In The Hands of a Loving God: A Riff on The Babylon Bee’s Angry Calvinist God

The Christian satire site, The Babylon Bee, recently shared this about Calvinists:

BOISE, ID—Local Calvinist Evan Rollins loudly announced Sunday afternoon his increased level of discomfort and wariness with Pastor Frank after the minister preached a passionate sermon angrygodon the love of God, witnesses confirmed Wednesday.

According to Rollins, he first began to feel uncomfortable with the message when the pastor quoted John 3:16 and pleaded with his hearers to believe the gospel, with his doubts and fears seemingly being confirmed as Pastor Frank reminded his audience that “God is love.”

 “I’m just not sure about Pastor Frank anymore, with all the love and grace talk,” Rollins told a friend at a local microbrewery after service. “I’m not saying he’s a heretic—or worse, an Arminian—but just that we should have our guard up from here on out. I’m seeing a lot of red flags.”

“Did you catch that bit about God’s love reaching to the heavens? Wow,” he added.

At publishing time, Rollins had begun searching for another church “where we’re really exhorted to rest in God’s wrath and judgment from the pulpit.”[1]

The irony of this, and why it’s satirical, is because there’s some relative truth to this. In a general sense classical Calvinists have emphasized God’s relationship to His creatures through a legal/juridic framework of mediating decrees (think of the theology that undergirds the Covenant of Works/Grace).

I once tried to distinguish evangelical Calvinism from classical Calvinism at another blog I once had (i.e. The Evangelical Calvinist in Plain Language). I don’t think Evan Rollins would like us too much either. Here’s what I wrote (I was trying to make it is as simplistic as I possibly could):

The way, when in person with someone, that I have tried to describe what evangelical Calvinism is, is to contrast it with what most people think of Calvinism today (as represented by The Gospel Coalition, or more explicitly by the acronym TULIP or 5 point Calvinism). So that is the way I will engage to flesh that out with you as well.

In general evangelical Calvinism emphasizes and starts from the idea that God is love! We know this to be the case because He has revealed that to us in and through His Son, Jesus. One of my (still) favorite Bible verses is:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Or,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I John 4:7-12

So we know that God is a personal God who does what He does because of who He is, He is love. And we, as evangelical Calvinists, use this belief to shape everything else that we articulate in regard to how we think of the way that God relates to us.

This means that we do not think that God primarily relates to us through Law, or us keeping the Law (which is the basic underlying premises upon which 5 point Calvinism is based on); we believe that God has always related to us, first, because He simply loves us (because that is who He is). And within that relationship He has provided expectations that He knew we couldn’t even uphold; so because He is love, He did that for us too, through Christ (Christ thus has become the end of the Law for all who believe Romans 9:5).

I would submit that the imagery and reality of marriage is the better way to think of our relationship to God in Christ (that’s what the Apostle Paul thought in Ephesians 5, and this is a common theme throughout all of Scripture, especially in Revelation). We don’t relate, humanly speaking, to our spouses through a set of codes and laws (even though there are expectations within the relationship); no, ideally, our relationship is based upon love (or self-giveness for the other). I think this is the better metaphor (and reality/our union with Christ) to think of our relationship with God through. Richard Sibbes, a Puritan thought so, as did Martin Luther.

So in general, then, evangelical Calvinism holds that God is Love and thus dynamic and personal. This is in contrast to Classical Calvinism’s and Arminianism’s belief that God relates to us through impersonal decrees and laws.

[1] The Babylon Bee

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The Covenant of Works, The Covenant of Grace; What Are They? The evangelical Calvinists Respond

As evangelical Calvinists we stand within an alternative stream from classical Calvinism, or Federal/Covenantal theology; the type of Calvinism that stands as orthodoxy for Calvinists today in most parts of North America and the Western world in general. The blurb on the back of our book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church makes this distinction clear when it states:

In this exciting volume new and emerging voices join senior Reformed scholars in presenting a coherent and impassioned articulation of Calvinism for today’s world. Evangelical Calvinism represents a mood within current Reformed theology. The various contributors are in different ways articulating that mood, of which their very diversity is a significant element. In attempting to outline features of an Evangelical Calvinism a number of the contributors compare and contrast this approach with that of the Federal Calvinism that is currently dominant in North American Reformed theology, challenging the assumption that Federal Calvinism is the only possible expression of orthodox Reformed theology. This book does not, however, represent the arrival of a “new-Calvinism” or even a “neo-Calvinism,” if by those terms are meant a novel reading of the Reformed faith. An Evangelical Calvinism highlights a Calvinistic tradition that has developed particularly within Scotland, but is not unique to the Scots. The editors have picked up the baton passed on by John Calvin, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and others, in order to offer the family of Reformed theologies a reinvigorated theological and spiritual ethos. This volume promises to set the agenda for Reformed-Calvinist discussion for some time to come.

A question rarely, if ever addressed online in the theological blogosphere, and other online social media outlets, is a description of what Covenant theology actually entails. Many, if acquainted at all with Reformed theology, have heard of the Covenant of Works, Covenant of Grace, and Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis); but I’m not really sure how many of these same people actually understand what that framework entails—maybe they do, and just don’t talk about it much.

In an effort to highlight the lineaments of Federal theology I thought it might be instructive to hear how Lyle Bierma describes it in one of its seminal formulator’s theology, Caspar Olevianus. So we will hear from Bierma on Olevianus, and then we will offer a word of rejoinder to this theology from Thomas Torrance’s theology summarized for us by Paul Molnar; and then further, a word contra Federal theology from Karl Barth as described by Rinse Reeling Brouwer. Here is Bierma:

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 the  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 he 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.[1]

What we see in Olevianus’s theology, according to Bierma, is a schema of salvation that is contingent upon the elect’s doing their part, as it were. In other words, what binds salvation together in the Federal scheme is not only the act of God, but the act of the elect; an act that is ensured to be acted upon by the absolute decree (absolutum decretum). The ground of salvation involves, then, God’s act and humanity’s response; the objective (or de jure) side is God’s, the subjective (or de facto) side is the elect’s—a quid pro quo framework for understanding salvation. What this inevitability leads to, especially when getting into issues of assurance of salvation, is for the elect to turn inward to themselves as the subjective side of salvation is contingent upon their ‘faith and obedience.’

