July 31, 2005

An Explanatory Email to an Arminian

I just sent an email to an Arminian (John), and I am seeking to explain the historical and theological differences among Calvinists. Some of the context from the other emails is missing, so the reader will just have to deal with what is said here.

I mention the differences between Calvinists and Arminians as well, but the discussion largely centers around the inhouse debates among Calvinists. John owns the copyright to Norman F. Douty's book, Did Christ Die Only For the Elect? Douty is also a dualist with respect to the design of Christ's death, so I am seeking to explain and clarify his (as well as mine) bifocal theology.


Hi John,

Below are some excerpts from your emails that I will respond to. Your words are in yellow:

"When I used the term "four pointer" (Four-point Calvinist), I was using it according to the usual definition. That is the position that rejects what you call the "Owenist" position (which also includes other people that advocated that stance). I would like to point out that all Christians, except those who accept the heresy of universalism, limit the atonement in some sense. High Calvinists limited it in terms of its extent, others in terms of its application."

I understand. Your terminology is fair to popular usage. I am attempting to point out to people that those called 4 pointers really don’t reject limited atonement, but rather a strictly limited atonement associated with Owen. Owen's strict view is very popular today for some reason. Almost every book arguing for Calvinism today that addresses the limited atonement question regurgitates Owen’s arguments. To label those Calvinists who reject Owenism as "4 point Calvinists" presupposes one version of limited atonement. It gives ground where I am unwilling to give ground. It caters to the Owenic propaganda and misrepresentations, even if that is not the intention of the one using the descriptions.

I agree that all genuine Christians limit the atonement in some sense. I am not sure what you mean by "High Calvinists limited it in terms of its extent, others in terms of its application." What confuses me is the way you are using "extent." Perhaps you meant to say "intent." What concerns the historic Calvinist is the decretive will of God in the matter. This decree is absolutely fundamental to the Calvinistic system. Since Calvinists and Arminians differ over the nature of election, this issue was at stake in the debates over the design of Christ’s death. What was God’s purpose, will, design, or intent in Christ’s death? This question gets at the heart of the differences between both theological systems. The Arminians think of God as EQUALLY willing everyone’s salvation. The High and Hyper-Calvinists think of God as only willing the salvation of the elect. The Dualists say that God wants everyone to be saved, but especially the elect (see 1 Tim. 4:10). All the Calvinists argue that only the "unconditionally" elected believe. By "unconditional" is meant "non-meritorious," but not that faith can't be spoken of as a kind of instrumental condition.

The design or intent is what gets at the heart of the debate, but not the application. The terms of the application come into play in the discussion, but the fundamental issue is divine intent. The "extent" term gets at the application. The efficacy is only extended as far as the elect because only the elect fulfill the condition or terms for the application (by the enabling grace of God).

"The position that Christ's atonement is "sufficient for humanity and efficient for the elect" is one that all can accept (again, except universalists)."

The Lombardian formula "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect" has been variously understood. Douty rightly points out that not everyone has understood this formula the same way. Owen was aware of the changes and modifications he was making, unlike today’s Owenists. Here’s something I typed on a discussion board that attempts to get at the distinctions:

Here's a start at making some of the distinctions in the senses of "Sufficient for All" among "Calvinists."

1) Limited Sufficiency: The sins of the elect alone were imputed to Christ. Limited imputation follows from limited legal representation due to the death being filtered through the grid of the covenant of redemption. The sufferings of Christ were a part of the necessary satisfaction, and thus his sufferings were measured by the justice of the imputation (Equivalentism). Christ suffered so much for so many sins. His death is therefore only sufficient for the elect. There is no necessary connection between the offer of the gospel and the death that Christ died. Some who hold this view deny free offers. Usually this view is associated with Hyper-Calvinism, but a few High Calvinists hold to this position. Christ death is only sufficient for the elect by the ordination of God.

2) Actual and Hypothetical Sufficiency: The sins of the elect alone were imputed to Christ. Limited imputation follows from limited legal representation due to the death being filtered through the grid of the covenant of redemption. The nature of Christ’s person determines the worth of his satisfaction, therefore it is of infinite value. This infinite value is necessary because the sins of the elect are infinitely guilty, and not because of the guilt of the world being imputed to him. The actual sufficiency (what is really the case in this world) in Christ corresponds to the just punishment due the elect alone. The hypothetical aspect pertains to the non-elect. If it was hypothetically the case that God elected more people, then there would be no difference in what Christ did. However, the actual sufficiency is fenced in by God’s decree concerning the elect. The actual sufficiency bears no relationship to the sins of the non-elect. There is no necessary connection between the offer of the gospel and the death that Christ died. This view is mostly associated with High Calvinism, but some Hyper-Calvinists hold to it. Christ's death is actually sufficient for the elect by the ordination of God, and hypothetically sufficient for the non-elect.

Hans Boersma, in his book A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy says, "Baxter is well aware of the weakness in Owen’s argument and therefore make it the occasion of a special argument for universal redemption. He chides "our new Divines," who "have utterly forsaken the old common opinion, and in stead of saying that [Christ died for all Men sufficienter] They will not so much as say that [His Death was sufficiens pretium pro omnibus] But only that [It is sufficient to have been a price for all.]" (p. 217) One can see the hypothetical sufficiency idea in the "sufficient to have been" expression. Owen was using possible worlds or modal logic when it came to the sufficient for all concept. It wasn’t really sufficient for all in this actual world, but it could have been in another logically possible world, had God so intended.

3) Actual Sufficiency for All, and Unequal Intent: The guilt of the sins of all mankind were imputed to Christ when he died. The imputation corresponds to the requirements of the law with respect to every person. Christ, in his death, removes the legal barriers that stand in the way for God’s forgiving any person. God intended this death to be a universal provision for all mankind in order that they may be saved, but not that he equally wants everyone to be saved. The command to indescriminately offer the gospel to everyone through the gospel is based on the real availability of this sufficient satisfaction to every man. Christ really suffered and died the death that was due every man in his infinite person. This view is associated with Moderate or Low Calvinism. Christ's death is actually sufficient for every person, whether elect or non-elect, by the ordination of God.

A non-Calvinist/Arminian view may look something like this:

4) Actually Sufficiency for All, and Equal Intent: The guilt of the sins of all mankind were imputed to Christ when he died, because there is no special/unconditional decree in the Calvinist sense. The imputation corresponds to the requirements of the law with respect to every person. Christ, in his death, removes the legal barriers that stand in the way for God’s forgiving any person. God intended this death to be a universal provision for all mankind in order that they may be saved, because he equally wants everyone to be saved. The command to indescriminately offer the gospel to everyone through the gospel is based on the real availability of this sufficient satisfaction to every man. Christ really suffered and died the death that was due every man in his infinite person. This view is associated with Arminianism. Christ's death is actually sufficient for every person, whether elect or non-elect, by the ordination of God.

I hope you can see the differences between position #2 and position #3. Notice what the following two men say:

Calamy says,

"I am far from universal redemption in the Arminian sense; but that that I hold is in the sense of our divines [e.g. Bishop Davenant] in the Synod of Dort, that Christ did pay a price for all. . . that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving Christ, and Christ in giving himself, did intend to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe. . ."

Quoted in A. F. Mitchell and J. Struthers (eds.), Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (London, 1874), 152.)

Here’s the Davenant quote again:

"No divine of the Reformed Church, of sound judgment, will deny a general intention or appointment concerning the salvation of all men individually by the death of Christ, on the condition if they believe. For the intention or appointment of God is general, and is plainly revealed in Holy Scripture, although the absolute and not to be frustrated intention of God concerning the gift of faith and eternal life to some persons, is special, and limited to the elect alone. So I have maintained and do maintain." - Davenant's Opinion on the Gallican Controversy.

The two men above are connecting divine intentionality to the general or universal sufficiency. This is what the Owenists move away from in the case of the non-elect. It becomes a mere hypothetical sufficiency for the non-elect. Douty insists on an "ordained sufficiency" as opposed to a "bare sufficiency" for this very reason (see page 39 in Douty). The High and Hyper-Calvinists tend to minimize or do away with God’s revealed/preceptive will. This is why I accuse them of decretalizing passages (they press passages to fit the secret/decretive will of God). This comes through in the debates surrounding the divine design or intent of Christ’s death.

