Leighton Flowers Knows Just Enough to be Dangerous: A Would-Be Critic of Calvinism

Theological polemics, for better or worse, have been at the heart of positive theological developments since the beginning of the Church. There are, of course, various levels of both polemics and theology attendant to this venture. That is, there is a variety of ‘quality’ and virtue that shapes the sorts of polemics the Christian might encounter in the broader ecclesial discourse. Since this is a blog, by definitional location, I operate in the online space; when I write for the blog. As a result, I am aware of other people in this space who similarly are attempting to engage in theological discourse; often times this involves, polemics. My preference is to focus on offline theologians, with particular reference to the Christian Dogmatists of the Church (from all periods). But then, I am also exposed to popular level, online characters who ostensibly are offering theological machinations for the edification of the Church. One of these people, operating in this realm, who I have become aware of is, Leighton Flowers. His primary focus, online, is to be an anti-Calvinist operative. If you know anything about me you can almost immediately see a potentially shared perspective between Flowers and myself in regard to being a critic of classical Calvinism. But the perception is where this commonality evaporates. 

What I mean is that Flowers claims to be a critic of Calvinism, but what that actually means is that he is critical of a popular level, reductionistic understanding of what Calvinism entails. Of course, he wouldn’t say it like this, but this is the level of discourse he operates out of and within; with the type of Calvinism he is critiquing. Just recently he tweeted the following (this is in response to a popular level Calvinist who is in fact critiquing Flowers): 

Looks like they aren’t happy with my videos biblically refuting their views, so they resort to mostly “to the man” arguments. I expected better . . . Maybe folks @WWUTTcom are only interested in 2 min vids? So here is one with a clip from a Calvinist correcting their proof texting error, all the while they continue accusing me of not understanding #Calvinism or basic soteriology . . . I get that’s the way you feel Gabe, but instead of just assuming someone who has spent his entire adult life studying a subject doesn’t understand it maybe just consider that they might understand it and disagree with your conclusions so then you can learn the actual reasons why.1 

Flowers believes that he has accurately and successfully reduced the core premises of Calvinist theology to its very essences, and so he feels justified in simply speaking of Calvinist theology in terms of ‘theological determinism,’ and ‘compatibilism.’ If you listen to him for just a week straight you will realize that these two themes serve as the reduction of Calvinist theology that Flowers believes defines the whole phenomenon of Calvinist theology. But the irony of Flowers’ approach, and this is a symptom of his reductionist mode, is that he evinces no knowledge, none at all!, of how Calvinist theology developed ideationally in the 16th and 17th centuries; the period known as Post Reformation Reformed Orthodoxy (see Richard Muller’s Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4Vols). His common Calvinist opponents are James White, John Piper, and RC Sproul (with scattered references to Lorraine Boettner and Herman Bavinck). And yet the themes he picks out, even with these rather popular level Calvinists (they are not world renowned as Flowers claims—and I’m referring to the former three) are the reduced themes we have already noted.  

I am simply attempting to register, once again, that Flowers is ironically out of his depth in regard to who and what he claims to be critiquing. He has a huge YouTube following (45K), but this isn’t an indicator of the solidity of Flowers’ provenance as a “sound” critic of Calvinist theology. It only indicates, at best, that there is an audience in the churches that would like to have a solid alternative to Calvinist theology. And I am here to say that Flowers is not offering that. His followers, though, do not have the resources to know whether or not Flowers is actually offering a sound alternative or not. And Flowers (and I don’t think maliciously) is capitalizing on the genuine want for an alternative to the Young, Restless and Reformed; and he does so by having enough linguistic and conceptual knowledge, along with rhetorical ability, to be dangerous.  

As my readers know, I am a critic of classical Calvinism. But for me this means we must do our homework with reference to the entailments of Reformed theology, proper. I am a critic of classical Calvinism (as I call it) from within the Reformed family. If we are going to criticize anything, as Flowers himself often notes, we ought to critique a ‘steelman’ rather than a ‘strawman.’ And yet Flowers critiques a caricatured version classical Calvinism; particularly because of his historical anemia. He doesn’t understand the development of Calvinist ideas, historically, and thus can only engage in a critique of Calvinism that is skimmed off the top of popular ideas about the entailments of Calvinism. As an alternative you ought to read us Evangelical Calvinists, or Athanasian Reformed types. We attempt to engage with the history of ideas and theological development of historic Calvinism, and do our respective critiques from there. True, our approach is more academically oriented, and it takes more work to follow along. But if we are going to be true theological Bereans (as Flowers claims to be, but isn’t), then it will require that we spend the requisite time in expanding our personal theological vocabularies, and elevating our respective theological understanding in general. Flowers does not offer his followers the sort of tools necessary to think properly theological in general, and thus critically (with reference to Calvinism) in particular.   

 

The Augustinian-Dualism of Leighton Flowers’ Provisionism

Leighton Flowers of YouTube fame, with reference to his anti-Calvinist soteriological position known as Provisionism, asserts that his theological framework is genuinely ‘Christocentric,’ whereas his counterparts in classical Calvinism are not. The irony of this is too hard to ignore for me. Flowers’ premise is as follows: he believes that classical Calvinists’ theistic determinism keeps them from operating from a genuinely Christocentric approach because instead they think from a God who deterministically causes all things to obtain through decrees. What you will notice with this premise, for Flowers, in this sort of deterministic God-world relation, is that a foreign God (juxtaposed with the one ‘revealed’ in Holy Scripture) is operative for the Calvinist. That in the Calvinist depiction, according to Flowers, all of reality is steamrolled (and thus flattened) to such an extent that there can be no genuine, or responsive relationship possible between God and humanity. As such, for Flowers, the Calvinist is merely playing an automaton role in the Puppet-Master’s hand to the extent that it is ALL God (and thus the Calvinists’ definition of Divine Sovereignty, according to Flowers), and nothing of humanity.

His alternative theory of salvation is what, indeed, he calls Provisionism. His nomenclature, language he coined himself, is intended to signify the expansive nature of God’s love for all of humanity; to the point that, according to Flowers, God in Christ died for all of humanity (us Evangelical Calvinists don’t disagree with him on this point), thus ‘providing’ provision for all who will. But then he goes awry. He posits, in contradistinction to classical Calvinism, that human beings simpliciter are born with a God-given capacity to say Yes or No to God’s provision of salvation to whomever will. He rejects the notion of original sin, which he strictly relegates to an Augustinian invention, and instead theorizes that humanity, even after the Fall has retained an affective-intellectualist capaciousness that allows humans, from within themselves to deliberate whether or not they want to accept the Gospel offer once confronted with it. Flowers maintains that his theory of salvation is genuinely “Christocentric” purely because God in Christ has made provision through unlimited atonement for all of humanity. But this isn’t sufficiently Christocentric; not to the point that Flowers can sustain his assertion that his is a genuinely Christocentric soteriology in contraposition to his counter-locutors, the “Calvinists.”

