30 June 2012

Things That Are Despised

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "All At It," a sermon preached on Sunday morning 16 September 1888 at the Met Tab.

t is thought nowadays that a man must not try to proclaim the gospel, unless he has had a good education. To try and preach Christ, and yet to commit grammatical blunders, is looked upon as a grave offence. People are mightly offended at the idea of the gospel being properly preached by an uneducated man. This I believe to be a very injurious mistake.

There is nothing whatsoever in the whole compass of Scripture to excuse any mouth from speaking for Jesus when the heart is really acquainted with His salvation. We are not all called to "preach," in the new sense of the term, but we are all called to make Jesus known if we know Him.

Has the gospel ever been spread to any extent by men of high literary power? Look through the whole line of history, and see if it is so. Have the men of splendid eloquence been remarkable for winning souls? I could quote names that stand first in the roll of oratory, which are low down in the roll of soul-winners. Those whom God has most honoured have been men who, whatever their gifts, have consecrated them to God, and have earnestly declared the great truths of God's Word. Men who have been terribly in earnest, and have faithfully described man's ruin by sin, and God's remedy of grace—men who have warned sinners to escape from the wrath to come by believing in the Lord Jesus—these have been useful. If they had great gifts, they were no detriment to them; if they had few talents, this did not disqualify them.

It has pleased God to use the base things of this world, and things that are despised, for the accomplishment of His great purposes of love. Paul declared that he proclaimed the gospel, "not with wisdom of words." He feared what might happen if he used wordly rhetoric, and therefore he refused the wisdom of words. We have need to do so now with emphasis. Let us trust in the divine energy of the Holy Ghost, and speak the truth in reliance upon His might, whether we can speak fluently with Apollos, or are slow of speech, like Moses.

C. H. Spurgeon

29 June 2012

No One Who is Credible

This Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro is posting the first "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.  This excerpt is from the original PyroManiac blog on 12 Jan 2006. 

Comments are closed.

The kneejerk demand for "exegesis" at the very start of the cessationism discussion is fatuous.

"Exegesis" for what? So far I haven't actually taken any positions or made any controversial biblical claims that require "exegetical" support. All I have done to date is point out how hard it is to find any credible person, even from the charismatic camp, who really believes the apostolic signs and offices are still in full operation just like when the apostle Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. I quoted some charismatic authors to establish their position. There's hardly any need for supporting "exegesis" on that.

Furthermore, I have asserted almost nothing about the degree of cessationism I hold to. I have not even actually stated whether I believe miracles (as distinct from miraculous gifts) occur today. I've merely argued that a genuinely non-cessationist, strictly pure continuationist theology is practically unheard of.

(Even in the earlier discussion last month, when I made several posts pointing out what an extraordinarily high percentage of modern "prophecies" turn out to be bogus, I did not actually argue—yet—that the gift of prophecy has utterly and finally ceased. As a matter of fact, several times I explicitly pointed out that I was not making any such argument. ...)

That refusal to assert any specific degree of cessationism is a deliberate omission and not an accidental oversight on my part. I am first simply trying to establish the fact that no one who is credible seriously believes that all the miracles and gifts of the apostolic era are commonplace today. I don't need a proof-text, or any amount of "exegesis" to validate that.

As a matter of fact (unless I missed a comment) no one has yet seriously asserted the contrary. No one has come forward to offer any earnest defense for the claim that nothing whatsoever has changed in the exercise of miraculous gifts since Peter commanded the lame man at the Temple gate to rise and walk. Moreover, everyone (including a few bold commenters yesterday who seemed to doubt whether the canon is really closed) has agreed that no new Scripture has been written for the past 1900 years.

Now, show me something there that requires "exegetical support," and I'll try to tackle the challenge. Otherwise, it would be better to stay with the actual argument that's being made, and interact with that.

28 June 2012

Olson on Limited Atonement: Part Two

by Dan Phillips

[We rejoin an interaction begun here and already in progress.]

Understandably, Olson next says
It’s difficult to resist the impression that Calvinists who believe in limited atonement do so not for clear biblical reasons but because they think Scripture allows it and reason requires it. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but at least some Calvinists such as Piper have criticized others for doing the same. Piper criticizes others for allegedly embracing doctrines only because Scripture allows them and logic requires them. It seems to many non-Calvinists, however, that believers in limited atonement do exactly that. Lacking any clear, unequivocal biblical support for this doctrine, they embrace it because they think Scripture allows it and their TULIP system logically requires it. After all, if election is unconditional and grace is irresistible, then it would seem that the atonement would be only for the elect.
Olson has a point, or at least the tip of a point. The reason I usually call myself a 4.95-point Calvinist (+/-) is that, while every one of the other four points is expressly taught in Scripture, there is no single verse that expressly says, in so many words "Jesus died to atone fully for the sins of the elect and nobody else." Yet I wouldn't agree with Olson's characterization. There is an overwhelmingly strong Biblical case to be made for particular redemption, and partway-measure alternatives quickly fall apart into bibbly-babbly (but not Bibley) nonsense.

To put it another way, if one does not affirm the other four points of Calvinism, one has issues with plain Biblical teaching, and that's a problem. If one does affirm those four points, I don't see a Biblical way around the remaining point ("L"), however some might squeal and kick against it. Consider:

You have God unconditionally choosing some to salvation. You have all men without exception completely unable to respond to God. You have the Holy Spirit invincibly drawing and regenerating the elect, and only them. You have God keeping all of those thus elected and drawn, and only them. But the Son does not make infallible provision for them in His atonement, assuring their salvation? The Son leaves them unable to enjoy any of the benefits of God's other (would-be) saving acts? And if the Son does do all this for the elect, His identical act for non-elect doesn't save them? For that and many other reasons, the case for particular redemption is much, much stronger than Olsen allows.

Citing the usual "world" verses, Olson then says
Typically, Calvinists respond that in these verses “world” refers to all kinds of people and not everyone. However, that would make it possible to interpret all the places where the New Testament reports that the “world” is sinful and fallen as meaning only some people — all kinds — are sinful and fallen.
"Possible" in the abstract? I suppose so. But (A) Olson does not even try to demonstrate that "world" doesn't have many different nuances in Scripture — for very good reason!; and (B) That bad things can be done is hardly an argument that a good thing should not be done. That is, given that "world" frequently very clearly has different nuances even within a single verse (e.g. Jn. 1:10; 3:17), one is obliged to do the actual hard work of exegesis, rather than blithely asserting the meaningless "world means world" — as if there is some universally-agreed single sense to the word kosmos in the NT, such as "every human ever born."

Olson gives no evidence of having dealt seriously with studies such as John Owen's and countless others over the course of centuries, as he breezily asserts that 1 John 2:1-2 "completely undermines the Calvinist interpretation of 'world' in John 3:16,17 because it explicitly states that Christ died an atoning death not only for believers, but also for everyone." How does it undermine that case? Can Olson cite a single Calvinist — even one — who argues that "world" always means "believers only"? It is the Calvinist who observes that the word has many nuances in the NT. It is the Calvinist who seeks to establish each passage's meaning exegetically. It is Olson who fails even to try to do more than assert and assume.

