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!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Isaiah 52:13 - This Deserves Attention

"Behold, My servant will prosper."

God's Focal Point is the Cross

"Behold" (Heb. HINNEH, הנה) is a call to attention. It means, "look over here!" It is not by mistake that this eye-catching term opens the greatest prophetic picture of Christ in the Old Testament, for God is ever drawing our attention back to His Son, and to the cross. In this series, we are endeavoring to pay heed to that call.

Christ's Mission was to Serve

"My Servant" (Heb. EBED, עבד) identifies Christ as God's servant, the One who obediently accomplishes His will. To save us, God did not send an army, a team of doctors, a professor, a scientist, or a politician. He sent a Servant who obeyed His will. The world vainly looks for salvation in the knowledge and power of its experts, most of whom are decidedly out of step with God's revealed will. But He offers salvation freely through the humble obedience of His Servant.

Philippians 2:6-8 ... although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Mark 10:45 "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Jesus was Wise and Successful in His Work

"Prosper" - Heb. SAKHAL, שכל (occurs 63 times in the OT) = "to be prudent, be circumspect, wisely understand, prosper ... to have insight ... to prosper, have success." (Brown-Driver-Briggs), "to be succussful (in carrying anything on), to act prosperously." (Gesenius), "... never concerns abstract prudence, but acting prudently." (Unger/White), "... relates to an intelligent knowledge of the reason." (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). The semantic range of this word describes the relationship between wisdom and success. It can be used for the wisdom that leads to success, or for the success that was accomplished by using the wisdom. Hence, it stands for wise administration, insightful management, or an intelligent handling of a complex situation.

The world has its own ideas of success, but Jesus Christ is the supreme example of understanding and accomplishment. He is wise in all His actions and effective in all His works. His success cannot be thwarted by any opponent. Jesus vindicated God's "upside-down" wisdom by achieving His mission through the undervalued qualities of servanthood: humility and obedience. His acts depended upon the Father's blessing and faithfulness, so His success was guaranteed. Yet His mission was accomplished through affliction, surrender and self-sacrifice. Indeed, "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men " (I Cor. 1:25)

I Cor. 1:30-31 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

Focusing on the wisdom of Christ in His attitude, acts and accomplishments is the great remedy to being "wise in your own eyes." Let us pay attention to this, becoming deliberately cross-centered in all we do. And let us imitate the cross-wise approach to success and prosperity modeled by our Lord in His servanthood.

Matthew 26:24 "Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me."

To be a cross-bearing, self-relinquishing, others-serving, Christ-following disciple - that is true prosperity. Dear friend, do you wish to come after Him?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Servant Who Suffered to Save Sinners - Introduction

It's always interesting to speak abstractly and philosophically about Calvinism and theology. That's something I've done extensively of late. But I sense a need to get my focus back on the simple truth of the Gospel through a study of the Word in a more devotional/exegetical manner.

Even the best theological systems and philosophies cannot feed the soul. For that purpose, God has given us His Living Word and His Precious Spirit. This is why some of God's dear children can be theologically off the mark, but are still full of the life and love of God. Strange as it may seem, some who are steeped in egregious philosophical errors that are obviously unbiblical have nonetheless fed on the Word and received abundant grace from it. They walk in the Spirit, and love God with all their hearts. His Word is powerful and often works secretly within us, even when we miss the point (philosophically speaking). This is also why some of those who seem to be most theologically right can be dry wells, with little love or joy to offer. They've abandoned their pure devotion to the Word and run after every obscure question for which their heart craves an answer. It's the idolatry of philosophy, which can even exist in theologically grounded philosophy. It's easy to treat the Bible like an encyclopedia for reference and information gathering. Yet God gave His Word to us as an endless fountain of water, and daily bread to our souls - rich, refreshing, nutritious, and life-sustaining. It's not that deeper theological pondering is bad (it's not), but it has to be kept in balance. We don't want to have our "head in the clouds" (at least not all the time).

With that in mind, this post begins a new series called "The Servant Who Suffered to Save Sinners." Several years ago (at a time when, by God's grace, I began to grieve over a perceived hardening of my heart), I sensed a stirring from the Lord to pursue a study of Christ's work on the cross. It was as if He said, "Look to the cross, for in seeing My brokenness you will be broken again." For weeks thereafter, I meditated upon the words of Isaiah 53. The fruit of those meditations continues to feed Gospel truth to my soul to this day. Now, dear friend, I pray that these studies will feed your soul as we look to the cross together.

Isaiah 53 is a remarkable passage of Scripture for many reasons. Here are a few of them.

