Miscellanies on How the Order of a Doctrine of Election Affects the Pyromaniacs and The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel is Kingdom initiating, Kingdom grounding; indeed it could be said that the Gospel is the disruptive orientation of the original creation’s ultimate purpose as that is realized in the re-creation of God in Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. As David Fergusson has written, “the world was made so that Christ might be born;” this adage captures well the inherent value or the inner reality that the creation itself has. It is one born only in and from God’s reality to graciously be for the world and to do so in himself, in the Son, by the Spirit and thus to pretend as if the Triune reality is not the ground and grammar of ALL of reality—inclusive of morality—is to reduce the Gospel to a pietist individualism that only has to do with me and my salvation/me and my eternal destiny. While personal salvation, its appropriation, is very important, it is grounded more objectively and universally in the reality of redemption that God in Christ has proffered for all of creation, with Jesus being its crowning reality and jewel. In other words, the cosmic reality of salvation, grounded in the humanity and divinity (an/enhypostasis) of the eternal Logos become flesh, Jesus Christ, encompasses all aspects of created reality. It is not simply a matter of sufficiency but of efficacy; in other words, in the Kingdom, in the recreation there is not a delimitation of that to particular parts (i.e. classic election/reprobation) of the creation; no, the Kingdom of God in Christ (which is given reality in the Gospel which is embodied and lived in the Christ) is a macrocosmic reality (Rom. 8.18ff) that indeed disruptively impacts individuals who are willing, by the Holy Spirit’s wooing, to participate in this new created reality in and through the priestly-vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. This is why when people like Phil Johnson want to attempt to reduce the Gospel reality to its more individualistic provenance they end up critiquing work like The Gospel Coalition is engaging in as it sees the whole of reality implicated by the Kingdom Gospel; he fails to recognize that the Gospel is about a broader work and doctrine of creation/recreation than it simply being about ‘fire-insurance’ for an elect group of people elevated over and against the rest of creation (what TF Torrance identifies as ‘The Latin Heresy’ or an inherent dualism that comes to pass when we start denominating parts of creation from the mass of the creation). In this vein note what Johnson recently wrote in critique of The Gospel Coalition and its engagement with popular culture:

The “gospel-centered” movement that many of us were so enthusiastic for just one decade ago has gone with the drift. The Gospel Coalition has for some time now shown a pattern of embracing whatever new moral issue or political cause is currently popular in Western culture by arguing that this, too, is a legitimate “gospel issue.” They are by no means alone in this. Everything from the latest Marvel movie to gun control legislation has been deemed a “gospel issue” by some savvy evangelical writer at one or more of the most heavily trafficked evangelical websites. But if everything is supposedly a gospel issue, the expression “gospel-centered” is rendered meaningless.

As I said in a Tweet earlier today, we must not abandon the focused simplicity of Luke 24:46-47 in favor of a social gospel that encompasses a large complex of racial, economic, and political issues. Every denomination, every educational institution, and every church that has ever made that error has seen a quick demise. I for one don’t intend to watch in silence while the current generation repeats that mistake.[1]

In response to this I have read others on Twitter raise the question of sufficiency; in other words, is Scripture itself sufficient in responding to race or human sexuality questions, or in Scripture’s overt silence on these things are we able and responsible to turn to other resources—latent within God’s good creation (i.e. common grace)—to seek responses to the ills that the fallen world presents us with in an attempt to ultimately point people to the ultimate sufficiency of the living God as that is provided for in Jesus Christ? So the response seems to be: not all things are intensively or directly related to the narrower message of the Gospel, instead they are related but only in an extensive or indirect matter which allows for and even calls for Christian thinkers to respond to questions not explicitly spoken to in Scripture in such a way that honors the general reality of the Gospel; and within that space has freedom to address issues that might not otherwise seem to have to do with the Gospel in any meaningful sense, but in fact are Gospel issues insofar as they are indirectly impacted by the ultimate reality of it (in other words: natural law, or a natural ethic is going to be appealed to—something that in this line of thinking does not undercut the sufficiency of Scripture to speak to what it intends to speak to, but in fact works in a complementary way to Scripture with the a priori recognition that all of creation belongs to God and is within the realm of his Providential care, governance, and sustenance).

