Biblical Theology and Arminian Theology

Biblical Theology

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An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 1: The Set Up

C.Michael Patton is the President of Credo House.  He has now written two separate and similar posts defending the “irrationality” of Calvinism as actually being a strength of the system, specifically over and above Arminianism. In this newest post, Mr. Patton levels many unfair and unfounded criticisms against Arminian theology and “Arminians” in general,  betraying a basic lack of understanding concerning what Arminians believe and why they believe it.  For this reason, an Arminian response seemed appropriate in order to set the record straight.  This response will interact with the entirety of C. Michael Patton’s post, which would make for a very long interaction as a single post.  For that reason, the response will be broken into parts.

 Part 1: The Set Up

Patton: I am a child of Western thought. Therefore I like to figure things out. If possible, I like to figure it all out. It causes some problems sometimes with me and God and I need to deal with it better. Sometimes I only really follow or engage with God when I get it.  When things make sense to me, it eases my intellectual anxiety and engages my will. Who?, What?, Where?, How?, and, especially,

Honestly, I don’t like the way this starts out.  It makes it seem like logic and wanting to figure things out is just a “western” thing.  That is not the case at all.  It’s pretty basic to human nature and our desire to understand and makes sense of reality and the world we live in.  This desire goes far beyond just questions of theology, and it is not limited to “western thought” in the least.

Patton: Why? Theological gurus call this “cataphatic” theology. Cataphatic theology emphasises God’s revelation and our understanding of it. Taken to an extreme, we can find ourselves in arrogantly awkward position of, as A. W. Tozer put it, “trying to look God eye to eye.” When we have to understand everything, we attempt to trade our finitude for infinitude. And this should scare us to death. We need a healthy dose of “apophatic” theology. This emphasizes mystery.

Actually, we need a balance of both.  There are unhealthy extremes on both ends.  Patton admits this later on.

Patton: Our Eastern brothers and sisters normally get this better than we do. They are content without publishing a new theology book every year. They normally don’t write papers explaining the mysteries of the world, have societies discussing the nuances of our faith, and they don’t argue about too much.

But why is that?  Personally, I think a lot of that is because Eastern theologians almost unanimously reject Calvinism and so don’t find themselves in the position to always try to reconcile irreconcilable problems.  Honestly, a tremendous amount of Calvinist scholarship is caught up in dealing with problems that Calvinism alone creates (and this post by Mr. Patton is yet another example).

Patton: Taken to an extreme, it can lead to an unexamined faith where people know what they believe but they have no idea why. And God did go through a lot of trouble to explain quite a bit of himself to us. While there are secret things that belong to the Lord (apophadic), the things revealed belong to us (cataphatic). We need balance. We need a cool yet passionate head about us. We need to hold some theological ropes very tightly, but we need to loosen our grip on others. There is quite a bit that we can know about God, but there are so many things that we don’t get and we will never get.

Agreed.

Patton: Why all of this? Because I am going to talk about something that is very divisive in the Christian life. And, for the most part, I am going to try to encourage some of my Western brothers and sisters to take a que [sic.] from my Eastern brothers and sisters and step down off the stool and quite [sic.] trying to look God eye to eye. I am going to encourage us to allow some tension in a very debated issue in Protestant Christianity.

The reason for all of Mr. Patton’s set up now seems rather clear.  It is to create the idea that it is unreasonable to reject contradictions and irrationality in a theological system, namely (and only) Calvinism, of course.  That’s right, Mr. Patton has just introduced a new so called “tension” into the mix, the wild claim that it is irrational to have a problem with irrationality.  Of course, this is circular and self-defeating, just as the main thrust of Mr. Patton’s entire post.  Not only that, we see another slam on “western thought.”  Why does Mr. Patton keep going back to that?  The answer seems to be that if he can convince his readers that their problems with irrationalities in Calvinism are just an unfortunate and invalid symptom of less sophisticated “western thought”, his readers will be more likely to feel OK about embracing such irrational “tensions” in Calvinism.

I have seen this same tactic many times before.  For example, Craig Brown, in his little book, “The Five Dilemma’s of Calvinism,” says,

“In my defense of the Reformed faith, I will be ‘the Devils advocate’ and attack five principles of Calvinism from the standpoint of American common sense.” (pg. 9, see here for a post dealing with this quote and other aspects of Craig’s book)

So the argument is now framed to be more of an issue of Calvinism versus flawed Western or American thinking, rather than Biblical truth.  Indeed, Mr. Patton will eventually spin things to such an extent as to potentially convince his readers that those who embrace such irrationalities (“tensions”) are nobler and just more honest with the Bible than those who do not (namely Arminians, of course). [1]

Patton: I am a Calvinist. It is funny. I often hear people talk about Calvinism as a closed box system that forces everything to fall in line, even when we have to sacrifice biblical integrity to do so. I often hear the accusation that Calvinism is a system that makes rationality its primary goal. And this is often true. Sometimes Calvinists do attempt to fit things into a system and engage in questionable logic driven hermeneutics to do so.

An admission that should not be soon forgotten.  It is important to note here what Mr. Patton apparently means, though it is not very “apparent” from what he says here.  Mr. Patton speaks about Calvinism being a “closed system” because Calvinists often pride themselves on the logic of that “system.”  Indeed, many people seem to embrace Calvinism because the logic or coherence of the “system” appeals to them, or seems compelling.  Patton finds this ironic since he embraces Calvinism because it has the same “tensions” (“apparent” inconsistencies, or irrationalities) that he sees in the Bible.  So it is not coherence that attracts Mr. Patton to Calvinism, but “apparent” incoherence.

