Gordan Gives Me Props And Rebukes At Reformed Mafia

Gordan from Reformed Mafia has been kind enough to devote an entire post to some comments I made in a combox at Triablogue. I thought I would return the favor by devoting a post to addressing his concerns. Gordan’s comments are in blue. I made some spelling corrections in my original comments that Gordan quotes.

I lifted this from the meta of a post over at Triablogue. Our sometime commenter/fomenter of dischord, Kangeroodort, a/k/a Ben left it there. I don’t know that they’ll answer it (although I may already be wrong about that) because it is off-topic, so I thought I’d interact with it a bit:

I asked the following comment which has so far been ignored directly, but answered indirectly by saint and sinner:

In the meantime, I have a quick question for you regarding John 6:44. Do you believe that one can “come” prior to regeneration? If not, then I suspect you see the drawing of John 6:44 as a reference to irresistible regeneration. Is that the case?

Would you object to an interpretive translation along these lines:”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me first regenerates them [gives them life]”?

S&S later said [concerning the contention that John 6:44 had reference to resistible prevenient grac]: “This is a basic exegetical error in interpreting John 6. The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus is quoting the Prophet Isaiah. The quote comes from Is. 54:13, which is in the midst of a passage on the renewed creation and covenant. Like other passages in the prophets (Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27), it is thus speaking about regeneration, not a preaching of the gospel which we must then decide upon. Thus, those who are “taught of God” are the regenerate.”

So it would seem that the drawing of John 6:44 refers to regeneration in the Calvinist scheme. To say it refers to something less is to concede prevenient grace, which the Calvinist will not do. So it is quite reasonable to understand Jn. 6:44, in Calvinism, as saying: No one can come to be unless the Father who sent Me regenerates them [i.e. first gives them life].

I assume that S&S would also equate “come” with “believe” as most Calvinists do. So we could further define the passage as:No one can believe in Me unless the Father who sent Me regenerates them [i.e. first gives them life]. We could then simplify the teaching by saying, “no one can come unless the Father first gives them life.”Therefore, the giving of life, according to Calvinism, must precede coming or believing. I dare say that no Calvinist would object at this point.

What then did Jesus mean when He said in John 5:40:”…you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. “Here Jesus plainly says that “coming” precedes the giving of life. This flatly contradicts the Calvinists interpretation of John 6:44 and renders such an interpretation impossible. In view of John 5:40, the drawing of John 6:44 can have no reference to regeneration.

God Bless,

First, let me give Ben some props here for having a grasp on the Calvinist interpretation he seeks to argue with. I would state things a little differently than he has above, but not all that much. So, yes, it is the standard Calvinist interpretation of John 6:44, that it teaches that regeneration precedes faith.

Thanks for the concession and the “props”!

See what a nice Calvinist I am, Ben. I gave you some props. In fact, I’ll go ahead and give you some more. You have proven to me that you are a thoughtful Christian man who is zealous in the pursuit of truth.

I get props and I get called a thoughtful Christian man. Thanks Gordan, now I know you care.

But, sadly, those last props come in spite of what you’ve written in this comment, and not because of it. After reading what you’ve written, I stubbornly refuse to believe that this is really how you go about studying the Scripture. I choose to believe better of you, in spite of the current lack of evidence. (I’m a hopeless fideist…)

Oh, so much for the good feelings 😦

1. It looks like what you’ve done here is this: recognized that the Calvinistic take on John 6 is all about who comes to Jesus and why, and you’ve seen it has something to do with the new life of regeneration. Then, you took some of those key words, specifically “come” and “life” and you’ve looked with your concordance for other places where the two terms occur in close proximity.

Actually I noticed this while studying all the relevant passages in John 5, 6, 8, and 10 where Jesus has similar discussions with the Jews. Believe it or not, I actually read the chapters. During this study I found some very interesting parallels which I believe render the standard Calvinist interpretation of these passages untenable [as proof texts for unconditional election, etc.]. I appreciate the attempt at mind reading though. What am I thinking now?

Having found a place like that (John 5:40,) you’ve compared the way that place speaks of life and coming to Jesus and the way John 6 speaks of life and coming to Jesus. And, lo and behold, we see that you prefer the way that John 5 puts it, and have thus determined that the view you don’t like, from John 6, must be wrong.

Actually, I was trying to harmonize the passages and not discard one in favor of the other. Thanks again for trying to read my mind. It is not about what view I like or dislike, but what view is accurate. I suppose Gordan would deny that Calvinists bring a lot of theological bias to the text of John 6.

