Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Now that you've gotten that out of the way, you can read my response. Before you do, though, I just wanted to let it be known that someone gave me this article to read as a possible refutation of Calvinism, and I felt as though I should go ahead and read it. When I got into it, I decided that I should point out some flaws that have been made since they are common flaws made by many Arminians with the hope that others will see these decoys coming the next time they come across them.
And without further ado:
Page 5 (error #1): To be condescending enough to ask why one would, as a Baptist, want to be associated with John Calvin since John Calvin wasn’t a Baptist.
First of all, the system known as “Calvinism” is not believed by so many Baptists because they follow John Calvin. They believe it because they hold it to be the most accurate assessment of what the Scriptures teach. It seems that this article is starting off right away, not with Scriptural argumentation and support, but rather with irrelevant arguments against things that have no bearing on why Calvinists (such as myself) believe the Bible’s teaching on soteriology and other major doctrines to be summed up in these 5 points.
Page 5 (error #2): To go along with the argument that Calvinists are merely followers of John Calvin is an ad-hominem attack (very UN-Christian) against Calvin.
How on earth could it even be relevant that Servetus was burned in Geneva? Calvin did not have the final say in this matter, and he actually pled with Servetus to recant of his heresy. Heresy, by the way, was a capital offense in Geneva at that time, so Servetus’ lack of belief in God as the Trinity was a high crime. He actually believed that God was everything, from what I understand. I don’t condone his burning, but it was the normal thing back then for the church and the state to be intertwined as a result of the influence Rome had had on them in the younger years of the Reformation. Bottom line, Calvin wasn’t the only one involved, and he certainly didn’t have the power to overturn the decision; therefore, a man is engaging in slander against Calvin who attempts to besmirch his name with this crime.
Page 5 (error #3): “Be careful of some five pointers, with an intolerant DNA just like their forefathers.”
This blatant ad hominem, emotionally driven attack is not appropriate for something that calls itself a scholarly article. This really gives me an even lower opinion of the representatives of Liberty.
Based on the last paragraph on page 5, I’d say that I believe that I would probably be classified as one of these “flag waving 5-pointers” who “attack…other churches or other believers,” but from my experience, I have been willing to discuss this issue calmly and rationally and have been met with high emotions and irrationality based on the preconceived notions of what I believe.
Oh, and check out the footnotes at #10. This is filled with so many presuppositions and mere assertions that it would take a few pages to point out and refute. This paper was obviously meant to argue to a non-Calvinist audience that is already bent on hating this teaching.
Page 6 (error #4): Actually, he points out here what true, historic HYPER-Calvinism is.
Yes, HYPER-Calvinism is certainly a diversion against the Great Commission. I hope I don’t have to defend myself against this fallacious assertion since I witness every time I am not being disobedient based on whatever sinful apprehension takes hold of me at the time. I do, as regularly as I have opportunity, try to witness to unbelievers around me, and I also ask for prayer for those people to whom I witness. And I am not an anomaly either. This shouldn’t even have to be argued. Any idea what William Carey’s or George Whitfield’s or Charles Spurgeon’s theological convictions were? You guessed it—5-point Calvinism!
I will say, however, that I think that altar calls are regularly abused. About 100 verses of “Just as I Am” being sung while continuing to call to people to make a trip to the altar? Do we not believe that the Holy Spirit will do His job unless we drag the service out for an extra hour? We certainly pray like we believe He can bring sinners to repentance—Calvinists and Arminians alike. Why are the Calvinists the only ones who put their supposed beliefs into practice? Can you call it a true belief if it’s not acted out in real life?
Really, how many people who make a profession in a Southern Baptist church that conducts these extensive invitations are seen back again? Is the important thing to get people to make a momentary decision in order to chalk up some more numbers, or is it to clearly preach the message and thereby glorify God (whether by His grace in saving them by means of the Gospel or in His just judgment upon them because of their rejection of it)?
Page 6 (error #5): Spurgeon was a model of evangelistic Calvinism who didn’t preach within the tenets of five point Calvinism?
