Course Review: Apologetics 101 – Scott Oliphint, Westminster Theological Seminary

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Apologetics comes from the reality of Scripture. It is not an invention of theologians and philosophers.


Letter II‘ve decided to try something new, to start a new type of series. I love to read, and I’ve been writing book reviews for years. I also love to listen to lectures, and often fill the time during my daily commute with courses from the online libraries of schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster, Gordon-Conwell, Covenant, and others.

So I’ve decided start providing summaries, analysis, and critiques of these courses and lecture series, partially to help me process what I’ve encountered and partially because it’s not something I’ve seen done before and I think it’ll be fun.

The first series of lectures I will be reviewing is Dr. Scott Oliphint’s course Apologetics 101 at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

Scott is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster. He is one of the foremost experts on Cornelius Van Til and the sphere of presuppositional apologetics (along with John Frame and the late Greg Bahnsen), and is perhaps best known for his re-framing of presuppositionalism in the form of Covenantal Apologetics.

Scott is on Twitter, has written for Ligonier and DesiringGod, and has many resources available on SermonAudio.

This course is available for free on iTunesU.

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Book Review: Arminian Theology – By Roger E. Olson

roger-olson-arminian-theologyLetter IIn On Liberty the Nineteenth Century British philosophy John Stuart Mill wrote that “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them… he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

That is, we must not lock ourselves into echo chambers, only listening to voices that sound like our own.

Roger Olson‘s Arminian Theology is a book that I saw sitting in my library bookstore and piqued my interest, and my curiosity, mainly because I had never read a true defense of Arminian Theology – and believing the thoughts of John Stuart Mill presented above to be true – I have been feeling it my duty for quite some time to read another side of the argument. However, there is something else which should be added to the thoughts of Mill, and those are thoughts of C.S. Lewis, from his book An Experiment in Criticism where he writes that “We can never know that a piece of writing is bad unless we have begun by trying to read it if it was very good and ended up by discovering that we were paying the author an undeserved compliment.” I went into this book giving it the benefit of the doubt, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The goal of Olson’s book is, as the subtitle points out, to discuss the myths and realities of Arminian theology. He begins by giving the outline of the age-old debate, by defining his terms, and by giving a basic overview of orthodox Arminian and Calvinist positions. He then goes on to address the myths of Arminian theology, to include: Arminianism is the opposite of Calvinism; a hybrid of Arminianism and Calvinism is possible; Arminianism is not orthodox evangelicalism; the heart of Arminianism is free will; Arminian theology denies the sovereignty of God; is human-centered; is not a theology of grace; doesn’t believe in predestination; denies justification by grace alone through faith alone; and believes in the governmental theory of atonement.

Olson systematically goes through providing explanations for why each of the myths regarding Arminian theology is false, and offering sources which explain the actual Arminian position, usually to include John Welsey, Simon Episcopius, Thomas Oden, and many others (as well as Arminius himself).

One downside of this (though it does show Olson’s sincerity) is that he is often forced to point out that many of Arminianisms main proponents do believe in and teach the myths put forth, though Olson regulates these to misunderstandings of Arminiansm – still, it does mean that not all of them are really myths, or at least that Olson’s understanding of Arminianism isn’t necessary uniform without that theological group.

Overall, Olson does a good job explaining his position and clarifying the position of Arminianism, and I have to say that walked away with a better understanding of where they are coming from (though I’d still posit that there are many gaps in the argument).

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Olson’s writing is his honesty and willingness to acknowledge the weaknesses in his own system. For instance Olson can be found noting that “all caviling aside, Arminians know that their belief in libertarian freedom is a mystery (not a contradiction).” He also does well at representing his opponent’s view, and understanding why his opponents object to his system: “These two views are incommensurable. To the Arminian, compatibilist free will is no free will at all. To the Calvinist, incompatibilist free will is a myth; it simply cannot exist because it would amount to an uncaused effect, which is absurd.”

Finally, Olson also offers a very good formula to abide by when critiquing other systems. Define your terms, be able to describe you opponents view as he would before opposing it, make sure you’re not attacking a straw man, admit your own weaknesses, and avoid attributing to the opposing party things they explicitly reject. All are great advice for anybody who wants their opponents to take them seriously, and I think Olson plays by his own rules fairly well in this text.

That said, I would recommend this text to Arminians and Calvinists alike.  It is a good read, and great for clarifying the Arminian position.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The most common root of confusion in theology is misunderstanding of terms.” (p15)

-“I have concluded that appealing to Scripture alone cannot prove one side right and the other side wrong… It is largely a matter of that mystery called perspective. Philosophers have called it ‘blik.’ It is a basic way of seeing reality. We see the world as such-and-such even when proof is lacking.” (p70)

“And Arminians do not see a way to embrace divine determinism (monergism) and avoid making God the author of sin and evil.” (p98)

-“A concept that is compatible with anything and everything is empty.” (p100)

-“The free will of human beings in Arminius’s theology and in classical Arminianism is more properly denoted freed will.”

Specific Criticisms

While I am a fan of this text, it is not without its share of difficulties. On of the main ones is that Olson addresses the ‘myth’ that the heart of Arminianism is free will, and then essentially argues the opposite (one way around this criticism would be to say that he means for the heart of Arminianism to be the ‘freed will’, but this is never stated outright). Hence we find Olson continually arguing in favor of free will, especially from the standpoint that “[free will] is necessary to protect God’s reputation.” (p98) 

Another issue is that the text is mainly directing his argument against ‘high calvinism’ or hypercalvinism. Olson acknowledges early on that hypercalvinism is not the primary view within Calvinism, and yet it is hypercalvinism that most of his arguments are aimed against.

Other areas include what one might call ‘gaps in logic’. For instance, Olson says that “Thus predestination is conditional rather than unconditional; God’s electing foreknowledge is caused by the faith of the elect.” (p35) and again, “Rather, the decisions cause God to know them.” (p188) How can an effect precede a cause? This is never addressed by Olson.

