20 January 2010

Shining a Light before men

by Frank Turk

We get letters. I got a version of this one today, which I’d like to share with y’all because I think there’s some profit in it (there may also be some prophet in it, but I’ll leave that to the reader and the Holy Spirit to decide):
I'm a reader of your work over at TeamPyro (awesome stuff) and I'd like to ask for your help on an issue I'm currently facing.

It's about the book "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna. It was recommended to me by a friend for discussion. We're specifically talking about the gospel (what it really means) but the conversation is spilling over to the church, about which he has some very passionate, but not altogether great opinions on.

Anyway, while looking for reviews of Mr. Viola's book, I stumbled across a comment you made in a Pyromaniacs comment feed saying that basically Frank Viola is a "kook" and has got his church history all wrong. I'm wondering if you could kindly:

1. elaborate a little more on why that is so and
2. lend me your take on this whole "I'm too cool for church/church should be like it was in the NT/we should abandon institutionalized and flawed churches" attitude that is sweeping many young people, especially those infatuated with emergent thinking.

your encouragement and solid thinking on this issue would be very much appreciated.
Well, as “kindly” as possible, here’s what I have to say about that:

This (meaning #2, above) is not a particularly “emergent” stream of thinking

Truth be told, this goes back even to Anabaptist conceptions of what it means to be a “church”, and maybe back even to monastic views of piety – so this is not hardly a new way to see things. The problem is that it is a view of what God has done without a lot of reference to what God says about what God has done.

I’ll cover that more in #3, below.

This is not a particularly mature stream of thinking

I can be honest: while people have to take responsibility for this kind of thinking in themselves, they didn’t invent it: they were taught it, either by example or explicitly. But if they were mature in their approach to this topic, and were taught by others who were mature, they’d not atomize the faith the way this approach atomizes faith to a primarily-personal experience.

This is not a particularly biblical stream of thinking

The way this approach to “church” works is to see what God has done for “me” as the starting point of Christian life and then maybe one tries to extend what God has done for “me” to include what God has done for “you” on a provisional basis. When I think God hasn’t done it for you anymore, I can therefore not care about you anymore – at least in the church sense.

The Bible, for those of you who have read it (and specifically for those who have not), goes about the matter in a completely different way. For certain, the place where the rubber hits the road is where “I” do something. But the way we are taught to reason by the Bible about our faith is that Christ has died for us, and that Christ sees his bride as an assembly, and that God has a whole people who are purchased as his own possession.

Does Christ save each one? Sure: certainly. But the formula that you might hear popularly that Christ would have died if the only one he was going to save was me is absolutely not found in the Bible.

The Biblical approach to what it means to have church starts with the fact that Christ died for the elect, which is not a statement of individualistic grace but a statement of a singular act of grace for the sake of all who would be saved.

When Paul riffs on this in Eph 5, he makes it clear that Christ died for the church and gave himself up for her. This has to make us consider that Christ’s work somehow is for all of us on purpose.

Candles on a birthday cake vs. a city on a hill

When Christ talks about who we are in him, he doesn’t say, “you are the light of the world, like little birthday cake candles which people will encounter here and there and I hope that’s enough to get the message across.”

Christ says instead this: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” You know: You-Plural. Y’all. The city on the hill and the light on the lamp stand is the church and not the individual believer. So our light shines before men when we are together being the people Jesus died to make us.

Institutionalism vs. community

So how do we carry that over into the real world 2000 years later? Should we then embrace whatever institution has risen up – should we not have had a reformation? Should we never-ever leave the local church?

The truth is that the Bible gives us a lot of liberty for the local church – with some guidelines. We should have elders who teach us the faith, reprove us when we are wrong, guard the word of God, love people, and train up new elders; we should follow them. We should bear one another’s burdens. We should stand against error but seek to reconcile brothers who are turning away from the faith. We should love one another. We should worship in spirit and in truth (and in good order).

After that, it’s sort of open as to how we administrate that.

But factually the church has to be a local body – full of real people. It has to be visible and distinct from Kiwanis, the Lion’s Club, and the temple of Athena. It should be calling people into Christ and therefore into itself.

What it forms is a community which is (without going all eschatological on you) an expression of the coming kingdom under Jesus Christ, the King of kings. If we keep our eye on that objective, we avoid it becoming the kingdom which the brilliance of our pastor’s preaching, our elder’s leadership, and our own wonderful community outreach (which will create an institution) has formed. God forbid that our churches are “the church which we made for Jesus” rather than “the church which Jesus made us for”.

Anyone who would tell you otherwise is selling a book or a research project – and there’s no one saved by that.

Hope that helps.


FX Turk said...

