Wednesday, November 27, 2002


No blogging until next Monday December 02. See you then-- have a God filled Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 25, 2002


The foreknowledge view of predestination contends that the oft-mentioned elect in scripture refers to those whom God, looking forward in history, foresaw would make a favorable response to the gospel message.

It is an appealing position, for it strikes a nice balance between God’s Sovereignty and man’s free will. God can make plans as if He has preordained all that happens, but since it’s based on what he knows about future human responses, there is no dreaded violation of man’s vaunted free will. The Atonement can be truly substitutional, with Christ actually bearing the sins of those he knows will respond positively to the Gospel message.

The logic is convoluted, but manageable. Oblique references to the elect (e.g., Matt. 24:24) can always be taken to mean those God foreknew rather than those He predestined. Even verses that refer to predestined can be (torturously) shoe-horned into the foreknowledge view, although be forewarned, it ain’t pretty.

For example, the passage
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:4-6)

Might actually mean: just as He chose us, knowing from before the foundation of the world that we would choose Him… In love (again, knowing that we would choose Him,) He predestined us for adoption according to the kind intention of His will (and the proper exercise of our will)…

More problems occur in passages like:
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44)

which must, in some sense, actually mean: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (having foreseen that they would come to me); and I will raise him up on the last day

After struggling to explain to these verses, in an anthropocentric attempt to preserve man’s critical role in salvation, Arminianism proclaims as its greatest triumph the famous passage:
29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

However, far from a reason to declare victory, this passage, in fact, heralds the death of the foreknowledge view of predestination. Although one might distort scripture to render all other references to predestination to actually mean foreknowledge, logic has an elastic limit, and upon simple investigation in cannot be stretched to the point of accommodating this passage into the foreknowledge view.

"Aha!", quoth the Arminian, "He foreknew before he predestined." To which the Calvinist responds: of course He did. God knew something about each of His elect before He chose them, but it wasn’t whether they would do good or bad, but rather if their election would bring glory to God. Election is not a cosmic lottery—God chooses, and not randomly. Otherwise we have God, before the foundation of the world, rolling the dice for Saul of Tarsus and declaring "we have a winner!" and then noting "Great! he will be persecuting Christians when I convert him—I’ll make him an apostle, think what great copy that will make!" No, God loved Paul before Paul was born, and Paul’s conversion glorified Him. That is why Paul was chosen. And without question it was related to what God foreknew about Paul, but not that he foresaw Paul’s positive response to the gospel—as if there was anything about Paul’s conversion that you might convincingly portray as Paul choosing Christ and not Paul being taken by Christ.

So, the presence of the word foreknowledge does not weaken the predestination argument—if anything it clarifies God’s sovereignty and any misconception that Calvinists view election as random.

What about the foreknowledge view—is it not strengthened? Not at all. Lets us condense this passage to its essence: God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified.

In fact, the foreknowledge view is: Those whom God knew would respond positively to the gospel he predestined (to what?), called, and glorified.

The first problem is that while it is straightforward to accommodate foreknowledge into the Cavinistic view, it is not so easy to accommodate the presence of the word predestined into the foreknowledge view. But let’s ignore that problem and concentrate on the word called.

First note that the same group of people is carried from start to finish in the golden chain: all those he foreknew he predestined, all those he predestined he called, all those he called he justified, all those he justified he glorified. Try changing any all to some and see if you can make any sense out of it.

The problem for the Arminian is with the word called. This can mean one of two things, either the "outward" call given to many, or the "inward" irresistible call of Calvinism. Well, it can’t be the latter, or we have Calvinism! The Arminian cannot allow that all who are called are justified, otherwise you must ask why was this necessary divine act given to this group, who was to respond positively anyway, why did they need it? And if they need it, and it is effectual, aren't they then just the predetermined elect of Calvinism?

So the call must actually be the outward call given to many – but short of universalism we know that this call is not irresistible or effectual, many who receive this call respond negatively and are not justified. Thus the foreknowledge view, to avoid slipping into Calvinism through the backdoor, must hold that the call in the Golden chain is the normal outward call that can be rejected. They are then forced into interpreting The Golden chain as something like:

all those he foreknew he predestined, all those he predestined he called, some of those he called he justified, all those he justified he glorified.

This makes the mind reel. Not only does predestined serve no purpose here, but the assumed quantifier has to change from all to some and back again. Contrast this with how naturally each step of the chain, including the foreknowledge, fits into the Calvinistic view, and you begin to understand how this passage in no manner supports the Arminian foreknowledge schema.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Tough Verses

Occasionally I look at "tough" verses for the Calvinistic view. I always take a pounding in my comments and in my email when I do. The comments are either about how unconvincing I was, or how dare I try to make the bible fit Calvinism rather than other way around.

Both are reasonable points. However, one must look at the big picture. Defined broadly enough, then the Bible teaches either Calvinism or Arminianism. In other words, for the purposes of discussion, let’s say that the Bible teaches that in order to be saved, either:
  • Man does not have to cooperate with God, it is all grace (Calvinism), or

  • While requiring God’s grace, man must assent to God’s offer of his own free will. (Arminiansm)

Now we can argue ad nauseum that this is overly simplistic, especially to the point of attaching labels to simple bullets. However, these bullets do capture the essence of the positions, and most Protestants would agree that God’s salvation plan must be one of these two historic competitors.

These two positions do not cover all the possibilities. Some say it is all God and man must cooperate, which I cannot understand. Neither position is Pelagian which holds that God’s grace is helpful—but not necessary. Furthermore, we are only talking about getting saved—additional differences emerge when we get into staying saved.

Given that all Christians rightly reject full-fledged Pelagianism, then the bible must teach either Calvinism or Arminianism, as I’ve broadly defined (and limited the scope). Once we have established that grace is necessary, then it only remains to determine whether man must cooperate, and the answer to that question distinguishes the two positions as I have defined them.

