Tagged in: calvinism

A brief note on Dave Hunt’s attack on Particular Redemption as it relates to evangelism

“Paul could and did honestly say to everyone he met, ‘Christ died for you.’ In complete contrast, a book on biblical counseling that we have long recommended to readers declares, ‘As a reformed Christian, the writer [author] believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ himself who are his elect for whom he died.’”[1]

In the above excerpt from What Love is This?, Dave Hunt addresses a statement by Jay Adams,[2] a reference Hunt also utilizes in Debating Calvinism.[3]

What we find in this brief excerpt from the late founder of the Berean Call concerning the subjects of the extent of the atonement and its relation to evangelism is a fine example of the dangerous tendency of letting unjustified theological presuppositions determine one’s approach to Scripture. If Hunt’s assumption (that the atonement is universal and general and a provision made for every individual that ever lived) is true, then it is reasonable to assume that Paul and the Apostles would have shouted from the hilltops, “Christ died for you!” But, in fact, one would search in vain to find the phrase, “Christ died for you” anywhere in the Bible. Hunt boldly states that “Paul could and did honestly say to everyone he met, ‘Christ died for you”, but he cites no Scripture whatsoever to prove this unwarranted assertion. Continue reading…

Justification by faith alone and the role of repentance: Interacting with an inverted soteriology

The doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ has been rightly regarded as a foundational tenet of Protestantism. Having been anathematized at the Council of Trent[1], it not only continues to be the archenemy of Romish dogma but has undergone more recent attacks by professing Protestants who have given in to Federal Vision and/or the New Perspective on Paul.

But apart from these more obvious assaults on this key doctrine, it is common for even conservative evangelicals to encounter confusion when struggling to understand how the doctrine of repentance fits within the parameters of sola fide. Like many other persistent errors in American evangelicalism, much of this can be blamed on dispensationalism and its entanglement in conservative and fundamentalist churches for more than a century. At the least, many dispensationalists simply fail to understand the three-fold division of the law, despite frequently giving lip-service to it. At most, some are blatantly antinomian, considering any appeal to repentance a relic of Old Covenant, pharisaical legalism. If “the Law” collective (including the moral law which predates the Mosaic Covenant) has been abrogated under the current dispensation (as has been sometimes alleged), quite obviously there is no standard by which one’s actions can be assessed and judged needful of repentance. After all, we are reassured, the church is under the dispensation of grace. Further, we are warned, one dare not pervert grace by adding repentance as a condition for receiving it.

The problem of repentance to which I am referring can be summarized as follows: Justification is by belief alone, yet the NT also teaches the necessity of repentance. The question necessarily arises, what if someone believes the gospel but does not repent? Are they saved? Or, are they somehow “provisionally” saved but retain the potential to fall away (when their repentance is quantified and found wanting at the final Judgment)? This appears to be John Wesley’s view. Gordon Clark quotes from Wesley’s Doctrinal Summaries and notes an obvious implication:

“Q.12. Can faith be lost but through disobedience?

A. It cannot. A believer first inwardly disobeys…. Then his intercourse with God is lost, i.e., and after this [he is] like unto another man.

Q.13. How can such a man recover faith?

A. By repenting and doing the first works.

…Wesley must, if consistent, assert that a man once regenerated can nonetheless fail to arrive in Heaven and on the contrary be eternally lost in Hell.”[2]

Some have attempted to address the faith/repentance dichotomy by simply conflating repentance with belief. Indeed, repentance does refer in large part to a changing of the mind, and may even be the primary meaning in its Scriptural usage. Yet some go farther and argue that repentance and belief are purely synonymous, the terms being a mere redundancy as they are found in the NT. This “solution” ensures that sola fide is maintained and the “works” of repentance pose no threat to simple belief in the gospel.

Others have responded by stating that if ‘justification by faith alone’ is correct, then repentance is not necessary for salvation because to demand repentance in addition to faith would be adding something other to the soteriological order. Thus, the doctrine of the “carnal Christian” is born, and those few who actually do repent of their transgressions and turn from the life of the “old man” have thus attained to some higher-order Christianity, not to be expected of the average believer. These answers are hardly satisfactory in light of passages like Luke 13:3.

I have heard good men tackle this issue many times. I can remember having discussions with certain brothers where the issue seemed complicated and paradoxical, some having a zeal to maintain the Protestant doctrine but knowing that repentance was preached by Christ Himself. I personally wondered if using the word “repent” in evangelism would pervert the truth of sola fide. It took many years for me to realize that there always was a solution to this alleged faith/repentance dichotomy that both demanded repentance yet did no injustice to the purity of ‘justification by faith alone’. The biblical solution has been largely ignored because of a prior commitment to an inverted ordo salutis (order of salvation) in contemporary evangelicalism. This prior commitment to synergism is one that I was not quick to part with.

Ultimately, the whole issue hinges on what human beings allegedly need to “do” in order to be made right before a holy God. Must we simply believe the gospel, or must we believe the gospel and…? Surely something is amiss when an evangelist gives the impression that one might believe the gospel and still be lost because he hasn’t repented. If such a scenario is possible, then justification is obviously not by belief alone. And if repentance must precede conversion, how much repentance constitutes a sufficient degree of turning, seeing that sin is not completely abolished from one’s existence at the time of conversion?

Consider the following from Bob Wilkin of the Grace Evangelical Society:

“Either justification is by faith alone or it is not by faith alone. It can’t be by faith alone and not by faith alone. That is logically impossible.”[3]

Wilkin’s logic in this statement is commendable. We wish that every theologian would speak with such precision and directness instead of paradoxical pandering and linguistic lollygagging. Elsewhere, in a paper responding to Thomas Schreiner’s book on justification, Wilkin writes:

“…The expression ‘bare faith’ is synonymous with ‘faith alone.’ How can justification be by faith alone and yet not by bare faith?”[4]

We find in these statements by an opponent of Calvinism a logical consistency concerning sola fide reminiscent of a devoted Calvinist by the name of Gordon Clark.[5] Indeed, The Trinity Foundation (created principally for the purpose of keeping Clark’s work in print) has likewise taken issue with Schreiner’s book and included Brandon Adams’ criticism of Piper’s Foreword in a recent Trinity Review.

Unfortunately, however, because of Wilkin’s devotion to synergism and allegiance to anti-reformed soteriological presuppositions, he and the society he represents see repentance as essentially optional. The difference between Wilkin’s criticism of Schreiner’s book (and Piper’s waffling) and the criticism of Brandon Adams—though both are in agreement that justification is by faith alone—is that Calvinists have no need to maintain a diminished view of repentance (as Wilkin clearly does), nor do they see repentance as optional but regard it as a necessary consequence of having been born-again by the Spirit of God.

Wilkin insists that “God [has] a one-condition only requirement for entrance into His family” Of course, he is speaking of faith as that one condition. He chides Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur and John Piper for being inconsistent on this particular sola, because these men speak of the necessity of repentance. To Wilkin, such is incompatible with ‘justification by faith alone’. But in the particular quotes provided by Wilkin (Piper’s Foreword to Schreiner’s book not among them), there is no inconsistency, and I encourage the reader to assess them for himself. In contrast to Wilkin and the Grace Evangelical Society, the theology of these men demand the recognition of God’s regenerating grace as the causative agent of both faith and repentance. In other words, Grudem, MacArthur and Piper are able to speak of the necessity of repentance without violating sola fide because they are Calvinists, regarding both repentance and faith as gifts from God and knowing that God does not give one of those gifts to His children while failing to provide the other. Wilkin’s folly is in refusing to admit that the “one-condition only requirement” he speaks of is preceded by the regenerating work of God in the heart/mind of the individual. So while faith may be the only “condition” for justification, regeneration is the “condition” which must be met by God Himself prior to faith on the part of man, and that by the will of God alone (John 1:13; James 1:18).

Bob Wilkin’s error serves to illustrate why it is that if one adhere to the reformed soteriological order he is not confronted with the alleged dilemma regarding faith and repentance. The reformed “solution” is not new; it has simply been buried under centuries of synergistic strata. The NT text supports the view that there are no such “Christians” who believe the gospel yet refuse to repent. There are no carnal Christians, and there are no “believers” who obtain both justification and glorification yet are free to forego sanctification. We can say this with confidence, and it is not because Calvinists are advocating a sort of sinless-perfection. In commenting on chapter 15 of the Second London Baptist Confession, Sam Waldron notes that

“forsaking of sin is not the achievement of perfect or sinless obedience forever. It is a genuine ‘purpose and endeavor’ to this end.”[6]

Being born-again is the work of God alone, and this divine work (regeneration) precedes faith, contra Rome, Bob Wilkin, Dave Hunt, and synergists in general. If regeneration precedes faith, it also precedes repentance. Both faith and repentance are gifts of God given to His children who have been born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). Note that only the non-Calvinist who retains any regard for repentance finds himself in the aforementioned uncomfortable dichotomy because he views belief and repentance as actions one takes upon himself to do according to his own volition (not without a little help of the grace of God, of course) in order that he might be saved. So the question of what happens to a man who believes but refuses to repent is a legitimate one only for those who hold that faith precedes regeneration. How can such a person solve the problem of holding to Protestantism’s ‘justification by faith alone’ without neglecting the necessity of repentance? Since there is no consistent way to do this, men like Bob Wilkin are diligent to kick repentance entirely out of the conversion experience. Other synergists, like Wesley, have dealt with this problem by arguing for the necessity of repentance, with the possibility of losing one’s salvation, inadvertently treating ‘justification by faith alone’ not altogether differently from Trent’s repudiation of it.

