A Conversation about the Heresy of Moral Government Theology

Introduction: What follows is a detailed response to a very kind gentleman who recently asked me several questions in the combox of this post.  Instead of responding in the combox, I thought that the readers of this blog would benefit from a full response via a blog post.  Due to the nature of these questions, they required fairly detailed answers, hence the nature of my response.  To provide some background, it is helpful for the reader to know that this kind gentleman is part of an evangelistic, open-air preaching ministry that rubs shoulders with at least one man who is a proponent of Moral Government Theology (hereafter MGT).  In my response, I will explain in some detail the basic doctrinal aberrations that qualify MGT as a heretical, soul-damning theology and hopefully show that it indeed is a form of doctrinal “strange fire”.

Hi John,

Thanks for writing my friend. I have confirmed these statements as true about Moral Government Theology (hereafter MGT) and contrary to what you may be led to think, I am not lying nor would I knowingly seek to mischaracterize its theology. I participated in quite a bit of theological research from primary sources of MGT proponents several years ago while completing my master’s degree in seminary. My focus of MGT studies was its adherence to Open Theism, hence the primary focus of my brief critique here. I did this research because a friend and I were studying Open Theism and I wanted to know what some of the roots of it were from the standpoint of historical theology and in doing so I was led to MGT.

As a result of my studies, I am very disturbed at the teachings of MGT because it denies a large portion of the defining body of the orthodox Christian faith. These include:

  1. The solidarity of mankind with Adam’s sin.
  2. Unregenerate man’s moral inability.
  3. The substitutionary and satisfactory atonement for sin in Christ’s propitiatory death.
  4. The moral and intellectual perfection of God, His infinite exhaustive foreknowledge, and His immutability.

I will elaborate on these issues later in this post.

In your first question you asked, “How does Moral Government Theology confirm open theism?”

1.  The fact that MGT affirms Open Theism comes from the very mouth of MGT’s own brainchild himself; Gordon C. Olson. Olson said that the “future choices of moral beings, when acting freely in their moral agency, have not been brought into existence as yet and thus are not fixities or objects of possible knowledge.” [Gordon C. Olson, The Truth Shall Make You Free, T-III-13.] So, according to Olson, “many Bible passages, when taken in their natural meaning, appear to indicate that God does not have absolute foreknowledge over all his own future actions, nor over all those of His moral creatures.” [Ibid., T-III-18.] So, Olson himself, the very founder and central thinker for the MGT movement affirmed Open Theism as a tenet of MGT.

As a matter of fact, an MGT adherent I recently interacted with said to me in a private e-mail after I told him that his views on divine foreknowledge were heretical and idolatrous he responded And it is true that I believe God knows all that can be known, but not everything can be known yet”. This is classic open-theist speak.

You asked in your second question, “You have not proven MGT is a ‘real theological mess’, what Bible verses are you basing that on?”

2.  MGT is a real theological mess because when Olson defined freedom as the “power of contrary choice” and then took his views on libertarian freedom to their logical conclusions it led him to deny nearly the whole defining body of Christian faith: (a) mankind’s solidarity with Adam’s sin (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:18), (b) unregenerate man’s moral inability to be pleasing to God and come to God by virtue of his own unregenerated will (John 1:13; 3:3, 5; 6:44, 65; Romans 8:7-8; 9:16), (c) the substitutionary and satisfactory atonement for sin in Christ’s death (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 3;18), (d) the perfect, infinite, and exhaustive nature of God’s foreknowledge via Open Theism (Isaiah 40-48; Acts 4:27-28 and Acts 13:48, etc.), and (e) the perfection and immutability of God’s nature (Job. 36:4; 37:16; Mal. 3:6).

In speaking of the atonement, Olson’s denial that God demands a satisfaction of His retributive divine justice led him to deny that Christ’s atoning death was the sufficient and actual payment of the penalty needed to satisfy that justice:

The sacrifice of Christ is not the payment of a debt, nor is it a complete satisfaction of justice for sin. It is a Divinely-appointed condition which precedes the forgiveness of sin . . . Christ’s sufferings took the place of a penalty, so that His sufferings have the same effect in reconciling God to man, and procuring the forgiveness of sin, that the sinner’s endurance of the punishment due to his sins would have had. The sufferings of Christ were not a substituted penalty, but a substitute for a penalty (emphasis added). [Olson, “Historical Opinions as to the Nature of Christ's Atoning Death,” 3, in The Truth Shall Make You Free, page following T-VII-10.]