Futhermore, and this is critical, the Bible must consistently teach one or the other. It cannot be Calvinistic part of the time and Arminian part of the time. On the surface, it might appear to do so, but it cannot actually do so—there are real mysteries in the Bible, and apparent paradoxes, but no bona fide paradoxes. The bible is ultimately self-consistent, even if we cannot always see it.

Yet both sides can trot out isolated verses that support their positions. Somehow, either all the Calvinistic verses have Arminian explanations, or all the Arminian verses have Calvinistic explanations.

To those who say you’ll never reconcile all the conflicting verses, I say: you are probably right.

To those who say you shouldn’t even try, that it is a too systematic and coldly impersonal, logical and analytic approach, I say: phooey. Getting into the Word in an attempt to understand it is always a good thing. Granted, one does not exclusively treat God’s Word as a puzzle to be unraveled, but neither should one shrug his shoulders and claim that none of that matters, only experiencing God is important. God may be above logic, as some like to say, but he is not below it; He is a rational God, and attempts to understand the Bible from a perspective of logic and reason are worthy endeavors.

That still leaves us with the problem that some verses are Calvinistic, and some are Arminian. I (naturally) like what George Müller had to say about this (George Müller (1805-1898) built and supervised four orphanages in England, and supported missionaries around the world—all by prayer alone. He never asked for donations.)
Before this time [1829], I had been much opposed to the doctrines of election, particularly redemption and final persevering grace. So much so, that a few days after my arrival at Teignmouth, [England], I called election a devilish doctrine.

I did not believe that I had brought myself to the Lord, for that was too manifestly false, but yet I held that I might have resisted finally. And, further, I knew nothing about the choice of God's people, and did not believe that the child of God, when once made so, was safe forever. In my fleshly mind I had repeatedly said, "If once I could prove that I’m a child of God forever, I might go back into the world for a year or two, and then return to the Lord, and at last be saved.”

But now I was brought to examine these precious truths by the Word of God. Being made willing to have no glory of my own in the conversion of sinners, but to consider myself merely as an instrument; and being made willing to receive what the Scriptures said, I went to the Word, reading the New Testament from the beginning, with a particular reference to these truths.

To my great astonishment, I found that the passages that speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those that speak apparently against these truths. And even those few, shortly after, when I had examined and understood them, served to confirm me in the above doctrines [of election].

As to the effect that my belief in these doctrines had on me, I'm constrained to state, for God's glory, that though I'm still exceedingly weak, and by no means so dead to the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, as I might and as I ought to be, yet, by the grace of God, I have walked more closely with Him since that time.

I never made a reckoning to verify Müller’s numbers, but it sounds about right to me.

So, back to the criticisms I encounter when examining "difficult" verses.

  1. That explanation is unconvincing. Yes, that’s why it is called difficult. If, for example I used 2 Peter 3:9 as a proof-text for Calvinism, then you would rightly proclaim that Calvinism is the weakest of doctrines. No Arminian would look at a Calvinist’s explanation of 2 Peter 3:9 and switch to Calvinism. It must always be considered in the context of given all this other scripture that unambiguously supports Calvinism, then one possible explanation for 2 Peter 3:9 is--.

  2. You are trying to make the bible fit Calvinism. In a sense, this is true. But it is based on the belief that bible is self-consistent. If I find that the bulk of scripture supports Calvinism, then it is reasonable to attempt to "make" all scripture fit the view. The alternative is to conclude that while God mostly has a Calvinistic message, when he inspired Peter to write 2 Peter 3:9, he was in one of his Arminian moods.

This post was actually going to be about another one of those tough verses, 1 John 2:2. But I spent too much time talking about talking about tough verses. So it will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

TRs, BRs, and CRs

TR refers to "totally reformed", BRs are "barely reformed" and CRs are "Catholic reformed". These refer, crudely, to the spectrum of those who call themselves reformed. Now there are plenty of serious, scholarly investigations into the differences between TRs and CRs (I am going to completely ignore the BRs), but I personally find most of them to be a pedantic waste of time, as they tend to degenerate into discussions of "neo-Nestorianism" and similar topics.

To first order, the differences stem from one's view of the efficacy of the sacraments. Now, as a reformed Baptist, I fall squarely in the TR camp (which is also viewed as the low-brow camp by the CRs). Now even within the TR camp, there are different views on the degree to which something supernatural occurs at the Lord's Supper or at baptism. But it is reasonable to say, I think, that Baptismal regeneration is a taboo for the majority of TRs and acceptable (though not the in same sense as the RC view) to many (most?) CRs.

The interesting battleground for this debate doesn’t even really involve reformed Baptists (I have never met a CR Baptist, such a person is difficult to imagine), but the Presbyterians, who may be the frozen-chosen, but can certainly thaw quickly when it comes to this topic.

The rallying points for the debate tend to be the details of sola fide (does grace administered through the sacraments dilute justification by faith alone?), the necessity of baptism (most claim it is necessary, but some say it is "more necessary" than others), whether children should be given communion (are we excommunicating our children?), etc.

As a TR, I think the CRs tend to quote Calvin selectively (no doubt they would launch the same criticism in my general direction). And that they quote theologians and councils, relative to scripture, at a higher ratio than the TRs (I'm willing to dig my heels in and duke-it-out on that point). But I am biased. I also think that the sections in the Westminster Confession on the sacraments are the weakest in terms of their proof texts (no doubt that’s the Baptist within). I also think, proof-text issue aside, that they do not teach what the CRs sometimes claim—but hey, that’s for the Presbyterians to sort out.

