregation. This is the statement of assurance Paul gives:

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV).

Calvinists often point to this verse and say, “See, Paul is confident of the Philippians’ final salvation.” But, notice that Paul gives reasons for his confidence in the congregation:

“just as it is right for me to think this of you all, BECAUSE I HAVE YOU IN MY HEART, INASMUCH AS both in my chains and in the defense of the gospel, YOU ALL ARE PARTAKERS WITH ME OF GRACE” (Phil. 1:7).

The Philippians are fellow partakers of afflictions with Paul. This is why he can write with confidence of their end. Paul also mentions their “fellowship in the gospel” in verse 5. Paul tells the Philippians that it is a privilege to suffer for the name of Christ (Phil. 1:29), and that they have “always obeyed” his instructions (2:12). These clues give us insight into Paul’s assurance of their faith as well as the proof of their faith. Paul even wrote that they should let their conduct “be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” so that, despite their enemies, their conduct would be proof of their salvation (Phil. 1:27, 28).

The assurance Paul has regarding both the Colossians and Philippians is not some “guaranteed” assurance of the Calvinists, but rather the “persevering assurance” of the Word of God. The Word of God grants assurance in perseverance, not a guarantee in laziness. There is no unconditional guarantee of continual belief in Christ, which is why Paul tells the Colossian congregation to “continue in the faith.” In addition, we have the parable of the soils in Luke 8, with one of the soils believing “for a while” in Christ (Lk. 8:13). Only the soil that “keeps the word and bears fruit” (Lk. 8:15) is the one that reaps the harvest and receives eternal life.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The False Gospel

This post starts new work on Calvinism, although the subject matter (Calvinism vs. Arminianism) is still the same. I know it might seem weird to be writing on James White (since it’s something I’ve NEVER done), but there’s always room for something new at CTS.

Last night, I watched James White’s response to Ergun Caner’s sermon, titled “Why I Am Not Predestined to Be A Hyper-Calvinist.” Caner, president of Liberty University, preached this sermon several months ago (at least a year or two), but I just stumbled upon it last night. In any case, I wanted to see what the debate between Caner and White was all about. James White basically went through every little minute statement of Caner’s sermon and attacked what he didn’t like about it or what he thought was ridiculous about the message. Some of his comments, although true, were of the kind that he did not have to spend such large amounts of time on them--- but he did nonetheless. I think in the end, it made it harder for him to spend most of the time on the big issues. It seems that he had too much work carved out for him and not enough time to do it in (as he extended the talk time from 1 hour, 15 minutes to 1 hour, 30 minutes).

I listened to about 90 percent of White’s response and felt as if I had gotten enough of the argument to know James White’s response to Caner’s sermon. One of White’s comments that most fascinated me was when he said that Caner needed to understand that Calvinists have no idea who the elect are. He said, “We don’t know. We haven’t been given that kind of information. And I don’t need to know that information. I just need to preach the gospel so the Lord can bring in the elect to Himself. Since I do not know who the elect are, I preach the gospel.”

However, surrounding White’s discussion of the elect was his view that Jesus did not die for every person. Even when he discussed the issue of babies, he said that “I believe the Lord has freedom to choose which babies are saved and which babies are damned.” He claims that he isn’t saying that babies are damned because they do not “repent and believe the gospel,” while in the same breath saying that he believes the Lord is at liberty to damn those He wants to damn. At the least, he believes that not every baby will be saved! He attacked the view that “every baby is saved until a certain magical number” (referring to the age of accountability) and a host of other things (like altar calls and such) that he didn’t like about normal worship services.

White’s view regarding the elect and Jesus’ dying for some complicates his defense. His entire point throughout most of the Caner critique was that Jesus did not die for every person. But if that is true, then how can Christians preach the gospel to EVERY CREATURE? I mean, when we preach the gospel to every person, we’re telling them that the Lord desires their salvation. But if the Lord doesn’t desire the salvation of every person (and we don’t know who the elect are, as White says), then, AREN’T WE LYING TO EVERY PERSON, or a large number of the world population? What good are we doing telling them that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” for them (John 3:16), if Jesus did not die for EVERY SINGLE PERSON? Isn’t our evangelism (in that case) falsifying the gospel and “teasing the reprobate” all in one?

To make matters worse, think about the character and nature of God for a moment. When Jesus was praying the high priestly prayer in John 17, He prayed for the disciples and those who had come to believe that the Father had sent Him:

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by YOUR TRUTH. YOUR WORD IS TRUTH” (John 17:14-17, NKJV).

The Word of God is truth. The Word of God will not lie when it comes to ANY MATTER on which it touches. If this is true, then what do we do with the words of Christ in Mark 16:15 to “preach the gospel to EVERY CREATURE” (NKJV)? Are we just willing to believe that Jesus told the eleven to preach the gospel to everyone “just to draw in the elect”?

If White’s belief is correct, then preaching the gospel to everyone is not significant except for the fact that it draws in the elect. And the gospel is lying to those who do not believe (because their unbelief is a sign of God’s reprobative decree from before the foundation of the world). According to White, God approves of the believers preaching a “deceiving gospel”; and if this is so, then how can God be one who does not lie (Titus 1:2)?

Contra White, I believe that Jesus died for all. And if Jesus died for all, then preaching the gospel is important so that ALL can have the opportunity to be saved. When Judgment Day comes, no heathen will be able to stand and accuse God of an “unfair deal,” because God in His justice has extended mercy to every single person. In the words of the apostle Paul, “Indeed, LET GOD BE TRUE BUT EVERY MAN A LIAR” (Romans 3:4, NKJV)...

The Unbeliever's Destiny

“So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:7-8; quoting Ps. 118:22; Isa. 8:14).
“Believers are honored, but unbelievers stumble over the most important stone of all. Peter’s words are severe: ‘They stumble because they disobey the word, AS THEY WERE DESTINED TO DO’ (1 Peter 2:8b)...Here again SCRIPTURE TEACHES THAT GOD DESTINES THE FATE OF UNBELIEVERS. Although they are condemned because they ‘do not obey the gospel of God’ (4:17), God is nonetheless LORD OF THEIR DESTINY”
(Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, pages 140-141).

