May 10, 2006

Gnostic Insight Into Some T4G Articles

The following articles are from the Together for the Gospel gathering. Some of the men who signed it were:

J. Ligon Duncan III, Mark E. Dever, C.J. Mahaney, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Jeremy S. Haywood

T4TG Statement

In what follows, I give some gnostic insight into the secret High Calvinist code words chosen, and whisper the meaning to the theologically initiated via "psst" comments :-)
Article VII
We affirm that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in perfect, undiluted, and unconfused union throughout his incarnation and now eternally. We also affirm that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners (psst - They mean only elect sinners here), as a sacrifice for sin (psst - They mean only the sins of the elect here), and as a propitiation of the wrath of God toward sin (psst - They mean only the sins of the elect here). We affirm the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ as essential to the Gospel. We further affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord over His church, and that Christ will reign over the entire cosmos in fulfillment of the Father's gracious purpose.

We deny that the substitutionary character of Christ's atonement for sin (psst - they mean the sin of the elect) can be compromised or denied without serious injury, or even repudiation, of the Gospel. We further deny that Jesus Christ is visible only in weakness, rather than in power, Lordship, or royal reign, or, conversely, that Christ is visible only in power, and never in weakness.

Article VIII
We affirm that salvation is all of grace, and that the Gospel is revealed to us in doctrines that most faithfully exalt God's sovereign purpose to save sinners (psst - They mean elect sinners here, as in the other places where "sinners" is used above) and in His determination to save his redeemed people (psst - They mean only the elect were redeemed when Christ died) by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to His glory alone.

We deny any teaching, theological system, or means of presenting the Gospel that denies the centrality of God's grace as His gift of unmerited favor to sinners (psst - they mean elect sinners) in Christ can be considered true doctrine.
In case some of you were not aware of how High Calvinists use deliberately chosen ambigious language to convey their underlying decretal theology, the above should help you see what they mean.

UPDATE (5-29-06): In order to better understand things I have said in this post, please read the comment thread as well.


Anonymous said...


Were the non-elect redeemed when Christ died? If God wills to save the non-elect, why are they not saved? Did Christ die on the cross for the non-elect?
I don't think they're using deliberately chosen "ambiguous language", they're making a confessional statement about their faith. How would you articulate it?

As an aside, I will say that these godly men (i.e. Piper, MacArthur, Sproul, et al) are seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures. They are not using "secret High Calvinist code words", any more than you use "secret low Calvinist code words". Yet, as I have noticed in one of your previous posts criticizing someone else, you treat them in a condescending way. I find it odd that you go after the leading reformed men of our day. I don't agree with everything these men say (although I certainly don't have any problem with the statement of faith you quoted from them), but I highly respect them. In fact, I'm thankful that God has used these men in great ways. If someone read your posting without knowing anything about these men, they would get the impression that there is something suspicious about their character and their ministry. I think this undermines their ministry (poisoning the well, as it were). There is, in fact, a way to disagree with a brother without impugning his motives or maligning his character. Would you level this criticism this way to MacArthur or Piper's face? It's easy, I suppose, to throw this stuff out there on the Internet. Do you treat brothers this way? Or do you not consider them brothers in Christ? What if I disagree with my Pastor? Do I say to a fellow church member, "Boy, our Pastor was using a lot of deliberately ambiguous language today, you know, secret High Calvinist code words"?

You seem very concerned about a proper understanding of the doctrines of Grace. That's important, I have no problem there. But I must confess I am tired of all the "self-proclaimed master theologians" who trash everybody else, no matter who they are, in defense of the "truth" (and I'm not saying this about you because I don't know you, but ironically these "master theologians" do almost nothing for the kingdom while Piper and the others preach the Word and sinners are brought to Christ). Now, it may be that you should deal with someone promoting a heresy, or someone who is actively opposing Christ, with a very bold and righteously aggressive disposition, but that is not the case here. Should you not rather expend more of your time and efforts attacking the enemies of Christ and their false doctrines?