In fact, Olson gives no indication of ever having truly wrestled with 1 John 2:1-2 at all, nor even recognizing what a problematic verse it is for Arminianism. Instead, Olson simply asserts that
Here “world” must include nonbelievers because “ours” refers to believers. [Ipse dixit Olson!] This verse makes it impossible to say that Christ’s death benefits everyone, only not in the same way. (Piper says Christ’s death benefits the nonelected by giving them temporal blessings only.) John says clearly and unequivocally that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was for the sins of everyone — including those who are not believers.
At the outset, for my part I'll agree that "This verse makes it impossible to say that Christ’s death benefits everyone, only not in the same way." Yessir, John says that Christ Himself (emphatic autos) is (present active indicative) the propitiation for all the world.
But not so fast. Unless one dives into tortuous Clintonian flexi-gesis©, isn't this verse a massive problem for Arminians? Does "is" mean "is," here? Is it really out of place to ask whether it is legitimate to insist that "the whole world" necessarily means every last man, woman and child ever born (as the identical phrase cannot mean in 5:19), and at the same time to ignore the "is"?
That is, John does not say that Christ "really would love to be" the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, nor that "if He had His way, He would be" that propitiation, nor that "He possibly is," nor that "He has done His part and breathlessly waits to see who will do theirs to help Him be" the propitiation. The apostle just says that Christ is the propitiation.
So we don't have only one choice, nor even two. We have several exegetical choices to make, and we also have several options. Olson's assumed (not argued!) position is only one option and, to my mind, among the least likely, and least representative of John's actual wording and use.
After this, Olson gamely tries a few more verses, but they fare much the same at his hands: questions begged, exegesis assumed rather than demonstrated, logic ignored. I understand Olson was under space limitations, and so am I. What we've already done well primes the reader to examine the verses in their actual wording, in context, and compared with usage, and ask whether Olson's assertions merit his QED.
Perhaps sensing that his exegetical case has not been strong, Olson signals his departure by asserting that "The greatest problem goes to the heart of the doctrine of God."

Now, for novices, let me just make an observation. Very often (not always!) when you read a statement like this, the author is giving you a signal. He is covertly admitting, "I don't have any actual verses that teach what I'm about to say; I'm going to have to reach into the penumbra of the Bible, and lean pretty hard on the white spaces between the lines of text." What follows is not invariably invalid, but readers should not relax their demand for proof when they see a disclaimer such as this.

Very well, then; how so does pan-textual explicit affirmation of the Biblical doctrine of a saving God encounter a "great" problem at the heart of the doctrine of God?

If you picked "God's love for $500!", you picked right. Olson somberly informs us that Calvinists are unable to affirm that God is love, with any credibility, because if a human being did what God did we wouldn't say he was loving.

Sadly, Olson ignores the good Admiral's warning tones and immediately falls down a deep and dark shaft, when he says
We would never consider someone who could rescue drowning people, for example, but refuses to do it and rescues only some as loving. We would consider such a person evil, even if the rescued people appreciated what the person did for them.
Oh dear me. Do you see what a disastrous assertion this is for Olson, of all people, to make? He says that a God who actually saves some, but leaves others to drown, is not a loving God. Well then, accepting that logic, what would that make a God who saves nobody at all, but stands on the shore watching them all drown, ineffectually waving a life-preserver at them, and assuring them all that He loves them and is waiting right there for them all to make their way to shore so He can "save" them? Because that is Olson's God, whatever Olson and his like might insist or deny. Olson has God's work in Christ only making salvation possible — and even then, as we saw, He can still send them to Hell for sins He told them He'd paid for in full!

As one hath somewhere crooned, What's "love" got to do with that?

Of course, I've done a Prov. 21:22/26:5 with that argument. The truth is that if one lets Scripture speak for itself, the folks in this case aren't drowning. They're drowned. Their bloated corpses are at the bottom of the sea. The well-meaning figure on the shore now looks even sillier.

Leaving that, Olson says that "Another way Calvinists handle the love of God ...is to say that God loves all people in some way but only some people (the elect) in all ways." Really? Only Calvinists do that? Olson thinks that God loves Judas and the Beast, John the Baptist and the False Prophet, Jacob and Esau, in exactly the same way? Does his Bible have Deut. 4:32-39; 7:7-10; Amos 3:2; Mal. 1:2-3 and all the rest?

Would he advise that we all practice those implications, feeling morally obligated to show no distinctions in whom and how we love? Should spouses love all men/women exactly as they love their mates, and vice-versa? Should parents love their children exactly as they love all other children, and vice-versa? In selecting trusted, beloved friends, are we now to ignore Prov. 13:21, 1 Cor. 5:11, 15:33, and any other verse to the contrary, in the name of loving like God loves?


So that's yet another total non-starter. Look, I'll just be very honest with you. I know this argument (God isn't really loving if He doesn't give saving every last person a really good try) resonates emotionally with a lot of people. Obviously it does with Olson. I get that — until you think about it. How is a hypothetical atonement that does and can save no one bespeak a greater love than an actual atonement that can and does save countless multitudes? It is loving for God to make an empty and ineffectual gesture to all people without exception, but it is unloving for Him actually and powerfully to save all sorts without exclusion?

Olson says in effect God walks into a morgue, plop down an elixir of life, and heartily inform the corpses "I love each and every one of you so much that whosoever reaches out and drinks may live" — and that is real love. Yet by contrast a God who walks into the morgue, administers His potion to some of the inhabitants, adopts them and cares for them and keeps them forever — that isn't love. What sense does that make, beyond an initial emotional flutter? Particularly when you factor in that He not only owed it to none of them, but every last one of them had been His sworn enemies?

Finally we reach the very bottom of the barrel, as Olson tells us (yes, he really does, I am not making this up) that affirming God as mighty to save is bad for evangelism. Unless you can guarantee a disinterested and unrepentant and mocking and disbelieving sinner that Jesus paid for every last one of his sins, you can't evangelize him. (In which case, as I've observed, I know for a fact of at least one Christ-hater who concluded that he had nothing to worry about and no need to repent.)

One hopes it isn't too much to ask where Olson got his apparent definition of "evangelism" as "telling lost people that Jesus atoned for all of their sins whether they believe or not, but they need to believe to make it work." I don't get that one. Neither did Paul. After all, when Paul expressly and explicitly outlined the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1-11, he made no such Olsonic assertion. Indeed, none of the apostles seems to have read Olson, since not a one of them preaches in his terms to lost audiences in the Book of Acts. Not. One. Time. Ever.

I try to be consistent in affirming and applying the sufficiency of Scripture. So, call me silly, but I figure that if the apostles managed to tilt their whole world (to coin a phrase) without once being recorded as telling unrepentant unbelievers that Jesus paid for all their sins, I can live and preach their Gospel without using that verbal formula too. I am able to tell every last sinner every last thing he needs to know to be informed that he needs Christ as Savior, and that if he believes in Him, he will be saved.

And then when he does repent and believe, I can show him that every bit of his interest, repentance, and faith was secured for him by the mighty grace of a mighty, loving, sovereign, saving God, through the work of Christ at Calvary. And I will show him that salvation is of the Lord, to the praise of the glory of His grace.


One final note on Bro. Olson. Many who wish to remain Arminian (or -ish) many seethe and quibble about this and that. Perhaps a very few will confess, "Okay, you made one or two good points, maybe; we just need Olson or someone else to make a better case and give a better answer!"

No, you really don't. Let me be as plain as I can. I don't think the weakness of Olson's case is Olson's fault. By that I mean it isn't that Olson holds a really terrific, sound, Biblical position, but just did a really bad job in presenting and defending it. I think Olson probably did about as good a job as can be done with that position. The problem isn't with Olson, primarily. It's with the position. The problem with a bad product isn't that it has bad salesmen; it's that it's a bad product. And so here.