Once again, I’m back to examine another passage Peterson uses in his little quest to convince his readers that Calvinism is the right theological system to uphold. Peterson gives a good shot...but comes up wrong once more.

Look at 1 Peter 2:7-8 above. The phrase that I will zone in on for the sake of importance is the phrase “they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

The first words in the Greek are “hoi proskoptousin.” The word “hoi” is a plural article, which means that “proskoptousin” is a plural word as well. The word “proskoptousin” comes from the Greek verb “proskopto,” meaning “to stumble.” The translation of “hoi proskoptousin” becomes “the ones who stumble, THEY...” As you can see “the ones” and “they” are pretty redundant phrases.

The next phrase in the Greek is “to logo apeithountes,” which translates in English to “the word disbelieving.” Placed with the first words above, we have the translation, “They stumble, disbelieving the word...” Notice in verse 7 that, for those who do not believe, Christ has become “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” Christ serves as a stumbling block for those who do not believe. Their unbelief causes their stumbling, for Christ serves as a “thorn in their side.” They shun everything He is because of everything they are.

The first part of 1 Peter 2:8 is a reference to Psalm 118:22 in the Old Testament. Jesus references Psalm 118:22 in His encounter with the Jewish leaders in Luke 20. The Jewish leaders ask Jesus,

“tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?” (Lk. 20:2, NKJV)

Jesus responds,

“I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me: The baptism of John--- was it from heaven or from men?” (v.4)

The Jewish leaders were more concerned about what Jesus would say instead of answering the question:

“And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say, “WHY THEN DID YOU NOT BELIEVE HIM?” But if we say, “from men,” all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet” (vv.5-6).

If they said that John’s baptism was from heaven, they feared Jesus scolding them for their unbelief. It was UNBELIEF that was the key issue. And this is why, in the parable Jesus tells following this question, the emphasis is on belief. After the owner has sent three servants to the vinedressers, whom the vinedressers beat, the owner sends his son:

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. PROBABLY THEY WILL RESPECT HIM WHEN THEY SEE HIM” (Lk. 20:13).

However, that is not what happened; instead of respecting the Son, they kill Him instead. Jesus responds by saying, “He [the owner] will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others” (v.16a). What is the response of the Jews? “Certainly not!” (v.16b) They refuse to believe that they would lose the privilege of the kingdom and that it would go to the Gentiles.

The Jews alert the reader that they are cognizant of Jesus’ criticism of themselves when it says that “the chief priests and the scribes THAT VERY HOUR sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people---FOR THEY KNEW HE HAD SPOKEN THIS PARABLE AGAINST THEM” (Lk. 20:19).

Going back to 1 Peter 2, then, we find that “he who believes on Him [Christ, the chief cornerstone] will by no means be put to shame” (1 Pet. 2:6). The emphasis, then, is not on the appointment of some to be damned---but on the damnation of those who live in unbelief. It is the unbelievers who are appointed to death, not the believers: “He who BELIEVES in Him IS NOT CONDEMNED; but he who DOES NOT BELIEVE IS CONDEMNED ALREADY, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18, NKJV). The unbelievers are already appointed to condemnation, but the believers are appointed to eternal life.

We can see this clearly in the surrounding context of 1 Peter 2. In chapter 1, Peter tells the congregation of believers that are scattered that they “are kept by the power of God THROUGH FAITH FOR SALVATION ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). Their faith is what is keeping them. The power of God is demonstrated through their faith in Christ. In verse 23 of chapter 1, Peter tells them that they are “born again, not of corruptible seed but INCORRUPTIBLE, THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD WHICH LIVES AND ABIDES FOREVER...this is the word which BY THE GOSPEL WAS PREACHED TO YOU” (vv.23, 25).

How did they become “born again?” It doesn’t say that they were born again by some secret eternal counsel of God, or some selection of God’s own arbitration. No---the text says that they were born again “through the word of God.” It is through the preached Word that these men and women came to Christ and the knowledge of the truth.

My last comment regarding 1 Peter 2 is the use of the word “etethesan,” meaning “were appointed.” The word itself comes from “tithemi,” which means “to appoint.” It is often translated “destined.”

Now I want us to look back at verses 7 and 8. Only those who disbelieve find Christ to be “a stone of stumbling.” Why is Christ a stone of stumbling? Because Christ “trips up” the unbeliever. He is destruction to those who do not believe. Their stumbling, therefore, is a DIRECT RESULT of their unbelief, not of some secret decree in eternity past!

It is the disobedience that causes the unbeliever to stumble; and the stumbling is what unbelievers are appointed to. If a person does not believe, what happens when they encounter Christ? They stumble and fall. Remember, Peter just stated in verse 6 that anyone who believed would not be ashamed. So if everyone is accepted by the Lord due to faith, then why would the Lord ordain some to be damned right from the start?

It is the exegesis of Peterson that makes no sense at all. Not only does my interpretation condemn Peterson’s, but also that of other theologians, as well as the church fathers. The Reverend Charles Bigg wrote in his “International Critical Commentary: St. Peter---

“an illustration may be found in the Book of Exodus...’and Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should OBEY His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.’ Therefore the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart (vii. 3), and brought him to ruin” (Rev. Charles Bigg, International Critical Commentary: St. Peter and St. Jude. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1946).