"Anyway, I would argue that four-pointers do exist if we define that term strictly. They don't accept the High Calvinist positions that: a) God does not love the nonelect, b) that while the atonement had infinite value, it was ONLY for the elect (sovereignly chosen from eternity past); c) that the elect were actually saved at the cross, and d) that faith for the elect was purchased at the cross as well. (Despite item D, High Calvinists basically make saving faith a superfluous after thought. Four-pointers seem to take it more seriously.)"

Four pointers are only called that because they reject Owenism. They don’t really reject limited atonement. The success of the Owenic propaganda among Calvinists can be seen in how the labels and categories are used. If one rejects Owenism, then they are seen as rejecting limited atonement. This presupposes only one version of limited atonement. That’s an error. Arminians may use the 4 point description for their own reasons. Perhaps it’s the case that they think "4 point" Calvinists agree with them on the issue of the design of the atonement. That’s also not true. The issues and categories are more complicated than is expressed in most of the popular literature. Both the Owenists and Arminians have an interest in using the description "4 point Calvinist." The Owenist likes people to presuppose that those who reject their version of the L don’t really hold to limited atonement at all. The Arminians like the expression "4 point Calvinist" because it seems to presuppose that such a person would be in agreement with the Arminians on the L. Neither one of those presuppositions is correct. There are significant category differences in the theological frameworks. Read the differences again between positions #3 and #4 in the sufficiency section above to get a basic idea.

High Calvinists do not teach that God does not love the non-elect. It is only the Hyper-Calvinists who teach that. Even Owen and Turretin accepted that God loves the non-elect in some sense, but not equal to his special love for the elect. That's a crucial difference. Also, the High Calvinists want to insist on the necessity of faith to be saved as well, but they do slip into saying that the elect were saved when Christ died in their method of argumentation. As Douty says, they tend to confuse what is provisional with what is possessed.

High Calvinists do teach that faith was literally purchased in the death of Christ. This is where they move into the direction of arguing that there is an intrinsic limitation in the death itself, and not merely in the intent or design. Commercialism or pecuniary debt payment categories are introduced into their argument at this point.

Even though the lines may get blurred at times, we need to be careful to distinguish between High and Hyper-Calvinism. There is a significant difference between the two, even though it is my contention that the High Calvinists open the door to Hyperism without going through that door themselves.

"Can you explain to me how the Dortians would be considered 4-pointers? I don't see anything in their final report that supports that, but maybe I missed something."

The representatives at Dort had significant differences. There were some who took the strictly limited view, and those who took a much broader, dualistic perspective on the design of Christ’s death. The canons of the Synod of Dort do not exclude either the strict view or the broad view. They only excluded an Arminian view. Dort is insufficient in it’s conclusions to decide which version of limited atonement AMONG THE CALVINISTS is correct, but it’s clear that they rejected Arminianism as non-Reformed and anti-biblical.

I have not said that the Dortians would be considered 4 pointers, although the strict advocates may like to consider some there as "4 pointers." Some Arminians may like to do that as well for the above stated reasons. It becomes difficult to explain to non-Calvinists what the inhouse debates are among Calvinists. If I try to describe an inhouse debate among Calvinists to one who does not share their theological categories, there is a very high potential for confusion because the ideas are filtered through a different paradigm. It’s possible for them to understand, but it just gets difficult for any of us to recognize our grids and filters and set them aside for a moment to objectively consider a theological area that is heavily disputed.

"I am fascinated by the E document you have on your site--an extended critique of Owen's "Death of Death." Incredibly the author is from a Reformed seminary. What is his ultimate disagreement? Is he a "dualist"? Do you have any contact info for Neil Chambers? I would really like to encourage him to turn his thesis into a book."

I have printed out my copy of Chambers thesis, but I have not read it through yet. I have read spots and read extensive quotations, but I haven’t read it entirely yet. I will be doing so as soon as I finish A. C. Clifford’s Atonement and Justification book. A fellow dualist recommended Chambers to me, so I am inclined to think that Chambers is also a dualist but I am not sure. His work is largely exegetical in nature. Some of us on the Calvin and Calvinism Yahoo discussion board are dealing with the systematic and philosophical issues involved in the debates in addition to the exegetical. None of us know Neil Chambers, but one has tried to figure out how to contact him with no success yet. I think we would also like to see Chambers material put in book form. The Dualists have a particular interest in this because of the theological and exegetical fallacies we perceive in the Owenic paradigm.

"Also, I notice that on one of your sites, you mentioned a radio interview with Pastor Gene Cook. Well I know of Gene. Believe it or not, I was involved in a formal Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate with him at a church in San Diego in May 1998. It was a great experience for both of us. I would call it about "even" as far as who did better or worse. Gene has gone on to debate other people on other issues."

I have been speaking with Gene Cook for a few years now. I will have to inquire about your debate with him. I am glad that you came away from it with a sense of edification even while there were still significant disagreements.

Gene heard me refuting Hyper-Calvinists in a voice/chat program called Paltalk. He had Hyper-Calvinistic inclinations in the past, so he wanted to discuss the issues on his radio show. The recording on my blog is from one of the shows we did. When we recorded it, I still held to a strict view on the atonement. I have had significant changes since that time on the issue of the design of Christ’s death. Gene has remained a High (not to be confused with Hyper) Calvininst on that point. We have been discussing that issue some at his website (http://www.unchainedradio.com/nuke/index.php) I have been debating and scrapping with High and Hyper-Calvinists on that board. Many of them are fence sitters who go back and forth between High and Hyperism. They’re wobbling and very imbalanced. Some are unfortunately leaning on John Gill's (Gill was hyper) interpretation of passages.

I altered my position after a thorough meditation on the implications of the well-meant offer of the gospel and John 3:16. There’s no way to honestly get around John 3:16 in my opinion. The evidence against my strict view was increasing, and my strictly limited system was under a great deal of stress. A significant paradigm shift was in order. A friend helped me to see the historic Calvinistic position in a new light. I became aware of a dualistic view going back to some of the early church fathers. It resolves many of the difficulties from my perspective. I find it very biblically and rationally satisfying. There is no need to decretalize or explain away passages like 1 John 2:2 or 2 Peter 2:1. Such passages are coherent and compatible with my theological view today. I also find myself in agreement with things Calvin had to say. In that sense, I am more like Calvin than the "Calvinists" today. Being in agreement with Calvin does not make one right (he’s not the standard of truth), but it just points to a degree of historical inaccuracy among the Higher Calvinists. They’re not taking into consideration Calvin’s significant category differences. He was working with a different paradigm than the Owenists are. Some Calvinists acknowledge this, but most do not. It’s very unfortunate. As you know, we are not only called to be honest with scripture, but with theological positions in history. It is my goal to be honest and competent in both areas, whether biblical or historical theology.

Grace to you,

"That reprobate and deplorably wicked men do not receive it, is not through any defect in the grace of God, nor is it just, that, on account of of the children of perdition, it should lose the glory and title of universal redemption, since it is prepared for all, and all are called to it." Wolfgang Musculus Common Places, p. 151.

July 29, 2005

Theological Reactions

I just read an interesting quote by Robert Trail. He said:

"...usually such men that are for middle ways in points of doctrine, have a greater kindness for that extreme they go half-way to, than that which they go half-way from" (Works, i, 253) Quoted in A. C. Clifford's Atonement and Justification, page 141.

This point is worth some meditation. I find myself moving in various theological directions and sympathizing with those I move toward, rather than with those I am moving away from. Have you been hurt by a particular theological error or by those who adhere to it? It's understandable to react against such things. Fear of falling again into that error or compromising makes us ever watchful and sensitive.

One writer says this:
"When people undergo a brush with death they become far more paranoid of the regular actions during their daily routines. For instance, a man or woman who may have been involved in a car accident, though they may be classified as a safe driver, will be far more cautious on the road subsequent to the accident. The trauma enacted upon the faculties of their mind from the wreck stimulates their awareness at turns, stops, accelerations, highway lane changes, and the like. Brushes with death are not exclusive to car accidents. This may also be true when theological shifts occur in one’s comprehensive Biblical understanding of the Gospel. This can be classified as a brush with death, especially if one plays with the fire of a false Gospel. When this happens, the Christian becomes much more astute to the dangers of false theological positions."

Coming out of deceptive theological positions can leave us bruised. Anything that even seems close to that false, deceptive position hurts the sensitive bruise. We recoil, and that's understandable.