Thomas F. Torrance, patron saint of evangelical Calvinists like me, rightly objects to this type of juridical and transactional and/or bilateral understanding of salvation. Paul Molnar, TF Torrance scholar par excellence, describes Torrance’s rejection of Federal theology this way and for these reasons:

Torrance’s objections to aspects of the “Westminster theology” should be seen together with his objection to “Federal Theology”. His main objection to Federal theology is to the ideas that Christ died only for the elect and not for the whole human race and that salvation is conditional on our observance of the law. The ultimate difficulty here that one could “trace the ultimate ground of belief back to eternal divine decrees behind the back of the Incarnation of God’s beloved Son, as in a federal concept of pre-destination, [and this] tended to foster a hidden Nestorian Torrance between the divine and human natures in the on Person of Jesus Christ, and thus even to provide ground for a dangerous form of Arian and Socinian heresy in which the atoning work of Christ regarded as an organ of God’s activity was separated from the intrinsic nature and character of God as Love” (Scottish Theology, p. 133). This then allowed people to read back into “God’s saving purpose” the idea that “in the end some people will not actually be saved”, thus limiting the scope of God’s grace (p. 134). And Torrance believed they reached their conclusions precisely because they allowed the law rather than the Gospel to shape their thinking about our covenant relations with God fulfilled in Christ’s atonement. Torrance noted that the framework of Westminster theology “derived from seventeenth-century federal theology formulated in sharp contrast to the highly rationalised conception of a sacramental universe of Roman theology, but combined with a similar way of thinking in terms of primary and secondary causes (reached through various stages of grace leading to union with Christ), which reversed the teaching of Calvin that it is through union with Christ first that we participate in all his benefits” (Scottish Theology, p. 128). This gave the Westminster Confession and Catechisms “a very legalistic and constitutional character in which theological statements were formalised at times with ‘almost frigidly logical definiton’” (pp. 128-9). Torrance’s main objection to the federal view of the covenant was that it allowed its theology to be dictated on grounds other than the grace of God attested in Scripture and was then allowed to dictate in a legalistic way God’s actions in his Word and Spirit, thus undermining ultimately the freedom of grace and the assurance of salvation that could only be had by seeing that our regenerated lives were hidden with Christ in God. Torrance thought of the Federal theologians as embracing a kind of “biblical nominalism” because “biblical sentences tend to be adduced out of their context and to be interpreted arbitrarily and singly in detachment from the spiritual ground and theological intention and content” (p. 129). Most importantly, they tended to give biblical statements, understood in this way, priority over “fundamental doctrines of the Gospel” with the result that “Westminster theology treats biblical statements as definitive propositions from which deductions are to be made, so that in their expression doctrines thus logically derived are given a categorical or canonical character” (p. 129). For Torrance, these statements should have been treated, as in theScots Confession, in an “open-structured” way, “pointing away from themselves to divine truth which by its nature cannot be contained in finite forms of speech and thought, although it may be mediated through them” (pp. 129-30). Among other things, Torrance believed that the Westminster approach led them to weaken the importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity because their concept of God fored without reference to who God is in revelation led them ultimately to a different God than the God of classical Nicene theology (p. 131). For Barth’s assessment of Federal theology, which is quite similar to Torrance’s in a number of ways, see CD IV/1, pp. 54-66.[2]

And here is how Brouwer describes Barth’s feeling on Federal theology, with particular reference to another founder of Federal theology, Johannes Cocceius. Brouwer writes of Barth:

Barth writes ‘For the rest you shall enjoy Heppe’ s Locus xiii only with caution. He has left too much room for the leaven of federal theology. It was not good, when the foedus naturae was also called a foedus operum’. In Barth’ s eyes, the notion of a relationship between God and Adam as two contractual partners in which man promises to fulfil the law and God promises him life eternal in return, is a Pelagian one that should not even be applied to the homo paradisiacus. Therefore,

one has to speak of the foedus naturae in such a way that one has nothing to be ashamed of when one speaks of the foedus gratiae later on, and, conversely, that one does not have to go to the historians of religion, but rather in such a way that one can say the same things in a more detailed and powerful way in the new context of the foedus gratiae, which is determined by the contrast between sin and grace. For there is re vera only one covenant, as there is only one God. The fact that Cocceius and his followers could not and would not say this is where we should not follow them – not in the older form, and even less in the modern form.

 In this way paragraph ends as it began: the demarcation of sound theology from federal theology in its Cocceian shape is as sharp as it was before. Nevertheless, the attentive reader will notice that the category of the covenant itself is ‘rescued’ for Barth’ s own dogmatic thinking.[3]

For Barth, as for Torrance, as for me, the problem with Federal theology is that it assumes upon various wills of God at work at various levels determined by the absolute decree. The primary theological problem with this, as the stuff we read from Torrance highlights, is that it ruptures the person and work of God in Christ from Christ; i.e. it sees Jesus, the eternal Logos, as merely an instrument, not necessarily related to the Father, who carries out the will of God on behalf of the elect in fulfilling the conditions of the covenant of works ratifying the covenant of grace. Yet, even in this establishment of the Federal framework, salvation is still not accomplished for the elect; it is contingent upon the faith and obedience of those who will receive salvation, which finally brings to completion the loop of salvation in the Federal schema.

These are serious issues, that require sober reflection; more so than we will be able to do in a little blog post. At the very least I am hopeful that what we have sketched from various angles will be sufficient to underscore what’s at stake in these types of depth theological issues, and how indeed theology, like Federal theology offers, can impact someone’s Christian spirituality if in fact said theology is grasped and internalized; i.e. it is understood beyond academic reflection, and understood existentially as it impacts the psychology and well being of human beings coram Deo.

 

[1] Lyle D. Bierma, German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus, 64-68.

[2] Paul D. Molnar, Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity,  181-2 fn. 165.

[3] Rinse H Reeling Brouwer, Karl Barth and Post-Reformation Orthodoxy (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015), 112-13.

“More Gospel-Centered than the Bible?” Good Works in Salvation

Kevin DeYoung tweeted earlier today:

Let’s not be more “gospel-centered” than the Bible. The Bible is not afraid of words like striving, fighting, effort, and work.

What I am inferring from this is that he is referring to people who are into excessive “grace”, or what Bonhoeffer might call cheap grace. In Puritan times DeYoung might be challenging what was known as anti-nomianism, and what today, more popularly might be referred to as the ragamuffin gospel. Essentially DeYoung, as I read him is referring to the idea that it is okay and even necessary to “work” out one’s salvation; and I wouldn’t fully disagree. Of course the reason I am writing this quick post is because I do ultimately disagree with DeYoung; it’s his informing theology that concerns me. 

