April 29, 2006

R. L. Dabney (1820–1898) on the "Atonement" Term

Dabney said:
The word (at-one-ment) is used but once in the New Testament (Rom. 5:11), and there it means expressly and exactly reconciliation. This is proved thus: the same Greek word in the next verse, carrying the very same meaning, is translated reconciliation. Now, people continually mix two ideas when they say atonement: One is, that of the expiation for guilt provided in Christ's sacrifice. The other is, the individual reconciliation of a believer with his God, grounded on that sacrifice made by Christ once for all, but actually effectuated only when the sinner believes and by faith. The last is the true meaning of atonement, and in that sense every, atonement (at-one-ment), reconciliation, must be individual, particular, and limited to this sinner who now believes. There have already been just as many atonements as there are true believers in heaven and earth, each one individual.
R. L. Dabney, The Five Points of Calvinism (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1992), 60.

Dabney got the atonement word right, but I wish he got the "redemption" word right as well. I believe he erred on the use of that word.


April 17, 2006

April 14, 2006

Charnock on the Goodness of God

KJV Mark 10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
"2. God only is infinitely good.

A boundless goodness that knows no limits, a goodness as infinite as his essence, not only good, but best; not only good, but goodness itself, the supreme unconceivable goodness. All things else are but little particles of God, small sparks from this immense flame, sips of goodness to this fountain. Nothing that is good by his influence can equal him, who is good by himself; derived goodness can never equal primitive goodness. Divine goodness communicates itself to a vast number of creatures in various degrees; to angels, glorified spirits, men on earth, to every creature, and when it hath communicated all that the present world is capable of, there is still less displayed than left to enrich another world. All possible creatures are not capable of exhausting the wealth, the treasures, that divine bounty is filled with."

Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1971), p. 535.

April 13, 2006

Faith Has It's Reasons

The text for the apologetics book Faith Has It's Reasons by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman is available for free at Bible.org. It's well worth reading.

April 11, 2006

2 Peter 3:9 and the Letterhead Argument

Update on 10-11-07:This video shows how the letterhead argument is used. It shows that my description of it below is not a misrepresentation or "straw man" fallacy [contrary to what Frank Turk or "centuri0n" says below]. Notice how the "you," "dear friends," and "beloved" [i.e. the believing elect] gets converted into the elect as such [i.e., including the unbelieving elect], hence the equivocation fallacy. I would also add that it's a false either/or dilemma fallacy to say that the "context" of the passage is eschatological, not soteriological. It's actually both, since it speaks of God's will for people to come to saving repentance in view of the coming eschatological judgment through Christ.

UPDATE on 12-23-06:
For those reading this post for the first time, please read the comments below it. Alot transpired after James White linked to this post on his blog. Incidently, he still has not apologized to me privately or publically. The comments below this post will explain this matter. You may also want to check this post as well: 2 Peter 3:9 and White's Blog

NKJ 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

When some Calvinists (not all) come to interpret 2 Peter 3:9, they say that it means that God is longsuffering toward the elect. The “us” refers to those the letter was written to, and who is that but the elect? They argue that the “context” gives them this conclusion. The passage, in their view, reads like this:

NKJ 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward the elect (by implication), not willing that any (of the elect by implication) should perish but that all (the elect by implication) should come to repentance.

There are other arguments that they use to maintain that this passage references the decretal will of God, but let’s examine the logic of this letterhead argument.

If the “us” refers to the elect, then there are only three logical options. Either the “us” is:

1) All of the elect who will ever exist, whether born or not yet born
2) All of the unbelieving elect presently existing on earth, or
3) All of the believing elect presently existing on earth

These are important distinctions to keep in mind when examining the usage of the term “elect” in theological and exegetical argumentation. Equivocations can occur in arguments, and the significant distinction between virtual and actual union can be easily blurred. This is more common than some think.

In what follows, I will seek to argue that all three options are exegetically and theologically absurd. The “context” does not argue for the letterhead argument used by some. In fact, the term “context” is often employed when people are merely importing systematic assumptions into the interpretation of scripture. These assumptions determine what the alternatives are, and what is theologically allowable. Let’s pull off the contextual mask, weigh the letterhead argument in the balance, and see if it is exegetically wanting.

Let’s consider the third option first:

3) The “us” refers to all of the believing elect presently existing on earth.

Rather than using the imprecise term “elect,” let’s substitute the word “believers” and see how the passage would look.

NKJ 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward believers, not willing that any believers should perish but that all believers should come to repentance.