However, we need to also be careful to not overreact. Keeping our theological equilibrium is very difficult due to the noetic effects of sin (the effects of sin on the mind). Luther's analogy seems fitting. He compared fallen human reason to a drunken man trying to get on a horse. If he manages to climb up on one side, he falls off on the other.

The wobbling effect is descriptive of the church throughout her history. The Christological debates surrounding Chalcedon supply us with many examples. Usually a person or party is not completely wrong. They have half-truths that they take to an extreme. Their concerns are valid, but they are so zealous that they can warp the complete biblical picture. One truth may be elevated beyond it's biblical proportion, or one truth may be put in antithesis to other truths.

Discernment and humility is absolutely vital in order to avoid this reactionary thinking. For the most part, we all think we are balanced. We say that other people are too far to the left or too far to the right, but we guage what is "balanced" by where we are on the scale. One comedian gave his perspective on the difference between a maniac and an idiot when driving. Maniacs are those driving faster than he is. An idiot is anyone driving slower. True balance is possible, but the measure is God's word and not ourselves or our systems.

We need to be constantly examining ourselves by the scriptures in theology. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls. This can not only happen in our behavior, but also in our thinking. One might think they have "arrived" theologically, but they might have serious blindspots. Our tendency is to try to make reality fit our preconceived notions, due to pride or the veneration of a theological system, which results in eisogesis instead of exegesis.

It's also possible to just be deceived while zealously pursuing truth. We choose certain positions because we are unaware of all the options. We may have been presented with false dilemmas.

Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, has an interesting analogy involving a comparison between bending a stick and living virtously. Sometimes to straighten a stick, one has to bend it in the opposite direction. A back and forth bending can straighten the stick. Such a back and forth bending may occur in our lives as we seek intellectual virtue and truth. Be aware of those times when you sense a strong reaction in yourself. Pause and think carefully. Test yourself. Try to recognize your presuppositions and filters through careful listening and/or reading. If you have been bruised by some error, beware of overreacting. Read church history and see where the church made mistakes. Historical theology is very important for this very reason. Watch out for theological reactions!

July 26, 2005

J. C. Ryle (1816–1900) on John 3:16

[For God so loved the world, &c.] Our Lord, in this verse, shows Nicodemus another "heavenly thing." – Nicodemus probably thought, like many Jews, that God’s purposes of mercy were entirely confined to His chosen people Israel, and that when Messiah appeared, He would appear only for the special benefit of the Jewish nation. Our Lord here declares to him that God loves all the world without any exception, that the Messiah, the only begotten Son of God, is the Father’s gift to the whole family of Adam, and that every one, whether Jew or Gentile, who believes on Him for salvation, may have eternal life. – A more startling declaration to the ears of a rigid Pharisee it is impossible to conceive! A more wonderful verse is not to be found in the Bible! That God should love such a wicked world as this and not hate it, – that He should love it so as to provide salvation – that in order to provide salvation He should give, not an angel, or any created being, but such a priceless gift as His only begotten Son, – that this great salvation should be freely offered to ever one that believeth, – all, all this is wonderful indeed! This was indeed a "heavenly thing."

The words, "God loved the world," have received two very different interpretations. The importance of the subject in the present day makes it desirable to state both views fully.

Some think, as Hutcheson, Lampe, and Gill, that the "world" here means God’s elect out of every nation, whether Jews or Gentiles, and that the "love" with which God is said to love them is that eternal love with which the elect were loved before creation began, and by which their calling, justification, preservation and final salvation are completely secured. – This view, though supported by many and great divines, does not appear to me to be our Lord’s meaning. For one thing, it seems to me a violent straining of language to confine the word "world" to the elect. "The world" is undoubtedly a name sometimes given to the wicked exclusively. But I cannot see that it is a name ever given to the saints. – For another thing, to interpret the word "world" of the elect only is to ignore the distinction which, to my eyes, is plainly drawn in the text between the whole of mankind and those out of mankind who "believe." If the "world" means only the believing portion of mankind, it would have been quite enough to say, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that the world should not perish." But our Lord does not say so. He says, "that whosoever believeth, i.e., that whosoever out of the world believeth." – Lastly, to confine God’s love to the elect, is taking a harsh and narrow view of God’s character, and fairly lays Christianity open to the modern charges brought against it as cruel and unjust to the ungodly. If God takes no thought for any but his elect, and cares for none beside, how shall God judge the world? – I believe in the electing love of God the Father as strongly as any one. I regard the special love with which God loves the sheep whom He has given to Christ from all eternity, as a most blessed and comfortable truth, and one most cheering and profitable to believers. I only say, that it is not the truth of this text.

The true view of the words, "God loved the world," I believe to be this. The "world" means the whole race of mankind, both saints and sinners, without any exception. The word, in my opinion, is so used in John i. 10, 29; vi. 33, 51; viii. 12. – Rom. iii. 19. – 2 Cor. v. 19. – 1 John ii. 2; iv. 14. The "love" spoken of is that love of pity and compassion with which God regards all His creatures, and specially regards mankind. It is the same feeling of "love" which appears in Psalm cxlv. 9. – Ezek. xxxiii. 11. – John vi. 32. – Titus iii. 4. – 1 John iv. 10. – 2 Pet. iii. 9. – 1 Tim. ii. 4. It is a love unquestionably distinct and separate from the special love with which God regards His saints. It is a love of pity and not of approbation or complaisance. But it is not the less a real love. It is a love which clears God of injustice in judging the world.

I am quite familiar with the objections commonly brought against the theory I have just propounded. I find no weight in them, and am not careful to answer them. Those who confine God’s love exclusively to the elect appear to me to take a narrow and contracted view of God’s character and attributes. They refuse to God that attribute of compassion with which even an earthly father can regard a profligate son, and can offer to him pardon, even though his compassion is despised and his offers refused. I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system. The following quotation from one whom for convenience sake I must call a thorough Calvinist, I mean Bishop Davenant, will show that the view I advocate is not new.
"The general love of God toward mankind is so clearly testified in Holy Scripture, and so demonstrated by the manifold effects of God's goodness and mercy extended to every particular man in this world, that to doubt thereof were infidelity, and to deny it plain blasphemy." – Davenant's Answer to Hoard, p. 1.
"God hateth nothing which Himself created. And yet it is most true that He hateth sin in any creature, and hateth the creature infected with sin, in such a matter as hatred may be attributed to God. But for all this He so generally loved mankind, fallen in Adam, that He hath given His only begotten Son, that what sinner soever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. And this everlasting life is so provided for man by God, that no decrees of His can bring any man thither without faith and repentance; and no decrees of His can keep any man out who repenteth and believeth. As for the measure of God's love exhibited in the external effect unto man, it must not be denied that God poureth out His grace more abundantly on some men that on others, and worketh more powerfully and effectually in the hearts of some men than of others, and that out of His alone will and pleasure. But yet, when this more special love is not extended, His less special love is not restrained to outward and temporal mercies, but reacheth to internal and spiritual blessings, even such as will bring men to an eternal blessedness, if their voluntary wickedness hinders not." – Davenant's Answer to Hoard, p. 469.
"No divine of the Reformed Church, of sound judgment, will deny a general intention or appointment concerning the salvation of all men individually by the death of Christ, on the condition if they believe. For the intention or appointment of God is general, and is plainly revealed in Holy Scripture, although the absolute and not to be frustrated intention of God concerning the gift of faith and eternal life to some persons, is special, and limited to the elect alone. So I have maintained and do maintain." – Davenant's Opinion on the Gallican Controversy.
Calvin observes on this text, "Christ brought life, because the heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish." Again he says, "Christ employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite indiscriminately all to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such also is the import of the term world. Though there is nothing in the world that is worthy of God’s favor, yet He shows Himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ." The same view of God’s "love" and the "world," in this text, is taken by Brentius, Bucer, Calovinius, Glassius, Chemnitius, Musculus, Bullinger, Bengal, Nifanius, Dyke, Scott, Henry, and Manton.
J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 3:156–158.


