What Is Federal Theology or Calvinism? A Short History

**Here is a repost, I wonder what you all think of this historical recounting of what Federal Calvinism is? I often rail against FC, making the assertion that it focuses on a man-centered cooperative model of salvation that displaces Christ as the actual center. I often make the claim that God’s ability to love us is not grounded in His life, but instead in His meeting the conditions of the covenant of works — at which point He is free to love His ‘elect’. I also make the assertions, even recently, that this framework of salvation flows from a view of God that is ‘two-winged’ or ‘bilateral’ in conception; meaning that there is a competition of sorts between God’s life in eternity and His life in ‘salvation-history’ [time]. All of these elements, and then some, are addressed in the following quote from Bierma. I hope you find this informative, and I wonder how you might get around the implications, if you follow Federal Theology, that you follow a system that does not magnify Jesus, primarily, but only secondarily — if that’s possible.**

Here is Lyle Bierma on Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587), one of the first developers of Federal Theology (according to Bierma, the first, but this is disputable). Bierma here is describing how Olevianus understood the Covenant of Grace vis-a’-vis the Covenant of Works:

When did God make such a pledge? [Referring to the ‘Covenant of Grace’] We will be looking at this question in some detail in Chapter IV, but it should be mentioned here that for Olevianus this covenant of grace or gospel of forgiveness and life was proclaimed to the Old Testament fathers from the beginning; to Adam after the fall (“The seed of the woman shall crush [Satan’s] head”); to Abraham and his descendents (“In your seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed”); to the remnant of Israel in Jeremiah 31 (“I will put my laws in their minds . . . and will remember their sins no more”); and still to hearers of the Word today. To be sure, this oath or testament was not confirmed until the suffering and death of Christ. Christ was still the only way to Seligkeit, since it was only through His sacrifices that the blessing promised to Abraham could be applied to us and the forgiveness and renewal promised through Jeremiah made possible. Nevertheless, even before ratification it was still a covenant — a declaration of God’s will awaiting its final fulfillment.

In some contexts, however, Olevianus understands the covenant of grace in a broader sense than as God’s unilateral promise of reconciliation ratified in Jesus Christ. He employs some of the same terms as before — Bund, Gnadenbund, foedus, foedus gratiae, and foedus gratuitum — but this time to mean a bilateral commitment between God and believers. The covenant so understood is more than a promise of reconciliation; it is th realization of that promise — reconciliation itself — through a mutual coming to terms. Not only does God bind Himself to us in a pledge that He will be our Father; we also bind ourselves to Him in a pledge of acceptance of His paternal beneficence. Not only does God promise that He will blot out all memory of our sins; we in turn promise that we will walk uprightly before Him. The covenant in this sense includes both God’s promissio and our repromissio.

This semantical shift from a unilateral to a bilateral promise is most clearly seen in two passages in Olevanius’s writings where compares the covenant of grace to a human Bund. In Vester Grundt, as we have seen, he portrays the covenant strictly as a divine pledge. While we were yet sinners, God bound Himself to us with an oath and a promise that through His Son He would repair the broken relationship. It was expected, of course, that we accept the Son (whether promised or already sent) in faith, but Olevianus here does not treat this response as part of the covenant. The emphasis is on what God would do because of what we could not do.

In a similar passage in the Expositio, however, Olevianus not only identifies the covenant with reconciliation itself but describes it as a mutual agreement (mutuus assensus) between the estranged parties. Here God binds Himself not to us “who were yet sinners” but to us “who repent and believe,” to us who in turn are bound to Him in faith and worship. This “covenant of grace or union between God and us” is not established at just one point in history; it is ratified personally with each believer. Christ the Bridegroom enters into “covenant or fellowship” with the Church His Bride by the ministry of the Word and sacraments and through the Holy Spirit seals the promises of reconciliation in the hearts of the faithful. But this is also a covenant into which we enter, a “covenant of faith.” As full partners in the arrangement we become not merely God’s children but His Bundgesnossen, His confoederati.