So no, in my opinion, what is needed is not for Arminians to pick a better representative.

What is needed is for them to change their minds on this issue.

Thus far Bro. Olson. Next time, Lord willing, some reflections on the oddness of the Assemblies of God turning to Olson to target Calvinism as a challenge to the Gospel.

Dan Phillips's signature

27 June 2012

The End of the End

by Frank Turk

I have no idea if you people study change management or the cycle of grief, but grief and significant change are understood by counsellors and MBAs as having a clear process in the life of the person subjected to change, and it can be charted something like this:

 Fig 1: Specific Examples Noted.

Generally speaking, people don't like change.  It upsets them.  It gives them a sense that their grounding has been ungrounded. It makes the future obviously unclear -- as opposed to its normal state of common opacity which is, as they say, what it is.    So when they get sunk into change, they move from their normal state of performance or self-esteem to a state of diminishing returns.  They go through denial, anger, and uncertainty -- everyone does.

But it is at this point that some people give up.  They hit that bottom of uncertainty and crash right through.  Rather than finding a place in the future for themselves, they see no place in the future for themselves.  They think the change -- which is usually neutral at worst -- is a death sentence for everything they had hope in, and they simply crash and burn.

Some people get trapped in uncertainty and keep cycling through denial-anger-uncertainty.  That's not really any better than those who crash through the bottom except that they can actually function for short periods in the world as it goes on.  They usually need someone else to help them get over the change, but they can get through it.

For those who do not time out in uncertainty, there is hope at the end of the change curve.  They accept that things are now different, and they take some ownership of their own future.  They seek to put together the future in a way that gets them back to a place of stability or productivity.

For those of us who are Christians, we have a Helper who points us in this direction -- and if I can be frank enough to say it, his name is not Phil Johnson.  Phil is my beloved friend who has also been my inestimable benefactor, but he is not the hope for my future, nor the one who defines it: Jesus is my Hope.  The Holy Spirit is the one who is my encourager who will, in the words of Jesus, teach me all things and bring to my remembrance all that Jesus has said to me.  They are also that for all of you reading this who say you are Christians, since I brought it up.

And I bring it up for a good reason: stop moping.

I have read more than one comment in the last two weeks which has said something along the lines of, "but what if the church will not have any more defenders?  If Johnson, and then eventually Phillips, and to a much lesser degree Turk, all go on permanent vacation, then what?"

Really?  It's really, really that bad?  God will fail in his purpose of the Gospel if TeamPyro closes the doors?  The church survived the death of Lloyd-Jones, and van Til, and the death of Spurgeon, and the death of Edwards, and the deaths of all the Puritans, and the deaths of Calvin and Luther, and of Bunyan, and backwards all the way to the death of Paul, and of course the death of Jesus.  In fact, we sorta needed the death of Jesus -- and if I have to explain that, Phil Johnson's retirement from his hobby of blogging is not our worst problem.

Yes: Phil is unique in a superlative way, but I think if he writes books it is a better legacy than fighting with people who are unique and superlative in the opposite direction in every way on the internet.  We ought to be pleased that he's going to implement his own change curve and put something out there which will affect more people than this blog does.  And as he does that, not only must we wish him well, we must ourselves man up and face the future with Christ and lost people on our minds.

So here's the roadmap for the next three weeks on Wednesdays:

Next Week, I am going to savage a book written by a young man I greatly admire expressly for the purpose of getting you to read it and either love it or hate it.  A year ago I received this book from his publisher and did nothing with it because I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but after having dinner with him I realized that I snubbed him by not treating him like a man.  Before he himself experiences a massive change curve in the near future, I want him to remember what the little people think of him -- and by "little," I mean the short fat bald guy with the hot wife and the exceptional children.

The Following Week I will publish the transcript of my talk in Tulsa at the "Call for Discernment" conference sponsored by Grace Family Bible Church.  Only Tony Miano will not hate me for it.

Then in Three Weeks I am going to review a recent book by Cruciform Press in order to light up on one of my favorite topics -- Popular Calvinism.  It deserves your attention and your conscience deserves its attention.  Pack a lunch for that one.

After that, who knows? I am teaching on the goodness of God in Adult Sunday School at my church on 29 July 2012 -- you might get that transcript. But think about this: if the only hope we have in this world for our faith and the church is this blog, then let me say it clearly: we are part of the problem, and we have our own idols to deal with.  We will do better to realize we are worshiping the wrong end of the log right now (cf. Isaiah 44:13-17) than we will to get caught up in the notion that God doesn't have a plan for his church past the last day of blogging for our favorite blogger.

26 June 2012

Olson on Limited Atonement: Part One

by Dan Phillips

As I pointed out elsewhere,
The Assemblies of God, that denomination which teaches that born-again Christians who don't speak in tongues can't really serve or live for God, the same that brought us Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Paul and Jan Crouch, David (Paul) Yonggi Cho, and other similar luminaries, is clanging the warning-bell against such "challenges to the Gospel" as...

To bring the cannons to bear against the threat of Calvinism, the AOG brought in Roger Olson, favorite theologian of many who do not affirm the Scriptural doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Roger Olson apparently is, to many Arminians, their "Big Gun," their modern answer to John Owen. Olson has often been cited in the most glowing terms by some Pyro commenters, so I was interested to see what heavyweight evidence and argument I'd find in Roger Olson's article for the Assemblies of God. After all, he was the AOG's pick to dismantle Calvinism as a "challenge to the Gospel."

At the outset of my reading, I sincerely appreciated that Olson appears to be trying to be as fair as he knows how to be in presenting Calvinism. Notably, rather than making (say) the abominable Fred Phelps a representative for Calvinism, Olson cites some of Biblical soteriology's most rightly-dominant figures both past and present, from Beza and Owen to Sproul and Piper.

Olson also airs a couple of the more persuasive arguments for the Calvinist position, such as that "if Christ died for everyone alike, then everyone is saved. After all, so the argument goes, it would be unjust of God to punish the same sins twice — once by laying the punishment on Christ and another time by sending the sinner to hell." The reader wonders if Olson has a counter to that reasoning. (Read on.)

On the other hand, one could have many quibbles, including battling citations and a foolish (or at least myopic) remark attributed to Vernon Grounds. The point Olson seems to want to make is that "many evangelicals, including some Calvinists, find this doctrine repugnant." (That inarguable, qualified observation — emphases original — becomes an unqualified "this doctrine is repulsive" in the next paragraph.)

Well, what of it? Maybe some "evangelicals" and "Calvinists" do find particular and effectual redemption "repugnant," if one defines terms broadly enough. And so? The list of doctrines "many" find "repugnant" must be long enough to include the Trinity, inerrancy, moral absolutes, the moral rightness of the conquest of Canaan, Hell, exclusivity of salvation in Christ, penal substitutionary atonement, exclusion of women from church leadership, male leadership in marriage, and a great many clearly Biblical doctrines.

At that point, one wonders whether Olson will have any non-"So what?" arguments.

And so, charitably, we'll push aside the irrelevancies and focus on the positive case and refutation Olson attempts to build. After mis-defining "propitiation" as "substitutionary, atoning sacrifice," Olson cites a few of the many verses Calvinists adduce and glosses their interpretation, then simply asserts that "these verses do not teach Calvinistic beliefs." Oh. Proof, please?

The proof is in silence, in saying that the verses' targeting of Christ's atonement (i.e. for Christ's sheep, the church, "us") "do not say Christ did not also die for others." Well, true enough. They also do not say that Christ did not also die for wolverines, quahogs, Bob's Big Boy hamburgers and '57 Chevys. And, once again, so?

