Affective Theology, A Seedbed for My Style of evangelical Calvinism

The following is a post I first wrote about a year into my blogging, back in 2006 (started blogging in 2005). I like to introduce folks to this every now and then because it serves, theologically, as the impetus that led me to the mood of evangelical Calvinism I am in now. As you read this you will see some things that might not jive exactly with the theology I currently promote here at the blog, and in our Evangelical Calvinism book; but there is lots of constructive material available here that I think can be fitted together with some of the contours of thought and theological theses that we have in evangelical Calvinism (as articulated by Myk Habets and myself in our “theses” chapter in our book). Also, beware that as you read this there are some spelling and grammar errors, as well as bibliographic formation problems. I plan on following up this post with another one that gets further into the issue of “created grace” (that you will see mentioned in this post—I have that section emboldened below). Here we go:

Here is a brief sketch to a historical system of theology that I was first introduced to while in seminary, under the tutelage of Dr. Ron Frost. This theology is known as Affective Theology (or even Free Grace Theology—not of the Zane Hodges’ style. I am a proponent of this form of theological engagement (qualified at a few points, I actually like to assimilate this with the “Scottish Theology” of Thomas F. Torrance), and believe that it beautifully captures the intention of scripture relative to things salvific and God’s nature. This framework was communicated in Puritan England by people such as Richard Sibbes and William Erbery amongst others. This was a movement that was responding to the stringent “precianism” of Federal Theology (Calvinism) articulated by fellows such as William Perkins and William Aames. Notice a testimonial offered by a man named Humphrey Mills, someone who knew what it meant to live under the unbearable burden of the moralistic proving ground spawned by the inevitable consequence of “Perseverance of the Saints” and “Limited Atonement/Election”, here he speaks in his own words about the freedom of conscience he finally felt under the teaching/preaching of Sibbes:

I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing: looking for Heaven that way. And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above the ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies. But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint . . . Doctor Sibbs, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had muchof God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world . . . My heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.[1]

Here’s a heart freed from the constant burden of looking to self for assurance of salvation; and prompted to look up to Christ for freedom and salvation.

Sibbes was one of the key-note articulates against the popery he observed with the moralistic tradition provided framework through the Calvinist doctrines. Sibbes believed, along with others, that external works should never be the basis for assurance of salvation–in fact Sibbes believed that assurance of salvation should not even be a functional premise within a soteriological construct; such as Calvinism provided. Sibbes was part of a movement known as Free-Grace, this was ” . . . the party of Puritans who opposed any idea that grace is conditioned by human cooperation.” (Frost, The Devoted Life, 81). Notice this quote offered by William Erbery, a contemporary of Sibbes, as he discusses progression of Purtian thought ending with that kind of Free-Grace preaching exemplified most clearly by Sibbes, note:

I observed four great steps of God’s glorious appearance in men’s preaching. First, how low and legal were their teachings as they learned the way of preaching from Mr. Perkins, Bolton, Byfield and Dod and Dike. . . . Next the doctrine of free grace came forth, but with less success or fruit of conversion by Doctor Preston, Sibs [Sibbes], [and] Crisp. . . . Thirdly the letter of scripture, and flesh of Christ hath been highly set up by both the famous Goodwins: . . . [Thomas] excels in spiritual discourses of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession, yet much according to the flesh, for he meddles not with the mystery of Christ in us. . . . [The fourth step] is the knowledge of Christ in the Spirit.[2]

As Erbery highlights, Sibbes’, amongst the other Free-Grace teachers, was not taken as seriously as the predominate moralistic (Calvinist) teachers, i.e. Perkins, Bolton, et al. But notice where Erbery’s quote leaves off, “the knowledge of Christ in the Spirit”, to this we now turn. This is an important point of departure for the teaching of Affective Theology, as defined by Sibbes, i.e. the immediacy of the Holy Spirit in the person’s life.

While Sibbes believed works were an aspect of salvation, he did not believe that these should be a barometer for determining a person’s salvation. Furthermore he believed constant obsession with such thinking was a product of an unscriptural understanding foisted on the laity of Puritan England by the Calvinist Divines. Note Ron Frost’s assessment of Sibbes’ approach here:

While Sibbes acknowledged some biblical support in calling Christians to obedience as a duty (Erbery’s category of ‘low and legal’ preaching) Sibbes clearly understood that duty can only be sustained if it is supported by the motivation of desire. Thus Sibbes featured God’s winsome love more than his power: the Spirit accomplishes both conversion and sanctification by a single means: through the revelation of God’s attractiveness by an immediate, personal disclosure. This unmediated initiative was seen to be the means by which God draws a response of heartfelt devotion from the elect.”[3]

Notice the relational nature of the salvific event, the Holy Spirit comes to the heart of the “elect” and showers the heart of the sinner with the beautiful person of Jesus Christ. It is as the heart of the sinner is enflamed a love by the work of the Holy Spirit that the sinner responds back in love–given the overwhelming attractiveness of the sweet Savior. Another thing of note, is that the primary instrument used for disclosing sweet Jesus to the heart of the sinner is through the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, notice the centrality that heart, motive, and desire play in the thought of Sibbes’ as articulated by Frost. This to me is very important, because it takes seriously what God takes seriously, and alone searches, the hearts and motives of men (see Jer. 17:9 and many other passages). This is God’s concern, the motives, and desires of men and women; this is contrary to the system that emphasized external moralistic duties as the basis of determining one’s election (which by the way had horrific ramifications for Christian ethics as well)– Calvinism. Sibbes’ approach, and his affective anthropology, i.e. the defining feature of man (i.e. where values and motives take shape), was directly contrary to the Calvinist anthropology that saw the intellect and will as the defining features of man, and actually saw the “affections” as that which was the weakest part of man. In Calvinist thought it is within the will via interaction with the intellect that becomes enlivened by a “created quality” or Grace. It is through this created quality of Grace that man is able to cooperate with God and thus keep the duty driven moralistic standards consequently proving one’s election and salvation (like Humphrey Mills lived under).

