Because I Wanted To- A Reflection on Why We Sin in James 1.14-15

November 18, 2008

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” -James 1.14-15

There is always a question of why we choose to sin. Of particular interest I believe is the question of why believers, once they have experienced “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3.5), still fall victims to sin? Granted, there are a few among us who hold to a heretical view of sinless perfectionism, but even those of an Arminian bent towards apostasy will still admit that believers sin as believers. But why?

The thing we should consider first is that, though we have been caused to be born again (1 Peter 1.3) we still exist in the flesh where sin dwells (Galatians 2.20, Romans 7.17-18), and thus it is necessary that we daily struggle to be made perfect like Christ (Romans 8.29, Philippians 3.12).

So then, why is it that we are not perfect? Why is it that we “do not do what [we] want, but [we] do the very thing[s we] hate” (Romans 7.15)? It is this which I think James perfectly explains in his words. We sin because, at some level, there is a part of us which has not been crucified with Christ, and this part we not only still have, but we still desire to fulfill it. Whether the particular vice is sexual immorality, greed, anger, or laziness, if there is still a part of our sin nature which we have not turned over to God, though it has been fully forgiven already, it will still give rise to a desire to commit sin. It is because of this that we must turn everything over to Christ, why we must practice taking up our cross daily and dying to self (Luke 9.23), so that those desires which lure us in like a fish on a hook will no longer have hold on our lives, no longer driving us to sin and away from God.

The John 3:16 Conference- A Final Note on the Audio Files & an Article by a Calvinist Missionary

November 16, 2008

As many of you that have been following the fallout of the John 3.16 Conference may be aware, there has been considerable interest and/or controversy surrounding the personal recordings I made of the event. I did, at some point on Wednesday this week, make the decision to post these recordings as audio files for download on my site. Over the next 24 hours several people downloaded them, but a couple of people contacted me questioning whether this was in fact a legal action. Because of this I both temporarily, and then permanently removed the files from my site, in order to seek further counsel on the matter.

After seeking this counsel I am still receiving mixed signals as to the legality of distributing these audio files. Because this appears to be such an area of confusion, and because among some people this has caused mistrust and animosity, I have made the decision to not distribute these audio files any further than they already have been. I make this decision in light of Titus 1.7 call for leaders (and by example all of us) to be above reproach. For any of you who I may have offended by my actions, I apologize, and I pray that you may see my heart has been towards nothing but glorifying God throughout all of this. For those of you still interested in the conference, I encourage you to read the numerous reviews that have been posted thus far on it and, if the desire is great enough, to obtain the CD’s from Jerry Vines Ministries.

Also, just for further consideration, I would like to pass along to you guys an article which was emailed to me about being an “SBC Calvinist & a Missionary.” I believe that the ideas expressed by the author are in perfect parallel to the way I see this issue as well. You can find it at this link. Enjoy!

The John 3:16 Conference- Moving Forward as Calvinists in the SBC

November 15, 2008

Over the course of the last several posts I have tried as best as I could to review the positions taken and ideas expressed by the presenters at the John 3.16 Conference, provide my own response to what they said in defense of the five points of Calvinism, and tackle several sticky issues of accountability and future outcomes. Finally, to wrap it all up, I would like to give my own personal feelings about how Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention should move forward from here.

First off, there is the question of why I even find this important to begin with? Is my interest in having “SBC” stand for “Southern Baptist Calvinists”? Certainly not. I do not expect everyone to eventually come to the conviction that the Calvinist soteriological position is the only possible way. Instead, what I desire is that those who call themselves Southern Baptists can be joined in unity over the inerrancy of Scripture and our responsibility to share the Gospel message, and that issues of soteriology can be addressed in their right role as secondary matters which do not interfere with our primary purpose.

Why do I hope for this? Because God has blessed the SBC in so many ways, with both great financial and physical resources, that to see us squander this on something that should not even be of first importance would be a horrible tragedy. Many people today would abandon the denomination in a heartbeat if it begins to conflict with their personal convictions on salvation, and I can’t say as I blame them necessarily. But, I have made a commitment in myself to pursue the unity of this body (the SBC) so that we can use the advantages God has blessed us with in order to complete his purposes in the Great Commission.

Therefore, having made that commitment and having seen the conflict that is rising between the recent Calvinist resurgence and traditional SBC thought, what do I think is the proper way for young SBC Calvinists to more forward? Should we engage in the battle and set the stage for an ultimate Calvinism v. Non-Calvinism deathmatch down the road, or should we completely disengage and quietly follow our convictions regardless of the firestorm around us? I think it needs to be a balance of both approaches with a primary basis in honoring God above all else.

