March 25, 2006

An Apology to James White

I would like to apologize to Dr. James White for my lack of patience and grace towards him. In retrospect, I believe I allowed my theological concerns to be expressed in an aggressive and impatient way. Such speech is not befitting an ambassador of Christ. Of course I would like to explain why I spoke as I did and explain other things as well, but that might come across as excuse making at this point and distract from my desire to sincerely apologize to Dr. White in this post.

In future blog entries, I hope that I am able to express my theological and biblical concerns with grace and in a Christ-like manner. I pray that I will be able to use this medium (and others) in a way patterned after the kindness and humility of our Savior. Please pray for me in that regard. Thanks.

Grace and Peace to you,

p.s. Also, I would like to offer a word of thanks to some friends who gave me wise counsel. Your friendship is appreciated.

p.p.s. I almost forgot. I would also like to thank Dr. White for linking to my blog. It was funny watching my Site Meter numbers (just as he mentioned on his radio show). Typically I get between 15 to 20 visits a day. Thurday I received about 280 or so hits total. About 150 came in Friday. When Phil Johnson linked to one of my posts, I think I got around 70 or so visits that day.

March 23, 2006

The Difference Between “P is Q” and “P entails Q”

In polemical writings, a straw man accusation is often made. One person, let’s call him Bilbo, holds some position (P). His opponent, Frodo, attempts to use a reductio ad absurdum argument and says that “Bilbo's position P entails position Q (some absurd conclusion).” It’s possible for Bilbo to misrepresent (to straw man) Frodo's claim, as if Frodo is claiming “Bilbo says P is Q.” That’s actually a straw man fallacy on Bilbo’s part. Frodo is actually claiming that Bilbo’s position P logically entails Q, not that Bilbo actually holds to position Q. Bilbo is actually committing a straw man fallacy when he says that Frodo is committing a straw man fallacy. It’s possible for people to straw man a reductio ad absurdum argument. Beware :-)

Bilbo should respond by showing how P does not entail Q, rather than claiming that "Frodo says Bilbo believes Q."

White's Response

James White has posted a response to to my critique on his website. Here's the link:

UPDATE on 3-25-06 at 7:51am:

With regard to typos and spelling errors on my blog, White should have considered these past blog entries :-)


March 22, 2006

The Results of White's Systematic Eisegesis Seen

James White posted the following material on his website today:
The Results of the Atonement Seen
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." (Rev. 5:9-10)
One of the glorious truths of Scripture is that Jesus is not a hypothetical Savior, a mere wanna-be who fails with regularity. No, we proclaim a powerful Savior who perfectly does the will of the Father. His death did not make the purchase of men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation possible, it actually accomplished that which the Triune Majesty intended. Why so many long for an "atonement" that atones not I will never understand, but when they make reference to the extent of the atonement, point them to this text that defines what it means to speak of the "world" in a New Testament context.
The Reformation Theology blog also posted it, obviously deeming it quality work.

My Response:

The Results of White's Systematic Eisegesis Seen

1) "One of the glorious truths of Scripture is that Jesus is not a hypothetical Savior, a mere wanna-be who fails with regularity."

In this first statement, White’s reactionary mentality is quickly seen. He describes the positions that differ from his own as positing a "hypothetical savior.” What’s the alternative? An actual savior? If so, who were actually saved when Christ died? Were all the elect saved when Christ died? If so, then we have salvation or justification prior to faith. If, on the other hand, Christ’s death does not save the elect when he died, does it therefore follow that it’s merely hypothetical? Of course not. Christ’s death saves when sinners appropriate it by faith. As Calvin said, "And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us."

The Arminian error consists in thinking that man has the moral ability to believe, and thus Christ has no special, effectual and unconditional (unconditional in the sense of non-meritorious) intention to save the elect as the Calvinists think. One does not have to posit an exclusive intent in Christ to save the elect alone in order to refute the Arminian error.

Moderate Calvinists maintain that God has both a secret and revealed aspect to his will. While it is true that God wants all human beings to obey the external call in that he calls all to repent (the revealed or preceptive will), it does not follow that he has determined in his decree to grant moral ability to all men (the secret or decretal will). He does not owe mankind this ability. The Arminians, in their rationalistic error, see the revealed will as the only real will of God. James White, along with many other high Calvinists, collapse the revealed into the decretal such that the latter is the only real will. They think that the revealed will is merely dispositional and not an active principle that moves God to act to seek creaturely compliance. Thus, God only acts to seek the salvation of the elect alone in the high Calvinist system. This explains why White describes his opponents as holding that Christ is “a mere wanna-be savior who fails with regularity.” He thinks that the only real will involving active principles is the decretal.