Olson hurries on to assert that "Universal atonement does not require universal salvation; it only requires the possibility of universal salvation." He does not at this point cite even one verse that teaches such a thing. My mind immediately goes to the list of pilot complaints and maintenance responses, of which my favorites are:

Problem: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement
Solution: Almost replaced left inside main tire 
I mean, how would one re-word Olson's construction in that fashion? Like this?

Problem: Need possible salvation
Solution: Provided possible salvation 
But what would that even mean? Maybe the airplane tires possibly needed replacement, but I didn't possibly need salvation. No natural child of Adam possibly needs salvation. I absolutely needed salvation; I needed actual salvation.

But more to the point, what does the Bible require us to believe? Did Mary's soul rejoice in "God my possible Savior"? Was Jesus named "Jesus" because He would "possibly save His people from their sins"? Did He come into the world "possibly to save sinners"? In Olson's statement, He doesn't save them at all, "possibly" or otherwise. He just makes it possible for them to be saved.  By their acti

Personally, I find that repugnant. And I find it a cause for absolute despair, for myself and for all those I love. If that is the salvation Christ came to achieve, then we are all just as doomed and hopeless as we were before.

But back to his case.

Rather astonishingly, Olson then throws himself on the bull's horns and states "It is possible for the same sins to be punished twice." Yes sir, yes ma'am, you read that right. Read it again. "It is possible for the same sins to be punished twice." That, my friend, is a direct quotation, not a parody nor a paraphrase. Here it is in full context:
It is possible for the same sins to be punished twice and that is what makes hell so absolutely tragic — it is totally unnecessary. God punishes those with hell who reject His Son’s substitution. An analogy will help make this clear. After the Vietnam War, President Jimmy Carter gave a blanket amnesty to all draft dodgers who fled to Canada and elsewhere. By presidential decree they were free to come home. Some did and some did not. Their crime was no longer punishable; but some refused to take advantage of the amnesty and punished themselves by staying away from home and family. Believers in universal atonement believe God allows sinners who refuse the benefit of Christ’s cross to suffer the punishment of hell in spite of the fact it is totally unnecessary. [emphases added]
I quoted that at length because, if I hadn't, many would assume that I'd pulled an MSNBC and edited the quotation to make Olson look silly. But that is really what he says. In fact, I make out two arguments, both absolutely absurd, insulting to God, and harmful to Scripture:
  1. God pours out the full measure of His wrath for sins on Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3), Jesus says "It is finished" (Jn. 19:31), God declares that He has accepted the sacrifice (Rom. 4:25) — and then He punishes people for those same sins — forever. If the Arminian wants to call the Biblical God affirmed in Calvinism "unloving" (because He actually saves some, though not all), I will call Olson's god unjust (because He assures sinners that He's taken care of all their sins, then punishes them forever for them). 
  2. God is, in any way, like Jimmy Carter? Ouch. But that aside: the analogy breaks down. People in Hell are punishing themselves? That man-centered absurdity is not what I read (Matt. 25:41; Jn. 3:36; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 1:8-9). They're either not suffering for sin at all, or God is inflicting punishment for sins that are already paid for, on Olson's model. To make the analogy work, you'd have to have President Carter issuing an amnesty for draft dodging, then heading off to Canada to arrest and imprison for the already-pardoned crime of draft-dodging those who refuse to accept the pardon. Carter has wiped the books of the crime, then imprisons them for that same crime.
Olson tells us, Believers in universal atonement believe God allows sinners who refuse the benefit of Christ’s cross to suffer the punishment of hell in spite of the fact it is totally unnecessary." So they are suffering "punishment." For what, exactly? For sins for which Christ already satisfied God's justice? Then God is unjust. (I speak as a fool.) For what sin? For rejecting Christ? But since that is disobedience to a direct command (1 John 3:23), isn't that a sin, by any sane definition? And did Christ make full satisfaction for sin, or did He not?

Ah, me. Does it get any better?
Olson denies the Calvinist criticism that the Arminian construct only gives "people an opportunity to save themselves," calling that assertion " totally fallacious reasoning."

But then he immediately confirms that very reasoning.

That's right. Again, let us quote Olson in full, to be fair:

Arminians (those who follow Jacob Arminius in rejecting unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace) believe Christ’s death on the Cross saves all who receive it by faith. Christ’s death secures their salvation — just as much as it secures the salvation of the elect in Calvinism. It guarantees that anyone who comes to Christ in faith will be saved by His death. This does not imply they save themselves. It simply means they accept the work of Christ on their behalf.
So in other words, Christ dies equally for Bob and for John. Christ does not do one more thing for Bob than He does for John. But Bob goes to Heaven after he dies, and John goes to Hell. Why? Clearly, not because of anything Christ did, because Christ did exactly the same for both. So who supplied the missing ingredient that meant Heaven for Bob? Who? Anyone? Bueller? That's right: Bob supplied the all-important ingredient that determined his future in Heaven. The missing ingredient that meant salvation for Bob was supplied — not by God the Father, not by God the Son, not by God the Holy Spirit, but — by Bob himself.

So who gets credit for Bob's salvation according to Olson's statement? I am sure every Arminian would say "Jesus does." I am sure that every Arminian would deny that they are teaching that the sinner deserves partial credit for their salvation. But ours is not a psychological interest, but a Biblical and logical interest, and we must follow out the logic of the system, whatever its advocates affirm or deny.

And according to that system, Jesus gets some credit, of course. He did a big thing. It was important, what Jesus did. But He didn't "pay it all." John goes to Hell in spite of what Jesus did, and Bob goes to Heaven, instead — because of what Bob added to what Jesus did. Jesus really couldn't have done it without Bob's help.

According to Olson's logic.

Anyone see a problem there? Olson and the AOG don't, evidently. But do you?

I plan to examine the rest of the article in my next post, whereupon I will open comments.

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23 June 2012

Feelings, dreams, and supernatural thoughts

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "A Simple Sermon for Seeking Souls," a sermon preached Sunday morning, 12 July 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

he only feeling I ever want to have is just this,—I want to feel that I am a sinner and that Christ is my Saviour. You may keep your visions, and ecstasies and raptures, and dancings to yourselves; the only feeling that I desire to have is deep repentance and humble faith; and if, poor sinner, you have got that, you are saved.

Why, some of you believe that before you can be saved there must be a kind of electric-shock, some very wonderful thing that is to go all through you from head to foot. Now hear this, "The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart. If thou dost with thy heart believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and with thy mouth dost confess, thou shalt be saved."

What do ye want with all this nonsense of dreams and supernatural thoughts? All that is wanted is, that as a guilty sinner I should come and cast myself on Christ. That done, the soul is safe, and all the visions in the universe could not make it safer.

C. H. Spurgeon

21 June 2012

Culver on deconstruction

by Dan Phillips

I am reading through R. D. Culver's Systematic Theology.  Treating of the truth of God, Culver stepped aside to deliver this salvo, and I thought you'd enjoy it:
A diversion into recent theories of language analysis and of hermeneutics at this point would show how scepticism, denial that anything anyone speaks or writes is true in any important sense, has imported Pilate’s skeptical question wholesale to the academy. Recently these theories have invaded all university departments except the hard sciences. The public has been made aware of this disastrous development as ‘deconstructionism’.