You see, Flowers’, and this is the irony, is still operating from what us Evangelical Calvinists would identify as a dualistic-Augustinian frame of reference. This type of dualism operates, necessarily so, from a competitive frame of reference vis-à-vis a God-human relation. In other words, just as Flowers (rightly) critiques the classical Calvinist for thinking God from a brute-sovereignist understanding (what I would identify with the decretum absolutum), he simply thinks from the obverse of this. That is, his theory thinks of humanity, in relationship to God in Christ, in just as abstract terms as does the classical Calvinist. It is just that he locates this abstraction in a liberum arbitrium (i.e., an isolated or independent human freewill) rather than in the decretrum absolutum (absolute decree) of the Calvinists. But both approaches, respectively, have not thought a God-human relation through a principial doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. That is to say, neither the Provisionists nor the classical Calvinists think a God-human relation through the lens offered by the Chalcedonian patterning provided for by the patristic homoousion.

This is where the Evangelical Calvinists offer a genuinely Christ-conditioned alternative to the whole of the sort of Augustinian-laced dualisms that both the Provisionists and classical Calvinists, respectively, suffer from. As Evangelical Calvinists we think from a non-dualist non-competitive frame (so my Athanasian Reformed label) wherein we posit salvific theory from the hypostatic-union and consubstantial realities of the Divine and human coming into an inseparable union in the singular person of Jesus Christ. This means that, after Thomas F. Torrance et al., we think from the homoousial reality of a Godward to human / humanward to God movement as the actualization of God’s grace for all of humanity; particularly as ‘all of humanity’ (in actualistic terms, which is very important to press) is indeed Christ’s archetypal humanity. In other words, for the Evangelical Calvinist, salvation (or re-conciliation) obtains in the Incarnation&Atonement of God as that is realized/acutalized in the Theanthropos person of Jesus Christ. For the Evangelical Calvinist, Jesus is God’s salvation realized for the world. Not in a ‘corporate’ or hypothetical sense (as the Provisionists tacitly want to maintain), but in an actualized sense, such that all of humanity has indeed been redeemed and atoned for in Jesus Christ; just because He is God’s humanity for the world. This presents apparent dilemmas for some, like they think the reduction of this necessarily leads to Christian universalism, but they would be wrong (this can be addressed at a later time).

Conclusion

I think Flowers has good intentions, but he doesn’t have the theological resources to offer a genuinely Christocentric approach towards a theory of salvation. He is still operating out of the Latin or Augustinian frame of reference that he says he is critiquing. He still thinks of salvation from dualist optics wherein humanity still stands abstract or aloof from God; that is until they may or may not actualize the offer of salvation that God in Christ has left hanging over humanity’s head to do with as they will. Flowers’ alternative is merely, as noted, the obverse of the classical Calvinist offering insofar as he thinks about humanity in abstraction from Christ’s humanity; he simply thinks this abstraction from what he calls libertarian freewill (rather than from the Calvinists thinking that equally thinks in abstraction, but from the absolute decree instead). This is the irony of Flowers’ alternative. He thinks he is offering a genuine solution to the theological dilemmas offered by the classical Calvinist decretum absolutum, but in point of fact he is only forwarding the same Augustinian dualist and God-human competitive relationship that he had hoped to conquer. There is a better way; a genuinely Christ-conditioned way that thinks a God-human relation from the hypostatic-union of God and humanity in and from the singular person of Jesus Christ.

Is Southern Baptist ‘Traditionalism’ or Leighton Flowers’ ‘Provisionism’, Semi-Pelagian?: An Engagement with Adam Harwood’s Essay

Is Provisionism or Southern Baptist Traditionalism semi-Pelagian? That is the question Dr. Adam Harwood attempts to answer in the negative. In other words, in a short essay he wrote for the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry he sets out to demonstrate the way that Traditionalism or Leighton Flowers’ Provisionism definitionally elides the oft made charge that their respective soteriological position fits the historic bill of semi-Pelagianism.

I intend on engaging with Harwood’s essay by interrogating each of the sections that make up his total essay, respectively. The first section is entitled: Historical and Theological Definitions of Semi-Pelagianism Which are Contradicted by the Traditional Statement. I will limit myself to engaging solely with what Harwood presents in his essay. In other words, I will not engage with the Traditional Statement (TS) directly; instead, I will engage with the way that Harwood represents the TS in his essay—and trust that he accurately represents his own soteriological tradition accurately.

Harwood writes the following with reference to his thesis:

Shedding a false charge can be difficult. Consider as an example McCarthyism in the 1950s. A person publicly accused of belonging to the Communist Party had difficulty shaking the accusation. “You’re a Communist. Prove you’re not!” How does one disprove such an accusation? Those who affirm “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” (TS) find themselves in a similar situation. Claims have been made that the TS is, or appears to be, semi-Pelagian. This chapter seeks to disprove the charge in four ways. First, historical and theological definitions of semi-Pelagianism will be provided and will be shown to be contradicted by claims in the TS. Second, it will be demonstrated that the theological claims made at the Second Council of Orange (529) fail to indict the TS as unbiblical. Third, the historical-theological context of fifth-century semi-Pelagianism suggests that the historical debate has no connection to the current conversation among Southern Baptists regarding the TS. Fourth, errors will be exposed in an early assessment of the TS. [1]

Here we see the way he will organize the entirety of his essay. To the point of this riposte, we will simply engage with his first section, first, and then proceed, through forthcoming blog posts, to engage with the rest in succession.

His first section is terse and right to the point. He offers examples, from various theological dictionaries, of what semi-Pelagianism is generally understood to be. He then, as a counter, offers quotes from the TS which he claims offers the ‘proof’ that TS (or Provisionism) does not fit the definitional frame of how historic semi-Pelagianism is typically (and universally) characterized. In order to review his argument, I will now share the definitions he appeals to in order to establish the entailments of semi-Pelagianism, and then the quotes from the Southern Baptist Traditional Statement that Harwood believes demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the TS understanding of salvation does not fall prey to the charge of being semi-Pelagian.