There are also instances such as these three quotations; Olson wants to make the point that humans action is necessary for salvation, but they don’t play a part, they cooperate but don’t contribute, they are a partner but play no part. “Thus salvation is conditional, not unconditional; humans play a role and are not passive or controlled by any force, internal or external.” (p37) “Cooperation does not contribute to salvation, as if God does part and humans do part; rather cooperation with grace in Arminian theology is simply nonresistance to grace.” (p36) “In salvation, God’s grace is the superior partner; human free will (nonresistance) is the lesser partner.” (p63) Frankly, I don’t think Olson makes his point clear at all.

There are various other nitpicks I have with the text, but one of the only other ones worth noting here is his statement that “Arminian belief in general redemption is not universal salvation; it is universal redemption from Adam’s sin.”(p33) My problem with this statement is that no proof text is provided to support it, and it is presumably an idea that is added on extra-biblically in the need to account for all the facts.

A Defense of Calvinism — C.H. Spurgeon

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The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.

It is a great thing to begin the Christian life by believing good solid doctrine. Some people have received twenty different “gospels” in as many years; how many more they will accept before they get to their journey’s end, it would be difficult to predict. I thank God that He early taught me the gospel, and I have been so perfectly satisfied with it, that I do not want to know any other. Constant change of creed is sure loss. If a tree has to be taken up two or three times a year, you will not need to build a very large loft in which to store the apples. When people are always shifting their doctrinal principles, they are not likely to bring forth much fruit to the glory of God. It is good for young believers to begin with a firm hold upon those great fundamental doctrines which the Lord has taught in His Word.

Why, if I believed what some preach about the temporary, trumpery salvation which only lasts for a time, I would scarcely be at all grateful for it; but when I know that those whom God saves He saves with an everlasting salvation, when I know that He gives to them an everlasting righteousness, when I know that He settles them on an everlasting foundation of everlasting love, and that He will bring them to His everlasting kingdom, oh, then I do wonder, and I am astonished that such a blessing as this should ever have been given to me!

“Pause, my soul! adore, and wonder!
Ask, ‘Oh, why such love to me?’
Grace hath put me in the number
Of the Saviour’s family:
Hallelujah!
Thanks, eternal thanks, to Thee

I suppose there are some persons whose minds naturally incline towards the doctrine of free-will. I can only say that mine inclines as naturally towards the doctrines of sovereign grace. Sometimes, when I see some of the worst characters in the street, I feel as if my heart must burst forth in tears of gratitude that God has never let me act as they have done! I have thought, if God had left me alone, and had not touched me by His grace, what a great sinner I should have been! I should have run to the utmost lengths of sin, dived into the very depths of evil, nor should I have stopped at any vice or folly, if God had not restrained me. I feel that I should have been a very king of sinners, if God had let me alone.

I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of Divine grace. If I am not at this moment without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have His will with me, and that will was that I should be with Him where He is, and should share His glory. I can put the crown nowhere but upon the head of Him whose mighty grace has saved me from going down into the pit. Looking back on my past life, I can see that the dawning of it all was of God; of God effectively. I took no torch with which to light the sun, but the sun enlightened me. I did not commence my spiritual life-no, I rather kicked, and struggled against the things of the Spirit: when He drew me, for a time I did not run after Him: there was a natural hatred in my soul of everything holy and good. Wooings were lost upon me-warnings were cast to the wind- thunders were despised; and as for the whispers of His love, they were rejected as being less than nothing and vanity. But, sure I am, I can say now, speaking on behalf of myself, “He only is my salvation.” It was He who turned my heart, and brought me down on my knees before Him. I can in very deed, say with Doddridge and Toplady-

“Grace taught my soul to pray,

And made my eyes o’erflow.”

and coming to this moment, I can add-

“Tis grace has kept me to this day,

And will not let me go.”

Well can I remember the manner in which I learned the doctrines of grace in a single instant. Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul-when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown on a sudden from a babe into a man-that I had made progress in Scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God. One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment- I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”

I once attended a service where the text happened to be, “He shall choose our inheritance for us;” and the good man who occupied the pulpit was more than a little of an Arminian. Therefore, when he commenced, he said, “This passage refers entirely to our temporal inheritance, it has nothing whatever to do with our everlasting destiny, for,” said he, “we do not want Christ to choose for us in the matter of Heaven or hell. It is so plain and easy, that every man who has a grain of common sense will choose Heaven, and any person would know better than to choose hell. We have no need of any superior intelligence, or any greater Being, to choose Heaven or hell for us. It is left to our own free- will, and we have enough wisdom given us, sufficiently correct means to judge for ourselves,” and therefore, as he very logically inferred, there was no necessity for Jesus Christ, or anyone, to make a choice for us. We could choose the inheritance for ourselves without any assistance. “Ah!” I thought, “but, my good brother, it may be very true that we could, but I think we should want something more than common sense before we should choose aright.”

First, let me ask, must we not all of us admit an over-ruling Providence, and the appointment of Jehovah’s hand, as to the means whereby we came into this world? Those men who think that, afterwards, we are left to our own free-will to choose this one or the other to direct our steps, must admit that our entrance into the world was not of our own will, but that God had then to choose for us. What circumstances were those in our power which led us to elect certain persons to be our parents? Had we anything to do with it? Did not God Himself appoint our parents, native place, and friends? Could He not have caused me to be born with the skin of the Hottentot, brought forth by a filthy mother who would nurse me in her “kraal,” and teach me to bow down to Pagan gods, quite as easily as to have given me a pious mother, who would each morning and night bend her knee in prayer on my behalf? Or, might He not, if He had pleased have given me some profligate to have been my parent, from whose lips I might have early heard fearful, filthy, and obscene language? Might He not have placed me where I should have had a drunken father, who would have immured me in a very dungeon of ignorance, and brought me up in the chains of crime? Was it not God’s Providence that I had so happy a lot, that both my parents were His children, and endeavoured to train me up in the fear of the Lord?