2) "No, we proclaim a powerful Savior who perfectly does the will of the Father."

This statement demonstrates my point above, namely that he thinks the only real will of God is the decretal. He assumes that the Father cannot will that which does not come to pass. One might ask White, “Is it the will of the Father that you be thankful in all things according to 1 Thess. 5:18? If it is the will of God and he really desires your compliance to that commandment, then why are you not perfectly thankful in all things?” One does not have to deny a special, decretal intention in God as the non-Calvininsts do in order to see White’s systematic and biblical errors. God wills that we be thankful in all things and he actively seeks our compliance to that commandment according to the bible.

This is also the case with the commandment to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. God indescriminately commands all men to believe and repent through the external gospel call. Does he want all men to comply to the commandment or not? If he does not want all men to comply, then what does that entail with regard to the sincerity and goodness of God? Do we wish to implicitly charge the divine being with insincerity in his gospel appeals to all men? This is no small matter!

White denies that God in any sense wills the salvation of all mankind because he’s reacting to the Arminian position that God equally wills the salvation of all mankind. Calvin rightly maintained that God wills the salvation of all mankind (in the revealed will), but especially the elect (in the secret will). Dr. White is actually similar to the Arminians in his reactionary, rationalistic and lopsided thinking. Each party posits a rationalistic false dilemma, i.e. either the revealed will or the decretal will. Dr. White goes with the decretal as the real will and thus says the “Savior perfectly does the will (he identifies “will” with the decree) of the Father.”

3) "His death did not make the purchase of men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation possible, it actually accomplished that which the Triune Majesty intended."

This statement continues his lopsided system errors. He assumes that there would be disunity in the Godhead if it was the case that Christ intended to die for any other than the elect. The presupposition is that the other persons do not have a revealed or preceptive dimension to their will. Since the Father’s (and the Holy Spirit) real will is the decretal, the Son cannot will anything different. Dr. Curt Daniel addresses this argument in his History and Theology of Calvinism work. He wrote:
Then there is the argument from the Trinity. It is argued that if Christ died for all men equally, then there would be conflict within the Trinity. The Father chose only some and the Spirit regenerates only some, so how could the Son die for all men in general? Actually, this argument needs refinement. There are general and particular aspects about the work of each member of the Trinity. The Father loves all men as creatures, but gives special love only to the elect. The Spirit calls all men, but efficaciously calls only the elect. Similarly, the Son died for all men, but died in a special manner for the elect. We must keep the balance with each of these. If, on the one hand, we believe only in a strictly Limited Atonement, then we can easily back into a strictly particular work of the Father and the Spirit. The result is Hyper-Calvinism, rejecting both Common Grace and the universal Free Offer of the Gospel. On the other hand, if the atonement is strictly universal, then there would be disparity. The tendency would be towards Arminianism – the result would be to reject election and the special calling of the Spirit.
Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Springfield, IL: Good Books, 2003), 371.

Also, what did Christ’s death “accomplish”? He doesn’t say. Were all the elect saved when he died? If not, were they potentially saved? What would White say about the elect’s relationship to the death of Christ prior to their faith? I don’t know. Apparently he doesn’t agree with (or hasn’t read?) Charles Hodge who said, “Those for whom it was specially rendered are not justified from eternity; they are not born in a justified state; they are by nature, or birth, the children of wrath even as others. To be the children of wrath is to be justly exposed to divine wrath. They remain in this state of exposure until they believe, and should they die (unless in infancy) before they believe they would inevitably perish notwithstanding the satisfaction made for their sins.”

As for the false dilemma between a “possible” atonement and White’s alternative strict view, see my post here:

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

He assumes that Christ’s death secures it’s own application because he has taken a literal interpretation of the purchase idea. Christ’s penal satisfaction is filtered through commercial or pecuniary debt payment categories. R. L. Dabney’s remarks are fitting here:
Satisfaction not Commercial.