Conversely, Sibbes saw grace as a relational characteristic of God imbued upon the heart of man. It is through this transformative intervention that man’s heart is changed (II Cor 3), and drawn to God. Note Frost’s description here, as he contrasts the Calvinist understanding of grace and the historic Free-Grace (Affective Theology) understanding of grace (as articulated by Sibbes):

In this framework some additional theological assumptions were revised. For instance, Sibbes understood grace to be God’s love offered immediately (rather than mediately) by the Spirit to the elect. By identifying grace primarily as a relational characteristic of God—the expression of his goodness—instead of a created quality or an empowerment of the will, Sibbes insisted that God transforms human desires by the Spirit’s immediate love and communion. Faith, for Sibbes, was not a human act-of-the-will but a response to God’s divine wooing. God’s laws, Sibbes argued, must be ’sweetened by the gospel’ and offered within a framework of ‘free grace.’ He also held a moderately developed form of affective anthropology (which is as further explained by Frost: Augustine’s affective position emerged in the Pelagian debate. Augustine held sin to be concupiscence of the heart—an enslavement to a love of self rather than God. In Augustine’s anthropology the heart is held to generate values; the mind uses the heart’s values to consider its options and to offer its best judgments; the will uses those judgments to engage in action. . . .”)[4]

This represents the touchstone, and most basic understanding of historic Free-Grace theology, or Affective Theology. Some highlights to take away: Affective Theology (AT) believes man heart is in total bondage to self-love; AT believes that man cannot cooperate whatsoever with God in salvation; AT believes that until the heart is transformed by God’s love through the Holy Spirit’s enflaming work, man will never find rest or salvation; AT believes contra historic Calvinist teaching that the emphasis of salvation is relationally based given the identification of God’s gift of grace with the work and person of the Holy Spirit; AT believes, given the relational basis, is not obsessed with proving one’s election since works are not the foundational component of AT’s framework of salvation.

I’ll leave it here for now, there is much more to be said about this perspective . . . especially about the framework that served as the touchstone for Affective Theology. That touchstone is found in Ephesians 5, and the Pauline marriage discussion. The marital framework provided in this beautiful epistle is picked up by AT and pressed into as the picture, but more than a picture (actually an ontological reality), of what union, and thus communion with Christ, is all about. I.e. this is contrary to the covenental framework provided by Calvinism, and the “contractual” implications provided by such a system (e.g. you keep your end of the contract, and God will keep His). The marital framework, rooted in the New Covenant, is no longer obsessed with personal performance–but instead is overwhelmed with the beauty of her bride-groom [Jesus]–marriage presupposes relationship, i.e. nothing to prove, just something to grow in–ultimately finding consummation in glorification and celebrated at the marriage supper feast of the Lamb.


[1] Ron Frost, The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, Frost is quoting from: John Rogers, Ohel or Bethshemesh, A Tabernacle for the Sun (London, n.p., 1653).

[2] Frost, The Devoted Life, quoting from: William Erbery, The Testimony of William Erbery (London: n.p. 1658).

[3] Frost, The Devoted Life, 82.

[4]Frost, The Devoted Life, 82.



The “Marriage Framework” versus the “Legal Framework” of Salvation in Post-Reformation Reformed Theology

This is a very old post that I am sure none of you have read. It was written in a time before I became “The Evangelical Calvinist,” and represents the influence I had on me coming out of seminary back in 2003. I still hold to this distinction, and believe it can be synthesized well with what we are doing with evangelical Calvinism. The period the theology in this post is resourced from is the Post-Reformation Reformed orthodox period. I am almost positive that most Reformed folks of today are unaware of the distinctions discussed in this post, and much of that lack of exposure has to do with the way the scholarship has run in Reformed theology. 

Is there a proper framework for salvation, or is it “just” salvation?

Federal Calvinism believes the answer to this question is an “affirmative!” They believe[d] that God (the divine *Law-giver*) provided framework to salvation through a bilateral contract, viz.
that God initiated a “Covenant” with man (“Covenant of Works”), and now man (if He is “elect”) must keep his end of the *deal* by “obeying” the “Law” (e.g. Mosaic) through a “Spirit-enablement” marriagereformedprovided by the incidental obedience of Christ (you know quid pro quo). If “elect man” keeps his end of the deal (and he will, since he’s elect — so goes the “story” [“Covenant of Grace”]), then based on the conditions originally set out by the “Law-giver,” he will (according to the divine “pact”) reap the “rewards” of said obedience consummating in “eternal felicity.” This is a “rough” overview of the “legal” (juridical) framing of salvation [in fact much of this is still in force, at a very popular level, through the preaching and teaching of folks like R. Scott Clark and the White Horse Inn]. So this is scenario, and framework #1.

There is another group though. This other group “grew up” concurrent with the group above (the Federal Calvinist), and they had a different answer — albeit an affirmative to my original question. Instead of saying “Your honor” (as the Federalist), they say “My lover,” let me explain. This group, lets call them the Marital Mystics, believed that the best framework for salvation is not primarily “legal,” but “marital.” They believed that the Apostle Paul’s framework, in Ephesians 5:18ff, of Marriage; was much more than a metaphor, but that this language spoke to a “real union” (an ontological reality) between Christ and His bride — so human marriage is only a “prefigurement” of the real thing between Christ and His Church. Instead of a “potential union,” as implied by the “legal guys” (i.e. if we meet our end of the deal [viz. obedience to the Law, good works], then God will ratify the deal and bring us into eventual union at the eschaton), the *Marital Mystics* believed that we have been sought after by the “lover of our souls;” and once He catches us, we are overcome with His winsome beauty and love (we become smitten with “love at first sight”). At this instance, we reciprocate His love for us (cf. Rom. 5:5) and respond with an “I do!” It is this framework that shapes our relationship to Jesus Christ (Song of Songs is a favorite book of the Bible for this group, and lets not forget the “bridal” language of John in Revelation, and other smadderings throughout the OT [Hos., etc.]), and it is this kind of relationship that crowds out the “responsibility” (cooperative) duty driven construction provided by the “Legal guys.” The “Marital guys” see a freedom for reciprocating love, a unilateral movement initiated by the bridegroom for His bride; which eventuates in whispers of sweet nothings towards the bridegroom, from His bride — there is not a sense of responsibility and duty shaping this relationship, but a continual and deepening love for the bride as He woos her with His beauty and charm. There is no fear of “not living up to the “Judge’s” expectations, in this arrangement, but a disposition of hopeful anticipation; as the bridegroom takes His bride into His Father’s house, and “covers” her with His “robes of righteousness” through penetrating and “mystical union” (unio mystica) [but real union] with Him. The focus in this arrangement is on Him — the Bridegroom — and His love and righteousness given as a “dowery” to His Bride, through the communion (communio) of the Spirit. And this is framework #2 (notice the trinitarian involvement in this model, this is meaningful vs. the “legal approach”).

