Great Quotes: Daniel Gracely

As long as people embrace contradictory premises that abandon logic it is impossible for them to arrive at the truth. Consequently, in theology it can be exasperating to show a person the contradiction of their Calvinism, because they embrace the contradiction. You are only pointing out what they already admit to. In fact, they do not even believe their contradiction is a real contradiction, but only a ‘seeming’ one. This is why a great division in Christian theology has continued to exist for centuries despite proponents from both sides appealing to the Bible….

My own personal experience, years ago, in embracing the doublethink of Calvinism was a frustrating one. I would liken it to riding a rocking horse. As a rider, I would throw my weight forward toward my belief in the absolute sovereignty of God until I could go no further, whereupon I would recoil backwards toward my belief in human freedom. Thus I would go back and forth in seesaw motion, lest on the one hand I find myself accusing God of insufficient sovereignty, or on the other hand find myself accusing God of authoring sin. All the while, there remained an illusion of movement towards truth, when in fact there was no real movement at all. Calvinist riders still ride out this scenario. This is why, among the Calvinistic writings of Van Til, Sproul, Boettner, etc., there are no unqualified statements about the absolute sovereignty of God or the free will of man.  If one reads long enough, all forthright statements about them are eventually withdrawn by qualifying each statement with its exact opposite thought. This explains why every book and article advocating the absolute sovereignty of God ends with its terms unconcluded…..

The tension of qualifying coils always limits the movement of the horse from going too far in either direction, and because the horse cannot stop to rest at either of its polar positions it must stop in the middle. Thus, the Calvinist continues his ride ad infinitum until he has exhausted his energy in trying to ride out the contradiction. Finally, he declares the polar positions of the horse to be reconciled by tension, brings the horse to its synthesized (dialectical) center, and gets off.  These long rides of to and fro motion is why Calvinistic treatises on the subject of predestination tend to be so repetitive. With the problem of evil, then, readers go back and forth while Boettner tells them that “we have removed blame from God” even though four sentences earlier he said that “God is ultimately responsible for it”!

From: Divine Sovereignty

Great Quotes: John Fletcher

I once saw a man who played the most amazing tricks with a pack of cards. His skill consisted in so artfully shuffling them, and imperceptibly substituting one for another, that when you thought you had fairly secured the king of hearts, you found yourself possessed only of the knave of clubs. The defenders of the doctrine of necessity are not less skilful.

From:  “REPLY TO THE PRINCIPAL CALVINIST AND FATALIST ARGUMENTS FOR THE DOCTRINE OF ABSOLUTE NECESSITY”

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 2

Augustine: The Greatest Theologian?

I have decided to take my time with this book as there is so much that Mr. Brown gets wrong in my opinion.  Much of this series will interact only briefly with the content of the book and use certain comments as springboards for interaction and reflection.  One thing I just can’t get past is Mr. Brown’s unqualified claim that Augustine was the greatest theologian of the early church.  This seems false to me on several levels.

First, we must wonder why this claim is made.  It is rather well known that Calvinism is a developed form of Augustinian theology.  Calvin was a huge fan of Augustine and essentially systemized his theology.  He called Augustine “…the best and most faithful witness in all antiquity.” Some Calvinists even prefer to call themselves Augustinians.  Luther was an Augustinian monk and also drew heavily from Augustine in developing his theology.  So there is a real sense in which Augustine might be called the father of the Reformation based solely on the influence his writings had on some of the key figures of the Reformation (though not all reformers followed Augustine).  It makes sense then that a Calvinist like Mr. Brown would think of Augustine as the greatest theologian of the early church.  But there are several problems with such a claim.