As Calvinists we need to be determined to follow our biblical convictions in spite of the derision or opposition that we may face, not compromising on the Word of God as has been revealed to us. If we begin hedging our beliefs or remaining silent on how we truly feel in order to ease the animosity that some may have towards us, we will simply give a foothold to those who already oppose Calvinism, that they may further call the genuineness and biblical nature of our convictions into question. We also need be careful not to direct the same derision and opposition towards our non-Calvinist brethren, as I have already noted that their soteriological convictions should just be a secondary, in-house matter to us.

Then as regards to engaging the debate, I believe the most powerful argument we have for the inclusion of strong Calvinistic beliefs in SBC life is a humble adherence to and consistent portrayal of the doctrinal conclusions in Calvinism. We must not let the opposition frame Calvinism as an arrogant assertion of God’s favor towards the elect and hatred towards the non-elect, nor as a system which promotes irresponsible Christian living on the basis of God’s sovereign election. Instead, we must emphasis the role of God’s glory in the greatness of his mercy, the sovereignty of his election, the worthiness of his sacrifice, the power of his grace, and the faithfulness of his commitment, without any of which we would have no hope for salvation. We should not wear our Calvinism on our sleeves, but we must be prepared to exclaim the supremacy of God in our soteriological convictions, and do so in a way which reveals our commitment to the word of God and not just a blind adherence to a theological system (this means that, if you are only a Calvinist because you read a John Piper book, then you need to hit the Bible and verify/solidify your convictions with the teachings of Scripture).

People aren’t going to be convinced of the genuineness of Calvinist convictions because we yell the loudest or write the most convincing blog posts. What will convince them is the condition of our hearts and the exhibition of God’s love through our daily practice. The foreordination of God’s election and the definiteness of Christ’s atonement should be of no hindrance to our evangelism since God’s decree of who will be saved is no more known to us than anyone else; and thus our responsibility lies in sharing the Gospel with all who are without Christ, knowing that God will be faithful to save all of those whom he has appointed to eternal life. We must demonstrate that a Calvinist zeal for evangelism exists in accord with our convictions, and not in spite of them as some have tried to rationalize.

Above all, we must emphasize a commitment to giving God the glory in all that he does, since the essence of sin is trying to take away from God’s glory and apply it to ourselves.

Calvinism in the SBC is a big issue right now, and, as I have shown throughout these posts, stands largely unresolved as to how the convention itself is going to deal with it. There seems to be a very real sense in which this debate, if not handled in a biblically appropriate manner, could cause a great division, and possibly destruction of our denomination in the near future. Therefore, for those like myself who have both Calvinist beliefs and a conviction to preserve the SBC, the final verdict could ultimately lie in our hands. If we choose a path of arrogance and argumentation then we could argue ourselves right into a denominational split, while if we move forward with head down in ambivalence we could look up one day to find our convictions no longer welcome in SBC life. However, if we choose to live transparently, magnifying the glory of God in his sovereign decrees and the convictions of Calvinism, we can demonstrate to everyone why the acceptance of Calvinism in the SBC is a move towards, and not away from, the heart of God.

The John 3:16 Conference- Audio Files Update & A Personal Note

November 14, 2008

This is just to let everyone know that, though I moved to temporarily protect the audio files of the conference while addressing issues of legality, their have been voices making accusations that I was only hiding them under password and secretly distributing this password to amiable parties. I would like to deny that accusation, and as a move of accountability and in the interest of staying above reproach, I have removed said files from my blog.

On a more positive note, I would like to thank all of the people who have come here to interact with this debate and to read my reviews and responses to the presenters at the John 3.16 Conference. I would especially like to thank those fellow bloggers who have directed people here by links on their own blogs or word of mouth on discussion boards and to those who have issued words of encouragement as I have developed these thoughts. It has been my desire all along to provide a reasonable, young Calvinist perspective from within Southern Baptist life to both serve as a voice for the youth among the aged elites of the SBC, and to be an example in the spirit of 1 Timothy 4.12, that those who would criticize the Calvinist resurgence would be aware of the strong biblical commitment being made by those “young, restless, Reformed” among them.  I pray that I have done my best on both fronts and that the words I have spoken here will provide nothing but God-honoring reflection on the road behind us and the road ahead.

Please continue to feel free to interact and engage with myself and the others who are reading this, and watch for my final post on the conference which will be my heart as a young Calvinist in the SBC as to how I should proceed from here.  Thank you.

The John 3:16 Conference- Final Summary

November 13, 2008

Having written extensive reviews and responses for each of the five TULIP presenters, I now want to spend a few lines in summing up what I saw and felt at the conference as a whole.

Coming in on Thursday night I was unsure quite what to expect, though admittedly not expecting to be pleased. However, I did come away quite disarmed by the conciliatory and humble nature with which Paige Patterson presented the first point (though I did not necessarily agree with his conclusions). This came in spite of the fact that both Dr. Hunt and Dr. Vines, in rehashing messages they had delivered previously at Southern seminary, used anti-Calvinist rhetoric that, had it been included in the previous incarnations of their talks in Louisville, would likely not have gone over too well. Yet Dr. Patterson started things off nicely and to his credit did not feed into the frenzy which would eventually rise up.