Again, according to Olson, the atonement of Christ wasn’t a substitutionary atonement, but it only “rendered satisfaction to public justice (a demonstration before all that rebellion against authority will be punished), as distinguished from retributive or vindictive justice.” [Ibid., T-VIII-4.]

If the above doesn’t constitute a true-blue “theological mess” I don’t know what does! It is important to note at this point that I am not necessarily obligated to defend God’s exhaustive foreknowledge to a general readership on this particular blog since our readership already affirms such and only needs to be aware of heresies like MGT that seek to undermine it. If you are interested in my defense of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge as already made available to the general readership of this blog, please see the articles I wrote in 2006 here and here.

3.  Anyone with a computer can do a Google search for “Moral Government Theology” and read both positive presentations and negative critiques thereof. The readers of this blog are not stupid. As a matter of fact, your good friend and fellow open-air preacher Jesse Morrell has done a service for all of us by showing us just how heretical MGT really is on his own Youtube page. Jesse even said elsewhere “I think some people will be surprised when they see that Charles Finney is in Heaven but Augustine and John Calvin are in hell.”

After I had become personally acquainted with you, Kerrigan, and Jesse in an effort to show my genuine appreciation for your hard work, I was tipped off by another brother in the Lord that the ministry of PinPoint Evangelism was toying with some dangerous and aberrant doctrine and I subsequently did some further listening and watching of your videos on You Tube. Sadly, I came across many statements that Kerrigan made in his open-air preaching that made me do a double-take. For instance, when replying to one of the skeptics at UNC-Greensboro in one of his open-air preaching videos on You-Tube, this particular unbeliever questioned Kerrigan about God’s omniscience and Kerrigan replied with something to the effect of (not an exact quote) “who said that God knows the future?” In another video (I believe at Virginia Commonwealth University earlier this year), a Christian student that was speaking with Kerrigan while you were preaching asked him about his views on Open Theism (evidently, he had been watching the You Tube videos) and Kerrigan stated something to the effect that “Well, I’m studying the issue right now and am undecided” and he left it at that. The problem is this: If he’s studying it but not affirming it, then why affirm it when questioned about it by an unbeliever earlier at UNCG? If that doesn’t come off as if Kerrigan already affirms this heresy, I don’t know what does. Also, when you gentlemen were preaching at Ohio State University this year (2008) Kerrigan had an interaction with a man regarding sinning after becoming a believer and this man pointed out 1 John 1:8 to him and Kerrigan’s response was essentially to say, “I’m not a Calvinist sir . . . sin isn’t something that’s inside of you”, thus implying some type of sinless perfectionism and in other videos he has explicitly denied the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity by saying that original sin was a doctrine invented by Augustine.  Please see here for a refutation of that misleading historical information from several pre-Augustinian Church Fathers.

You must understand that both historic confessional Arminianism and historic confessional Calvinism have strongly condemned the doctrines of MGT as non-Christian heresies. In the following paragraphs, I will list some of what both John Wesley and Jacobus Arminius said in response to some of the same doctrinal views that modern MGT adherents hold to.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

Wesley boldly defended God’s exhaustive and infallible foreknowledge in commenting on John 6:64,[John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, 15th ed. (New York: Carlton & Porter, n.d.), 232.] and both God’s foreknowledge and His moral immutability in his sermon on “Divine Providence.”[By John Wesley: A Modern Reader's Introduction to the Man and his Message..., ed. T. Otto Nall (New York: Association Press, 1961), 20-21; extract from the sermon, "Divine Providence," in The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, ed. John Emory (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1916), 2:99-107.] Moreover, he confidently taught that Christ’s “divine righteousness belongs to his divine nature….Now this is his eternal, essential, immutable, holiness; his infinite justice, mercy, and truth: in all which, He and the Father are one” (emphasis added). [By John Wesley, 62-63; extracted from Wesley's sermon, "The Lord of Righteousness," in Standard Sermons of John Wesley, 2:426-27.] And Arminius’s words rejecting the notion that God is freely good versus being good by nature issue a fire of condemnation to those who believe such heresy:

