Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Charles Simeon, Calvinism, Arminianism and Cooperation

Charles Simeon was an Anglican who served Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years. The story of his life and ministry are fascinating and challenging to modern pastors who tend to be soft and too quick to retreat in the face of opposition and trial.

Simeon tells the following story from his early years of a meeting that he had with the venerable John Wesley. A young, largely unproven Calvinist engages an older, much revered Arminian. The conversation--and heart behind it--is instructive for us today as we contemplate how brothers should relate to those with whom we disagree on important doctrinal points. Too often we allow our disagreements to eclipse completely the fundamental beliefs that we hold in common.

Danny Akin and Bruce Ashford have recently addressed the issue of Calvinists and non-Calvinists working together in the Southern Baptist Convention. What they write is helpful and exudes the kind of spirit that should characterize all of us who genuinely want to see spiritual and doctrinal renewal in the SBC, hopefully through efforts to promote a Great Commission Resurgence. Tim Brister has added his reflections to the conversation as well, reminding us that while we should not allow secondary or tertiary concerns unnecessarily divide us in gospel enterprises, we must never lessen our insistence that primary, fundamental issues be firmly and clearly held.

Now let's allow Charles Simeon join the conversation (he writes about his experience in the third person perspective). He has something to teach us. May the Lord grant us a double portion of his spirit today.
A young Minister, about three or four years after he was ordained, had an opportunity of conversing familiarly with the great and venerable leader of the Arminians in this kingdom; and, wishing to improve the occasion to the uttermost, he addressed him nearly in the following words: "Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not from impertinent curiosity, but for real instruction." Permission being very readily and kindly granted, the young Minister proceeded to ask, "Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved, that you would never have thought of turning unto God, if God had not first put [it] into your heart?"--"Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed."--"And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by any thing that you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?"--"Yes, solely through Christ."--"But, Sir, supposing you were first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?"--"No; I must be saved by Christ from first to last."--"Allowing then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?"--"No."--"What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?"--"Yes; altogether."--"And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?"--"Yes; I have no hope, but in him."--"Then, Sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is, in substance, all that I hold, and as I hold it: and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."
The Arminian leader was so pleased with the conversation, that he made particular mention of it in his journals; notwithstanding there never afterwards was any connexion between the parties, he retained an unfeigned regard for his young inquirer to the hour of his death.
(Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1: Genesis-Leviticus Preface, pp. xvii-xviii)

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Calvinist vs. Arminian evangelism

These caricatures are funny. To adapt a phrase from my friend, Voddie Baucham, if you can't laugh, you oughtta say ouch! Enjoy.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 4

Dr. Garrett helpfully distinguishes the internal, effectual call of God from the external, general call. Many less thoughtful critics of Calvinism fail to recognize this distinction and, consequently, often wind up dismissing a straw man in their critique of "irresistible grace." Garrett writes,
Dortian Calvinists normally differentiate the external, or outward, call of God from the internal, or special, call of God to salvation. The external call includes the public preaching of the gospel. It can be rejected. In fact, we are told that it is uniformly rejected by nonelect human beings.

The internal call, on the contrary, cannot be rejected and always results in conversion because the Holy Spirit is at work. Neither the new birth (John 3:8) nor the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) nor "God's workmanship" (Eph. 2:10) can be resisted, according to Edwin H. Palmer in "The Five Points of Calvinism." Furthermore David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas in "The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented" cite as proof-texts for irresistible grace numerous texts that specify God's internal call: Romans 1:67, 8:30, 9:2324; 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2, 9, 2331; Galatians 1:1516; Ephesians 4:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:15, 2:9, 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3; Jude 1; and Revelation 17:14.

However, these allusions to God's effectual internal calling apply only to the irresistible grace that relates to internal calling. They do not invalidate the rejection of the outward call and indeed of the gospel of Christ by those who persist in unbelief (John 3:18, 5:47, 6:64; Rom. 11:23; Heb. 3:19).
I don't disagree with Dr. Garrett in his treatment of this point. His final comments on it, however, leave me wondering why he included them. Again, he writes,
We should never tell an unbeliever who scorns the message of the gospel that he or she can never be saved. Remember how the unbelieving, persecuting Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle!
No Calvinist would disagree. And no non-Calvinist would disagree. It may be that Dr. Garrett felt compelled to include this statement in case some might tempted to entertain the notion that rejection of the Gospel at any point means the forfeiture of any hope of ever being saved. With him, I renounce any such thought.