And for the record, the readers of team Pyro must rise up and demand that the Johnson family photo be updated to include all the wives ad, after tomorrowm all the grandchildren including the beloved new child of Mr. and Mrs. Pecadillo, due to arrive among us in the flesh sometime today or tomorrow.


Don said...

And if they go to more than one discount mega-store they might be able to find enough matching shirts for everyone!

Hayden said...


Thanks for this refreshment. I had a conversation with someone that had the 'God is blessing the para church organization and not the local church' mentality last week. I told him that he was flat out wrong (with Scripture of course). He then proceeded to tell me that we need to 'pray that the Lord would give us a blueprint for what He wants the church to look like'. I told him that God already has, its called the Bible :--) (which I had in my hand and held up)

There are a couple of things that really get my ire up. The first is people that despise the local church and call themselves Christians. That is like saying to your wife "I love your head honey, but I hate your body" (1 Cor. 11).

The second are people that make lists and call those lists Biblical. When they fulfill the list that equals a good day. When they don't that equals a bad day.

Anyway, for your letter writer I hope you recommended "why We Love the Church to Her" by DeYoung and Kluck. It absolutely devastates this argument.

Keep lifting up the church, which is the bride of Christ. You have fellow workers in fields far away doing the same :--)

(I preached a series on the church last year, so, I'm always fired up about the church)

olan strickland said...

There may also be some prophet in it.

Frank, you are a prophet! Ones soteriology is foundational to his ecclesiology. If he goes wrong at the gospel he will go wrong on what the church is and how to do it. That turns into a rebuke of not only those with the lone-ranger mentality but also all market-driven; seeker-sensitive; and man-centered models.

donsands said...

"..you might hear popularly that Christ would have died if the only one he was going to save was me is absolutely not found in the Bible."

I agree. I have heard this a lot, and it always bothers me. It sounds good at first, but then I realize it's self-centered, isn't it.

Thanks for the good post.

A good local church will have good thoughts for churches all over the world, and for missions. Especially churches here in America.

I have been in churches where some of the memebers didn't really care for missions, but wanted a childrens ooutreach, and so mnay other kinds of programs funded, instead of funding missionaries.
I don't know what that is really. But I have seen it and heard it.

SolaMommy said...

That was gold, Frank.

'Cept now I feel the need to repent for singing "This Little Light of MINE" to my son an hour ago...

Yay for Baby Pec! :-D

FX Turk said...

You do have a little light, and you should let it shine. It just belongs on the lamp-stand.

Nash Equilibrium said...

But the formula that you might hear popularly that Christ would have died if the only one he was going to save was me is absolutely not found in the Bible.

I am so glad you said this, as whenever I've heard it said that He would have done it for me alone, there has always been a sense of skepticism that has welled up inside me as to the Bibley-ness of that sentiment; glad to know that it has also welled up inside of someone else and that perhaps I am not just an outlier on the bell-curve of cynicism.

David Rudd said...

good post frank. i've always thought frank viola was a better pitcher than he was a writer.

But the formula that you might hear popularly that Christ would have died if the only one he was going to save was me is absolutely not found in the Bible.

i agree with this statement.
and my question is kind of off-topic, but this just struck me...

how would you answer someone who suggested that this statement is a logical end of the "limited atonement" position?

Bob Johnson said...

Nice piece of work there, Turk.

John said...

Great word, Frank. I would add that the church community is also a current expression of our future grace as well - a people gathered from every nation to the glory of the Lamb. If you can't do church now, you sure will hate heaven!

DJP said...

At the risk of Franking Frank, David, my response would be: what difference does it make? You weren't. I wasn't.

I mean, would Christ have died for me if I painted myself green, wore a beanie with a propeller, and sang the entire score to My Fair Lady?

And if so, what would it have to do with anything?

Unknown said...

Great post Frank. Funny thing...I see this A TON in certain circles of Christians I know. 20-somethings "disillusioned" with church, blatantly hating on people in the church, and from what I have seen, exposing their true spiritual state of being unregenerate (strong statement, but I feel safe saying that because I know these guys closely...they were the ones who brought me into a SBC youth group in the first place).

That said, and also being a 20-something, I must say that this attitude that spreads around my generation...sucks. To put it in better words, it really makes me sad to see this attitude of "Love Jesus, Hate the Church" spread around. :(

I think in the end the reason for this is a despising of soudn biblical doctrine.

jdurham.rtm said...

The part that really intrigued me in the initial post was that you were discussing what is the true gospel. I know of a website that has a great set of videos on what is the true gospel. If you want to check them out here is the link.


FX Turk said...

Well, here's where I "Frank" my own meta:

I'd be careful in how narrowly we define the Gospel. It seems to me that Paul defines it sufficiently in 1 Cor 15:1-4, and that definition while sufficient doesn't outdo anyone's systematic definition of the Gospel. I'm sure many read the qualifier "in accordance with Scripture" as a big loophole for all manner of issues, but the "true Gospel" is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

If that's one's Gospel, then I think there's a lot of things we have to offer them if it is in fact our Gospel.

