Archive for the ‘Darrin’ category

Responding to a Fellow Baptist Church

June 24, 2012

Recently I sent an email to the leadership of an SBC church in my local area, in regard to statements made in a sermon series a while back. Since these were made available publicly online, I felt it appropriate to respond. I didn’t originally write with the intent of posting my words, but I later thought that perhaps they could be of use to some reader.

Basically, in a couple messages (one in particular), a number of inaccurate historical and doctrinal claims were made regarding Reformed theology, Calvin, the SBC, and Presbyterians. I just attempted to address a few. Also, I felt that an inappropriate “warning” toward the SBC church I had been a part of was made as well.  In responding, I tried to be gracious and accurate, although I regret not having more time to bring out specific scriptures and detailed historical facts. Sadly I had delayed so long in writing that I just felt I needed to finally “get done with it”, and probably rushed a bit.

Perhaps this could serve as an example (certainly not a perfect one, but maybe a helpful one) for any folks who find themselves in similar situations, or at least it may help shed light on a point or two. It certainly is quite possible to respond to such claims graciously yet firmly regarding the truths in question.

I have changed the names of the churches and the pastors referred to below. My intent here is not to attack or criticize a particular man or church. I did receive a very brief but cordial response from the senior pastor to whom I wrote. I don’t know how seriously he considered my words, but I hope that perhaps something I communicated would be meaningful to him in some way at some time.

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Dear Pastor Smith, and your fellow Pastors at East Baptist Church,

Greetings in Christ, and thank you for your service to Him. I know you are busy, and so I’m trying not to write too much in giving feedback about two messages I heard online, though I’m afraid it may go a bit longer than desired. If you are able to read and consider my thoughts here, I would greatly appreciate it.

 Just by way of introduction, we have lived in the area for over 18 years and have been members at West Baptist Church for almost that long.  We have a number of friends at your church and have been there for various events over the years. A year or two ago we also attended the funeral of our friend and fellow Gideon. My son and I played French horn at East Baptist for the local Baptist Association’s anniversary a couple years ago. I have tried to maintain a good relationship with East Baptist and her people over the years.

A while back a friend who has moved to East Baptist recommended a sermon to me, and exploring the sermons available, I discovered your past series on “What Others Believe”.  These messages were given a couple years ago, but are still available on your website.  I do encourage serious consideration of our own beliefs, practices and history, as well as those of other denominations and religions, for measuring all to the truth of God’s Word, and strengthening our reliance on it and our trust in Him, and also to help us interact in a meaningful way with people of other beliefs, so that God might use us to help them see biblical truths as well.

I have a number of convictions in common with Presbyterians, and also know that in past centuries Baptists have been closely akin to Presbyterians in many ways.  I’m also well aware of the “Reformed” issues and divisions within the SBC, so I listened to the message on Presbyterians and am mainly responding to that one. I did also listen to the talk on Methodists and the one by Pastor Jones on Lutherans.

One reason for writing is that at the end of the talk, a caution was given about West Baptist moving in a certain direction, i.e. a Reformed or Calvinist direction.  I’m not a leader at West Baptist and am not writing on behalf of her elders in any way; please just consider me a local Christian who has been a part of that fellowship for a long time.  As such, it is sad for me to see one SBC church publicly presenting a sister Baptist church in a negative light unless it is absolutely certain and necessary. I would also have encouraged dialogue with West Baptist leadership first to be assured if such a statement is accurate, and did not sense that such a relationship was established. Please forgive me if I’m wrong.  I noticed much grace in the talk on Methodists, and that you had discussed issues with Pastor Roberts there, and also Pastor Jones mentioned a Lutheran friend in his gracious message. Likewise, if you don’t already have a relationship with a Presbyterian minister where you can discuss beliefs and clarify your understandings of them, I would really encourage that, especially since historically Baptists and Presbyterians have been so closely linked.

In listening to your message, Pastor Smith, I was concerned to hear a number of areas in which I don’t think Calvin or Presbyterians were accurately represented. I’ll just try to touch on them in the next few paragraphs:

The Servetus issue is one that often is brought as a charge against Calvin, and some good things have been written to help critics understand the times and the situation. Servetus was a blatant heretic who even denied the Trinity, and those like him in Geneva were outspoken and ferocious in their attacks and threats toward Calvin, who worked strenuously to bring faith and morality to the city. Calvin alone did not condemn him, but he was part of the city council which corporately sentenced Servetus to death. In fact it is said that, whereas the penalty for heresy was burning to death, Calvin asked that the sword be used instead, out of compassion for the man. This was rejected, which may show just how much power Calvin had in this case. At any rate, Servetus’ death for heresy is more a sign of those times than a sign of Calvin’s character. This was a regular practice throughout Europe, as I suppose many considered that crimes against God were as serious as crimes against humanity. I don’t advocate what was done, but do acknowledge that certain virtues and sins are esteemed differently from one era to the next.