Calvinism IS evangelistic! I preach the Gospel because God’s elect are out there, and I don’t need to try to convince rebellious unbelievers to do something that the Scriptures plainly say that they cannot do (Rom 8:6-8; Heb 11:6)! I am the instrument in God’s hands who preaches the Gospel because that is the means by which God has determined to save those who believe (I Cor. 1:21). Therefore, I want to have the same mindset that Paul did when he said that he will “endure everything for the sake of the elect…” (II Tim 2:10a) And what’s so significant about this motivation is the fact that he says that his endurance is so that the elect “may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”(II Tim 2:10b) So, Paul is going out into the world to preach the Gospel to unbelievers with the hope that there may be some of God’s elect in the audience who will obtain the salvation to be had through faith in the message that he had been entrusted with.
Of course, Spurgeon was fully in line with Scripture when he preached “whosoever will, may come” just as I am when I say that. The thing is, no one will WILL to come unless given spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear the Gospel and respond to it.
Page 6 (error #6): The last sentence of the page uses a false distinction.
To say that a distinction was not made “between five point Calvinists and the generic Calvinist[s]” is not valid. This obviously shows a lack of concern for historic definitions. Calvinist is descriptive of those who hold to the 5 points. Therefore, the one who does not hold to the 5 points is NOT a Calvinist. This is a document that first outlines the 5 points in response to the disturbing Arminian teaching that arose: CLICK ME!
Page 6 (error #7): Footnote #11 makes another false claim
Whenever I preach the Gospel to unbelievers, I am certainly extending to them a message of hope. They have every reason to have hope and extreme joy IF they believe in the Gospel as their hope. If they believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and rely on that fact, then they have much to hope for. And regardless of whether or not hope is the greatest motivation to “seek after God,” the fact of the matter is that no sinner will ever truly seek after God without receiving His grace that will ultimately lead to repentance and faith. We cannot make the mistake of believing that some people are seeking after God because they are acting curious. Hopefully this would be an evidence of God’s grace working in them, but we don’t know for sure. There have been many times when someone is looking for some self satisfaction that they think they can find in Christianity, but they are not looking to humble themselves in submission to their Creator. It is selfishly driven and not beneficial for their salvation.
Page 7 (error #8): The first paragraph asks whether all Calvinistic churches teach Calvinism and classifies those who don’t as “generic Calvinists.”
This is really disappointing because he is not only inventing a new understanding of what an acceptable Calvinist is based on his own opinions, but he is also saying that someone who is a historic Calvinist and is convinced of the truth of these things shouldn’t be imposing this belief on others. Question: How is this any different than radical atheist groups like the ACLU demanding that Christians not try to teach others what they believe about God? It isn’t. This statement reminds me of the way that radical homosexuals act against anyone who would try to inform them of the dangers of their lifestyle and disagree with it. It just isn’t based on a consistent standard. I’m certain that Dr. Towns wouldn’t appreciate someone disagreeing with him in the way that he is disagreeing with historic Calvinists. He is misrepresenting the position that he is disagreeing with, and he really doesn’t seem to have any problem with it, though no one appreciates someone doing this to them.
Page 7 (an agreement): He says that it is anachronistic to call Calvin a Calvinist.
Agreed. Though the reason the 5 points came into existence was not just because of the Remonstrance. They were merely systematized because of the rise of them.
Page 7 (possible error): The quotation from the Institutes may not be rightly cited.
Just because Calvin was using this type of language doesn’t mean that he wasn’t still making a distinction. He says things like “the goodness of God is offered unto all men without distinction” and that God “holds out the propitiation to the whole world” at the same time that he says “Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world.” While this could mean that Calvin renounced his former understanding of predestination as Dr. Towns claims, he certainly could have been more clear if that’s really what he did. Nevertheless, this is still a continuation of an irrelevant argument since no one I know is a Calvinist because of anything to do with John Calvin (though some may have been influenced by him in some way).
Pages 8-9 (confusion): The first question in the first paragraph under the “QUESTION THREE” heading.