If Mr. Patton’s post were simply about explaining why he personally holds to Calvinism and finds it attractive, or how he finds it ironic that people are drawn to Calvinism based on the supposed logic of the system when he embraces it for its “irrationality”, that would all be well and good, but Mr. Patton does more than that.  He attacks Arminianism in the process, and unfairly so.  That is why this response seemed necessary.

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[1] Unfortunately, this is a typical Calvinist tactic.  The aim is to shame “logical” and “rational” interpreters as not submitting to what the Bible says as, supposedly, only Calvinists have the guts and the fortitude to do.  Besides painting the Calvinist as more noble and honest than those who refuse to “embrace” such “tensions”, it also amounts to saying, “So what if Calvinism doesn’t make sense; neither does the Bible!” As will be discussed further, there is no reason to assume that such “tensions” are inherently “Biblical” tensions.  Rather, they are the direct results of the Calvinist interpretation of the Bible. They are Calvinist tensions, not Biblical ones.

[2] For further evidence that this is Mr. Patton’s view and one of the main reasons for writing these posts, see his comments in the thread of a similar post called, “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”  You can see that comment here  (which seems to be a partial and general response to a comment I made earlier in that thread that will be quoted below).

Quick Overview of Lapsarianism

In Calvinism, there are three major views regarding the divine viewpoint of the atonement of Christ and the purpose of the atonement.  I will present all three views below.

Supralapsarianism

1.  The decree to save (elect) some and reprobate others.
2.  The decree to create both the elect and the reprobate.
3.  The decree to permit the fall of both the elect and the reprobate.
4.  The decree to provide salvation only for the elect.

Infralapsarianism

1.  The decree to create human beings.
2.  The decree to permit the fall.
3.  The decree to elect some and reprobate others.
4.  The decree to provide salvation only for the elect.

Sublapsarianism

1.  The decree to create human beings.
2.  The decree to permit the fall.
3.  The decree to provide salvation sufficient for all.
4.  The decree to save some and reprobate others.

Either view one holds, to be a consistent Calvinists one must hold to particular redemption or limited atonement.  To hold to the other major points of Calvinism while rejecting limited atonement would be based simply on a personal decision to do so and would not be congruent with the other points.

If you are wondering, most Arminians would somewhat comfortable with Sublapsarianism but we would disagree with point 4 only in that we believe God decreed the giving of His Son for all but those who reject Christ and His gospel to worship false gods (Romans 1:18-32) do so because of their own free will and not because God has not chosen to save them.  Their rejection of the gospel leads to their condemnation (John 3:18) and not by God’s decree.  We would argue that God decreed to save all who repent of their sins and place their saving faith in Christ Jesus.  The reprobate would be thus so because of their own sinfulness and rejection of Christ rather than a decree.

Christians Seeking to Evangelize Other Christians

I have been a disciple of Jesus for over 20 years by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).  I know that my salvation is based entirely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving work at Calvary (John 6:29; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  Salvation is a work of God from beginning to end (Jonah 2:9; Ephesians 1:13-14).  Salvation is not by works of the flesh at all (Titus 3:5-7) and I believe that a person is justified before God because of the saving work of Christ (Acts 15:11; Romans 5:1-11).

And yet there are still Christians seeking to evangelize me.  Most of the time it is Calvinists who write to me and express that I am wrong on so many levels because of my rejection of Calvinism.  I willingly accept that I see God differently than Calvinists and I willingly accept that I believe in the work of Christ somewhat different than they do in that I hold that Jesus died for all and that all can be saved through faith in Him.  I accept that I view election differently than they do as I hold to conditional election based on foreknown faith (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2).  I acknowledge that we Arminians and Calvinists do disagree over theological issues.

Yet I don’t reject my Calvinist brethren as non-Christians.  I don’t seek to evangelize them.  I don’t mind questioning from time to time various aspects of a Calvinists theology but I am not out to make them into Arminians.  I don’t feel this is my job nor is it my passion.  I disagree with them but do not reject them as brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29).

If you were able to view my IPod you would find many Calvinist Bible teachers from Dr. John MacArthur to Dr. Albert Mohler to even Dr. James White.  I respect these men even if I don’t fully agree with them on all theological issues.  I greatly enjoy listening to Dr. Mohler’s podcast as he helps me to think biblically about the world and about cultural issues.  Dr. MacArthur is well-known for his exposition of Scripture and I appreciate his biblical knowledge and how his teachings are full of the Word of God.  I appreciate the knowledge God has given to Dr. White in his understanding of cults.  My passion is not to spend my time correcting these men nor is to convert them to Arminianism.  I suspect they would not so why waste my time or their own.

I simply ask my Calvinist brothers and sisters to do the same toward me.  I don’t want to convert you.  I don’t want to argue with you.  I understand we will disagree and from time to time we may debate but I don’t want to evangelize you.  I want to evangelize the lost.  I want to see sinners repent.  I want to see the gospel go forth (2 Thessalonians 3:1).  My passion is for people to be found in Christ Jesus (Mark 16:15).  The gospel is what I value above Arminianism.

Elect in the Son, Robert Shank

It has been nearly forty three years since Robert Shank published his seminal work, Elect in the Son, and that being ten years following his examination of perseverance, Life in theSon. Both are books that I have previously read in years past and recently the topic of election sparked a renewed interest, on my part, of Shank’s contribution. Dr. Shank suffered great rejection and whispered condemnation among many of his Baptist brethren when he first published “Life”, made all the more remarkable by the lack of any substantial repudiation of his exegesis and conclusions. To this day I have not found a credible rebuttal of his work and I hope that opinion is not shaded by any excessive Arminian sympathies on my part. To that end I have undertaken a re-reading of both volumes. During the first introduction to Dr. Shank, I was quite firmly in the Wesleyan camp and his conclusion reinforced much of the theology I was accustomed to. Since then, the classical Arminian position holds a greater sway theologically and this new exploration of these great books  should give me an opportunity to better evaluation the conclusions and exegesis presented.