Definitions of Semi-Pelagianism

It “maintained that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and that grace supervened only later.” – The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

 It “affirmed that the unaided will performed the initial act of faith” and “the priority of the human will over the grace of God in the initial work of salvation.” – Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 

“The semi-Pelagians claimed that sinners make the first move toward salvation by choosing to repent and believe.” Also, “The semi-Pelagian scheme of salvation thus may be described by the statement ‘I started to come, and God helped me.’” – Integrative Theology

A term which has been used to describe several theories which were thought to imply that the first movement towards God is made by human efforts unaided by grace.” – The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology [2]

And:

Semi-Pelagianism Contradicted by the Traditional Statement

“While no one is even remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, no sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.” – Article 2

 “We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement.” – Article 4

 “God’s gracious call to salvation” is made “by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.” – Article 8 [3]

Harwood engages in a basic category mistake. It is hard to square how he could make this sort of mistake given its forthright nature. In other words, he is equivocating. The ‘definitions of semi-Pelagianism’ he supplies are referring to anthropological dispositioning. That is, semi-Pelagians, as we can infer from the definitions Harwood provides, has to do with the movement of humanity; or it presupposes on a capacity innate within the human agent that would allow them to make a ‘natural’ move towards God.

The responses Harwood offers from the Traditional Statement, that ostensibly counter the charge that Traditionalism is semi-Pelagian, aren’t all that clear; that is in regard to answering the question of whether or not the human agent in salvation has an innate capacity to make a movement towards God. Indeed, this is the abiding question under consideration. What we get in the TS, as offered by Harwood, are statements that ‘appear’ to potentially contradict the definition of semi-Pelagianism; but on closer inspection what they really seem to be communicating is that God has objectively offered a way for salvation. But the question under consideration has to do with an anthropological question, in regard to the internal makeup of the human being vis-à-vis God. Semi-Pelagianism has to do with the human agent’s posture towards God; it doesn’t have to do, per se, with God’s posture (so to speak) towards humanity.

What Harwood remains unclear on, with reference to his deployment of the TS, is whether or not human agents have an innate capacity to be for or against God; that is apart from God’s unilateral activity upon the human agent. In other words, for Harwood, in particular, and the TS, in general, does the grace that comes with the Gospel offer itself internally ‘enable’ the human agent to make a choice for or against God that heretofore it didn’t have prior? In other words, do the ‘Provisionists’ maintain that the human agent in salvation is inborn with all of the ‘equipment’ necessary in order to say yes or no to the Gospel; or does the Gospel itself, in its objective reality, confront the human agent in such a way that the “internals” of the person are given an alien capacity (to its own native or natural capacities; ie freewill etc) that allows them to say yes or no, subjectively, or ontically to the Gospel reality?

Harwood’s brief presentation, in his first section, does not offer clarity on these things. It leaves us wondering if he isn’t equivocating with the terms in order to elide the charge he is attempting to evade; ie semi-Pelagianism. It seems to me that we could posit that the Gospel reality is an objective or alien reality indeed. That person X could be presented with the Gospel, and that person X, even while standing in the presence of the graciousness of the Gospel, is not affected one way or the other, internally, in regard to their capacity to say yes or no to the Gospel. This is what Harwood’s analysis, thus far, is unclear on.

All Christians agree that there is a general call made by the Holy Spirit in regard to the Gospel. But that isn’t the question under consideration. The question remains open and is not answered by Harwood’s comparative analysis. His deployment of the TS does not answer the anthropological question. Instead, it claims to offer an answer by using a theological proper category, which does not directly address the anthropological question about human agency in salvation. It says that, “We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement,” but this, again, only speaks to God’s objective decision to provide salvation through the atoning work of Christ. This doesn’t address the question of ‘how’ this works towards ‘moving’ the human heart towards or away from God.

In this brief engagement, thus far, we are left, at least by my lights, to conclude that Harwood (and Flowers following) has not addressed the all-important question of how the Gospel ‘initiates’ God’s unilateral movement of salvation in the human heart. Harwood’s appeal to the TS only shows what all Christians affirm: viz. That God has provided Himself, in Christ, objectively for the salvation of the world. The TS does not address the subjective impact that that offering has on the human agent in salvation; it only asserts that the Holy Spirit draws, but then does not indicate what in fact that drawing entails. Maybe the remaining sections in Harwood’s essay will address the question his essay set out to answer. We will see.

________________________________________________

[1] Adam Harwood, “Is the Traditional Statement Semi-Pelagian?,” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry (Spring 2013), 47-56. 

[2] Ibid., 49

[3] Ibid.

 

An Introduction to an Intention: Forthcoming Posts Contra Provisionism

As I just noted on Twitter ‘I plan on unfurling a slew of blog posts that take @ProvisionistP and @soteriology101 to task for the sort of soteriology they are slinging. Some have warned me not to sink to this level because it might “cheapen” my work and elevate theirs. But gotta do it.’ If you are unaware of who I am referring to when I reference the Provisionists just refer to my category on their contemporary founder, Leighton Flowers. Some of my posts will be directed directly at them, unfortunately they are primarily podcasters/vloggers, and they don’t offer transcripts for their respective podcasts. This will make it more difficult to get at them here in written form. But I am primarily a theoblogger. I actually think the written form is better suited for engaging in this sort of elenctic discourse. And I have been having some correspondence with one of the proponents of this sort of soteriology on Twitter (as I’m writing this post). He has just made it clear to me that I will focus on Leighton Flowers, the guy these guys all look to for their cues. I’ve had correspondence with Flowers in the past, but he’s slippery. I don’t really intend on having any personal engagement with these folks, beyond what I have been doing on Twitter just this evening. But be on the lookout for some posts here and there on this issue, in an ongoing way. I won’t always let you know that the post itself is intended to rebut Provisionism, per se. But many of them will be motivated just that way. In fact, I am going to write a post immediately after this one that gets into a Pauline Dogmatics; one that delves into Paul’s theology vis-à-vis what Douglas Campbell calls ‘Hyper-Augustinianism’ V Pelagianism. As Campbell rightly notes, for the Apostle Paul, both of these loci miss the actual New Testament theology as disclosed by the Apostle Paul and the whole New Testament witness. These Provisionist characters uncritically operate on this continuum between Hyper-Augustinianism and Pelagianism; and they slide to the latter not the former in their error.

Stay tuned.