John Newton used to tell a whimsical story, and laugh at it, too, of a good woman who said, in order to prove the doctrine of election, “Ah! sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else He would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.” I am sure it is true in my case; I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine. I recollect an Arminian brother telling me that he had read the Scriptures through a score or more times, and could never find the doctrine of election in them. He added that he was sure he would have done so if it had been there, for he read the Word on his knees. I said to him, “I think you read the Bible in a very uncomfortable posture, and if you had read it in your easy chair, you would have been more likely to understand it. Pray, by all means, and the more, the better, but it is a piece of superstition to think there is anything in the posture in which a man puts himself for reading: and as to reading through the Bible twenty times without having found anything about the doctrine of election, the wonder is that you found anything at all: you must have galloped through it at such a rate that you were not likely to have any intelligible idea of the meaning of the Scriptures.”

If it would be marvelous to see one river leap up from the earth full-grown, what would it be to gaze upon a vast spring from which all the rivers of the earth should at once come bubbling up, a million of them born at a birth? What a vision would it be! Who can conceive it. And yet the love of God is that fountain, from which all the rivers of mercy, which have ever gladdened our race-all the rivers of grace in time, and of glory hereafter-take their rise. My soul, stand thou at that sacred fountain-head, and adore and magnify, for ever and ever, God, even our Father, who hath loved us! In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn cup; long ere the echoes awoke the solitudes; before the mountains were brought forth; and long ere the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures. Before there was any created being-when the ether was not fanned by an angel’s wing, when space itself had not an existence, when there was nothing save God alone-even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His bowels moved with love for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul. Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world-even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”

Then, in the fulness of time, He purchased me with His blood; He let His heart run out in one deep gaping wound for me long ere I loved Him. Yea, when He first came to me, did I not spurn Him? When He knocked at the door, and asked for entrance, did I not drive Him away, and do despite to Ms grace? Ah, I can remember that I full often did so until, at last, by the power of His effectual grace, He said, “I must, I will come in;” and then He turned my heart, and made me love Him. But even till now I should have resisted Him, had it not been for His grace. Well, then since He purchased me when I was dead in sins, does it not follow, as a consequence necessary and logical, that He must have loved me first? Did my Saviour die for me because I believed on Him? No; I was not then in existence; I had then no being. Could the Saviour, therefore, have died because I had faith, when I myself was not yet born? Could that have been possible? Could that have been the origin of the Saviour’s love towards me? Oh! no; my Saviour died for me long before I believed. “But,” says someone, “He foresaw that you would have faith; and, therefore, He loved you.” What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself) No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, “I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.”

I am bound to the doctrine of the depravity of the human heart, because I find myself depraved in heart, and have daily proofs that in my flesh there dwelleth no good thing. If God enters into covenant with unfallen man, man is so insignificant a creature that it must be an act of gracious condescension on the Lord’s part; but if God enters into covenant with sinful man, he is then so offensive a creature that it must be, on God’s part, an act of pure, free, rich, sovereign grace. When the Lord entered into covenant with me, I am sure that it was all of grace, nothing else but grace. When I remember what a den of unclean beasts and birds my heart was, and how strong was my unrenewed will, how obstinate and rebellious against the sovereignty of the Divine rule, I always feel inclined to take the very lowest room in my Father’s house, and when I enter Heaven, it will be to go among the less than the least of all saints, and with the chief of sinners.

The late lamented Mr. Denham has put, at the foot of his portrait, a most admirable text, “Salvation is of the Lord.” That is just an epitome of Calvinism; it is the sum and substance of it.

If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, “He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.” I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, “God is my rock and my salvation.”

What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ-the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here.

I have my own Private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is 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, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor 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, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

“If ever it should come to pass,

That sheep of Christ might fall away,

My fickle, feeble soul, alas!

Would fall a thousand times a day”

If one dear saint of God had perished, so might all; if one of the covenant ones be lost, so may all be; and then there is no gospel promise true, but the Bible is a lie, and there is nothing in it worth my acceptance. I will be an infidel at once when I can believe that a saint of God can ever fall finally. If God hath loved me once, then He will love me for ever. God has a mastermind; He arranged everything in His gigantic intellect long before He did it; and once having settled it, He never alters it, ‘This shall be done,” saith He, and the iron hand of destiny marks it down, and it is brought to pass. “This is My purpose,” and it stands, nor can earth or hell alter it. “This is My decree,” saith He, “promulgate it, ye holy angels; rend it down from the gate of Heaven, ye devils, if ye can; but ye cannot alter the decree, it shall stand for ever.” God altereth not His plans; why should He? He is Almighty, and therefore can perform His pleasure. Why should He? He is the All-wise, and therefore cannot have planned wrongly. Why should He? He is the everlasting God, and therefore cannot die before His plan is accomplished. Why should He change? Ye worthless atoms of earth, ephemera of a day, ye creeping insects upon this bay-leaf of existence, ye may change your plans, but He shall never, never change His. Has He told me that His plan is to save me? If so, I am for ever safe.

“My name from the palms of His hands

Eternity will not erase;

Impress’d on His heart it remains,

In marks of indelible grace.”