What brought me to this subject is a little nugget of a comment from a related post on Mark Horne’s blog. The comment was (in answer to an expressed despair over our present-day diluted view of baptism, and an inquiry into the origin of this deplorable state of affairs):
the influence of contemporary evangelicalism and the worry that we look too much like Rome. it's a crying shame.
What this comment is saying, I think, is that modern Evangelicals (and TRs) mindlessly apply a single litmus test: If it smells like Roman Catholicism, it’s bad. It’s an ad hominem attack and, as such, is useless, even if true, (which it isn’t) since it offers no support for its claim. It is just a lament that the opposition is dumb and has no regard for truth of an assertion; no it is only important to ask how "Roman" it is. Such arguments, since they contain no content, are easily invertible (into something equally pointless), such as saying the CRs reflexively reject anything that doesn’t bring us into better alignment with Catholicism.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Be violated, be very violated

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,
28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,
29 so that no man may boast before God.
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,
31 so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD." (1 Cor. 1:26-31, NASB)

To those whose response to predestination is why would God do such a thing?-- this passage gives one answer plain-as-day. When considering your calling, we see that God has chosen the foolish, weak, base and despised-- for the express purpose of eradicating utterly human pride.

It is "but by His doing" that you are in Christ Jesus. Those who are concerned about violations of the human will, or other indignities to our "personhood" are clinging to something of which they can boast in themselves: namely that at least a tiny part of them was not chosen, but chose.

You can dress it up however you like, and couch your conclusion in philosophical, ecclesiastical, sacerdotal, or academic sophistry, but you cannot escape the simple logic that it is either all of God or it isn't. If it is all of God, man's "personhood" is incapable of seeking God-- until he is regenerated. One cannot be given a new heart without being violated. Why anyone would protest this sovereign act (some, such as Norman Geisler, have described the effectual calling as "divine rape") is unfathomable. Will anyone in glory express resentment over the reality that their eternal security was a result of being violated, and complain that the price was just too high? Will any in hell boast that at least I made it here on my own?

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Genealogies and Chronologies

Biblical genealogies are demonstrably not accurate chronologies. X begat (or "was the father of") Y does not always imply a one-generation relationship between the two. This both solves and creates problems. And while it is virtually meaningless in terms of the old/young earth debate, it does mean that accountings of the time since Adam roamed the earth are bound to contain errors.

On example we see is in Christ's genealogy in Matthew, where we read:
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. (Matt. 1:8)
which one can compare with
11 Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son,
12 Amaziah his son, Azariah his son, Jotham his son, (1 Chron 3:11-12)
In this geneology (Azariah is the same person as Uzziah) we see that there are three generations missing from Matthew’s account, which makes Uzziah appear to be Joram’s son rather than his great-grandson. That is all fine and dandy considering Matthew’s purpose was to explain Christ’s Davidic (legal) bloodline. Nevertheless it calls into question the precision of Matthew’s concluding:
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the (10) deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the (11) deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Matt. 1:17)

I don’t know a resolution to this issue, although I don’t dwell on it very much.

For a more striking example, we read:
Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was officer over the treasures. (1 Chron. 26:24)
Shebuel is of the time of David, and yet Gershom is a true next-generation son of Moses (Ex. 2:22) . Thus there are 400+ years between Gershom and his "son" Shebuel.

It is also well known that if genealogies are also chronologies then there are a whole host of additional problems, such as Noah not dying until Abraham was in his fifties. No, it is clear that the bible uses genealogies as historic flows rather than generationally precise family trees. We all are sons of Father Abraham.

Monday, November 18, 2002

There goes Dreher Again

Rod Dreher of NRO should stick to writing about Catholicism. When he ventures into the world of Protestantism, it is generally to cast simple-minded aspersions on dispensationalism. Attacking dispensationalism is not necessarily a bad idea, but Dreher demonstrates an unhelpful lack of knowledge about his subject.

In previous writing, Dreher opined the completely trivial (and condescending) view that Protestants support Israel because of dispensationalism. Granted, some dispensationalists no doubt support Israel for no reason other than to keep her around to fulfill her eschatological role. However, Dreher neglected to mention that many dispensationalists, and clearly all of the sizable number of non-dispensationalist Protestants who support Israel (count me in their number) do so because Israel is our only friend and the only democracy in the region—not to mention that all her neighbors would like to see us dead. We have no ulterior motive behind our support—our reasons are as pure as, well, Dreher’s. I am happy to see that in his latest article he acknowledges that many Evangelicals and other Christians support Israel for unspecified "other reasons".

Writing about a Catholic response to the Left Behind phenomenon, Dreher states:
it may surprise (and disappoint) many Christians to learn that this set of beliefs, generally called "dispensationalism," is not explicitly taught by the Bible, nor has ever been widely held by Christians

Maybe, if you mean "Christians" who don’t attend church and have learned all their theology from the Left Behind series. However, church-going dispensationalists (and keep in mind I am not a dispensationalist) would not be caught by surprise and would not agree with Dreher’s premise or conclusion. In my experience:
  • Dispensationalists know the history of dispensationalism, and the major role played by the 19th century Plymouth Brethren.

  • Dispensationalists will hardly agree that their theology is not taught in the bible, and can present an impressive apologia via Sola Scriptura. While they acknowledge the importance of men such as Darby and Scofield, all affirm that dispensationalism is biblical and many are adamant that it was not discovered but rediscovered in the 19th century.

The fact that dispensationalists and non-dispensationalist Protestants both claim that the bible supports their position might make good fodder for a Catholic negative apologia on Private Interpretation, but if you think you could go to Tim LaHaye and tell him that dispensationalism is not explicitly taught by the Bible and expect a response such as "Gee, I’m surprised, I wish I had known that" then you are utterly naïve. He will unleash a ton of scripture that you need to rebut. Or go stroll around the Dallas Theological Seminary claiming that "did you guys know that dispensationalism is not taught in the bible?" and see what happens. If that is the sum total of your argument, you are going to get your hat handed to you.

Dispensationalism is a comprehensive theology and not just an end-times view. In fact its eschatology is not its basic tenet but rather a result of its view on God’s unfinished plan for the Jews.

Ironically, I agree with Dreher’s assessment that dispensationalism is not biblical. However, I view it as a misinterpretation of scripture rather than an explicitly and intentionally extra-scriptural "tradition". It is more difficult to refute dispensationalism than Catholic high tradition.