Calvinism affords us the simple solution of regarding the ability to believe, repent, persevere and exhibit any other fruit of the Spirit as necessary consequences of having been regenerated by the Spirit of God. Such gifts are given to all whom God has called, “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). Sam Waldron, in keeping with the Second London Baptist Confession, posits that

“…all believers repent and thus are given repentance by God…. By calling repentance a grace, the Shorter Catechism makes clear that it is a gift of God. It is a plant that grows in the renewed soil of the regenerate heart (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25)”.[7]

If someone regards himself as a believer but is blatantly and perpetually unrepentant, we feel no obligation to whisk their dead dry bones up to heaven with the simple caveat that they may miss out on some “heavenly rewards”. On the authority of Scripture we can regard such a one as an unbeliever—someone who has not actually been born from above. This is why Waldron can put it so bluntly:

“Is repentance, confession, and renunciation of sin, turning from it with grief and hatred for it, your constant, even daily, experience? If you are a true Christian, it is.”[8]

“But”, the objection comes, “so-and-so does believe; how can we say he is an unbeliever?” Here we must note carefully the oft-used and abused text from the Epistle of James. Many people have used passages like 2:14 to assert that faith alone is insufficient for being made right with God. But notice that James says “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” Note that the person says he has faith, but his lack of works testify to the contrary. There is no indication in the epistle that works—even repentance—combined with an otherwise “dead faith” would have wrought justification before God. The sooner we realize this the sooner we will see no tension between Paul and James. But the point for now is that not all who say they believe the gospel actually do believe it. They may be able to articulate its propositions. They may hold an orthodox doctrine of God. But it is quite possible that they do not actually believe that Christ died for their sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. This point is deserving of much greater attention, but for now, consider this short excerpt from fellow scripturalist Sean Gerety:

“Note carefully, for Calvin the question is not between those who have faith where one person’s faith is alive and the other’s is dead, as if they both had faith, but rather between the one who believes and the other who does not.  The distinction James is drawing is between the person who possesses genuine belief and the hypocrite.  Calvin rightly understands in describing faith as alive or dead that James is using a rhetorical device as he ‘disputes against those who made a false pretense as to faith, of which they were wholly destitute.’”[9]

God does not sanctify some of His children and not others. If faith and repentance are gifts of God, then we should rightly expect that God would grant both of these gifts to all of those whom He has graciously regenerated.

It may be helpful to see how Charles Hodge carefully contrasted Jacobus Arminius’ view of repentance within the soteriological order with that of the Reformers:

“…Whether any man does thus repent and believe, or, having believed, perseveres in a holy life, depends on himself and not on God. The purpose of election, therefore, is not a purpose to save, and to that end to give faith and repentance to a definite number of individuals, but a purpose to save those who repent, believe, and persevere in faith until the end.”[10]

Obviously, in such a system, repentance, belief and perseverance must be regarded as separate and distinct conditions which may or may not be met by the individual. It is the reason why the consistent Arminian holds that salvation must be kept by the individual, with actual apostasy of the Christian a real potentiality. Dave Hunt asked essentially, What Love is This that neglects to provide the potential for justification to an amorphous mass of humanity? But we ask, what justification is this that either, 1) cannot secure the individual for eternity via the imputed righteousness of Christ unless he perseveres with a certain level of repentance, or, 2) does not lead to sanctification because repentance is only realized by higher-order Christians, and that dependent upon their own volition?

If faith precedes regeneration, as the majority of evangelicalism today maintains, then the question of where repentance fits into soteriology is an unavoidable one. Wilkin simply eliminates it from conversion altogether. It is my contention that all non-Calvinistic solutions are problematic for sola fide, another example of one way in which synergists are necessarily at peace with Rome. The best they can offer is to say that the unrepentant is probably not really saved, but they cannot place repentance within a logically coherent and consistent soteriological construct.

If, on the other hand, regeneration precedes faith the problem of where to place repentance is no problem at all. It, like faith, is a gift of God. Our Heavenly Father graciously sanctifies all whom He has justifies. He puts into the heart of His children the desire to keep His moral law, that is, a desire to repent:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:10-12).[11]

 

[1] Canon IX:  “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

[2] Clark, G.H., What is the Christian Life?, The Trinity Foundation, Unicoi, TN, 2012, pp. 37-38.

[3] https://faithalone.org/blog/justification-by-faith-alone-plus-repentance-and-good-works/

[4] Wilkin, R.N., The role of good works in justification: A review of chapter 16 of Thomas Schreiner’s Faith Alone—The Doctrine of Justification, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 28(55):18, 2015.

[5] Another free grace advocate even references Clark’s Faith and Saving Faith for support in his assertion that belief has to do with being “persuaded that a proposition is true” (Biery, R.M., Belief as a cognitive phenomenon, especially in regard to salvation: An expanded discussion, Journal of the Grace Evangelical 29(56):58, 2016).

[6] Waldron, S.E., A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession (5th ed. Revised and Corrected), EP Books, Welwyn Garden City, UK, 2016, pp. 240-41.

[7] Waldron, ref. 6, p. 233 & 235-37.

[8] Waldron, ref. 6, p. 241.

[9] https://godshammer.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/faith-alive/

[10] Hodge, C., Justification by Faith Alone, in Bonar & Hodge, Not What My Hands Have Done, Trinity Foundation, Unicoi, TN, 2005, pp. 269-70.

[11] Of course, the Dispensationalists have a way around the implications of this passage having regarded it as a prophecy for a future restoration of ethnic Israel. They do not seem to see that this attaches the New Covenant to ethnic Jews in the last days and not to the church. That is to say, Dispensationalists do not regard the New Covenant as the constitution of the church. Yet, “Every New Testament use of Jeremiah 31:31-34 [including this excerpt from Hebrews 8] relates it to a present fulfillment in the Church. Conversely, there is no justification anywhere in the New Testament for seeing its fulfillment as future and millennial” (Waldron, S.E. and Barcellos, R.C., A Reformed Baptist Manifesto, RBAP, Palmdale, CA, 2004, p. 21).

A vindication of reformed Baptists and their Protestant heritage

There is a tendency among many fundamentalist and reformed Baptists to want to distinguish themselves from “Protestantism” as a whole. Some Calvinistic Baptists—persuaded though they may be of God’s sovereign grace in salvation—take issue with the label “reformed”. The reason for this tendency is often due to the fact that while Presbyterianism’s roots (for example) are traced with ease to the Protestant Reformation, many Baptists think they owe very little to that great historical movement of God because they are convinced that their history does not depend on a developing separation from Romanism. Many Baptists tend to be under the impression that their roots run parallel and distinct from Reformation history and do not depend on it. Contrarily, I think it is plainly demonstrable that all Christians—particularly Calvinistic Baptists—owe a great deal to the glorious Protestant Reformation.

It is quite possible that many of us Baptists—whether fundamentalist or reformed—have taken for granted the truth of a proposition like the one put forth by John Henry Blunt when he wrote that, “…Anabaptists were the fathers of the modern English Baptists”.[i] In the margin of my facsimile copy of his work are the following handwritten words: “no connection whatsoever”. It appears that particular reader knew something of the Baptists’ Reformational heritage.

It is my contention that the terms “Protestant” and “reformed” need not be used exclusively of Reformed and Presbyterian churches and others who proudly admit to their sixteenth-century heritage. While I understand the argument of both sovereign grace Baptists and fundamentalists that we must trace our doctrine and practice directly to the NT, such a claim need not be antithetical to acknowledging and admitting the debt we owe the Reformers.[ii] Tom Ascol corrects a common misunderstanding concerning the history of the Baptists:

“Sometimes Baptists live under the mistaken notion that they came into existence with little or no influence from any other evangelical group. Some even believe that Baptist churches have existed from the time of John ‘the Baptist’ to the present. While the principles that Baptists hold dear originate in the Word of God and have been found in various degrees of purity throughout church history, our origin as a distinct group can be traced to the early seventeenth century. We are a Reformational people.”[iii]

Some typical objections

As a case in point of this “mistaken notion”, W.R. Downing’s paper, ‘A Vindication of the Baptists’[iv], is one such attempt at finding an unbroken succession of “Baptistic” churches linking modern Baptists with the Apostles. Such an attempt necessarily implies a diminished view of “reformed theology” even by Calvinists because the assertion is that Calvinistic Baptists can trace their roots to the Apostles without going through Luther and Calvin.

I do not interact here with William Downing because he is a soft target. He is not. He is a most brilliant pastor, theologian and scholar, and has authored numerous excellent and robust theological works. I would recommend reading as much as you can get your hands on by Downing (some of which is available for free here). He is a dear brother in Christ and I have learned a great deal from his books. I published a very positive review of his epistemological tome The Bible and the Problem of Knowledge and have regarded his Lectures on Calvinism and Arminianism as one of the best resources available on soteriology both for its theological depth and acuteness and detailed historical survey. Downing has also written textbooks on Hebrew and Greek as well as many other scholarly works. Even the book from which this paper on Baptist history is taken is highly recommended for all of its other fine content. I chose to interact with Downing on this subject because he is not a decisional regenerationist, he is not an SBC traditionalist, he is not a fideistic fundamentalist, he is not an evidentialist and, according to his own testimony on Iron Sharpens Iron [time stamp: 17:52], he is not a Landmarker.[v] He is a consistent Calvinist with a high view of Scripture and holds to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith with minor reservations. We are dealing with someone who is both “in our camp” and exceedingly qualified to speak to these subjects. So, in the big picture, of course, this is a minor point of disagreement I have with Downing. I simply use his paper as a launching pad to deal with some of the arguments put forth by modern Baptists as to their alleged non-Reformational heritage.

Downing takes issue with the term “reformed” Baptist because he believes we should trace our roots through the remnant of believers in history from apostolic times until now. Like many other Baptists, he takes issue with the term Protestant as it is applied to Christians in general (as opposed to Romanists):

“[We are] Baptists not Protestants. We did not come from the Protestant Reformation. Our forefathers, known under different, often derogatory names, have existed from the time of the New Testament. Modern Baptists are the inheritors and progeny of countless hundreds of thousands who have held to the evangelical faith, believer’s baptism and freedom of conscience through the ages.”[vi]

It is worth noting that in many ways the seventeenth-century Particular Baptists deliberately followed on the heels of the Westminster divines making no attempt to distinguish their Calvinistic theology and heritage from the Reformation. Greg Nichols notes that “the Reformed Baptist fathers were not embarrassed to copy verbatim from the Presbyterian fathers of the previous generation when they could do so conscientiously”.[vii] One would think if such a clear line of succession back to the Apostles were discernible three-hundred years ago, these early reformed Baptists would have capitalized on that historical data to help them justify their separatism and theological distinctives. Rather, consider the following by Kurt Smith:

“From an historical standpoint, Baptists have always been known as ‘people of the Book.’ By this identification, Baptists (since their emergence in 17th century England) had gained the reputation of being that Christian body within Protestantism, whose declaration of doctrine and practice was solely governed and ruled by the Word of God. In fact, the great Reformation principle of sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) can be argued as finding its fullest expression with Baptists than with any other Protestant group.

This is why church historian, Robert G. Torbet, in his History of the Baptists, made the case that:

‘Baptists, to a greater degree than any other group, have strengthened the protest of evangelical Protestantism against traditionalism. This they have done by their constant witness to the supremacy of the Scriptures as the all-sufficient and sole norm for faith and practice.’[viii][ix]

Smith, following Torbet, rather than separating Baptists from Protestantism at large, is quick to point out that they were the most scripturally devoted body “within Protestantism”, and admits their seventeenth-century heritage.