Last but not least, there are quotes from some of the church fathers, one of them being Didymus the Blind:

“The position in which they find themselves is one which THEY HAVE CHOSEN, for IT STARTS WITH THEIR UNBELIEF. For just as the world, which has been placed under evil, is not evil by nature but has attained this position by its own desire, so also those who are being talked about here have been so placed because OF THEIR OWN UNWILLINGNESS TO BELIEVE...” (Gerald Bray, ed. “Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture:James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000, caps mine)

The church father Oecumenius wrote:

“God is not to be held responsible for this, for no cause of damnation can ever come from HIM WHO WANTS EVERYONE TO BE SAVED. It is they who have made themselves into VESSELS OF WRATH, and unbelief has followed naturally from that. Therefore they have been established in the order for which they have prepared themselves. For if a human being is made with free will, that free will cannot be forced, nor can anyone accuse him who has decreed their fate of having done anything to them which they did not fully deserve as a result of their own actions” (“Ancient Christian Commentary: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude,” page 87).

As the evidence has shown, those who stumble over Christ are those who refuse to believe. So did the Jews...and so do unbelievers today. The unbeliever’s destiny lies in the hands of the unbeliever.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Even A "Goat" Can Be Saved, Part II: Examining John 10 And Its Immediate Context

I am back to examine John 10. We’ve already seen in my last post that Peterson’s claims about reprobation regarding John 10 are highly suspect. What I’m gonna do in this post is demonstrate that Peterson’s exegesis of this passage is wrong when you take into account the chapter itself, as well as the surrounding chapters of John’s Gospel and the other three Gospels. I will not cover every little statement in every Gospel, but will give at least one or two examples (maybe more) from the other three Gospels to aid our understanding of John 10.

Let’s reprint the quote from John 10:

‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, BUT YOU DO NOT BELIEVE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT MY SHEEP. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish’ (John 10:25-28 NIV).

Peterson quotes John 10:26, but disregards verse 25: “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, THEY BEAR WITNESS OF ME.”

What work is Jesus referring to? In the immediate context, the work refers to “opening the eyes of the blind” (Jn. 10:21), which Jesus performed in John 9.
Jesus rebukes them in verse 25 because they plead, “How long do you keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, TELL US PLAINLY” (v.24). They act as if they desire to know, but they’ve seen all the miracles...and yet, do not believe it. If the miracles didn’t convince them, then neither would Jesus’ confession.

Go back to John 10:25-28 (above). Notice that Jesus gives characteristics of His sheep? “My sheep LISTEN TO MY VOICE...” Jesus was telling the Jews that if they were His sheep, if they clearly desired to follow Him, then they would have seen the miracles and believed them. Instead, what do they do? “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him” (v.31). And they do this “because You, being a Man, MAKE YOURSELF GOD” (v.33). They demonstrate through their actions that they are hard-hearted and do not care to believe. It is their actions that prove they are goats---but they are goats because they do not want to believe, not because Jesus damned them from the beginning!

In John 10 itself, there is proof that Jesus was willing to give eternal life to all who believe:

“I am the door. IF ANYONE enters by Me, HE WILL BE SAVED, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9, NKJV).

Why then, would He turn around and declare to the Jews that He damned them from the beginning---if He really wanted “anyone” and everyone to come to Him for salvation? Peterson’s analysis of this text doesn’t make sense within John 10 itself, not to mention the rest of the Gospel material.

How does Peterson’s analysis stack up for the rest of John’s Gospel? As he himself says, the idea of unbelief as the cause of damnation is “overwhelmingly” present in the Gospel of John. Let’s look at John 3:

“For GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For GOD DID NOT SEND HIS SON INTO THE WORLD TO CONDEMN THE WORLD, BUT THAT THE WORLD THROUGH HIM MIGHT BE SAVED” (John 3:16, 17).

If God really loved the world and gave His Son for the world, and desires that the world would be saved, then He really is “Savior of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10). John 3:18 tells us that “he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The unbeliever is not condemned because God condemned him, but because he refuses to believe.

We have these words in John 5:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (Jn. 5:24).

John 5 is even stronger against the Calvinist position with these words:

“Yet I do not receive testimony from man, BUT I SAY THESE THINGS THAT YOU MAY BE SAVED” (Jn. 5:34).

Wait a minute! Jesus is now stating to the Jews that He desires their salvation. But this doesn’t agree with Peterson’s interpretation of John 10. If Christ desires the salvation of the Jews, why would He then turn around and tell them that He damned them from the beginning? Peterson’s exegesis doesn’t just go against John---it contradicts common sense.

In verses 38-40 of the same chapter, Jesus shows us where to place the blame:

“But you [the Jews] do not have His word abiding in you, because WHOM HE SENT, HIM YOU DO NOT BELIEVE. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO COME TO ME that you may have life” (Jn. 5:38-40, NKJV).

The Jews not only have unbelief, but they are not willing to come to Christ; in addition, the very Scriptures they read testify to Christ---and yet, they see Christ in the Scriptures but refuse to come to Him. As I just mentioned, if Jesus desires their salvation (Jn. 5:34), then the blame lies with the Jews and not God Himself.

There are a host of other verses in John’s Gospel that speak out against the Calvinist position; but instead, I am now going to turn to one pivotal verse in the other Gospels. The verse itself is located in the Gospel of Luke:

“And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers REJECTED THE WILL OF GOD FOR THEMSELVES, not having been baptized by him” (Luke 7:30, NKJV).

Notice that the Pharisees and lawyers “rejected the will of God for themselves,” which means that God willed something for them (salvation) that they refused to accept (salvation). In other words, they opposed God’s will. If God wanted them to be saved (according to Luke 7 above and John 5:34), then how could Christ have damned them from the beginning?

Peterson must answer these questions if he desires to make his exegesis stick. However, I don’t think his interpretation of John 10:25-28 has merit...simply because, as John Calvin said it, “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Even a "Goat" Can Be Saved, Part I

“Although the accent of the judgment passages is on sinners’ abuse of freedom, a few passages teach that God is sovereign over the destiny of the lost. OVERWHELMINGLY, THE GOSPEL OF JOHN POINTS TO PEOPLE’S EVIL AND UNBELIEF AS THE REASONS FOR THEIR CONDEMNATION (e.g., John 3:18-20; 5:28-29). BUT A FEW TIMES IT REVEALS THAT GOD IS IN CHARGE OF THE FATE OF THE LOST. In his Good Shepherd Discourse, Jesus utters startling words:
‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, BUT YOU DO NOT BELIEVE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT MY SHEEP. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish’ (John 10:25-28 NIV)”
(Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 139).

