Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lessons from Blues Legend B.B. King

Today I read an interesting article about B.B. King's church background and Gospel music roots, which he later abondoned to pursue his Blues career. It seems that there are at least two key observations to be made about the sad turn of events which led to his departure from Christianity:

1. B.B. left the church because his religious interests were more about the music and entertainment factors than Jesus Christ Himself. It is not too surprising that one who was never a disciple would seek to liberate himself from the seemingly constricting requirements of real devotion to the Lord. Hip sounding music easily won out when placed next to the way of the cross.

2. B.B. left a church environment that was (at least in his perception) legalistic and hypocritical. Did he even hear the Gospel in the Southern-cultured, Americanized "evangelical" Baptist and Pentecostal churches he attended? One wonders. Churchy folk certainly did not hide their condemnation of the "blues" musical style, nor of the beer drinking and dancing that often accompanied it. However, King said many church members secretly loved the music!

In short, we are reminded that there is nothing more detrimental to the reputation and health of the local church than unconverted, legalistic, religious hypocrites on the one hand, and the failure to aim for genuine conversion and disciple-making through faithful Gospel witness on the other.

And we might imagine that Reformed believers would have embraced the beer and the music (and perhaps even the dancing--all in tasteful moderation, of course), recognizing these as God's good gifts to be enjoyed, while at the same time holding forth the potent light of the Gospel and calling sinners to repentance and true discipleship.

May our great and gracious God help us not to repeat the errors of a church culture gone wrong in the Deep South of long ago. And today. 

We can thank God for Mr. King's amazing talents, and hope in earnest that he did not die unconverted.

Kyrie Eleison.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Things Children Say . . .

So I've been sitting here watching a series of YouTube videos showing a panel discussion by some leading open theists, in which they respond to their critics and attempt to explain their theology. I have to say I found their reasoning rather unimpressive. After about fifteen minutes of loopy arguments and obvious fallacies, my 10-year old son looked over at me and said, "Instead of watching 'Dude Dumb,' let's watch some 'Dude Perfect!'"

So, here is my alternative to open theism:

Feel free to read into this whatever connections and analogies you might want to make.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

True Calvinist Confessions: "I am a Casual Determinist."

As a committed Calvinist, I unashamedly advocate Casual Determinism. I would venture to say that every sincere Calvinist who holds to Biblical truth should be (and probably is) a Casual Determinist.

Please note that I am not talking about "Causal Determinism," nor am I advocating that philosophical viewpoint. I am discussing and arguing for a Biblical position of Casual Determinism.

What is Casual Determinism?

First of all, what do we mean by determinism? This can be defined as the belief that all events are pre-determined to occur. There are various kinds of "determinisms," which are variously advocated by philosophers and theologians of different stripes. The opposing position, Libertarianism (also known as a belief in "Libertarian Free Will"), holds that it is wholly impossible that events for which human beings may be held responsible are pre-determined. Even a casual reading of the Bible, much less a sound program of exegetical study, would seem to decisively demolish the "Libertarian" viewpoint.

In general, Calvinists (along with conservative Lutherans and others who hold to a high view of Scripture) are considered to be Determinists because they believe that God pre-determines everything. However, while we hold this conviction with tenacity and deeply conscientious devotion, we reserve the right to be rather casual about the details. Thus, we are Casual Determinists. We seek to affirm what is clear from Scripture, and not to go beyond what is written.

In other words . . .
1. We acknowledge that there is a great deal of mystery regarding God's pre-determination of everything.
2. We recognize a clear distinction between the pre-determination of good and the pre-determination of evil. God delights in good. He hates evil. He pre-determines both, but in different ways. While He may pre-determine evil, He never commits it nor approves of it. As for good, He alone is its source and author. Get it?
3. Along with Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, et al, we affirm God's absolute sovereignty without denying the voluntary choice and moral responsibility of human beings.

What are the Benefits of Casual Determinism?

