May 30, 2006

BTW Comments

I have been making some comments on a post at Justin Taylor's excellent blog called Between Two Worlds (BTW).

My comments appear in this post: Half Truths, Whole Truths, and Complete Untruths It concerns J. I. Packer's intro to John Owen's work The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

May 29, 2006

Calvinism is the Gospel?

This quote by Spurgeon has appeared on internet discussion boards ad nauseam:
And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else”—C H SPURGEON, Autobiography, Volume 1: The Early Years (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1981), 168.
Here's a recent comment of mine from a discussion board touching on the issue:
Spurgeon was not careful in his statement that "Calvinism is the gospel." Not all in the Calvinistic tradition would say that. They would say that what Dort teaches, or the five points (which the TULIP construct sloppily represents), is the logical entailment of gospel truths, as with the rest of the bible's theological teaching. The five points are a detailed reaction to the Remonstrant errors as it touches particular theological subjects. The men at DORT never meant to equate the gospel with the so-called "TULIP" points. They were just expressing what was consistent with the gospel in important areas concerning Theology Proper, Christology, Harmartiology, Anthropology, and Pneumatology, etc. One need not believe in TULIP in order to be saved. One must believe Christ as revealed in the gospel to be saved, and the genuine sanctification of a disciple will result in the bible's teaching about God's sovereignty as well. The gospel is not the TULIP (and even Dort is not to be equated with TULIP), but the gospel is consistent with, and therefore conceptually associated with, Dortian teaching. If you hear someone equating the two, you can be sure they are confused.
The gospel, according to Paul, concerns the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through faith in him and his work, one can be saved. God the Son, by the will of the Father, became man in order to suffer the curse of the law on behalf of sinful mankind and to rise again. Christ became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (i.e., through faith in him). This is the gospel simply stated.

Even though it is related to the truths touching God's secret will, the gospel is primarily concerned with God's revealed will. When we hear the gospel as lost sinners, we are not commanded to believe in special decrees concerning the elect. We are to believe that God is good to us (no matter who you are) through the Son, and that there is an adequate provision for our sins (no matter who you are, whether elect or not) in his blood. The eternal benefit of his work is obtained through faith in him. Therefore, God the Father commands and sincerely invites all sinners to come to him by means Christ alone on the basis of grace alone through faith alone, and no other way. This is his revealed or preceptive will.

It would be helpful if the promoters of Spurgeon's writings were willing to criticize him where he needs to be criticized, or at least try to clarify what he meant contextually. However, I have yet to see this from those who are constantly promoting him on the Internet. Spurgeon was an excellent man and preacher, but he was not careful in some of his statements and arguments. The above quote is just one example.

Update on 6-8-2020: See John MacArthur's explanation of what Spurgeon meant here (click).

May 24, 2006

My Theological Background (Part 1)

As some of you may be able to tell, I have written quite a bit about Calvinistic issues on my blog. I would like to explain why this is the case. A blog is a small window into someone's life and thought, but it is obviously a very limited medium. In the following, I will explain a little bit about my conversion experience and my development into Calvinistic soteriology. Then, I will try to explain why I am presently preoccupied in reshaping my Calvinistic paradigm. Since I started my blog in the middle of this rebuilding period last June, many of my posts are on that topic. Anyway, here's the beginning of an explanation for many of my posts.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic. My immediate family was rather indifferent about religion, so I felt that I was functionally an atheist who attended a church on occassion. It was as if we attended church to tip our hats to God on Sunday, but then we eagerly left to go and live our own way. My family remains this way today, more or less.

