Wednesday, 10 December 2008

95% Arminian

Yesterday, I heard of yet another major Christian intellectual claiming to be a Calvinist yet who rejected limited atonement.

If you reject limited atonement, then there is a good chance you are 95% Arminian and are either afraid to admit it (due to the calumny imposed by Calvinists) or don't know enough about Arminianism to do so.

If you reject limited atonement, then what quarrel do you have with Arminianism? As one of my previous post indicates (Are You an Arminian?), you can be an Arminian and still believe in Total Depravity and even eternal security.

John MacArthur recently made the comment that Wesley was a messed up Calvinist ( By this, MacArthur admits that Wesley was not semi-Pelagian, and that he is far more Reformed than not. Actually, this is why I call myself a Reformation Arminian. I accept penal satisfaction, total depravity, and that a person cannot come to Christ apart from the special work of the drawing of the Holy Spirit.

If you reject limited atonement, why not compare your beliefs to that of Reformation Arminians? Chances are, you are one of us.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Matt 1:21: How Calvinists Blind-side a Text

He Will Save His People from Their Sins:
How Calvinists Don’t Bother Looking from the Other Side

One of the more inane prooftexts for Calvinism is Matt 1:21, “…for he will save his people from their sins.” Calvinists argue that this is a statement of definiteness, that it does not say that Jesus will merely provide the opportunity of salvation for “his people,” but instead, that Jesus will definitely save his people. They claim that this flies in the face of Arminian assertions that through Jesus, God provides a way for everyone to be saved.

The quick Arminian retort is simple: “What!? Do you Calvinists think that Arminians deny that Jesus will definitely save his people??? Of course, we Arminians affirm that Jesus will definitely save his people, just as the text says.”

The claim that this is a Calvinist proof text for definite atonement registers 9.8 on the silly scale.

The ultimate question is a matter of defining “his people.” Indeed, in Matthew’s Gospel, the issue which is pounded is whether “his people” consists of Abraham’s descendents only, or whether “his people” is actually the community of faith, consisting of both Jew and Gentile believers; obviously, Matthew favours the latter position.

This is instructive for us. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus saves his people, and his people are his true disciples—those who do the will of his Father in heaven. Matthew does not define “his people” in terms of a murky Calvinistic election as birthed in the dark secret counsels of God, but rather in very concrete terms of taking up ones cross and following Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus saves his people from their sins, but “his people” consists of his true brothers and sisters and mother—those who do the will of his Father in heaven (12:46-50).

So, Arminians do indeed believe that Jesus will definitely save every single one of his people. This does not prevent them from also affirming that Jesus died for everyone. Indeed, one gets the strong impression in every passage of Matthew’s Gospel, that Jesus preached to everyone, urging them to repent and believe the Gospel, even those whom he knew would reject him. After all, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees precisely because they would ultimately reject him, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…, how often I have longed to gather your children…but you were not willing” (Matt 23:37).

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Are You an Arminian?

Over the centuries, Calvinists have so successfully vilified Arminianism that people who are Arminian are afraid to say so. This is true even though Arminianism is the default theological position of Christian Protestantism. Arminianism is so widespread that even the strongest Calvinist churches are filled with Arminians. It is ironic, then, that people are afraid to say they’re Arminian; for example, many Independent and Southern Baptists are typically Arminian, but nonetheless often call themselves Calvinists!

The purpose of this survey is to help people who have an Arminian theology realise that they are Arminians and to help them understand that it is okay to be Arminian. The questions deal with the most pertinent issues which define Arminianism and distinguish Arminianism from Calvinism.

1. Do you believe that Jesus died for every human being?
• This is the singular issue which ultimately divides Calvinism and Arminianism
• If you answered yes to the question, then almost certainly you are an Arminian (assuming that you hold to other historic doctrines and are a Protestant)
• If you believe that Jesus died only for those who would eventually believe, then you truly are a Calvinist and are not an Arminian

2. Do you believe that a person can resist the convicting power of God’s grace?
• If you answered yes, then you are almost certainly an Arminian, as is reflected in Jesus’ words, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together…but you were not willing” (Matt 23:37)
• Calvinists insist that when God calls people to salvation, they have no ability to resist, and therefore conclude that God’s invitation to salvation goes out only to the few

3. Do you believe that humans are so depraved that they can do nothing to earn salvation and that they cannot choose to believe in Jesus without the intervention of God’s grace?
• If you answered yes, then you agree with Arminius and Arminianism
• Calvinists affirm the same doctrine, but often claim that Arminians do not, despite near, if not complete unanimity among Arminian theologians in affirming the doctrine

4. Do you believe in election?
• If you answered yes, then you might be an Arminian
• Calvinists believe in an election independent of faith
• Arminians believe that election is “in Christ;” i.e., anyone who is “in Christ” is elect, but that faith is essential to become united with Christ. Therefore, election is conditioned upon faith

5. Do you believe in predestination?
• If you answered yes, then you might be an Arminian
• Arminians assert that believers are predestined, not that people are predestined to believe

6. Do you believe in eternal security?
• If you answered yes, you might be an Arminian
• The Remonstrants—people who sided with Arminius in the theological debates of 17th century Holland—took no position on this issue
• Arminius’ position has often been said to be non-committal, although rumours of recently discovered unpublished “disputations” may suggest that he did embrace the possibility of the believer losing his salvation
• If you answered no, then you probably are an Arminian
• The official statement of faith of the Society of Evangelical Arminians does not require the belief in the possibility of the believer losing his salvation
• All Calvinists believe in unconditional eternal security
• Most Independent and Southern Baptists base their claim to be Calvinists on this sole issue; however, in light of historic agreement among Arminians to allow for disagreement on this issue, eternal security is not a determining factor in the question of whether one is an Arminian or a Calvinist