I was surprised that there was no mention of covenant theology in your entire talk on Presbyterians, as this is such an important part of their faith. Historically Baptists have had an appreciation for God’s continuing covenant with His people as well. More recently many have become more dispensational in their views, and God’s covenants seem rarely mentioned. But the practice you mentioned of Presbyterians baptizing infants is related to this understanding. Historically Baptists (credo-baptists) and Presbyterians (paedo-baptists) have had a relationship of mutual respect, especially since they both embraced the doctrines of grace (ex: TULIP), even though they differed in the area of baptism. And as you know, Methodists, Lutherans, and other Protestants practice infant baptism as well; it certainly is not only the Presbyterians who do. Yet these see it completely differently than do the Roman Catholics; it is not a guarantee of salvation, but a sign of entrance into the visible church as children in a covenant (believing) family, just as was circumcision in the Old Testament.  Presbyterians believe that God’s covenant with Abraham continues to this day, as in Romans 4, though administered in different ways.

You were surprised that Boice, the Presbyterian pastor and author, was evangelistic. Indeed it seems many today think Reformed and evangelism are words don’t fit together. But this is very far from the truth. In fact some of the most notable missionaries of past centuries, including the pioneers of modern missions (such as William Carey), were solid Calvinists, and today Reformed believers are still very evangelism-minded. Many non-Reformed believers have trouble seeing why this would be if we think God has His elect chosen and nothing can change that.  The fact is that we’re commanded to be a witness to the world, and though God knows who His elect  people are, we don’t know.  So we broadcast the gospel, as a sower broadcasts seed, not knowing where God will impart life. While God has ordained who would be saved, He has also ordained the “means” by which they would be saved, and that is primarily the preaching of the gospel!  So we must be faithful in these means, entrusting the outcomes to the Lord.

In regard to “free will”, you mentioned that God told Adam that he could freely eat of the trees of the garden.  But of course this isn’t really relevant to the issue at hand. First of all, Reformed doctrine agrees that Adam indeed had free will before his fall into sin. But afterward, scripture is clear that he and his posterity are all bound in sin, with our will not free but constrained by our sinful nature.  Calvinists believe that there are 4 states of man’s will: In Adam and Eve before the Fall (free to obey but able to fall), in all natural men since the Fall (in bondage to their sinful nature, not seeking God), in redeemed or regenerated men after conversion (able to obey though still choosing sin at times),  and in redeemed men in their glorified state in heaven (in perfect submission to God).  Even natural men do have some free agency in that they make free choices daily, but note that their choices will always be in keeping with their nature. So in regard to spiritual things, their will is not free; it is bound by a nature which only seeks its own desires, not God’s, and can’t even truly understand anything about God. This can only change if and when God grants the person a new nature.  And according to the scripture, He does this according to His good pleasure, that is, merely according to His own free will.  Why He chose us is a mystery to us, but we recognize it as grace alone, which none of us deserve. And therefore those who perish in their sins didn’t deserve that grace either. God is perfectly holy in His justice as well as in His grace. I believe your concern was especially in separating the concepts of free will and God’s sovereignty.  There is really no separation; they both just need to be understood properly, and both generally are not.

You mentioned that there was a “strain” of Reformed people or doctrine throughout Baptist history.  In fact, until about a century ago the majority of Baptists were Calvinists.  Throughout the centuries in both England and America, the Baptist confessions were Reformed, and the leading ones were based fundamentally on the Westminster Confession, the standard still held to by Presbyterians. The London Baptist Confession, for example, is very close to the Westminster except for a couple points, most notably the portion on baptism. The early Baptists wanted to make it clear that, though they differed in that area, they agreed fully with their Reformed brethren in their soteriology (doctrine of salvation), in which they were clearly Calvinistic. There were some more Arminian Baptists around, but these were not nearly as organized or numerous.  The founders of our Southern Baptist seminaries, such as Boyce, Broadus, and Manly, Jr., and the SBC’s early leaders were Reformed in their understanding of salvation.  At the turn of the 20th century, a Southern Baptist theologian and pastor wrote, “Nearly all Baptists believe what are usually termed the ‘doctrines of grace’”, and he went on to describe the Calvinist soteriology.  So I daresay it has been much more than a strain, and still is today, despite much of the SBC’s 21st century attempts to squelch it out.  The convictions of the “Founders” group or the Together for the Gospel (t4g.org) group aren’t really new for the Baptist church at all; they are in keeping with our Baptist heritage. The real change and danger has been that such a large portion of the Baptist church has within the last century moved to a fully Wesleyan soteriology (natural man’s will entirely free, no real power in predestination or election, etc.), which is completely inconsistent with our Baptist biblical foundations, and with the biblical movement (the Reformation) which gave us the name Protestants in the first place.