The simple fact is, in order for anyone to trace Calvinistic Baptists (or any other Christian group) back to the Apostles, they are forced to go through a series of very questionable sects. Considering the preponderance of anti-trinitarianism amongst many so-called Anabaptist groups, “questionable” is putting it mildly. Not only is it unprovable that all of these various groups actually held to believer’s baptism by immersion, their doctrinal aberrations should more than disincline us to forcibly trace our roots through them. Consider the broad and diverse groups Downing must list in order to assert that Baptists can trace their roots to the Apostles:

“These believers and churches have been known by various names in history, such as Montanists, Novatians, Donatists, Paulicians, Vaudois, Paterines, Albigenses, Berengarians, Bogomili, Cathari, Gezari, Arnoldists, Petrobrusians, Poor men of Lyons, Waldenses, Lollards, Wyclifites, Bohemian Brethren, Hussites, etc.”6

This list contains some dubious groups indeed. We will not examine the doctrinal distinctives of each of them here, partly because of the lack of information available, partly for the sake of space, and partly because it simply cannot be proven that all of these groups held to believer’s baptism by way of immersion anyway. It is true that many have been lumped into the broad and practically useless category, Anabaptist, but even that label does not prove that they practiced baptism by immersion! More accurately, there have been various people branded Anabaptists simply because they were antipaedobaptists. Their aversion to infant baptism (Romish, or otherwise) did not imply that they held to the doctrine, mode and method of baptism that post-Reformation Baptists adhere to. Ronald Cooke, drawing largely on the work of Baptist historian Albert Henry Newman, writes:

“Newman…says here, plainly, the method by which the first Antipedobaptists of the Reformation were baptized was affusion, not immersion. One of the other Baptist historians…mentions in connection with this decisive step of the Antipedobaptists, that the first group to be baptized were baptized out of a bucket of water…. It is difficult to document immersion before the Reformation times” [emphasis mine].[x]

Church historian George P. Fisher likewise maintains that, “The practise [sic] of immersion was not in vogue at first among the Anabaptists.”[xi] And Earle E. Cairns points out that even the esteemed Anabaptist theologian Balthasar Hubmaier, along with three hundred of his followers, “were baptized by affusion.”[xii]

The lack of documentation that can even substantiate a clear history of immersionists prior to the Reformation alone discredits the idea that a direct path can be traced from modern reformed or fundamentalist Baptists through to the Apostles. Anabaptists were a mixed-bag. With no consistency in their mode of baptism and total absence of doctrinal parameters, the term, “Anabaptist” is rendered practically useless for our purposes. It tells us very little about any particular group, and most of the groups placed under that label are not ones any orthodox Christian would want to be associated with.

It is true that amongst the varied and diverse people Downing lists there existed true believers, but it cannot be sustained that they all practiced believer’s baptism by immersion, simultaneously holding to other Baptist distinctives. To acknowledge this is to acknowledge that Presbyterians and evangelicals can equally claim this “pilgrim church”[xiii] as fellow brethren belonging to the true bride of Christ, being a testimony to the truth that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. The existence of these pre-Reformation Christians only proves that God has always preserved His remnant. It does not prove that Baptists have the right to disregard the importance of the Reformation when discussing their history and theology. Furthermore, as we will see, many antipaedobaptists employed methods and embraced doctrines that any Bible-believing Christian would deride as unscriptural. Is it even worthwhile, then, for us to attempt to trace our roots through them?

Note that some of the groups Downing lists to support his thesis are at the least unorthodox or at most, completely heretical. These groups’ particular method of baptism and view of church-state separation becomes irrelevant at this point since primary doctrines (such as the trinity or proper Christology) were sometimes outright rejected by many of the so-called Anabaptists in history. It is surprising that a Calvinistic confessional cessationist[xiv] like Downing would want to share a common bond with montanists, for example, all for the sake of trying to establish an unbroken doctrinal succession to the Apostles.[xv]

In this paper, Downing has nothing critical to say of the Montanists and says that the “movement was orthodox in its doctrine”.[xvi] He makes no mention of the excesses and charismatic chicanery practiced by those within the movement. I think those not so inclined to trace their doctrine and practice in a continuous line to the Apostles would give a more objective assessment of the Montanists. While Downing claims that Montanists predate Montanus himself, I am not sure that such would insulate the group he is referring to from the charismatic behavior which has come to be identified with Montanism in general.

Regarding Montanus, it is noteworthy that like modern charismatics, “[he] gave utterances as though the Lord were speaking directly to him.”[xvii] Victor Budgen quotes such examples of Montanus’ twisted “revelations” and says, “Here was a man who was undoubtedly, in his own estimation, on a hot line to heaven.”[xviii] If it weren’t for Downing’s strained effort to find early Baptists in church history, we could be sure that Downing would himself repudiate practically everything they taught as recorded in the Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics.[xix]

The error of imagining a line of Baptists right through church history is more characteristic of fundamentalists, traditionalists and Plymouth Brethren then it is of confessional Calvinistic Baptists. Let us not fall into the same trap. There is no shame in our Protestant, reformed heritage, and acknowledging it means we don’t have to sidestep doctrinal aberrations and make excuses for heretical trends in history. Downing exhibits a very high view of the Reformers and the Protestant Reformation in his Lectures on Calvinism and Arminianism, but in discussing Baptist history the importance of the Reformation is diminished.

Given the choice, I think any Christian would be wise to embrace the heritage they owe to the Reformation over inventing a lineage that must necessarily pass through various antitrinitarians, montanists, violent social radicals and theocrats and other heretics who have all been put under the heading Anabaptist (so labeled simply because they repudiated paedobaptism). Following the clear NT pattern, it is very likely that early Christians baptized in the method of the Apostles and restricted the ordinance to believers only. Certainly, I am convinced along with Downing that such is the biblical method. But we must stop short of asserting what cannot be legitimately established with regard to Baptist history. We have limited knowledge of many of the early groups Downing lists, and often what we do know is not very good.

Downing admits that “the distinctive doctrines of the Donatists were identical with the Montanists and Novatians before them”. David Christie-Murray’s assessment is much the same, noting that the Novatian movement “was heretical in so far as it allied with the Montanists”, and that “the Donatists were in the main orthodox, although some of them were tinged with Arianism….”[xx] Should we not be at least a bit cautious in trying to trace our roots through these groups? I am not consigning all of these men and women to hell. There was most definitely a remnant that existed through the ages that never submitted to the mongrel faith-works monstrosity of Rome. I am simply trying to state the obvious; that much of the information available concerning these people would be enough to exclude them from membership in Downing’s own confessional church. If Downing wants to include Montanists in his Baptist family tree, it follows that he would likewise be obliged to extend their modern counterparts in charismania the right hand of fellowship. I do not think that is something he is prepared to do.

Cooke notes that there was a strong tendency toward antitrinitarianism even amongst many of whom Baptist historian Albert Henry Newman calls the “sounder” Baptists. He notes that Newman’s sympathies to the concept of an unbroken line of succession force him to have a sympathetic tone concerning the heretical nature of their teachings. Cooke writes:

“Some non-Baptists would not describe men who denied the Trinity as being sound in their theology. To say they ‘fell considerably short of the orthodox view of the Person of Christ’ is a euphemistic way of saying that they denied the humanity of Christ. And to say that such men who taught the Adoptionist Christology were like many of the medieval evangelicals is again stretching the point in an effort to save them from the charge of heresy. For some non-Baptists would be more apt to call such medieval men heretics rather than evangelicals. Yet, this is the line to which any Baptist unbroken line must be linked.”[xxi]

We have seen some of the difficulties in formulating an historical line of succession from the Apostles to modern Baptists. I will briefly address one more point with regard to our theological heritage.

Baptist covenant theology has a Reformational heritage

Coming out of dispensationalism, some of us held a low view of the historic creeds and confessions and possessed an abysmal knowledge of church history. I believe this was no accident, for to know church history would be to admit the newness of dispensationalism as a “unified interpretive scheme”[xxii].  I, for one, was merely Baptist by default. That is, I found no evidence of infant baptism in the NT and that was enough to dismiss such a practice as unbiblical. “Believer’s baptism”, seemed to be the method employed in the book of Acts, but I had no real grasp of the other historic Baptist distinctives.

Instead of regarding Presbyterians as compromising Christians who simply hadn’t purged a residual Romish tradition, a mere “trapping of popery”[xxiii], it would have been far more beneficial to have pursued a basic knowledge of the theory employed to justify infant baptism. In other words, I think many twentieth-century Baptists were merely Baptists in the sense that they immersed believers. They were unaware of the rich hermeneutical system which seemingly undergirded both the practice of paedobaptism and Baptist opposition to it. Only recently are we reclaiming our confessional and covenantal heritage. Today there is a wealth of literature available detailing the specifics of Baptist Covenant theology.[xxiv]

Downing embraces and defends Baptist covenant theology in multiple books and properly distinguishes it from both paedobaptist covenant theology and dispensationalism. But I think he would be hard-pressed to uncover a chain of local churches through which he might trace this comprehensive theological system back to the early NT church. We do believe that covenant theology (with its Baptist distinctiveness) is thoroughly biblical and extremely useful as a hermeneutical framework. But just like eschatological schemes, not all hermeneutical systems and doctrinal frameworks were formally and systematically worked out by the first-century church. Downing should simply admit what reformed Baptist author Pascal Denault notes, that “this approach to Scripture [Baptist covenant theology] was born of the Protestant Reformation”[xxv], and, unlike many modern Baptists, seventeenth-century Baptists

“were concerned with identifying themselves with the heritage of the Reformation. This explains the close relationship of their official documents to those of the other reformed movements. This desire for unity did not keep them from stating their distinct convictions within these same documents. Nevertheless, they always did it with irenic attitude.”[xxvi]

Conclusion

I close off this post with a final quote from Dr. Ronald Cooke:

“The Baptist movement of the sixteenth century was a great hodge-podge of many different ideas and teachings, some of which would definitely be classed as heretical today by just about every believer in a fundamental Bible-believing church. And there is scarcely one man, whose teachings we know anything about it detail, whom any Fundamental Baptist would agree with today. In other words, the only link that Baptists today would have with such men is water baptism, and even some of those, whom Newman classes as the sounder biblical Baptists of the sixteenth century practised [sic] affusion, not immersion….

