Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Buist M. Fanning and the Classical Reformed View: Confessions of a Classical Calvinist

I’ve been reading on the subject of Calvinism and Arminianism for the last four months now. And in all my reading, I’ve RARELY found a moment when a Calvinist could admit that he or she wrestles with certain biblical texts, like Hebrews 6:4-6. However, reading Buist M. Fanning’s chapter on the “Classical Reformed View” was rather refreshing in that sense—because he makes some honest concessions regarding interpretations of passages in Hebrews.

The first concession Fanning makes is thus:

“Another approach to the descriptions of Hebrews 6:4-6 that leads to a similar result is to see these phrases as ALLUSIONS TO THE NATIONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE WILDERNESS GENERATION and therefore as NOT SPECIFICALLY CHRISTIAN. The Exodus generation experienced God’s blessings corporately as part of the covenant community. When most of them fell due to rebellion and unbelief, it was evident that they were not inwardly and truly members of God’s people. In addition, the use of first person pronouns, calling the recipients ‘brothers,’ and so forth may be the sort of charitable and pastoral gesture COMMON EVEN TODAY OF SERMONIC FORM (cf. 13:22) that identifies with the audience and treats them in keeping with that self-profession without presuming to know the true salvific status of every person present” (Buist M. Fanning, “Classical Reformed View,” from “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, pages 179-180).

And then Fanning goes on to say,

“Nevertheless, A STRAIGHTFORWARD reading of these descriptions leads us to understand them TO REFER TO FULL AND GENUINE CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE” (180).

Fanning performs what I call “honest admittance” here—while he retains the suggestions of the text, he comes forward and tells us that such interpretations don’t do full justice to the text.

First, the idea that the text would refer ONLY to Israel is ridiculous. When we read of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we find that God’s promise to Abraham to “bless the nations” through him (Gen. 12:3) was, in actuality, a blessing upon the Gentiles as much as upon the Jews (Galatians 3:8-9). So any text referring to Israel in some way also involves the Gentiles who come to faith. Why would there be an “Old Testament” in the Christian canon IF we didn’t believe that these “Jewish” texts offered something vital for our instruction as “Gentile” believers?

The next suggestion given above had to do with the writer of Hebrews referring to the community as “brothers” and “partakers of a heavenly calling,” although some may not have been genuine believers. The belief is that, just as preachers do this today, so may the writer have done this in the first century. But here’s the mistake: to ASSUME something in the biblical text that stems from “today.” The idea of reference to a church group as “brothers and sisters” involving the unsaved and saved today is not necessarily what happened in the early church. To read back such an idea into the Hebrews text is anachronistic (“out of time”).

Last but not least, who in the world would call an unsaved person a “partaker of the heavenly calling”? Paul tells us in 2 Timothy that “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12, Holman Christian Standard). Only those who endure the race of life with Christ “rule with Him” in Heaven; therefore, this CANNOT be a title or label given to the unsaved—for the unsaved WILL NOT reign with Christ, but will spend an eternity apart from Him.

While Fanning confesses that the adjectives and participles of Hebrews 6:4-6 imply a genuine believer, I still think that such ideas above are insane (even if Fanning agreed with them). Such suggestions, however, serve to show us the despairing and desperate nature of Calvinists who will do anything to “save” their presuppositions, even when such views are on “sinking sand.”

More Books

The following are additional books that I am adding to the "theological readings" section:

(1) "Grace, Faith, Free Will; Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism" by Robert E. Picirilli. Nashville, Tennessee: Randall House Publications, 2002.

(2) "Four Views On The Warning Passages in Hebrews" by Herbert W. Bateman IV, General editor. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2007.

(3) "Kept By the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away" by I. Howard Marshall. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007.

(4) "Life In The Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Perseverance" by Robert Shank. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1989.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Word on Esau

This morning I finished reading the responses to Grant R. Osborne’s chapter in “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews,” called “The Classical Arminian View.” I covered Fanning’s response to Osborne’s analysis. However, in this post, I will cover the Moderate Calvinist response, written by Randall C. Gleason.

Gleason has a troubling response to Osborne’s analysis. He attempts to make all of Hebrews look as though the letter was anticipating the fall of the Jerusalem temple (“Four Views, page 166). While I’m rather speechless on his comments regarding the temple (“speechless,” meaning “too confused”), I was more troubled by his view of Esau (Hebrews 12):

“…the fact that ‘by faith Isaac blessed Jacob AND Esau, even regarding things to come’ (Heb. 11:20 NASB) suggests that Esau, in spite of his irreverent behavior, was not cut off from ‘the age to come’ (Heb. 6:5; cf. 13:14). Hence, though Esau forfeited the temporal blessings of his birthright, he did not lose his status as a genuine son” (Gleason, Moderate Reformed Response, from “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 169).

If you look back at Hebrews 12 itself, Gleason has missed the entire point of the Esau reference. First, his response had NOTHING to do with Hebrews 12 itself. He did not attack Osborne’s remarks regarding Hebrews 12 with proof from within the chapter itself. Secondly, he just went “way off the mark” in his attempt to cover for what seems to be quality work by Grant Osborne.

I’ll reprint the Esau reference here so everyone can read it:

16 And see that there isn't any immoral or irreverent (Q) person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one meal. (R) 17 For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected because he didn't find any opportunity for repentance, though he sought it with tears. (S) (Hebrews 12:16-17, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Gleason writes that “Esau…in spite of his irreverent behavior, was not cut off from ‘the age to come’ (Heb.6:5; cf. 13:14)”, but the problem with this is that the Genesis account doesn’t BLESS Esau! He is not blessed in the sense that he is given privileges. Let’s read the biblical account in Genesis 27:26-40—

30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob and Jacob had left the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau arrived from the hunt. 31 He had also made some delicious food and brought it to his father. Then he said to his father, "Let my father get up and eat some of his son's game, so that you may bless me." 32 But his father Isaac said to him, "Who are you?" He answered, "I am Esau your firstborn son." 33 Isaac began to tremble uncontrollably. "Who was it then," he said, "who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it all before you came in, and I blessed him. Indeed, he will be blessed!" 34 When Esau heard his father's words, he cried out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, "Bless me—me too, my father!" (F) 35 But he replied, "Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing." 36 So he said, "Isn't he rightly named Jacob? (G) [b] For he has cheated me twice now. He took my birthright, and look, now he has taken my blessing." Then he asked, "Haven't you saved a blessing for me?" 37 But Isaac answered Esau: "Look, I have made him a master over you, have given him all of his relatives as his servants, and have sustained him with grain and new wine. What then can I do for you, my son?" 38 Esau said to his father, "Do you only have one blessing, my father? Bless me—me too, my father!" And Esau wept loudly. [c] 39 Then his father Isaac answered him: Look, your dwelling place will be away from the richness of the land, away from the dew of the sky above. 40 You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother. But when you rebel, [d] you will break his yoke from your neck. (HCSB)

After Isaac blesses Jacob, Esau comes in from the field, not realizing what has happened. The moment that Esau identifies himself, Isaac becomes nervous and realizes that he has blessed the wrong brother—it was Jacob and not Esau!!!

At that moment, Esau replies, “Haven’t you saved a blessing for me?” (v.36); but Isaac replies, “Look, I have made him a MASTER over you, have given him ALL OF HIS RELATIVES AS SERVANTS, and have SUSTAINED HIM WITH GRAIN AND NEW WINE. WHAT THEN CAN I DO FOR YOU, my son?” (v.37). In Isaac’s mind, there ARE NO MORE BLESSINGS to be had!! Jacob has taken all of them…and none are left for Esau. We can see this clearly in Jacob’s statement to Esau:

“Look, your dwelling place will be AWAY FROM the richness of the land, AWAY FROM the dew of the sky above. YOU WILL LIVE BY YOUR SWORD, and you will SERVE your brother. But when you rebel, you WILL BREAK HIS YOKE from your neck” (v.40).

The “rich land” and “dew of the sky” that were handed to Jacob have been DENIED to Esau. All of the material blessings Esau will live “away from,” which implies that his situation will be grossly different from Jacob’s. In addition, Esau’s future generations will fall prey to death (“the sword”). The only good thing in Isaac’s response is that eventually, Esau will be freed from his brother’s hold. But even being free, he will still live “away from” Jacob’s prosperity.

This was not the idea of blessing that Esau had in mind.

Now, Gleason would like for us to not pay attention to these sorts of things and focus on Esau’s prosperity (despite the fact that he didn’t receive much of a blessing from his father). However, to focus on those ideas which are outside of the writer’s intended reference is to attempt to dodge the issue at hand. The question is, “How does Esau’s situation relate to the current Hebrew readers in the Epistle to the Hebrews?” And this question can be answered when we continued to read the writer’s response after he mentions Esau:

18 For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, 19 to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. (Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, 20 for they could not bear what was commanded: And if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned! (T) (U) 21 And the appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am terrified and trembling. (V) (W) ) 22 Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, (X) 23 to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written [g] in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, (Y) 24 to Jesus (mediator (Z) of a new covenant (AA) ), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the [blood] of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24, HCSB)

In verse 18, the writer once again shows the difference between Judaism and the Old Covenant vs. Christianity and the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was made at Mount Sinai, and was physical—“you have not come to what could be TOUCHED,” which involved “fire, darkness, gloom, and storm…the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words…” All these things were visible to the eyes and hands.

But the destination of the Hebrew readers involved something far greater:

“Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven…” (Heb. 12:22-23a)

Do you see what I see in verses 22-23? I see a reference to Esau: “you have come to Mount Zion…to the assembly of the FIRSTBORN whose names have been written in heaven…”
There it is—the reference that we have all been looking for!! Why has Esau been used as the example in Hebrews 12? Because we believers, like Esau, are the “firstborn” who will “inherit the blessing,” that blessing being “heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22). Therefore, like Esau, if we “despise” our birthright as he did his (Gen. 25:27-34), then we will not receive the blessing even if we return and seek it with all our hearts. Like Esau, there will be no blessing for us—only sadness and sorrow. Whereas Esau was promised to live by the sword (physical death), we will experience a SPIRITUAL death, eternal separation from God.

