Friday, October 14, 2005

The Biblical Nature of Calvinism: A Response to Jacob

About two months ago I wrote a post complaining about people who call themselves “Biblicists” in the debate between monergism (Calvinism) and synergism (Arminianism and other similar positions). I admit it was a rant and the tone of the post wasn’t the best that I’ve written, but it is what it is and I won’t edit it to make it sound more measured (I’m sure it’s pretty tame for some people, but not for me). It actually generated more response than any post I’ve written in a while, which is not surprising considering the subject matter.

The most substantive comment came from
Jacob, who then expanded his critique on his own blog, Via Crucis. I surfed around Via Crucis for a while, and I like some of what Jacob has written. I particularly enjoyed "The Sharlet Letter", his analysis of Jeff Sharlet’s article “The Young and the Sexless” that came out in Rolling Stone a few months back. I imagine I’ll go back from time to time for a visit.

I must take issue, however, with some of his comments about my post. He criticizes me for holding that it is wrong to be ignorant of “supra-scriptural ‘theology. The point of my original post, however, was that in holding to Calvinist soteriology I do not believe myself to be holding to a supra-scriptural theology. Calvinism is, in my opinion, scriptural. This point will rear its head again later.

Jacob correctly states that I believe that one can be either a synergist or a monergist with no other option. He then goes on to talk about a phone conversation he had to make a point:

Duncan begins by saying that ”…you can either
be monergistic of synergistic with no third option available”, and for the sake
of proving a point, I contacted a Christian friend of

Me: Hey, I’ve got a question.

Friend: shoot

Would you classify your beliefs as monergistic or
What does that

Case in point. Now, you may be asking yourself, “What do these terms mean?” or “Where do my views fit into this?” Therein lies my concern with Duncan’s claim. The importance he places on theological systems implies that ignorance of such systems is in some sense wrong
I’m not certain what this phone conversation is supposed to prove. Is it that one can be a Christian without knowing whether you’re a synergist or monergist, or even what the terms mean? If so, that is something I would grant without debate. A little further in the paragraph below the phone conversation, however, Jacob begins to deliver the meat of his first objection:

The importance he places on theological systems
implies that ignorance of such systems is in some sense

Here again is the assumption that Calvinist soteriology is “supra-scriptural,” a claim which I deny. I hold that Calvinism is Biblical, and therefore ignorance of it is ignorance of Biblical truth, which is never a good thing. However, the heaviest objection comes next:

To say that ignorance (or avoidance) of such issues is unacceptable is to argue against the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures.

He uses 2 Peter 2:13 as support:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…

Of course, I disagree quite strongly with Jacob’s point. As I study the Bible, reading verses that pertain to the manner in which God brings salvation, I realize that each verse must be brought into harmony. If the Bible is to be inerrant it must be internally consistent. As a result, I have found that God enacts salvation monergistically; that is, He does all of the work from beginning to end without human assistance. The question is, how can a theology taken directly from the pages of the Bible cut against the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures, as Jacob claims? If Jacob or anyone else does not believe Calvinism is taken directly from the Bible, that is fine. We can discuss that point, but by painting Calvinism as “supra-scriptural” Jacob has short-circuited that discussion.

Jacob later insists that it is possible, contrary to my contention, to not be a part of the debate. To that I say, “yes and no.” It is possible to drop out of the debate by simply refusing to discuss it. However, there is no possible way that anyone who studies the Bible thoroughly cannot hold a position on this topic. Ask any Christian what Ephesians 2:8 means:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is
not your own doing; it is the gift of God

If the Christian says, “it means that even our faith is given to us by God,” then he or she is likely a monergist. If the Christian says something like, “it means that we exercise faith because of God’s gift of grace,” he or she is likely a synergist. With enough study, we will all arrive at one position or another unless we consciously choose to avoid it. But why should we make such a choice? Why choose not to dig deeper into God’s word to find out just what Paul was saying in Ephesians 2:8?

The rest of Jacob’s response misconstrues some of the things I said in my original post. I think this may have been due to the tone with which I wrote it. First, he questions why I call myself a Calvinist if I do not believe that Calvin was right on everything. He states that “By his name you have either (1) studied any and all of John Calvin’s doctrines and found them to be inerrant, or (2) have not studied all of Calvin’s doctrines but have faith that they are inerrant. Those are the only two options, and both are dangerous.” This is a false dilemma because there are certainly options other than the two Jacob presents. At what point did calling one’s self a Calvinist mean that one held Calvin to be inerrant? I call myself a Calvinist for the sake of discourse (the aforementioned third option). I quite happily confess that I believe everything written in the Bible, but people who disagree with Calvinism make the same claim. Since we both hold ourselves to be “Biblicists” we must find some other means of distinguishing between the positions we take. “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” have worked well for hundreds of years, and no one to my knowledge has ever seriously insisted that either Calvin or Arminius were inerrant.

Next Jacob says,I call myself a Christian – and a Christian only – because I do not question Biblical teaching. Do you consider that claim “pseudo-humble arrogance”?”

