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.