The text of Hebrews 12 itself involves physical examples of the Old Testament; but its purpose is to point to the SPIRITUAL (for instance, “heavenly Jerusalem” in contrast to “earthly Jerusalem”). As a result, Gleason’s analysis regarding Esau is flawed. Yes, it’s true that Esau remained a son—but he became a firstborn son WITHOUT AN INHERITANCE…and that made no sense in light of the time in which he lived (where all firstborns received their father’s inheritance).

For all those of the Hebrew congregation that would refuse the discipline of the Lord, the writer stated this:

“And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons:

‘My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly, or faint when you are reproved by Him; for the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.’

Endure it as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? BUT IF YOU ARE WITHOUT DISCIPLINE—WHICH ALL RECEIVE—then you are ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN and NOT SONS” (Heb. 12:5-8).

For those who refuse the Lord’s discipline, they become illegitimate. And we know from everyday life about what happens in cases where an “illegitimate” child is conceived. In biblical days, an illegitimate child was still the child of a father—but the illegitimate child did not receive the father’s inheritance, even if he was the OLDEST. This is why the Lord promises to bless “Isaac” with the blessings of Abraham, but would not let “Ishmael” be the promised seed. Although Abraham greatly desired Ishmael to carry the covenant promises, the Lord stressed that “In Isaac your seed will be called” (Gen. 21:12). Ishmael was the product of an illegitimate conception between Abraham and Sarah’s servant, Hagar. It was not in the bonds of marriage, so Ishmael was deemed an “illegitimate” child. While he was still a child of his father Abraham’s, and was not disowned, he didn’t inherit his father’s possessions. God blessed Ishmael and made of him a great nation, but God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled through Isaac because Isaac was the promised seed and the legitimate heir created in wedlock (Gen. 17:17-21).

As I said earlier, Gleason’s reasoning would work perfectly if one isolated that passage from its context. With the writer of Hebrews discussing the “heavenly Jerusalem” in the same chapter, following the discussion of Esau losing his birthright and the warning against those who “fall short of the grace of God” and “defile many,” we see that the Esau text over a simple “earthly inheritance” serves as a caution of losing the greater “spiritual inheritance” we have in Christ. If all of the Old Testament is Christocentric and points to Christ, then the writer of Hebrews has warrant for using Esau as an example of what happens to those who come to “despise” their inheritance in Christ—and seek it later, with no possibility of recovery.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Buist M. Fanning and the Classical Reformed Response, Part I-B: When Presupposition Prevails

“It is certainly true that, in isolation, a verse like Hebrews 3:14 (according to my view of it) could be taken to deny any assurance until the end of life is reached: ‘We have become partakers of Christ [inference], if in fact we hold the beginning of our confidence firm until the end [evidence].’ If continuance is the test of reality, then we cannot know our real status with Christ until we continue to the end, or so the charge goes. But as I have tried to show throughout, we must not read any of Hebrews in isolation! We must couple the meaning of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 with the astonishing statements of what God accomplishes in the lives of those who ‘have become partakers’ of Christ’s high priestly work. IT IS GOD’S POWERFUL, TRANSFORMING, AND LASTING WORK OF SALVATION THAT IS THE PRIMARY BASIS OF ASSURANCE FOR CHRISTIANS. The beginnings of assurance gained by seeing this saving work begun and furthered in my life are reinforced immeasurably by the realization that Christ is completely able to bring me through to final salvation, not because of my continued response to him but because of his eternally effective high priestly ministry” (Buist M. Fanning, from “Four Views On the Warning Passages in Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 142).

I’m back to continue examining Buist M. Fanning’s response to Grant Osborne’s chapter on the Classical Arminian View on the warning passages in Hebrews. We see from the last post on Fanning I wrote, that Fanning seems to argue that if a person is a Christian, he or she will not depart from the living God; however, as I’ve shown with Hebrews 3 and the Israelites in the beginning of Hebrews 4, the Christian life is a process—which is why the Israelites had a “journey” through the wilderness. The journey in the wilderness was to be the time of sanctification and growth for the Lord’s people; however, every test God gave them, they failed miserably…until finally, God told Moses that, despite his prayers, the people would be held accountable for their sin (Exod. 32).

Tonight, I’m back to explain Fanning’s reasoning. The quote above shows us that Fanning’s analysis of a Christian is not based on that person and their effort, but on what God has done. But the problem here has to do with the examples to strive to imitate Christ. For instance, what do we do with Hebrews 11?

4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain [did]. By this he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through this. (C) 5 By faith, Enoch was taken away so that he did not experience death, and he was not to be found because God took him away. (D) For prior to his transformation he was approved, having pleased God. (E) 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, after being warned about what was not yet seen, in reverence built an ark to deliver his family. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (F) 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was going. (G) 9 By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. (H) 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:4-10, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

As an excerpt from Hebrews 11 shows us that faith is not just a mental assent, but an ACTION-BASED belief. It is “belief in action.” So even though Fanning says that his assurance is found in Christ, he should qualify this sentence: in other words, what do you mean by “assurance found in Christ?” I think he means, as most believers agree, that our assurance is found in the fact that “the one who draws near to Him [Christ] MUST BELIEVE THAT HE EXISTS AND REWARDS THOSE WHO SEEK HIM” (Hebrews 11:6).

In other words, our faith brings assurance when we understand that IF we seek the Lord, we will be rewarded. We must believe God when He promises to reward us for our faithfulness. And the fact that we believe God rewards those who seek Him shows us that we cannot expect to receive the reward of eternal life IF we fail to seek Him. If this is what Fanning means by “assurance,” then he should clarify this. There are many people in the world who feel “assured” that Christ will grant them eternal life even though they’ve only had a one-moment confession followed by moments of immoral living ever since.

I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but I’ll say this here now: I don’t think Calvinists truly understand the effects of the atonement. I say this not to attack them for no apparent reason, but because it seems to me that they think so little upon what it means to become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). After all, didn’t Christ become “sin” for us when He hung on the cross, bearing the sins of the world? If this is true, then He took upon Himself our sin and gives us the opportunity to have His righteousness. Upon professing faith in Christ, we receive His righteousness and we become a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). What then, is the goal of becoming a “new creation?” If the Lord wasn’t concerned with our sanctification, then why would He spend so much time communicating that in His Word? It seems that once we become this “new creation” in Christ, the idea of living as old creation should cease. While we are still in human flesh and struggle with sin every day, shouldn’t we have ALL WE NEED in Christ to overcome our sin? Don’t we receive the WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD once we become a Christian? Why do we need it if Christ intends to fight EVERY SPIRITUAL BATTLE FOR US?

It seems as if Calvinists like to endorse the idea of “once old creation, always old creation” in Christ; but this is contradictory to the biblical text. The biblical text tells us that if we are in Christ, we are a “new creation”; the OLD has PASSED AWAY and the NEW has come (2 Cor. 5:17). If this is true, then, because we have Christ, aren’t we held to a HIGHER STANDARD of GODLINESS than the rest of the world, who doesn’t know Christ?

Jesus Himself said in Luke 12 that the servant who knew His will and didn’t do it will be eternally damned (Lk. 12:41-48), but the one who didn’t know his Master’s expectations will be beaten lightly. And why the difference in punishment? Because of the knowledge of truth. And Hebrews 6 tells us that if we continue to sin WILLFULLY, meaning IF we DELIBERATELY choose to sin even knowing that it is wrong, there is no sacrifice for our sin. In many ways, we will end up like the Israelites, whom the Lord held accountable for their sins (Exod. 32).

Scripture tells us that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13, Acts 2:21, 7:59). This is where a person has to begin in terms of Christ and salvation—that He calls ALL to come to Himself. If a person doesn’t believe that Christ calls ALL MEN to Himself, then that person will not understand the struggles Christians have in their walk with God. If God picks those who will be saved, then they cannot struggle. However, I don’t think the Bible endorses this view; why? because the Scriptures spend way too much time revealing to the modern-day reader the struggles of the early church, those who were “in Christ,” just as we are.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Buist M. Fanning and the Classical Reformed Response, Part I-A: Hebrews 3:6

I started reading a new book today called “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews” by Herbert W. Bateman IV (general editor).
There are four writers on the subject: Gareth L. Cockerill (Wesleyan Arminian), Buist M. Fanning (Classical Calvinist), Randall C. Gleason (Moderate Calvinist), and Grant R. Osborne (Classical Arminian).

Grant Osborne wrote the first chapter, devoted to proving the Classical Arminian interpretation (or the Reformed Arminian position, according to Robert Picirilli and Steven Ashby). Buist Fanning’s response to Osborne’s chapter is the first response I’ve read. Fanning writes in response to Osborne:

“In his [Osborne] exposition of Hebrews 3:6, Osborne quotes the verse as follows: ‘We are his house (the church as the house of God), if indeed (Grk. ‘eanper’) we continue…’ He then cites Lane’s comment that this ‘implies that the outcome is contingent upon the response of the hearers.’ By this Osborne means to say that maintaining their present relationship with God all the way through to final salvation is dependent on the readers’ continued faith in Christ. But he deals with the conditional sentence too simplistically and fails to consider other possible senses for this statement. I AGREE THAT THE ‘OUTCOME IS CONTINGENT,’ but I maintain in my essay that the verse explicitly points to a different ‘outcome’ condition on continued faith. The outcome is not whether they WILL MAINTAIN their current status all the way to the future consummation, but whether they ARE his house even now (note verb tenses in 3:6). Lasting faith is the evidence of genuine Christianity; failure to continue in faith is evidence that a person is not genuinely Christian” (Buist M. Fanning, “Classical Reformed Response,” from “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 138).