I do not know how some people, whobelieve that a Christian can fall from grace, manage to be happy. It must be a very commendable thing in them to be able to get through a day without despair. f I did not believe the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, I think I should be of all men the most miserable, because I should lack any ground of comfort. I could not say, whatever state of heart I came into, that I should be like a well- spring of water, whose stream fails not; I should rather have to take the comparison of an intermittent spring, that might stop on a sudden, or a reservoir, which I had no reason to expect would always be full. I believe that the happiest of Christians and the truest of Christians are those who never dare to doubt God, but who take His Word simply as it stands, and believe it, and ask no questions, just feeling assured that if God has said it, it will be so. I bear my willing testimony that I have no reason, nor even the shadow of a reason, to doubt my Lord, and I challenge Heaven, and earth, and hell, to bring any proof that God is untrue. From the depths of hell I call the fiends, and from this earth I call the tried and afflicted believers, and to Heaven I appeal, and challenge the long experience of the blood-washed host, and there is not to be found in the three realms a single person who can bear witness to one fact which can disprove the faithfulness of God, or weaken Ms claim to be trusted by His servants. There are many things that may or may not happen, but this I know shall happen-

“He shall present my soul,

Unblemish’d and complete,

Before the glory of His face,

With joys divinely great”

All the purposes of man have been defeated, but not the purposes of God. The promises of man may be broken-many of them are made to be broken-but the promises of God shall all be fulfilled. He is a promise-maker, but He never was a promise- breaker; He is a promise-keeping God, and every one of His people shall prove it to be so. This is my grateful, personal confidence, “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me”-unworthy me, lost and ruined me. He will yet save me; and-

“I, among the blood-wash’d throng,

Shall wave the palm, and wear the crown,

And shout loud victory”

I go to a land which the plough of earth hath never upturned, where it is greener than earth’s best pastures, and richer than her most abundant harvests ever saw. I go to a building of more gorgeous architecture than man hath ever builded; it is not of mortal design; it is “a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.” All I shall know and enjoy in Heaven, will be given to me by the Lord, and I shall say, when at last I appear before Him-

“Grace all the work shall crown

Through everlasting days;

It lays in Heaven the topmost stone,

And well deserves the praise”

I know there are some who think it necessary to their system of theology to limit the merit of the blood of Jesus: if my theological system needed such a limitation, I would cast it to the winds. I cannot, I dare not allow the thought to find a lodging in my mind, it seems so near akin to blasphemy. In Christ’s finished work I see an ocean of merit; my plummet finds no bottom, my eye discovers no shore. There must be sufficient efficacy in the blood of Christ, if God had so willed it, to have saved not only all in this world, but all in ten thousand worlds, had they transgressed their Maker’s law. Once admit infinity into the matter, and limit is out of the question. Having a Divine Person for an offering, it is not consistent to conceive of limited value; bound and measure are terms inapplicable to the Divine sacrifice. The intent of the Divine purpose fixes the application of the infinite offering, but does not change it into a finite work. Think of the numbers upon whom God has bestowed His grace already. Think of the countless hosts in Heaven: if thou wert introduced there to-day, thou wouldst find it as easy to tell the stars, or the sands of the sea, as to count the multitudes that are before the throne even now. They have come from the East, and from the West, from the North, and from the South, and they are sitting down with Abraham, and with Isaac, and with Jacob in the Kingdom of God; and beside those in Heaven, think of the saved ones on earth. Blessed be God, His elect on earth are to be counted by millions, I believe, and the days are coming, brighter days than these, when there shall be multitudes upon multitudes brought to know the Saviour, and to rejoice in Him. The Father’s love is not for a few only, but for an exceeding great company. “A great multitude, which no man could number,” will be found in Heaven. A man can reckon up to very high figures; set to work your Newtons, your mightiest calculators, and they can count great numbers, but God and God alone can tell the multitude of His redeemed. I believe there will be more in Heaven than in hell. If anyone asks me why I think so, I answer, because Christ, in everything, is to “have the pre- eminence,” and Icannot conceive how He could have the pre- eminence if there are to be more in the dominions of Satan than in Paradise. Moreover, I have never read that there is to be in hell a great multitude, which no man could number. I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to Paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them! Then there are already in Heaven unnumbered myriads of the spirits of just men made perfect-the redeemed of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues up till now; and there are better times coming, when the religion of Christ shall be universal; when-

“He shall reign from pole to pole,
With illimitable sway,”

when whole kingdoms shall bow down before Him, and nations shall be born in a day, and in the thousand years of the great millennial state there will be enough saved to make up all the deficiencies of the thousands of years that have gone before. Christ shall be Master everywhere, and His praise shall be sounded in every land. Christ shall have the pre-eminence at last; His train shall be far larger than that which shall attend the chariot of the grim monarch of hell.
Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, “It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself,” they say, “to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.” I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer- I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.

But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one “of whom the world was not worthy.” I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

I do not think I differ from any of my Hyper-Calvinistic brethren in what I do believe, but I differ from them in what they do not believe. I do not hold any less than they do, but I hold a little more, and, I think, a little more of the truth revealed in the Scriptures. Not only are there a few cardinal doctrines, by which we can steer our ship North, South, East, or West, but as we study the Word, we shall begin to learn something about the North-west and North-east, and all else that lies between the four cardinal points. The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once. For instance, I read in one Book of the Bible, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Yet I am taught, in another part of the same inspired Word, that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other. I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

It is often said that the doctrines we believe have a tendency to lead us to sin. I have heard it asserted most positively, that those high doctrines which we love, and which we find in the Scriptures, are licentious ones. I do not know who will have the hardihood to make that assertion, when they consider that the holiest of men have been believers in them. I ask the man who dares to say that Calvinism is a licentious religion, what he thinks of the character of Augustine, or Calvin, or Whitefield, who in successive ages were the great exponents of the system of grace; or what will he say of the Puritans, whose works are full of them? Had a man been an Arminian in those days, he would have been accounted the vilest heretic breathing, but now we are looked upon as the heretics, and they as the orthodox.