More on Scripture

5 Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. (Prov. 30:5-6, NIV)

How does man add to His words? Throughout history the most common method is to elevate tradition to the level of scripture. In some cases beyond scripture: in his tirade against Luther, the Catholic saint Cajetan argued that the pope was “above scripture”.

Of course, scripture has a different perspective of itself:

I will worship toward Your holy temple,
And praise Your name
For Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word above all Your name. (Ps. 138:2, NKJV).

If scripture is above His name, and the pope is above scripture, well then we have a real problem.

It amazes me that the Catholic Church, in its elevation of tradition, does not see itself making the same mistake as the Pharisees.

But what about…

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.(2 Th. 2:15, NKJV)

Does this verse not explicitly support the Catholic position? The answer is, of course, absolutely not. Paul is writing to the Thessalonians to correct the effect of a forged letter containing false doctrine (2. Th. 2:2). He is telling them, in effect: Believe only what you heard us preach and what is contained in authenticated epistles. The fact that he refers to these teachings as "traditions" is irrelevant to the Catholic position, in spite of a desperate attempt to cling to one of the very few instances in scripture where the word tradition is used in a positive sense. The traditions spoken of here are scripture itself and self-consistent expositions of scripture, such as apostolic teaching (which was either about scripture or became scripture). This is quite different from the non-scriptural Catholic traditions that at best can be traced back to erroneous teaching of the early (but post apostolic) era, and at worst seem to have coalesced out of the aether as previously undiscovered truth.

Sola Scritura Does not mean that one cannot learn from hearing the word of God in the form of a sermon or a Sunday school. It means that the pastor or priest or teacher should not teach anything with his lips that he cannot substantiate with scripture. In means that if Paul himself were a guest pastor in your church, he probably would give a sermon explaining and clarifying some aspect of scripture, but what he wouldn’t do is add to it.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

A Strange Analysis of The Patriots' Victory

On Sunday, November 10 the Chicago Bears, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, lost to the New England Patriots 33-30. The pivotal play in the game was an apparent interception by the Bears, with only 54 seconds remaining, that would have sealed their victory. Upon review, the play was ruled naught but an incomplete pass. The Patriots, given another chance, scored with 20 seconds left to culminate a come-from-21-points-behind victory.

After the game, on one of the more obscure ESPN networks, I heard the following exchange between two analysts and former NFL greats: Running back John "The Irresistible" Calvin, and the unpredictable maverick quarterback James "Free Willy" Arminius. I though you sports fans might find their comments to be of interest.

Arminius: The game was a joy to behold. The Pats, down but not out, found something within themselves to run the good race. They should be proud their accomplishment: through sheer determination of will they secured a great victory.

Calvin: Well, it wasn't really like that. They were completely dead as a result of trespasses— er, I mean bad passes, and if not for Coach Belichick on the sideline generating confidence, they would have continued to lay down and play dead.

Arminius: Oh there you go again, never wanting to give credit where it's due. Sure the coach encouraged them, but he didn’t make the plays. It was their faith in their inherent abilities that allowed them to win.

Calvin: Coach Belichick didn't make the plays, but he called them. If Tom Brady, in the huddle, told the players "Oh just go do whatever you want to do", do you think they would have scored that last touchdown?

Arminius: Huh! That last play was an audible! Brady called it, not Belichick! How do you like them apples?

Calvin: (A little stunned, but appearing to recover quickly) Well you don't have to get snippy about it! Maybe Tom Brady called the play, but Coach Belichick designed it, and Brady was only reacting to his training; the teaching that his coach had forged within him!

Arminius: Calvin, you make my head spin! You always want to give all the credit to the coach! I suppose Belichick had something to do with the interception call being overturned?

Calvin: He certainly did.

Arminius: (Makes buzzing sound) Wrong again! Would you like to try Double Jeopardy where the stakes are twice as high? The play occurred within the last two minutes. You know the rules— on second thought I don't think you do— at that point late in a game the coach cannot call for a review. It is purely a decision of the referee.

Calvin: Gimme a break. The referee clearly had no intention to review the play until he heard Belichick yelling at him. The coach cannot demand a review, but he can certainly make his desires known, and have great influence on the referee's so-called choice.

Arminius: You know nothing about football. On any given Sunday, any team can win! They all have an equal shot. It's called parity.

Calvin: Yeah right. Talk to the longsuffering Arizona Cardinal fans about parity and equal opportunity. In truth, some teams are destined for greatness while others are destined— due to their own lack of ability, not because of scheduling or officiating bias— to be vessels of their hapless fans' wrath. Look at the Cardinal running backs! Why it seems that none of them seeks the end zone, no not one! Their snazzy uniforms might as well be filthy rags.

Arminius: Calvin, you are better suited for the World Wrestling Federation, where all the matches are predetermined. I am sure your are clueless about the nature of true athletes.

Calvin: (Audible gasp) World Wrestling Federation? Well, come over here and I'll let my free will choose to land a flying scissors kick on your scrawny behind!

Arminius: Oh yeah! Well if I just happen to perform an overhead helicopter body slam on you, Frenchman, nobody can hold me responsible, I’m just doing what you made me do!

(Fade to black)

Mail Call

I received a gracious letter from Michael, taking exception to this recent post. (That post also generated some ungracious mail!)

I thought Michael raised some interesting and fair points, to which I would like to respond. I trust the format below of his points (indented and italicized) followed by my response is self evident.

I stumbled across your blog tonight and was reading a few of your recent posts on universal redemption and such. I want to respond to a couple of sentences and give you my perspective on the situation, for whatever it's worth.