[Some] brought forward an instance, or example, in which [they alleged that] Necessity and Liberty met together; and that was God, who is both necessarily and freely good. This assertion of theirs displeased me so exceedingly, as to cause me to say, that it was not far removed from blasphemy. At this time, I entertain a similar opinion about it; and in a few words I thus prove its falsity, absurdity, and the blasphemy [contained] in the falsity….[T]he Christian Fathers justly attached blasphemy to those who said, “the Father begat the Son willingly, or by his own will;” because from this it would follow, that the Son had [principium] an origin similar to that of the creatures. But with how much greater equity does blasphemy fasten itself upon those who declare, “that God is freely good!” (emphases added) [Jacobus Arminius, Apology Against Thirty-one Defamatory Articles, Article XXII, in The Writings of James Arminius, 3 vols., trans. James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), 1:344-46.]

Both Arminius and Wesley boldly affirmed that all human beings (except Jesus) inherit the sin and guilt of Adam and therefore are naturally bound to sin until regenerated by God. “This, therefore, is the first grand distinguishing point between Heathenism and Christianity,” said Wesley. He continued:

The one acknowledges that many men are infected with many vices, and even born with a proneness to them; but supposes withal, that in some the natural good much over balances the evil: the other declares that all men are “conceived in sin,” and “shapen in wickedness” — that hence there is in every man a “carnal mind,” which is enmity against God; which is not, cannot be, subject to “his law”; which so infects the whole soul, that “there dwelleth in” him “in his flesh,” in his natural state, “no good thing”; but “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil,” only evil, and that “continually.”

Hence we may learn that all who deny this, call it “original sin,” or by any other title, are but Heathens still, in the fundamental point which differences Heathenism from Christianity . . . But here is the shibboleth: Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Or, to come back to the text, is “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually?”

Allow this, and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but a Heathen still. [By John Wesley, 29-30; extracted from Wesley's sermon, "Original Sin," in Standard Sermons of John Wesley, 2:222-25.]

In a similar way Jacobus Arminius insisted:

The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” [Romans 5:12] Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” [Ephesians 2:3] . . . . [Arminius, Public Disputations, VII, XV-XVI, in Writings of James Arminius, 1:485-86.]

He also wrote elsewhere that

in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace. (emphasis mine)[ Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, III, in Writings of James Arminius, 1:252-53.]

Both John Wesley and Jacobus Arminius affirmed the substitutionary, penal satisfaction doctrine of the atoning death of Christ. In his comments on Romans 3:25, Wesley said that Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice was made to “appease an offended God. But if, as some teach, God never was offended, there was no need of this propitiation. And if so, Christ died in vain.” [Wesley, Explanatory Notes, 370.] Wesley affirmed what MGT specifically denies.

Arminius said in his Declaration of Sentiments, III, in Writings of James Arminius, 1:252-53 when explaining the priestly office of Christ, that by it God exercised both His love for humanity and His love for justice,

united to which is a hatred against sin. It was the will of God that each of these kinds of love should be satisfied. He gave satisfaction to his love for the creature who was a sinner, when he gave up his Son who might act the part of Mediator. But he rendered satisfaction to his love for justice and to his hatred against sin, when he imposed on his Son the office of Mediator by the shedding of his blood and by the suffering of death; [Heb. 2:10; 5:8, 9] and he was unwilling to admit him as the Intercessor for sinners except when sprinkled with his own blood, in which he might be made [expiatio] the propitiation for sins. [Heb. 9:12]…In this respect also it may with propriety be said that God rendered satisfaction to himself, and appeased himself in “the Son of his love” (italicized emphases mine).[ Arminius, Public Disputations, XIV, XVI, in Writings of James Arminius, 1:560.]

In each of these points, MGT stands in direct contradiction not only to Arminius and Wesley but also to the great creeds and doctrinal statements of every branch of Protestantism and, most importantly, to Scripture. When your theology runs counter to the great formulations of both confessional Calvinism and Arminianism, you might want to rethink your theology. Fools rush in where angels dare to tread. If Wesley, the great champion of Christian tolerance, catholicity, and ecumenism could treat rejection of the doctrines of original sin and moral inability as sufficient by itself to define one as “a Heathen still,” then MGT, which makes not only this grave error but also many other worse theological goofs, must be classified not as a form of Christianity but as a type of evangelical heathenism masquerading as Christianity. Please read that last paragraph again my dear friend.