Fanning’s analysis is a total reversal of Osborne’s argument. Osborne argues that the end will tell all, while Fanning believes that the end is really a manifestation of the beginning. Does Scripture support Fanning’s view? The answer is no.

Within the book of Hebrews, the writer seems to be focused on the end result. Because the writer views salvation as “final” and future, he urges the Hebrews to remain strong in their faith in the here and now. This is important because what happens in the here and now will determine the end.
For example, look at Hebrews 2:2-3—

“For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding, and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:2-3a, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Look at the words “how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation”—you will notice that the attempt to escape is future (“will escape”), but the abandoning of the salvation is done in the present (“if we neglect”). Since the word “neglect” is a present tense verb, then the abandonment of the faith is done in the here and now. In other words, the end will tell all. Contra Fanning, Scripture doesn’t make everything as predetermined as Classical Calvinists would like to believe.

Let’s look further in Hebrews, to Hebrews 4:

“For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith (for we who have believed enter the rest)…” (Heb. 4:2-3, HCSB)

The writer states here that Israel heard the good news in the wilderness, but they did not receive the good news they heard because they failed to believe. The only two of the old group out of Egypt that entered the Promised Land was Joshua and Caleb.

Now I have a question: do you believe that the Lord determined from the beginning that most of the Israelites He delivered from Egypt would die in the wilderness? Do you think the Lord intended for them to die in the wilderness? The evidence for this is small to nonexistent. After all, the Lord that took Joshua and Caleb into the Promised Land is the same Lord who told Moses,

“I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites” (Exodus 3:7-8, HCSB).

The Lord intended to take the Israelites (the ones He delivered from Egypt, NOT just Joshua and Caleb) into the Promised Land. However, their unbelief is what kept them out of it. The Lord was faithful to keep them, but God’s faithfulness did not cancel out their responsibility! Read these words of Moses’ conversation with God:

“The Lord spoke to Moses: ‘Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, ‘Israel, THIS IS YOUR GOD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ The LORD also said to Moses: ‘I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone, so that My anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’
But Moses interceded with the LORD his God: ‘Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought out of the land of Egypt with a great power and a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘HE BROUGHT THEM OUT WITH AN EVIL INTENT TO KILL THEM IN THE MOUNTAINS AND WIPE THEM OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH?’” (Exodus 32:7-12a, HCSB).

Moses told the Lord that if He killed the Israelites, the Egyptians would speak ill of Him and His character. While the Lord decided not to kill His people, He did tell Moses,

“Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about; see, My angel will go before you. BUT ON THE DAY I SETTLE ACCOUNTS, I WILL HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR SIN’” (Exod. 32:34). And the Lord then struck the Israelites with a plague for worshipping the golden calf (v. 35).

The Lord did not destroy them in the mountains, as He had planned to do; but He did keep their sin on their record. The Israelites paid the price for their idolatry—they died out in the wilderness, and Joshua and Caleb were the only two from the group to enter the Promised Land.

So when the writer of Hebrews talks about not having “an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God” (Heb. 3:12), he is telling them that by so doing, they will end up like the Israelites, who “were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19).

Regardless of Fanning’s take on all of this, it is clear from Scripture that the God who had planned for those freed from Egypt to enter the Promised Land was the same God who killed them off in the wilderness (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) for their sin, their apostasy. So while the Israelites were originally God’s people who should have entered the Promised Land, they ended up being carcasses in the wilderness to be eaten by vultures—while a new generation entered the land in their place. God still took “Israel” into the land—just not the “Israel” He brought out of Egypt.

Now, does this mean that, because they did not continue in faith, that they were not His people? NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! As we’ve seen in the Lord’s conversation with Moses, they WERE His people, in every way!! However, their sin is the reason why they failed to enter the Promised Land.

And the same goes for those who believe. Does it mean that, because they fail to obtain eternal life, that they did not have a serious profession of faith? No, of course not! They could be very serious about their profession—but they could also fail to live up to their profession. Making the profession is the first part of being a Christian; the rest is living up to “the name of Christ.” Living up to being a Christian involves battling sin on a daily basis. This is why the writer of Hebrews seems very concerned that “none of you is hardened by sin’s deception” (Heb. 3:13, HCSB). Although the power of God is strong, we are engaged in daily spiritual warfare (Eph. 6), and without using the armor God has given us, we can fall prey to the enemy and be defeated. But even in our defeat, God is not responsible: for He has given us the tools by which we can defeat Satan. If we fall prey to Satan and are destroyed in the end, it’s our own fault.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Dilemma of Two Theologies

For the last four months, I have engaged in serious theological study regarding the two major theological systems—Calvinism and Arminianism. Over the last four months, I have also talked to certain friends and acquaintances of mine around campus regarding which of the two systems they believe is most biblically correct. The response I’ve received, to say the least, has not been very eventful. Most people respond with the expression, “Well, I’m somewhere in the middle” or “I’m somewhere in-between,” or “I’m a little of both.”

These statements are shocking to me for two reasons: first, because I work and live on a seminary campus where it seems that theology is what I, the professors, and students study every day! Secondly, and most important for this post, is that this is shocking because there is NO SUCH THING as a “middle of the road position” BETWEEN Calvinism and Arminianism. In the words of Roger Olson,

“It is not unusual in evangelical circles to hear sincere and well-intentioned Christians declare themselves ‘CALMINIANS,’ a combination of Calvinist and Arminian. I have encountered this claim numerous times when presenting Calvinism and Arminianism to classes in colleges, seminaries or churches. Often students ask, ‘Why can’t there be a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism?’ TO which someone replies, ‘There is—it’s called CALMINIANISM!’ A sincere desire to bridge the gulf that has caused so much conflict underlies this misconception. By no means should the desire for unity be belittled; it is ADMIRABLE even though its fulfillment is, in this case, IMPOSSIBLE…if unity is the overriding concern, their stark particularities can be artificially softened. When they are defined in ways that diverge from their classical definitions, combining them is simple. Thus their so-called unity is determined by how we define and describe them. However, when Arminianism and Calvinism are understood in their HISTORICAL, CLASSICAL SENSES, NO SUCH COMBINATION IS POSSIBLE; they will always remain alternatives, especially in soteriological matters” (Roger E. Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pages 61-62).

Olson clearly asserts that Arminianism and Calvinism as originally defined CANNOT be combined to produce a unified system. This stands in stark contrast to today’s theology, where students (and professors alike, not to mention the everyday churchgoer) attempts to create a combination of these two theological systems.
So, to show the insanity of “Calminianism,” this post will address both five-point theological systems and we will see if we can combine ANY TWO views on any of the points and create a unified whole. On your mark, get set, go…

Point Number One—Total Depravity. Interestingly enough, both Calvinists and Arminians agree. Man has been marred by the fall, and every place within and without man has been “darkened” because of the corruption of sin. As a result, unless God’s grace goes before him, man cannot do anything spiritually good or anything that will reap a reward in the kingdom of God. Apart from God’s grace, man can do nothing (John 15).

Point Number Two—Unconditional and Conditional Election. Calvinists believe that the elect are UNCONDITIONALLY elected to salvation (Christ chose them before the world was created because He wanted to), while Arminians argue that election is conditional upon faith in Christ. If you combine these two together, we have a situation where “only the elect” are allowed to have faith in Christ. But if their election is UNCONDITIONAL, then why do they even need faith in the first place?

Point Number Three-- Limited and Unlimited Atonement. Calvinists espouse “limited atonement,” which says that Christ only died for some of humanity (called “the elect”), while Arminians say that Christ died for all (“unlimited atonement” because everyone can be saved). If we combine these two together, we now get “a limited unlimited atonement”—where Christ died for some while dying for all! Does that make ANY sense to you? It sure doesn’t to me. If you think this point is weird in the “Calminian” system, it gets worse…

Point Number Four—Irresistible and Resistible Grace. Calvinists say that God’s grace is irresistible, which means that the elect cannot fight against it. Although they rebel for a time, eventually God’s grace “overwhelms” them (to use terms similar to that of the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon) and they come to Christ. Since God has “unconditionally” elected a certain amount of humanity, He will do everything He must do to make sure that the elect’s salvation comes about (including “dragging” someone to faith by His grace). Arminians, on the other hand, believe that grace can be resisted. Arminius did too, and he based his view on Acts 7:51. Personal experience testifies to those who “resist” God’s grace, even though they see the Lord working. And all Calvinists, at one point, RESISTED the grace of God (they are an irony to themselves!). If we put these two thoughts together, we now have an “irresistible resistible grace”—God’s grace is irresistible but can be resisted? So now, even though God’s grace is “irresistible,” He ALLOWS people to resist? What kind of a system is THAT? God’s grace cannot be both at the same time.

Last but not least, POINT NUMBER FIVE—Perseverance of the Saints. Calvinists argue for UNCONDITIONAL perseverance, meaning that, since God chose you to be saved (for whatever reason He did), He will persevere you to the end, cause you to endure this life until the end. In the words of Edwin Palmer, perseverance is not the perseverance of the believer, it is “the perseverance of God”:

“It is possible to use another term to describe this fact, namely, THE PERSEVERANCE OF GOD. For really the perseverance of the saints DEPENDS ON THE PERSEVERANCE OF GOD. It is because Christ perseveres in His love toward His church that the church perseveres in its love toward Him” (Edwin Palmer, “The Five Points of Calvinism.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1972, page 68).

