Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Dialogue With a Calvinist on Whether Total Depravity, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace Are True (I.e., Biblical) and Also Part of the Gospel

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_FOIrYyQawGI/S7unK4_3VuI/AAAAAAAACyM/q1Qs9TdVB3s/s1600/TULIP+%28dead%29.jpg

This discussion started with two instances of a technique in dispute that I love to use: "turn the tables" (specifically, by analogy) -- in response to comments from anti-Catholic Protestant "Ronnie" (his words in green). Then my friend, the ecumenical Reformed Presbyterian (OPC) Tim ("Pilgrimsarbour") started discussing and defending three of the five points of the famous Calvinist acronym "TULIP". After that it was off to the dog races (but an enjoyable dog race it has been . . .). His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

[H]ere is the analogous point. You believe a Catholic today not only has to believe in the specific Christian gospel about Christ’s death and resurrection, but also the rest of the dogmas (e.g. Marian dogma, papal infallibility) defined by the church that contains a lot more. However, before these dogmas were defined one still could be saved.

Here is the analogous point. You believe a Calvinist today not only has to believe in the specific Christian gospel about Christ’s death and resurrection, but also the rest of the dogmas (e.g. TULIP) defined by the Calvinist creeds that contain a lot more. However, before these dogmas were defined one still could be saved.

Catholicism requires belief in things such as Papal Infallibility and Marian Dogma to be saved [that] have nothing to do with the gospel.

* * *

I originally did a parallel of the above, substituting "Total Depravity and Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace" for "Papal Infallibility and Marian Dogma," but upon reflection (and Ronnie's response), I realize that this was not completely accurate ("saved" as being directly tied to those things was too strong of a term: though see my comments further below about the closeness of the concepts in Calvinist thinking). Instead, the rhetorical reply should be something like the following:

Calvinism requires belief in things such as Total Depravity and Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace and Calvinists too often virtually equate the gospel with the five points of TULIP, or regard the five points as essential components of the gospel (if not identical), when in fact they have nothing directly to do with the biblical gospel.

Even James White, the Reformed Baptist bishop and vociferous defender of historic Calvinism, (minus the infant baptism of Calvin and sacraments) observed (1-28-07): "is TULIP co-extensive with the gospel? No, TULIP refers to a portion of the gospel, not to its whole." But the celebrated Calvinist icon Charles Spurgeon was a lot more sweeping in his analysis: "there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. . . . Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else" (more on that below).


* * *

To the following points about the gospel which you raised, I cite a few relevant Scripture texts. Please keep in mind that this response is an abbreviation. I did not want to get into a full-blown argument citing the multiple texts involved in the issue. As it is, my answers are for the general readership here who necessarily are at different levels of knowledge regarding Reformed doctrine and are not meant to convey that I think you are unaware of these things.

1) Total Depravity (Radical Corruption). You say this is not part of the gospel. However, Paul was adamant regarding it:
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were — by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-7 ESV).
Is Paul talking about something here that is not a part of the gospel? If so, why does he write it to Ephesus? Or, more simply, perhaps you and I have differing ideas of what "dead" means.

Catholics agree that man can do nothing whatever to earn salvation; it is all God's grace. We agree with you on sola gratia. And this is what Ephesians 2:1-7 teaches.

We believe in "total inability." But total depravity is a position that goes far beyond this, and teaches things that are not only not part of the gospel, but not part of the Bible, either. :-) I have written about what seems clearly to me to be the "biblical gospel":

Gospel Truth

Total Depravity holds that (fallen) man can do no good thing whatsoever, even apart from the question of salvation. This isn't biblical, as I think I have demonstrated in several papers:


2) Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption). The atonement, for the non-Reformed, is said to be efficacious for every human being who ever lived.

Of course it is.

For the Reformed, it is God's saving power granted to His people.

It is that, too. Apples and oranges . . .

The one limits its power by saying that it only enables man to save himself as he appropriates what is offered;

Not at all. The Arminian and Catholic positions hold that man cannot save himself (contra Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism), but because he has free will, he has to accept God's entirely free, unmerited gift of salvation. According to your thinking, the prisoner who is pardoned by the governor "saves himself" by accepting the pardon, rather than the governor "saving" him by setting him free. The act of accepting the pardon is not the most essential part of the transaction, but it is necessary.

There is a distinction between "saving oneself" and "accepting the saving that someone else does." We don't say, e.g., that a drowning man "saves himself" when he grabs onto a life preserver that someone tosses him. In a sense he participates in his "salvation," I agree, but the main person who "saved" him was his rescuer.

the other limits the objects of His saving power to His chosen ones, the Church, whom He actually saves.

But that is nothing more than a truism; circular reasoning: God saves (by His power) those who are saved (the elect, the eschatologically saved). Of course! What Christian would doubt that?

Is Christ a real Saviour, or merely a potential Saviour?

He is a real savior because He saves (another truism). He is a "potential savior" of those who are unsaved, but they can resist the free gift. All of God's gifts have to be appropriated by man. We are not robots.

Christ died for His Church:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV).

Sure; but this assumes that the Church (the elect, as a Calvinist would see it) is all He died for. The text doesn't say that. I could just as easily say "He died for John Calvin" or "He died for Martin Luther." Saying one would not rule out the other. The elect are the ones who have appropriated God's free gift of salvation. It doesn't follow that He is not potentially the Savior of all men.

If Christ died for every human being in the whole world, why are any at all lost?

Because they choose to be, just as the person who is committing suicide refuses the aid of the rescue worker sent to save him, and jumps off the ledge or slits his wrist or blows his brains out.

Were the ones who "accepted" Him inherently more intelligent, more moral, more humble in themselves than their neighbours were? Why is one saved and another not?

Ultimately, we can't answer that with total satisfaction. But we are stuck with the biblical paradox:

1) God saves all who are saved;

2) Man has free will.

I don't think we will ever totally comprehend it. But we know that God, in His merciful, loving nature would not be so unjust as to condemn a person eternally to hell, where he has no choice or say whatever in his eternal destiny. God gives everyone enough grace to be saved if they will simply accept it.

None of this is directly part of the gospel, in any event, since it deals with the mechanics of who is saved, and why, and etc., whereas the biblical gospel (i.e., good news; not -- strictly speaking -- good theology or right speculations and conclusions on all the jots and tittles) is the message that salvation flows from Jesus Christ and His death on the cross as our Savior and Redeemer.

3) Irresistible Grace (Effectual Calling). Merely means that the grace of regeneration is invincible. Although the sinner can and does resist God's grace, that grace which enables him to embrace the saving work of Christ cannot be thwarted by those who are the objects of God's electing favour.

This is (logically reduced) merely another circular truism: "God's grace isn't thwarted by those who are saved." Obviously not! But that's not what is being disputed. It is, rather, whether anyone is able to resist God's grace. To me, it is virtually self-evident from both the biblical data and experience and common sense, that they surely can do so.

We are quickened, we are saved, we are raised up in Him (Ephesians 2). It is effectual because it actually accomplishes that for which it was intended.

In the case of the elect, of course. But the reprobate resist God's grace that is able to save them, if only they would cease their foolish rebellion.

This is not the call to the ear, but to the heart. One can resist the grace as it comes to the ear, but one cannot resist the call to the heart which only the Holy Spirit can bring. The objects of His effectual calling are predestined, called, justified and glorified:
30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30 ESV).

We agree with predestination of the saved (Catholic Thomists and Molinists differ on the details of that and how free will ties in: I am a Molinist: or more specifically, a Congruist). See:


Again, that is not the debate; the debate is whether those who are saved have resisted salvation with their free will, or if God predestined them to hell. All Catholics deny the latter (a corollary of limited atonement).

5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day" (Romans 11:5-8 ESV).

The hardening is not without their own free will. This is the language of providence: God is in control of all things, but it is not in such a way that we become robots and have no say in our own salvation or damnation.

I have a few papers that delve into the questioning of "hardening" and how biblical language simultaneously asserts both free will and God's providence: exactly as in the Catholic position: not the Reformed one that denies human free will:

On the Alleged Contradictions of 2 Samuel 24, and 1 Chronicles 21 and 27 (vs. the atheist "DagoodS")

Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart? (Does God Positively Ordain Evil?) (vs. [atheist] "DagoodS")
Reply to a Calvinist Critique Concerning the "Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart" (vs. Colin Smith)

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance,
having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:11-12 ESV).

We don't disagree with predestination of the elect, so this is neither here nor there in our debate.

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 ESV).

Ditto.

It would be sufficient for me now if I could get a Catholic to say that, at the very least, he understands, though does not agree with me, regarding from where these Reformed doctrines come when reading the Scriptures.