7. Do you believe in penal satisfaction view of the atonement?
• If you answered yes and if you answered no, you might be an Arminian
• The penal satisfaction view of the atonement asserts that Jesus’ death entailed a payment for sin. It assumes that the justice of God requires that sin be punished and that the just wrath of God was diverted away from deserving sinners and poured out instead upon Jesus as their substitute
• This view is held by most Calvinists and by a significant number of Arminians (especially those who claim the nomenclature “Reformation Arminianism”), although some Arminians reject the notion that God punished his Son Jesus

8. Do you believe that God exhaustively knows the future?
• If you answered yes, you might be an Arminian
• Calvinists and most Arminians believe that God exhaustively knows the future.
• Some Arminians think that a denial of this doctrine is a rejection of basic Theism, and that those who deny the doctrine cannot therefore be Arminian
• The Society of Evangelical Arminianism affirms the doctrine, and one cannot belong to the society unless one is in agreement with it

9. Do you believe in the sovereignty of God?
• If you answered yes, then you might be an Arminian
• All Calvinists and all Arminians affirm the sovereignty of God
• Some Calvinists define sovereignty as God ordaining all things, so that they openly deny any choice or ability of people in regard to any action; this is a denial of libertarian free will and raises the question of human culpability when they choose to sin
• Arminians affirm libertarian free will and that humans really do make genuine choices, undeniably affirming human culpability when they choose to sin
• The Arminian view of Sovereignty is that God is sovereign enough to endow his creatures with free will

In summary, you can be an Arminian and believe
• the doctrine of unlimited atonement (Jesus died for everyone)
• the doctrine of resistible grace (people have the power to resist God’s convicting grace)
• the doctrine of total depravity (people are incapable of believing in Jesus apart from the intervention of God’s grace)
• the doctrine of election (all those who are “in Christ” are elect)
• the doctrine of predestination (believers are predestined)
• the doctrine of eternal security
• the doctrine of the penal satisfaction atonement (God punished Jesus for the sins of the world)
• the doctrine of omniscience (including that God foreknows the future perfectly)
• the sovereignty of God (God endowed humans with a free will)

As I stated earlier, the default position of Christian evangelicalism is Arminianism. And as can be seen in this brief outline, it is okay to be Arminian.

For more reflection on these issues, read Roger Olson’s 10 Myths about Arminianism

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Evangelical Theological Society's Proposed Doctrinal Statement

ETS has basically two points that members must affirm: the Trinity and inerrancy. These are hardly enough to distinguish evangelical Christians from non-Evangelicals, prompting some people to urge a new statement of faith, which can be found here. Here are my thoughts....

FIRST, It seems that the proposed change is doomed to fail because 1) the executive committee opposes it; and 2) a super-supermajority of 80% is needed to pass it; 3) there were few big names on their list of supporters--I recognised only seven.

SECOND, let's talk about item 9 which reads, "The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners, enabling them to turn to God from their sin and to trust in Jesus Christ."

The afore-linked webpage includes as one of its FAQ's a question in regard to C-A issues. The FAQ reads: "9. Is the reference to the Holy Spirit’s enabling work slanted towards Calvinism?" They reply, "We believe the statement on the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration can accommodate the Calvinist view as well as Wesleyan/ Arminian notions of prevenient grace. Because the statement already unites Calvinist, Wesleyan, and Arminian evangelicals in England, we think that we have good reason not to interpret it as slanted towards either Calvinism or Arminianism. We have corresponded with at least one non-Calvinist long time member of the Tyndale Fellowship who has said he has never had a problem with this description of the Holy Spirit’s work."

Actually, upon a very, very close reading of the item, I have encountered a problem with this item. The participial phrase (enabling them to turn...and to trust) is ambiguous, and--as with all modifying participles, we are unsure of it being causal, temporal, sequential, etc. Here are the possibilities

  • temporal: The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners at the same time that he enables them to turn to God from their sin....
  • telic: The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners for the purpose of enabling them to turn to God from their sin...
  • causal: The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners because he enables them to turn to God from their sin...
  • instrumental: The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners by enabling them to turn to God from their sin...
  • circumstantial: The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners while he enables them to turn to God from their sin...
  • sequential: The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners then he enables them to turn to God from their sin...
  • resultative: The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners resulting in them being enabled them to turn to God from their sin...
No doubt, English is much less ambiguous with its participles than Greek, and one or two or three of these possibilities is more probable than others.

However, after staring at these options for the last 30 minutes, I'm not sure which reading is more natural. One thing I'm sure of is that Arminians won't like some of them. For example we would reject the telic, sequential, and resultative interpretations. If pressed, Arminians would interpret the phrase instrumentally: The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners by enabling them to turn to God from their sin....

Perhaps the ambiguity is deliberate and helpful, enabling both Calvinists and Arminians to interpret it in whatever way they wish.

THIRD, perhaps of equal interest is the item which reads, "The Holy Spirit lives in all those he has regenerated...." Hey, this is good for Arminians, but bad for some Calvinists. I would assume that this might make a few Calvinists twinge, especially those who think that there can be some time gap from the point of regeneration to the point of faith. I keep on hearing Calvinists claiming this insanity that a person may not actually believe until years after his regeneration. Calvinists who believe this insanity are faced then with accepting the notion not only that unbelievers can be regenerate, but that unbelievers can be indwelt by the Spirit. This being the case, perhaps we ought to adopt the amendment, and then go on a witch hunt to throw out a bunch of Calvinists from ETS. :)

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Rethinking Hymnody: "In Christ Alone"

We should re-write hymns which distort doctrines toward a Calvinist
slant. I think it's perfectly legal to do so, although I think you're
supposed to cite the hymn title with "alt." or "adpt." afterward,
which stand for altered or adapted, respectively.

For example: "In Christ Alone" (alt.)

Here's one version of a verse of "In Christ Alone" which alters the
one-sided emphasis on eternal security and determinism. The original

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath;
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
Producing fruit in Christ the Vine,
Faithfully for my Christ I’ll stand.

The obviously offensive lines are "Jesus commands my destiny" and the
reference to the impossibility of being plucked out of Christ's hand.
Of course, with caveats, Arminians can affirm them. But why sing
songs which might confuse people unnecessarily?