Deconstruction uses figures, tropes, neologisms, irony and philosophy to sever any connection between an author’s true self and what he has written. The motives of these literary dogmatists apparently are chiefly to create an elite of critics who have their own club. The strength of this syndrome is an informal connection of ambitious professors and their admirers, supported by tenure rules that deliver the star performers from necessity of constructive labour.

[Culver, R. D. (2005). Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (100). Ross-shire, UK: Mentor.]

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20 June 2012

The Case for Gay Marriage (3 of 3)

by Frank Turk

Yes, I know you have seen this video either at Desiring God or at TGC.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it again.  Prior to the bombshell announcement last week here at TeamPyro, we were talking about what an appropriate secular definition of "marriage" was in order to sort of find our way to the place where we could understand what those demanding "same-sex marriage" were asking us for.  Look: let's be serious.  I am perfectly willing to concede that when we start talking about homosexuality, the LBGT people listening probably hear something like this.  Confessing that, or admitting that, or otherwise coming to terms with that frankly doesn't cost us anything.  It probably actually improves us by being able to walk 10 feet in the other guy's shoes.

But let's also be fair: the other side ought to be willing to demonstrate what they say they expect from us.  That is: if they want us to understand what we sound like to them, they have to at least ask themselves, "I wonder what we sound like to the other side?"  It's naive at least to demand someone hurdle the empathy barrier because they object to your demands, but in making your demands you have no intention of even facing good manners -- let alone demonstrate empathy.

But alert reader "Peter" found the previous thread and asked the astute question, "It is unclear to me why you need a definition of marriage. I am also unclear whether you are looking for a legal, sociological, or poetical definition.   Cannot homosexuals just say they want the same 'rights and privileges' that the institution of marriage currently provides to heterosexual couples?"

The answer, frankly, is "no."

If I told Peter that all I really want from life is all the "rights and privileges" of a handicapped person so that I can park in their spaces, would my demand seem at all out of scope?  See: the law plainly distinguishes between everyone else and the class of people who qualify for handicapped privileges in every parking lot in America.  It's not a constitutional crisis to say that everyone is not created equal, and giving a privilege to those for whom the parking places are designated is not the moral equivalent of racism.

"Well," Peter may retort, "that's because federal law has adopted a standard of equal access for public accommodations (ADA title III), and under that standard we 'must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment.'  The same-sex advocate is asking for the same thing: access, and an end to segregation and unequal treatment."  That is: they want a leg-up to level the playing field because in some way, the default state would be to leave them out.

There are three reasons this is probably unwise for Peter to go this way:

1. The assumption has to be that the ones being so-called "segregated" are in some way are "[people] who [have] a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities."  If the advocates for same-sex marriage want to establish the problem as a "disability," that's a new one on me.  It would change the way this discussion plays out immediately.  Of course they do not see themselves this way, and I'm not asking them to.  But I am asking them to see that there is at least one major way in which definitions matter: they qualify the reason(s) for special privileges.

2. It should be noted that married is not a right per se, but a privilege. That is: if you are an intolerable cretin or a serial adulterer, the law recognizes that you are unfit for marriage.  If you are even infertile, the law recognizes that another person may see that as an insurmountable obstacle to being married to you.  You do not have a right to be married if you are unqualified or disqualified for marriage.  If this ever becomes untrue, I suspect that we won't have to worry about whether or not same-sex marriage is a question anymore.  If the state becomes the one to arbitrate who marries whom and whether it stays in force, I'll bet a lot of people will fight for the right to stay single forever.

3. There's more to it than the law.  See: the problem here which the advocates for same-sex marriage simply gloss over is that "rights and privileges" is a fairly-callow way to view the institution.  In fact, most days "rights and privileges" don't enter into it at all.

As Johnny Depp is clever enough to point out, "Marriage is really from soul to soul, heart to heart. You don't need somebody to say, okay you're married."  At least, until you don't want to be anymore.  Let's say, instead, that we adopt the brief definition provided by commenter Luke Wolford, who cites Living Sociologically by Renzetti and Curran.  He says the secular defition of marriage is given thus:
"Marriage: a socially approved union of two or more people in which each is expected to fulfill specific economic, sexual, and caregiving obligations and responsibilities."
What sort of proposal do you think this sort of arrangement would generate?  We covered that last time, but there aren't a lot of Romantic Comedies which would spring forth from this understanding of marriage.  In fact, I doubt there would be a lot of dour, duty-to-the-state sort of marriages if this is all that the institution ought to mean.

But think about this now: what if marriage means what Larissa says it means:
Marrying Ian meant that I was signing on to things that I donʼt think I ever wouldʼve chosen for myself — working my whole life, having a husband who canʼt be left alone, managing his caregivers, remembering to get the oil changed, advocating for medical care, balancing checkbooks, and on. The practical costs felt huge, and those didnʼt even touch on the emotional and spiritual battles that I would face.  
But in light of all the practicals, and emotionals, it was so very simple: we love each other. And we love God. And we believe He is a sovereign and loving God who rules all things.  
Our pastor who married us, Mark Altrogge, was with us on the day that our marriage was approved by a local judge. Because of Ian’s condition, the courts had to decide that it was in his best interest to be married. Mark said that he’ll never forget the words of the judge who approved our marriage license: “You two exemplify what love is all about. I believe that marriage will not only benefit you both but our community, and hope that everyone in this city could see your love for one another.”
This is why the definitions matter, and why, frankly, the law cannot hand this over to anyone.  It is outside of the law's purview.  It is not about the generation of "rights and privileges," but about the way loves works -- which is a surrendering of rights in order to serve and to save another person.

The rest, I think, is best left to the comments.  Mind your manners.

19 June 2012

Alas, poor Johnson... a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy

by Dan Phillips

Have you ever heard a eulogy about someone you barely knew and thought "Dang! He sounds like he was a pretty great guy. Too bad it's too late!" I have; and I've often thought it might be more serviceable to deliver eulogies before our beloveds get their "promotion," so to speak.

So, since Phil's reached a significant turning-point, and though (if God says "yes" to my prayers) he'll still be "the troubler of Israel" for many fruitful decades to come, I thought I'd offer a bit of an encomium. And since Frank's already raised his glass in an incredibly witty, pitch-perfect toast, the more sonorous essay falls to me.

I've heard that it's a saying in government work that if you stick your finger into a glass of water and then pull it out, and leave a hole, then you're irreplaceable. Phil Johnson is leaving a hole in the watery world of Christianoid blogdom.

Phil started blogging in 2005, his first post bearing a Latin title, explaining the name "Pyromaniac" (trivia: the blog was almost named PurpleHaze), and laying the ground rules. From there, Phil made his mark with his unique and inimical style. What is that style? It's a rare combination of wit, eloquence, substance, clarity, maturity, sagacity, wisdom and passionate intensity. Maybe it's simpler to say that Phil Johnson writes like a man. A Christian man. Sadly, that alone is enough to make him stand out in Christian blogdom today.

I began reading in 2005, made Phil's Blogspotting feature and entered the comment meta as a distant blip of a fanboy. What captured me about Phil's writing was his way of slicing right through to the heart of things in such a deft yet common-sense way that it left you feeling both stupid and smarter at the same time. Stupid, as in "Oh, duh, why didn't I see that?"; smarter, as in "All right, I totally get that now."

I've often told the story about how I got The Email That — to use a florid but accurate phrase — Changed My Life. It popped up in my Inbox on January 19, 2006. Ironically, I had actually emailed Phil (not sure whether he knew me from Adam, or Jay Adams, for that matter) about the fact that I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere in my blogging. I had a couple of hundred visitors a day, I think, and just wasn't penetrating, wasn't getting anywhere, wasn't making a dent.