Dr. Towns asks if 5 point Calvinism (a redundancy) is a new intolerance. I immediately thought to myself, “Seems more like the Calvinist hating Arminians who don’t want to call themselves Arminians are the intolerant ones,” but he then goes on to talk about the intolerant unbelievers and ecumenicals in the world and the intolerance that they hypocritically express. This confused me because I’m not sure why he would ask the question about Calvinists who stand up and defend the exclusivity of Christ and then talk about people who wouldn’t allow that sort of thing. Any help?
Page 9 (chronic inconsistency): He imposes the same false standard on Calvinist churches that he wouldn’t allow someone else to impose upon himself.
Again Dr. Towns is acting like an intolerant unbeliever in his attempt to brush Calvinist teaching to the side and say that it’s ok as long as they don’t really practice what they teach. This is preposterous.
Page 9 (error #9): He tries to belittle Calvinist teaching by saying that it focuses on one thing and ignores the rest.
I realize that Dr. Towns grew up in a Calvinist church, but so did Peter Kreeft who is now a philosophy professor at Boston College. Neither gentlemen seemed to have had very good experiences in their respective churches, and it may be for good reason. Maybe Dr. Towns had a pastor who was stuck on one subject and neglected the rest. Even if this is the case, it would not be appropriate for him to paint all Calvinists with this broad brush. It hasn’t been my experience. As a matter of fact, when I was totally stuck on the 5 points (some would say that I still am) I wondered why these Calvinist preachers weren’t spending enough time on the five points. This is simply a short-sighted assertion.
Page 10 (somewhat of an agreement): His assessment of “cage stage” Calvinists.
Although I don’t approve of Dr. Towns’ insulting illustration of Calvinists as dandelions (weeds that destroy lawns) as opposed to tulips (fragrant and enjoyable), I think I understand why he has such a harsh opinion of them. Yes, young Calvinists can be overzealous and undereducated (as was I—and may still be), but this tendency to broad brush everybody is not very comely of a man who has such a high position and expects others to be teachable.
I agree totally that arriving at a true, Biblical theology cannot be done by focusing on one or two words or doctrines or attributes of God. Still, this seems insulting because it assumes that he is the only one (well, he and anyone who is NOT a Calvinist) who has done the work of sorting through the Bible to find the TRUE teaching instead of getting hung up on predestination and ignoring everything else. You’d think that he’s never heard of John Owen or Charles Hodge or any other Reformed scholar who has written systematic theologies and multiple volumes on practical theology.
Pages 10-12 (assessment): Dr. Towns seems to be attempting to shut down discussion on the matter and call for a cease fire of sorts.
So, Dr. Towns says that Calvinist churches shouldn’t try to discuss these issues with non-Calvinists. Why? From the earliest days of the church, there have been discussions to sort through such issues. As a matter of fact, this very issue was being discussed all the way back in the 4th and 5th centuries by Augustine and Pelagius. Whitefield and Wesley also discussed it very rigorously a few hundred years ago, and when Wesley died, Whitefield had great things to say about him. This goes to show you that the topic can be discussed seriously and yet civilly. These issues probably should be discussed because they are not going away; and every time I read a non-Calvinist write against Calvinism they misrepresent it, so this must mean that that we are not taking the time to listen respectfully as we should be (we are Christians, after all).
Dr. Towns also seems to think that Southern Baptists ought to vote the Calvinists out of the SBC. He claims that a belief in Reformed Theology inevitably ends up in paedo-baptism and other such nonsense. This is certainly not a valid assertion because there have been plenty of Reformed Baptists for hundreds of years who would have no part in such things. So, apparently, Dr. Towns sees a seemingly logical conclusion that countless Baptists have not been snagged by.
He also seems to think that there is no need to attempt to correct other churches that you are associated with, but Christians are definitely called to look out for their spiritual siblings with the goal of restoring them and seeing them on the right track. Dr. Towns says that a church is ok as long as it “believes and teaches the fundamentals of the faith and commits itself to the Baptist Faith and Message,” so I’m confused as to why he is attacking Calvinists who affirm the fundamentals of the faith while the SBC is chock full of all out heretics. Rather, he is attacking people like Al Mohler and Mark Dever who are working hard to keep churches on track and clean up the SBC.
