Some New Must Read Articles at SEA (Abasciano and McCall)

SEA has been diligently providing its readers with excellent Arminian resources.  Recently Dr. Brian Abasciano’s newest theological article on corporate election was made available.  Here is the write-up from SEA [Introducing Dr. Brian Abasciano’s “Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election”]:

SEA is excited to announce the addition to our site of Dr. Brian Abasciano’s recently published article Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election which argues forcefully and compellingly for the corporate view of election. The theological concept of corporate election has been gaining force in modern scholarship for quite some time. It is widely held among scholars that a primarily corporate election is the election described in the OT. It is on this basis that Dr. Abasciano and others argue that this corporate view of election is the view that Paul and the other apostles would naturally carry over into the NT. This is not just speculation but is strongly supported by the language of election used especially by Paul, not least in Romans and Ephesians.

But there are critics from the Reformed view who naturally recognize acceptance of the corporate view of election as a threat to the traditional Calvinist interpretation of key Scriptures and the nature of salvation since corporate election holds to a conditional rather than unconditional view of election. Foremost among these critics of the corporate view is Dr. Thomas Schreiner who criticized corporate election in an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election Unto Salvation?: Some Exegetical and Theological Reflections” JETS 36/1 [March 1993] 25-40. Abasciano later responded, pointing out that the criticisms Schreiner leveled against the corporate view not only lacked cogency but were primarily based on fundamental misunderstandings of the concept (Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner, JETS 49/2 [June 2006], 351-71). Schreiner then wrote a reply in the same theological journal issue criticizing corporate election once again, even going so far as to make the unguarded and surprising claim that the corporate view is incoherent (Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano).

Abasciano sought to write a response to Schreiner’s follow-up article but the policy of the theological journal did not allow for further rebuttals. For this reason he decided to write a more general theological article on corporate election specifically addressing the many misconceptions held by those who have criticized the concept. In this present article Abasciano interacts with Schreiner and other scholars convincingly demonstrating that the corporate view of election is indeed the Biblical view. He draws on the Old and New Testament witness in order to make his case while showing that the attacks leveled against the corporate view by Calvinists are based on individualistic biases in handling the primary texts or misconceptions of what the corporate view entails.

He argues for a view of corporate election that has its ultimate basis in the divine election of Christ as God’s covenant Head through whom the covenant people of God will be named and identified as God’s children. Election is therefore primarily of a people and those people draw their identity as God’s chosen people through faith union with the chosen corporate representative, Christ Jesus. In other words, as the Scriptures testify, we are elect “in Him” (Eph. 1:4). Since one comes to be in union with Christ and His people through faith, it follows that election is conditional rather than unconditional.

It is my opinion that this article goes further than any previous work in making a clear and compelling case for the corporate view of election. No doubt Calvinists will continue to resist the mounting weight of scholarship in support of corporate election, but they will need to seriously contend with Abasciano’s work in order to gain any real ground. It will be extremely difficult from this point forward for any Calvinist scholar to be able to dismiss the corporate view by suggesting it is incoherent or does not fully deal with all of the Biblical data. It is my opinion that Abasciano’s work will stand the test of time and help to finally advance our understanding of such an important Biblical concept beyond the narrow and individualistic views of Calvinistic interpreters which have unfortunately led to so much unnecessary theological confusion and tension in the church today.

Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election

In addition to Abasciano’s important and compelling new article, SEA has also made available Dr. Thomas McCall’s theological articles addressing the serious problems inherent in the Calvinistic accounting of sovereignty.  In these articles, McCall interacts with John Piper and demonstrates that his accounting of God’s primary objection in reprobation is seriously flawed and leads to terrible theological implications and absurdities.  Here is the write-up from SEA [Dr. Thomas McCall takes on John Piper and the Calvinistic View of God’s Sovereignty]:

We are excited to have added two articles by Thomas McCall, assistant professor of Biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which critique John Piper’s theology of God’s sovereignty. They appeared in an issue of Trinity Journal that features an exchange between Piper and McCall, with McCall firing the first volley (Thomas McCall, “I Believe in Divine Sovereignty”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 205-226), followed by Piper’s response (John Piper, “I Believe in God’s Self-Sufficiency: A Response to Thomas McCall”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 227-234), and then McCall offering a final rejoinder (Thomas McCall, “We Believe in God’s Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 235-246). McCall makes a compelling case against the typical Calvinist view of divine sovereignty (which amounts to exhaustive divine determinism), represented by Piper,[1] and for a more Arminian view of God’s sovereignty, which does justice to his power, love, and goodness. I appreciated Piper’s humble, pastoral response to such a strong critique of his theology when he said, “I do not rush to press people to believe all the hard things I believe without regard to their own conscience. I do not want someone to believe that God is evil, or that God ever sinned. So if my affirmation that God wills sin to come to pass . . . requires of someone that they believe in their hearts that God sins or that God is evil, then I say to them, ‘Do not yet believe what I say. Your conscience forbids it. You dare not believe statements about God which, according to your own conscience, can only mean that God is what he is not. Continue to pray and study. Either you or I (or both of us) will be changed in due time’ ” (p. 234).

This is wise counsel that we should take to heart, especially as McCall eventually lands a real knock-out blow (or close to it), by drawing attention to the fact that Piper admits that his view logically implies that we might as well sin that grace may abound, and resorts to pleading that we not follow where the logic of his position leads, since it directly contradicts God’s word (pp. 243-44). Calvinism as it is typically held is logically incoherent. That is one reason why I am an Arminian. It is a theology that is logically coherent, biblically faithful, and can actually be lived by the grace of God. Praise God for his sovereingty, love, and goodness! And praise God for this irenic exchange between Piper and McCall, which, in my view, has the effect of refuting the standard Calvinistic position on God’s sovereignty and providence and commending the Arminian one.

***********************

[1] McCall does make clear that Piper’s is not the only Calvinist view, and that he focuses on the popular Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty, represented by Piper, that offers a theodicy for God ordaining sin and evil to the effect that it is necessary for God’s glory, and ultimately, for God to be God. But his essays still show up the deficiency of the more general and standard Calvinistic view (i.e., exhaustive determinism). Citing the judgment of Reformed historical theologian, Richard A. Muller, McCall also cautions that determinism is not the standard position of the broad Reformed tradition (p. 246 n. 34). Be that as it may, it is certainly the position of Calvin and standard Calvinism (see e.g., these quotes of Calvin; the Westminister Confession of Faith, 3.1-2; 5.1-4).

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6 Responses

  1. As far as the antinomianism thing goes, I think the best response would be to say that that might be theoretically possible, but that no one who has truly experienced grace would countenance such actions.

    Apparently, Martin Lloyd-Jones said that if he couldn’t be mistaken for anti-nomianism, then he didn’t feel like he had preached the gospel.

  2. DJM,

    Are you referring to the McCall articles? Did you read them all? What did you think of his claim that exhaustive determinism threatens God’s aseity?

    In response to your question I would first say that I do not agree with Mr. Jones. If we preach the gospel as the NT presents it there will be no danger of such misunderstandings coming from our preaching (though people can of course misrepresent and misunderstand just about anything, e.g. in wanting to cling to worldly pleasures one might re-interpret or twist what is being preached, etc.). However, those who disagree with Calvinistic determinism and inevitable perseverance would preach that we are saved by grace through faith while also making it very clear that sin is extremely dangerous for the believer in that it corrodes saving faith and can ultimately lead to a life characterized by unrepentance, unbelief and apostasy (Rom. 6:11-16; 8:12-14; 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 15-20; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-10; Eph. 5:3-21, Heb. 3:12, 13; 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 2 Peter 2:18-22, etc.). Such preaching could hardly encourage antinomianism.