Returning Friday morning, the day started with a much different tone than it was left with on Thursday night. This was, in my opinion, due to the fact that Dr. Chuck Kelley, President of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, opened the day commenting on how the SBC is facing a crisis in evangelism and how he can’t help but see this as being a result of the theology (i.e. Calvinism) that is being taught in our churches. (This sentiment was reiterated at numerous times during the conference, even with the admission that many of the most ardent and famous Christian evangelists and missionaries held/hold Calvinistic beliefs [they were said to be this way in spite of their Calvinism].) Speaking with much the same humility as Dr. Patterson, Richard Land managed to hold off the attack dogs throughout his presentation on election, but after David Allen took the stage for his message against Limited Atonement the rhetoric took full force.

From this point I don’t feel the need to call out specific commentators, only to say that the biases and true nature of the conference were apparent in the latter half of Friday’s assembly. It is this rancor towards Calvinism which gives me great worry. How can we on one hand say that we need unity and to seek a blend of melody and harmony in the Calvinism debate (as Richard Land made mention a couple times) and on the other hand say that a move towards Calvinism is a move away from the Gospel (as David Allen exclaimed)? These ideas are irreconcilable. How could one make unity with someone that they perceive as being so wrong, maybe even a false teacher or blasphemer? The simple answer is they can’t, and if you are interested in which sentiment carried the day here, please know that Dr. Allen received a standing ovation after his comments.

Going further, the overall lack of knowledge or understanding of Calvinism presented by many of the people who spoke during the weekend was astounding. There were multiple instances during the conference in which 5-point Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism were conflated into one view, often with hyper-Calvinism being made to look like the prevailing perspective. This is just wrong, as a reading of most any account of modern Calvinist beliefs will make clear. 5-point Calvinists DO believe that man is called to respond in faith to the Gospel, it is just that they believe that man CAN’T do this without the irresistible drawing of the Holy Spirit towards it. At no point was this admitted, only the bald-face lie that Calvinists reject the notion of faith and even believe that God will save people against their own will (which is pure fatalism and absolutely opposite what most [all?] modern Calvinist leaders teach).

And don’t forget the Q&A session, where we got a glimpse at what the non-Calvinist Joe Southern Baptist thinks. The two most outstanding accusations made against Calvinists in this were: (1) that Calvinists don’t believe Hitler could have prayed to receive Christ on his death bed because he had done too much evil beforehand (how is this a Calvinist viewpoint?); and (2) that Calvinism had caused someone to falsely believe they were saved and it was only in shedding their Calvinistic convictions that they found God, therefore Calvinism is evil. [Note: this is a hard criticism to make because, on the one hand, I am happy for that young man seeing that he has come to a saving knowledge of Christ, which is important above all else; and yet, at the same time, I am saddened that his experiences with the spiritual confusion of Satan has led him to regard Calvinism as the reason why he wasn't saved earlier.]

So, as a couple people have asked me, What is the endgame for this debate? To be honest, I see two possibilities. The first, most desirable end, would be for voices of reason and moderation, such as Al Mohler, Danny Akin, and as seemed from the conference, Paige Patterson and Richard Land, to win out and draw people into a unity where Calvinism and non-Calvinism are seen as acceptable, in-house convictions, and that the greater importance is on the supremacy of Christ coming out of both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic evangelism, attempting to reach the world with the preaching of God’s Word, without which no one will be saved.

The other possibility is that voices of rancor and division, such as apparently Chuck Kelley, Steve Lemke, David Allen, and possibly Jerry Vines, seem to be, will win out and we will see a denomination either abandoned by the younger generation of resurgent Calvinist thought, or split into separate Calvinist and non-Calvinist branches.

The biggest fear I have going forward is in this: that we have big names like Jerry Vines, Johnny Hunt, and Chuck Kelley, lining up with entire seminaries such as New Orleans, Liberty, and possibly Southwestern, to say, in agreement with David Allen, that a move towards Calvinism is a move away from the Gospel. This type of stubbornness and uncharitable spirit is sure to lead the SBC towards destruction and not further blessing. I pray this won’t be the case, but after what I saw this past week at the John 3.16 Conference, I am sadly not too hopefully.

The John 3:16 Conference- Audio Files Posted

November 12, 2008
UPDATE: Since the question of legality has been raised I want to once more confer with people who know better than I on the subject of distribution in order to make sure that what I post here is in perfect alignment with American laws (and thus the Word of God).  Therefore, I will temporarily be suspending access to the audio recordings of The John 3:16 Conference.  Please check back to see the future status of these messages.  Thank you.
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As some of you may have realized by now, this past weekend I was able to attend the highly anticipated, highly controversial John 3.16 Conference at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA, sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries. What you may not know is that I also obtained recordings of all the messages and the Q&A session on my personal recording device.