In 1990, at age 20, I came to the Dallas area (from living in Iowa for about 6 years) to attend The Art Institute to possibly enter the music and video business. By this time in my life I was experiencing a great deal of guilt and uncertainty. I was aimless and burdened with sinful memories. I brought a bible with me to Dallas because I felt that maybe I could begin to try to understand it. In the quiet of the night, I was reading through the New Testament for the first time and was amazed by the teaching of Jesus. I literally felt like the officers in John 7:46 when they said, "No man ever spoke like this Man!" Any honest mind, whether believing him divine or not, must confess that this is true. I was captivated by his words and felt that he could resolve my innermost problems with sin and guilt, but he seemed like an unknowable and distant historical figure. I continued to read and contemplate what was being said in the New Testament.

I was also hearing certain television preachers presenting the gospel. I was never exposed to these kinds of gospel appeals in a Roman Catholic church. These men were commanding me to turn to the savior in repentance and trust, and also to confess him openly. In so far as their message coincided with biblical teaching, it seemed authoritative. One night after work at UPS (maybe around 3am) , I heard a message on the judgment of God and hell. I finally decided to kneel in my apartment to pray and to submit myself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in faith and repentance. I came to understand him as a living Savior who could be known by the Holy Spirit in the inner man.

Eventually the Lord brought a believing friend into my life who was able to guide me in the faith. We attended a Baptist church together. He introduced me to Christian radio stations and good authors. I desperately wanted to understand the Christian faith. All I wanted was an honest teacher to open the book and explain it to me in great detail. I was listening to Adrian Rogers and Charles Stanley when I woke up, and then to Chuck Swindoll and John MacArthur in the evenings. This amounted to about 2 hours worth of preaching every week day. I began to notice significant differences in what they were saying, so I kept checking what they said by scripture. I began to be particularly impressed with the teaching method of Dr. John MacArthur. I could follow along in the text as he explained it. His teaching was exegetical and expository in nature, so I could test his explanations as I followed along systematically.

One night he was expounding Romans 9. I was confronted with the biblical teaching on the sovereign election of God. This was only a few months after my conversion. I already owned a study bible that had quotes from Matthew Henry, so I was being prepared to hear the true and abasing doctrines of God's grace. Dr. MacArthur plainly demonstrated the validity of the doctrine of unconditional election in his expositions on Romans 9. I was faced with a decision. Would I accept what was plainly there? Or dismiss it because I didn't understand it? I could not dismiss the precious doctrines of my Lord, so I adhered to the teaching wholeheartedly. I purchased books on the subject in order to gain coherence and understanding. One of those books was a small one entitled TULIP by Duane Spencer. I struggled to understand Limited Atonement, but his arguments seemed to have force. I suppose it was a year or so into my conversion when I could have been called a 5 point Calvinist. I never really passed through an Arminian phase, except in the sense that I felt that the Lord might leave me due to sin when I was new in the faith.

I was still in search of honest and learned men who could explain and expound the most difficult passages of scripture. Eventually, after several years, I was introduced to the radio teaching of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson. This was exactly the sort of material I was looking for. This man was a biblical scholar, as well as a very honest and humble man. He was a teacher par excellence. Not only did he help me to understand biblical doctrine contextually, he also confirmed and developed my staunch Calvinistic convictions.

What I didn't know at the time is that the "Calvinism" I was learning was really the High Calvinism of the post-Reformational Protestant Scholastics. I wasn't really presented with a fair picture (in either current books or current preaching) of the diverse streams within Calvinistic circles. High Calvinism was presented as the only true and consistent Calvinism, and it supposedly went back to Calvin himself in unbroken continuity. "Calvinism" is often presented in a very monolithic way, as if there hasn't been significant divergence of opinion on very crucial subjects. Many things brought these issues to my attention, but those topics will have to wait for Part 2 in this series.

May 20, 2006

Contextual Cow Patties

All Without Exception, or All Without Distinction? If there is anything that the last few years of study has taught me, it is to beware of appeals to "context." Of course, when we come to interpret any piece of literature, particularly scripture, it is important to observe an author's flow of thought. One needs to pay attention to usage in order to determine word meaning. When we engage in arguments about meaning, an appeal to context is very important.