2. Let me illustrate why this is a truly horrible way to study the Bible. Let’s say, as a Calvinist, I don’t like the insistence that John 3:16 shows that God loves every individual in the world. And so, I hunt around in my Bible for other places that speak of the world, until I come to 1 John 2:15, where it says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.””Eureka!” I shout. “Now I’ve got all those synergists dead to rights! They’ll never overcome this challenge from Scriptural fact, for I have proven that love for the world is really the opposite of God’s attitude!”Does it not immediately occur to you why that would be really dumb?

It is as dumb as it is irrelevant to the passages in John referring to coming to Christ, as we shall soon see.

I’m sure it does, Ben, but for our readers let me spell it out: To do that would be to ignore simple considerations of context. Any synergist would be totally correct to then come and rebuke me for being too stupid to see immediately that the passages are not talking about the same things. And that’s true, even though John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15 use the same key words, like “God” and “love.”

Back to the snide remarks about me thumbing through the concordance.

A very simple, surface reading would show me, if I had bothered enough to check, that different things are in view. Again, that’s true even though the same author uses the same key words: He’s still talking about different things. The only reason I would possibly fail to see that is if I was so ideologically blinded that I was willing to deal fast-and-loose with the Word of God so long as I got to prove my point with it. And shame on me.

All this is very interesting. I agree that the context is very important as well as the meaning of words. I appreciate your illustration.

3. Apprapos 1 and 2, you try to make your point here by citing a place where the same author uses the same key words, and you’ve simply assumed that the two different discussions are talking about the same thing.

Actually, I paid attention to context and the meaning of words just like you have so kindly recommended.

4. But is the assumption of 3 above warranted? The discussion in John 6 is about why some come to Jesus in faith and are saved, and some do not. The matter at hand in John 5 is the sin of the Jewish leaders, who had refused to listen to any of the witnesses that God sent to them. Though they both have in common the presence of sinful unbelief, they really are two different conversations. In John 6, Jesus is explaining to His disciples the “why” of faith, and in John 5, Jesus is rebuking the Jews for the fact of their unbelief.

This is where it might have helped Gordan to carefully read the accounts. Oops, I should be careful not to engage in the same mind reading tactics that Gordan seems so fond of, so I will assume that he did read the accounts but just came to different conclusions. Since I am the one on trial here, I guess it is up to me to demonstrate that I did pay attention to context and the meaning of words.

Gordan is quite right that these are two different conversations. That does not mean that there are not important parallels. In John 5 Jesus is in dialogue with unbelieving Jews. The same is true in John 6. In John 5 Jesus is addressing the unbelief of these Jews. The same is true of John 6. In John 5:33 Jesus tells these unbelieving Jews that His words are intended to save them. This is an important part of the conversation:

“But the testimony that I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.”

Jesus actually desires the salvation of these unbelieving Jews. He wants them to have life in Him. This is the beginning of the dialogue which will eventually lead us to the passage in question. He tells them in verse 38:

“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.”

The reason these Jews will not accept Jesus is because they are not in right relationship with the Father. They have not accepted the testimony of Scripture and are, therefore, unable to accept the living Word. Because they have rejected the Father, they cannot recognize the perfect revelation of the Father in Christ. Jesus further explains this in verses 44-47. The passage in dispute, however, is John 5:40:

“…and you are unwilling to come to me so that you may have life.”

Gordan will admit that “come” in this passage is synonymous with “believe” but takes issue with “life” having any reference to regeneration [see his comments below].

The passage in its immediate context reads:

“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” [John 5:38-40]

It is clear from verse 38 that these Jews are in a state of rejection and unbelief. They must, therefore, be spiritually dead. Jesus then tells them that the Scriptures they study will not give them the eternal life they desire and need because they refuse to come to the One of whom those Scriptures testify. The “life” of verse 40 must be the “eternal life” of verse 39. These Jews are dead in their sins and in need of life. Jesus is telling them that in order for them to have life they must come to [believe in] Him.

This is the same theme being discussed in John 6:44. The one’s who come to Christ are those who have learned from the teaching of the Father [John 6:45]. The Jews in John 6 had not learned from God and were therefore not in right relation to Him. Just like the Jews in John 5 who had read the Scriptures but not submitted to them, they were unable to recognize Christ. Had they been in right relation with the Father, they would have responded to the drawing of Christ’s words and came to Him in faith. They could not hear Christ’s words because they had not listened to the Father [compare John 8 and 10]. They rejected the Son because they first rejected the Father who sent Him. Had they known the Father, they would have known the Son and been given to Him.