DeYoung is a Young, Restless, and Reformed pastor/theologian who thinks about work, effort, striving, fighting, etc. from a certain perspective; at least when it is in reference to someone’s personal salvation. It is this informing theology, of DeYoung’s that I, of course, see as the problem. Because DeYoung believes that Jesus unconditionally elected certain people for salvation; because he believes that Jesus only died for these chosen few; and because he believes that a sign of people’s election is persevering in good works, when he calls for folks to not be more “gospel-centered” than the Bible, he is calling for them to essentially prove their election. It is from striving and working out one’s salvation that these elect individuals can assure themselves that they are one of the elect for whom Christ died. In the olden Puritan days they would call this experimental predestinarianism, because it was an experiment proven emperically through works which could demonstrate if an individual was truly one of the elect. 

Of course the problem with attempting to prove one’s salvation was that it turned the person inward to themselves. This corrective that DeYoung is calling for comes from a certain theological vantage point. But is it really in alignment with a gospel of grace? 

A genuine gospel of grace doesn’t ground one’s assurance of election or salvation in what they do. Instead the ground of salvation in a genuine gospel of grace is in the vicarious humanity of Christ and what he has done for us. It does not tell people to do things from a ground in an abstract decree of election, but instead it challenges them to look directly and immediately to Jesus Christ. It encourages the bruised reeds out there to understand that strife, effort, work, etc. have all been carried out for them in what Jesus has done for them in his humanity. It calls people to a life of participation and gratitude, and to live obediently to the Gospel of grace only in and from the life of Christ through union with him. There is no call to prove one’s election through perseverance in good works and striving. But this is what stands behind DeYoung’s statement. 

A Third Riposte to Kevin DeYoung on Assurance of Salvation in I John: An Alternative

I

This will be my third and final riposte to Kevin DeYoung. As you will recall I have been responding to DeYoung’s two blog posts in regard to a doctrine of assurance of salvation; in particular having to do with jesusthehealerthe way DeYoung understands that doctrine as taught in the epistle of I John.

In the first two ripostes or rejoinders from me, we covered, in suggestive and querying fashion, how the original context of I John might not correlate well with DeYoung’s “straightforward” reading of that text; this was the basic gist of my first post in response. In the second post I tried to get further into the role that the history of interpretation, interpretive tradition, hermeneutic, and metaphysic has; not just in informing DeYoung’s exegesis, but mine (and everyone’s) as well. In this post, I will attempt to introduce an alternative reading of I John that counters DeYoung’s reading of it. As part of this alternative reading, in an inchoate way, I hope to make clear my belief that “assurance of salvation,” as far as I can see, is not actually part of the positive teaching of Scripture as understood from its revealed reality in Jesus Christ.

II

Let’s start with the proposition, first off, that assurance of salvation is not part of the positive teaching of Scripture. Before I attempt to sketch what I mean we will need to have a little context in regard to what we mean by ‘positive.’ In medieval theology (where we get so many of our categories from) there were different via[s] or ways that people used in their respective approaches  to their doing of theology; the ‘positive way’ (via positiva) that I am referring to in this post contrasts with what was known as the ‘negative way’ (via negativa). The positive way (for purposes of brevity) is simply the way of doing theology that focuses on what is revealed (tied into kataphatic) rather than doing theology that is speculative (which is the negative way tied to what is called apophatic), and based upon inferential reasoning, and more than not contemplative and/or philosophical reflection. So when I refer to ‘positive’ in this discussion, this is what I mean.

If we delimit ourselves to the ‘positive way’ assurance of salvation, then, is not something that ever gets addressed. The emphasis in God’s Self-revelation in Christ is always on life eternal; it is not concerned with trying to assuage people about doubts in regard to whether they personally and individually are “saved,” or one of the “elect.” If we have a proper understanding of faith we will realize that it is not something that is self-generated or that is in us (think of Martin Luther’s iustia Christi aliena, ‘the alien righteousness of Christ’); instead we will understand that what faith looks like is that bond that is shared between the Father and the Son for us by the Holy Spirit. And so the focus, by definition, of eternal life and salvation is not something that we get, and thus must hold onto, or demonstrate as something that we possess; instead the focus is always on God’s life in Christ, and participation with him. As I John concludes it gives us this decisive word:

10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have[l]before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.[1]

Alongside of this:

23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.[2]

The focus in these passages is upon Christ, and not us. The differentiation, in context that John is making between those outside of Christ and those inside of Christ (so to speak) has to do with belief in Christ and keeping ‘His commandment’; which we see, in the context is that ‘we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another.’ Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ (and that he has come in the ‘flesh’ see chapter 2, which the Gnostics rejected i.e. that Christ was the Son of God come in the flesh), and those who do not genuinely love one another are outside of Christ (in a “saving” kind of way) because they are not of his ‘seed’ and thus not participating in His life. And so we know that we are not of the Gnostics (or any other aberrant understanding of Jesus Christ) because we genuinely know who Jesus is for us by the Holy Spirit. The focus positively is upon who Jesus is, not upon whether I am saved or not, per se. The distinction has to do with the identity of Jesus, the eternal Son; if someone is worshipping a false Jesus they will have to prove their salvation by what they do. The Christian, the one worshipping the eternal Son does not have to generate any type of morality, or anything else, they know they have eternal life based simply upon their relationship to Jesus Christ in and through who He is for them. As a result those of the ‘seed’ believe, and have love; and we understand that this is not something self-generated but God generated through Christ by the Holy Spirit’s testimony. Again, we are not in need of psychological assurance about our eternal destiny at this point; instead we are solely focused upon Christ and the reality of who He is (this seems to be the context of I John).

We only have a context of psychological angst about assurance of salvation issues if we think salvation is about us. The way Kevin DeYoung approaches things through his understanding of election, limited atonement, and individual salvation creates space for anxiety about ‘my’ salvation. It makes me wonder if I am one of the elect for whom Christ died, and thus I will come to passages like those found strewn throughout First John potentially looking for ways that I can be assured of my salvation, of my election; but this is all foreign to the actual context of I John and other texts of Scripture (at a supposition level).

III

As we were working through the section above you may have had a question (or two) still, and you should. Even if the ‘commandment’ is to ‘believe’ and to ‘love one another’ we still have a dilemma, especially if I am claiming that these are not intended to be “proofs” of my personal salvation and relationship to God. In fact, as I was sketching above you probably were thinking: “hmm, well this sounds exactly like what DeYoung has been arguing; that my personal belief and morality are two of three earmarks that are intended to provide me with assurance of salvation.” But as I have been suggesting this is to think errantly, per the context in I John, as well as theologically.

