Saturday, April 19, 2008

One of my Theological Opponents on the Atonement

The following is a passage on the atonement from one of my theological opponents. Can you, without doing an Internet search or looking for the answer below the quotation, discover who it is?

Here is what he says:
What you say concerning the virtue and efficacy of the price, paid by Christ, needs a more careful consideration. You say, that "the efficacy of that price, as far as merit is concerned, is infinite;" but you make a distinction between "actual and potential efficacy." You also define "potential efficacy" as synonymous with a sufficiency of price for the whole world. This, however, is a phrase, hitherto unknown among Theologians, who have merely made a distinction between the efficacy and the sufficiency of the merit of Christ. I am not sure, also, but that there is an absurdity in styling efficacy "potential," since there is a contradiction in terms. For all efficacy is actual, as that word has been, hitherto, used by Theologians. But, laying aside phrases, let us consider the thing itself. The ransom or price of the death of Christ, is said to be universal in its sufficiency, but particular in its efficacy, i.e. sufficient for the redemption of the whole world, and for the expiation of all sins, but its efficacy pertains not to all universally, which efficacy consists in actual application by faith and the sacrament of regeneration, as Augustine and Prosper, the Aquitanian, say. If you think so, it is well, and I shall not very much oppose it. But if I rightly understand you, it seems to me that you do not acknowledge the absolute sufficiency of that price; but with the added condition, if God had willed that it should be offered for the sins of the whole world.
So then, that, which the Schoolmen declare categorically, namely, that Christ's death was sufficient for all and for each, is, according to your view, to be expressed hypothetically, that is, in this sense the death of Christ would be a sufficient price for the sins of the whole world, if God had willed that it should be offered for all men. In this sense, indeed, its sufficiency is absolutely taken away. For if it is not a ransom offered and paid for all, it is, indeed, not a ransom sufficient for all. For the ransom is that, which is offered and paid. Therefore the death of Christ can be said to be sufficient for the redemption of the sins of all men, if God had wished that he should die for all ; but it can not be said to be a sufficient ransom, unless it has, in fact, been paid for all.
Hence, also, Beza notes an incorrect phraseology, in that distinction, because the sin-offering is said to be absolutely sufficient, which is not such, except on the supposition already set forth. But, indeed, my friend [TurretinFan], the Scripture says, most clearly, in many places, that Christ died for all, for the life of the world, and that by the command and grace of God.
The decree of Predestination prescribes nothing to the universality of the price paid for all by the death of Christ. It is posterior, in the order of nature, to the death of Christ and to its peculiar efficacy. For that decree pertains to the application of the benefits obtained for us by the death of Christ: but his death is the price by which those benefits were prepared.
Therefore the assertion is incorrect, and the order is inverted, when it is said that "Christ died only for the elect, and the predestinate." For predestination depends, not only on the death of Christ, but also on the merit of Christ's death; and hence Christ did not die for those who were predestinated, but they, for whom Christ died, were predestinated, though not all of them. For the universality of the death of Christ extends itself more widely than the object of Predestination.
From which it is also concluded that the death of Christ and its merit is antecedent, in nature and order, to Predestination. What else, indeed, is predestination than the preparation of the grace, obtained and provided for us by the death of Christ, and a preparation pertaining to the application, not to the acquisition or provision of grace, not yet existing? For the decree of God, by which he determined to give Christ as a Redeemer to the world, and to appoint him the head only of believers, is prior to the decree, by which lie determined to really apply to some, by faith, the grace obtained by the death of Christ.
A brief response from me:

1. My theological opponent's point about the difference between "actual and potential efficacy" seems to gloss over an important point. Something has potential efficacy if it is able to do something. Thus, for example, an analgesic tablet (sitting on the shelf) may have the potential efficacy to relieve a headache. Sitting on the shelf, however, the tablet does not exercise or actuate that efficacy.

Thus, "actual efficacy" or (more simply) "efficiency" is to be ascribed only to the analgesic that is actually efficacious, that alleviates pain, and not merely that has the ability to alleviate pain if properly used.

In contrast, "potential efficacy" or "sufficiency" goes to the intrinsic merit of the work of Christ. Christ's death was sufficient not only for all the men that ever have been and ever will be, but also for an infinite number of men - more than ever there will be. Christ's work is super-abundant in merit. As is typified by the blood poured out upon the foot of the altar, as so well explained by Thomas Boston ("5. And all the rest of the blood shall be poured out at the foot of the altar. Figuring thereby, the abundant shedding of the blood of Christ, and superabundant merit thereof, Acts, xxii. 16 ; 1 John, i. 7. As likewise, that although it be so abundant and sufficient for all, yet it is not efficient to all, but is unprofitably poured out to many, through their own contempt and incredulous induration, Mat. xxiii. 37 ; Heb. x. 29." - Thomas Boston, Crook in the Lot, p. 26, 1841 ed. [available here] [note especially the connection between this OT type and the NT ante-type in Hebrews 10:29])

2. As to the type of sufficiency, my theological opponent is correct in understanding that we do not believe only that Christ's death is sufficient, and that is efficiently applied by regeneration which produces faith (leaving aside the issue of the order of those, and the issue of their relation to the sacraments). Instead, we also believe that Christ's atonement would similarly have been efficient to every man, if God had so willed it - i.e. if it had been offered on their behalf.

You see, we believe that the efficacy of Christ's blood extends further than to merely working when applied: it secures the elect. In that respect it is a redemption - a ransom - a payment. The elect have been purchased by Christ as his peculiar possession (Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. ).