There is a certain irony to these views (Johnson’s and Twitter’s). Both of these approaches share a similar doctrine of creation, theologically/soteriologically. They both share a particular view on the sufficiency of the Gospel and Scripture, but apply that differently (because of broader hermeneutical differences). They denominate parts of creation out from the greater mass of creation, believing that one part is the elect of God while the rest is damned. Johnson focuses on the elect part of creation, but dispensationally neglecting the whole of creation, while the other side also focuses on the elect part of creation, but they see that as the seed that ultimately cashes out in the new creation; they place election into a cosmic understanding of salvation and Providence while Johnson places election into an individualistic and pietist understanding of salvation wherein what ultimately matters is not this creation simpliciter, but the legal salvation of an elect people from an eternal hell. The irony is that they share some overlapping soteriological assumptions, in regard to election, but where that doctrine is placed in their respective theologies cashes out differently in the way that they see the Gospel itself implicating the whole of creation. The Twitter-view works from a cosmic doctrine of salvation, while the Johnson view works from a pietistic, individualist understanding of salvation that is discontinuous from creation as a cosmic reality. The difference in the end is that the Twitter view is Covenantal while the Johnson view is Dispensational. The Twitter view reflects a historic confessionally Reformed perspective, while the Johnson view reflects his Calvinist-lite perspective which is the reduction of Reformed theology to the so called five-points.

Just take this post for what it’s worth. I was going to totally go in another direction and refer us to Oliver O’Dononvan and Philip Ziegler (and apocalyptic theology), but the above is what came out instead. It’s just me thinking out loud. But I think there might be something to my theoretical meanderings. And I only think this is a worthwhile exercise because I think it illustrates a substantial theological polarity that is present within the so called Reformed world. I’ll want to return to how I opened this post up, and get into the relationship of the Gospel and the Kingdom within an Apocalyptic Theology and how I think that informs discussions like these.

[1] Phil Johnson, The Root of the Matter, accessed 05-28-2018.


Phil Johnson on the ‘Feminization’ of the Church

I wonder what you, dear reader, think of the following snippet of this message from Phil Johnson (in case you don’t know, Johnson is Executive Producer of John MacArthur’s radio ministry Grace To You, as well as MacArthur’s editor for his many books, and also an in demand speaker [he seems to be gaining more and more notoriety within parts of Evangelicalism—even though Johnson is a heavy critic of American Evangelicalism in general [as am I], and also founder of popular biblioblog, Pyromaniacs); here’s the video:

There has been a lot of hub-bub, as of late around John Piper’s comments on the masculination of Christianity; and yet Phil’s message has seemed to slip under the radar of some. Obviously Johnson is a staunch complementarian, and this informs the rather rugged tenor of his communique’ (by the way, I am also a complementarian—but of a softer version). Anyway, I just wonder what you all think of Johnson’s message; and the response he received as he delivered it at Shepherd’s Conference 2010?

Phil Johnson Critiquing Robert George and the 'Old Thomism'

This is in response to Phil Johnson of Pyromaniac fame. He recently posted an article, at his blog, on Robert George [Princeton Lawyer, and champion of conservative ethics, also devout Roman Catholic] (one of the signers of the “Manhattan Declaration”); he was offering a scathing critique of George’s usage of “Natural Law.” You can read his “critique” here.

I ended up making a comment on Phil’s article, I said:


I agree with your critique of George’s use of reason; but where do you think that comes from? He is, and Rome is, pure and simple Thomist. This dichotomy between Faith and Reason fountain-heads from there.

What I find ironic about your critique is that your sword cuts both ways. I wish the TULIP and its history was as pure and biblical as we are lead to believe; but unfortunately it is not. It’s informing doctrine of God is as thoroughly “Thomist” as George’s ethics and natural law are. So either the “Calvinist” can simply reject what I just said; or accept it, and just remain internally inconsistent when critiques are made of natural law theory.

Just my 2 cents . . .

After a series of comments (of which one of the “Pyros” deleted two of mine), Phil says to me, in a summarizing kind of way:

. . . Moreover, the threads of similarity and realationship between Thomist soteriology and Calvinism are a lot less clear-cut than you imply. That’s only one of several reasons your argument is simplistic and jejune.

But for the umpteenth time, this is not the place to have that discussion. Not only does the above post have nothing to do with Calvinism; it makes no reference to Thomas Aquinas, either. You’re the one that brought him up. I realize he stressed “natural law,” but he didn’t invent the idea, and this post was not making any argument about Aquinas per se.