1. Philosophical and theological arguments against causal determinism are rendered powerless because Casual Determinism may or may not entail Causal Determinism.
2. We do not have to deny human freedom in order to affirm divine determinism. We are quite casual in recognizing the fact that some type of genuine human freedom exists alongside determinism. And we do not need to solve all of the mysteries of the universe in order to affirm what the Bible clearly teaches.
3. We can interpret all events through the lens of God's absolute sovereignty.
4. We can speak of circumstances and human choices in the same ways the Biblical authors spoke of them, without feeling that we are somehow attributing evil to God or somehow denying His sovereignty.

We can be rather casual in our determinism because GOD is GOD, His Word is TRUE, and it is not our job to know everything.

Our role is to study His Word, worship His majesty, trust His wisdom, follow Christ, and proclaim His Truth. Regarding these things, we are anything but casual!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Christ's Conquest of the Self-Life: A Thematic Study of Philippians

Here is a link to a PowerPoint presentation from a message I shared at church some time ago. There are 23 slides, including a few illustrations. It is based on three of the key themes in the book of Philippians. I hope it is a blessing to you!

Christ's conquest of the believer's self-life is . . .
  1. Conditioned upon God's work in us
  2. Concentrated in God-ordained relationships
  3. Completed in union with Christ 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Both Determined and Free? A Conversation with Dr. Roger Olson

Recently I have been enjoying some conversation with Roger Olson, the "irenic Arminian" theologian and scholar, at his blog. I always find conversation with Dr. Olson to be interesting and informative. He is one of my favorite non-Calvinist discussion partners, although we disagree rather thoroughly in many areas. 

We have recently engaged profitably in discussion in the comment box at this post on Dr. Olson's blog:

Today, Dr. Olson has responded to me directly with this blog post:

I have posted my reply, as follows:
Dr. Olson, 
Thank you for giving attention to this important issue, which seems to be a key point of disagreement between Calvinistic and Arminian/non-Calvinistic thought.
Like most other Calvinists, I would point to multiple "fine distinctions" in order to sustain the appeal to compatibilism.
I would begin by defining compatibilism a little differently, as the basic belief that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive. The theory that "freedom" is being free to do as one chooses despite having no ability to do otherwise is just one form of compatibilism among many interesting options. Personally, I do not prefer that approach, and only oppose "Libertarian Free Will" or "power of contrary choice" to the extent that they, by definition, rule out compatibilism (in the broad sense). I agree with your contention that "free will" is mysterious, that it is "situated" within a context of limitations, that it is fully realized only by Christian conversion, and I believe that it is much more "genuine" than most of today's Calvinists will admit. Augustine was not afraid to use the term, and even Calvin hinted at a broader freedom of choice. There was a stream of historic Reformed thought along this line (Jeongmo Yoo has an interesting book on this topic).
Next, I would appeal to a distinction between "natural ability" and "moral ability" in saying that we are naturally capable of choosing other than we do, even if not morally capable (thus, in some sense we have the power of contrary choice). I have the natural ability to give away my possessions or to steal, but I might only have the moral ability to do one of them in a given set of circumstances. I don't have the natural or moral ability to choose to jump to the moon (although I do have the ability to attempt to jump to the moon). Moral ability is limited, not necessarily by God's decree, but by our own will (or moral character). In essence, ironically, the very will to choose is what limits the range of choices!
Finally, I would appeal to a distinction within God's secret decree between the foreordination of good and the foreordination of evil. Good arises always with God's direct action and involvement, by grace, and not from the creature alone. Evil arises only with God's inaction, from the creature's own moral nature, as God permits the creature to act on its own independent will. In other words, He ordains to allow evil to occur apart from His own direct action, by permission only (yet with complete foreknowledge and a design to permit--and then remedy--all of the evil that occurs). Thus, nothing happens because it is merely pre-determined. Good happens by God's predestination, providence and promise, while evil happens by His permitted purpose (with both good and evil being thus pre-determined in some sense, and worked into His overarching plan). As you know, the origin of the first evil remains mysterious on these grounds; however, we would categorically deny any possibility or implication that evil arose from God Himself (perish the thought).
This is, of course, a very abbreviated form of a more complex argument (actually an entire philosophical construct) that is employed by Augustinian thinkers to explain how God could foreordain (or decree, pre-determine/pre-program, etc.) all things without ever touching, committing, positively willing or becoming culpable for moral evil. There are plenty of Calvinists, Lutherans, and other Augustinians, who can expound these topics much better than I.
As a concluding note, I want to make it clear that I am not attempting to refute what you have written or formally debate the issue (doubtless you would outmaneuver me!). We are laying out two very different and incompatible philosophical approaches that are employed to make our theologies tenable in our own minds. As a part of my ongoing education and understanding of the Arminian viewpoint, I very much appreciate your time and care in stating your position clearly, and in treating the other position charitably. Great stuff!
Blessings in Christ,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Isaiah 55:9 - What does it Mean?