Gordan continues:

In addition, I would grant that the “coming” of both passages is a metaphor for faith in Christ. But it is truly a stretch to assume that the “life” the Jews were actively refusing in John 5 is the new spiritual life of regeneration. Can you not see in the passage itself that there are different sorts of “life?” I mean, the Jews were certainly “alive” in one sense, and yet had refused another sort of life. How you conclude that they were refusing regeneration specifically, and neither the spirit-life of faith in Christ (as in Romans 8 ) nor eternal life with Him in heaven is beyond me. Regeneration is certainly not the focus in John 5: faith in Christ is.

I admit that I have difficulty understanding what Gordan is trying to say here. He is quite right that the Jews were alive in some sense [physically], but because they were spiritually dead, it was spiritual life that they needed. Theologians are in general agreement in calling the beginning of this spiritual life “regeneration”. Gordan seems to think that there is a spiritual life that one can have without first being regenerated. He refers us to Rom. 8 for clarification, apparently forgetting his previous stern rebuke concerning comparing unrelated passages. As He himself admits, Rom. 8 is dealing with the Spirit walk of the believer, and not the topic of conversion from death to life. John 5 is dealing with the need for conversion and the life that comes from an initial faith response. I wonder when Gordan believes the spirit life of Rom. 8 begins? How about the eternal life of John 5:39? Should we not assume that it begins at regeneration? Does not regeneration have reference to the beginning of new life? This is exactly what Jesus is addressing in John chapter 5. The unbelieving Jews cannot begin to experience life until they put faith in [come to] Jesus Christ.

Despite all of this, Gordan then makes the very bold claim: “Regeneration is certainly not the focus in John 5: faith in Christ is.” Gordan is right that faith is part of the focus of this passage, but it is just as true that the result of that faith is in focus as well. All one has to do is read the words Jesus uses and the context of the passage to see this. No concordance necessary.

While I appreciate Gordan trying to educate me in proper exegesis, I think I will stick to the my own method.

Gordan concludes his thoughtful treatment with the following.

5. And many such things you (synergists, generally) do. Use a passage that isn’t about why some believe and some don’t in order to argue with the grammatical-historical exegesis of a passage that plainly is. Another example of this sort of argumentation is the resort to John 12 to blunt the force of John 6. (Hey, they both mention a drawing of men to Christ: It has to be the same…except that it’s obviously different. But still, the one in John 12 is more likeable, so let’s go with that one.)

I would invite Gordan to read the post I wrote concerning the drawing of John 12:32 compared with the drawing of John 6:44. I would especially like to see him grapple with the theological absurdities I exposed in his position that regeneration precedes faith in my post “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?”.

Till then… (Go to Part 2)

Prevenient Grace and Libertarian Free Will

Several of Ben’s posts lately concerning free will have caused quite a stir among the Determinist crowd, mostly due to his defense of the concept of libertarian free will. Many Calvinists we have conversed with point to such concepts as total depravity and bondage of the will to make the case that the will is not free, but don’t realize that they hit cleanly beside the point in that we agree that the human will is by nature enslaved to sin.

One cannot correctly understand the Arminian/Synergist view of libertarian free will without first understanding prevenient grace. Reformed theologians are correct in saying that the human will is in bondage to sin stemming from the sin of Adam,

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)

Thus by nature, human beings are blind and hard-hearted towards the gospel and cannot believe in Christ of their own accord. To overcome the power of the sinful nature, something stronger than sin must enter into the equation, which can only come from God. Jesus said in John 6:44,

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

By what means then does God draw us unto Christ despite our depraved tendencies? What can be stronger than sin and death? Words? Ideas? Emotions? Arguments? None of those can break through to a heart practiced in evil, and are by themselves futile efforts. God’s work against the power of the sinful nature must of necessity be much more than any device man can muster; which Luke mentions as the means by which one believes in the book of Acts:

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. (Acts 18:27)

This grace which can overcome the innate sinful desires of men and allow them to receive the gospel message and believe in Christ as Savior is sometimes called ‘preventing grace’ or ‘prevenient grace;’ literally, grace that precedes our faith and conversion. This is a prime tenet of Arminianism and has been so since its early days as a theological system.