R. L. Dabney (1820–1898) and Other Theologians on Volitional Complexity in God

R. L. Dabney was a brilliant theologian. He is particularly outstanding when it comes to grasping a sense of complexity in God's motives. He brings a sense of coherence to biblical passages that speak of God's will in different senses. Some Reformed and Calvinistic theologians tend to downplay God's preceptive will as if it is not an "active principle." It's as if it is not really expressing a desire or will in God. It's absolutely vital that we understand and adhere to the biblical teaching on this matter. It will also help us to begin to understand the problem of evil and suffering in the world. As Paul Helm said in the book The Providence of God:
The need to distinguish two (or more) wills in God is not simply a consequence of the idea that all events are directly under the providential guidance of God. Rather, any understanding of the relationship between divine activity and human activity which allows that God either wills or permits every action, which recognizes that there are in fact morally evil actions, and which defines some at least of such actions in terms of a breach of a divine command, must employ a distinction between the will of God as command, and the will of God in some other sense.
It is just because it is possible to conceive of two ‘wills’ in God that the problem of evil arises; the contrast is the familiar one between the omnipotence and the all-goodness of God.
Paul Helm, The Providence of God. Contours of Christian Theology, ed. G. Bray (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1994), 132–33.

Open Theism makes the same mistakes that Hyper-Calvinists make (they are polar opposites but similar in rationalism). They fail to properly understand complex motives in God because it does not "make sense" to them. Their systems won't allow it, therefore it can't be true. It is as J. C. Ryle said, "I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system." One of those grave errors is misunderstanding God's will as expressed in scripture. The following are quotes that I have found to be helpful.

Here is R. L. Dabney on God's will:
4. God’s Volitions Arise out of a Complex of Motive.

The manner in which a volition which dates from eternity, subsists in the Infinite mind, is doubtless, in many respects, inscrutable to us. But since God has told us that we are made in His image, we may safely follow the Scriptural representations, which describe God’s volitions as having their rational relation to subjective motive; somewhat as in man, when he wills aright. For, a motiveless volition cannot but appear to us as devoid both of character and of wisdom. We add, that while God "has no parts nor passions," He has told us that He has active principles, which, while free from all agitation, ebb and flow, and mutation, are related in their superior measure to man’s rational affections. These active principles in God, or passionless affections, are all absolutely holy and good. Last: God’s will is also regulated by infinite wisdom. Now, in man, every rational volition is prompted by a motive, which is in every case, complex to this degree, at least that it involves some active appetency of the will and some prevalent judgement of the intelligence. And every wise volition is the result of virtual or formal deliberation, in which one element of motive is weighed in relation to another, and the elements which appear superior in the judgement of the intelligence, preponderate and regulate the volition. Hence, the wise man’s volition is often far from being the expression of every conception and affection present in his consciousness at the time; but it is often reached by holding one of these elements of possible motive in check, at the dictate of a more controlling one.

For instance a philanthropic man meets a distressed and destitute person. The good man is distinctly conscious in himself of a movement of sympathy tending towards a volition to give the sufferer money. But he remembers that he has expressly promised all the money now in his possession, to be paid this very day to a just creditor. The good man bethinks himself, that he "ought to be just before he is generous," and conscience and wisdom counterpoise the impulse of sympathy; so that it does not form the deliberate volition to give alms. But the sympathy exists, and it is not inconsistent to give other expression to it.

We must not ascribe to that God whose omniscience is, from eternity, one infinite, all-embracing intuition, and whose volition is as eternal as His being, any expenditure of time in any process of deliberation, nor any temporary hesitancy or uncertainty, nor any agitating struggle of feeling against feeling. But there must be a residuum of meaning in the Scripture representations of His affections, after we have guarded ourselves duly against the anthropopathic forms of their expression. Hence, we ought to believe, that in some ineffable way, God’s volitions, seeing they are supremely wise, and profound, and right, do have that relation to all His subjective motives, digested by wisdom and holiness into the consistent combination, the finite counterpart of which constitutes the rightness and wisdom of human volitions. I claim, while excersing the diffidence proper to so sacred a matter, that this conclusion bears us out at least so far: That, as in a wise man, so much more in a wise God, His volition or express purpose is the result of a digest, not of one, but of all the principles and considerations bearing on the case. Hence it follows, that there may be in God an active principle felt by him, and yet not expressed in His executive volition in a given case, because counterpoised by other elements of motive, which His holy omniscience judges ought to be prevalent.

Now, I urge the practical question: Why may not God consistently give some other expression to this active principle, really and sincerely felt towards the object, though his sovereign wisdom judges it not proper to express it in volition? To return to the instance from which we set out: I assert that it is entirely natural and reasonable for the benevolent man to say to the destitute person: "I am sorry for you, though I give you no alms." The ready objection will be: "that my parallel does not hold, because the kind man is not omnipotent, while God is. God could not consistently speak thus, while withholding alms, because he could create the additional money at will." This is more ready than solid. It assumes that God's omniscience cannot see any ground, save the lack of physical ability or power, why it may not be best to refrain from creating additional money. Let the student search and see; he will find that this preposterous and presumptuous assumption is the implied premise of the objection. In fact, my parallel is a fair one in the main point. This benevolent man is not prevented from giving the alms, by any physical compulsion. If he diverts a part of the money in hand from the creditor, to the destitute man, the creditor will visit no penalty on him. He simply feels bound by his conscience. That is, the superior principles of reason and morality are regulative of his action, counterpoising the amiable but less imperative principle of sympathy, in the case. Yet the verbal expression of sympathy in this case may be natural, sincere, and proper. God is not restrained by lack of physical omnipotence from creating on the spot the additional money for the alms; but He may be actually restrained by some consideration known to His omniscience, which shows that it is not on the whole best to resort to the expedient of creating the money for the alms, and that rational consideration may be just as decisive in an all-wise mind, and properly as decisive, as a conscious impotency to create money in a man’s.
R. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 529–531.

God is not at odds with himself anymore than a judge who shows volitional complexity. As the Reformed theologian Charles Hodge said:
A judge may will the happiness of a man whom he sentences to death. He may will him not to suffer when he wills him to suffer. The infelicity in such forms of expression is that the word "will" is used in different senses. In one part of the sentence it means desire, and in the other purpose. It is perfectly consistent, therefore, that God, as a benevolent Being, should desire the happiness of all men, while he purposes to save only his own people.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 1:405.

Dabney, in God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy, explains further in his illustration concerning George Washington:
A human ruler may have full power and authority over the punishment of a culprit, may declare consistently his sincere compassion for him, and may yet freely elect to destroy him. A concrete case will make the point more distinct. Chief-Justice Marshall, in his Life of Washington (Vol. 4., Chap. 6.), says with reference to the death-warrant of the rash and unfortunate Major André "Perhaps on no occasion of his life did the commander-in-chief (Washington) obey with more reluctance the stern mandates of duty and of policy." In this historical instance we have these facts: Washington had plenary power to kill or to save alive. His compassion for the criminal was real and profound. Yet he signed his death-warrant with spontaneous decision....Let us suppose that one of André's intercessors (and he had them, even among the Americans) standing by, and hearing the commanding general say, as he took up the pen to sign the fatal paper, "I do this with the deepest reluctance and pity," should have retorted, "Since you are supreme in this matter, and have full bodily ability to throw down that pen, we shall know by your signing this warrant that your pity is hypocritical." The petulance of this charge would have been equal to its folly. The pity was real; but was restrained by superior elements of motive. Washington had official and bodily power to discharge the criminal; but he had not the sanction of his own wisdom and justice. Thus his pity was genuine, and yet his volition not to indulge it free and sovereign.
R. L. Dabney, “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy,” in Discussions: Theological and Evangelical, ed. C. R. Vaughn (Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1890), 1:284–286.

God is not at odds with himself anymore than one who postpones his desire for an ice cream cone because of some greater motive. As John Frame said:
Someone might desire an ice-cream cone and have easy access to one, but voluntarily postpone fulfilling that desire until finishing a piece of work. He might value finishing the job more than eating the ice-cream cone, or perhaps not. Maybe he actually values the ice cream more, but believes he will get more enjoyment from it after the job is done. So, our decision-making process is often complicated. The relationships between our many desires, and between the various means of achieving them, are complex.