Augustine may well be said to have been the most influential theologian on later developments of Christian thought, but being influential does not necessarily equate to greatness.  Augustine also had a great influence on the Roman Catholic Church.  In fact, he has been called the father of Roman ecclesiasticism.  Many of the doctrines that the reformers found unacceptable in Rome had either their origin in Augustine or were embraced by Augustine as sound doctrine:

– No salvation outside of the Catholic Church

– The merit of penance for earning forgiveness

– Perpetual virginity of Mary (Augustine called those who oppose this teaching heretical)

– Mary was innocent of actual sin

– Marion worship

– Purgatory

– Saints as intercessors

And unfortunately some of the reformers followed Augustine in Catholic doctrines such as the divine right to persecute heretics and make converts by force (Augustine used Luke 14:23 as justification for these doctrines, and was followed in actual practice by reformers like John Calvin), and the belief that all unbaptized children who died in infancy would be consigned to eternal fire (based largely on Augustine’s belief that salvation was impossible outside of the Catholic church).  Based on these historical facts we conclude with Anderson (quoted by Samuel Fisk),

Sir Robert Anderson, in The Bible and the Church, declares that nearly all the errors prevalent in Romanism can be traced back to Augustine.  He says, “The Roman church was molded by Augustine into the form it has ever since maintained.  Of all the errors that later centuries developed in her teaching there is scarcely one that cannot be found in embryo in his writings.” (Calvinistic Paths Retraced, pg. 95)

Augustine: Theologian of the early church?

Mr. Brown calls Augustine “the greatest theologian of the early church” (pg. 15 emphasis mine).  This can be misleading as Augustine converted to Catholicism in AD 387.  Prior to this time he was for nine years a member of the Gnostic Manichaean sect.  As a young convert Augustine embraced those doctrines which had universally been held by the early church. Among these doctrines was the belief that man was endowed with a measure of free will in the strict libertarian sense.  Augustine strongly defended the freedom of the will in many of his writings.  This was nothing novel as all of the church fathers before him also held that man was endowed with libertarian free will (though they would not have called it “libertarian” free will) by God and that without this freedom of the will moral accountability was impossible.

Pelagius followed all of the church fathers before him in affirming the freedom of the will but sadly took the doctrine too far in insisting that man could live a sinless life apart from the grace and power of God and turn to God of his own will without God’s initial intervention.  Augustine opposed Pelagius and his followers and likewise went too far in the other direction in order to win the debate.  Augustine slowly began to promote a deterministic theology which essentially denied free will altogether.  The later Augustine continued to develop these doctrines and in so doing came to advocate the idea of irresistible grace and unconditional election.  These doctrines were novel and unheard of among the Ante-Nicene fathers .  Yet such teachings were evident in the Gnostic heretics that the Ante-Nicene fathers wrote against.

It didn’t escape Pelagius’ notice that Augustine seemed to be falling back into the philosophies of the Gnostic sect he once embraced in order to deny free will.  He accused Augustine of smuggling in Manichaean beliefs of fatalism and unconditional predestination into his theology.  It has been argued that Augustine basically molded the two gods of Manichaean philosophy (one good god and one evil god) into one God who determined and caused all that is both good and evil.  While the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian teaching that one can turn to God apart from God’s prevenient grace was condemned in later church councils, so were the deterministic features of Augustine’s later theological developments.

It becomes clear then that Augustine did not represent the teachings of the earliest church fathers in his theological developments which would later be embraced and systematized by John Calvin.  The earliest church fathers, some of whom were taught by the apostles themselves, rejected determinism, irresistible grace, unconditional election, and inevitable perseverance as features of Gnostic heresies rather than the apostolic teachings of the church. Only after Calvin (following Augustine) did such teachings begin to be readily embraced by professing Christians as orthodoxy. 

Calvin held Augustine in the highest esteem and often relied upon his writings whenever he encountered difficulties in interpreting Scripture. Augustine, however, was not a strong exegete of Scripture and was ignorant of the original languages of the Old and New Testament (Greek and Hebrew).  Some of his strange doctrinal developments may be directly related to faulty translations of the latin Vulgate that Augustine relied on and studied.  It is significant that the earliest church fathers, many of whom spoke Greek as their native language, never found the doctrines of determinism, unconditional election, limited atonement, or inevitable perseverance in the teachings of the apostles and word of God as a whole.  Rather, they used those same Scriptures to rigorously oppose the “heretics” who promoted many of the same teachings that Augustine and Calvin later came to hold as orthodoxy.  Based on these facts it seems safe to say that Mr. Brown has overstated things just a bit when he writes,

Augustine was the greatest theologian of the early church.  He spent much of his life defending the orthodox or true faith against heresies.  Fighting these battles helped him codify the doctrines that were taught by Jesus and Paul in Scriptures (pg. 15).