The altered version reads:

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus, Command my destiny!
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
Producing fruit in Christ the Vine,
Faithfully for my Christ I’ll stand.

The alteration about a deterministic destination is subtle. It
converts an indicative statement to an prayer of commitment. It does
so first by converting the previous semi-colon after "From life's
first cry to final breath" into a comma. Then, the utterance of
Jesus' name is converted into a vocative (as indicated by the comma
immediately after his name). Next, in good form befitting the
vocative, the first word Command is capitalised, and the final
punctuation converted to an exclamation point. Thus, the worshiper
emotively thrusts his life into Christ's control.

My resolution to the John 10 passage about plucking is to recognise
that Jesus publicly tells his opponents that no one can pluck his
sheep out of his hand, but that Jesus, in the intimacy of private
teaching, tells his disciples that if they don't continue in abiding
with him and bearing fruit, they will be cut off from the vine. The
alteration of the hymn has this in mind.

To be sure, nothing can pluck out of Jesus' hand those who abide in
Christ and produce fruit. This is reflected by the participle
"producing." The idea here is that producing is assumptive: the
promise of security is only for those who faithfully stand in Christ.

I wonder if anyone else might suggest a different alteration.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Recovering a Sense of Incredulity over Calvinism

I have a couple friends of mine who are preparing for ministry and working on advanced theological degrees. However, in their prior studies they had been quite insulated from the Calvinist-Arminian debate, and have only recently encountered real live Calvinists. It is refreshing to hear their sense of incredulity and even shock at what Calvinists say.

I remember one of my first conversations with one of them. As it came up that I was not a Calvinist, he replied, "But there aren't any Calvinists around any more, are there?" I looked around at the various other theologians in the room and said, "We're surrounded by them." This came as a shock, since he simply could not conceive how anyone could hold to Calvinism.

In another conversation, my other friend said, after talking to a Calvinists, "You know, they actually believe that Jesus only died for the elect." I replied, "But of course." To which he responded that he knew this was a part of their theology, but couldn't conceive of anyone actually believing that God would withhold the atonement from the greatest part of mankind.

Another time, one of them said to me, "Do you realize that they think that we Arminians believe in a works salvation?"

All this is refreshingly assuring. These young men, well educated in theology as they are, nonetheless have a theological innocence about them untainted by the intricacies of a Calvinism which obfuscates the obvious and creates theosophical labyrinths from one's nose to one's elbow.
Oh to be shocked once more at hearing someone claim that God predestines some few people to believe, and leaves all others with no means of salvation! Oh to be astonished to hear someone claim that babies who die in infancy have no assurance of being ushered into the delights of heaven! Oh to be flabbergasted to hear someone claim that people have no choice in whether they put their faith in Christ or not.

We hear Calvinists repeat their disturbing theology so much that we gradually lose our proper sense of astonishment over people actually believing things so contrary to the nature of God and to the obvious meaning of Scripture. This is unfortunate. We need to recover a sense of theological innocence so that we do not dignify what is otherwise prima facie absurd.

On one hand, we want people to recognize our theological maturity, and so we make sure we never seem surprised at Calvinistic claims; and rightly so, because we've probably heard most of them more than a few times. But maybe this is a flawed response, for it tends to dignify that which should be not be dignified. Perhaps instead we should respond with an appropriate sense of incredulity at notions which could only be deduced from scripture by those who are twice too clever for the simplicity of the Gospel.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Congregational Approval of Out-of-Budget Expenditures

Here's a procedure....

1) Set up a budget for approval. Any expenditure which has already been approved at the previous annual meeting need not be brought up again for specific approval. If you budget $2000 for church van maintenance and repair, and its transmission needs a $1000 overhaul, then go ahead and get it repaired.

2) Each board or church department should make a good faith effort to stay within its budget. But if a budget item is exceeded through ordinary but unexpected situations, then
  • report it at the next business meeting;
  • b) explain why;
  • c) move on--i.e., don't worry about passing a budget increase;
  • d) increase your budget for that particular item next year.
3) Special items not previously budgeted should be carefully considered as to whether or not they should be presented to the congregation for a vote. Here are some criteria:
  • The more unusual the item is, the greater the need to bring it to the congregation
  • The more expensive the item is, the greater the need to bring it to the congregation
  • The more time-sensitive the purchase is, the greater the need for the board to deal with it outside of congregational oversight
  • Sometimes difficult situations of a most sensitive nature need to be dealt with in the privacy of the board meeting, for example, a severance package for a dismissed ministerial professional. In which case, the board members stick their neck out and assume that the congregation will trust their judgment. After all, the board members are the supposed to be the most spiritual mature and Spirit-led members of the congregation. Moreover, the board members should carry enough voting weight as to control any future votes on the controversial issue.

All this to say, there must be some flexibility. The principles of congregational governance need to work together with the principles of board representation. The board members function for the purpose of facilitating church governance and should not compete against it.

Ultimately, instead of asking if you should make a rule that congregational approval is necessary for purchases over $500 (or over $5000...), you should leave the exact figure undecided, and allow for prudence according to the situation. You could use some less than precise language to convey this. "If an out-of-budget expenditure of pressing urgency cannot be brought before the congregation in an expedient manner, the board, if the nature of the circumstances deems it necessary, may authorize reasonable disbursements of limited amounts without prior consent of the congregation."

But sometimes things are better left unsaid.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Churches Beware! Calvinism on the Sly!

Calvinist churches are but a small minority; most evangelical churches are Arminian or semi-Arminian. However, the Calvinist resurgence is producing full Five Point Calvinist pastors looking for work. The resurgence is also prompting Arminian and semi-Arminian pastors to embrace Calvinism. This dynamic is the source of considerable tension in the life of the local church, not to mention in the heart of such pastors as they hold to a view which is often at odds with their churches.

Of course, this is not a problem for those Calvinistic pastors who minister within the confines denominations which are pre-committed to Calvinism. However, this is a huge problem for Calvinistic pastors who minister in theologically mixed denominations. Such denominations would include Southern Baptist Convention, General Baptist Conference, Evangelical Free Church, American Baptist Churches and others, not to mention the many independent churches.