I was first introduced to “framework #2” by my prof in seminary, Ron Frost. He did his PhD dissertation on a Puritan named Richard Sibbes, and Sibbes was a proponent of framework #2 (and so was John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Bernard of Clairvaux, amongst others); and his opining (Sibbes’) on this subject was intentionally contrairian to the “Legal guy’s” (typified by William Perkins, amongst others) approach — and rightly so. Here is how Frost summarizes Sibbes’ framing:

. . . It seems likely, then, that Sibbes’ doctrine of mystical marriage based on a Bernardian reading of the Song of Songs drew him away from the cooperative theology of his Perkinsonian training, back to a unilateral view of the covenant. He came to hold that the affections are crucial in the function of mystical marriage, and that mystical marriage is the ground of saving union. In his emphasis he was well aligned with the view of the early reformers who held that the marriage of Christ and the church represents a primary foundation for the theology of real union. [Ronald N. Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology” [Unpublished PhD Dissertation, King’s College University of London, 1996, 121.]

You may ask why is this important? And you may ask for a variety of reasons. I would just say, because understanding how we relate to Christ has everything to do with everything! If our conception is formed by the “legal accounting” then we are stressed with an relationship that comes off rather cold and calculated . . . not to mention an arrangement that causes us to be consumed with ourselves and our performance (“man-centered” — anthropocentric) — and approaching life in Christ this way could have dastardly consequences on our daily walk and spirituality (could lead to: angst, fear, depression, dark nights and seasons of the soul, anger, frustration, fatalism, hopelessness, etc., etc.). But beyond the “consequences,” scripture is replete with passages and concepts that present the “Marital Framework” as the most adequate framing, providing the greatest explanatory power for understanding a biblical approach to thinking about “salvation.” I’m an advocate for #2, how about you?

P. S. There are other implications (having to do with: salvation from the “inside-out” vs. “outside-in,” “assurance” [becomes an non-issue], sanctification, ethics, etc.), but we will have to wait and flesh those out later . . . or if you want in the comment meta on this post.

Proof of Life: My Good Works; Really?!

If I hear, one more time, that ‘my good works’ are proof and evidence of my salvation, I think I might loose it! When someone asserts that (as a Protestant) that my good works–even though still tainted–are evidence and proof that I am one of the elect or “saved,” I always wonder what in the heck! they are asserting; other than platitudes that are just that. This is common refrain from our Puritan bogus past of experimental predestinarianism, practical syllogisms, etc.; but how in fact this can actually be the case, either theologically, or even exegetically is incredible to me. I am not ranting from, necessarily, an exegetical vantage point at the moment (but theological? Yes!); I am ranting from the crass reality of lived life–the observable kind! If good works are the standard and proof of Christianity, proof of life, my good works and your good works; then I would say we are all damned, serious! If this proof of life, of election, by good works, just has to do with motive, then we are damned (we don’t have good motives apart from Christ’s from whence we participate). If this proof of life, of election, by good works is manifested concretely by good actions that I do, then who is to say that these were not just done out of deontology and duty driven motives (like keeping the law), and not actual Christ centered? And if this mix is so hard to discern, then how in the heck am I supposed to find certitude of my election, of my salvation, by looking at manifest good works in my life; and further, how am I supposed to discern this in your life?!

The above scenario is absolutely bogus! If you have a system of salvation that requires you to look at your good works, first, and then only reflexively at Christ, then you have a bogus system of salvation, and you should repent of it and repudiate it. You should quit telling people that this is what the Bible teaches, because it surely does not! The Bible teaches what our hermeneutic says it does, what our prior theological commitments dictate it does. I don’t see any way around this. I am irked as I write this, because I have grown very weary of this irresponsible non-sense being foisted on the body of Christ at large. If you are telling people that they need to demonstrate their salvation by their good works, you are preaching a false gospel, that in my strong opinion is anathema!

Does this mean that I am accepting, then, an anti-nomian gospel? No, it means that I am affirming a Christ-concentrated conception of the gospel. See my last post. Are good works part of being a Christian? Yes! But that is just it, they are part of being a Christ[ian], part[icipation] in Christ’s sufficient/efficacious good works for us. His good works have demonstrated that He is the only One who is truly good, God. Good works bear witness (Mt 5) to His life, to His full and complete “saved” life and vicarious humanity. Does this objectify salvation? Absolutely! Good works are witness bearers to the only one who is truly good, and truly saved; Jesus Christ.

Rant, over. I feel a little better now. Proceed with the rest of your day now.

John Calvin, John Cotton on Assurance

*Repost on John Calvin number three.

