Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Chinese Lunch

Today I did lunch with a dear brother of mine. We had been trying to meet up together all semester, to take some time to discuss our favorite area of discussion--- THEOLOGY! So we finally met up and did a Chinese lunch today. Boy am I so glad to have brothers!!!

Our first topic of conversation involved evangelism and how to present the gospel to someone who does not believe in God and has no concern for learning about this God we believe in at all. But eventually, the conversation took a turn down a road that he and I both knew we would arrive at; and we ended up discussing two issues that seem to really flow together: the issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism (see my blog at CTS regarding the nature of this debate) issue I love here very much: the issue of men and women in the church.

We began by discussing 1 Timothy 2, a passage that, as I’ve established, has been viewed by complementarians as a passage that “decisively” (their own words) kills the issue of whether or not women should lead in the church. I took my dear brother back to 1 Corinthians 11, another passage that talks about some form of creation order. There, I showed him that men and women are BOTH dependent “in the Lord.” The sphere of God’s house is the place where men and women are functionally equal, despite the woman’s functional submission to her husband in the home. Even the husband has no independence from the wife in the church (according to 1 Cor. 11:11-12)!

Then he asked me the question, “Does dependence nullify authority?” I told him that the husband has been given headship in the home, but God holds the headship of the church, and is free to do what He pleases in His House (Eph. 5:23). If Christ is the head of the church, and headship in the church belongs to Christ, then why does the Bride have to argue over which “bride” (member) of the Bride (Church) should lead?

Finally, my brother looked at me and said that he understands the differences between Calvinists (who are also complementarians) and Arminians (egalitarians): those who are Calvinists are more likely to be complementarians because they see that God chooses not only those who will be saved, but also chooses what gender (and as a result of gender, what gifts) a person will have. Arminians, on the other hand, who believe that everything is foreknown but not predetermined (chosen beforehand), see some indeterminate aspects to life itself, that everything is not picked out by God. In his mindset, Arminians, therefore, would choose to argue for women’s equal leadership opportunities in the church.

I think there is some truth to what he is saying regarding theology; however, I don’t think that a theological grid is the most important reason why the line divides along Calvinist (complementarian) and Arminian (egalitarian) lines. The most important factor that creates the divide is the biblical text. For me as both a Classical Arminian and a conservative egalitarian, I see the Bible itself as the dividing line. I cannot agree with complementarian argumentation because ultimately, they draw “inferences” to the biblical text without sufficient biblical proof. If God truly desired to tell women what they could not do in the church, why is it not as clear as the divine command for wives to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:1; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5)?? It seems that the Holy Spirit, the Author of Holy Scripture, was not hesitant when He wanted to communicate to wives the need to submit to husbands. If complementarians are so right about women in leadership, why is the Spirit extremely silent on this issue? And why is it that the church has to “draw inferences” instead of drawing from Scripture? If “the simplest answer is often the best explanation,” then the answer to the question is “the Spirit does not make prohibition of woman leadership clear because He does not desire to prohibit women from leadership in the church.

In his chapter on “Human Nature” in the work “A Theology for the Church,” John Hammett writes regarding 1 Timothy 2:

“The passage begins with a call to let women learn, a somewhat revolutionary idea in some parts of the Mediterranean world of that time. But, Paul continues, women should not teach or exercise authority over a man. BUT HOW DOES THIS TEXT RELATE TO ROLES IN THE CHURCH? It seems clear from elsewhere in Scripture that THIS IS NOT A BLANKET PROHIBITION. For example, believers are commanded to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), and Paul gives instructions concerning the praying and prophesying of women (1 Cor. 11:2-16). CONTEXT SEEMS TO INDICATE THAT THE TYPE OF TEACHING AND AUTHORITY PAUL HAS IN MIND IS THAT OF AN ELDER, for the qualifications for that office is the topic Paul turns to in 1 Timothy 3, and the duties of an elder include authoritative teaching and leading. Thus, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 prohibits women from serving in the role of elder or pastor” (John Hammett, “Human Nature,” from “A Theology for the Church” by Daniel L. Akin, editor. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007, page 359).

But Hammett’s analysis here is rather subjective. Do we even read of women and elder in the same sentence in 1 Timothy 3? No. The issue of women teaching, then, is to first be investigated within the chapter of its location (which is chapter 2). Next, what about chapter 1? Hammett invests time on why women can’t teach according to chapter 3, but overlooks chapter 1 entirely. Hammett does not address the problems Paul does: (1) false teachers (1:3) and false doctrine (1:3), which consisted of “fables and endless genealogies” (1:4), as well as (2) students who desired to teach but were propagating false doctrine ignorantly (1:7). If these problems were to be incorporated into interpretation, then 1 Timothy 2 would be seen as Paul counteracting false teaching, not prohibiting women from serving in leadership roles. Hammett doesn’t address any of these mentionables of chapter 1. Why is this? It’s an interesting question indeed...

Last but not least, there is the question regarding women teaching: if women are ONLY prohibited from the office of elder and pastor (which seems to be Hammett’s conclusion), then are women prohibited from teaching men in a mixed Sunday school class? I find it fascinating that Hammett doesn’t argue against women teaching mixed Sunday school classes, and yet, so many churches prohibit women from so doing. Why is this? If scholars are not prohibiting women teaching, then why are so many churches prohibiting women from teaching? Although Hammett states that “this [1 Tim. 2] is not a blanket prohibition,” the churches sure seem convinced that it is...

Aside from Hammett’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2, however, Hammett does make a good point about the weak argument from inference:

“Some complementarians think that the order established by God in marriage should also be an argument for a similar order within the church. Thus, just as women cannot be husbands or fathers in the family, so they cannot (or at least should not) be elders or pastors within the larger family, the church. While this view has a good deal of merit, WE ARE NOT LEFT TO SUCH AN INFERENTIAL ARGUMENT” (358).

Even Hammett admits that the above complementarian “consistency” is nothing more than an inference. And if the argument is just an inference, then we are left to Scripture to see what it tells us. And even the evidence against women as pastors (including Hammett’s analysis) is questionable.

Back to the Chinese lunch. At the end of the lunch time, I realized that my brother simply did not have a biblical text for his case. All he had was a collection of inferential arguments with no Scripture as justification. If Scripture provides no evidence against women, then the “traditional” view of complementarianism is nothing more than tradition; and if we believe the Bible to be the ultimate authority in every area of life, then we must either elevate tradition to Scripture or toss tradition out. And I know which one I about you?

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Big Picture, Part I: The Covenants

For the last few days, I’ve been reading on Old Testament Theology (to prepare for my final exam in this course). Within his work on the Israelite kingship, evangelical theologian Bruce Waltke makes statements like the following:

“I AM will be his father [Solomon] and he will be God’s son (vv.14-15)---that is, God will discipline David’s son according to his son’s covenant fidelity (v.14), but I AM will never take his ‘hesed’ (“lovingkindness,” entailing His preserving Solomon’s kingdom and throne) away from him (v. 15). In other words, WHILE THE COVENANT IS UNCONDITIONAL, THE KING’S EXPERIENCE OF ITS BLESSINGS DEPENDS ON HIS OBEDIENCE TO THE MOSAIC COVENANT. The unconditional Davidic covenant is not a carte blanche to David’s descendants to do as they please without regard to the moral boundaries of the Ten Commandments" (Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, “An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, page 661).

In his remarks on kingship in Deuteronomy, Waltke writes:

“His message regarding the land is that I AM UNCONDITIONALLY grants the patriarchs the land, but their descendants’ entrance into it and retention and enjoyment of it DEPEND ON THEIR KEEPING THE the heart of his covenant was Israel’s obligation to be totally loyal to Yahweh” (Waltke, 690).

What about Solomon’s downward path into sin?

“In his anger, He Who Shapes History by his Word first foretells and then tears away a substantial part of the kingdom from David’s dynasty (1 Kings 11:9-13). I AM preserves Judah as a lamp burning in Jerusalem---a lamp burned all night in wealthy homes---to keep his commitment to David, AND HE TAKES FROM HIM TEN OTHER TRIBES TO KEEP THE MOSAIC covenant (11:29-39)” (711).

The prophet Elisha’s miracles even confirm both the unconditional and conditional natures of the covenants:

“Elisha’s first two miracles confirm Israel’s covenants. The first miracle, involving salt, SPEAKS OF THEIR UNCONDITIONAL AND ETERNAL NATURE (2 Kings 2:19-22); the second, bringing judgment upon children, CONFIRMS THEIR CONDITIONAL ASPECT OF BLESSINGS AND CURSES (2:23-25)” (739).

Next comes Waltke’s discussion of covenant obligations and rewards:

“I AM’S UNCONDITIONAL COVENANT commitments to Israel, unlike the vagaries of human dedication, are steadfast, constant, and far-reaching. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of those covenants DEPENDS ON ISRAEL’S OBEDIENCE TO THE MOSAIC COVENANT (1 Kings 2:3). THAT OBEDIENCE IS ABOVE ALL A MATTER OF HEART, such as found in the matchless faith of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:5) and incomparable love of Josiah (2 Kings 23:25). Those virtues in the heart vouchsafe obedience to the covenant and its material blessings (2 Kings 18:5-8). On the other hand, THEIR SPIRITUAL LACK entails disobedience and the retribution of the covenant’s material curses: loss of the land (2 Kings 10:32) and even grisly cannibalism (Lev. 26:29; Deut. 28:52-57; 2 Kings 6:28-31; cf. Lam. 2:20; 4:10; Ezek. 5:10)” (743, 744).

One of the themes of Ruth is God’s “hesed,” or covenant faithfulness. Regarding God’s role in the book of Ruth, he writes:

“I AM’s (God) hesed to national Israel is UNCONDITIONAL, BUT IT IS CONDITIONAL TO THE INDIVIDUAL as signified by Boaz’s explanation, ‘May I AM repay you for what you have done’ (Ruth 2:12)” (863).

As has been shown from a few examples above, Waltke has done a remarkable job of emphasizing the unconditional and conditional natures (or aspects) of God’s covenants. God’s unconditional decision to protect and preserve Israel show’s God’s unfailing love; but the God of Love, the God of the Scriptures, will not operate without justice. In His eyes, love and justice go hand in hand: if one does not chastise, one does not love (Hebrews 12: 5-6; Proverbs 3:11-12).