However, I have noticed how some of the best and brightest of theologians have simply appealed to the "context" in order to sustain a cherished system of thought. This presupposed conceptual system can determine the interpretive options, and may end up blinding us to other valid interpretations. It may cause us to think in false either/or dilemmas.

Take the "All Without Exception vs. All Without Distinction" dilemma as an example that some theologians use. When this dilemma is posed, there is the inevitable appeal to "context." If you ever hear this, beware. Someone may be serving you a contextual cow patty!

The following passage will serve as an illustration:

NKJ 1 Timothy 2:1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Verse 4 is quite controversial. If your theological system allows for the idea that God desires the salvation of all men, whether elect or non-elect, then the verse can be explained accordingly. If, however, your theological system does not allow for God to desire the salvation of the non-elect, then the verse is explained accordingly. When discussing verse 4 in a debate, you might hear, "Is this 'all without exception' or 'all without distinction'?" What do these alternatives mean? Well, it all depends on the context :-) You would have to ask the person who presents the dilemma to you.

Let's take the first example, i.e. all without exception. What are the possible meanings? It seems to me that the options are:

A) Every human being that will ever exist, or already exists, even those in hell.
B) Every human now existing on earth.
C) Every living human in a given location on earth, i.e. in a city or country for instance.

Let's consider the second alternative in the either/or dilemma, i.e. all without distinction. The possible meanings, according to some Calvinists who use the expression, seems to be:

D) Every elect person who will ever exist.
E) Every elect person who exists on earth, but not yet believing in Christ.
F) Every elect person who exists on earth and presently believes in Christ.

As strange as these options seem, these are the categories that some Calvinists (not all) may have in mind when they say, "All without Exception, or All Without Distinction?" When it comes to the particular interpretion of the "all" in 1 Tim. 2:4, some see it as referring to God's desire to save the unbelieving elect who are scattered abroad. So, in their case, "all without distinction" really means E) Every elect person who exists on earth, but not yet believing in Christ. What are they putting this in contrast to? If you follow their argument carefully, they will say "All Without Exception" is A) Every human being that will ever exist, or already exists, even those in hell. What we have then is an either/or dilemma between A and E. You are not given any other options in their argument, hence the "dilemma." Doesn't choice E look much better when only put in contrast to option A?! I mean, who would want to say that God is desiring to save those already in hell?! Option E really looks good, until it's further examined in light of other alternatives.

Look at Paul's writing again. NOTA BENE: There is no reason to think he's shifting or equivocating in his senses of "all" throughout the passage. He's using it in a consistent sense.

He begins by exhorting Timothy and other disciples to pray for "all men," whether kings and other officials over them. Is Paul making distinctions concerning classes of men? Sure he is. He is specifically instructing believers to pray for governing officials etc., according to the "context." He clearly isn't telling disciples to pray for those former kings who are now in hell. Such a view would be an absurd reading of the text. But is Paul encouraging them to only pray for the elect who don't yet believe? No, since we don't know who they are. Even though Paul is making distinctions between "kinds" of men, he isn't discriminating between elect kinds and non-elect kinds of men here. Also, Paul doesn't seem to be commanding them to pray for kings in China in their day that they probably didn't know about, but one may argue, by implication, that God wills them to repent and be saved as well (option B).

According to the "context," he seems to be commanding them to pray for officials that they know about in their given locations, so that they "may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." We may validly infer (make the application) today that the Holy Spirit wants us modern believers to pray for officials in China, or other distant locations, that we know about in order that believers over there may live quiet and peacable lives, even if we do not live there ourselves. Nevertheless, the meaning, as I stated above, seems to be that he is commanding them to pray for officials that they know about in their given locations so that they "may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." Doesn't this explanation of "all" appear to be C) Every living human in a given location on earth, i.e. in a city or country for instance? It certainly seems that way to me. But hey, that's just context :-)

Even though Paul uses "all" in a sense to make distinctions among men (i.e among various kinds of rulers), this also includes the idea of all without exception (i.e. all kinds of men without exception, whether elect or non-elect, in a given location). All without distinction is not contrary to all without exception, if properly understood in Paul's sense. Furthermore, some Calvinists who think that the sense is that God wills to save the elect really don't mean "all kinds of men." They mean "some of all kinds of men," i.e. the elect from among all kinds. So, their "all without distinction" really means "some of all without distinction." Strange, huh?