When he discusses the covenant of grace in this broader sense, i.e., as a bilateral commitment between God and us, Olevianus does not hesitate t use the term conditio [conditional]. We see already in the establishment of the covenant with Abraham that the covenant of grace has not one but two parts: not merely God’s promissio [promise] to be the God of Abraham and his seed, but that promise on the condition (qua conditione) of Abraham’s (and our) repromissio [repromising] to walk before Him and be perfect. Simply put, God’s covenantal blessings are contingent upon our faith and obedience. It is to those who repent, believe, and are baptized that He reconciles Himself and binds Himself in covenant. (Lyle D. Bierma, “German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus,” 64-68)

I wanted to provide this because there has been recent discussion by some of us on this very issue; what is “Federal Theology?” The charge went, that I misunderstood the premise of Federal Theology, and thus the rest of my critique of it, was amiss. The assertion further went that what I was presenting was akin to the Federal Vision (the red-headed step child of “Federal theologians”).

What this quote demonstrates, beyond a doubt, is that Federal theology is exactly what I originally summarized it to entail. Primary of which, is its conditional nature; and thus its penchant to force people to look to themselves before they look to Christ — an anthropocentric problem.

Further, I fear that even after folks read this, they will say that this just cannot be what contemporary ‘Federal Theologians’ advocate. Well, this is wrong, none other than R. Scott Clark, faculty member at Westminster Theological Seminary–California (bastion of contemporary Federal Theology), clearly defends and advocates for this kind of “bilateralism” that we see in the ‘Federal Theology’ of Olevianus. Here is a piece Clark has on this at his blog.

I realize much of this requires further commentary, but I’m just going to put this out there for future reference. I want folks to know that I’m not engaging a ‘paper-cut’ theology when I critique Federal Theology vis-a’-vis Evangelical Calvinism. More to come . . .



  1. I think I’m following this.

    Attempted summary:
    This Olevianus understood the nature of God’s covenant with God and our entry into the covenant by faith in Christ.

    However, he also superimposed a type of the Old Covenant of human works (and the conditional promises that went with it) over the top so that Federal Calvinism demands not only faith but a certain level of performance in order for believers to remain beneficiaries of said covenant?

    If I got that, then I’m wondering…Wouldn’t that imply that salvation can be lost by one who fails to keep his end of the deal?
    And, if so, wouldn’t that also negate the doctrine of (irresistible) grace and perseverance of the saints TULIP points?


  2. I think you’re tracking well, Heather.

    On your last set of questions. It wouldn’t imply “loss of salvation;” that’s how the later Arminians might say it, instead — and this is the way a good Calvinist would say it — they never “really” had it to begin with.

    Later on in the development of Federal Theology they would speak of “temporary faith” or being an “experiemental predestinarian;” which means that based upon “performance” (per the mores of that time, culturally speaking) someone may truly be elect or not.

    Another point I wanted to highlight with this quote as well was the fact that God wasn’t really ‘free’ to love humanity until the conditions He set out in the Cov of Works and thus ‘Grace’ were met at the cross (thus the emphasis on the Forensic in the Federal construct). And this has been my basic point on how Classic Calvinism (which Baptist Calvinists will never get) makes God subserviant to the decrees (in other words, God is not truly free in Himself, the decrees which are separate from His ‘inner life’ are dictacting or predicating who He should be . . . and since these decrees have to do with creation/salvation, then His creation ends up telling Him how He needs to act in order to “save” them). This is what I want non-Federal-Classic Calvinists to grasp (like the MacArthur style).

    Anyway, I think for what you mentioned, you’re definitely following the basic lineaments of what’s going on, Heather.


  3. Okay Bobby. Thank you.

    I would probably tend toward the “never had it to begin with” perspective. But that kind of recalls the theme of that other discussion we had about judging the “saved” status of others by what we see, doesn’t it? 😉 There does seem to be a fine line between recognition of truth and improper application of that truth.

    I’ll have to chew on that last point a while.

    Hope you and your family are still holding up okay.


  4. Thanks, Heather . . . doing okay, thanks for the prayers!

    Thankfully we don’t have to think through the categories of “never had it” or “lossed it” to begin with. Scripture doesn’t, so we shouldn’t! 🙂

    Yeah, keep thinking about that last point, it’s probably the key critique that EC has of Classic Calv and even Arminianism.


  5. We are still praying 🙂 And, yes, it is good that God insist that we leave the hard things up to Him!

    So, I’m trying to sort through the thing about decrees.