Studying the Old Testament, in a way, sheds light on concepts and principles we find in the New Testament. One New Testament passage that confirms Waltke’s words on the Old Testament covenants is Romans 11. In it we find both unconditional and conditional natures to God’s covenant with his people. If you remember, the context regards Israel’s failure to obtain the righteousness of God, while the Gentiles obtain the righteousness of God by faith:

“And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God; on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS GOODNESS. OTHERWISE YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF” (Romans 11:17-22, NKJV).

Paul responds to the Gentile claim “branches were broken off that I might be grafted in” (v.20) with the response that “do not be haughty, but fear...He may not spare you either” (v.21). The Gentiles themselves only stand in the goodness of God “by faith” (v.20), and if the Jews give up their unbelief, the Lord can bring them back (v.23). So we see the conditional nature of the Gentile nations (and the conditional nature of the Jews’ brokenness from the vine, v.17).

But then, in verses 25-29, we see the unconditional nature of God’s covenant with His people, the Jews:

“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. AND SO ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED, as it is written:
‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. FOR THE GIFTS AND THE CALLING OF GOD ARE IRREVOCABLE” (Rom. 11:25-29).

Paul references Isaiah 59:20, 21 as proof that “all Israel will be saved” (v.26). This then, tells us that Israel will not be loss (contra the Gentile view). Paul reveals that God’s covenant with Israel is “unconditional”: she did nothing to place herself in it in the first place...rather, she was chosen by God, independent of any merit on her part (Deut. 7:6-8).

In verse 29, Paul says that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” which means that once God gives them, He does not “take them back.” Therefore, although Israel is currently in disbelief, because of God’s unconditional covenant with the nation, she will be given a chance to turn back to the Lord once more. God is not through with Israel just yet.

So here, we see both unconditional and conditional natures to God’s covenant with His people: while His covenant to the nation is UNCONDITIONAL, individual covenant partakers must follow certain CONDITIONS in order to remain under the covenant. With Israel and the Gentiles, the condition is faith; each individual must continue to believe.

In another post, I’ll discuss what Waltke’s view of covenant (and Romans 11) to see how this impacts the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: A Lesson from the Israelite Kingship

The divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate is one that I’ve tackled for the last year now. Every time you, the readership, approach the blog, I imagine that you keep thinking, “She’s at it again.” And you would be right---yes, I’m at it again!! I’ve been tempted to see what the Bible has to say about the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate, and come across specific passages of Scripture that can shed further insight into what seems to be an unceasing debate. For this post, you have my Old Testament Theology Professor, Dr. H. Thomas, to thank.

My readership will be extremely shocked by this post. Normally, I’m always using Greek word studies here to help exposit passages of Scripture; today, however, I will be using Hebrew to reveal what the Scripture has to say about the issue of Israelite kingship. Now, the classic passage of kingship is 1 Samuel 8, where the people go to Samuel and request a king: “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5, NKJV).

Samuel was a judge, which was God’s designed form of leadership for His people. God was to be their King. Here in 1 Samuel 8, however, we find that the people now want a “king”---in other words, they want a leader that will in some sense “replace God” (since He was their King). Let’s note that this is the human request made. How interesting it is to find the leadership of Israel (the elders) requesting a king! What’s even more interesting is that they go to the man of God (Samuel) to make this happen, since he was the one who stood between the people and God.

What we notice after the request is not only the anger of Samuel, but also the anger of the Lord: “Heed the voice of the people IN ALL THAT THEY SAY TO YOU; for they have not rejected you, but THEY HAVE REJECTED ME, THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM” (1 Sam. 8:7).

As verse 7 shows us, the Lord was not pleased to institute the kingship. In the eyes of the Lord, the Israelite kingship was really a means to replace HIS ROLE in the lives of His people. For those who hold to Calvinist theology, the act of Israel rejecting the Lord was NOT designed by God Himself. Somehow, Calvinists have to explain 1 Samuel 8, as well as God’s displeasure with His people.

And then, if God’s words in verse 7 are not bad enough, read verse 8:

“According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, EVEN TO THIS DAY---with which THEY HAVE FORSAKEN ME AND SERVED OTHER GODS---so they are doing to you also” (1 Sam. 8:8).

These words from the Lord are not words of sheer excitement over appointing a king; rather, they are the condemning words of God Almighty.

As 1 Samuel 8 shows us, the Lord was displeased with the people’s request, but He consents to their decision: “Now therefore, HEED THEIR VOICE” (v.9).

And this is where the biblical text gets interesting. As if 1 Samuel 8 doesn’t tell us what God thought about the people’s request, we are told of God’s displeasure by word study. In 1 Samuel 8, when the people ask for a “king,” the Hebrew word used in the chapter is “melek.” In 1 Samuel 9:15-16, however, we read the following words:

“Now the LORD had told Samuel in his ear the day before Saul came, saying, ‘Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him COMMANDER over My people Israel, that he may save My people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry has come to Me’” (1 Sam. 9:15-16).

The capitalized word in the passage above is “commander.” Isn’t this weird? In 1 Samuel 8, the people speak of a “king,” a “melek”; in 1 Samuel 9, the Lord tells Samuel that he was to anoint a “commander” over His people. Why does the New King James translate the word as “commander” instead of “king”? BECAUSE A DIFFERENT WORD IS USED! “melek” is not the Hebrew word in 1 Sam. 9:16; the word used in this verse is “nagid.”

According to “The Brown Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon,” the following is the entry for “nagid”:

“nagid (n.m.) leader (lit. prob, ‘one in front’), ruler, PRINCE;” (“The Brown Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, ninth edition. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005, page 617).

Now, if you return to 1 Samuel 8, you’ll remember that Israel specifically asked for a king, a “melek.” Here in chapter 9, though, God gives them a “prince,” instead of a “king.” What’s the significance of this “word change”? It shows us that, although Israel rejected the Lord from being King over them (they wanted a human king instead), God gave them a leader WITHOUT giving away His Sovereignty! And the reason that God could do this is because He is God...and human choices do not “steal” power from Him or make man “autonomous.”

This is just another special “peak” into the world of the sovereignty/responsibility debate. And it serves as a good warning for Calvinists AND Open Theists: for the Calvinists, it serves as a reminder that man’s power to choose comes from God and cannot go “outside” of God’s power; for the Open Theist, it shows that God is sovereign. We must recognize the sovereignty of God, but we cannot recognize His sovereignty without also paying due recognition to the power of choice which He bestowed upon His crowning creation.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do You Believe In Logic?, Part II: Jesus' Identity

The ultimate example in the Gospels (according to me, at least) of the Law of Non-Contradiction occurs in the seeming paradox of Jesus as both Son of David and Lord in Matthew:

“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? IF DAVID THEN CALLS HIM ‘LORD,’ HOW IS HE HIS SON?’” (Matthew 22:41-45)

Jesus’ earth-shattering question to the Pharisees is the ultimate question of the Law of Non-Contradiction in the Scriptures. Here, we have on our hands what seems to be a blaring contradiction: how can a “son,” one under a father (who is over the son), be the “Lord” (a position of superiority)? It is a “seeming” paradox: only the father can be “Lord,” right?

How can one who is the Son (of David) be over David (as David’s Lord)? If we examine the Pharisees, we will find that they could not answer Jesus’ question. Why? was it because it was a contradiction? Maybe they thought it was; but as those who love God’s Word, we know that Jesus titles as “Son” and “Lord” are not contradictory: they are reconciled within both of His natures, the human and the divine.

Most believers don’t think about it, but they come to the Bible with a presupposition of reconciling one seemingly contradictory passage with another. As believers, we operate by the Law of Non-Contradiction. According to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (Article 17):

We affirm the unity, harmony and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.
We deny that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another. We deny that later writers of Scripture misinterpreted earlier passages of Scripture when quoting from or referring to them.

According to the statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, there is a “unity, harmony, and consistency” to Scripture. This means that Scripture will always confirm itself; never will Scripture contradict, or speak against itself (in any part). The idea that “Scripture is its own best interpreter” is a view of the Reformers, such as John Calvin (see Henry Virkler’s work on “Hermeneutics”). And all believers use the Law of Non-Contradiction (that the Scriptures must always confirm each other) when they interpret Scripture. Hence, ALL BELIEVERS USE LOGIC!!! Why? because logic comes from God, and is how we make sense of God’s special revelation (i.e., His Word, the Bible).

Now using the idea that all of Scripture can be reconciled, let’s approach this question of Christ as “Son of David” and “David’s Lord.”

How was Christ “The Son of David”? He was born in the physical lineage of David (descendant), according to the Matthean genealogy (Matthew 1). How then, is Christ “David’s Lord”? Christ is David’s Lord because He is not just human, but divine:

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder: AND HIS NAME WILL BE CALLED WONDERFUL, COUNSELOR, MIGHTY GOD, EVERLASTING FATHER, PRINCE OF PEACE. OF THE INCREASE OF HIS GOVERNMENT AND PEACE THERE WILL BE NO END, UPON THE THRONE OF DAVID AND OVER HIS KINGDOM, to order it and establish it from that time forward, even forever” (Isaiah 9:6-7, NKJV).

In Isaiah 9, we find that a “Son” is given; notice that “the government will be upon His shoulder,” which means that He will be king (“government” gives this away!). What is His name? He is not a special name of a physical descendant of David, but “Mighty God, Everlasting Father” other words, this Son of David that will rule “upon the throne of David and over His kingdom...even forever,” is Christ.
As I aforementioned in the first part of this mini-series (Part I), the Scriptures themselves have a logical nature to them. If this be the case, then how can we choose theological systems with contradictory elements and then throw up our hands and say, “It’s a mystery”, or “My theological system doesn’t have to be consistent”? Our theological systems DO have to be consistent, if for no other reason than that they reflect the nature and character of our God!!

I will discuss more regarding the logical consistency of Scripture and much-needed consistency in theological systems in the coming days.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Do You Believe In Logic?, Part I: The Dilemma Of An Inconsistent Theology

Just yesterday, I had a conversation at the local coffee shop with a good acquaintance of mine, someone I hadn’t spent time with in a while. The last time he and I were in church together was about two weeks ago, and much of life had happened since we were due for another get-together. God decided that it was time to meet again yesterday, so we did (although it was unexpected to us).

We talked about a number of things, like his calling to go overseas. I remember when he first talked to me about his calling. He went overseas for about two or three months (taught school there), then came back to Wake Forest. He told me that overseas life wasn’t for him...and then, yesterday, he told me that the Lord knows how to pull us out of our comfort zones. We had something to laugh about there: God always knows how to do that. If you find yourself too comfortable in life, look out! Something will happen to uproot that. It’s just the way our God works...