“To say that we never came out of Rome because we were never in Rome cannot be documented at all by any historical evidence which now exists. Almost everything we know about the men of the lower middle ages, the men of the higher middle ages, and the sixteenth century dissenters, suggests that the reformatory movements came out of the hierarchical Church, or from some man who had separated from it.”[xxvii]

“…It was not until the time of the Protestant Reformation that a clear break was made which was based upon a sound hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures, and which resulted in a sound theology which taught clearly salvation by grace alone, justification by faith alone and that Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to the believing sinner by faith alone.”[xxviii]

Fellow Baptists, let us celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with our Presbyterian and reformed brethren and rightly recognize the great debt we owe those theological giants who went before us. I do not think I am being too liberal with the term “Protestant” in saying that we who adamantly protest the abominable false gospel of Rome should highly regard the Reformers’ protest and all of its fruits.

I, for one, consider myself both a Protestant and a reformed Baptist.

-Nick Sabato

[i] Blunt, J.H., The Reformation of the Church of England: Its History, Principles and Results, Vol. 1 A.D. 1514—1547 (8th edition), Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1897, p. 551.

[ii] Ryle, J.C., What Do We Owe the Reformation?, Protestant Truth Society, London, Obtain a reprint here.

[iii] Ascol, T.K., From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention: What Hath Geneva to do with Nashville? (revised edition), Founders Press, Cape Coral, FL, 2013, p. 11.

[iv] Downing, W.R., Selected Shorter Writings, PIRS Publications, Morgan Hill, CA, 2013, pp. 231—283.

[v] “Landmark Baptists particularly emphasized the local, visible congregation as being the church in its true form, and they opposed the idea of an actual universal church” (Bush, L.R., and Nettles, T.J., Baptists and the Bible, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1980, p. 378). In contrast to Landmarkism, the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith 1677/1689 affirms the existence of a universal church. This is partly why Downing has an affinity for the First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1644/1646) (see Downing, ref. 4, pp. 257—59 and ref. 14, pp. 165 & 461). Sam Waldron comments that “The New Testament does speak of a universal church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 1:22; 4:11—15; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32; Colossians 1:18, 24; Hebrews 12:23). Such passages refute Landmarkism and its denial of a universal church” (Waldron, S.E., A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith [5th edition: revised and corrected], EP Books, UK, 2016, pp. 366-367). While Downing claims he is not a Landmarker, it is sometimes difficult to see precisely where he differs from Landmarkism.

[vi] Downing, ref. 4, p. 236.

[vii] Nichols, G., Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants, Solid Ground Christian Books, Birmingham, AL, 2011, p. 5.

[viii] Robert G. Torbet, History of the Baptists (revised edition), Judson, Valley Forge, PA, 1963, p. 483.

[ix] Smith, K., The only rule, Founders Journal 104, March 14, 2016.

[x] Cooke, R., Some Modern Baptists and the Protestant Reformation, Truth International Ministries, Max Meadows, VA, 2007, p. 15.

[xi] Fisher, G.P., History of Christian Doctrine, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1916, p. 319.

[xii] Cairns, E.E., Christianity Through the Centuries, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1981, p. 306.

[xiii] Broadbent, E.H., The Pilgrim Church (1931), Gospel Folio Press, Port Colborne, ON, 2009.

[xiv] Downing, W.R., Theological Propaedeutic, PIRS Publications, Morgan Hill, CA, 2010, p. 162.

[xv] Again, Downing does not claim to be a Landmarker, but his arguments here seem to be characteristic of that camp.

[xvi] Downing, ref. 4, p. 262.

[xvii] Budgen, V., The Charismatics and the Word of God (2nd ed.), Evangelical Press, England, 1989, p. 116.

[xviii] Budgen, ref. 17, p. 117.

[xix] Clifton, C.S., Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1992, pp. 98—99.

[xx] Christie-Murray, D., A History of Heresy, Oxford University Press, New York, 1976, p. 96.

[xxi] Cooke, ref. 10, pp. 20—21.

[xxii] Erickson, M.J., Christian Theology (2nd edition), Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998, p. 1168.

[xxiii] While I agree with this assessment of paedobaptism by Shaun Willcock (Trappings of Popery, New Voices Publishing, Cape Town, South Africa, 2007, pp. 20—24), to ignore the particular version of covenant theology used to undergird the practice by Presbyterians means we have failed to interact with them at any intellectual level. Some of the strongest opponents of Romanism have retained paedobaptism not because they have some innate desire to retain papal traditions but as a “necessary” consequence of their own particular covenant theology.

[xxiv] Consider the work of Reformed Baptist Academic Press and Founders Ministries.

[xxv] Denault, P., The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, Solid Ground Christian Books, Birmingham, AL, 2013, summary page.

[xxvi] Denault, ref. 25, pp. 10—11, footnote 13.

[xxvii] Cooke, ref. 10, p. 23.

[xxviii] Cooke, ref. 10, p. 24.

To the Protestants I became as a Protestant…; Jerry Walls’ Jesuitical deception and the logical consequences of unlimited atonement

Jerry Walls is probably best known for his 2004 book with Joseph Dongell titled, Why I am not a Calvinist. He has since written a number of other books, and if I were a continuationist exercising my prophetic prowess I might predict a future publication by Walls entitled, Why I am not a Christian, for it seems he has altogether departed from the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Jerry Walls provides us with a perfect example of what can and often does happen when the doctrine of particular redemption is displaced in favor of a more general, potential or universal atonement (making “salvation available to every single person”). In a previous post, I noted how Arminianism (more accurately, synergism generally) necessarily lends itself toward Rome’s false gospel because it introduces variables into the soteriological order that man, not God, controls. As it turns out, Jerry Walls’ other recent publications set out to defend the Romish heretical doctrine of purgatory (Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation [2011]; Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the Things That Matter Most [2015]). Strategically scheduled for release in October 2017 is, Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation (I’m gonna go out on a limb here and make the wild speculation that “unity” will be the thing alleged to “remain at stake after 500 years”). So, to honor the Protestant Reformation, Jerry Walls will undoubtedly repudiate it.

2016 saw the release of Walls’, Does God Love Everyone?: The Heart of What’s Wrong with Calvinism. As of late, Wipf and Stock Publishing has been pumping out books by mystics, anti-Protestants, social gospelers and various other heretics faster than Benny Hinn can discharge rounds from his Holy Ghost machine gun. This book likewise fulfills the apparent publication requirement of promoting heterodoxy. From the back cover:

“Does God truly love all persons? Most Christians think the obvious answer to this question is, ‘Yes, of course he does!’ Indeed, many Christians would agree that the very heart of the gospel is that God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person. This book shows that one of the most popular and resurgent theological movements in the contemporary evangelical church–namely, Calvinism–cannot coherently and consistently affirm this vital claim about the love of God. While some Calvinists forthrightly deny that God loves everyone, more commonly Calvinists attempt to affirm the love of God for all persons in terms that are compatible with their doctrines that Christ died only for the elect–those persons God has unconditionally chosen to save. This book shows that the Calvinist attempts to affirm God’s love for all persons are fraught with severe philosophical and theological difficulties. Calvinism, then, should be rejected in favor a theology that can forthrightly and consistently affirm the love of God for all persons. Nothing less is at stake than the very heart of the gospel.”

Note the immediate and obvious Scripture twisting: “Many Christians would agree that the very heart of the gospel is that God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person.” Indeed, this claim is likely true. That is, that many Christians would agree with this erroneous statement. But note carefully what is being purported by Dr. Walls. The proposition that “God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person” appears to be his primary axiom, used to justify his anti-Calvinism. Indeed, according to Walls, this is “the very heart of the gospel”. Dr. Walls wants us to accept his primary axiom and subsequent accusation that Calvinists are guilty of compromise because one must somehow find a way to reconcile particular redemption with universal, general, potential salvation for all. What Walls doesn’t seem to understand is that we are under no such obligation to reconcile particular redemption with universalism. His primary axiom is not found in Scripture.

Repeat:  the proposition: “God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person” is not in the Bible. It is not stated explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not “expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scriptures” (Second London Baptist Confession), nor is it a proposition which by “necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (Westminster Confession). So much for his primary axiom. I could end my post here, but we need to see the consequences of his faulty starting point.

Perhaps he is hoping that since the beginning of his misquote sounds like John 3:16 we will be foolish enough to let his Scripture twisting slip by. When Walls is interviewed by Episcopalian host Ronald Way on Author Talk his aversion not only to Calvinism but Protestantism in general becomes all the more evident (transcript available here). The Protestant Reformation has been rightly called the greatest movement of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost by many pastors, theologians and church historians. Not surprisingly, Walls doesn’t see it that way. He says:

“The protestant reformation is…in many ways unfortunate, but still I think necessary split in the western church when a number of people recognized the deep corruption that was prevalent in the Roman Catholic Church in terms of financial abuse, spiritual laxity, and so on.”

So the Reformation was not a glorious awakening to the truth of the gospel which sets the captives free and led a world dominated by Romish superstition out of spiritual darkness, it was, according to Walls, unfortunate. Then he does what other ecumenists have done when describing the “necessity” of the Reformation; he pretends it was a necessary evil; a house-cleaning of sorts. In other words, it wasn’t the accumulation of false doctrines and dogmas and papal perversions of gospel truth that was concerning to the Reformers, it was merely some financial and moral corruption. And once the corruption got cleaned up, “Holy Mother Church” was good to go, and the dissenters should have returned to her fold instead of creating the alleged “34000 denominations” that exist today.[1] Walls goes on in the interview:

“What I’m saying is, if this is what … If this is the case, there’s no meaningful sense in which God loves everybody. That’s the heart of the problem, and if God doesn’t truly love everyone, he’s not a truly good being, he’s not a God of perfect love, he’s not a God of perfect goodness. The problem of Calvinism is the way it depicts the character of God. It makes him fall far short of the biblical view of a God whose heart is love, who desires the salvation of all of his children.”

Firstly, it should be noted that God does in fact desire the salvation of His children. So much so that he secured their salvation at the cross of Calvary. But Walls makes the same error that unbelievers make when they regard the entire human race as “God’s children”. Nothing in the Scriptures would indicate that such is the case, however. The Scriptures teach that since the Fall we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), and that the designation “children of God” is reserved only for those who believe in Him:

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13).

Secondly, Dr. Walls’ presumption that God’s goodness is predicated upon the extension of His redemptive love to every member of the human race, is wholly without biblical justification. God’s goodness is intrinsic to His being, and He was free to secure the salvation of whomever He chose when the covenant of redemption was inaugurated in heaven.[2] God’s love is satisfied within the triune godhead; He requires nothing outside of Himself to satisfy His love. To put it plainly, why did God extend salvific love to a remnant of His fallen creation? Because He wanted to.