I believe that when Genesis says that we were "created in God's image", the essence of that image is our possession of free will. If you believe that humans are indeed imbued with free will, and are thus responsible moral agents, then it is clear that at least on some level God restrains his power and authority and allows us to do some things that are against his will. The natural extension of that, then, is that God has chosen to use us Christians to do his work in the world (as evidenced by the Great Commandment and the Great Commission) and therefore to some extent the success of that plan rests on the exercise of our free will.
I don’t disagree that the essence of likeness to God is our free will, but it is speculative (I don’t know of any scripture that tells us specifically in what manner we are made in His image). I agree that we are moral agents. I agree that we can do things against his will (but not his decretive will). I agree that God uses men as secondary causes, but I disagree that his plan can in any manner be thwarted by man (Dan 4:35).

In a way, I can see how you would then determine that some sins would be punished twice, but I don't think that's an accurate way to look at the situation. Christ's death is available as payment for our sins, if we choose to accept it. How and why would a sinful person do that? By the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But that prompt is not irresistible, as Jesus clearly teaches when he says that blasphemy against the HS is the only unforgivable sin (because it causes us to reject his death).

It is true that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin, but that is not the same as saying that it is the only punished sin. Let me indulge in a cliché and pick on the archetype, Hitler, and assume he had no deathbed conversion. Was Christ punished for all of Hitler’s sins (except the unforgivable blasphemy), just in case Hitler converted, so that in hell Hitler receives no punishment for mass murder? I don’t think that is biblical. Hitler is being punished for all his sins, not just the unforgivable one, so if Hitler had the opportunity for salvation, then both he and Christ were punished for those sins.

Note that I am not saying Christ’s atonement was not big enough to cover Hitler’s sins, but rather it was never intended (not effectual) for that purpose.

So is salvation not 100% by grace? No, it is all grace, because without grace we could never have the "willpower" to make a decision to accept Christ.

I have to admit that I never understand the argument that it is "it [salvation] is all grace, because without grace we could never have the 'willpower' to make a decision to accept Christ ". Exactly what does that mean? If the grace can be resisted, then what it does (all it does) is make us more willing, but there is still part of us that must assent. Then I agree that one could say making us more willing to accept Christ is 100% grace, but not our salvation, which requires not just our enhanced willingness to accept Christ, but our actual acceptance. So in this schema salvation is still not 100% by grace; grace is necessary, but not sufficient.

But if you take out the element of free will, then no "choice" we make can have any significance whatsoever, because nothing we could do could honor or dishonor God.

Left to our fallen free will we all are lost. Scripture teaches us that no one seeks God (Rom. 3:9-11) and that all of our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). God violates the wills of those vessels of mercy, changing the desires of the elect, who then choose Christ from their new heart of flesh (Ezk 11:19). We then have the opportunity to choose to sin or (finally) not to sin. This gives us the rest of our lives to make choices that are God honoring (or not). I concede that in our salvation we did nothing of ourselves to honor God. It is how we live after this total gift of grace, by our free will, that will glorify or shame God.

Romans 9 emphasizes points that would tend to support your perspective, but when you take that chapter in context with chapters 3 and 4 it seems clear that our free will -- the very essence of God's image in us as human beings plays a role as well.

I guess you are referring to that fact that Paul is teaching salvation by faith. The question becomes whether we provide any of the faith from within, or whether it too (as a saving faith) is, as I believe, also completely from God. (Eph 2:8).

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

The Olivet Discourse

I have posted on the Preterist viewpoint in the past. I have decided to provide more details by giving a nearly verse-by-verse commentary on the Preterist view of the Olivet discourse. If you don’t know what a preterist is, then in some sense a preterist is someone who agrees (more-or-less) with the following explanation of that mysterious passage. Still, it will be helpful in preparation to give the following thumbnail sketch of Preterism:
  • Unlike dispensationalism, preterism does not view the "Kingdom of God" as something occurring in the future, but as something that has already been initiated. The Gospel references to the Kingdom of Heaven, (or Kingdom of God), when given with an accompanying time frame, teach of the imminence of the Kingdom (c.f., Matt 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 12:28; Mark 1:15, 9:1, 12:34; Luke 9:27, 10:9-11, 17:20-22).

  • Preterism attaches great prophetic and redemptive significance to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

  • Preterism (as we will see) presents a harmonious explanation of the Olivet discourse, taking the references to time at their plain meaning and references to cosmic cataclysm as prophetic poetry. This is both its greatest success (for all other explanations of the Olivet discourse suffer from some sort of difficulty in the time related aspects) and its greatest provocation, for the preterist must acknowledge that the Parousia (second coming) has already happened. The "sense" in which it has happened, and whether or not there is still a future glorious return of Christ in the clouds and a resurrection of the saints, separates hyper-preterism from partial or moderate preterism.

  • The Olivet discourse contains timelines, apocalyptic prophesy, and descriptions of the fulfilling of prophesy. In some sense, preterists and dispensationalists choose opposite hermeneutics: The preterists take the time references literally and the apocalyptic descriptions as imagery, while the dispensationalists do the reverse.

  • The preterist views the Olivet discourse as a continuous exposition on a single time period: from the time Christ spoke the words to about one generation (40 years) later (when some of those present would still be alive). The terminus of the discourse’s prophesy is about 70 A.D., when the Temple was destroyed.

  • The most important thing to keep in mind, is that to the preterist, everything discussed in the Olivet discourse happened within about forty years after Christ delivers the prophecy.

The Olivet Discourse

Now, on to the scripture (Taken here from Matthew’s account in chapter 24 of his gospel):

1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."

There is universal agreement that this refers to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. This is such an amazing prophesy that biblical critics argue that it "proves" that either the gospels were written after the event or that its description was added later to give Christ more credibility.

3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"

According to preterism, The disciples are asking about closely related events, or different aspects of the same event: these things refers to what was just discussed, the destruction of the temple, your coming refers to the Parousia, and the end of the age refers to the end of the Jewish dispensation. Calvin taught that the disciples, finding the destruction of the temple to be utterly inconceivable, erroneously assumed that it would not happen until the end of the world. Preterists disagree, pointing out that if it were so, then it is surprising that Jesus took no steps to correct the false assumption, and indeed He answers as if these events occur in a single time frame.