“That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ, but respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible; inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places.” (Article 4 of the Remonstrance)

The article of the Remonstrance above rightly states that God’s grace is not only the beginning of salvation, but what sustains it and accomplishes it as well. Left to our own devices our hearts would remain willfully closed forever to the good news; and left with only our own powers and diligence, there would be none who could endure to the end. But the grace of God changes all of that, for to even the worst of sinners it may be said,

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age… (Titus 2:11-12)

and the very weakest of saints have power far greater than that of their sins working in them,

…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phillipians 2:13)

Working also in those who love Him to understand His will,

Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14)

And it is for this reason that we espouse libertarian free will, for while man does inherently have a sinful nature bent only on evil, the presence and power of God’s grace which has appeared throughout the world gives us a different path and possibility to follow — a contrary choice to make between the goodness of God and the sinful ways of the world. Thus it must be noted that the exercise of the will towards good does not and cannot exist apart from the grace of God, for without grace there would be nought to pick but our own choice between devilish poisons. This, hopefully, will clear up some of the misconceptions about free will; but to cover all bases, let’s take a look at what the Arminian/Synergist view of libertarian free will is and is not.

Free will is:

It is, through God’s grace, the ability to heed and obey the gospel, or in the resistance of grace, to disbelieve it.

It is the power to act under the grace of God to do righteously in faith, or to reject the influence of grace and follow after the old nature.

Free will is not:

It is not the power to do whatever you want, whenever you want, without any kind of restriction or influence. Some confuse the term ‘Libertarian’ to mean ‘completely unrestrained and uninfluenced,’ a better name for that kind of mythical human freedom would be ‘Anarchist free will’ (or perhaps just ‘volitional chaos’). The term Libertarian simply denotes that the creature is actually free to make its own choices between influences, as opposed to Compatibilist free will, which maintains that all ‘free’ choices are actually pre-determined or caused.

It is not man’s complete sovereignty over himself. While God does delegate men power and freedom of the will to an extent, He still ultimately retains control of body, soul, and spirit.

The concept of this type of free will, that is to say, the ability to abide in or reject grace is clearly inferred throughout scripture, which strictly warns us in numerous places against falling short of the grace of God (Hebrews 12:15), spiting the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29), and falling from grace (Galatians 5:4); while at the same time encouraging us to continue in grace (Acts 13:43), abound in it (2 Corinthians 8:6), and grow therein (2 Peter 3:18).

So while we do acknowledge that libertarian free will does play a key role in salvation, there can be no willing obedience to the gospel apart from God’s grace, for salvation and saving faith can’t be wrought by force of an already enslaved will,

So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (Romans 9:16)

This fact renders even the power of the will concerning the choice to fear and serve the Lord wholly contingent on God’s preceding grace, making grace of first and primary importance for our salvation. Not as some overriding and irresistible force that automatically installs a new heart and will into the sinner as one would a new Operating System on a computer. No, but rather a subtle, yet still incredibly powerful grace, a still small voice that can move barriers in the heart that dwarf mountains; a grace that can reach across the chasm of spiritual death to draw a sinner unto life in the Son of God, a truly gentle and beautiful kind of grace that can bring even the most wicked and unregenerate of wretches willingly to the foot of the cross…that kind of grace is truly amazing.

Perseverance Of The Saints Part 4: Again Entagled In Corruption

We will now examine 2 Pet. 2:20-22:

[20] “For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. [21] For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy command delivered to them. [22] It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.'” (NASB)

Peter may be further describing the apostasy of the false teachers who are the subjects of verses 1-17. The language of these verses strongly suggests that these false teachers had been true believers before their full submission to their sinful nature and defection from the faith. The Lord had “bought them” (2:1, cf. 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:22, 23). They denied His Lordship by submitting to their sinful nature (vss. 1-22). They have “left the straight way” and “gone astray” (vs. 15). Jude describes these same false teachers who “turn the grace of God into licentiousness” as “twice dead” (vs. 12) suggesting that they had once experienced spiritual life.

Peter may also be describing the awful state of those who have been led astray by these false teachers. In verses 18 and 19 we find that these false teachers were deceiving those who had just barely escaped “the ones who live in error”. In either case, the important point is that Peter is describing apostates, and that Peter understands these apostates to have been truly saved before becoming “again entangled” in the corruption from which they had previously escaped. Peter makes it clear that this “escape” came by way of “the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. There is every reason to believe that when Peter refers to these apostates as ones who had come to this “knowledge” of “Christ” that he means that this knowledge resulted in salvation. To say otherwise would suggest that there are means other than the shed blood of Jesus Christ by which a sinner may escape the corruption in the world. Such a concept is alien to the entire NT and is certainly alien to the inspired Apostle.