I realize that the post title may throw some of my readers off-guard. That’s right: “Even a goat can be saved.” As I get into Peterson’s material, you’ll see why the post title is given the label it has received. For now, I want to dive right in to the madness of Calvinist theology.

First, before attacking Peterson’s proof-text, let’s read his analysis of John’s Gospel:


Peterson notes here that “people’s evil and unbelief” are the reasons for eternal damnation in John’s Gospel. What is fascinating is that Peterson would even make such a statement!

But what is then most disappointing is when he says the exact opposite thing in the next sentence: “but a few times it reveals that GOD IS IN CHARGE OF THE FATE OF THE LOST.”

Let’s think through this: either God is RESPONSIBLE for the lost, or He is not. Using a valid hermeneutic, we understand that there are NO CONTRADICTIONS in the Bible. In other words, two opposing things cannot exist. For example, election to salvation cannot be both conditional and unconditional at the same time. Either God gives salvation by faith, or He picks and chooses who He wants to be saved. Both of these things cannot co-exist in the same way at the same time (like the adjectives “short and tall”). So when Peterson says that the unbelief of THE PERSON is responsible for their damnation, but then turns around and says that GOD is responsible, we now have a contradiction. Both God and the person cannot be responsible for the damnation of human souls. If God has damned any human souls at all, then their unbelief doesn’t matter. If, however, unbelief is what leads to damnation, then God can honor their choice (since He provides a genuine choice to all) by sentencing them to eternal damnation. But the person and God cannot be responsible for the soul’s damnation. So which one will be responsible: God or the person?

Having said all this, we understand that if John’s Gospel “overwhelmingly” points to unbelief as the cause of damnation (Peterson says this in his quote), then the passages that “seem” to contradict this statement must conform to the “overwhelming” message of John’s Gospel. In other words, the passage that we are getting ready to examine must conform to the consistent message of John’s Gospel and the biblical canon itself...otherwise, we content ourselves with a blatant contradiction.

Henry Virkler writes regarding John Calvin:

“ ‘SCRIPTURE INTERPRETS SCRIPTURE’ was a favorite phrase of Calvin, which alluded to the importance Calvin placed on studying the context, grammar, words, and parallel passages rather than importing one’s own meaning onto the text. In a famous sentence he stated that ‘it is the first business of an interpreter to let the author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say’” (Henry A. Virkler, “Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation.” Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000, page 67).

I think Calvin was right in his view of “Scripture interprets Scripture.” And I think we would do well to employ Calvin’s belief. But go back to what I quoted about Peterson earlier: if John’s Gospel “overwhelmingly” (I’m gonna keep using this word that Peterson wrote) attests to unbelief as the cause of damnation, then how could he turn around and give the other side (the Lord being responsible) an equal opportunity? If Peterson were using a proper hermeneutic, he would clearly have employed such a hermeneutical rule before he examined the “seemingly contradictory” passages. The fact that he doesn’t testifies to his willingness to turn the Bible into a Calvinist propaganda tract instead of maintaining the Bible’s coherency and faithfulness as the Word of God.

Now, on to the passage itself:

‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, BUT YOU DO NOT BELIEVE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT MY SHEEP. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish’ (John 10:25-28 NIV).

Here’s what Peterson writes regarding the passage:

“Jesus says the opposite of what we might expect. He does not say, ‘You are not my sheep because you do not believe.’ Rather, he says, ‘You do not believe because you are not my sheep.’ One of John’s election themes is THE PRIOR IDENTITY OF THOSE WHO ARE GOD’S PEOPLE AND OF THOSE WHO ARE NOT. God’s people, HAVING BEEN CHOSEN BY GOD, FAVORABLY RESPOND to Jesus’ messages and miracles. Others, who are not God’s people, reject the Son of God. We will call the two groups SHEEP AND GOATS, respectively” (Peterson, 140).

Regarding the words, ‘You do not believe because you are not my sheep’ (John 10:26), Peterson writes:

“These are strong words indeed. People are goats BEFORE they respond to Jesus, and they reject him BECAUSE THEY ARE GOATS. THIS IS REPROBATION----GOD’S PASSING OVER THOSE WHOM HE ALLOWS TO PAY THE PENALTY FOR THEIR OWN SINS” (140).

Peterson’s comments regarding John 10, as bad as they are, are not as horrible as the implications at which he arrives: that God “allows [some] pay the penalty for their own sins” is as bad as it gets!

Using Calvin’s rule that “Scripture interprets Scripture,” let’s see if Peterson’s implications hold up. What passage in the Bible demonstrates that God passes over some and leaves them in their sins? Where does it show me that Hell was prepared for people? In Matthew 25:41, Jesus tells the goats, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire PREPARED FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS” (NKJV). Jesus never says that Hell was prepared for one person; so I continue to ask Calvinists, SHOW ME A PASSAGE WHERE THIS OCCURS! Where’s the passage to support your opinion?

If God deliberately leaves some in their sins, then there should be a passage demonstrating this. Calvinists, however, have NEVER found such a passage...and this casts huge doubt on their exegesis. Even though I’ve yet to examine John 10, we are already suspicious of Peterson’s claims. I’ll show us the reason to be when I examine John 10 in my next post.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Romans 9 Once More...

“Arminians do the very thing that Walls and Dongell accuse Calvinists of doing with these verses. They read their theology of human free will into Romans 9 in spite of the strong words of that chapter. WHERE DOES ROMANS 9 TEACH THAT GOD CONDITIONS THE SALVATION OF PERSONS ON FORESEEN FAITH? NOWHERE. Rather, Paul repeatedly insists that salvation is the free gift of almighty God, and that he gives to whomever he wants. God has mercy on whom he wants and has compassion on whom he wants (v.15). Salvation ‘depends NOT on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy’ (v.16). God shows mercy on whom he wills to show mercy, and he hardens whom he wills (v.18). And GOD PUTS IN THEIR PLACE ANY WHO QUESTION HIS RIGHT TO DO WHAT HE WANTS WITH HIS OWN CREATURES (vv.19-21)!” (Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 122).