Phil responded graciously and, at the end, said this:
Meanwhile, because of the drain on my time and creative energies, I'm planning to convert "Pyromaniac" to a group blog, and you're one of the first I thought of as a possible team member. Are you interested?
I was stunned. My first thought was that he'd written the wrong "Daniel." Phil had confused me for another Daniel, probably the Canadian Daniel. I was actually afraid to answer. Can you understand that? The bubble would pop in due course, so let's enjoy the illusion while we can.

In fact, Phil had to write the next day:
Dear Dan,
Did you get the e-mail invite from blogger to join the new blog team? I sent it last night.
Pretty sad, eh? The "Dan" encouraged me that Phil knew who he was writing. I fell over myself accepting, and on the 23rd I received an email with rules for writing for the blog. I still hadn't met the man.

That would happen in June of 2007, when I flew out to meet Phil for the Founders Conference in Oklahoma, where Phil was saved and grew up. Frank also came, so we three were together for the first time. Phil was just as he is in print: gracious, funny, sharp, smart, pretty much a fountain of information. I had a terrific time. Phil's parents were a sheer joy to meet and begin to know. They were fun to visit with, and they fed Frank and me like sultans. It wasn't hard to see where Phil learned to be so generous and gracious.

Phil gave me a tour around town, showing me the window to the very room in which he trusted Christ as his savior and Lord. We also encountered my first Bass Pro shop, Elmer's, the Oral Roberts complex, the GUTS church, and the awe and mystery of my first (but not last!) Sonic.

My life had already been changed, thanks to Phil. Blogging at this level in itself was a new, heady and fun experience. Because of it, I had been invited to speak at a conference in Arizona later that year. But at the Founders Conference itself I heard David Wells speak, and an almost offhand remark he made sparked a cascade of fireworks in my mind which eventually issued in my first book.

In fact (since this post is in danger of turning into a novella) let me just trace that theme. The best parts of my life are knowing God in Christ, and my loving family. Apart from that, so much of what I have enjoyed most in the past six years has been related directly or indirectly to Phil Johnson:
  • The Johnson, Turk and Phillips families becoming friends
  • Opportunity to open the Word for an international audience through blogging
  • Cyber-friends all over the world
  • Opportunity to do conferences in Arizona, Tennessee, and England (so far)
  • The World-Tilting Gospel, endorsed by Phil and, thanks to him, by John MacArthur
  • God's Wisdom in Proverbs, also endorsed by Phil
  • My current pastorate in Houston, Texas
  • Sonic!
  • Cracker Barrel!
Okay, those last two are well down the list.

Regardless, while God can do whatever He wants with or without means, He used Phil to bring an amazing flood of good into my life, and my family's life. This is a debt I can never repay.

And I'm sure I'm one of hundreds, or more likely thousands all over the globe, who could say that to some degree. Other big names you know are very self-absorbed, ungracious, grimly dedicated to building their kingdoms and making names for themselves. They're happy to hear the Clubhouse door slam shut behind them on their way to their easy chair. Not Phil. He is an incredibly giving, caring man. First time he was in my neck of the woods was when he flew up to encourage a disheartened friend. That's Phil.

So let's get back to the singularity that is Phil as a blogger. There simply is no one blogging who does what he has done, let alone do it as well as he. I am not saying there aren't great and valuable bloggers. But there simply isn't anyone who combines Phil's sharp wit, his humor, his robust jocularity, his directness, his clarity, his steady ability to keep first things first, and his ability to cut directly to the heart of the matter memorably and forcefully.

Elitist blogs pretend not to see him, but they do, and we all know it. The errant and erring pretend not to know who he is, but they do, and we all know it. We all laughed at Frank's absolutely hysterical video — but, you know, I laughed and winced at the start. Things will happen, those who should know better will say idiotic and  harmful things, and those who should speak up will remain silent.

And you know what I'll be thinking?

"I really, really want to read what Phil thinks about that."

Now Frank Turk, in addition to being a menace whom to stop is imperative, writes like a force of nature. Watching Turk do what he does is like watching Niagara Falls fall. He is amazing, he's unique, he's Phil's big "find," and I hope he does what he does forever. God willing, I will continue to do what I can.

But I'm sure Frank would agree with me: there's just the one Phil. He was needed. He's still needed. He'll be missed in blogdom, and I pray someone with his stature will begin doing what he did as well as he did it, or that we who do will bring up our game accordingly. We'll see.

I take solace in looking to Phil to put out books in his own name and voice. Frankly, I hope MacArthur tells him "I've written enough for now. You take a year off and you write something."

When he does, I'll be there, I'll read it.  Even if it's mostly about schmerodactyls, meat chubs, or the TSA.

And you will, too.

Coda (to use a Phil-like word)

Readers may be wondering, "But, you're still friends, right?" Oh thank God, yes. I'll still plague the poor soul with emails and phone calls, and see him whenever I can, until the doctor tells him "Actually, I was mainly talking about Phillips." That's all good for me.

My genuine point is that I care about the Christian blogosphere, I'm concerned about it, I'm actually pretty torn-up about it in some regards — and if I had to pick 25000 names I'd like to see stop blogging altogether (if I even knew that many) [Note from Frank: I'll make the list ...] Phil Johnson wouldn't be on that list. I'd be on that list before Phil's name.

Other readers probably think, "You know, seven years later, you're still a fanboy." Guilty. The privilege of getting to be Phil's friend hasn't made me think less of him, but more.

Clear enough?

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18 June 2012

Networking the TGC National Women's Conference

by Dan Phillips

No no no, not for me! For my dear wife.

Valerie is planning to be at The Gospel Coalition National Women's Conference this week in Florida. Then she would like to go to Disney World (particularly Epcot Center) on Monday.

Any of you sisters going to be there, to connect with her for one or both? She'll have good company for the conference, but would love to meet more of our readers — and she'd love to have company for Disney World on Monday.

If you're up for either or both, please email me directly, using the usual filops, then @, then yahoo.com.

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16 June 2012


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Let Us Go Forth," a sermon preached on Sunday morning, 26 June 1861 at London's Metropolitan Tabernacle.

he reproach of Christ, in these days, takes this shape. "Oh," say they, "the man is too precise. He is right; but still, truth is not always to be spoken. The thing is wrong, no doubt, which he denounces, but still the time has not come yet; we must be lenient towards these things. The man is right in what he says, but we must not be too precise nowadays. We must give and take a little—there must be charity."

God's Word, in this age, is a small affair; some do not even believe it to be inspired; and those who profess to revere it set up other books in a sort of rivalry with it. Why, there are great Church dignitaries nowadays who write against the Bible, and yet find bishops to defend them. "Do not, for a moment, think of condemning their books or them; they are our dear brethren, and must not be fettered in thought." How many days ago is it since a bishop talked in this way in convocation?

Some believe in Popery; but here, again, the plea will be, "They are our dear brethren." Some believe in nothing at all; but still they are all safely housed in one Church, like the beasts, clean and unclean, in Noah's ark.

Those who come out with Christ get this reproach: they are too precise; in fact, they are "bigots." That is how the world brings it out at last, "bigots" "a set of bigots!"