It is further significant that the Greek word for “knowledge” used in this passage is epignosis. This Greek word is predominately used by NT writers with reference to a full and complete knowledge, in contrast to an investigative or superficial knowledge (gnosis). Strong says of epignosis, “full discernment” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, #1922). Kittel says, “The compound epignosis can take on almost a technical sense for conversion to Christianity” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 121). Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says of gnosis, “primarily a seeking to know, an enquiry, investigation”, and of epignosis- “denotes exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition, and is a strengthened form of No. 1 [gnosis], expressing a fuller or a full knowledge, a greater participation by the knower of the object known, thus more powerfully influencing him” (pg. 631). The NASB renders epignosis as “real knowledge” in Phil. 1:9, and “true knowledge” in 2 Pet. 1:3, 8. In Col. 1:9 epignosis has reference to “all spiritual wisdom and understanding” and “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” in Eph. 1:17 (also see Philemon 4-6). Especially consider the salvation language of 1 Tim. 2:3, 4, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge [epignosis] of the truth”.

We would especially expect Peter to use the weaker form of the word in 2:20 given the fact that Peter uses the stronger sense in 1:3, of which there is no doubt that true believers are being described. That Peter used the same word with the same object (“knowledge of Him”, “knowledge of… Jesus Christ”) to describe these apostates suggests that he was not describing false converts in 2:20 (see below regarding parallel language). Epignosis and gnosis are sometimes used interchangeably in Scripture but the stronger sense of epignosis should not be ignored, especially since Peter seems to use epignosis with specific reference to saving knowledge throughout this epistle. Peter’s choice of epignosis in 2:20, therefore, gives us further reason to identify these apostates as having been truly saved prior to their defection.

Peter’s deliberate use of parallel language in 2:20-22 with that used in 1:1-4 is even more striking. In 1:1-4 Peter describes his readers as those having a “faith…the same kind as ours” who have received the gift of “life” and “godliness” through the “knowledge of Him who has called us by His own glory and excellence”. He tells them that it is by these gifts of life, godliness, and knowledge that they have “become partakers of the divine nature” and have “escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust”. The parallels with those described in 2:20-22 are remarkable:

“Through our knowledge of him…participate in the divine nature” and “escaped the corruption in the world…” (1:3, 4)

“…escaped the corruption in the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2:20)

There is every reason to think that Peter is describing believers in both 1:1-4 and in 2:20. It is extremely strained exegesis to insist that those who “participate in the divine nature” and “escaped the corruption in the world” are of a different sort then those who “escaped the corruption in the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.

Some will say that those described in 2:20-22 only “appeared” to have escaped from the corruption in the world. There is no contextual warrant for this assumption. If these apostates had only “appeared” to escape the corruption in the world, then what sense does it make to say that they have become “again entangled” in these corruptions?

John Goodwin wrote of those who would be so bold as to claim that these “apostates” were:

…all this while most damnable hypocrites and dissemblers. Now that the Holy Ghost should say, that unbelievers, persons inwardly full of wickedness and filthiness, most vile hypocrites and dissemblers, have ‘escaped the pollutions of the world,’ especially ‘through the knowledge’ (or rather acknowledgment), en epignosei ‘of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,’ is to me, and I think to all other impartially considering men, the first-born of incredibilities. Can a man be said to escape his enemies when he still remains under their power, and is in greater danger of suffering mischiefs from them than ever before? Or is not he, who being enlightened, retains the truth in unrighteousness, remains inwardly full of malice and wickedness, only garbing himself with a hypocritical outside, or mere profession of holiness, as much or more under the power and command of sin, as likely to perish everlastingly for sin, as ever he was, or could be before his illumination? (Redemption Redeemed, ed., John Wagner, pg. 115)

Some look to avoid the implications of this passage by laying great stress on the nature of the animals described in the proverb given in verse 22, “It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.'” They say that the ones described in verses 20-21 must be only hypocrites and false converts because Peter would never describe them as “dogs” and “pigs” had they at one time been Christ’s “sheep”. Since Peter describes them as dogs and pigs, we should rest assured that their natures had never been changed by true conversion and regeneration.