We have gone back to the old school; we can trace our descent from the apostles. It is that vein of free-grace, running through the sermonizing of Baptists, which has saved us as a denomination. Were it not for that, we should not stand where we are today. We can run a golden line up to Jesus Christ Himself, through a holy succession of mighty fathers, who all held these glorious truths; and we can ask concerning them, “Where will you find holier and better men in the world?” No doctrine is so calculated to preserve a man from sin as the doctrine of the grace of God. Those who have called it “a licentious doctrine” did not know anything at all about it. Poor ignorant things, they little knew that their own vile stuff was the most licentious doctrine under Heaven. If they knew the grace of God in truth, they would soon see that there was no preservative from lying like a knowledge that we are elect of God from the foundation of the world. There is nothing like a belief in my eternal perseverance, and the immutability of my Father’s affection, which can keep me near to Him from a motive of simple gratitude. Nothing makes a man so virtuous as belief of the truth. A lying doctrine will soon beget a lying practice. A man cannot have an erroneous belief without by-and-by having an erroneous life. I believe the one thing naturally begets the other.

Of all men, those have the most disinterested piety, the sublimest reverence, the most ardent devotion, who believe that they are saved by grace, without works, through faith, and that not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

Christians should take heed, and see that it always is so, lest by any means Christ should be crucified afresh, and put to an open shame.

 


Spurgeon.pngC.H. Spurgeon

C.H. Spurgeon was an influential British pastor in the Reformed Baptist tradition during the 19th Century. Often referred to as the ‘Prince of Preachers’, Spurgeon was known for his oratory skill and powerful sermons. He was also a prolific writer whose works included not only sermons but also commentaries, devotionals, poetry, and hymns.

 

Sovereignty and Contingency in Christianity

waiting1Few themes have been discussed as frequently throughout history as that of fate and free will. The topic in itself seems innocent enough, yet whenever it is discussed all of the rest of philosophy and theology inevitably gets pulled up into it. It is caught up in questions of ethics, of the relation between God and evil, of human responsibility, of salvation and of the sovereignty of God – questions of whether mankind has some semblance of control over his destiny or is merely a machine.

When discussed in the context of Christianity, the discussion often turns to the question of divine foreknowledge, on which there is no shortage of views (some of the more common being open-theism, simple-foreknowledge, Molinism, and the Reformed view).

As we wade through these views it must be noted that each argument accounts for certain aspects while neglecting others. Thus:

  • the Open-Theist claims the issue is over the content of reality but allows for some determined events; yet having any determined events at all falls into the same inability to explain the interaction between freedom and foreknowledge that plagues every view.
  • the Simple-Foreknowledge view – where God elects those he foreknew – only succeeds in making election and predestination meaningless and redundant when placed beside of foreknowledge; that is, election and predestination become words without content.
  • Molinism, rather than having God as puppet-master, makes him the great manipulator, rigging circumstances and the environment so that people will do as he wills; while this may help answer logical problems, it fails to address the moral dynamic of the dilemma.
  • the Reformed view is often the most honest in addressing its own deficiency, with authors such as Paul Helm stating that “we cannot at present see how these parts cohere, that we cannot demonstrate their consistency.” Yet even Helm requires the individual to redefine their view of the will before presenting the mystery; that is, Helm answers the question, but does so by changing what the words in play mean (and thereby bordering on the fallacy of equivocation).

Regardless of whether one goes down the road of the Arminian or that of the Calvinist, the Molinist or the Open-Theist, eventually a certain impassible fog will be reached that the thinker will be forced to resign to mystery.

However, rather than find that each road has its own fog at some point in the distance, would we be justified in simply marking the mystery at the outset? As G.K. Chesterton says, the Christian “has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.”

Before resigning ourselves to mystery, however, we must take into account a variety of factors, factors such as the limits of reason, the notions of divine foreknowledge and free will, and the impact of Scripture on the topic. Objections to the position as well as its practical out-workings must also be addressed.

The topic can be narrowed before proceeding. So while it is necessary to discuss the human will, the related question of whether man may freely choose good or evil is a matter of election, which is a distinct discussion (for even if man possesses an innate bias towards the things which are evil, this does not necessarily suppose that his choices are all determined or causally necessary – rather, he may in this instance be freely and contingently choosing between things which are evil; this biased yet contingent freedom would still offer up the philosophical problems offered in the discussion of foreknowledge and preserve God’s sovereignty in salvation).

Indeed, it is not necessary for us to consider the fallen will of man at all – in appealing to the Garden we do away with the problem of the fallen will altogether. Thus it can be found for one in the writings of Augustine: “For it was by the evil use of his free will that man destroyed both it and himself.” Anthony Hoekema reflects this saying: “Though man had been created with true freedom, they lost that freedom when they fell into sin.” It is with the free will as present in the Garden which must be contended, regardless of what sort of will is present today.

It will suffice to say that it was present once, for if such a free will ever was present then the same issues arise as if it were present today.

With the scope narrowed one may begin to consider the will in itself, but in doing so one must take into account the limits of reason. We must ask whether our faculty of reason even has the capability of answering this question sufficiently; as C.H. Spurgeon wrote in regards to fore-ordination and human responsibility, “it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.” The solution from the Reformed perspective is a theory called compatibilism. This is accomplished through defining ‘free will’ not in the manner of libertarian free will but rather in offering a view similar to what James Smith calls ‘positive free will’, this is a ‘free will’ where “freedom isn’t just the ability to choose, but the ability to choose well, to choose rightly.” However, this in itself does not liberate the Reformed perspective from its difficulties, for supposing that Adam had the ability to choose either rightly or wrongly it must still be explained how he came to choose wrongly, especially if God is the ultimate cause of his actions. Furthermore, this only succeeds in taking a dilemma between the interaction of sovereignty and free will and moving it back, making it into a dilemma between sovereignty and responsibility.

As noted, the Reformed tradition has the advantage of acknowledging this relationship as one of the mysteries of God. Yet, the simple-foreknowledge position also acknowledges mystery in its system. As Roger Olson states: “Arminians know that their belief in libertarian freedom is a mystery.” The Reformed tradition acknowledges a mystery between sovereignty and responsibility, the Arminian tradition acknowledges a mystery within libertarian freedom itself. Olson acknowledges both of these mysteries, but prefers his own because he feels it saves God from being the author of evil. One position he rejects, however, is the position that the will is determined but free, for this “begs further explanation.”

