Archive for December 2008

The Sincere Insanity of the Well Meant Offer

December 24, 2008

I stumbled on an interesting blog piece.  Evidently Dr. James White has been attacked as a s0-called “hyper-Calvinist” by some Amyraldian named, Tony Byrne, who is closely associated with another Amyraldian whack-job, David Ponter.   Evidently some equally confused man,  Dr. David Allen, got the ball rolling during a talk he gave at some “John 3:16” conference. Actually, calling these men anything other than Arminians would probably be inaccurate.  Remember, Jacob Arminius and his protesting followers all considered themselves Reformed men as well, so don’t be fooled.

Anyway, two things I found interesting; 1) White cites a footnote by Robert Reymond in his response to Byrne which I’ve transcribed below and which is an excellent refutation of the heresy of the supposed sincere and  “Free Offer of the Gospel” advanced by John Murray, Scott Clark and countless others.  White offers this citation in his defense against the charge that he’s a “hyper-Calvinist.”  And, 2) Phil Johnson’s extremely lame primer on hyper-Calvinism is evidently the basis for the attack on White, and with some considerable justification even if Johnson now tries to distance himself from his own handiwork.  Johnson is evidently concerned that his shoddy work has been used in an attack against his friend James White.  Big surprise.

First, consider this quote from Reymond:

Some Reformed theologians teach that God can and does earnestly desire, ardently long to see come to pass, and actually work to effect things which he has not decreed will come to pass.  Basing his conclusions on his expositions of Deuteronomy 5:29, Ezekiel 18:23,32; 33:11; Mathew 23:37; and 2 Peter 3:9, John Murray states in “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), that God represents himself as “earnestly desiring the fulfillment of something which he had not in the exercise of his sovereign will actually decreed to come to come to pass,” that he “expresses an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things which he has not creed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass,” that he “desires…the accomplishment of what he does not decretively will,” that Christ “willed the bestowal of his saving and protecting grace upon those whom neither the Father nor he decreed thus to save and protect,” that “God does not wish that any man should perish.  His wish is rather that all should enter upon eternal life by coming to repentance,” and finally, that “there is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save” (4:119, 130, 131-132).

John H. Gerstner similarly asserts, but without the requisite scriptural support, in A Predestination Primer (Winona Lake, Ind.: Alpha Publications, 1979) 36-37, that God sincerely “strives with men whom He knows and has predestined should perish,” that “ God, who knows all things, including the fact that certain persons will in spite of all efforts reject and disbelieve, continues to work with them to persuade them to believe,” and that “God, who knows the futility of certain endeavors to convert certain persons, proceeds to make these endeavors which he knows are going to be futile.”

If one followed this trajectory of reasoning to its logical end, one might also conclude that perhaps Christ, though he knew the futility of his endeavor, did after all die savingly for those whom his Father and he had decreed not to save.  But all such reasoning imputes irrationality to God, and the passages upon which Murray relies for his conclusion s can all be legitimately interpreted in such a way that the Christian is not forced to impute such irrationality to God.  For these other interpretations I would refer the reader to John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth.

(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Sovereign Grace, 1971, 4-6, 22-26, 28, 62.” Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998). Fn. #25, pp. 692-693.

Now, consider the following selections from Johnson’s widely quoted and shoddy, A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism:

This is virtually the epitome of the hyper-Calvinist spirit: it is a denial that the gospel message includes any sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.

A hyper-Calvinist is someone who…denies that the gospel makes any “offer” of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal).

And now the clincher.

Type-3 hyper-Calvinism is based on a denial that the gospel makes any “offer” of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect. An alternative of this view merely denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal. For an excellent discussion of this issue, see “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” by John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse (also available at the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Web site).

If the hyper-Calvinists in England tend to be Baptists, in America the Presbyterian variety seems more common. The best-known American hyper-Calvinists are the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). They deny that there is any sort of “offer” (in the sense of a proffer or tender or proposal of mercy) in the gospel message. They also deny that they are hyper-Calvinists, because they insist that the only variety of hyper-Calvinism is that which denies the gospel call (Type-1 above).

The most articulate advocate of the PRC position is David Engelsma, whose book Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel is an interesting but in my view terribly misleading study of the question of whether PRC theology properly qualifies as hyper-Calvinism. Engelsma does some selective quoting and interpretive gymnastics in order to argue that his view is mainstream Reformed theology. But a careful reading of his sources shows that he often quotes out of context, or ends a quote just before a qualifying statement that would totally negate the point he thinks he has made. Still, for those interested in these issues, I recommend his book, with a caution to read it very critically and with careful discernment.

White and Reymond are Type-3 Hyper-Calvinists according to Johnson and for Johnson to suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best. My guess is Johnson is now embarrassed that his broad brush has now painted his friend James White into a corner.

Clark Quick Quote

December 22, 2008

clark01In the most recent edition of  Trinity Review, Gordon Clark takes aim at so-called “conservatives” within the church, specifically Cornelius Van Til, his associates, and his many followers at Westminster Seminary and beyond,  who have successfully advanced a theory of truth that completely undermines the truth of Scripture.  These so-called “conservative” Christian teachers have done more damage to the church than any atheist could ever hope for. I highly recommend that all interested students take the time to carefully read through Clark’s entire article linked above and which can also be found in his book, God’s Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics.