As I started reading “Elect in the Son”, the first chapter captured my attention for a couple of readings and I want to record it here for future reference and consideration. The comments struck as profound and worthy of meditation.
“Thy Kingdom Come”1
In a day when the foundations of society are crumbling, a day of gathering storm and deepening gloom, a day of unprecedented peril in which thoughtful men speak of the collapse of civilization and the possible annihilation of cities and nations – even of mankind, the sovereignty of God is an unfailing encouragement that lights the path of the just and affords assurance to all the faithful, who take great comfort in the words of James in the historic council of the church at Jerusalem: “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18).
God, who has “declared the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done,” has said, “My council shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). He who “works all things after the council of His own will” is at work in the world in these momentous times, moving inexorably toward fulfillment of an eternal purpose that antedates creation and gives meaning to human history. History, by divine appointment, is teleological, and the sweep of human events, whatever the sound and fury, moves toward the appointed end: “Thy kingdom come.”
Nothing in the course of events can alter the appointed outcome. The unfolding of the days and years, whatever their number, ultimately will issue in all that was foretold by the prophets of old, by our LORD, and by His Apostles. The witness of history past, confirming “the prophetic word made more sure” (2 Pet. 1:19), attests that the human events ever move toward the inevitable denouement on which creation itself is predicated: “the coming of the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world”.
There is, of course, a sense in which the kingdom of God is eternally present rather than prospective, coexistent with Him who “before the mountains were brought forth or ever He had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, is God” (Ps. 90:2). But the kingdom of God, as proclaimed and anticipated by both Jesus and the Apostles and the prophets of old, is yet future and awaits its manifestation at the end of the age, to appear in a moment of spectacular divine intervention at the coming of Christ in power and judgment … but appearing also as the consummation of a long process, as implied by many of our LORD’s parables
Why a long process? Why not, instead, instant kingdom? Could not God, in the act of a moment, have created the everlasting kingdom He purposed from eternity? Are not all things possible with God?
All things are indeed possible for God, but only within the limitations of consistency with His own nature and being. God cannot lie, for example, nor can He change, nor can He deny Himself. We may reverently assume that, for the kind of kingdom He intends, God is following the only possible course: the process of human history.
The process comprehends all that God has done, beginning even before His mighty acts of creation when He “laid the foundations of the earth and the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:4,7). It comprehends the creation of man in the image and likeness of God and the entrance of sin into human experience in the disobedience of man to the world and will of his Creator.
The process comprehends the moral self-discoveries and the redemptive revelations and encounters experienced by the patriarchs of old and all the faithful of their generations. It comprehends the experiences of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and a nation descended from them, and the judges and kings and prophets who appeared among them.
The process comprehends the redemptive mission of Jesus, unfolded in His incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and ultimate return in righteous judgment. It comprehends the labors of the Apostles and the witness of the Church to Christ and His saving Gospel in all generations until the coming of the King and the kingdom.
The process whereby God is creating the kingdom which He purposed before the world began comprehends “all nations of men … on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26) and involves every man. Human history in its totality is the milieu in which the everlasting kingdom is being wrought … and in which the election determined by God from before creation – an election wholly identified with the kingdom – is being realized.
“Thy kingdom come” – the kingdom which was the concern of Jesus in the days of His flesh, the burden of His preaching, the subject of splendid promises and solemn warnings, and the central theme of all His teachings from the beginning of His ministry to the time of His ascension (Acts 1:3). Thy kingdom come!
And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and Amen – Psalm 72:19

1 Elect in the Son, Robert L. Shank, Bethany House, Bloomington, MN 1970, 1989, pp  21-23

Abortion is Doomed by a Higher Law

It was William Seward, the United States secretary of state under Abraham Lincoln, who said that slavery was doomed by a “higher law than the Constitution, the law of God.”  Seward understood that slavery would fail because of the law of God opposing slavery based on race.  Clearly racism was a sin and God would end the awful, destructive practice of slavery of the African race.

We modern abolitionists of abortion believe the same.  Our war is not a war against a law.  Our war is not a war against our culture.  Our war is against murder.  God will dispose abortion because abortion violates not the laws of the United States of America or the laws of New Zealand or the laws of China but the law of God.  Murder is not just and abortion is nothing more than murder (Exodus 20:13).

Let it be known that we modern abolitionists of abortion desire to fight abortion with the same passion the abolitionists fought against slavery before the American Civil War.  We believe that all people: black, red, white, yellow, etc. deserve the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We believe that every person including the handicapped are made in the image of God and are precious in His sight.  We believe that abortion is nothing more than the murder of unborn people and should be completely abolished in all forms.

The Discipline of Meditation

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name
Earth has no higher bliss
-Frederick W. Faber

Do you want to be in God’s presence? Do you desire to know him, to hear his voice, to fellowship with him, to listen and obey him? Meditation is listening to God’s word, thinking about his law, and remembering again and again what he has done. “Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2). “Christian meditation is the ability to hear God’s voice and to obey his word.”  Hearing God is also a call to obedience.  It does us no good to hear if we do not also obey.

Jesus often meditated. He set aside time to be alone with his Father. He listened, communed, and followed the will of his Father. He modeled a relationship for us. “What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart”.

Christian meditation has little in common with meditation of the eastern religions.   “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind.”  Eastern meditation is an attempt to escape from the physical realm and to lose one’s personal identity.  Christian meditation is an encounter with the living God who makes us whole.  Christian meditation is creating space that allows God to remove confusion around us, and to replace that confusion with a rich relationship with himself.