Pelagianism and Provisionism in Historical Duet

The following is a repost (originally posted on June 6th, 2019), with another repost embedded in it from (2017). But in an effort to dispel the erroneous claims made by Eric from Provisionist Perspective in regard to my historical claims vis-à-vis Pelagius, and Pelagianism, I want to repost the following with hopes of demonstrating to people that Eric, not myself, is the one who doesn’t seem to know the history. But I also want to say the following: these Provisionists are woefully informed when it does in fact come to ecclesial history, and the ideas developed therefrom. They myopically grasp onto what they think fits their theological narrative, from a selective reading of the history, and then in a sweeping way apply that myopia to anyone who would attempt to counter their false atomistic historical narrativizing. Pelagius is not the end of the story, but only the beginning of what developed into a full-blown doctrine known as Pelagianism. JND Kelly, a world renown Patristics scholar (contra the standing of someone like Ken Wilson), if we must speak foolishly, offers a nice sketch of Pelagius’s own teaching. It is from Pelagius, as the fountainhead, that Pelagianism took a flowered development, and the form that many of the Protestant Reformers stood against (think of someone like Peter Martyr Vermigli et al).

You can read my last post if you want to know who Eric is, and what he had to say in response to a post of mine. His triumphalism ought to be quenched now by the sobriety of the actual history and teaching of Pelagius. What is striking, if Kelly is to be believed, and he ought to be, is that the way he describes Pelagius’s teaching is in fact exactly correlative with what Provisionists like Leighton Flowers, Eric et al. propose in regard to our capacity to respond to the Gospel offer. They understand how damaging this is to their cause, so they attempt to distance themselves, at points from Pelagius, and at other points, retrieve Pelagius in such a way that he isn’t really “that bad” after all.

I continue to listen to Leighton Flower’s podcasts on the way home from and to work. As he acknowledges, he is not an “academic,” per se, but a popularizer of various academic themes within the sphere he is associated. Nonetheless, he is constantly engaging with so called “academic theology,” and has various guests on his podcasts who are. The one that stands out most to me, thus far, is his interview of Augustine scholar, Ken Wilson. What was most striking to me about this interview is that both Wilson and Flowers attempt to invert the usual and historic understanding of Pelagius and Augustine; they denigrate Augustine as the heretic and elevate Pelagius as the champion of how we ought to understand ‘freewill’ vis-à-vis salvific appropriation. This is rather striking, for obvious reasons, but also concerning because this message is being advocated for among the popular; a group of folks who don’t have critical resource (or time) to see if what Wilson and Flowers are proposing be so. In an effort to provide some sort of online counter I wanted to provide a small sketch of Pelagius, and the implications of his teaching. My contention, along with the church catholic’s, is that when Pelagius’s teachings are placed up against the Scriptural teaching, particularly the New Testament’s teaching (cf. Rom 3 etc), that it flounders just at the point Wilson, Flowers et al claim that it achieves the proper balance for how we ought to understand humanity’s capacity to choose God rather than self. There is a reason ‘no one seeks after God,’ it is because we ‘love the darkness rather than the light’ (cf. Jn 3.17ff). Pelagius’s teaching operates out of a notion of ‘pure nature’ that is funded by the idea that creation itself has an absolute and ontological orientation of its own, such that it remains impermeable to anything other than its own self-determination; ironically, we might identify this orientation, of the self-determined self, as the definition of a Genesis 3 understanding of sin. This is why Pelagius’s teaching has rightly been identified as heretical; i.e. because his teaching on the nature of humanity is grounded, narrativally, in an understanding of humanity that finds its antecedents in the very conception of humanity’s ability ‘to choose’ that God unilaterally came to put to death in the cross and humanity of Jesus Christ.

With the above noted, here is a short sketch on Pelagius and his theology that I offered a couple of years ago here at the blog.

We often hear of Pelagianism, or of Pelagius himself. We know it is a heresy which Augustine in the 5th century combated; but we don’t often hear exactly what Pelagianism entails. I thought in an effort to remedy this type of lacuna, at least for those who don’t know, that I would share something from JND Kelly on Pelagius, and in brief, what the main aspect of his troubling teaching entails.

Kelly writes:

Pelagius was primarily a moralist, concerned for right conduct and shocked by what he considered demoralizingly pessimistic views of what could be expected of human nature. The assumption that man could not help sinning seemed to him an insult to his Creator. Augustine’s prayer, ‘Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt’ (da quod iubes et iube quod vis), particularly distressed him, for it seemed to suggest that men were puppets wholly determined by the movements of divine grace. In reaction to this the keystone of his whole system is the idea of unconditional free will and responsibility. In creating man God did not subject him, like other creatures, to the law of nature, but gave him the unique privilege of being able to accomplish the divine will by his own choice. He set life and death before him, bidding him choose life (Deut. 30, 19), but leaving the final decision to his free will. Thus it depends on the man himself whether he acts rightly or wrongly: the possibility of freely choosing the good entails the possibility of choosing evil. There are, he argues, three features in action—the power (posse), the will (velle), and the realization (esse). The first of these comes exclusively from God, but the other two belong to us; hence, according as we act, we merit praise or blame. It would be wrong to infer, however, that he regarded this autonomy as somehow withdrawing man from the purview of God’s sovereignty. Whatever his followers may have said, Pelagius himself made no such claim. On the contrary, along with his belief in free will he has the conception of a divine law proclaiming to men what they ought to do and setting the prospect of supernatural rewards and pains before them. If a man enjoys the freedom of choice, it is by the express bounty of his Creator, and he ought to use it for the ends which He prescribes.[1]

Augustine famously opposed this with his development not only of sin as privatio (privation), but also concupiscence (self-love). But beyond that, if you have ever wondered about Pelagius, or more pointedly about his teaching which has become known as Pelagianism, then this should at least give you a good start. If you want to see what Kelly says further about Pelagius I recommend you pick up his excellent book where he covers this, among other important developments in the early period of the church.

I think all Christians, whether classical Calvinist, classical Arminian, Evangelical Calvinist, Barthian, Lutheran, or what have you share common ground in their opposition towards Pelagianism. Sometimes it requires heresy in order for orthodoxy to be sharpened and articulated in such a way that it provides a fruitful way forward for the church. In this case what Augustine offered against Pelagius served as the basis for what many Christians, even today, think of Pelagianism, and more importantly, how Christians conceive of grace (of course we’ve had other developments since Augustine and Pelagius as well).

For my two cents, I think when attempting to offer an alternative model to classical Calvinism and Arminianism it is best to avoid associating your alternative, even grounding some of its key themes, in the theology of a known and worldwide heretic. This approach may work well when presented to folks who don’t have critical access to the history of ideas and their development, but that’s really as far as it will go; other than idiosyncratic appropriation in and among a small number of a scholarly caste of people. It is true that credentials, one way or the other, do not establish the veracity of ideas, but ultimately that is not my appeal here. My appeal to the “theologians” in the church catholic is to note that Pelagius is a known heretic precisely because his teaching correlates with what Scripture identifies as something we need to be saved from (i.e. ourselves and our enslavement to only and always freely choose us rather than God).