    My current understanding of this Federal Calvinism (and Arminianism?) subservient to decrees concept looks something like:

    God really wanted to be able to love and save stupid, fallen man but He has made definitive statements about Himself which He cannot retract. He’s also really mad that we disobeyed Him, so needs an outlet for that anger.
    Therefore, in order to be able to allow us to get close to Him, He had to figure out some way to not only maintain His immovable standards, but also to provide the justification and forgiveness we need in order to be able to enter into His presence without being atomized.

    If that is even remotely close to what you are saying, I’m wondering if the error is in the perception that God is not bound by His Word so much as His Word is bound to His nature? What I mean is that I’m asking whether God’s statements about Himself (and man’s duty to Him) are simply revelation of Who He is (ie God IS Love) rather than being a set of arbitrarily determined “game rules”?

    If I’m totally off, just scrap my questions and please straighten me out 😉


  6. Thankfully we don’t have to think through the categories of “never had it” or “lossed it” to begin with. Scripture doesn’t, so we shouldn’t!

    Not sure I get that.

    Surely Matt 13:18-23, Romans 11:17-24, Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-31 introduce the category of “lost it” and 1 John 2:19, John 6:70-71, Matt 13:18-23 (again) introduce the category of “never had it”?

    I’d say there’s good reason to think through those things. Can you explain why you don’t?


  7. Ali,

    I don’t think so, unless you’re reading those passages through a construct that tells you to make those interpretive decisions.

    Totally disagree with you.

    It’s unfortunate to me that you think that way about those passages. I’m not going to do an itemized exegesis of each passage; but I’ll just say that context context is everything, as is the presuppositions that you bring to the text.

    I don’t bring classically reformed or arminian assumptions to the text; which means that when I read passages like Heb or Mt or Rom I assume that these passages were written to believers . . . that changes everything — i.e. not to fulfill my dogmatic questions on justification or the cov of works per se.

    It’s important to let the Bible establish its own categories and themes; so the important thing for you to do will be to engage in a contextual inter/intratextual biblical theology and see how the themes and motifs of all of scripture (OT esp.) inform the passages that you bring up here as if these passages were intended to answer the abstract philosopical questions that WEstminster (for example) foists upon it.

    Hope that helps.


  8. Heather,

    I think you’re onto it when you say this:

    rather than being a set of arbitrarily determined “game rules”?

    That’s pretty much how the decrees work (these simply are philosophical points engaged in order to maintain God’s immovability/sovereignty). They can be said to be from God all folks want (i.e. His secondary causes or decrees); but point in fact, they are a direct result from following Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas’ method of explaining the infinite (actual infinite).

    Lot’s of people want to argue about this, but as far as I can see God’s life, scripture, and then people like Karl Barth and TF Torrance have completely shown how bankrupt this way of thinking of God is. I realize there is a whole culture out there who still think this is the best way to think about God — please excuse my impatience — these folks are just naive and often arrogant about using these categories to talk about God. Often these folks just think this is how scripture straightforwardly speaks about God; and they have no idea of the history that is informing their interpretive decisions. That is why it is so important for folks to study the history of ideas — but most won’t! It’s not hard to do, just pick up a good book on Reformation theology or Patristic Theology and all of these things will take on new perspective.

    I’ve been blogging for years now, Heather, and seen the same people talking about the same things; and these people have shown no growth in re. to understanding the history of ideas (to be honest it is very frustrating after awhile). The reality is is that these folks need to read more than their Bibles on this; they need to get some historical context and quit conflating foreign ideas with scriptural categories.

    Sorry for venting, Heather, but just telling it like I see it at this point.


  9. Ali,

    I wanted to clarify that my agreement that we not to be dwelling on “never had it” and “lost it” was in reference to my own tendency to

    1. Start judging others who don’t appear to have their act together
    2. Spend hours fretting over whether I’ve been chosen or somehow worked my way into a position of unforgivability.

    Either way, it causes me to take my eyes off of Christ and put it on something else. From what I understand Scripture to say, salvation that is of God is not something that can be “lost”.

    But faith which is placed in anything other than God puts us in a really dangerous position and can evaporate when challenged.