Page 11 (error #10): Dr. Towns continues to assume that Reformed Baptists are taken in by the errors of the not yet fully reformed churches of the Presbyterian persuasion. He also makes inappropriate comments about non-Calvinist churches not being influenced by the intricacies of the more difficult teachings of Scripture and about them merely “search[ing] out lost people, tak[ing] the Word of God at face value, and carry[ing] out the commands of the New Testament” as if becoming mature in the teachings of the Scriptures is not implicitly commanded as well.
It seems to me that a big part of the problem with the church in America today is the fact that we have not been diligent to teach our people about the Scriptures in order for them to have a solid foundation in the faith and a means by which they can continue to study for themselves. For all too long, pastors have been satisfied to give their people a weekly motivational speech and a surface level coverage of a particular topic rather than just opening the word to the people and letting God speak. This has resulted in churches full of people who couldn’t give an answer of the hope that lies within them to their co-workers and neighbors and family members. Instead, they can only say that the pastor told them so and invite those people to church. This is not following the Ephesians 4:11-12 model. The first paragraph on the 11th page is a prime example of the attitude that cultivates an unhealthy church.
It should be obvious to anyone who regularly reads their Bible that the leaders in the church are not to encourage a stick your head in the sand attitude. They are actually called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. In this era, that will definitely include teaching a congregation the more in-depth teachings of the Bible. Both Paul and the writer to the Hebrews had this in mind for the people to whom they were writing when they pointed out the fact that they should have been able to write to them with a more in-depth teaching but couldn’t due to their lack of maturity (I Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-13). And the responsibility for their maturity lied firstly in the hands of the pastors (Heb. 13:17). The pastors had (and still have) the responsibility to teach their people more than just some surface level understanding of any individual Biblical doctrine.
As for the error of blurring the lines between Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians, Dr. Towns has no excuse. He is a professor with a respected position at a prominent seminary, and there is simply no excuse for his lack of care in distinguishing between the two groups. This shows a complete lack of respect and arrogance. No Reformed Baptist sees baptism as a continuation of circumcision to be passed on to their young children by means of an unbiblical method of baptism, and no Reformed Baptist practices confirmation rather than calling their children to repentance and faith in Christ. On the other hand, no Reformed Baptist I’m aware of will put too much emphasis on an alter call since Baptists are concerned with a truly regenerate church membership and emotionally driven altar calls result in an abundance of false conversions. All these things give evidences of the concern of Reformed Baptists to continue in the historical Baptist traditions based on Biblical convictions and not in any conscious way to give tradition OR pragmatism the trump in the decision making process.
Page 11-12 (disappointment): Dr. Towns prefers to look the other way if a church has “wandered off into five point Calvinism.” He says that one church should not seek to correct another church, but that they should simply seek to vote them out of fellowship.
What?! In my understanding of Jesus’ teaching in Matt 18:15-20 (which is not totally applicable in these cases), the reason for the confrontation of erring brothers is for their restoration to the true path of righteousness. If the attitude is not to lovingly confront others, but to shun them instead, does this not demonstrate a lack of concern for another for whom Christ died (fruit of the Spirit--love)?
I think that it has been proven well enough, in this article as well as in other responses to Reformed Theology, that the non-Calvinists are not capable of refuting Calvinism—let alone defending their own position Biblically in contrast to the Reformed faith. These attempted responses have done nothing more than try to throw sand in the air and preach to their own choirs. As refreshing as it would be to hear from an Arminian willing to attempt to refute the 5 points from the Bible and plain reason while demonstrating the superiority of his position Biblically, it just doesn’t seem to have been attempted as of yet.
I may not be as widely read on the subject as some would criticize me of being, but I have heard and read many attempted refutations that have always fallen short. So, I would like to issue a call to any Arminian who would be willing to defend his position in a way that doesn’t appeal to emotion and tradition, but rather to the Biblical evidence that he is convinced that he has. And since I ‘m not someone of notoriety and will probably not be heard in my challenge, would someone please refer me to any article or book that has been written that does attempt to meet this challenge? Until then, I will read whatever I come across and have the time to put in to.