[1] JND Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines. Revised Edition (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978), 356-57.

A Response to Eric of Provisionist Perspective: A Correction on the History

I wasn’t going to engage with Provisionism anymore, but through a google search I randomly came across a guy named, Eric, a Provisionist (of Leighton Flowers ilk) who has a podcast (with another friend) that seeks to promote provisionism as well. In this podcast he worked through a post of mine where I attempt to draw some corollaries between Flowers’ so-called Provisionism, and Pelagianism. You can listen to Eric’s response (if you like) to me: here. The following is a series of tweet responses I made to Eric on his Twitter account where he shared the link to this podcast of his (which aired way back on 11-25-2020). I didn’t really want post any further on provisionism because it gives its proponents more credit than they deserve. If you listen to Eric’s response to me, where he attempts to besmirch my credibility, you’ll see that he relies on a google search (that ultimately fails his cause) in his attempt to incrediblize me (and Professor Nick Needham). So, I’ll share the following as an initial burst, then later I’ll come back someday and do a post on the Second Councils of Orange, Ephesus, and Carthage; insofar as that directly relates to Eric’s misunderstanding of the history (and theology).

Ha, I just saw this (and listened). Eric it would have been better if you had maybe contacted me first, that would’ve helped your credibility. You misrepresented what I said was condemned: I had already qualified that prior—it wasn’t freewill, per se, but its abstract form. And what both Needham and I are referring to is the SYSTEM that came to be known as Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism on a continuum. So, you assert I don’t understand the history, when Pelagius, the man, isn’t the history I’m most concerned with. Also, I know you all rely heavily on Ken Wilson, and he is not uncontroversial in the realm of this research. But the basic thrust of my argument in the post u engage with would be that Provisionists operate within the spirit and maybe not the letter of the system of Pelagianism. Further: I am NOT a Five Point Calvinist (I’m not even 4 point). In fact I am known online and through our books as a heavy critic of 5 pointism and then more broadly classical Covenant Theology. You just presume I’m part of the classical Calvinist machine when in fact I’m a known critic of it through our books and my blogging. Also, and again, the point about freewill isn’t even the point, per se, it is the anthropology within which it is framed that is of issue. I didn’t have time to get into developing that in the post though. But I assure you that I understand the history, as does Nick Needham who is a PhD maker in Scotland in the area of historical theology. You concluded w/ a false dilemma: you said either I’m “ignorant” of the history, or that I’m intentionally misleading. What if neither of those are the case, and in fact I actually believe that LF and provisionists in general fit within the spirit (maybe not the letter—that’s debatable) of the SYSTEM that came to be known as Pelagianism/ -semi (whether Pelagius held to it or not isnt the ultimate point. I think much of your misreading and thus misrepresentation of me could have been avoided if you had first contacted me about my bloggy blogpost first). Finally, I found it interesting that at your closing remarks you described what I said Pelagianism was (ie external grace etc) and then what LF says, and it sounded like word for word almost. I could tell you caught that yourself, but then just moved on. That was a good slip. Would have been cool if you had contacted me when you did this, then I could have responded when it was fresh to the audience. Oh, and one more point: I used Pelagius, the man, in the post because his thinking on the neutrality of the human will (salvifically construed) isn’t an unrelated point of departure as we get into its historical development as that came to be known as: Pelagianism. In the history, and the near history, John Cassian took up what came to be known as Pelagianism and developed it further. I will be writing a response blog post to your response to me here. I’ll do that later today and come back and link. And one more thing: when I said Pelagius was condemned, he was!! I was referring to the 2nd Council of Orange, Carthage, and Ephesus. You ought to google search a little more thoroughly.

Leighton Flowers’ Nestorian Understanding of Salvation

Leighton Flowers just yesterday Tweeted the following:

The fact that God is 100% responsible for our salvation doesn’t change the fact that we are 100% responsible for repenting in faith in response to His gospel appeal. We are responsible for our choice to repent and He is responsible for His choice to forgive. #Provisionism

My Tweet response was:

Sounds like Nestorianism if you frame this is in Christological rather than abstract soteriological terms.

One of the proponents of Flowers’ soteriology, who I am “currently” friends with on Facebook responded to my comment this way:

Dumb comment. Nestorianism asserted Jesus was two persons. This has no correlation to Sot101’s post.

When people, like Warren McGrew comments the way he did above, they don’t last long with me on my FB roll. Be that as it may, let me offer a quick clarification on why I said that Flowers’ soteriology is Nestorian.

As Christians we think theology from Jesus Christ; from the emphases and categories He brings with His gift bearing life for us. If that premise holds, then in order for the Christian to think soteriological themes, they are charged with doing so from a principially Christ concentrated lens. This is why I recast Flowers’ soteriological thinking in and through an christological analogy. Once we make that move we come to see how Flowers’ soteriological pronouncement fits Nestorian rather than Chalcedonian orthodox categories. Flowers presents a competitive relationship between Divine and human agency, as if there are “two” distinct ‘persons’ represented in the singular event of salvation. But the hypostatic union wherein God and humanity become one, in the brining together of the two-natures of the Divine and human into the singular person of the Christ, militates against thinking salvation in competitive or dualistic terms. This is why I noted that Flowers’ presentation is Nestorian; it thinks salvation through a lens of two competitive persons, in an abstract manner, rather than through the singular person of Jesus Christ who serves as the mediary of the Godward to human and humanward to God movement in the once and for all ‘faith’ delivered for the saints.

If we attempt to squeeze Flowers’ soterio-logic into the Chalcedonian frame I just noted what we end up with is a Nestorian conception of salvation wherein we have the person of God, represented by Jesus, and the person of humanity, represented by Jesus as the Archimedean point wherein salvation can or cannot obtain; depending on what the person, represented exemplarily by the person of Jesus, decides to do with the offer of salvation. Jesus is instrumentalized through adoptionistic premises wherein the Divine person associated with the man Jesus is only in ‘accidental’ relation rather than one grounded in the very personhood of the Monarxia (Godhead)—wherein the eternal Logos, Jesus Christ, finds his personalising personhood, in His relationship with the Father by the Holy Spirit, which He graciously gives to us in His vicarious humanity.

Flowers, McGrew et al. don’t think things this way. But they should if they want to offer the people a robustly Christ-centered, and thus biblical conception of salvation.    