Somehow, I found the conversation turning towards theology. And then came the most blaring statement I think I’ve ever heard: he talked about how he held to a theology that incorporated what seemed to be contradictory concepts, but he held to them because he believed that is what the Bible teaches. He said to me, “I’ve met people that have said, ‘You can’t hold to an inconsistent theology,’ but who are they to decide what’s right or not? How do we know that the Bible really holds to one specific system?”

Usually in conversations surrounding theology, I get very quiet. What I like to do in such times is listen more than I talk. That’s not to say that I don’t have a view on things, or that I don’t know the subject matter---it’s just that I hold off so I can better understand the person that’s talking to me. I did the same in this situation, and let him say what his theological convictions were. And I’m glad I did; not only did it help me create another post (voila, here it is!), but it also helped me to understand more of the “average churchperson’s” belief regarding theological study.

What is so shocking about this acquaintance’s statement is not so much that he said it as the fact that such train of thought did not originate with him. There have even been theologians who held to this same thought. One such theologian was the French theologian Moise Amyraut:

“If Adam’s sin happened through the providence of God, God was therefore its author; if it is said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then he punishes sins and vices he himself created; if God wanted to reprobate the greater part of mankind, he therefore does not want to save all; if he declares to us he wants to save all, there is therefore no absolute, precise election and predestination of a certain small number only; if Jesus Christ died for all, therefore the gospel must be preached equally clearly through the whole earth; if the gospel is not preached equally clearly, however, God does not lead the rest of mankind to repentance...when GOD’S WORD TEACHES ON THE ONE HAND THAT SOME ARE REPROBATED...and when on the other side THE SAME WORD TEACHES ME GOD WANTS ALL TO BE SAVED...EVEN THOUGH MY REASON SHOULD FIND THERE THINGS WHICH SEEM TO CLASH...I will not stop holding the doctrines as true” (G. Michael Thomas, “The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus.” United Kingdom: Paternoster, 1997, page 217).

Amyraut states here that “even though my reason should find these things which seem to clash,” he would still hold to these teachings. What this amounts to is, “Even though two doctrines are contradictory, I will still claim them both as true.” This sends a strong message that no matter how big the contradiction, God somehow operates “apart from logic,” as if logic isn’t one of the major indicators of truth.

“What’s all this stress on logic about?” you might ask. I am emphasizing the importance of logic because the Scriptures do as well. Read these words from the classical apologist (and Calvinist) Robert Charles Sproul:

“The Bible makes certain presuppositions or prior assumptions in communicating its truth to those who would listen. GIVEN THAT THE BIBLE IS GOD’S WORD, THE PRESUPPOSITIONS FOUND THEREIN ARE FOUND IN GOD HIMSELF, AND ARE THEREFORE ENDOWED TO HIS CREATURES, SINCE GOD HAS MADE US REASONABLE, SENSING, AND WITH THE ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE. That, of course, is simply another way of saying that God has made us in his image...we do see, for example, that the Scriptures TACITLY ASSUME THE VALIDITY OF THE LAW OF NONCONTRADICTION, which can be summed up in the following proposition: ‘A cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense or relationship’” (R.C. Sproul, “Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009, page 31).

Sproul then provides us with an example:

“The Scriptures assume that there is a discernable difference between truth and lie, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between obedience and disobedience. We are therefore held accountable by our Maker. If God commands us to do A, then we can know that to do non-A would be in direct violation of his command. INDEED, IN ORDER TO BE OBEDIENT TO GOD’S WORD ONE MUST ASSUME THE LAW OF NONCONTRADICTION; THE ALTERNATIVE WOULD LEAD TO CHAOS, AS NOT EVEN ONE SENTENCE IN SCRIPTURE COULD BE INTELLIGIBLE WITHOUT THIS LAW” (“Defending Your Faith,” page 31).

Jesus Himself used such logic. One such passage is that of John 7:

“Did not Moses give you the law, YET NONE OF YOU KEEPS THE LAW? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (John 7:19, NKJV)

Jesus states that, since (according to the Jews) transgression of the law resulted in death, then why did they desire to kill Him (but yet, did not seek their own deaths)? If He was to die for supposedly breaking the law, then so were they. It would be problematic to execute Him for breaking the law when they had done the same. This would be an example of a contradiction: “It’s okay to break the law and not break the law” all at the same time.

Another example of the Law of Non-Contradiction comes from Luke:

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43-45, NKJV).

We see that good trees bring forth good fruit, and bad trees bring forth bad fruit. Those who are noble in heart do good things, while those who are wicked do bad things. A wicked person will not consistently do good, nor will a good person consistently do bad. A person’s constant character will shine, whether good or evil.

Another instance of the Law of Non-Contradiction is Jesus’ statement regarding two masters:

“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13, NKJV).

Here Jesus tells us that God and “mammon” (or wealth) are opposed to each other, which confirms what we read later in John’s epistles:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. IF ANYONE LOVES THE WORLD, THE LOVE OF THE FATHER IS NOT IN HIM” (1 John 2:15).

In other words, a person cannot love both God and the world, since they are enemies of each other. To love one (whether God or the world) is to hate the other (whether God or the world). Here, “God” and “world” stand for two polar opposites, to opposing sides (A and not-A). One cannot serve both “A” (God) and “not-A” (world) at the same time with the same loyalty towards both. I will cover the ultimate passage promoting the Law of Non-Contradiction in my next post.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Implicit Premise

Dr. Ivan Spencer, my Apologetics professor, lectured on the problem of evil this week. He said that atheists often like to throw in “hidden premises,” implicit premises that can easily confuse a person if he or she fails to see what those implicit premises are. When atheists formulate premises and conclusions to attack theism (and the existence of God), they like to throw in hidden assumptions a lot.
But in the last year, I’ve come to see that Calvinists are guilty of the exact same thing. Revisiting “Debating Calvinism” by James White and Dave Hunt got me to see this once more.

James White writes in his section on “Unconditional Election”:

“Unconditional Election is simply the recognition of the biblical teaching that GOD IS FREE IN THE MATTER OF SALVATION. He chooses to exercise mercy and grace toward undeserving creatures solely on the basis of ‘the good pleasure of His will’ (Ephesians 1:5). THERE IS NOTHING IN THE CREATURE THAT MERITS, EARNS, OR ATTRACTS HIS FAVOR. His election is unconditional in that IT IS BASED SOLELY ON HIS PURPOSE AND HIS PLEASURE AND NOT IN ANYTHING WHATSOEVER IN THE CREATURE. This belief, of course, is most unpopular, since IT LEAVES NO ROOM FOR MAN’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS, WORKS, RITUALS, SACRAMENTS, or (AND THIS IS THE MAIN ISSUE), THE EXERCISE OF HIS ALLEGEDLY AUTONOMOUS WILL” (James White, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, pages 91-92).

We can present James White’s argument in the following syllogism:

1. God is free in the matter of salvation.
2. God chooses to show mercy and grace on “the good pleasure of His will.”
3. The creature cannot merit God’s grace and mercy.
4. God does not show mercy and grace due to man’s “autonomous” will. Therefore, God's "good pleasure" is in opposition to man's will ("autonomous" according to White).

The issue for James White, at least, is free will. A little later in his exposition of Ephesians 1, White writes:

“Why one man and not another? Man’s religions and traditions put the answer to that question firmly in the realm of human choice and accomplishment, but the Bible gives a very different answer. Upon what basis does God choose one and not another? ‘According to the kind intention of His will.’ It is God’s will, God’s purpose, God’s intention that determines the issue...if the crux of the matter lies IN MAN’S SUCCESSFUL ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, OR EVEN IN THE EXERCISE OF ‘FREE WILL’ TO EFFECTUATE GOD’S GRACE, how can the very next phrase speak of the praise of the glory of His grace?” (“Debating Calvinism,” pp. 93-94)

What White doesn’t understand, however, is that his attempts to separate free will from God’s sovereignty do not make his case; rather, it breaks it. Notice that in the syllogism above, White calls the human will “autonomous” and then separates the free will from God’s good pleasure in his quote on Ephesians 1. Why does White do this, when he knows that there is no such thing as an “autonomous” will? The word “autonomous” means to be one’s own law; so an autonomous will is one that answers to no one, where each human is their own God. But is that how God made man? No. Man has a will (which is a part of what it means to be “like” his Creator), but the will itself was created by God. Therefore, man can NEVER have an autonomous will; and for White to contribute the will to man himself robs God of His glory. If God made the will, then He made it originally good (not evil) and deemed it worthy of existence.

Secondly, he states that “the exercise of ‘free will’” is not what makes the grace of God effective. When White says this, though, he pairs up man’s “exercising of free will” with “man’s accomplishments,” etc. In White’s mind (as in the minds of Calvinists), faith is a work. The Scriptures, however, distinguish the two (Romans 4:2-3).

Sadly enough, White’s syllogism above links free will and the human decision. This is an implicit premise, but White finally decides to not hide it anymore:

“Every WORKS-ORIENTED system must deny God His kingship over the creature and must give to man’s abilities and powers beyond his sinful state, so that in the final analysis God’s power can be ‘channeled’ through human structures, whether they be rituals, sacraments, or even the very popular concept of ‘DECISIONALISM,’ THE IDEA THAT MAN, BY HIS AUTONOMOUS WILL, CONTROLS THE VERY WORK OF THE TRIUNE GOD IN SALVATION” (“Debating Calvinism,” page 99).

So now we all know White’s hidden premise: since God does not save on the basis of merit or accomplishment, He CANNOT SAVE ON THE BASIS OF FAITH! But as I said earlier, faith is not a work.

What White doesn’t comprehend about Ephesians 1 (a classic Calvinist passage) is that God saves by “the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5). But if this is true, then a question must be posed: WHAT seems good to God? What does He will in salvation? In an earlier quote in this post, I quoted James White saying that it is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” that He selects individuals to be saved. However, the key to the passage is “the praise...of His GRACE”! And why is His grace to be praised? Paul answers this question in Romans 4:16ff---

“Therefore it is of faith THAT IT MIGHT BE ACCORDING TO GRACE, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to THOSE WHO ARE OF THE LAW, but also to THOSE WHO ARE OF THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’)” (Rom. 4:16-17, NKJV).