Well, I've said enough here. I check in on this blog once in a while to get your perspective on things, but I have noticed your tendency to do this to good men (like James White, to whom you apologized), but I see this pattern in your work and I'm grieved about it. The world treats its' own like this, not so among brethren. "Love one another..."

--Jon Unyan

Tony Byrne said...


Were the non-elect redeemed when Christ died? If God wills to save the non-elect, why are they not saved? Did Christ die on the cross for the non-elect?

Hi Jon,

When you ask me these questions, you want me to be up front and honestly disclose what I think on these matters, right? Wouldn’t you want me to do that if I was putting my thoughts on the gospel into a confessional statement for others in the church to sign??? I think you would. I don’t think you would want me to be ambiguous on such important matters.

You ask:

1) Were the non-elect redeemed when Christ died?

My answer:

Yes, the whole world (i.e. all existing unbelievers on the earth at any given time) was objectively redeemed or reconciled to God when Christ died (2 Cor. 5:19). This does not mean all are subjectively reconciled, for not all have come to Christ by faith through the gospel call. Even Peter says that the Lord “bought” some false teachers (2 Peter 2:1) who probably finally perished. If Christ has “paid” (redemption metaphor) a sufficient “price” (redemption metaphor) for all men, then they are objectively redeemed. It’s just the case that there are conditions involved in order to participate in the everlasting benefits, i.e. one must believe (subjective redemption).

You ask:

2) If God wills to save the non-elect, why are they not saved?

My answer:

All are not saved because all do not believe. All do not believe because either a) they do not hear the external call of the gospel, and thus remain in their sins or b) they hear it and reject it in unbelief, and thus remain in their sins.

When I say that God "wills" to save all, I am talking about the revealed will of God. I am not saying he decretally wills or EQUALLY wills to save all, as non-Calvinists think. In the revealed or preceptive will of God, he commands all who hear to repent and believe. This command is sincerely given, i.e. there’s a sense in which God wants sinners to comply with that command. If he does not, then he is insincerely commanding it. If a omnibenevolent commander issues a command, then it follows that compliance is desired in some sense.

You ask:

3) Did Christ die on the cross for the non-elect?

My answer:

Yes, of course. The vast majority of Calvinists have affirmed this in some sense. Many of them have associated the blessings of common grace that come to all with the death of Christ (mahy high Calvinists admit this). It’s usually the hyper-Calvininsts who deny ANY SENSE that Christ died for the non-elect.

However, what you are REALLY asking is, “Did Christ die on the cross with the intent to save the non-elect?” Right? That’s a better way of wording your question, as I am sure you would agree. My answer to that is yes as well. If God wills for sinners to comply with his command to repent and believe, then it follows that he wants or wills them to be saved in the revealed will of God. Furthermore, if Christ really (not merely hypothetically) suffered sufficiently for all, then wasn’t that ordained of God since he ordains whatsoever comes to pass? I affirm with Dort that "no one dies for want of an atonement” (or satisfaction in my terms). That means that there is really some value or benefits in Christ’s satisfaction for any sinner to take by faith. If all who hear are indescriminately invited, and sincerely so, then it follows that there is a sufficient remedy available for them by the ordination of God. The sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction is intentional, even as his will to especially save the elect is intentional. God wills to save all through Christ’s death (i.e. in a righteous way) through faith according to the revealed will, but he especially wills to save the elect through Christ’s death (the intention is unequal). There is a universal intent as well as a special intent. The classic Lombardian formula (that implicitly goes back to Ambrose as well) that Christ died “sufficiently for all, but efficiently for the elect) entails my classical Calvinistic viewpoint, I would argue.