Pelagianism and the Flowers

It is almost impossible for certain evangelical types to get their heads around the idea that they engage in theological exegesis of the text of Holy Scripture; i.e. that they aren’t simply just reading the Bible de nuda. I have been having an ongoing engagement with Leighton Flowers, and his so-called provisionist soteriology for a couple years now. This engagement has been almost completely one-sided, but he just responded to me on Twitter. I tweeted out, once again, that I do not see how he escapes the Pelgian label. Historically he does not. But he wants to dismiss the history of interpretation tout court. He wants to start from scratch, from a tabula rasa when it comes to biblical interpretation. He doesn’t want to be bogged down by the ‘man-made’ labels that might arrest what he is attempting to do with his soteriological offering (which ironically is steeped in philosophical anthropology—i.e. libertarian free agency etc.). Here is his last response to me on Twitter from earlier today: “You broaden the definition to make us fit in the “species” of semi-Pelagianism and some work to fit you under “semi-Gnosticism”. Who cares? Tell us what’s unbiblical about the claims and drop the manmade labels.”[1] Flowers, as can be observed, is allergic to “manmade labels,” until of course he identifies himself as a Provisionist; but let’s not quibble, eh. Since Flowers wants the theological and biblical problems of Pelgianism spelled out then I thought it apropos to do that for him. I am sure this will not meet his expectations, since he doesn’t like people making reference to other people (unless he’s doing that); he just wants us to reference Scripture (de nuda). Be that as it may, let me share, at some length, from Karl Barth (surprise!). Coincidentally, or better, providentially, as the case may be, I just ran across a paragraph in my CD reading that explains what theological Pelagianism looks like, conceptually; and what its multitudinous problems are. Leighton, this one is for you (be warmed).

Within this sphere, which is itself the only sphere of being, God wills everything. God’s willing something can therefore mean that He loves, affirms and confirms it, that He creates, upholds and promotes it out of the fulness of His life. His willing it can also mean that in virtue of the same love He hates, disavows, rejects and opposes it as that which withstands and lacks and denies what is loved, affirmed and confirmed by Him and created, upheld and promoted by Him. He still wills in it in the sense that He takes it seriously in this way and takes up this position over against it. He wills it in so far as He gives it this space, position and function. He does not do so as its author, recognising it as His creature, approving and confirming and vindicating it. On the contrary, He wills it as He denies it His authorship, as He refuses it any standing before Him or right or blessing or promise, as He places it under His prohibition and curse and treats it as that from which He wishes to redeem and liberate His creation. In this way, then, in His turning away from it. He wills what He disavows. It cannot exist without Him. It, too, is by Him, and is under His control and government. There is nothing that is withdrawn from His will, just as there is nothing hidden from His knowledge. There is no sphere of being or non-being which is not in some way wholly subject to His will. For such a sphere would inevitably be that of another god. Anything withdrawn from His will can only be pure nothing. Whatever exists belongs either (as it is affirmed by Him) to being or (as it is disavowed by Him) to non-being. In either case it is subject to His will. Thus nothing that exists is withdrawn from His will. His will is therefore done in all and by all. There is no escape from what is done by His will. Again, of course, there is the desire to escape. But there is no goal where this desire can be realised. We can adopt an independent attitude to the divine Yes and No. We can hate what God loves and love what He hates. We can accept what He rejects and reject what He accepts. This is our sinful will. But it does not lead us to a sphere where we have withdrawn from the will of God or hidden and secured ourselves against its realisation and fulfilment in us and by us. If we will to sin, we enter the sphere of the divine prohibition and curse, disavowal and rejection; the realm of death. We can certainly attain this goal. But even if we do, we do not leave the sphere of the divine will or escape from God. Here, too, we cannot actually govern ourselves. In fact we are under no other government than that of the will of God. By our decision, our decision against God, we merely fulfil God’s decision. Besides willing and deciding for God or against Him there is no third possibility of choice or decision. There is no neutrality in which we can slip between the divine Yes and the divine No (which circumscribe the area of being), thus saving ourselves in this neutrality from the will of God in a middle position between faith and belief. There is no such place outside that area. The Yes and No of the divine will are absolutely and definitely the true circumscription of the area of being. There is nothing beyond. If we want to be neutral, we definitely want to be disobedient. For to struggle against adopting the position of agreement with the divine Yes and No, to look instead for a third possibility beyond the antithesis set up by the divine decision, to make a refusal to will the object of our will is a piece of folly in which we have already hated what God loves and loved what He hates and therefore sinned. If there is no neutrality towards God, we are already against God if we will to remain neutral. It is, therefore, impossible—really impossible—to fall out of or escape from the lordship of the divine will. His will is done in heaven and on earth both when we are obedient and when we are disobedient. This is no less true when our disobedience take the form—as it usually does—of trying to avoid the decision marked out for us in the divine pattern. But God’s will is God Himself, and God is gracious and holy, merciful and righteous. Therefore, again, to say that God is the One to whose will all things are subject is a word which is full of warning and yet at the same time full of comfort.[2]

Ultimately, sharing this isn’t for Leighton Flowers; it is for those who can see through the theological problems that Flowers is presenting to those who might be under his spell. Flowers himself is a lost cause, and is drunk on his subscriber’s count on YouTube. But I digress. Barth’s basic premise in the whole of the aforementioned is to think all things from a doctrine of creation (protology). In nuce, for Barth, all of reality is sustained by the singular will of God. There is no going outside of it; there is no independent wills in competition with God’s. The moment a theological position claims human beings have an individual and natural capacity to be for or against God, even as that might be externally aided by ‘grace,’ this position has strayed outside of God’s singular will and now is asserting its own independence (which as Barth rightly notes, is an illusion); this is theological Pelagianism, and is grounded in the idea that humanity has some modicum of independence and neutrality from God. This is the heinous danger of what Flowers is peddling his little buddlings. He is giving them a theology based on the idea that humanity has a natural in-built capacity to be for God or against Him; but of course, as Barth develops, this is an impossibility, and only reduces that person into the sphere of pure and demonic idolatry.

Flowers has demonstrated to me that he is un-teachable. He is full of bluster, and no substance. His arguments are made in appeal to the people and not the theological implications of Holy Scripture as he claims. I engage with him, not because he is theologically capable, but because he sells himself to the people as if he is. He is a theological Pelagian; he fits Barth’s description above, in regard to human neutrality vis-à-vis God. I pray he repents.


[1] Leighton Flowers, Twitter comment, accessed 12-27-2020.

[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §31: Study Edition Vol 9 (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 122-23.

