March 31, 2012

John Hannah on Issues of Calvinism at DTS and S. Lewis Johnson’s Departure

I am including this quote in order to let people read about Dr. Johnson's departure from Dallas Theological Seminary over the issue of the extent of the atonement. One can see the confusion that existed there at the time, and some of this confusion still remains, even in the language that Hannah himself uses to describe the different positions regarding the atonement ("effective extent of the atonement," for example, is misleading). Though Hannah is merely being descriptive with this Walvoordian language, I'll add that the difference was not in Johnson's embracing of so-called "Dordtian Calvinism" (since the moderate orthodox view was also present at the Synod of Dort), but in his adoption of the higher orthodox or strict position present at Dort, which taught a limited imputation of sin to Christ, or a limited substitution (i.e. Owenism).

The usefulness of this quote is not that it will help one to properly understand the categorical differences in the debate about the extent of the atonement, but rather that it will help one to understand the historical circumstances and issues surrounding Johnson's departure from DTS.

Hannah wrote:
The Issue of Calvinism. Clarification of doctrinal issues is usually a product of challenges and controversy. The institution historically described itself as within the Calvinistic tradition, and distanced itself from the Arminian tradition. Walvoord was willing to speak for the ailing Chafer, stating, "Arminianism is a departure from the faith."153 The creed of the seminary makes this clear by affirming such doctrines as the total corruption of all human faculties because of Adam's first sin in which the race was implicated; the priority of divine grace in salvation rooted in divine, unconditional election and predestination; the creature as the respondent to grace, not the cause of grace; and eternal security. The consistent designation for the kind of Calvinism expressed in the creed is most appropriately "moderate Calvinism." The moderation stemmed from two factors: first, the school consistently affirmed an unlimited purpose in the atonement of Christ. The position was rooted in a firm belief that this is taught in Scripture, and a limiting of the atonement would limit the Great Commission, leaving the relationship of the free offer of salvation to all and divine election as "a great mystery."154 Second, the dispensational premillenarian position of the seminary made it historically an uneasy fit in Calvinism.

Conflict emerged when a prominent teacher at the seminary embraced a more strident form of Calvinism, dubbed "extreme Calvinism," "strict Calvinism," or "Dordtian Calvinism." S. Lewis Johnson came to the seminary as a student in 1942, completing the ThM in 1946 and the doctorate in 1949. He eventually became the chair of the department of New Testament studies, replacing J. Dwight Pentecost, who would chair the department of Bible exposition. He began his teaching career at the seminary in 1946; it would span thirty years. As the years passed, however, Johnson became increasingly uncomfortable with the seminary's moderate Calvinism as well as the general academic direction of the institution. Writing from Europe, where he was on study leave, Johnson expressed concern that the curriculum revisions of 1973 weakened the academic strength of the institution (he perceived a weakening of language requirements and theological instruction). Further, he felt the faculty to be generally in need of strengthening at that instruction should be taught through a comprehensive worldview of life (which he considered to be completely lacking). "The change needed at Dallas is a change from emphasis upon one level to another deeper level of learning. Let us not abandon the practical emphasis which has been a winning thing for us, but let us deepen our approach to the Word of God. I am for beefing up our program at Dallas, not thinning it down."155

Walvoord's reply constituted a denial of Johnson's assertions (the institution was not weakened by the 1973 curriculum revision, the professional purpose of the institution was consistent with a greater emphasis on the practical, and the school does present a world and life view to the students, though he conceded that the faculty could be strengthened). At this point, Walvoord raised the issue of doctrinal deviation, based on hearsay, particularly Johnson's view of the extent of the atonement.156 Johnson made it clear that he had embraced the view he was accused of affirming and was willing to resign. However, Walvoord stated that Johnson's view was not contrary to the school's creed, if held in moderation. "Our traditional point of view has been unlimited atonement as you know, but I do not believe that our doctrinal statement prohibits the limited atonement view unless it is unduly pressed."157