From Pastor Jones’ talk on Lutherans, I just wanted to mention two things. (I was raised Lutheran, by the way, and began attending a Baptist church in my teen years.)

First, you stated how the Reformation sought to correct many of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church at the time. While this is true, the correcting of doctrinal issues was an even greater part of the movement. In Luther’s great treatise, “The Bondage of the Will”, written in response to the Roman Catholic scholar Erasmus (who advocated free will), Luther commended Erasmus on one thing. He said that Erasmus was quite right in getting to the heart of the issue of the time, which was a doctrinal one. Although Luther vehemently disagreed with him on matters of doctrine, he was glad that at least Erasmus wasn’t arguing merely about practices, as many did. So I’m just emphasizing what a crucial role doctrine or theology itself played in the Protestant Reformation.

Secondly, you mentioned how some denominations believe that you were either elected or not elected before you were born, and that this seemed to you a terrible way to face life. But isn’t this scriptural? As in Ephesians 1,  “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world”, and other places.  The Reformed view (to which the Lutheran church historically also held) is that God not only knows who would come to faith in Him, but that He knows why they would, that is, because He would grant them spiritual life. As Romans 5 and other places show us, our whole race died spiritually in Adam’s Fall, and we are all deserving His condemnation for our sin. So if God would be righteous in condemning us, we are told He is also righteous in granting grace to whomever He chooses, as in Romans 9 and other places. Our will does play a part in the process, in the sense that it is bound as natural men by our sin, which we gladly followed, but freed to love and follow Him if and when He grants us life.  I could explain further and give numerous references, but I’ll leave it at that.

In this portion about election, you asked a question, and I think I could address it. You said Lutherans believe that predestination is only to salvation, not damnation. And you determined from this that it should imply that everyone is therefore predestined to salvation.  Your open question was for help in making sense out of this. I hope this is at least a little bit helpful: It has been a common historic Protestant view that God  graciously chose, out of a sinful and lost humanity,  a certain elect people for His own, not because of any foreseen good in them, but only due to the good pleasure of His own sovereign will. In doing so, predestining a certain group of individuals to eternal life, He “passed by” the rest of humanity, leaving them in their sin to the condemnation they justly deserve. (Even the elect deserve it, and would have it too, except for His grace.) So the “active” part of predestination is in working to bring some to salvation; the rest do not require His intervention in order to be condemned: they just follow their natural path. So this is sometimes called “single predestination”, in that He elects those He will save, and the rest are left to have sin run its course and have its consequences. I do have a bit of an issue with this view, in that as God is all-knowing and sees all of time, He is well aware of those who are not elected and even does things in the lives of the wicked, of which scripture gives many examples. Many Reformed people do therefore believe in “double predestination” in that all men are essentially appointed to one end or the other.

Please note that this does not mean that for a certain person considering the gospel or wanting to approach Christ, that one should take the fatalistic view that if they’re not elect, it’s no use. In fact, the signs that they are seeking Him could very well indicate that He is indeed working in their lives to draw them to Himself, as they may indeed be among His elect people! But a key point is that it is He that must first do the work to give them life, eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand, and a heart of flesh (not stone). And once given these things, we do see and truly live. His grace, His inward calling, is effective – it always results in the salvation of those He extends it to. Men may and often do reject the outward calling of the gospel, but when God works to raise us to life, as He did to raise Lazarus, we do live indeed.

Brothers, so many of the Reformed views are so easily misunderstood by other Baptists, to the point that there has been much division and attacks within the denomination, both men and women boldly speaking out publicly and disrespectfully against their church elders, Reformed ministers being run off from churches and their families losing their means of income, etc.  It is a very sad situation within the SBC, and I suppose my main purpose in writing to you is to plead with you to consider the history of the denomination and of Protestantism, the unity of the denomination, and above all the truth of the Bible and whether a careful analysis of the whole of scripture lends credence to these doctrines. After years of study and consideration, I am convicted that it does.

