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”.
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:
- The solidarity of mankind with Adam’s sin.
- Unregenerate man’s moral inability.
- The substitutionary and satisfactory atonement for sin in Christ’s propitiatory death.
- 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]–><!–[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 (email@example.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.