Johnson must have taken Walvoord's comments as offering no hindrance to his return to the school, in spite of his more-than-moderate Calvinism. Walvoord's view was that Johnson was expressing theological issues that he was still in the process of resolving when he returned in 1973 (and later took a strident Calvinistic position); Johnson's view was that he had expressed himself clearly before returning to the school and he was accepted. Subsequent correspondence suggests that the charge that brought about Johnson's resignation was that he "pressed" his view inordinately to the detriment of the institution.158

The doctrinal issues were two: the effective extent of the atonement of Christ and the relation of divine regeneration to human faith. Johnson argued that placing faith before regeneration decays absolute human inability, resulting in a loss in the vitality of Christianity. Walvoord responded that such views were contrary to the doctrinal statement, adversely affecting the student body, and would prove a disruptive influence among the churches that trusted the seminary to supply pastors reflective of the seminary's doctrine. More importantly, "We believe that extreme Calvinism goes beyond what the Scriptures teach, affirming that Christ died only for the elect."159

Johnson was granted a leave of absence in the fall of 1977, and when his contract expired in December of that year, it was not renewed.160 The Board of Regents minutes states that the reason for the nonrenewal of his contract was the embrace of five-point Calvinism; in particular, it was noted, "He is in agreement with Dordtian Calvinism, and holds that Christ died for the elect and that regeneration precedes faith."161 The issue of the relationship between regeneration and accenting faith is more difficult to untangle. A phrase in the doctrinal statement ("When the unregenerate believes...") seemed to be a flashpoint. Johnson argued that it is impossible for the unregenerate to believe, because to do so would reduce the wonder of redemption to a bilateral contract, denying that grace is without condition.

There is evidence that the administration sought to accommodate Johnson on the first issue, but his position on the second was too much.162 This is interesting because Walvoord had expressed himself earlier to the effect that faith does not precede regeneration; the two occur simultaneously: "The Calvinist position is that regeneration is simultaneous with salvation."163 It is easy to gain the impression that the controversy was a battle of two friendly titans, one desiring to narrow the school's theological creed (perhaps sensing also a decline of a rigorous Calvinism on the part of faculty and boards) and the other seeking to preserve the school within "moderate Calvinism." The president had the tradition of the institution and the creed on his side. Though the parties may not have separated in the most amiable of circumstances, in 1987 Johnson was accorded the title of Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Emeritus, in recognition of his contribution to the school.
153. Letter, John F. Walvoord to Arthur F. Williams, Dallas, Texas, 14 April 1948, ADTS. Later he wrote, "As our doctrinal statement indicates, we are in the Reformed tradition of theology" (Letter, John F. Walvoord to J. J. Barnhart, Dallas, Texas, 29 October 1949, ADTS).
154. Letter, John F. Walvoord to Mr. and Mrs. Jim Halston, Dallas, Texas, 5 April 1982, ADTS. Walvoord extended the same "mystery" to the relationship of evangelism to predestinarianism. It seems accurate to say that the practical missions concerns of the seminary's leaders were a paramount motive in maintaining these tensions.
155. Letter, S. Lewis Johnson to John F. Walvoord, Basel, Switzerland, 30 April 1973, John F. Walvoord Papers, ADTS.
156. Letter, John F. Walvoord to S. Lewis Johnson, Dallas, Texas, 10 May 1973, John F. Walvoord Papers, ADTS.
157. Ibid., 5.
158. Letter, S. Lewis Johnson to John F. Walvoord, Dallas, Texas, 2 October 1977. John F. Walvoord Papers, ADTS. Wrote Johnson, "I had expressed such views to you about four years earlier in a letter to you. It was your view that such a deviation from the doctrinal statement was not sufficient to prevent one from teaching at the institution, and I taught at the seminary for the intervening years under the impression that my deviation was not so serious as to preclude faculty service." See also Letter, S. Lewis Johnson to John F. Walvoord, 17 October 1977, John F. Walvoord Papers, ADTS ("I have taught for four years with the assurance that you stood behind your words to me in 1973").
159. Letter, John F. Walvoord to Terry Branscombe, Dallas, Texas, 3 October 1979, ADTS. See also Letter, John F. Walvoord to Alvin L. Baker, Dallas, Texas, 23 November 1981, ADTS; and Letter John F. Walvoord to Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Salser, Dallas, Texas, 15 May 1979, ADTS. Further see Letter, S. Lewis Johnson to John F. Walvoord, Dallas, Texas, 14 January 1977, John F. Walvoord Papers, ADTS.
160. Minutes, Executive Board of Regents, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, 7 March 1977, 129; Minutes, Board of Regents, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, 13 October 1977, 137; and Minutes, Board of Incorporate Members, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, 14 October 1977, 117.
161. Minutes, Board of Regents, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, 13 October 1977, 137.
162. Ibid.
163. Letter, John F. Walvoord to Howard Gould, Dallas, Texas, 26 September 1947, ADTS. He wrote further, "Simultaneously the individual believer is regenerated, repents, is justified, adopted, and positionally sanctified. I do not believe that there is any possibility of working out satisfactorily the logical order of all these elements."
John D. Hannah, An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 174–176.