Arminians, on the other hand, argue for CONDITIONAL perseverance—this says that perseverance is not guaranteed, but is based on the lifestyle of the individual. In other words, God is not responsible for the believer’s perseverance; THE BELIEVER IS! According to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews,

“Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that SO EASILY ENSNARES US, and RUN WITH ENDURANCE the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1-2, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

So, if we put these two together, we end up with both God and the believer persevering at the same time. The problem with such an analysis, though, is that God has ALREADY PERSEVERED, when He “endured the cross” that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Hebrews teaches us that Christ, having endured already, calls for us to endure, making Him our example (Hebrews 12:2).

Now I’ll admit—the above scheme of a “Calminian” system is pretty insane; and most people don’t embrace both views of both systems in everything. Usually, most “Calminians” at heart embrace a little Calvinist doctrine, a little Arminian doctrine. But I think the problem with most believers is that they’ve rarely investigated such theologies to come to terms with what they believe. Chances are, someone told them something to the effect of “Calvinists believe in the sovereignty of God and Arminians believe in free will” and they ran with that piece of information and have resigned themselves to “Well, I believe in both, so I guess that puts me SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE.” However, that too, is a misconception. Such an assessment is due to misguided information; Arminians hold to the sovereignty of God as well (contrary to what Calvinists may believe)…

Matthew 6:24 tells us that “No one can be a slave of TWO masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. YOU CANNOT BE SLAVES OF GOD AND MONEY.” Even though the issue being discussed involves our beliefs ABOUT God, and not so much about serving God (or money), one thing rings true: we cannot advocate TWO theologies: either we will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one theology and despise the other. We cannot have it both ways.

Before all believers lay the dilemma of two theologies. As far as which to choose, I’ll let you decide…

Friday, September 18, 2009

General Revelation and Theology, Continued

I’m back to finish my work on Genesis 1.

I left off by noting that God gave man “dominion” (or rule or sovereignty or power) over the earth. God did not just give man rule over “the animal kingdom,” but over ALL THE EARTH, EVERYTHING that is under the sun!!!

In verse 27, God creates both man and woman in His image; in verse 28, the Lord creates them in His likeness, for He tells the couple,

“Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and SUBDUE IT” (Gen. 1:28a, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The word for “subdue” in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) is “katakurieusate,” which means “be lord over.” The word itself is a compound word, consisting of two Greek words, “kata” and “kurieusate.” “Kurieusate” is a command to “be lord,” for the word “kurieu” comes from “kurios,” which is “lord.” The word “kata” in the Greek can be used as a referent (leading us to something) or as a preposition. For instance, the phrase “kata Ioannen” in the Greek means “according to John.” Here, “kata” is referring the “gospel” to “John” (John’s Gospel was written by John himself). In Genesis, however, this word “kata” means “over.” The Lord tells man to “be lord over” the earth and all creatures on the earth.

Now my question is this: what “lord” in the world, for instance, doesn’t have power?
To take an example, look at the situation of Abraham and Sarah in 1 Peter:

5 For in the past, the holy (J) women who hoped (K) in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, 6 just as Sarah (L) obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do good and aren't frightened by anything alarming. (1 Peter 3:5-6 Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The context here is wives submitting to their husbands (1 Peter 3:1), so this is why we find Sarah calling Abraham “lord”—because, by so doing, she is “obeying” Abraham.
We see in these verses that Abraham is not called “lord” without reason—he is called “lord” because he has been given authority in the home. This is why Peter writes, “Wives…SUBMIT yourselves to your own husbands…” (1 Peter 3:1, HCSB)

What does it mean to “submit”? Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines it as the following:

1 a : to yield oneself to the authority or will of another : SURRENDER b : to permit oneself to be subjected to something
2 : to defer to or consent to abide by the opinion or authority of another

Definition 1b hits the nail on the head with the meaning of submit—“To permit oneself to be SUBJECTED to something.” When a person submits to something, they willingly place themselves “under” whatever it is. In Sarah’s case, she submitted to Abraham by placing herself “under” his authority in the home. As the “lord” of the home, Abraham had power over his wife.

Last but not least, there is power that “masters” (slaveowners) had over their slaves in Scripture. Even though the Scriptures do not advocate slavery, the Lord still requires slaves to obey their masters:

5 Slaves, obey your human [c] masters (F) with fear and trembling, (G) in the sincerity (H) of your heart, as to Christ. (Ephesians 6:5, HCSB)

The word here for “masters” in the Greek is “kuriois,” which is the plural form of “kurios,” meaning “lord.” Notice, too, that Paul tells the Ephesian slaves that they should obey their masters “as to Christ.” As Christ is Lord (capital “L”), the masters are “lords” (lowercase “l”). They are not Christ in their position, but they are representatives of Christ—and the reason they are not to rule harshly is because Christ’s Sovereign rule is a benevolent one, not a malicious one.

In all these cases, we’ve seen that no one is called “lord” in Scripture without having some power and authority attached to the label itself. Why then, when man is given rule over the earth, would God have made him “lord” without giving him any POWER?

General Revelation, Part I

As you well know, I’ve been reading up on Calvinism and Arminianism quite a lot this summer. After studying the issue for some 8 weeks or so, I decided to talk to a friend about the doctrine of perseverance. One day I met up with Alex (that was his name) and we discussed our views concerning perseverance. His main response to the discussion was “We shouldn’t let our experience dictate our theology.”

In some sense, I agree with Alex. I think far too many people live hedonistically because something “seems” to be right or “appears” to fit a mold. But on the other hand, I think that while experience should not DICTATE our theology, it should at least FACTOR into our theology. The reason? Because of general revelation. According to Russell Moore,

“General revelation is the self-disclosure of God to all rational beings, a revelation that comes through the natural creation and through the makeup of the human creature” (Russell Moore, “Natural Revelation,” from “A Theology For the Church” by Daniel L. Akin, Editor. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishing, 2007, page 71).

If general revelation is God’s disclosure of Himself through nature, then everyday occurrences in the world (such as the Law of Gravity) or even nature itself (such as the stars in the sky) can tell us something about the Creator of the Universe, the God of the Bible.

Under this heading of “General Revelation,” I will spend time expounding on God’s self-disclosure in our everyday experience.

A good text to start with for this would be Genesis 1.

The text begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, Holman Christian Standard Bible). The heavens and the earth are works of God’s hands. We are told that God’s creation reveals God’s identity in Psalm 19:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The heavens and the earth show us God’s greatness. Day and night both show us God’s greatness: not only do day and night “speak” to us—it also shows “knowledge,” that the Creator of the Universe is not just a “force,” or the result of natural processes, but instead, an INTELLIGENT MIND! The universe was made with an INTELLIGENT DESIGN to it. First comes the MIND of God, then the matter (His creation).

Genesis 1:2 tells us that “the earth was formless and empty.” There was nothing in existence but darkness (v.3). Suddenly, out of nowhere, God says, “Let there be light” (v.3), and light comes into existence. Here we see God as Sovereign Creator. Anyone that can look out into nothing but darkness, speak light, and light comes into being, is surely the one in control. After all, if He could command light to come out of darkness, then He commands nature; nature does not command Him!

Not only did God create light, but He separated it from darkness, placed the stars and moon in the night sky, the sun in the day sky, water and land animals and vegetation. But in verses 26-28, God makes the “crowning creation,” man:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. THEY WILL RULE the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth” (v.26).

Here God makes mankind, in HIS IMAGE after HIS likeness. When God makes man, He does something for mankind that He doesn’t do for any other creation—He gives them a share of the divine image within. The Lord doesn’t do this for any other creation He makes but man.

We find out, though, that with this image and likeness comes responsibility: “THEY WILL RULE the fish of the sea…all the earth” (v.26). Since man is made in the “likeness” of God, and God RULES all the earth, man would have a small sphere of rule (a small sphere of sovereignty), which would reflect the rule of His Creator.
And right here, I’d like to interject a thought: Calvinists are so quick to assert that man does not have any power at all—but here, we find God (The Trinity) giving man dominion over the earth. So, if God gives man “dominion” over the earth, then this means that man has been giving power from the Lord Himself.

What is a good definition of “dominion”? I looked at Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary and found the following:

2 : supreme authority : SOVEREIGNTY

The second definition stands out the most. “Dominion” by definition is “sovereignty.” So, when God gives man “dominion” over the earth, He gives man “sovereignty” over the earth itself.

Here is where Calvinists respond, “No, that’s not it.” The problem is, though, that this is the definition of “dominion.” The word “dominion” is translated “rule” in the Holman Christian Standard, but a sibling word is used when the discussion turns to the greater light (sun) to rule the day and the lesser light (moon and stars) rule the night (1:16-18). So man’s rule over the earth was man’s sphere of power (given to him by God).

When the Lord God says, “They WILL RULE,” the word used for this phrase is “arxetosan.” This word means, “Let them rule.” Here the Trinity performs an act of volition: the Trinity allows man to rule over the earth. Notice that this is not an act of NECESSITY: man does not have to rule the earth; but God CHOOSES FREELY of Himself to bestow this privilege upon man.

And, as a result, I think it is a disgrace when Calvinists deny libertarian free will. It is a disgrace and an affront to their Creator when they pretend that they have been given no power over their actions, but that every action of theirs is the “plotting” of God.

Then, however, there are some Calvinists who believe that man has everyday choices—that man is allowed to make choices in everyday life, and that he cannot blame God for his actions. The only problem comes in when you attempt to discuss salvation with them. While I believe (as do Calvinists and Reformed Arminians) that salvation is solely accomplished by the Lord, Calvinists then turn to the Arminians and state that God only “elects” certain people to be saved. I’m in agreement with that statement—ONLY if they are arguing “election” on the basis of faith in Christ. Otherwise, I am staunchly opposed to their point of view.