Deep down it is frightening to talk directly to God.  He is holy, and we are not.  It’s hard to trust him, it’s intimidating to be in his presence.  We usually prefer to hear from God second hand – through a mediator – just like Israel preferred Moses to talk to God on their behalf.  We think that by speaking to God “second hand”, we won’t really need to change our lives or who we are.  But, “to be in the presence of God is to change.”

Desiring to talk to God requires grace from God in the first place.   As we receive his grace, the fire in our heart grows.  We increasingly desire to know him, to hear him, to obey him, to be in his presence, and for him to change us.

Learning to meditate requires setting aside some time to do it. At the same time, our whole day matters.  Paul  says “to pray without ceasing.”  We can’t compartmentalize.  If most of our day is frantic and without thought of God, it will be difficult to think of him for the few minutes that we do set aside.

What about location and posture?  When meditating, try to pick a spot that is free of distraction.  Turn off the TV and the cell phone.  Focus on God.  When the weather is nice, consider going outside.  Pick a posture that works for you, that’s comfortable, and that helps you to center your attention on Christ.

Meditate on scripture.  Allow God to speak to you through his written work.   Scripture meditation is different than exegesis or study. It is ruminating on a scripture passage (reading the passage slowly, several times, thinking deeply about it).  Sometimes it might include memorizing the passage.  Ask God to personalize his word for you – to show you how he wants to apply it in your life.  Pick a passage of scripture and internalize it.

Another kind of meditation is to “center down” (a Quaker term).  Be quiet before God.  Give your cares to him.  Receive from him.  “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Another kind of meditation is to enjoy God’s world.   Be amazed at his creation.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1). “Give your attention to the created order. Look at the trees, really look at them. Take a flower and allow its beauty and symmetry to sink deep into your mind and heart.”

Another kind of meditation is to think about current events.  This could be called “prophetic meditation”.   “Hold the events of our time before God and ask for prophetic insight to discern where these things lead. Further, we should ask for guidance for anything we personally should be doing to be salt and light in our decaying and dark world.”

Remember as you meditate that it is a learning process.  Don’t get discouraged, don’t give up.  God wants you to know him better.  He is  in the process of drawing you to himself.  Let him do it.

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All quotes in this post (other than the Bible references) are from the Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster.

Does the "Age of Accountability" Imply Infants are Sinless?

No, even if infants sin, that does not mean God would send then to hell if they die.  The “age of accountability” is more about the time when children can trust in Christ for salvation, rather then when they can first sin.  Most parents realize their young children do things they shouldn’t long before they can understand the Gospel.  I tried explaining this to a Presbyterian once, but he insisted the age of accountability means young children are not moral agents – they cannot sin.  So here’s a few quotes on the age of accountability (frankly the first three hits off a Google search, but they do the trick).

“It doesn’t mean that they are not fallen; it doesn’t mean that they are not sinful — it does mean that God mercifully treats them as “innocent” in spite of that, and He has to exercise grace to do that, just as He exercises grace to save those who believe.” (John MacArthur Grace to you)

“Frequently lost in the discussion regarding the age of accountability is the fact that children, no matter how young, are not “innocent” in the sense of being sinless… The age of accountability is a concept that teaches those who die before reaching the age of accountability are automatically saved, by God’s grace and mercy. The age of accountability is a belief that God saves all those who die before reaching the ability to make a decision for or against Christ. …The fact that Christ’s death was sufficient for all sin would allow the possibility of God’s applying that payment to those who were never capable of believing.” (Got Questions)

“But second, since that response is based on one’s ability to comprehend and respond to the message, a person becomes personally accountable when he or she reaches a point where they have the spiritual and mental facility to grasp the issues. This does not mean they are not sinful, but only that they have not reached a place where they can understand.” (Bible.org – What does the Bible say about the age of accountability? )

Reading

I once visited Leonard Ravenhill’s home in Lindale, Texas.  His house was full of books.  In his study were shelves full of books.  Ravenhill was a reader.  He often would read a chapter or more from books when some brethren would gather in his house for prayer.  He loved to read from the great saints of God such as Spurgeon, Bounds, Tozer (whom he was personal friends with before his death in 1963), Murray, Wesley, and many more.

Charles Spurgeon himself was an avid reader.  He read as many as five books a week!  He too had a personal library full of books.  Spurgeon loved to read commentaries and would spend hours reading over commentaries.  He had a photographic memory and would often walk into the pulpit to preach with little more than an outline and would recite from memory quotes from books that he had read or hymns.

Dr. Al Mohler is an avid reader.  He reads as many as ten books a week!

Dr. John MacArthur is an avid reader as well.  He has made it his custom to always reading a commentary, a book on theology, and sometimes a “hot” topic book on history, culture, etc.  His sermons show his love for commentaries and his love for theology.

I wish I could read like that.  On a good week I can read up to two books a week.  Typically I average one book.  I wish I could read more.  Time does not permit that for me.  I work a full-time job (mostly overnight) and am a full-time parent and husband not to mention my passion for the Lord Jesus.  I love to read though and would rather read than any other thing besides prayer.

With the modern technology we have now with Kindles and other e-readers, there is no excuse for not reading books.  I own a Kindle Fire and love my Kindle.  Each week there are literally hundreds of free books one can download.  I subscribe to a website that sends me updates about free books out there.  You can find many godly books for free and you can also read books from saints long gone such as E.M. Bounds, Albert Barnes, John Bunyan, etc.  I download as many free books as I can even if I don’t agree fully with the books or the authors.

Reading stretches your mind like nothing else.  Television makes you passive even if you are watching programs designed for learning.  Reading allows you to not just stretch your thinking but it also causes you to focus unlike television.  Reading fictional works allows you to create worlds and images that are only in your mind.  To read a book and then see the movie is often disappointing to me as the movie is never as good as the book and is nothing like I pictured in my mind (The Hobbit comes to mind).