If God has the truth and if man has only an analogy, it follows that he does not have the truth. An analogy of the truth is not the truth; even if man’s knowledge is not called an analogy of the truth but an analogical truth, the situation is no better. An analogical truth, except it contain a univocal point of coincident meaning, simply is not the truth at all. In particular (and the most crushing reply of all) if the human mind were limited to analogical truths, it could never know the univocal truth that it was limited to analogies. Even if it were true that such was the case; he could only have the analogy that his knowledge was analogical. This theory, therefore, whether found in Thomas Aquinas, Emil Brunner, or professed conservatives is unrelieved skepticism and is incompatible with the acceptance of a divine revelation of truth. This unrelieved skepticism is clearly indicated in a statement made in a public gathering and reported in a letter dated March 1, 1948, to the Directors of Covenant House. The statement was made, questioned, and reaffirmed by one of the writers mentioned above that the human mind is incapable of receiving any truth; the mind of man never gets any truth at all. Such skepticism must be completely repudiated if we wish to safeguard a doctrine of verbal revelation.

Corpse Faith

December 5, 2008

corpse_in_coffinI have to wonder how many times Doug Wilson has to show his hand before the self-styled stalwarts of the Reformed Christian faith and so-called opponents of the the Federal Vision finally wake up and recognize this bag o’ bones for the heretic he is?  Readers of this blog will remember that not long ago PCA pastor and posturing foe of the Federal Vision, Lane Keister, handed Wilson a clean bill of health on the vitals of the faith.  This  after a year of publicly waltzing with Wilson as the two danced cheek to cheek through Wilson’s diatribe against the Christian faith, Reformed is Not Enough.  At that time Keister rewarded his dance partner with the following pronouncement:

Wilson holds to justification by faith alone, although he is too ambiguous on the aliveness of faith and its place in justification. He does hold to imputation.

According to Keister Wilson’s only sin, if you can call it that, is that he simply isn’t as clear as he should be on the central doctrines of the Christian faith.  Keister assured  his readers,  “Some of us wish to say that Doug’s ambiguity means that he doesn’t hold to JBFA at all. Others of us think that he does . . . .”   The others Keister had in mind include PCA pastor Rick Phillips who, writing in The Auburn Avenue Theology Pro and Con, also gave Wilson the tacit PCA seal of approval:

. . .  Wilson posits that this debate should be conceived of as an intramural contest within the orthodox Reformed tradition . . . We should be willing to critique one another, but we must acknowledge that all these views fall within the Reformed pale. So far as this particular paper is concerned I find myself in some agreement. The key to this matter is that Wilson affirms that saving grace is received through faith alone. I find that he uses language that muddies the clarity of this affirmation . . . but a charitable reading finds comfort in his support of sola fide.

Notice for Phillips Wilson’s use of language “muddies the water” but his affirmation that saving grace is received through faith alone shines through.  One wonders if any of these guardians of the faith ever asked themselves if the ambiguity they see muddying the waters on such simple and vital doctrines as salvation by grace alone through faith alone might be intentional.  After all, as Phillips notes, Wilson believes the Federal Vision is “an intramural contest within the orthodox Reformed tradition.”  Did it never dawn on Phillips (or Keister) that ambiguity can often be a mask for deception?  What Reformed man, much less a pastor and teacher, can be unclear on salvation by grace alone through faith alone?  Wouldn’t a teacher who is unclear on justification by faith alone be, at the very least, suspect?  This isn’t rocket science after all and rather than reading Wilson charitably, could it be that Phillips and Keister are just dupes?

While probably not likely to happen any time soon, both of these men should be forced to read John Robbins’ Why Heretics Win Battles.   In that piece, which is a blistering review of The Auburn Avenue Theology Pro and Con, Robbins observed:

At the foundation of Wilson’s heresies lies his irrationalism, which is perhaps the worst heresy of all. He writes: “In faith we want to say that children of believers are saved [“infant baptism is not a crap shoot,” he says emphatically]. But we are not making a categorical statement of the “All P are Q” kind. [Please note the contradiction between the two preceding sentences.] We are saying that we believe God’s statements and promises concerning covenant children…. Now these promises…have apparent instances of non-fulfillment. How are we to account for this?… The question of levels of discourse is central in understanding this. On one level, all of us confess that some of the children of believers are reprobate, and will eventually fall away. On another level of discourse, we say that God is God to our children. In preaching, in catechesis, in liturgy, the second level of discourse is operative. This level is operative because faith in the promises requires it. But an important point to note is that we are not saying contradictory things within one level of discourse.”

Now there is a simple word for Wilson’s doctrine: dishonesty. His nonsense about “levels of discourse” – what is true on one “level” is false on another – is a blatant rejection of both God and Scripture. Christ said, “Let your Yes be Yes, and your No be No” (Matthew 5:37). He did not add, “Of course I am speaking on one level of discourse, but if I speak on two levels, ‘Yes’ may be ‘No’ and ‘No,’ ‘Yes.’” In Wilson’s theology, “liturgical truth,” “catechetical truth,” and “preached truth” are one thing, “operative” on one level of discourse; and truth itself is another, inoperative in preaching, teaching, and worship.

Paul wrote, “As God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No, for the Son God…was not Yes and No” (2 Corinthians 1:17-19). Paul did not add, “but our word to you might be Yes and No if we talk on different levels of discourse.” One reason Christians and churches are held in such low esteem by the world is that churchmen like Wilson, through the ages, have dishonestly played with words and denied the truth. They prattle on about paradoxes, antinomies, tensions, levels of discourse, and other un-Biblical ideas, attributing them to Scripture, and impugning both the intelligence and the honesty of God himself.

The second person mentioned on Keister’s blog and who stands in agreement with Keister and Phillips on Wilson’s Christian and Reformed orthodoxy is John Piper.  Yes, that John Piper.  In an interview Piper was asked,  (more…)

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