I have heard say that the word "bigot" took its rise from this: that a certain Protestant nobleman being commanded, in order to gain his lands, to kneel down, and in some way or other commit the act of idolatry towards the host, said, when he came at last to the point, "By God, I will not;" and they called him henceforth a "By-God." If this be the meaning of the word "bigot," we cheerfully adopt the title; and were it right to swear, we would aver: "By him that lives!—by heaven!—we cannot speak a lie, and we cannot bend our knee to the shrine of Baal, bigots or no bigots."

The truth is first, and our reputation next.

Then they say, "Ah! these people are behind their time; the world has made such advances; we are in the nineteenth century; you ought to know better; the discoveries of science put your narrow views out of court."

Very well, Christian, be content to be behind the times, for the times are getting nearer to judgment and the last plagues.

"Ah!" but they say, "these people seem to us to be so self-righteous; they think themselves right and nobody else."

Very well, Christian, if you are right, think yourself right; and if everybody else should call you self-righteous, that does not make you so. The Lord knows how we cling to the cross, and as poor sinners, look up to Christ and Jesus Christ alone. Our conscience is void of offense in this matter.

"Ah!" they say, "they are not worth noticing; they are all a pack of fools."

It is very remarkable that in the judgment of their own age, good men always have been fools. Fools have been the ones who have turned the world upside down. Luther and Calvin, Wesley and Whitfield were all fools; but somehow or other God managed by these fools to get to himself a glorious victory.

And then they turn round and say, "It is only the poor—only the lower orders. Have they any of the nobility and gentry with them?"

Well, this reproach we can pretty well bear, because it is the old standard of Christ that the poor have the gospel preached unto them; and it has ever been a sweet reflection that many who have been poor in this world have been made rich in faith.

Brethren, you must expect if you follow Christ to endure reproach of some sort or another. Let me just remind you what reproach your Master had to bear. The world's Church said of Christ, "He is a deceiver: he deceives the people." Incarnate truth, and yet a deceiver! Then they said, "He stirreth up the people: he promotes rebellion. He is no friend of good order: he foments anarchy; he is a mere demagogue." That was the world's cry against Christ, and, as that was not enough, they went further, and said, "He is a blasphemer;" they put him to death on the charge that he was a blasphemer. They whispered to one another, "Did you hear? he said so-and-so last Sabbath, in his sermon. What a shocking thing he did in such a place! He is a blasphemer."

Then came the climax; they all said he had a devil, and was mad. Surely they could go no further than this, but they supplement it by saying, when he cast out devils, that he did it through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.

A sorry life your Master had, you see. All the filth in earth's kennels was thrown at him by sacrilegious hands. No epithet was thought coarse enough; no terms hard enough; he was the song of the drunkard, and they that sat in the gate spake against himn.

This was the reproach of Christ; and we are not to marvel if we bear as much.

"Well," says one, "I will not be a Christian if I am to bear that."

Skulk back, then, thou coward, to thine own damnation; but oh! men that love God, and who seek after the eternal reward, I pray you do not shrink from this cross. You must bear it. I know you may live without it if you will fawn and cringe, and keep back part of the price; but do not this, it is unworthy of your manhood, much more is unworthy of your Christianity. For God and for Christ be so holy and so truthful that you compel the world to give its best acknowledgment of your goodness by railing at you—it can do no more, it will do no less.

Be content to take this shame, for there is no heaven for you if you will not—no crown without the cross, no jewels without the mire. You must stand in the pillory if you would sit in glory; you must be spit upon, and be treated with shame if you would receive eternal honor; and if you reject the one you reject the other.

C. H. Spurgeon

15 June 2012

At odds? An imaginary Amyraldian pre-temporal divine council

by Dan Phillips

NOTE: this post depends on its predecessor. If you didn't read it thoughtfully, this one won't help you much.

Scripture, as we saw, points to something like a council among the members of the Trinity before the foundation of even one world. The plan of salvation was completely laid among Father, Son and Spirit.

We who affirm the Biblical teaching of God's complete sovereignty in salvation (and thus the "five points") might imagine the council going something like this, fabricating the dialogue along the lines of what Scripture itself says:
Father: We all see the mass of mankind as rebellious, fallen, dead and hopeless. Because I am rich and mercy, and because of the great love with which I love them, I am selecting a subset of humanity for salvation. They are a vast and immense host, from out of the larger number of the lost. Son, I shall give you these men and women, that you might go and give them everlasting life by making full atonement for their sin.

Son: That would be My delight.

Father: Spirit, My Son and I will send You to apply the Son's atonement to those chosen by breathing life into them, thus enabling them to repent of their sin and believe savingly in Him. Your ministry is secured by My Son's penal, substitutionary death for those I chose.

Spirit: That would be My delight.
And then they do it, successfully as always, and just as planned.

Now, the Amyraldian reconstruction would force us to envision a very different council. Amyraldians affirm the Biblical truths that that mankind is dead in sin, that God chose the elect unconditionally, that He draws them to saving faith, and that God will preserve every one of them. However, they imagine some way in which Christ died not just for those the Father and Spirit elect to save and regenerate, but for all men and women without exception — including Judas, the Beast, the False Prophet, and people who already were deceased and hopelessly suffering God's wrath.

This forces us to imagine a council that would go something like this:
Father: We all see the mass of mankind as rebellious, fallen, dead and hopeless. Because I am rich and mercy, and because of the great love with which I love them, I am selecting a subset of humanity for salvation. They are a vast and immense host, from out of the larger number of the lost. Son, I shall give you these men and women, that you might go and give them everlasting life by making full atonement for their sin.

Son: That would be My delight.

Father: Spirit, My Son and I will send you to apply the Son's atonement to those chosen by breathing life into them, thus enabling them to repent of their sin and believe savingly in Him. Your ministry is secured by My Son's penal, substitutionary death for those I chose.

Spirit: That would be My delight.

Son: Oh, one more thing.

Father and Spirit: Yes?

Son: I am also going to die for the rest of mankind as well, without exception.

Father: You will die for those I did not choose, those I will not forgive or accept, those I will leave to their sins and to the penalty for their sins? You will make an atonement I did not authorize and therefore will not receive? Why? To accomplish what?

Spirit: You will die for those to whom the Father did not send You to save and will not send Me to bring to life or draw to repentant, saving faith? Why? To accomplish what?
What would the Son answer? What could the Son answer?

We'll never know, because it didn't happen and couldn't happen.

Proponents won't like it and they won't admit it, but Amyraldianism unintentionally has the effect of putting the Son at odds with the Father and the Spirit, offering a sacrifice that the Father did not commission and will not accept, and that the Spirit will not apply.

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14 June 2012

Particular redemption: some opening thoughts

Prefatoriness: in lieu of a "roast," Frank has given Phil the perfect toast. I am working on my own (by contrast) droning, heavy-handed, somber encomium. But in the interim, while it's being readied, and interrupting my series on marriage... two posts on particular redemption, of which this is the first.

And so, without further eloquence:

Predictable but necessary clarifications
Absolutely 100% terrific brothers and sisters would not (yet) agree with what I'm about to explain. To me, that is zero barrier to fellowship or love. I am going to try to explain why I think this is an important doctrine, but it isn't an all-important doctrine. It has far-reaching implications, but not so as to define Christianity to the exclusion of all who don't agree. At our church, particular redemption not spelled out in the statement of faith, and it is not required either that members or leaders precisely think as I do about it — nor would I ever want that to change.

Talking about the doctrine
This isn't really my main post on the subject, but the main post will need this one to come first. That doesn't mean this one doesn't count!