I’m back to examine Peterson’s analysis of Romans 9. In his mind, Romans 9 is all about God doing whatever He wants, giving salvation to only those HE WANTS to receive it. But Peterson continues to fall throughout his book. What he fails to do in numerous cases is examine how one passage lines up with another scripturally. If we examine Scripture, we see that Peterson’s analysis doesn’t make sense in light of other scriptures:

“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, WHO IS THE SAVIOR OF ALL MEN, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10, NKJV).

First, let’s notice that Paul singles out “those who believe.” If he singles out believers, then who does the rest of “all men” represent? Contrary to Calvinist belief, Paul is not speaking of “all classes of men,” but instead, “every single person,” including believers as well as unbelievers. 1 Timothy 4:10 tells us then, that God is the Savior of all men, INCLUDING UNBELIEVERS!

My next question would be, “How then, can God be the Savior of unbelievers, if He is not willing to SAVE THEM? That is one that I encourage you to ask a Calvinist. Chances are, he or she will turn speechless...

Simply put, then, Romans 9 does not paint God as one who “picks and chooses” certain people over others in salvation. Romans 9 tells us that God has a selection process: that is called “election.” However, when Paul gives the examples of Jacob and Esau and Isaac and Ishmael, he shows us by virtue of the examples what the selection method is: faith. To choose Isaac over Ishmael as the promised seed went against the law of the day (the eldest received the inheritance and blessing----which, in this case, would have been Ishmael); similarly, choosing Jacob over Esau would have been against societal law as well (Jacob was the second-born, Esau was the oldest). Both of these examples “against the law” Paul uses to say that the works of the law are not what God requires. Instead, he requires faith, which is the reason why the Gentiles have received righteousness but the Jews have not (Rom. 9:30-33). The end of Romans 9 tells us that the Gentiles have come to God BY FAITH, while the Jews still seek to do the works of the law (and continue to fight against God’s requirement of faith).

Last but not least, Peterson uses verses out of context to tell us not to question God “picking some and damning others.” But as I just stated, God doesn’t do this. We are told in Scripture, however, why God made salvation possible by grace:

“For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the THE LAW BRINGS ABOUT WRATH; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith so that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, BUT ALSO TO THOSE WHO ARE OF THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’) in the presence of Him whom he believed----God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:14-17, NKJV).

Romans demonstrates that grace allows EVERYONE, whether Jew or Gentile, to become a child of the promise. Now which will you choose to believe: the explanation of Peterson or the explanation of Scripture?

Peterson’s theological system (Calvinism) paints God as a mysterious Lord who does anything He wants to because He wants to. And because God does whatever He wants to, you and I get no answers (for, as Peterson says, the answers are all hidden in God).
But if God is the Savior of all men, don’t you think He would want to communicate how men and women can be saved? After all, this is the same God that revealed Himself in nature (Ps. 19, Rom. 1) and in His Word (Psalm 19), did He not?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Harmonization and Hermeneutics, Part I: Explaining Romans 8

“Arminians have sometimes assumed conditions of human faith when reading Romans 8:29-30. Grider attempts (as John Wesley did) to loosen the links in the chain of the five verbs in Romans 8:29-30: ‘So, in Romans 8:30, God FORESEES THAT INDIVIDUALS WILL BELIEVE; and in due time He calls them to himself in various ways, as through preaching and by the Spirit’s summons. And AS THEY RESPOND FAVORABLY to this call, He justifies them. Then, STILL BASED ON HIS FOREKNOWLEDGE (see v.29) THAT INDIVIDUALS WILL KEEP ON BELIEVING, He glorifies them” (Cf. Walls and Dongell, “Why I Am Not a Calvinist, 83; caps mine). The italicized (or capped, as I’ve done) words signify Grider’s additions to the biblical text, added in AN ATTEMPT TO HARMONIZE PAUL’S WORDS WITH THE ARMINIAN DOCTRINE OF CONDITIONAL ELECTION...but there are no breaks in the chain of verbs...Paul posits a CONTINUITY in the beneficiaries of salvation from its first manifestation in God’s eternal counsel to its final one in glorification...Paul does not make salvation contingent on human faithfulness, but on divine grace from beginning to end” (Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, pages 114-115).

In all the reading I’ve done on Calvinism and Arminianism, I cannot name the countless numbers of times that I have read about the so-called “unbreakable chain” of Romans 8:29-30. According to Calvinists, this means that once they are called by God, they are on their way through a “continuous” process that never ends until glorification. In their minds, glorification is as sure as their profession and salvation.

Peterson here attacks the Arminian interpretation of Romans 8:29-30, but there are some clues within Romans 8 that casts doubt on the so-called “unbreakable chain,” or that cast doubt upon the interpretation of the chain of Romans 8.

First, let’s look at Romans 8:17—

“and if children [children of God, v. 16], then heirs----heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, IF INDEED WE SUFFER WITH HIM, THAT WE MAY ALSO BE GLORIFIED TOGETHER” (NKJV).

The language of verse 17 is not one of certainty, but one of possibility (“may also be glorified,” and “if we suffer”).

Going down further, verses 24 and 25 reveal that the hope of glorification (“revealing of the sons of God,” v.19) has not yet arrived:

“For we were saved in this hope [the adoption], BUT HOPE THAT IS SEEN IS NOT HOPE: FOR WHY DOES ONE STILL HOPE FOR WHAT HE SEES? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Rom. 8:24, 25).