Theologically, if we start with a principled focus on Christ, as I have been contending that I John does, we will think about ‘belief’ and ‘loving one another’ from a theological anthropology generated from Christ; we will understand that the Word indeed has been made flesh, made human for us, and we will think about ‘belief’ and ‘love’ and salvation from this vantage point. If we do this, now our hermeneutic, our “metaphysic” is beginning to take shape; and it is this that we as evangelical Calvinists believe is fundamental to thinking about all of these things. The focus now is on Christ’s vicarious humanity, as such it is his ‘faith’, it is his ‘belief’, it is his ‘love for the other’ that grounds ours; so we believe from him, from his humanity for us by the Holy Spirit. Instead of working from ourselves to God, we understand, in a positive way, that God has worked from Himself to us in Christ. And so the focus, in I John, and elsewhere, is not on my faith, on my morality, on my belief, on my ethics, but on Christ’s for me. The focus is on His participation with us, and then our participation with Him in and through His mediatorial humanity for us. Do you see any focus, from this frame, on assurance of salvation? If Jesus is everything for us; if he is the elect humanity of God for us, do questions about assurance of salvation ever arise?

IV

In closing I think it is safe to conclude, if anything, that through this process we have at least come to see the power of theological commitments relative to biblical interpretation. The realization that we all do theological exegesis should be apparent.

When educating our brothers and sisters about this issue the best thing we can do, if we are having doubts about our salvation, is to reframe the whole discussion; we should not reinforce it the way that DeYoung and that whole tradition has done. If we follow positive theology these questions should never arise, at least not in a critically and objectively understood way. We are all human beings, indeed, part of that condition is weakness and vulnerability, the antidote to that is not to reinforce all of that, but instead it is to point the One who always lives to make intercession for those who will inherit eternal life; the antidote is to point people to their High Priest, and to the ground of their very life and being. The assurance will come when we have hope and confidence in who Jesus is for us, not who we are for Him.

 

[1] I John 5.10-14.

[2] I John 3.23-24.

A Second Riposte to Kevin DeYoung on Assurance of Salvation in I John. There is a History

I

I wanted to continue to engage with Kevin DeYoung’s recent couplet of posts on the doctrine of ‘assurance of salvation.’ In my last post,
as you might recall, I tried to simply poke the exegetical basis upon which DeYoung feels (apparently) sure-footed relative to articulating a doctrine of assurance based upon his straightforward calvinwoodreading of I John. I intimated a few things in that post (in regard to further critique and alternative), and so in this post I would like to further elaborate upon a kind of critique of what DeYoung believes in regard to assurance of salvation, and its exegetical basis.

As we discussed previously (in my first post), as is typical, I believe it is really important to be cognizant and upfront with how we have come to our exegetical conclusions. In other words, instead of asserting that we just believe that this is what the Bible communicates (on whatever topic), I think it is of the upmost importance to be aware of the theological assumptions and tradition that we are committed to; DeYoung should be commended for this, on one hand. He is very open about his Calvinism, and does not try to hide that. But as we can see his Calvinism (of the variety that he follows) informs his exegetical conclusions in regard to first John. This is what I would like to highlight further in this post; i.e. the history of interpretation and the power it has not just for DeYoung, but for all of us, of course!

II

In DeYoung’s second post he wrote this:

There is nothing original about these points. Stott calls the three signs “belief” or “the doctrinal test,” “obedience” or “the moral test,” and “love” or “the social test.” As far as I can tell from the commentaries I consulted, my understanding of 1 John is thoroughly mainstream. I made clear that “These are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us.” I also explained that looking for these signs was not an invitation to look for perfection. “Lest this standard make you despair,” I said at one point, “keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin (1:9-10).” In other words, the righteous life is a repentant life.

As DeYoung notes, he is in comfortable company; he has a lot of compatriots when it comes to his particular view of assurance as found, ostensibly, in I John. But even though DeYoung is in good company, does that make his view of I John and assurance true? No, of course not! And I am sure that DeYoung would agree with me; but then he most likely would go on (as he has) and continue to hold the view that he does and continue to claim that his view and understanding of I John is unremarkable when it comes to the history of Protestant Reformed interpretation. One problem I see with this is that it engages in ‘question begging’ (petitio principii). It presumes that the conclusions it has come to (the view that DeYoung holds on I John) is self-evident, almost tautologous , and that the burden of proof is on those who would question his conclusions about assurance in I John as I do. But why is that? I mean why is the burden of proof on those who disagree with DeYoung?

The form of Calvinism that DeYoung holds to, as I noted in post one, has a metaphysic; in other words, it has a way of viewing and presenting God (a view that doesn’t just fall off the pages the of Scripture). As a result of this view, we end up with a conception of God that elevates ‘performance’ before and for God, I would contend, to an unhealthy level. One prominent example of this is evidenced in the theology of one of the “founders” of the style of Calvinism that DeYoung is a proponent for; the example is provided by Puritan theologian William Perkins (of the 17th century). Indeed, it is this period where this kind of performance based style of thinking about God and salvation was introduced; at least for the Western, English speaking, west. And it is this style that, I contend, provides the theological (metaphysical) categories through which DeYoung, and much of the tradition DeYoung breathes from, gets their strength (as it were) from. Richard Muller describes what this style of theology looked like in Perkins’ theology, and in particular with reference to assurance of salvation:

William Perkins and Johannes Wollebius are among the later Reformed writers who used one or another forms of the syllogismus practicus in their discussions of assurance of salvation. In Perkins’ case, the syllogism is both named and presented in short syllogistic form. As is clear, however, from the initial argumentation of his Treatise of Conscience, the syllogisms are all designed to direct the attention of the believer to aspects or elements of the model of Romans 8:30, where the focus of assurance as previously presented by the apostle was union with Christ and Christ’s work as the mediator of God’s eternally willed salvation. In other words, as Beeke has noted, Perkins draws on links–calling, justification, and sanctification–in what he had elsewhere referenced as the “golden chaine” of salvation. Thus, Perkins writes, “to beleeve in Christ, is not confusedly to beleeve that he is a Redeemer of mankind, but withall to beleeve that he is my Saviour, and that I am elected, justified, sanctified, & shall be glorified by him.” Perkins’ syllogisms will be variants on this theme.

In addition, Perkins does not so much advocate the repetition of syllogisms as argue the impact of the gospel on the mind of the believer, as wrought by the Holy Spirit. Speaking of the certainty that one is pardoned of sin, Perkins writes,

The principall agent and beginner thereof, is the holy Ghost, inlightning the mind and conscience with spirituall and divine light: and the instrument in this action, is the ministrie of the Gospell, whereby the word of life is applied in the name of God to the person of every hearer. And this certaintie is by little and little conceived in a forme of reasoning or practicall syllogism framed in the minde by the holy Ghost on this manner:

Every one that believes is the childe of God:

But I doe beleeve:

Therefore I am a childe of God.