From the outside it might be contended that both the Reformed and Arminian options “beg further explanation.” Perhaps it should be stated that the relationship between divine sovereignty and free will is the mystery. G.K. Chesterton has already been quoted as sharing a view similar to this; Jerry Bridges puts forth the same idea, stating that “while the Bible asserts both God’s sovereignty and people’s freedom and moral responsibility, it never attempts to explain their relationship.” Such a placement of the mystery may also be seen by Anthony Hoekema, who states “To be a creature means that I cannot move a finger or utter a word apart from God; to be a person means that when my fingers are moved, I move them, and that when words are uttered from my lips, I utter them,” and goes on to say that “denial of either side of this paradox will fail to do justice to the biblical picture.”

Regardless of which road one goes down eventually an impassible fog is reached that is deemed a mystery, the goal therefore may be to state the mystery at the outset.

If the justification of placing the mystery at the point suggested is to be addressed, the nature of the human understanding of the will must be addressed. In order to address the human understanding of the will it is necessary first to address human understanding in itself. It is noted by G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy that “It is always perilous to the mind to reckon up the mind,” and again that “The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything.”

One begins to see an initial problem at the very outset of analyzing the will. This problem is brought up by John Kemeny in stating that humans “are part of the universe about which we make predictions.” Not only is there the problem of the mind attempting to reckon up itself, and the problem of being part of the system which is being analyzed, but there are further problems in the very nature of the analysis.

From what very little may be said of the mind, it may be asserted that it is the nature of the mind in analysis to look for causal connections, indeed, logic and science can operate by no other method – but when this is the method it cannot help but lead to determinism. The idea is put forth by such thinkers as Paul Roubiczek, who states “[Determinism] is the natural outcome of the scientific method; it is bound to work in the direction of establishing causality,” and again that “As the method is designed to disclose necessity, freedom can never be proved in this way.” That is to say, reason and the scientific method must necessarily look for causes, and can only operate in the language of cause and effect, therefore they are incompetent to discuss something that is posited as having no set cause (free will).

Not only can the mind only search for causality, but as David Hunt has noted, we lack “an adequate theory of causation… we don’t really understand what is going on when one thing causes another.” F.H. Jacobi offers the most concise statement, simply that “Every avenue of demonstration ends up in fatalism.” 

However, while thinkers such as Roubiczek appeal to experience to solve the problem that reason cannot solve, Jacobi appeals to revelation, stating: “every proof presupposes something already proven, the principle of which is Revelation.” It is held that the mind is distinctly unqualified for rationalizing the advanced and technical causalities (or lack thereof) of its own nature, because not only does this amount to attempting to measure the system of measuring, but also because the process itself is built on seeking necessity and causality and is therefore supremely ill-equipped for analyzing something deemed contingent.

There is in fact no shortage of precedent for placing these things outside the nature of human reason. The writings of Immanuel Kant provide one sort of justification for this limit to human reason, stating that the conflict of these dogmatic doctrines are such that “no one assertion can establish superiority over another” due to each having “grounds that are just as valid and necessary.” This dynamic is pointed out by Ronald Nash in his book The Word of God and the Mind of Man, stating “[According to Kant] all who attempt to extend reason beyond its limits become involved in absurdities and contradictions and become prone to the disease of skepticism.”

One need not share Kant’s system as a whole to recognize his argument when it comes to the antinomies he presents, one of which is causality versus freedom. H.G. Wells attempted to account for this discrepancy in his essay The Scepticism of the Instrument, by positing that “various terms in our reasoning lie, as it were, at different levels and in different planes.” The comparison made by Wells was one between the world of an atom and the world humans normally experience, where the rules of the different worlds cannot be made to coincide. Here, he said, the instrument – the mind – fails. Yet where Kant posited that the answer cannot be known at all, and Wells explained it through analogy to science, the Christian may take the view that such truths are revelational, and “the revelation of God in Christ would not have been guaranteed to those who followed unless He completed it in an adequate medium of transmission.” Both the Arminian and the Calvinist recognize limits to knowledge when they acknowledge mysteries in their systems, the point here is simply to place the mystery at the beginning rather than within the woodworks of a grand system.

One may turn from looking at the mind of man to looking at divine foreknowledge and the mind of God, yet difficulties will still be found. Just as Chesterton wrote that the mind cannot look at its own light, Cornelius Van Til points out that as one doesn’t use a candle to discover the light of the sun, but the reverse, so “we cannot subject the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture about reality to the scrutiny of reason” for “it is reason itself that learns its proper function from Scripture.” And again, “man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation.”

Divine foreknowledge, therefore, like the nature of the free will, seem outside the scrutiny of reason. Rather, the mind of man must rely on revelation across the board in this area of knowledge – as it is said by Jonathan Edwards “Revelation not only gives us the foundation and first principles of all learning, but it gives us the end.”

It has been posited thus far that the mind is not qualified to analyze itself without falling into contradiction, both because it is its own light and because it is part of the system it is analyzing, as well as the point that the mind in its mechanisms is only capable of searching out causality, which inevitably leads its workings in the direction of determinism.

Furthermore it has been posited that not only can the mind not reckon up itself, but there are also limits or bounds to what it can reckon outside of itself without ending in contradiction. The workings of the divine mind are noted as being one of these areas outside the limits of reason, for just as the mind cannot analyze its own light, neither can it analyze the light that supplies its light.