4 And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, "I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Preterists point to historic accounts from Josephus and other contemporary writers affirming that all these things occurred in the vicinity of Palestine during the period in question. Calvin agrees that all these events happened in the approximately 40 years from the time Christ spoke these words until the destruction of Jerusalem, but points out that they all would happen to some degree in virtually any 40 year period. I think what Calvin was really saying is that for the Lord to give a specific warning about such matters, they must not be, for example, your garden variety false Christ but deceivers extraordinaire. The preterist response (in regards to the false prophets) is that while in its infancy, the church was extremely vulnerable to false prophets and so a specific warning is in order, whereas today the maturity of the church makes it less susceptible to such an attack.

Preterists also point out that Christ says Take heed that no one deceives you. The plain reading is that "you" refers to the disciples, not some far future group of believers. This is further evidence that Jesus is talking about something imminent, and has not segued into a discussion of far distant prophesy.

9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. 14 "Therefore when you see the "abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened. 23 "Then if anyone says to you, "Look, here is the Christ!' or "There!' do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 "Therefore if they say to you, "Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or "Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

There is more in this part of the discourse about false prophets, to which the previous comments once again apply. More importantly, this passage talks about what is usually believed to be the great (and future) Tribulation with a capital 'T'. However, to the preterist, this tribulation refers to the persecution endured prior to the "coming of the Son of Man" (again: about 40 years hence, to the preterist). Verses 9-11 offer no problem; surely a case can be made that such things happened during this period.

How does the preterist claim a fulfillment of verse 14, that the gospel will be preached in all the world? They claim it is substantiated by none other than the Apostle Paul: 5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; (Col 1:5-6) and if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:23) In short, whatever Paul meant by “all the world” and “every creature under heaven” used in the past tense, indicates that Paul taught that Matthew 24:14 was already fulfilled.

As for the tribulation, the preterism draws what I think is a very credible conclusion from verses 14-27: this is a localized tribulation in the region of Judea (culminating with Roman invasion). References to those who are in Judea and the holy place (the temple) and the overall description bespeaks of a localized, imminent event, not a far-off world-wide cataclysm.

As for the coming of the Son of Man, the preterist view varies, but I think the most common view is that the destruction of Jerusalem is in some sense the result of "the coming of the Son of Man". Whether there is a future, literal return in-the-clouds is part of what separates hyper from moderate preterism. In any case, preterists of all stripes agree that for preterism to be the self-consistent exposition it claims, then everything in the Olivet discourse including "the coming of the Son of Man" had to have occurred within a generation. For support, they turn to some other scripture: 23 When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matt 10:23). This verse seems to say that the Son of Man will come when the diciples had visited the cities of Israel. That would seem to be a task that would fit nicely into the timeframe of a generation and not require thousands of years.

Another relevant passage is: 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Matt. 16:27-28). Here the preterist can again assume a plain reading: some of the disciples would still be alive when they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom, which is in fact the end of the Jewish age and the onset of "The age of the gentiles" (Matt. 21:43). Non-preterist views of this passage sometimes border on (in my opinion) the absurd. For example, many argue that in this context the "Son of Man coming in His kingdom" refers to the transfiguration, which occurs about six days later. (My bible injects bewteen verses 16:27 and 16:28 a heading: The Transfiguration. ) But this interpretation implies that verse 16:28 can be paraphrased: "Some of you will still be alive six days from now" which hardly seems worthy of divine mentioning.

The preterists claim that the carcass of verse 28 is the Jewish dispensation which is about to end, and the eagles refer to the agent of destruction, specifically the standard of the invading Roman legions.

The end that will come is not the end of history resulting in the eternal state, but the end of the Jewish age.

29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

This is the biggest problem for the preterist. While historians of antiquity have given accounts of false prophets, earthquakes, famines, and wars, no one has described what would seem to be an unraveling of the fabric of the universe. Josephus has no description of the cosmological upheaval alluded to in verses 29-31.

Here is where the preterist appeals to poetic language. The destruction of Jerusalem, according to preterists, is so "big" that it requires, in the tradition of the East, apocalyptic symbolism. As proof, they site strikingly similar passages from the old testament, for example regarding the destruction of Babylon: 9 Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine. (Isa. 13:9-10) and Therefore I will shake the heavens, And the earth will move out of her place, (Isa. 9:13). Add to this, the destruction of Bozrah: 3 Also their slain shall be thrown out; Their stench shall rise from their corpses, And the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. (Isa. 34:3-4). If the destruction of Bozrah warrants such language, then even more so, says the preterist, the destruction of Jerusalem.

32 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near--at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

The preterist is on the highest of his high ground here, for he accepts the phrase this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place as having its simple meaning: generation means generation, not race or type of people as some viewpoints require. Preterists point out that wherever else Christ used the word generation, he meant it in the plain sense of those living at that time. (c.f., Matt. 11:16, 12:39, 12:41, 12:42, 12:45, 16:4, 17:17). The fig tree analogy also implies near term fulfillment.

Maybe I will blog more about this in the future. For now I merely point out that in my opinion the preterist account of the Olivet discourse is very appealing. There is no need for an assumed and unannounced discontinuity between when Jesus is speaking of near-term prophesy to when He speaks of things that will happen in the distant future. There is no basis upon which a critic could claim that Jesus was wrong because he mistakenly thought He would be returning within a generation. And there is no need to infer that the disciples asked a question laden with a false assumption that Jesus did not correct.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Universal Redemption

Here are more problems, as I see it, with the idea that God, through Christ’s atonement, has provided an opportunity for all men to be saved (Universal Redemption or Unlimited Atonement).