What is more, Perkins identifies faith as a bond, “knitting Christ and his members together,” commenting that “this apprehending of Christ [is done] … spiritually by assurance, which is, when the elect are persuaded in their hearts by the holy Ghost, of the forgiveness of their owne sinnes, and of Gods infinite mercy towards them in Iesus Christ.”[1]

What this quote further helps to shed light on (beyond helping to establish my point about the history and theological categories behind DeYoung’s theological approach that have led to his exegetical conclusions) is the role that ‘election’ plays in all of this. A doctrine of assurance of salvation flows, quite naturally, from a view of election that is both unconditional and supported by definite or more popularly limited atonement; indeed this is the categorical history behind DeYoung’s style. In other words, DeYoung’s Calvinism, like Perkins’ (in this respect) holds that God, in eternity past, ‘elected’ that some people would necessarily become Christians, and in order for this to happen Christ then came and died for these elect people alone thus satisfying the requirement of God’s holiness, paying for the penalty of sin (for the elect). But this created a dilemma, Karl Barth explains this dilemma in his critique (yes) of Calvin’s view of election (which for all intents and purposes is very similar to Perkins’ and DeYoung’s); he writes:

How can we have assurance in respect of our own election except by the Word of God? And how can even the Word of God give us assurance on this point if this Word, if this Jesus Christ, is not really the electing God, not the election itself, not our election, but only an elected means whereby the electing God—electing elsewhere and in some other way—executes that which he has decreed concerning those whom He has—elsewhere and in some other way—elected? The fact that Calvin in particular not only did not answer but did not even perceive this question is the decisive objection which we have to bring against his whole doctrine of predestination. The electing God of Calvin is a Deus nudus absconditus.[2]

Here we see further how not only is someone’s psychology at play in this discussion, but also what this view of salvation, election, etc. has to do with the type of God behind it. This insight from Barth also takes us further than we want to go in this post; suffice it to say, as Barth insightfully notes, the kind of election behind DeYoung’s approach untethers Jesus as the basis and ground of election for humanity by placing that burden upon individual people. What this does is to thrust people upon themselves, and to somehow “prove” that they are indeed one of the elect for who Christ died (this used to be called in Perkins’ day experimental predestinarianism).

III

Lest we lose the forest for the trees let’s try to reign this rain-deer in by way of summarizing where we currently stand.

We have noted that Kevin DeYoung’s approach to assurance has a history, and that this history took shape under the pressures of a certain theological trajectory (primarily the one found in Puritan Calvinist theology). As a result of this history, DeYoung has come to the text of I John, in particular, with certain categories in place when it comes to thinking about the “elect’s” relationship to God in salvation. We have come to see (if ever so shadowy) that there is a certain conception of God driving the shaping of these categories, and as a result there is an emphasis upon ‘performance’ in salvation placed upon the elect individual; of the sort that will lead elect people to attempt discern if they are truly one of the elect for who Christ has died. We have also come to see (with the help of Barth’s critique of Calvin) that the framework that DeYoung is operating under, relative to God, places the emphasis upon God’s choice of individual people for salvation, instead of placing the emphasis upon God’s personal choice to be elect for all of humanity in his own humanity in Jesus Christ; with the result of forcing the elect to continuously attempt to prove their salvation (and thus find assurance) through “1) personal belief, 2) personal obedience, and 3) personal morality.” So the emphasis, if all of this is the case, is upon introspection and what some have called ‘reflexive faith’ (i.e. looking at our good works, etc., and then looking to Christ and being able to attribute those good works, belief, morality to Christ’s life in us – thus what Muller identified for as the practical syllogism).

DeYoung has a history. It causes him to read I John a certain way. I have a history, an informing theology, and it causes me to read I John much differently. In the next post or whenever I have the chance, I will try to elucidate what my theology is, and why I think it better makes sense of a passage like I John, and how it handles the claims put to I John that make it sound like it supports a Puritan like doctrine of assurance.

 

 

 

[1] Richard A. Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 268-69.

[2] Karl Barth, “CDII/2,” 111 cited by Oliver D. Crisp, “I Do Teach It, but I Also Do Not Teach It: The Universalism of Karl Barth (1886-1968),” in ed. Gregory MacDonald, All Shall Be Well: Explorations in Universalism and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 355.

 

A Riposte to Kevin DeYoung on Assurance of Salvation in First John

Kevin DeYoung, Young, Restless, and Reformed, has written two posts now, on his blog sponsored by The Gospel Coalition, engaging assuranceofsalvationJesuswith the topic of Assurance of Salvation. Throughout the rest of this post I intend to interact with what DeYoung has written, and to offer a kind of critique and then alternative to what DeYoung has offered.

(Be warned, this is only an introductory post, I fully intend on offering a fuller scale and more detailed response to DeYoung, based upon the conclusions you will see at the end of this post)

I                

There are many ways into a discussion on what many call ‘pastoral theology’ revolving around the psychology of whether or not someone is genuinely saved; indeed, that is what is at bottom here: i.e. a kind of theologically induced psychology relative to how someone perceives their relationship to God in Jesus Christ (either in the affirmative or the negative). DeYoung chooses to go the ostensible exegetical route; choosing as his primary text (locus classicus) the epistle of I John. This little Johannine letter is probably the most appealed to book in the Bible for discussing and developing a doctrine on a so called assurance of salvation. In DeYoung’s post he identifies three classic points that are claimed to be (not just by DeYoung, but by many in the Reformed camp in particular) the defining components that frame the epistle of I John; at least when we are attempting to develop answers to our psychological questions in regard to our status as ‘saved’ or ‘unsaved’ (or we could say with the classical Reformed position: ‘elect’ or ‘reprobate’). Here are the three points that DeYoung lists as a kind loci (using identifiable theological and psychological and ethical points to interrogate and purportedly interpret I John):

The first sign is theological. You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (5:11-13).

The second sign is moral. You should have confidence if you live a righteous life (3:6-9).

The third sign is social. You should have confidence if you love other Christians (3:14). (source)

I would like to respond to these points in turn. Now because this is a blog post (and not a term paper), my responses can only be suggestive and general in trajectory, but hopefully made in such a way that these points provided by DeYoung will take on a more critical tone (and at least get problematized); such that a different hermeneutical background will be provided leading to the conclusion that what DeYoung (and much of the Reformed tradition has offered) is less straightforwardly “Biblical” as DeYoung would have us believe, and, well, more ‘hermeneutical’. In other words, I would at the very least like to illustrate that there is something deeper; something more metaphysical going on behind Kevin’s exegesis versus the straightforward and pastoral reading of the text that he contends is present in his reading of this epistle. This seems like too large of a task, really, to attempt to accomplish in about seven hundred and fifty words or so, but that is what we will attempt to do with the space remaining.