In his treatment of "unconditional election" Dr. Garrett makes the following helpful observation when commenting on Romans 8:29-30,
Dortian Calvinists are probably correct in interpreting "foreknew" as "loved beforehand" rather than "knew beforehand."
Furthermore, he observes,
The standard Arminian answer to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election is to posit that God knew beforehand who would repent and believe and hence chose such persons to be the elect. As noted, such a position may rest on a faulty understanding of the biblical term "foreknew."
His main point of critique comes when he questions whether "the Augustinian-Calvinist tradition has over-individualized the doctrine of election and downplayed the corporate or collective aspect of the doctrine." While that may be demonstrable in certain writers, it is certainly true that belief in both is not mutually exclusive.

Dr. Garrett does not address perservance of the saints because, he says, "most Southern Baptists hold to this doctrine."

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 3

In his article, "Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?, " Dr. Garrett appropriately raises the issue of the biblical basis for the five points of Calvinism. He writes,
One may be inclined to say, relative to the teachings of Dortian Calvinism, that such a system should claim the allegiance of present-day Baptists only if its teachings can be clearly validated by and found to be grounded in the teachings of the Old and the New Testaments. Tradition, however important, must bow to the higher authority of the canonical Scriptures. Hence we need to inquire as to whether the tenets of Dortian Calvinism are indeed supported by the prevailing teachings of the Bible.
This approach should be applauded by all Christians, regardless of what one thinks of of the doctrines of grace. The final question is, what does the Word of God say?

Dr. Garrett asserts, "Those who teach limited atonement are prone to cite five New Testament passages in support of their position." He then quotes from those verses: Matthew 1:21, John 10:15b, John, 15:13, Acts 20:28c and Ephesians 5:25). Though I am not familiar with arguments for particular redemption based on the third of these references, the other four do help establish that position. However, I would be quick to add that those who teach particular redemption, or definite atonement, do not limit themselves to five verses only. Dr. Garrett would not disagree with this and I note it only for those who might be tempted to take his words to suggest otherwise.

Here is a secret that we Calvinists need to make known more broadly: everyone who is not a universalist limits the atonement at some point. Either you limit it in its design or you limit it in its application. That is, unless you believe that Jesus' death actually does save every person who has ever lived or will ever live.

The case for particular redemption rests on the Bible's teaching about the nature of the atonement, the intent of it and what it secured. What actually took place in the death of Jesus? Was the atoning work accomplished there objective, or subjective? Was it an actual atonement or a potential one? Did Jesus actually save sinners or merely make them savable? It is in the searching of biblical answers to these questions that the case for particular redemption is made.

Unfortunately, after citing the 5 verses above, Dr. Garrett does not attempt any exegesis of them. No doubt the limitations of space as well as the context of the article inhibited that. The lack of any examination of these verses in their contexts blunts the force of his summary concusion:
The accumulated references to "His people," "the sheep," "his friends" and "the church" are said to show that the intention of Jesus in His death was to die only for elect humans.
From this, Dr. Garrett launches into the citation of three kinds of biblical texts that that believes support general atonement: the "all" texts, the "many" texts, and the "world" texts. Unfortunately, none of the seventeen verses that he cites are engaged or interpreted. They are merely quoted. Again, I will concede the limitations of that format but it is regrettable that we are denied the serious exposition of these texts by one as capable as Dr. Garrett. Mere citation of verses does not advance theological discourse and tends to give the false perspective that there are some "Calvinistic" verses and some "Arminian" verses in the Bible.

After citing five New Testament verses that use the word "all" in relation to salvation, this observation is inserted:
Augustine of Hippo interpreted the "all" and "all men" to mean all classes and types of human beings, and thus he could retain limited atonement.
One could feasibly accuse Augustine of arbitrarily assigning that meaning to the word all, though Dr. Garrett is perhaps citing him as an example of one who recognizes that the little word "all" cannot be simplistically be taken as a universally inclusive word each time in appears in Holy Scripture. As Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament explains,
In particular one may speak of a summative, implicative and distributive signification of πας [the Greek word for "all"] as the term embraces either a totality or sum as an independent entitity (summative), an inclusion of all individual parts or representatives of a concept (implicative),or extension to relatively independent particulars (distributive). If the reference is to the attainment of the supreme height or breadth of a concept, we have an elative (or amplificative) significance (Vol. 5, p. 887).
Even without the technicalities of Kittel's analysis anyone who reads the New Testament carefully recognizes that the oft-quoted adage that "all means all and that's all that all means" may get lots of Fundamentalists laughing and shouting "amen," but it hardly sheds light on how that word is used in the Bible. I will limit myself to one example: "Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him" (Matthew 3:5).