This interpretation makes no sense theologically, that’s why few professing Calvinists take it. The sense of the passage when it speaks of “repentance” at least refers to conversion and believers have already been converted. The longsuffering is toward those who are not yet at peace with God and are therefore in danger of perishing. Furthermore, since Calvinists maintain that believers can never finally perish, most are not inclined to take position #3 described above. I expounded on the third option first because it seems to be the most easy to refute from within a Calvinistic soteriology.

Next, let’s consider the first option:

1) The “us” refers to all the elect who will ever exist, whether born or not yet born

This is a very abstract way of thinking of the idea of the “elect.” Does Peter have this theological abstraction in mind? What does it entail? I don’t think the letter was written to people who don’t yet exist, so the letterhead argument seems to rule it out from the start. Peter is clearly writing to people who exist. Furthermore, he says that God is “longsuffering” toward this existing group. The idea of longsuffering suggests a patient forbearance towards those who are provoking God to wrath. He’s demonstrating patience towards the ill-deserving. Is God being provoked by non-existent entities? Option #1 seems as absurd as option #3 above for at least these reasons (thanks go to David P. for pointing out the problem with option #1). I believe options 1 and 3 are defeated and shown to be absurd positions.

So, we come now to option #2:

2) The “us” refers to all of the unbelieving elect presently existing on earth

This seems to be the position that most high Calvinist interpreters have in mind, even though they are not always careful to state it as such. In fact, some may not want to be so careful for the following reasons. I believe this view entails an equivocation in the letterhead argument. Here’s what I mean.

An equivocation fallacy occurs when a key term in an argument changes meaning. The Fallacy Files puts it this way:
“Equivocation is the type of ambiguity which occurs when a single word or phrase is ambiguous, and this ambiguity is not grammatical but lexical. So, when a phrase equivocates, it is not due to grammar, but to the phrase as a whole having two distinct meanings.

Of course, most words are ambiguous, but context usually makes a univocal meaning clear. Also, equivocation alone is not fallacious, though it is a linguistic boobytrap which can trip people into committing a fallacy. The Fallacy of Equivocation occurs when an equivocal word or phrase makes an unsound argument appear sound.”

The letterhead argument of some Calvinists looks this way:

1) Peter is writing to the elect.
2) The “us” in 3:9 refers to those written to.
3) Therefore, the “us” are the elect.

Question: Does the term “elect” have the same sense in proposition #1 as it does in proposition #3 (the conclusion)? Or is there a subtle change in meaning? Proposition #1 would be more accurate if it stated that Peter is writing to believers. As Peter himself plainly states, he’s writing “To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…” These same people are then said to be participating in and enjoying the life and promises of God in Christ. And, in Peter’s first letter, he’s also writing to those who are born again to a living hope and are sprinkled with the blood of Christ. Even though he calls them “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God,” he’s not writing to the elect as such, but to those elect who have come to believe by the Spirit.

If the letterhead shows that Peter is writing to believers, then how can the “us” refer to the unbelieving elect as stated in option #2? It seems to me that all three options in the letterhead argument are fallacious, and therefore not exegetically sound. I would argue that the “elect” options are argued to sustain a system that is not giving proper attention to the revealed will of God as truly volitional. As Calvin says about this passage, “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, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel.” In other words, Calvin is saying that this passage is referring to the revealed will of God made known to us in the gospel, not to God’s hidden or secret will. Calvin was not being Arminian or arguing for an absurd universalism in taking this interpretation.

Some High Calvinists seem to suggest that the only alternatives are either their “us = elect” view, or an Arminianism which, they argue, entails universalism. Notice the false dilemma? This dilemma is created by a system which determines what is theologically and exegetically allowable. Once again, system is driving exegesis and it leads to such fallacious arguments as the letterhead argument. Much more could be said about the passage at hand, but I just wanted to offer a few defeaters to the very common letterhead argument.

April 7, 2006

Richard Baxter on Praise

"A life of praise bringeth comfort to the soul...as labouring doth warm the body: or as the sight and converse of our dearest friend, or the hearing of glad tidings, doth warm the heart... This is the way to have comfort by feeling, to be much in the hearty praises of the Lord...if you would taste the heavenly joys on earth, you must imitate then in heaven as near as possibly you can; and this is your work of nearest imitation.

This life of praise is a continual pleasure to the soul; clean contrary to a melancholy life. It is recreating to the spirits, and healthful to the body...and is an excellent cordial and companion in the greatest sufferings."

Quoted in J. I. Packer's The Redemption & Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Regent, 2003), page 302.