3. My theological opponent's comment, "For if it is not a ransom offered and paid for all, it is, indeed, not a ransom sufficient for all," is incorrect because it assumes that the payment was commercial, when (in fact) it was penal. The payment made was not "this much for that many" but instead it was life for life. It was not that Christ had to spill 1000 drops of blood for 1000 souls, but that he had to give his life to save all those that were his. As it is written, "The good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep," (John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.)

4. My theological opponent's position that Scripture plainly states various things may be fully correct, but the question that divides us not whether Scripture plainly states thus-and-such, but how the words used in those passages are to be understood. For example, it would be absurd to interpret the words for "the world" and "to love" in the same sense in the expression, "For God so loved the world" and in the expression, "if any man love the world." Both are plain statements of Scripture, and yet there sense must be properly understood if we are to make sense of them.

5. At this point, we see my theological opponent taking a position on an order and the decrees of God, which we might take to be a statement about the order of the decrees. My theological opponent has taken a position that is not merely infralapsarian (i.e. it does not merely subordinate predestination to the fall), but goes further - placing predestination in a place subordinate to the work of Christ. This order makes little sense, because Christ's work is not the end but the means: and the predestination to glory with God is the end.

6. My theological opponent insists that those for whom Christ died were predestinated, though not all of them. We recognize that this is his position, but we cannot understand why (from Scripture) it is thought to follow. Indeed, Scripture reverses (as my theological opponent claims) the order and says that Christ went to the cross with joy in mind, which could be none other than our salvation (Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.).

7. My theological opponent finally argues, "What else, indeed, is predestination than the preparation of the grace, obtained and provided for us by the death of Christ, and a preparation pertaining to the application, not to the acquisition or provision of grace, not yet existing? For the decree of God, by which he determined to give Christ as a Redeemer to the world, and to appoint him the head only of believers, is prior to the decree, by which lie determined to really apply to some, by faith, the grace obtained by the death of Christ." (emphasis added) The answer there is that predestination is the reason for Christ's death - it is not the preparation of previously obtained grace, instead it is the decree that the grace would be both obtained (by the work of Christ) and applied (by the work of the Spirit) to the elect. Scripture confirms this, placing Christ's obtaining of our inheritance logically subsequent to our predestination (Eph 1:7-11 7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:).

It's worth pointing out that I've taken out the name of the person to whom this theological opponent of mine was responding and substituted my own name, not because I adopt everything that person may have said, but because this theological opponent of mine is generally setting forth a position that I could take. The name of that person opposed by my theological opponent was Perkins. Perhaps with that further clue, you can now identify my theological opponent. If you have not, I'll spell it out for you. His name was Arminius. His theology was not supralapsarian, it was not infralapsarian, it was not even Amyraldian, it was Arminian. Nevertheless, in contrast to the supralapsarian position, it shared the commonality with infralapsarian of placing the decree to predestine after the fall, it shared the commonality with the Amyraldian of placing the decree to predestine after the decree to atone, and it differentiates itself from the Amyraldian in a way that is not reflected in the discussion above - by placing the decree to predestine subsequent to a recognition of those who would (will?) respond to the gospel call.

If you scanned down here to see who the theological opponent was, consider reading the arguments without knowing who the people are. If you insist on knowing who they are, the name is in the previous paragraph.

Praise and thanks be to our Substitute!


Friday, April 18, 2008

YnottonY transcribes a DL conversation

I am afraid the title of his post may be a bit misleading, but YnottonY has transcribed a portion of Dr. White's Dividing Line show, and the title appears to be his only comment on it. I have not checked the transcription for accuracy in any formal way. (link)

It's important to note that one impression people might get from Tony's title is that Dr. White denies that God commands all men to repent and believe. He does not deny that, in fact Dr. White affirms that.


Classifying Baxter and a Free Offer to my Theological Opponents

Classifying Baxter

Phillip Johnson has an article (to which Trey Austin thoughtfully directed me) in which he provides a fairly helpful and quick guide to some distinctions among Evangelical views of the order of decrees, ranging from Supralapsarianism to Arminianism.

In the section on what Johnson prefers to call Amyraldism (as opposed to Amyraldianism), Johnson states: "Puritan Richard Baxter embraced this view, or one very nearly like it. He seems to have been the only major Puritan leader who was not a thoroughgoing Calvinist. Some would dispute whether Baxter was a true Amyraldian. (See, e.g. George Smeaton, The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991 reprint], Appendix, 542.) But Baxter seemed to regard himself as Amyraldian." (emphases omitted)

Free Offer to my Theological Opponents

This is interesting, because it seems that certain folks have been quoting Baxter on the issues related to the atonement, as though he and they were in agreement. This may have lead to certain misconceptions from my side, so - in the interest of fairness - I want to extend an offer (a well-meant offer) to those who have been quoting Baxter in support of their view of the atonement, as well as to any of my other theological opponents that have expressed a view that Christ died for each and every man without exception.

The offer is this:

Try to explain in what sense you think it is appropriate to say that Christ died "for" each and every person.

- Do you mean that Christ's death had an intrinsic worth that was sufficient (if it were to be applied) for the atonement of the elect and reprobate together? If so, you'll find us in agreement.

- Do you mean that Christ's death was to no eternal benefit to the reprobate, but only (from an eternal standpoint) increased their guilt by making them in essence doubly guilty. If so, you'll find us in agreement.