Incidentally, one of Thomas’s central beliefs, and something he wrote tons of material in defense of, is the doctrine of divine omniscience. Would you suggest that everyone who argues against Open Theism is a “Thomist”? Do you think everyone who accepts the doctrine of divine omniscience is so indebted to Thomas that it would be inconsistent to accept omniscience and yet reject Aquinas’s stress on natural law? Are we obliged to entertain a debate about Thomism in our meta every time a post makes reference to divine omniscience?

That’s essentially the argument you’ve tried to make about Calvinism. It’s silly.


I’ll clarify one more time: because this post made no reference to either Thomas Aquinas or Calvinism, the debate you want to have is off topic here, and any further reference to it, by anyone–for ANY reason–will result in a ban. (And it will be a permanent ban if the culprit is a repeat offender.)

I want to provide more feedback to this kind of thinking by Phil, but if I do it over there, It will either be deleted and/or I will be banned or both; so I’ll do it from the safety of my own little cyber-space.

It is severly naive to think that the TULIP and the ethics of Robert George have nothing to do with eachother; and yet this is exactly what Phil believes. It is naive because both start, methodologically, with a Doctrine of God that is Thomist (viz. a doctrine of God that construes God as the ‘unmoved mover’ or a ‘Monadic singularity’ from whence the persons of the Trinity ‘subsist’). It is this vision of God that strings reality together in a series of analogical connections; so that all of reality finally finds its cause in the “First cause” God (we can analogically work our way, through ‘reason’ by ‘perfecting grace’ through a series of links that ultimately get us to this God — i.e. start with man, move to Angels, move to God). It is this doctrine of God that allows for the appeal to “Natural Law” that George makes (an inseparably related dichotomy between ‘faith and reason’); and at the same time allows for a TULIP’ist to appeal to the notion that God died for a limited amount of people known as the elect.

Let me explain: Both the “natural lawist” and the “TULIP’ist” assume on this split between “nature and grace;” so that nature predicates grace (or man somehow predicates who God is), at least this is the unwanted implication. The Thomist sees this dilemma, so they appeal to Aristotle’s causation, which allows them to speak of primary and secondary causation; more popularly known as “decrees.”

When applied to George’s Thomist ethics, this means that he can appeal to “Natural Law” because it is something that fits within a Thomist world of “secondary causation.” God is the primary cause, but He has so created that nature has the ability to act “freely” within itself — according to itself — because of this man has the appitude within himself to know right from wrong by simply looking at nature. What this does, though, is assume on a split between nature and grace so that God is seen as the primary cause, and ethics are seen as the result of man reflecting upon observations of nature (which is a result of secondary causation, not directly associated with God — God remains untouched by nature).

Similarly, the TULIP’ist, like Phil Johnson represents, when thinking through the logic of the TULIP also appeals to this aforementioned split between nature and grace. For him, he believes that God ‘unconditionally elected’ a particular group of people to ‘save’ and die for (limited atonement); and that this choice is based within God’s decree (secondary cause). This belief places a wedge between nature and grace by assuming the Aristotelian notion that ‘God’ is an unmoved mover who cannot be touched by His creation (if so He has been moved by someone/thing other than Himself). The problem is, is that in this framework, God in Christ, then becomes subserviant to His decrees when He becomes man in the Incarnation. This means that something/one other than Himself (nature — secondary cause) has dictated how or who He should be; and that is apart from His own self-determined person.

The similarity between both George and Johnson’s approaches is in their respective ‘Doctrine of God’. They both work out of the notion that God is the ‘unmoved mover’ (even if Phil denies it, this is the history and framework that has given birth to the TULIP). They both assume that God works through ‘secondary causes’. Thus they both assume that God is predicated to be who He is by nature — thus they make God ‘contingent’ upon His creation; whether that be in the realm of ethics (George), or in the realm of soteriology (Johnson).

For Phil to say that my points on his critique of George were simple and jejune is simply to admit that he is either unaware of the facts; or he is aware, and simply chooses to ignore them in order to maintain a modicum of ‘biblicism’ when in fact what is really being maintained is a ‘Thomist’ doctrine of God in the name of ‘biblicism’ (which is even worse).