Finally, it is interesting to me that God has chosen to faithfully reveal Himself and His Son and our salvation through a written book.  The Bible is a collection of 66 different books that faithfully reveals the truth of God and His Messiah.  God could have chosen to reveal His salvation to us through visions or dreams or through a picture in the sky but He chose to reveal Himself through His Word (John 20:31).  His Word is to be studied, memorized, applied, and taught to others (2 Timothy 3:15-4:3).  The Word sanctifies us (John 17:17) and His Word cuts us (Hebrews 4:12).  His Word is how we defeat the lies of Satan (Ephesians 6:17).  His Word is how we know we are disciples of Jesus (John 8:31-32).  His Word is how we grow in the Lord (Psalm 1:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18).  We are to long for His Word (1 Peter 2:2).  We are not to add to His Word nor take away from it (Revelation 22:18-19).  The Word is vital to knowing Christ and preaching His truth.  How important it is then to spend time reading the Bible above all other books.

John 6:44 – Compatible with Compatiblism?

Both Calvinist and Arminians hold to total depravity, which minimally includes the idea that man cannot believe without God’s grace, but they mean very different things by this. Most of the historic controversy has centered on what each side means by God’s grace; but it’s time to look at what each side means by “man cannot believe”. I am going to argue that total depravity is not compatible with compatiblism. Because Arminianism asserts and Calvinism denies total depravity in ordinary everyday language, Arminianism makes better sense of total depravity.

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.  (See also Job 15:14, Romans 8:7-8, John 6:65, John 15:5, and Romans 5:6)

When our Lord says “no man can come to me”, does He mean we would not come to Him even if we wanted to? No if we wanted to we would come. Christ is not saying we have a physical defect with our minds, such that we cannot think the thoughts. So in the classical compatiblistic sense of saying a man can do something, if it’s true that he would do it if he wanted to, we would deny Christ’s words and say yes man can come, because it’s true that he would come if he wanted to.

When our Lord says “no man can come to me”, does He mean we have dispositions such that we would not come to Him even if we wanted to? No if we wanted to we could come. So on dispositional compatiblism, we would deny Christ’s words and say yes man can come, because he has dispositions such that he would come if he wanted to.

When our Lord says “no man can come to me”, does He mean we know for certain we will never come to Christ? No, for no one knows for certain they are reprobate. So on epistemic compatiblism, we would deny Christ’s words and say yes man can come, because we don’t know that we will not come.

Yet classic compatiblism, dispositional compatiblism and epistemic compatiblism are the three main engines compatiblists use to interpret ordinary everyday statements on ability. So John 6:44 is not compatible with compatiblism. While this problem never crosses the lips of Calvinist popularizers such as Piper, Sproul, and White; Johnathan Edwards admits total depravity is an improper use of language and using language normally can do good.1 Tell that to Christ!

But the bible affirms and never denies that man cannot believe without God’s grace. This is because the bible was written to the ordinary man in ordinary language.

When our Lord says, “no man can come to me” does He mean we cannot come? Period. Without qualification. Yes. We do not have libertarian freedom respecting conversion. Unlike Calvinism, which in ordinary language must affirm man’s ability to believe, man cannot believe without God’s grace.

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1But it must be observed concerning moral Inability, in each kind of it, that the word Inability is used in a sense very diverse from its original import. The word signifies only a natural Inability, in the proper use of it; and is applied to such cases only wherein a present will or inclination to the thing, with respect to which a person is said to be unable, is supposable. It cannot be truly said, according to the ordinary use of language, that a malicious man, let him be never so malicious, cannot hold his hand from striking, or that he is not able to show his neighbor kindness; or that a drunkard, let his appetite be never so strong, cannot keep the cup from his mouth. In the strictest propriety of speech, a man has a thing in his power, if he has it in his choice, or at his election: and a man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present. (Edwards.  Freedom of the Will.  I.4)

The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

One of the books that has had a positive impact on my relationship with Christ is: The Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster.  If you haven’t read the book, I recommend it.  If you have read it, it’s worth rereading! Over the next few weeks I plan to read the book again, and then to do a blog post on each of the disciplines mentioned.

The purpose of genuine discipline is to draw closer to Jesus, and to enable him to work in us.  It is seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. The moment we make our focus the discipline itself (instead of Christ), it becomes a hindrance.  It can become legalistic, prideful, and can change our focus to self work instead of God’s grace.  But if our purpose in studying and applying the disciplines is to allow Christ to better work in us, they can have an amazing and positive impact in our walk with Christ.

The disciplines Foster writes about are:

The Inward Disciplines
meditation
prayer
fasting
study

The Outward Disciplines
simplicity
solitude
submission
service

The Corporate Disciplines
confession
worship
guidance
celebration

If you are like me, you may have a negative reaction to the idea of one or more of the above. Give them a chance. I hope you enjoy the series, that it clears up misconceptions, and that it challenges and motivates you to seek first God’s kingdom.

Four Dilemmas Facing the Church

I heard Dr. Albert Mohler recently say what four major dilemmas does he see coming that the Church will have to face.  They are:

  • Homosexuality and Same-Sex “Marriage”
  • The Exclusive Nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • Inerrancy of the Bible
  • Genesis 1-11

I concur.  Dr. Mohler noted that the new defense for the evangelical church seems to be “I have no opinion” rather than stating what the Bible says on various issues.  He said that many are doing this for the sake of peace but they are compromising by not declaring and defending what God has stated in His Word.  A case in point would be where Joel Osteen consistently states that he cannot judge others nor does he want to condemn others.  He simply avoids any controversial issue but not taking a position either way.  This has become the standard reply for the sin of homosexuality where Bible teachers are not declaring it a sin.  They simply are avoiding the issue.