- Do you mean that Christ's death had some temporal, incidental benefit to the reprobate, as the benefits of Christ's death for the elect's sake overflow to the rest of mankind? If so, you'll find us in agreement.

- Or do you mean something more than that? Are you taking the position that Christ actually redeemed the reprobate? Are you taking the position that Christ's death actually expiated the guilt of the sins of the reprobate? Are you taking the position that Christ's death actually reconciled the reprobate to God? Are you taking the position that the sins of the reprobate were taken away, having been nailed to the cross? Are you taking the position that the reprobate died with Christ on the cross and were raised with Christ in his resurrection? Are you taking the position that Christ, as high priest, offered himself as a sacrifice to the Father on behalf of the reprobate? Are you taking the position that the Father does not accept Christ's sacrifice for some for whom Christ offered that sacrifice? Are you taking the position that Christ actually substituted himself for the reprobate? Are you taking the position that Christ actually paid for the sins of the reprobate? Are you taking the position that Christ purchased the reprobate by his death? If so, we disagree.

It seems that answering these questions should help us determine our differences, if indeed there are differences.

This free offer, well-intentioned is open to all without exception (including Arminians, Amyraldians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and anyone else who calls themsevles Christians). Also, if someone wants to respond by email (so as not to make the responses public), my email is accessible through my profile.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Further Response from Trey

Trey has (I think) clarified that he does not want to come down on the matter of the Atonement one way or another.

"There are lots of folks who don’t want to come down on the matter one way or another. R. L. Dabney was one of those. David Ponter is also one. But like Dabney, while not taking a side on the issue, i see Ponter’s views as aligning most closely with Infralapsarianism, not with Amyraldism."

I disagree with Trey, but there you have it. I see Dabney's views coming down pretty clearly on the "strict" Limited Atonement side, and I see Ponter's view coming down to the Amyraldian side of Dabney's views.

Trey also seems to suggest that somehow there is confusion being made between Infralapsarian and Amyraldian. I am familiar with both categories, and I don't see the connection that is being made.

This matter, however, has generated more heat than light on the matter, so I don't have further comments on Trey's further remarks at this time.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dr. White's Most Recent Debate - Audio Posted

The recent James White and David Wood debates on Islam have been posted (apparently in their entireties) to the web. I have posted these without listening to them first, so I may update this page, once I have listened to them, for caveats etc.

Is Muhammed a Prophet?

Debate between David Wood and Jalal Abualrub(April 12, 2008)

Does The Bible Teach That Jesus Is God?
Debate between Jalal Abualrub and James White (April 12, 2008)

Given that Jalal had claimed that he owned the rights to the videos ("I own rights to these videos which we recorded using a TV camera."), and given that he had stated that they would be freely available, I assume that the following links are to authorized download sites for the debates.

The debates are in MP3 format. It's not clear to me how long these debates will remain posted. For now, a link to the source mp3s for the debate is below.

"Is Muhammed a Prophet?"

"Does the Bible Teach that Jesus is God?"

May our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ be praised!


N.B. Thanks to Matthew Lankford for pointing these out to me!

Responses to Atheist Objections

I received the following comments on my earlier post, "Away with the Atheists!" I assume that the person commenting is an atheist, and I am going to use "A" to designate his comments below, but whether he is an atheist or not is not central to the matter:

Objection 1 - Atheism Misclassified as Faith
A: "Um... atheism isn't a faith, it isn't focused on death and damnation."

Answer: Of course atheism is a faith. It is a humanist faith. It may not be a well-organized or systematized faith, but it is a faith. Everyone believes something and trusts in something - even atheists who believe in and trust in themselves.

Objection 2- God Misclassified as "True"
A: "Also God isn't "true and living". This isn't "God doesn't exist" but more "if he did that wouldn't be a good description". If there is only one God, than by definition there can't be false gods; the only way to get a true version is to have fakes. You might say the ones belonging to other religions are false gods, but to be false, you'd also have to admit they exist."


(1) If a deity has to exist to be worshipped, then this objection is the shortest, clearest proof of the existence of God. Since I doubt the objector would grant such a proof, then the objection is itself absurd.

(2) Saying that God is not the True God because he is the only God is a bit like saying that real dollar bills are not real dollar bills unless someone has actually made counterfeits.

(3) Connected with (2), saying that God is not the True God because by definition he is the only God, is a bit like saying that the currency of the land is not true currency, because it is by definition the only currency, and counterfeit money is not currency at all. It doesn't follow. The fact that God is the only God, does not mean that there are not counterfeits, things/people passed off as though they were God or "a god."

Objection 3: God Misclassified as "Living"
A: "As for living... God isn't a living thing. He is immortal, remember? He fails the criteria to be qualified as a living thing because of that and several other factors. You can't be considered alive if you can never truly die. "


I reject the objector's criterion of mortality. Things can be alive without being able to die. Where the objector got this idea from is a mystery. Perhaps he simply imagined it. I don't assign any particular weight to this objection. It's important to note that God is a spirit - I'm not sure whether the objector has taken that into account or not.


Waltz on Luther - "articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae"

David Waltz, a Catholic (I think), poster with whom I've crossed swords a few times, has posted a recent blog article in which he identifies a quotation that he believes has been misattributed to Martin Luther. (link to post)

First of all, thanks to David for his post. It is always good to clear the historical record, and it seems that David has put some real time and effort into this.