English Puritanism was a “divided house”, there were those who followed William Perkins, and those who followed Richard Sibbes and John Cotton. The issue of division was oriented primarily around the concept of “assurance” of salvation. Sibbes and Cotton held that this issue was resolved with an “assurance of faith” (or simply knowledge of God and the objective criteria of God’s Word—illuminated in the heart of the believer); versus Perkins (and camp) who believed that sanctification and the practical syllogism, or external works, served as the final basis for determining if indeed a person was elect or not. John Cotton believed that John Calvin was in the former camp, and that “good works” or the “practical syllogism” were not the basis for determining one’s election, note:

And seeing we all profess . . . to hold forth protestant doctrine, let us hold it forth in the language of Calvin and others [of] our best protestants, who speak of purity of life and growth in grace and all the works of sanctification as the effects and consequents of our assurance of faith . . . . And therefore if we will speak as protestants, we must not speak of good works as cause or ways of our first assurance. . . . [Y]et indeed you carry it otherwise. . . . Which, seeing it disallowed by the chief protestant writers, if you contrary to them do hold it forth for protestant doctrine, that we may gather our first assurance of justification from our sanctification, it is not the change of words that will change that matter. (Ron Frost, unpublished PhD Dissertation, Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology, King’s College, University of London 1996, 13, quoting Hall, Antinomian, 133-34, quoting John Cotton’s, Rejoinder)

Here Cotton is responding to the charge that he is an antinomian.

What I want to highlight is that historically “Calvinism” has more nuance to it than popularly understood today. There were “Free Grace Calvinists” (e.g. Richard Sibbes, John Cotton, et al), and there were “Federalist Calvinists” [”Law-Keeping”] (e.g. William Perkins, William Aames, et al). I appreciate the former, and believe with both Cotton and Calvin, that assurance of salvation is solely and objectively based upon the witness of GOD’S WORD, emphasizing God’s faithfulness in salvation, rather than my own. Like Cotton, I see justification as distinct, yet inseparably related to sanctification, and consequently hold that sanctification does not serve as the BASIS for anyone’s assurance of salvation . . . but that sanctification, in scripture, is the instrumental means through which the light of Christ is brought to bear on exposing the darkness of this world system. The consequence of sanctification, primarily, is to cause unbelieving man to see the Christian’s good works and glorify and praise God.


Responding To Tim Challies § 1: Assurance Of Salvation

Tim Challies, theo-blogger par excellence, has just recently posted a couple posts on the issue of assurance of salvation. I wish I could quote both posts in full here, but that wouldn’t work out so well; so instead click here first, and then here second to read both posts in full. I am sorry to say that I am seriously disappointed (understatement) to have read what I read over at Tim’s on this all important issue; especially since Challies has a massive following. While I am not going to quote Tim in full, I will quote a few snippets from him; ones that should give you an idea about what Tim thinks, and how he approaches this all important (pastoral) issue. Here is what Challies thinks about the possibility that folks could have what the Puritans called temporary faith—Tim did not use this language, but that is what he is describing and believes is a real possibility; he says:

It is possible and even normal for the non-Christian to experience a false assurance of salvation.

A foreshadowing of one of the most terrifying scenes the world will ever experience unfolds in Matthew 7, in a section often titled “I Never Knew You.” “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” When the final judgment comes, there will be many who will be shocked to learn that they are not true believers. They will go to the grave confident that they are saved, but come to the judgment and find that they are to be cast out of Jesus’ presence. This ought to be sobering for all who consider themselves Christians. No wonder that Paul sought confidence in his salvation, declaring in 2 Timothy 1:12 “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

[I]t is a sad but undeniable fact that many people who think they are Christians are not. At the final judgment many will approach Jesus convinced that they are saved only to be told that Jesus never knew them (and hence that they never knew him). The fact is that many people ultimately depend upon themselves for assurance of their salvation. This applies to believers and unbelievers. A person may be truly saved yet look to himself for assurance of this salvation. This is dangerous ground to tread; when a person experiences a time of doubt his misplaced assurance can drive him to despair. When our assurance rests on something we have done, a promise we have made or a prayer we have prayed, we have placed our assurance on shaky ground.

And then Tim appeals to the writings of Donald Whitney to provide the resolution to the problem that he unwittingly (or wittingly) has provided in the previous quotes. Here are the “Marks” a wounded Christian (or maybe not, according to Challies) should look for and to for comfort through this dark night[s] of the soul:

Marks of Salvation

To begin answering this I will once more turn to Donald Whitney, whose work on this subject has done much to shape my understanding of assurance. I will provide an outline of the marks of salvation that he provides. He begins with a discussion of the inner confirmation from the Spirit, showing that the Holy Spirit ministers to us through the Word of God to open our hearts and minds to the Bible in ways that give us assurance. He then teaches that assurance may be experienced partly through the attitudes and actions the Bible says will accompany salvation. Here are several questions which can guide us as we seek assurance:

Do you share the intimacies of the Christian life with other believers?

Do you have a deep awareness of your sin against the Word and love of God?

Do you live in conscious obedience to the Word of God?

Do you despise the world and its ways?

Do you long for the return of Jesus Christ and to be made like Him?

Do you habitually do what is right more and sin less?

Do you love Christians sacrificially and want to be with them?

Do you discern the presence of the Holy Spirit within you?

Do you enjoy listening to the doctrines of the apostles taught today?

Do you believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ?

These biblical principals, taken as a whole, can do much to assure the believer that God is working in his life, or to show the unbeliever that he needs to be made right with God.

Since this is already lengthy in and of itself; I am just going to post this as is, and then follow up with another post. I will sketch, somewhat, the Puritan soteriology that Tim’s approach mimics; and then suggest a way around this problem, theologically and scripturally. I will say here though, that Tim, unfortunately is barking up the wrong tree with this kind of approach to this issue. I am persuaded that the way this issue of “assurance” is usually framed (pace Challies) is through an anthropology and theology that is fundamentally flawed; thus leading to symptomatic and even psychological problems as evinced by the tradition that Challies finds himself situated in.

How might you respond to this? I will provide my response via my next post. So don’t expect me to give anything away in the comments. But I will be happy to hear your thoughts prior to me giving my own (maybe your thoughts here will shape my response).

Why I Still Reject the Flower

I was just thinking, it’s not like me to not post on why I reject TULIP theology; and yet, I haven’t really posted any kind of provocative post in that vein for quite awhile — it’s like I’m almost going soft or something 😉 .