The Reformed divines are also accustomed to make a distinction between penal and moral satisfaction, on the one hand, and pecuniary payment, on the other. In a mere pecuniary debt, the claim is on the money owed, not on the person owing. The amount is numerically estimated. Hence, the surety, in making vicarious payment, must pay the exact number of coins due. And when he has done that, he has, ipso facto, satisfied the debt. His offer of such payment in full is a legal tender which leaves the creditor no discretion of assent or refusal. If he refuses, his claim is canceled for once and all. But the legal claim on us for obedience and penalty is personal. It regards not only the quid solvatur, but the quis solvat. The satisfaction of Christ is not idem facere; to do the identical thing required of the sinner, but satis facere; to do enough to be a just moral equivalent for what is due from the sinner. Hence, two consequences. Christ’s satisfaction cannot be forced on the divine Creditor as a legal tender; it does not free us ipso facto. And God, the Creditor, has an optional discretion to decline the proffer, if He chooses (before He is bound by His own covenant), or to accept it. Hence, the extent to which, and the terms on which Christ’s vicarious actions shall actually satisfy the law, depend simply on the stipulations made between Father and Son, in the covenant of redemption.
4) "Why so many long for an 'atonement' that atones not I will never understand, but when they make reference to the extent of the atonement, point them to this text that defines what it means to speak of the 'world' in a New Testament context."

Here he collapses accomplishment into application, thus he fails to make a crucial biblical distinction. Atonement occurs when the satisfaction of Christ is appropriated by faith. The passage in the book of Revelation is clearly speaking of the believing elect who are in real union, and not of the elect as merely elect. This is a common equivocation fallacy in high Calvinist argumentation. White wants us to think this is an instance where world connotes “the elect.” First, the term “world” or “kosmos” is not even used in the passage. He simply imports it from his systematic grid (also borrowing bad arguments from Arthur Pink) and thinks he’s doing “exegesis.” Secondly, he wants us to think that Christ purchased all the elect as elect when he died. Does this passage say that? No. This passage says that Christ purchased believers from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. It does not say that he purchased all the elect as such at the time of this death. Also, even if it did say that he purchased all the elect as such, it still would not deductively follow that he purchased them alone according to this passage. One cannot deductively infer that he only dies for the elect from this bare positive idea that “he purchased the elect” any more than one can do that with statements about his dying for his sheep, church etc. R. L. Dabney makes this very point in his Systematic Theology text. Dabney wites, “That Christ says, He died "for His sheep," for "His Church," for "His friends," is not of itself conclusive. The proof of a proposition does not disprove its converse. All the force which we could properly attach to this class of passages is the probability arising from the frequent and emphatic repetition of this affirmative statement as to a definite object.” Also, White commits a straw man fallacy in thinking that his opponents "long for an atonement that does not atone." Actually, some of the authentic Calvinists who differ from him want to be faithful to the testimony of scripture and to proper reasoning.

If this passage defines what "world" means in the New Testament and the sense here is of believers, what does that make of sense of world in John 3:16? How would it look?

NKJ John 3:16 "For God so loved (believers) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

This doesn't make any sense, thus White has to do a subtle shift and make "world" to mean elect as elect when it suits his system. He has to ignore a fundamental difference between decretal or mystical union and real union (he has committed this fallacy elsewhere). In fact, in John 17:9, he will follow Gill and the other ultra-Calvinists and interpret "world" to mean "the non-elect." Then, in John 17:21, "world" magically comes to mean "the elect as elect" again. How convenient, huh?

James White’s arguments are embarrassing and exegetically incompetent. It’s really sad to see someone with such influence in Calvinistic circles (particularly on the internet) make such blunders. Given the critique above, one can see the results of systematic eisegesis at work, not the work of genuine exegesis. Even apart from textual considerations, his logic is full of holes, unwarranted leaps, equivocations and false dilemmas. Why aren’t other Calvinists pointing this out? The number of fallacies committed in this one brief post today are staggering! What's even more staggering is that so few "Calvinists" can see it (those at the Reformation Theology blog obviously don't see it). It's either that or they don't want to point them out.

The theological and biblical ramifications on these subjects are quite profound. White’s warped thinking warps biblical passages, and such flawed and fanciful “reasoning” soon effects behavior and attitude. We should be fair with the plain testimony of scripture, as well as fair to our opponents. White lacks both of these Christ-like qualities in his post today, thus his eisegesis is seen.