According to Paul, we are currently waiting for the hope, the redemption of our bodies, to come. However, since it is still off in the future, “we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” When Paul talks about waiting for it with perseverance, he’s telling us that we must persevere to the end in order to see this revelation of the sons of God (the redemption of our bodies, etc.). Right here in the middle of the passage, Paul reveals the NECESSITY OF PERSEVERANCE! While Calvinists are so consumed by the unbreakable chain, the rest of the world reads these verses in context and knows that the chain is not as guaranteed as one may think.

Then comes the unbreakable chain of Romans 8:29-30. As the context demonstrates, we must suffer with Christ, and we must persevere to the end. The hope of redemption is one that is still far off in the future, a hope that we have not seen. This is why we must wait for it with perseverance (Rom. 8:24, 25).

Notice that before verse 29 comes verse 28: “And we know that ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD TO THOSE WHO LOVE GOD...” It doesn’t say that every thing that happens turns out good, but instead, all things “work together” for good. What Paul is doing in this verse is telling us that the end result is worth it, that in the end, at the end of time, the sacrifices made for Christ will all be worth it, the trials and tribulations will have been so worth it! And then, Paul starts the so-called “unbreakable chain.”

Some may ask, “If your analysis is right, then why is the chain placed here?” The chain is here because Paul is looking to the future, seeing our glorification. With eyes of faith, Paul is looking forward to the moment in which we are revealed as sons of God (as does also 1 John 3:2-3). Paul also does the same thing in his letter to the Ephesians:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), AND RAISED US UP TOGETHER, AND MADE US SIT TOGETHER IN THE HEAVENLY PLACES IN CHRIST JESUS...” (Eph. 2:4-6, NKJV)

We know that now, at this moment, many of us are not “in the heavenly places,” and are not seated with Christ in heaven yet; however, Paul writes here as though the event itself has already happened. No wonder, then, that when he writes to the Thessalonians, he labels one of the pieces of the armor of God as “the HOPE of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8).

You may wonder what seems wrong with the Arminian analysis above in Peterson’s quote? In my opinion, nothing at all...I will get into the harmonization of Romans 8 with other passages in my next post.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Significance of Foreseen Faith

I decided to write this blog post because of the common attack against Arminians that I hear all the time: that Arminians claim God elects persons based on foreseen faith----and that, in the minds of Calvinists, Arminians are the ones with the farfetched theological views.

Robert A. Peterson does this in his book, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility”:

“Not once does Jesus teach that the Father gave people to him [Jesus] because they believe in him, BECAUSE HE FORESAW THEIR FAITH, or the like (regarding John 17)” (Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 65).

“It is incorrect to maintain that election is based on God’s FORESEEING PEOPLE’S FAITH” (61).

“God does not elect them on the basis of FORESEEN MERIT OR FORESEEN FAITH” (46).
“This teaching [2 Tim. 1:8-9] does not fit with the Arminian idea that God chooses based on HIS FOREKNOWLEDGE OF FAITH IN HIS SON” (102).

“We conclude then, that Paul’s locating election before creation flies in the face of the Arminian concept of conditional election: the idea that God chose us BASED ON HIS FORESEEING OUR FAITH IN HIS SON” (104).

“Arminians read FORESEEN FAITH into the words [of Ephesians 1] as an attempt to harmonize their view of conditional election with the apostle’s words. But the attempt fails” (107).

These are but six references from Peterson’s book regarding the Arminian belief in foreseen faith.

Why do Calvinists have such a problem with what God foreknows and foresees? Here’s what David had to say about God’s prescience:

“My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, BEING YET UNFORMED. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, WHEN AS YET THERE WERE NONE OF THEM” (Psalm 139:15-16, NKJV).

This is the same God, David said, who understood his thoughts from afar (Ps. 139:2) and knew every word on his tongue before he even said it (v.4).

Calvinists seem to have no problem with God “foreknowing” what their days would turn out to be and “foreseeing” their lives before they were even conceived. Why then do they have such a problem with God foreseeing the faith of those who would believe?

And the biggest kicker of all comes when you consider that Paul believed Scripture foresaw the faith of the Gentiles:

“And the Scripture, FORESEEING THAT GOD WOULD JUSTIFY THE GENTILES BY FAITH, preached the gospel to Abraham BEFOREHAND, saying, ‘In you ALL THE NATIONS shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Galatians 3:8-9. NKJV).

Paul said that God foresaw His plans to justify the Gentiles by faith. The fact that God would justify the Gentiles by faith means that the Lord would allow Gentiles to come to Him on the basis of faith in Christ. This makes sense when we consider key verses within Romans 9, that disputed passage that Calvinists like to claim as belonging to their theology:

“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, EVEN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, HAS NOT ATTAINED TO THE LAW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Why? BECAUSE THEY DID NOT SEEK IT BY FAITH, BUT AS IT WERE, BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW” (Romans 9:30-32, NKJV).

Romans 9 shows us the fulfillment of the Scriptures----in the reality of Gentiles coming to believe in Christ and being counted among His elect. But does this mean that Christ CHOSE some and not others? Of course not! After all, if that were the case, Paul would not be struggling to understand why the Jews were not saved (Romans 9:1-4); instead, he would simply have said “Well, God doesn’t desire them to be saved, that’s why.” What further provides anguish for Paul is the fact that “the adoption [and] the promises” belong to them (9:4)...and yet, they are not “children of promise” (Galatians 3). The fact that Paul has such anguish over them demonstrates that He believes that the Jews, like the Gentiles, can believe on Christ’s name.

The Scripture foresaw the faith of the Gentiles, but does not “force” the Gentiles to believe and be saved. Placed alongside of passages like Acts 13, where the Jews “count themselves unworthy of eternal life,” we see that God doesn’t count anyone out----although many will never receive the free gift of salvation that Christ has to offer.

Foreseen faith, then, is not just an “invention” of Arminians; it is a biblical concept that demonstrates God’s sovereignty over all things. If He foresaw our days “when as yet there were none of them” (as David says in Psalm 139), then how can we believe that foreseen faith is unbiblical seeing that He foreknew everything about us?