Recently, a visitor to this blog asked about the theme verse displayed in the blog header:

Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

The questioner specifically asked what I think this verse means.

Disclaimer and Clarification

Before answering this question, I should note that it matters very little what I think this verse means. God's Word is, at the most basic level, a communication of what He thinks. The verse does, after all, address the subject of His "thoughts." The meaning given by the Holy Spirit to Isaiah 55:9 is much more significant, and vastly more important, than anything I think. And, as He, the Spirit of Revelation, has given us the mind of Christ, we can know with a great degree of certainty what the verse actually, and objectively, signifies.

Too often, theological reflection has been downgraded to the level of opinion and conjecture. The speculations of favored theologians and scholars are discussed, and then someone's feelings about their mesmerizing extra-Biblical theories are recorded with grand intellectual flourishes. This futile endeavor leaves us wise in our own eyes and pathetically self-satisfied. However, when we approach the sacred text of the Bible, we are not dealing with human philosophy. We are not working with a man-made construction. We are considering the word of the prophets "more fully confirmed," to which we will do well to "pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place . . . knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (II Peter 1:19-21, ESV). This is the WORD OF GOD, and it renders our worldly and man-centered thinking totally bankrupt. It reveals our depravity, shatters our self-conceit, demolishes our pride. It is God's MESSAGE, hidden from the wise and lofty, and powerfully manifested to the simple-hearted -- for those with ears to hear.

So, I'd like to begin by redirecting the question. Rather than discussing what I think this verse means, I will instead attempt to answer, at least in part (yet accurately), the following questions:

  • What meaning has the Holy Spirit poured into Isaiah 55:9? 
  • What meaning will He help us to draw out by careful study?
May God guide us in the study of His Truth.