Since the majority of these churches are Arminian or semi-Arminian, and since the typical congregation is not theologically astute enough to detect various subtleties of the debate, Calvinistic pastors are prone to mute their theological particularities so as not to raise an outcry of opposition.

In my own case, as an interim music minister, I served under a new pastor at a thoroughly semi-Arminian congregation. That is to say, there was no one in the congregation who held to limited atonement or unconditional election, and everyone in the congregation would have dismissed such notions as pure unbiblical non-sense. Yet the new pastor came to the church already fully committed to Five Point Calvinism. We'll refer to him as Pastor X.

Pastor X taught Calvinism on the sly. He could not come right out and declare, "Jesus died only for the elect! Jesus did not die for everyone!" Rather, he would say, "Jesus died for the sins of his people." Of course, this language was nothing but pure obfuscation, but it duped the congregation to affirm his comments with many amens.

Pastor X could not teach Calvinism directly. He had to situate his theology at an angle, attempting to wedge it into the congregation in order to get some future leverage. So through a series of Bible studies, he hammered home the concept that salvation cannot be earned, which he hoped would pave the way for him to deny that salvation is granted on the condition of faith. Of course, this completely went over the head of the congregation, which held uncompromisingly that Jesus died for everyone and that all you have to do to be saved is believe.

Thus, Calvinism on the sly attempts to mute all phrases which teach a universal atonement. After a year or two, the Calvinistic pastor then starts teaching on the issues which are less obviously Calvinistic. For example, there will be a strong emphasis on Calvinistic particularities of Total Depravity, monergism, irresistibility of grace, and de-emphasis on faith as a condition of salvation. Still, the congregation remains typically ignorant on many of these issues as well. One or two might raise questions, but they will still be entirely unsuspecting of how this is all prelude to limited atonement.

Meanwhile, the Calvinistic pastor manages to network with other Calvinists in the area, and perhaps draws one or two into his congregation whom he promotes and with whom he forms a mutual support within the congregation. This creates a divide between those who are clued into the secret coded language of Calvinism and the main body of the congregation. The informed Calvinists, led by their pastor and aided by their knowledge of the coded language produce an in-crowd which puts them at odds with the rest of the congregation. Still, the congregation remains clueless, having no idea that the newly formed inner circle propagates the notion that Jesus only died for the few.

When the congregation finally does figure out that their pastor no longer believes that Jesus died for the world, then chaos and argumentation breaks out. Ultimately, in most cases, the result is some sort of church split or the unpleasant departure of the pastor.

For this reason, congregations looking for a new pastor should be clear on these important theological issues. Questions should be asked on various issues, and repeated from various angles. If the pastor responds, "Yes, I believe that Jesus died for the world," the follow up question needs to be, "Does this include those people who will never accept Jesus," for Calvinists define "world" and "all people" differently than most Christians.

Moreover, congregations should protect themselves by requiring a new pastor to enter into a covenantal agreement that would require a resignation if the pastor's theology were to change significantly during the course of the pastorate. This should apply to any theological issue, not just Calvinism and Arminianism.

Good pastoral ethics require full disclosure. There should be no attempt to teach divergent theology on the sly. This is true for both sides of the Calvinist-Arminian issue. However, there seem to be few, if any, Arminians who are trying to get jobs in Calvinistic churches. Because of the Calvinistic resurgence, however, those churches which embrace the gospel of God's love for the world and for every person must be on their guard against those who would restrict the atonement for the few.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Overcoming Total Depravity

Perhaps no one view been established as a Reformation Arminian position to explain God's enabling grace.

In principle, I think that those who freely claim the appelation Reformation Arminianism. all believe that man cannot, of his own accord, believe in the Gospel. However, I think there are some Arminians who believe that the atonement actually accomplished a victory over the state of human depravity. Thus, they would claim that humanity WAS totally incapable of believing in Jesus UNTIL somehow God's grace in the cross removed it so that everyone may NOW freely respond to the Gospel presentation.

This might be plausible, but I'm inclined to think that man continues to be in a state of Total Depravity which cannot be overcome except by the specific drawing of specific individuals at specific moments by God's grace. If this is the case, then this is point of commonality with the theology of the reformers, in that God does not always draw all men at all times, but only at his own discretion and his own timing.

The caveat is that God generally desires to always draw all men at all times, but implements this general will in conjunction with and at the behest of the prayers and the actions of the saints. Thus, for example, when we pray urgently for someone's salvation, God impels his Spirit to bring conviction and drawing power.

Or, by way of another example, consider a remote people group which theoretically has never had access to the gospel message. In such a case, the sphere of operation for God's convicting grace would be seriously limited (although it is nonetheless operational through natural revelation). However, out of God's general desire to draw all men, God's Spirit might be sent to believers who have some sort of connection with the remote people group, prompting them to pray for the unreached people. Since God is eager to hear such prayers and promises to send more workers into the harvest field, this would increase the sphere of operation for God's convicting grace.

This is both similar to and different from Amyraldianism, if I understand Amyraldianism correctly. The similarity is that God is in control over who is convicted and when he is convicted. The difference is that 1) the Spirit's pre-egenerating grace is intended for all; and 2) his ministry is resistible.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Commentary on a Universal Atonement Passage (1 Tim 2)

For my somewhat detailed analysis of the pertinent features of 1 Tim 2:1-6, go here:

Commentary on a Universal Atonement Passage

The above commentary integrated into Greek and English Syntactical Sentence Flows: UnicodeGreekSentenceFlowof1Tim2.doc

Thursday, 28 February 2008

What Part of "All" Do You Not Understand?

George W. Knight, III, in his often disappointing commentary on 1 Timothy in the New International Greek Text Commentary series, attempts to argue that the "all men" passages of 1 Tim 2 is best understood as "all kinds of men."