I had initially remarked on various sites about making these available by email, but after finding the file size was too large to transfer I decided that I would make them available here on my blog instead. So, if you are interested in hearing what exactly was said at the conference you will find all sessions ready for download located under the ‘Resources’ tab on the header. Granted, these are not the greatest quality mp3 you will ever encounter, but I would say that most of you will find them perfectly sufficient.

For those of you who may be concerned, the conference made no comments about prohibitions on recording media of any sort, nor were there signs posted, and after conferring with the tech guy at my church we determined that it is perfectly legal to distribute these recordings under standard copyright laws. So please, take a listen and help us to keep the leadership of the SBC accountable for what is being said while this hotly contested issue continues to boil. Enjoy!

PS- If you tried to download these earlier and found Dr. Keathley’s message unavailable, please know that I have fixed the problem and you should now be download it at your convenience.

The John 3:16 Conference- Ken Keathley on Perseverance of the Saints

November 12, 2008

The fifth scholarly presentation of the conference belonged to Dr. Ken Keathley, Dean of Graduate Students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and was concerning the Perseverance of the Saints.  This talk took on a different light than the others since it is a part of the Baptist Faith & Message that “All true believers endure to the end,” and thus (hopefully) everyone at the conference, whether Calvinist or non, was in agreement on this.  In fact, this is what many at the conference used as the dividing line between being a non-Calvinist and being an Arminian (though I would likely contest that man’s role in salvation is a better place).  Nevertheless, Dr. Keathley’s presentation was not without fireworks.

Dr. Keathley began his message by referencing 2 Timothy 1.12.  He then stated that there are two components to assurance of salvation: being certain that you are saved and being certain that you will stay saved.  Dr. Keathley then asked the question, What is the basis of assurance?  It must be one of three views.  Either it is not possible to know (traditional Catholicism), it is the essence of faith (which Keathley says is hampered by the doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement, and temporary faith of the non-elect), or it is logically deduced (a standard Puritan position, deriving assurance from sanctification).  Keathley spent some time arguing against the view of logical deduction, including a reference to The Golden Chain by William Perkins and a look at the problem with logical syllogisms.

The question was then asked, How secure is my salvation?  Again, we have three views.  There is the view that apostasy is possible, which comes out of Augustinianism and Arminianism.  Or one may hold that apostasy is not possible, which is the view of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Barthian implicit universalism.  In this view the verses that appear to speak on apostasy are actually on a loss of rewards in heaven.  Then there is the view that apostasy is genuinely threatened but not ultimately possible.  This third view arise from places such as Tom Schreiner and A.B. Canneday’s work The Race Set Before Us and says that the verses read for apostasy are not about rewards but are actually threatening hell.  However, the warnings here are only of conceivable, but not actual consequences.

Keathley railed against this third view for several minutes, asking just how conceivable apostasy could really be if it is not ultimately possible?  Then, after sharing a quote from Schreiner and Canneday’s book, states that their view is not just close to the view of the Council of Trent, it is the view of the Council of Trent (!).

To close, Keathley gave what he stated was a “modest proposal.”  He stated that we should take that the only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ; that assurance is the essence of saving faith; that saving faith remains until the day it gives way to sight; that there are awards to gain or lose subsequent to the receiving of eternal life; and that assurance comes from Christ alone.

In responding to Keathley I want to first address a general comment on his method and then address specifically what he had to say about the Schreiner/Canneday view both in his message and in conversation that we had later that day.

In regards to method, I feel that it was a bit disingenuous of Keathley to use William Perkins Golden Chain as an illustration of Puritan teaching on assurance, seeing as how to anyone who knows what they are looking at it is clear that Perkins advocated a supralapsarian, hyper-Calvinist viewpoint, a much less common variant of Calvinism as it is believed in today.  For the sake of making a point, this illustration is certain to rattle some anti-Calvinist cages, but for the sake of honesty it would have been nice for Dr. Keathley to admit that this view is not the prevailing perspective among Calvinist teachings.

Now, turning to his comments against Schreiner and Canneday, or against a logic/works based assurance in general, I found it interesting that when I approached Keathley about this, his own explanation of what constitutes belief was simply to volitionally place trust in Christ, yet when talking about it he constantly referred back to recalling a moment in time or recalling an action that spoke to/demonstrated that trust.  An illustration he used was that he demonstrated his faith in the chair to support him by sitting on it.