July 19, 2005

Carl Henry on Divine Revelation

"Divine revelation palpitates with human surprise. Like a fiery bolt of lightening that unexpectedly zooms toward us and scores a direct hit, like an earthquake that suddenly shakes and engulfs us, it somersaults our private thoughts to abrupt awareness of ultimate destiny. By the unannounced intrusion of its omnipotent actuality, divine revelation lifts the present into the eternal and unmasks our pretenses of human omnicompetence. As if an invisible Concorde had burst the sound barrier overhead, it drives us to ponder whether the Other World has finally pinned us to the ground for a life-and-death response. Confronting us with a sense of cosmic arrest, it makes us ask whether the end of our world is at hand and propels us unasked before the Judge and Lord of the universe. Like some piercing air-raid siren it sends us scurrying from life's preoccupations and warns us that no escape remains if we neglect the only sure sanctuary. Even once-for-all revelation that has occurred in another time and place fills us with awe and wonder through its ongoing significance and bears the character almost of fresh miracle." (GRA II, 17) - from Carl Henry At His Best, page 171.

July 17, 2005

The Way to Study

"He that studies only men, will get the body of knowledge without the soul; and he that studies only books, the soul without the body. He that to what he sees, adds observation, and to what he reads, reflection, is in the right road to knowledge, provided that in scrutinizing the hearts of others, he neglects not his own." - Colton in The New Dictionary of Thoughts

NKJ Philippians 4:9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

It would have been amazing to witness the lives of the prophets and Apostles, to look at them intently and meditate on their actions. This is what the Apostles did in watching Jesus. They "beheld his glory" and pondered his words. They observed how he treated people, and how each word was spoken with wisdom. The sound, volume, and nature of his words exactly fitted the needs of the situation. The majestic character of Christ came through in everything he did, and his followers gazed upon him in wonder and adoration.

NKJ John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (possibly my favorite verse)

If you see anyone like him, watch them. Think about what they are doing and saying. Study them. Be transformed by witnessing their lives. Treasure up their words in your heart as Mary did with Jesus' words. This is how to study.

July 16, 2005

On the significance of Titus 2:15

"In periods of unsettled faith, skepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found." -Vincent, quoted in Homer Kent's The Pastoral Epistles, page 294.

I first heard the above quote by Vincent in one of the sermons by John MacArthur on Titus 2:15:

NKJ Titus 2:15 Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.

Dr. MacArthur was speaking at a Shepherd's Conference in Ft. Worth many years ago (in the 90's). I have remembered his sermon on this particular text ever since. It was truly excellent.

What was excellent was not so much John's manner of speech, but what he brought out of the text. It was an excellent example of the strengths of expository preaching. Expository preaching is contextual preaching, and this is what MacArthur was doing.

NKJ Nehemiah 8:8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

John brought out the sense of the text and showed it's relevance to the culture today. He helped us to understand what was being said in a verse that seems insignificant at first glance. In his own studies, he initially considered it a kind of throw away verse that one makes a few comments on and moves along. I think it was the term "authority" that triggered his attention and caused him to meditate.

I can't recall the order in which he started his analysis, but he brought the listeners into a meditation on "these things." The context of the Pastoral epistles was considered so as to bring out the sense of "these things." The conclusion of the matter was that Paul is speaking about sound doctrine. Sound doctrine certainly includes the practice of godliness, but genuine godliness is built on right thinking about God, Christ, man, sin, salvation and our eternal hope. "These things" refers to all of these doctrines, and the teacher is to equip the people of God to think accurately and biblically about such matters. Theological precision is required, but our day is not a day of theological precision. It hardly qualifies as an age in which people are interested in sound theology. In such an apathetic and unthinking age, the leaders in the church are to teach "these things," and not their own judgment as to what is good for the people. Christ, through Paul, is commanding leaders to teach "these things"! It may have been in this particular message by MacArthur where he mentioned that he gives his people what they don't want to hear. In other words, the tendency of our depraved minds is to avoid thinking about "these things," but the preacher cannot compromise. The church needs genuine shepherds, and not ministerial calf-makers who set aside and pervert God's word for the sake of "growth."

Dr. MacArthur also brought out the significance of the term "authority" in the text. He quoted Packer as saying that the bible is the real preacher. The job of the man in the pulpit is to let some passage say it's peace. The challenge is for the preacher to get out of the way, and let the passage speak. The goal is scriptural projection and not self-projection. The people need to discern that their true authority is God speaking through his word, and not that their authority is some religious expert standing in front of the book. Genuine authority in preaching occurs when a man speaks in such a way that the scriptures speak through him. After thoroughly digesting the contents of a passage in such a way that it impacts his affections, the preacher is to then open the book before the people and speak contextually. That's when one speaks with true "authority."

Packer, in his contribution to the book entitled The Preacher and Preaching, discusses why people do not have a proper idea of what true preaching is. His second reason says:

Second, topical preaching has become a general rule, at least in North America. Sermons explore announced themes rather than biblical passages. Why is this? Partly, I suppose, to make preaching appear interesting and important in an age that has largely lost interest in the pulpit; partly, no doubt, to make the sermon sound different from what goes on in the Bible class before public worship starts; partly, too, because many topical preachers (not all) do not trust their Bible enough to let is speak its own message through their lips. Whatever the reason, however, the results are unhealthy. In a topical sermon the text is reduced to a peg on which the speaker hangs his line of thought; the shape and thrust of the message reflect his own best notions of what is good for people rather than being determined by the text itself. But the only authority that his sermon can then have is the human authority of a knowledgeable person speaking with emphasis and perhaps raising his voice. In my view topical discourses of this kind, no matter how biblical their component parts, cannot but fall short of being preaching in the full sense of that word, just because their biblical content is made to appear as part of the speaker's own wisdom. The authority of God revealed is thus resolved into that of religious expertise. That destroys the very idea of Christian preaching, which excludes the thought of speaking for the Bible and insists that the Bible must be allowed to speak for itself in and through the speaker's words. Granted, topical discourses may become real preaching if the speaker settles down to letting his happen, but many topical preachers never discipline themselves to become mouthpieces for messages from biblical texts at all. And many in the churches have only ever been exposed to topical preaching of the sort that I have described."

Douglas M. White describes the situation this way in his book The Excellence of Exposition:

Whether topical, textual, or expository, all preaching should be Biblical. Unfortunately this is not true of a great deal of the preaching in modern pulpits. The vast majority of sermons today could not be classified in any of the three categories stated. Topical preaching is most popular, but most of it has very little Biblical content, and therefore has little authority. Textual preaching is also extant, but here also there is too little real interpretation of Bible truth. A verse of Scripture may be quoted, which suggests an idea; that idea is incorporated into a topic, and the topic is then used as a point of departure for a thirty-minute demonstration of sermonic globe-trotting. Again, a phrase or clause is used as a topic, which is repeated half a dozen times or more during the discourse, with two or three lengthy anecdotes (which may not even be related) packed in between the repetitions. A minister of my acquaintance classifies this sort of thing as "bullfrog preaching - a croak and a jump."

Is there genuine authority in the most pulpits today? Is this one of the major reasons why many Christians are undiscerning? I think it is. Paul commands leaders to speak with authority in Titus 2:15. He commands them to speak sound doctrine in the church. It seems to me that we lack both of these things in the pulpit. It's no wonder that people are turning on their televisions without being able to detect the deception of false teachers!

"In religion, what damned error, but some sober brow will bless it and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with fair ornament?" - Shakespeare

Not only is the preacher to teach sound doctrine with authority, but they are to do so in a way that exhorts and rebukes. There are positive and negative aspects. A friend of mine uses this quote below his name on discussion boards. It captures the thought of Paul:

A preacher must be both a soldier and a shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach; he must have teeth in his mouth and be able to bite and to fight.--Martin Luther

One dominated by a church growth mentality will not have this view of Luther or Paul. They will not engage in exhortations and rebukes. They will smile and always speak pleasant things.

NKJ 1 Kings 22:8 So the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, "There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD; but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." And Jehoshaphat said, "Let not the king say such things!"

A true shepherd warns, rebukes builds up, mends with all patience and diligence. Like Augustine, he seeks to "love men and slay error." This is the idea in Titus 2:15. There should be a prophetic edge to the way a preacher speaks. If a preacher has meditated on a text, then it is in him like a fire that must come out.

NKJ Jeremiah 20:9 Then I said, "I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name." But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.

A person who speaks God's word in this way cannot be despised. No one can think around, or evade his words. The scriptural teaching is made plain, so that they must either obey or disobey. If they are upset, then they will have to deal with the implications of the passage. All the preacher did was expound the passage. He is a messanger. If the listener doesn't like it, then they have to answer to scripture. There is no possibility of successful evasion when a preacher has done his job.