We must stand upon the Word of God.  The Word is the final authority for all things (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and we can declare what God has said on issues because of His Word.  As Charles Spurgeon said, “Defend the Bible?  I would as soon defend a lion!  Unchain it and it will defend itself.”  We need the Bible to be faithfully preached, studied, memorized, and declared to the lost world (Mark 16:15).

You’re Philosophy; I’m Scripture

Recently I had separate conversations with Steve Hays and Turretinfan both of which got down to the charge that “you’re using philosophical speculation, I am using scripture”.  A serious charge, this; one wants his theology to be grounded in scripture rather than floating away via the levitating power of thin air. However, faith and reason are often intertwined; can you even trust scripture’s words without trusting your eyes, ears and brain more than some philosophers are willing to do? We all have philosophies whether we are aware of them or not.

My comments in blue; Steve and Turretinfan’s comments in red.

– —————————-

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/12/outside-camp.html

Steve: Then I read a book by Jerry Walls and David Baggett which says my God could command people to torture little children for the fun of it.

When I read that, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. It doesn’t offend me. But it does alienate me. It instantly dissolves any sense of spiritual rapport between me and Jerry or David. A chasm opens up between us. They can’t talk that way about my God, and still expect to be friends. That’s too compartmentalized. Too horizontal–at the expense of the vertical.

Now, you might respond, “Oh, we’re not talking about God. We’re just talking about your idea of God. Your Calvinist conception of God.”

Except that if I’m right, then my idea of God maps onto the one true God–just as you think your Arminian concept of God maps onto the one true God.

Me:I appreciate your commitment to making theology practical but I fear you may not understand your Arimian opponents. I could be wrong, maybe Walls and Olson do go too far, but take this classic comment by Wesley: 


“You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning.”

I assume you do not think God is worse than the devil. So you and Wesley agree that God is not worse than the devil. That’s vital common ground.

Perhaps you think Wesley is saying, “if Calvinism is true, then God is worse than the devil”, and that’s the offense. Maybe verbally Wesley, Olson or Walls say that, but they could never mean by it what that statement means to you.

For an Arminian, Calvinism is inconsistent and for a Calvinist, Arminianism is inconsistent. Sure you can make sense of this claim hear and that claim there, but the whole system is at odds with itself. You can never understand a contradiction.

What Wesley is most likely doing is combining an incompatiblist notion of moral responsibility with the idea that God unconditionally reprobates. He’s saying that would make God worse than the devil. He rules out a compatiblist notion of responsibility as incoherent. And if you believe reprobation requires a compatibilist notion of moral responsibility, then you might even agree that reprobation and an incompatiblist notion of moral responsibility would make God worse than the devil. If you agree, that’s vital common ground.

Steve: I appreciate your commitment to making theology practical but I fear you may not understand your Arimian opponents.”


Funny that David Baggett didn’t think to accuse me of that.

This isn’t about how Calvinists understand Arminianism, but how Arminians understand Calvinism.

I assume you do not think God is worse than the devil. So you and Wesley agree that God is not worse than the devil. That’s vital common ground.”

That’s not really common ground since we don’t agree on what would make God devilish. Therefore, the superficial agreement is equivocal.

“Perhaps you think Wesley is saying, ‘if Calvinism is true, then God is worse than the devil’, and that’s the offense.”

I didn’t say it was “offensive.” I said it was “alienating.”

Maybe verbally Wesley, Olson or Walls say that, but they could never mean by it what that statement means to you.”

They mean that if God has the characteristics Calvinists think he has, then he’s morally monstrous, worse than Hitler, worse than the devil, could command people to torture little kids for fun.

What Wesley is most likely doing is combining an incompatiblist notion of moral responsibility with the idea that God unconditionally reprobates.”

I don’t think he distinguishes between unconditional and conditional reprobation. Rather, he’s indignant at the notion that God never gave them a chance.

And if you believe reprobation requires a compatibilist notion of moral responsibility, then you might even agree that reprobation and an incompatiblist notion of moral responsibility would make God worse than the devil. If you agree, that’s vital common ground.

I don’t agree. I don’t begin with a theory of moral responsibility, then use my preconceived theory to pick out which God I’m prepared to believe in.

Me: Baggett and I probably agree on the big picture (i.e. on soteriology and that Calvinists are brothers in Christ). And this issue is a two way street, I have to deal with the fact that Calvinists sometimes say that on Arminianism, God is not sovereign, He’s a cosmic bell hop, a looser.


You and Wesley have very different notions of what conditional reprobation means.
It doesn’t really matter if you start with what the bible says about responsibility or somewhere else. Responsibility is an important part of the soteriological picture; everyone has to get around to it. The bible says sin is against God’s will – something He hates, laments and takes efforts to avoid. You may think we are overly philosophical when it comes to God’s will in predestination, but we think Calvinists wax philosophical when it comes to God’s will concerning sin. 
For my part, I think it’s less dangerous to ask the why and how questions than not ask them.

But it remains that if you insert a single Calvinist tenant into an Arminian worldview, you get a bizarre result. Likewise, Arminians don’t have a concept for a whole Calvinist worldview – it just looks inconsistent to us. Either Calvinists or Arminianians are inconsistent, but not blasphemers.

Steve: “And this issue is a two way street, I have to deal with the fact that Calvinists sometimes say that on Arminianism, God is not sovereign, He’s a cosmic bell hop, a looser.

Those are two very different streets. That’s quite mild compared to saying God is worse than Satan, a moral monster, &c.

You and Wesley have very different notions of what conditional reprobation means.

Actually, I expect Wesley was subconsciously reacting to his tyrannical father.

It doesn’t really matter if you start with what the bible says about responsibility or somewhere else.”