1. It was written more than 700 years prior to the birth of Christ, and yet it predicts His sufferings with undeniable accuracy.
2. It serves as a key link between the Old and New Testaments, being one of the clearest Old Testament passages which unambiguously states doctrines related to the Gospel. Thus, it demonstrates the unity of the Bible's message.
3. It sets forth divine sovereignty and human responsibility; describes key facets of the incarnation; affirms the total depravity and universal guilt of mankind; offers some explanation of human suffering; shows the humility, obedience and sinless innocence of Christ; reveals Christ's ministry as a sin-bearing sacrifice; implies substitutionary atonement; promises lost sinners a way of reconciliation with God; predicts Christ's suffering, death, burial, resurrection and glorification; and it unveils the justification of sinners through faith in God's Own righteousness.

We'll explore these things more deeply as we examine the text theme by theme, concept by concept, line by line, phrase by phrase, and word by word. Join me as we fix our gaze lovingly on the Lord Jesus Christ . . .


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Keeping the Biblical Balance

"The best Calvinists are those that have kept the beautiful balance . . . Keeping the balance is where the beauty is to be found. The revealed, the secret will of God; the attributes of God; God and man's responsibility; and by living in this balance we can develop a true spiritual Christianity . . . Brethren, keep the Scriptural balance, for when you do that, then and only then will you give the highest glory to God."

Curt Daniel
This is from the conclusion to Dr. Daniel's lecture on Hyper-Calvinism

Editor's Note: I've listened to about half of the 75 lectures in Dr. Daniel's series, "The History and Theology of Calvinism." The history lessons alone are like a graduate level course. I'll have to give him a t-shirt someday, for he is one of the great exponents of the idea behind this blog. I find that I almost always agree with Dr. Daniel's way of articulating the particulars of the doctrines of grace.

One of the things I appreciate about Dr. Daniel is the fact that he graduated from a Bible College affiliated with the same moderately Pentecostal and distinctively Arminian-leaning denomination to which I belonged for many years. Later, embracing a very different theological model, he received his M.Div from Fuller Seminary and his Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Currently, Dr. Daniel pastors Faith Bible Church in Springfield, Illinois.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

God's Universal Love and Unmerited Mercy

"Our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. And this order ought to be carefully observed; for such is the wicked ambition which belongs to our nature, that when the question relates to the origin of our salvation, we quickly form diabolical imaginations about our own merits. Accordingly, we imagine that God is reconciled to us, because he has reckoned us worthy that he should look upon us. But Scripture everywhere extols his pure and unmingled mercy, which sets aside all merits"

John Calvin (from Calvin's Commentary on John 3:16)

We can see from this that Calvin detected no contradiction at all between God's universal love for mankind on one hand, and His unmerited mercy toward the elect on the other hand. Let us never conclude that the two are mutually exclusive. Calvin affirms both, and so must every true Calvinist.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Team Effort

Recently I posted some links to Barry Wallace's excellent blog, "Who Am I?" For several months now, Barry and I have been linking our sites and enjoying fruitful discussion on many topics. Last week, we decided to make our partnership official and list one another as team members. I'll continue to do what I'm doing here at THEOparadox, but I'll occasionally post to "Who Am I?" as well. And I hope we'll get a few paradox articles out of Barry right here. As much fun as it is to guest post on other sites, that was not the reason we formed an alliance.

We are both strong believers in the idea of team blogging. There is an added sense of solidarity and accountability that comes with forming a team. Blogging, like any other form of communication, presents opportunities for sin (and opportunities for grace, too). As team members, we set out to admonish, encourage, and confront one another whenever there is evidence of pride, discouragement, anger, loss of focus, or an error in logic or theology. I know Barry will hold my feet to the fire and rebuke me if, for example, I say something un-Christ-like to a trolling hyper-Calvinist or posit some kind of legalism.

On my profile page, you will find four team members listed for this blog.

The first to join was my very astute friend, Tony Hayling (he's the one one the left). Tony doesn't post here, although he's very welcome to do so. He is a well-studied and thoughtful believer, and he occasionally disagrees with me. I'm okay with that. He's got his own ideas about paradox, and his own unique way of articulating the theology of the Reformation, which often helps me to think through the issues more thoroughly. He's probably a higher Calvinist than I am, but he has a good sense of balance. I really appreciate his friendship and his perspectives. He's also a tremendously gifted writer and an edifying person to talk to.

My 7-year-old daughter is also on the team. She occasionally posts here as a guest, so I finally broke down and gave her a blogger profile, "Girl Whom God Loves." As you will see from her posts, she's quite a good thinker when it comes to theology. She's somewhat precocious, and God has given her a uniquely logical mind. Like my Mom, she is probably a genius. Apparently, that trait skips a generation.