Leaving aside a rhetorical matter for another time, a couple of notes on the substance of the research:

1) The Latin phrase should be, I think, "articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae" not "articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae" ;

2) It it is interesting to note that in addition to the non-Catholics that David identified, Cardinal Newman also seemingly attributes the expression to Luther (see here);

3) Wesley claims that he held Justification by faith to be articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae as early as 1738, (see here), and as well attributes the quotation to Luther but perhaps his memory is faulty (of course the 1738 date would not be inconsistent with the 1718 coining that David asserts) (After Wesley, we often see the quotation attributed to Luther in Methodist circles, which tends to suggest that Wesley would be responsible for the propagation of that particular myth, if indeed it is a myth.);

4) David may want to check up on the loose end frayed by these footnotes
- (a) (here), which seems to hint that the phrase may be Lutheran in its origin;
- (b) (here), which cites to Luther's commentary on the Psalms of Degrees;
- (c) (here), wherein a counter-article in Bellarmine's writings is described in the same words, though I could not find such a description in my edition of Bellarmine's works.

5) Like David, I am unable to find any actual instance where Luther used the phrase.

The doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is certainly a litmus test for evangelical orthodoxy. Given Luther's heavy emphasis on justification by faith alone, Luther probably would have agreed with such a statement, whether or not he himself originated the catchy Latin phrasing of the matter. For it is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, that men are saved from the guilt of their sins and made partakers of eternal life.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dr. White's More Recent Debate

While Ponter's colleagues are raising a tempest about Dr. White's debate with Steve Gregg, Dr. White has recently concluded another debate: this one against a Muslim opponent.

Here are a couple of crowd reactions to that debate, and even more to some informal discussion Dr. White provided after the debate at a local restaurant:

Fusion! reports at Let My People Read
Glenn Hendrickson reports at Glenn's Blog (brief) (more depth) (notes from Dr. White's opening)
Pastor Wyman reports at Walking Together

Here's the report from Dr. White's opponent, Jalal Abualrub and basically a repetition from one of his supporters (Rasheed Gonzales). Also, some Muslims have provided comments on the debate in the comments on Jalal's site, here.

And here are two clips from the debate (Dr. White's opponent promises to make the entire debate freely and publicly available - we'll see if/when that happens):

First Segment

Second Segment

Third Segment

May God bless the Muslim community with knowledge of the truth, repentance from sin, and faith in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of the world.


Away with the Atheists!

Those steeped in the Early Church Fathers will recall that title exclamation is one that Polycarp is supposed to have uttered at the request of his Roman persecutors. Polycarp was willing to utter it, because he was a monotheist, not an atheist, despite the contrary propaganda set forth by the pagans and, according to the same reports, the Jews.

There were, of course, atheists then as there are now. There have been atheists throughout much of history, whether they were open atheists, closet atheists, or simply de facto atheists. To combat atheism today, there is a new blog "Atheism is Dead" which takes over anti-atheist role of an earlier, less-seemly-title blog, which I'll simply refer to as "Atheism Lacks Positive Value."

There are two major underlying problems with the blog:

1) While it appears to be run by Christians, and while there are many Christian apologetics materials on atheism on the blog, the blog itself is open to anyone who wants to criticize atheism, even Wiccans. That doesn't seem wise to the present author, any more than it would be wise to start a blog addressing the problems with Roman Catholicism and leave the blog open to Wiccan or Unitarian criticisms of Catholicism. The primary reason to reject atheism (or Catholicism) is the truth. The other criticisms - the criticisms that would be raised by, for example, Wiccans - are bound to be secondary criticisms.

2) The title of the blog, while optimistic, is plainly wrong one at least one level. If Atheism were dead, one would not devote an apologetic blog to its destruction. Atheism is not dead in the sense of having few or no adherents.

On the other hand, Atheism is a dead faith. It is a religion of death, that surely leads its adherents into the pits of Hell. There is no salvation for atheists as long as they remain atheists, but only judgment.

In any event, for now the site does have some redeeming value in that it provides at least some good, Christian apologetic materials demonstrating the error of Atheism. Furthermore, although discernment will be needed, given the open nature of the blog, it may be a handy resource if you ever find yourself debating an atheist.

Praise be to the true and living God!


Monday, April 14, 2008

More of Trey Austin

Well, it seems that Mr. Austin does not like the correction he has received by those he considers his Christian brethren, so much that he has fired off a massive, multi-post response. I have addressed his multiple posts as a group.

1. Opening Post
In which Trey uses a colorful analogy involving dung, while falsely claiming, "Notice that Dr. White never refers to any other Christian with whom he has major disagrement as “brother.”" I seem to pretty clearly recall Dr. White calling Pastor Shishko a brother in Christ, even though Dr. White disagrees majorly with Pastor Shishko on the issue of Baptism.