Let me just re-affirm for those of you whom may be starting to think that Bobby is in fact going soft on popular TULIP soteriology; I AM NOT! I still think the TULIP presents serious and terrible consequences for anyone who internalizes it, and understands its theological implications. One of my primary pastoral concerns about the TULIP, is that it fosters an introspective navel-gazing spirituality (historically known as experimental predestinarianism). This is the practice wherein a totally depraved, unconditionally  elected person seeks to verify that he/she has actually been limitedly atoned for, and thus a recipient of irressitable grace by discerning through their good works that they indeed are a persevering saint. If they reach a certain threshold, and sense that indeed they have met their perceived good works quota; then they can finally rest assured that they are of those who have truly believed, and have the assurance that they didn’t just receive a temporary faith, but a real and saving faith (practical syllogism). This is one of the main reasons, pastorally, that I believe that TULIP Calvinism is a blight on Christian theology. I know too many thinking, introspective Christians — who aren’t cock-sure types about their election — who have suffered psychological woes over the problem that this TULIP (and the Arminian FACTS) system has created. In fact, the fact that folks were having these psychological woes over this issue, because of the classical theistic paradigm, made me pause for a long time and take a good look at the heritage that this TULIP theology has handed to us. The reality is clear, there are pastoral problems, because there are dogmatic problems. TULIP theology suffers from a radically wrong doctrine of God, and since all subsequent theology flows from a respective doctrine of God; TULIP soteriology and thus spirituality is also heteropraxic. This is why I still reject the Flower. What about you, do you still like the smell of the tulip?

Here’s how a Purtian layman named Humphrey Mills felt once he found release from the TULIP theology taught to him by TULIP theologian par exellence, William Perkins (he found this release through the teaching of the Puritan, Richard Sibbes who taught a non-TULIP soteriology known as “Free Grace” or “Affective Theology”):

I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing: looking for Heaven that way. And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above the ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies. But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint . . . Doctor Sibbs, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had muchof God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world . . . My heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward. (Ron Frost. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics,” Frost is quoting from: John Rogers, Ohel or Bethshemesh, A Tabernacle for the Sun (London, n.p., 1653)

Caveat: To be very clear, I’m not attacking good Calvinist or Arminian people; I know there are sincere Christ loving people who are genuinely committed to TULIP Calvinism. In fact, my motivation and passion for this, is because I love these people, and I want to jolt them out of the slumberous spirituality that TULIP Calvinism leads someone into. Obviously, I’m very convinced that there is something really wrong with TULIP Calvinism; I think it fails on exegetical grounds as well as dogmatic/theological grounds, and thus impinges on people’s daily walks with Jesus Christ! TULIP Calvinism is much too popular in America for my liking, its over-communicated and under-communicated — just the fact that it’s communicated at all is a problem. My hope with posts like this, as snarky and punky as it is; is intended to provoke and pick a fight with anyone who endorses TULIP Calvinism. I want to fight over your doctrine of God and your subsequent view of salvation; I think it’s wacky, and (seriously) has real life consequences for folks that are not good (yet, it’s not the “consequences of belief” that shape my beef with TULIP Calvinism, it is TULIP Calvinism itself that is problematic). One more point: I am obviously not a pluralist or normative relativist (which qualifies my type of “Evangelicalism” 😉 ); I actually believe that there is a more right view and a more wrong view, guess which side of those that I think I am on 😉 ? I’m convinced of something, are you . . . ? [yet, I don’t also think I have it all figured out either]

A Key Shaper of Modern Classical Calvinism, William Perkins

**The following quote is a little lengthy, not too bad, but if you want to skip to the bottom, to my “List of Assertions,” and closing paragraph you might just want to interact at that level (the quote substantiates or at least provides fodder for my assertions). Some might find this beyond where you’re at in your understanding (i.e. might be a little “heady”); if so, you can always ask for clarification. I plan on writing some more posts on “defining” Evangelical Calvinism soon (this piece actually helps provide an example of what it’s not ;-). Also the tone here is a little polemical**

William Perkins (1558-1602), a Cambridge theologian, and English clergyman can be considered to be one of the founders of what today is known as Calvinism. When people say they are ‘Reformed’ (esp. in America), this is one of your forbears who you are beholden to for the theological categories you think through — to one degree of intensity or another. If you, more popularly, follow the teachings of John Piper, Michael Horton, Carl Trueman, and even John MacArthur, amongst others; then you follow in the trajectory that William Perkins set so long ago.

William Perkins followed the scholastic tradition (conceptually); that is to say, he adopted the Aristotelian framework assimilated by Thomas Aquinas to explain and articulate who God is (ontologically), and thus what salvation entails as corollary. Part of adopting this framework, for Perkins, means that he must cast God in terms of immutability (there have been reifications of this term to fit a more trinitarian understanding — I say this just so that some of you know that I am aware of this); God cannot have any kind of contingency or composition, here is how Perkins says it: “God’s immutability of nature is that by which he is void of all composition, division, and change” [Perkins, Golden Chaine, 1. 11, first cited by: Ron Frost, “Sibbes’ Theology of Grace UnPublished PhD Dissertation,” 61]. This has a drastic impact upon how God’s life is understood, and emphasied to be, viz. as singular (simplicity); furthermore it implies that the Johannine notion of “God is love” to be a figment of God’s disclosure in time, but not a reality of who God is in eternity (since love would imply ‘composition’, ‘division’, and ‘change’). The following is a quote (from Ron Frost’s dissertation) that further elucidates and substantiates my claims thus far:

2. Love and the will. In speaking of God, apart from any one of the triad of persons, Perkins identified a primary essence which is “void and free from all passion” [Perkins, “Golden Chaine,” 1. 25]. Love, if seen as essentially affective, would include an element of contingency, namely, God’s desire that his creation respond to his love as the complement to his own love. If, however, love is a component of the will, God merely requires such a response . In the Golden Chaine, then, love is striking in its absence as a motivation in God; this despite the primacy of love in biblical descriptions of God. As illustrated in the chart of the Chaine [which Frost provides on the previous page], love appears only after the mediatorial work of Christ.