 

II

DeYoung, in his second post on this topic is responding to a critic of his posts (much as I am becoming now); a Lutheran interlocutor who challenges DeYoung’s understanding of assurance from his Lutheran convictions (which in part will be more closely aligned to my critique, at least in some respects). DeYoung writes in response to the Lutheran, this:

While it is never a good idea to “focus inside ourselves,” it is impossible to make sense of 1 John if looking for moral, social, and theological evidence is entirely inappropriate. For example, 1 John 2:5-6 says “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” Likewise, 1 John 3:10 says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” We see similar “by this we know” language in 1 John 2:3; 3:14, 19, 24; 4:2-3; 4:13; 5:2. Clearly, we are meant to know something about the person by looking at what he believes, how he lives, and how he loves. One doesn’t have to be in favor of morbid introspection to understand that 1 John urges Christians to look for evidences of grace in themselves and in those who might be seeking to lead them astray. (source)

I think DeYoung’s response to the Lutheran, at face, sounds compelling, but I think it is more complex, even at a simple exegetical level, than DeYoung let’s on. I mean what if I John isn’t really answering the questions that DeYoung (and the Westminster Confession of Faith that he appeals to) is putting to it; what if I John was written to first century Roman/Graeco Christians who were being tempted by a prevailing philosophical system of the day known as Gnosticism (at this early stage this would have only been an incipient or proto form of Gnosticism) which, in general is a dualistic system of thought that sees the material world (inclusive of human bodies) as evil, and the spirit as pure and undefiled, albeit trapped within a fleshy world of evil and malevolence (which was seeking escape from this world of material back to the pure Spirit from whence it originally came; escaping through a series of graded levels of ‘secret’ knowledge that was intended for the elect, so to speak)? And so if this were the case, if I John is challenging these early Christians to look to Christ instead of a secret knowledge that turns inward instead of upward for release (so to speak) from themselves; then wouldn’t it be somewhat presumptuous to take I John captive as a text that is intended to answer questions about assurance of salvation that were formed most prominently in the 16th and 17th centuries in scholastically Reformed Western Europe, and then in a final and intense form in English and other Puritanism[s]?

DeYoung might respond to my first riposte here by querying “so what?” He might say that what I have suggested above is unnecessarily abstract, and even if true (the context I have suggested) does not really undercut his pastorally motivated development towards a doctrine on assurance of salvation. He might say: “that’s interesting, Bobby, but my points are simply attempting to identify universal principles present within the first letter of John, in such a way that transcends its original context, while at the same time seeking to honor it.” I might simply respond: how, Kevin, does your engagement of I John honor it when you are imposing questions upon it in a schematized way that does not fit into the questions it was originally seeking to address? I might ask: “if the conception of salvation present within I John fits well with the dogmatic conception of salvation that he reads it from as formed from 16th and 17th century Calvinist categories?” If the conception of God, based upon appeal to Aristotelian categories (primarily), the metaphysic used to shape the God of the Reformed theology that DeYoung follows, coalesces with the God revealed in Jesus Christ that is being referred to in John’s letter?

III

In conclusion, I obviously think things are more complicated in regard to reading the first epistle of John. I think it is too facile, and not apparent enough to attempt to read first John as if it readily answers questions put to it that were generated not by its original audience, but by a certain conception of God (and thus interpretive methodology or hermeneutic) that I contend is not similar (categorically) to the God revealed in Jesus Christ (if thought from Jesus Christ, first).

And so based upon my conclusion what is left is to explore what the alternative to DeYoung’s hermeneutic is. We have seen that there is a Lutheran alternative, but that’s not the only one; there of course are other ways to read first John based upon other metaphysics, or maybe no metaphysics. In other words, in a later post from this one, I will contend, in another response to DeYoung’s post, that what he is doing is, as we all do, is engaging in theological exegesis. Thus, under the guise of being “pastoral” or maybe “straightforward” DeYoung smuggles in certain interpretive suppositions that he is committed to, “theologically,” in an a priori way, as we all do, that has led him to his conclusions about assurance of salvation; and in particular in his reading of that doctrine in the epistle of I John.

More to come (as I have time). In the more to come I will attempt to sketch the role that our theological positions have upon our exegeses of the texts of Scripture, and in that sketch I will attempt to, as I noted, provide an alternative theological exegetical way that ultimately stands in contradistinction to DeYoung’s conclusions in regard to assurance in I John.

 

 

An English Puritan Critique of Contemporary ‘Reformed Theology’

There continues to be resurgence among many of my evangelical dortbrethren of appropriating classical theistic, classically Reformed theology for today’s evangelical church. The Gospel Coalition comes rushing to my mind most prominently when I think about who is having the broadest impact among evangelical North American pastors, but TGC is not alone! There is also an academic undercurrent among up and coming pastor-theologians and young scholars as well who are helping to contribute to this retrieval and push back to what we ought to call a retrieval of Puritan Federal or Covenant theology.

In light of this I want to offer a counterpoint. There is a better way to go, and ironically it reaches back into the Puritan past as well. There were critiques present among the Puritans themselves in regard to what has become the most prominent form and accepted form of that tradition today. And this, I think is the troubling part; what is being pushed today, retrieved today, is one strand of classically Reformed theology, without noticing that there were more strands available to draw from, strands materially distinct one from the other. The strand that is being retrieved most strenuously today, I would suggest, is the one that pushes a nomist or Law-based spirituality. Part of the reason this is so, I would further suggest, is because among those doing the retrieval there isn’t a critical apparatus available to them to critically engage that period of ideas for today. And so it is just presumed among these folks that the whole period and development of English Puritanism, Federal theology, and classically Reformed theology is pretty much a monolith. But this is too facile, and this presumption does not withstand critical and historical scrutiny.

Since I think this retrieval is potentially deleterious to the souls doing the retrieving and then the souls that these souls teach I want to alert people to the reality that there is indeed more depth and a better way forward in regard to reaching back into this period, if we feel the need to at all to begin with. Ron Frost offers a helpful index toward better being able to engage this period critically and in a way that might allow thinkers to think critically about this period. Here are four distinct strands that were present within English Puritanism; as we understand what these strands are better we will be set up to think about Reformed theology more critically and in a way that we will not attempt (hopefully) to import theological themes that ultimately (I would contend) are destructive to our Christian souls.