Why is God’s grace to be praised? Is it because He does whatever He wants? Yes! But what is the “whatever He wants”? Is it unconditional election, where He chooses some to be saved and leaves others in their damnation? NO!! Instead, God is to be praised for His grace because His grace “made room” for Gentiles; for, without it, all the Gentiles would still be in their sins. The fact that God did not just grant salvation to the Jews presents a God who is willing to bestow grace and faith on all of His human creation, not just some of it.

Calvinists will continue to write, produce books, and win many converts. But the Bible presents the truth; and I am convinced that the truth will win out in the end.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Confirmation of a Non-Calvinist: Assurance of Faith

I enjoy writing on Calvinist confessions. When I did the work on the warning passages in Hebrews (see the Hebrews section to the right), I found it thrilling when Classical Calvinist Buist M. Fanning admitted that certain passages of Hebrews posed problems for his theology. As hard as it was for him to make that confession, I’m so thankful he did. As an old saying goes, “Confession is good for the soul.” It is good for all of us when we can come to the table and confess our faults, our short-sightedness, our need for correction and criticism from others.

I have done that here at the site: I have accepted correction. Prior to this past year, I knew nothing of middle knowledge; and when I learned what middle knowledge was, I initially shunned it and tossed it aside. However, reading Open Theist arguments (from Bruce Ware’s work, “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism”) convinced me that in a sense, if all God knew was one option of a range of choices, then the Open Theist must be right. If God only knew that I would turn right, but didn’t equally know that I “could” turn left, then God determined that I would go right, without any regard for my choice whatsoever. God only knew what He had predetermined (in that system). I talked with the owner of the blog “Classical Arminianism” at blogspot, Billy Birch, some months ago at lunch about this subject. His response to the Open Theist claim was, “We Classical Arminians have always affirmed God’s exhaustive foreknowledge.” I told him that his statement was true; however, we Classical Arminians have failed to incorporate our belief into our theology. And when we come to passages like 1 Samuel 23:11-13, in which God tells David an outcome that isn’t actualized, we find Classical Arminian theology facing a dilemma...until we incorporate middle knowledge. Once we do, we find that God tells David (at that moment) what will actually happen; however, David takes the words of the Lord and flees from Keilah, thus preventing the prediction from coming true. The Lord’s words, then, were conditional upon David’s decision.

Incorporating middle knowledge into the Classical Arminian system does not hurt the system itself; rather, middle knowledge boosts God’s divine foreknowledge. It is truly “exhaustive” in that God even knows the options that you and I never choose that were “potential” selects in our day-to-day decisions.
Middle knowledge taught me how to incorporate my view of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge with the extent to which God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive (via the Scriptures). To say it best, we have to be able to subject ourselves to learning...and allow ourselves to be challenged by the Word of God. If we refuse to do so, we might end up with a theological system we can live with...but it won’t be the correct one. As for me, I’ve been on a pursuit for the most biblical theological system existing; and I hold out hope that maybe I’m wrong and that there is more learning in-store for me in the future. However, I will say this: If I’m wrong, at least it can be said that I am truly seeking the truth. And if I’m seeking the truth, the Lord will honor my seeking and grant me knowledge of the truth...for He desires that we earnestly seek Him. All good things, including knowledge of the truth, come from Him.In any case, I think it’s admirable when theologians make statements that show the inconsistencies in their theologies (like Buist Fanning).

However, there are times when those who do not hold to a particular type of theology make statements that seem to confirm a particular theology. One such example is Dave Hunt, and he makes this grand confession in his debate with James White, published in a book titled “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views”:

“Our assurance is not in baptism, good works, or denial of choice. John declares, ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life’ (1 John 5:13). BELIEVING IN CHRIST IS OUR ASSURANCE” (Dave Hunt, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 399).

I have argued here at CTS that faith is the “birthright to the inheritance of salvation,” that, just as Esau threw away his birthright (Heb. 12), so can believers throw away their faith. I’ve also discussed Luke 8, the Parable of the Soils, and the rocky soil that “believed for a time” and then fell away due to temptation (Luke 8:13). I’ve walked the readership through Romans 11 to see that the Gentiles differ from the Jews in that they stand by their faith (Rom. 11:20ff). I’ve made it clear that faith is the condition by which one “stands” or “falls away” from the faith. Dave Hunt, in his debate with James White, states this: that faith is the assurance that we have as believers. Our assurance is present due to our faith.

But when most Christians say the above statements (as Dave Hunt does), they rarely think about what this means: if our assurance comes because of our faith, then our assurance is CONDITIONAL: as Paul told the Gentiles in Romans 11, “You stand by your faith” (Rom. 11:20). Dave Hunt argues against unconditional election in his debate with James White; however, if election is not “unconditional,” then what else can election be but “conditional”? And if election is conditional, then what can security be but “conditional”? This is why I’ve taken time here at the blog to go through the Scriptures: because I think so many ordinary believers are Classical Arminian in their theology, but don’t know it. I went to a local coffeeshop some time ago and met a gentleman who stated that he could see “general and particular atonement” in a certain passage of Scripture. I looked at him and said, “You believe, then, in the singular redemption view, which states that Christ died for all, but only grants salvation ON THE BASIS OF FAITH.” What is shocking is not that the gentleman didn’t know that he was holding to a Classical Arminian view---but that he claimed to be Calvinist!

Hebrews confirms Dave Hunt’s view:

“Therefore, do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36, NKJV).

The Greek word for “confidence” (v.35) is “parresia,” which can also mean “assurance.” So when the writer tells the scattered believers, “do not cast away your confidence,” he tells them not to throw off their assurance. And then he tells them, “you have need of endurance.” So assurance is key to endurance. At the end of chapter 10, the writer quotes Rom. 1:17: “Now the just shall live by faith.” Faith is the possession of the just, or the righteous.

An earlier portion of Hebrews 10 discusses this idea of assurance (confidence) and faith:

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near in FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water; let us hold fast the confession of our hope WITHOUT WAVERING, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:19-23).

The key words in this passage involve the phrase “full assurance of faith” (v.22) and “without wavering” (v.23). The phrase “full assurance of faith” in the Greek is two words, “plerophoria (full assurance) pisteos (of faith).” William Lane Craig writes regarding “full assurance of faith” in his work, “Reasonable Faith”:

“Paul uses the term ‘plerophoria’ (complete confidence, full assurance) to indicate that the believer has knowledge of the truth as a result of the Spirit’s work (Col. 2:2; 1 Thess. 1:5; cf. Rom. 4:21; 14:5; Col. 4:12). Sometimes this is called ‘ASSURANCE OF SALVATION’ by Christians today, and assurance of salvation entails certain truths of Christianity, such as ‘God forgives my sin,’ ‘Christ has reconciled me to God,’ and so on, so that in having assurance of salvation one has assurance of these truths” (William Lane Craig, “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics,” Third Edition. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008, page 44).

Because a person has assurance of their salvation, they know certain salvific truths: that God has saved them, that God reconciled them through Christ, that God is returning for them some day to give them salvation, etc.
This is why the writer of Hebrews 10 tells the scattered believers to draw near to God with a “full assurance of faith”: because the believers know certain salvific truths, such as those in Hebrews 10:19-21---the blood of Jesus has given us access to “the Holiest” (that being the throne of God), the veil, “His flesh,” has provided this access to the throne; Christ is our High Priest over the house of God (that house being the believers, Heb. 3:6). The writer of Hebrews exhorts the believers to let their actions be application of the spiritual truths they already possess. They know the truths of the faith; they just need to act on them now, even in the face of persecution.

Notice, however, that the truths of the faith should move the believer to draw near to God with full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:23), encourage other believers (v.24), and assemble with fellow believers to worship and encourage (v.25). Today’s believers have been given the same instruction, so that we too, might inherit the promises.

Dave Hunt is not alone in his statement that assurance comes through faith. Ken Keathley states this as well when he writes in a footnote about Thomas Schreiner (author of “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance”):

“After I wrote this chapter (titled “E is for Eternal Life,” my emphasis), Dr. Schreiner was kind enough to send me a draft of his upcoming book ‘Run To Win The Prize’ (InterVarsity). In it he clarifies his position and provides a helpful response to many concerns expressed by me and others. Most helpful is HIS DESCRIPTION OF PERSEVERANCE, which he defines as ‘PERSEVERING IN FAITH’----A DEFINITION WITH WHICH I AGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 185).

Both Thomas Schreiner and Ken Keathley hold to “perseverance in faith.” This is an interesting phrase by Schreiner; in fact, perseverance in faith is exactly what Arminius himself held to in his “Works”:

“I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences: (1) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from the FAITH;’ and (2) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from SALVATION.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, CAN SCARCELY BE ADMITTED;---It being impossible for believers, AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, THAT POWER OF GOD WOULD BE CONQUERED WHICH HE HAS DETERMINED TO EMPLOY IN SAVING BELIEVERS. On the other hand, IF BELIEVERS FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH AND BECOME UNBELIEVERS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO DO OTHERWISE THAN DECLINE FROM SALVATION,---that is, PROVIDED THEY STILL CONTINUE UNBELIEVERS” (James Arminius, Works 1:741-742).

Arminius found the biblical answer to reconciling the promises and warnings: and that was faith. In the same way, Keathley’s concession of he and Schreiner’s belief is very telling indeed. If it does nothing else, it at least shows us that Arminius may not have been as “off his rocker” as most people presume he was.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Undermining Eternal Security: The Calvinist Conception of Losing Salvation

Today’s post may shock my readership. I covered Arminius’s theology regarding losing faith and losing salvation recently; however, today’s post is one that you may never see anywhere else on any other blog---except mine and a few others who dare to “set the record straight” on issues pertaining to theology.
Arminians are accused (at least in the modern-day evangelical world) of holding to heterodox doctrine regarding salvation. I’ve argued here at CTS that key to Arminius’s theology was faith; a man stands by his faith, and can fall away from the faith if he does not continue in the grace of God (Rom. 11:20-22).