Contexts and Outline

Now that we have begun to think of the verse in its wide context as a part of the inerrant and infallible, God-breathed text of Scripture, we may begin to narrow in further and view it in a variety of additional contexts:
  • Bible Context: Old Testament - the verse appears several hundred years prior to the birth of the incarnate Christ, the establishment of the New Covenant and the inception of the Church.
  • Genre Context: Prophecy - the verse is the utterance of a prophet, speaking for God in the "first person" voice. It fulfills a dual prophetic role of calling God's covenant people to repentance and foretelling the glories of God's future Kingdom.
  • Book/Historical Context: Isaiah - the verse appears within the prophecies of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who prophesied over a period exceeding 50 years, during which Israel was characterized by corruption, apostasy and political turmoil. In Isaiah's lifetime, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed, and he saw multiple threats rise against the Southern kingdom of Judah while dwelling in its capital city of Jerusalem. 
  • Book Section Context: Isaiah 40-66 - the verse appears in a section characterized by prophecies of hope and restoration.
  • Chapter Context: Isaiah 55 - the verse appears in the center of a chapter which may be outlined as follows:
  1. Call to Draw Near to God (55:1-3)
    • Invitation to the Thirsty
    • Invitation to the Impoverished
    • Contrast of False and True Satisfaction
    • A New Covenant Promised
      • Made by God
      • Faithfulness and Mercy
      • Everlasting
  2. Declaration of Israel's Role (55:4-5)
    • As Witness
    • As Leader and Commander
    • As Caller 
    • As God's Glorified People
    • Target Audience: The Gentiles! (The "People" and "a Nation" not known)
  3. Instructions for Those Seeking God (55:6-7)
    • Seek the LORD
    • Call on Him
    • Forsake your own Ways and Thoughts
    • Return to the LORD
    • Results: Compassion and Abundant Pardon
  4. Description of God's Thoughts and Ways (55:8-9)
    • Not Your Thoughts
    • Not Your Ways
    • Higher than Your Thoughts and Ways
      • As the Heavens are Above the Earth
  5. Illustration of God's Thoughts and Ways (55:10-11)
    • God's Word is Given as Rain and Snow from Heaven
    • God's Word Infallibly Produces its Intended Effect on the Earth
      • Water
      • Sprout
      • Seed
      • Bread
  6. Promise of Israel's Future Hope (55:12-13)
    • Joy
    • Peace
    • Nature Celebrating
    • A Name for the Lord
    • An Everlasting Sign

Summary of the Passage

We may conclude, from the above discussion of contexts and the outline of the passage, that the broad theme of the chapter is Israel's restoration and the call of the Gentiles. The passage makes clear that Israel is to be used as God's witness so that the Gentiles may partake in the blessings of David, the New Covenant of God's mercy and truth, the compassion and the forgiveness of God.

This divine purpose, though mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament, would have been foreign to the thinking of most ancient Hebrews. In fact, it was even shocking to the early New Testament church, as demonstrated by Peter's initial hesitation and later surprise when preaching to the household of Cornelius, in seeing the Spirit poured out on the Gentiles. Paul's unique, unexpected, and God-initiated mission to preach the Gospel of grace to the nations also illustrates this chapter's message with some clarity.

The consistent theme in the passage is this: God calls sinners to Himself and will receive them with overflowing mercy, whether they are ethnically Jewish or Gentile.

The Lord forthrightly explains the reason that underlies this astonishing mercy: His thoughts and His ways, which are categorically opposite to ours, and radically exalted above ours, tend toward displays of extravagant mercy.

Exegetical Considerations

When God speaks of His "thoughts" in this passage, He uses the Hebrew term machashabah, which refers to counsel, plan or purpose (sometimes carrying the connotation of "invention"). When He speaks of His "ways," He uses the Hebrew word derek, which is a path or a road (figuratively, a course of life or one's moral character -- what we might call a "lifestyle" or a "walk of life" in today's vernacular). God is therefore describing something much deeper and more significant than a mere passing thought or intellectual pursuit. He is describing His very WILL, and His PERSONAL HABITS. And when He speaks of these things, thus revealing HIMSELF, He declares vehemently that His ways are not ours! In doing so, He uses the absolute negation (Heb. lo). Additionally, in verses 8 and 9, the repetition of the words "thoughts" (4 times) and "ways" (4 times) emphatically magnifies the message: "I am not like you! I am different! I am infinitely higher!" And yet, by forsaking his own ways and thoughts, and seeking after the Lord, even the unrighteous person (in point of fact, only the unrighteous person) can discover and enjoy these higher ways and thoughts.

The Meaning of Isaiah 55:9

The ancient Hebrew mind could perhaps think of no greater distance and no greater difference than that existing between heaven and earth. In this verse, the prophet shows us that God in His wise and holy counsels is far above us. His eternal plans do not originate within our familiar sphere, but enter it from without and from above. They are beyond our reach. They transcend us! His actions, characteristics, counsels and purposes are thus apt to surprise us when they break through. Yet they are ultimately intended to nourish us, to initiate growth, to produce fruitfulness in us, and to feed others. That is what mercy does. When the revelation of His ways is received within, it satisfies our need and give us life. It furnishes peace and instills joy. It gives us something to give.