  10. No, doesn’t help particularly. As far as I understand, you are saying I need to read the Bible in order to understand that “fall away” in these passages doesn’t actually mean fall away, that when Jesus says Judas was a devil, that it had nothing to do with his salvation status before the Lord, that John in 1 John 2:19 is not making any comment about the “membership” of the false brethren in the Church and that the question of individual salvation is not raised.

    So, can you see my confusion?


  11. Ali,

    I’m sorry. But what you seem to be unaware of is the various ways these passages have been interpreted — i.e. it’s not as matter of fact as you seem to think (in other words your prooftexting). All I see you doing is operating out of a dogmatic grid that makes these passages answer question about justification, for example, that the context does not allow. So no, not just read the Bible, but study it using on the hermeneutical tools available (languages, literary theory, canonical theory, etc. etc. and simply the context).

    Judas is an interesting case, but again, I don’t see how his situation is a normative one. I Jn 2 says nothing about “falling away” or “nevering having” as far as I can see — at most it seems to speak to the reality of false gnostic brethren within the church. But that’s different than the categories of “losing salvation” or “never had it;” those are charged dogmatic categories with particular metaphysical concepts that are foreign to the categories of scripture.

    So all I’m challenging you to do is to not impose these categories on the context of scripture. Realize that the bible actually has its own set of expectations and metaphysics, and then allow those to determine the questions that the text “intends” to answer. My initial comment on all of this was based on that, the idea that scripture has its own set of questions and thus its own set of answers. And I don’t think the categories of losing salvation or never had it salvation are part of the questions that scripture intends to answer. So, if someone tries to make scripture answer those questions — which they can “make” it answer anything they want — then I think that method is fallacious and not worth much time. Dogmatics have their place, but if they hijack the emphases and points of scripture, then, again, they are a waste of time!

    So in short, yes, go read your Bible for all its worth! 🙂 I don’t intend to argue with you over all of this, Ali; I just told you what I think, and for the moment, that’s how it is (and thus far you haven’t given me any reason to think otherwise).


  12. Bobby, just a little condescending there, don’t you think?

    I’m happy not to continue discussing this, but I would encourage you to consider that you might actually be imposing categories on me and what I am actually saying and not bothering to find out exactly what context my words are coming from ;).


  13. Alright then, Bobby. I think I’m grasping the concept a little better.

    Guess we all have to be careful to not remake God into something He never said He is.

    I don’t mind the vent.

    When the Lord allows you to see something that dramatically changes your view of and enlivens your relationship with Him, you WANT to share with other people so they can have the treasure you have. I don’t think that can be helped as Jesus said that no one lights a lamp and then shoves it under a basket.

    I do understand the passionate drive to try to share your perspective with others. And it can hurt a lot when people reject out of hand something they likely don’t understand and don’t seem to want to understand. Jesus was received in much the same way by His own people.

    On the other hand, it’s scary to be bluntly asked to step outside of a tidy little cottage that’s been handed down for generations in order to consider whether it is the best we can do for those who come after. Things get more scary when the alternative “house” is full of foreign words and concepts which have been set forth by theologians (Karl Bath, for example) who have been deemed to be “unorthodox”. Additionally, the new decor might not allow much of the old familiar furniture to be moved into the new place. People can automatically become suspicious before they’ve even heard what you’ve said.

    Does that make sense?

    I was reading your recent exchange on “the other site”. Perhaps it is best to just dust off your sandals and move on for now.

    Not all of the commenters over there are hostile, and that is why I kept coming back. But I’ve recently made a couple of comments that were not well-received by the blog owners,and I think my presence over there now causes them to suck in their breath and hope I leave soon. You seem to have a similar effect…

    I think I’ve been marked as being one of those “raised pinky bloggers” 😉
    You get to be a troll. 😀

    It’s not my intention to be condescending and deliberately irritating to anyone, though.

    And, I doubt your purpose is to just lob doctrinal grenades into people’s laps so you can argue and be “right”. If you see error and can approach others in the manner described by Galatians 6:1, I think that is wonderful.

    On the other and, if you find yourself becoming agitated and frustrated with folks, you might consider James 1:19-20. People on both sides of a debate stop listening and start shooting when they’re offended. And we don’t want to end up just arguing in front of the world with other believers about something so precious as our Savior. Neither do we want to put ourselves in the position of James 4:11-17.