This leaves the thinker with only revelation to depend on, with experience potentially acting as a route of verification. For Roubiczek, as mentioned above, this is one avenue which is available, fortheories prove to be of no excuse; in spite of them, responsibility remains; we still feel responsible and insist that man ought to feel responsible.” It is this feeling which must be accounted for in his system, and thereby brings him to the notion of free will. The end point of this train of thought is that the thinker is not justified in moving down any of the roads presented to him and is therefore justified in declaring the mystery outright.

With this justification established one other point must be made regarding arguments for and against free will or determinism. When divine foreknowledge is brought into discussion, the first question inevitably tends to be what effect this has on free will, for if God knows what we are going to do, then how can we be free in doing it?

This objection as regards foreknowledge in particular may be met, even if one cannot explain the relationship between sovereignty and freedom or the nature of freedom in and of itself. One way in which this may be accomplished is the route taken by Augustine, stating that “For when He has foreknowledge of our will, it is going to be the will that He has foreknown,” and continuing “Nor can it be a will if it is not in our power. Therefore, God also has knowledge of our power over it.” Thus it might be properly said along with A.W. Pink that “It is persons God is said to ‘foreknow,’ not the actions of those person.” Although he does technically know the actions as well, that is secondary to his knowledge of humans as willed people.

Another way in which this objection might be met is by pointing out the tautology of it. People hear that “what will be will be” and in turn believe that this truism demonstrates some fact or fatalism. As A.J. Ayer points out “It does not follow, however, that the event is necessitated in any but this purely verbal way.” The recognition of this tautology does not prove any real fatalism, for it may be stated just as easily that our actions “too, indeed, are what they are and their consequences will be what they will be.” According to Ayer this sort of ‘fate’ is reduced to the triviality of ‘if a statement is true it is true’.

A truism proves nothing, especially one which may be stated both ways; what will be will be, and our actions will have their effects.

The position presented has no problem dealing with the above objection, nor is it toppled into the same corner as Reformed positions often are of implicating God in evil. To borrow a term from H.G. Wells, on the one plane the position may appeal to the freedom of the will as the source of evil, that is, something within man rather than something distinctly put there by God. On the other plane the position may appeal to the same sort of presupposition that is used by Reformed theologians such as Jonathan Edwards or Gordon Clark.

This sort of apologetic makes the goodness or evilness of an act dependent not upon the cause but upon the nature of the act. Thus Edwards states that “to have a virtuous heart, is to have a heart that favors virtue,” or “that which makes vice hateful, is its hateful nature.” This view is compatible with the view presented, for as was noted towards the beginning, even if man possesses an innate bias towards the things which are evil this does not necessarily suppose that his choices are all determined or causally necessary; he may be freely willing between evil things.

Apart from discussing the acts of men, it also discusses the acts of God. According to Scripture, God cannot sin. This is true on the one hand because the “law that defines sin envisages human conditions and has no relevance to a sovereign Creator” and on the other hand because “whatever God does is just and right. It is just and right simply in virtue of the fact that he does it.” As is echoed in Van Til, “God makes the facts what they are to be.”

Good and evil are defined as what they are in relation to God. There is no standard of good and evil above God, just as there is not scale of being to which God belongs – God is the ultimate. Things are good or evil, sinful or not, because He deems them as such, and being the Creator He has full rights over all of creation to do with as He wills.

Thus we may see many times in Scripture God effectively causing individuals to sin – ie, Exodus 9:12 where he hardens Pharaoh’s heart or Acts 4:27-28 where it is said that Herod and Pilate acted on their own wills but in doing so acted as God’s will had decided beforehand. God’s action in ordaining the actions of people is seen all throughout the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 20:4 or Judges 12:3 where it is said that the Lord fights the enemies of his people and gives his people victory. How else could God giving victory work out in practice other than God directly controlling the individuals involved in the battle, either causing his people to fight exceptionally well or the enemy to fight poorly.

God’s will is thus seen as the overarching force throughout the entirety of both the Old and New Testaments, and yet God is not culpable in any sin, for the chief reason that it is God that defines what it is to sin. Yet it is this notion which is so offensive to the unbelieving mind, and thus might be seen as the original sin – that is, man attempting to decide for himself what is good and what is evil; yet that standard is not up to man.

Still, the Reformed apologetic presented here still seems troubled, for if the will of God is compatible with doing anything and everything, then the goodness seems arbitrary – if something is compatible with everything then it lacks distinction. This sort of Reformed apologetic also falls into the hole of affirming that the present state of affairs is the best of all possible worlds, simply on account that it is the way that God made it.

Yet this notion not only fails to do justice to human experience with sin in the world, but it also fails to even account for the biblical datum. It fails to account for the fact that the world is ‘cursed’ in Genesis 3:17, that it is said to be “subjected to futility” in Romans 8:20, or the very fact that Christ needed to be sent; none of this makes any sort of sense if the world has been perfect or the best possible world at any point post-fall. If one looks to Augustine he notes that God has arranged His designs such that “the good will of the Omnipotent might not be made void by the evil will of man, but might be fulfilled in spite of it.” This position clearly acknowledges God’s will being accomplished in spite of the will of man, a state which would not be necessary if the will of man was exactly what God willed it to be.

Placing the mystery between free will and sovereignty provides an explanation other than that the entire drama of human history is nothing more than a marionette show where the puppet-master deems some actions of the marionettes good and others evil – the Reformed apologetic may free God from technically being implicated in evil, but it also reduces the relationship between God and the world to something similar to a child arbitrarily deeming one of his toys the good guy and another the bad guy. It is only if some part is truly played by the humans this problem is avoided.

A final defense for this position – or any position positing an unqualified free will – might be made against the traditional Reformed perspective as seen in Jonathan Edwards that “the will itself is not an agent that has a will; the power of choosing itself has not a power of choosing.” It is held that the individual cannot choose differently than what their will is biased towards, for that would be to will otherwise than one wills, and therefore end in contradiction. Firstly, it must be remembered that the mind cannot reckon up itself, and that it may only work causally, and is therefore inept to discover any contingency in the will to begin with. Secondly, one might also look to the consciousness as a sort of template to work off of. For just as the individual is conscious, so is the individual aware of that consciousness – there is, as it were, a consciousness behind the consciousness. So too, perhaps, might there be a will behind the will. It will be agreed with the Reformers that “people cannot want to want God,” but as has already been discussed the fallen will does not of necessity lack contingency.