Isaiah 55:9 teaches us that God's thinking is incomparable and incomprehensible, yet penetrating and available. It shows us the fine balance of a mysterious, and yet perspicuous, Word from our gracious Creator -- a Word sent to restore His fallen creation by the strange working of an unearthly power. And that power is called mercy.

May you, dear reader, be flooded with His grace today!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My First Visit to a Primitive Baptist Church

On vacation in the Smoky Mountains this week, we visited the old Primitive Baptist church in Cades Cove. After I delivered an impromptu call to worship, my daughter and I took the opportunity to sing a few hymns. A couple actually came into the church and started filming us!

Years ago, the Primitive Baptist church in Cades Cove split when some members became involved in missions, and we're thus disfellowshipped. Sad but true, folks.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Until You've Been There, There's Not Much Point in Going Anywhere Else

"Now, I've written books on the cross, you know that. And people say, 'well, that's just a favorite theme, the cross.' Well, I pray it will be, because Paul said, 'God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross.' So I'm in pretty good company, you see. But it's not that I have a thing about the cross. It is that I know that until you've been there, there's not much point in going anywhere else. Though when you go there and you know the transformation, you know what he's done . . . If you major on that cross, if the Holy Spirit gives you an understanding there, all the rest of the truth comes to you." 
(Geoffrey C. Bingham, from a sermon entitled The meaning of Pentecost)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bashing Beelzebub?

I recently found this great recording from Tony Hayling:

Given some of the recent controversies and discussions regarding certain aberrations of the broader "Charismatic Movement," this seems to be a good, timely word. Highly edifying.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

PUPPETS: Another Epic Calvinist-Arminian "Debate"

Having a little "chat" with some Arminian brothers over here:

I do not know how I get myself into these tangles. Well, maybe I do know how, and should instead wonder "why?" Admittedly, it was hard to resist commenting on the graphic that was posted as a discussion starter:

Lovely Caricature, eh?

Whatever the case, the discussion may be helpful for those who want to understand how the Bible affirms human freedom in compatibility with a robust, meticulous and exhaustive divine sovereignty. The question on the table is: "Does Calvinistic theology make man into a mere puppet?"

A proper understanding of Calvinistic theology (the non-hyper variety), divine sovereignty, human responsibility and Biblical compatibilism (which is not necessarily equivalent to the many forms of philosophical compatibilism) will lead to a decisive "NO" on this question. However, some who argue against Calvinism delight in throwing up the old canard of "Your theology makes us into puppets!"

I would like to take a moment to roundly scold those vocal Calvinist apologists who haven't sufficiently nuanced their compatibilism, and would seem to lend support to the charge. While I am at it, I'll also scold those Arminians who know what Calvinistic theology teaches and refuse to admit that their puppet analogy is a ridiculous caricature.

Then again, who in this world even cares if some obscure Calvinist scolds them?

II Samuel 7:18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

What Do You Mean When You Say "PARADOX"?

I use "paradox" to describe situations where the Truth can rightly be stated in apparently contradictory terms. For example:

P1 Jesus is fully human
P2 Jesus is fully divine

If used to describe anyone else, these statements would be contradictory and at least one of them would be untrue. In the case of God's Son, they are both 100% true. Scripture teaches them clearly, and does not tell us exactly how they relate or coexist. How can we fathom it? The lack of information allows the two true statements to form a paradox that has a mystery behind it. The paradox is only possible because of the mystery. If the mystery were revealed, the paradox would no longer appear contradictory. And yet the mystery and the paradox do not in any way obscure the Truth revealed by God in Scripture, which happens to be the only correct conclusion: namely, that Jesus Christ is the unique God-Man, thus the One Mediator, and Lord of All.