If I could sit down and talk with a Calvinist (as I’m sure you might someday), I would discuss this issue in the following manner: God, in His Sovereignty, gave a “limited sovereignty” to man; and along with that sovereignty and power came responsibility (for “with power comes responsibility”). Man was required in the Garden of Eden to “give an account” of the deed he had done (the sin of eating the fruit). If man’s sovereignty over the earth still stands (and it does), and God’s sovereignty still stands (because God gave man responsibility and He still upholds His agreement with man), then, surely, man’s responsibility to come to faith is no different. Man is still held accountable for whether or not he repents and believes the gospel. In the Garden, man had a choice: he could either trust God and take Him at His Word or sin against God and go his own way. Today, man still has a choice: because God bore man’s death on a tree, man can now either take God at His Word (and repent and believe the gospel) or else turn and go his own way.

The work of the cross was designed to redeem man from his fallen state. How can man be redeemed from his fallen state if his will REMAINS bent to do evil (such that, with the Spirit, he cannot hear and believe the gospel)? If, with the Spirit convicting him, he cannot repent and believe (but is “dragged” to faith by the Spirit), then what is the purpose of restoration? Paul tells us in Colossians 3:10 that the new man “is being RENEWED IN KNOWLEDGE ACCORDING TO THE IMAGE OF HIS CREATOR” (Col. 3:10, HCSB). If man’s knowledge is being renewed (found also in Rom. 12:2), then what does this tell us about the image of God in man? The word “renew” means “to make new again.” Because the new man’s knowledge is “renewed”, eliminating our depravity day by day, this tells us that the image of God within us HAS NOT BEEN DESTROYED, but instead, is being TRANSFORMED, made new again. To make new again does not mean to destroy what once was—it means to take what once was and cleanse it from its corruption so as to make it new once more (like a dirty shirt or dirty dishes).

I will continue my discussion of Genesis 1 in my next post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Place To Go: The Appeal To "Mystery"

In case my readers here at the Center for Theological Studies don’t realize this yet, I have to admit: I read quite a lot. And as a result of my reading, I’ll often be working on a series here at CTS on one book, while reading another. And sometimes, while reading the new book, a post title or thought will jump out at me; usually, it’s one of those things where, if I don’t write it right away, it won’t get done…

So, this is one of those famous moments. For the last two days, I’ve been traveling through the book “Grace, Faith, Free Will; Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism” by Robert E. Picirilli. Let me tell you from the outset: what impressed me most about this book initially is that Robert E. Picirilli has been writing on Arminian theology for 45 years. That’s right: FORTY-FIVE YEARS! As you can imagine, he has quite a lot to say about the Reformation Arminian belief (also known as the Reformed Arminian position). I’ve been working on Stephen Ashby’s work on the Reformed Arminian view. For those who haven’t read my Ashby posts, click on the section “Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security” on the far right of the main page. More will be added in the coming days.

Picirilli writes about the choices of men:

“Two types of such ‘free’ actions exist:
1. For sinful acts, the decree is PERMISSIVE; man is left alone to bring sin to pass;
2. For good acts, the decree is EFFICACIOUS; God works immediately on man’s will to incline it.
For both types, THE ‘HOW’ IS A MYSTERY TO US: both how the permissive decree can render certain without causing, and how God’s positive influence on the human will can work effectively and yet the man remain truly free” (Robert E. Picirilli, “Grace, Faith, Free Will, Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism.” Nashville: Randall House, 2002, page 25).

It is in the above quote from Picirilli regarding the Calvinist view that we see the inconsistency in the Calvinist argument.

When a person commits sin, such as adultery (like David), that person is “permitted” to sin—“man is LEFT ALONE to bring sin to pass.” Here, the Calvinist attempts to leave God out of the sin—attempting to save God’s character. But what happens when a person does something good? “for good acts, the decree is EFFICACIOUS—God works IMMEDIATELY ON MAN’S WILL to incline it.”

So God acts on the will when someone does something good, but leaves man alone to make his own decision when the choice made will be evil. In other words, God allows man to make ONLY BAD DECISIONS, while God makes all the good ones in man!

What this appears to do is “defend God” at all costs; but it costs the Calvinist to make this claim; for now, God allows the human to make choices that He doesn’t support. In other words, GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IS COMPROMISED: for some choices are IN HIS CONTROL to cause while others are not.

And then, the worst claim to make is when the Calvinist says, “the ‘how’ is a mystery to us…” God stands behind some choices and ALLOWS us to make others; and, according to the Calvinist, how it all works out has not been given to us to understand or find out.

I’ve told a story here at the site about a friend of mine whose father has committed to five-point Calvinism. While she and he were discussing Calvinism and Arminianism, he told her that he believes that God predestines the elect to go to Heaven, while the others CHOOSE to go to Hell. In his mind, it all makes sense; but the problem with his view is that, some are “predestined,” controlled by God, while the others “control” themselves. It seem as if this “single predestination” idea makes God out to be weak and impotent—the sinners are allowed to go their own way, which is OUTSIDE of God’s predestinating power. Of course, double predestination is worse than single; but single predestination just weakens God’s sovereignty and power—it doesn’t do much else.

What fascinates me most, though, is that Calvinists make the claims regarding evil above that they do, without thinking through such claims. There are only three ways to tackle divine sovereignty and human responsibility—one, God is the author of good, as well as sin and evil (which most refuse to believe; it’s against everything they know to be true about the nature of God to accept that God causes sin and evil); two, God causes man to do good while man causes himself to do evil (which, as I said above, gives man power to cause his own evil acts, outside of God’s control); three, God gives man choice, to perform both good and evil (which most Calvinists will not allow man to have the power of self-determination to will his own actions).

If the Calvinist claims that God is the author of sin and evil, he violates James 1, which tells us that God does not tempt anyone (humans tempt themselves when they lust after something); if the Calvinist believes that God causes the good in man while man causes the evil in himself, then man still has some power to act over his own choices—which undoes the idea of God “causing” man to do anything. If the Calvinist chooses option number 3, which involves man having will power over his decisions, then God cannot CAUSE anything.

It seems that Calvinists have nowhere to go. They have spent time claiming that God is not the author and evil, but they have to account for the presence of evil in the world somehow (and they can’t blame it on God, so who will be responsible for it?). On the other hand, they can’t give man will power over his decisions, but they do believe man is responsible for evil. As a result, where can they run? Absolutely nowhere! Instead, they have to appeal to mystery: “the ‘how’ is a mystery to us…”

I wanna say here, though, that the appeal to mystery is what I like to call “theological laziness.” If it is true that man will stand before the Lord and be judged for his actions (2 Corinthians 5:10-11a), then it makes no sense to say that we don’t know how man causes his evil actions but God causes man’s good actions. After all, man will be judged for ALL his actions: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, WHETHER GOOD OR BAD” (2 Cor. 5:10, Holman Christian Standard Bible). This means that man will stand responsible for ALL his actions in the end—even the good ones.

Last but not least, the idea that Picirilli claims is espoused by Calvinists has been presented in current literature on the subject as the “Moderate Calvinist” position. Bruce Ware advocates this position in his self-edited work, “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views.” I’ve quoted from this work quite a bit this summer. Look under the “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God” label here at the site.
In any case, Bruce Ware believes that man has freedom—but he only has freedom to do evil acts, called the “freedom of inclination.” But there’s a problem with such a position: man cannot have “freedom” if he cannot choose between two or more actions. After all, this is the reasoning behind why someone who shoots another person in self-defense is not made to serve a prison sentence for doing so. The person who shoots is defending his or her own life, and he or she is forced to do so by someone who is threatening their own. Freedom only comes when there are no external or outside forces acting on you, coercing you to choose one option or another.

Calvinists have nowhere to go; for their appeal to mystery is the only option left for those who refuse to acknowledge the will power of man.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stephen Ashby and the Reformed Arminian View, Part II: "Free To Come, Determined To Stay"

In Part II of the Ashby defense of the Reformed Arminian View, we find Ashby challenging the work of Norman Geisler, advocate of the “Moderate Calvinist” view. Ashby writes:

“In his Chosen But Free, Norman Geisler seeks to show that his view is Calvinistic (he gives a brief, point-by-point explanation on each of the first four points of the TULIP). However, he redefines the meaning so as to empty the system of its classical intent. He is actually a one-point Calvinist—THE LAST. According to his measure, Reformed Arminians can also be called Calvinists. I also hold to one point of the TULIP—THE FIRST. (As I argued earlier, Reformed Arminians hold to the doctrine of totally depravity as strenuously as does any Calvinist.) Geisler, by contrast, has defined away both the Classical Calvinist and the classical Arminian understanding of depravity, replacing it instead with a sort of semi-Pelagian notion of natural human ability. It seems to me that HIS LOGICAL MIND PRESSES HIM TOWARD AN UNCONSCIOUS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT HIS BRAND OF CALVINISM IS IN ACTUALITY A ONE-POINT CALVINISM. For without giving careful argumentation for his redefinitions of the system, he simply jumps into a several-page ‘Defense of Eternal Security,’ citing and explaining fifteen proof texts.
Geisler should have made clear how he justifies the sea change that he asserts. He argues that the sinner’s will is free to act in alternative ways, so as to choose God, or conversely, to resist God. HE HAS NOT ATTEMPTED TO EXPLAIN, HOWEVER, WHY OR HOW A PERSON WHO IS FREE BEFORE SALVATION IS NO LONGER FREE AFTER SALVATION. If the character of God’s grace is that it is resistible before salvation, acting persuasively in accordance with one’s will, then why should God’s grace be viewed as irresistible after one is saved, compelling the individual, though his or her will might turn against God and his grace?”
(Stephen M. Ashby, “Reformed Arminian View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pages 157-58).

One night in my apartment, Byron Morris Gillory III (the creator of this blog, the Center for Theological Studies) came to me and wanted to discuss the issue of eternal security and perseverance. He asked me, “What would you say about a person who came to Christ, accepted Him as Lord and Savior, walked with Him for some time, and then decided to turn and walk away? How would you classify such a person?”
I took a minute to think about it and then I said, “Well, that person, if they turn and walk away from Christ, they were NEVER SAVED TO BEGIN WITH” (the all-famous phrase is in bold caps).