March 21, 2012

Stephen Strehle on the Diversity and Compromise at the Synod of Dort on the Subject of the Atonement

Now since there was a heterogeneity of opinions concerning the second article, not simply between delegations, but also among them, a certain amount of compromise became imperative. The Golden Remains of John Hales, for example, gives indications of a serious split among the English constituency over this article.[1] Two of the delegates, John Davenant and Samuel Ward, held a strong unlimited position, similar to that of Martinius', and Davenant in particular would rather have "his right-hand cut off" than change his position.[2] The other delegates were essentially limited in their conception of the atonement, but not so vehemently and dramatically dogmatic.[1] Among the areas of conflict were the following: the received distinction that Christ has sufficiently died for all, non secundum proprietatem redemptionis,[2] the statement that Christ did pay actu a price for any except the elect,[3] and the meaning of the phrase "totius mundi" in both the Scriptures and The Thirty-Nine Articles.[4] Yet the need for compromise prevailed upon them,[5] and a mutually agreeable statement upon the subject was finally ascertained, with the result that both factions were pacified.

To carry this matter further, the English delegation not only achieved unanimity among themselves, but also cultivated the cause of compromise and moderation among the entire Synod.[1] This policy was in accordance with instructions from the homeland, to conform to the received distinction and restriction, yet to provide for as general a proposition as possible[2] The task was not insurmountable though, since expectations and desires for the success of the Synod were running high among almost all involved. Some, it is true, were not ashamed of displaying open hostility toward opponents--Gomarus in particular at one point challenging Martinius to a duel.[3] Nevertheless, through the work of such ecumenists as George Carleton[4] and the political clout of England,[5] the English were successful in their endeavors, and advanced this cause among the rest of the Synod.
1. Hales, Golden Remains, pp. 470, 577. cf. Harrison, Arminianism, pp. 336–37. The delegation of Bremen was so divided that, as was already seen, they submitted separate statements to the Synod.
2. Ibid., pp. 577–78, 581.

1. Ibid., pp. 471, 577–78.
2. Ibid., p. 476: "Primo, An retinenda sit illa distinctio quae receptissima est apud Reformatos Doctores, quemque Episcopus Sarisburiensis astruit, pag. 35. & sequentibus, mortuus est pro omnibus secundum sufficientiam seu magnitudinem pretii, non secundum proprietatem redemptionis, quidam putant non retinendum esse quia putant sic sufficienter dici posse mortuum pro Diabolis."
3. Ibid.: "Secundo, Contravertitur de hac propositione. Christus obtulit se pro omnibus, seu persolvit redemptionis pro omnibus: quidam putant sensum esse, persolvit pretium quod sufficit pro omnibus, non autem actu solvit pretium illud nisi pro redimendis electis: alii putant hanc expositionem, incommodam, quia putant commentarium hunc verba ipsa destruere. Ea etenim putant sequi Christum quidem habuisse pretium in numerate, quod persolutum sufficisset omnibus redimendis; verum Christum non persolvisse actu pretium illud, aut factum esse propitiationem pro peccatis totius mundi."
4. Ibid., p. 477: "Tertio, Contravertitur de sensu horum verborum, totius mundi quidam putant intelligi de singulis hominibus: alii de solis electis." cf. Ibid., pp. 471, 586, 588. The Thirty-Nine Articles XXXI: "The offering of Christ once made, is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sinnes of the whole worlde, both originall and actuall."
5. Ibid., p. 578. The need for compromise is certainly a contributing factor to the inexplicitness of the pronouncements of many of the delegations.