Here Ron Frost identifies these four strands as he writes about the theology of William Perkins and Richard Sibbes in his now published PhD dissertation:

Perkins’ moralistic assumptions. The Old Testament moral law was fully engaged with Perkins’ supralapsarian theology. Obedience to the law served to display God’s glory among the elect and God’s glory is the goal to which every aspect of the supralapsarian model moves. In Perkins’ view, a person’s ability to achieve God’s glory through obedience requires that the moral quality of every action should be well defined. To this end Perkins offered a taxonomy of sins in his Treatise of the Vocations or Calling of Men that looked to the Mosaic Decalogue. A closer examination of the law as part of Perkins’ theology of God awaits chapter two but some initial comments will introduce Perkins’ place among English theologians who elevated the law.

Perkins’ emphasis on the law was part of a broader movement among the Puritans. Jerald C. Brauer proposed four categories of Purtians: nomists, evangelicals, rationalists, and mystics. His attention was drawn to the smallest of the categories, the mystics, given his interest in Francis Rous. Nevertheless his recognition of the two major groups, nomists and evangelicals, displays the same division among Puritans noted by Schuldiner, Knight and the present study. Brauer, in fact, identifies Sibbes as the Puritan who epitomized the evangelicals. Nomists, according to Brauer, “held the fundamental belief that the divine intention is to recreate obedient creatures who can now, through grace, fulfill the intent of God, namely, obedience.” Brauer’s nomists include Thomas Cartwright, John Field, Walter Travers, John Penry, John Udall, John Greenwood, William Pryn, and Samuel Rutherford. Perkins, overlooked in the list, must be included on the basis of the criteria that Brauer identifies. It was, in fact, Perkins’ written expositions of Federal theology that did the most to promote the importance of obedience to the law for sanctification among Puritans in his era.[1]

I would contend, using this taxonomy laid out by Brauer via Frost, that what dominates Reformed theology in our current context is the nomist law based understanding. This understanding emphasizes obedience to the law (the third usage of the law) as what it means to live a fruitful life unto God. There is no emphasis in this framework on a loving, winsome relationship with God, but instead a life of rigorous performance based salvation.

The reality is though, is that none of this will affect folks too much. On one hand most evangelicals are so aloof to theology that most of this will just be academic to them, or then on the other hand there are indeed academics who study Reformed theology, but for the most part it remains an intellectual exercise. Nevertheless, I hope that some of this will make some sort of headway into the minds and hearts of people who might be interested in the history of ideas and development of Reformed theology. I hope that this stuff isn’t just academic to you, and I hope that theology matters to you; it should, since it is the study of God, and in our case the Triune Christian God.

[1] RN Frost, Richard Sibbes. God’s Spreading Goodness (Vancouver, WA: Cor Deo Press, 2012), 47-8.

My Response to Brandy’s Critique of classical Calvinism (not Evangelical Calvinism)

Merry Christmas, all! I thought as I have a moment between opening presents, and waiting for the ham to finish up, that I would respond to this comment that a lady named Brandy just made yesterday on my ‘Guest Posts’ page; and unless I highlight it here, nobody will see it. I am thinking (and I am not totally sure) that Brandy somehow came across my blog, saw the name ‘Calvinist’ and then imported all of the usual connotations into what that usually stands for as she offered her critique of Calvinism in her comment (that I am sharing and responding to here).

So let’s hear from Brandy, and how she critiques classical Calvinism based upon her perception of it (her critique does not actually apply to Evangelical Calvinism, which I already alerted her to in that thread). I will respond after her comment.

Merry Christmas!

At this time of the year as I find my thoughts filled with the joy that is the birth of Christ, I can’t help but sometimes wonder how a Calvinist can truly say that Christmas is merry with sincerity? Could one really find delight in the fulfillment of the Calvinists’ God’s detailed plan to bring every person into this world with no ability to accept Him, with no ability to do anything but evil, and then this same God torments forever and ever these depraved people who have no ability to do anything but what they have done? And for the lucky few to whom He “gives” eternal life, He does this by imposing his will on them through no choice of their own, and grants them eternal life only in exchange for a lifetime of servitude. Is there anything joyful in this horrific plan when it is unmasked from all its intellectually sounding words and creeds? Is this Calvinistic UNESCAPABLE sentence of eternal torture really good tidings for the majority of mankind?

I am so thankful that these Calvinistic characteristics do not represent the nature of our loving God. That I can joyfully adore the God of Christmas who provides a gift of eternal life for all mankind; that I can wonderfully proclaim to every person that the Saviour of the world has come and taken away the sins of the entire world! That God is pleading and long-suffering with each human being that each might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That He enables every single person to receive Him, and his only sincere will is that every human being would accept his free gift. This is the wonderful Christmas story, one that truly offers merriment and joy to all mankind as a free gift with no obligations. A gift that every person has the ability to accept and has to do nothing to earn or keep.

I am speaking plainly here about the doctrine of Calvinism, but I truly love those who are Calvinists and count them as Christian friends just as I do anyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. I do believe, however, that it is spiritually beneficial to occasionally shine a light on the disturbing philosophy behind Calvinism. When one strips away all of Calvinism’s fancy creeds and theories and restates them in simple terms, we can clearly see its core theology of a God that torments people forever whom he (God) brought into the world with no ability to do anything different than what they have done. And this was the plan he choose (among the infinite plans he could have implemented) simply because it makes him happy to do this. Surely anyone whose God-given conscience has not been completely seared must find themselves troubled about how a good and holy God could practice these kind of terrors. These attributes stand in stark contrast to the righteousness and goodness which God represents and asks us to follow. They stand in stark contrast to the good tidings of great joy which is the Christmas story.

Some of what Brandy communicates is accurate, but much of it is based upon a reductionism and oversimplification of things. To be sure, what she articulates in her comment has nothing to do with what we have called Evangelical Calvinism. We believe that Jesus has genuinely died for all of humanity, and then the offer of salvation has genuinely and efficaciously been offered to all who will; but we believe this only because all of this effectual salvific reality has been realized in the vicarious and particular humanity of Christ for us. So with that cleared up, we can engage a little further with Brandy’s critique of classical Calvinists.

One thing I take issue with is Brandy’s apparent disdain toward creeds and intellectualism; the kind that she associates with Calvinism. I am not totally sure what she is referring to here since she doesn’t flesh her assertion out there, but my guess is that she is referring to something like the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Canons of Dordt, and maybe other confessions of the Reformed faith. As far as the intellectualism that she refers to, that is pretty much a red herring, since all theological positions (even Brandy’s, whatever her’s is) have some pretty sophisticated philosophical concepts standing behind them (the best approaches are able to utilize the grammar offered by certain philosophical systems and essentially gut them and repurpose them in a way that Christian doctrine and reality is given an intelligible apparatus and grammar that allows for intentional worship and service to God). I think really what Brandy is referring to is an experience[s] she has had with certain Calvinists over the years, and the way that these folks, by way of attitude have communicated Calvinist teaching to her; you know the so called cage-stage Calvinists who get a hold of Calvinist doctrine, and understand it just enough to be dangerous. It seems like this is what Brandy is probably referring to.