Bobby Grow said...

Frank said,

The Biblical approach to what it means to have church starts with the fact that Christ died for the elect, which is not a statement of individualistic grace but a statement of a singular act of grace for the sake of all who would be saved.

But before this he said,

. . . But if they were mature in their approach to this topic, and were taught by others who were mature, they’d not atomize the faith the way this approach atomizes faith to a primarily-personal experience.

These are ironic points. For one the view of election here is not singular at all, it is focused on the "individuals" who are elected --- it is a highly particularized/individualized view of election. Which actually dovetails with the point on an "atomized" "personal experience" faith. I say this, because this view of election advocated invites folks to cooperate with Christ by the enablement of Grace in the appropriating of 'their' election/salvation.

So instead of election, in this approach, being at odds with an interiorized-pietized approach to spirituality; it actually presupposes it. To ground election in individual people (instead of Christ as the electing God and elected man for us) fosters an environment wherein individualism thrives, simply because people become concerned with "their election." That's what happens when election is based upon certain people instead of Christ.

I see this understanding of election as detrimental to your overall critique, Frank. You're still basing what Christ does in election on us (grounding it in a decree that has to do with us, instead of Him, first).

2 cents

Bobby G

FX Turk said...

David --

Not you personally, but some people have it in for the "L" in the TULIP. No sense in fighting with them unless they are universalists.

Then it's worth at least having the discussion for the edification of other people who might be listening.

NoLongerBlind said...

I'll see your "the reason for this is a despising of sound biblical doctrine...",

and raise you with:

"...and a disdain for accountability."



FX Turk said...

Bobby --

I think you should reconsider what you're saying for 2 reasons:

[1] You're wrong. :-)

[2] The atomized accounting (which has a false view of election at its heart) moves from us to Christ -- it sees what we do first and then asks whether Christ is willing. You know: I see that some guy "X" is a power-mad pastor; is Christ willing to save someone like that? The answer is invariably "no", so I can move on to another church or no church at all because I'm safe in Christ's hands but that nutty other person -- Christ can't be willing to die for his disobedience.

The correct view of election is that Christ died for all the believers -- cf. John 3:16, yes? So if someone is a believer but still not perfect -- you know: like me -- then Christ died for us, and it is what Christ did that dictates who we are and what we ought to do -- not what we think someone else did.

This is not to say that only Reformed people have a right view of the church -- but it is to say that if Christ did what he said he did, we should have faith in that and not in our own understanding or ability to forgive.

David Rudd said...


fair enough.

i don't have it in for the "L". i don't like the way it often gets used, but i don't have it in for it...

i think "particular" is so much better.

TruthStands said...

Frank, in your response you forgot to elaborate on why "Frank Viola is a "kook""

FX Turk said...

Frank Viola is a Kook because he doesn't believe any of the things I have spelled out here.

I thought that was obvious and didn't need sayin'.

FX Turk said...

The post is 2.5 single-spaced pages in WORD, btw. People get sassy when I post 10 pages, so I try to keep it to the bare bones.

Bobby Grow said...


No you're wrong ;-).

I wasn't saying you followed an Arminian view where God looks down the hall of time by foreknowledge, and based upon who he sees receiving Him they become elect. No, not at all.

Instead that framing election in a way that limits it to particular individuals, apart from the humanity of Christ (as the ground of what humanity is --- as he is the image of God see Col 1)has the effect of "individualizing" things w/o first grounding it in the one archetypal humanity of Christ (or image of God). In doing this, man is left to himself, even elect man, and must cooperate with impersonal 'enabling grace' in order to approrpiate their election. Here's how a friend of mine, Dr Myk Habets speaks to this as he describes TF Torrance's understanding on this issue:

One of the distinctive features of a Reformed doctrine of election is the recurring instance that election ‘is christologically conditioned.’10 Following Calvin, Torrance claims that Christ is the ’cause’ of election in all four traditional senses of ’cause’: the efficient and the material, the formal and the final. ‘He is at once the Agent and the Content of election, its Beginning and its End.’11 Election proceeds from the eternal decree of God but this eternal decree of election assumes in time once and for all the form of the wondrous conjunction of God and humanity in Christ.12 The hypostatic union is the heart of any understanding of election as Torrance makes clear when he writes, ‘How are we to relate God’s action to our faith? The secret of that is seen only in the God-manhood of Christ, for that is the very heart of election, and the pattern of our election, and is visible only there since it is election in Christ.’13

So while we would want to limit election, we would want to limit it to Christ's elected humanity for us; so that election is grounded universally in His humanity. In this way we don't have election grounded in individuals (based upon an abstract decree -- abstract in the sense that it is not necessarily related to God's life in eternity, except by decree in time) wherein humanity (or creation) predicates the 'kind of humanity' that Christ assumed in the Incarnation. In other words, if you don't base election in Christ's humanity; then elect humanity determines the 'kind' of humanity He assumes in the Incarnation --- which means that humanity determines who He is (which works totally against what you are saying in your post, as far as ordo.

