Sunday, July 8, 2007

11 Questions for Reformed Theology - A Response

by JM

The Answers in Action site posted 11 questions for those who subscribe to Reformed Theology. Here's the Link.

I put together a response a few years ago. Here are my answers:

1. It is often said by Calvinists that dead men can’t respond. As you say, “you are dead in your trespasses & sins.” Eph 2:1. In Romans 6, it says that “in the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If being dead in sin means one can’t respond to God then does being dead to sin mean that the Christian cannot respond to sin?

Response: Notice how this question fails to distinquish justification from sanctification. Ephesians 2 refers to the point of conversion and justification, while Romans 6 clearly refers to sanctification. In regeneration, were are made alive by the monergistic act of God, whereas in sanctification, Christians cooperate with God in putting to death the deeds of the flesh. We are dealing with two different categories and two different prepositions. Paul does not say that a Christian can’t respond, but rather that he or she should not respond. Christians should considered themselves dead to sin, meaning that they should no more respond to the tempting call of sin than a dead man responds to the call of anyone. In other words, when sin comes snooping around, play dead and don’t respond.

2. Even though God does perfectly know all human thoughts, can man have thoughts that have never been thought before (i.e.ex-nihilo thoughts)? If these thoughts are not free (e.g., they are determined) then has God caused all thoughts, including evil ones, which would make God the author of sin and evil and man not responsible? If , on the other hand, these thoughts are free, then how can God remain sovereign according to the Calvinist definition of sovereignty?

Response: In question two we have a loaded question. First of all, it seems that the question is assuming philosophical determinism, which is quite different from Classic Reformed Thought. Secondly, the question assumes a particular notion of freedom not espoused by the Reformed believer. Thirdly, it assumes that if anything is determined by God’s sovereignty, it is determined effectually by God, which does not represent the Reformed position. So the question is loaded. Just as a note, it appears that the authors of these questions are confusing Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism.

3. The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:4, “God wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” It also states that God wants all men to be saved in 2 Pet 3:9, Matthew 23:37 and Ezekiel 33:11 and 18:30. Obviously not all men are saved. How does Calvinism explain this? Does the God of Calvinism have two wills that are in direct contradiction and hence have a multiple personality disorder?

Response: Bible-believers are compelled by Scriptures to assert that God has “two wills” in some sense. Some have distinguished the two wills as his moral and sovereign will, efficent and permissive will, or secret and revealed will. Scriptures abound with evidence. Note:

Psm 33:11, “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.”

Isa 46:9-10, "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';”

Dan 4:35, "But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What hast Thou done?'”

Job 23:13, “¶ "But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does.”

Ps 115:3 “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
These passages clearly teach that God does everything he desires and pleases. Well, according to 1 Tim 2:4, God desires for all to be saved, therefore either all are saved or we have a genuine contradiction. Some might object that it is impossible for God to violate the “free will” of man, thus God cannot do what he wants to with his creatures. To this I simple refer you back to Dan 4:35, where Nebucadnezzar states (after God sent him to the fields to act like a wild beast, probably against his wishes) that God does His Will among the inhabitants of the earth (men), and no one can thwart his will, including the will of man.”

Here are a plethora of passages that clearly teach that there are two wills of God, his Moral and Sovereign:

Death of Christ: Luke22:22;Acts 2:23&24;4:27&28;Isa 53:4,10.

War against the Lamb: Rev 17:13-17

The Hardening Work of God: Exo 8:1 with Exo 4:21; Duet 2:26-30; Josh 11:19-20; Rom 11:7-9,25-26,31-32; Mark 4:11&12; Pro 21:1 with Gen 20:6; 1 Sam2:22-25; Ezek 18:23,32 with 2 Sam 2:25.

Misc: 1 Kings 12:15; 2 Chron 21:16;25:30; Psm 105:25;2Sam 16:10-12:17:14.
5. Jonah 2:8 says that “those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” If, as Calvinism teaches, God determines before time began who would be reprobates, and therefore does not extend the grace to them by which they could be saved, how logically can we understand this verse’s statement that these reprobates, “forfeited the grace that could be theirs?”