2. Not the Reformed View (Round II)
In which Trey complains that he has been misunderstood, and claims that he was not saying that "my point was not that my own view is only Reformed view and Jame’s White’s isn’t." He seems to be saying that he was complaining that there is a multiplicity of Reformed views on the subject - particularly on the subject of the doctrine of the Atonement. On the other hand, Trey actually wrote in his first article, "No more than you should have some Protestant Reformed theologian, who denies the free offer of the Gospel, and who denies common grace, to be the poster-child for being a Calvinist should you have James White out in the public eye representing himself and his lop-sided Calvinism as true and proper Calvinism." Actually, though, the problem is that it is Trey's contra-confessional view of the atonement (or at least the view that he seems to adopt vy his support of Ponter and company) that is "lop-sided Calvinism" if it can really be called Calvinism at all, rather than thinly-masked Amyraldianism. Again, lest Trey's new intra-Reformed ecumenicism seem sincere, recall his claim: "So, if you want Puritanism of the modern variety, James White is your man; he tows the line to a tee. But if you want real, historical Calvinism, he’s not any kind of reliable source." Now he claims, "So, understand, i’m arguing not that White’s view is not Reformed, nor am i arguing that it’s biblically wrong (though, i think it is), i am arguing that it’s only one among many Reformed views on the issue of God’s will concerning the salvation of the non-elect." (all typos in original) Judge for yourself whether that's the same argument or not.

3. Obligation to Critique Someone Else
In which Trey complains of having to deal with other subjects than the promotion of the distorted and logically incoherent view of the atonement advocated by Ponter and company. He complains that "In fact, having taken part in several forums devoted to internet apologetics, i have been increasingly convinced that it is a useless exercise that simply blakanizes positions rather than leading to understanding and mutual love." (all typos original, I think "blakanizes" is supposed to be "Balkanizes") Is it just my imagination or has the kettle of Internet apologetics been called black?

And he does so again in the same post, where he writes, "So, yes, it *IS* my business, and the business of every other Calvinist, how James White acts and how he displays a less than charitable attitude or a theological eccintricity that he presents as *THE* Reformed view, because, for good or for bad, many people will see that, recognize it as someone negative, as i do, and judge all Calvinists on that basis." (again, all typos in original) Trey's assisting those who advocate Amyraldianism-lite as though it were Calvinism, and then claims that conventional, confessional, middle-of-the-road Calvinism is not *THE* Reformed view. But if we are going to include Amyraldianism within the "Reformed View" broadly defined, then there is no strong reason to except Arminianism from the "Reformed View," in which case the Reformed label is just something we should throw away, because it has lost its meaning.

Of course, the solution is to define Reformed theology by the major standards: the WCF, the LBCF, and even the canons of Dordt. The quasi-Amyraldianism of Ponter and company is not within the boundaries of any of those.

4. I Don't Know Debate
In which Trey claims that he knows plenty about debate, and offers (based on his grade-school experience) some pointers to Dr. White. One hardly needs to provide commentary.

Trey seems to insist that he knows how better to answer questions. Thus, for example, he claims: "Hence, we can and should affirm that God desires the salvation of all the non-elect, insofar as he has commanded them to repent and believe and be saved, and insofar as he has told us plainly that it is his desire to see all men to be saved. God desires his commandments to be kept: That’s the heart of the assumption behind the preceptive will of God, and so we can rightly say that, anything God commands he desires to take place."

Of course, Dr. White fully agrees with that statement, but such a statement would only confuse the issue, which was God's sovereign desire, not his revealed will. In fact, all of those that Trey disparagingly refers to as "high Calvinists" (i.e. confessional Reformed folks) would agree that God desires (in one sense) that his commands be obeyed, and that one of his commands is that people repent and believe. But that sense is really not relevant to the debate that Dr. White was having with Mr. Gregg - a point that Trey seems willing to overlook in order to make a string of ad hominem attacks.

5. Personal Contact Needed?
In which Trey indicates that he feels justified in making his complaints public, apparently based in part (how, Trey doesn't explain) on the subsequent public response by Dr. White. While I would agree that Trey might have been wiser to have complained to Dr. White privately first, before making himself appear absurd in a public forum, I also think that if Trey is responding to a public debate, he should feel free to do so publicly. Likewise, Trey should not complain that he is being responded to publicly, since he has made his amazing accusations a public matter (and I don't think that Trey is necessarily complaining about that).

6. When Ad Hominem Arguments Go Wild
In which Trey complains that he has not seen substantiation for the claims that his initial post was ad hominem. Trey then complains that the present author's introduction to my response to Tony Byrne's post was ad hominem because I identified Tony's connection to him and to their mutual friend (and theological ally), David Ponter. This truly is laughable.

Why so? It is laughable because (1) Trey imputes motives for the identification that are both unnecessary and inaccurate, and because (2) Trey does the very same thing. As to (1), the reason for providing identification is to help the readers make the connection to the pair of attacks recently launched on Dr. White. As to (2), Trey's own self-label of "Reformed" and "Calvinist" are aimed to prejudice the reader in his favor. But I must qualify (2) a bit. It's not quite the same thing, because I've actually demonstrated the non-Reformed nature of Tony's and David's (and, it appears, Trey's) position, whereas Trey simply claims a label that doesn't belong to him.

Furthermore, returning to (1), Trey goes even further off the deep end with his false claim that "[TurretinFan]’s trying to prejudice his audience against anything we say with regard to the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement by labeling us as “Quasi-Amyraldians." This complaint is off the deep end for at least two reasons. One: as Trey himself admits, he hasn't made a positive case at all - in fact - while he's endorsed (one way or another) Ponter's position, he hasn't even made a negative position against the Reformed view of the limited atonement (as Tony and David have attempted). So, apparently (to Trey) I feel the need to rebut his position with an ad hominem, even though his position has not actually been presented. Two: it is the extent, not sufficiency, of the atonement that is at stake. If Tony, David, and company merely taught the unlimited sufficiency of Christ's death, they would be within bounds of the Calvinistic view.