In my studies of the Word, I find a similar situation regarding exhaustive divine sovereignty and the measure of genuine freedom/responsibility that we are given as human beings. I find the same kind of paradox with regard to the divine and human origins of the Bible, the Three-in-One concept of the Trinity, and the sanctification of believers, among other core theological tenets which lie at the very heart of the historic Christian faith and the Gospel.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Myths About Calvinism: There Are No Real Choices

The following article was written by Stephen Altrogge, and posted on his site, THE BLAZING CENTER.

Myths About Calvinism: There Are No Real Choices
By Stephen Altrogge 
Click here to see the original post at Stephen's site.

Alright, I confess: I’m a Calvinist. Do you still like me? Will you still invite me over for you Super Bowl party? Will you still be my Facebook friend? Can we still do piano duets (I don’t play the piano, but if I did I would want to play duets)? I sure hope so.
But what exactly does it mean to be a Calvinist? There is a lot of confusion and misinformation and downright misrepresentation when it comes to Calvinism. Depending on who you talk to, a Calvinist is someone who:
1) Believes God hates everyone (see Westboro Baptist Church).
2) Believes God has chosen people to be saved, and no matter what a person does, nothing can change that choice.
3) Is grumpy, sour, and always making sure everyone else is obeying the rules.
4) Doesn’t believe in evangelism because God has already chosen people to be saved.
Over the next several posts I want to address several common myths regarding Calvinism, and explain how I, a Calvinist, respond to those myths.
The first, and probably most prevalent myth regarding Calvinism, has to do with free will and choices. The argument goes something like this: If God has predestined people to be saved then people don’t have a free will, and our choices for or against God are not real choices. 
I get this argument, I really do. In some ways, it’s the logical extension of the doctrine of predestination. If God does the choosing, that must mean we don’t do any real choosing. Am I right? After all, who can resist the will of the Almighty God?
Slight problem though: the Bible makes it crystal clear that God predestines people for salvation AND that every person is responsible to choose Jesus Christ. This is a paradox for which the Bible make no apologies, and a paradox which every true Calvinist gladly embraces.
Ephesians 1:4-6 says:
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
I don’t know how much clearer you can get when it comes to the doctrine of election. If I am a Christian it is because God predestined me, before the ages began, to be adopted as a son. He did not predestine me because of anything good or bad I would do. He predestined me according to the purpose of his will. This fills me with gratefulness.
These kinds of words run throughout the entirety of Scripture. Romans 8:29-30 says:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This passage forms an unbreakable chain. Before the foundation of the world God, foreknew those whom he would be predestine for salvation. Those whom he predestines are always called, those whom he calls are always justified, and those whom he justifies are always ultimately glorified. This is completely God’s doing. He gets all the credit and all the glory. From beginning to end, God does the saving. Scripture couldn’t be more clear on this subject.
But Scripture also makes it clear that every man and woman is responsible before God to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In Luke 5:31-32 Jesus said to the Pharisees:
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
In Acts 2, after preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, Peter called his listeners to repentance:
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
True Calvinism embraces the unconditional election of God. The Bible makes no apologies for the fact that God elects specific men and women to be saved apart from any conditions within them. God is God, and he is free to do whatever he pleases. The clay cannot say to the Potter, “Why have you made me this way?”
True Calvinism also embraces the real need for repentance. This is not some sort of tricky word game God is playing. Every man and woman is commanded to turn from their sins and choose God. The choices we make for God or against God are real choices, and we will really be held accountable for those choices.
How do God’s sovereign, electing purposes, and man’s free will work together? I’m not sure. The Bible doesn’t spell it out in detail. It gives us some hints as to how they work together, but it doesn’t ever clearly answer the question. As a Calvinist, I fully embrace God’s sovereign perogative to choose whomever he pleases. I also fully embrace every person’s responsibility to repent. I find the following quotes from Charles Spurgeon helpful in this matter:
I believe that God will save his own elect. And I also believe that if I do not preach the gospel, the blood of men will be laid at my door.
I am quite certain that God has an elect people, for he tells me so in his word. And I am equally certain that everyone who comes to Christ shall be saved, for that also is his own declaration in the Scriptures. When people ask me how I reconcile these two truths, I usually say that there is no need to reconcile them, for they have never yet quarreled with one another.
The true Calvinist believes that election and free salvation do not quarrel with one another.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Limited Atonement