It was noted in the introduction that it is not necessary in discussing the matter of God’s foreknowledge to bring election into the matter, for in dealing with God’s foreknowledge versus the freedom of the will one need only account for the initial state of the Garden, in which election was not necessary. It is held that if God’s foreknowledge and sovereignty were compatible with the truly free will of Adam, then it is also compatible with any sort of fallen or pseudo-free will which might be posited to humanity today (that is, a will which is inherently biased away from God); bias towards evil does not negate contingency in and of itself, for it does not of necessity determine how that will is used, only that it is not used for the glory of God.

It is with this view of the will in mind that the discussion may be turned towards matters of election and the practicalities of the view being held, for even if for theoretical purposes the discussion need only deal with the fall, for practical purposes it must move beyond that in order to bring relevance to the everyday life of the Christian.

As regards the salvation of men, the typical Reformed perspective is maintained. As it is stated by A.W. Pink, God “‘foreknows’ because He has elected.” Or as it is stated by the Westminster Divines “Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners… not for anything wrought in them, or done by them.” Or most pointedly, as it is put by Paul in Romans 9:16: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” This is compatible with a will which is biased-but-contingent, for all that is maintained is that the fallen will cannot work for the glory of God unless God renews that will to a place where it is biased but contingent towards the things of God rather than away from; thus, the will is seen as freely determining between the things of God rather than mechanically responding to individual impulses as they are supplies by God.

Perhaps the most practical aspect of this position as it relates to the average believer is that it is free to give the believer the assurance that “all things work together for good to those who love God” and it might be said along with Augustine that God’s will shall be accomplished in spite of humanity, rather than that God’s will shall be fulfilled because he is the cause of all that is perceived as being wrong with the world but on the grand and secret scale isn’t ultimately wrong because it’s the way God planned it.

Furthermore, this position does not ask the believer to seek out one certain ‘will of God’ for their lives or force them to wonder whether any one action (assuming the action isn’t sinful) is in line with the specific will of God; rather than seek out some specific will, it simply asks that the believer to do whatever they do for the glory of God. Thus when the believer pursues a certain course of action and that course of action turns out badly, they may not accuse God of having led them poorly, or be accused of having discerned God’s will poorly, for on this position the will of God for man is general rather than specific. Man may still make mistakes while being within the will of God, for it is not necessarily a specific course of actions that is being called for, but only a heart that glorifies God in whatever it does.

This means that it is not as cut and dry as ‘God called me to do this or He did not’. God calls us to glorify him, the manner of which is left primarily up to man. Were the calling of the ministry as cut and dry as ‘God called me to do this specific thing’ then statements such as James’ warning about becoming teachers would be to no point, for then James would be warning them to consider whether or not to follow the will of God – but surely the will of God should be followed without question were it so specific. It is therefore maintained that people are within the will of God so long as they are doing whatever they do for the glory of God, but sinful humanity being what it is, even if one is within the general will of God the endeavor may be prone to setbacks; though with Augustine, God will work in spite of humanity.

Although there are many different perspectives on the doctrine of divine foreknowledge and how it relates to humanity, none manage to account for all the facts and each must appeal to some sort of mystery. The position has been maintained that one is justified in declaring this mystery at the outset, rather than following the thought of any particular view only to push the mystery deeper into the folds of the system.

This has been shown by analyzing the limits and inadequacies of the human mind, both in reckoning up itself and in reckoning up the things of God, and its distinct inability to seek out something contingent. It has been shown that this position is not without adherents; bits of it can be found in Chesterton, Hoekema and Augustine.

It has finally been shown its ability to meet the common objections to the doctrine of foreknowledge as well as those of fatalism, and also to be practically applicable for the believer in that it does not back them into the corner of concluding that regardless of the state of the world that this is the best possible world and allows them to avoid the pitfalls of trying to discern some specific will for their life apart from simply glorifying God, which as the Westminster Divines state “is the chief and highest end of man.”

That a strict system is not arrived at should not discourage the believer. Individuals naturally desire to reduce mystery to a system, for systems give them control whereas mysteries force them to trust – as Dr. Larry Crabb notes, with a system “we’re in danger of placing more faith in a manageable plan with predictable results than in God.” It is again with this in mind that is asserted that one might simply declare the mystery at the outset. This is not to say that no area of theology can be explored, that no answers or truths can be attained; truths are posited: the truth that God knows the future exhaustively, that he is completely sovereign, but also that man is fallen but free – not free to love God unless God renews him, but free from necessity, contingently free to choose either how to sin or how to glorify God. This freedom must be taken as a first principle or not at all, and it is held that objections against it as a first principle fail to deliver for the reasons stated above – that is, simply, the mind is insufficient to make the judgment against free will, but experience asserts its presence in spite of all ‘rationality’.


What is Reformed Theology? [Briefly Stated]

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Letter IIf you’re asking the question “What is Reformed Theology?” you’re likely to come across a lot of different answers. If you ask those who aren’t themselves Reformed, you might get the impression that Reformed theology is just the belief in predestination, they might say that it is a overemphasis on the sovereignty of God, perhaps going so far as to say that is a denial of man’s free will.

If you ask those are Reformed, they might say it is a focus on the grace of God or that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone, they might list off five ‘solas’ or they might list the five points of Calvinism (TULIP). If they’re feeling particularly dismissive they might just say that Reformed theology is biblical Christianity, and perhaps they’re right, but that’s not a particularly helpful definition, given that many groups within Christianity claim ‘biblical Christianity’for their own.

So what is it?

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