Leighton Flowers on Galatians No-Holds-Barred

Remember when I used to focus on John MacArthur quite frequently; in critique of his Lordship (self-styled five-point Calvinist) Salvation? In the main, I think I exhausted that engagement. Someone, also at the popular level, who has come onto my radar, as you might have noticed, is: Leighton Flowers. He isn’t proposing another version of “Calvinism.” No, he is proposing a theory of salvation that, like JMac’s, is somewhat self-styled. But Flowers’ understanding is a riff on his Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) so-called, Traditionalism. It is almost exactly similar to what the late Zane Hodges, of Dallas Theological Seminary, propounded in what he referred to as: Free Grace salvation. For the uninitiated, this understanding of salvation entails ideas that claim to be purely ‘biblical’ in orientation. Someone, as they hear one of its proponents expound upon it, might mistake it for Arminianism; but it isn’t Arminianism proper (although it has certain similarities to popular forms of Arminianism). Flowers calls his version of this soteriological framework: Provisionism. He uses that language with reference to the all sufficient nature of the extent of the atonement; i.e. that Christ died for all of humanity; not just the elect, in the way that five-point Calvinists articulate that in their concept of limited atonement (or particular redemption).

But of even greater emphasis than the extent of the atonement, in Flowers’ “soteriology,” is his emphasis on a person’s inherent capacity to believe the Gospel or not believe the Gospel based solely on capacity they have in and from themselves (he often asserts that the way I just characterized his view on non-total-inability is a mischaracterization of what he actually believes on this front). In other words, Leighton believes that, post-fall, humans in general have retained a capacity, by nature, to decide if they want to believe the Gospel claim or not. He wants to qualify this, so that it doesn’t sound like the straight-up flaming Pelagianism that it is, by saying that: the Gospel itself, when a person is confronted with it, comes with the grace necessary to allow the person to say yes to it. But the issue with this qualification is that it fails to do what Flowers wants it to do. In other words, the person can still say no; and they can say no from the same latent nature whereby they can say yes from. This is why Flowers’ position is not just semi-Pelagian, but full-blown Pelagianism.

With that ground clearing done let me focus a bit (by way of rant) on what I just heard in his most recent podcast (vlogcast). Flowers was making his case for Provisionism on Galatians, most recently. In this particular podcast it’s like Flowers has gotten sick of it all, and simply says what he really believes no-holds-barred. He really believes that the whole Reformed Protestant tradition (since you know, it can all be reduced into a monolithic caricature) can be relegated to a Manichean (or what he more generally refers to as Gnosticism) pagan philosophical framework that has no correlation with biblical reality. He believes that his view just is the prima facie case based on his “exterior” reading of the text of Scripture; as if Scripture has no inner-theologic funding its exterior theological assertions. As such, he doesn’t engage in what John Webster refers to as Scripture and Theological Reasoning. He doesn’t attempt to see what Thomas F. Torrance calls the Depth Dimension of Holy Scripture. In fact he thinks anyone who refers to teachers of the church, like Webster or Torrance, is simply referring to men’s reasonings about Scripture; meaning it isn’t of the divine mantle that Flowers (pretty sure he’s a man) in an ex cathedra way offers his pupils. Flowers, in short: believes that he has arrived at biblical reality, without any reference to the Tradition of the church catholic, in such a way that if anyone questions his approach (particularly if you’re a classical Calvinist), they are simply questioning Scripture itself.

Why do I often highlight people like Flowers; why do I pay attention to them (you know, since I should apparently “be above” this as some sort of academic Christian)? Because, they (he) have large followings and are influencing large swaths of the church; and typically they are never challenged by anyone who is informed on the areas they are teaching on and appealing to. I am informed on these areas, and so I want to offer a counter-voice, online, to Flowers et al. so that if anyone is looking for that voice, or even if they’re not and stumble upon it, they will realize just how off the rails Flowers is. He can also serve as a foil for Evangelical Calvinism, and do so as a springboard from the popular to the more robust and constructive theologic that Evangelical Calvinism offers.

A Riposte to Leighton Flowers and Dr. Brian With Reference to Their Video Response @ Me

I think after this post I will quit engaging with Leighton Flowers and crew (but maybe not, that all depends). I just came across a video where he and his friend, Brian (a PhD in NT, not theology, clearly), respond to a critique post of mine directed at Flowers’ approach to interpreting Holy Scripture. Here is the blurb I quickly wrote up as I shared this video to my FB and Twitter feeds:

Leighton Flowers responds to a critique post of mine starting at 7:44 and running through 21:00. He and his friend just talk around what I was getting at. Ironically, they end up illustrating my critique of their approach by reverting to their sort of rationalist traditioned reading of Scripture. It is really strange to engage with folks who are not self-perceptive enough to see their own foibles, esp. when those are being pointed out to them. But then they deflect those back onto their critics (me) Lol. Flowers’ friend, a PhD in NT (not theology, clearly) calls my approach postmodern (very strange). But this is what you get when you engage with low church evangelicals who have no clue about the Christian Dogmatic tradition, and how that has taken form in the Church catholic. They dispense with catholicity in favor of re-inventing the wheel based on their own reconstruction (interpretation) of the Christian faith and Holy Scripture. But, again, this is what you get when you start with a turn-to-the-subject hyper individualism out of touch with the confessional nature of the Christian faith. And this is why I find folks like Flowers and his friend so dangerous to the Christian faith; they are the epitome of what has been dangerous to my own faith in the past. So, when I come across it I seek to alert others to its errors, and hope to provide a way forward that is more in tune with a reality contingent upon a source (Jesus Christ and the triune God) outside of themselves.

You can watch Leighton’s and Brian’s response to me here (it starts at 7:44 and runs approx. through the 21-minute mark). I want to expand a little more on their response to me; more than what I just shared in the aforementioned blurb.

Brian was really hung up on my language of all humanity being ENSLAVED to our interpretative traditions. But as Steve Holmes rightly underscores (Stephen R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6-8):

This is not something that can simply be swiped away, as Brian and Leighton attempt to do, unless of course the person is appealing to their people. Ironically, as I alluded to earlier, Brian and Leighton fall right into this point, even as they attempt to criticize my underscoring of it, by going back to “their tradition of biblical theology and soteriology.” This is ironic, indeed, because it is the very point of my criticism of them. The fact that they cannot see that, and then by not seeing it, appeal to their own particular traditioned way of reading Scripture should alert people to how imperceptive their educators are; viz. if they are looking to people like Leighton, and his friend Brian et al., as their teachers.