The irony is obvious.  While Brown tells us that Augustine preserved the Christian faith against heresies, history seems to tell quite a different story.  It might have been more accurate if Brown had said something like this,

Augustine was one of the most influential theologians of the fourth and fifth century.  He spent most of his life developing Catholic doctrines that the later reformers found abhorrent and have been rejected by Protestant believers throughout the centuries.  In his battles with the Pelagians he introduced strange doctrines to the church which were held by the earliest Christian writers and disciples of the apostles to be heretical.  Augustine’s theology of determinism, irresistible grace, and unconditional election misrepresented and perverted the teachings of Jesus and Paul in Scriptures.

So it seems that Mr. Brown is either largely ignorant of much of church history or he has deliberately painted Augustine in a positive light for the sake of promoting his Calvinism as the purest form of historical Christianity.  In our next post we will examine Mr. Brown’s many misrepresentations of Arminian theology.

[For an excellent treatment of the philosophical reasoning that lead Augustine to embrace novel doctrines and the negative influence these doctrines had on later theological developments see God’s Strategy in Human History by Forster and Marston.]

Go to Part 1

Go to Part 3

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 1

I will break down the critique of Craig Brown’s book, The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism,  into several parts.  There is very little exegesis in the book.  There are, however, long lists of Scriptures at the end of several chapters that the reader is called on to “ponder” and “consider” in light of some Calvinist doctrine that had just been discussed.  Part of these reviews will be focused on “pondering” whether or not these Scriptures have anything at all to do with the doctrines that Brown is promoting as gospel fact.

Cursory Observations and Getting “Set Up” 

The book is only 126 pages and the pages are very small; very little content for a work that is supposed to tackle and adequately deal with the “Five Dilemmas of Calvinism”.  The five dilemmas have to do with “responsibility” (chapter 3), “motivation” (chapter 4), “obedience” (chapter 5), “evil” (chapter 6), and “babies” (chapter 7).  But Mr. Brown is primarily concerned with clearing up “misconceptions that have hindered [Calvinism’s] acceptance by the modern Christian community.”  He tells us that these misconceptions are due to a “fundamental lack of knowledge concerning the truth about Calvinism.”  His hope is to “fill that knowledge gap.”

So right off the bat we see that for Mr. Brown the way to solve these dilemmas is simply to better educate (i.e. indoctrinate) those Christians who might be troubled by such  apparent difficulties in Calvinism by way of clearing up misconceptions.  It would seem that we are expected to believe from the onset that there really are no problems or dilemmas at all in Calvinism, just a few misunderstandings (the back of the book asks the question, “True dilemmas or simple misunderstandings?”).  R. C. Sproul echoes this fundamental conviction in the foreword,

Calvinism is certainly no easy system to master.  But in addition to being difficult to understand, Calvinism is often the subject of grave misunderstanding, simply because it is so counterintuitive and countercultural.

It is hard to take such statements seriously.  The rhetorical device employed here by Sproul is both shameless and astounding.  That a system is counterintuitive should apparently have no bearing on our evaluation of it according to Sproul, yet the irony is that many of Calvinism’s doctrines rely heavily on “intuition” (e.g. the rejection of the possibility of God being able to foreknow real contingencies, etc.).  It seems that Sproul is setting us up so that when we are confronted with contradictions we can just assume that we are falsely trusting our “intuitions” and if we will just abandon our “intuitions” we will soon see that contradictions aren’t really so bad after all.  In fact, the reason that contradictions seem so bad is probably just a result of our “culture”.  We just haven’t been raised to think properly (i.e. like a Calvinist). If it seems illogical that is just because our intuitions have led us astray.  To embrace Calvinism is to be “countercultural” and everyone knows that being “countercultural” is really, really cool.

O.K., maybe I am being a little hard on Mr. Sproul.  Maybe he isn’t trying to set us up in order to make the hard medicine of Calvinism a little easier to swallow.  After all, our intuitions do not always reflect truth or perfectly conform to reality and we are all influenced negatively by our culture at times as well.  But it is hard to give Sproul the benefit of the doubt when considering what else he has to say on the subject,

As George Whitefield , the evangelist of the Great Awakening, once declared, “We are all Arminians by nature.”