He writes, "It is also the most natural understanding in a number of the Pauline passages where an absolute universalism is a virtual impossibility and a reference to all kinds of individuals is more likely." He then cites six passages which he thinks are better interpreted as all kinds. Here's the list, and you judge for yourself if "all kinds of people" really is the best interpretation. Fill in the blank accordingly.

Rom 12:17b—Take thought for things honorable in the sight of _____________.
A. all kinds of people.
B. everybody

Rom 12:18—If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with __________________.
A. all kinds of people.
B. everybody

2 Cor 3:2—Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read by ____________.
A. all kinds of people.
B. everybody

Phil 4:5— Let your forbearance be known unto ___________________.
A. all kinds of people.
B. everybody

1 Thes 2:15— who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and pleased not God, and are contrary to ________________.
A. all kinds of people.
B. everybody

Knight's problem is that he thinks that if a text cannot possibly mean "all people" in an unqualified literal sense (as in the above examples), then the text must resort to meaning "all kinds of people (but not necessarily all people without exception." He fails to understand that "all people" can be taken more generally, in a non-literal fashion, as constrained by obvious practical considerations.

Paul was not saying in Rom 12:18, for example, that Christians should be at peace with all kinds of people such as Muslims, Japanese, red-headed children, etc—but not necessarily all people without exception. No, he was saying that Christians should be at peace with everybody with whom they possibly come in contact, without exception.

This latter meaning is adequately conveyed by the term everybody, so long as it is applied with some degree of common sense.

Commentary Survey on Soteriological Elitism in the Pastorals

Earlier, I posted an article arguing that the universal atonement passages in the Pastorals reflected a polemic against the fallen church leaders who held a soteriological elitism. I'm glad to see that there is strong support for this view from the recent commentaries. I must have picked up this analysis from Gordon Fee almost 20 years ago, but didn't perceive his views in light of the Calvinist-Arminian debate until about 2003. Fee's reconstruction of the situation in Ephesus has won the day. I have culled a list of pertinent quotes from these commentaries.

These are the commentaries which argue that Paul's universal passages in the Pastorals are polemical to a soteriological elitism, in order of emphasis of this issue:

New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Letters to Timothy and Titus (2006) by Phillip Towner.

Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles (2000) by William D. Mounce.

New International Bible Commentary: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (1984, 1988) by Gordon Fee.

International Critical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles (1999) by I. Howard Marshall.

New American Commentary: 1,2 Timothy Titus (1992) by Thomas D. Lea (Titus by Griffin).

Towner 163: "But the real concern [regarding the command to pray for all people and for government leaders], as close attention to the argument will show, is for the prayer that supports the church's universal mission to the world. That is, Paul urges Timothy to instruct the Ephesian church to reengage in an activity it had apparently been neglecting—prayer in support of Paul's own mandate to take the gospel to the whole world."

Towner 164: "Both the overall structure of the argument and the controlling thematic use of the term 'all' determine the soteriological-missiological thrust of the prayer enjoined in vv. 1-2."

Towner 164: See the diagram-outline

Towner 165: "Probably the speculative views of the false teachers or the general atmosphere surrounding the approach to the faith they promoted fostered either some sort of elitism or indifference to those outside the church."

Towner 167: "As noted, the term 'all' is intentionally universal in thrust (cf. vv. 2, 4, 6; 4:10), and probably calculated to counter a tendency toward insular thinking in the Ephesian church brought on by an elitist outlook or theology.

Towner 167: Other Pauline universal passages: Rom 15:11; 1 Cor 9:22; 2 Cor 5:19; cf. Acts 1:8

Towner 178 fn38: Against universalism, see 1 Tim 1:17; 3:16; 4:10; cf. 2 Tim 1:5

Towner 178 fn 42: "From the human side, the action is described with the verb 'to come to' (Gk ἐλθεῖν; 2:4; 2 Tim 3:7; in 1 Tim 4:3 the verbal form of the formula is equivalent); from God's side the action is described in terms of a gift: "to grant them repentance to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 2:25).

Towner 180: "In Paul's missiology, the formula 'God is one' yields the logical corollary, 'therefore all have access to his salvation, both Jews and Gentiles.' It corrects Jewish or Judaizing exclusivist tendencies. The formula functions similarly here, supplying theological proof for the statement that God wills to save all people."

Towner 181: "'One God' implies universal access to salvation, and this implication is transferred via the concept of 'singularity' to the mediator; that is, 'one mediator' implies equally that all have access to what he mediates…. Paul anchors universal access to God's salvation in the one act of redemption and the one message about it."

Towner 183: He ties the saying that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all people to the Son of Man saying in Mark 10:45 which says "for many." "Paul's usual preference to apply the work of Christ to 'us'(Gal 1:4 Eph 5:2; Titus 2:14) is shifted to 'all.' While this shift might be regarded as a clarification of the Marcan tradition's 'many,' we should rather think that Paul's widening of the scope from his more typical 'us' to 'all' is determined by the universal thrust of the passage."

Towner 143: "Although implicit in each occurrence of the formula, the expansion 'that deserves full acceptance' emphasizes the need for hearer to make an appropriate rational response to embrace and esteem what is said and to act accordingly."

Johnson 196: "Especially those who believe" corresponds to Gal 6:10.

Implication: then we must at least pray for all people that they be saved…. Or, merely, let's pray for all kinds of people that they be saved.

Marshall 420: "The use of πᾶς here and its repetition in vv. 2, 4 and 6 is thematic, establishing a universal emphasis which is probably polemical…. This universalistic thrust is most probably a corrective response to an exclusive elitist understanding of salvation connected with the false teaching."

Mounce 76: "Paul cites a creed perhaps solely because it asserts that Christ is a 'ransom for all.' Yet the creed implies in another way that the Ephesian church should pray for all people: there is (only) one God and (only) one mediator. If people are not offered Christian salvation, then there is no other God and no other mediator to save them, and all people are the proper objects of prayer."

Mounce 76: "It would appear that Paul's opponents are teaching an exclusive gospel that offers salvation only to a select few, and this exclusivism is made clear by their practice of praying for only certain people."