Moreover, returning again to (2), Trey himself uses labels on Dr. White to discredit Dr. White's view as being the Reformed position. If it were ad hominem for me to use the label "Quasi-Amyraldian" (although I did not use it in the context of discrediting someone's argument) all the more so it must be ad hominem for Trey to use a label in the context of discrediting Dr. White's statements regarding the Reformed position.

Finally, the nail in the coffin was Trey claim that, "he also is engaging in guilt-by-association fallacy, by saying that Tony’s views are less than reliable because he is friends and in agreement with David Ponter." (a) Actually, of course, I never make such a claim. Trey's uncharitable assumption regarding the purpose for the association doesn't convert a simple making of an association with an improper use of such an association. (b) Associating people by shared beliefs for the purpose of highlighting that shared belief is not the fallacy of guilt by association: it's association by guilt. Trey would do well to get it straight. (c) Trey himself in post (1) above employed similar grouping ("his internet broadcast certainly was nothing more than an invitation to his sycophants to flood the blogosphere with responses"). (d) In Trey's grouping, the inference was much harsher and prejudicial than in mine (comrades [mine] vs. sycophants [his]).

I hope Trey will see the error of his position, both with respect to Dr. White, but more importantly with respect to the Ponter position on the atonement.

If we believe in a Vicarious Atonement (and the Reformed church does) then those for whom Christ died - the elect nation for whom our High Priest offered His once-for-all sacrifice - will be saved. We should still affirm that Christ's death is, as to its intrinsic worth, sufficient for all. But Christ is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

But here's my challenge to Trey Austin, who hands out debating tips to Dr. White. I have a debate blog all set up, and I've debated folks there before. If you'd like, we can debate (in writing) from Scripture the doctrine of the Atonement. I will take the view expressed in the Westminster Standards (WLC):

Question 59: Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

Answer: Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ has purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.

If Trey believes that redemption was purchased for others to whom it will never be applied or effectually communicated, or who will never in time be enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel, then I hope he'll take up the challenge. I'm 100% ready to defend the true doctrine expressed in WLC 59 against any taker - whether it be Trey, Tony, David, or anyone else.


Ponter's Massive Calvin Quotations - A Quick Note

I'm in the process of carefully reviewing a recent massive post by David Ponter, full of quotations from English translations of John Calvin's writings and preachings. My initial impression upon skimming through the post was that it was simply cherry-picked quotations designed to convey Ponter's basic thesis. Having looked into the matter a bit deeper, it appears that Ponter has tried to include all the quotations he could find that he thinks are relevant.

At any rate, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he has not purposely omitted quotations that he believes indicate that Calvin held to the traditional 5 point Calvinism taught by Turretin, Owen, Hodge, Shedd, et al. On the other hand, I'm not sure what Ponter's methodology has been - and I don't think he specifically states it in his post. Indeed, I might be mistaken, but I think that Ponter may be in the process of continuing to expand on his lists - though how he is obtaining his quotations is somewhat obscure. Perhaps it is by personal reading of Calvin's writings? Perhaps it is by the collective readings by those in his limited/unlimited-intention circle?

I hope to provide a bit more detailed response shortly, if God wills, followed ultimately by a very detailed response to a few interesting issues that the post presents.


Another Quasi-Amyraldian Attack on Dr. White

Tony Byrne (aka Ynottony) comrade-in-arms of Trey Austin and another of David Ponter's band of Quasi-Amyraldians (who host the misleading "Calvin and Calvinism" website), has launched a fresh attack on Dr. White's radio debate with Steve Gregg. (link to attack piece) (Update: To be clear [and particularly since Carrie Hunter - one of David's friends - has complained], when I say "attack" I do not mean that Tony calls Dr. White a big meanie. What I mean is that Tony (ironically) insinuates that Dr. White doesn't understand the theological issues involved.)

The piece handles a complex (in terms of its grammar - not logically complex) question asked during a cross-examination portion of the debate, and appears to attempt to suggest the same thing that Trey Austin tried to suggest, namely that Dr. White doesn't know the Reformed position.

This, of course, is absurd. Dr. White is well aware of the two wills distinction mentioned by Tony, and would indeed fully endorse it. What Dr. White would not do, however, is to make a false distinction between the non-elect who do not hear the gospel and the non-elect who do hear the gospel.

I'm not sure whether Tony misses this issue, or just doesn't understand it. There is no difference with respect to the revealed will of God (or the secret will of God) between the non-elect who hear and do not hear the gospel. God's revealed will is the same for both, and his secret will is the same for both. What is different is the culpability of the group that hear the gospel and reject it.

Tony goes so far as to accuse Dr. White of denying that God's revealed will is that all men repent and believe, as though Dr. White would reject the fact that the gospel is revealed to be a command to be obeyed.

From where does Tony get these ridiculous ideas, it's hard to say with absolute certainty. Nevertheless, the underlying root is clear. Tony has a mistaken idea that for the call to repent and believe to be universal and "well meant" it must be that (a) Christ died for the non-elect, and (b) God wants to save the non-elect. Of course, Dr. White would reject (a) as contrary to Scripture, and - if he would not reject (b) outright - would qualify it in ways that Tony could not accept.

After all, as Tony inconsistently is forced to admit, Christ died with the intent that his death be efficacious only for the elect. Once one recognizes that fact, the warm fuzzies generated by repeatedly using the term "well meant" go away. Unless Tony his slipped from Amyraldianism (what Tony likes to call, "moderate Calvinism") into Arminianism or worse, his theology cannot really accommodate a gospel offer that is any more well-meaning than that of the Reformed position.