You may be aware that a new book on the doctrine of "Limited Atonement" has just been released. You may also know that Calvinists, historically, have taken a variety of positions on the subject. With that in mind, I would like to interact with a few statements made recently on the Gospel Coalition blog (and by the way, just to be clear, I would generally consider myself to be a strong supporter and advocate of TGC and its work). Nevertheless, here are the statements to which I will respond:
Many Amyraldians or "4-point Calvinists," while espousing a particular election (by the Father) and a particular application (by the Spirit), hold to a universal atonement (by the Son). What's problematic about emphasizing particularity at the stage of application but not at the stage of atonement?The Amyraldian view of the atonement leads to disharmony or dissonance in the triune God: the Father elects some, the Son dies for all, but the Spirit only draws some (those whom the Father elected). The same problem attends semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Hypothetical universalists seek to get around the problem by positing "two levels" in the atonement: a universal intent and a particular intent (see, for example, Curt Daniel and Norman Douty). According to this scheme, the Trinity is united at each level of intent. However, this position lacks scriptural support despite attempts based on a certain (and, we believe, superficial) reading of 1 Timothy 4:10
Hypothetical universalism also leads to a confusion within the will of the Son. How can Christ on the cross, in his one act of propitiation, will both to die for the non-elect and not to die for them? This distorts orthodox Christology. Christ is presented in the Bible as King, Shepherd, Bridegroom, Head, Master, Firstborn, Cosmic Savior, and Last Adam. This is who the incarnate Son is, and therefore when he dies for sinners he cannot fail to be for them who he is. The person and work of Christ cannot be separated. In short, both trinitarianism and union with Christ point toward a definite intent in the atonement, as both ensure its efficacy. (Source:
I am not an Amyraldian or "4-Pointer," and probably not a "hypothetical universalist," as those terms are usually defined among today's Calvinists. I do not deny that the intent of the atonement was to save a particular people. I do, however, deny that this was the sole intent, and I also deny that the atonement's extent has to be measured by its intent. My theology is Classic/Moderate Calvinism, as opposed to "High Calvinism." Classic/Moderate Calvinism is a prestigious tradition that is often castigated and misrepresented (or perhaps simply misunderstood) by High Calvinists.

It is from this perspective that I will respond to a few of the statements made above, beginning with this one:
The Amyraldian view of the atonement leads to disharmony or dissonance in the triune God: the Father elects some, the Son dies for all, but the Spirit only draws some (those whom the Father elected).
This problem is not relevant to Classic/Moderate Calvinists, as I will now demonstrate. In fact, our position exposes a significant inconsistency in the High Calvinist view. This is how they often frame the discussion:

1. Election is particular
2. Atonement is particular
3. Calling is particular

In other words: "God's work is particular, so why confuse things by generalizing just the atonement?"

On the other hand, this is how we frame it:

1. Election is particular in scope, but this does not limit God's general love and common grace which are extended toward all humanity
2. Atonement is particular in intent, but this does not limit the universal sufficiency of the atonement as potentially salvific for all of humanity
3. Calling is particular, but this does not limit the general call of the Gospel as God's command for all people everywhere to repent and believe.

Most High Calvinists will agree with our views on 1 and 3, but for some reason cannot accept the correlating balance on 2. This is actually in inconsistency on their part, not ours.