Robert Shank rightly notes that:

Many have contended that the men of whom Peter wrote never were truly saved. They appeal to the metaphors in verse 22. God’s children, say they, cannot be referred to as dogs or sows. But they who assume that Peter’s reference to apostates as ‘dogs’ or ‘sows’ proves that they never were actually under grace do not likewise assume that Jeremiah’s reference to the children of Israel in Judah as “a wild ass” proves that they never were ‘the sheep of his pasture.’ The shameful epithet was applied by Jeremiah (2:4) only after the people had forsaken the Lord (2:13; 17:13) and turned aside in iniquity and idolatry. Likewise, it is only after they ‘have forsaken the right way and are gone astray’ that Peter likens apostates to dogs and sows. He could well have referred to them as “wild asses.’ But there were familiar proverbs about dogs and sows which so aptly illustrated their case. Let us accept the record at face value. To ignore the obvious meaning of Peter’s statements by resorting to arbitrary assumptions concerning his use of metaphors is, to say the least, unwise. (Life In The Son, pp. 175, 176)

The early Methodist theologian John Fletcher made the following observations concerning the contention that the Lord’s “sheep” can never cease to be anything other than “sheep”:

Multitudes, who live in open sin, build their hopes of heaven upon a similar mistake; I mean, upon the unscriptural idea which they fix to the Scriptural word sheep. “Once I heard the Shepherd’s voice,” says one of these Laodicean souls; “I followed him, and therefore I was one of his sheep; and now, though I follow the voice of a stranger, who leads me into all manner of sins, into adultery and murder, I am undoubtedly a sheep still: for it was never heard that a sheep became a goat.” Such persons do not observe, that our Lord calls “sheep” those who hear his voice, and “goats” those who follow that of the tempter. Nor do they consider that if Saul, a grievous wolf, “breathing slaughter” against Christ’s sheep, and “making havoc” of his little flock, could in a short time be changed both into a sheep and a shepherd; David, a harmless sheep, could, in as short a time, commence a goat with Bathsheba, and prove a wolf in sheep’s clothing to her husband.

He then offers the following “ridiculous soliloquy” to “…show the absurdity and danger of resting weighty doctrines upon so sandy a foundation as the particular sense which some good men give to a few Scriptural expressions”:

Those very Jews whom the Baptist and our Lord called ‘a brood of vipers and serpents,’ were soon after compared to ‘chickens,’ which Christ wanted ‘to gather as a hen does her brood.’ What a wonderful change was here! The vipers became chickens! Now, as it was never heard that chickens became vipers, I conclude that those Jews, even when they came about our Lord like ‘fat bulls of Bashan,’ like ‘ramping and roaring lions,’ were true chickens still. And indeed, why should not they have been as true chickens as David was a true sheep when he murdered Uriah? I abhor the doctrine which maintains that a man may be a chick or a sheep today, and a viper or a goat to-morrow.

But I am a little embarrassed. If none go to hell but goats, and none to heaven but sheep, where shall the chickens go? Where ‘the wolves in Sheep’s clothing?’ And in what limbus of heaven or hell shall we put that ‘fox Herod,’ the dogs who ‘return to their vomit,’ and the swine, before whom we must ‘not cast our pearls?’ Are they all species of goats, or some particular kind of sheep? “My difficulties increase! The Church is called a dove, and Ephraim a silly dove. Shall the silly dove be admitted among the sheep? Her case seems rather doubtful. The hair of the spouse in the Canticles is likewise said to be like ‘a flock of goats,’ and Christ’s shepherd are represented as ‘feeding kids, or young goats, beside their tents.’ I wonder if those young goats became young sheep, or if they were all doomed to continue reprobates! But what puzzles me most is, that the Babylonians are in the same verse compared to ‘lambs, rams, and goats.’ Were they mongrel elect, or mongrel reprobates, or some of Elisha Coles’ spiritual monsters? (Works of Fletcher Vol. 1, pp. 197-199, Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD)

Robert Picirilli concludes his treatment of 2 Pet. 2:22 with the following observation:

Those who attempt to mitigate Peter’s teaching by suggesting that the real nature of the sow or the dog had not been changed, and that this implies that these apostate false teachers were never regenerated, are pressing the illustrations beyond what they are intended to convey. Indeed, the proverb must be interpreted by the clearer words that precede them and not the other way around. The previous paragraphs express precisely what the proverbs were intended to convey (Grace, Faith, Free Will, pg. 232)

Picirilli is quite right that we need to look to the clear language of the passages that precede this descriptive proverb in order to properly understand Peter’s intended meaning. It is desperate exegesis to make assumptions based on the nature of the animals described in the proverb and then try to read them back into the plain teaching of verses 20 and 21. The claim that these “dogs” and “pigs” could only refer to those who had never truly been sheep ignores the context of the entire chapter. It foolishly trivializes the fact that Peter describes these apostates as having truly “escaped” the corruption in the world through “the knowledge [epignosis] of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” before becoming “again entangled” in this corruption. It further ignores the exegetical relevance of the parallel description in 2 Pet. 1:1-4 which uses nearly identical language to describe those of “like faith” who are “partakers of the divine nature”. The use of the proverb was to further illustrate the apostates’ return to corruption. That is quite the opposite of demonstrating that they had never escaped corruption. Just as a dog returns to that from which it had been purged, and a washed pig returns to the mire, so have these apostates, after having escaped from corruption, returned again to those defilements.

