Open Letter to Dr. R. Scott Clark
Nobody likes a bully, and, I confess, I was going to leave my comments (below) on Dr. R. Scott Clark’s blog and be done with it. However, I am sick and tired of self-styled defenders of the Reformed confessionalism who are so ignorant of traditional historic Calvinism that they can’t even bear to defend their position according to the confessions they claim to revere or the Scriptures that inspire those confessions. Instead, Clark routinely resorts to name calling when dealing with those he disagrees, even attacking them as “rationalists” and “hyper-Calvinists,” and, when pressed, claims his opponents have not taken the time to read and consider his arguments when nothing could be further from the truth.
Recently, Clark responded to a comment I made to one of his blog posts, “Hyper-Calvinism, Rationalism, and Anti-Predestinarians,” where he argues that opposition to the so-called “well meant” or “free offer” of the Gospel where God is said to desire and not desire the salvation of all men, is contrary to Reformed confessionalism and history. Clark complains:
You’re entitled to criticize Murray’s exegesis but you’re not entitled to your own history, facts, and logic.
The historical evidence for the doctrine of the “free offer” is overwhelming. I’m surprised that you would make such a claim. Have you actually read what I’ve written? I guess not. You’ve certainly removed any incentive I might have to take you seriously.
Besides being horribly condescending and dismissive, Clark’s reply is incredible in light of a legitimate challenge that instead of just his usual name calling, Clark actually defend the so-called “free offer” exegetically and in light of the historic Reformed exegetical tradition that stands against him. I thought this would be a relatively small task for a Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. I guess not.
Beyond that, his reply is simply dishonest. Not only have I read and carefully considered his historical evidence so-called, but I have responded to his arguments at length in “Janus Alive and Well: Dr. R. Scott Clark and the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel” published by the Trinity Foundation.
I have to wonder why Scott Clark is so afraid of the Reformed tradition that stands in opposition to the irrationality of the WMO (which is just warmed over Arminianism) that he can’t bear getting his hands dirty doing some real exegesis?
And, finally, I must say his remarks above cut both ways and I’m starting to wonder why I bother to take him seriously. But, while I still do, here is my letter and challenge to Dr. Clark that I posted on his blog with only slight modification:
Hi Scott. Just so you can avoid future crass generalizations and so you might stop acting like some Don Quixote defending some mythical “Reformed tradition” that never existed, predestinarians like me do not deny the “free offer” due to “some form of rationalism,” but rather because there are no passages in Scripture that support your claim that God desires the salvation of all men. This is why Bob Suden remarked on another of your blog posts:
The Well Meant Offer? Murray’s take on his proof texts doesn’t seem to quite follow the historical reformed trajectory. 2 Pet. 3:9 has a universal referent instead of pointing to the elect? Are we sure about that?
I mean, really, Murray’s handling of this passage is atrocious and flies in the face the well established historic Reformed exegetical position. The point is for many of us who you call “rationalists,” we reject the so-called “well-meant-offer” not primarily because it is contradictory (it is) and imputes irrationality to God (it does), but because of consistent historic Reformed exegesis of critical passages like 2 Peter 3:9.
For example, concerning this passage, and after an extended and detailed argument, John Owen in his The Death of Death in the Death of Christ concludes: “The text is clear, that it is all and only the elect whom he would not have to perish.”
Go back and read his argument and you’ll see how badly Murray and Stonehouse mishandled this verse.
Gordon Clark argues similarly when he writes in his commentary on First and Second Peter in New Heavens, New Earth:
Since God has made and appointed the wicked for the day of evil, as in 2:3,4 have already said, as 2:9 virtually implies, and as is distinctly stated in Romans 9:17-22, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, or as Proverbs 16:4 says, ” The Lord has made everything for its own end, yea even the wicked for the day of evil,” it follows that God does not will the salvation of every member of the human race. It is not his will that every man without exception should repent. Repentance is a gift of God, and if God willed to, he would give everyone repentance. But obviously he does not. So much for the Scripture in general.
The verse 3:9 would make no sense otherwise. Peter is telling us that Christ’s return awaits the repentance of certain people. Now, if Christ’s return awaited the repentance of every individual without exception, Christ would never return. Already many have died unrepentant, and their number grows larger every day. The only time when every individual had come to repentance was when Adam and Eve repented and were clothed with skins. The Arminians, unwittingly to be sure, imply that Christ should have returned them — his second advent antedating his first.
This is no new interpretation. The Similitudes viii,xi, 1 in the Shepherd of Hermas ( c. A.D. 130-150 ), which because of the date serves as evidence for the epistle’s authenticity, says” “But the Lord, being long-suffering, wishes [ thelei] those who were called [ ten klesin ten genomenen ] through his Son to be saved.” This quotation shows how the verse was understood in the second century. It is the called or elect whom God wills to save.
Peter therefore is saying simply that Christ will not return until everyone of the elect has come to repentance. Or, as the hymn writer said:
Ten thousand times ten thousand
In sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints
Throng up the steeps of light.
Bring near thy great salvation,
Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Fill up the roll of thine elect.
Then take thy power and reign.
Besides not being very Christian in the way you deal with brothers who disagree with you on this point, even attacking them as “hyper-Calvinists,” there is nothing in any of the Reformed confessions that support your view of the offer.
For example, you cite Cannons of Dort 2.5, but there is nothing there that I, nor any predestinarian like me, could not confess wholeheartedly and without the slightest reservation. The Gospel should be preached to all men promiscuously and without distinction. God does command all who hear the Gospel to repent and believe. The problem is your conclusion (God desires the salvation of all men) does not follow from your major premise (God commands all who hear the Gospel to repent and believe) and the reason is simple; you cannot infer anything in the indicative from something written in the imperative.
Luther, whom I suppose you think is a rationalist too, excoriated Erasmus for making this same juvenile error in The Bondage of the Will, writing:
Even grammarians and schoolboy at street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood that what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by verbs in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning?
I understand your unhappiness with Baptist historian William Estep, but what about the hundreds and perhaps thousands of students you have misled about the true nature of Calvinism.
So, Scott, why don’t you man up and stop with all the name calling and vitriol and defend your “free offer” exegetically? Why don’t you go toe to toe with the great Reformed exegetes in the past who have rejected the lazy (mis)handling of verses like 2 Peter 3:9 and stop acting like a theocratic bully.