Friday, April 10, 2009
I challenge anyone reading this now to take 20 minutes (or less, depending on how fast you read) and read through this article. If you do, don't waste that time by merely blowing off the arguments made; rather, take the time to think through the challenges given, and think through how you would seriously answer these claims if you disagree with them. Then, do me a favor and take the time to write a short (or long) response to it in the comment box below.
Here's the goods: CLICK ME!
Monday, April 6, 2009
The reason why I was motivated to look for these posts is because, as I was sitting and reading through this passage again, I realized something that seemed profound and obvious all at the same time. That profoundly obvious detail was the very next verse:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(Eph 2:10 ESV)
So, as I was reading this I realized more specifically what Paul was saying in this passage that makes it even more obvious as to what he means. He points out the fact that we as God's children have been gifted by God's grace this salvation through faith and that all three of these things are a gift that we cannot boast about.
And here's the main reason that we cannot boast...
For (or "Because") we are the work of His hands! We are the new creatures that He has created! And we were created anew by Him for the purpose that we would perform good works that make men glorify God in Heaven!
The funny thing about this is that I have been listening to a series by James White, and I just happened to be listening to a particular lecture in which he mentioned this very same topic and had pretty much the same things to say about this verse that I had decided to post about today. Only he used an illustration having to do with music being played freestyle, and I was going to mention the Scriptural illustration of a potter and the clay. Go figure.
Anyways, I decided that I'd share that because I thought I might not be the only one who's overlooked this detail, and I thought that it might even get somebody else excited like it did me. So, how do I close a post like this anyways? Well, that's easy...
Soli Deo Gloria!
Sunday, April 5, 2009
I closed my previous post by suggesting that it is appropriate to refer to all stages of salvaton history as dispensations. But, the question is raised, what are those stages?
My answer is this: it's not so important to develop a set of dispensations as it is to read Scripture dispensationally. You see, God plays His story out progressively, both in the revelation He gives to humanity and in the way He interacts with humanity. Some of the progressions He makes are major turning points in salvation history (such as the death of Christ), some are expansions of promises (such as the Abrahamic covenant), some are tweaks in the way humans interact with each other (such as capitol punishment after the flood), etc.
If we viewed any stage as a dispensation which is distinguishable from what was before it, we'd see dispensations everywhere! If we limited the dispensations to those stages which are also distinguishable from what comes after them (in the sense that something is detracted from them), we might see very few dispensations.
So, it seems to me that we ought to view salvation history as a progressive continuum. At some places along that continuum, a promise or stipulation is added. At some places, a covenant arrangement is detracted (the fulfillment of the Mosaic Covenant, etc.). The important thing is that we view any given portion of Scripture in its preceding salvation-historical context. So, when reading our Bibles, we ask, "what was revealed by this point?" or, "what stipulations were given by this point?" etc. You see, this is not so much developing a set of dispensations as it is reading Scripture dispensationally.
But what is the relationship between dispensations and covenants? Well, that's a tough question to answer because because we're dealing with both little-d dispensations and capitol-D Dispensations, and because we're dealing with both little-c covenants and capitol-C Covenants. Consider the period between the flood and the Abrahamic covenant. People could now eat meat, and capitol punishment could now be practiced. This wasn't a major turning point in salvation history in the same sense that the giving of Mosaic Law was. But, it was distinguishable from what came before it. Depending on how broadly you want to define “dispensation” and “covenant,” you could apply both terms to this. Of course, a big-D Dispensation and big-C Covenant would be more like the Mosaic era.
Either way, we might say that a covenant is the arrangement communicatively, and a dispensation is the arrangement practically.
So, what is the best way to structure salvation history? I tend to think that there is no right or wrong answer. Dispensationalists recognize the importance of covenants, and covenantalists acknowledge the existence of dispensations. Moreover, there would be nothing inherently inconsistent about the inclusion of overarching “theological covenants” into dispensationalism.
In my opinion, there is value to “overlaying” multiple perspectives on salvation history. We could take a really wide angle snap-shot, and see salvation history in terms of the covenants of Works and Grace. Or, we could zoom in closer and see salvation history in terms of progressive covenants, dispensations, or promises. The best structuring of salvation history is multi-perspectival and includes all of these.