I know this is hairy, but there truly is a distinction.  If Christ is the basis of our assurance, then why do I need to recall a moment when I volitionally put my trust in God to have assurance of my salvation?  To what extent I can imagine it, to say that the basis of your assurance is the objective work of Jesus Christ is simply saying too little unless you believe in a sort of universalism, since otherwise there must be some action on your part to let you know that his objective work has been applied to you.

That is where the rub is.  For Keathley, a non-Calvinist, or more precisely, a Molinist, salvation is a mental exercise of “looking to Christ.”  Yet for myself and Schreiner-Canneday (and I would argue, the Bible), salvation is a process of regeneration leading to justification with the only sure evidence of your salvation coming from the evidences provided in your sanctification.  It is only in this sense that Peter’s words to “make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1.10) and Paul’s admonition to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12) make any sense.  What fear and trembling comes from recalling a time that you looked to Jesus?  You either did or you didn’t.  And, observing the full context of 2 Peter 1, we see a list of qualities that should appear in the believer, that without which Peter says “whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (v.9).  Yet, what kind of blindness keeps you from remembering a volitional act?  Inebriation?  This is pure non-sense in Keathley’s view.

Finally, the charge that the Schreiner-Canneday view IS the view of the Council of Trent is a step too far.  To equate modern Calvinist understanding of spiritual evidences, a belief that is very firmly grounded in biblical study, with the traditional Catholic teaching of perseverance by works is the type of ignorant anti-Calvinism which is fueling this whole unnecessary dispute.

The John 3:16 Conference- Steve Lemke on Irresistible Grace

November 11, 2008

The fourth TULIP presentation of the conference came from Dr. Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, as he sought out to refute Irresistible Grace. This again, in the spirit of Dr. Allen, was more of a pep rally than an actual scholarly talk, but we will do our best to dissect the substance of what was said.

Dr. Lemke started out with two questions. The first question he asked was, Why did the Dutch Reformed church react against the Remonstrants? The answer, it was partly because of the irresistible grace issue. Second, Why was/is it that men don’t convert under God’s grace? The Remonstrants believe it was some failure on man’s part.

Following these questions, and a reading from the actually statements of the Remonstrants, Dr. Lemke attempted to explain the Calvinist position (a tactic unfortunately avoided by most at the conference). He explained that to the Calvinist there are two Gospel calls: an outward call and an inward call. The outward call, he states, is general and to everyone, and never effects salvation. The inward call, to a Calvinist, is an irresistible call that some who hear the outward call also receive. He then goes on to say that some Calvinists do not like speaking of the word “irresistible,” defensing this with an uncited series of quotes by John Piper.

From here Dr. Lemke began to offer arguments against the Calvinist conception of Irresistible Grace. He points to Proverbs 1.22-26, Jeremiah 32.33, Luke 7.30, and Acts 7.51. He read these, but then just let the words stand without giving any further argument for them. He then gave what he sees as Jesus’ view, that being his laments found in Matthew 23.37 and Luke 13.24. He also cited the parable of the prodigal son and the comment that Paul kicks against the goads (Acts 26.14) as further instances of people resisting God’s grace/call.

Dr. Lemke then offered up three concerns for “extreme” Calvinists as it pertains to the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. The first and third concerns were only minimally emphasized, those being that holding to irresistible grace may lead to a denial of the necessity for conversion and a weakening of the significance of preaching and evangelism. The concern he spent the greatest time on was that he believes holding to irresistible grace reverses the biblically stated order of salvation. To defense this he referred to John 3.14-15 (cf. Numbers 21.9), John 5.40, and John 20.31, and of course, John 3.16.

Dr. Lemke then closed his presentation by appealing to a Christ who humbled himself on the cross, God’s maximal sovereignty and his maximal glory, entreating us to pursue a proper biblical view of grace.

I will start out in my response to Dr. Lemke by saying that, of all the speakers, I do believe that he had the best start with what was probably the most accurate rendering of an actual Calvinist viewpoint presented at any time during the conference. That said, I believe his argumentation for why it is the wrong viewpoint was often victim to a lack of proper understanding of terms.

In referencing the verses he did to say that God’s grace/call can be resisted, I think we are capable to provide explanation for most if not all of his supposed refutations.