But what may shock you is that Calvin had a theory of his own regarding losing salvation. Calvin’s view of losing salvation involves the reprobate. Regarding the characteristics of those described in 6:4-5 (“enlightened, tasted of the heavenly gift, the good word of God, and the powers of the coming age”), Calvin writes in his Hebrews commentary:

“But we must notice in passing the names by which he signalizes the knowledge of the Gospel. He calls it illumination; it hence follows that men are blind, until Christ, the light of the world, enlightens them. He calls it a tasting of the heavenly gift; intimating that the things which Christ confers on us are above nature and the world, and that they are yet tasted by faith. He calls it the participation of the Spirit; for he it is who distributes to every one, as he wills, all the light and knowledge which he can have; for without him no one can say that Jesus is the Lord,(1 Corinthians 12:3); he opens for us the eyes of our minds, and reveals to us the secret things of God. He calls it a tasting of the good word of God; by which he means, that the will of God is therein revealed, not in any sort of way, but in such a way as sweetly to delight us; in short, by this title is pointed out the difference between the Law and the Gospel; for that has nothing but severity and condemnation, but this is a sweet testimony of God's love and fatherly kindness towards us. And lastly, he calls it a tasting of the powers of the world to come; by which he intimates, that we are admitted by faith as it were into the kingdom of heaven, so that we see in spirit that blessed immortality which is hid from our senses” (Calvin’s Commentaries: Hebrews, page 75).

So those who are “enlightened” are those whom Christ has “shined upon” (2 Cor.4:6), since Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12); those who have “tasted” of the heavenly gift” are those who receive the heavenly blessings “by faith,” Calvin claims; those who are “partakers of the Holy Spirit” are those who possess the Spirit (who enlightens the mind); those who “tasted the good word of God” refers to those who study the Scriptures); those who have “tasted of the powers of the coming age” refers to those who “are admitted by faith...into the kingdom of heaven...” In short, all the given descriptions describe Christians.

But then, Calvin takes a sharp turn for the worst:

“But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14); and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish. TO ALL THIS I ANSWER, THAT GOD INDEED FAVORS NONE BUT THE ELECT ALONE WITH THE SPIRIT OF REGENERATION, AND THAT BY THIS THEY ARE DISTINGUISHED FROM THE REPROBATE; FOR THEY ARE RENEWED AFTER HIS IMAGE AND RECEIVE THE EARNEST OF THE SPIRIT IN HOPE OF THE FUTURE INHERITANCE, AND BY THE SAME SPIRIT THE GOSPEL IS SEALED IN THEIR HEARTS. BUT I CANNOT ADMIT THAT ALL THIS IS ANY REASON WHY HE SHOULD NOT GRANT THE REPROBATE ALSO SOME TASTE OF HIS GRACE, WHY HE SHOULD NOT IRRADIATE THEIR MINDS WITH SOME SPARKS OF HIS LIGHT, WHY HE SHOULD NOT GIVE THEM SOME PERCEPTION OF HIS GOODNESS, AND IN SOME SORT ENGRAVE HIS WORD ON THEIR HEARTS. OTHERWISE, WHERE WOULD BE THE TEMPORAL FAITH MENTIONED BY MARK 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up” (“Calvin’s Commentaries: Hebrews,” page 76).

In this second paragraph regarding Hebrews 6 (paragraph above), Calvin attempts to reconcile Hebrews 6:4-6 with Romans 8:14. On the basis of Romans 8:14 as a prooftext, Calvin states that “the elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away,” and then appeals to John 17:12 [see my posts on Calvinism where I argue that John 17:12 pertains to physical preservation, which is fulfilled by Jesus in John 18:7-9. Do a search at the top of the main page for “Herbert Lockeyer"].
So who are those of Hebrews 6 if they are not the elect? “I cannot admit that all this is any reason why He should not grant the reprobate also some taste of His grace...otherwise, where would be the TEMPORAL FAITH mentioned in Mark 4:17?”

Notice that, in the above words, Calvin said that “He,” God, is the one who grants the temporary faith (as He believes Mark 4:17 reveals). But what Calvin does here is assign God the role of granting only temporary faith to some. He writes the following in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”:

“ is not strange, that by the apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ Himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them...still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize His grace; BUT THAT CONVICTION HE DISTINGUISHES FROM THE PECULIAR TESTIMONY WHICH HE GIVES TO HIS ELECT IN THIS RESPECT, that the reprobate never attain to the full result of to fruition. WHEN HE SHOWS HIMSELF PROPITIOUS TO THEM, IT IS NOT AS IF HE HAD TRULY RESCUED THEM FROM DEATH, AND TAKEN THEM UNDER HIS PROTECTION. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY...THUS WE DISPOSE OF THE OBJECTION, THAT IF GOD TRULY DISPLAYS HIS GRACE, IT MUST ENDURE FOREVER. THERE IS NOTHING INCONSISTENT IN THIS WITH THE FACT OF HIS ENLIGHTENING SOME WITH A PRESENT SENSE OF GRACE, WHICH AFTERWARD PROVES EVANESCENT” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.2.11).

Here we see that Calvin argues a temporary faith, “a manifestation of His present mercy.” Because of this, “we dispose of the objection that if God truly displays His grace, it must endure forever.” In Calvin’s mind, grace was only eternal for the elect; it was temporal or temporary for the reprobate (non-elect).

In Calvin’s theology, God is the one who enlightens the reprobate, and then removes it. This is seen most clearly in Calvin’s distinction of general and special calls:

“Besides this [universal call] there is a special call which, FOR THE MOST PART, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. Sometimes, however, he communicates it also to THOSE WHOM HE ENLIGHTENS FOR A TIME, AND WHOM AFTERWARD, IN JUST PUNISHMENT FOR THEIR INGRATITUDE, HE ABANDONS AND SMITES WITH GREATER BLINDNESS” (John Calvin, “Institutes,” 3.24.8).

Here is where Calvin fumbles most. First, he argues that the special call (which is for the elect) is given to believers only “for the most part.” Is he saying that God gives it to those who are not believers? Calvin does not elaborate.
Next, God abandons those who display “ingratitude.” How can they be responsible for resisting grace if God is the one who enlightens them for a time, only gives them “a manifestation of His present mercy”? If God only gives them a “temporal faith,” then how is it their fault if their faith does not endure to the end? Since faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9), how then, can man be responsible if God is the one giving and taking faith?

This last statement of Calvin is one that involves “losing salvation.” Eventually, God “abandons” that person and throws him further into reprobation. This is the modern concept that most people have in mind when the Arminian talks about “losing salvation.” However, this is not the doctrine of Arminius, but Calvin himself; and the only problem with Calvin’s view is that God is not the one who abandons the believer (Heb. 13:5; Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5); instead, the believer who falls away is the one who neglects God (Hebrews 2:3). In addition, Hebrews 6:7-8 (following verses 4 and 5) discusses the land that drinks the rain and can bear either fruit or thorns. In the words of Peter O’Brien, “The responsibility falls on the land and thus WITH THE PERSONS, NOT WITH GOD” (“The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010, page 228). The persons themselves are to blame for their falling away, not God. So if the issue is faith (which Calvin seems to think it is---“temporal faith”), then the blame for falling away is not that God takes it from the believer, but that the believer gives up his or her faith (2 Peter 2:20-21; 1 Tim. 4:1; Hebrews 2:3; Romans 11:20-22).

Calvin attempts to maintain eternal security; however, by doing so, he is forced to deal with those who believe for a time and fall away...and he ends up assigning a temporary faith to them which makes one wonder whether or not he or she is even elect. If a person can have faith given to them for a time, and then the Spirit can “abandon” them and reprobate them, how then, can any of the assumed “elect” persons actually know with one-hundred percent certainty that they are elect? I think here is where we see the strength of Classical Arminianism: it offers assurance for the one who continues to believe, while holding to biblical teaching that believers can fall away (Mark 4:17, Luke 8:13).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Land and Its Possibilities, Part II: Middle Knowledge, Molinism, and Hebrews 6:7-8

In my last post, I looked at the text of Hebrews 6:7-8 to discuss the land (representing the Christian) receiving the rain (the blessings of God, Heb. 6:4-5), and the possibilities of bearing fruit or bearing thorns and thistles. In the last post, I stated that, contra Wayne Grudem, the text is not discussing two types of lands but one land with two possibilities of land growth---whether it be to bear fruit and receiving God’s blessing, or to bear thorns and thistles and be eternally cursed by God. I also stated that Grudem’s commitment to Calvinism is problematic in that the verse doesn’t give just one option for the land (to bear fruit), but also that the land can be cursed. And when one considers that this “land” (person) receives rain (blessings) from God, we see that the land, although given everything to make it thrive, can bear thorns and thistles and come to nothing.

Let’s look at the text of Hebrews 6:7-8 once more:

“For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8, NKJV).

Verse 7 refers to the land that bears fruit: it “receives” a blessing. The Greek word for “receives” is “metalambano,” which means “to receive, to partake, to be made a partner.” Notice that verses 7-8 flow with verses 4-6, since the land that “partakes of the blessing from God” (v.7) represents those who “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” (v.4).

But what about verse 8? “but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” Peter O’Brien states that this verse has something to say about human responsibility:

“The second half of the illustration also portrays soil that has been well-watered and nurtured, but by contrast it produces ‘thorns and thistles’ (v.8)...THE RESPONSIBILITY FALLS ON THE LAND AND THUS WITH THE PERSONS, NOT WITH GOD. Those who commit apostasy, in spite of the many blessings that have been showered on them by God, are like a well-watered land that produces thorns and thistles” (Peter O’Brien, “The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010, pp. 228).

Who is responsible for falling away? The persons themselves. This is demonstrated by the fact that the subject of the “falling away” of Heb. 6:6 is “those who were once enlightened...have tasted the heavenly gift...become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” For those who doubt that these verses refer to believers, look at the words of the writer later in the epistle:

“But recall the former days in which, AFTER YOU WERE ILLUMINATED, you endured a great struggle with sufferings” (Heb. 10:32, NKJV).

The Greek word for “were illuminated” is “photisthentes,” which is translated as “being enlightened” or “being illuminated.” The verb itself is a participle, which means that the helping verb, “were,” is really translated as “having been enlightened.” According to Thayer’s Dictionary of the New Testament, the word “photisthentes” means “to enlighten spiritually, to imbue with saving knowledge.” So those who were enlightened were those who came to saving knowledge. And this is connected with salvation in 1 Timothy 2:4 (“to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”).

Back to Hebrews 6:8. The word for “rejected” (regarding the land that drinks the rains but bears thorns and thistles) is “adokimos,” which is translated as “rejected, not standing the test, not approved, unfit, unproved, REPROBATE” (Thayer’s Dictionary). Paul Ellingworth, author of the “New International Greek Testament Commentary: Hebrews,” translates the word “adokimos” as “worthless” (328). The word “adokimos” also appears in 1 Cor. 9:27; Romans 1:28; 2 Cor. 13:5, 6, 7; 2 Tim. 3:8; and Titus 1:16.