It means that God’s redemptive plan, far from befitting a sovereign Lord, is doomed to at least partial failure because, even if one accepts the Arminian position, then without question only a fraction of all men accept the gospel message. How does the Bible’s clear teaching on God's sovereignty jibe with His placing the ultimate responsibility for the success of His redemptive plan in the very hands of the utterly fallen creatures He seeks to redeem?

It calls into question God’s justice, because He will have punished the same sin twice. Once in Christ on the cross, to give the sinner the opportunity for redemption, and once again in the sinner himself, after he rejects the offer of eternal life and receives instead his just recompense of eternal damnation.

It means that the blood of Christ is not ultimately effectual, but merely enabling, it that in ensures nothing but only offers the possibility of salvation.

It would cast doubts on God’s immutability. On the cross, God loved all men enough for Him to require the ultimate sacrifice of His son. Later, God hates many of these same sinners enough to send them to hell. If He loved them enough to demand Christ’s torment, why does He then hate them enough to send them to hell? On this point it would appear that Universal Salvation is more self-consistent.

Finally, if is my own faith, which I generated myself, which saves me, how is that glorifying to God? After all our chief end is to glorify God, not to gain salvation. (See Psalm 86 ) The glory to God comes from the recognition that it is entirely by the blood of Christ that we are redeemed. If it is, even in small part, by our self-mustered faith, then there is something to boast of in ourselves, boasting which robs from His glory.

Friday, November 08, 2002

No blog -- but a puzzle

Too busy to blog today -- However, here is a brain teaser. My birthday is November 19. What was it that was special about my last birthday of the previous millennium, Nov. 19, 1999, that won't happen again for about 1112 years? (Don’t get technical on me about when the millennium actually ended.)

Thursday, November 07, 2002

God in the Details

One of the amazing facts about science is that it reveals God at all levels. I am thinking mostly of my own discipline, physics.

Physics is highly reductionist. Matter is reduced to its fundamental constituents-- first to atoms, then to electrons, protons and neutrons. The protons and neutrons are further reduced into quarks and gluons.

You might expect to find nothing that points to God at this level. After all, are not great architects revealed by their finished product, and not the building blocks? The most beautiful and the most hideous buildings start from identical piles of bricks.

Of course, God is revealed on the macroscopic scale, so much so that all men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). One can of course claim that the miracles of creation that are everywhere in evidence are results of the random actions of impersonal forces. But God will apparently not accept a clear presentation of evolutionary theory as an excuse for the denial of His handiwork.

There are of course great unanswered questions even at the macroscopic level. Where does consciousness arise from? Can self-awareness be understood as a function of the basic constituents comprising a person, or is there more to it than that? If not, then it is only a matter of technology before a computer can be self-aware.

Still it’s the mundane physical science that amazes me. The life-saving and nontrivial fact that ice floats. The necessary and precise balance between the charge on the electron and on the proton. The need for the large outer planets to act as shields. The Earth’s magnetic field protecting us from the solar wind (but not excessively so). The smaller than expected fluctuations in the Sun’s radiance. The privileged and sensitive position of Earth within the solar system, and that of the solar system within the galaxy. The very type of galaxy we live in. The age of Earth, formed at the right time to capture a necessary soup of isotopes from interstellar dust. The precise values of unrelated physical constants. The list is endless. And that is just to appreciate the improbability that Earth enjoys the conditions for life.

There are hundreds if not thousands of amazing facts that point to intelligent design. Most, as isolated scientific truths, are beyond dispute. It is when they are viewed together that controversy abounds and intelligent design arises as the Occam’s Razor explanation. The only counter explanation is that there are infinite parallel universes, the vast majority of which are sterile, and we are incredibly lucky to be in this one—which is the only reason we are here to discuss it. That’s the explanation that sounds like mythology to me.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9, NKJV)
This is one of those verses that, taken in isolation, are used to attack Calvinism. After all, it seems to state plainly enough that the Lord is not willing that any should parish but that all should come to repentance.

First of all, like many verses used against Calvinism, the plain reading really supports Universalism, not Arminianism. After all, if the Lord truly wills, in the sense of His decretive will, that all, meaning every single person on earth, should come to repentance, then it would happen as surely as the cosmos were spoken into existence.

No, what we need to do is examine, from the context, just who the "all" refers to in this verse.

Part of the answer is found in the epistle's salutation:
1 Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

2Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet. 1:1-4, NKJV)

And a bit later:
For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. (2 Pet. 1:12, NKJV)

We see that the letter is written to believers. If you read the whole of 2 Peter there is no indication that his audience changes at any point in the epistle. That brings us to Chapter 3. Look at the "troublesome" verse in context:
1 Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), 2that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us,the apostles of the Lord and Savior, 3knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." 5For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
8But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,[not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; (2 Pet. 3:1-14, NKJV)

Again, this passage begins with Peter referring to his audience as beloved. This letter is not to the "general public”" but to those who claim to be believers. This is further emphasized by referring to the scoffers as "they"—there is a clear delineation here between "us" and "them".

Most importantly, this passage is not about salvation, but rather about believers being ever vigilant to walk-the-walk in anticipation of the Second Coming. Furthermore, Peter states that time has a different reality for God, but that in any case He will come "as a thief in the night".

Now, to the verse in question:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9, NKJV)

Given the context we have established, the "us" and the "all" can be understood not to refer to all of mankind. To whom then? To believers, yes, but they are in some sense already "ready" and in no danger of perishing. What the Lord must be longsuffering about is the wait for the unsaved elect, including those not yet born, to come to repentance. What Peter is essentially saying is that God will have all those whom He has set aside, not willing to sacrifice any for the sake of expediency. He will wait until they all come to repentance, but since that may be completed at any moment (we are, of course, clueless) we should endeavor to live a holy and blameless life.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

I don't like Arminianism

Today I want write about why I am glad that I am not Arminian. This is very different than why I am not Arminian. The reason I am not Arminian is because I think it is not the biblical position. If it were, I would have to accept it, and I would be a reluctant Arminian. Instead I am a happy Calvinist.