The answer is no. This question also stems from my lack of clarity. Whenever I wrote this post, and particularly this bit about “pseudo-humble arrogance” I had specific individuals in mind. Jacob was not one of them, and he still is not. I should have been clearer regarding the sort of person at whom I leveled this criticism. I was thinking more of the “fighting fundamentalist” types. I am not comfortable naming specific names at this time. I will think on it and I may later if I think it is appropriate.

Moving on, we find what is probably the most fundamental claim underlying this critique. “Simply, the term “Calvinism” would be unnecessary if it did not go beyond what the Scriptures teach.” (emphasis in original) This is certainly false, and I think I can demonstrate why. Let’s look at this sentence, but change a key word:

“Simply, the term “Trinitarian” would be unnecessary if it did not go beyond what the Scriptures teach.”

Obviously this is not what Jacob said, and I suspect he affirms the doctrine of the trinity, but I think it demonstrates a good point. Theological terms often exist to differentiate correct theology from false theology. In my opinion, “Calvinism” and “monergism” are simply words that describe correct theology, just as “trinitarianism” is a word that describes correct theology. So you see, it is not as cut and dried as Jacob makes it out to be. There are causes for the use of theological terms other than the one Jacob asserts.

In his final few paragraphs, Jacob again accuses me of following the teachings of men over the teachings of the Bible via 1 Corinthians 1:10-14:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that
you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported
to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I
mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I
follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for
you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

As I showed above, calling myself a Calvinist does not demonstrate that I am following a man over Christ. If the Word of God convinced me that Calvinism is false I would abandon it that moment, even if John Calvin himself were sitting in the room with me.

Ultimately, my ire was not directed at all people who claim to stick to the Bible, because that is what I do myself. Rather, my ire was directed at those who, in a caustic spirit of arrogance, deny me the ability to claim that I stick to the Bible. Again, I admit that I was somewhat caustic myself in my original post, and I am sorry for that. In venting my spleen I was ungodly, but I still maintain that I am both a Calvinist and a “Biblicist.”

UPDATE!!!!! Jacob has asked if I would be interested in debating the fact that Calvinism is entirely Biblical, and I accepted. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but we'll see!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Examining the Doctrine of Total Depravity:
John Calvin, Canons of Dordt, TULIP, free will, no free will

Examining the doctrine of "Total Depravity" in Calvinism

Total Depravity is a doctrine that stems from the TULIP. The TULIP is also called the 5 points of Calvinism. The TULIP stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Total Depravity teaches man has no free will to choose God, but is dead in his transgressions and it is God who predestines those whom He has chosen to be saved, while the others who are not predestined have no ability at all to be saved because they will not be regenerated. The following will be quotes from John Calvin, Canons of Dordt on the doctrine of Total Depravity, and a Biblical response to the doctrine of Total Depravity.

John Calvin: "For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. Those who term it concupiscence use a word not very inappropriate, provided it were added, (this, however, many will by no means concede,) that everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence." (Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 8) Concupiscence is the Greek word "Epithumia" which means: "desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust." (KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon online at Crosswalk Bible Study Tools) Concupiscence means to desire or long for something that is forbidden, that which is not of God. John Calvin is stating that man is completely in the state of concupiscence in which man can do no good at all unless it is God who first changes the will of man to do good. John Calvin and the teachings of Calvinism teach that man is dead in sin and there is nothing that man can do which is good, therefore man has no ability or free will to choose God because he is in a state of concupiscence.

Biblical response to "man has no ability or free will to choose God"

The Bible teaches in many places that man was "unwilling" to come to the Lord: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." (Matthew 23:37 NASB) Here Jesus makes two things very clear. The first being that Jesus said that He wanted to gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, thus indicating Jesus wanted them to come unto Him but they were "unwilling." Second, Jesus said they were "unwilling" to come indicating they had a choice or free will. If a person has the ability to be unwilling they also have the ability to be willing, that is just common sense. In the King James version, Matthew 23:37 says "ye would not", proving that there is a free will. Jesus did not say "you could not" but rather He said, "you would not." The doctrine of Total Depravity teaches that man either rejects God or chooses God because of His predestined plan of who will be saved and who will not be saved. In the book of Acts, Stephen is before the religious Jews preaching the message of Jesus Christ to them, and Stephen indicates that they resisted the Holy Spirit. "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did." (Acts 7:51 NASB) Stephen states here that they resisted the Holy Spirit, thus indicating they were unwilling to accept the message of Jesus Christ. In John 16:7-15 Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would come and testify about Him, but it does not say, "the Holy Spirit would force people to believe." The point is if we are able to be "unwilling to come to Christ" and able "to resist the Holy Spirit" then we have a free will. In the book of Joshua the teaching of free will is clearly there: "15 "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." 16 The people answered and said, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of , and who did these great signs in our sight and preserved us through all the way in which we went and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed. 18 "The LORD drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites who lived in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God." 19 Then Joshua said to the people, "You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. 20 "If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you." 21 The people said to Joshua, "No, but we will serve the LORD." 22 Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him." And they said, "We are witnesses." (Joshua 24:15-22 NASB) In these verses there are four "proofs" that total depravity is not accurate. First, this is before the work of the cross and the regenerating of the Holy Spirit. Calvinism teaches that a person cannot receive Jesus without first being regenerated, known as being born again. People were not born again before the work of the cross; that came after Christ was crucified and resurrected. Secondly, the people were given a "choice" to choose to serve God or to serve false gods. Thirdly, the people made a choice to serve God. Fourthly, Joshua recognized they "have chosen for themselves the LORD, to serve Him", thus indicating they were able to choose the LORD.