I understand the entire rationale and have for many years, and I would even agree that the motivation of Reformed self-understanding is to uphold God's majesty and sovereignty. I reject it on the basis of having false (i.e., unbiblical) premises, and based on the limitation of inability to accept biblical "both/and" paradox and mystery. The Calvinist solution leads to God's mercy and justice being limited in ways that do violence to Scripture. I think the Catholic (and also Arminian) solutions are far more true to all of the Bible and what it teaches.

I would consider that a veritable coup!

I can't speak for anyone else, but I think I understand the doctrines as well as most Calvinists do. That won't stop many Protestants from denying that I do, however, just as they do in the case of sola Scriptura.

I'm delighted to be able to discuss the issues without rancor. It's a pleasure and a privilege, so hats off to you.

As to the gospel question (how this relates); again, it is not part of the biblical gospel, because irresistible grace is speculation upon the mechanics and "whys" of the question rather than what the gospel states: that God saves by His grace, and all who are saved are saved because of that (a thing Catholics agree with Protestants 100% on: if only the latter could figure that out).

I don't mean to get into a big thing here either, but I just wanted to clarify one thing.

Total Depravity holds that (fallen) man can do no good thing whatsoever, even apart from the question of salvation. This isn't biblical, as I think I have demonstrated in several papers.

I should have said "unregenerate man" there. My bad. I had in mind the guy who isn't following the Lord; is not any sort of professed Christian; is not "justified" or "saved" (in the Protestant sense).

No. It does not mean this. But the emphasis is on the inclination of the fallen human heart which is inclined to evil continually (Gen. 6:5, cf. Romans 3:10-18; 7:18).

Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology, one-volume abridgement, edited by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988):

[Original sin is] the loss or absence of original righteousness and consequent entire moral depravity of our nature, including or manifesting itself in an aversion from all spiritual good and from God as well as an inclination to all evil. . . . it renders the soul spiritually dead, so that the natural or unrenewed man is entirely unable of himself to do anything good in the sight of God. (pp. 296-297)
this corruption is of such a nature that before regeneration fallen men are "utterly indisposed, disabled, and opposed to all good." (p. 297)

By total depravity is not meant that all men are equally wicked, nor that any man is as thoroughly corrupt as it is possible for a man to be, nor that men are destitute of all moral virtues . . . the Scriptural doctrine of total depravity, which includes the entire absence of holiness . . . There is common to all men a total alienation of the soul from God so that no unrenewed man either understands or seeks after God . . . They are destitute of any principle of spiritual life . . . (pp. 298-299)

. . . a state of spiritual death implying the entire absence of any true holiness. (p. 300)

Hodge cites the example of Job, saying "I abhor myself" (Job 42:6), as an example of "the entire sinfulness of men" and "depravity" (p. 299) but neglects to mention what God Himself said of Job: "there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil" (Job 1:8; cf. 1:1).

The Reformed understanding is that the good works he does perform are so riddled with error, pride and sin that they carry with them no efficacy for himself, nor are they genuinely pleasing to God.

The unregenerate can perform no good works, or any spiritual good at all, according to Reformed teaching. Regenerate man, on the other hand, can certainly do things that please God.

This is not to say that a sinner's good works are not relatively beneficial to others, perhaps in many respects, as following their natural consequences. But they avail him nothing in the end.

They are only "good" in a relative sense, not an essential, inherent sense, according to Calvinism. Luther's view in The Bondage of the Will, was even more extreme than Calvin's (as I recently noted in a post).

I'm glad you don't call it "utter depravity," which some Catholics I have spoken with do.

I refer to it by the standard terminology. "Utter lack of spiritual good" would be a literally accurate description of the Reformed view of the (acts and intentions of the) unregenerate, though.

Reformed theology knows nothing of an "utter depravity" in which every human being is a bad as is humanly possible.

I agree. But what is believed is untrue and unbiblical (nothing personal!).

* * *

The following remarks were directed towards another questioner, on a specific point (I included it, as related material):

I don't know anyone, including myself, who isn't riddled with sin and pride. In a more sober and introspective moment, if you examine your life very carefully and ask God to help you in this, you'll begin to see it in your own life as well. But it seems to me that you have a somewhat light view of sin, that it is not really all that bad. I have given the verses to indicate how heinous and pervasive sin is. You should take a look at Isaiah 6. Or better yet, take a look at the cross. I don't think you'll be able to maintain that sin is not a very, very big deal which infects everything we do. I don't think Dave denies this, if I'm not mistaken, having spent many hours in (what I consider to be) fruitful discussion with him on related matters.

I admit that "Total Depravity" as the T in the TULIP acrostic is problematic. That is why I prefer the term "Radical Corruption," which more accurately, I think, states the case. "Total Depravity" is subject to all sorts of misunderstandings, as you have demonstrated here. Again, to be totally depraved means that there is no aspect of our being that is not subject to the taint of sin, so that even our best works have a mixture of good and bad in them. I don't see how you can deny this. No one is perfect, is he? We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. The doctrine does not mean that every human being is as wicked as they possibly can be; it is not UTTER depravity. No. God's restraining power prevents that, though we sometimes wish He would restrain more according to His purpose and plan.


As far as pleasing God with good works, we have to adopt His definition of what good is:

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God (Luke 18:19).
Now by the human definition of good, all kinds of human beings do all kinds of good things all of the time, relative to our own varying definitions of good. But that is not what the doctrine is speaking to.

So often believers fall into the trap of comparing themselves with other people and think in terms of relative "goodness" when compared with them. But that is not the standard. The standard for goodness is God Himself, which is perfection. No one can attain it, hence our need for the active obedience of Christ, but I know Catholics don't believe this, which I don't care to take off onto another rabbit trail at this point.


* * *

John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Beveridge online translation):

It cannot be doubted that when Adam lost his first estate he became alienated from God. Wherefore, although we grant that the image of God was not utterly effaced and destroyed in him, it was, however, so corrupted, that any thing which remains is fearful deformity . . . (I, 15:4)
Next comes the other point—viz. that this perversity in us never ceases, but constantly produces new fruits, in other words, those works of the flesh which we formerly described; just as a lighted furnace sends forth sparks and flames, or a fountain without ceasing pours out water. Hence, those who have defined original sin as the want of the original righteousness which we ought to have had, though they substantially comprehend the whole case, do not significantly enough express its power and energy. For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. Those who term it concupiscence use a word not very inappropriate, provided it were added (this, however, many will by no means concede), that everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence. (II, 1:8)
Here I only wished briefly to observe, that the whole man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is so deluged, as it were, that no part remains exempt from sin, and, therefore, everything which proceeds from him is imputed as sin. Thus Paul says, that all carnal thoughts and affections are enmity against God, and consequently death (Rom. 8:7). (II, 1:9)
But as those endued with the greatest talents were always impelled by the greatest ambitions (a stain which defiles all virtues and makes them lose all favour in the sight of God), so we cannot set any value on anything that seems praiseworthy in ungodly men. . . . The virtues which deceive us by an empty show may have their praise in civil society and the common intercourse of life, but before the judgment-seat of God they will be of no value to establish a claim of righteousness. (II, 3:4)
. . . the will, deprived of liberty, is led or dragged by necessity to evil . . . if the free will of God in doing good is not impeded, because he necessarily must do good; if the devil, who can do nothing but evil, nevertheless sins voluntarily; can it be said that man sins less voluntarily because he is under a necessity of sinning? (II, 3:5)

None of this can be substantiated from the Bible, which teaches that even unregenerate men are capable of doing "good."

For Calvin, everything has to be black-and-white with no greys at all. Whatever the unregenerate man does, it has to be for a bad motivation. It cannot possibly be a spiritually good thing, or an act intrinsically good. It's always soiled, corrupted, and perverted (my own motives have been characterized this way again and again -- I think for this very reason: the false premise -- by online anti-Catholic Calvinists: even to the extent of saying I was damned and that no one should even pray for me).

And that simply doesn't line up with Scripture or the reality of the human experience or what we can verify even within our own lives before regeneration (and/or Christian commitment and discipleship) occurred.

Ronnie then observed:

As a matter of fact you can join a Reformed Church and not embrace TULIP.

I'm sure you can join and sit in the back pew and put money in the plate, but you certainly couldn't be an elder, if it is a traditional, conservative, orthodox Reformed church.

No doubt it varies a bit (virtually everything in Protestantism does, after all), but there are plenty of examples of Reformeds equating the gospel with TULIP (or coming very close to doing that). In a few seconds on Google I could easily locate some. For example:

There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief.

The essential doctrines concerning salvation, which the Puritans and all good Christians cling to, are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.I.P.