The description of the land that bears thorns and thistles is that it is “to be burned.” This burning, according to O’Brien, “does not suggest a restorative or disciplinary process. Rather, it describes THE PUNISHMENT THAT AWAITS THOSE CONDEMNED BY GOD. THE TEXT IS SPEAKING OF A FIERY JUDGMENT ON APOSTATES” (O’Brien, “PNTC: Hebrews,” page 229). Paul Ellingworth states that burning is the theme of divine judgment and is found in Heb. 10:27; Ps. 18:8 (LXX 17:9); Is. 30:27; Jer. 4:4; Jer. 21:12; Mt. 13:30, 42; Mt. 25:41; Jn. 15:6 (Ellingworth, “NIGTC: Hebrews,” page 328).

I’ve covered verses 7 and 8 of Hebrews 6 so as to give the reader some insight into what the passage is presenting to the reader (and the intended audience of scattered believers in the Dispersion).

Now, the next question would be, “Well, how does this tie in to the issue of middle knowledge?” To answer this question, we must first understand what middle knowledge is. The site “” provides answers to this (for those who want to read the whole of information on middle knowledge, click on the middle knowledge link to the right of the main page) from John Frame:

“This knowledge (a) is a knowledge of what would happen under such-and-such conditions, and (b) is based, neither upon God's nature nor upon his decree, but upon the free decisions of created beings. Thus God knows what will happen if David re-mains in Keilah, and what will happen if he does not (I Sam. 23:1-13); and he knows it, not because he controls the course of history, but because he knows what free decisions people will make in¬dependently of his controlling decree. This con-cept found favor with Lutherans (e.g., Quenstedt) and with Arminius and some of his followers. The Reformed agree that God knows what would happen under all conditions, but they reject the notion that this knowledge is ever ultimately based on man's autonomous decisions. Human decisions, they argue, are themselves the effects of God's eternal decrees (see Acts 2:23, Rom. 9:10-18, Eph. 1:11, Phil. 2:12-13).
John M. Frame "Scientia Media" from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.”

As is evident from the definition, middle knowledge is a third type of knowledge that indicates what human creatures “would” do. There are two other types of God’s knowledge in this system: natural knowledge (what God knows about Himself as well as all possibilities of worlds He could create), and free knowledge (what God knows human creatures “will” do). The difference between God’s middle and free knowledge is that, in middle knowledge, God’s knows the possibility of human choices, whereas in free knowledge, He knows what a person will actually choose.

Let’s use Hebrews 6:7-8 (this is an ideal passage for our discussion of middle knowledge). These two verses present us with two options for the land (“One Land, Two Possibilities”): the land (the believer) can either bear fruit and receive eternal life from the Lord, or the land can bear thorns and thistles and be declared “adokimos” (reprobate) in the end. Now God knows what the land in question will do; however, the land itself is responsible for what will happen to it. As Peter O’Brien states in his Hebrews commentary (PNTC, see above), the person is responsible for their apostasy (should it happen), not God. God presents two options before the believer: to persevere and be saved, or to fall away and eternally perish. And God possesses middle knowledge because He knows that every believer “COULD” persevere, but He also knows that every believer “COULD” fall away. In the end, each believer will be judged for their works (2 Cor. 5:10) because they had two options, not just one. Each believer’s fate was not determined by God, but their own perseverance before God.

However, middle knowledge (as impressive as it sounds) is NOT Molinism. What is Molinism? Molinism involves the three logical moments of God’s knowledge (natural, middle, and free knowledge) as well as a little extra. What is this “little extra” in Molinism? It is the added tenet to middle knowledge of “God’s divine decree to create His SELECTED WORLD” (see for more info on Middle Knowledge and Molinism). God doesn’t just have foreknowledge of creaturely actions, He also determines which choices will come to pass.

If we apply this to Hebrews 6:7-8, God not only knew that the believers could either receive eternal life or eternal punishment...He also determined a world where some would bear fruit and receive life while others would bear thorns and thistles and be cast into Hell. To put it briefly, God determined some to be elect and others to be reprobate.

I know this language sounds unbelievable (and dishonoring to the Almighty God) to say the least; but Molina himself, the founder of Molinism, did not back down from this statement:

“Without consideration of any particular individual’s salvation, damnation, or non-existence, God enters into an all-encompassing predestinary determination of what world to actualize, which arrives at completion through his sovereign creative decree. On Molina’s view, then, predestination, COMPRISING ELECTION AND REPROBATION, are logically simultaneous with the divine creative decree, as predestination, in the words of Craig, ‘involves God’s willing that aspect of the world comprising the natural circumstances and supernatural gifts of grace which form the milieu in which a person freely responds to God’s gracious initiatives.’ FOR BY CHOOSING WHICH FEASIBLE WORLD TO ACTUALIZE, GOD PREDESTINES TO SALVATION, OR ELECTS, EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN THAT WORLD WHO WOULD FREELY ACCEPT HIS PREVENIENT GRACE, AND HE PREDESTINES TO DAMNATION, OR REPROBATES, EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN THAT WORLD WHO WOULD FREELY REJECT HIS PREVENIENT GRACE” (Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.” Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007, page 77).

Here we can set up a syllogism to explain MacGregor’s quote:

I. God picks a world.
II. The selected world contains those who accept Christ and those who reject Christ.
III. God, therefore, picks those who accept Christ and those who reject Christ.

In case you think the syllogism is a bit harsh, read these words from Kirk MacGregor:


Simply put, God chose both the elect and reprobate in this world; however, in another life, the elect could have been reprobate and the reprobate could’ve been elect. God’s “arbitrary choice” explains why the elect and reprobate comprise the persons they do---not the condition of faith.

If we apply this to the text of Hebrews 6:7-8, Molinism teaches that God determined the world in which some would be saved, some would be damned, and others would fall away from the faith. In another life, however, God could’ve actualized a situation where the saved would be damned (through either apostasy or sheer unbelief), the damned would either fall away or been saved, and those who fell away would either never believe or been saved. But the current world consists of these three types of persons, with PARTICULAR PERSONS IN EACH GROUP, because God ordained it to be. God picked the apostates, unbelievers, and believers alike. To make it more personal, Joe is damned in this life because God picked this world; in another life, Joe could’ve been saved. Could Joe have fallen away? Yep. Even in another life, Joe could’ve been a Christian who hardened his heart and fell away from the Gospel---all because God decided to actualize that world instead of another one. The world selected is due to the arbitrary will of God---God’s mere whim. What does MacGregor say to defend his theological system from attack?

“At this juncture it must be emphasized that God is not guilty of foisting a ‘divine sting operation’ upon the reprobate, as the circumstances in the world he chooses to actualize (as well as every other feasible world) are freedom-preserving and do nothing to cause either the reprobate to spurn prevenient grace or the elect to embrace it” (“A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” page 78).

Contra MacGregor, does it really make sense to say that, despite God choosing a world in which some will believe and others disbelieve, those in either camp had a real choice? If God has selected the choice that will be actualized, how then is the choice genuinely a human choice (especially if the reprobate person could have been elect in another world, if God had so determined it)? I think that Molinists here attempt to substitute determinism for divine foreknowledge. It is God’s foreknowledge that leaves room for creaturely freedom. But to put divine determinism in the place of divine foreknowledge now makes God the author of sin and evil---since God is choosing a world where some will be damned. This goes against Matthew 25:41, where the Lord never mentions that Hell was prepared for one single human being! Now some Molinists would say that God’s determination does not take away from man’s choice; however, since it is God who decides which choice will be actualized, the human has “determined choice” (choices determined by God) and “virtual choice” in virtual worlds (that are never actualized and can never be proven as having existed). God, then, “chooses the choice,” determines human action. In the end, the Molinist system amounts to divine predeterminism (just as Calvinism does).

As we’ve seen, Hebrews 6:7-8 affirms middle knowledge (two or more possibilities of action), but does not affirm Molinism (since the person determines their actions, not God). In my next post, I will discuss the Doctrine of Apostasy and talk about why apostasy poses a threat to Calvinist and Molinist theology.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Land and Its Possibilities, Part I: Introduction

I rarely get the opportunity to go back and read through my posts here at CTS. But every now and then, when I’m frustrated with a new post (which occurs seldom), and need to mentally relax a bit, I return to reading random posts from the site. Usually, it’s something in a post written months ago that will spark ideas for a new one.

Yesterday, I happened to read an old post that got me to thinking about Middle Knowledge and Molinism all over again. And I thought, “I should do another post on this”---so here it is!

Today’s post will deal with Hebrews 6. Now, before you assume I’m gonna deal with verses 4-6 about falling away, be assured that I’m not. This post is not gonna deal with those verses. Instead, I’m gonna deal with “the land and its possibilities,” found in verses 7-8. We’ll see why the example does not refer to two lands, but instead one land with two choices open before itself. The land, of course, refers to the believer who has tasted “the rain of God’s goodness” and can either bear fruit and receive a blessing or bear thorns and thistles and be eternally damned.

Now, verses 4-6 will serve as the context of verses 7-8, since the key to biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) of any passage is to read verses in their context. We cannot just pull verses 7-8 out of the rest of chapter 6 and hope to understand what the author is doing. Verses 4-6, then, talk about the believer who has received the goodness of God: “those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4-5, NKJV).

In verse 7, the writer says, “For the earth which drinks in the rain...” The word “for” here connects verse 7 back to verses 4-6. So verses 7-8 are very much connected to the verses on apostasy that precede it. The land example doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It is logically connected to the verses that come before.
Verses 7-8, however, have been misapplied and taken out of context by well-known theologians such as Wayne Grudem:

“The difference was not in the kinds of events experienced but IN THE KINDS OF GROUND THE RAIN FELL ON. The way the ground responds to the rain reveals the kind of ground it was in the first place” (Wayne Grudem, “The Perseverance of the Saints,” from “Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, page 155).

Grudem then places a footnote at the end of the above quote, in which he writes: “...the author is not thinking of the same piece of land at all, for he clearly thinks of two distinct possibilities for two very different kinds of ground” (“Still Sovereign,” page 155).

In the first quote, Grudem focuses on the “kind of ground” the land was. This is not the emphasis of Hebrews 6. Peter O’Brien, the author of “The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Hebrews,” disagrees with Wayne Grudem:

“Decisive for understanding the parable is the harvest: ATTENTION IS FOCUSED ON WHAT IS PRODUCED AT THE END, not on the preliminary stages of growth” (Peter O’Brien, “The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010, page 228).