He said, “Well, I’m not sure that the situation is THAT easy to dismiss. Do you believe a person is free to come to Christ?”

“Yes I do.”

“Well, if you believe a person is free to come to Christ, then what makes you think a person is not free to walk away?”

“Ahhh, I see…if a person is free to come, then they are free to go.”


“The other train of thought, then, is that a person is FREE TO COME, but DETERMINED TO STAY.”

Byron turned to me and laughed. He and I continued to discuss the thought later that night, and it hit me—my theology had been wrong on this point, all along!

Byron had spent some time studying this issue Biblically, before he came to me and presented his findings. I didn’t realize until that night, that I had been “Calminian” (Calvinist + Arminian) in my theology from the start!

I tell this story for two reasons. First, I tell this story to let my readership know that I don’t have all the answers—and I’ve NEVER held all the correct ones! I’ve had moments in my life when my thinking has been dead wrong, when I’ve held to various theological views because of what I had always been taught. I have had to spend some significant time studying the Calvinism-Arminianism debate before presenting the evidence in a biblical fashion. The last three months have been that time of investigation. Before you say it, NO, I’m NOT a genius! I just sat down one day and read some books. It’s so easy that “a caveman can do it” :-)!!

In all seriousness, life as a student of the Word is all about examining and re-examining one’s own theological views. I believe that I am charged by God to please Him with all of my strength (which includes mental activity). Therefore, if I am to please God with my mind, I am to study His Word and present His truth contained therein. And if there are views I hold to that are unbiblical, it is my job to find them, erase them from my views, and replace them with biblical truth. That is the job of not just me, a Seminarian, but ALL of those who call themselves believers, those who “name the name of Christ.”

The other reason I tell this story is because, like Geisler in Ashby’s quote, I found myself trapped in a philosophical blunder and a theological mistake: I hadn’t thought about the inconsistency of my view; all I thought about was the “ideal” standard a believer should hold to. I spent time assessing what I believed a believer SHOULD BE, instead of seeing that, by the believer CHOOSING to stay, he was EXERCISING HIS HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY to do so!!

I told Byron the little phrase “Free to Come, Determined to Stay,” and he shared it with Billy Birch, creator of the blog “Classical Arminianism” here at

Bill laughed quite a bit, and we’ve decided that one of these days, one of us has to write a book by that title: "Free to Come, Determined to Stay"!!

The underlying thought behind this funny phrase is that it doesn’t make sense: if, as Ashby states, we have freedom when we come to Christ, why don’t we have freedom to walk away from Christ? Now, I’m not asking this question to give any human license to walk away from Christ; for Hebrews 6 tells us that if Christ’s sacrifice is rejected, no other solution for sin is available. I am asking this question because it makes sense in light of the latter New Testament letters that warn the believer against apostasy.

What happens when the believer comes to Christ? Does he “give up” his freedom? In a sense, yes; he “chooses” not to even do the things he did as a sinner (forfeits his choice to sin, while exercising his choice to do that which is good); however, in another sense, he does NOT trade in his freedom; for, whenever temptation comes, there are times when he will yield to it. His choice to come to Christ is just that—a CHOICE; but his choice to commit sin is a choice as well—and the believer doesn’t lose the choice to sin when he comes to Christ, despite the fact that he has been given the fruit of the Spirit known as “self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Christ’s words about the one who comes to Him in Luke show us the difficulty of discipleship:

23 Then He said to [them] all, "If anyone wants to come with [a] Me, he must deny himself, (A) take up his cross daily, [b] and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Notice that Christ says the one who follows Him must “take up his cross DAILY,” which means that the believer must wrestle against his sinful nature every day. Clearly, then, a choice is at stake EVERY DAY—the believer must choose in each new day whether to “walk after the flesh” or “after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).

With Geisler’s belief in eternal security, he can only argue “eternal security” in the case of the person who CHOOSES to stay with Christ, who REMAINS in Christ, the one who ENDURES to the end (Matthew 24). However, there are those who choose not to remain and endure—and these CHOOSE to go back to the world and face their own eschatological judgment (2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stephen Ashby and the Reformed Arminian View, Part I-C: More Than An Animal

In the last post, I spent time showing that, according to Dr. Stephen M. Ashby, writer on the “Reformed Arminian View” within the book on Eternal Security (Counterpoints Series), it is logical or possible that Christ would choose to save those who would come to Him in faith. Remember, as Ashby pointed out, “Calvinists have generally warned that, when considering God’s decrees as relating to the ordo salutis (order in salvation), we should keep in mind that we are talking about a LOGICAL, not a CHRONOLOGICAL, order” (“Four Views on Eternal Security,” page 146). That being the case, it is possible that God would “predestine” those He “foreknew” would believe (Romans 8:29).

In today’s post, Ashby tells us that God’s dealings with mankind differ significantly from the way God deals with animals:

“God can sovereignly choose that his salvation is not going to proceed along the lines of a deterministic, cause-and-effect relationship. Rather, he is going to allow the sinner to resist the offer of grace, which grace he has sovereignly enabled the sinner to accept.

So why would God do such a thing? Arminius states:

“…beside his own omnipotent and internal action, God is both able and willing to employ the following argument: ‘God justifies no persons except such as believe: believe therefore, that thou mayest be justified.’ With respect, then, to this argument, FAITH WILL ARISE FROM SUASION…In his omnipotent act God employs [or uses] this argument; and by this argument, when rightly understood, He efficaciously produces [operates] faith. If it were otherwise, THE OPERATION WOULD BE EXPENDED ON A STONE OR LIFELESS BODY, AND NOT UPON THE INTELLECT OF A MAN’”
(Ashby, quoting Arminius, in the “Reformed Arminian View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pages 146-47).

In the words of Arminius (quoted by Ashby), man is more than an animal—he is a human being, made in the image and likeness of God, with faculties by which he is to have dominion over the earth (as God has dominion over all things). The Lord does not treat man the same way He treats the animals.

Job 38 and 39 distinguish the human from the animal. While the ostrich abandons her eggs to danger because “God has deprived her of wisdom” and “has not endowed her with understanding” (Job 39:17, Holman Christian Standard), in the human God has placed wisdom in the heart and understanding in the mind (Job 38:36).

In case Job’s evidence doesn’t convince, think about Romans 10. Why is it, that, if man and animal are alike, God ordained the preaching of the Word as the source by which man comes to faith (Rom. 10:14)? After all, the human is the only one of God’s creatures made with the capacity to hear and understand language. So if the Word is ordained as the vehicle by which man comes to believe in the Lord, then we find that, unlike the obedience of nature, man’s obedience is not forced.

Jonah shows us this. As you all know, his stubbornness and refusal to preach to the Ninevites is what landed him in the belly of a big fish for three days. But in chapter 4, we find that Jonah has been launched out of the great fish. He is on shore, sitting under a gourd, waiting for the outcome of the preaching on the city itself. This is where the text of Jonah 4 will begin:

“Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made himself a shelter there and sat in its shade to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God appointed a plant, and it grew up to provide shade over Jonah’s head to ease his discomfort. Jonah was greatly pleased with the plant.
When dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, and it withered. As the sun was rising, God appointed a scorching east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he almost fainted, and HE WANTED TO DIE. He said, ‘It’s better for me to die than to live.’
Then God asked Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘It is right. I’M ANGRY ENOUGH TO DIE!’

If you ask me, the Lord gave Jonah the most profound reasoning imaginable: He appealed to Jonah’s intellect. Here Jonah was, wanting to die because the plant (or gourd) that provided Jonah shade and comfort lived and died in a day; however, he was displeased with the city of Nineveh and was willing to let 120,000 people die. Jonah mourned the plant—but he had NO SYMPATHY for the human population of Nineveh; in other words, he was more emotional about a PLANT than about a PEOPLE!!

The Lord’s words are clear to Jonah: “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow.” Jonah did nothing for the plant to grow; the Lord allowed the plant to spring up. But the Lord Himself had invested in the city of Nineveh; He allowed the city to even come into existence, and planned its geographic region—not to mention all the people and animals that were involved in it as well!! God made it clear that He had invested much into the population in Nineveh; and He wasn’t about to invest so much into them and then throw it all away in a day. It took more than a day to grow them, so He would invest more than a day in His “forbearance” of them.

Clearly, the human citizens mattered more to God than the plant Jonah mourned so much. This is why God continually asked him, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4, HCSB)

God allowed the plant that shaded Jonah to be destroyed (Jonah 4:7), but He wouldn’t destroy the citizens of Nineveh so easily (4:11). Why? because PEOPLE are more important to God than a PLANT. He watches out for all of His creation; but make no mistake: God will let a PLANT be destroyed in order to save His people. While the plant pleased Jonah, the people of Nineveh, as God’s creation, PLEASED HIM; and He would be patient with them, if it involved giving them numerous opportunities to repent and be saved from destruction.

The Lord Jesus goes on to stress the importance of the human above the rest of creation in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Here’s Matthew’s account:

25Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30, King James Version)

The word for “much better” here in the King James Version is the word “diapherete” in the Greek. This word means to “surpass, be more excellent (than), to differ from, to be superior to or of more value (than).” To look this up, you can go to the following site and type in Matthew 6.26:

In verse 26, Jesus compares the human to birds and other flying creatures. Jesus tells us of their incapacity for work: “they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,” and yet the Lord still provides for them. Humans are able to sow vegetables and fruit, gather their produce at harvest time, and store their grain and fruit of the ground in barns until they need it. They are able to AID themselves in their survival; but the birds of the air are not so capable. However, their lack of capability and our capability do not determine whether or not God provides—for He provides for all, whether man or animal!