Response: The NASB, as well as other translations state,"Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” In other words, by virtue of regarding idols they have forsaken their faithfulness to the true God.

6. The Bible says in John 6:44, “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” The same word “draw” is used in John 12:32 which says, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto myself.” Matt 23:37 says that men can resist God’s will. How do you answer this problem in Calvinism?

Response: Notice how this question rests upon an misunderstanding of God’s will. This has been answered previously. Also, Jesus makes a clear reference to election in verses 37-40. All of those that are given to Jesus will come to him, and he will raise them up on the last day. This obviously doesn’t refer to every individual. In John 6:44, Jesus makes a connection between those whom he draws, and those whom he will raise. In other words, this text seems to suggest that everyone that Jesus draws, he will also raise gloriously. If this a correct connection, and the Arminian notion of drawing be true, then every person will be raised gloriously because they were previously drawn.

Also, note the order of events.

1. One must be given by the Father to the Son.
2. The Father draws to Jesus those whom he has given to Jesus.
3. They come to Jesus.
The non-reformed want to change the order substantially.

1. God draws everyone to the same way.
2. Some come to Jesus.
3. The Father, on the basis of their coming to Jesus, gives those individuals to Jesus.
Even from a cursory reading of the text, it is evident that this second scenario seriously strains the text. The reason for the change of order is because of a particular notion of God’s justice and human freedom. The non-reformed feel that God must draw everyone in the same way, but that in the end, it is up to the individual to respond to this wooing. Yet, this notion cannot be found in this passage, and as a matter of fact, is contradicted by this passage. In verse 41, in response to the teaching of Jesus, the Jews began renouncing the credentials of Jesus by pointing out that they knew his father, mother, and brothers. “How in the world,” the Jews complained, “could you come down out of heaven?” To the unbelief of these Jews, Jesus makes the declaration, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;” In other words, Jesus is saying “Guys, you are skeptical and unbelieving because Father has not drawn you to Me.” This is further attested to when Jesus reiterates this very statement in verse 65. In this passage, some of his own disciples walked away from following Jesus. To this Jesus says, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.” In essence, the notion that God draws all men is controverted in this passage where clearly not all people were granted or drawn to Christ.

This reminds me of the exchange that Jesus had with the Jews in John 10:24-26. They said to Christ, “Tell us plainly if you are the Christ. Don’t keep us in suspense.” Jesus responds to them that He had told them plainly by his words and works. The evidence was staring them in the face. Jesus says to them, “but you don’t believe because you are not my sheep.” He doesn’t say, you are not my sheep because you don’t believe. Here, he distinctly states that something needs to be in place in order to believe and not vice versa. Also, Jesus had used this word “sheep,” as well as the concept, to describe those whom the Father gave to him as is evident in John 10 and 17.

When we arrive to John 12:32-33, we read the words that follow: “’And I, if I be lifted from the earth, I will draw all to Myself.’ But he was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which he was to die.” We can take this text to mean at least six different things:

1. This word “draw” is to be defined exactly as it is in John six. Therefore, every individual will come to Christ.

2. This word “draw” is still to be defined exactly the same in both contexts, but “all” does not mean every individual in chapter twelve, but rather the elect.

3. The word “draw” means something different in chapter twelve than it does in chapter six.

4. John chapter six is to be taken to mean something differently than what Calvinist have taken the chapter to mean. We must strain to read an Arminian interpretation into chapter 6, in order to account for chapter 12:32-33.

5. John six does refer to unconditional election, but John 12:32 states that after the crucifixion election will be changed from an unconditional election to a conditional election.