    Anyway, you might consider just avoiding certain sites where you seem to be unwelcome. God is perfectly capable of bringing interested people to you.
    It’s how I found your site. 😀

    For what it’s worth.


  14. Ali,

    Sorry you took it that way. I don’t know how else to read what you you’ve written here. You challenged me to back up what I was saying, you gave some prooftexts as if that undercut my assertion; and all I’m coming back with is that you need to provide more context than what you have.

    My former profs in seminary would never ever ever let me or anyone get away with throwing some verses out (as you did), assume that was enough, and place the burden of proof by simple assertion (which is what you did with your “challenge”).

    Why don’t you explain those passages the way you understand them; and then I’ll be able to respond accordingly. All I can do is assume that you are operating out of a certain interpretive grid (i.e. by the way you apparently are using “those passages”) — which you are ‘Reformed’, right? — and if so I find that ‘grid’ lacking as far as method and then the concepts that are yielded as a result of that method.

    So ‘splain yourself (as Ricky Ricardo would say) . . . yes, I guess I don’t understand where you’re coming from, then.

    Btw, I think folks need to get a little more spine in the sphere; I am very mild now-a-days, I used to debate rigorously with folks in the sphere (and usually folks didn’t take it so personally). My intent was not to condescend, Ali, but to challenge; so BRING IT 😉 !


  15. Heather,

    Thanks! I totally understand the fear of “stepping out” into new waters — and I wasn’t referring to you — but what bothers me is when people continually talk about things (like election, pred., etc.) but obviously have no idea what they are talking about relative to the history (I mean it is clear they haven’t even tried to understand the history of ideas). This is the Fundamentalist way, though.

    As far as the Pyros, as I just said to Ali, I think we all take the “sphere” way too seriously; to me theological jousting can be good and healthy, I think we should be a little more gruff in that regard, and be willing to discuss things w/o taking it so personally. I’ve been going back and forth with the Pyros for almost 5 yrs now . . . Frank has always been Frank, etc. I usually take a break, and try again . . . it’s kind of fun to mess with him a bit 🙂 . I do take what I’m saying seriously, and hope to persuade some away from what I perceive as “bad doctrine;” but again, Heather, this is blogging (no excuse for getting in the flesh — but I think we need to all not take ourselves so seriously, at points, myself included).

    Who knows, I’ll probably comment over at the Pyros someday . . . I don’t find all their posts bad.

    I just think we all need to loosen up a bit, have some fun with blogging; and be willing to joust a bit 🙂 . . . that’s one of things I enjoy about blogging (it’s one of the things I enjoy about Evangelism [face-to-face] I like to challenge people, come strong, and see what the Lord might do).


  16. LOL! I didn’t figure you were talking about me! My little rowboat’s already been capsized. I was screaming for a life preserver when we “met” 😉

    It is interesting how the fundamentalist protestants can be just as stubborn about certain beliefs as they often accuse the Catholics of being.

    I tend to agree that much of it is simply due to ignorance. Not only of history, but also what Scripture actually says. We love to feel secure in our “knowledge” that was handed to us by our beloved preachers who happen to all be learning and repeating the same stuff on a large scale. So, because a respected teacher proclaims it and “everyone” says it’s true, we just parrot what we’ve heard instead of question and search Scripture.

    The Pyro posts are usually okay. I’ve learned some things reading. And some of the commenters are great. But I’ve been told by Daddy to sit on my hands if I’m reading over there.

    It can be easy to get offended on certain blogs. I’ve had it happen and hopefully have learned my lesson. Pride can motivate us to be real jerks sometimes–regardless of whether one is on the offensive or defensive end.
    I think you’re right, though. Most of us would benefit from a vertebral implant (and maybe a good ear cleaning).

    I’ve fallen into a couple of debates and discovered it’s really not my thing.
    But you go right ahead and saddle up your horse if you’ve been called to it! 😀


  17. It can be easy to get offended, but I think it’s okay to “fight” a bit; in fact this was part of my education (i.e. to be challenged by the prof, and then try and defend my position). In fact you look at how Jesus engaged folks it was often “in their face.” Not that we’re Jesus, but I just don’t think it’s wrong, necessarily to get heated and into it, a bit.

    That’s funny that “Daddy” has told you to sit on it over at the Pyros . . . sounds wise.