As Hoeksamaa explains, the gospel call is universal but conditional. It is, in a sense, an offer of salvation, but there is an explicit condition: a condition that none of the non-elect ever fulfill. It's sincerity is not to be judged by a criterion of whether the non-elect can fulfill it, or whether hypothetical provision has been made in case the non-elect were to fulfill it, but rather by the certainty of salvation for those who do fulfill it.

Those who repent of their sins, and turn in faith to Christ alone for salvation will be saved. Those who do not, will be damned forever. It's not just an offer, it's an offer you cannot refuse. Once you realize that it is the truth, once you appreciate the sinfulness of your sin and the holiness of the God who stands in judgment over you, you'd have to be absolutely out of your mind to refuse to repent and trust in Christ. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

But the non-elect (in fact, even the elect, prior to regeneration - and thus all the unregenerate men) have a moral inability to come to Christ, because they love darkness better than light. They hate God and will not heed the warnings that God's messengers give them. The command is there, Repent and Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ but to them it is as though someone were mocking. It is truly a sad thing to watch the wicked perishing, because we have empathy for our fellow men. Let us, therefore, bear testimony to the truth of God's word and seek to persuade those around us to obey the Gospel command, for if they do, they will be saved.

Trust in Him!


Great New Flurry of Content from GreenBaggins

GreenBaggins has provided a flurry of new content, which appear to be sermons. I found them interesting, and they mesh somewhat with the series of Patriarchy-related posts I have been presenting. Additional sermons are available as well, at the GreenBaggins website.

Submission? What's that? (Ephesians 5:21-24)
Husbands, Love your Wives (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Marriage and the Church (Ephesians 5:28-33)
Children, Obey your Parents (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Parenting: Nurture not Exasperation (Ephesians 6:4)



Sunday, April 13, 2008

Responses to Three Common Objections to Calvinism

The following is a response to three common objections to Calvinism that are made by non-Calvinists. As mentioned below, these are not objections that everyone could make (for example, one calls into question the doctrine of original sin), but they are objections that frequently are made, and to which an answer should be ready. There are, of course, other objections. Those too, by God's grace, we hope to answer in due course.

Objection 1: Calls to Repentance Invalidate Calvinism

"To me, the most convincing point that God has not predestined all events is His constant plea for man to change. If passages were taken out of context, then one would expect to find only one or two references to man's need to change. However, repentance is the underlying theme of all prophetic and gospel messages, which by definition implies man can change. These messages are not addressed to the Holy Spirit but to people, from whom action is demanded." (source)

Response to Objection 1

Calvinism, of course, agrees that man is commanded to repent, and that some men do repent. It's not the Calvinist's claim that the calls to repentance are taken out of context. Instead, we simply believe that at an improper inference is being drawn from them.

This objection does not take the form of a rigorous argument. The underlying problem with the argument is the statement, "which by definition implies man can change." Calvinism does not deny the statement that men can change. In fact, since Calvinism claims that God changes men, how could Calvinism possibly deny that men can change?

What the objector seems to want to say is that man can change on his own, i.e. of his own power. Scripture, however, nowhere teaches such a doctrine, and actually denies it. For example, the prophet Jeremiah explains:

Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.

And Jesus himself explains:

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Some non-Calvinists (such as historical Arminians as well as Molinist Catholics) assert a doctrine of pre-venient grace. If one holds to such a doctrine, one cannot make objection 1, because it applies equally to one's own position.

Objection 2: God's Justice Invalidates Calvinism

"Calvinism teaches that God unfairly condemned the human race for sins that He prearranged and predetermined. Can God fairly condemn man for sins that He made Him do? Calvinism blames God for man's mistakes. It teaches that the guilt for the original sin was unfairly passed down through all generations, condemning children for sins they did not commit. This is also unfair. How can we use the words "equity", "fair", "right", and "just" to describe God's judgment according to Calvin? Compare Calvin's vision of God's judgment with the Bible's description:

"For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity." Psalm 98:9

The Lord despises injustice and unfairness. How can He arbitrarily choose who will go to heaven or hell regardless of their actions? Punishment becomes cruelty if it is inflicted independent of a person's actions." (source)

Response to Objection 2

This first two lines of this objection are the classic objection of Romans 9: if God predetermined that we sinned, how can he hold us guilty, for who has resisted his will? Paul's answer is that the question itself is impudent. It assumes that God lacks the freedom to create certain people for purposes that include their destruction. The number of times I have seen this objection defies counting, and it is already clearly and emphatically answered in Scripture. In short we learn from Scripture that God creating men unto destruction is not "unfair": it is the Potter's freedom.

The second objection regarding original sin is a bit more odd. Of course, many non-Calvinists cannot make this objection, because they acknowledge that the guilt of original sin passed upon all men. Scripture also speaks clearly to this matter:

Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Furthermore, the underlying premise that it is not fair for God to punish people who did not sin personally is not Scriptural either. In fact, it conflicts directly with the words of God written in stone by the finger of God:

Exodus 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

Deuteronomy 5:9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,

And repeated again and again:

Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

Numbers 14:18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

The moral law is the very definition of justice: if a man will claim that it is not fair or just for God to punish the children for the sins of the parents, then one has to reject or to come up with ad hoc interpretations of the very Decalogue.