1. Ibid., pp. 517, 522. Calder, Memoirs, p. 237.
2. Ibid., pp. 512–13: "Our Judgment in the second article, is already read in the Synod, so we must study to frame our selves to our directions from England, in making of the Canons: my Lord his Grace's Letter is to have us conform our selves to the received distinction and restriction, with which his Grace acquainted his Majesty and received approbation from him: but I must needs say, that the directions which your Lordship hath sent from Secretary Nanton do seem to will us to be as favourable to the general Propositions as may be, giving as little offence to the Lutherans as we can; which Counsel in my poor judgment we have in our Theses already followed." Davenant felt that if the Contra-Remonstrants could be tempered in this matter, the Lutherans could be more easily won over to the Augustinian doctrine of predestination (Ibid., p. 591) cf. Brandt, Reformation (1725), 2:499, 690–92.
3. Ibid., pp. 455–56. cf. Ibid., pp. 480, 486–87, Brandt, Reformation (1725), 2:478–80, 482, 497–98.
4. Ibid., p. 456.
5. Godfrey mentions three motivations for compromise: 1) the need for a unanimous decision at Dort, 2) the final form of the Canons was to be stated, and 3) the desire to placate the English delegation, since they were a strong ally of the United Provinces and the largest Reformed Church (Godfrey, "Tensions," pp. 254f).
Stephen Alan Strehle, The Extent of the Atonement Within the Theological Systems of the Sixteenth and Seventheenth Centuries (ThD diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1980), 236–238.

March 19, 2012

From the English Delegation's Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury (March 21, 1618) on the Extent of Redemption

The British delegation to the Synod of Dort identified their differences with the Remonstrants in this letter as follows:
In our avouching and declaring in this and other Articles, some fruits of Christ's death, not comprised in the Decree of Election, but afforded more generally, yet confined to the Visible Church (as viz. true and spiritual Graces accompanying the Gospel, and conferred upon some non-electi) we gain ground of the Remonstrants, and thereby easily repel, not only their Instances of Apostasie, but also their odious imputation of illusion in the general propounding of the Evangelical Promises, as we are ready more clearly to demonstrate. Nor do we with the Remonstrants leave at large the benefit of our Saviour's death, as only propounded loosely to all ex aequo, and to be applied by the arbitrary act of man's will; but we expressly avouch, for the behoof of the Elect, a special intention both in Christ's offering, and God the Father accepting, and from that intention a particular application of that Sacrifice, by conferring Faith and other Gifts infallibly bringing the Elect to Salvation. And that our care in advancing this Doctrine might be the more remarkable, we in these our Theses have set in the forefront our Propositions concerning God's special Intention.
John Hales, Golden Remains, of the ever memorable Mr. John Hales (London: Printed by T. B. for G. Pawlet at the sign of the Bible in Chancery-Lane, 1688), 584–585. Quoted in Stephen Alan Strehle, The Extent of the Atonement Within the Theological Systems of the Sixteenth and Seventheenth Centuries (Th.D. Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1980), 217n.2.

See also my post on "Godfrey on the Concerns of the Moderates at [the Synod of] Dort." He wrote:
This moderate concern focused on a particular doctrinal point: the importance of the universal offer of the Gospel. The Christian preacher must be able to declare the offer of salvation unreservedly to all who would believe. The moderates claimed that the sincere offer of the Gospel could only be undergirded by a broad statement on the sufficiency of Christ's death. Only such a statement, the moderates argued, would insure the continuity of the Reformed Church with the patristic and medieval history of the Church and guard against any charge of sectarianism.