God’s love is not quantified by the number of people who end up in heaven. But even if we were to grant Walls’ erroneous premise for the sake of argument, one could argue thus: If it holds that God’s love can indeed be quantified by the number of people He desires to save due to His universal love, but in reality most people reject His love and subsequently don’t make it to heaven, then God is actually quantitatively less loving than the sovereign God of the Calvinists. But don’t worry. We will soon see that Walls has a solution for this dilemma extending from his first premise.

Note firstly that He makes the same errors as Dr. David Stone regarding “freedom”:

“The view that I hold is that God sincerely desires to save all persons. He enables all persons to be saved. He truly prefers them to respond to his grace, and accept his grace, but here’s the point, a genuine relationship of love and trust cannot be caused by God. Not even God can do that. If he gives us genuine freedom, and genuine freedom is the necessary condition for genuine love, genuine faith, genuine worship, genuine relationship. Given that is the case, necessarily if we choose not to trust, not to love, then we separate ourselves from God, and choose not to receive the good that God offers us and gives us. God enables all persons to respond, desires all persons to respond, but by nature, given the fact that we are truly free human beings that God calls us to be in a relationship with him, we can decline that. If persons are lost, it is because they will not accept the grace and love that God sincerely, genuinely extends to them.”

I will not reiterate the points I made to Dr. Stone on this topic (see here and here), but will simply add the following: If the concept of freedom as Jerry Walls is espousing here—that fallen man can reciprocate God’s love uncoerced and prior to divine regeneration— is not actually taught in Scripture, then the rest of the argument falls apart. If man’s alleged freewill is taken out of the equation (seeing that his will is in bondage to sin), there is apparently nothing that remains in the way of God’s obtaining His desire (since for Walls man’s freedom is the obstacle to Him obtaining what he desired, i.e., the salvation of all). It seems to be quite an affront to the sovereign God of the Bible to maintain that driveling, vile and putrid worms armed with our “freedom” should thwart God’s eternal desire, no less His immutable decrees. If Walls’ argument ended here, one would have to suppose that God must live eternally in perpetual misery, or at least in some blasé melancholy state, because His universal desire has been filibustered by His own creation. Rather, the Scriptures teach that “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3), and, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10). God does get what He desires because fallen man in all his vileness can do nothing to stop Him.

Well, fair enough. Jerry Walls rejects Calvinism. That’s no surprise and that in and of itself does not put him outside the camp. But what is important to note is the logical consequence resulting from his false premises. The interview goes on:

Ron: “What about Christians who would say that if you seek God with an open heart, whether through Christ or not, whether you’re a Buddhist, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Taoist, you find the presence of the Divine? It’s my guess that you’d say that they’re not Christians, and they’ll all be condemned. Is that true?”

Jerry: “That is not in fact what I would say.”

Ron: “Good.”

Jerry: “Again, I’ve written about this in my books on hell. I believe God desires the salvation of all persons. I believe Christ died for all persons. They may not know about Christ. They may not know who he is, but he knows who they are, and they may not know that he died for them, but he did anyway. Many persons have not heard the gospel of Christ, but they’re still responding to whatever light, or understanding, or grace that they have, and so the point of the matter is this, I believe that God is drawing every single person to himself, using whatever resources are available in terms of light and revelation that they have. If persons are responding to the light that they have, I think they will ultimately come to see the truth in Christ.

“What I believe is that God will give every person every opportunity, even if that includes postmortem opportunities for repentance and salvation. I don’t think people are condemned for not believing a truth to which they’ve not had access. If people are responding to the truth that is available to them, if they’re sincerely responding to the grace of God … Again, I’m not saying this is a matter of works, but I believe God’s grace is at work drawing all persons, and I believe Jesus died for all persons, again, whether they know it or not, and so grace is extended to all persons, and I think there are a lot of people who are responding to Christ, who are coming to Christ even though they may not be aware of it until maybe after their death.”

Can it be any more evident that Jerry Walls has completely departed from Christian orthodoxy? He pats himself on the back for not crediting man’s salvation to his own “works” all the while defending the idea of postmortem repentance and salvation, and all detached from belief in the gospel. Walls’ defense of purgatory as a logical consequence of postmortem repentance is evident, and is articulated in his other books. Ron Way, in accordance with his own apostate religious tradition, closes the interview with this gem:

“I was happy to hear that Dr. Jerry Walls said that he thinks that good people of all faiths might still be saved. That’s a wonderful thing, and I appreciated that. I choose to believe that this is what Jesus meant when he taught so long ago that we’re all God’s children, no matter our tradition or faith, when he was asked, ‘What is the most important thing about his teaching?” He said, “Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and secondly love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I suppose Ron Way thinks that he— as well as every fallen man from every pagan religion— has the innate ability to keep this commandment.

Dr. Jerry Walls has not descended into heresy because he rejects Calvinism. He has descended into heresy because his unbiblical primary axioms used to justify his rejection of Calvinisim, when brought to their logical extension, drive him to heretical conclusions. This explains why synergists never have a truly systematic and logically coherent theology. They have to cry “paradox” before they let their axioms drive them to universalism. Dr. Jerry Walls, who has passed himself off as an evangelical Christian, has grossly perverted the Scriptures by affirming universalism, defending purgatory and postmortem salvation, and denying justification by faith alone. As a former professor at Notre Dame and currently a scholar in residence and professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University, Jerry Walls must make the Jesuit pope proud.

-Nick Sabato

[1] For example, see James R. Payton Jr., Getting the Reformation Wrong, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2010, p. 253, footnote 4. This is a bogus number often paraded by Romanists and ecumenists in order to ridicule and deride the results of the Reformation. For a refutation of this myth, see James White’s article here.

[2] For a simple treatment of the covenant of redemption, see Blackburn, E.M. (ed.), Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, Solid Ground Christian Books, Birmingham, AL, 2013, pp. 26-30.

Caricatures of Calvinism and the denial of depravity: A rebuttal to Dr. David Stone, part 2

In part 1, I addressed some of the concerns I had regarding Dr. Stone’s rejection of Total Depravity, praise of freewill, distortions of Calvinism, and other pelagian leanings found in his article, “Calvinism: It’s not just irrational. It’s atheism”. The next quote from his article displays the great abhorrence he has for Calvinism. It makes you wonder how—if his conclusions are correct—he can reasonably concede that Calvinists are Christians at all.

“I submit that free will is axiomatic to human existence. We live each day, moment by moment, just as if we are persons. But if this is quite meaningless, that man is constrained at every point by Calvinist-defined sovereignty, then you and I are not persons. Consequently, the One in whose image we are made, is no person either. If man doesn’t exist as a person, then neither does God, and God as a person doesn’t exist. This is atheism, except that atheists are not such blasphemers as to credit God with the moral evils that plague our world.”

So again, Calvinists are essentially blasphemous atheists because they do not hold to Dr. Stone’s unbiblical view of freewill. To reiterate a bit from part 1, it is perfectly logical to assert that people do make actual choices, but it is also perfectly logical to assert that their choices are governed by their nature. The real issue here is that fallen man will never seek after the God of Scripture, repent and believe the gospel unless God graciously gives them a new nature. Any relative good the natural man does is irrelevant to this discussion. Man does what he wants to do. But what fallen man wants to do cannot be separated from his fallen nature, his nature being at enmity with God.

So, Adam’s fallen progeny act accordingly, that is, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and not freely and willingly seeking after the things of God. This teaching does not equate to atheistic/mechanistic determinism, and it certainly does not substantiate the charge of blasphemy.

Dr. Stone goes on to say that the Calvinist depends on “Calvinistic sovereignty” because, due to “unconditional damnation” (his phrase; addressed in part 1), sovereignty must exist to prevent the individual from seeking after God since, of course, it would be a real letdown for one to seek after God and believe the gospel only to find that he has been “unconditionally damned” from eternity past. He writes:

“It’s not a big leap, by the way, from Unconditional Damnation to Calvinist sovereignty. Otherwise, what if a non-elect fellow gets curious about salvation and seeks God? …John 6:37b teaches, ‘. . . him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’ That fellow could get saved if he decides to come to Christ. And so the Calvinist needs his version of sovereignty to prevent that!”

The biblical data obtained from a proper exegesis of John 6 seem to be lost on Dr. Stone. He clearly ignores the fact that no one of their own accord will seek after God—“There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God” (Romans 3:11)—so his concern for lost sheep haphazardly seeking after the Shepherd is unfounded. Calvinism does not teach that God executes sovereignty in order to hold back the “unconditionally damned” who might otherwise “choose to repent…choose to believe…humble themselves, recognize their lost condition, turn from sin, and turn to Christ”. Such an idea implies that man’s natural inclination is toward God, rather than away from Him. Obviously, God would have no need of doing this because all men’s hearts are by nature set against Him in the first place. Furthermore, the atonement was made for God’s elect people in the covenant of redemption. The cross-work of Christ secured the salvation of those same people who have been “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Those, and only those, will come to Christ. God’s sovereignty does not need to suppress their wills against coming to Him, for opposing Christ is their natural inclination. So, those for whom Christ died will receive the entirety of salvation, including regeneration, faith and repentance.

“If you’re not a Calvinist and fairly new to this ‘debate,’ you might think I’m making all this up. It’s too ridiculous to even warrant consideration. Yet Calvinism is gradually taking over most of evangelicalism, and much of fundamentalism is infected with portions of the heresy. The Calvinist insists he believes in God. Perhaps, then, he’s closer to pantheism than atheism, per se…. Calvinists tend to see such blatant contradictions as predestination vs. free will as mysteries, not wanting to admit the gross illogic. The mystic can always invoke mysteries when his religion doesn’t make sense.

“…The fact that such nonsense can propagate so readily within Christendom, including among born again Christians, is evidence of the spectacularly free will we enjoy. As I suggested before, God doesn’t save us from willful stupidity.”

With a foundation of mischaracterizations in place, Dr. Stone goes on to employ his “freewill” in executing abusive ad hominem attacks. Thus Calvinism is both “too ridiculous to even warrant consideration” and “heresy” (later he adds “poison” and “insanity”), and Calvinists are atheistic, illogical, stupid mystics. I think it is now clear why I didn’t receive much of a response from Dr. Stone after he read my discourse on “freewill”. He goes on:

“I’m teasing the Calvinist reader by choosing 6:37b. Part ‘a’ of that verse refers to the eleven disciples, which should make many passages much clearer to the Calvinist who is willing to examine Scripture freely, without the blindfold of TULIP.”