Then, Brandy is kicking against double predestination hard; the idea that God predestines some to eternal life (the elect), and others to eternal damnation (the reprobate). In a nuts and bolts kind of way I suppose her critique at this point is pretty spot on. But her critique isn’t really a critique of this system at a material level, she seems to be moving too quick, and triumphantly asserts certain things that I know classical Calvinists have a response to; and I am referring to educated classical Calvinists. That said, I would ultimately agree with Brandy, as far as the problem she notes in regard to the deterministic God. That notwithstanding, Brandy’s solution is not laudable! Brandy essentially offers not even the Arminian position, in regard to so called “free will,” she offers, as she left it, not even semi-Pelagianism, but instead she offers full blown Pelagianism; i.e. the idea that human beings are born with an innate capacity to choose eternal life, or not. My guess is that if Brandy was pressed harder she probably would adopt an Arminian position here.

At the end of the day, Brandy did not even come close to critiquing Evangelical Calvinism, but she did try to critique classical Calvinism. It would be interesting to see how classical Calvinists would respond to Brandy; my guess is that they would claim that Brandy has oversimplified things, and then ask her to offer a more material critique of classically conceived Calvinism.

TULIP, Evangelical Calvinist Style

The TULIP Evangelical Calvinist style:

  • Total Depravity = ‘He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’ II Corinthians 5.21.
  • Unconditional Election = God in Christ elected humanity for himself that ‘by his poverty we might be made rich.’ II Corinthians 8.9.
  • Limited Atonement = The atonement was ‘limited’ to Christ’s humanity for us, for all of humanity. I John 2.2.
  • Irresistible Grace = God chose to not be God without us prior to our choice to be for him; indeed it his choice for us in Christ that grounds and funds humanity’s choice to be for him, in and through the Spirit. Galatians 2.20.
  • Perseverance of the Saints = God’s life is indestructible, and so it will always persevere for us. Hebrews 7.25.

Something like that.

A Tale From Our Puritan Past: Temporary Faith, Experimental Predestinarianism, and the Practical Syllogism

The following is a post I wrote some years ago, and while I have developed in my understanding in some ways—like I might argue with Kendall’s attribution of the doctrine under discussion to Calvin—what remains central is the reality that following Puritan theology, and now neo-Puritan theology (like the kind Piper has made popular), has the same kind of informing theology and implications as described below by R.T. Kendall (he himself is no stranger to controversy, and Paul Helm has responded to Kendall in book form). But given the release of that new book From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, I think continuing to highlight the kind of implications that are associated with a doctrine like ‘definite atonement’, ‘particular redemption’, and/or ‘limited atonement’ is apropos. And so here is the post (this will also give you insight into the ways I used to write much more frequently):

As we read further with R. T. Kendall he answers my question in my last post on where “Temporary Faith” went. Let’s follow along as Kendall describes the unfolding of this doctrine and how the pastoral implications of this teaching became the “hard teaching” of what we now commonly refer to as Calvinism:

The doctrine of temporary faith became the embarrassment, if not the scandal, of English Calvinism. The followers of Perkins claimed less and less for it so that it eventually presented no threat at all to the believer; William Ames gave its virtual demise a systematic sanction. This teaching seems to have begun with Calvin himself and to have been perpetuated especially by Perkins. Neither Calvin nor Perkins apologizes for a teaching that may seem to some as pastorally insensitive. This teaching depicts God as giving the reprobate, whom He never intends to draw effectually, but a ‘taste’ of His grace. Indeed, in the preface to Whether a Man Perkins claims that this temporary faith ‘proceedeth from the holy Ghost, but yet it is not sufficient to make them sound professor’. These men teach this doctrine simply because they find it in Scripture; to them it explains such passages as Matthew 7:21-3, Hebrews 6: 4-6, and the Parable of the Sower.

The thesis in Whether a Man is that a man may think himself regenerate when he is not, but a truly regenerate man ‘maie discerne’ that he is. In this connection Perkins employs 2 Peter I: 10 (‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall’), a verse he sees as the chief mandate for preaching generally as well as the formula by which Christians particularly may prove to themselves that they have the object of an effectual calling. The verse 2 Peter I: 10 may be safely called the biblical banner for the Perkins tradition; it stands out in bold relief on the title-page of Whether a Man and heads the list of Scriptures printed on the title-pages of his other works.

It is Perkins’s conviction, then, that the regenerate man may discern that he has the knowledge of saving faith, or assurance of election. Such knowledge Perkins calls ‘experimental’. The testimony of the Spirit is given by ‘an experiment’ that is not conjectural but ‘an infallible certenty of the pardon of sinne’. Perkins believes that 2 Peter I: 10 is to be related to one’s conscience. The conscience itself, he believes, takes effect in a man’s mind by a process of syllogistic reasoning. Conscience pronounces judgement ‘by a kinde of reasoning or disputing, called a practical syllogisme’. By the ‘practical syllogisme of the holy Ghost’ one may not only have ‘experimental certentie of the truth of the Bible’ but know ‘hee is in the number of the elect’. (R. T. Kendall, “Calvin And English Calvinism To 1649,” 7-8)

Again, I am struck by the lack of this kind of language and thinking amongst those who claim to be the heirs of folks like William Perkins and William Ames. I have interacted with plenty of contemporary Calvinists today, and read many of their writings (even their blogs); and I can honestly say that I have never heard the grammar that we are hearing described here. In other words, I don’t hear the language of temporary faith, experimental predestinarian, practical syllogism; and beyond that I don’t hear contemporary Calvinists stressing over whether they may or may not be one of the elect. I don’t see them trying to discern if they have a ‘real faith’ or a ‘temporary faith’; instead most typically assume the “positive side” of this equation, and just assume that they indeed are one of the elect — the negative piece, articulated by folks like Perkins, that they in fact could only “appear” to have a saving faith is really never engaged (I would suggest, at least with the Western psyche, that contemporary Calvinists are more socio/culturally “liberated” and “individualized” so that the notion of their “election” simply becomes an “understood reality” for them).

Even Kendall notes that teaching like this became a “scandal” for the Puritans and the implied pastoral concerns that this kind of teaching engendered; but instead of jettisoning this teaching these “divines,” like Perkins, came up with an elaborate system and procedure to counter the negative vacuum that things like “temporary faith” generated — so the creating of the mechanism known as the “practical syllogism.”