(C. Matthew McMahon, A Puritan's Mind, "T.U.L.I.P."; RPCGA denomination)

Here's a classic equation of Calvinism (hence, TULIP) with the gospel, by the famous preacher and Calvinist icon Charles Spurgeon:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel...unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the Cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called.

(Autobiography 1, p. 168)

James Montgomery Boice wrote:

the gospel is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace, . . . the gospel stands or falls with the doctrines of grace.

(The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel, co-author Philip Graham Ryken, Crossway Books, 2002, p. 18)

Then on the same page he goes on to argue that the doctrines of grace are (y'all guessed it!) TULIP. Therefore, without TULIP there is no gospel. It is gutted. This is exactly what I have argued: Calvinism equates TULIP with the gospel: something the Bible doesn't do (even if we grant that the five doctrines of TULIP are all true).

Richard J. Mouw:

I believe that TULIP, properly understood, captures something very central to the gospel. (p. 14)

TULIP captures some very important elements of the story of salvation's plan. (p. 15)

(Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004)

J. I. Packer:

But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel -- that Christ is a redeemer who really does redeem. . . . The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations in order to assert the positive content of the gospel . . .

(A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, Crossway Books, 1994, pp. 129-130)

It seems to me that one could argue, roughly, following Spurgeon:

1) Gospel = Calvinism.

2) The Gospel pronounces the Good News of salvation and is (propositionally) essential to man being saved.

3) Doctrinal Calvinism is, therefore, essential to man being saved.

4) Ergo, to be saved, one must believe in TULIP, a central tenet of Calvinist belief.

The guy from A Puritan's Mind website wrote: "The essential doctrines concerning salvation, . . . are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.I.P." He used the terminology "concerning salvation" rather than "gospel." So I was not all that far off, even in what I have retracted and modified (my original parallel, as noted at the top of the paper).

Interestingly, McMahon's views have been refuted by another five-point Calvinist, Reformed Baptist pastor Phillip M. Way. He wrote:

What I am setting out to accomplish is to reveal though an examination of the writings of C. Matthew McMahon that he has begun to teach that one must believe the doctrines of grace in order to be saved.
That is, in his own words, I will demonstrate that Matt has published a number of works that insist that if one is not holding to all five points of the doctrines of grace (TULIP), then that person is not saved, has believed a false gospel, is not a believer in Jesus Christ, and is not going to heaven when they die.
I will show that Matt has replaced the content of the gospel, which is the Person of Jesus Christ, with a formulation of systematic doctrine that he requires one to believe in order to be converted.
It is his view that a sinner must understand and embrace the five points in order to be saved. Trusting Christ is not enough. Simple child like faith is not enough. Jesus is not enough. In the view presented, one must be a Calvinist in order to be converted.
In love for and out of duty to Christ and His Church, and in Christian love for Matt, I offer the opportunity for Matt to recant this position and embrace the truth, namely that the content of the gospel in the Person of Jesus Christ and that one need not understand or embrace all Five Points of Calvinism in order to be saved. . . .
I stated in the thread on his article that I feared that he was indeed presenting the case that unless one embraced the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) in full then they could not be saved. And again, I was not alone in assessing this from the article. . . .

Matt, if you believe that a person must hear, understand, and embrace the doctrines of grace in toto in order to be saved or as proof of their salvation as they mature in Christ, then you have in fact denied the gospel of Jesus Christ. Coming to faith and maturity in Jesus Christ is not synonymous with embracing TULIP.

James Montgomery Boice wrote: "the gospel is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace, . . . the gospel stands or falls with the doctrines of grace." Then he equates these doctrines with TULIP. So that amounts to saying that the gospel is a gospel of TULIP. To the extent that the gospel saves, then, one might say (as an outcome of this sort of thinking) that TULIP saves.

Again, this is very close to requiring TULIP for salvation: just a hair's breadth away. J. I. Packer holds, in effect (following his own stated logic), "Calvinism [asserts TULIP] in order to assert the positive content of the gospel".

These kinds of statements are very close (if not identical) to saying that TULIP is essential for salvation. I am willing to concede the general point, in charity to Calvinists as a whole, but at the same time I think one can see that there is a prominent motif (in many eminent, influential Calvinists) of closely aligning TULIP to the gospel, and hence, indirectly (but closely, given the nature and purpose of the gospel) to salvation itself.

But Bishop James White would (I think) relegate such thinking to the despised category of "hyper-Calvinism." In his article "A Letter to a Hyper Calvinist" (8 February 2005) he wrote:


Hyper-Calvinism is an offense to God, and it is an offense to any serious Calvinist. Yes, yes, I know, there are disagreements over just what hyper-Calvinism involves. Some have attempted to paint me as a hyper simply because I hold to a strong view, a modified supralapsarian view, in fact. But you really don't have a lot of question about a real hyper-Calvinist when you meet one (and you won't meet them witnessing to Mormons or JW's or preaching on the duty of men to repent and calling men to Christ): the really hard-core, nasty, graceless ones will call you an unbeliever if you dare say "good morning" to an Arminian. I.e., they ask you a simple question: "Can an Arminian be saved? Are Arminians Christians?" If you say, "Yes, Arminians can be saved" they will tell you, "then you are not saved, either."

On a normally quiet e-mail list called TULIP a hyper showed up to start spitting at me when Chris Arnzen posted an announcement about the debate on Long Island with Bill Rutland. It is odd: many of my Reformed brethren have commented that, in personal conversation, in our online community, in other forums, I can be very patient in trying to help a non-Reformed believer come to understand the doctrines of grace. But I have zero patience with hypers. Call it a personal flaw (I have many of them), but I just can't stand hypers---they should know better. Part of it, of course, is the fact that I am constantly having to refute those who oppose Calvinism by painting me as a hyper, but part of it is just the incredible attitude of a real hyper. The Arminian, 99% of the time, is simply ignorant of the issues. The hyper isn't.


. . . they are still Christians, because perfection of knowledge and belief is NOT the standard of salvation: Christ is the standard of salvation, and the error you hypers make that will haunt you as you answer for it before God is that you demand of Christ that as Shepherd He only have perfect sheep---He cannot sanctify them and cause them to grow in His grace and knowledge---that passage means nothing in your system. You are like the Pharisees of old who were confident of their standing before God because of what they knew and did. Read Matthew 23 sometime, and look into your own heart.

In another post (6 June 2006), White opined:

I am not a hyper-Calvinist. R.C. Sproul is not a hyper-Calvinist. John Piper is not a hyper-Calvinist. To believe in all "five points" is not to be a hyper-Calvinist. To believe God's choice of election is eternal in nature is not to be a hyper Calvinist. The term "hyper-Calvinism" has a meaning in and of itself, and it is irresponsible to think any one person, or group of people, has the right to redefine language itself so as to violate all standards of truth, honesty, and integrity. . . . If you believe God elected from eternity to glorify Himself by saving an undeserving people in Christ Jesus apart from any merit on their part, while revealing His justice and wrath in the just punishment of others who loved their sin and hated Him, and He did so freely, without any external compulsion, you are a hyper-Calvinist. Never mind that was the viewpoint of men like Spurgeon who wrote against hyper-Calvinism.

In "Hyper Calvinism Revisited" (21 February 2005), White makes more true criticisms (minus the anti-Catholic falsehoods):


I noted a while back the response of a hyper-Calvinist to the announcement of the topic of the tenth in the Great Debate Series on Long Island, "Can a Non-Christian Enter Heaven?" Despite my lengthy history of apologetic interaction with Rome, my consistent affirmation of the fact that Rome does not possess the gospel of Jesus Christ, and my defense of Reformed soteriology against the likes of Norman Geisler, George Bryson, and Dave Hunt, hyper-Calvinists have chosen to use this opportunity to make sure everyone understands: it is not enough for you to believe in the Five Points: unless you 1) confess you were not a Christian until you understood and believed all Five Points, and 2) are willing to condemn to the fires of hell itself every person who does not understand and believe all five points in totality, you are not a Christian either (evidently that makes seven points you must believe). So, the theme out of the hyper camp is that both the debaters June 9th, Bill Rutland, the Roman Catholic, and James White, the Calvinist, are unregenerate, lost men! You can believe all Five Points, but, if you don't believe their "Extra Two," you are as lost as a Roman Catholic who affirms every element of Rome's false teaching.

I think this is excellent analysis, for the most part. But the difficulty that folks like White and Way (those who consider themselves more "balanced" and nuanced, informed Calvinists) will run into is interpreting the statements above from very prominent people like Packer, Mouw, Spurgeon, and Boice. These appear to me (at least at first examination) to be not far from the sort of equation of TULIP and the gospel and salvation that White and Way condemn in what they would regard as hyper-Calvinists.