  • Proverbs 1.22-26; if one reads the larger context of this passage, say starting at verse 20, then it is clear that this is not a verse against irresistible grace, but is actually a passage about wisdom. It really is a shame that Dr. Lemke missed this, as the context could not possibly be clearer.
  • Jeremiah 32.33; this again, just using the wider context and understanding of what’s being said, is clearly not a verse against irresistible grace, but is actually a verse depicting Israel’s disobedience to the Law delivered to them. Recall, irresistible grace is in reference to an individual receiving an effectual inward call, an act which we would be too hard pressed to force into this situation.
  • Luke 7.30; once more we find a verse, taken in the appropriate context, which gives no problem to the Calvinist. Here we find a statement that the Pharisees and lawyers “rejected the purpose of God for themselves.” But does that mean they resisted an inward call or an outward one? Clearly it has to be an outward call, which all Calvinists will say is resistible, since the call they are said to be rejecting is the outward call of John the Baptist to his baptism of repentance, an act which is not salvific in nature and thus could not fall under the Irresistible Grace moniker.
  • Acts 7.51; this verse actually seems to hold a problem for Irresistible Grace, but once more I believe we can come to a proper understanding of it which smooths that criticism away. Looking at Stephen’s full speech we see a theme arise: the Israelites continual rejection of those sent by God (Acts 7.9, 27, 35, 39). Thus, when Stephen gets to verse 51 we should rightly hear him as saying to the people “Jesus is the prophet whom Moses spoke of, sent by God, and once more you have rejected him by murdering him on the cross.” This again does not appear to be spoken as a rejection of an inward call, but of at best an outward call, and more appropriately of a prophesy which they should have known not to reject.
  • Matthew 23.37; this, instead of an argument against Irresistible Grace, I think would be better understood as a condemnation of Jerusalem’s disobedience in light of outward calls to repentance as giving in 2 Chronicles 7.13-14.
  • Luke 13.24; I’m not sure what point Dr. Lemke meant to make with this verse, since it actually seems to reinforce the Calvinist position of Total Depravity, confirming that interpretation of John 6.44, while having nothing to say towards Irresistible Grace.

Now, moving from Dr. Lemke’s verse in opposition to Irresistible Grace, we head to his concerns.  To begin with, his concerns that holding Irresistible Grace leads to a denial for the necessity of conversion and weakens the significance of preaching and evangelism were once again assertions that went unchallenged and yet are a total misrepresentation of Calvinistic thought and application.  To his credit, Lemke said that this was what is true of more extreme Calvinists, but using Geisler’s terminology and Lemke’s own comment that a hyper-Calvinist is anyone more Calvinist than you are, one would imagine that the more extreme Calvinists would include 5-pointers for Lemke and most people in the audience.

As for his criticism that Irresistible Grace reverses the biblical order of salvation, the major issue is this: Dr. Lemke, in arguing that regeneration follows faith, uses verses showing eternal life is a result of faith to prove his point.  But to anyone who is familiar with the biblical terminology, it can not be that ‘regeneration’ is equal to ‘having eternal life.’  The primary place I would point to for this is John 3.3: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’“  So this verse gives us a picture where regeneration is necessary seeing the kingdom and hence for eternal life, not, as Lemke claims, that it is coincident with it.  Going further, we can nail this home by looking at Titus 3.4-7:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Thus, following the logical progression, (1) “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (2) “according to his own mercy,” (3) “[God] saved us,” (4) “so that [thus being saved] we might become heirs according to the hope of (i.e. receive) eternal life.”  Therefore, once more, we see that it is regeneration which leads to our glorification, not which is our glorification.  (Note: it is also the case that regeneration is something which happens on earth to this body, whereas the receiving of eternal life is something which occurs after death and judgment.)

In conclusion, I feel that we have been able to properly refute Dr. Lemke’s argument against Irresistible Grace and thus, at least from his argumentation, have no reason to question it biblical basis.  I would also like to note that I think it is frustrating to have a man who is developing quite a record of slippery scholarship at such a high post in a Southern Baptist seminary.  Though I do not agree with the non-Calvinistic convictions, it is to be expected that that position would be best defended by persons whose arguments are found to be more than mere misrepresentations and proof-texting.

The John 3:16 Conference- David Allen on Limited Atonement (Part 2)

November 11, 2008

In yesterday’s post we overviewed Dr. David Allen’s argument against Limited Atonement and I began my response, giving a defense for understanding Edwards as a five point Calvinist and not as a four pointer like Dr. Allen claimed.

Moving on, I would want to address Allen’s exegesis next. Over all, I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of running immediately to the ‘All’, ‘Whole’, and ‘Many’ arguments as an argument for or against limited atonement, seeing as how both sides can use these texts to say what they want, usually without much weight. Instead, what I think is more fruitful is to actually investigate the nature of the atonement, which I think will be sufficient to show that it can be no other than a limited act if not all are to be saved. That said, I won’t be doing that in this post, but in the next week or so look for a small series in which I attempt to actually execute this argument.