There are so many scriptures and references I’d love to give, but I’m sorry to act as one who would profess to teach you, ministers of the gospel, and I know we are all busy men. I think I’ve written better things defending the Reformed faith before, with various scriptures and quotes included, but I’m trying not to take even longer here than I already have. If any of you would ever like to further discuss any of the issues mentioned in this email, please feel free to contact me anytime. I’d be glad to return emails or even to meet in person with you if desired. I live just off Main Street on Oak Lane, and work as an engineer here in town. And if you have taken the time to read through and especially more deeply consider some of the points I’ve brought out, I am deeply grateful to you. Truthfully my only agenda is for our mutual growth in truth for the sake of the Church and the glory of God.

God’s grace to you,

Darrin Lyon

Thoughts on SBC Meeting 2010

April 13, 2011

Returning to some writing after considerable delay, I bring out just a few thoughts I’d jotted down last year in regard to the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I apologize for the belated post, but I believe it is still relevant.

In the news following the convention, I was struck by the words of a Georgia pastor who attended.  I am concerned that these words may be indicative of a dangerous arrogance within the SBC:

“If you think we can once again rise to the occasion and we can sail into a world in the 21st century that is more lost than it’s ever been, and we can once again become the greatest evangelistic force for the Gospel this world has ever seen, I encourage you to vote for this report.”

The greatest evangelistic force for the Gospel this world has ever seen?  I’m wondering how this gentlemen could square words like his with 1 Cor 3:7,

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 

Are we Southern Baptists anything?  Are we in competition with our brothers in other denominations to “win the world for Christ”, as the phrase goes?  I hope we don’t see our denomination as if we were football fans, rooting for the SBC’s dominance like we would for Auburn’s or Bama’s.  Is the glory really for God, or in truth do we reserve a good bit for ourselves and our denomination?

This same pastor also indicated in the news coverage that adopting the recommended changes meant turning the titanic away from the

“iceberg of declining baptisms, diminishing missions and what is becoming a dead orthodoxy” to the “same voyage than an apostle named Paul took 2,000 years ago into a world of … darkness.”

What really caught me here was this:  Ours is becoming a dead orthodoxy?  As I consider the SBC by and large, I often have difficulty finding any orthodoxy!  And I believe if we did sincerely focus on attaining that, help for many of our other concerns would follow as well.  I sense here the all-too-common notion that concern for doctrine and concern for evangelism must oppose each other, which is as unfounded and harmful to the church today as it has ever been.

Two quick notes from events of the meeting itself are:

I was encouraged to hear of Al Mohler’s good preaching on John 3, and

I must admit I was disappointed to hear of the appointment of Frank Page, past SBC President and author of the misleading, uninformed attack on historic Reformed soteriology, “Trouble with the Tulip”, to lead the SBC Executive Committee.  My understanding from a pastor friend who attended is that Pastor Page accepted despite receiving only a fairly narrow margin of approval.  I have concerns for the unity and doctrinal accuracy that would come of such an appointment, but I  hope and pray for the best, for the SBC leadership and for wise future decisions.

Owen on John 3:16 – Part 1b: God’s Love, the Reformed Perspective

February 15, 2010

Now we will consider “what we understand by the “love” of God, even that act of his will which was the cause of sending his Son Jesus Christ, being the most eminent act of love and favour to the creature; for love is velle alicui bonum, “to will good to any” [not necessarily to all]. And never did God will greater good to the creature than in appointing his Son for their redemption.”

Owen observes that God’s purpose in sending Christ, and His love for the elect, both work toward “the same supreme end, [which is] the manifestation of God’s glory by the way of mercy tempered with justice”.

Now, this love we say to be that, greater than which there is none.” We see that his continual argument is that God’s love for His people is and always has been much greater than a universal concept of atonement will allow.

Owen holds that “by love here is not meant an inclination or propensity of his [God’s] nature, but an act of his will (where we conceive his love to be seated), and eternal purpose to do good to man, being the most transcendent and eminent act of God’s love to the creature.”