A Mystery No More

“Acts does not give the basis of election, but the Arminian idea of election based on God’s foreseeing faith clashes with Acts 13:48, where faith is the consequence (not the cause) of election. PREDESTINATION is not based on what human beings do, BUT IS HIDDEN IN GOD” (Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 72).

One of the most common arguments offered by the Calvinists regarding “predestination and free will” or “election and free will” is that of mystery: we can’t know it. I’ve talked to numerous classmates of mine, and most of the response I’ve received is, “It’s a mystery; we can’t know it.” One person just threw his hands into the air and said, “We’ll never know.” Now, I’ve never provoked these persons I’ve talked to; but I’ve always wanted to know, “How is it that the Bible can give us ‘predestination’ as a term without also giving us something we can know about it?” If there’s any little thing that we can know about predestination, then the concept itself is no longer a mystery. When people turn to mystery on this subject, therefore, they are clearly contradicting the message of the Bible.

Peterson may very well be right regarding Acts’ silence on the basis of election; but the rest of the Bible is not. And a good rule of thumb in studying the Bible (as well as this debate) is to reconcile one passage of Scripture with another...with another...with get the point. We cannot just take one passage of Scripture and “proof-text” it as a way to endorse our view or theological belief. And that is a flaw in Peterson’s book: he does not take time to size up one passage with another. Instead, he takes each passage for what it is; using his approach, the everyday believer and theologian will end up with contradicting messages in the Bible. And if this is reality, what are we saying about the character and nature of God to say that HIS WORD (which reveals His character and nature) is CONTRADICTORY?

Fortunately, sound hermeneutics will be performed here. Peterson believes that predestination is “hidden in God,” but let’s match up his view with Ephesians 1, a Classic Calvinist passage:

“Having PREDESTINATED US to adoption as sons BY JESUS CHRIST to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will...” (Eph. 1:5, NKJV)

This verse teaches us something about predestination (so it’s not a mystery). We learn in this verse that the predestination is “to adoption as sons.” This means that God allows us to become part of His family. How are we adopted? “By Jesus Christ.” Through faith in Christ, we can be adopted as sons. This kills the mystery of how predestination and free will work together: we are given a genuine choice of whether to accept or reject the gospel; when we accept Christ by faith, we become “sons,” part of the family of God. Our predestination comes by faith in Christ, with its goal being adoption (sonship). Mystery solved.

Go to Romans 8:29-30, the so-called “unbreakable chain” of the Christian life:

“For whom He foreknew, He also PREDESTINED TO BE CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29, NKJV).

Romans 8:29 tells us that the goal of predestination is to make us more like Christ.
Go back now to Ephesians 2:

“For we are His workmanship, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS FOR GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Ephesians 2:10 reveals that we are “created for good works” IN CHRIST JESUS! Only by faith in Christ does a person become “predestined” to good works (the works being prepared beforehand). Here, once again, we see HOW predestination becomes possible (by union with Christ) as well as the PURPOSE (to do good works).

So, if predestination tells us the HOW as well as FOR WHAT (goal or purpose), why does Peterson tell us that it is “hidden in God”? The mystery that was hidden in God has been revealed:

“HAVING MADE KNOWN TO US THE MYSTERY OF HIS WILL, ACCORDING TO HIS GOOD PLEASURE...that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE ALL THINGS IN CHRIST, both which are in heaven and which are on earth---- IN HIM” (Eph. 1:10).

There is one “mystery” stated, and that is that God would reconcile the world through Christ.

In Ephesians 3, Paul goes on to state the mystery revealed by God to him once more:

“how that by revelation He made known to me THE MYSTERY...that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body, and partakers of His promise IN CHRIST THROUGH THE GOSPEL” (Eph. 3:3,6).

Gathering the Gentiles to Himself in Christ is part of reconciling all things to Himself.

Paul writes further in the same chapter:

“and to make all see what is the FELLOWSHIP (or stewardship) OF THE MYSTERY, which from the beginning of the ages HAS BEEN HIDDEN IN GOD...” (Eph. 3:9)

The mystery was that the Gentiles should also be a part of God’s people...and that has now been revealed. When Jesus says that “For God so loved THE WORLD, that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16a), Jesus is saying that God truly loved every nation and every person in every nation on the earth!

And that brings up another response. Whenever an open theist like Clark Pinnock says that election is “corporate,” the classic attack made is that if God elects a particular group, He elects the people in that particular group (take Israel and her historical election, as Robert Peterson notes). But the same thing can be said for the Arminian argument: if “God so loved the world” (which He did), “that He gave His only Son” (which He did), then God gave His Son for the world (which He did). But in giving His Son for the world, He gave His Son for EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD!

If Calvinists are going to be consistent, then they have to acknowledge that, if God gave His Son for the world, then the world refers to every person in it (and not “classes of men,” as they like to state for verses like Titus 2:11, and so forth). So when God talks about the Gentiles being part of the family of God, He is saying that, in the same way He came for EVERY SINGLE JEW, He came for EVERY SINGLE GENTILE! Every single person in every single nation in every single land on the earth has an opportunity to be saved!

The idea of world reconciliation also found in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19:

“Now all things are of God, WHO HAS RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, THAT GOD WAS IN CHRIST RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19, NKJV).

Our predestination, as Paul tells us in Ephesians, is no longer “hidden in God,” but has been made manifest in Jesus Christ. We are “predestinated” to adoption IN CHRIST. And, since the mystery has now been revealed, we know how predestination operates because it does so by faith in Jesus Christ! All the knowledge we need is found in Christ, “for it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Appointed to Eternal Life?