Observing then the attempted exegesis on the “Christ died for his sheep” and “Christ died for the church” passages, to claim that these don’t preclude a universal atonement based upon their silence on the matter is a violation of the pragmatic use of implication in linguistics. Dr. Allen used the sentence “I love my wife” to demonstrate that this does not necessarily mean the negative assertion that he does not love anyone else, but only the positive assertion that he does love his wife. Yet this is not the same, particularly as in John 10.11, 14-15. This passage states that “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” It is true that Christ never says “I lay down my life for the sheep and none other,” but the context of the passage, Christ’s continual emphasis on his special role of protection and caring for the sheep, his intimate knowledge of who they are, screams that Christ laying down his life for the sheep is a favored and particular act. Otherwise, if Christ means only that he lays down his life for the sheep as a subset of all people, then the repetition of Christ’s distinct relationship to the sheep becomes superfluous. Why does Christ having a reason for dying for his sheep matter if he dies for everyone? If Christ does die for everyone is there no reason for why he would die for those who aren’t his sheep? To avoid the implication of a limitation on Christ’s dying is to make this passage more general than it intends itself to be.

Thirdly, in Dr. Allen’s attempts to give a defense for why the free offer of the Gospel means telling people that Christ died for them, I don’t think the evidence he offered was very convincing. Citing 1 Corinthians 15.1-5, Dr. Allen said that his view is supported by the passage “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (v.3). Yet, in this context, whether limited or unlimited atonement is true, the fact that Paul delivered to these people that Christ died for their sins is accurate because they are presupposed to be believers, a status which both camps would argue makes them recipients of the atonement. Thus, it is inconclusive whether Paul used the “God loves you and died for your sins” approach or the more Calvinistic “God gave his only begotten Son to die for sin so that if you believe on him you may have eternal life” (this being John Piper’s formulation) which is just as free, but does not obligate God to atoning for any but those who believe.

As for his other text, Acts 3.26, this is what it says: “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” Dr. Allen’s argument on this is that, if Christ was “raised up” and “sent to [them] first” to turn “every one of [them] from [their] wickedness” then this necessarily means that his death and resurrection provided an atonement which was freely available to all who are being spoken of. Yet this interpretation neglects the simple context of the passage. What we see here is that Christ being “raised up” is the completion of verses 22 and 23 which say, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’” Thus, the raising up was not from the dead once atonement was made, but was as a prophet (teacher) to call the Jews to repentance, as Christ declares of himself in Matthew 15.24 (“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”) and John states of him in John 1.11 (“He came to his own“). Thus, the Jews were to be blessed by receiving Christ as a prophet to bring them to repentance under the Law, and yet instead they murdered him (Acts 3.13-15). Therefore, once again, this passage should not be understood as a justification for including an unlimited atonement in the free offer of the Gospel.

Finally, I would like to address Dr. Allen’s closing comments about the consequences of holding to a limited view of the atonement. Dr. Allen stated that limited atonement undermines God’s salvific will, undermines evangelistic zeal, removes the ability to tell a sinner Christ died for them, affects the way a preacher may speak to his congregation, attacks the idea of giving evangelistic invitations, and that “should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward 5-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the gospel.” As we have already shown, the way in which limited atonement affects a preachers ability to speak to his congregation and the way we evangelize is only in a sense which to speak that way would have no justification in Scripture to begin with. (Resting on the Bible also restricts us from telling people that God has purple unicorns lined up for us in heaven, but oddly people don’t seem so determined to want to say this to nonbelievers.) Neither does the giving of evangelistic invitations stand on solid biblical ground.

The idea that limited atonement undermines God’s salvific will came only as an assertion, not a defended point, and following the argument of Edwards as quoted in the previous post, one can see that it in no way actually does this.

Finally, to state that limited atonement affects evangelistic zeal, and that a “move toward 5-point Calvinism . . . would be [a move] away from . . . the gospel,” though a common theme at the conference, and basically its initial impetus, was an accusation that was only ever stated but never hashed out. The fact that the greatest preachers and missionaries of all time held four- and five-point Calvinistic convictions seems lost on the speakers at this gathering, who simply hide behind the idea that these people were only evangelistic in spite of their convictions. This, to me, is the biggest problem with the current debate: large numbers of SBC ministers and deacons, who only know horror stories of legalists masquerading as Calvinists, coming into this with their own misconceptions of what Calvinism is and stirring up conflict with brothers that they are never actually willing to engage.

Overall, I felt Dr. Allen’s presentation against Limited Atonement, admittedly the hardest point to defend in Scripture, was poor and seemed more focused on rallying the base against a perceived evil instead of giving a strong biblical argument in opposition to it.

The John 3:16 Conference- David Allen on Limited Atonement (Part 1)

November 10, 2008

The third point of Calvinism argued against, Limited Atonement, was handled by Dr. David Allen, the Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I will tell you upfront, this was my least favorite of all the presenters. I will do my best to present his argument fairly, though to be honest my gut reaction to this message was that it was 55 minutes of arrogance and non sequiturs, with 5 minutes of poor exegesis. This is not intended to be an evaluation of the man per se, but an evaluation of his argument, which I found cliche and flimsy at best. That said, let’s take a look at it.