"Limited? Ew." To those unfamiliar with the concept, "particular redemption" is more commonly known as Limited atonement, being the "L" of the acronym "TULIP." I think almost no adherent really likes the term much, because everyone's first and most natural reaction would be indignantly to burst out with "What?! — limit Christ's atonement? I don't think so!" However, any change would alter the neat little acronym (— TUPIP? TUDIP?).

However, on cooler reflection one soon realizes that every Christian necessarily limits Christ's atonement in some manner. Only universalists do not, and it's debatable whether they should be regarded as Christian.

Think about it. Every Christian believes that some people — at least Judas (Jn. 17:12), and the Beast and the False Prophet (Rev. 19:20), will suffer the wrath of God for their sins, unforgiven and "unatoned," for all eternity. So then, every Christian would "limit" the atonement of Christ by saying that it will not save those who go to Hell. Their sins are still on them; Christ has not removed them. Otherwise we're left with the universe-obliterating absurdity of sinless people forever suffering God's wrath for no reason whatever.

The usual rejoinder is that oh yes, Christ paid for absolutely every last sin, but the beneficiaries have to believe, have to accept Him. But isn't unbelief a sin (cf. Rom. 14:23)? Isn't repentant faith a command (1 Jn. 3:23), and isn't refusal to believe a sin? So doesn't this position "limit" the atonement by saying, in effect, "Yeah, but not those sins"? And doesn't that add the conceivably-worse necessary corollary that I then must save myself by adding the one element that makes all the difference between Heaven and Hell for me, an element not provided by Christ's work on the Cross?

The question, then, isn't whether Christians "limit" Christ's atonement. All Christians do. The question is how it should be "limited," Biblically.

Rounding up. I commonly say that I am a 4.95-4.97 point Calvinist. When I say that, I mean that I think that anyone who believes in the Bible either affirms T, U, I and P, or he's fudging on core Biblical doctrine for some other reason. Those doctrines are not merely reasonable conclusions of what Scripture teaches — they simply are what Scripture teaches, straight-up and in so many words.

The point on which I measure .95-.97 is, of course, L. Now you'll observe correctly that 4.95 "rounds up" very nicely to 5, and so I'll sign on as a 5-point Calvinist without blushing. But the reason for the .03-.05 variation is simply that, unlike the other four points, there is no single verse that straight-up lays the doctrine down in so many words, and there are a couple of challenging verses.

However, the reason why the variation is only .03-.05 is because I think that the cumulative Biblical case for "L" is overwhelming, the "challenging" verses are at least equally challenging for other positions, and every alternative explanation I've ever heard very soon comes to very serious Biblical grief.

Talking the doctrine
What this position means is that I believe the Biblical teaching that the plan of redemption is an eternal plan that was laid and finalized before the first second ticked on the cosmos (cf. Eph. 1:4ff.; 3:11). I believe the Biblical teaching that, in that plan, the Father saw mankind as fallen, guilty, dead and hopeless — and of that mass He selected a subset for salvation (Eph. 1:4ff.), giving them to the Son that the Son should give them eternal life (Jn. 17:2). This number, while a subset, is nonetheless a vast and humanly-innumerable international crowd (Rev. 7:9).

I believe the Biblical teaching that the Son made absolutely full satisfaction for every one of those thus selected by the Father, laying down His life for them, satisfying God's justice and wrath for them, saving them, and guaranteeing their conversion, preservation and resurrection (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; Jn. 6:37, 44-45; 10:11, 15, 26-30; Rom 3:24-25; Eph. 5:25f.). He came into the world to save sinners (Mt. 1:21; 1 Tim. 1:15), not to try to save them, or to give them an opportunity to save themselves. He prays for them (Jn. 17); He does not even pray for the world (Jn. 17:9). All of the blessings He achieved for any one of them are given to every one of them (Rom. 8:29-39). If Christ died for you, you will surely be saved. It cannot be otherwise — unless you imagine that He can fail in achieving the eternal purpose of the God who succeeds in accomplishing all He sets out to accomplish (Ps. 115:3; Eph. 1:11).

This is why, as one sees in reading the small selection of Scriptures above, the Bible characteristically speaks of the atonement in particular terms. Christ dies for the sheep, for His friends, for the church, for us (believers), for you (believers). It is also why Scripture characteristically speaks of His saving design as effectual. That is, He redeems, He saves, He reconciles, He propitiates; He does not try to redeem, try to save, try to reconcile, try to propitiate; He does not characteristically make redemption available, make salvation available, make reconciliation available, make propitiation available.

The practical upshot
What difference does it make for me that I see this doctrine in Scripture? I'll be candid and specific. (Readers: No! Really?)

Credit. It means that I give literally every last atom of credit and glory for my salvation to the Triune God, and I trace every bit of it to the eternal counsels of God ultimately accomplished in Christ's work on the Cross. I contribute absolutely nothing to my salvation. (The reader may be recalling at this point that I did write a book along these lines, explaining at much greater length — though not at all dwelling on "L.")

Responsibility. "But didn't you have to hear the Gospel, repent and believe?" a newcomer asks. Absolutely (see that selfsame book, at great length). But the point is that even this repentance and faith was assured to me by Christ's work on the Cross (Rom. 8:29-39; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29).

Evangelism. It also does affect the way I evangelize.

Now, it has no negative effect on whom I evangelize. The assumption that affirming the Biblical doctrine of election makes evangelism pointless is and always has been off-base. I have no way of knowing that anyone I talk to is not elect. Though there are many reprobate, Scripture only certainly identifies three individuals that I can think of: Judas, the Beast, and the False Prophet. If I am not talking to one of them, I have no reason for assuming that (s)he is not elect, and will not come to saving faith through my giving the Gospel (cf. Rom. 1:16).

So believing in particular redemption has zero limiting effect on whom I evangelize.

It does, however, have an effect on what I tell them. Now, many "L-people" have no problem saying "Christ died for your sins" to unsaved people. For my part, I do have a problem with that. First, I notice that the apostles never found it necessary to say, in their evangelism of the unsaved. Not once. Second, to me, saying "Christ died for your sins" is exactly the same thing as saying "You are saved, redeemed, reconciled, and assured of Heaven." Unless and until they trust Christ savingly, I have no assurance that this is true of them. So I don't say it until I have warrant.

Instead, I say that Christ died for sinners just like me and just like them. I say that Christ calls them to Himself, invites them to come. I say that, if they come, they will find their sins forgiven, for He is able to save to the uttermost all who draw near to the Father through Him.

After all, what does an unbeliever need to know? Does he need to know whether Christ died for him individually? Or does he need to know whether, if he comes to Christ in repentant faith, He will find Christ willing and ready to receive him and forgive Him?

Remember, this is the point at which all Christians agree: if someone does not come to Christ in repentant faith, the death of Christ will do him no good. That is, his sins will not be forgiven, and he will suffer God's wrath for eternity. So why is it essential to do what the apostles never did, and tell him that Christ died for him? If Christ died for all his sins, then how is sin still a problem? Isn't that the same as telling him he has nothing to worry about, since "Jesus paid it all"? If He "paid it all," then I'm set! 

By the way, I'm not being merely theoretical. My memory from my pagan days, decades ago, is that I listened with contempt to any Christian who tried to tell me I needed to believe in Jesus to be saved from my sins. I didn't believe what they were saying. But I thought, "Anyway, if you're right, sounds like Jesus took care of my 'sin'-problem anyway, so it should work out."

Okey-doke, are we all on the same page now – at least insofar as we understand what we’re talking about?

Terrific. Then, Lord willing, I’ll make my actual point in the next post.