In other words, we say: "God's work is general and particular, so why deny the general aspect of just the atonement?" In fact, we might even go a step further, and offer a much more reasonable and Biblical solution, by viewing the General Love of God, Common Grace and the General Call of the Gospel as grounded in and made possible by the general/universal aspects of the atonement. The Cross IS God's Word of love and grace to all mankind. The Cross IS God's call of repentance to all of the world's people. The Cross IS God's extended hand of forgiveness to all humanity. And our Gospel is THE WORD OF THE CROSS.
Hypothetical universalists seek to get around the problem by positing "two levels" in the atonement: a universal intent and a particular intent (see, for example, Curt Daniel and Norman Douty).
A bigger problem is faced by the High Calvinist, as I have shown above. Additionally, I would suggest that few people understand Calvinism as well as Curt Daniel. My High Calvinist friends would be well advised to listen to him.
According to this scheme, the Trinity is united at each level of intent. However, this position lacks scriptural support despite attempts based on a certain (and, we believe, superficial) reading of 1 Timothy 4:10
Despite this dismissive comment, 1 Timothy 4:10 presents a strong exegetical case for the atonement's unlimited extent and limited intent, if not a dual intent. Furthermore, in the Classic/Moderate approach the Three Persons of the Trinity are certainly united in expressing a general love, a general atonement and a general call toward all humanity, while also working to achieve a specific end for a particular people in each of those activities. Why don't High Calvinists level the same criticism against General Love, Common Grace and the Free Offer of the Gospel (as Hyper Calvinists do)? Again, it is clear that the High Calvinist scheme is inconsistent by overlooking the fact that General Love stands alongside Unconditional Election, and the Free Offer stands alongside the Effectual Call. The next statement demonstrates this oversight well:
Hypothetical universalism also leads to a confusion within the will of the Son. How can Christ on the cross, in his one act of propitiation, will both to die for the non-elect and not to die for them? This distorts orthodox Christology.
This is quite a stretch, and, I might add, a little bit uncharitable. The phrase, "died for," is far too ambiguous to become the basis for judging a person's Christology as "distorted" or less than orthodox. Why can't Christ "die for" all of humanity in one sense, and "die for" a particular people in another sense? Furthermore, is the Father's will confused when He elects some but extends love and grace to all? Is the Holy Spirit's will confused when He tells us to proclaim Good News to everyone but inwardly draws only His chosen ones?

Following the logic of the statement quoted above, the Father cannot love those He did not elect, and the Spirit cannot send the Gospel to those He will not convert, without somehow being "confused." In our view, neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit are ever confused; they each work in both general and particular ways, being in precise harmony with themselves and with One Another.

As a Calvinist and a Bible believer, it makes the most reasonable sense to embrace the universal extent of the atonement while not denying its particular intent. Whatever you call it, the result will be truly CONSISTENT CALVINISM.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Arranged Marriages

I asked my daughter: "Should we have arranged marriages, or should we be allowed to marry someone we love?" 

She thought for a moment, and then shouted: "FALSE DICHOTOMY!"

"Very good." I said. After all, a marriage could be arranged between a man and woman who already love each other (perhaps some marriages are arranged this way unwittingly), or a marriage can be arranged between a man and woman who will grow to love each other. Real love and arranged marriage are not mutually exclusive (I am not saying we should practice this, by the way).

Next I said, "Now, imagine that I am both omnisicient and omnipotent. Could I pre-arrange a marriage for you with someone you love?"

"Of course you could, if you were God!" She said. After thinking it through for another moment or two, her face lit up and she exclaimed, "Hey, wait a minute . . . ALL MARRIAGES ARE ARRANGED!"

I smiled.

She had expressed a brilliant, simple, and thoroughly Biblical thought. Every marriage, including the most loving marriage on earth, is an arranged marriage. And most every marriage can be a genuinely loving one.

So, how is it that my 12-year-old daughter understands compatibilism so much better than the Arminian apologists I meet online? Why can't they see through the false dichotomy of "foreordained" and "free"? They tell me it is a "contradiction" (and much worse). I wonder, do they think God is too limited in His power, or wisdom, or freedom, or knowledge, or ability, or love, to accomplish such a wonderful thing?