In other words, the problem runs deep, and can't be confined solely to fringe wackos: a phenomenon that every institution has to deal with.
Packer, Mouw, Spurgeon, and Boice are more sophisticated and infinitely more irenic than the guys White is replying to above, but in many ways, several of their opinions regarding the place of TULIP are quite similar.

In fact, James White has serious internal logical difficulties of his own, that are not unlike the above. Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin demonstrated in his article, "Fatally Flawed Thinking" (This Rock, July 1993), that White's position logically reduces to one in which any person who denied Limited Atonement could not be a Christian; hence, not saved. So we are back to the scenario of TULIP (one part of it, in this case), being essential to the nature of being a Christian, which in turn (for White), is being saved (and hence, at the same time, part of the gospel of salvation). It's a subtle argument, but brilliant and well worth making the effort to understand (bracketed comments are his own: I believe they are "footnotes" added to the original article):

White declares this belief in his most popular anti-Catholic book, The Fatal Flaw: "[A]ll who hold to biblical authority . . . refuse to the Catholic system the name 'Christian,' for one cannot truly own Christ as Savior and Lord when one denies the complete efficacy and power of his atoning blood!"[James White, The Fatal Flaw (Southbridge, Massachusetts: Crowne Publications, 1990), 151. . . .

Catholics deny the complete efficacy and power of Christ's blood, White argues, because they believe in purgatory, the sacrifice of the Mass, and indulgences. He says these are means of atonement outside of Christ's atonement, and their existence implies Christ's blood was not sufficient for us. This is what White identifies as Catholicism's "fatal flaw." "Here then is the fatal flaw of Romanism: The Church of Rome teaches a gospel that is devoid of the all-sufficient and finished work of Jesus Christ and therefore declares that there are ways of expiation, atonement, [and] forgiveness that are outside of and distinct from the atonement of Jesus Christ."[White, 156.] . . .

To show the Mass, purgatory, and indulgences add to what Christ has done for us, he appeals to a particular Calvinist doctrine called "limited atonement." . . . Since few Christians believe in the doctrine of limited atonement, the potential of White's book is diminished. Only five-point Calvinists will accept one of its key premises, [In personal correspondence with me, White states he does not care that he has limited the potential of the book, saying, "It is not my desire to write a 'popular' book that would find a wide audience. . . . Instead, I desire simply to present God's truth, even if that truth is not popular in my culture at this time in history." He adds, "the Reformed understanding of the atonement is the only view that can properly address the Roman Catholic concept of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice." This is an implicit admission his argument against the Mass will not work properly without limited atonement.] and only they are likely to accept fully its overall argument.

Furthermore, White's use of limited atonement also limits the number who count as Christians. He wishes to exclude only Catholics and possibly Eastern Orthodox from the family of Christians, but his argument requires him to exclude many more people if he applies it consistently. It requires him to deny the name Christian to anyone who is not a five-point Calvinist.

White says Catholics are not Christians because "one cannot truly own Christ as Savior and Lord when one denies the complete efficacy and power of his atoning blood!" [White, 151.] By the complete efficacy and power of Christ's blood White has in mind the standard Calvinist view that the atonement automatically saves all those for whom it is offered, so men do not need to add anything such as faith or love to it to be saved. . . . If men do need to add something, Christ's blood does not have complete efficacy and power.

This is where limited atonement comes in. White reasons that if Christ's atonement automatically saves those for whom it is offered, and if it is offered for all men, then all men receive final salvation. But the existence of hell indicates not everyone will be saved, so the atonement must not be for everyone. It must be limited, offered for some people, but not for all.

Most Protestants deny this and claim the atonement was made for everyone. Since most Protestants also believe some people will be lost, five-point Calvinists claim they must say the atonement is not sufficient in and of itself, that it does not automatically save those for whom it is offered, and if a person says the atonement does not automatically save those for whom it is offered, then, according to five-point Calvinism, he is denying the complete efficacy and power of Christ's blood. [This is the standard charge five-point Calvinists make against those who disagree with them and yet believe in hell.]

White says such people "cannot truly own Christ as Savior and Lord" and therefore must be refused the name "Christian." It turns out that anyone who denies limited atonement and believes in hell must not be a Christian. Almost all traditional Protestants [Everyone except five-point Calvinists.] deny limited atonement, so almost all traditional Protestants must not be Christians.

That White does not say that only five-point Calvinists are Christians shows he is employing a double-standard. He has failed to think through the implications of his argument. [In correspondence with me White tries to avoid the conclusion that Protestants who deny limited atonement are not Christians by arguing that they do not add such things as the Mass, purgatory, and indulgences to the atonement. This argument does not work because it does not matter what one adds to the atonement. If one adds anything then, according to five-point Calvinism, one is denying the complete efficacy and power of the atonement. If rejecting limited atonement means something must be added to Christ's work, as five-point Calvinists claim, then those who reject limited atonement do not count as Christians on White's definition. If his argument works against Catholics, it works against anyone who, in White's sense, "denies the complete efficacy and power of his atoning blood," Protestants included.]

White has other similar problems that are his own, as a Reformed Baptist, but not applicable to more orthodox Calvinists (who believe in infant baptism and true sacraments). In a paper of mine from 2003, I demonstrated that from his own extreme words (in our first postal debate of 1995), stating that sacraments are antithetical to grace ("If you feel a communion that replaces the grace of God with sacraments, mediators, and merit, can be properly called 'Christian,' then please go ahead and use the phrase"), it follows that Martin Luther and St. Augustine (both firm adherents of sacramentalism) are not Christians.

It also follows that John Calvin would not be, either. White follows the Anabaptist tradition in this regard, and both Luther and Calvin advocated capital punishment for Anabaptists. White could quite possibly have been executed in either Saxony or Geneva, for believing what he does about baptism, and would have been regarded as a seditious revolutionary heretic and danger even to civil society. Calvin and Luther held even more hostility towards Protestant "fanatics" and "enthusiasts" than they did towards the Catholic Church.

Calvinism proper is incoherent and self-contradictory enough. But Reformed Baptist Calvinism is an even more incoherent, inconsistent version of an already troubled, biblically-challenged view. So White's own difficulties are multiplied (and, I would contend, are insurmountable).

The internal incoherence and inconsistency of Calvinism leads to absurd conclusions like this. Thus, Calvinism can be shown to be, in some respects, and/or in some circles, anti-[non-Calvinist] Protestant as well as (often) anti-Catholic.

Tremendous hostility and never-ending tension have existed between Calvinists and Arminians, for 400 years, with very strong charges being levied on both sides. The Synod of Dort (1618-1619) was, historically the origin of TULIP, and it decreed that the Arminians were heretics.

Calvinist Michael S. Horton wrote in his article, "Evangelical Arminians: Option or Oxymoron?":

One can readily see how a shift from a God-centered message of human sinfulness and divine grace to a human-centered message of human potential and relative divine impotence could create a more secularized outlook. . . . the evangelicals who faced this challenge of Arminianism universally regarded it as a heretical departure from the Christian faith.

The orthodox Protestants were not over-reacting, therefore, when they regarded the Arminian denials as no different from the positions of Trent, which had declared the evangelicals "anathema." It would have been bigoted for them, therefore, to regard Trent's position as unorthodox if they were unwilling to say the same of a similar "Protestant" deviation.

***


34 comments:

Pilgrimsarbour said...

I think you should point out that my last stretch of comments beginning with this sentence:

I don't know anyone, including myself, who isn't riddled with sin and pride.

was not directed to you but to another commenter on a specific point he raised.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Nice pic, by the way. No message being sent there, eh?

Nick said...

Here are some thoughts on TULIP I posted in the past:

Total Depravity:
The Catholic Church has a radically different understanding of Original Sin than Calvinists, their position leads to a corrupt human nature, the Catholic position leads to a plain human nature (uncorrupted) which has been stripped of sanctifying grace.
Both agree in the "total inability" of man to save himself, but total depravity is more than that and incompatible with Catholicism.

Unconditional Election:
More or less in agreement. Though Catholics would add that God does not predestine to hell, while Calvinists would generally say He does.

Limited Atonement:
Catholics totally disagree with the Calvinist understanding of the atonement, and thus limited atonement is incompatible with Catholicism.

Irresistible Grace:
This is similar to the Catholic notion of "efficacious grace," though the Church (and Scripture) teach grace can be resisted at times, also when comparing each theology as a whole the Catholic position is still significantly different from the Calvinist view.