 “It is the special love of God to his elect, as we affirm, and so, consequently, not any such thing as our adversaries suppose to be intended by it, — namely, a velleity or natural inclination to the good of all.  For:

 1) The love here intimated is absolutely the most eminent and transcendent love that ever God showed or bare towards any miserable creature… “loved,” with such an earnest, intense affection, consisting in an eternal, unchangeable act and purpose of his will, for the bestowing of the chiefest good (the choicest effectual love) … Whereunto, for a close of all, cast your eyes upon his design and purpose in this whole business, and ye shall find that it was that believers, those whom he thus loved, “might not perish,” — that is, undergo the utmost misery and wrath to eternity, which they had deserved, — “but have everlasting life,” eternal glory with himself, which of themselves they could no way attain; and ye will easily grant that “greater love hath no man than this.” Now, if the love here mentioned be the greatest, highest, and chiefest of all, certainly it cannot be that common affection towards all that we discussed before; for the love whereby men are actually and eternally saved is greater than that which may consist with the perishing of men to eternity.

 2) The Scripture positively asserts this very love as the chiefest act of the love of God, and that which he would have us take notice of in the first place: Rom. v. 8, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;” and fully, 1 John iv. 9, 10, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In both which places the eminency of this love is set forth exceeding emphatically to believers, with such expressions as can no way be accommodated to a natural velleity to the good of all. [We should take note that the use of “might” in such verses may itself be a cause of confusion to the modern reader – it does not indicate a conditional nor vague possibility, but the positive assertion of something that will indeed take place.]

 3) That seeing all love in God is but velle alicui bonum, to will good to them that are beloved, they certainly are the object of his love to whom he intends that good which is the issue and effect of that love; but now the issue of this love or good intended, being not perishing, and obtaining eternal life through Christ, happens alone to, and is bestowed on, only elect believers: therefore, they certainly are the object of this love, and they alone; — which was the thing we had to declare.

 4) That love which is the cause of giving Christ is also always the cause of the bestowing of all other good things: Rom. viii. 32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” [i.e. consider forgiveness, sanctification, fellowship, glorification, etc. – are all men recipients?] Therefore, if the love there mentioned be the cause of sending Christ, as it is, it must also cause all other things to be given with him, and so can be towards none but those who have those things bestowed on them; which are only the elect, only believers. Who else have grace here, or glory hereafter?

 5) The word here, which is ἠγάπησε, signifieth, in its native importance, valde dilexit, — to love so as to rest in that love; which how it can stand with hatred, and an eternal purpose of not bestowing effectual grace, which is in the Lord towards some, will not easily be made apparent.

 And now let the Christian reader judge, whether by the love of God, in this place mentioned, be to be understood a natural velleity or inclination in God to the good of all, both elect and reprobate, or the peculiar love of God to his elect, being the fountain of the chiefest good that ever was bestowed on the sons of men. This is the first difference about the interpretation of these words.”

Praise God for His gracious, intimate, eternal, effectual love for His children!

The next set of posts will discuss the second matter, the object of this love, called here “the world”.

Owen on John 3:16 – Part 1a: God’s Love, the Arminian Perspective

January 20, 2010

As discussed in the previous post, the first point of consideration and contention in the interpretation of John 3:16 can be posed, and is stated by John Owen, as such:

“What is that love which was the cause of the sending or giving of Christ; which they [the Arminians, who embrace universal atonement] make to be a natural propensity to the good of all.

In this post, we are simply offering Owen’s primary issues with this popular interpretation; not yet showing his proofs for the Reformed viewpoint he embraced.  Again, he summarizes the differences as follows:

“By ‘love’ in this place, all our adversaries [the universalists] agree that a natural affection and propensity in God to the good of the creature, lost under sin, in general, which moved him to take some way whereby it might possibly be remedied, is intended.  We, on the contrary, say that by ‘love’ here is not meant an inclination or propensity of his nature, but an act of his will (where we conceive his love to be seated), and eternal purpose to do good to man, being the most transcendent and eminent act of God’s love to the creature.”

Owen also identifies the love of God as understood by the Arminians to be a velleity, which is defined as the lowest level of volition [will], or a mere wish unaccompanied by action or effort to obtain it.  Considering this and the above quote, Owen and many others (myself included) contend that the Arminians embrace a much more severely limited atonement than do we - that is, they limit what Christ’s work accomplishes for anyone.

According to Owen, it should be evident that no natural affection is to be found in God, whereby He should by necessity be carried to anything outside of Himself.  His reasons are as follows:

1)  “ Nothing that includes any imperfection is to be assigned to Almighty God: he is God all-sufficient; he is our rock, and his work is perfect.  But a natural affection in God to the good and salvation of all, being never completed nor perfected, carrieth along with it a great deal of imperfection and weakness; and not only so, but it must also needs be exceedingly prejudicial to the absolute blessedness and happiness of Almighty God.  [Owen notes that the degree to which any being lacks the fulfilling of the desires to which end it strives, is also the degree  to which it lacks of blessedness and happiness.]  So that, without impairing of the infinite blessedness of the ever-blessed God, no natural affection unto any thing never to be accomplished can be ascribed unto him, such as this general love to all is supposed to be.