What did Whitefield mean by this?  Perhaps this only means that we are all born with a sense that truth excludes contradictions.  Or perhaps it is because we are all naturally aware of the reality of choice (something Calvinist philosophy essentially denies), just as we are naturally (intuitively) aware of our own existence.  Or perhaps it is because we all naturally come to Arminian conclusions when reading the Bible (weird stuff like God’s love for the world and desire to save all) prior to being indoctrinated into “Reformed Theology” by a friendly and “concerned” Calvinist.  Or maybe, just maybe it means…

Simply put, the tenets of Arminianism taste sweeter to our sinful human natures than those of other doctrinal systems.

Sproul then tells us,

Not surprisingly, these teachings [the tenets of Arminianism that taste so sweet to our sinful nature] are affirmed and ingrained in us by the culture and, sadly, by immense segments of the church.

Well, there you have it.  To reject Calvinism is to be swept up in the [sinful] culture we live in.  It is to indulge our sinful human nature with the sinfully sweet tenets of Arminianism (such horrible evils as the belief in freed will, the love of God for all of His fallen creatures, and the impossibility of contradiction in the revelation of God’s truth).  It is to put far too high a premium on “intuition” and common sense.  Mr. Brown, a huge fan of Sproul, echoes these same thoughts on page 9,

In my defense of the Reformed faith, I will be ‘the Devils advocate’ and attack five principles of Calvinism from the standpoint of American common sense.

So we can be sure that any apparent contradictions in Calvinist theology are not real contradictions but merely contradict “American common sense.”  The solution is to learn to abandon common sense (for uncommon sense? nonsense?) and happily embrace contradictions.  Anything less is simply to indulge the sinful nature with the sweet taste of Arminianism.  So if it seems illogical that is just your “American common sense” getting the best of you (one wonders if this book will ever be read outside of America).  On the other hand, to embrace Calvinism with all of its inherent inconsistencies is to rebel against American culture and “common sense” (who wants to be “common” anyway?) and overcome the sinful human nature which desires nothing more than to drink deeply from the well of evil Arminianism.  And we wonder why there is a resurgence of Calvinism among young people in America?

Sproul continues,

In these pages, Craig Brown battles misunderstandings that have dogged Calvinism for long years [and in 126 short pages no less!].  In so doing, he provides apologetic help for Calvinists stymied by the misinformed questions of their Arminian friends.

This is extremely ironic as Mr. Brown continually misrepresents Arminianism in his little book and seems to have learned all about Arminianism, not from Arminians, or from James Arminius, but from Calvinists like Daniel N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas (of whom he quotes and references incessantly).  He also has a rather lopsided (and I dare say inaccurate) view of Christian history which paints Calvinism as the indisputably purest form of Christianity opposed only by heretics throughout the church ages.  He calls Augustine “the greatest theologian of the early church”  and assures us that “Calvinism” has “been called a synonym for Biblical Christianity.  Paul was a Calvinist, Augustine was a Calvinist, and Luther was a Calvinist.”  Really?  Both Luther and Augustine believed that truly regenerate believers could fall away from the faith (certainly not a feature of Calvinism), and Paul?  Well, at least he didn’t say Jesus was a Calvinist.

Whether Mr. Brown truly “provides apologetic help for Calvinists stymied by the misinformed questions of their Arminian friends” remains to be seen…..

Go to Part 2

What’s on Deck

It seems I have less and less time to write posts these days but I am working on a few things.  I received the little Calvinist apologetic The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism , by Craig Brown, for Christmas.  It was recommended to me by a Calvinist and the reviews at Amazon were very good.  I have not finished the book but what I have read so far seems to me to be some of the worst Calvinist apologetics in print.  Hopefully it will get better.   When I finish the book I will do a few posts on some of Brown’s arguments.

I am also working on another post concerning provisional atonement and a post dealing with the subject of the reality and/or illusion of “choice”.  I hope to have at least one of these posts completed and up by the weekend.  In the mean time I want to direct you to some very interesting posts by a four point Calvinist regarding Roger Nicole’s arguments for limited atonement against the actual writings of John Calvin.  It gets to the heart of whether or not we are justified to interpret “all” as “some among all” in universal passages like 1 Tim. 2:3-6.