And now, Barry Wallace has joined the team (he's the one on the right). In my first post on his blog, you can read more about why I've chosen to join ranks with him. Maybe we can convince Barry to do at least one guest post here in the near future . . . but above all I'm grateful for the added encouragement, wisdom and accountability he will bring.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

John Gerstner On Faith, Works, and Justification

In this video, the late Presbyterian theologian John Gerstner passionately argues for justification by faith alone. He does a beautiful job of explaining this paradox, which the unbelieving simply cannot understand.

Dr. R.C. Sproul was one of Gerstner's seminary students. You may notice the resemblance in style.

Gerstner drives over three dangerous errors on his way to stating the truth . . .

Error: We are saved by Works
Error: We are saved by Faith plus Works
Error: We are saved by Faith minus Works
Truth: We are saved by Faith Alone, from which God-honoring works must (and will) subsequently spring.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Paradoxes of Prayer - Part 3

Prayer As A Practical Paradox

I'd like to take a brief look at paradox in the methodology of prayer. Knowing things about prayer is of little use if we fail to move on to the act of praying. With this in mind, we'll examine three Biblical prayers that contain elements of paradox in the very way they are verbalized. Then, I'll suggest a method of praying based on these examples.

Biblical Examples

Exodus 33:12-13 You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people."

Moses quotes God's own words back to Him. He makes a request on the basis of those words. And he asks for what he already has. In essence, it is a plea for more grace, because although grace is always all-sufficient, and is always fully available, we always need more and can never have enough.

I Kings 18:37 "Answer me, O lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again."

This comes from Elijah's prayer when he faced the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Elijah prays that the people may know what God has already done: that He has turned their hearts back again. The prophet does not pray that God will turn their hearts back. Rather, he prays for the people to know that God has turned their hearts back. Apparently, God has already turned them, but they do not yet know it. And it appears that they won't know it unless Elijah prays effectively for them.

Mark 9:24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief."

Calvin comments thus:

He declares that he believes, and yet acknowledges himself to have unbelief. These two statements may appear to contradict each other, but there is none of us that does not experience both of them in himself. As our faith is never perfect, it follows that we are partly unbelievers; but God forgives us, and exercises such forbearance towards us, as to reckon us believers on account of a small portion of faith. It is our duty, in the meantime, carefully to shake off the remains of infidelity which adhere to us, to strive against them, and to pray to God to correct them, and, as often as we are engaged in this conflict, to fly to him for aid.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary insightfully interprets the prayer as follows:

that is, "It is useless concealing from Thee, O Thou mysterious, mighty Healer, the unbelief that still struggles in this heart of mine; but that heart bears me witness that I do believe in Thee; and if distrust still remains, I disown it, I wrestle with it, I seek help from Thee against it." Two things are very remarkable here: First, the felt and owned presence of unbelief, which only the strength of the man’s faith could have so revealed to his own consciousness. Second, his appeal to Christ for help against his felt unbelief— a feature in the case quite unparalleled, and showing, more than all protestations could have done, the insight he had attained into the existence of a power in Christ more glorious them any he had besought for his poor child.

The Method

I suggest the following simple method of prayer, which is applicable to all sorts of needs and requests.

1. Confess what you know is true (e.g., "Lord, I was wrong to say what I said. That was selfish and arrogant.")
2. Give thanks for what God has done (e.g., "Lord, thank you for convicting me of my sin in this matter. Thank You that I didn't say more than I did. Your grace restrained me from committing worse sin.")
3. Conform your prayer to the Word (e.g. "Lord, You command me to repent and believe the good news. You tell me I must bridle my tongue.")
4. Declare your God-given intentions (e.g., "Lord, I repent of the unkind words I spoke.")
5. Ask God for help (e.g., "Lord, help me to repent of my sin. I can't do this without Your help. Apart from You, I will only fail.")
6. Thank God in advance for what He is doing (e.g., "Lord, thank You for forgiving me. I thank You that You are helping me to repent and change the way I speak to others. May You be glorified in my words.")

Based on the example given, it should become clear that making things right with the person who was treated badly is the next step. Biblical prayer will lead to the right kind of action.

In this way, faith is exercised as we obediently ask God for His help, while also acknowledging that He has given us what we ask for. Thus, we work for the Lord - all the while acknowledging that it is God Who works in us to will and to work according to His own will. And so He is glorified in us, and through us, and by us. Our prayers are at once confessions of weakness, applications of Scripture, declarations of faith, statements of intent, and grateful acknowledgements of God's sovereign grace. Our Father will respond to these cries of child-like dependence, Spirit-inspired honesty and tenacious trust as they are woven into our prayers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

FREE OFFER - Addendum, Part 2

What follows is deep and undeniable Biblical material in support for the four aspects of the free offer. For more on this, see part 1 of the addendum, and also the original post.