Then Jesus places the lily as the next example. The lilies of the field don’t even spin around—and they certainly don’t work like humans do. Yet and still, they are not left out of God’s benevolence—for He provides for them just the same!
In verse 30, Jesus shows us our greater importance than plant and animal life: “30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30, KJV)

Everyone quotes the end of the verse (“o ye of little faith”), but I think all of verse 30 is important. The flowers of the field live and die in a day and yet they are provided for. If they matter to God, and they are LESS IMPORTANT in creation than the human, surely, God will take care of the human!!

I’ve taken time here to dwell on the importance of the human because I think that Calvinists view their relationship to God the way they do because they have a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the human and his/her role in creation. After all, God did give us His image and appointed us to rule over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), did He not?

Mankind is more than an animal—he is a creature that possesses the image, likeness, and a portion of the power of his Creator. As God told Job, the ostrich doesn’t have wisdom and understanding. On the other hand, we do; and that sets us apart as more than just grains of sand to be tossed to and fro.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stephen Ashby and the Reformed Arminian View, Part I-B: The Power to Will

“Of course, the Calvinist rejoinder is surely that if one says that the call of God goes out to all and that the grace of God comes to all, then one cannot believe in total depravity. But this is not so, for the Calvinist is once again reading in a priori his or her particularistic mindset. Reformed Arminians agree with Calvinists on the problem. Fallen humanity is ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ Human beings are unable to perform the least spiritual good on their own. We do not disagree on the problem. OUR DISAGREEMENT IS ON HOW GOD HAS SOVEREIGNLY CHOSEN TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT. Calvinists argue that the only way God can be sovereign and gracious is IF HE UNCONDITIONALLY ELECTS CERTAIN ONES TO SALVATION and then effects their salvation by acting on them with grace that cannot be resisted. Reformed Arminians, along with other Arminians, respectfully demur from this understanding of God’s sovereignty. Once again, we believe that caution is required when considering the eternal counsels of God. Calvinists have generally warned that, when considering God’s decrees as relating to the ordo salutis, we should keep in mind that we are talking about a LOGICAL, not a CHRONOLOGICAL, order. If indeed that is so, then what should follow therefrom? The obvious implication is that we are considering a LOGICAL QUESTION concerning how God would sovereignly choose to effect salvation for humanity. When Calvinists look at fallen individuals, they see them ‘dead in sins’ and ‘unable to do any spiritual good.’ Hence, Calvinism teaches that God acts on people in a cause-and-effect relationship with ‘irresistible grace,’ thus bringing about their salvation.

Yet, if we are talking about logic here, then God could have sovereignly chosen to remedy humanity’s situation differently than by the particularistic, cause-and-effect means proposed by Calvinism. In other words, when God saw his fallen human race in as bad a condition as it could possibly be in—‘dead in sins’ and ‘unable to do the least spiritual good’—LOGICALLY, NOTHING WOULD HAVE PRECLUDED HIM FROM SOVEREIGNLY CHOOSING TO REACH OUT TO ALL PEOPLE WITH ENABLING GRACE (often referred to as prevenient grace). In fact, the apostle Paul has said that ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’ (Titus 2:11)”
(Stephen M. Ashby, “A Reformed Arminian View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pages 145-46).

Dr. Stephen M. Ashby’s chapter on the Reformed Arminian view presents an interesting argument here. Ashby says that if, as the Calvinists say it, there is a LOGICAL and not CHRONOLOGICAL order to the issue of God’s election, then God did not necessarily have to “pull” or “drag” the sinner towards Himself, but could use grace, dispensed by the Spirit of Grace, as a way of bringing conviction to all men first, then allowing them to choose Christ second. God could very well “will” Himself to allow men and women to accept or reject His offer of salvation.

What I am so amazed at in regards to this debate is that Calvinists are often the ones attacking Arminians, stating that if God is “in control,” then God MUST have His way—men and women MUST come to Him; but, if God is in control, doesn’t it seem as if MAKING God choose ONE WAY to save His people is a means of DEGRADING Christ, a means of WEAKENING Him, instead of showing His power? After all, if He is the God of the Universe, can’t He do WHATEVER HE WANTS with ANYTHING, including His power? If so, then He is not forced or bound to only save people by force.

This is the same God we’re talking about that sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins of the world. God clearly had it in His power to force man to die for his sins—and live in eternal torment; however, because of His power (and love) He CHOSE to send His Son to redeem mankind unto Himself. He did it because it “pleased Him” to bruise His Son (Isaiah 53).

Ashby’s verse to support his conclusion is one of my favorite verses. In fact, to show how special this verse is, I will place it in the Greek, translate the verse, and then show how the verse fits within the context.

‘Epephane gar he xaris tou theou soterios pasin anthropois'

Translation as words appear: “Appeared for the grace of God bringing salvation to all men”

Smoother translation: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men…”

Now, let’s place the verse within its own context.
In Titus 2:1-10, Paul has just instructed Titus to teach the older men, older women, young men, and slaves how to live godly in everyday life. And then, Paul delivers this verse to Titus.

What does this verse mean? This verse does have a universal offer of salvation included—salvation is AVAILABLE for all men, but it is not APPROPRIATED to all men, since there are those who reject the offer of salvation. This is why Jesus says in John 3:17 that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him MIGHT BE SAVED.” The word “might” implies potentiality—everyone has an opportunity to be saved, but few will receive it.

But if this grace is effectual and overwhelming, why is it that Paul writes this next verse?

“instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous and godly way in the present age…” (Titus 2:12, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Why would the grace of God “instruct” us in anything if God effectually calls people to Himself? If God’s grace, dispensed only to those He desires to be saved (as Calvinists claim) calls them to Himself and they persevere because of such grace, why is it that the grace of God must “instruct” believers? To instruct gives the idea of a child learning. It gives the idea of discipline as well, which is why the words of Hebrews are fitting here:

“And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons:
‘My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly, or faint when you are reproved by Him; for the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.’
Endure it as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline—WHICH ALL RECEIVE—THEN YOU ARE ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN AND NOT SONS. Furthermore, we have had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, SO THAT WE CAN SHARE HIS HOLINESS. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11, HCSB).

Instruction involves not only praise and commendation, but also rebuke. In fact, Paul wrote Timothy and told him that this is what the Word does as well:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, FOR REBUKING, for correcting, for TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, HCSB).

The purpose of the Word is to convict believers of things in their lives that still need to be uprooted from their walk day to day.

But if, as the Calvinist states it, we are “pulled by grace,” then why do we need instruction in righteousness? After all, if God is the One doing it all, why do we need to “know” HOW things will be done (if we’re not doing anything at all)?
The grace of God (by means of the Word) is instructive to us because we are easy to forget God’s Law, His expectations, His righteous and holy standard.

As we’ve seen, God has the power to do whatever He wants to do, which includes the power to will that faith serve as the CONDITION for salvation. Faith is the message of all of Scripture, from beginning to end: even from Abraham, “who believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stephen Ashby and the Reformed Arminian View, Part I: Theological Creativity of the Calvinists

I am still reviewing the material from J. Matthew Pinson’s book titled “Four Views on Eternal Security.” I’ve spent quite a significant amount of time in Geisler’s chapter on the “Moderate Calvinist” view; now, after writing on as much of that as I could without becoming more and more annoyed over Geisler’s exegesis, I turn to Stephen M. Ashby’s chapter on the “Reformed Arminian View.”

To begin Part I, I’d like to focus on Ashby’s words in his section titled “Reformed Arminianism’s Differences With Calvinism.” In this section, he shows the “theological creativity” of the Calvinists:

“Louis Berkhof states that the covenant of grace is ‘a particular and not a universal covenant,’ that God intended redemption to be only for particular individuals. He decries both the notion of universal salvation held by classical universalists as well as the idea of ‘Pelagians, Arminians, and Lutherans’ that the offer of the covenant comes to all. In other words, IN ETERNITY PAST, FOR REASONS KNOWN ONLY TO HIM, GOD SET HIS AFFECTIONS ON PARTICULAR INDIVIDUALS. THIS IS OFTEN SEEN IN TERMS OF AN ETERNAL COVENANT THAT THE THREE PERSONS OF THE GODHEAD HAVE MADE AMONG THEMSELVES” (Stephen M. Ashby, “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, page 143).

This is the typical position of the Calvinists: that God picked certain people to be saved, while the others will be damned (either because they didn’t get picked or because they “choose” to go to Hell—however that all works out is beyond me!).
But Ashby has done his homework; he proves this to us when he quotes the words of a renown Reformed Arminian theologian, Robert E. Picirilli:

“such discussion of a COVENANT BETWEEN THE FATHER AND THE SON OUGHT TO PROCEED…WITH GREAT HESITATION. NOWHERE is there direct indication that such a covenant was made…even more important is the fact that the terms of such a covenant ARE NOT REVEALED—especially not whether those promises were or were not conditional…the ONLY way we have of ‘reading’ its terms respecting salvation is by reading in the New Testament how salvation is actually effected and applied. If, then, the New Testament makes clear that salvation really is conditional, then we dare not ‘read’ the unrevealed terms of an IMPLIED COVENANT of redemption in such a way as to destroy that conditionality” (Robert E. Picirilli, “Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation.” Nashville: Randall House; quoted in “Four Views on Eternal Security,” page 144).

In other words, the idea of an “eternal covenant” made before time began among the members of the Trinity is not one in which we are given all the details.
To “speculate” about this covenant is to go beyond Scripture and attempt to place one’s own theological view or presupposition upon the text.