Mounce 78: "Therefore, the primary emphasis of v 1 lies on the statement "on behalf of all people" and not on prayer in general. Any theology that limits the scope of prayers for salvation is deficient."

Mounce 87: "Vv 3-4 contain the first of three reasons that the Ephesian church should pray for the salvation of all people and not just for a select few; it is pleasing to God because it in line with his basic desire that all people be saved."

See Marshall's "Universal Grace" in Pinnock.

Fee 64: "The appellation God our Savior…emphasizes that God is the originator of the saving event…and that Paul and the church have already experienced it. But neither our salvation, nor that of an elitist few, satisfies God, for God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. The point of the text is clear: The gospel, by its very nature, as Paul will argue in verses 5-6, is universal in its scope, and any narrowing of that scope by a truncated theology or by 'novelties' that appeal to the intellectual curiosities of the few is not the gospel of Christ."

Fee 64: "And to say that God wants…all people to be saved, implies neither that all (meaning everybody) will be saved (against 3:6; 4:2; or 4:10, e.g.) nor that God's will is somehow frustrated since all, indeed, are not saved. The concern is simply with the universal scope of the gospel over against some form of heretical exclusivism or narrowness."

Fee 66: "God's desire for all to be saved is evidenced in the creed itself with its statement that Christ's death was for all people. The gospel, therefore, potentially provides salvation for all people, because Christ's atoning self-sacrifice was 'in behalf of' all people. Effectually, of course, it ends up being 'especially [for] those who believe (4:10).

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Ten Myths about Arminian Theology

Roger Olson has written a helpful volume entitled, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Basically, he sets the record straight on a number of issues where Calvinist polemic has falsely depicted Arminian theology. He does this in a consistent and systematic way, first by detailing the false and extreme allegations made by mainstream Calvinists, and then refuting them by examining the theological trajectory on the given topic beginning with Arminius and passing through his earliest followers, then Wesley, and then the 19th century Wesleyan theologians, and then concluding with contemporary Arminian theologians.[1]

Here is a summation of the various myths about Arminian theology which Calvinists typically propagate, and the truth about Arminian theology. If you want to dispute whether mainstream Calvinists actually accuse Arminians of these positions, or whether Arminians are in fact guilty as charged, you should read the book in its entirety.

Myth #1: Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinist/Reformed Theology. Reality: Arminian and Calvinists have much in common. In this regard, let me add my own comments that Arminian theology affirms the basic historic creeds of Christendom. One wonders how in the world that Arminius would have gained the staunch Calvinist Beza's support and have been called as pastor and university professor at Leiden by the Dutch Reformed Churches if he didn't share basic theology with his Calvinist colleagues. The common ground between Arminians and Calvinists will become more obvious as the subsequent myths are debunked.

Myth #2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism Is Possible. In this chapter, Olson shows how "Calminianism" is illogical.

Myth #3: Arminianism Is Not an Orthodox Evangelical Option. In this chapter, Olson examines how mainstream Calvinists label Arminianism as either barely Christian or fully heretical. He then looks at the basic beliefs of Evangelicalism and shows how Arminianism affirms basic doctrines such as Divine Revelation, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith, etc. I suppose this chapter could have been combined with Myth #1.

Myth #4: The Heart of Arminianism Is Belief in Free Will. In reality, Arminians are not driven to their position because they want to cling to free will, as if it were absolutely precious and the one non-negotiable of the debate. The real issue for Arminians is the character of God. Arminians are driven to their position because they see that Calvinism leads to making God the author and the effecting power of sin, and denying God's goodness.

Myth #5: Arminian Theology Denies the Sovereignty of God. Reality: Arminians view the Sovereignty of God differently than Calvinists, but they still affirm it. Arminians are amazed that Calvinist definitions of Sovereignty seem to imply an absolute determinism which logically leads to God being the author of sin.

Myth #6: Arminianism is a Human-Centered Theology. In refuting this myth, Olson discusses Arminius' pessimistic anthropology and how his view of Total Depravity continues in a trajectory down to our contemporary Arminian theologians.

Myth #7: Arminianism Is Not a Theology of Grace. This chapter exposes how Calvinists depict the particulars of their system as the exclusive domain of the biblical doctrines of grace. Olson goes on to explain how Arminian theology fully denies a salvation by works, and how God's grace brings a person to faith, and hence, to salvation.

Myth #8: Arminians Do Not Believe in Predestination. Reality: Arminians do affirm predestination, but they are unwilling to allow Calvinists to define the term. Arminian predestination is defined along the lines set forth by Arminius: "[Predestination] is an eternal and gracious decree of God in Christ, by which He determines to justify and adopt believers, and to endow them with life eternal, but to condemn unbelievers and impenitent persons." Olson explains that Arminian view of election is grounded "in Christ," and that the way in which Calvinists ground election in the divine decrees makes election insufficiently christocentric. Olson includes in this chapter a discussion of Open Theism and Middle Knowledge.

Myth #9: Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone through Faith Alone. Calvinists are quick to assign what they think are the necessary implications of Arminian theology to Arminianism; thus the charge Arminians with adherence to a works-based salvation. This is somewhat akin to Myth #7 (Arminianism Is Not a Theology of Grace), but focuses on the issue of justification and imputed righteousness. Olson shows how Arminian theologians consistently emphasize justification through faith apart from works. I might add that since Arminians believe salvation is by grace through faith, they cannot simultaneously think that salvation is by works: if salvation is through faith, then it cannot be by works.

Myth #10: All Arminians Believe in the Governmental Theory of the Atonement. The question is whether or not Jesus actually "paid" our sin-debt on the cross, or if Jesus' death had some other divine meaning to it. In this case, Calvinists have managed to define the Arminian view of the atonement by pointing to exceptions in the Arminian trajectory, rather than by Arminius and the majority of Arminian theologians who do affirm the Penal Satisfaction View of the Atonement.