Hayden said...

Thought I would share these nuggets from some guys that I don't always agree with

GK Chesterton- The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world... The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us."

Phillip Yancey- We often surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision,and hard work to form a community."

See how this ties in with the need for the local church?

Aaron said...

how would you answer someone who suggested that this statement is a logical end of the "limited atonement" position

David: How about this. Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda...Didn't. I mean, really what a logic FAIL. To state that God would have saved me if I were the only one implies people have control over it, which is contrary to the entire doctrine of TULIP. God chose when, where, how, and who and He wouldn't have done anything else. And we know that because He didn't.

FX Turk said...

Bobby --

Oh brother. When we start confusing -- or rather mashing-up -- election and incarnation in order to make a theological argument, maybe we need to give it a rest.

Your argument "against" what I have posted here simply misses the point. My point is that Christ did something, and he didn't do it potentially but in fact for someone(s). If Christ's work, then the church (in the simplest syllogism possible).

You can't reduce your thoughts to a syllogism that simple, I'm afraid, and you probably lost most people strugglinbg with this question becuase of it.

Nash Equilibrium said...

If I might then retreat to more tangible things: Frank, your post inspired my latest profile pic!

Aric said...

Enjoyed the post, Frank. It would be nice to enjoy some popcorn while you and Frank Viola battle it out on the debate blog (Frank v. Frank).

With family members as avid readers of Mr. Viola's, work, I easily tire of hearing, "We don't need to go to church, we are the church." If only I could get them to listen to mature teaching . . .

Jugulum said...

That would be a very frank discussion.

It's funny, because Frank can't clown people on this blog. :)

DJP said...

Ooh, don't talk about comment-moderation software. That's a sore subject just now.

donsands said...

"..and you probably lost most people"

I tried to understand, but I was very bewildered.

I love the truth that Jesus died for me. He died for Frank and for Bobby, personally. What could possibly be more mind blowing, and yet marvelous for a soul to know than this truth, which is clearly inscribed in the Holy Word of the Lord, and on our hearts by the Spirit.

" I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."

"And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

David Regier said...

Seeing as how my lengthiest affiliations in the body have been in Anabaptist and Restoration churches, I must say that if we don't consider the church In history, we always end up with atomized, individualistic churches where everyone either boils down or invents doctrine.

God started something, and He intends to finish it by the means that He stated, in Christ, through the gospel, working in the church.

Bobby Grow said...


I know, this is a lost cause here, I really don't know why I try (here).

The thing is, you've theologized as much as me; it's just that the culture here has the grammar and logic of your theologizing down, and what I am introducing is new to the culture (although not new to the history of the Church).

My logic is as simple as yours, again, it's just the "culture."

Frank, when you say confusing election and Incarnation, all I can say is "what?" If you don't see the importance of the relation, then I don't know what to say. You certainly cannot maintain the scripture that says that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." That's because, for your view who He is in time --- in the incarnation --- is different than who He is in eternity (I believe He has always been oriented toward being incarnate, which is only working from the logic of Heb 13:8 and John 14, etc.). These are important points, Frank, certainly theological --- but again, so are yours (I'm sure you follow the articulation of Chalcedon, Nicaea, and Constantinople on the natures of Christ, Trinitarian considertations, etc.).

While afield from your pragmatic points in this post; you've made the issue of election a central point to sustaining those pragmatic points. I realize this takes us further than you want to go, but again, there is a depth dimension to what you're assuming that I think needs to be challenged a bit; since your more pragamatic argument hinges on that "dimension." I understand why you want to pooh-pooh this (and where I'm sitting right now pooh-pooh is literally in the air [hospital] ;-), seriously.

FX Turk said...

Bobby --

What I like is that you cite Habets citing Torence citing Calvin and act like this is the transparent exegetical interpretation of Col 1 (when it's actually the centerpiece of Col 2) -- meaning that this is where Paul says explcitly that all we have is done in Christ.

What you also cannot see (perhaps it is hidden behind your nose? Try looking over it rather than down it) is that my admonition here is against the tendancy in Reformed circles to over-personalize one's election.

You know -- this is why people are comfortable being in no church at all: they are elect, and therefore safe in Christ in spite of being unable (or unwilling, which I think is worse) to love a brother.

But making your point -- which one hopes someone else will cite, as you cite Habets citing Torrence citing Calvin -- is far more important than talking to the people who are actually reading this blog. I concede it. You win.