Perseverance of the Saints:
This terminology was stolen from people like St. Augustine and applied to the Calvinist position. The Catholic Church teaches Perseverance of the Saints as the Scriptures and Doctors of the Church taught it. Calvinist cannot technically believe in the concept of "persevering" because they believe in eternal security where the concept of falling does not exist. It would be as if a man was standing on solid ground at sea level and was told to "persevere" by not falling off a cliff. There is no cliff, he is on flat ground, the concept of perseverance doesn't exist.
The Catholic (Biblical) view of perseverance is that salvation can be lost and you must avoid falling to be saved in the end. Further, even if someone does fall, they can still persevere by repenting before death.


While Jimmy Akin's Tip-Toe through TULIP is handy, it misses some critical distinctions between Calvinism and Catholicism. It is handy for showing how far a Catholic can go towards those concepts and still be within the parameters of orthodoxy, it does not mean all Catholics have to embrace those views.

Ronnie said...


I said:
One does not have to believe in any of the TULIP petals to be saved. As a matter of fact you can join a Reformed Church and not embrace TULIP.

Dave responsed:
I'm sure you can join and sit in the back pew and put money in the plate, but you certainly couldn't be an elder, if it is a traditional, conservative, orthodox Reformed church.


But the issue at hand wasn’t who can be an Elder, it was whether or not we count someone as saved who didn't embrace TULIP. Are you conceding that you previous statements to the contrary was in error or do you really want to try to defend that charge?

It is obviously false to anyone knowing that basics about Reformed theology or Calvinism?

By the way, I find this statement of yours very curious:

“I'm sure you can join and sit in the back pew and put money in the plate, but you certainly couldn't be an elder”

It almost seems like you are making the argument that if one can’t be an Elder they are sitting in the back pew and only giving money?

I’m sure that can’t be your intent, because isn’t that the kind of argument feminist make against your church for not allowing women to be Priest?

Finally, the list of quotes you provided don't prove your initial point. As a matter of fact some of the men you quoted(e.g. Boice, James White ) are on record in many places stating the opposite.

Furthermore, both of these men belong to confessional churches so it is fairly easy to find out what the believe is necessary for salvation. It is hard to take you serious on this one. The evidence is too overwhelming to the contrary. So even if you are misunderstanding the arguments being made, you should know from experience that your argument is false.

Now, if a Protestant had made such an obvious mischaracterization about Catholicism you would be shouting from the roof top about how ignorant they are of Catholicism. So I hope you don’t try to defend this argument but instead acknowledge that you went a bit to far in your argument.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Calvinist cannot technically believe in the concept of "persevering" because they believe in eternal security where the concept of falling does not exist.

Here's another example where a little more knowledge can help to clear things up. The term perseverance is a bit misleading because the doctrine is not addressing the believer's various states of sanctification. That's why many of us prefer the term "preservation" of the saints, which points to the fact that no one and nothing can snatch the elect from Christ's hand. It's an old usage/modern usage issue that is better resolved with different words. In my view, the language which informs the TULIP acrostic is outdated, but I don't know if anyone has come up with a new one. R.C. Sproul, for example, prefers the following as being much more effective in conveying the heart of Reformed theology:

Total Depravity = Radical Corruption

Unconditional Election = God's Sovereign Choice

Limited Atonement = Christ's Purposeful Atonement

Irresistible Grace = The Spirit's Effective Call

P Perseverance of the Saints = God's Preservation of the Saints

But who would want an acrostic that looked like this:

R
S
C
E
P


or some such. You can imagine the problem.

Dan Marcum said...

Pilgrimsarbour said...
If Christ died for every human being in the whole world, why are any at all lost?

Dave responded...
Because they choose to be, just as the person who is committing suicide refuses the aid of the rescue worker sent to save him, and jumps off the ledge or slits his wrist or blows his brains out.

Pilgrimsarbour said...
Were the ones who "accepted" Him inherently more intelligent, more moral, more humble in themselves than their neighbours were? Why is one saved and another not?

Dave responded...
Ultimately, we can't answer that with total satisfaction. But we are stuck with the biblical paradox:

1) God saves all who are saved;

2) Man has free will.


I think it is at least a little more grasp-able than that. God offers salvation, this is a grace. Man accepts it by free-will/faith -- but this is also by grace.

God offers salvation with the built-in potentials of acceptance AND of rejection AND also the navigator of these two potentials, which is our free will. That's all part of the grace "package." Those who use the free-will-gift correctly receive the salvation-gift.

This is correctly called predestination-to-life because all parts of the equation (the potential of salvation + the free will which accepts it) are God-given and God-willed. If you give someone a gift (free will) so that he can get something else (salvation) by it, then the thing he obtains with it is also a pure grace, since he couldn't have gotten it otherwise; but if he misuses the gift, or throws it away, then there is no use saying that he wasn't given sufficient means to get his prize.

Someone will answer that we must then conclude that all those doomed were predestined to hell, since free will + the potential of damnation were both God-made. But I say no for several reasons, one of which is, that God does not WILL that any soul should perish. Everyone is granted sufficient strength to combat the devil's temptations (1 Cor. 10:13), but not everyone uses it. If someone gives a man a gift so that he might acquire something else by it, but the man deliberately misuses it to acquire something evil instead, what he acquires is not due to the one who gave the gift but to the man's own recklessness. And this is the same with God.

Nick said...

Even the term "preservation" isn't accurate; there's nothing to 'preserve'. The legal demands have already been met, wholly independent of the believer. There is not even theoretical possibility of not persevering or being preserved. It's a category that cannot exist, logically speaking.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

*Sigh*

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Nick,

God won't change His mind about those whom He has appointed to salvation. The believer is comforted that nothing is more powerful than God and that God will always keep His word.

Again, *sigh*

Dave Armstrong said...

I think you should point out that my last stretch of comments . . . was not directed to you but to another commenter on a specific point he raised.

Will do.

Dave Armstrong said...

Nice pic, by the way. No message being sent there, eh?

Certainly a message! :-) That's my wry, dry humor. It's like when Paul McCartney did his RAM album and held the head of a ram; John Lennon responded by including a photo of him holding the ears of a pig.

Lennon was a big influence on my humor . . .

Dave Armstrong said...

So I hope you don’t try to defend this argument but instead acknowledge that you went a bit to far in your argument.

I have backed up all my arguments (i.e., as they actually are: not miscomprehensions of them, such as what we see above) and will continue to defend them until shown otherwise.

In any event, I am dialoguing with Tim, not you (you merely provided a jumping-off point). He has a proven record of being able to engage in normal dialogue. Anti-Catholics universally do not, which is why I no longer bother . . .

Dan Marcum said...

Pilgrimsarbour said...
*Sigh*


Was that directed at my post, Pilgrim? What do you mean by it?

Pilgrimsarbour said...

No, Dan.

Ronnie said...


I said:
So I hope you don’t try to defend this argument but instead acknowledge that you went a bit to far in your argument.

Dave responded:
I have backed up all my arguments (i.e., as they actually are: not miscomprehensions of them, such as what we see above) and will continue to defend them until shown otherwise.

You know Dave, this is pretty pathetic. It seems obvious that someone with your years of experience, a professional apologist, has written a number of books, and a probably thousands of discussions and debates should know better. It is stuff like this that goes against all your claims about honest and fair dialogue, Christian charity to others you disagree with, et als.

I’m very familiar with Reformed denominations and Calvinism( actually you don't have to be to know this is false) and for you to try and argue that they believe one must believe in TULIP to be saved is ludicrous and you know better. And here is your exact statement:
”Calvinism requires belief in things such as Total Depravity and Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace to be saved that have nothing to do with the gospel.

No you did shift your argument a bit when you stated the following:
”I'm sure you can join and sit in the back pew and put money in the plate, but you certainly couldn't be an elder, if it is a traditional, conservative, orthodox Reformed church.

No doubt it varies a bit (virtually everything in Protestantism does, after all), but there are plenty of examples of Reformeds equating the gospel with TULIP. In a few seconds on Google I could easily locate some”


But in shifting you make another unfair remark when you “I'm sure you[ those who don’t believe in TULIP] can join and sit in the back pew and put money in the plate, but you certainly couldn't be an elder, if it is a traditional, conservative, orthodox Reformed church.”
But of course this refutes your previous statement that we don’t consider them saved if they don’t embrace thinks like “Total Depravity and Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace” but yet you refuse to recant your initial statement. Your nuance that “No doubt it varies a bit…” doesn’t help and is disingenuous. Can you name a major Reformed denomination in the States that believe one cannot be saved unless they embrace TULIP? This argument is like me attributing something to Catholicism because some individuals or small groups that claim to be Catholic(e.g. The Old Catholic Church, Sedevacantist, liberal churches ) believes something contrary to what Catholicism believes.