So today’s post is not about why I think the Arminian position is wrong biblically, but rather why I dislike it viscerally.

The Strange Calculus Of Arminianism

One thing I dislike about Arminianism is its inherent indeterminism. It is imprecise. I don't like that. Let me explain what I mean.

If we look at a "grace required for salvation" spectrum, we have something like this:
  • Pelagianism: Grace = 0%

  • Calvinism: Grace = 100%

  • Arminianism (semi-Pelagianism) 0% < Grace < 100%
Now every Arminian I know says that grace is not only required, but that salvation is "almost all" (that blasted imprecision) of grace. Nevertheless, a little free-will based cooperation on the part of the sinner is also required. So one cannot escape the fact that it is not 100% grace. Maybe it's 99%. Whatever it is, it leads us to the question of why some are able, of their own, to supply the other missing requirements, while others are not. The grace of God is necessary but not sufficient. Regeneration is synergistic: a cooperative effort balancing the tension between God’s sovereignty and man's free will. Some people have what it takes to do their part, and others don't (how unfair!).

I like the Calvinistic position much better. It is all grace. Regeneration is completely an act of God: it is monergistic. There is no cooperation required. I contribute only my sins. It's precise. It makes sense.

The Impossible Demand

Arminianism places an impossible burden on the sinner. He must believe prior to being regenerated. That missing part, supplied in the Arminian synergistic regeneration by the sinner, is faith. Not a mature, complete faith, but nevertheless faith. It must come first. In Arminianism, faith precedes regeneration. But I cannot believe something I don't believe. I cannot make myself believe in the gospel message. Before I can believe, I must be changed. I must be regenerated. In a sense, the faith must be supplied to me, for I cannot provide it on my own. In Calvinism, regeneration precedes faith. Regeneration is the sine qua non of faith.

When we say the regeneration precedes faith, we are talking more of dependencies than literal chronologies. In other words, faith depends on regeneration and justification depends on faith. In a temporal sense, they may all occur at the same time.

I want to reemphasize that this post is about why I don’t like Arminianism. Thankfully, I also find it to be non-biblical, but that is an entirely different discussion altogether.

Monday, November 04, 2002

Sola Scriptura Revisited

Before I went on travel there was a fair amount of discussion regarding sola scriptura on several sites. The timeless debate was reignited by the discovery of the New Testament era ossuary which may have held the bones of James, who may have been the brother of our Lord.

That led to debate about whether the James of scripture was actually Jesus’ blood (half) brother-- which resulted in additional back-and-forth about Mary’s perpetual virginity.

The debate degenerated along typical Protestant-Catholic lines. Protestants pointed out how Mary’s perpetual virginity is extra-biblical (true) and therefore wrong (not necessarily). Catholics pointed out how Protestants don’t really follow sola scriptura (too much of a generalization but certainly not true in many cases), and that it was not even possible in principle to follow sola scriptura (definitely not true) and that Protestants also believe things that are extra-scriptural, i.e., have their own traditions (true).

There was the usual silly charge against sola scriptura, namely that you can’t possibly prove it using the Bible alone, for it would require circular reasoning. I am not going to address this in depth because so many excellent expositions exist regarding the biblical proof of sola scriptura that I have nothing of substance to add.

"Proving" sola scriptura is a two-step process, namely:
  1. Prove that the Bible is inerrant/inspired.

  2. Given (1), demonstrate that the Bible teaches its own sufficiency.
I will merely make a few comments:
  • The "hard" part of the proof, the part that is susceptible to the charge of circularity (but with care can answer it) is step 1, Biblical inerrancy.

  • There is no logical conundrum in step 2, it is only a question of whether the Bible teaches that it contains sufficient and final special revelation. It either does or it doesn’t, but there is no reason a priori that it represents a violation of the rules of logic.

  • Catholics also affirm Biblical inerrancy and so, for purposes of this debate, step 1 can be assumed.

In other words, if a Catholic argues against even the possibility, as a point of logic, that sola scriptura can be a self-consistent doctrine, he is actually attacking Biblical inerrancy. The argument should only center on whether it is taught in the Bible, not whether it can be taught in the Bible.

In my opinion there is misunderstanding about this doctrine on both sides. The doctrine does not state that everything that is true is also in the Bible. And it does not state that you may only believe something if it is in the Bible. It does say that the Bible provides sufficient revelation, so that (a) one should look at extra-biblical statements with skepticism and (b) one is never compelled or bound to believe something that is not in the Bible.

A lack of understanding leads to silly and trivial debates. For example, I was asked about the possibility of Jesus being married. I am paraphrasing, but the question went something like this:
"Since the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus wasn’t married, then sola scriptura means that you cannot faithfully believe that he remained a bachelor, since the Bible doesn’t explicitly state such as fact."

This shows a misunderstanding of that sola scriptura on at least two fronts. One is a lack of appreciation of the fact that sola scriptura does not preclude deduction and inference. On those grounds I think we can safely rule out the possibility of Jesus being married. However, on a more basic level, sola scriptura says nothing about Jesus’ marital state, other than this: If He were married, it is not necessary for us to know about it, and no church should demand its members affirm it as fact.

As for Mary’s perpetual virginity, either the Bible precludes it (because it teaches that James was Jesus’ true half-brother) or it has nothing to say about it, in which case it too is an unnecessary doctrine and adherence cannot be compelled. That is what sola scriptura means.

On the flip side, Protestants sometimes claim you cannot believe something unless it is in the Bible, or can be deduced or inferred in a straightforward manner (such as the Trinity). This is not only untrue, but a cognitive impossibility. If you believe something, you cannot tell yourself not to believe it. Take for example the book of Hebrews. The Bible is silent as to its author. Some prominent Protestants believe that Paul wrote it, while others, equally acclaimed, think James penned Hebrews. They can’t all be right. They might all be wrong. But unless they teach that you must affirm their position, they are not in violation of sola scriptura.