Unknown said...


I'll call that bet.

Bobby Grow said...


Why do you have to frame it this way. I actually have a rather small nose (truth be told). Why is it that every time someone challenges you with something you seem to be unaware of that that person has to be of the attitude of elitist or "know it all," Frank? That's really not my motivation at all; it's just that I know you by now, and know that things are going to get jumpy if I challenge what you're saying . . . so in anticipation I probably over-compensate.

We all cite someone, don't we? It's that process of dialectic we've been involved in sense at least the 'Fall' --- i.e. we learn from others.

As far as Col 1 and 2, absolutely. Christ is supreme over both life and death, His pleroma or fullness permeates everything (as Creator mediated through His resurrected humanity). I don't understand how your point there detracts from my point, it only helps substantiate it.

Not trying to win anything, Frank. Just trying to highlight that election has alot more history to it in the history of the church's interpretation. It's not as monolithic as it appears to be on this site, often. I think I'll go argue with the 'real Reformed' on this stuff over at the Heidelblog ;-).

Have a good one, Frank. I have a feeling we're going to be best friends in heaven :-).

Peace in Christ, Frank.

PS. I do appreciate that you lifted me up for prayer requests at your blog, the prayers are working . . . so thank you, brother.

Jugulum said...


Hmm... Could you explain how you think Frank's point grounded election in individuals?

donsands said...

"..which is not a statement of individualistic grace but a statement of a singular act of grace for the sake of all who would be saved."

Jesus gave Himself for Peter, Andrew, Mary His mother, Paul, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Jonah, Lot, Samson, and billions of others, which includes me.

When Jesus went to the Cross, and died for all those the Father gave Him, did the Father know each of us by name?

Just wondering.

Brad Williams said...

Bobby Grow,

I'll talk to you. I'm trying hard to follow. I have an M.Div, I study a lot, and I don't really understand you very well. <---!!Gratuitous mentioning of street cred!!! Beware!!

This quote interests me particularly:

You certainly cannot maintain the scripture that says that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." That's because, for your view who He is in time --- in the incarnation --- is different than who He is in eternity (I believe He has always been oriented toward being incarnate.

I have absolutely no idea what you mean by that. You say that Frank, and I assume I am agreeing with him, has a Jesus who is not the same yesterday, today, and forever because he believes that Jesus wasn't always incarnate in time? And then you seem to admit that very thing later, that Jesus was always "orientated" to the incarnation, but obviously not always incarnated. If I agree with Frank, and Frank is wrong about Jesus, I really want to know about that!

I think on this, and though it sounds like a lot of brain power is going into it, I cannot for the life of me understand what this has to do with the corporate election of the church. Or how Frank's view of Jesus is not in line with the yesterday, today, and forever verse.

Hopefully, I will not be read as a shill for Dan, Frank, and Phil. So, for the record, I once disagreed with Frank. For extra, I will say that I am almost certain that Dan is wrong about something. Probably eschatology.

Unknown said...

I propose we replace "Franking" with "Turking" as the verb of choice. Just has more bite.

FX Turk said...

I also disagree with Brad about kissing frogs, and about baptism in some way I can't remember specifically I think.

Bobby Grow said...

Hi Brad,

Well that's encouraging.

It is exceedingly hard to communicate some of these things in a blog combox. There is quite a bit of context required in order for my previous assertions to make much sense. That's what I meant about the "culture" thing in response to Frank --- he doesn't have to provide the context, most here already have the context that he is speaking out of; most don't relative to what I am highlighting.

Having said that, let me try to at least explain the Heb. 13 reference.

1. I assume that creation has always been eschatologically oriented.

2. Which means that the "eternal Son" has was always going to be incarnated no matter what, the Fall just intensified His need to come --- thus the point on eschatological purpose for creation above.

3. This means that the Incarnation was not contingent upon the Fall of man.

4. This further means that God had always and eternally in Christ freely determined to "become man" in order to achieve the eschatological purpose of creation.

5. This all means that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So that when we see Him in time, this is always who He has been and well be in eternity. And this is all based, again, on the eschatological purpose of creation.

continued next comment

Bobby Grow said...

cont. from above

Contrary to this, the traditional view, that you and Frank apparently hold, holds that God is likewise non-contingent (doesn't need us to be who He is) on His creation. But the way the Trad. view vouchsafes this 'non-contingency/dependence' is by positing a series of decrees (theologically appropriated) between God and man. Let me try to bullet-point this:

1. In this approach, the Fall of man is the reason the Son Incarnates.

2. But somehow we have to continue to maintain God's non-dependence on creation.

3. This is where decrees or Aristotle's causation is appealed to. The decrees allow for God to deal with man in a way that allows Him to remain untouched by His creation.