  18. Hi Bobby,

    I’ve had my share of internet debates as well, and while I’m happy to get robust, there’s a difference between debating in love and debating out of pride. There’s no way I can claim to be great at the former (I am pretty good at the latter), but I have found that you actually learn a lot more if you approach a discussion with a conscious love for the other and a willingness to listen and even admit they may have a point.

    I’ve got one guy that I discuss some issues with, and while we strenuously disagree, it’s rare to almost never that I get a sense of condescension or dismissiveness from him. And because of this, I’m more than willing to be proven wrong by him. He’s taught me a lot!

    I’m not at all suggesting you never debate out of love, but whether you intend to or not, your words can (and did above) portray a certain condescension. There’s no necessary link between condescension and passion, pride and robustness, or even offense and backbone. My general rule is: If you find people get offended, it may be worth looking at how you say what you say.

    But it’s your blog. You operate as you want to.


  19. Well, since we’re being honest, Ali; you have a rather passive-aggressive approach, and I have a hard time dealing with that. I really prefer, on these issues not to get “personal,” if you have a point or arguement, make it; and then I’ll counter-point or not. In the end I’m not your teacher, nor are you mine (per se), we are blogging. The most we can typically do in these threads is make assertions and counter-assertions.

    Again, I’m sorry you took that as condescending — my response back to you (i.e. challenging you to do your homework) — but it really wasn’t what I was intending. What I would prefer right now, if we are going to continue is that you would make your points on scripture (Ali).

    As soon as you make a point, then I’ll be willing to interact around that point — so far you haven’t made a point. Here’s the thing, you often make little unclarified assertions; which require me to develop a response that is much more dedicated than the time you put into your initial assertion. For example, don’t just thread some scriptures together as if they make your point on their own; instead develop one of those so I know exactly what you’re getting at. I still don’t really know where you’re coming from, other than you disagree with me (which is a bit frustrating, to say the least, Ali).

    I don’t know what kind of time you’ve put into Bible study, in school, on your own, etc. But what I’m going to challenge you to do is to be “careful” in what you present (which is what I’m assuming you were trying to do with me initially here). Again, I’m sorry felt condscended to; not my intention (if it was you would really know it).

    Gidday, Ali!


  20. Alright, let’s see how we go.

    It was this comment of yours that I was responding to:

    Thankfully we don’t have to think through the categories of “never had it” or “lossed it” to begin with. Scripture doesn’t, so we shouldn’t!

    My intent in “throwing out Scriptures” was to illustrate that the Bible does talk about people accepting the gospel and then falling away (i.e. “losing it”) and it also provides examples of people it says never were “saved”. Whether those verses need to go in the direction of a Calvinism/Arminian debate is not my concern. The most I was trying to illustrate was that these concepts or “categories” are found in Scripture.

    So, a quick explanation of the verses involved:

    Matt 13:18-23 is, of course, Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the four soils. In it he talks about people who receive the word but do not persevere. Verse 21 even says, “Falls away”. Is this not an example of someone “losing it”?

    Romans 11:17-24 has Paul discussing the inclusion or exclusion of Jew and Gentile into God’s people depending on faith. To mention only one example, he warns Gentiles who have been included to continue in their faith, or they will be cut off/fall away (verses 20-22). Again, is this not an example of someone “losing it”?

    Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-31 present similar cases: people who have “been enlightened”, “tasted the heavenly gift”, “shared in the Holy Spirit”, repented, benefited from the crucifixion of Christ, been sanctified by the blood of the covenant (Christ’s) yet fall away and are in need of an impossible new sacrifice for sins. Is that not an example of someone who has “lost it”?

    As for Judas, I always find it…well, I guess amusing is the word…when people say, “That’s not normative”, because the writers of the Bible usually include things in their writings precisely because they teach something normative (as well as the obvious historical realities). I think a strong case can be made for Judas’ position to be representative of others in the Church.

    1 John 2:19, on the other hand, is obviously talking about false proto-gnostic brethren, but false brethren who used to be part of the Church and were recognised by others as Christians (“went out from us”) but their departure showed that they were never really part of the Church/Christians in the first place (“but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us”).

    Is that not an example of “never having had it”? Feel free to show me how else to interpret that.