However, you don’t stop there, but you go on to commit another calumny against the Reformed faith, when you state we treat how we treat those that don’t embrace TULIP. You are right that they can’t be an Elder, but neither can women and others that don’t meet the qualifications for whatever reason. Are we therefore treating them as you describe(i.e. pay your money and sit in the back )?

Furthermore, as I pointed out previously this same scurrilous charge can be made against your church on a number of different fronts. You have also refused to recant of this unfair accusation.

Dave Armstrong said...

I think you have a point. The statement about believing in TULIP in order to be saved was when I was deliberately using your words against you and changing them to Calvinist terms.

But that went too far. The first parallel worked but (you're right) the second contains this inaccuracy. If I had thought about it more carefully, I wouldn't have made the second direct parallel, but rather, I would have written something like the following:

"Calvinism requires belief in things such as Total Depravity and Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace and Calvinists too often virtually equate the gospel with the five points of TULIP, or regard the five points as essential components of the gospel (if not identical), when in fact they have nothing directly to do with the biblical gospel."

This is a necessary correction, notwithstanding all your charges of dishonesty and equivocation and so forth, which do not apply. It was simply a matter of writing too hastily in my desire to do the parallel (because I love that form of argument) without examining closely enough the final result.

There can always be a rose stuck in a pile of dung and we shouldn't reject it because of its unsavory surroundings. Likewise, you may have a valid point once in a while in-between all the false insults.

Thanks for pointing this out, and I will change my paper accordingly.

Dave Armstrong said...

Having said that, and having conceded this point, I was not that far off, given some of the citations I have found. E.g., Spurgeon (the celebrated Calvinist) says "there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. . . . Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else."

It seems to me that one could argue, roughly, following Spurgeon:

1) Gospel = Calvinism.

2) The Gospel pronounces the Good News of salvation and is (propositionally) essential to man being saved.

3) Doctrinal Calvinism is, therefore, essential to man being saved.

4) Ergo, to be saved, one must believe in TULIP, a central tenet of Calvinist belief.

The guy from A Puritan's Mind site wrote: "The essential doctrines concerning salvation, . . . are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.I.P."

He used the terminology "concerning salvation" rather than "gospel." So I was not all that far off, even in what I have retracted and modified.

Boice wrote: "the gospel is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace, . . . the gospel stands or falls with the doctrines of grace." Then he equates these doctrines with TULIP. So that amounts to saying that the gospel is a gospel of TULIP. To the extent that the gospel saves, then, one might say (as an outcome of this sort of thinking) that TULIP saves.

Again, this is very close to requiring TULIP for salvation: just a hair's breadth away.

J. I. Packer holds, in effect (following his own stated logic), "Calvinism [asserts TULIP] in order to assert the positive content of the gospel".

These kinds of statements are very close (if not identical) to saying that TULIP is essential for salvation. I am willing to concede the general point, in charity to Calvinists as a whole, but at the same time I think one can see that there is a prominent motif of closely aligning TULIP to the gospel, and hence, indirectly (but closely, given the nature and purpose of the gospel) to salvation itself.

* * *

I have revised the original post, in the beginning and the end, taking all these things into consideration.

Ronnie said...


Dave says:
I think you have a point. The statement about believing in TULIP in order to be saved was when I was deliberately using your words against you and changing them to Calvinist terms.

But that went too far. The first parallel worked but (you're right) the second contains this inaccuracy. If I had thought about it more carefully, I wouldn't have made the second direct parallel, but rather, I would have written something like the following:

"Calvinism requires belief in things such as Total Depravity and Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace and Calvinists too often virtually equate the gospel with the five points of TULIP, or regard the five points as essential components of the gospel (if not identical), when in fact they have nothingdirectly to do with the biblical gospel."

This is a necessary correction, notwithstanding all your charges of dishonesty and equivocation and so forth, which do not apply. It was simply a matter of writing too hastily in my desire to do the parallel (because I love that form of argument) without examining closely enough the final result.


Good man, thanks for the adjustment! In the end it makes you paper more effective even though I believe you are misrepresenting the authors, not on purpose, but by not taking their entire body of work into consideration. I think this would help you understand what they mean and the relationship they are using between TULIP and the gospel.

But let me comment on this aspect of your response where you state, “…all your charges of dishonesty and equivocation and so forth, which do not apply”. Dave, if you read back over my replies you will notice I accuse you of no such thing initially. I was even willing to grant you the benefit of the doubt as I basically conceded how you are now explaining what happened. That is why I stated the following in one of responses:

“So hope you don’t try to defend this argument but instead acknowledge that you went a bit to far in your argument.

So as you can see initially I was not calling you dishonest. Now my tone did start to get a bit more direct and forceful as you were refusing to acknowledge what I knew, that you knew was not true. No one could have done this stuff for this long as you have and not have known that it wasn’t true. So in one way it was a compliment because I knew you knew better. However, as you were persisting and even adding to it by adding other rash accusations in defense of the previous one, then yes I would have been forced to conclude that you were not being honest. That is why my language started to change with statements like this:
“You know Dave, this is pretty pathetic. It seems obvious that someone with your years of experience, a professional apologist, has written a number of books, and a probably thousands of discussions and debates should know better.

Also, I never said you were “equivocating” even though there is nothing harsh/mean/disrespectful about that word. It is a common mistake that is made in discussions/debates and to point it out is normal. I didn’t, but I was thinking more of a bait-n-switch when you went from arguing about who can be saved to who can be an Elder.


Dave continues …
There can always be a rose stuck in a pile of dung and we shouldn't reject it because of its unsavory surroundings. Likewise, you may have a valid point once in a while in-between all the false insults.


I think this is also unfair. If anyone looks over our exchanges I think they will see I have not thrown a bunch of “false insults” toward you, surely no more than what you done toward me which hasn’t been a lot in my book.


Dave continues …
Thanks for pointing this out, and I will change my paper accordingly.


No problem, no hard feelings just trying to explain where I was coming from.

Ronnie

Nick said...

Pilgrim,

I think you are confused about what I'm saying. This isn't about God breaking His promise or not being able to cause someone to persevere to the end. Nobody denies this.

My point is about the notion of 'perseverance'/'preservation' in the reformed framework; it logically makes no sense. Persevering means one can fall but either never does or if he does, he recovers in time. This is the doctrine of Scripture, Augustine, and Catholicism. However, there is no such thing in Calvinism where no one can fall away even in theory.

Adomnan said...

Pilgrimsarbour: God won't change His mind about those whom He has appointed to salvation.

Adomnan: I think Nick makes a valid point. The persevering or preserved saints are a non-existent category given Calvinist assumptions.

Calvinists believe that God must punish sins. However, He is not, according to them, obliged to punish the person who actually committed the sins. It is enough that He punish someone, another person, for them. Thus, in theory, God transfers or imputes certain people's sins to Jesus Christ and then punishes Him, satisfying His need to punish sins and yet getting the sinners off the hook. That's how they interpret the "just and justifier of those who believe" of Romans 3:26; i.e. it is just for God to punish an innocent person in the place of a sinner and this enables God to forego punishment of the sinner ("justify him"). This is what is called penal substitution: Someone is substituted for the guilty parties and punished in their stead.

It therefore follows that God can't "change His mind." If he has already punished Jesus Christ for Bill's sins, then He cannot also punish Bill for them. That would be two punishments for one set of sins, which would not ne "just." And that's why Calvinists say the atonement is limited; that is, Jesus has already been punished for a certain, limited number of people, and these people now enjoy impunity.

So there is no need for God to cause anyone to persevere or be preserved. You're either in the group whose punishment got inflicted on Jesus or you're not. If you're in, you're in. If you're out, you're out. As Nick says, no one can fall away even in theory, while perseverance and preservation logically require the possibility of falling. Otherwise, what is someone being preserved from?

What the Calvinists are doing is taking a teaching from St. Augustine ("perseverance of the saints") and misapplying it.

Adomnan said...

I should add that, while Augustine stressed the perseverance of the saints, he did not originate the concept (although he probably was the first to place it in a framework of predestination). He found it in Matthew 24:13: "Those who persevere to the end will be saved."

Nick said...

Good quote, Adomnan, but I wouldn't leave off verse12!!

12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Note that it says the 'love of many will grow cold', indicating they failed to persevere and were lost. This is agape love, the highest form and only true Christians can have it. Thus OSAS is refuted.

Dave Armstrong said...

I was thinking more of a bait-n-switch when you went from arguing about who can be saved to who can be an Elder.