[1] The theologians who form this trajectory are the significant contributors to Arminian theology and should be the ones to define the movement. No doubt, there is such a think as Christian folk religion, and unfortunately, much of it veers off from the legitimate Arminian trajectory. However, any proper analysis of a theological system must be based on its best representatives, not its worst; this is true of both Arminianism and Calvinism. With this in mind, here are the theologians who Olson cites to refute the myths which Calvinists typically attribute to Arminianism: Arminius (1560-1609), Episcopius (1583-1643), John Wesley (1703-1791), Richard Watson (1781-1833), Thomas Summers (1812-1882), William Burton Pope (1822-1903), John Miley (1813-1895); H. Orton Wiley (1877-1961), and contemporary theologians H.C. Thiessen, Thomas Oden, Dale Moody, Stanley Grenz, Leroy Forlines, Jack Cotrell, I. Howard Marshall, Jerry Walls, and Ray Dunning.

A few comments are appropriate about this list. First, Olson does mention the Remonstrant Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), but does not factor into the discussion much. Secondly, Philip Limborch (1633-1712) is routinely and resoundingly condemned by evangelical Arminians for his human optimism which led to the Pelaginianism of later theological movements which is an entirely different creature from Evangelical and historic Arminianism. Thirdly, Olson should have given consideration to the extremely capable 17th century Arminian Baptist Thomas Grantham. Fourthly, Olson recognizes that John Miley may not have been the most exemplary Arminian; his innovations, however, still do not justify the typical Calvinistic mischaracterizations of Arminianism. Fifthly, Olson discusses the 19th century revivalist Charles Finney, but only to condemn him for his rejection of basic Arminian beliefs, stating that he is a good example of Christian folk religion which has little to do with legitimate Arminian theology. Sixthly, probably due to the success of Calvinists in mischaracterizing Arminians, Thomas Oden does not openly claim to be Arminian, although his theology certainly is Arminian. Seventhly, despite considerable erudition and his various contributions to the defense of Arminianism, Clark Pinnock and his open theism represent a significant and logically unnecessary departure from Arminius' Arminianism, and hence, Olson does not discuss his various positions in the Arminian trajectory. Eighthly, Robert E. Picirilli who has authored a number of biblical commentaries and written the important Arminian work Grace, Faith, and Free Will should have been included in the discussion of contemporary theologians. Despite these various caveats, if anyone wants to see how wrong Calvinists are in their mischaracterization of Arminianism, Olson's book is the right source to read.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Why Divine Foreknowledge Doesn't Determine the Future

I'm re-reading Robert E. Picirilli's excellent work Grace, Faith, and Free Will. He broaches the subject of Divine Foreknowledge of future events.

He's very clear on the subject, and convincing. He draws from Arminius himself and from Richard Watson, although he admits that the 19th century theologian's style is belabored. I'm not sure what is original either to Dr. Picirilli or to his sources.

In particular, Dr. Picirilli cites the simple illustration that we ourselves know with certainty specific events which occurred yesterday, but that none of us would claim that our present knowledge of yesterday's events caused those things to happen or that such knowledge limited our choices when we were faced with them. In the same way, God's knowledge of the future doesn't cause events to happen or limit the human's freedom to choose to do one thing or another.

Dr. Picirilli explains further that God's knowledge of the future does not make those events necessary, only certain. He writes, "An event can be certain without being necessary: 'shall be' (certain) is not the same as 'must be' (necessary). Some events are 'necessary'; that is, they are inevitably caused by a prior influence. Others are 'contingent'; that is, they are free, capable of more than one possibility depending on an unforced choice. Both kinds are equally certain, as known to God" (p. 37).

A Calvinist acquaintance attempted to dismiss this argument by suggesting that God wouldn't send his Son to die for people whom he knew would certainly reject him. But this probably proves too much, for God likewise would know that you will commit adultery with someone the third Tuesday of next month; does this mean that he would not bother administering grace and sending his Spirit to enable you not to fall to temptation? In some respects, there is a speculative aspect to these sorts of questions. At any rate, Jesus' death is not something which can be reduced to a mathematical equation, as if God extracted some specific amount of suffering to atone the sins of a specifc number of the elect.

Ultimately, the issue is whether or not God foreordained the future. This is an issue which the Arminian and the Calvinist need to hash out. But the discussion cannot be short-cutted by the Calvinist's appeal to God's foreknowledge. As others have argued, future events would still be certain even if the Open Theists are right and God doesn't know the future.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Baptism Songs

I'm collecting all hymns, gospel songs, contemporary songs, and worship choruses dealing with baptism.

Please help me out. If you know of any, please tell me in the comment section. Leave a title and other basic info: music composer, lyrics author, publisher, date of composition, name of tune (if a hymn), etc. A link to the lyrics would be helpful.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Your baptism videos

I'm attempting to put together a collection of good videos of believers' baptism. For example, here's one:

I like this one for various reasons: 1) the baptisms were in a Baptist congregation; 2) the baptisms were done publicly--at a public beach; 3) there were testimonies involved which were concise but meaningful; 4) the video was underscored with music; 5) there were multiple baptisms involved in this service; 6) the video itself is a pretty good production.

There's nothing more celebrative than believers' baptism. One of the best arguments for believers' baptism (as opposed to infant baptism) is to simply practice it and let people see it for themselves. Just watching these baptisms in the above link makes me want to shout "Amen" despite the fact that I don't even know these new brothers and sisters in Christ! To this end, I hope to put together a collection of great baptism videos to help non-baptists understand the true meaning and true joy of believers' baptism.

Feel free to leave your link in the comment section.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Extreme Baptism

These folks are really committed to Baptist theology! Or they ought to be committed! :)

Down to the Water to Pray

The parent blog Treasures Old and New features a weekly Pastor's Page formatted to fit the back side of a church bulletin. This week's Pastor's Page addresses the issue of baptism and can be viewed here:

Monday, 14 January 2008

Wary of Wesley?