Still others might acknowledge that these apostates were once truly regenerated while insisting that they shall only lose heavenly rewards and not salvation. How then could Peter say of them that “it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy command delivered to them”? How could it possibly be better to have never known the way of righteousness, and perish forever, than to have known the way of righteousness only to lose some heavenly rewards? Do the advocates of this position truly believe that those who enter the joys of Heaven with considerably less rewards are worse off than those who will eternally suffer in Hell?

Despite the efforts of some to rescue their theology from the plain teaching of 2 Pet. 2:20-22, these passages serve as a stark reminder that those who have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ may yet return to a lifestyle of sin ,abandon their faith, and perish in that hopeless state.

[Updated 5/9/08]

Go to Part 5

Go to Part 1

Got Free Will?

My recent post [Struggling with Regrets] has caused quite a stir. Many have chimed in to attack the notion that man can have the God given power of self-determination. I am, quite honestly, surprised by the amount of interest this subject has generated. I am also surprised by the lack of answers to the questions posed in my post. Not a single advocate of determinism has yet to answer the question: How do you make sense of regrets in a deterministic world view? To be fair, one person made an attempt, but did not bother to defend his position when challenged.

It is one thing to attack libertarian freewill. It is quite another to defend determinism. JC and I have been defending our position against several attacks. I would now like to issue a bit of a challenge for those who are so convinced that libertarian free will is a myth, and that determinism is the Biblical doctrine. Until you answer the following questions, I would ask that you refrain from attacking the contrary position. To the determinist I ask:

1) How do you make sense of regrets if you do not have the power of contrary choice? Why does your conscience bother you when you sin, if you could not have avoided that sin?

2) If God causes all things, then how can you claim that God does not cause sin?

3) Where did the first impulse to sin come from in both Satan and Adam?

Note: Appeals to mystery are inadmissible. Appeals to “second” causes, etc. must be explained in such a way that they actually get God off the hook for causing sin. It does not help to say that we choose according to our desires, and therefore God is not responsible. If God causes all things, then He also causes our desires. If God is the only true actor in the universe, then all creatures are but passive instruments. If we are but passive creatures with no power of self-determination, then all our actions must be directly attributed to God.

Anyone commenting on Struggling With Regrets will be asked to address these questions before expecting any answers from either JC or myself.

Since it has become clear that this is such a sensitive issue, I will do a series on the difficulties of the determinist position. I will not be able to tackle this issue, however, until I complete my series on perseverance, which has been difficult due to the interaction generated by recent posts. In the meantime I direct any readers to Classical Arminianism where Billy is doing a series on how Arminius viewed free will.

Owen’s Death of Death…

Dan is doing a nice series on Owen’s arguments in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ over at Arminian Chronicles.

Enjoying Consistent Calvinism

I have recently been accused of being an inconsistent Arminian because I reject Open Theism. I find it interesting that Calvinists are so concerned with consistency seeing as how they both affirm that God causes all things and is yet somehow not the author of sin.

I admit that I love consistency. I reject Calvinism primarily because I find no support for it in the pages of Scripture, and secondarily because it is so internally inconsistent. I admire Calvinists who are not afraid to “take it in the face”, so to speak, and call God the author of sin. “Traditional” Calvinists call these types “hyper” Calvinists, but in the spirit of my recent conversation, I think it is more accurate to just call them “consistent” Calvinists.

Vincent Young is an example of such a bravely consistent Calvinistic fellow, and I direct my Calvinist readers to his blog to enjoy his consistency. I especially recommend The Author of Sin, Compatibilist Freedom, and Confusion in Calvinism . Enjoy.

For more fun with inconsitency within Calvinism, I recommend Objections to Calvinism As It Is.

Struggling With Regrets

Do you sometimes struggle with regrets? I certainly do.

Part of the glory of Christianity is the forgiveness we have in Christ Jesus. We should never cease to rejoice in the fact that the blood of Christ has cleansed us from the stain of past sins (2 Pet. 1:9). This forgiveness does not, however, always alleviate consequences from the poor decisions we made prior to trusting in Christ, nor does it always relieve us of the consequences of sinful decisions that we make after conversion.

