JD Hall, Pulpit and Pen, and a Response to Their Understanding of the Gospel and How they use it to Anathematize the Eastern Orthodox and Others

The Pulpit and Pen, who are these guys? They are led by a guy (a pastor) named JD Hall, and he has made a name for himself online by being a controversialist. If you read his (and their) blog posts, which I’ve been trying to do, there’s nothing but superficial rhetoric and flare appealed to directed toward whomever they feel like bashing at whatever particular moment. They are a group of Reformed Baptists (pretty much MacArthurites it looks like) who believe they have the pure and pristine Gospel truth—when it comes to the Gospel—which they go around with, as if it is their mallet, and beat down anything that does not measure up to their “Biblical” understanding of what the Gospel entails.

True, we need to be discerning, and there is in fact a way to be Gospel faithful, and a way not to be. But let’s reflect for a moment on what JD Hall&co. hold near and dear as the Gospel. They are straight 5 Point Calvinists, they see the TULIP as definitive for what it means to be Gospel faithful; and they use that theology as the basis from which they carry out their self-appointed mandate to be the Gospel-police. Okay, yes, we need to be discerning; there are indeed false Gospels out there. But most recently JD Hall&co. have been bashing the Eastern Orthodox—particularly because of Hank Hanegraaff’s (the ‘Bible Answer Man’) recent christmation into the EO faith. They have put up two nasty posts (that I’ve come across)[1], that deploys some of the most sectarian and uncharitable language you might ever come across; to this Reformed Protestant (me) it is downright embarrassing. Sure, yes, I disagree with much of what we find in Eastern Orthodox theology, whether that be in regard to their ecclesiology (and its attendant theory of authority), or even how they conceive of salvation (although there are components there that are resonant with some of the themes we present in “our” Evangelical Calvinism). But I digress, coming back to JD Hall’s Gospel faithfulness, relative to his adherence to TULIP theology, let’s consider, just briefly, if he is operating with as pure of a Bible only (sola Scriptura) mode that he thinks he is.

Let’s engage with the doctrine of grace that informs JD Hall’s classical Calvinist understanding of the Gospel. The substance metaphysics that JD Hall uses to articulate his understanding of the Gospel is anything but pure Gospel and Bible reality. Let me repackage and re-deploy another post I once wrote on getting at the classical Calvinist understanding of grace, and its antecedents, and use that to help us see if JD Hall’s informing theology is as biblically pure and crisp as he portends; or maybe we’ll find that his understanding of grace is just as open to critique (biblically) as is the theology, in general, that we find offered by the Greek Orthodox. In fact maybe JD Hall’s understanding of grace and the Gospel is more off, and/or just as semi-Pelagian, as he would claim Eastern Orthodox understandings of grace and the Gospel are. Here’s what we should consider.

Steven Ozment, I have found[2], is a trustworthy guide in elucidating the theology of the medieval and early Reformed periods; as such we will refer to his nutshell description of how salvation looks within a Thomist frame. He writes:

It was a traditional teaching of the medieval church, perhaps best formulated by Thomas Aquinas, that a man who freely performed good works in a state of grace cooperated in the attainment of his salvation. Religious life was organized around this premise. Secular living was in this way taken up into the religious life; good works became the sine qua non of saving faith. He who did his moral best within a state of grace received salvation as his just due. In the technical language of the medieval theologian, faith formed by acts of charity (fides caritate formata) received eternal life as full or condign merit (meritum de condign). Entrance into the state of grace was God’s exclusive and special gift, not man’s achievement, and it was the indispensable foundation for man’s moral cooperation. An infusio gratiae preceded every meritorious act. The steps to salvation were:

1 Gratuitous infusion of grace

2 Moral cooperation: doing the best one can with the aid of grace

3 Reward of eternal life as a just due[3]

Bear in mind the flow of how salvation was appropriated in the medieval Thomist mind started with 1) a gratuitous infusion of grace from God (this is also called created grace where grace is thought of as ‘stuff’ the elect receive in order to cooperate with God in the salvation process through), 2) then the elect are ‘enabled’ to cooperate (as just noted) with God, doing good charitable works, with 3) the hope of being rewarded with eternal life.

It might seem pretty clear why contemporary Reformed Protestants don’t get into Thomas Aquinas’ model of salvation as a fruitful place to develop salvation themes, but the irony is, is that they do. Remember as I noted above that how we think of God will flow downstream and implicate everything else; well, it does.

Closer in time to the medieval period (than us) were the Post-Reformed orthodox theologians. These theologians were men who inhabited the 16th and 17th centuries, and they developed the categories and grammar of Reformed theology that many today are resourcing and developing for contemporary consumption; among not only overtly confessionally Reformed fellowships and communions, but also for ‘conservative’ evangelical Christians at large (think of the work and impact of The Gospel Coalition). The Post-Reformed orthodox theologians, interestingly, developed an understanding of grace and salvation that sounds very similar to what we just read about Aquinas’ and the medieval understanding of salvation (within the Papal Roman Catholic context). Ecclesial historian, Richard Muller in his Latin theological dictionary defines how the Post-Reformed orthodox understood grace and salvation this way:

gratia: grace; in Greek, χάρις;  the gracious or benevolent disposition of God toward sinful mankind and, therefore, the divine operation by which the sinful heart and mind are regenerated and the continuing divine power or operation that cleanses, strengthens, and sanctifies the regenerate. The Protestant scholastics distinguish five actus gratiae, or actualizations of grace. (1) Gratia praeveniens, or prevenient grace, is the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon sinners in and through the Word; it must precede repentance. (2)Gratia praeparens is the preparing grace, according to which the Spirit instills in the repentant sinner a full knowledge of his inability and also his desire to accept the promises of the gospel. This is the stage of the life of the sinners that can be termed the praeparatio ad conversionem (q.v.) and that the Lutheran orthodox characterize as a time of terrores conscientiae (q.v.). Both this preparation for conversion and the terrors of conscience draw directly upon the second use of the law, the usus paedagogicus (see usus legis). (3)Gratia operans, or operating grace, is the effective grace of conversion, according to which the Spirit regenerates the will, illuminates the mind, and imparts faith. Operating grace is, therefore, the grace of justification insofar as it creates in man the means, or medium, faith, through which we are justified by grace…. (4) Gratia cooperans, or cooperating grace, is the continuing grace of the Spirit, also termed gratia inhabitans, indwelling grace, which cooperates with and reinforces the regenerate will and intellect in sanctification. Gratia cooperans is the ground of all works and, insofar as it is a new capacity in the believer for the good, it can be called the habitus gratiae, or disposition of grace. Finally, some of the scholastics make a distinction between gratia cooperans and (5)gratia conservans, or conserving, preserving grace, according to which the Spirit enables the believer to persevere in faith. This latter distinction arises most probably out of the distinction betweensanctificatio (q.v.) and perseverantia (q.v.) in the scholastic ordo salutis (q.v.), or order of salvation….[4]

If we had the space it would be interesting to attempt to draw corollaries between the five ‘actualizations of grace’ and the infusion gratiae (infused grace) that we find in Aquinas. I have done further research on this, and the ‘actualizations of grace’ we find in Protestant orthodox theology come from Aquinas, and for Aquinas it comes from Aristotle. Gratia operans or operating grace, gratia cooperans or cooperating grace, and habitus gratiae or disposition of grace all can be found as foundational pieces within Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of salvation; which is ironic, because these are all fundamental components that shape Protestant Reformed orthodox soteriology.

Why is this important? Because how we think of God affects how we think of salvation, and a host of other things downstream. If Protestant theology was an attempt to protest and break from Roman theology, but the Protestant orthodox period ends up sounding once again like the very theology that the magisterial Reformers (i.e. Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al.) were seeking to break away from; wouldn’t it behoove us to critically engage with what we are being fed by contemporary theologians who are giving us theology/soteriology directly informed by theologian’s theology that is shaped by a theological/soteriological framework that might be suspect? In other words, what if the Protestant orthodox period, instead of being an actual reforming project was instead a return to the theology that the early magisterial reformers protested against? What if the early Reformation was “stillbirthed?”[5]

These are all issues that JD Hall&co. need to consider and respond to; they are not minimal charges. In fact what I am contending, along with others, is that the TULIP theology that JD Hall&co. uses to bash others with, is just as open to critique as the soteriologies that they are critiquing. This is why JD Hall shouldn’t be taken seriously, I would suggest, my guess is that he has never, not once in his life, even considered what I just presented in my post. He has never critically engaged with the development of his own theological platform within the development and history of ideas. My guess is that he has never heard of created grace; that he has never heard of how Thomas Aquinas appropriated Aristotle’s habitus thinking, and how that then gets distilled into TULIP soteriology (JD Hall’s kind of Gospel). He’s really not a serious thinker, and so he shouldn’t be taken as such.

 

[1] The Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff, Leaves the Christian Faith? And An Apology to the Eastern Orthodox Community

[2] Text we used for my Reformation Theology class in seminary.

[3] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven&London: Yale University Press, 1980), 233.

[4] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastics Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 129-30.

[5] See Ronald N. Frost, “Aristotle’s ‘Ethics:’ The ‘Real’ Reason for Luther’s Reformation?,” Trinity Journal 18:2 (1997).

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6 Responses to JD Hall, Pulpit and Pen, and a Response to Their Understanding of the Gospel and How they use it to Anathematize the Eastern Orthodox and Others

  1. Pingback: JD Hall, Pulpit and the Pen, and a Response to Their Understanding of the Gospel and How they use it to Anathematize the Eastern Orthodox and Others | The Evangelical Calvinist | Talmidimblogging

  2. Matt says:

    You should invite JD Hall to debate. What do you think?

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  3. Bobby Grow says:

    Sure. Debate what though? He doesn’t seem like a debater though; seems more like someone who throws bombs at people over his wall.

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  4. Bobby Grow says:

    Matt, as I’ve been considering it, debating someone like Hall is probably not worth it. As I’ve been perusing his blog posts and reading up on him through google, it all seems too predictable in regard to what tone and direction and conclusion it will take. Again, I don’t really think he’s done his homework, the way he critiques things seems pretty superficial and full of rhetoric and posturing to me; so on second thought a debate with him wouldn’t probably be the best use of time. In fact me writing this blog post in a kind of critique of him probably wasn’t the best use of my time. But sometimes I just feel motivated to call people like him out, since he’s so busy calling everyone else out; and he does so on some very flimsy theology himself.

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  5. Matt says:

    I don’t agree with anything you say and that’s why I’d like to see you try and debate him.

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  6. Bobby Grow says:

    He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, it would be too easy.

    You don’t agree w/ anything I say?: Jesus is LORD. Holy Scripture is God’s Word. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit/One in Three/Three in One. QED

    I guess that’s why you want me to debate JD. Though he’d be just as easy.

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