For sure, you won't get a thorough and honest exegesis of Wesley's works out of me! Not that I wouldn't want to, but I have to rely upon secondary sources, some of which are slim and sometimes unpublished. I used to own Wesley's works back when I was working toward Systematics (I'm now in biblical exegesis/theology and textual criticism), and I was enthusiastic about reading him back in the late 1980s. I do remember arbitrarily coming across a particular passage which, regardless of how I looked at it, seemed to be an explicit statement that you lose your salvation by sinning--that if you were to die before you had a chance to repent of the sin, you would go to hell.

Wesley probably suffers from the reputation of popular or even folk Wesleyanism, and I suppose it is not fair to assume that Wesleyanism = Wesley. For better or for worse, there are denominations in North America which actually appropriate the name Wesleyanism and which use the term Wesleyanism to describe their theology, theologies which might not be exactly that of Wesley himself. But please--understand my deep appreciation and kindred-heartedness toward Wesleyan groups--I am zealous for them.
Still, there needs to be a full examination of Wesley and his view of continuance in salvation. Roger Olson, in his work Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities portrayed Wesley as Arminius' most faithful follower and defends him as a defender of Reformation theology at every corner, but one wonders if all this positive portrayal may take a different turn when it comes to the issue of continuance in salvation.

It is my understanding that Wesley believed in Penal Satisfaction View of the Atonement--but only for pre-Conversion sins (!), and that Jesus' death was not a propitiation for post-conversion sins. This suggests that Wesley modified Arminius' view of the Atonement so that post-conversions sins would be pardoned by God the governor rather than declared righteous by God the judge on the basis of Christ's propitiation . Thus, for Wesley--if my understanding is correct, once the Christian comes to faith and enjoys Christ's propitation for his sins, he must appear before God the governor and ask for forgiveness should he ever sin again--or perhaps for all the big sins, at least!

Along these lines, I am told that Wesley thought that Christ's passive obedience is imputed to the believer, but not Christ's active obedience--a departure from Arminius with repercussions for continuance in faith.

It should be noted that Weseleyan groups came up with the notion of repeat regeneration from somewhere. My portrait of Wesley--fraught with my own insecurities and lack of first hand information--does seem compatible with the theology of many Wesleyan groups.

I should hasten to say that I suppose it is possible that it is unfair for me to portray this view of continuance in terms of "saved by grace through faith; kept in salvation by not sinning." I suppose it is possible that Wesley wouldn't have explained things this way. It is possible, I suppose, that Wesley would have argued that the sin itself is indication of a failure of faith--that every sin or every significant sin or every recurrence of a persistent sin is a lapse of saving faith. In which case, a fuller formulaic expression would be "saved by grace through faith; kept in salvation by grace through faith as demonstrated by not sinning," or some such.

Works VI, 526 would seem to give a statement that believers can be in and out of grace like a well oiled piston. It would seem that for Wesley, apostasy was irremedial, but backsliding, in which a believer becomes hell-bound, could be remedied by sincere repentance and a request for pardon.

All this makes me question whether it is fair to call Wesley a classical Arminian. If my understanding of Wesley is accurate, then he represents an idiosyncratic departure from Arminius and from key elements of Reformation theology.

I would be glad to be proved wrong.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Assurance of Salvation in Calvinism?

A major gun in the Calvinist arsenal against Arminianism is the issue of assurance of salvation. Calvinists relish pointing out that an Arminian never has assurance of his salvation. In contrast, they say, Calvinists are absolutely assured of their salvation since God has foreordained it from the deep dark, inscrutible counsels of God.

However, in this post, I would like to claim that Calvinists really have no assurance at all of their salvation.

Let me first hasten to say that, true to the accusations of Calvinists, we Arminians do believe in the possibility that we could neglect so great a salvation so as to make shipwreck of their faith. And I realize that we take seriously the apostolic warnings to their Christian brothers to hold fast to faith lest we turn away from the living God and trample the blood of the Son of God underfoot--after having received the knowledge of the truth. And so, I own all those Calvinistic charges that Arminians fear the possibility of apostasy and therefore have no absolute assurance of their final salvation. Moreover, I freely admit that we Arminians believe that Jesus' death doesn't save anyone who is not united with Christ by faith. I own all this—no point in reminding me.

I'm just saying Calvinists have a different problem with assurance. Let me explain what it is.
The Arminian has the Divinely bound assurance that Jesus died for him, for the Word clearly and unequivocally declares that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to die on its behalf. And so, if you ask the Arminian, "Did Jesus die for you?" he will respond with absolute assurance, "Yes, Jesus died for me as well as for you."

But if you ask the Calvinist, "How do you know Jesus died for you?" his response is be-stuttered. He can't say, "I know Jesus died for me because the Bible tells me so." And so he retreats to the position that since he is a believer, he knows that Jesus died for him since the Bible teaches that Jesus died for the elect.

However, this argument is based on the Calvinist's personal experience. But isn't personal experience tainted by Total Depravity, by the Calvinist's own admission? What if Satan has merely tricked the Calvinist into thinking that he is a believer. It wouldn't be the first time that someone was mistaken about his salvation.

In this light, a Calvinist just doesn't seem capable of absolute assurance that Jesus died for him. Now to be sure, they can assure themselves on the basis of Scripture that Jesus died for the elect. But after that, Calvinistic assurance that Jesus died for him gets fuzzy. He has to say, "Well, I think I'm a believer, and if so, I must be elect, and so therefore, Christ must have died for me."Ultimately then, Calvinistic assurance that Jesus died for him is based penultimately on the fact (or mis-fact based on depraved misperception) that he is a believer. Calvinistic assurance all comes unhinged if the person is mistaken as to whether he truly is a believer.

Moreover, the Calvinist minister who wishes to encourage the regenerate person who starts wavering on assurance cannot make an absolute statement, "Brother Joe, I know Jesus died for your sins" since the minister cannot actually know for sure that the person, in fact, was regenerateThere you have it! Despite the thundering cannons of Calvinism on this issue, Calvinism really doesn't have absolute assurance of salvation.

So, pick your poison. Be an Arminian with assurance that you will be saved only if you continue to the end in faith, or be a Calvinist without the assurance that Jesus died for you.