The above quote brought this verse to my memory:

NKJ Acts 16:25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

On Ad Hominems and Insults

In heated debates, one commonly hears one person accuse another of committing an ad hominem fallacy. Whenever something insulting or disrepectful is said, it is assumed that this constitutes an ad hominem. This is not necessarily the case.

An ad hominem is, by definition, an argument. Specifically, it is a kind of argument that seeks to discredit another person's viewpoint by pointing out some character flaw in the person arguing the view. Wikipedia puts it this way:
A (fallacious) ad hominem argument has the basic form:

1) A makes claim B;
2) there is something objectionable about A,
3) therefore claim B is false.

Since emotions tend to rise in heated discussions, one frequently senses impatience and frustration in the parties involved. This is frequently the case in theological debates when our most deeply cherished beliefs are challenged. It's very easy to get upset with those who seem to be undermining important truth and influencing others. Zeal for one's viewpoint can easily cause uncharitable, disrespectful and ungracious speech to occur in an argument. An inappropriate character comment is the inevitable result.

I wish to point out that these inappropriate character comments do not always constitute ad hominems. This does not mean that the one making character comments is behaving virtuously. It only means that it is inaccurate to call all insults or character comments made in a polemical discourse ad hominems. In fact, I believe it's more likely that a person is just venting their frustrations. Doing this in argumentation may cause the other person to retaliate. Such behavior serves to distract the issue at hand and understanding is usually not achieved.

With that said, I think the entry at Wikipedia is correct. They make a distinction between mere insults and ad hominem insults. Here's what they say:
"An ad hominem fallacy consists of asserting that someone's argument is wrong and/or they are wrong to argue at all purely because of something discreditable/not-authoritative about the person or those persons cited by them rather than addressing the soundness of the argument itself. The implication is that the person's argument and/or ability to argue correctly lacks authority. Merely insulting another person in the middle of otherwise rational discourse does not necessarily constitute an ad hominem fallacy. It must be clear that the purpose of the characterization is to discredit the person offering the argument, and, specifically, to invite others to discount his arguments. In the past, the term ad hominem was sometimes used more literally, to describe an argument that was based on an individual, or to describe any personal attack. But this is not how the meaning of the term is typically introduced in modern logic and rhetoric textbooks, and logicians and rhetoricians are widely agreed that this use is incorrect."

Therefore, it seems to me that we should be careful when we assert that someone is committing an ad hominem fallacy. They may just be insulting the other person. Christians should be watchful against this sort of behavior, especially when the bible gives so many warnings about the use of the tongue. Also, as James points out, the wrath of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.

NIV James 1:20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

April 5, 2006

Rationality and Paradox

A friend of mine just sent an email about the death of Ron Nash. She was wondering if I had heard the news. In her email, she quotes one writer as saying:
"Ron was a defender of the rationality of revelation against all those modern and medieval theologians who think that the mark of divine truth is paradox."

Here's my email:

Hi Lorrie,

I was just reflecting again on the above quote.

While I still agree that it is important to stress the rationality of divine revelation (as Nash faithfully did), I am coming to appreciate the idea that God conceals himself behind seeming (not actual) contradictions in order to make the disobedient stumble. I don't think that those who stress the rationality of revelation are giving sufficient attention to this notion. When I speak of the "disobedient," I don't necessarily have only non-Christians in mind. I believe that God also conceals himself from Christians who do not wish to follow the entire truth of his word. They end up favoring one truth at the expense of another and therefore stumble. As a friend of mine told me last week, all bad theological thinking stems from the belief in some false either/or dilemma. I've been meditating on this for quite some time and I have come to appreciate the insight.

I believe that God tests us by his word. Are we willing to believe what he says no matter what others think? Will we fall prey to the fear of man? Will we so cherish our traditions that we willingly stray from his word? Will we honor certain teachers in the church more than the plain testimony of scripture? Are we willing to suffer and be maligned for loving the total teaching of God's word? Will we favor our own preconceptions above the scriptures? Will we allow those preconceptions to warp God's words so as to fit our own idea of what's "rational"?

Since sin has affected our minds and thinking processes, it's easy to stumble in these areas. It seems to me that we need to be constantly testing ourselves to see if we are being true to God's word, particularly with respect to gospel truths. I especially do not want to be found as an unfaithful keeper of the gospel before the judgment of God.

Just a few thoughts,


For more on this subject, see my post on Paradox and Mystery

April 1, 2006

Theology Program Audio

The Theology Program has good audio interviews available HERE.

Other Bible.org audio can be downloaded HERE.