First, the easiest one: "the Gospel is to be proclaimed to every individual."

Matthew 28:19 "Therefore go and preach the Gospel to every creature . . ."
Mark 16:15 "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation."
Perhaps there's a bit of hyperbole there to emphasize the point, but it only strengthens the argument: PREACH THE GOSPEL TO ALL WITHOUT EXCEPTION.

Next: "God invites every individual."

Matthew 11:28-29 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Isaiah 55:1-3 "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David."
John 7:37
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "
If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink."
Revelation 22:17 ". . . And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."

These invitations are given to all, even though the hunger and thirst which move a person to respond are brought about by God's sovereign stirrings of grace. Visibly, the call is universal. Invisibly, the drawing of the Spirit is particular. There's a difference between the general call and the effectual call, but one does not nullify the other.

Next: "God loves every individual."

Luke 6:35 "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful"

It is objected by some that this refers to God's love for the elect prior to their conversion. I wonder, then, why Christ did not mention this distinction, but commanded His followers to love all enemies? If our heavenly Father does not love the reprobate, and we are admonished to be like Him, why should we love the reprobate? Yet we are commanded to love ALL neighbors and enemies without exception.

Ezekiel 18:23 "Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord God, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?"
Ezekiel 18:32 "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord God. "Therefore, repent and live."

God's pleasure is increased when sinners repent, yet He does not lead all sinners to repentance. His reasons for leaving some in their sins is an unrevealed mystery, but His lack of pleasure in their destruction is directly stated and plainly revealed. Just as God saves some sinners without being unjust, He condemns other sinners without being unloving. Christ's death secured the salvation of the elect, but it also "condemned sin in the flesh." (Romans 8:3) That is a genuine and blessed paradox.

Does God love everyone? My 4-year-old can quote John 3:16, and I think he understands it better than most theologians. What kind of twisted interpretation of "world" does one have to invent in order to deny that "God so loved [every lost person] that He gave His only begotten son . . ."? The violent revisions forced on this text by a petrified theology are bizarre at best, and blasphemous at worst. One of the great benefits of being a paradoxical Calvinist is that we can allow the text to mean exactly what it says. On the downside, explaining things can be tricky, and one's systematic theology may be less than iron clad. But I'd rather be true to the text and scratch all the remaining hair off of my head trying to figure it out than to scratch a single line of truth from God's Bible.

Finally, the tough one: "God wills (i.e. desires) the salvation of every individual."

I Timothy 2:3-4 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Many - even among those who agree with all I have said above - will take exception to the use of this verse in this context. However, I am convinced that the verse is a true statement of God's desire for the salvation of all. The best argument against this view is formed by linking "all men" in this verse to "a ransom for all" in verse 6. Based on limited atonement, "all" in verse 6 is thought to mean "all kinds" (which is sometimes an accurate way to interpret the word), and thus the "all" in verse 4 purportedly has to mean "all kinds." It is a powerful argument. However, Christ's death as "a ransom for all" may well fit within the universal aspects of the atonement. The argument can be just as powerful when stated the opposite way: the "all" in verse 6 proves that the "all" in verse 4 really means "all." Christ's ransom payment was infinite and sufficient for all, though it is efficient and effective only for those who believe. Thus, God desires the salvation of all - especially the elect; and Christ paid the ransom for all - especially the elect. Alas, there are probably only a few Calvinists who will agree, but the point is more disputable than some would ever admit. Let's not allow our theology to become too "limited."

Beyond this, God's desire for the salvation of every individual can be explained this way: every universal invitation, and every universal call to repentance, stands as a statement of God's genuine desire - even if it is not His intention to fulfill that desire. God is not, therefore, "eternally bummed out" or frustrated by man's rejection of Him. Rather, He purposefully mourns with a compassionate heart over the well-deserved destruction of His creatures. He suffers for all, even the reprobate. Yet He also rejoices and finds complete satisfaction in all His decrees. Should it then surprise us that He calls us to find "pure joy" in all our trials and sufferings? And that we should "leap for joy" when people hate us?


The Scripture passages listed above provide strong support for the free offer of the Gospel. But is it a "sincere" and "well meant" offer? The answer is obvious: can God do anything without sincerity? Of course not. Is such terminology redundant? Yes, it is. But is it any more redundant than adding the word "holy" or "righteous" or "kind" or "good" or "perfect" to any of God's other acts? Certainly not. Therefore, we should never be ashamed to speak freely and sincerely of the free, sincere, and well meant offer of the Gospel.