4. So with these decrees God has an apparent wedge between His life in eternity, and His creation in time.

5. The problem enters in when Jesus, God the Son, enters into time under the dictates set out by the decress (and Covenants, like works/grace in the typical Federal Calvinist framework). At this point He becomes man, not freely determined by the dictates of God's life; but instead by a set of decrees that have been set out with the sole purpose of keeping God separate from His creation.

6. The problem is, is that Jesus is God, and now has become submissive to decrees that were set out to govern creation; but instead, when He becomes man in the Incarnation, these same decrees end up shaping who He is to be (i.e. how He is to act in time). This leaves this approach with the unattendended consequence of the very decrees that were to keep God separate (and immutable/impassible) from His creation as those that shape who He is in the Incarnation (if we hold to the homoousion, which we all do (that Jesus is of the same substance of the Father and Holy Spirit) then this is really problematic. It means that God turns out to be contingent upon His creation, inspite of trying to avoid these very consquences (a catch 22).

7. A consequence of this understanding is that when we see Jesus we don't really see who God is; we only see a God, in time, who is who He is as set out by His obedience to these decrees (i.e. to become man because of the Fall).

In the end, there is a disconnect between God's so called ontological or immanent nature (in eternity) and His economic or evangelical nature (in time).

So the trad view disconnects this reality of God (his ontological/economic nature) by positing decrees/secondary causes as the way that God relates to and in time. In so doing who Jesus is in time (because of the decrees) isn't who He really is in eternity (because He is only acting out the demands of the decrees which aren't grounded immediately in God's life but are only abstracted instruments that subsist in a way for God to interact with time w/o actually being contingent upon it).

That should be as clear as mud :-). Election is tied right into this, but I won't try to get into that. I'm afraid I've gone probably way further than Frank would want me to.

David Regier said...

No, no. That explains a lot.


Bobby Grow said...


Let me just say on election:

If predestination and election are tied into these decrees I just spoke of, within the framework I mentioned; then election is no longer grounded in God's life, instead it is grounded in decrees which are intended to create space between God and His creation. Thus the decrees "predetermine" the unfolding of creation (i.e. not God directly); and the decrees are active in and for creation (God's secondary interaction with creation). This then gets us back to a discussion the a 'double-will' vs. 'single-will' of God. The God of the decrees has a double will (which then gets us into discussion about electing and dying for some people, and reprobating the rest), the God of the tradition I'm following is single-willed which must ground election predestination, etc. immediatley in the life of God. Anyway, the double-will point is how this all ties into the original point I was making with Frank. That view flows from a view of God who is finally subjugated by His own decrees.

Bobby Grow said...


Good, I worked at trying to be as clear as possible.

But there is still alot of context and reading, thinking through the inner logic and implications of the Incarnation, for example, that is required. Also a familiarity with the theology of the Reformerers (like Scotism vs Thomism, etc.), and even some modern theologians (like TF Torrance and Richard Muller). I tried to break this down in terms that were clear, so I'm glad that they were for at least you, David :-).

Jugulum said...

God decides what to decree, but is somehow subjugated by his decree?

It also sounds like you're assuming a definition of "decree" other than "God decides what He's going to bring about, through both direct and secondary causes." You seem to think "decree" inherently means "secondary causation", which isn't what I've gathered from Reformed theology at all.

Bobby Grow said...


Well then we've gathered different things.

If someone in the reformed trad is following a thomist doctrine of God (which is what the West. Catechism is based upon, directly), then this is exactly what it means. All Thomism is is the appropriation of Artistotelian metaphysics, and all you have to do is look up how causation works within that framework. Richard Muller defines, articulates, and defends these things in re. to Refromed orthodoxy, Jug; and he is the standard scholar for the Reformed tradtion --- I'm not making this up.

Another name for this, Jug is voluntarism; God's acts are separate from who He is. When in fact, biblically it is the exact opposite. God's act *is* His being (so that when Jesus acts the Father acts, etc.).

James Scott Bell said...

Yes, I would much rather that L stand for "Local church."

We've recently visited the demise of the "emergent church," but find out a bunch of them are gathering for another of these innumerable conferences, you know, with names like "Origins" and the like.

Just stop it. Go local. Be biblical.

FX Turk said...

I defy Bobby to make his point in either less than 150 words or 3 or fewer syllogisms -- that would demonstrate the clarity of his perspective.

The question is: is the local church necessary? If yes, why?

David Regier said...

What it explained to me is how you're able to read some extremely arcane assumptions into what Frank wrote.

How does it work in real time?

Jugulum said...

OK, if I understood you correctly, then I'm content to sit back and listen. I'm more likely to be wrong, since I'm purely a layperson who hasn't read deeply on this detail. :)

Bobby Grow said...