It makes a hell of a difference whether we start with a philosophical preconception of responsibility, then say God is Satanic or morally monstrous if he doesn’t measure up to our philosophical preconception.

The bible says sin is against God’s will – something He hates, laments and takes efforts to avoid.

You sound like an open theist.

But it remains that if you insert a single Calvinist tenant into an Arminian worldview, you get a bizarre result.”

I didn’t insert a Calvinist tenet into Arminianism. I was working off of how Arminians like Olson, Baggett, Wesley, and Walls characterize Reformed theism as well as their own position.

Either Calvinists or Arminianians are inconsistent, but not blasphemers.”

If the inconsistency was merely based on misinterpreting Scripture, that wouldn’t be blasphemous. But to compare God to Hitler, the Devil, &c., based on a philosophical postulate, is most certainly blasphemous.

Me: “The bible says sin is against God’s will (John 7:17) – something He hates (Psalms 45:7), laments (Luke 19:41-42) and takes efforts to avoid (Jeremiah 2:30).”
Do I still sound like an open theist
?

Steve: Since open theists quote the Bible, too, how does merely quoting the Bible distinguish your position from an open theist? What have you quoted that an open theist would take issue with?

Me: I wasn’t really trying to distinguish my position from open theism, but I didn’t think I had to. Do you think the Bible itself sounds open theistic?

Steve: It’s a question of your hermeneutic.

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http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2013/01/dont-conflate-middle-knowledge-and.html

Turretinfan: Rather, he [Dan] is missing an argument for the distinctively Molinistic view as contrasted with a Bañezians (aka Thomistic) or Calvinistic view. In other words, we firmly agree that God knows future contingents that are contingent on creaturely freedom (the so-called counter-factuals of freedom). We simply affirm that God knows those future contingents postvolitionally. 


Nothing in or about the cited verses suggests a prevolitional knowledge, and thus appeals to these verses continue to leave Molinism without support as to its distinctive assertions. We recognize that some Molinists, such as William Lane Craig, are content to acknowledge that Molinism is not something taught by Scripture, and we think that all Molinists ought to join with him in this important concession.

Me: I doubt many Calvinists actually hold that God decreed what they would do if they were Gandolf the Gray. If they did the might not be so quick to say my view was speculative and not based on scripture. But until determinists put forward some more plausible account of counterfactuals of creaturly freedom then they have done, middle knowledge does provide the best reading of these text.

Turretinfan: I don’t see the Gandolf the Gray problem as a serious objection either to Calvinism or Molinism (I don’t think many Molinists actually hold that God middle-knew what they would do if they were Gandolf the Gray), but if it is a problem for Calvinism it is at least as big a problem for Molinism.
d) Just asserting that compatibilism isn’t a plausible account seems to beg the question. 

Me: On Gandolf, part of my point was that the Dominicans were more influenced by the scolastics and natural theology in general than modern Calvinists. That’s partly why they don’t respond to Molinism the same way modern Calvinists do and if your average Calvinist were steeped in the scolastics; they probably wouldn’t object to Molinism on the basis that it’s overly philosophical.

On compatiblism and scripture, I have argued on the subject here: 

http://www.traditionalbaptistchronicles.com/2012/10/1-corinthians-1013-teaches-libertarian.html
 
Turretinfan: Partly that’s because post-Reformation Dominicans had less of an emphasis on Sola Scriptura.
If you want your theology to be accepted amongst the children of the Reformation, it has to come from Scripture. 

I will re-read your argument from 1 Corinthians, but my recollection is that it has the same problem as the arguments I’ve linked to above, namely that it falls short of actually demonstrating LFW from Scripture. 

Me: By putting space between Calvinists and the Dominicans and by conceding most Calvinists don’t hold to decrees regarding Gandolf, you have shot your on views on Gandolf in their gigantic gray boots.
What, the Dominians believed in decrees regarding Gandolf because of philosophy whereas some small number of Calvinists get those same views from scripture? Um, double-standard. 

Turretinfan: respectfully decline to agree with your characterizations. I think the preceding comments are clear enough.

What, the Dominians believed in decrees regarding Gandolf because of philosophy whereas some small number of Calvinists get those same views from scripture? Um, double-standard. “

Even assuming I were saying that the Thomists/Banezians/Dominicans got to the same conclusion by philosophy that we get to by Scripture (that’s not what I’m saying, but let’s run with it), that’s not a “double standard,” that’s a one-two knockout combination.

Moreover, if Molinism loses when evaluated just by philosophy (e.g. Harry Frankfurt) and then if it also loses when evaluated based on Scripture (e.g., Francis Turretin), that’s not a double-standard, just a loss on two fronts. 


Thanks to Steve and Turretinfan for taking the time to share their thoughts on these subjects!

Stand Firm For Truth No Matter What

I saw where Louis Giglio has now resigned after being asked by President Obama to pray at the inauguration.  The reason for his resignation was because homosexual groups and the Left were in a firestorm with Obama after someone pulled a sermon Giglio preached in which he called homosexuality a sin and that people in sin (all sins) needed to repent.  In his sermon, Giglio quotes from Scripture to back his points.  He is not merely giving his opinions but is stating what the Bible says.  This caused the uproar and so Giglio withdrew from the inauguration although I am sure the Obama administration politely asked him to not attend.

My advice to all true disciples of Jesus is to not back down from the truth.  Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).  We will be attacked and put down (Matthew 5:10-12) but stand firm for the truth.  We will be viewed as bigots, as old-fashioned, as losing touch with reality, as not being with the times but preach the Word.  Stand firm upon our convictions from Scripture that all sin must be repented of as Giglio rightly said (Acts 17:30-31).  Truth matters.  Don’t compromise.  Don’t give into the spirit of this age for the sake of anything.  Not for the sake of money.  Not for the sake of fame.  Not for the sake of sin.  Stand firm for Jesus and His kingdom.  The Lord will vindicate us (Psalm 73).  Jesus will win this war.  We are promised this.