The result of the free offer is sure: "This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14)

So the great commission is a guaranteed success! Let every one of us do his (or her) part to fulfill the command (and the prophecy) of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.
Further information can be found here:


Do you have difficulty reconciling the genuine overtures of the Gospel with the truth of God's sovereign election and predestination? To allow any such difficulty to cause you to reject the plain Biblical testimony to the reality of these gracious overtures is to bow down to the false humanistic god of the finality of human reason and is the very antithesis of true Biblical Calvinism. Whilst all of God's Word is reasonable, our powers of reason are those of a finite and fallen creature. We must lean upon the words that have proceeded out of the mouth of God. It is fallen man's pride in his own reason causing him to heed again the words of the serpent, "Hath God said?" (Gen. 3/1). Let us glorify God and say, "I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right" (Psalm 119/128).

Monday, June 15, 2009


My friend Barry Wallace has recently written a couple of great posts on Biblical paradox. Here are the links:

Randy Alcorn On Embracing Biblical Paradox

Don't Tell the Bible What It Can't Say

The second article has two very helpful John Piper quotes, and there is some interesting discussion in the meta.

I really appreciate Barry because, as a blogger, he's not afraid to take risks, tackle tough topics, open his heart to his readers, and admit when he doesn't know something. Yet he stands steady on the truth of God's Word and deals with questioners in a firm, truthful, fair minded and gracious way. Evidence, perhaps, of the grace of God that has come to him - sometimes painfully - through the Gospel.

If I had Barry's picture, I 'd give him a "THEObarrydox" t-shirt. I thank God for the day I "accidentally" stumbled on his blog.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

FREE OFFER - Addendum, Part 1

This is an addendum to a recent post describing the Biblical and theological case for the free offer of the Gospel. Here, I will briefly address a few philosophical points. In the next post, I will add some needed textual support to the Biblical case. First, let's clearly state what the free offer does not mean:

1. The free offer does not imply "libertarian free will," or the idea that sinful man has the ability to choose to receive Christ without special assistance from the Holy Spirit. Nor does it suggest the Arminian idea of "prevenient grace."
2. The free offer does not imply that divine election and predestination are invalid.
3. The free offer does not imply that the atonement is universal in the sense that Christ has salvifically died for all individuals.
4. The free offer does not imply that sinners can effectively or ultimately resist sovereign, saving grace.
5. The free offer does not imply that the human will is the decisive factor in salvation.

These are unbiblical and man-centered notions, so the Reformed concept of a free offer must never be confused or co-mingled with them.

The free offer is not a man-centered doctrine at all. Rather, it is a reflection of the nature and heart of God, Who is aflame with mercy and Who passionately desires the good of all His creatures.

The free offer implies four distinct, but closely related, realities:

1. In some sense, God wills the salvation of all people, elect & non-elect.
2. In some sense, God loves all people, elect & non-elect.
3. God invites all people, elect & non-elect, to Himself.
4. God commands that the Gospel be proclaimed to all people, elect & non-elect.

It should be noted that we have no way of telling who is elect and who is non-elect, until we see "things that accompany salvation." So, we can only know (to some extent, not infallibly) that certain individuals are elect, and this only after they have become believers. From our human standpoint, everyone else must be viewed as potentially elect. No individual can be called "non-elect."

If you are an Arminian Christian considering the four aspects of the free offer, you probably don't appreciate the vague qualifiers I have used (e.g., in some sense). Minus the qualifiers, you would probably agree with all four statements, perhaps adding a re-definition of the term "elect" as a caveat. In essence, you would take the Biblical heart out of Reformed theology and leave God begging.

If you are a Reformed Christian, as I am, your mind is probably in a whirl trying to figure out how all of this can be true. This is good! You are trying to balance certain things you know are true of God according to Scripture with other things you also know are true of God according to Scripture. Take heart, for God has ordained the struggle.

Here's another way a Reformed believer might articulate the free offer:

1. God wills the salvation of all people - especially the elect.
2. God loves all people - especially the elect.
3. God invites all people to Himself - especially the elect.
4. God commands us to preach the Gospel to all people. Period.

God desires the salvation of all sinners, but He only effects the salvation of some. Does this mean some of God's desires are frustrated? Certainly not. God does not have frustrated desires, for it is He Himself Who chooses not to effect some of His desires. God accomplishes all that He pleases, but He does not accomplish everything that might please Him. The key point here is, it is not God's hatred, divine snobbery, or a failure on God's part to elect that causes sinners to perish. On the contrary, the condemnation of sinners results from their stubborn refusal to comply with His REVEALED desires for them. All people have rebelled; God turns some sinners back to Himself.

In the next post, we will turn to the Scriptures to discover deep and undeniable Biblical support for the four aspects of the free offer . . . without losing any real Calvinism along the way.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Guest Blogger: The Love of God

This my daughter's second guest article (she's seven years old). I've written it exactly as she worded it . . .