Perkins also believed that if God’s love is perceived as an inherent motivation (that is, as an affection), it would imply the prospect of universal salvation. He raised an “objection” in the Golden Chaine to make the point, a point which illustrates Perkins’ position that love is defined by God’s arbitrary determinations:

Object. Election is nothing else but dilection or love; but this we know, that God loves all his creatures. Therefore he elects all his creatures.Answer. I. I deny that to elect is to love, but to ordain and appoint to love.II. God does love all his creatures, yet not all equally, but every one in their place [Perkins, “Golden Chaine,” 1. 109, Cited by Frost, 62].

This reflected Perkins’ synthetic definition of God’s love. In his Treatise of God’s Free Grace and Man’s Free Will, Perkins posed the question “whether there be such an affection of love in God, as is in man and beast.”

I answer that affections of the creature are not properly incident unto God, because they make many changes, and God is without change. And therefore all affections, and the love that is in man and beast is ascribed to God by figure [Perkins, “God’s Free Grace, 1.723, cited by Frost].

Thus, God must be understood to express his immutable will in a manner that accomplishes “the same things that love makes the creature do”. God, then, lacks any inherent affections but he still chooses to do the actions of love or hatred, and uses anthropomorphic language, while working out his eternal purposes: “Because his will is his essence or Godhead indeed.” [Perkins, “God’s Free Grace,” 1.703, cited by Frost] [brackets all mine] (Ron Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology [Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of London, King’s College, 1996],” 61-2).

List of Assertions

  • This is the origin and framing of contemporary thinking about “double-predestination” (supralapsarianism) and the import of God’s decrees.
  • According to Perkins, to sustain the above framing, and as a result of using Aristotle’s “immutability,” God cannot love within Himself — within His own life freely. Thus God is different in eternity (ad intra) than He is in time as the “mediator” (ad extra).
  • In other words, the decrees of God (absolutum decretum) create space for God, “to love,” without impinging upon His real life, which according to Perkins, cannot love (or there would be change).
  • Furthermore, Perkins’ view implies that there is another God behind the back of Jesus.
  • At bottom, Perkins’ God cannot love, He cannot (in His real life in eternity) have compassion, or greive; He is only able to do this in time because His decrees allow Him to do so (in other words, God becomes subserviant to His decrees — so in the end He really is contingent on Human history, He is determined by His decrees — He is thus, not truly free!).

I wonder if any of this causes any contemporary Calvinists of today any kind of pause. If your view of double-predestination is framed by Perkins’ view (which it is, if you follow Westminster Calvinism), then I wonder what that further says about your view of God. Are you willing to take on the same assumptions on God’s immutability that Perkins does? Or, because you know scripture won’t let you, are you going to say: “I don’t believe that nonsense,” and move on, assuming that what Perkins and Westminster articulated has no bearing on your own “biblical viewpoint?” Enquiring minds want to know!

John Piper's salvation, in mid-air

A really good brother known as, TCR, has given me my own post (A Portrait of John Piper’s God) on John Piper. TCR thinks Piper’s theology is wonderful, and in a previous post (to the one that he dedicates to me) he was extolling some things about Piper. Don’t get me wrong, I know that Piper loves Jesus with all of his heart; but that’s not the issue, his theology and then the spirituality that that promotes is. Here is a re-post on Piper that I did quite awhile ago, at another blog of mine. It highlights, at a pastoral level more than anything, why I find Piper’s soteriology highly problematic. Enjoy 🙂 :

How do you know if you’re a ‘heaven-bound’ Christian? I am intrigued by John Piper’s recent statement in a sermon he gave:

I am more concerned about nominal hell-bound Christians who feel loved by God, than I am about genuine heaven-bound Christians who don’t feel loved by God.

H/T: Glen Scrivener

Now I haven’t listened to the sermon from whence this quote is taken, but I have listened to plenty of other sermons from Piper to understand the context of his theology; and thus what serves as the informing impetus for his concern here.

There is a problem here. Do you notice what serves as the crux of Piper’s concern, “FEELING.” For the nominal Christian he is concerned that they “feel” loved by God, but really aren’t — according to Piper — at least in a saving way. And then the second group is Christians who don’t “feel” loved by God, but are — according to Piper — in a saving way.

My concern is for the thinking person (maybe a bit introverted and OCD), the person who might hang on what Piper is saying as their pastor. Piper’s statement is severely grounded in “feeling,” or in “subjectivity.” So my question is, is there something more than feeling — whether referring to justification (Piper’s nominal group) or sanctification (Piper’s second group)? If I was sitting “under” Piper, and didn’t have recourse to other sources of soteriology; I would be in a quandry (like many Puritan laity were back in the day). How does one know if they are in the first group or the second group; by “my feeling?” Yet this is what much of Puritan soteriology offered, and insofar as Piper mimicks this, what he offers his parishoners. Certainly there is more than feeling.

The answer, of course, to Piper’s dilemma, is that salvation is grounded objectively in Jesus Christ. That’s why John, the disciple who Jesus loved, can say:

“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. ~I John 5:11-13 (NASBU)

If you look to Christ when you think of salvation, then you have a healthy view; if you look to yourself, before you look to Christ, then you have an unhealthy view. Piper, in my view, offers the latter kind — how can he not, he bases much of soteriology within a subjectively oriented view which leaves people hanging in mid-air.

Reformed Multi-doxy, Calling ALL Calvinists

Here is a video I did, when I still had hair 😉 , on the history of Calvinism (the weird thing is that I actually had cancer in this video, but wouldn’t find out for another few months); I am reading what I have transcribed below the video here, so if you just want to read it and not listen to it (or you can do both), then you can.

If you are one of those who is interested in the history of ideas, Puritanism, Calvinism, and such things; then the following may be of some interest to you. It might be longer than you like, the following that is, but I’m sorry; I just don’t know how else to try and condense this stuff.