It is unclear what point Dr. Stone is trying to make here. As anyone familiar with debates surrounding Calvinism could attest, the broader context of this passage from John chapter six is a logical stronghold for the doctrine of predestination. Dr. Stone makes no attempt at exegesis here but only makes a passing reference to the phrase, “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”. He is apparently using this as a counter-measure to the strawmen of “Unconditional Damnation” and what might be termed ‘Suppressive Sovereignty’. (There you go, I just coined a phrase for Dr. Stone’s view of sovereignty—that which prevents unbelievers from freely choosing God. Dr. Stone, feel free to use this term in identifying your strawmen if you like).

I am curious which caricature of Calvinism is correct. On the one hand, Dr. Stone says that according to “Unconditional Damnation” and Suppressive Sovereignty, God prevents those fine truth-seeking folk from ever finding Christ. But on the other hand, he says that Calvinism teaches that God directly controls the movement of every atom, even our thoughts, so that “we mechanically play our parts”. But if this mechanistic view of the universe were true there would be no point in the charade about God stepping in to prevent autonomous man from believing the gospel. Pick a caricature and go with it. These strawmen are not getting along well.

Despite the pelagian tendencies in some of Dr. Stone’s argumentation, he does rightly go on to point out the corruption of man’s heart. He writes:

“False doctrine derives from corruption in the heart, not misunderstanding in the mind. Consider a well-known passage, Jeremiah 17:9-10. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.’

“The ‘heart’ is the center of man’s being, as represented in Scripture, your controller, the part of you that weighs the alternatives and says, “That’s what I want to do.” A man’s heart is corrupted by sin – transgressions of God’s laws – coupled with man’s flesh . . . his natural inclinations….”

He is right that the man’s heart is corrupted by sin, and this affects his natural inclinations. But somehow this is used to prove that man’s corrupt heart causes some to embrace Calvinism (that, or, an obsession with “pseudo-intellectualism”). Apparently though, man’s heart is yet not so corrupt that it would prevent him from making choices contrary to his nature, such as believing the gospel.

Stone’s passing over of the implications of Jeremiah 17:9 depend in part on the popular notion of a ‘head-heart distinction’. Perhaps this allows him to separate the inward corruption of the heart from the autonomous and free will of man. I do not believe the heart and mind are two separate and distinct entities. Consider a very small sample of Gordon Clark on this point:

…heart is a Scriptural expression for mind. It does not mean emotions…. If anyone would take a few moments and look up every instance of this word in the Old Testament, he would find that about seventy-five percent of the time it means mind. The remaining one-fourth of instances are divided between the will and the emotions. Strictly the word heart, it seems to me, means ‘the whole personality.’ And the proportion shows that the mind is the most important factor in the whole personality.”[1]

To conclude, Dr. Stone has downplayed the effects of the Fall, separated the will from the rest of man (the will being somehow insulated from man’s intrinsic fallenness), set up a blatant strawman with regards to Unconditional Election (by fabricating a parallel “Unconditional Damnation”), likened “Calvinistic sovereignty” to mechanistic determinism, atheism, and Islam, and made other various lesser errors in his assault on Calvinism.

I can relate to his sentiments. I was quite opposed to Calvinism for years and would latch onto any argument that seemed to quench the fiery darts of the Reformed ones. I was influenced by some of the same material that it appears he has drawn from. I do not expect him to become convinced of the reformed soteriological order by reading my short response, but as Dr. Stone says himself, Truth Really Matters. It is out of love for the Truth that I am compelled to call out some of his erroneous contortions of Calvinism and contend for a God-centered, monergistic theology of redemption.

-Nick Sabato

 

[1] Clark, G.H., What is the Christian Life? The Trinity Foundation, Unicoi, TN, 2012, pp. 189-190.

Caricatures of Calvinism and the denial of depravity: A rebuttal to Dr. David Stone, part 1

Recently, after reading my review of William R. Downing’s book, The Bible and the Problem of Knowledge published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly (CRSQ), a Dr. David Stone contacted me with a desire to discuss apologetic methodology.

Dr. Downing’s book dealt with the subject of epistemology and its relation to apologetics. My review of Downing’s work was favorable considering his presuppositional approach as well as his commitment to a biblical, reformed anthropology. Dr. Stone, being himself quite enthusiastic about apologetics and evangelism, asked me to review his article, “The Missing Heart of Apologetics” [accessed 1/23/2017]. I was honored to do so, and we engaged in a somewhat lengthy exchange.

As I read Dr. Stone’s work it was quite apparent that he was a man zealous not only for the proper method of apologetics, but for regular, one-to-one, personal evangelism. I told him that I applaud his enthusiasm for evangelism and that he was quite right that 1) apologetics is intimately connected to the subject of evangelism and not to be detached from it, and, 2) that apologetics must not remain in the realm of the theoretical but must make its way to actual encounters with the lost.

This particular article did not confine itself to apologetics and evangelism, however, but touched on two other important subjects in which I did not share his opinion. One was the Bible version debate, (which I had addressed in a book review published in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, (found here [please note that I completely reject the primary theological tenets of the GES, namely dispensationalism, Arminianism and antinomianism]). The other subject was Calvinism, which Dr. Stone wholeheartedly denounces as damnable heresy.

In our exchange, I was directed to another article Dr. Stone had recently written titled, “Calvinism: It’s not just irrational. It’s atheism” [accessed 1/23/2017]. There were some very concerning statements made by Dr. Stone relating to Calvinism initiated in the article he asked me to review and reiterated in our conversation. But since the particular article directed at Calvinism seems to summarize his objections to reformed theology, and since comments are not welcome on Dr. Stone’s website (the comments always appear to be “closed”), I thought I would take the time to address some of his statements here. Though his article is not very long, the issues he raises are numerous and require some attention. My response will be posted in at least two separate posts.

Let me begin by stating that nothing herein is meant as a personal attack on Dr. Stone. As far as I can tell, he appears to be a man who is zealous for evangelism and reaching the lost. Also, it took many years of listening to reformed preaching and reading a variety of material before my buttress set against Calvinism had finally been eroded. But because some of his statements against Calvinism are quite bold, misleading, and just plain absurd, and since in God’s providence I have been given the opportunity of interacting with him on this subject, I think it would be irresponsible for me not to provide an honest rebuttal for both his sake and the sake of his readers, should they ever be providentially directed to this site. Though Dr. Stone has been made aware of this site, I am quite certain he will not be the one directing his readers to nopeacewithrome.com anytime soon. In any case, we offer this short rebuttal.

Obviously, the title of his article itself is a bit shocking. To assert that Calvinism is atheism is beyond the allowable limits of “agreeing to disagree” over a “secondary doctrine”. I could argue—and it has been argued—that the God of Arminianism is not sovereign, therefore not the God of the Bible, making Arminianism atheistic. But I will be cautious enough not to proceed along those lines, even though that seems quite a bit more logical than asserting that faith in a perfectly sovereign God who controls the universe somehow equates to atheism.

I also found it amusing that he chose to use the word “irrational” to describe Calvinism. I say this because it was the logical precision of men like Gordon Clark which convinced me of the perfectly rational, interconnected and systematic nature of reformed theology. In fact, it was a growing resentment toward the irrationalism and paradoxical nature of the non-Calvinist position that forced me to embrace Calvinism. You can reject Calvinism for some other reason if you like, but one thing you cannot accuse it of is irrationality. The logical consistency of Calvinism is usually not what is up for debate. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists have acknowledged that “the five-points stand or fall together”. The issue is not whether Calvinism is rational or logical, but whether it is biblical. That is where the debate typically centers, while unexegeted proof-texts are launched in typical elephant-hurling fashion.

Stone opens with a statement which cannot be brushed aside. He writes, “…You wouldn’t dream of calling Reformed Theology a damnable heresy, would you? Yes, I would. I’m not kidding about my title….” I am genuinely concerned for someone who uses such extreme language concerning the doctrines of grace. On what basis can it be alleged that Calvinism is a damnable heresy? Furthermore, if it is such, that puts all Calvinists on the path through the wide gate to hell. So if Dr. Stone is going so far as to relegate Calvinists to the lake of fire, we should offer an equally bold rebuttal. Surprisingly, however, he then goes on to say that “many Calvinists are born again Christians….” So, either Stone is using the phrase “damnable heresy” improperly, or he chose it for its emotional impact, or “damnable heresy” is not so damnable after all.

He explains, “Where Calvinism is damnable heresy is that children raised on that doctrinal diet will miss their personal responsibility to choose to repent, to choose to believe, that it’s up to them whether and when to humble themselves, recognize their lost condition, turn from sin, and turn to Christ.”

In an attempt to keep this article from getting so long that no one will read it (my last response to Dr. Stone was sixteen pages), I will try to work through this and the following errors quickly and pass over the lesser ones. It should be obvious that Dr. Stone engrafts fallen rebels with a capacity to take it upon themselves to choose their eternal destiny, according to the whims of their autonomous freewill. He appears to have no reservations about proclaiming the innate ability of those described in Romans 1 as being in epistemological futility to simply “choose to repent, choose to believe…humble themselves…turn from sin, and turn from Christ.” Typically such Arminian sentiments are at least prefaced by a recognition of the divine initiative, that is, that God must at least commence the process of conversion via “prevenient grace” or some other prior work before man can do any of these things. Dr. Stone’s insistence upon such innate ability in man makes me wonder if he is more pelagian than he is “non-Calvinist”. I would like to believe that is not the case, since pelagianism actually is “damnable heresy”.

He then goes on to issue an attack on “total depravity”. Dr. Stone should be informed that rejecting total depravity is not something historic Arminians would likely recommend. His latent pelagianism rises more and more to the surface when he puts himself at odds not only with Calvinists but historic Arminians as well. Consider the words of Dr. Ronald Cooke on this point:

“Some people who have not done their homework either in church history or theology imagine that Total Depravity is a ‘Calvinistic” doctrine only; and that those who are not Calvinists do not believe in it. However, Orton Wiley, who was the premier conservative Wesleyan-Arminian theologian of the 20th century wrote, ‘By the total depravity of man we do not mean that he is so thoroughly depraved that there can be no further degrees of wickedness. Rather, the term is used in its extensive sense, and carries the thought that the contagion of sin is spread throughout man’s entire being. It vitiates every power and faculty of spirit, soul, and body. The affections are alienated, the intellect darkened, and the will perverted…. St. Paul affirms, For I know that in me (that is my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.’”[1]

To emphasize, Dr. Cooke writes:

“When one looks at church history he will find that conservative Lutherans, conservative Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, conservative Episcopalians, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Reformed, and Wesleyan-Arminians have believed and taught this doctrine [total depravity]. Biblical Christians for centuries have taught that all sinners need a Vivifier, just like Augustin said. [Charles] Finney, however, sought to revive the anti-christianity of Pelagianism in Protestant churches.”[2]

It should be clear why my concern for Dr. Stone—that his abhorrence for what he perceives to be a distinctively Calvinistic doctrine has driven him to abandon a biblical anthropology in favor of a form of pelagianism—is well justified. Finney’s pelagianism has infected American evangelicalism at large in both soteriology and evangelistic methodology.