Answering Roger Nicole on 1 Tim. 2:5 (Part 1)

Part 2

Part 3

I also want to direct you to an article by JCT in response to Steve Camp’s arguments for infant damnation.

Whose Way is Fair? A Reply to Steve Camp on Infant Damnation

Also, there have been many articles added in the side bar (to the right) over the last few weeks.  There are some new articles under most headings (e.g. Faith/Perseverance).  Please look them over for any that may be of interest to you.

God Bless

[Note: I have been corrected by the writer of the posts (linked to above) concerning Nicole and Calvin.  The person who wrote those posts does not take the “L” in TULIP in the same way as the typical 5-point Calvinist, but prefers to not be called a 4-point Calvinist as he does still hold to limited atonement]

Synergism as a Model for God’s Glory

Several common accusations we hear from Calvinists are that a Synergistic view of faith (as opposed to regeneration) ‘robs God of the glory.’ “It’s man-centered,” they say, “and gives man room to boast in saving himself!” But does such logic really stand up to scripture? Let’s take a look at another important aspect of salvation: sanctification.

Is Sanctification Synergistic?

One of the most effective arguments Ben and I have ever employed against the idea of exhaustive determinism (the belief that there is no real libertarian free will/contrary choice of any kind) comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 10,

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God is faithful, and with each temptation He makes a way of escape so that we can endure it rather than yield to it. Yet if we do fall into sin, and that sin was predetermined (as it must be in exhaustive determinism), then the only possible conclusion is that God allows us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure, contrary to the scriptures. We have yet to hear a tenable defense against it by any of the hard determinists we’ve spoken to. This and other passages on the subject haven’t escaped the notice of quite a few Calvinists. John Hendryx, one of the foremost defenders of Monergism declares,

I recall R.C. Sproul saying that the sanctification process is synergistic and it seems the Scriptures would also testify to this. Only regeneration is monergistic (solely the work of God). The Scripture itself testifies to a synergistic sanctification…

“work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Phil 2:12b,13.

This is a clear indication that there is a synergism taking place in our sanctification. (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/questions/sanctification01.html)

But if sanctification is synergistic, then this raises the question….

Does Our Sanctification Glorify God?

Absolutely. In John 15, Jesus declares to His disciples,

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:8 )

This raises obvious difficulties for the standard Calvinist arguments against Synergistic faith: How does Synergistic faith somehow rob God of the glory, while Synergistic sanctification brings Him glory? Are we now to label sanctification as ‘man-centered?’ Why would Synergistic faith give us reason to boast in our salvation, but Synergistic sanctification not give us reason to boast in our holiness? Why is Synergistic faith not ‘of the the Lord,’ yet Synergistic sanctification obviously is? Suddenly, the arguments against Synergism don’t sound so clever, and the four-hundred year effort at producing a craftily-worded smear campaign starts to ring very hollow. Hendryx attempts to salvage the Calvinist case,

Yet this is a synergism in which God receives the glory because the Holy Spirit indwells and enables our new desires yet it is we who make choices based on that new nature. (Ibid.)

Yet the Synergistic view of faith is that one can only believe through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart, for the heart of man is hopelessly lost due to his fallen nature apart from grace. It’s true that we believe that grace is resistible, but this does not rob God of the glory, for the work of the Spirit in sanctification is likewise resistible – else we could never sin. Yet any holiness worked in us cannot be ascribed to he who complies with the Spirit, but to He who supplies the Spirit (Galatians 3:5). Jesus said,

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Using a similar analogy, Paul adds in Romans 11 that we are not even to boast against the branches that were cut off from the root [Christ], for we do not support Him, but He supports us! God’s grace is the beginning, sustainment, and completion of our salvation and sanctification. Free though he is to choose between God and himself, man is powerless on his own. He then has no reason to think himself focal, no right in claiming glory for his redemption or holiness, and no room to boast in what God has freely supplied him with. Without the grace of God, we truly are nothing, and this Synergist saved by grace can only reply, Sola Deo Gloria!