Yes, I acknowledge the existence and importance of dispensations (just as most covenantalists do).
"Dispensation" comes from the Latin dispensatio, which was used to translate oikonomia from the Greek. An oikonomos was the servant in charge of a household: an estate manager, or steward.
Sometimes, Paul refers to particular stages in salvation history as oikonomia's, or dispensations.
In Eph. 3:9 (see v.4ff) Paul refers to our current stage as the "dispensation of the mystery of Christ." Of course, his contrast with the previous stage implies that it was a dispensation too.
In Gal. 4, Paul is arguing that we are not under the Law like a child is under an oikonomos (see esp. v.1-2). This seems to be an intentional application of "dispensation" terminology to the Mosaic Covenant.
In Eph. 1:9-10, Paul refers to a dispensation during which all things are summed up in Christ. In context, this probably refers to our current dispensation; but, Paul's concept of "inaugurated eschatology" leads me to believe that he also had the future Millennium in mind when he said this.
So, Paul seems to use the word "dispensation" (stewardship, arrangement, administration, management) to refer to three different stages in salvation history. It seems appropriate to apply this terminology to all stages of salvation history.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Recognizing the importance of this, we must ask, what is a covenant? The word is used over 300 times in Scripture, yet it is used in such a multiplicity of ways that we have a difficult time nailing down a definition. That notwithstanding, there is only one Hebrew word (berith) and one Greek word (diatheke) translated “covenant.”
As we survey the multifaceted uses of covenant in Scripture, it quickly becomes apparent that we must boil “covenant” down to a common denominator, and “arrangement” is a good place to start. “Arrangement” is a broad enough term to include every use; indeed our own use of the word can be legal-contractual, relational, promissory, imposed or volitional, etc. Along similar lines, Blaising says, “the word covenant...is used in the Bible to refer to a variety of formal or legal agreements.”
A covenant-arrangement is usually promissory, although “promise” may capture the meaning of one arrangement better than the next. A strait-forward promise is a kind of arrangement, but not every arrangement is a strait-forward promise. Some arrangements are promissory only in the sense that each parties' intent to “keep his end” is implicit.
In the ancient world, covenants could be of either the “grant” variety or the “suzerain-vassal" (Lit. “king-subject”) variety. The former was unilateral, involving an unconditional promise; the latter was bilateral, involving a conditional promise.
Some covenant-arrangements are not really promissory at all. For instance, Jerimiah 34:8-10 demonstrates that the range of meaning for “covenant” is broad enough to include a law or command.
Covenants are sometimes relational. Of course, they are always relational in the sense that any arrangement creates some kind of relationship (political, legal, etc.). But I mean more than this: sometimes, covenants create intimate, familial relationships (Jer. 31:32).
A covenant-arrangement involves stipulations; but, again, “stipulation” may communicate the way one arrangement works better than the next. For instance, in Genesis 17, God imposes a stipulation (circumcision) on the other party; but, some other arrangements have stipulations only in the sense that one party places a “stipulation” on himself by promising to do something.
Covenants are binding impositions—sometimes imposed on one party by a greater, sometimes imposed on one party by himself—but either way, they are never portrayed an anything less than a binding imposition.
Just how binding are covenants? The answer is that they are made “in blood,” which is to say that they are made “to the death.” Berith is popularly thought to be a derivative of the verb “to cut,” bara. Indeed, the word translated “make” in the phrase “make a covenant” is always this word for cut, so that the phrase literally reads “cut a covenant.” This almost certainly refers to the customary cutting of an animal in the making of a covenant, which symbolically communicated, “may this be done to any party that breaks this covenant.”
One final note is that, apparently, a covenant does not need to be named as such in order to be one: Hosea 6:7 refers to God's works-arrangement with Adam (obey and live, disobey and die) as a covenant.
So, having approached “covenant” both inductive-contextually and lexically, I conclude that a covenant is a “binding arrangement.” Adding to this definition may exclude some Scriptural uses of the word. However, one's understanding of this definition should be filled out by everything discussed above.