None of this confusion is necessary. Paul is clearly expounding the preceptive will of God in this passage (his precept that we pray, and his precept that all repent). "Coming to the knowledge of the truth" is functionally equivalent to the idea of repenting. God wills for all men to repent, therefore we should pray for all in that respect, realizing that the change of heart in officials can result in a better quality of life for us, that is, a quiet and peaceable life. Rather then being bitter against them for persecuting us, we should pray for them.

This interpretation would not be so controversial to some if they would grant that there is a sense in which God wills to save all men, even the non-elect. It's only problematic to those working with a theological system that excludes this as an option. In order to explain the text in a decretal sense, they appeal to "context" and present a false either/or dilemma between options A and E, when C makes much more sense. Option C or B are particularly scary to the E advocates when it comes to verses 5 and 6 of the same chapter, but I have already dealt with the vicarious substitution, or death of Christ issue extensively on my blog. I will not expound on it here.

In conclusion, beware of "contextual" cow patties. Appeals to "context" may just be appeals to a presupposed and cherished system that will not allow for other viable alternatives. In these cases, "context" may just be eclipsing the real meaning. Fear may also be driving our hermeneutic.

I have demonstrated elsewhere that the letterhead argument for 2 Peter 3:9 is also a contextual cow patty. Be sure to read that as well.

May 12, 2006

A Few Thoughts on Truth

Truth is established by investigation and delay; falsehood prospers by precipitancy. - Tacitus

Falsehood is in a hurry; it may be at any moment detected and punished; truth is calm, serene; its judgment is on high; its king cometh out of the chambers of eternity. - Joseph Parker

It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry. - Thomas Paine

I have always found that the honest truth of our own mind has a certain attraction for every other mind that loves truth honestly. - Carlyle

If it is the truth, what does it matter who says it? - Anon

May 10, 2006

Gnostic Insight Into Some T4G Articles

The following articles are from the Together for the Gospel gathering. Some of the men who signed it were:

J. Ligon Duncan III, Mark E. Dever, C.J. Mahaney, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Jeremy S. Haywood

T4TG Statement

In what follows, I give some gnostic insight into the secret High Calvinist code words chosen, and whisper the meaning to the theologically initiated via "psst" comments :-)
Article VII
We affirm that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in perfect, undiluted, and unconfused union throughout his incarnation and now eternally. We also affirm that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners (psst - They mean only elect sinners here), as a sacrifice for sin (psst - They mean only the sins of the elect here), and as a propitiation of the wrath of God toward sin (psst - They mean only the sins of the elect here). We affirm the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ as essential to the Gospel. We further affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord over His church, and that Christ will reign over the entire cosmos in fulfillment of the Father's gracious purpose.

We deny that the substitutionary character of Christ's atonement for sin (psst - they mean the sin of the elect) can be compromised or denied without serious injury, or even repudiation, of the Gospel. We further deny that Jesus Christ is visible only in weakness, rather than in power, Lordship, or royal reign, or, conversely, that Christ is visible only in power, and never in weakness.

Article VIII
We affirm that salvation is all of grace, and that the Gospel is revealed to us in doctrines that most faithfully exalt God's sovereign purpose to save sinners (psst - They mean elect sinners here, as in the other places where "sinners" is used above) and in His determination to save his redeemed people (psst - They mean only the elect were redeemed when Christ died) by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to His glory alone.