    So, in all those sparse examples, I see the Bible talking about the category of “lost it” and “never had it”. Whether you put it in a specifically Reformed framework or not, all I’m asserting is that the Bible does actually know something of those categories. I cannot see how context (which I have considered, but did not think necessary to include) would change those basic meanings. But I’m open to being shown otherwise.

    One last thing: I appreciate the need to respect authorial intent, but I do not believe it necessary to reject any other teaching that can be gleaned from passages that are not specifically spoken about in Scripture. Every generation has their different questions, and we need to be able to responsibly mine the Bible for the answers. How else do we search out the will of God in terms of transvestites, global warming, television, democracy, and a million other issues? While these things must not hide the actual intent of the author, I do not see them as illegitimate uses of the Bible.

    Just so you know.


  21. Ali,

    Okay. When I said what I said I was referring to the Arminian/Calvinist frame specifically.

    On Mt., I don’t see that referencing someone who was born from above and not persevering. I see it representing someone who professes Christ, but for ulterior reasons.

    On Rm., Paul is talking about two “people groups.” The context is in reference to the “offer” and “time,” I don’t see this referencing particular individuals, esp. in re. to justification.

    On Heb. (a true ‘crux interpretum’), I would say the broader biblical theological context needs to be paid attentioned to. If we look back at its referent (in the Pentateuch), and thematic appeal, I don’t see this referring to justification at all; instead I see it referring to the ‘blessing/cursing’ motif (or reward). Important to bear in mind that in this context (‘blessing/cursing’) these are “God’s people” whom He disciplines.

    On Judas, be amused then, my friend. He’s not normative because, unless you can think of someone else in Judas’ particular situation, then he is simply not a normal person (nor are his circumstances). There are reasons why we want to say normative/non-normative, particular/universal etc. Can you give me another example that parallel’s Judas’ situation in the Bible (sure there are principles that can be gleaned, but that’s by definition non-normative, thus the need to glean principles).

    My whole point on this was the context of Arminian/Calvinist frame. I don’t see the scriptures speaking in those terms because I don’t see the scriptures speaking in the terms of the Classical Theistic God (i.e. the God of Thomism). That’s how “I” meant that, and still do.

    Well I disagree with your last paragraph. We certainly can engage in the enterprise of theo-logic and make inferences based upon the principles of scripture. But’s that different than asking questions of the scriptures that it never intended to answer. Are there ethical concerns we can ask scripture, by way of principles? Sure. But the work comes in when in making sure we aren’t squeezing scripture into the mold of those questions (and this happens all the time in ethics and theology). I don’t think scripture is our “answer book,” you can certainly squeeze it, and make it answer things; but unless it intended to answer those questions then we are just imposing our “questions” on the scriptures, and making it our wax nose. This is what I think Classic Calvinism often does; and thus the challenge of this blog.


  22. Oh, on I Jn 2, it’s different to say that people appeared to have it; and to say that people actually had it, and lost it. Which is what both “losing salvation” of the ARminians, and the “temporary faith” of the Fed Calv. is saying. That’s my point, Ali; the expectations of these systems are different than the ones in scripture.



  23. Honesty is always the best policy, Bobby :). I appreciate it.

    I’m not interested in continuing along a personal line so I won’t pursue that beyond this comment. In fact, I would have put this in an email, but the last two I sent you got no reply, so I’m not sure if you are getting them.

    1. I’m sorry I appear passive-aggressive. Wow! Feel free to rebuke me on that. I obviously need to learn to interact better.

    2. I have been approaching this as a student and putting you in the position of teacher simply because I understood you were wanting to teach people about Evangelical Calvinism and I want to understand it.

    3. In that vein, I make “little unclarified assertions” in order to get clarification or further explanation, not to start an argument.

    4. Also in that vein, it hasn’t seemed appropriate to me to state my position in relation to yours because I don’t understand your position well enough to do that.

    However, I understand it frustrating to not know where I am coming from, so I’ll try adjust my comments accordingly. Here are a few things that might help, but they will probably be too “unclarified” to be much use :).

    Basically, I don’t easily fit any mold.
    *I hold to TULIP as a default position.

    *I don’t like the little of covenant theology that I know (especially the covenant of works) because it seems so “impersonal” and odd. I totally agree with your critique about God working from his nature.