    But if we preach that we can really do nothing at all towards our own sanctification; that any resistance to sin must result from God’s irresistible monergistic work in us; that we do not really cooperate with His grace in allowing Him to sanctify us and give us the victory over sin; that when we sin it is really in perfect conformity to God’s secret irresistible decretive will; that the promise of 1 Cor. 10:13 doesn’t really hold in light of exhaustive determinism, then the possibility of antinomianism becomes not the result of a misunderstanding, but the result of a proper understanding of theology. Big difference.

    This is why Piper had to ultimately admit that though we must confess that when we sin we do so according to God’s secret irresistible decree and could not have done otherwise, we need to try to live as if that truth were not a factor. In other words, to attain to the challenge and commands of Biblical sanctification, one must rid his or her mind of the contradictory so-called Biblical truths that make such a pursuit of sanctification essentially meaningless. Rather than living in harmony with our doctrines, we must live despite them. That is a serious problem in my opinion.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. DJM said: “As far as the antinomianism thing goes, I think the best response would be to say that that might be theoretically possible, but that no one who has truly experienced grace would countenance such actions.”

    **** That doesn’t really address the problem. The problem is that Piper himself acknowledges that his view does logically imply antinomianism, but that we should not follow where the logic of his position leads. To say that no one who has experienced grace would follow where the logic of biblical truth leads is to set God’s truth against logic. But this really just reveals that Piper’s Calvinistic position is illogical and helps point us back to the true biblical position–Arminianism, in which good is good, evil is evil, God loves what is good, hates what is evil, and would never irresistibly cause us to sin by unconditional decree even if he can bring good out of sin. God is good and holy and righteous, and his eyes are too pure to even look upon evil!

  4. But this really just reveals that Piper’s Calvinistic position is illogical and helps point us back to the true biblical position–Arminianism, in which good is good, evil is evil, God loves what is good, hates what is evil, and would never irresistibly cause us to sin by unconditional decree even if he can bring good out of sin. God is good and holy and righteous, and his eyes are too pure to even look upon evil!

    Amen! (Proverbs 15:26)

  5. Hello, I was only trying to suggest a couple of thoughts I have heard from Calvinists. As for myself, I think I have to be willing to accept a high degree of mystery in these things, at least until I understand the OT better.

    Piper wrote about Chesterton some time ago. He also seems willing to accept some mystery, even though we would surely disagree on many things. Nevertheless, it might help you.
    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2008/2791_How_A_Roman_Catholic_AntiCalvinist_Can_Serve_Todays_PoetCalvinists/

  6. Mystery is one thing. It is fine for us to not know how something might work. There are many things that we don’t about how they work. But contradiction is another thing that makes something illogical. And Calvinism is frought with numerous contradictions just as Piper’s theology is admittedly contradictory on this point. Calvinists often appeal to mystery to try and avoid the illogical nature of their theology. But it is a desperate expedient, because it is invalid to try and cover over contradiction with mystery. Legitimate mystery is not contradiction, but ignorance about how something that is not contradictory works. Once you give up logic and say things like, “Don’t bring your brain”, as Piper does, then you’ve opened the door to anything being able to mean anything and you’ve given up absolute truth. Why can’t all the cults then say, “hey, we know our theology sounds absurd and unbiblical, but we know it’s true and you should accept it because it’s just a mystery. people who reject our view just don’t appreciate mystery, etc.” ?

    And then why do Calvinists like Piper criticize Arminianism as not being biblical in their opinion based on logical reasoning? Why should not Arminians simply respond to all Calvinist critiques of their theology with, “it’s a mystery” ? Arminianism makes much more sense to most Christians and is often acknowledged in a broad form as the default position among Christians including evangelicals. Why not just say, the Biblke reads Arminian overall, and those places where some think it sounds Calvinistic, we’re just dealing with mystery?

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