This was the essence of MacArthur's message from this passage, and it has impacted my thinking greatly. I am amazed at the implications of such a simple passage. It is not a "throw away" verse at all. It's speaks volumes to our culture today.
We lack sound doctrinal instruction. We lack a knowledge of "these things." We don't have preachers speaking with genuine authority. There is a loss of a prophetic edge, because the text is behind the preacher. Self-projection instead of Christ-projection is rampant. There is an inability to correct and slay error. We are undiscerning. We are children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. People are evading the implications of biblical teaching in their lives because their leaders are not informing their consciences. They are "thinking around" or evading the topical preachers since a mere human authority is conveyed.

Titus 2:15 speaks directly to this current problem. It's worth a significant amount of meditation!

July 15, 2005

Love and Consideration

"The one who will be found in trial capable of great acts of love is ever the one who is always doing considerate small ones." - F. W. Robertson The New Dictionary of Thoughts

Most of Jesus' life is not recorded for us. Isn't it amazing to wonder about how many seemingly small acts of kindness he must have done in leading up to the cross?

"died" and "for" distinctions

NKJ 1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Since I don't think the truths of the cross can be repeated enough, I'll post this here.

One person (a strict particularist) asked (the dualists) on a discussion board:

"So then, He died for everyone?"

My reply:

A confusion can occur in at least two areas. It touches on the terms "died" and "for." "For" refers to divine intentionality and design. If one denies different senses of God's will (secret and revealed), then it is no wonder that the conclusion is either strict particularism or Arminianism. The strict particularist says that Christ died "for" the elect alone, while the Arminian says that Christ died "for" everyone with the same intent, i.e. equally for all. The dualists (and Calvin I would argue), on the other hand, maintain that both of these positions are mistaken, and they fail to account for actual volitional complexity within God, and for all the scriptural data. The strict particularists and the Arminians are actually similar. They both think that God can have only one equal and singular intent in Christ's death. Anything else does not "make sense" to them. It's deemed "illogical" and "contradictory" because they fail to understand the Law of Non-Contradiction and the distinction between senses.

There is also a confusion regarding the term "died." Christ's death, merely by itself, does not save any man. The death he died is only applied to any individual through the instrumentality of faith, i.e. it does not ipso facto liberate as Charles Hodge points out. There is a sense in which the death is first provisional and then it comes to have the sense of possession when one believes. So then, as a believer, Christ "died" for me in a different sense (i.e. in the possessed/efficacious sense) than in the merely universal (or provisional) sense with regard to those still in unbelief. If we distinguish between the provisional and possessed senses of "died," then there is no problem saying that Christ "died" for everyone.

It is only when we think of Christ's death as actually saving when he died (due to commercialistic/pecuniary debt "payment" categories being pushed beyond the analogical or metaphorical into the literal) that the universal sense becomes unthinkable. If the death is, by itself, efficacious for those it was decretally designed for, then it follows that they were saved when he died, i.e. they are justified prior to faith. This is a biblically absurd conclusion. Faith logically preceeds justification in the biblical ordo salutis (Rom. 5:1), and the elect really abide under the wrath of God (Eph. 2:3) prior to faith because the merits of Christ's death are not yet imputed to them. The death is merely provisional for them prior to faith.

I hope the distinctions above help some to see the ambiguity in the senses of "died" and "for" in the question.

Grace to you,

"That reprobate and deplorably wicked men do not receive it, is not through any defect in the grace of God, nor is it just, that, on account of of the children of perdition, it should lose the glory and title of universal redemption, since it is prepared for all, and all are called to it." Wolfgang Musculus Common Places, p. 151.

"Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost." John Calvin's comments on 2 Peter 3:9

D. A. Carson Audio Messages and Our Motives in Evangelism

D. A. Carson Audio Messages

There are some excellent audio messages in the link below by D. A. Carson on subjects ranging from Open Theism, The Emerging Church, and Postmodernism.

Christway Media
D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament Trinity Evangelical Divinity School BS, McGill University MDiv, Central Baptist Seminary, Toronto PhD, University of Cambridge, 1978­ Prior to joining the faculty at Trinity, Dr. Carson served more than three years as a pastor and several years in part-time itinerant ministry in various parts of Canada and Great Britain. He also spent three years on the faculty of Northwest Baptist Theological Seminary, Vancouver, British Columbia, and served two of those years as dean. He is the author or editor of more than forty books, including The Sermon on the Mount, Exegetical Fallacies, Matthew (EBC), Showing the Spirit, How Long, O Lord?, The Gospel of John, The Gagging of God, and (with Dr. John Woodbridge) Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon, and Letters Along the Way.
I am an audiophile of sorts. At my place of work, I am able to sort packages and listen to my MP3 player at the same time. I recently downloaded Carson's material on Open Theism, and they are excellent! If you enjoy good audio teaching as well, be sure to check out the site above.

Here is an excerpt from the section on Open Theism, Philosophical and Theological Issues Part 1:

Our Motives in Evangelism

Notice what he says about Hyper-Calvinism in that audio clip. There is a sense in which they engage in evangelism in the sense of warning sinners about their accountability before God regarding the law, but they only offer Christ to "sensible sinners," i.e. those sinners showing genuine conviction and a desire to repent. So, it's not the case that they are against evangelism in that sense, but they redefine evangelism in such a way as to restrict free offers (although Carson doesn't quite express it that way). This point reiterates what I said in an earlier post. One would have to be a special kind of moron to deny that the bible teaches that we should evangelize, so only a few in history have ever drawn that conclusion. What some classic Hypers did was redefine evangelism so as to eliminate indiscriminate offers. After all, why would we want to offer Christ to all when God does not? Some High Calvinists say that we offer Christ to all only because we are ignorant about the elect status of people prior to faith. Our indiscriminate offers are then based in ignorance. This is also a serious mistake. We offer Christ to all men because 1) We are commanded in scripture to do just that (Matt. 28), and 2) It is God-like to do that. Just as we are to love all men because God loves them (Matt. 5:45), so we should reach out to all men with free gospel invitations to all men because God, through Christ and his church, does so. None of the above statements are antithetical to historic Calvinism or to scripture. Notice what this passage says:

NRS 2 Corinthians 5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Observe also what John Calvin says on 2 Peter 3:9:
9. But the Lord is not slack, or, delays not. He checks extreme and unreasonable haste by another reason, that is, that the Lord defers his coming that he might invite all mankind to repentance. For our minds are always prurient, and a doubt often creeps in, why he does not come sooner. But when we hear that the Lord, in delaying, shews a concern for our salvation, and that he defers the time because he has a care for us, there is no reason why we should any longer complain of tardiness. He is tardy who allows an occasion to pass by through slothfulness: there is nothing like this in God, who in the best manner regulates time to promote our salvation. And as to the duration of the whole world, we must think exactly the same as of the life of every individual; for God by prolonging time to each, sustains him that he may repent. In the like manner he does not hasten the end of the world, in order to give to all time to repent.

This is a very necessary admonition, so that we may learn to employ time aright, as we shall otherwise suffer a just punishment for our idleness.

Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way.

But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God [Tony's comment: Calvin is here referencing God's secret will, i.e. the decretive], according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel [Tony's comment: Now he is referencing the revealed will of God, i.e. the preceptive]. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.

But as the verb χωρὢσαι is often taken passively by the Greeks, no less suitable to this passage is the verb which I have put in the margin, that God would have all, who had been before wandering and scattered, to be gathered or come together to repentance.
Calvin's Commentaries on 2 Peter 3:9

John Calvin is excellent here. His comments above would frighten your average "Calvinist" today. Calvin not only says that God desires repentance from all men without exception, but he sees the necessary logic and says he desires their salvation. He says, "So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost." Be sure to read Calvin carefully. In this passage of his commentary, the "us, our, all mankind, all, each, every individual, any" etc., are all universal in scope. The immediate context of each word shows that to be the case. Calvin has an excellent balance on the well-meant offer of the gospel as is seen here. Calvin weaves together the general love and/or common grace of God with the free offer. For he says, "...the Lord, in delaying, shews a concern for our salvation, and that he defers the time because he has a care for us..." And again, "So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost."