David is a stunning example. God forgave David for his sin with Bathsheba, and against Uriah, but he still had to suffer tremendous consequences for that sin. His child died, and his son, Absalom, rose up against him, and was killed as a result (2 Sam. 12; 15-18). I would bet that David had regrets. He suffered the scars of his decisions for the rest of his life. Sin is devastating and regrets can be crippling.

While we all have regrets, we must not dwell on the past to the point of preventing us from growing. We cannot change the past, but we can still effect our future. We must learn from our mistakes and move on in the grace of God.

It would seem that regrets can only make sense, however, if we hold to a libertarian view of free will. Regrets are nonsensical if we believe that all of our actions are determined by decree and circumstances which are beyond our control. There is no point feeling regret for something you could not possibly have done otherwise; yet we still feel regret.

Do Calvinists feel regret? How do they work such feelings into their worldview? Do they temporally shelve their worldview when confronted with the experiences of daily human life? Do they somehow train themselves to have no regrets so as to conform their feelings with their belief in determinism? I am curious to know.

I used to enjoy listening to Calvinist Greg Bahnsen’s lectures on apologetics. His approach was presuppositional and he used this approach to demonstrate the incoherence of materialistic atheist thought. He would often point out that atheists do not live in harmony with the world view that they claim. They believe we are merely animals, for instance, yet honor their dead as if they have value beyond that which we would assign to animals. They deny absolute truths, yet are quite certain about their own belief systems, and very critical of others, etc. The atheist lives according to presuppositions that reveal the very God he or she denies.

I wonder that Greg Bahnsen seemed oblivious to such inconsistency in his own Calvinistic world view. I wonder what Greg Bahnsen thought of regrets. That we have regrets should tell us something about our presuppositions. I firmly believe that if we are honest with these presuppositions we will discover that only an Arminian account of free will and responsibility can make sense of the universal human experience of regret.

I am an Arminian primarily because I believe the word of God reveals the basic theological assumptions of Arminian theology. My convictions are based foremost on what I consider to be a more responsible exegesis of the Biblical data on salvation. That is not to say that our personal experiences have no worth or bearing on how we understand God’s word. Paul taught that men are accountable to God because creation is an undeniable testimony to his existence (Rom. 1:18-22). Bahnsen rightly noted that unbelievers actively repress this knowledge (Rom. 1:18).

I remember playing in my pool as a child and enjoying holding an air filled ball under water. I would hold it down as far as I could and then release it. I was amused by the way the ball would quickly rise to the surface and explode out of the water. I think that is what unbelievers do. They hold down the truth of God’s revelation. Every now and then they lose their grip and God’s truth explodes up into their face. When this happens, they can either respond to that revelation or quickly submerge the truth again.

I wonder how Calvinists can hold to their worldview without constantly struggling to re submerge the ball of reality that confronts them in everyday practical life. I believe that regrets are just one facet of reality that Calvinists should honestly deal with and examine.

I have many regrets. I regret that I turned from the Lord as a young teenager and was useless to him during that stage in my life. I regret that I never shared the truth with those who later took their lives during that time of rebellion in my life. I regret that I have often been disobedient to my Lord as a believer, and have often thwarted His efforts to use me and sanctify me. I regret when I have failed to restrain my tongue; or spoke before thinking, and allowed the words that passed from my lips to harm another human being. I regret that I did not boldly share the gospel with the strangers I sat next to at the laundry mat yesterday afternoon. I have many regrets. I do not focus on them to the point of being unhealthy, but I cannot help but to have them. I have them because I know that I am to blame for my actions, and should have done otherwise than I did.

It is true that God can, and often does, use these regrets to show us our need for a Redeemer.  This does not change the fact that our regrets are legitimate.  It is precisely because our regrets are legitimate that God can use them to reveal our need of Him in order to live a life that is pleasing to Him.  It still remains that if God controlled our every decision we should not regret our actions, even if God uses those regrets to draw us to Him. 

We need to also remember that believers have regrets as well.  God will use these regrets to bring us to a point of confession and repentance.  Our conscience troubles us because we know that we should have done otherwise.  It is this knowledge that God uses to bring us to a point of change.  However, the truth remains that our regrets could not be used by God to bring about change unless they were grounded in our power to choose.  The moment we say that we could not have done otherwise than we did, we remove any legitimate grounds for regrets and render them useless to God as a tool to bring about confession, repentance, and change. 

For this reason it is impossible to escape the logical implication that “should have” implies “could have”. We can develop a philosophy that says otherwise, but I do not know how we can keep the ball from ever coming to the surface again. If Calvinistic determinism be true, then I simply should not have regrets. All that I have done is just as God intended and decreed. Why should I regret that?

[Updated 4/22/08]