Yes, I know, like I said, you have the benefit of context understood here. As I've been typing I'm afraid and submitting, I've been afraid to come back and find my comments deleted . . . they are afield of what you're talking about here.

I'm out.

Jugulum said...


One more comment, actually.

You may have a point about the ramifications of describing God's decrees in certain ways. (I can't tell--you're going into some new areas for me, and it would take some more reading to come up to speed.) I think I'm catching the gist.

But it's entirely opaque, how the point of Frank's post turned on any of the distinctions you're making here.

Bobby Grow said...

Okay, one more response.


Arcane is relative. I know plenty of people who would think your understanding of election (presuming) is arcane; and then I know plenty of people who would like at my understanding as rather non-arcane.


Sorry, I'm leaving . . . :-)

Bobby Grow said...


Dangit . . . okay. It's because Frank's post pivots on assuming the priority or primacy of God's life (thus his point on election) and pietism. If Frank's view of election does not magnify the primacy of God's life in Christ in election (if election is relegated to decrees), then the primacy of God's life is not at play. And thus to me, the premise of his whole arguement crumbles.

David Regier said...


Here's my complete deal:

You know my (presumed)understanding of election.

From where?

Bobby Grow said...


I don't. That's why I said presumed.

I'm moving on, brother.

Brad Williams said...

Bobby Grow,


Who teaches this? "God's act *is* His being?" What does that even mean?

And this

the God of the tradition I'm following is single-willed which must ground election predestination, etc. immediatley in the life of God.

I guess I need more of the context you are talking about. I never even heard an Arminian talk like this. I lke Arminians. Arminians make sense to me. I think they are wrong, but it makes sense to me.

You aren't making sense to me because you don't even seem to be solving the problem you are protesting at all. And now you have put me in the awkward position, I feel like, of discussing something that has nothing to do with Frank's point because I think you're wrong.

There was a time when the Son of God wasn't incarnated, right? Or are you saying He was always incarnated? Why is it that my pre-incarnated Jesus is different from your pre-incarnated Jesus? Because I believe in decrees? (I'm not even sure I believe them in the way that you say I do because I can't tell). And that means my view on God's election of the church to salvation is off?

Frank, please do not smite me. And, just so you know, I did not kiss the frog; I ate it. As for the baptism canard, I am tempted to say that you were all messed up on that one because baptism is ground in the life of God not decrees, and that the place where your understanding goes astray is because you do not recognize the problem the Holy Spirit causes in your view when He descends onto Jesus from heaven during baptism!

I'm picking, Bobby Grow. Just kidding. I can't help it. I'm a babdist.

Anonymous said...

frank, this post is extremely helpful and encouraging. thanks for this.

i especially appreciate everything under "Institutionalism vs. community" which is what the debate really is. thanks for reminding us that the Bible gives guidelines on what church is about; how to pursue that is relatively open. as long as we don't compromise the gospel and violate the non-negotiables that you mentioned, we can't go wrong, whether we gather to worship in a living room or in a church building.

as for Pagan Christianity, it concerns me that a book that's touted as a return to "real", "biblical" church can have such a detrimental affect on people's lives. surely if one's response to reading frank viola is to tear down the principles of Biblical ecclesiology there must be something amiss.

Bobby Grow said...


I'm Evangelical Calvinist. I know what I'm saying sounds like strange teaching, but so did Jesus' teaching, to some ;-). Everything I'm speaking about developed within the Reformed tradition, and in fact much of it was considered orthodox until Westminster and the General Assembly in Scotland.

It's interesting, Brad, you're disagreeing with something you admittedly don't get yet . . . which seems hasty (although I can understand some of your skepticism).

I wonder how much of "Federal Calvinism" you understand. You won't understand a word of what I'm saying unless you first understand Covenant theology; have you read much in that area?

And then, further, you won't understand what I'm saying if you haven't read some of the critiques that Karl Barth and TF Torrance have made on the typical understanding of predestination and election within the Federal framing of Calvinism. Everything I'm communicating comes really from their critique.

Furthermore, you're not going to understand alot of what I'm saying unless you have trained yourself, a bit, to think dogmatically . . . have you? I've found with most folks who strictly follow the MacArthur style that that area of thought is lacking.

Anyway, Brad, maybe you just need to do some robust reading in the area of historical theology (like Steven Ozment's "Age of Reform" would be a good one, he would introduce you to much of the categories I'm speaking through --- he would let you know the difference between Scotism and Thomism, for example, which is necessary for understanding what I'm getting at. In fact my little sketch is sketching the difference between a Scotist understanding of God vs. the Thomist, which MacArthur's approach is indebted to -- conscious or not).