I did no such thing. I was simply responding to the last sentence of a paragraph of yours (namely, "As a matter of fact you can join a Reformed Church and not embrace TULIP."). At that point I was dealing with this proposition of what is required to join a Calvinist church, not with the gospel or salvation.

But if you call a reply to one aspect of your argument bait-and-switch or dishonest or whatever, then what can I say? I call it simply "reply".

In the revised version of the paper, it is more clear exactly what I was replying to because I cite just the sentence above and then give my reply (so no one can possibly conclude as you did, that I was replying to the sentence previous to the one I was actually replying to).

NOW you say I don't have to be called dishonest after I have clarified. But the charitable disputant doesn't quickly make the charge in the first place. He extends the benefit of the doubt.

Choosing the usual uncharitable route that anti-Catholics habitually take in discussion with Catholics, you wrote:

"It is stuff like this that goes against all your claims about honest and fair dialogue, . . ."

[sweeping characterization that I do not engage in fair dialogue, supposedly shown by the present mythical example, that had a perfectly reasonable explanation]

"Your nuance that 'No doubt it varies a bit…' doesn’t help and is disingenuous."

Since I was talking about joining a church and not the gospel and salvation here, it was not "switching" at all; hence there is no ground for the charge of being "disingenuous." You simply couldn't distinguish between one sub-argument and another. You collapsed and combined them, and falsely accused as a result. If a premise is fallacious and misguided nonsense, so will be the conclusion drawn from it.

Your anti-Catholic colleagues almost universally accuse me of dishonesty, so it came as no surprise to me that you would readily join with them in this scurrilous opinion (nor should it surprise you that I react in part because of this long sad history with them).

But I have apologized and retracted statements toward you and one about Calvinist beliefs. That ought to show you I am not "dishonest."

You write: "If anyone looks over our exchanges I think they will see I have not thrown a bunch of 'false insults' toward you,"

There were quite a few. Apparently you have removed some of them. I also removed several of my comments, but I retracted them and apologized to you. It's one thing to apologize for and retract statements and remove them; quite another to simply remove them and then later deny that they existed in significant quantity. You may not stand by some of them now, but they still existed. Therefore, it was quite proper for me to refer to "all the false insults."

Ben M said...

Nick,

Note that it says the 'love of many will grow cold', indicating they failed to persevere and were lost. This is agape love, the highest form and only true Christians can have it. Thus OSAS is refuted.

Indeed! But lots of luck telling that to these folks!

“Too often in our part of the Midwest I hear from members of Calvinistic churches such things as, ‘We must expect to sin a little every day’ or ‘It is better to not to live too holy a life lest you begin to trust in your good works for salvation,’ or ‘Once you are saved you can live and die in gross sin and still go to heaven.’"

Stanley M. Horton, “Response to Hoekema,” in Five Views on Sanctification, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academic Books, 1987, 1996), p. 95.

Dave Armstrong said...

I have added several excerpts from Bishop James White's writings near the end of the paper, and also a citation from a 1993 article by Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, showing that White's stated position logically reduces to the scenario of non-Calvinists not being Christians, or saved (because they deny limited atonement).

Thus, White's own position inexorably leads to the same scenario that I have suggested is virtually (but not quite) the result of the Calvinist belief in TULIP.

The internal incoherence and inconsistency leads to absurd conclusions like this.

Thus, Calvinism can be shown to be, in some respects, anti-[non-Calvinist] Protestant as well as (often) anti-Catholic.

This is why there is such tremendous hostility and never-ending tension between Calvinists and Arminians, with very strong charges being levied on both sides.

The Synod of Dort (1618-1619) was, historically the origin of TULIP, and it decreed that the Arminians were heretics.

Michael S. Horton wrote in his article, "Evangelical Arminians: Option or Oxymoron?":

"One can readily see how a shift from a God-centered message of human sinfulness and divine grace to a human-centered message of human potential and relative divine impotence could create a more secularized outlook. . . . the evangelicals who faced this challenge of Arminianism universally regarded it as a heretical departure from the Christian faith.

"The orthodox Protestants were not over-reacting, therefore, when they regarded the Arminian denials as no different from the positions of Trent, which had declared the evangelicals 'anathema.' It would have been bigoted for them, therefore, to regard Trent's position as unorthodox if they were unwilling to say the same of a similar 'Protestant' deviation."

http://www.reformationonline.com/arminians.htm

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Ben and Adomnan,

So there is no need for God to cause anyone to persevere or be preserved.

The doctrine speaks to the comfort and assurance of believers. It is not a description of their subjective progress or lack thereof in sanctification on the road to salvation. The doctrine emphasises God's character, His faithfulness to His people, not man's responses.

I understand you don't see a need for us to trust God or take Him at His word, as we discussed some time ago. Nevertheless, that is what the Reformed doctrine speaks to, and Catholics are not free to mischaracterise it, just as I am not free to declare that Catholics worship statues. If I am required by honour, integrity and God's word to characterise RCC theology properly, then I expect the same from you.

Blessings in Christ,

Pilgrimsarbour

Adomnan said...

Pilgrimsarbour: The doctrine speaks to the comfort and assurance of believers.

Adomnan: But isn't this assurance of believers specifically their certainty that they are among those whose sins were inflicted on Jesus and punished in Him? If they are assured of this, then why do they need the further assurance that they will persevere or be preserved? Be preserved from what? Once God has punished Jesus for their sins, that's that, isn't it? They're free and clear.

In other words, as Nick pointed out, logically there can't be a category of people who need to be preserved given your assumptions about the atonement.

Pilgrimsarbour: The doctrine emphasises God's character, His faithfulness to His people, not man's responses.

Adomnan: But what pious person would doubt that God is faithful?

Aside from that, it's not really a matter of faithfulness. According to the theory, if God has punished Jesus for X's sins, He cannot then punish X. If He did, He would not only be unfaithful, but unrighteous and, well, logically inconsistent. (Of course, I personally think the theory of penal substitution is incoherent and untenable, but I'm "assuming" it for the sake of argument.)

Pilgrimsarbour: I understand you don't see a need for us to trust God or take Him at His word, as we discussed some time ago.

Adomnan: Now, that's a mischaracterization of my position, which is understandable, I suppose, given that I can be rather irritating.

I never said that we don't have to "take God at His word." In fact, it's precisely because we do take Him at His word that we don't always have to trust Him. Trust is only required when there is some doubt that God might do what we call on Him to do. But that would only be the case when He hasn't revealed His intentions. In the case of revelation, faith -- assent to what is revealed -- is required, not trust.

So we do need to trust God, but only in cases where His plans or promises have not been revealed.

For example, no one would say that he "trusts" that God exists. Rather, we believe that God exists; that is, God has revealed His existence and we assent to that revelation.

Do you "trust" that God exists? What would that even mean?

Similarly, if God has explicitly promised something, then that is a revelation. As with His existence, we don't need to trust the promises, we only need to acknowledge them, including whatever conditions accompanyng them.

I agreed with Dave Armstrong that "believe" is sometimes used in the NT to mean "trust." However, as applied to the revealed articles of Christianity, it is a matter of faith as assent to revelation, and not trust.

I don't think you'll ever find Paul or John, say, "trusting" in what God has revealed. They always simply acknowledge it, which is the proper response to divine revelation.

As Hebrews 11:1 puts it: "Faith is the assurance (or substance) of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen." So faith is a matter of certainty, substance and conviction, and not of trust, which is a sentiment more akin to the virtue of hope.

Pilgrimsarbour: If I am required by honour, integrity and God's word to characterise RCC theology properly, then I expect the same from you.

Adomnan: How did I mischaracterize Reformed theology? Did I get the idea of penal substitution and how it applies to limited atonement wrong?

Pilgrimsarbour, please feel free to ignore me, including this posting, if you find my comments disrespectful or dismissive of Reformed theology. I am simply posing what seem to those of us who are not Reformed to be inconsistencies and conundrums. But I suppose it's true that religious beliefs are not always entirely consistent and may serve on occasion to administer to feelings, like "comfort," rather than to the exigencies of reason.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Part 1

Adomnan and Ben,

But isn't this assurance of believers specifically their certainty that they are among those whose sins were inflicted on Jesus and punished in Him? If they are assured of this, then why do they need the further assurance that they will persevere or be preserved? Be preserved from what? Once God has punished Jesus for their sins, that's that, isn't it? They're free and clear.

I suppose there are those who think of themselves as "free and clear." It would be deadly, however, for that person to use the promise of God as a license to sin. That would demonstrate clearly (at least to others if not to themselves) that they are not "free and clear" since they see no need whatsover to behave like an adopted child of the King.