“Arminians have employed at least four strategies in attempting to harmonize Acts 13:48 with their view of predestination. First, some have simply declared dogmatically, ‘Surely in this context Luke does not intend to restrict the application of salvation only to those appointed’...second, William G. MacDonald, aware that the word translated ‘appointed’ could be rendered as a passive (‘were appointed’) or as a middle (‘appointed themselves’), opts for the latter possibility and translates: ‘and as many as were PUTTING THEMSELVES IN A POSITION FOR ETERNAL LIFE believed.’ Notice the switch from ‘appointed themselves’ to ‘were putting themselves in a position for eternal life.’ MacDonald claims that the Gentile believers in Pisidian Antioch ORDAINED THEMSELVES FOR ETERNAL LIFE! It is not surprising, then, that other Arminian biblical scholars do not follow his lead. Third, Marshall reads into this passage the assumption that the Gentiles spoken of ‘were already proselytes and worshippers of God.’ There is no evidence in the text for this; Marshall merely assumes mitigating circumstances to rescue his view” (Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 70).

In the debate on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, I’ve yet to see an author that doesn’t attack the other side. I’ve read over forty books on the subject, both Calvinist and Arminian literature, and each author (and every author) always attacks the other side. That is nothing new.

But I have a question that is pending on my heart: when will believers and theologians alike come to a place where they examine the views of others before attacking them? This seems to be the problem I have with some of Peterson’s claims. The claims themselves seem to be based on the idea that Arminians argue for free will----and are not even based on whether the argument is sound or not. One thing I’d love to see between the two camps is that each view can applaud a sound argument from the other side when they see it. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every side is right...but what it does mean, however, is that we can always place ourselves in a position to see a new side of things. I recently did that in my post on “Unconditional/Conditional Election.” I tried to examine the idea in Ephesians 1 that God’s saving humanity was based on His good will----He decided to save us because He wanted to. However, I did split with Calvinists when I wrote that while God’s good will is at stake, this does not EXCLUDE certain people----but instead, offers the gift of eternal life to all who believe. I engaged Calvinists in Ephesians 1 while still ending up with an Arminian conclusion. And, while I’m certainly no expert on this subject, I think this type of thing should be done in the literature that many believers are going to read. Surely, there’s something good to be seen in both views (although I won’t go any further...I’m too biased...).

Let’s assess the Arminian views Peterson puts up and see whether or not his assessment of them is correct. First, he uses Klein’s argument in his book, “The New Chosen People”; in this argument, Klein simply labels the Calvinist view as absurd. I have not read Klein’s work, but I have seen this claim in much Arminian literature. What will not be surprising to my viewers is that I think there are good reasons for having this thought (of absurdity)...but what I don’t think is good is to just simply state that the thought is absurd WITHOUT giving sound biblical evidence for why I think the thought is absurd. The key to winning any argument is evidence.

Next is MacDonald’s remarks in the above quote. Now, I don’t think that anyone can “ordain” themselves to eternal life. I do believe, however, that a person can accept the plan of salvation that God has ordained (which is faith in His Son, Jesus) and that, by confession and belief (Rom. 10:9), a person can be saved. In looking at the context of Acts 13:48, we find that the Jews were opposing Paul and Barnabas:

“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 13:45, NKJV).

It was an all-out attack on the men of God and the Word of God itself.
How does the pair respond?

“It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but SINCE YOU REJECT IT, and JUDGE YOURSELVES UNWORTHY OF EVERLASTING LIFE, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).

The Jews “judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life.” This statement by Paul clearly shows us that God Himself did not reject the Jews, but wanted them to be saved. After all, if God didn’t desire all of His people Israel to be saved, why then would it be “necessary that the word of God should be spoken” to them first (v.46)? The very fact that the Lord chose twelve apostles and first sent them “to the lost house of Israel” reveals the Lord’s desire to save His own people. After all, was He not called Jesus because “He will save His people [the Jews] from their sins” (Matt. 1:21)?

To make matters worse, read verses 38 and 39 of the same chapter of Acts:

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and BY HIM EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES IS JUSTIFIED from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

Before the Jews rejected the message, the opportunity had been given to them to receive the gift of eternal life.

I would say that, while MacDonald’s translation of the participle is somewhat incorrect, the concept evident in MacDonald’s translation of the participle is not: that the Gentiles themselves of their own choice are responsible for belief. And this is what fits the context of Acts 13:48----that the Jews “judge themselves unworthy of eternal life.” By so doing, they deny themselves in the election that leads to eternal life (through faith).

In my analysis, I think one can translate the participle “tetagmenoi” as “were appointed,” while still keeping the phrase “and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Why? because this verse must still reconcile with all the other numerous verses in the Bible. Even if the Calvinist were to win the debate on Acts 13:48 (and I’m not saying he is), he still must see whether or not this “foreordination” exists in other passages. A good case in point would be John 3:16—

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM should not perish but HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.”

This verse is literally translated as “the one believing in Him should not perish,” which lets us know that faith in the Son of God is a necessary condition for salvation. If then, faith is a necessary condition for eternal life, then there can be no appointment to eternal life without faith.

Last but not least is the view of Marshall: the Gentiles spoken of ‘were already proselytes and worshippers of God.’
Within the context itself, we see that “the Gentiles begged that these words [of the Old Testament, see Acts 13:16-41] might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42). Not only did they want the words to be preached to them, there were some Gentiles (called “devout proselytes,” NKJV) who “followed Paul and Barnabas” (v.43). Therefore, I don’t see the point in bringing this up. I. Howard Marshall’s comments conform to the context. If anyone is overlooking context, then it would have to be Peterson.

Peterson (and other Calvinists) have one reason and one reason only for using this verse in the debate: “Luke presents a divine classification or appointment to eternal life. And that appointment to eternal life PRECEDES FAITH ON THE PART OF THE BELIEVERS” (69, 70). While Peterson’s claim may sound consistent, it isn’t. The word “tetagmenoi” here does mean “ordained,” but it does not mean “foreordained.” If the appointment PRECEDES (or goes before) faith, then the word used here should have been “foreordained.” We don’t see this, however, nor do we see any markers of “before the creation of the world,” etc., to make us believe otherwise. A sound hermeneutic requires that Acts 13:48 be matched up against John 3:16, Romans 5:17, and a host of other passages. Once that happens, we see that there is no foreordination at all...only the wishful thinking of theologians of a particular persuasion...