I'm full-fledged Reformed, Calvinist, Brad; believe it or not there are different instantiations of that in the Calvinist heritage. In fact I would place Arminianism and Classic Calvinism on the same page given their shared doctrine of God. So no wonder you like Arminians ;-).

Now back to the local church. I have a blog dedicated to developing and dealing with Evangelical Calvinism (you can come there and talk about this with me so we don't hog this thread anymore http://evangelicalcalvinist.com.

FX Turk said...

No really:

Bobby is leaving.


After another 3,000 characters.

Victoria said...

Good post.

Many of the comments were utterly disgusting(Bobby Grow).

It does sincerely amaze me how people like that can muddy up the clear sweet pool of the Bible's doctrinal teaching of election! It really does take Bobby's very many words to confuse the doctrine that scripture so CLEARLY sets forth.

I must say Mr. Turk--you have been very tolerant of that rant--can't say I feel like thanking you for it!

Bobby Grow said...

Well, if people would quit asking me questions ;-).

FX Turk said...

Vicki --

This is the kinder, gentler me.

Bobby Grow said...

Yeah, we wouldn't want to confuse ourselves with the facts now would we, Vicki. Just pure ole' Gospel-Thomism for you, eh ;-). You know what, if you're wrong, Vicki (which you are about election); did you realize that what you just said is quite sinful (your attitude, at least). I doubt you've spent the time reading the history (if you have you wouldn't say the things you just did, again that's just being lazy and irresponsible).

Frank is being nicer to me than normal, I appreciate it!

I would've let all of this go if Brad hadn't prodded me on ;-). I know the audience here, Vicki is quite typical.

FX Turk said...

And you're still a troll, Bobby.

Sorry you're sick, but if you were any more condescending you'd have to reach up to cut your toe nails.

I'm still waiting for the simple sillogisms to represent your point. I think you cannot make them, and that points to the real weakness of your belief and you attitude - if not your actual point.

Bobby Grow said...


The crazy thing is, I'm holding back! You're one to talk about trolling and condescending . . . please. You're quite the master spin-meister, I'll give you that! In fact I would say anybody who disagrees with you is a troll . . . which makes your category of troll meaningless.

Anyway, as far as your appeal to "ockham's razor," if that's what your trying to do. Nope. I could provide some deductive syllogisms, and it wouldn't do much. They could be, and would be sound, but folks here would still need to know that my premises were true and not just valid; which means that I would still have to try and provide the adqueate context in order to provide my "little syllogisms" with the weight that they would require.

No, Frank, this is indeed a waste of time. You guys have a choir to preach to, that's apparent (Vicki typifies the attitude of the choir); I don't know why I try to engage you at all, it always ends up the same. You go your way, and I'll go mine. I'll stay away from the Pyromaniacs, and critique your "kind of theology" from a distance (at my blog). If reading and studying the history of thought (esp. in re. to Calvinism) makes me immediately condscending, then so be it. That's certainly not my intention, in fact my first comments here were self-consciously "descriptive" (I was trying not to be condescending). It's when commenters come back with snipey remarks that my flesh usually engages, and I tend that way . . . sorry about that. You guys should quit playing the 'holier than thou' role though (I would say Phil has the best demeanor out of all of you).

But when I've had other friends read your guys' blog, and their immediate response about the basic tenor here (and some of my friends are actually MacArthurite leaning) is that it is snide and arrogant --- then I know I'm not out to lunch on my own impressions (which is usually why when I comment here, I do so with the anticipation and expectations that I do).

But I'm done here. Peace, Frank!

DJP said...

Frank, he's gone again. Just to tell you.

(Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Sinatra's many retirements? Without the talent?)

Victoria said...

Hum--somehow the name Bobby just doesn't seem to fit with this kind of arrogance and condensation.

My understanding of the doctrine of election is not at all sinful--John MacArthur told me so.

Trusting too much to history and too little to the teaching of scripture would have left us in Rome--John MacArthur told me so.

There is a price a godly man must pay to be heard, that price is humility and respect.
If a man wants an audience to listen to his doctrine-he would do well to heed the following!

" Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people."
Titus 3:1-3 ESV

Actually--we all need to remember this in the incognito and impersonal world of the blog, because God is very much in the know---He told me so.

donsands said...

"You guys have a choir to preach to, that's apparent"

I would think that is true of every blog.
Bu the choir needs to hear the Word of God as well.

I have disagreed with the Pyro three amigos from time to time. And I have learned I was wrong at times as well.

It's a terrific blog, and it's a shame you can't work it out with Frank.

I have a good friend who hates the teaching of Limited Atonement; he despises it. And so i challenged him on it, and we had a debate, and he is quite a scholar of the Greek and Hebrew, and I respect what he said.

At the end of the debate, we simply let it go. We let it go, and kept our friendship in Christ our Lord, and truest Friend.

Have a good and godly dat Bobby.