2)  “If the Lord hath such a natural affection to all, as to love them so far as to send his Son to die for them, whence is it that this affection of his doth not receive accomplishment?  Whence is it that it is hindered, and doth not produce its effects?  Why doth not the Lord engage his power for the fulfilling of his desire?  “It doth not seem good to his infinite wisdom,” say they, “so to do.”  Then is there an affection in God to that which, in his wisdom, he cannot prosecute.  This [sort of love], among the sons of men, the worms of the earth, would be called a brutish affection.

3)  “No affection or natural propensity to good is to be ascribed to God which the Scripture nowhere assigns to him, and is contrary to what the Scripture doth assign unto him.  Now, the Scripture doth nowhere assign unto God any natural affection whereby he should be naturally inclined to the good of the creature; the place to prove it clearly is yet to be produced.  And that it is contrary to what the Scripture assigns him is apparent; for it describes him to be free in showing mercy, every act of it being by him performed freely, even as he pleaseth, for “he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy.”  Now, if every act of mercy showed unto any do proceed from the free distinguishing will of God (as is apparent), certainly there can be in him no such natural affection.  And the truth is, if the Lord should not show mercy, and be carried out towards the creature, merely upon his own distinguishing will, but should naturally be moved to show mercy to the miserable, he should, first, be no more merciful to men than to devils, nor, secondly, to those that are saved than to those that are damned: for that which is natural must be equal in all its operations; and that which is natural to God must be eternal.  Many more effectual reasons are produced by our divines for the denial of this natural affection in God, in the resolution of the Arminian distinction (I call it so, as now by them abused) of God’s antecedent and consequent will, to whom the learned reader may repair for satisfaction.  So that the love mentioned in this place is not that natural affection to all in general, which is not.”

This topic will be discussed in more detail in the next post, “God’s Love, the Calvinist [or, perhaps for greater clarity, the Reformed] Perspective”.

Owen on John 3:16 – Introduction

November 30, 2009

Possibly the most well-known and oft-quoted verse in all of scripture, John 3:16 has even been referred to as “the gospel in a nutshell”. Regarding that label, it would be improper to limit ourselves to the contents of one nutshell when we should feast on the entirely of God’s revealed word. Nevertheless, for the truth contained therein, as with all of scripture, this verse is certainly precious, particularly when taken in context with all of John chapter 3, and indeed with the Bible as a whole.

 The third division of The Works of John Owen, delineated the “Controversial” division, begins with Volume 10. Here, following the excellent “A Display of Arminianism”, is found one of his most famous works, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”, a thorough analysis of the intent and accomplishment of Christ’s atonement. The latter part of Book 4, Chapter 2 of “The Death of Death” deals specifically with John 3:16.

 Owen brings out this verse as the first of several which those asserting universal redemption [Christ dying for each and every person] put forth. As he states,

 “This place, I say, the Universalists exceedingly boast in; for which we are persuaded they have so little cause, that we doubt not but, with the Lord’s assistance, to demonstrate that it is destructive to their whole defense.”

 Since this verse is mishandled today as in Owen’s day, and even served as the title of last year’s anti-Calvinist “John 3:16 Conference”, it is appropriate to give a synopsis of this theologian’s analysis of the verse, which for many may prove to be rather different from that which they are used to hearing. Not that Owen teaches here some new and strange thing, but in fact that which is faithful to the text and consistent with the whole of scripture. The reader may come to appreciate that some of what is often professed about John 3:16 in Baptist and other circles is indeed rather that which might be called strange. Of course, this tidbit of Owen’s defense is a minimal representation of the many detailed and solid arguments against universal redemption which he sets out in his works.

 Regarding that conference which shamefully associated itself with this scripture, Timmy Brister had an excellent short post about a year ago HERE , which gives some context within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and also provides helpful background to this blog, SBF. I highly recommend Timmy’s post to any readers who have not yet seen it.

This introduction will conclude with Owen’s overall comparison of the universalist’s interpretation of John 3:16 with his own, via paraphrase. Following posts will specifically address the three key areas from where the difference stems, and that is, the understanding of:

     (1) the love of God, which is the cause of sending Christ,

     (2) the object of this love, called here the world, and

     (3) the intention of God in sending his Son, said here to be that believers might be saved.