His next caricature is in regards to Unconditional Election and that such a doctrine inevitably means that “vast multitudes…are Unconditionally Damned”. Note the category error here. He is attempting a parallel between Unconditional Election and the reprobate, as if to say, in the same way that some are elected to salvation unconditionally, others are damned unconditionally. Such a statement reeks of an appeal to the emotions and is itself a shocking distortion of biblical election. The damned are not damned “unconditionally”. They are justly condemned because they are sinners both by nature and by choice. But Dr. Stone’s repudiation of Total Depravity leaves us with an apparently neutral being, and so perhaps that is the logic behind the allegation that the reprobate are condemned “unconditionally”—that is, for no apparent reason.

But man is not neutral (Luke 11:23). He is set against God in every fiber of his being (Romans 3:10-23). Post-Fall, such is every man’s natural condition. His willful sin adds to the weight of his cumulative wickedness, thereby justifying his destruction and consignment to the lake of fire. He is not condemned “unconditionally”. He is judged with righteous judgment, on the condition that he has willingly and knowingly broken the moral law of God. Since God’s law is embedded in the image of God, man is rendered inexcusable.

Unconditional Election is such that there are no conditions that fallen man has met or can meet which put him in a right standing with God. Dr. Stone seems to think that if Calvinism were true it would mean that God randomly and arbitrarily selects from a pool of neutral beings who will go to heaven and who will go to hell; both original and ongoing sin somehow excluded from the equation.

Election is unconditional because there are no conditions that fallen man is capable of meeting that will make him right with God, or even prepare himself as a candidate for God’s grace. But condemnation is God’s justice rightly executed on sinners. It is not “unconditional”, but conditioned upon the undeniable reality of man’s own sinfulness as compared to the moral law of God.

Stone goes on to say that at conversion, according to Calvinism, there is “no intellectual or emotional or willful choice” on the person’s part. Not so. Justification is by faith alone (I hope Dr. Stone would at least agree with that), and faith is intellectual assent to a proposition. Saving faith is belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The regenerated person is given the gifts of faith and repentance, as well as a new heart desirous to do the will of God. The will, mind and emotions of the unregenerate are intimately connected and equally infected with the depraved nature. The believer is made willing because he has been given a new nature. But apart from God’s Spirit breathing new life into dry bones, there is no willingness to be raised to life, and no power of contrary choice. Those dead in trespasses and sin do not of their freewill decide to be resurrected. Bruce Ware elaborates:

“…[Man] is not constrained or coerced in his choosing but rather chooses according to his deepest desire, his strongest inclination, or according to what he most wants. Of course, since the agent chooses according to his deepest desire or strongest inclination, it makes no sense to imagine that his freedom consists in his ability to do otherwise—right? If his deepest desire and strongest inclination is to choose A, then what sense does it make to say that he might, instead, have chosen –A or B? Why would he choose contrary to his deepest desire or strongest inclination? What sense does that make? For to choose –A or B would be to choose against what may be thought to be his highest desire, but if he really did that, then his choice of –A or B would actually be the choice he desired most! The simple way to understand freedom of inclination is this: as morally free agents, we always choose and do what we most want.

“…His freedom, then, [is] seen in his ability to choose and act according to his strongest inclination, not in some supposed power of contrary choice.”[3]

Another cause for concern is that in quoting non-Calvinist David Cloud who, while making his own case against Calvinism notes that he appreciates the Calvinists’ emphasis of God’s sovereignty, Dr. Stone “totally disagrees”. He writes, “Calvinist sovereignty (a word not found in the KJV) is nothing like the concept of sovereignty in common usage in the English language and in the history of the world.” Unfortunately one faulty assumption is used to buttress another. Dr. Stone and I exchanged a few words about the Bible version debate, Stone revealing his devotion to the KJV. Part of his argument against “Calvinistic” sovereignty here is based on the apparently infallible KJV. Interestingly, the word sovereignty is indeed found in a number of other translations. And although the following point is irrelevant to Dr. Stone, having been influenced by Jack Moorman and his outright dismissal of any other translation, it is noteworthy that the ASV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, HCSB, NRSV and even Darby’s translation all contain the word “sovereignty”.

More importantly, Dr. Stone asserts that the common English usage of the word should determine its meaning. Well, if the KJV English is more relevant than the Hebrew and Greek texts then I suppose there is some argument here. But of course the Hebrew and Greek words in their proper context determine the meaning of the word, not the English of a seventeenth century translation. Further, it is the concept that is ultimately in question, not the use of a particular word. I shouldn’t have to give the obvious example that the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible while no orthodox Christian denies this doctrine. I don’t want to belabor the point but I think it should be given a little more attention.

Is it unusual that we should insist on the truth of a doctrine—such as “Calvinistic sovereignty”—based on the analogy of faith and the cumulative weight of evidence from Scripture rather than the success of finding one specific verse that uses the exact terminology in question? Many theological concepts deduced from Scripture are explained in terms that are not used in Scripture. To name a few, consider the use of such terms as, inerrancy, epistemology, hermeneutics, omnipresence, omniscience, impassibility, soteriology, monergism, depravity, eschatology, millennium, etc.[4] None of these words are in Scripture but the teachings can be easily deduced and defended. To insist upon a “chapter and verse” where such terms can be found and declare victory when it is shown that they are not used in Scripture is very faulty reasoning indeed. Such is the word-thing fallacy: “Words and things are not the same. The absence of a particular term does not entail the absence of a particular concept.”[5]

Naturally, freewill is a major component of Dr. Stone’s objection to Calvinism. He writes, “Every man knows that our system of laws and justice make no moral sense whatsoever if man has no free will.” He essentially argues that it is illogical to punish someone for a crime which they had no freedom not to execute. This is typical of anti-Calvinistic rhetoric and I am guilty of having once used similar arguments myself. The flaw is twofold: One who argues this way is conflating “freewill” with the freedom with which morally responsible agents are endowed. While man is a free moral agent—committing sin of his volition and not of coercion—he is not free in the Arminian sense of the word. Lazarus was not free to be resurrected or not, depending upon his power of contrary choice, mood, weariness, or any other emotion. Again, man is not a morally neutral being free to decide whether or not he will enjoy resurrection life. Yet he is responsible for his actions and must suffer the due penalty of the law as carried out by the civil magistrate. More importantly, his responsibility to repent and believe the gospel does not imply that he possesses the natural ability to do so. More than once he confuses responsibility and ability. I take this up in Human ability and the imperative mood.

Dr. Stone likens the sovereignty of the almighty God of Scripture to the atheistic/mechanistic/deterministic “universe’s master computer program”. An issue he raised in our exchange was that my denial of freewill entailed the embrace of a universe in which everything happened according to the decrees of God and there was subsequently no room for human choice. Without delving into a long discourse here, I would simply question why someone with a passion for biblical inerrancy (albeit a misguided view of such due to unjustified textual allegiances) seems to prefer a universe governed by the free and arbitrary actions of billions of wicked, selfish, God-hating, idolaters. Perhaps a review of Romans chapter one’s descriptive list of the natural man would be helpful at this point. Would you prefer a universe where billions of vile worms with their freewills perpetually collide in a constant state of rebellion? That such would be a better hope for humanity’s fate? I will opt for the God of Scripture who unapologetically does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11).

“But Calvinism blasphemes God by teaching Limited Atonement and Unconditional Damnation for 98% (or more) of the human race. This must be a doctrine of Satan, to blaspheme the grace of God and the love of God, deceiving people that God is arbitrary, that all fates are in His hands without human recourse. By the way, this is also Islam!”

I will assume that Dr. Stone is using the word “blaspheme” here for the emotional charge and dramatic effect it supplies and not because he actually believes it blasphemous to assert that God is not obligated to rescue every wicked sinner from their rightful and just condemnation. In what sense is it blasphemous to insist that God saves His own elect people according to His purposes in accordance with the covenant of redemption established “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9)? One may not like that God did this, he may prefer that God merely made a general, potential atonement for those who would of their own volition “decide to follow Jesus” (in which case no one would be saved), but it could hardly be called blasphemous for God to save whomever He wills. Rather, if we are going to throw the word blasphemy around, it would more rightly be applied to the pelagian path upon which Dr. Stone appears to be walking.

Calvinism is likened to both atheism and Islam by Dr. Stone. It is difficult to take such charges seriously. He assured me in our exchange that he had not missed any relevant reformed works in settling on the position he now holds, but we have to wonder just how much actual reformed writing Dr. Stone is acquainted with that he could with good conscience hurl such accusations. He appears to take an even stronger position against Calvinism than some of the non-Calvinists he seems to have been influenced by.

There is much more worth addressing in Dr. Stone’s article. I plan on taking some of it up in part 2. For now, let it be recognized that the blind allegiance to “freewill” so prevalent in our day is nothing more than the fruit of Charles Finney and his pelagian anthropology. What concerns me most with Dr. Stone is not his refusal to embrace reformed soteriology. TULIP is not the gospel as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15 and it is not required that one be a Calvinist in order to be saved. What concerns me is that a denial of Total Depravity and the epistemological futility of the natural man results in other departures from orthodoxy. His own defense of presuppositionalism, for example, is quite inconsistent with his appraisal of man as an apparently neutral being. If he is neutral, like a jury who has not heard any opening statements yet, why not just do your best to convince him of the gospel using all evidentialism has to offer?

Furthermore, a patent denial of Total Depravity does not put one outside of reformed theology but outside of orthodox Christian theology. As has been shown, it is not a distinctively Calvinistic doctrine. It may be argued that only the Calvinist holds the doctrine consistently, since it is the foundation for the rest of the five-points, but it is not something exclusive to avowed Calvinists. Man has an innate problem. It is not merely that he sins, but that he “was brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5).

I humbly exhort Dr. David Stone to reconsider his objection to this heartily biblical doctrine.