I would encourage you to read the following posts:

The Sufficiency of Christ's Satisfaction

The Design of the Atonement: Dealing with a Popular False Dilemma

John Frame on the Will of God

Bishop James Usser on the Atonement

Dabney and Other Theologians on Volitioal Complexity

Norman F. Douty Describes Dualism

Double Jeopardy?

Chambers on "Unbelief as a Sin Atoned For"

John Davenant on Colossians

Davenant Sufficiency Distinctions

More from James Ussher

On Ad Hominems and Insults

Now, if you seriously disagree with what I have stated above, then it follows that you think I have significantly distorted the gospel. You would NOT have to say that I have a fundamentally different gospel, or no gospel at all (as some hyper-Calvinists would say). But you would think that I have serious gospel distortions in my system. You may even argue, as Owenists do, that I have undermined penal substition. I do not think I have, but strict particulars often make that accusation. If you think that, then you must admit that I have serious mistakes that should be exposed and corrected. Aren’t you asking me the above questions to bring out those matters? I think you are, and that’s perfectly fair. I am just making the point that you would want me to explicitly state such beliefs in a gospel confession. You would be suspicious if you saw me write a confession with vague words, even if you didn’t think I was trying to be deceptive in any way. Still, you would want me to be careful and bring out my gospel assumptions, right? After all, what is more important than the gospel of God revealed in Christ?

Moreover, I noticed that you didn’t think I was wrong when I said the signers really meant “elect,” or the “sins of the elect” etc. You have to acknowledge that it’s true that they really believe what I have now made explicit. Put yourself in my shoes now. Pause and consider how someone with my viewpoints must feel and view the wording of the confession. Would you expect me to sign it, given the significant ambiguities on the points that I have made and would differ with? Implicitly imbedded in the T4G articles are High Calvinistic presuppositions. I was seeking to bring these out, albeit in a teasing way, as if one needs gnostic insight to see it. I don’t seriously think that.

I am just attempting to be like Rush Limbaugh when he brings out and exposes liberal biases in the media. If you listen to him, you know about his entertaining way of doing that. The liberals in the media are not necessarily being dishonest. It’s just the case that they are slanted and do not know it or acknowledge it. Likewise, High Calvinists are not always aware of how they are using language to convey their biases. I am not saying they are being dishonest, but their terminology is chosen for a reason. Why didn’t the authors say that Christ died for the “world” as scripture says? Why didn’t they say that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, as Calvin so frequently terms it? Do you think these re-phrasings were deliberately chosen because they fit better into the systematic grid of the authors? I think so, and that’s all I am seeking to say.

I also agree that the men who signed it are godly. I have learned many things from Mohler, MacArthur and Sproul. I have listened to the last two men for years (MacArthur actually persuaded me of unconditional election based on Romans 9 shortly after my conversion). Since I never passed through an Arminian phase since I was converted in 1990 at age 20, I am thoroughly acquainted with popular Calvinistic teachers. I have heard them all and respect them. Now, since I have come down from high Calvinism into a moderate form of Calvinism, I have serious disagreements with them. I am not treating them in a “condescending way.” I think I am right in my views, just as they think they are in theirs. You also think your present beliefs are correct, and therefore you seek to teach and admonish those who differ in gospel matters. Since I have taken some of your favorite teachers to task on certain points, you don’t like it. I understand that since I have felt and feel the same way about teachers I respect at times. Basically, I am stepping on your theological toes and the toes of the teachers you most admire. This seems arrogant to you. However, there is a significant distinction between attacking their characters and attacking their arguments, or making their language explicit for others to see.

