June 19, 2006

My Theological Background (Part 2)

Part 1 can be found here:

As a High Calvinist, I listened to all the popular teachers on the subject, such as John Gerstner, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur and many others. I was constructing a theological system on that paradigm. I was trying to think through all of the fine details in order to make sense of God and his revelation. The internet provided a venue in which to discuss these matters in greater detail.

By the time I found Paltalk (an internet voice chat program I found back in 2002 or 2003?), I had a very commercial view of the death of Christ. His death was literally a case of so much suffering (to justly match what was imputed) for so much sin (the sins of the elect alone). This was Equivalentism and limited imputation combined. I denied that Christ's death was sufficient for all on this basis, and some of these ideas were gathered from Tom Nettles' book By His Grace and For His Glory. Equivalentism is the strictest form of limited atonement. It affected how I thought about God, all of redemptive history and many biblical passages. Everything was exclusively filtered through God's purpose in the eternal Covenant of Redemption.

While we were in a Calvinistic chat room in paltalk, a friend of mine began to warn people against the errors of hyper-Calvinism as it relates to the well-meant offer of the gospel, since some who came in the room were hyper on that point (as well in their denial of common grace). This was new to me at the time so I listened to her carefully (God bless you Annie :-). I was confused at first, so I decided to study the matter further.

Believers Chapel had a copy of Dr. Curt Daniel's doctoral dissertation on Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill (about 900 pages) so I borrowed it. I thoroughly enjoyed the wealth of information in it, but it was descriptive rather than prescriptive. The theological alternatives were set forth, but very few answers to the problems and complexities were given. Eventually I found Dr. Daniel's audio lectures on The History and Theology of Calvinism online. This was a great help.

I began to see how the love of God in common grace was related to the well-meant gospel offer and duty-faith, and this resulted in God's revealed will being revived in my thinking. My focus was no longer narrowly decretal as it once was. I never had a problem with God loving all men or with the notion of common grace, but the well-meant gospel offer was a problem in the past. I never explicitly denied it, but my inclinations were against it, until I studied the matter in greater detail. This went on while I listened to paltalk conversations between historic Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists. The situation on the chat program was getting worse and worse. Baptistic hyper-Calvinists were joined by Protestant Reformed Church hypers in our rooms, and their conception of God was so distorted that it made me sick. Since I saw how close I used to be to them on the subject of the well-meant offer, I determined to study all of the related subjects in order to thoroughly weed out any hyper tendencies in my own thinking. During this time I did a radio interview on hyper-Calvinism (in 2004) with Gene Cook of UnchainedRadio.

After some time of study, I couldn't figure out how to relate the well-meant offer to Christ's death. My commercialistic conceptions of the death of Christ seemed incompatible with it. How can God sincerely offer a strictly limited remedy to everyone who hears the gospel? My Equivalentism (Christ's strictly limited suffering for the elect alone) was clashing with my adherence to the well-meant offer. This tension existed for awile until I met another friend who argued for a classical Calvinstic dualism. I was immediately suspicious of him (God bless you David :-). He seemed to be an "Amyraldian." I didn't know what it was (except that it was called "four-point Calvinism"), but it couldn't be a good thing. Anything other than my conception of "limited atonement" seemed to threaten my entire Calvinistic construct, so I was spooked. He sent me some papers on the subject so I continued to study the matter.

I was amazed to see how Calvinists have historically differed on the subject. This was not the sort of historical picture I was used to seeing, yet the sources and quotes were carefully documented and accurate. The tension in my thinking stemming from my adherence to the well-meant offer and limited atonement was relieved when I came to understand a dual reference theory, i.e. that Christ intended to suffer for all sufficiently, but only for the elect effectually. If one is allowed to think of the revealed will as associated with volition/intention (i.e. as really a "will" or active principle in God), then a dual reference theory makes alot of sense. If volition and/or intention are only related to the decretal will, then it doesn't. Those who only relate intention with the decree are unable to see it. Their vision is not stereoscopic.