March 6, 2012

Matthew Henry (1662–1714) on Deut. 5:28–29 and God's True and Earnest Desire

3. God's approbation of their request. (1.) He commends what they said, v. 28. They spoke it to Moses, but God took notice of it; for there is not a word in our tongue but he knows it. He acknowledges, They have well said. Their owning the necessity of a mediator to deal between them and God was well said. Their desire to receive further directions from God by Moses, and their promise to observe what directions should be given them, were well said. And what is well said shall have its praise with God, and should have with us. What is good, as far as it goes, let it be commended. (2.) He wishes they were but sincere in it: O that there were such a heart in them! v. 29. [1.] Such a heart as they should have, a heart to fear God, and keep his commandments for ever. Note, The God of heaven is truly and earnestly desirous of the welfare and salvation of poor sinners. He has given abundant proof that he is so: he gives us time and space to repent, by his mercies invites us to repentance, and waits to be gracious; he has sent his Son to redeem us, published a general offer of pardon and life, promised his Spirit to those that pray for him, and has said and sworn that he has no pleasure in the ruin of sinners. [2.] Such a heart as they now had, or one would think they had. Note, It would be well with many if there were always such a heart in them as there seems to be sometimes, when they are under conviction of sin, or the rebukes of Providence, or when they come to look death in the face: How gracious will they be when these pangs come upon them! O that there were always such a heart in them! (3.) He appoints Moses to be his messenger to them, to receive the law from his mouth and to communicate it to them, v. 31. Here the matter was settled by consent of both parties that God should hence-forward speak to us by men like ourselves, by Moses and the prophets, by the apostles and the evangelists, and, if we believe not these, neither should we be persuaded though God should speak to us as he did to Israel at Mount Sinai, or send expresses from heaven or hell.
Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1991), 243.

HT: Bob Gonzales

March 5, 2012

Nathanael Vincent (1638–1697) on the Cords of God's Love and Romans 2:4

7. Not only his Word, and Ministers, and Spirit, but also his Providences call upon you to turn to God. Both his mercies and his judgements do press this exhortation to conversion. The streams of goodness that continually run towards you, and which sometimes swell and overflow abundantly, do signifie that 'tis your wisdom to forsake the broken cisterns, and come to the fountain of living waters. His mercies speak this language, that 'tis good to return into, and obtain an interest in the Father of them. Then these mercies will be in mercy. Cords of love are cast about you on purpose to draw you unto the God of love and peace. Oh that you would run to him! The riches of his goodness are unlocked and discovered, that hereby you may be led unto repentance, Rom. 2.4.
Nathanael Vincent, The Conversion of a Sinner Explained and Applied (London: Printed for Thomas Parkhurst, at the Golden Bible on London-Bridge, under the Gate, 1669), 88.


March 1, 2012

John Trapp (1601–1669) on Christ Begging

For mine head is filled with dew] i.e. I have suffered much for thy sake, and waited by leisure a long while: and must I now go look my lodging? Dost though thus requite (repulse) thy Lord O thou foolish woman and unwise? Is this thy kindness to thy friend? Woe unto thee O Jerusalem: wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be? [Jer. 13:27] It is the ingratitude that makes the Saints sins so heinous; which otherwise would be far less then other mens; fith [sic] his temptations are stronger, and his resistance is greater. Oh when God's grace shall come suing to us, nay kneeling to us; when Christ shall come with Hat in hand, and stand bare-headed as here, and that in foul weather too, begging acceptance, and beseeching us to be reconciled, and we will not, what an inexcusable fault is this!
John Trapp, Solomonis ΠΑΝΑΡΕΤΟS: Or, a Commentarie Upon the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (London: Printed by T.R. and E.M. for John Bellamie, 1650), 3:271.
God's grace even kneels to us. [comment on 2 Cor. 5:20]
John Trapp, A Commentary or Exposition upon All the Books of the New Testament, 2nd. edition (London: Printed by R. W. and are to be sold by Nath. Ekins, at the Gun in Pauls Church-yard, 1656), 716.


Trapp is one among many sovereign grace advocates that I have documented who have used this begging metaphor. The other names include Augustine, Hugh Latimer, Samuel Rutherford [Westminster divine], Thomas Manton, Sydrach Simpson [Westminster divine], Robert Harris [Westminster divine], Theophilus Gale, Isaac Ambrose, Stephen Charnock, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, John Shower, William Gurnall, George Swinnock, Ralph Venning, Daniel Burgess, Samuel Willard, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, Samuel Davies, Andrew Gray, Ralph Erskine, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Chalmers, Walter Chantry, Erroll Hulse and John MacArthur.