God is amazing. God has love for us. I have written a post about eternity, and now it's time for love. Here is a Scripture verse about love: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). That's amazing! I think God is wonderful. I think His love is great. He has everlasting love! This is great news. He loves the whole world - even you.

Bye bye, I hope you enjoy this.

Children have no trouble understanding the "free offer."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

God Makes a Wish: The Free Offer of the Gospel

This is a response to an article called "God Makes a Wish," by Bob Gonzales of Reformed Baptist Seminary. The article is here: Reformed Baptist Seminary Blog

Dr. Gonzales provides exposition from the book of Deuteronomy in support of what is commonly known as the "free offer of the Gospel." In the process, he advises us to embrace paradox, keep the Biblical balance, and refrain from reading the foregone conclusions of our systematic theology into a Biblical text merely to maintain the appearance of coherence. That's great advice.

But is the "Free Offer" Biblical?

There are varying streams of thought among modern Calvinists. Some have recommended we discard the term, on the idea that the Gospel is more of a "command" to repent and believe than an "offer" of salvation. However, Scripture and good theology would seem to argue for retaining the term and all that it implies.


On one hand, there is ample Scriptural warrant for a universal Gospel call, expressions of a passionate desire in God for all people to be saved, and divine love for the reprobate:

Ezekiel 18:30-32 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Acts 17:26-31 "and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us . . . Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

Matthew 5:44-45 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Matthew 22:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling."

John 3:16 "God so loved the world . . ."

On the other hand, there is the self-evident reality that God has not decreed the salvation of every person, but has elected some to salvation:

Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Romans 8:29-30 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

John 6:65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

NOTE: You'll have to forgive me for this brief bit of proof texting. It's not as good as solid exegetical analysis, but this is a survey of the topic to show there is some Biblical warrant for my conclusions below.

Taken collectively, these verses show that what God desires is not exactly the same as what He intends. As it has been articulated by various Reformed thinkers, the "free offer" expresses God's desire for all to be saved, while the decree of election enacts His intention to save a remnant of mankind. Can a passion to save all exist side by side with a choice to save only some? Arminians would shout, "NO!" But I will take a Reformed approach and answer this question with a resounding "YES" on the following bases:

1. The Will of God. A "will" in God is not equivalent to a "will" in man. Our wills are impaired by sin, so we cannot imagine a volition that is wholly and comprehensively good. The divine will contains categories of desire and intention to which we are not privy. We are limited by non-omniscience (i.e., ignorance), non-omnipresence (i.e., spatial boundaries) , non-eternality (i.e., time boundaries) and non-omnipotence (i.e., weakness) in such a way that we can barely grasp God's omniscience, omnipresence, eternality and omnipotence. Likewise, we are limited by a fragmented will and are incapable of conceiving an all-encompassing and fully integrated volition such as that found in a transcendent and benevolent God.

2. The Glory of God. Man's salvation is subservient to God's eternal glory. God's passion to save is subject to His higher passion for revealing His glorious nature. If saving every person would provide a more thorough demonstration of God's glory, He would save all. However, according to Romans 9, there is a mystery through which God is more glorified by graciously saving some than He would be if He saved all. The reasons for this may not be readily apparent, but do we trust Him to act wisely, justly, and for our good? If we don't, we are not saved, and we will receive that which is according to our faith (or lack thereof). Those who accuse God of injustice and malevolence ironically receive justice and holy wrath. Those who trust God to extend mercy through Christ's atoning work receive mercy through Christ's atoning work.


In regard to the free offer, Reformed theologians and confessions can be quoted ad infinitum. Calvin's own words tend to affirm the idea of an offer, as this nicely balanced (and somewhat paradoxical) excerpt from his commentary on Psalm 81:13 demonstrates . . .

"If it is objected, that God in vain and without ground utters this complaint, since it was in his power to bend the stiff necks of the people, and that, when he was not pleased to do this, he had no reason to compare himself to a man deeply grieved; I answer, that he very properly makes use of this style of speaking on our account, that we may seek for the procuring cause of our misery nowhere but in ourselves. We must here beware of mingling together things which are totally different as widely different from each other as heaven is distant from the earth. God, in coming down to us by his word, and addressing his invitations to all men without exception, disappoints nobody. All who sincerely come to him are received, and find from actual experience that they were not called in vain. At the same time, we are to trace to the fountain of the secret electing purpose of God this difference, that the word enters into the heart of some, while others only hear the sound of it. And yet there is no inconsistency in his complaining, as it were, with tears, of our folly when we do not obey him.