I started my Theological Meditations blog (June 2005) shortly after the time I changed into a dualistic position. This should help people to understand why I have written so much about subjects related to it. These Calvinistic changes have made a significant impact in all of my thinking about God and his word, and I want others to share in what I believe to be true and the fruits of my study. If they are slow and reluctant to do so, I can relate to that. The process was slow for me as well, but well worth it. One should test all things and hold fast to what is good (or in accord with scriptural theology).

This provides a small glimpse into my theological background and I hope it serves to explain my present passions. I pray that God's truth shall prosper in his church and that His name be glorified in all things. If I have written anyting that is true, I hope the church takes it to heart. If I have written anything that is false, I hope that it is stricken from her memory by God's grace.



KP said...

Tony, I had to let you know that after your tireless urging that I listen to Dr. Daniels' audios, I have finally begun (after heeding your recommendation that I invest in an mp3 player). I've been listening while driving and have found what I've heard thus far enjoyable and informative. I look forward to hearing more. I just hope I can finish the series in this lifetime. :-) Thanks for your persistence!

YnottonY said...

Hi Keith,

Glad to hear you are listening to those lectures. It would be interesting to hear what you think about the content sometime.

On a humorous note: It is interesting that you inferred that that I was urging YOU in particular to listen to the series based on what is said on my blog. If you were a good high Calvinist in your hermeneutics, you would have only inferred that I was urging various classes of men reading my blog to listen to them, but not necessarily you in particular. I was urging all men without distinction to listen, and not all men without exception. You have to be careful to read me "contextually." HAHAHAHA

KP said...

Actually, I had in mind your urgings on PalTalk. :-)

YnottonY said...

I was asked about my Calvinistic background on a discussion board and wrote the following:

Hi Matt,

I am not sure what you would like to know, so I will give you a brief and insufficient overview of my Calvinistic background. I was converted in 1990 at age 20 in Dallas, Texas. I was raised Roman Catholic but our family never took it too seriously. I was converted in an apartment while reading the New Testament from a Catholic bible.

Soon after my conversion, I started attending a Baptist church and I met several friends who introduced me to Christian radio stations and to a nearby used bookstore. I ended up buying a Peoples Study Bible that had some Matthew Henry quotes in the footnotes. I found them to ring true when they described the sinfulness of man and my utter need for divine mercy and help. Given my ungodly background, it didn’t take much to convince me of the doctrine of Total Depravity. It was like an intuitive belief of mine at the point of my conversion.

As I listened to preachers on the radio, I paid a great deal of attention to the expository lessons of Dr. John MacArthur. I could open my bible and carefully follow the context. In one of these lessons, he was teaching through Romans 9. I was plainly confronted with the doctrine of Unconditional Election. Dr. MacArthur engaged in a careful examination of the context so I was soon persuaded. Being thoroughly abased by the Spirit in my calling and conversion, I didn’t have a problem with God being boss in all things. I knew that he could do what he wanted and I had no reason to complain. So, I easily accepted the doctrine of Unconditional Election.

I tended to be very emotional after my conversion. I frequently thought that God might leave me because of my remaining depravity and sin. But, since I was so thirsty to understand God’s word, I read the NT and followed the arguments of friends concerning the doctrine of eternal security, or the Perseverance of the Saints. I perceived the coherence of the doctrines of Total Depravity, Uncondtional Election and the Perseverance of the Saints fairly soon after my conversion. Within the first year of becoming a Christian, these doctrines were deep convictions of mine. I never really passed through an Arminian phase.

I was, however, not easily persuaded by Irresistable Grace and Limited Atonement. Both of them sounded harsh and unlike what I was reading in the NT. I continued to study, to pray and to listen. I found that the label “Irresistable Grace” was rather misleading. At face value, it sounds like God is bringing people to Christ against their wills. That was not the case at all. The doctrine is just saying that God so efficaciously changes the heart of a regenerate person that they long to embrace Christ in faith. They cannot help but want to flee to him for mercy and assistance. Once I understood the true nature of the doctrine, I saw it confirmed in the NT and in my own experience. This issue came together in my mind probably in the second year of my Christian life.