Persecution is coming friends.  Soon we disciples of Jesus will be hated and killed but the Lord will be glorified as we stand firm for the truth.  No matter what may happen, Jesus will win this war.  Jesus will be the King of kings and the Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15-16).  Our blood may be shed for the truth of Christ and His Word but stand firm.  God will reward the righteous.  He will judge the wicked (Revelation 20:11-15).  No immoral person will be in heaven (Revelation 21:7-8) and Jesus will be exalted among His saints.  Let us not give one inch to this world (James 4:4) but let us preach the truth to this world until they kill us.

 ”I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Why I Think “Hearing God” Can Be Dangerous

I know many people believe they can hear from God.  I once worked with a lady who would constantly talk to God.  She said that He spoke back to her and even helped her to count out her money at the end of the day.  She also believed that she could speak to Satan and they too would have fights and arguments especially when her register came up short and she knew that a demon had taken her money.

We laugh at that type of stuff but I would say that most people I know who follow Christ do believe that He can directly speak to them.  Almost all of them would not claim to have heard an audible voice but they believe God leads us by our inner being, in our spirits.  God speaks to them by inner promptings and through their feelings.  For instance, they pray about something and they feel God is speaking to them to do this or that.  They don’t hear His voice but they just know that they know that God is leading them in this or that direction.  Nearly all of them would claim that the Bible is the final authority and we should not go against God’s Word but I would also add that far too many of them don’t spend much time in His Word to really know whether this inner voice they are hearing is God or Satan or perhaps neither.

The issues I have with hearing God speak is that it is just so subjective.  Whether dreams or visions or voices or even other people, hearing the voice of God is muddled through all the ways that we claim He speaks to us.  I know that nearly all true disciples would never equate these visions or dreams or voices or inner promptings with the authority of Scripture but I do believe that it does undermine the authority of Scripture.  I believe that Scripture is sufficient.  I believe that the Word of God is completely full of authority and is completely inerrant.  I believe that to hear the voice of God speak we need only to open the Word of God up and we can hear His voice loud and clear.  All through the Scriptures we read that when Scripture speaks, God speaks (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-5 or Isaiah 55:3; Acts 13:34 and many more.  We even have OT examples of God saying and then NT Scripture saying later on such as in Genesis 12:3 and Galatians 3:8).  Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and as 2 Timothy 3:17 tells us, we are complete with the Word.

And this will save us much trouble if we hold that God speaks mainly through Scripture.  No doubt creation does reveal much about God (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20) but the Bible reveals God faithfully to us and we see the fuller picture of God in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).  The Bible reveals the Lord Jesus (John 20:31).  This is the purpose of Scripture.  The purpose of Scripture is not to reveal the will of God nor to reveal how He created the world but to reveal the Lord Jesus.  From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is all about the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yet the Bible is true when it speaks of history or science or even what the will of God is.

To be honest, I hear people saying they are seeing God for His will but they are not faithful to walk in what He has already revealed in His Word.  I even heard one brother say (and he believes in hearing the voice of God outside of Scripture), “Why do you think God will speak to you apart from His Word if you are not abiding in His Word?”  This is true!  We don’t spend much time in the Word seeking to know the will of God and what He has revealed about His will in the first place.  We look to this person or to that vision but we never bother opening up the Word and walking in what the Lord has already revealed. The Word is inerrant and infallible and we need to abide by this truth and we can know the will of God and walk in it.

Lastly, I believe a danger lies in seeking to hear the voice of God apart from Scripture because then we begin to doubt the infallibility of the Bible.  What happens is that the experience is often exalted above the Scriptures.  Richard Watson wrote,

The opinion, that sufficient notices of the will and purposes of God with respect to man, may be collected by rational induction from his works and government, attributes too much to the power of human reason and the circumstances under which, in that case, it must necessarily commence its exercise.

Human reason must be taken, as it is in fact, a weak and erring faculty, and as subject to have its operations suspended or disturbed by the influence of vicious principles and attachment to earthly things; neither of which can be denied, however differently they may he accounted for.

Our human reasoning is weak and sinful.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Our flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7).  Romans 3:10-18 paints a picture of human beings that is grossly sinful.  How can we begin to trust our flesh to find the will of God?  How can we begin to trust our dreams to know the will of God?  This is why we must heed Scripture.  We must read the Word.  Hide the Word.  Abide in the Word.  Memorize the Word.  Preach the Word.  Pray the Word.  Study the Word.  Apply the Word.  Meditate upon the Word.  The voice of God is not far from any of us if we merely take time to read the Word of God and hear His voice.  Our hearts are not sufficient to hear the voice of God.  Our spirits are not sufficient to hear the voice of God.  We, however, can hear the voice of God fully and faithfully in the Bible.  It is the Word of God.

Coo Coo For Cocoa Puffs

Urban Dictionary defines Coo Coo for Cocoa Puffs as … a strictly medical term, used to describe a patient or person that has delved into a realm of irrational, illogical and/or crazy thought processes; Affected with madness; insane to an exceeding degree characterized by weakness or feebleness; decrepit; broken; falling to decay; shaky; unsafe; foolish

See that guy trying to put that square peg into that round hole? I think he’s gone coo coo for cocoa puffs!

I think William Lane Craig has provided another potential  use of the phrase with his comments regarding Calvinist divine determinism that might look something like this.

See that guy trying to square his universal divine determinism with scripture and sound reason? I think he’s gone coo coo for cocoa puffs!

From Craig’s Website:
Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism#ixzz2Hal0jd9x

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