In the invitations which he addresses to us by the external word, he shows himself to be a father; and why may he not also be understood as still representing himself under the image of a father in using this form of complaint? In Ezekiel 18:32, he declares with the strictest regard to truth, 'I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,' provided in the interpretation of the passage we candidly and dispassionately take into view the whole scope of it. God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner: How? Because he would have all men turned to himself. But it is abundantly evident, that men by their own free-will cannot turn to God, until he first change their stony hearts into hearts of flesh: yea, this renovation, as Augustine judiciously observes, is a work surpassing that of the creation itself.

Now what hinders God from bending and framing the hearts of all men equally in submission to him? Here modesty and sobriety must be observed, that instead of presuming to intrude into his incomprehensible decrees, we may rest contented with the revelation which he has made of his will in his word. There is the justest ground for saying that he wills the salvation of those to whom that language is addressed, (Isaiah 21:12,) 'Come unto me, and be ye converted.'"

Jonathan Edwards, another heavyweight theologian, likewise affirms that Christ offers Himself to sinners:

"Seeing therefore that it is so evident, that you refuse to accept of Christ as your Savior, why is Christ to be blamed that he does not save you? Christ has offered himself to be your Savior in time past, and he continues offering himself still, and you continue to reject him, and yet complain that he does not save you." (Sermon on The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners." Works, Vol 1 BOT p.676/677)

Ultimately, we must face the fact that there is a theological paradox at work here, and we may not find a human solution for it. The paradox points to a Biblical balance within which we must faithfully abide, even if we cannot fully understand it. This is an aspect of faith with which some are uncomfortable, but it is nonetheless required by Scripture.

The paradox looks something like this:

A: There is a sense in which God wills (and desires) the salvation of all people (by command or precept, i.e. His revealed will)
B: There is a sense in which God wills (and effects) the salvation of the elect only (by decree, i.e. His hidden will)

The implications of these two statements would seem to be contradictory, but both are clearly revealed in Scripture. What is not revealed, what remains a mystery, and what creates a paradox in the human mind is the exact sense in which these two statements are true. It is the sense of the statements that remains hidden in God. We must be careful not to invent senses to accommodate our theology, but leave hidden what God has left hidden. If we cannot tolerate unrevealed nuances of truth, we cannot long abide in the presence of an incomprehensible yet self-revealing God.

Some would say this "two wills" approach divides God's personality, and presents Him as a schizophrenic deity. Let's consult Frances Turretin for clarification on this point:

I. Although the will in God is only one and most simple, by which he comprehends all things by a single and most simple act so that he sees and understands all things at one glance, yet because it is occupied differently about various objects, it thus happens that in our manner of conception, it may be apprehended as manifold (not in itself and intrinsically on the part of the act of willing, but extrinsically and objectively on the part of the things willed).
II. Hence have arisen various distinctions of the will of God. The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37).

Turretin, Institutes, 1:220-225 (full text can be found here)

Turretin rightly notes that the duality of wills in God is only apparent. Without question, there IS an apparent contradiction here - but if we will be constrained by Scripture, this might be the furthest we can go in understanding how God can will what He does not choose. Rather than denying God's revealed will, let's choose to remain in the place of the creature, and leave the divine prerogatives to God.

What does all of this mean to us? Simply this: we have the privilege and blessed duty of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people everywhere. We are sent as His ambassadors to call the entire world to faith in Him. We must not fail to evangelize, discriminate amongst the unregenerate, or needlessly limit our presentation of the love of God. The following is a crude illustration, but it fits the topic.

In my High School days, there was a popular heavy metal band with a t-shirt that read: "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out." (nice, huh?) I didn't wear that shirt, but I had a crazy looking t-shirt of my own with the bold title, "Teenage Mutant Kamikaze Disciples." One of the kamikaze disciples on the shirt was yelling out, "Evangelize 'em all, and let God sort 'em out." That is a perfect summary of the free offer.

The revealed will of God is a free offer or general call of salvation for all. The unfolding decree of God is a particular and effectual calling of the elect alone. It is through the indiscriminate preaching of the cross to all people that God "sorts out" the elect and the reprobate. The direct cause of the reprobate's damnation is his own choice. The secondary cause is his non-election. The direct cause of the believer's salvation is God's choice. The secondary cause is his own choice. For the reprobate, his own choice is decisive. For the believer, God's choice is decisive. This is the Reformed doctrine of election. If we begin to argue from the standpoint of decree, against the will of God as revealed in the command, we can only do harm to the Scriptures and our own minds. This would be equivalent to removing the gas pedal from one's car and using it to break out the windows. The fact that there is a hidden will of God is contained within the revealed will. Separating out the hidden will and using it as a philosophical crow bar for the purpose of negating the free offer can only be a self-defeating exercise in futility.