    *I am in a years-long process of thinking through an understanding of the Trinity that has love as the basis, but I am happy to work through Trinitarian concepts by concentrating on each member separately (though never completely separate), or concentrating on all three as One, or Three and One.

    *I understand the cross to be the centre of everything.

    *Many of my theological understandings are open to reconsideration. I am always seeking greater understanding, which is why I’m trying to understand what you are saying.

    Whether that’s helpful or not, I’ll try to make my comments more helpful.


  24. Ali,

    Let me just say that I’m sorry that I’ve come off condescending . . . I’ll try to work on that myself; but that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit challenging folks, maybe with a little edge (that’s just how I operate 🙂 ).

    Sometimes, in the past, your comments seem to come off like you’re looking or hankering to simply argue . . . which is fine, but then when engaged, you back off at points (ah, all of this would be no problem if we weren’t dealing in 2-D media).

    Thanks for filling me in on your theo background, that is helpful.

    Short of me writing a paper on EC, the best way to gain a real understanding of what’s going on here is to read TF Torrance’s “Scottish Theology” (unfortunately it’s rather pricey). I’ll continue to try and unfold what I understand EC to be, with the help of Myk; alot of my future research though will be revolving directly around Westminster Calvinism, so the posts will probably reflect that.

    Thanks for the feedback, Ali. Look forward to further interaction!


  25. Okay, some very definite differences there. I would argue the case on a number of your interpretations – not that you are wrong, but that the authors’ intention does not preclude individual situations, either.

    As for Judas…I may be using normative in the wrong way, but I would see him as fitting into the example of Esau who sold his inheritance as Christians are warned not to (Hebrews 12:15-17). Judas shares many of the same circumstances as Esau – predestined to fall, selling his inheritance (as a Jew if nothing else), unable to repent unto salvation. Some of these characteristics are used of false teachers also, eg. predestined to fall (Jude 4), emphasis on financial gain (Balaam’s error – Jude 11) and so on. It would take a bit of time to unpack that I and still don’t think you’d agree :). But that’s my take.

    So, we disagree.


  26. I thought Esau was a “type” of the first Adam. Contrasted with the chosen true Son (represented by Jacob).

    There are similarities also to Ishmael (son of the bondwoman) and Isaac son of promise) and Saul (Adam) and David (Christ) etc.

    I’m confused as to how Judas fits that typology?


  27. Wait. Maybe he does.

    Esau represents Adam in the selling of his birthright for a meal–and he also lost the blessing of the Father. Like Esau, Adam had to fall in order that Christ could be glorified.

    Jacob was given the right to lead the family and Esau wanted to kill him because of it. He also pleaded with Isaac to also give him some sort of personal blessing apart from the familial one that was given Jacob.

    I expect Esau still could have partaken of the blessing that was given to Jacob if he had agreed to sit UNDER Jacob’s headship. But Esau didn’t want to be reconciled and let little brother lead–He still wanted to be head of the family himself.

    Sinners can be blessed by being adopted sharers in Christ’s inheritance. But anyone who (like Esau) insists on getting God’s blessing without being reconciled to the true Son of Promise will be left outside, crying and begging to be given something…anything… for himself.

    And there will be nothing left for the rebellious, stubborn person because it’s all been given to Jesus, just as it was to Jacob/Israel.

    I don’t think that Hebrews passage about Esau is about “losing salvation” so much as it’s about refusing to die to self and be grafted into the True Vine. Once you’ve seen who gets it all and refuse to accept and “kiss the son”, there is nothing else that can be done…no sacrifice, no pleadings, no tears. There is only one way to be saved.

    Likewise, Judas probably could have repented just like Peter did after he swore an oath and denied he knew Jesus.


  28. Ali,

    I don’t see where Esau was predestined to fall, unable to repent, etc. In fact just the opposite is apparently true (given Jacob and Esau’s reunion).

    As far as “types” or “examples,” a good principle to follow (even “Covenant theology exegetes” follow this) is that unless the NT names a “type” (like first/second Adam) then we shouldn’t identify “types” (this is open to all kinds of fanciful allegorizing).

    Even so, Esau and Judas aren’t parallel (I don’t know of any exegetes who would make this identification). If you were in my Bible Study Methods class, Ali, I would have to mark you down 😉 .


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