To start with, Dr. Allen was the only conference presenter who afforded the audience a handout of his notes to reference for pertinent definitions and various charts. Once taking the stage, Dr. Allen began with the question, What two things do these men have in common: Calvin, Bullinger, Zwingli, Latimer, Amyraut, Baxter, Polhill, Vines, Edwards, Charles Hodge, Ryle, etc.? This he left open for a while, though the answer was apparent from his notes.

The next thing he did was to run through various questions on the atonement. He asked, What is the intent of the atonement? What is the extent of the atonement? When is the application of the atonement? For who is the atonement sufficient? None of these questions did he answer necessarily, but he did state that the debate on limited atonement comes at the point of asking “For who is the atonement sufficient?” Following this he answered his initial question, stating that all the men he named were both Calvinists and were men who denied that the atonement was/is limited.

It was at this point where Dr. Allen spent approximately 30 to 40 minutes reading from the various men named as well as from the minutes of the Synod of Dort and the notes of the Westminster Divines, all to provide confirmation that these men did indeed deny the limitedness of the atonement. Dr. Allen was particularly emphatic in trying to point out that Edwards denied limited atonement (which I will address later). Dr. Allen’s argument for why so many modern Calvinists were unaware that a great number of historic Calvinists were actually four pointers is because all the young Calvinists read are popular contemporary books by five pointers, whereas he himself has read all of the old works and has the largest library of Puritan literature at Southwestern (this sounds snarky, but honestly this is not a misrepresentation of his words).

Finally, at about the 45 or 50 minute mark Dr. Allen stated that we would do some exegesis. He argued that there are three types of texts that affirm unlimited atonement: ‘All’ texts, ‘World’ texts, and ‘Many’ texts. He then stated that the verses saying “Christ died for his sheep” (John 10.11, 15) or “Christ died for the church” (Ephesians 5.25) did not necessarily preclude the universality of the atonement. Then, after another quote, this time from John Owen, he stated that any teaching that says God doesn’t love or doesn’t intend to save the whole world is unbiblical and should be rejected. From here he addressed the criticism that the free offer of the Gospel does not require us to tell people Christ died for you. To refute this he cited 1 Corinthians 15.1-5 and Acts 3.26.

Allen closed with reasons why this is important to get right, stating that limited atonement undermines God’s salvific will, undermines evangelistic zeal, removes the ability to tell a sinner Christ died for them, affects the way a preacher may speak to his congregation, and attacks the idea of giving evangelistic invitations. His final remark was that, “Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward 5-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the gospel.”

Alright then, to begin my critique of Dr. Allen, the first thing I would like to say is that, though he seemed convinced that the quotes of dead men who (possibly) denied limited atonement was an argument against limited atonement itself, this journey through old quotes only really served to shake ones faith in labels, not the sufficiency of the atonement. From the build up he had received from others around me I honestly expected more looking at the texts and less self-promotion of his own reading habits in this talk.

That said, I would like to take up one of the men that Dr. Allen smirkingly claimed was only a four pointer, that being the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards. Dr. Allen issued the following quote from Edwards work Of the Freedom of the Will as his only support for this claim:

“From these things it will inevitably follow, that however Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by his death; yet there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to such as he intended should actually be saved thereby.”

Now, to begin with, I am not quite sure how Dr. Allen got that Edwards denies limited atonement from this passage. Yes, Edwards does say that there is some sense in which Christ died “to redeem . . . the whole world by his death,” but look after that. Edwards states that “there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to [those] as he intended should actually be saved thereby.” What does he mean by this? Well, this is not left up for us to decide, as Edwards himself clarifies if you choose to read further:

“As appears by what has been now shown, God has the actual salvation or redemption of a certain number in his proper absolute design, and of a certain number only; and therefore such a design only can be prosecuted in any thing God does, in order to the salvation of men. God pursues a proper design of the salvation of the elect in giving Christ to die, and prosecutes such a design with respect to no other, most strictly speaking; for it is impossible, that God should prosecute any other design than only such as he has: he certainly does not, in the highest propriety and strictness of speech, pursue a design that he has not. And, indeed, such a particularity and limitation of redemption will as infallibly follow, from the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, as from that of the decree. For it is as impossible, in strictness of speech, that God should prosecute a design, or aim at a thing, which he at the same time most perfectly knows will not be accomplished, as that he should use endeavours for that which is beside his decree.

So, no matter how many books one has or has not read, when Edwards says that “a particularity and limitation of redemption will as infallibly follow” and “it is impossible . . . that God should prosecute a design . . . which he at the same time most perfectly knows will not be accomplished,” the only possible explanation is that he holds to a limited view of the atonement. How this could ever be construed as a denial of limited atonement instead of a loudly declared affirmation of it is certainly beyond me.

Due to the amount of material left to cover from this message I think we will stop here for today and I will conclude my response to Dr. Allen’s argument in tomorrow’s post.