April 28, 2015

Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams on Weak Calvinist Arguments for Limited Atonement

Weak Calvinist Arguments. Calvinists have not always argued well for limited atonement. For example, Calvinists have adduced passages of Scripture that say Christ died for the church (Eph 5:25), the sheep (Jn 10:15) and others as evidence for limited atonement. But this line of reasoning is not persuasive. It only stands to reason that Scripture, when talking about Christ’s sheep or his church, would say Christ died for them. That does not mean that he did not die for others. But this argument could be strengthened if some Scripture passages indicated that some are excluded.

Another less than convincing argument for limited atonement involves deduction from other doctrines. For example, some argue from particular election to particular atonement. God chose some people, and not all, for salvation. Therefore, he sent his Son to atone for those he chose. However, “four-point Calvinists” agree with the premise but don’t reach the same conclusion. They hold to unconditional election but reject limited atonement because they maintain that the Bible teaches unlimited atonement. It is necessary that a doctrine fit a theological system to be true; it is not sufficient, however. To be true, a doctrine must pass not only a test of logical coherence but also a test of empirical fit with the Bible’s data. To be true, limited atonement must not only be systematically consistent with Calvinism; it must also be taught in Scripture.

Our experience shows that such arguments only convince those convinced already. What is needed is for a case to be made from Scripture, and not just from systematic theology.
Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, Why I Am Not An Arminian (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 202–203.

April 12, 2015

Patrick O'Banion on the Problem with Zanchi’s (1516–1590) Book on Absolute Predestination

The "Problem" with Absolute Predestination is that while it is by far Zanchi's most well known work, it was not technically written by him. It is, in fact, a translation and revised abridgement of a section of Zanchi's corpus completed by Augustus Toplady in the eighteenth century, which spawned a heated epistolary controversy with John Wesley.

It is in some ways unfortunate that Absolute Predestination is the work most often associate with the name of Jerome Zanchi and the most easily accessible work in English translation. This is the case primarily because it gives the impression that predestination was somehow the central dogma which governed Zanchi's theology.* On the contrary, while Zanchi was certainly predestinarian in his sotereology, it could hardly be called the guiding principle of his thought.

It has been difficult to determine exactly how much of Absolute Predestination is a translation of Zanchi and how much was simply added by Toplady. Henry Atherton commented in the introduction to the 1930 edition published by Sovereign Grace Union, London, that "Toplady not only translated Zanchius' great work, but added much excellent matter thereby giving us the best translation of Zanchius and the best of Toplady." For those interested in the thought of Zanchi alone, the effects of Toplady's hybrid translation are problematic at best. The section entitled "The Fate of the Ancients" is, however, clearly drawn from the work of Justus Lipsius, not Zanchi.

Conflicting opinions exist about the precise source from which Toplady produced Absolute Predestination. Otto Gründler suggests that it was "A short early treatise submitted by Zanchi to the city council of Strasbourg in defense of his doctrine..." (The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, 306). Christopher J. Burchill ("Girolamo Zanchi: Portrait of A Reformed Theologian and his Work," 199) and J. P. Donnelly ("Italian Influences on the Development of Calvinist Scholasticism," 98-99) agree with Gründler. Joseph N. Tylenda ("Girolamo Zanchi and John Calvin: A Study in Discipleship as Seen Through Their Correspondence," 101) disagrees, suggesting that Absolute Predestination "is Toplady's synopsis of Zanchi's On the Nature of God, or on the Divine Attributes, whose fifth book deals with predestination."

Patrick J. O'Banion - Dana Point, Ca
In a 2007 interview with Scott Clark on The Heidelcast, O'Banion also said:
Zanchi is best known among English-speaking audiences for having written a treatise called Absolute Predestination. The problem is that he didn’t write it. It is, in fact, a translation and revised abridgment of one of Zanchi’s treatises (precisely which one is debated) that was made by Augustus Toplady in the 18th century and which spawned a heated debate with John Wesley. Absolute Predestination is, in my opinion, somewhat unbalanced. Toplady just took the bits about predestination in Zanchi and pulled them away from the warp and woof of his theology. Frankly, I think that sort of thing just helps foster the myth that Reformed theology is all about the doctrine of predestination. 
*Click here for O'Banion's work on "Jerome Zanchi, the Application of Theology, and the Rise of the English Practical Divinity Tradition," Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme 29.2–3 (2005): 97–120.

Donald W. Sinnema says Toplady’s “very free eighteenth century translation” is “not at all reliable” (The Issue of Reprobation at the Synod of Dort [1618–19] in Light of the History of This Doctrine [PhD diss. University of St. Michael’s College (Toronto School of Theology), 1985], 123n131).


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April 8, 2015

Nicholas Byfield (1579-1622) on the Season and Offers of Grace

Quest. But how may we know when this season of grace is?

Answ. It is then when God sends the Gospel to us in the powerful preaching of it: when the light comes, then comes this day: when the doctrine of salvation is come, then the day of salvation is come, and God offers his grace then to all within the compass of that light. God keeps his visitation at all times, and in all places, when the Word of the Kingdom is powerfully preached: the time of the continuance of the means is the day here meant, in a general consideration. But if we look upon particular persons in places where the means is, then it is very hard precisely to measure the time when God doth visit, or how long he will offer his grace to them: only this is certain, that when God strikes the hearts of particular men with remorse, or some special discerning or affections in matters of Religion, and so bringeth them near the Kingdom of God; if they trifle out this time, and receive this general grace in vain, they may be cast into a reprobate mind, and into incurable hardness of heart: and so God shuts the kingdom of God against them, while it is yet open to others, Mat. 3.12. Isa. 6.10. compared with Mat. 13.14, 15.
Nicholas Byfield, A Commentary Upon the Three First Chapters of the First Epistle General of St. Peter (London: Printed by Miles Flesher and Robert Young, 1637), 417.
"And besides, all such as enjoy the means of grace, and yet have not felt this visitation of God, should be much allured to the care of attending upon the means, and be made desirous to receive the grace of God, and that effectually: it should much move them that God hath now sent them the means, and keeps his public visitation; and that God stands not upon desert, nor doth he make exception of them, but offers his grace unto all, and desireth not the death of any sinner, yea beseecheth them to be reconciled; and to that end hath committed the Word of reconciliation to his servants, with express commandment that they should be instant, and with all patience instruct men, and call upon them, and persuade them to save their souls."
Ibid., 420.

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