God is not interested in mere external obedience to his commands regarding evangelism. He is interested in our motives, or why we do what we do. Christ-likeness should be our motive, and it is Christ-like to freely offer the gospel to all men because we desire them to be saved. We would not want anyone to be saved if it were not for the Holy Spirit motivating and working in us to desire such things. Motives matter, and our evangelistic motives should be godly. He seeks to save lost sinners and stretches out his hands all day to rebellious sinners with sincere invitations.

NKJ Isaiah 65:2 I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts;

NKJ Revelation 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

July 13, 2005

Ad Fontes!

Wikipedia says this about the Latin expression Ad Fontes:
Ad fontes is a Latin expression which means that fundamental research is very important in politics, history and science. Without fundamental research there is no good knowledge about questions. Many people only think about questions as other people think. Ad fontes means that it is important to elaborate and study older documents to have a sound meaning. It translates approximately to "back to the sources."
I am engaged in dialogues on the internet on a regular basis, and it is astonishing how much ignorance and carelessness there is regarding historical theology. Many people are failing to go back "to the sources" to test their paradigms and assumptions. For the most part, people are reading secondary sources uncritically, without checking references in context. On the internet, bibliographic blunders abound!

In my study of Hyper-Calvinism over the past two years, I have uncovered so many historical inaccuracies that it's amazing. I have called them "inaccuracies" to be kind about it. In some cases, it just seems like flat dishonesty. It is not only easy to hunt the bible for proof-texts to confirm our preconceived notions, but it's also possible to read other historical writings and impose our templates on men from the past.

Selective reading and the lack of careful contextual analysis is common, especially when it comes to Calvinistic studies. I have been utterly amazed at how much propaganda and seeming dishonesty there is among so called "Calvinists." Calvin's own writings are overlaid with so much propaganda in the secondary sources and popular literature, that I doubt the church will ever be able to correct the problem. I have some friends online who are making a valiant effort to restore a proper understanding of Calvin, but I tend to doubt it will have much effect in overcoming the massive amount of inaccurate propaganda.

The situation doesn't merely pertain to Calvin, but to other men as well. I was surfing the net about a year ago and saw this on a website (from John G. Reisinger):
"I was taught that Spurgeon considered John Gill a "hyper-Calvinist." Using my computer, I checked every reference that Spurgeon ever made in print about John Gill. There is not a single inference by Spurgeon that Gill was a hyper-Calvinist."
From the sound of it, one might conclude that this guy has thoroughly done his research. Wow! He's checked every reference that Spurgeon ever made in print on his computer! What a thorough amount of research this guy has done! An amazing scholar indeed! Surely we can trust the objectivity of this man's thorough research.

NKJ Proverbs 18:17 The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him.

Then one investigates the primary sources and sees different facts. For example, Spurgeon said this about John Gill in his Commenting and Commentaries:
"Gill is the Coryphaeus of hyper-Calvinism, but if his followers never went beyond their master, they would not go very far astray." Commenting and Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), 16.
Clearly Spurgeon respected Gill and his scholarship, but he also clearly calls him the very "Coryphaeus" of hyper-Calvinism. Not only was Spurgeon of the opinion that Gill was hyper, but he was viewed as the leader among them by Spurgeon! One could excuse the bibliographic blunder of the man (Reisinger) quoted above if he was willing to correct his error, but he doesn't want to.

I emailed the individual through his webmaster twice a long time ago, but the webmaster got no response from him. The webmaster first responded with a red herring. He wanted to offer me material proving that Gill was not hyper. That's beside the point. My email concerned the opinion of Spurgeon, and not whether Spurgeon's opinion was correct. Anyway, till now, they still have yet to correct the error. Quite frankly, they are engaged in propaganda (similar to Tom Nettles' work on Gill--his own footnotes to Gill's The Cause of God & Truth refute his thesis in the book By His Grace and For His Glory) rather than thorough scientific investigation into historical theology. If the man bothered to read Curt Daniel's doctoral dissertation on Gill, he would have seen the same reference that I found. My Kregel edition of Spurgeon's work has an index in back that lists every reference to Gill, so it's easy to find. Furthermore, Spurgeon's Commenting and Commentaries is a popular work, so it's not as if the reference is obscure.

This is just a small example of the need to go back "to the sources." Christians are called to think and behave virtuously. Even if we disagree with someone, let us accurately and fairly represent their viewpoint by careful listening and investigation. We are supposed to be historically honest as well, especially if we are positioned as teachers in the church.

Historical theology is very important for the Christian. We need to study the historic development of doctrines to have a thorough understanding. This will help us become more epistemologically self-aware. Many believers are not aware of the fact that their thinking is biased by certain presuppositions. They are not conscious of the filters and grids through which they interpret literature. We are shaped and influenced by the culture around us, even through the secondary sources that we read. These secondary sources need to be tested, just as our own filters and grids need to be tested. One of the ways to do this is by engaging in the study of historical theology.

Trying to wade through all of this material can be very overwhelming. We cannot possibly learn all of it, but we can make an effort to study what is more important as time permits. Let's be well grounded in the essentials of the faith, and understand how they developed historically.

God is leading me to study the history and theology of Calvinism as you can tell, so my studies are focused on particular subjects. Even though the focus seems narrow, the implications for the rest of theology are also within my view. I am becoming more self-aware of my biases and preconceived notions. I am learning how these preconceived notions influence my interpretive process. I can see how others are being influenced by subterranean ideas that they are not yet conscious of. It makes me want to encourage them to go back "to the sources" and investigate ideas historically. It makes me want to cry out "Ad Fontes!" to my fellow Christians.

July 10, 2005

Radio Interview on Hyper-Calvinism

I recently did a radio interview with Gene Cook of Unchained Radio on the issue of Hyper-Calvinism.

For a couple of years now, I have been digging deeply into this issue and related theological subjects. In many ways, I feel like Andrew Fuller in his escape from higher forms of Calvinism that compromised the well-meant offer of the gospel. I was once a High Calvinist (particularly in my strictly limited and commercial view of the design of the atonement) on the verge of being Hyper on the issue of the offer. It's not that I was not interested in evangelism or preaching the gospel indiscriminately to all, but I was not thinking that God wanted anyone except the elect to be saved. In other words, there was a significant dichotomy in my thinking regarding my offers of the gospel and God's offer. God wanted me to share the gospel with everyone, but only with a view to saving the elect. There was no sense in which he wanted to save the non-elect. Anyone who seemed to teach such a thing was theologically suspect of Arminianism or Amyraldism. The well-meant aspect of the offer is what troubled me. As Curt Daniel notes in his lectures on The History and Theology of Calvinism, the rejection of offers was essential to Hyper-Calvinism.

However, Hyper-Calvinism, as Phil Johnson notes in his Primer, "comes in several flavors, so it admits no simple, pithy definition." Hyper-Calvinism not only has problems with offers (particularly the well-meant intention of God in the offer), but they have problems with the universal love of God evidenced in common grace, and also difficulties with what is called 'duty-faith'. Here are several definitions that capture some of the ingredients of Hyper-Calvinism:

Curt Daniel, in his doctoral dissertation on Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill, gives his definition as:
Hyper-Calvinism is that school of Supralapsarian "Five Point" Calvinism which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of Man, notably with respect to the denial of the word "offer" in relation to the preaching of the Gospel of a finished and limited atonement, thus undermining the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly with the assurance that the Lord Jesus Christ died for them, with the result that presumption is overly warned of, introspection is overly encouraged, and a view of sanctification akin to doctrinal Antinomianism is often approached. This (definition) could be summarized even further: it is the rejection of the word "offer" in connection with evangelism for supposedly Calvinistic reasons.
Curt Daniel, Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1983), 767.

Peter Toon describes it this way:
It is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners. It puts excessive emphasis on acts belonging to God’s immanent being – the immanent acts of God, eternal justification, eternal adoption, and the eternal covenant of grace. It makes no meaningful distinction between the secret and revealed will of God, thereby deducing the duty of sinners from the secret decrees of God. It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect.
Iain Murray gives something of a description in The Forgotten Spurgeon:
Hyper-Calvinism in its attempt to square all truth with God's purpose to save the elect, denies that there is a universal command to repent and believe, and asserts that we have only warrant to invite to Christ those who are conscious of a sense of sin and need. In other words, it is those who have been spiritually quickened to seek a Saviour and not those who are in the death of unbelief and indifference, to whom the exhortations of the Gospel must be addressed. In this way a scheme was devised for restricting the Gospel to those who there is reason to suppose are elect.
The Forgotten Spurgeon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), 47.