 “I will give you, in brief, a double paraphrase of the words, the first containing their sense, the latter ours. Thus, then, our adversaries explain these words:

 “ ‘God so loved,’ – had such a natural inclination, velleity [wish], and propensity [tendency] to the good of

 ‘the world,’ – Adam, with all and every one of his posterity, of all ages, times, and conditions (whereof some were in heaven, some in hell long before),

 ‘that he gave his only-begotten Son,’ – causing him to be incarnate in the fullness of time, to die, not with a purpose and resolution to save any, but

 ‘that whosoever,’ – whatever persons of those which he had propensity unto,

 ‘believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,’ – should have this fruit and issue, that he should escape death and hell, and live eternally.”

 Owen a little later gives the interpretation which he embraces:

 “Now, look a little, in the second place, at what we conceive to be the mind of God in those words; whose aim we take to be the advancement and setting forth of the free love of God to lost sinners, in sending Christ to procure for them eternal redemption, as may appear in this following paraphrase:

 “ ‘God’ the Father ‘so loved,’ – had such a peculiar, transcendent love, being an unchangeable purpose and act of his will concerning their salvation, towards

 ‘the world,’ – miserable, sinful, lost men of all sorts, not only Jews but Gentiles also, which he peculiarly loved,

 ‘that,’ intending their salvation, as in the last words, for the praise of his glorious grace, ‘he gave,’ he prepared a way to prevent their everlasting destruction, by appointing and sending ‘his only-begotten Son’ to be an all-sufficient Saviour to all that look up unto him,

 ‘that whosoever believeth in him,’ – all believers whatsoever, and only they,

 ‘should not perish, but have everlasting life,’ – and so effectually be brought to the obtaining of those glorious things through him which the Lord in his free love had designed for them.”

O’Reilly on Calvinism

November 19, 2009

It seems whatever the forum or topic, John Calvin gets a bad rap. Listen starting around 2:00, but particularly at about 2:45.

O’Reilly says he’s coming from a Roman Catholic perspective here, but I’m thinking he sounds like a Baptist.

Seriously, though, it seems he only muddies the waters here. Man’s will is free only to the extent that it is compatible with his nature. This is biblical and logical, as is the fact that God is sovereign over all things that come to pass, no matter how good or bad they are esteemed in our perspective. These truths need not lead to fatalism, but rather, as with so many who have embraced them throughout history, glad obedience to Him, as they understood that He has ordained the means as well as the ends.

Puritan Praise

November 17, 2009

From a Puritan prayer, included in the collection The Valley of Vision, linked here to  The Banner of Truth Trust.

Thanks also to the brothers at Reformed Praise  for this reminder.

Glorious God,
I bless thee that I know thee.
I once lived in the world, but was ignorant of its creator,
was partaker of thy providences, but knew not the provider,
was blind while enjoying the sunlight,
was deaf to all things spiritual, with voices all around me,
understood many things, but had no knowledge of thy ways,
saw the world, but did not see Jesus only.

O happy day, when in thy love’s sovereignty
thou didst look on me, and call me by grace.
Then did the dead heart begin to beat,
the darkened eye glimmer with light,
the dull ear catch thy echo,
and I turned to thee and found thee,
a God ready to hear, willing to save.

Then did I find my heart at enmity to thee, vexing thy Spirit;
Then did I fall at thy feet and hear thee thunder,
‘The soul that sins, it must die’,
But when grace made me to know thee,
and admire a God who hated sin,
thy terrible justice held my will submissive.
My thoughts were then as knives cutting my head.

Then didst thou come to me in silken robes of love,
and I saw thy Son dying that I might live,
and in that death I found my all.
My soul doth sing at the remembrance of that peace;
The gospel cornet brought a sound unknown to me before
that reached my hear – and I lived -
never to lose my hold on Christ or his hold on me.

Grant that I may always weep to the praise of mercy found,
and tell to others as long as I live,
that thou are a sin-pardoning God,
taking up the blasphemer and the ungodly,
and washing them from their deepest stain.

The Sole Cause of Salvation

September 30, 2009

 I trust it’s alright to use excerpts from a recent post on another blog below, with just a few comments of mine interjected. I felt that these thoughts from Steve Camp’s blog are interesting and relevant.

Steve posted a quote from an unknown author which speaks of the biblical concept of God’s “grace alone” as the cause of our salvation. This also means that Christ is Lord of everything, even the conversion of sinners. I’ve tried to use quotation marks properly to show which words are not mine. I believe the concepts expressed are important, not too difficult, and well worth the time to read and consider thoughtfully.