The problem that we Calvinists have with citing the "all" texts as if they prove a general atonement is this: for that case to be made, the nature of the atonement must be altered, usually away from an objective reality to a potential one. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:14, that Dr. Garrett cites. “One died for all, and therefore all died” If this teaches general atonement (One died for all who have ever lived or ever will live), then we must infer that all who have ever lived or who ever will live have in fact died with Christ. But no orthodox believer thinks that all mankind has spiritually died to their sin. The proponent of general atonement responds that Paul is speaking "potentially" or conditionally here--all those who trust in Christ spiritually die to their sin. But, that is not what the text says, and if that is what it means, then in order for the parallel between the two deaths to stand, the death that One died for all must likewise be only potential. Thus the atonement is drained of its objectivity and definiteness.

The "many" texts might just as easily be cited as supporting a limited perspective as a universal perspective since many is by definition less than the totality.

The "world" passages fall under the same critique as the "all" passages. If they are interpreted to mean "every person without exception" then the nature of the atonement must be altered. What happens if we interpret "kosmos" in John 1:29 in this way? "The lamb of God takes away the sin of the world [every person without exception]." If Jesus' death actually does this then no one will have any sin to bear and thus everyone will be saved.

Granted, our brothers and sisters who believe a general atonement do not believe this. But our argument with them is "why not?" How can the atonement of Christ be general and universalism be avoided without the nature of the atonement being somehow deobjectified? The answers offered to that question are less compelling to me than the answers offered by the Calvinistic understanding of the death of Christ.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 2

In his article entitled, "Calvinism: What does it mean?," Dr. Garrett makes the following comment on hyper-Calvinism:
A third meaning, no longer in common use, takes Calvinism to be the professed teaching of certain 18th-century English Congregationalists and Particular Baptists, a group believing that only the "elect" could be saved. These teachings we now properly label "Hyper-Calvinism." Five distinctive teachings of Hyper-Calvinism can be identified:

- God's decree from eternity to elect some human beings for salvation and reprobate (or eternally damn) others as being logically the first of God's decrees (a teaching known as supralapsarianism);

- an eternal covenant among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for the redemption of elect humans through the Son (covenant of redemption);

- the eternal justification of the elect without the requisite faith on the part of the elect in history (eternal justification);

- the discouragement of the preacher's "offering of grace" indiscriminately to his hearers (no offers of grace) and

- Christians as not obligated to obey the moral law of the Old Testament (antinomianism).
Before offering my own thoughts I want to point you to other responses that are worth reading. Michael Haykin has responded to Dr. Garrett in his typical, irenic and careful way, taking exception to Dr. Garrett at several points. Timmy Brister, in his typical, balanced and comprehensive way, has already posted 4 of his multi-part responses with more to come (1, 2, 3, 4). Both of these men are worth reading.

To call these five points "distinctive" teachings of hyper-Calvinism suggests that those who hold to any of them are advocating, at least partially, hyper-Calvinism. While that case can be made for the last three of those teachings, it cannot be made for the first two. The first two of Garrett's points are held by many Calvinists who are decidedly against the deadly error or hyperism. John Bunyan was a supralapsarian and the Philadelpia Baptist Confession of Faith recognizes a covenant of redemption, stating that the covenant of grace "is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect" (chapter 7, para. 3).

While nearly all hyper-Calvinists affirm the covenant of redemption and are supralapsarian, not all who hold those points of theology are hyper-Calvinistic. Had Garrett limited his "distinctive" teachings to the last three on his list, I would have no reason to take exception.

In an excellent article on hyper-Calvinism, Phil Johnson provides this helpful definition by Peter Toon:
1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect. . . .
2. It is that school of supralapsarian 'five-point' Calvinism which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word "offer" in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, "Hyper-Calvinism," New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]
I find this definition far less problematic than Dr. Garrett's "five distinctive teachings" approach.

Dr. Garrett makes the following claim later in this article:
Total depravity may not have been a key difference between the men of Dort and the Remonstrates. The interpretation of faith and repentance by Dort as gifts from God and by the Remonstrates as human duties may have been a leading difference, for the third article in the Remonstrant confession of faith refers to "saving faith."
Evangelical Calvinism does not believe that the claim that repentance and faith are gifts of grace and the claim that they are universal duties are mutually exclusive. The Bible teaches both. At Mars Hill Paul said, "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent" (Acts 17:30). Repentance is clearly a duty required. But it is also the gift of God. As Peter puts it, ""He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31; cf. Acts 11:18).

It is also the duty of people to believe the Gospel. Paul and Silas commanded the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31; cf. Matthew 11:28). But faith is also the gift of God. As Paul puts it, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake , not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).