If you think that only a Reformed Arminian (or an Arminian in general) would assume this, then you have never read the response to the idea of a Trinitarian covenant by Reformed Calvinist writer O. Palmer Robertson:

“The intention of God from eternity to redeem a people to himself certainly must be affirmed. Before the foundation of the world God set his covenantal love on his people.
But affirming the role of redemption in the eternal counsels of God is NOT THE SAME AS PROPOSING THE EXISTENCE OF A PRE-CREATION COVENANT BETWEEN FATHER AND SON. A sense of artificiality flavors the effort to structure in covenantal terms the mysteries of God’s eternal counsels. SCRIPTURE SIMPLY DOES NOT SAY MUCH ON THE PRE-CREATION SHAPE OF THE DECREES OF GOD. To speak concretely of an intertrinitarian ‘covenant’ with terms and conditions between Father and Son mutually endorsed before the foundation of the world is TO EXTEND THE BOUNDS OF SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE BEYOND PROPRIETY”
(“The Christ of the Covenants” by O. Palmer Robertson. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1980, page 54).

Ephesians 1 tells us that we are chosen “in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4a); but this doesn’t contradict the prime verse of salvation, John 3:16—

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV).

I learned John 3:16 according to the KJV, which is why I published it in that version; nevertheless, everyone can see the plain meaning of the verse. It is belief “in Him” that gives a person “everlasting life.” This is not different from Ephesians 1:4a—for it is “IN HIM” that believers are “chosen… to be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4b).

It is “in Christ” that we are chosen, that we are given eternal life; but if this is
true, then why must our union be “with Christ” in order to receive eternal life? The answer: because of man’s sin (Romans 3:23-26). Romans 3:25 specifically states that
“God presented Him [Jesus] as a propitiation [appeasement of divine wrath] through faith in His blood, TO DEMONSTRATE HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, BECAUSE IN HIS RESTRAINT GOD PASSED OVER THE SINS PREVIOUSLY COMMITTED” (Holman Christian Standard Bible).

God sending Christ in the first place was to show that God’s Holy Standard COULD NOT tolerate or pass over sin, no matter how great or small in our eyes. Because all sinned “in Adam” (Romans 5), the Lord responded in judgment. His judgment was that someone must die for the sins of the world. Because the Lord desired to redeem His human creation, He sent Christ to be the one to bear the punishment and sins of mankind.

But Ephesians 1 about being chosen “in Christ” doesn’t make sense, if, according to Calvinists, we are just “chosen” and not “chosen in Him.” If we are chosen “in Christ” to be holy and blameless, and Christ had to give us His righteousness and become our sin (2 Cor. 5:21), then this tells us that man sinned AGAINST GOD and that God, in His exhaustible, divine foreknowledge, knew that man would sin before He created the world and man—and decided to send His Son as the appeasement of His own wrath. And if God did not “force” man to sin, as Calvinists believe (they think sin was always a part of the plan of God), then God does not “force” us to believe in His Son in order to receive eternal life.

Dr. Stephen M. Ashby responds to the issue of an eternal “intertrinitarian covenant” with the following words:

“I believe, in fact, that the EXACT OPPOSITE is seen: Christ’s atonement was for ‘all,’ indeed for the WHOLE WORLD, and God’s salvation is CONDITIONAL—that condition being faith in Christ. Herein is the Reformed Arminian understanding of how one may be found in Christ. It is simply BY FAITH AND IT IS OPEN TO ALL” (144-145).

Calvinists are really good at playing up this so-called “intertrinitarian covenant”; however, I believe that they are grasping at thin air. There is enough material within the canon of Scripture itself to argue the conditionality or unconditionality of salvation. To look for something else OUTSIDE of the biblical canon is to go outside of God’s revelation—in other words, God is made to appear as though He is “not enough.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Questionable Eternal Security, Part II-G: Revelation 3:15-16

“‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.’ This, it would seem, supports the Arminian view that God rejects those who reject him. This appears to be confirmed by the fact this threat is given ‘to the churches’ (v.22) and that it refers to God’s warning to ‘discipline’ (v.19) any who do not repent of their sins. However, even if true believers are in view, to ‘spit [them] out’ is not a phrase that speaks of hell. More likely it is addressed to those believers who have turned ‘lukewarm’ in their walk with God and need their fellowship restored. Notice the church is asked by Christ to ‘dine’ (i.e., have fellowship) with him (v.20)” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, page 102).

The above verses quoted are from Revelation 3:15-16.

I am pleased to say that this is the LAST post in Part II of my series on the Doctrine of Perseverance (coming from the book titled “Four Views on Eternal Security”). There are other parts to be covered in Geisler’s work, such as the responses from the other three writers to his amassed evidence of “proof-texting.” For now, though, I will cover this last passage before moving on to some other quotes of Geisler, which are a lot more questionable than what I’ve provided so far.
Geisler remarks about Christ’s warning of “spitting” out the church of Laodicea:

“However, even if true believers are in view, to ‘spit [them] out’ is not a phrase that speaks of hell. More likely it is addressed to those believers who have turned ‘lukewarm’ in their walk with God and need their fellowship restored. Notice the church is asked by Christ to ‘dine’ (i.e., have fellowship) with him (v.20).”

The letter is addressed to lukewarm Christians, those whose zeal for God has waned in their walk with Him. Geisler is correct in stating this. But there are hints from the text that reveal a very serious spiritual condition that God does not just “pass over.”

First, in verse 15, the Lord tells the church that “I wish you were cold or hot.”
The church is “lukewarm,” but this is the most detestable state to God (even more despised than being spiritually “cold”).

What hints we get of Laodicea’s problem are given in verse 17:

“Because you say, ‘I’M RICH; I HAVE BECOME WEALTHY, AND NEED NOTHING,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked…” (Rev. 3:17, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Laodicea is a church consumed by material riches. Because of their wealth, the church believes it is complete, a church that has everything it needs. The Lord, however, makes it clear that they are spiritually lacking: “you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (v.17). For instance, let’s look at the word “wretched.” The word in the Greek for “wretched” is “talaiporos,” which can also mean “miserable” or “distressed.” The church believes it is happy, but in reality, it is miserable and in a poor spiritual state. It’s fascinating that in the text, the Lord compares their idea of being “rich” (v.17) with the fact that they are “poor” and “naked” (v.17). In verse 17, the Lord also mentions that the church is “blind.” Peter’s words accurately describe this church:

“The person who lacks these things [goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love] is BLIND AND SHORTSIGHTED, and HAS FORGOTTEN THE CLEANSING FROM HIS PAST SINS” (2 Peter 1:9, HCSB).

In addition, look at the Lord’s counsel to the church:

“I advise you to buy from Me GOLD REFINED IN THE FIRE SO THAT YOU MAY BE RICH, and WHITE CLOTHES SO THAT YOU MAY BE DRESSED AND YOUR SHAMEFUL NAKEDNESS NOT BE EXPOSED, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see” (Rev. 3:18).

When the Lord tells them to buy refined gold from Him, He’s saying that doing what He requires is the ONLY thing that will make the church rich in the end—only what they do for Christ will last. When He tells them to buy “white clothes,” He is telling them to put on “purity” and strive to overcome their current sinful state. After all, in the Book of Revelation, “white” is what all overcomers wear (Rev. 3:4; 4:4; 7:9, 13-17).

There is something else to notice. I must cover it since, if we overlook it, we will miss something vital to this text.
The Lord tells the church in verse 18 to buy from Him “white clothes so that you may be dressed AND YOUR SHAMEFUL NAKEDNESS NOT BE EXPOSED…” The idea of shame is mentioned by John in his first epistle:

“So now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears we may have boldness AND NOT BE ASHAMED BEFORE HIM AT HIS COMING” (1 John 2:28, HCSB).

Above the idea of shame being connected with sin, we have the first mention of “shame and nakedness” in Genesis:

“So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’
And he said, ‘I heard You in the garden, and I WAS AFRAID BECAUSE I WAS NAKED, SO I HID.’
Then He asked, ‘Who told you that you were naked? DID YOU EAT FROM THE TREE THAT I HAD COMMANDED YOU NOT TO EAT FROM?’” (Genesis 3:9-11, HCSB)

As we can see, Adam and Eve become afraid after they have eaten from the forbidden fruit. ONLY AFTER THEY SINNED did they realize they were NAKED and HID as a way to cover their shame. From Genesis 3, the concepts of shame, sin, and nakedness become interconnected. As in Genesis, so in Revelation. The church at Laodicea were the “Adam and Eve” who needed to “see” their truly sad spiritual condition.

I have one more note about Genesis: notice that after Adam and Eve sin, the Lord punishes Adam, Eve, and the serpent for their wrongdoing in the Fall. After the punishments, however, God does something amazing:

“The LORD God MADE CLOTHING OUT OF SKINS FOR ADAM AND HIS WIFE, and He clothed them” (Gen. 3:21).

The Lord clothed them with skins, upon sin revealing their nakedness. The Lord was telling the church to do the same thing—realize their nakedness because of their sin, and receive white clothes from Him so that they could “cover” their sin. Notice that the Lord told them to buy clothing from Him so that “your shameful nakedness may not be exposed…” If the Lord returned, and the Laodiceans had not repented of their sin and turned back to the Lord, their nakedness (sin) would be on display and they would be “ashamed” at His coming. The situation would not be a pretty one, I can assure you of that.

Now, what does all this analysis have to do with the idea of the church being “lukewarm?” The spiritual state the church was in was detestable to the Lord—and just like a person hates anything “lukewarm,” the Lord was about to “do away” with the church at Laodicea. When a person “spits” something out of their mouths, they do so because the food or drink is nasty-tasting. If something is pleasant, they taste it, eat it, drink it, savor its substance. Laodicea was about to be spiritually “disowned.”

The church at Laodicea had not been condemned to Hell—yet; but if the church didn’t change her ways, she would be estranged by the Lord when He returned. However, if we take things according to Geisler’s interpretation, the Lord’s warnings to the church were just about “restoring fellowship.” In that case, the Lord’s words regarding “endurance” are just words to “shake” the believer—not that God would actually make good on His promise…