Monday, September 29, 2003

Yet more on "Preach Only to the Elect?"

My previous post caused a bit of an uproar, both in its comment section and over at Josh S’s I need a stiff drink (Sept. 26).

I have been anathematized by Christopher Jones and labeled a heretic by Karl Thienes (get in line guys, behind the Roman Catholics and various Protestant fundamentalists, such as those who have elevated to a test of orthodoxy the KJV, a young-earth view, and/or dispensational premillennialism).

I have also been "accused" of being an intellectual. I do not think that is a bad thing, but that is not the point; the title does not apply to me. I am a reductionist, not an intellectual. That is almost the opposite. My physics background demands it. The charge of over simplifying may apply to me, but not over intellectualizing.

Anyway, let us reexamine the post and then I will address some of the comments.

First of all, the debate is really an internal debate among Calvinists. If you do not believe in unconditional election, for example as described by the Westminster divines:
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

then Gerstner’s hypothetical encounter would of course just seem like more foolishness.

The interesting question is why do some Calvinists get so upset by it?

So to my Arminian friends, try to ratchet up the argument one abstraction level: I know you would find the encounter foolish, but that is a different debate. Try this instead: taking, for the sake of argument, the doctrine of unconditional election as a presupposition, is Gerster's hypothetical encounter self-consistent?

The Westminster Confession also adds:

Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved

Many times Calvinists will say that there is an inward and an outward call, or an effectual and an outward call. The effectual call is heard only by the elect while the outward call goes to everyone (or "many", as in Matt. 22:14).

Gerstner is objecting to this construction, basically along the following lines as I understand him.

The outward call, or the "call by the ministry of the Word" that is both heard and understood by many are commands: repent, believe, follow. All men are so commanded; all will be judged according to their response. This establishes the unforgivable sin: unbelief.

Only the elect will respond to the gospel, it will be foolishness to anyone else, and the elect respond to it only because they have been given a new heart, i.e., only because they have been regenerated.

The bible teaches what we call evangelism thusly: go forth and preach the gospel, making disciples of all the nations.

Gerstner connects the dots:
  1. Evangelism means to preach the gospel
  2. Only the regenerate elect will respond to the gospel
  3. Therefore evangelism is to reach (and make disciples of) only the regenerate

Gerstner would not argue against the truth that everyone should be told that they must believe or they will perish. He would argue against telling everyone that Christ died for them.

Did Christ die for those in hell? If the person standing before you is not of the elect, doesn't your Calvinism tell you he is forever spiritually dead and will never be saved? If so, how can you tell him truthfully that you know Christ died for him? Isn't that rather cruel, like handing a deaf person a Mozart CD?

How is this position inconsistent with unconditional election? How is it inconsistent with Particular Atonement? (Remember, this is an internal or a self-consistency debate, Arminians do not need to state their obvious displeasure.)

Gerstner is not alone in this position, as some have suggested. Many, many others have said and written essentially the same thing. Spurgeon famously addressed a question as to why he doesn’t preach just to his precious "elect" with a response along the lines that he would, if they could be identified.

Let me address some of the comments.

Joel Garver wrote:
Blech. This whole approach to things would be pretty close to anathema to quite the swath of Calvinists too.

I am underwhelmed by the scripture Joel employs to negate Gerstner’s position. It seems to be a scorecard argument. I already know that I travel in different Calvinistic wings than Joel. He asserts without proof that his camp holds the majority view (the swath). In the past he has directed me to seventeenth century French theologians whom I have never read. And the Calvinists I tend to read (such as Gerstner or Sproul or Spurgeon or Packer or Edwards) tend to, I suspect, cause Joel to roll his eyes: Oh "those" Calvinists. The crazy aunts in the attic. (Although, for what it is worth, which is very little, they are as a group as credentialed as any other.) I am reminded of the anecdotal response of the Long Island socialite upon learning that Nixon was elected: How could that happen? Everyone I know voted for McGovern!

Evan Donavan made several comments:
OK. This is just bizarre. Gerstnerism is a very small subset of Calvinism, last time I checked.

This is unsubstantiated and essentially the same argument as Garver's. I'll add that even if Calvin disagreed with Gerstner, it is irrelevant. Calvinism is a doctrine, not a cult. It happens to be named after the great John Calvin, but that does not mean that Calvin would agree with everything that, for example, is summarized by the Westminster Confession.