O’Brien states that the harvest is where the focus of the verses is, not the land itself. It’s not the land that is being evaluated, but the harvest. This is what will happen on the Day of Judgment, where each person is judged for what he or she has done, not a predetermined heart condition (2 Cor. 5:10).

Grudem and other Calvinist theologians assume that a person’s heart cannot change, that a person is given a predetermined condition---but that is not the case. And that is the problem with his exegesis: he assumes that a person can have no change in his or her heart towards God. But this is incompatible with the rest of Hebrews, where the writer warns the congregation of turning away from God: “Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief IN DEPARTING FROM THE LIVING GOD...exhort one another daily...lest any of you BE HARDENED THROUGH THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN” (Heb. 3:12-13, NKJV). How can a person “be hardened” or “become hardened” through sin if their hearts were hardened in the first place? So the person in the congregation whose heart becomes hardened is one whose heart was at first soft towards God, but has repeatedly resisted the Spirit over time and “grown cold” to God and His blessings. This shows a heart change, something that Calvinist theologians cannot stand to admit.

Go back to Hebrews 6:7-8. Notice that the text says “the earth” or “the ground,” not “earths” (plural) or “grounds” (plural). The text does not give the plural but the singular to show that there are two possibilities for this one land being discussed: The text “depicts two kinds of responses that can be made to the warning” (Peter O’Brien, “PNTC: Hebrews,” page 227). These two responses relate to the two kinds of harvest, NOT the land. There is only one land mentioned, but two possibilities: the land can either bear fruit or the land can bear thorns and thistles. There are two possibilities open for the land in question.

I quoted Wayne Grudem in this post (along with Peter O’Brien) to show you that Grudem’s exegesis is driven by his theological system. Grudem is Calvinist, and Calvinism makes no room in its system for possibility or choice. This is why he constantly mentions that those who fall away are those that “had never been truly saved in the first place” (“Still Sovereign,” page 156). Why such an emphasis on “first place,” or “the beginning”? Because Grudem is consumed by the idea of “predeterminism,” where a person is decided by God to either be elect or reprobate before the foundations of the world---and time manifests that God-given status. The emphasis is not on the actions of the person in time, but God’s declaration of that person from before time began.

The text of Hebrews 6:7-8, however, affirms two choices for the land in question. Verse 8 states, “but if it [the land, v.7] bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Heb. 6:8, NKJV). So the land can either bear fruit and receive blessing from God, or bear thorns and be eschatologically burned in the end [i.e., receive eternal damnation from God].
Middle Knowledge involves two or more choices regarding a certain action. First, in order to assess the importance of this passage, we have got to be able to see the text clearly. Grudem cannot do this because he is blinded by his commitment to Calvinism. In my next post, I want to discuss how middle knowledge fits into the text of Hebrews 6:7-8, and show what implications this has for preservation and apostasy. Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Four-Point Arminianism and the Doctrine of Eternal Security

I would like to dedicate this post to my fellow Arminians, those who hold to four of the five points of Classical Arminianism. I do realize that five-point Arminians and four-point Arminians have had their share of disagreement over the years, since the one point of contention between both camps has been the perseverance of the saints (conditional/unconditional).

I’ve stated it here at the site that one of the key issues of theology is consistency: that is, how all the five points of the theological system(s) hold together. If one point does not flow from the other four, then the system needs to be abandoned in favor of a more coherent and consistent one. The characteristic of coherency and consistency is important, especially when one considers that theological systems point to the “theos,” God Himself---and there is no inconsistency or incoherency in God. There is nothing about the character of God that is inconsistent or contradictory (2 Tim. 2:13).

With the idea of consistency and coherency at the helm, we will now approach the theological systems I’ve discussed in great detail at the site. Let’s take Calvinism, for example. Those who hold to all five points, “TULIP,” are the ONLY consistent Calvinists. How can this be true? It is so because if one argues the Calvinist conception of “Total Depravity,” then one will also see that God must “unconditionally elect” (because God does not enable the will to choose Christ); once God decides whom He will “pick and choose” for salvation, He then decides to die for only those He selected (Limited Atonement); to get these people to come to Himself (despite their depravity), God draws them by His “Irresistible Grace,” and then “Unconditionally Perseveres” them to the end, and they are saved. In the Calvinist system, those whom God selects are “guaranteed” salvation.

All the other “Calvinist” systems, such as Amyraldianism (four-point Calvinism), or Molinism (three-point Calvinism), are inconsistent. Why? Let’s take Molinism, for example. Molinism holds to the Calvinist tenets of Depravity (Radical), Election (Sovereign Election), and Perseverance (Eternal Life). Molinism differs only in its views of Grace (Overcoming, not Irresistible) and Singular Redemption (instead of Limited Atonement). Within the Molinist system, there is a conflict with Sovereign Election (Unconditional in nature) and Singular Redemption (conditional in nature, since only those who believe receive Jesus’ atonement). The question becomes, then, how can Jesus truly offer His atonement to “all who believe” IF He actually picked those who would receive His atonement? If He picked them from the beginning, then “those who believe” is a problematic statement. Here’s where I agree with Calvinism: If God has picked those who will be saved (and I’m assuming this for argument’s sake), then they don’t need to believe. God will simply regenerate the chosen before they believe. What need is there to have a qualification (belief) for those whom God has already decided of His own will would be saved by His blood? And if God has picked those He will save before time began, then how can the others be responsible for not believing? I’m sure that Molinists have an answer for this one, but the only way responsibility can be ensured on the part of the unbeliever and believer alike is if God’s call is not efficacious, does not force some to believe, does not involve irresistible grace. In other words, God’s call requires a genuine human response. Responses are not genuine if God predetermined them before they occur in time. Rather, we are just “sock puppets” living out God’s predetermined decrees (we are just fulfilling “The Divine Script”).

So, to be consistent, one must hold to either all five points of Calvinism, or...that’s right: ALL FIVE POINTS OF ARMINIANISM! This is why I wanted to write this post: to make a point for five-point Arminianism.

I’ve been doing a lot of work on the Doctrine of Eternal Security here at CTS, and I’ve made it clear that the doctrine itself presupposes divine guarantee of perseverance: those whom Christ chose will infallibly persevere to the end and be saved (see posts on Total Depravity). But divine guarantees are only allowed to exist within a NECESSARY kind of system---in other words, a predetermined one. Between Calvinism and Arminianism, Calvinism is the only deterministic system; it alone has the right to presuppose eternal security. Read the words of Herbert Lockeyer:

“The doctrine of eternal security, sometimes associated with the perseverance of the saints, IS REFERRED TO AS A CALVINISTIC DOCTRINE. John Calvin taught that this doctrine stands proven, not only by ITS ASSOCATION WITH OTHER DOCTRINES like those of ELECTION, ATONEMENT, the intercession and mediatorial dominion of Christ, imputed righteousness and regeneration...” (Herbert Lockeyer, “All the Doctrines of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of Major Biblical Doctrines.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, page 223).

First, Lockeyer calls doctrine of eternal security a “Calvinistic doctrine.” This means that it is a teaching of Calvinism. Next, this doctrine aligns with others such as “election” and “atonement.” In the case of Calvinism, this would be “unconditional election” and “limited atonement.” So for Arminians who desire to hold to eternal security, they will be forced to abandon the other four points of Arminianism and hold to all five points of Calvinism. OSAS Arminians (Once-Saved-Always-Saved Arminians), for example, are inconsistent in holding to the Calvinist doctrine of eternal security while arguing grace-enabled responsibility in the other four points of Classical Arminianism.

If Herbert Lockeyer isn’t convincing enough, here are the words of staunch five-point Calvinist James White:

“Those who limit God’s freedom through asserting some form of libertarian free will are COMPLETELY INCONSISTENT in claiming that once a person ‘accepts Christ,’ HE SOMEHOW LOSES THE FREE WILL THAT GOT HIM TO THAT POSITION IN THE FIRST PLACE and is now ‘secure’ from falling. If Christ’s work of salvation is dependent upon our cooperation to be effective, THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE IT IS ETERNALLY SECURE AT ANY POINT” (James White (Dave Hunt), “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 401).

Let’s examine White’s quote. First, he states that free will “limits God’s freedom.” I think White needs to define what he means by this. In Classical Arminianism, God “limits Himself” (if for no other better phrase) on account of His character. For instance, when God told Noah, “I will never flood the earth again with water” (Genesis 9:15), and put a rainbow in the sky as a sign (Gen. 9:16), the Lord was holding Himself to His own word. Because He promised Noah He would never flood the earth again, the world itself cannot be destroyed by water (since that would contradict what God Himself said). In the Classical Arminian sense, God “limits” Himself to be who He is. He is a man of His word: God does not make and break promises at whim (2 Peter 3:9) and is true to Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). The fact that man can make decisions demonstrates his likeness to His Creator, and magnifies the sovereignty of God (as well as His freedom).

Despite my initial disagreement with White, though, I agree with what he says from the moment (after the above phrase) forward. White claims that if God bases salvation on the choice of the individual, then it would be “completely inconsistent” for God to take that back and eternally secure a person. If free will places one in salvation, it can also take one out of salvation. If one can believe on His name, then one can also “stop believing.”

Think about it like this: if grace is resistible in the Classical Arminian system, then how is grace IRRESISTIBLE in perseverance? Four-point Arminians who hold to this view of grace entertain BOTH resistible and irresistible grace at the same time, in the same way (which is a theological and philosophical contradiction). By the way, Molinism holds to a view of “Overcoming Grace,” which argues that man can resist grace but that ultimately, grace will win out. Four-point Arminians then who hold to eternal security are inconsistent, but Molinist (and as I’ve said, Molinism as a system is inconsistent).

Calvinists Herbert Lockeyer and James White are not the only ones to discuss consistency; so does non-Calvinist Dave Hunt:

“Once I had thought that I agreed with at least one Calvinist point, the perseverance of the saints. I learned, however, that THIS FIFTH POINT OF TULIP OFFERS AN UNBIBLICAL BASIS FOR ETERNAL SECURITY; THAT OF BEING ONE OF THE ELECT. Piper and his pastoral staff write, ‘We believe in...the ETERNAL SECURITY OF THE ELECT’ (“TULIP: What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism.” Minneapolis, Minn.: Desiring God Ministries, 1997, page 24). Such security, however, brings comfort only to one who is certain that he is in that select group. Yet how to be certain has troubled many” [Dave Hunt (James White), “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 392].