We deny any teaching, theological system, or means of presenting the Gospel that denies the centrality of God's grace as His gift of unmerited favor to sinners (psst - they mean elect sinners) in Christ can be considered true doctrine.
In case some of you were not aware of how High Calvinists use deliberately chosen ambigious language to convey their underlying decretal theology, the above should help you see what they mean.

UPDATE (5-29-06): In order to better understand things I have said in this post, please read the comment thread as well.

May 7, 2006

Brian Armstrong on Amyraut's Historico-Exegetical Method

Brain Armstrong, in chapter 4 of his book Calvinism and The Amyraut Heresy, describes Amyraut as warning against undue speculation concerning God’s secret will and decrees. Amyraut encouraged “modesty in the things which concern the incomprehensible counsels of God.” Instead of engaging in vain speculations, he said we ought to devote ourselves to what has been revealed. Armstrong then writes:
However, important as this principle is, Amyraut was perhaps even more concerned with what he considered the dishonest exegesis of Scripture to which this methodology of beginning with the decrees of God compelled the orthodox. He was absolutely convinced that Scripture taught both a universalist design in Christ’s atonement and a particularist application of its benefits. In a striking passage, which carries with it some obvious, searching criticisms of the orthodox, Amyraut shows that Calvin unequivocally affirmed a universal design for the atonement in his commentary on II Peter 3:9. Amyraut remarks concerning this: “The confidence that Calvin had in the goodness of his cause and the candor with which he has proceeded in the interpretation of Scripture have been so great, that he had no qualms about interpreting the words of St. Peter in this manner” [Armstrong also notes that Amyraut extensively quoted Bullinger on the same passage]. This implies that the methodology of orthodoxy destroyed the candor with which one should deal with biblical texts and that orthodoxy manifested an almost neurotic fear that somehow a sacred theological system might crumble if certain interpretations were allowed. In a word, Amyraut and his friends seem to be saying that a faulty a priori methodology had produced in orthodoxy a barrier to honest historico-exegetical research.

Again, and at least of equal importance with his desire for an honest handling of the biblical texts, is Amyraut’s apparent belief that the orthodox methodology and doctrine had destroyed the effectiveness of Reformed preaching. Again and again Amyraut returns to this theme – that “no one speaks in this manner to invite us to the Faith, ‘Believe, for God has ordained from all eternity whether or not you will believe.’” Rather, he says, we must begin by proclaiming “the great mercy of God to the human race.” The proclamation of the gospel ought not to be concerned with the determination of events by the will of God. We are simply to preach “Believe in Christ, for He is the redeemer of the world” and to remember that “this is not the time to consider whether or not He has decreed from all eternity if we would believe in this redeemer.” In preaching, the minister must faithfully set forth the universality of Christ’s work of redemption as revealed in Scripture:
One must then only fix the eyes of his spirit upon the Lord Jesus, he must concentrate all the strength of his soul upon Him, he must envisage all the aspects of this object and consider how very true He is, how very useful He is, how very necessary He is, how very worthy He is of admiration, and full of contentment, consolation and joy. In a word, how He is divine no matter what the perspective from which He is seen. This one must do so that he recognize and embrace in Him that infinite mercy which is revealed to us.
Brian Armstrong, Calvinism and The Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in the Seventeenth-Century France (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004), 165–168.

This book is based on Armstrong's doctoral dissertation submitted to Princeton in 1967 entitled The Calvinism of Moïse Amyraut: The Warfare of Protestant Scholasticism and French Humanism. The above quote appears on pages 180–181 in the dissertation.

I also have a copy of Roger Nicole's dissertation on Amyraut submitted to Harvard in 1966 entitled Moyse Amyraut (1596–1664) and The Controversy on Universal Grace: First Phase (1634–1637). Dr. Curt Daniel sells copies of it, as well as an English translation of the 1634 edition of Amyraut's Brief Treatise on Predestination. I will be reading these two works soon.