And over on Josh S’s blog Evan added:

"Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price"
Gerstner would not object to using this passage when witnessing, any more than he would object to using John 3:16. How could he? He is saying, and I agree with him, that in response to a direct question of Did Christ die for me? The truthful response is I don’t know. If you come to Him, then yes He died for you. Is this response too brutal? Will it drive an elect away from Christ? Surely no Calvinist could believe such a thing.

Evan also wrote
Everyone is spiritually thristy. Only those whom the Spirit quickens will recognize that thrist. And yet all could come if they were willing.

It depends on what you mean by spiritually thirsty. If you mean everyone seeks the true God then you are wrong. If you mean everyone is spiritual in some new-age sense, then I suppose the statement is correct. And the all could come if they were willing is hiding the fact that God does not choose to make everyone willing. So again, I think you have put God in the position of offering Mozart to the deaf. You say God offers it, but they won't accept because He doesn't quicken them. Gerstner would say that God is not cruel. God commands all men, but doesn’t call those who have no chance to respond.

Over at Josh S’s, Steve P wrote, quoting my post:
" This made my day: [when Heddle wrote]

Of course this is anathema to Arminians (and Catholics, which are a subset thereof)"

…isn't it wonderful that smart people can say such ludicrously stupid things?
The statement is tautological. It cannot be "ludicrously stupid". Surely I say and write and say many ludicrously stupid things, but if write that everyone is either A or not A I think I am on firm ground. There are only Calvinists and Arminians among Christians. Everyone falls into one of these categories. The labels are not meant to be pejorative, simply descriptive. Catholics and many (most) Protestants are not Calvinistic, therefore they are Arminian. A fairly succinct way to put it is that you either agree or disagree with this elegant statement from the Council of Trent:
If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.

(You may not agree with the anathema part, but Arminians would agree that the position argued is the correct one; Calvinists would not.)

Another way to say the same thing is that Arminians would argue that Christ did die for those in hell, because His death made them savable, but they failed to respond. Calvinists disagree. To us, Christ's death did not make everyone savable; it actually accomplished salvation for some.

Mark Horne wrote
Odd conclusion to an entry that began with the great commission. Say a prayer? What's wrong with "Repent and be baptized" ?
He didn’t write why it was odd. And neither I (nor Gerstner, I suspect) find anything wrong with "Repent and be baptized".

MarcV had a long comment which is consistent with his theology, which (correct me Marc if I am wrong) is not Calvinistic. I would not expect him to agree with Gerstner.

Christopher Jones anathematized me for preaching a different gospel. I commend him, for we are told to do exactly that. That is why the Catholic Church was correct in anathematizing the Reformers: indeed they preached a different gospel.

Over on his blog, Josh S. ranted quite a bit. Some of his points included:
Does not the very grammar of Luke 5:32 indicate that Christ came to call sinners to repentance

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32).

You have made Gerstner's point. Christ has not come to call everyone. The very verse you chose indicates exclusion. Unless the righteous (which presumably means the self-righteous) are the empty set, Christ's own words indicate that he didn't come to call them. Christ calls sinners, not the righteous—who do not see their need for His blood. Who sees their need for Christ? Not the unregenerate who are incapable of seeking Him (Rom 3:9-18), but the regenerate.
How are people regenerated if not by the Word? Does not Paul say "how can they believe if they have not heard, and how can they hear if a preacher is not sent?"

Here Josh is confusing "regeneration" with "believing". The first logically precedes the second. An unregenerate man will never believe. Therefore preaching the gospel to someone who is unregenerate is like speaking to a corpse. The words fall quite literally on deaf ears. However a regenerate person must, at least normatively, hear the gospel—at which point he is capable of and hopefully will, at that time, freely accept it. That is why we evangelize. That is why we send forth preachers.

Like MarcV, Josh S. is consistent with his own theology, but has not demonstrated how Gerstner is inconsistent with Calvinism, which is what this is really about.

Craig accuses me of being anti-sacremental:
David Heddle's views are anti-sacramental because he follows the Calvinist line that sacraments are not themselves the work of justification and/or sanctification, but adjuncts to the real event that does or does not take place elsewhere.

In Calvinland, there is no correlation between baptism and regeneration.

In Calvinland there most assuredly is a correlation between baptism and regeneration, just as there is a correlation (a perfect one, at that) between regeneration and faith, regeneration and good works, etc.) I do not believe that the sacraments are "purely" symbolic. So how am I anti-sacremental?

Finally, Karl Thienes wrote:
There are some heresies that are so hideous and devoid of beauty and paradox that *only* the intellecual will be impressed by them.

Again, I am not an intellectual, but maybe Karl is directing this at Gerstner, who was.

I am sure I’ll be updating as more kudos are added to the comments.

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