John, I am lovingly encouraging you and the rest of those associated with Pinpoint Evangelism who will read this post to take some time to do some homework by reading the scholarly literature that is critical of MGT. I would encourage you to start here with the work of Dr. E. Calvin Beisner: http://www.amazon.com/Evangelical-Heathenism-Examining-Contemporary-Revivalism/dp/1885767188/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1220114816&sr=1-1

It is important to note that if any ministry and those associated with that ministry proclaims, upholds, or even implies holding to certain tenets of MGT publicly via a You Tube channel (i.e., Open Theism, sinless perfectionism, a denial of mankind’s corporate solidarity with Adam, etc.), then I am obligated to refute it publicly and warn others to avoid adhering to these dangerous doctrines and supporting that work financially (cf. Titus 1:9; Jude 3; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18).  I do not like saying these things.  Nevertheless, the hard truth is this:  doctrine divides.

I am open for private, respectful conversation as time permits (pastordustin@gmail.com). This means that I have family, work, and ministry responsibilities and it may take some time to respond if you or anyone else chooses to discuss this issue with me.  Jesse Morrell will affirm that I am more than happy to engage in such conversation. With that being said, you need to know that I will be praying for you, Kerrigan, and Jesse. I say what I do with much Christian love my friend.  In parting, I must say that I also have a very heavy heart because I believe that a resolute and knowledgeable affirmation of the doctrines of MGT constitutes an apostasy from the Christian faith. 

I want to give full credit and a warm thanks to Dr. E. Calvin Beisner for providing the quotes of Arminius and Wesley in his online CRI Journal article: The False God and Gospel of Moral Government Theology. Dr. Beisner has been a tremendous help in my research into MGT, and his writings in this area have helped me understand just how dangerous the heresy of MGT really is.

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13 Comments on “A Conversation about the Heresy of Moral Government Theology”

  1. Godismyjudge Says:

    I commented on your post here:

    link

    God be with you,
    Dan


  2. Hi brother Dan,

    My post at Strange Baptist Fire is not strange at all simply because I’m not attacking Grotius’ Governmental theory of the atonement. Instead, I’m attacking Moral Government Theology; something that is completely different from Grotius’ views and is a modern theological invention concocted in the 20th century and stems primarily from the mind of Gordon C. Olson. The MGTers themselves are to blame for using and then redefining the classic terms used by Grotius to describe his position and critics of MGT are quick to note that Grotius’ theory of the atonement and modern MGT have virtually nothing in common with each other.

    MGT is a new-fangled theology that denies many of the essential teachings of the Christian faith and as a result, they are grossly out of lock-step with *both* historic Calvinism and Arminianism. In my view, because they hold to rank Pelagianism and an idolatrous view of God, MGT constitutes what can truly be considered a damnable heresy by both classical Arminians and confessional Calvinists.

    God bless!

    Dustin S. Segers

  3. michael markley openairpreacher Says:

    calvinism is gnostic and dangerous.. sin is not flesh!

    sin is a action that God judges….

    people have a freewill and can choose not to sin….

    calvinism’s tulip seals people in sin and creates servants of sin

    openairpreacher utube

    • Jpmckown Says:

      This is just the kind of idiopathic statement that defines you Micheal. This thread is about Moral Government theology and yet your lack of knowledge and vocabulary can only allow you to spew the same meaningless statements time and time again. If you know nothing of the subject, it is wise to remain silent then publicly display your ignorance.


  4. Michael,

    If you really want to convince us of Moral Government Theology, please provide interaction and refutation of some of the points of the article in question above or please provide Scriptural justification for each of your assertions above.

    Calvinism does not teach that sin = the flesh. Calvinism teaches that sin is any lack of conformity to or transgression of the Law of God (1 John 3:4).

    We believe that sin is an action that God judges and that God reckoned men as sinners by their solidarity in Adam and likewise God reckons men righteous by their solidarity in Christ (cf. Romans 5:18-19). The issue is who is your representative spiritual head.

    We believe that Christians can choose not to sin but that they will sin, just like the apostle James said in James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways . . .”. We believe that lost people are WILLING and VOLUNTARY slaves to their own sinful desires and that their sinful desires proceed from their unregenerated natures, a nature that Paul says characterizes them as children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).

    So, please either refute points from the article above or provide Scriptural justification for your assertions. Thank you.