Dave Hunt is neither Calvinist nor Arminian; and yet, even he can recognize that eternal security is a Calvinist doctrine! Hunt also quotes Joseph Dillow:

“the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints...IS NOT ONLY ABSENT FROM SCRIPTURE but could, if not carefully stated, COMPROMISE THE FREENESS OF THE GRACE OF GOD” (Joseph C. Dillow, “The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man.” Schoettle., 1993, page 14).

Dillow notes that eternal security is a Calvinist doctrine, like Dave Hunt and James White. He states that it is unbiblical, while also claiming that it “compromises the freeness of the grace of God.” Calvinism grants grace only to the elect. God is “forced” to give this grace to a few (since Calvinists never consider that grace and faith could be given to everyone).

As a result of this post, some readers may say, “Well, I think it’s biblical to place eternal security alongside of my other Arminian beliefs. And I’m not willing to give up this doctrine for the sake of a consistent theology.” My reaction to this response will appear in my next post.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Limited" Depravity and "The Worse State," Part II: Examining 2 Peter 2:20-21

“What does the Doctrine of Total Depravity (and the Calvinist Doctrine of Eternal Security) have to do with each other? Well, if total depravity is true, then the doctrine of eternal security cannot be; for if a person struggles with sin before salvation, and struggles with sin after salvation, then the Spirit’s work is RESISTIBLE, and therefore, cannot be IRRESISTIBLE. If the Spirit’s work can be resisted, then passages such as 2 Peter 2:20-21 confirm this view of grace.”

I ended my last post with the above words. The first part of this discussion was to show that total depravity shows how far humankind as a whole plunged into sin. If this be the case, then why is it that the Spirit is “irresistible,” and cannot be resisted? What I hope is becoming clear though, is that the Doctrine of Eternal Security rests on the notion of irresistible grace: if God irresistibly draws people to Himself, then they cannot fall, no matter what they do. This explains why believers can still sin and be eternally secure.

But it’s remarkable that the Scriptures themselves disagree with this Calvinist belief. As I quoted in the last post, Paul’s words to the Romans in Romans 8 show us that our choice lifestyle (whether to live by the flesh or Spirit, Rom. 8:13) can have spiritual consequences---whether good or bad.

Now Calvinists would say that such people were “never saved to begin with.” And a little over a year ago, I believed the same thing. However, the Bible says that those who believe and fall away are in worse condition than those who never believed:


The word for “have escaped” is “apopheugontes,” which consists of two words, “apo” (away from) and “pheugontes” (fleeing). Combined, the verb is translated “having fled from” or “having escaped from.” Notice that they escape from these corruptions but then “are again entangled in them and overcome.” This shows us that there are those who will come to the knowledge of the truth, but then go back to the world. The implied statement here in 2 Peter 2 is that there are people who come to Christ but then depart from Him and go back to the sin from which they came.

And then, there’s a curious statement about the spiritual condition of such a person:

“The latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20).

What are “the latter end,” and “the beginning” states discussed here? The latter end refers to “turn[ing] from the holy commandment delivered to them” (v.21), while “the beginning” refers to “not hav[ing] known the way of righteousness” (v.21). So to turn from the gospel is WORSE than to never have believed it to begin with.
This statement in and of itself poses problems for Calvinism: According to Calvinism, once a believer becomes saved, he or she cannot fall away from the faith. However, if this is true, why does Peter write and affirm the exact opposite, that man CAN fall away from the faith?

But it shows something that I think Calvinists have never paid attention to: that is, the effects of total depravity. Humans are of such a depraved nature that the person who turns to Christ, escapes the world, but then returns to the world, is the person that is given over to their sin (“entangled and overcome”, 2 Peter 2:21). Peter states that these apostates have “fallen” beneath their original state: while they were unbelievers at first, they are now apostates, which is a WORSE STATE to be in than a state of unbelief.

But what about eternal security? If the Calvinistic Doctrine is right, then why is it that man can rebel and “fall beneath” his original status (which is to be “born in sin”)? If man can fall beneath his ORIGINAL UNBELIEF, what secures man from falling from his ORIGINAL (INITIAL) BELIEF? This is a good question indeed, and Calvinism must answer this question with an answer much different from “they were never saved to begin with.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Limited" Depravity and "The Worse State", Part I

I know that this post title has probably taken a few people by surprise. Before you fear that I’ve turn Pelagian in my theology (or semi-Pelagian), let me just say that the title is not meant to convey my theology, but to examine the Calvinist idea of total depravity. So, there you go---I still believe in total depravity. Don’t worry: I deal with sin too much on an everyday basis (every moment basis) to see any good in myself...

This post will tackle the issue of total depravity and how Calvinists reconcile this with their view of Eternal Security. I’ve been dealing with the Doctrine of Eternal Security at the site, stating that the doctrine itself is contrary to the teaching of Scripture (I’ve quoted passages from 2 Peter, Jude, Hebrews). But the question I wanna pose today is, “How can Calvinism reconcile its view of total depravity with its view of eternal security?” In other words, if man is as depraved as Calvinism states he is, then how is it that man can become so limited in his depravity that he can be eternally secure in his salvation?

Now, on to the topic at hand, the Doctrine of Total Depravity. In his debate with Dave Hunt in the work “Debating Calvinism,” James White quotes the words of the 1689 London Confession:

“1. In the natural order God has endued man’s will with liberty and the power to act upon choice, so that it is neither forced from without, nor by any necessity arising from within itself, compelled to do good or evil. 2. In his state of innocency man had freedom and power to will and to do what was good and acceptable to God. Yet, being unstable, it was possible for him to fall from his uprightness. 3. AS THE CONSEQUENCE OF HIS FALL INTO A STATE OF SIN, MAN HAS LOST ALL ABILITY TO WILL THE PERFORMANCE OF ANY OF THOSE WORKS, SPIRITUALLY GOOD, THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION. AS A NATURAL (UNSPIRITUAL) MAN HE IS DEAD IN SIN AND ALTOGETHER OPPOSED TO WHAT IS GOOD. HENCE HE IS NOT ABLE, BY ANY STRENGTH OF HIS OWN, TO TURN HIMSELF TO GOD, OR EVEN TO PREPARE HIMSELF TO TURN TO GOD” (Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views” by Dave Hunt & James White. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 64).

Of the three statements of the 1689 London Confession printed above, number three stands out from the rest. It discusses life after the Fall of Genesis 3: how man’s will was affected by sin. “Hence he is not able, BY ANY STRENGTH OF HIS OWN, to turn himself to God, or even to prepare himself to turn to God.” In point three, we see that man cannot make one move towards God because sin has so corrupted his will that, as Arminius says in his “Works,” the will is “maimed, infirm, bent...”

The Westminster Confession states the same thing as the London Confession (1689), but more succinctly:

“Man, by his fall into a state of sin, HATH WHOLLY LOST ALL ABILITY OF WILL TO ANY SPIRITUAL GOOD ACCOMPANYING SALVATION; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” (Loraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1932, page 61).

The Westminster Confession, like the 1689 London Confession, both state that man is dead in sin and does not desire to do what is good. Man chooses evil because that is all he wants to do.

So as we can see, all man desires to do before salvation is evil. But what about life AFTER salvation? According to the London Confession,

“When God converts a sinner, and brings him out of sin into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage to sin and, by His grace alone, HE ENABLES HIM FREELY to will and to do what is spiritually good. NEVERTHELESS, CERTAIN CORRUPTIONS REMAIN IN THE SINNER, SO THAT HIS WILL IS NEVER COMPLETELY AND PERFECTLY HELD IN CAPTIVITY TO WHAT IS GOOD, BUT IT ALSO ENTERTAINS EVIL” (“Debating Calvinism,” pp. 64-65).

Notice that the London Confession says that “by HIS GRACE ALONE, HE ENABLES HIM FREELY TO WILL...what is spiritually good.” These words are of magnanimous importance in arguing for Classical Arminianism. The London Confession seems to argue for an “enabling grace,” instead of an efficacious grace. This poses some problems for Calvinism, although Dave Hunt fails to point this out in his debate with James White.

Remember what question I posed at the beginning of the post? If Calvinism argues such a hard view of depravity, that man gladly rebels against God and slips even deeper into sin, then how is that man is not that depraved after salvation? The words above say that “certain corruptions remain in the sinner,” but notice what happens when one ties this to the Calvinist Doctrine of Perseverance (Eternal Security) according to the Westminster Confession:

“They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (“Reformed Doctrine,” page 182).

The language of the Westminster Confession is Calvinistic (of course), containing phrases such as “effectually called.” Let’s go back, though, to the 1689 London Confession:


So what we find here is that, even though one is saved, these “certain corruptions” still remain in the sinner, so that the saint doesn’t just choose good all the time. Sometimes, the saint will choose to do that which is evil.

But the question becomes, why are the saints “guaranteed” to persevere? If a person still fights sin after salvation, and the flesh and Spirit war against each other (Romans 7:19, 22-23), then doesn’t this mean that the person could either persevere OR fall away? Doesn’t this make more sense when we consider that Paul writes to the Roman believers, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13, NKJV)? If a believer can still live according to the flesh, then this means that a believer can still live an ungodly lifestyle. And if a believer can live an ungodly lifestyle, that believer can still possibly suffer the second death. I don’t see how one can get around this argument unless he or she denies that Paul is talking to genuine believers (which is something that is not visible in the text).

For Calvinists who believe that man’s will is ultimately “overcome” with God’s grace and that all genuine believers persevere, they hold to a view of “limited depravity.” Somehow, when a person comes to Christ, as God’s elect, he or she seems to have a somewhat “limited depravity,” not quite as total as before. Why? because God limits the depravity of the believers. They can live out some of their depravity through daily sins and such, but they will never totally fall away. While believers in this system can reject God completely as unbelievers, they will not completely reject God as a believer, but will ultimately yield to God’s desires.

What does the Doctrine of Total Depravity (and the Calvinist Doctrine of Eternal Security) have to do with each other? Well, if total depravity is true, then the doctrine of eternal security cannot be; for if a person struggles with sin before salvation, and struggles with sin after salvation, then the Spirit’s work is RESISTIBLE, and therefore, cannot be IRRESISTIBLE. If the Spirit’s work can be resisted, then passages such as 2 Peter 2:20-21 confirm this view of grace. How does 2 Peter 2:20-21 fit into this? I’ll deal with it in my next post.