I have often (on one or all of my other now defunct blogs) spoken of ‘another Calvinism’ that competed with the version of Calvinism that we know of today (i.e. Federal or Five-point). When I mention this most ‘Calvinists’ (of today) either think that I am talking crazy, or that what I am getting at is so idiosyncratic it is of no lasting value; and thus is not worth taking serious, one way or the other. Well I am going to continue to beat that drum, and hope that I will come across Calvinists who will take the time to listen; to consider that maybe ‘their’ orthodoxy, historically speaking, wasn’t the only Calvinist orthodoxy that was alive and well for so long in Old England Puritanism. My primary source, at the moment, for demonstrating such things is: Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism by Janice Knight. I am actually going to break this up into a series of posts (we’ll see how that goes per time constraints), this first one is primarily going to be a long quote (made up of several paragraphs) by Knight; wherein she describes her working thesis, which she proceeds to develop through the rest of the book. I will end this post with a few closing reflections, and questions prompted by Knight’s stated trajectory; here goes:

This book attempts to recover varieties of religious experience within Puritanism, then, by giving voice to an alternative community within what is usually read as the univocal orthodoxy of New England. My purpose is to retrace the social, intellectual, theological, and aesthetic signatures distinguishing two communities within the larger Puritan household—-groups I identify as the “Intellectual Fathers” and the “Spiritual Brethren.”

The first group, familiar to readers of The New England Mind, is composed of Perry Miller’s “orthodoxy” : Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, Peter Bulkeley, John Winthrop, and most of the ministers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; in England, William Perkins and William Ames were their authorities. These preachers identified power as God’s essential attribute and described his covenant with human beings as a conditional promise. They preached the necessity of human cooperation in preparing the heart for that promised redemption, and they insisted on the usefulness of Christian works as evidence of salvation. They were less interested in the international church than in their local congregation and their tribal faith. In general, they were pre- or a-millennial, in that they had little sense of participating in a prophetic errand into the wilderness and had no particular commitment to advancing the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Miller, among others, has lamented that these religionists developed structures of preparationism and an interlocking system of contractual covenants that diminished the mystical strain of piety he associated with Augustinianism.

The second body closely embodies that Augustinian strain. Originally centered at the Cambridge colleges and wielding great power in the Caroline court, this group was led by Richard Sibbes and John Preston in England; in America by John Cotton, John Davenport, and Henry Vane. Neither a sectarian variation of what we now call “orthodoxy” in New England nor a residual mode of an older piety, this party presented a vibrant alternative within the mainstream of Puritan religious culture. In a series of contests over political and social dominance in the first American decades, this group lost their claim to status as an “official” or “orthodox” religion in New England. Thereafter, whiggish histories (including Cotton Mather’s own) tell the winner’s version, demoting central figures of this group to the cultural sidelines by portraying their religious ideology as idiosyncratic and their marginalization as inevitable.

As this book will show, these preachers differed from their so-called orthodox counterparts in significant ways. More emotional and even mystical, their theology stressed divine benevolence over power. Emphasizing the love of God, they converted biblical metaphors of kingship into ones of kinship. They substituted a free testament or voluntary bequeathing of grace for the conditional covenant described by the other orthodoxy. Richard Sibbes speaks of this testament in affective terms as God’s legacy given “merely of love.”

Such a view argues against a doctrine of preparation by refusing human performance as a sign of salvation and pastoral discipline as a mode of social order. Recalling Augustine and anticipating Jonathan Edwards, these preachers construed sin not as a palpable evil but as an absence of good. They preached that grace was a new taste for divine things, that it “altereth the rellish” and is immediately infused into the passive saint by God alone. For the Spiritual Bretheren the transformation of the soul was neither incremental nor dependent on exercises of spiritual discipline. In this piety, there are no steps to the altar. Labor is the joyful return for grace already received. Love, not anxiety, is the hallmark of this piety . . . .(Janice Knight,”Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism,” 2-4)

You might wonder why any of this is even pertinent; good, let me give you some reasons:

1. Because Christians are people of the truth.

2. If we think of something one way, and it is another, then we are setting ourselves up to make judgements that are’nt truthful; and thus we fail to be people of the truth.

3. If we follow Perry Miller’s thesis [the one alluded to in the quote above] that Calvinist Puritanism was an univocal or monolithic or singular voice or reality (i.e. represented by the so called “Intellectual Fathers” or Federal Calvinists [what we know as Calvinism today]) then we will fail to recognize the fact that this is simply not true. We will lump all Puritan’s together, per Miller’s thesis, which many theologians and histiorographers have done (the one I think of is Mark Dever’s PhD on Richard Sibbes, he fails to identify the distinction that Knight substantiates — that there was another ‘orthodox’ party of Calvinists, the so called ‘Spiritual Brethren’ — and thus his whole dissertation broad-strokes Sibbes into the “Intellectual Fathers” camp (because according to Perry Miller’s thesis there was really only this one ‘camp’). The contemporary fall-out of this, is that Calvinists today think, wrongly, that they are the only true representatives of the Calvinist and ‘Reformed’ tradition; and thus if a person does not affirm their confessions, catechisms, and creeds then those folks are not truly ‘Calvinist’ nor ‘Reformed’ . . . this is just not truthful.

4. Maybe Calvinist orthodoxy, today, would take on a new light if it was able to distinguish between ‘their orthodoxy’ and the more prevelant orthodoxy that once was in Old England — represented by folks like Richard Sibbes [the ‘Father’], John Preston, John Cotton, et al.

5. The interesting thing is that the Calvinism that ‘became’ prominent in ‘New-England’ was not the prominent one in ‘Old-England’; the ‘Spiritual Brethren’ [noted above] version was . . . now this neither speaks to the truthfulness or the falsity, per se, of either ‘orthodoxy’. Interestingly, the Calvinism, that we know today [Federal or Five-Point] became prominent, in part, in America, for sociological reasons; more than for ‘theological’ reasons.

6. If a person is under the assumption that the only ‘doctrines of Grace’ that are available are strictly captured by the “Intellectual Fathers” version of Calvinism they are mistaken [historically].

7. Calvinist ‘orthodoxy’ is multilayered, and the thesis presented above by Knight proves this to be the case (well she proves this throughout the rest of her book).