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

If we're not experiencing good works in our lives, we have no reason to expect that God is doing a good work in them. Likewise, though apparent repentance and an obedient walk with Christ is necessary for our assurance and for our witness to the truth to others, that also is not to be the primary basis of our assurance. Our basis is, as you say, "what is revealed," the promises of God, which revelation means something different to me than it does for you, since your revelation includes extrabiblical traditions. "Standing on the promises of God" is the way one hymn writer put it.

Most Christians, because of our sins, experience periods of doubt regarding whether God will keep His word, or whether we have understood Him properly, or whether we remain "in Him." The promises of God's preservation of His people comfort us when we experience these "dark nights of the soul." Even the truly admirable and saintly Mother Teresa spoke of this. This is all a result of our fallen natures that we are unable to be perfectly consistent in our belief in Him and the assurance that He will do what he has promised. God's promises are to us who are often weak in faith that we may have the hope of His promises to which to cling. He accommodates Himself to our frailty.

But what pious person would doubt that God is faithful?

Really? You can't name any (especially OT) persons whose faith in God failed from time to time? Or how about the apostles? Peter, maybe?

Pilgrimsarbour: I understand you don't see a need for us to trust God or take Him at His word, as we discussed some time ago.

Adomnan: Now, that's a mischaracterization of my position, which is understandable, I suppose, given that I can be rather irritating.


I don't see it as a mischaracterisation, and I would not misrepresent your position intentionally because you irritated me. I'm not that petty. But I had to really work you over to get you to admit that there is an element of trust in the concept of faith, and you only relented, ever so slightly, after Dave posted his lengthy tome on the topic. You said that you may have overstated your point for effect, basically, to keep things stimulating. Well thanks, but I really didn't need that much stimulation. :-)

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Part 2

In fact, it's precisely because we do take Him at His word that we don't always have to trust Him. Trust is only required when there is some doubt that God might do what we call on Him to do.

You have some nuanced understanding of a distinction between "taking Him at His word" and "trusting in Him" that I am unable to fathom, though I have tried. Perhaps we are arguing semantics and I am unable to grasp the distinctions. I admire you, truly, if you never waver in your belief in God; if you trust Him completely and never doubt. If true, I have never known anyone like you.

How did I mischaracterize Reformed theology? Did I get the idea of penal substitution and how it applies to limited atonement wrong?

As I said, I read your (and Ben's) responses to what I said about the Reformed doctrine of Preservation as saying, "No, that's not what it means. It means this..." It's not an issue of disrespect or dismissiveness. I would expect you to be dismissive of Reformed theology. I just don't buy into your argument that there is no need for the doctrine as stated within the system.

Pilgrimsarbour, please feel free to ignore me, including this posting, if you find my comments disrespectful or dismissive of Reformed theology.

Nonsense! If I had wanted to ignore you, I would have done so. Have I not responded quite regularly to your posts, exept for those conversations you were having with Ronnie? And yes, you can be irritating. But so can I, I suppose, so we're on level ground. You and Ben don't offend me, either. Exasperate? Yes. But I have that capacity as well, so what else is new?

You know, Dave, (God bless him), feels a little paternal or big-brotherly toward me, I can tell, even though we're the same age. I appreciate it that he is mindful that I see myself as being mostly alone in "enemy territory," though I count none of you as enemies, merely opponents, and even, perhaps, friends and maybe even brethren! ;-) But I think he's wrong about me being too sensitive. I think it's more likely that he's a battle-hardened veteran that is no longer much troubled by certain kinds of remarks which can be indications of haughtiness on the part of those that make them. I'll try not to be overly sensitive, though.

So keep on posting. But I reserve the right to respond with sarcasm, as I see fit. Where else am I going to hone my craft? :-)

Adomnan said...

Pilgrimsarbour: If we're not experiencing good works in our lives, we have no reason to expect that God is doing a good work in them.

Adomnan: Okay, but based on your statement "that (this) is not to be the primary basis of our assurance" and your earlier remark that perseverance/preservation "is not a description of their subjective progress or lack thereof in sanctification on the road to salvation", it would seem that perseverance really has little to do with "experiencing good works in our lives."

If perseverance is a matter of "standing on the promises," then it would seem that what the saints are persevering in, according to this doctrine, is not their saintliness (as you might expect), but rather their assurance. They are persevering in their assurance and not losing it. They do this by reminding themselves of God's promises.

All I can say is, this is certainly not what Augustine meant by the "perseverance of the saints" and it's not, I think, what Jesus meant when He said that "those who persevere to the end will be saved," this statement of Jesus being the basis of Augustine's teaching.

Pilgrimsarbour: You have some nuanced understanding of a distinction between "taking Him at His word" and "trusting in Him" that I am unable to fathom, though I have tried. Perhaps we are arguing semantics and I am unable to grasp the distinctions.

Adomnan: Perhaps it is largely a matter of semantics. But let me explain why I raise this issue of faith as assent versus faith as trust. I really think that "faith" in the NT context refers to the response of belief/assent to what God has revealed in Christ. By shifting the emphasis to trust, Protestants have changed the meaning of NT faith, moving it faith away from being simply reception of a message to being a certain subjective attitude toward that message ("trust"). Trust is fine as a general reliance on God where He hasn't revealed something, but trust is not an appropriate response to a divine revelation. We believe what God reveals; we don't trust it.

I pulled out my American Heritage Dictionary, which has the following note after its entry on trust: Synonyms: trust, faith, confidence (and reliance, dependence, which I'll leave out of consideration here). "These nouns refer to a feeling that a person or thing will not fail in performance. Trust implies depth and assurance of such feeling, which may not always be supported by proof. When acceptance of someone or something is unquestioning or emotionally charged, faith is the appropriate term. Confidence suggests less intensity of feeling but, frequently, good evidence for being sure."

It is because "faith" is unquestioning and because "trust" is "not always supported by proof," that I think that trust is not the most appropriate response to a divine revelation, whose acceptance is unquestioning and supplied with proof.

And please keep in mind that I am thinking not in terms of how we moderns might conceive religious faith, but how the people in Bible times did. If we want to understand biblical thinking, we have to set aside our understanding and try to take on theirs.

I believe that ancient and medieval "faith" slipped to "trust" as doubt in God and revelation grew in early modern times. People had to overcome their growing doubts, and this effort to push aside doubts was what gave birth to Protestant "trust."

Or, to put it another way, I either know God is and that He has promised certain things, or I don't. If I do, then what is there to trust? And if I don't, what is there that can be trusted?

Maroun said...

Pilgrimsarbour said .
But what pious person would doubt that God is faithful?

Really? You can't name any (especially OT) persons whose faith in God failed from time to time? Or how about the apostles? Peter, maybe?
Actualy in what you said,people were unfaithful and not God.
So God is always faithful,but we could become unfaithful and leave Him.And that`s precisly why we need with the help of God of course perseverence to the end...
So the examples which you said about OT persons , whose faith in God failed from time to time , has nothing to do with what Adomnan said (But what pious person would doubt that God is faithful?)
GBU

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Actualy in what you said,people were unfaithful and not God.
So God is always faithful,but we could become unfaithful and leave Him.And that`s precisly why we need with the help of God of course perseverence to the end...


I agree completely. We cannot endure, persevere through to the end of our lives without the grace He gives His own. I would add, though, if we were ever to leave Him permanently, then salvation was never truly ours to begin with. I know you don't agree with that, but I must always qualify my answers--we don't need to get into it all over again.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Adomnan,

Thanks for your response. I don't think I'm bright enough to follow your distinctions regarding faith and trust. Thanks for trying, though.

PA

Maroun said...

Pilgrimsarbour said...I would add, though, if we were ever to leave Him permanently, then salvation was never truly ours to begin with.
Then with all my repect,as someone else told you before . There is no such thing as perseverence for the reformers,if as you just said , those who do not persever were never truly his...Again you go back to say predestined or not , as Adomnan said
All I can say is, this is certainly not what Augustine meant by the "perseverance of the saints" and it's not, I think, what Jesus meant when He said that "those who persevere to the end will be saved," this statement of Jesus being the basis of Augustine's teaching.
In Matthew 24:5-13 , 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
If you read the verses,you will realise very clearly that our Lord Jesus is saying very clearly that we must with his help of course persevere,against false prophets,and during wars and persecutions and so on...No such thing whatsoever as you claimed that they were never his,if they were never his then we couldnt even persevere , because only those which are in and his should persevere,but if as you claim they were never his,then they were never his,nothing whatsoever then about persevering...
And in Romans 11:17-24 , we read
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; [among them: or, for them]
18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.
24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches , be graffed into their own olive tree?
Again it`s very clear,that not as you said , they were never his because they did not persevere,but they were his and did not persevere.
GBU