John Calvin: "What can a dead man do to obtain life? But when he enlightens us with the knowledge of himself, he is said to raise us from the dead, and make us new creatures." (Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 14, Section 5) John Calvin taught that man was dead in their sins, and according to Calvinism this means that a person who is dead in their sins has no more ability to choose God than a dead man in a tomb can do anything.

Biblical response to John Calvin's teaching on "Total Inability"

Total inability is wrong Biblically, and Total inability is wrong logically. Total inability is wrong Biblically because the Scriptures clearly teach that we have a decision to make based upon us, not God forcing us as
Matthew 23:37, Acts 7:51, and Joshua 24:15-22 demonstrates. Total inability is wrong logically because it compares a person who is dead physically, which then the question would be "can a person who is spiritually dead not sin?" The person who is in a tomb can do nothing, so if a person who is spiritually dead cannot have any ability to choose God, therefore they have no ability to do anything, thus they cannot sin either. This sounds ridiculous does it not? But if you follow that same logic of total inability you find that it is the logical conclusion. Being spiritually dead means that we are still in our sins, without God, and need to be saved from our sins. Spiritual death does not mean "no ability" to choose God, and to teach that is teaching something that the Bible does not teach.

Examine the following Scriptures on Jesus teaching man has a free will to choose Him or reject Him. Jesus speaking to the Jews who wanted to kill Him for claiming to be the Son of the Father (equal with God) in John chapter 5 (verses 33-35 & 39-40) teaches that man has the ability to either choose or reject truth within themselves: "33 "You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 "But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 "He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light...39 " You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. " (John 5:33-35 & 5:39-40) Jesus told the Jews "they were willing" to receive the light for short while from what John the Baptist spoke of, which proves Biblically that they were not totally depraved to receive the truth. Jesus told them these things "so that they may be saved", which indicates that Jesus wanted them to be saved. Jesus said they were "unwilling to come to Him", which proves that they had a choice (free will) in the matter,but they rejected it. This proves Biblically that man has the ability to choose (free will) or reject the truth of God, and that man is not totally depraved having no ability to respond.

Total Inability: "Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform." (Canons of Dordt, III & IV, Article 3) Canons of Dordt are official statements on what Calvinism teaches, this quote is concerning "total inability." This statement indicates that a person cannot be willing to choose God unless the Holy Spirit regenerates them. The Canons of Dordt explains what Calvinism is, and is in agreement with what John Calvin taught on "total inability."

Biblical response the Canons of Dordt on "Total Inability"

The Canons of Dordt teaching on "Total Inability" is in error because it states that a person must be regenerated by the Holy Spirit first to come to God. This means they must first be born again and then they can choose God or have faith in Christ to be saved. Nowhere in Scripture does it say we have to be first born again or regenerated first in order to be able to believe in Christ or choose God. We are told in Scripture time after time that we have to make a decision based upon us, not based upon God deciding for us. For example in John 3 where Jesus is speaking of being born again Jesus states 3 times in verses 15-18 that a person must believe in the Son of God in order to receive eternal life. Jesus says if a person does not believe in Him they will perish (meaning to die in their sins) and will be judged. "15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:15-18) There are some important keys to seeing this correctly. Jesus says "whoever" believes in Him will have eternal life, Calvinism teaches that the "whoever" is those whom God has predestined to be saved. The clear context here is that the "whoever" is anyone, not some elite group. Jesus states that God loved the "world", who is the world? Calvinism teaches the world is the ones whom God has predestined to be saved. The clear context is that the "world" is all mankind. Jesus said in verse 18 that the reason the ones who will be judged or condemned is because they "did not believe in the name of the only Son of God", not that God predestined them to eternal damnation. Not only did Jesus teach that He came not to judge the world but to save it, but that it was for anyone to be saved from their sins. The Apostle Peter said: "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) The clear context is that God does not desire for any to perish; that is for none to go to eternal damnation, but for them to come to repentance and be saved. There are some who attempt to make the word "all" mean only the elect, but the clear context here is for anyone to come to repentance. The word "all" is the Greek word "Pas" which means "anyone, whoever, whosoever, every, all." So in context it is very clear that God desires for all to be saved which shows the doctrine of God regenerating only those whom are predestined to be false.

The doctrine of Total Depravity is a un-Biblical doctrine, and the purpose of writing on this topic is to give a Biblical response to Total Depravity, which comes from the 5 points of Calvinism known as the TULIP. Also to give information for those who are searching for answers to this topic, and attempt to make it as clear as possible for people to understand. We are not set out to cause division with other Christians but rather to help clarify these important issues within the body of Christ that has already caused divisions. God bless you and guide you in these issues.