  5. Dave Strout Says:

    It was just today that I first heard of MGT. Thanks for addressing it so clearly.
    Dave

  6. Jim Colwell Says:

    Great article! I am glad to see people pulling the curtain back on MGT and exposing it for the heretical system it truly is. I am also glad to see that some of the campus preachers that heavily promote it are also being exposed. I was first introduced to the type of teachings that MGT promotes by reading the Systematic Theology of Charles Finney quite a number of years ago. It is a VERY logical system built on human reason, primarily. One of the main premises of both Finney’s system and MGT is that “obligation demands ability,” that is; it would be immoral of God to demand of you something you were unable to do. They also believe that the sovereignty of God in predestination and the “free” choices of moral agents are incompatible (in other words they believe in libertine free will.) Those two presuppositions under gird both systems. I was taken in by this modern form of Pelagianism for many years. I believe Gordon Olsen gleaned most of his doctrinal aberrations from Finney. It boils down to justification by works for these guys. If what they say is true, then Christ is dead in vain, and we are all still in our sins…God forbid! Thank you for standing up for the truth.

  7. Konastephen Says:

    At risk of not really adding to this debate (I long ago rejected MGT, Open Theism, Dispensationalism and other forms of extreme Arminianism and feel that anyone who is sincere and honest and seeking to know God truly will do the same), I merely want to point out that multi-syllabic rhetoric in and of itself does nothing to elucidate the issues. We can and should use simple language to make truth clear. It doesn’t take a genius to be right (take that, gnosticism!) and the worst kind of wrong people are those of high intelligence whose opinions of the vastness of their vocabularies and the dexterity of their discourse are inordinately high. In my research and study on this tired old topic, I find most often that debate over it bogs down in overly-complex language that confuses, perhaps wielded in defense of ego and pride. There’s no need for that. At core it is a simple debate: Is God who he says he is or is he not? Am I right?

  8. Darrin Says:

    Konastephen,

    I’m not sure that your comment applies to this post, and I’m not speaking for Dustin, but in general:

    Yes, of course it is possible to use language which is unnecessarily complex and does not best benefit the readers or hearers. Judging that can be difficult – it depends on the author, topic and situation.

    In using such vocabulary, the motive may be pride, but it may instead merely be the language with which one is accustomed or the depth of the topic discussed. I assume, for example, that the use of big words in your comment is not due to the former. :)

    I believe our ego is such that we can fall into pride whether we prefer to overcomplicate or to oversimplify. I think the best approach is to go as deep with doctrine as we can and communicate it thoroughly, while in a manner that is as clear as possible to the audience.

  9. Roy Lane Says:

    Whereas I do not think the Moral Government theory of the atonement is accurate I do not find it any less non-scriptural than the penal or substitution theory. All use many words to define something that is not so clearly defined in scripture.
    But Open Theism does not have to be associated with MGT in order to be valid or not.
    I think one should separate the two concepts and not try to persuade away from one by reference to the other.
    I also think it just as valid to declare Calvinism as Heresy based upon ones personal convictions of biblical truths. Augustine was a theorist that influenced the early church but does not make him infallible as can be seen with his treatment of Original sin.
    We must also consider that no man made institution can and should become the authority on Biblical beliefs. If its not in scripture then any construction by men must remain just that , a construction.. Church doctrines that are post scriptural writings are not authoritative when defining our beliefs. No matter how long ago and who adhered to them. John Wesley and Arminius were not infallible either. We barely have the original texts in which to rely upon and claim some kind of infallible word, making later day saints the authority is taking things too far.
    The basis for our faith is Jesus and His death and resurrection…most other things need to pale in relation to that. How God saves us is of limited disclosure in scripture maybe we need to pay heed to that. As far as God knowing the future we are limited in that. God never discloses minuscule events that can be defined as seeing everyday events, He reveals future events that are very easily predetermined that do not require preknowing..

  10. Donovan Henry Says:

    Thank you for this article about this heresy I needed insightful information exposing it so as to set some things straight scripturally. I first heard these guys about a year after I was made a new creation by the Lord Jesus Christ and stumbled upon these guys thinking they were bold for doing open air preaching but then after listening to their message I knew it was a different gospel altogether and just man centered pharisaic legalism. I have been edified by your dealing with the subject and my hope is that you will be encouraged knowing that you are glorifying our Saviour by broadcasting the Truth of the Gospel that is the power of God unto Salvation for those who believe upon the Risen Messiah the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you brethren.


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