Further, Dr. Brian calls my approach, that is my approach to focusing on a Christ concentrated hermeneutic: Postmodern. He claims that I end up deconstructing all other traditions, and then presume that my own ‘christological’ approach is the only viable way forward. In a sense, this is true; but it isn’t just true for me, but for Leighton and Brian et al. I would imagine all sentient people have arrived at particular convictions and conclusions in regard to the way that they engage with reality in general, and the Christian reality (for Christians) in particular. There is nothing inherently “postmodern” about that. Indeed, and ironically, this is simply an attempt to “boogeyman” me into a straw-box that Leighton and his friend think they can easily dispense of once they have placed me therein. Unlike these fellas, I am not averse to labels, indeed, labeling is just as inherent to being human as traditioning is. In other words, labeling positions (you know like Leighton’s self-described provisionism) is a shorthand, precision way of engaging with a complex or basket of ideas as those are held within a sort of systematic frame of reference. But the point is here: my approach is not inherently postmodern, instead it works from a Christian confessional background that is grounded in the Christian Dogmatic tradition of the Church catholic.

But this is the point, which I also alluded to previously: Flowers and company, are situated in the Fundamentalist/Evangelical individualist tradition that starts, by way of theological or hermeneutical methodology, in an abstract rationality that is idiosyncratic and original to the individual knowers. This was my point of critique, which Leighton attempted to respond to, when he pushed back against my claim that his approach is: anthropocentric or as he calls it ‘from-below.” Both Leighton and Brian need to do more reading on problems associated with what has been called: solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura. They both are proponents of this approach, and as such, they communicate this to the people looking up to them as faithful guides into the world of Holy Scripture and systematic theology.

Further, Flowers takes issue with me saying that he speaks from a ‘resurrected voice of Pelagius.’ He cannot stand this charge. But anyone familiar with what he teaches on so-called ‘total inability’ (or more commonly understood in the history: total depravity, and its noetic and moral implications) knows that he is in line, let’s say, rather than with Pelagius full-blown, with someone like John Cassian. Again, because of Leighton’s non-Dogmatic orientation, he cannot fathom where this charge comes from. He believes that he can simply assert away that this charge just is not true; while at the same time advocating for a position that correlates almost exactly with Pelagius’ in regard to the neutrality of the moral agency latent within a broken, but not completely “inable” orientation towards God. I’ve already spilled enough e-ink in other posts, in regard to Leighton’s inchoate Pelagianism, that I will not belabor that further here. He simply does not understand the broad contours and moods that makeup the landscape of ecclesial historical ideas vis-à-vis their ideational categorizations (i.e. the dreaded “labeling” again).

Finally (although I think I’ve missed some of their response to me), Leighton, in general, hides behind this idea that if someone is going to critique him, they need to provide concrete examples or he doesn’t know how to engage with the critique. I think the article he and his buddy are responding to, of mine, offers all kinds of concrete examples that he could respond to; but it, again, this would require that he is versed in the realm of Christian Dogmatics (which he discounts out of hand; for reasons already alluded to). I give plenty of examples, in regard to the way he interprets and approaches Scripture; in regard to the way he approaches history of ideas; in regard to the way that his approach to soteriology is not grounded in a dogmatic ordering of things. I don’t feel compelled to offer exact examples (although I have done that in some other posts in reference to Flowers) all the time, because I figure that anyone who reads something like an article on Flowers, is already aware of a whole stable of examples that Flowers hits upon, thematically, seemingly everyday in his vlogcasts.

Oh, one more thing: Brian (and Leighton) almost seemed dumbfounded by the idea that I said we should think our theologies, and exegetical conclusions, from Jesus. Brian, in particular, couldn’t fathom how that would be possible apart from Holy Scripture. But this, again, illustrates the absolute rationalist approach he (and Leighton), are ENSLAVED to. They don’t think of Scripture, as John Webster rightly does, as if it has an ontology. In other words, they cannot even imagine how we might think Scripture from within a Christian Dogmatic ordering of things (a taxis). As such, just like with soteriology, they think Scripture in terms of an abstraction that only has value insofar as they can mine its data, as if archeologists trying to make sense of an artifact, and construct an understanding of it that fits within the realm of what they have determined biblical theology to entail. But you see who is regulative in this sort of interpretive and value-enriching process, right? It isn’t contingent upon Scripture’s res (reality) being regulated by the catholic Jesus (think the ‘Chalcedonian pattern’ that has served regulative for most of Church history when it comes to interpreting Holy Writ cf. Jn 5.39). No, it is contingent, instead, upon some sort of abstract realm of positivism that abstract wits have the capacity to manage and manipulate, with greater or lesser outcomes, based upon the interpreter’s disposition, training, and aptitude to approach Scripture with a minimal amount of presuppositions and pre-understandings. Because Brain (and Leighton) seemingly are critically unaware of the history and development of modern bible reading practices, as those developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the naturalist bed those were consummated in, they simply cannot imagine what I mean when I refer to: thinking our theologies and exegetical conclusions from Jesus.

My point doesn’t pivot on a competition between Scripture and Jesus—this is the false dilemma and premise Brian critiques me from—but instead, it is grounded in the idea, as John Calvin, Karl Barth, TF Torrance, John Webster, and other luminaries propound, that Scripture is the signum (sign) that points beyond itself to its res (reality) who is the, Christ. In other words, Brian and Leighton fail, in regard to their doctrine of Scripture, and thus hermeneutics, because they essentalize Scripture to the point that it ends in their interpretation of it, instead of being understood as the instrument whereby Christians come to encounter the living God in the risen Christ. I see Scripture from an instrumentalist vantage point, as most  Christians have in history, versus, the Leightonian and Brianian approach, that absolutizes Scripture as an epistemological end in itself; and end that has no idea that there is a theological ontology that stands antecedent to Scripture’s reality as a created medium that serves the instrumental purpose of pointing beyond itself and its many interpreters. Essentially, Brian’s and Leighton’s response to me fails, on this front, because, for at least one reason, they have an inadequate doctrine (and no ontology) of Holy Scripture. This is why Brian (and Leighton) seem so perplexed by my point on ‘from Jesus.’

Again, I would caution folks who are looking to Leighton and company for a healthy theological education. They, in my view, have not done enough homework, particularly in the area of Christian ideas, and the development of Reformed theology in particular, to be of any service to the would-be learner. I know this sounds harsh: but it is my considered opinion after listening to Leighton for about a year and a half now. My reason for saying this about Leighton should be illustrated by the themes I touched upon throughout this post. If someone wants to marginalize the history of Christian ideas, the history of theological grammar, and displace that with their reconstruction of the Christian faith, without engagement with the conciliar faith of historic Christian reality, then you know you are in a hazardous harbor. That’s what I think we get with the ministry of Leighton Flowers. Is he a nice guy? Clearly. Does this necessarily make him a trustworthy guide into the realm of theological and biblical studies? Nein.