“Lordship Salvation emphasizes that a love for Christ springs from our new nature (granted freely by God) which desires to believe the gospel as well as submit to Jesus Christ as Lord over one’s life. Both faith and obedience are the result of God’s invincible and indelible grace, not the cause of it.”

The author speaks of those who “mistakenly ascribe belief in Christ as something within the ability of the old nature… This is where they fall off the horse away from historic Christianity by rejecting the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone. By not giving glory to God for their faith they add conditions for their salvation.”

The writer sees that this approach is problematic mostly due to the “misapprehension of the work of the Holy Spirit in giving rise to our faith and affection for Christ. For how can an unregenerate man see Christ’s beauty, excellence or anything to desire in Him at all? One must have a new heart and the mind of Christ in order to understand and love spiritual things.”

Issue is taken with this synergistic viewpoint (God + man accomplishing regeneration) also because of the problem of “making faith itself a contribution to the price of their redemption. i.e. grace + faith.”

This is an excellent point, in that there is a danger in viewing “grace + faith” as separate components of salvation, whereas the Scriptures teach that it is “by grace through faith”. Perhaps a seemingly subtle, but truly a very important difference. All flows from God’s grace; faith is the means through which He bestows the grace of regeneration (new life) upon us. All good things come from above.

“[We] believe faith and obedience are the result, not the cause of the new birth. Unless the Holy Spirit changes the disposition of our hearts from hostility to affection for Christ, no one would exercise saving faith. Any ‘faith’ which exists apart from the work of the Spirit is spurious and of the flesh (Luke 8:4-15) [the parable of the sower]. God alone does the work of regeneration which infallibly gives rise to a spiritual faith that desires to obey and commit itself to Christ. In this case God gets all the glory.”

However, the alternate, “no-Lordship” position “would have us believe that one could produce faith from our unregenerated human nature. The question is, why do some believe and others resist? Are some more wise or humble? Isn’t it grace itself which makes us wise and humble? The Scripture says, ‘What do we have that we did not receive?’. So, in fact, the ‘no-Lordship’ position is admirably attempting to protect the doctrine of ‘faith alone’, but in the process it has cast aside the biblical doctrine of ‘grace alone’. ‘No-Lordship’ may believe in a salvation by grace, but not salvation by grace alone (sola gratia).”

“[To say] that man must somehow cooperate with God to be born again, as they hold, is to say that some men innately have the natural capacity to believe, independent of God’s action of grace, while others do not. How is this different than salvation by merit? So in reality the burden of proof to explain belief apart from grace alone is on those who hold to ‘no-Lordship’. Different understandings of the work of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration is the key to the debate.”

Indeed, a study of the Spirit’s role in man’s conversion is surely one that appears worthwhile.

High Holy Days

September 18, 2009

 

This evening at sundown begins the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, or the Feast of Trumpets. It is traditionally a time of celebration and prayers for the coming year, and a time of repentance through the next ten days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The realizations of God’s judgment and of atonement are strong through these days. As believers in Christ, we are thankful for God’s provision of His Son and His forgiveness of all the sins of His people. 

One tradition many Jews hold to on Rosh Hashanah is casting pieces of bread, or pebbles, etc., into naturally flowing water. This is symbolic of the casting off of sin, and originally based on the concept of God graciously taking our sins away such that they are gone forever. The use of water is based on the passage from Micah 7,

“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

These days are yet another great opportunity to reflect on our spiritual status, to consider where we have failed in sin and to repent, and also to praise Him for the blessings and victories He has given us.

Though the waters ahead are as yet uncharted by us, we press on with sober resolve to walk closer to the Lord, who knows all and holds all things in His sovereign, mighty, blessed hands.

Happy New Year.  Grace and peace to you.

Bibles for Tuva

February 17, 2009

A slight change of topic here.  Back in 2007 this site posted a reference to the missionary endeavor of the Slawson family in Russia HERE. Tom Slawson is yet another whacky Calvinist who is nevertheless devoted to missions. :)

Anyway, recently at his Tominthebox News Network (“religious satire” blog), Tom posted info about a current effort he is involved with HERE. The Bible is being translated into Tuvan, the language of this small region of Russia, and the hope is to put a copy of scripture into each household in the region.

You can also get info from his ministry blog HERE, and his wife Cristy also has a blog HERE

So visit, pray and contribute to this ministry as you are led. And be encouraged about what God is doing.


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