I feel no need to attack the character of the men who signed the T4G articles, particularly John MacArthur. Some of the men, like Sproul and Duncan, have a vested interest in protecting their Reformed tradition. MacArthur is not that way, nor are some of the others who signed it. Some of them will follow the truth no matter where it leads. I reckon MacArthur to be of that sort. Either way, I would not impune any of these men as being either dishonest or ignorant. They are very learned men with many theological and pastoral skills far greater than my own. Nevertheless, I do think that they have erred, just as I once did, on the issue of God’s will, the design of Christ’s death and the nature of his satisfaction. Insofar as I think these men have erred from gospel truths, I will point it out in order to help my friends and anyone reading my blog. They need to be aware of the biased language and systems purporting to be biblical. If you held my views as stated in my answers to your above questions, I believe you would feel the same way that I do on the matter. Since you are a high Calvinist who listens to and admires other high Calvinists, it is difficult for you to see my perspective and to receive my theological admonitions. That’s normal.

If you regularly listen to James White and the way he talks about some of his opponents, then you will have to be very busy rebuking him if you apply the same principles that you have applied to my post. If you apply the same principles to other Calvinistic bloggers that you have applied to me, then you would have to rebuke them in the same way, and also tell them to get busy on other subjects.

What I have noticed in talking to some High and Hyper Calvinists online is that they desperately want me to get away from these gospel subjects. They also feel like I am attacking them personally when I am not. It’s as if the Ad Hominem accusation is an effort to change the subject from my theological arguments to personal matters. If you listen to James White’s reply to my “Eisegesis” post, you won’t hear him deal with my arguments. He spent most of his time ridiculing my typos and spelling errors, and then rebuking me for “ad hominems.” Did you hear him deal with my arguments in a substantive way? I didn’t. I am not denying that he is capable of doing that, but I don’t think he did at all during the 12 + minutes he spent on me on his radio show. He also wanted me to argue with others on different matters, i.e. with Muslims or something. Notice how he seems to also wants me to change the subject. I won’t change the subject since I think vital gospel truths are at stake, not to mention fair interpretations of God’s word. If men like him are allowed to be so busy rebuking the Arminians and free will theologians, then what’s the problem when a fellow Calvinist challenges what men like White say? All of us should be held accoutable for our public teaching, particularly when it comes to the gospel. I won’t change the subject and my arguments are not ad hominems. I believe they are sound and need to be heard, particularly among Calvinists.

I felt the need to apologize to White for making character comments in the midst of my arguments, but I did not retract my theological arguments. If (not saying you did) you read my apology as if I retracted my theological points/arguments, then you read it incorrectly.

Also, I would publicly say what I said on my blog regarding the T4G articles. I think the entire church should be aware of the underlying decretal assumptions of the authors. They chose particular terms for a reason. These men are not ignorant, as you well know. They are thoroughly aware of historical theological differences on these fine points. Everyone of them means just what I said, i.e. that Christ died for the elect ALONE, and for the sins of the elect ALONE. If they believe that, then why not come out and say it? I think they should, especially if they think that differing views undermine penal substitution and other vital gospel truths. They could have used the term “world” as the scripture does, but they didn’t. I submit to you that their language choice was deliberate, but not deceptive. It’s just that they are biased. Like Limbaugh, I am pointing out their biases.

If you would like to interact on these subjects more, I would be happy to dialogue with you in email ( or elsewhere (such as the Calvin and Calvinism list). Please contact me or let me know if you would like to do that. Thanks for your comments.

Tony Byrne said...

Incidently, Jon, I just went back and read some of your comments on my "Eisegesis" post to White. You said this:

"The reason other "Calvinists" aren't pointing out the supposed "errors" you see in Dr. White's exegesis is because they have a better understanding of the subject being dealt with."

I just noticed that you put "Calvinists" in quotes. Perhaps you were suggesting that I am not really one, except by profession.

Also, if you are so interested in pointing out the condescension of others, such as myself, will you do the same with the above comment? As you have said elsewhere, "Take the beam out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your brother's eye." Your "better understanding" comment definitely sounds condescending to me, particularly since you made NO attempt to deal with my arguments (just like White on his show) on that post. It sure would be better if people would start to deal with my theological points for a change, particularly when they purport to have a "better understanding" than I do on these subjects.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

Before I proceed I would ask for your forgiveness for being condescending in the above comment you cited from a previous post. I make no excuse for that, it was sinful on my part and I'm sorry. Also, I was not intentionally suggesting you are not a Calvinist by putting "Calvinists" in quotes, as you mentioned. I can see why you may have thought that, but it wasn't my intention. I recognize the fact that there is room for disagreement among Calvinists.

