Archive for the ‘Doctrinal Issues’ 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

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.”

When God draws us with His grace, does He take away our power to resist that grace?

July 29, 2009

This past July 10th, many Protestants- especially those involved in theological education- recognized the 500th birthday of John Calvin by reflecting on the contributions his writings have made to Christian thought. On The Albert Mohler [Radio] Program guest host Dr. Russell D. Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary led a discussion about the doctrines most often associated with Calvin in popular thinking: namely, election and predestination. Dr. Moore’s guests on the July 10th program were Dr. Mark Dever, President of 9Marks ministries Dr. Matt Pinson, President of Free Will Baptist Bible College. Dr. Moore observed that in the past couple of years discussions of “Calvinism” in Baptist circles have, to a large degree, been more amicable and less vitriolic than in times past, and he wished to model an irenic discussion of “Calvinism” by having these guests: one (Dever) a Calvinist and one (Pinson) an Arminian.

I would like to draw readers’ attention to one question from Dr. Russell D. Moore (“RDM” below) and (especially) to the answer given by Dr. Matt Pinson (MP below). In examining Dr. Pinson’s answer to Dr. Moore, it is not my intention to disrupt the irenic spirit established by Dr. Moore, but I do think that it is instructive for us who hold to a “Calvinistic” position to be able to interact with words from an actual Arminian.

RDM: “When you think about that question, ‘What makes you to differ, as a Christian, from a lost man?’  How would you answer that?”

MP: “I would follow Arminius, who was very much like Calvin in his exaltation of the sovereign grace of God, and that God must draw us with His grace because we are totally depraved; we’re completely unable to will ourselves into His favor, and our heart is desparately wicked. I think the difference is that, like Arminius, I would see that grace as being resistible. I think ‘prevenient grace,’ as it’s often called by Calvinists and Arminians, is the real big difference between how we would  see Calvinism and Arminianism. I would say that God comes to people with His grace, and yet He treats them as persons- who have an intellect, will, and emotions- and He’s dealing with them in relationship; and so, as Arminius says, He uses ‘suasion.’ He doesn’t operate on them in a cause and effect way, but in an influence and response way. So He gives them the freedom, by His grace, to resist and even to reject that grace. So you can’t do anything- you know, Arminius was fond of quoting Augustine, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing,’ and he says- let me quote here- says, ‘Christ does not say, Without Me ye can do but little, neither does He say, Without Me ye cannot do any arduous thing, nor, Without Me ye can do it with difficulty, but He says, Without Me ye can do nothing. Nor does He say, Without Me ye cannot complete any thing, but, Without Me ye can do nothing.’ So- you know- we would say, ‘Without the grace of God in Christ and the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, we can do no spiritual good- not the least spiritual good.’ But that doesn’t mean that when He draws us with His grace, that He takes away our power to resist that grace.”

[The entire radio program can be heard HERE.] (more…)

Compilation of Posts Responding to Mark Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement

June 24, 2009

Introduction

Why Did Jesus Die?

The Chart

The Proof-Texts

Calvin Quotes

An Unaddressed Question

“Reconciliation”

The Day of Atonement

Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Day of Atonement

June 12, 2009

In the “Question and Answer” section of his chapter on “Unlimited Limited Atonement” in Death by Love, Mark Driscoll writes, “Jesus’ work on the cross follows the pattern of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)… The two goats provided propitiation and expiation on behalf of all the people, even though these benefits were applied only to God’s elect, a remnant within the larger group” (179).

This kind of analogy (between the atonement made by Christ and the atonement made on the Day of Atonement) is persuasive at first glance against Limited atonement. When I first began struggling to understand the biblical teaching on the extent of the atonement, I had considered a similar conclusion to that reached by Driscoll specifically due to the system of atonement found in the Old Testament. Two considerations led me to reconsider such conclusions based on “the pattern of the Day of Atonement.” (more…)


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