The Canons of Dort recognize that faith and repentance are obligations. They state, "By this ministry [preaching of the Gospel] people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified" (1.3). Further, those who do not believe are to be blamed for the cause lies in them and "not at all in God" (1.5). As the New Hampshire Confession puts it, "We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God" (8).

Indeed, it is at just this point where the real biblical strength of evangelical Calvinism is seen most clearly. It willingly integrates those teachings of the Bible that tend to make the rational mind think they cannot be believed at the same time; ie. that faith is both a gift and a duty, or that man is both depraved and responsible. The Bible teaches both. True Calvinism recognizes this and affirms both.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 1

I have been swamped the last several days and have not had time to post my promised evaluations of Dr. Garrett's articles before today. In the meantime, several commenters have expressed many of my own views about them. I will offer only some summary thoughts in a several-part response.

I write as one who is grateful for Dr. Garrett's influence in my life. The Lord used him to help keep me in the PhD program at Southwestern at time when I was so discouraged I was ready to quit. His example as a Christian scholar has been one to which I have pointed many times when discussing theological education with students and pastors.

First, three preliminary notes:

1. I refuse to question Dr. Garrett's motives and would admonish all who are tempted to do so to resist such temptation. I suspect he wrote in response to a specific invitation and I have no reason to believe that his motivation was anything other than an accurate and fair assessment. I do not think that he achieved accuracy or fairness at every point, but not because he intentionally tried to spin the material. There is nothing in my knowledge of or experience with Dr. Garrett that would lead me to believe otherwise. In fact, I have many reasons (besides the biblical teaching that love hopes all things) to believe the way I do about this. Motives belong to God. No one can discern them infallibly. We are to deal with arguments and evidence.

2. As I disagree with many of his arguments and claims, I hope to do so in a gracious manner because I owe him that. This is a discussion among brothers and not a war between enemies. Those of us who believe the doctrines of grace must press each other to remember that it is never enough to be right. We must also be loving. Even to our enemies. And Dr. Garrett is far from an enemy. He is a brother--an elder brother who deserves to be treated with the utmost respect even as what he has written is scrutinized with the utmost care.

3. Dr. Garrett is a serious student of the Bible, theology and history and would want his writings on these subjects to be taken seriously. When I had him for classes and seminars, he was never offended at a student's disagreement with his own views. What he demanded, however, was careful research, argumentation and documentation of one's position. Some of the critiques offered in by commenters over the last week have done just that. Others, however, have not risen to that level.

I have discussed Dr. Garrett's articles with various friends and have been the beneficiary of their insights. My response integrates those insights at many points.


Dr. Garrett implies that the Canons of Dort deemphasize human responsibility in their defense of divine sovereignty when he writes that, "Dort and the Arminians provided very specific answers--Dort in the direction of divine sovereignty and the Arminians in the direction of human accountability." Yet, consider a sample of what Dort actually says about man's responsibility (the first number refers to the "Head of Doctrine," the second to the specific article under that head; thus "1.1" refers to First Head of Doctrine, article 1). The bold emphases are mine.

"Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)" (1.1).

"The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man" (1.5).

Concerning those not elected for salvation, God chose "to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves" (1.15).

God's "justice requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body." (2.1)

"However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault" (2.6).

"Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil's instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts." (3/4.1)

"The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life's cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13)" (3/4.9).

"However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back" (3/4.16).

"This assurance of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and carnally self-assured, is rather the true root of humility, of childlike respect, of genuine godliness, of endurance in every conflict, of fervent prayers, of steadfastness in crossbearing and in confessing the truth, and of well-founded joy in God. Reflecting on this benefit provides an incentive to a serious and continual practice of thanksgiving and good works, as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints" (5.12).
Do these words suggest that Dort in any way slights man's responsibility before God? Hardly. Dr. Garrett does not specifically make that claim, but his words do leave that impression. One of the great misconceptions about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is that the former emphasizes God's sovereignty to the neglect of human responsibility and the latter emphasizes human responsibility to the neglect of God's sovereignty.

But, as the sample quotes above demonstrate, historic, evangelical Calvinism does not diminish human responsibility at all. Granted, hyper-Calvinism does this, but it has always been regarded as an error by true Calvinists (as Spurgeon or Andrew Fuller). The point of departure comes because historic Calvinism does not make human responsibility depend on moral ability as Arminianism does. Calvinism teaches that, in the fall, man lost his moral ability to choose righteousness and carry out the duties of faith and repentance. Thus, these duties must be worked in a person by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel (thereby making them gifts as well as duties).

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