In regard to the principles applied to your post, I strive to apply those principles consistently regardless of whose blog it may be. I have not, I trust, singled you out. I think it is a testimony to the world, though, when Christian brothers disagree, that they can do so with a gracious spirit. Paul treated Euodia and Syntyche differently than he treated Hymenaeus and Philetus. I just think that disagreements with the caliber of men you mentioned in your post should be articulated with due humility and Christian charity. You made it clear that you do respect these men in your response to me, but such qualifications were not made in your original post. I don't think any objective reader would have went away from your post thinking that you respected or admired them.

Finally, I don't follow Pastors or theologians around like they're my favorite baseball player. I weigh everything that anyone says in the light of Holy Scripture. I trust, by God's grace, that I go wherever the truth may lead. If you think you are stepping on my "theological toes" by taking some of my favorite teachers to task, you are quite wrong. (Actually, I don't hear or read much from MacArthur or Sproul. Of the ones mentioned I am most familiar with Piper, but I don't agree with any of these men on every point). But hypothetically, if I had a list of favorite teachers, I would have no problem with you attacking their arguments.

Now, in response to the theological points under discussion (the part you've been waiting for, right?), I would like to read the articles you recommended and respond with an intelligent answer. I just haven't had time to read them (I have 3 children under 8 years old and #4 on the way). So I beg your patience with me, I am not trying to avoid the substance of your arguments. Let me close by saying that I am not above correction, I seek to be teachable and Berean in spirit. If your arguments stand under the weight of Biblical analysis I will prayerfully consider them. Don't lose heart.......

--Jon Unyan

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your gracious reply. I look forward to future dialogue with you at your earliest convenience. Since I am single with no kids, I have plenty of time to ramble on the internet hahaha. Anyway, I hope that things I have written can in some way bless you and your family by providing insight into biblical truths and distinctions.

Grace to you,

Mathew Sims said...

A couple things to keep in mind about the statement. This is not supposed to be exhaustive...say like the Wesminster Confession. I mean baptism, eschatology, church government--none of it was mentioned.

Also, as you stated in one of your previous articles, Calvinism is not monolithic, so part of the "ambiguity" may be to accomodate differing, but orthodox beliefs. I do not think the statement was really ambiguous. Frist, because everyone knows what is meant and the Bible does not spell out and define every nuasance of each phrase it uses.

I agree it could have been clearer on some points, but again we must consider the purpose of the document.

Just a side note, I do not think that MacArthur, Piper, or Sproul have signed it yet. Also, the Jerey guy from my understanding actually just cut and pasted his name onto the document after the conference...The document, I do not believe, has not been offered to others to be signed yet (

Who knows?

MBS~Soli Deo Gloria

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Mathew,

You said:
"Also, as you stated in one of your previous articles, Calvinism is not monolithic, so part of the "ambiguity" may be to accomodate differing, but orthodox beliefs."

It does NOT accomodate non-strict Calvinists. In fact, if they did sign it, it could be used against them. Even John Calvin couldn't sign it in good conscience. Luther couldn't either.

You said:
"I do not think the statement was really ambiguous. Frist, because everyone knows what is meant and the Bible does not spell out and define every nuasance of each phrase it uses."

Many in the church who are not strict particularists may not know what is meant in these T4G statements. One could wish that they didn't make necessary associations between the gospel and strict 5 point Calvinism. Why is that necessary when coming "together for the gospel"? Most people in Mohler's own seminary couldn't sign the T4G articles, but they still know the gospel. Why exclude them by language that is implicitly high Calvinistic?