This complaint, though, is not a new one. It is recorded by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both of whom reject it. If anyone does what God commands, he will live. Even if the wicked man himself repents, and turns from his wickedness, he will live. Ezekiel in Ezekiel provides an extended discussion of the Jewish proverb (not inspired): " The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?"

In the end, both prophets are making the same point: how can you possibly complain about the guilt of your fathers. God can judge you for your own guilt, and you'll still die. First live perfectly in God's sight and then see whether you are judged for someone else's guilt.

Ezekiel 18:25-32
25Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? 26When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. 27Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. 28Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

29Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? 30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

Some actually go so far as to imagine that Ezekiel should be read as though God never brings about harm to children because of their fathers, but just read on to the sobering words of the twentieth chapter:

Ezekiel 20:25-26
25Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; 26And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.

See how God takes responsibility for the child sacrifices of these wicked men? He even gives his reason: to make the men desolate. That is a punishment on the firstborn children for the sins of their fathers. What else does that remind one of? Why of Egypt on the day of Passover, of course. The Angel killed all the firstborn of Egypt in a single night: as many as did not have the blood of the Paschal lamb on their door-posts.

The ultimate absurdity, of course, is that it is only sinful men who make the objection that God is unequal because he punishes the children for the sins of the fathers. But those who make the objection overlook God's mercy: if they will repent and turn to God they will not be punished, but if they simply continue their father's sins, they can expect the same condemnation.

There is a third part to the objection here, expressed as: "How can He arbitrarily choose who will go to heaven or hell regardless of their actions? Punishment becomes cruelty if it is inflicted independent of a person's actions." This part is wrong for several reasons.

1) Election is not arbitrary, it is wise and based on God's special love, which is called foreknowledge. The fact that the choice is not based on consideration of things we have done does not make the choice arbitrary, because God is the creator.

2) Making election dependent on man's actions is clearly contrary to Scripture, especially to Romans 9.

3) Punishment is not inflicted independent of a person's actions: God decrees both a man's actions (such as Pharaoh hardening his heart) and the consequences (punishment). God raised up Pharaoh to demonstrate God's power in the destruction of Egypt, but God did not do so independent of Pharaoh's actions. Pharaoh refused to obey God, and God punished Pharaoh for that, even though God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and even though God interacted with Pharaoh specifically for the purpose to perform that punishment. In short God ordains not only the ends (punishment) but the means (sin), the two are not independent.

Objection 3: God's Love invalidates Calvinism

"Although these words may seem shocking, please consider the following implication. Not only does Calvinism make God to be an arbitrary Savior, but it necessarily implies that God was motivated by glory rather than love. According to Calvin, God never sought man's best interest, else He would have extended salvation to the entire race. Instead, He arbitrarily selected some, condemning others. Why did God do this? According to Calvinism, it was performed for God's glory." (source)

Response to Objection 2

The "arbitrary Savior" (instead, apparently, of a merits-based Savior) objection is already addressed above. Furthermore, the objection raises a false dichotomy.

God was motivated by love for the elect, as noted above. Nevertheless, God had his own glory in mind, as Scripture says.

John 13:31-32
31Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.

The statement, "God never sought man's best interest, else He would have extended salvation to the entire race," is of course not Calvin's own statement. God did not, of course, intend the best interest of each and every individual person. Instead, God intended each and every person for His (God's) best interest.

The objector seems to think that God needs to have the same humility as a man. This is just so odd. God is God. He destroys the glory of man, so that He will receive glory. Remember the tower of Babel? Remember Tarshish?

Isaiah 23:6-10
6Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle. 7Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn. 8Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth? 9The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth. 10Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.

But God loves his elect. Indeed, it is written:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Therefore, God - in his love - does save some men. God is not helpless to save those he loves. He is not some modern Casanova attempting to woo as many as possible, but reliant only on external means. No, he is a powerful and gracious king who will take the bride of his choice. He does so, not according to our desert, but according to his grace, as it is written:

2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,


The foregoing objections were all drawn from the same web site, but are all objections that I've heard before. There are certainly other objections that have been made, and responses that have been given to those other objections. (Consider this excellent response to this other objection.) I'd never suggest that anyone should accept the doctrines of grace simply because the three objections above had been defeated: instead one should accept those doctrines because they are the consistent teaching of Scripture: God saves.

Therefore, we need to preach the gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone, not according to him who wills or runs, but of God who shows mercy.

Let us do so!


Thomas Watson on the Regulative Principle

Andrew, at Strange Baptistfire, has provided a fairly concise but persuasive piece on the importance of regulating our worship according to the word of God. (link) The key quotation: "A Godly Man Is Very Exact and Careful About the Worship of God."

I have to admit, with a blog named as his is, I wasn't too surprised to see a post on this subject.


Regeneration Before Faith

I'm still in the process of finishing a series on the subject line of this post, but Steve Camp has prepared an interesting post on the subject. It's interesting and forceful. (link)

He also includes an interesting graphic (link), that I had not seen before. I don't know if it is own work, but it is certainly well done graphically.

Praise be to the God who saves by grace alone!


The Reformed Reader Recommends Turretin and the Real Turretin on: Ahab's Repentance

I was pleased this morning to read a commendation by the Reformed Reader (Shane Lems) of Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology. (link) Mr. Lems points out that is worthwhile for those preparing sermons to go and look up the verse that they're preaching on in the verse index of various systematic theologies, including Turretin's. Mr. Lems also provides a brief quotation from Turretin on Ahab's repentance.