March 21, 2006

Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) on Our Security in Christ

Therefore, we must dwell on the consideration of Christ's love. This must direct and lead our method in this thing. Would we have our hearts to love Christ, to trust in him, and to embrace him, why then think what he is to us. Begin there; nay, and what we are: weak, and in our apprehension, lost. Then go to consider his love, his constant love to his church and children. 'Whom he loves, he loves to the end,' John xiii. 1. We must warm our souls with the consideration of the love of God in him to us, and this will stir up our faith to him back again. For we are more safe in that he is ours, Gal. iv. 9, Philip. iii. 12, than that we give ourselves to him. We are more safe in his comprehending of us, than in our clasping and holding of him. As we say of the mother and the child, both hold, but the safety of the child is that the mother holds him. If Christ once give himself to us, he will make good his own part alway[s]. Our safety is more on his side than on ours. If ever we have felt the love of Christ, we may comfort ourselves with the constancy and perpetuity thereof. Though, perhaps, we find not our affections warmed to him at all times, nor alike, yet the strength of a Christian's comfort lies in this, that first, 'Christ is mine,' and then, in the second place, that 'I am his.'
Richard Sibbes “Bowels Opened: Or, Expository Sermons on Canticles IV. 16, V. VI: Sermon XX,” in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh: James Nicol, 1862), 2:184–185. Also here (click).

I recently heard Mark Dever quote the above passage by Richard Sibbes. I decided to do a search on the internet in order to find it. I like the mother/child illustration that Sibbes uses in order to convey the doctrine of our security in Christ. Sometimes Calvinists prefer the phrase "the preservation of the saints" instead of "the perseverance of the saints." While this preference is understandable in our theological climate, they are often not careful in their language. Some tend to make an either/or dilemma out of it, as if it’s a case of either preservation or perseverance. Sibbes sees both as true but chooses to emphasize the cause of our perseverance and safety, namely that God keeps us in Christ by his Spirit. He is careful not to make an either/or false dilemma when he stresses the significance of God's preserving power. We do persevere and grasp the Lord by faith, but only because he sustains us graciously. It's not a case of either preservation or perseverance, but that we persevere because he preserves.

Human responsibility is just as important as Divine sovereignty according to the bible. If I am talking to a non-Calvinist, I would stress the idea of the "preservation of the saints." If I was talking to a high or hyper-Calvininst, I would want to stress the idea of the "perseverance of the saints." The former group tend to think to little of God's power to keep us, while the latter tend to think too little of man's responsibility. Sibbes used careful language in order to convey the truth with precision. We should be just as careful in our teaching, even as we rejoice in the fact that we are secure in Christ.

March 14, 2006

Good Audio #3

I saw this page liked at Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds:

Johnson on Johnson

Phil Johnson has posted on Dr. S. Lewis Johnson here:

It's good to see that more people are being introduced to the excellent audio teaching of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson. If people had only been reading my blog, they would have known about this sooner! hahaha

March 1, 2006

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) and the Centrality of Pulpit Teaching

"Another way in which the Puritans emphasized preaching was that when they began to put up their own buildings they put their pulpits in the centre. What attracted the attention of the worshippers was not the altar, so-called, but a pulpit with an open Bible on it. It is regrettable to find increasingly that there is no pulpit Bible in many nonconformist churches at the present time and there are too many pulpits placed in a corner! I think that has some significance. But the Puritans had a central pulpit; and the Bible was there on it.

Moreover some of these men preached large numbers of sermons. Some preached every day of the week, and on Sundays more than once. Calvin himself was pre-eminently a great preacher. He preached at times every day and twice on a Sunday; and the Puritans perpetuated this idea. There was constant and systematic preaching, and people would travel considerable distances in order to hear such preaching. Nothing was so characteristic of the Puritans as their belief in preaching and their delight in listening to preaching. Then the number of sermons printed by them was remarkable. This raises a very interesting point, which we tend to forget, namely, that so much of the theological teaching of the Puritans was given in the form of preaching and sermons. I suggest in passing that we must consider once more whether the best way of teaching theology is not through preaching, through exposition of the Word. If you keep to the Word you will preserve a balance, and be constantly reminded of the importance of applying it as you go along."
D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 378-379.