I was still perplexed about the doctrine of Limited Atonement, so I purchased a small book entitled “TULIP” by Duane Spencer (a Presbyterian). I looked at his proof-texts and arguments and ended up finding them convincing (though I no longer think they are). Given that I already believed in the other four points, Limited Atonement seemed to fit the package in a very coherent way. The biblical stress on Christ’s desire to save his sheep conjoined with the logic of the arguments persuaded me. So, within a few years of my Christian life, I was a 5 point Calvinist. I had never read Calvin, but I did purchase a copy of his Institutes. I remember a friend coming over to my apartment and seeing the books. He was a student at a bible college and has much more understanding than I did. Seeing Calvin’s Institutes there, he asked, “Are you a Calvinist?” I said yes. He was surprised to hear that since he new I was only a recent convert and was largely self-taught.

Anyway, I continued to listen to and read all the popular Calvinistic teachers like MacArthur, Sproul, John Gerstner etc. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was really High Calvinism. I wasn’t too familiar with the thinking of the early Reformers and other Calvinistic thinkers in church history. My Calvinism seemed like normal Calvinism. It was no different from what all the popular teachers were saying.

In 2002 or 2003, I started chatting with fellow Calvinists on a program called Paltalk. We were all seeking to understand the Christian faith and Calvinistic issues in a coherent and systematic way. However, some came into our rooms and began to speak against the universal love of God and/or common grace. Some of them also had problems with the well-meant gospel offer and even duty-faith. A friend of mine began to rebuke and argue against this hyper-Calvinistic teaching. I had never considered these issues before so I decided to do an indepth study. The debates persisted on Paltalk and Gene Cook heard me arguing against it one day. In June of 2004, I did a radio interview with Gene Cook on the issue of Hyper-Calvinism. Like Gene, I was still a High Calvinist at the time but we both agreed that the above three doctrines were biblical. As a High Calvinist, I believed that Christ died to only save the elect alone. I even held a stronger view called Equivalentism. I literally thought that Christ suffered so much for so many sins. It’s like his death was a pound for pound commercial transaction, and only the sins of the elect were imputed to him. This view caused me to deny the universal sufficiency of His death. This viewpoint was clashing with my firm belief in the well-meant gospel offer.

Within a few months, I met a friend who began to present a different view of Christ’s death to me. It was a classical Calvinistic view that taught that Christ suffered sufficiently for all (all the sins of all mankind were imputed to him, i.e. unlimited imputation), but efficaciously for the elect alone. The elect only benefited from Christ’s satisfaction because the Holy Spirit, working consistently with the unconditional decree, granted moral ability to believe to the elect alone so that they obtain the benefit. The limitation was in the special decree and special application, and not in the suffering of Christ itself. I came to adopt this dualistic or moderate Calvinistic position a month or two after talking with Gene Cook on his radio. As a result, I have been preoccupied with understanding this paradigm and arguing against higher forms of Calvinism. Since I felt that I was on the brink of being hyper myself on the well-meant offer issue, I have tried to weed out my thinking anything that might logically entail hyper-Calvinism. I was used to reacting to free will theology, but now I am very concerned with reacting against higher forms of Calvinism as well.

This change in my thinking has caused some tension and clashing with some people on this discussion board. Even Gene has been somewhat spooked by change since the time of our radio interview. It seemed sudden to him and David Fairchild because they were not able to see all that was taking place in my life and thinking. They were not aware of all the things I was studying and with all the conversations I was having behind the scenes. The change wasn’t sudden, anymore than my initial change to High Calvinism after my conversion was sudden. Not much time transpired but my changes have been the result of diligent, careful and thorough study.