8. The primary source for determining which version, if any, of Calvinism is true (let’s not forget about the Scottish strain as well ;-), of course is the scriptures. But unless one becomes aware of their own informing assumptions, the scriptures will not have a fair chance to re-shape said assumptions; since for this person their assumptions are self-same with scripture. Hopefully this exposure, provided by Knight and these posts, will provide the possibility for some Calvinists to obtain some ‘critical’ distance through which they might be able to approach the scriptures ‘afresh’.

9. Finally, and ultimately, ‘labels’ are not the banners we are fighting for; Christian truth is, and it is folks who realize that, for whom I write these posts!

There are more posts on this to come, maybe not in succession to this post (i.e. I might throw some other posts out there before I return to this series); but they are coming, rest assured.

John MacArthur and the English Puritans, Similarities

Below I am going to provide two quotes, the first will be from Theodore Dwight Bozeman discussing the emergence and factors that shaped the thinking of the yet to come English Puritans; and the second will be from John MacArthur, and his discussion on the role that changed behavior and moral values have in a genuinely “saved life.” What I am highlighting, and want you all to see, is the striking correlation of thought and practice that both camps share, relative to emphasizing the importance of outward moral behavior in the “elects” life. Here is Theodore Bozeman discussing the early factors that led to English Puritanism:

“English penitential teaching expressly echoed and bolstered moral priorities. In contrast, again, to Luther, whose penitential teaching stressed the rueful sinner’s attainment of peace through acknowledgment of fault and trust in unconditional pardon, several of the English included a moment of moral renewal. In harmony with Reformed tendencies on the Continent and in unmistakable continuity with historic Catholic doctrine that tied “contrition, by definition, to the intention to amend,” they required an actual change in penitent. For them, a renewal of moral resolve was integral to the penitential experience, and a few included the manifest alteration of behavior. They agreed that moral will or effort cannot merit forgiveness, yet rang variations on the theme that repentance is “an inward . . . sorrow . . . whereunto is also added a . . . desire . . . to frame our life in all points according to the holy will of God expressed in the divine scriptures.” However qualified by reference to the divine initiative and by denial of efficacy to human works, such teaching underscored moral responsibility; it also adumbrated Puritan penitential and preparationist teaching of later decades.” [italics mine] (Theodore Dwight Bozeman, “The Precisianist Strain . . . ,” 20-21)

It is important to keep in mind that Bozeman is not even discussing actual English Puritanism yet, rather he is highlighting the streams and emphases, present within England just prior to the full-fledged emergence of Puritanism, that actually brought shape and form to the disciplinary “religion” known as Puritanism. Notice the correlation he makes between this kind of Protestantism with Roman Catholic spirituality. . . .

Conversely, John MacArthur sounds very much like this incipient Puritanism described above by Bozeman. You will notice this similarity as MacArthur, like these early penitentialists, emphasizes the function and necessity of moral reformation in the life of the “truly saved” individual; notice:

. . . They’ve been told [Christians in the typical evangelical church in the West] that the only criterion for salvation is knowing and believing some basic facts about Christ. They hear from the beginning that obedience is optional. It follows logically, then, that a person’s one-time profession of faith is more valid than the ongoing testimony of his life-style in determining whether to embrace him as a true-believer. The character of the visible church reveals the detestable consequence of this theology. As a pastor I have rebaptized countless people who once “made a decision,” were baptized, yet experienced no change. They came later to true conversion and sought baptism again as an expression of genuine salvation. [brackets mine] (John MacArthur, “The Gospel According to Jesus,” 17)

Striking is it not? Both English Penitentialism (early and full blossomed English Puritanism), and MacArthur’s approach are intended to curb moral laxity, by emphasizing the moral conduct and “performance” of the truly “saved.” As MacArthur underscores, as a good follower of the “English Puritan” (and for that matter Roman Catholic) ethic and spirituality, genuine salvation is only noticeable and discernible via an “. . . an ongoing testimony of his life-style.” Bozeman speaking of the moral laxity within England (in the 16th century and onward) notes how this affected the “Reforming spirit” of that locale, he says: “. . . There the Reformation emerged in a period of deeply felt concern about social order. . . . (Bozeman, 13) This motivation similarly, and unabashedly, motivates MacArthur’s emphasis on performance, duty, and obedience, as he states: “. . . Why should we assume that people who live in an unbroken pattern of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, deceit, and every conceivable kind of flagrant excess are truly born again? . . .” (MacArthur, 16-17) In other words, the remedy for both camps (i.e. between the 16th and 17th cent. and 20th and 21st cent.) is to hang people over hell in order to foster an supposed environment of holiness and moral uprightness, this is by way of EMPHASIS. Both of these camps spoke and speak of solifidian (faith alone), but this is not enough, external moral transformation needs to accompany “faith alone,” otherwise there was never any faith to begin with (i.e. later on we will discuss how this thought came to be tied to concepts like “preparationism” and “temporary faith”).

All of this is contrary to Martin Luther’s approach, which is to emphasize the need of a changed heart, and the objective Word of God as the motivation and reason for holiness. Luther did not hang people over hell in order to engender holiness of life, and neither did the later antinomists (i.e. Sibbes, Cotton, et al) who we will discuss later. Did Luther think moral transformation was needed within the church, indeed . . . but we do not hybrid the gospel in order to achieve this end (i.e. MacArthur and the Puritans); rather we emphasize the winsome love of Christ disclosed at the cross, grave, and right hand of the throne of the Father as the motivation for purity and holiness. This was Luther’s, Cotton’s, Sibbe’s, and my aim, I hope it is yours.

I have provided this brief comparison in order to further establish the corollary and continuity between English Puritan salvation themes and motifs, and in this case, John MacArthur’s themes and motifs, relative to articulating the gospel. I am not sure how anyone who has read anything on Puritan spirituality, and its formation, can deny the similarity between that and the outlook that MacArthur (and others like him) is articulating today. At minimum my hope is to expose this, not to smear MacArthur (or others), so that folks who have bought into such teaching can see it for what it is, and realize that this kind of doctrine leads away from an emphasis upon Christ; and focuses upon self (and “my transformed life”). Jesus said it best, “. . . Seek ye first, His kingdom and His righteousness . . . ,” in other words, keep your eyes ON HIM!