Someone will ask, "What about limited atonement? Didn't Christ die only for the elect? Isn't it insincere for God to say He loves and beckons people for whom Christ did not die?" Nonsense. Within this leap of human logic lie the roots of hyper-Calvinism. We do not know who will be among the elect, so by this reasoning we're left peering into the darkness when God commands us to BE the light. The Gospel is for sinners, period. Historic Calvinists, following Calvin, concede that there are universal aspects in the atonement, and that Christ truly died for all men. The difference lies, once again, in the sense in which He died for them. If you ask 100 Calvinists, you will discover 110 views on the matter, but it's safe to say that there is NO Reformed or Biblical reason to believe that Christ did not die for all people in some sense. Let us define the sense as far as Scripture defines it - and no further! The limited aspects of the atonement must never be used as a philosophical wrench for the purpose of taking the wheels off the Gospel bus!

"When Christ died, He purchased for sinners every thing they enjoy that is not part of their condemnation." John Piper (Audio message, "Boasting Only in the Cross." Although this is omitted from the text excerpts, it can be found at 23:01 on the audio sermon. Interestingly, Piper identified this statement as the most important point of the message.)

Without denying an ounce of my Calvinism, I can (and do) affirm that God calls the entire world to Himself, offers Himself to and for the entire world, gave His Son to die for the good of all people, makes Himself available to all who will come, and grieves over those who do not come to Him. The lostness of the lost person is not owing to any lack of mercy or kindness in God, but to the sinner's own will. The eternal condemnation of the reprobate is part of Gods just response, but that does not mitigate or reduce the magnanimity of divine mercy in the slightest. It simply limits the application of that mercy, ultimately, to those who believe.

Anything less than this is a mutant alteration of Calvin's Biblical Calvinism, no matter how much supposed logic is pressed into the conclusions which are spawned. In my reading of Calvin, I find that he recognizes, consistently backs away from, and passionately warns against these logical leaps - and I believe he would sternly warn us not to stray from the truth of the Gospel through the deceptive philosophy of a twisted Calvinism which misrepresents both the reformer and the Gospel he cherished.


Note to Dissenters:

Do you believe I have misrepresented Scripture or Calvin? If so, please send me excerpts from Scripture or Calvin's writings containing direct denials that there are some universal aspects of the atonement, that the Gospel should be preached to all, that God wills the salvation of all, or that the lostness of the lost directly results from anything outside of their own choice. I'm ready to hear your arguments and retract if necessary.



1. For further study, there is an excellent article by the learned Scotsman Maurice Roberts here:

Roberts concludes: "The problem we face is this. God's revealed will appears to conflict with his secret will. God appears to desire some things which he does not decree.
We must accept that both are true. This is a paradox, or antimony. Call it an apparent contradiction even, if you will. But both are revealed in scripture. If we are challenged to reconcile the secret will and the revealed will we must simply say, "We cannot". In this life we do not know how both can be true. But the Bible informs us that both are true. God's secret will elected some from eternity and passed by others. Yet he truly and really desires all who hear the gospel to repent and believe in Christ for salvation. It is pleasing to God when they do and it affords no pleasure to God when they do not believe.
I believe we can say just a little more. God is not only sovereign, but also constitutionally good, benign and affectionate. Such a God cannot but wish the best for his immortal creatures. But for reasons we do not understand, he has seen best to decree the eternal good of only some. Yet in this life God shows sinners very much kindness and even love, both in his daily providence and, more still, by offering them life in Christ. As a good judge, when sentencing a criminal to life imprisonment or death, so God passes sentence on the wicked. He must uphold the claims of justice, but he has no pleasure in passing sentence on them. So it is, surely, with the Almighty God. He would rather send men to heaven than to hell because he is by nature and constitution benign, kind and good.
It should not therefore upset us to say that God loves all sinners. By this we do not mean that he loves them with an electing love. But there is a love and goodness in God which he expresses in this life to the reprobate who hate him.
For God to 'offer' freely and sincerely both pardon and eternal life by Christ is the very highest expression of this love in God. The 'offer' is free and it is well-meant. If some sinners reject this 'offer' their blood is on their own head. They will die in their sins; but God has no pleasure in their death."

2. Another extremely helpful resource is John Piper's article "Are There Two Wills in God?" 1580_Are_There_Two_Wills_in_God/

Piper begins thus: "My aim here is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God's will for "all persons to be saved" (1 Tim. 2:4) and his will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion. A corresponding aim is to show that unconditional election therefore does not contradict biblical expressions of God's compassion for all people, and does not nullify sincere offers of salvation to everyone who is lost among all the peoples of the world."