Phil Johnson gives 5 things that describe it:
A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:

1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
3. Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
4. Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR
5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.
My definition would be:
Hyper-Calvinism is that school of theology that so emphasizes the sovereign, decretal will of God to the exclusion of the preceptive will, that one or more of these points follows:

1) The universal love of God for all men, as taught by the doctrine of common grace, is denied.
2) The sincere desire of God that all men keep his commandment to believe on Christ (the well-meant offer) is denied.
3) The universal responsibility of men to savingly or evangelically believe the gospel and repent is denied (i.e. duty-faith).
4) The TULIP doctrines are elevated to an essential status, so that those denying any of the points are, on that basis, deemed to be lost or unregenerate sinners.
The fundamental problem, as stated by these definitions above, is an overemphasis on the sovereign, decretive will of God to the exclusion of other important and vital truths of scripture.

I would say the same thing about myself that Phil says of himself:
Lest anyone wonder where my own convictions lie, I am a Calvinist. I am a five-point Calvinist, affirming without reservation the Canons of the Synod of Dordt. And when I speak of hyper-Calvinism, I am not using the term as a careless pejorative. I'm not an Arminian who labels all Calvinism "hyper." When I employ the term, I am using it in its historical sense.
The definition of Hyper-Calvinism is not like a wax nose to be shaped and formed however one sees fit. An honest and historical investigation yields a fair and objective definition like Curt Daniel's above. While the definitions above point out different ingredients, the essence or core of what Hyperism is remains the same.

Curt Daniel says that the core is the rejection of "offers." He's right. However, it does not necessarily mean that one rejects offers to the extreme of not engaging in evangelism as some think. The Primitive Baptists were of this variety. Dr. Daniel rightly points out, in his audio lecture, that not every version of Hyper-Calvinism was of that variety, contrary to the false conclusions of David Engelsma of the Protestant Reformed Church. Most people only know about the rumored quotation of John Ryland Sr. to William Carey when he said, "Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine!" This is the extent of what many people know about Hyper-Calvinism. The anti-evangelistic strain of Hyperism was not the only variety of the error, but they just undermined human responsibility and God's use of significant secondary causes for the fulfillment of his decrees. They made man passive in conversion (downplayed the will of man in the act of believing) so that faith was a kind of inner illumination or awakening to your already privileged status as one of the elect. The doctrines of eternal justification and Calvinistic Antinomianism are related to this variety.

The more I reflect on the issue and the subterranean concepts at work, the more the doctrine of the will of God stands out as absolutely fundamental. As Dr. Daniel says in his lecture on the will of God, if one makes a mistake here, they are "bound to go astray." Phil Johnson observes the same thing when he says, "hyper-Calvinists tend to stress the secret (or decretive) will of God over His revealed (or preceptive) will. Indeed, in all their discussion of "the will of God," hyper-Calvinists routinely obscure any distinction between God's will as reflected in His commands and His will as reflected in his eternal decrees. Yet that distinction is an essential part of historic Reformed theology." This is crucial to notice since it undergirds all of the confusion. It's the reason why R. L. Dabney saw fit to write an excellent theological essay on God's offers and his sincerity.

The sincerity or well-meaning nature of the offer is tied to God's intentions or will. Would someone seem sincere to you if they commanded you to do something but really did not desire your compliance to the command? Wouldn't they seem hypocritical? Wouldn't they seem evil if they were merely wanting you to violate a good command? Would not a benevolent commander command something for the well-being of the one commanded? These questions should point out how the sincerity, goodness and well-meaning nature of God's intentions are at stake in the issue of gospel commands.

God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ though preaching. Does he really mean it? Does he really want everyone to comply with those good commandments? Are the commands insincere with respect to those not decreed to obey (i.e. in the case of the non-elect)? If God commands everyone to repent and believe on Christ through preaching, then does that imply that there is something really available in the atonement for them? Or if they were to believe, would they be disappointed by the discovery that the atonement is strictly limited and not really available for them at all? Would they come to a feast only to discover that there really wasn't a sufficient amount of food for them to begin with? Does the sincerity of the call to the gospel feast imply a sufficient amount of food in Christ's flesh for all? A strictly limited atonement view entails a denial of this, at least in the sense of God's intentions. They would say that there is an intrinsic sufficiency in Christ's death due to the quality of his person, but the sufficiency is unrelated to any intentionality in God whereby he desires everyone to come to Christ and feed on him. In other words, the sufficiency is really hypothetical and not an ordained (intentional) sufficiency in the sense that John Davenant and Edmund Calamy thought. Most Calvinists admit that Christ's death is sufficient for all, but they don't all mean the same thing by saying that. Some hold to an ordained or intentional sufficiency for all (suffered for all sufficiently), while others see the sufficiency as incidental and unrelated to God's singular intention (the decretal will), design or motive behind the death he died. However, Calamy says:
I am far from universal redemption in the Arminian sense; but that that I hold is in the sense of our divines [e.g. Bishop Davenant] in the Synod of Dort, that Christ did pay a price for all. . . that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving Christ, and Christ in giving himself, did intend to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe. . .
Quoted in Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, eds. A. F. Mitchell and J. Struthers (London, 1874), 152.

At this point, one should be able to see how the issue of the design of the atonement is related to Hyper-Calvinism. They hold a strictly limited view because they hold a narrow, decretal view of God's will to the exclusion of the preceptive will. If one holds to a decretal/strictly limited view of the atonement, it is easy to see how one may restrict gospel offers to those who seem to evidence their election, i.e. to "sensible sinners." What some Hyper-Calvinists did historically was preach the gospel facts to everyone, but only offered Christ to sensible sinners. A sensible sinner was one showing genuine conviction of sin and a true desire for the things of God. This was evidence of their election. Preach to all, but offer Christ to the elect alone.

Some of them dismissed the idea of offers altogether because offers imply some sort of conditionality. They took "unconditional election" to mean no conditions in any sense whatsoever, and not merely an exclusion of meritorious conditions as the Reformers taught. It is true that God does not elect some on the basis of foreseen faith or any other evangelical virtue, but that does not mean that he will save us apart from our act of faith in Christ. Election unto justification is through the instrumental cause or condition of faith. This secondary causation or condition was virtually eliminated through a perverted conception of divine sovereignty. Once the role of human response was downplayed in favor of divine sovereignty, the idea of "offers" and/or conditionality left as well.

There is an inability to make careful distinctions among the Hyper-Calvinists, therefore false either/or dilemma fallacies abound. It's either meritorious conditions or no sense of conditionality. It's either a strictly limited atonement, or an Arminian view of the atonement. It's either God's decretive will or a frustrated deity in the Arminian sense. It's either divine sovereignty or human responsibility. The gospel call is either well-meant only toward the elect, or the gospel call has no special reference to anyone in particular. It's either a God who loves only the elect, or he has the same kind of love for all men. As I said in my Paradox and Mystery post:
Bad theology is rash theology because it is unwilling to wait on God to illuminate the totality of what he has revealed. Bad theology clings to one truth at the expense of another, and thus warps the biblical picture of God in the name of "logic" that is really unsound logic. Arminianism, Neo-Socinianism (Open Theism) and Hyper-Calvinism are all examples of this. This perverse use of "logic" is what should be associated with rationalism, but not what it means to be rational. There is an inability to distinguish between senses in their case. They seem at times to think that the Law of Noncontradiction is that A cannot be non-A at the same time. That is NOT the law. The law says that A cannot be non-A at the same time and in the same sense. That is a crucial qualification.
God has been teaching me about these issues through gifted teachers and theologians in recent years, hence my many posts and discussions about it. The "Calvinism" that is prevalent today is actually the High Calvinism of John Owen. It's then imposed on John Calvin as if he believed the same way. Once this Owenic theology is thoroughly mixed with a further decretal bent of mind, commercialistic categories, an emphasis of the eternal over time, and an adherence to divine simplicity to the exclusion of any sense of complexity in God, then Hyperism will flourish again. The jump from High Calvinism into Hyper-Calvinism through theoretical antinomianism is not that far. Put a few more ingredients listed above into the mix of High Calvinism, and the product is Hyper-Calvinism.

Update on 12-10-14: I also did this radio interview with Gene Cook (The Narrow Mind on June 22, 2013) on the subject of Phil Johnson's Primer on Hyper-Calvinism.