-Nick Sabato

[1] Cooke, R., Pelagianism, Barthianism, Self-Esteem & Romans 5:12-18, Truth International Ministries, Max Meadows, VA, 2012, pp. 48-49.

[2] Cooke, R., ref. 1, p. 146.

[3] Ware, B.A., The compatibility of determinism and human freedom, in Barrett, M. and Nettles, T.J., (eds.), Whomever He Wills, Founders Press, Cape Coral, FL, 2012, p. 228.

[4] Excerpted from a more exhaustive list in Blackburn, E.M. (ed.), Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, Solid Ground Christian Books, Vestavia Hills, AL, 2013, p. 24.

[5] Taylor, J., Was there a covenant of works?, in ref. 4, p. 137.

Arminianism, the back door to popery

During my ‘non-Calvinist’ days, having long been a staunch opponent of Rome and her heresies, when I stumbled upon a book titled Arminianism, the Back Door to Popery (Jonathan Warne) I was quite a bit insulted. Similarly, Augustus Toplady had written, Arminianism, the Road to Rome, and, Arminianism: A Jesuit Drug.

I did not consider myself to be Arminian or Wesleyan, but having read some of the things John Wesley had to say about Romanism and his interpretation of antichrist as being fulfilled in the papacy, I could not fathom how one could see a connection between Arminianism and popery. Consider, for example, the following brief excerpts from Wesley’s notes on Revelation 13:

“And they worshipped the dragon – Even in worshipping the beast, although they knew it not. And worshipped the wild beast – Paying him such honour as was not paid to any merely secular potentate. That very title, “Our most holy Lord,” was never given to any other monarch on earth….

“And there was given him – By the dragon, through the permission of God. A mouth speaking great things and blasphemy – The same is said of the little horn on the fourth beast in Daniel. Nothing greater, nothing more blasphemous, can be conceived, than what the Popes have said of themselves, especially before the Reformation.

“To blaspheme his name – Which many of the Popes have done explicitly, and in the most dreadful manner.

“…By this the Pope manifests that he is antichrist, directly contrary to Christ….

“…The name of the beast is that which he bears through his whole duration; namely, that of Papa or Pope: the number of his name is the whole time during which he bears this name. Whosoever, therefore, receives the mark of the beast does as much as if he said expressly, ‘I acknowledge the present Papacy, as proceeding from God’….”[1]

Similar statements concerning the identity of antichrist are found in Clarke’s Commentary and Barnes’ Notes. Dr. Ron Cooke points out that in his commentary on Revelation, Wesley “mentions the Papacy over and over again in connection with Antichrist…. The fact remains that Wesley identified the Papacy with the Antichrist [and this is] clearly demonstrated…no matter what else Wesley may have written on other subjects.”[2]

I also thought of how Dave Hunt had written extensively on the subject of Romanism, denouncing it as blasphemous heresy, and also debated many Roman Catholic apologists. All that despite his anti-Calvinistic soteriology.[3]

It seemed to me, therefore, an overzealous and emotional outburst to claim that Arminianism was somehow a bridge to Rome seeing how some prominent Arminians of the past as well as many contemporary non-Calvinists had stood and continue to stand firmly against the aberrant works-righteousness of Romanism and the battery of other heresies the scarlet-colored Beast spews from its mouth.

It was not until I understood that underlying all of the mariolotry, saint worship, necromancy, sacerdotalism, etc., was in fact a common bond with the non-Calvinistic, non-confessional evangelicalism so prevalent today. It is an oft overlooked bond that was present within Wesley’s (and presumably Adam Clarke’s and Albert Barnes’) theology, despite any allegiance to the historic Protestant interpretation regarding the identity of the man of sin. That common bond is synergism. 

Wesleyan Arminianism may not be pelagian, and therefore should not be regarded as a damnable heresy. But then again, neither is Rome’s soteriology pelagian (it is semi-pelagian). However, synergism is what they have in common. So, despite the offense that most evangelicals would take to the allegation that Arminianism is a backdoor to popery, when it is realized that any conceivable theory of salvation and associated ordo salutis must ultimately fall into one of two categories—monergism or synergism—it cannot be denied that Arminianism must necessarily sit beside its Papal predecessor under the synergistic heading. In this regard at least, Arminians are at odds with their reformed, monergistic counterparts, and of necessity, at peace with Rome.

That is not to say that Arminians are in bed with the Scarlet Harlot, that they embrace Rome’s false gospel, or that they are diabolical Jesuits in disguise. Numerous examples can be given of men who are familiar with Rome’s counterfeit gospel and stand in direct opposition to it despite their reluctance to embrace reformed soteriology. I was one of them.

Primarily, sound exegesis, systematic theology and Baptist covenant theology worked together to bring me out of synergism. But at least part of the impetus for my parting ways with my non-Calvinist position is my abhorrence for peace with Rome. There truly cannot be peace between Christ and antichrist. Synergism is that common thread that runs from pelagianism through Arminianism right through to Romanism. But the thread is cut at Calvinism. The cancerous root of synergism is severed by the sword of a truly consistent, Protestant reformed soteriology, and synergism is ultimately smashed by the hammer that is the Word of God (Jeremiah 23:29).

Synergism undermines and eats away at an otherwise grace-centered gospel. The purity of grace is preserved by the bulwark of monergism.

-Nick Sabato

[1] Wesley, J., Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, The book of Revelation, ch. 13.

[2] Cooke, R., Antichrist Exposed: The Reformed and Puritan View of Antichrist, Truth International Ministries, Max Meadows, VA, 2006, p. 431 [Available here].

[3] Of course, despite Hunt’s forceful attacks on the papacy and Romanism, he could not fully embrace the historic Protestant position that had identified the papacy as the antichrist because of his prior commitment to Dispensational futurism. I hope to address this subject in a future post.

Human ability and the imperative mood

While I was struggling with issues relating to Calvinism, I often repeated an assertion that I had picked up from my Dispensational brethren which was essentially this: God’s giving of a command to fallen man necessarily implies that man has the ability to respond to the command. In other words, responsibility necessitates ability. For God to demand something that His creatures were innately incapable of responding to would not have sat well with the non-confessional, non-denominational Dispensational church I was brought up in, and it did not sit well with me.

Not having a sufficiently coherent theological framework in place, such an assertion regarding man’s ability to repent seemed reasonable, especially when the “prevenient grace” of God would necessarily be bestowed upon all. It was not that man in his natural state could keep the commandments, but that God had enabled all men to do what He commands by extending His grace to all people. And all you had to do to make this case was show from the Scriptures that “God…commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), remind objectors that only some men actually do repent, and chalk up the difference to man’s inviolable and autonomous will which sometimes stubbornly resists the grace of God.

It wasn’t until years later (and my dogmatism on this point had been already eroded by a variety of authors and pastors, including my own) that I heard a lecture by the late John W. Robbins which cut right through my objection and exposed the logical fallacy in my reasoning. It was his first lecture in a series titled, “An Introduction to Logic“. Ironically, while I was criticizing the Calvinists for being illogical on this point, I learned from Robbins that I was the one who was being illogical. Without realizing it, many of us may be regurgitating the arguments Erasmus hurled at Luther, despite the fact that the Reformer had obliterated the objections of the Romanist almost 500 years ago.

In 2010, during a sermon series addressing the five-points of Calvinism, Pastor Ed Moore contended that it was incorrect to assume that responsibility implies ability. But at that time I had my own illustrations sufficient to keep me under the delusion that he was wrong in this bold assertion. As it turns out his argument was logical and biblical and I had totally missed it.

Below I have transcribed the segment of Robbins’ lecture that struck me and showed where my logical blunder was. Following the transcription I have included a relevant excerpt from Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Links to both of these resources are also provided.

Hopefully this will be useful to anyone struggling with the issue of responsibility and ability.

-Nick Sabato

“In [The Bondage of the Will, Luther] deals with many of the logical blunders that people make in interpreting and understanding Scripture.  One of the things he deals with is this (and this will become clearer as we go on):  …You cannot draw an inference from a command. You can draw an inference only from a proposition.  You cannot draw an inference from a sentence in the imperative mood. […] The imperative mood  is something like the Ten Commandments, ‘thou shalt not do something’.  It’s a command.  A declarative mood sentence is something else. It’s a statement about something.  David was king of Israel; it’s not a command. It’s simply a sentence in the declarative mood.

“…One of Luther’s arguments in Bondage of the Will is that people are drawing inferences from commands. They think, for example, that because God tells them to be perfect, they can be perfect. And Luther says this is an elementary blunder, a blunder worthy of schoolchildren. He says it’s a logical mistake. He says, ‘God tells you to be perfect to show you that you can’t do it.’ And that’s why you need a Savior. If you can do it in your own power, there’s no point in having Christ die on the cross. But many people in that day, and in our day think that because there’s a command in Scripture, that implies we can do it. And Luther gives a little lesson in logic, right there in the Bondage of the Will about drawing inferences from commands rather than from declarative sentences.”

Robbins, J., “Introduction to logic” (lecture 1 of 18) in ‘Collection 11 Introduction to Logic’ 23:15-25-15.

Martin Luther:

“And this is the place, where I take occasion to enforce this my general reply: — that man,by the words of the law, is admonished and taught what he ought to do, not what he can do: that is, that he is brought to know his sin, but not to believe that he has any strength in himself. Wherefore, friend Erasmus, as often as you throw in my teeth the Words of the law, so often I throw in yours that of Paul, “By the law is the knowledge of sin,” — not of the power of the will. Heap together, therefore, out of the large Concordances all the imperative words into one chaos, provided that, they be not words of the promise but of the requirement of the law only, and I will immediately declare, that by them is always shewn what men ought to do, not what they can do, or do do. And even common grammarians and every little school-boy in the street knows, that by verbs of the imperative mood, nothing else is signified than that which ought to be done, and that, what is done or can be done, is expressed by verbs of the indicative mood.

“Thus, therefore, it comes to pass, that you theologians, are so senseless and so many degrees below even school-boys, that when you have caught hold of one imperative verb you infer an indicative sense, as though what was commanded were immediately and even necessarily done, or possible to be done. But how many slips are there between the cup and the lip! So that, what you command to be done, and is therefore quite possible to be done, is yet never done at all. Such a difference is there, between verbs imperative and verbs indicative, even in the most common and easy things. Whereas you, in these things which are as far above those, as the heavens are above the earth, so quickly make indicatives out of imperatives, that the moment you hear the voice of him commanding, saying, “do,” “keep,” “choose,” you will have, that it is immediately kept, done, chosen, or fulfilled, or, that our powers are able so to do.”

Luther, M., De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, pp. 111-12.