6. We have a contradiction in the Bible.
Of all the possibilities, number two and three seem the most plausible. Number one and six are disregarded instantaneously by bible believing Christians. The forth seems to violate the hermeneutical principal of interpreting the implicit in light of the implicit. The reason being that John chapter twelve isn’t quite clear in what is meant by the words “draw” and “all,” whereas Jesus in chapter six takes great pains to describe what “draw” means, and to whom this concept does and does not apply. As a side note, the same word for “draw”is translated as “drag,” meaning, to “come with irresistible superiority” in John 21:6, Acts 16:19, and James 2:6. This fifth possibility seems to works against the Arminian’s cause, for they work vigorously to defend “freewill” and to reject the “arbitrary” nature of unconditional election. For them, these concepts are antithetical to the God of the Bible. Well, if this system of election once existed, then the God of the Bible operated at one time within these “deterministic” and “arbitrary” categories. But even if this radical change were granted, it seems to be an unsound hermeneutic to deduce such a radical change in God’s decrees on the basis of John twelve which is not clear.

Option two is a good possibility. If chapter twelve is interpreted in the light of chapter six, and it is not delineated for us what “all” and “draw” means in chapter twelve, one could say that “all” refers to the same group that Jesus spoke of when he said, “All that the Father gives to me, will come to me.”

Option three is also a good possibility. Even if one would seek to press the point that “all” must mean every person in the world, the context doesn’t demand that the word “draw” mean the same thing as is found in chapter six. One could hold that everyone is drawn to Christ, in the sense that now they relate to God differently by virtue of the atonement. While this could be maintained, it could also be maintained that God has a special effectual call to save his elect from this broader group. For example, 1 Tim 4:10 states that God is the “Savior of all men, particularly of believers.” Likewise, 1 Tim 2:6 states that Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for (on the behalf of) all.” Paul says to the Athenians in Acts 17:30-31, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom he has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

From my perspective, there is no inconsistency of saying that every person is closer to Christ by virtue of the atonement, and yet some are left to refuse the offer.

7. You say that even the “good” acts of sinners are “bad” because they come from a completely depraved nature. Is it a “bad” act to rationally apprehend the truthfulness of apologetics? If so, why has God commanded us to practice apologetics to sinners, which causes them to do a bad act? Doesn’t that mean that God causes sinners’ bad acts? If you say “yes,” doesn’t that make God a bad guy?

Response: This question seems to confuse the categories of moral actions and cognitive apprehension. Is it a “bad” act to rationally apprehend the truthfulness of apologetics? No. No more than it would be bad to apprehend the truthfulness that 2 plus 2 = 4 or understand that the sky is blue. Such propositions are self-evident and appear to be something different from a moral action. The depravity of people is not to be applied to their apprehension of the truth, but their response to it. Romans 1 clearly states that unbelievers are without excuse, for the manifold creation of God unmistakably points to its Creator. Paul is telling us that unbelievers have apprehended the truth. Yet, unbelievers do not acquiesce to this truth because of their sinful condition. Of course, this is where the Calvinist would insist upon God’s work of changing a sinner’s disposition to one that will submit to the clear evidence.

In reference to the terms “good” and “bad,” I think it is in our best interest to understand how such terms can be used. Is it good for an atheist to help an old lady across the street? It depends on what you mean be good. If I use the term good univocally in reference to God, of course not. For example, I call my dog “good” because she is potty trained and doesn’t tear up the furniture. Now, when I call my wife a “good” wife, do I mean that she is potty trained and doesn’t tear up the furniture? No! Or, if I call God good, do I mean he is good like my dog? Of course not. What is employed here is analogical language; where the terms change proportionately to the difference of the beings. So, in one sense, it is a good thing for an atheist to help old ladies across streets, yet that “good”action severely fails that standard goodness which is found in God.

8. When Calvinism is shown to have logical contradictions, Calvinists usually reply that God’s thoughts are unsearchable, and therefore the logical problems that Calvinism has, for example divine election and human responsibility, exhaustive sovereignty and human free will, and God’s having two contradictory wills, are solved by invoking the phrase , “well that’s a mystery.” If you can solve you logic problems by copping out with the term mystery, why can’t Arminian types, atheists and others pull the same move?

Response: It seems that the authors use the term “contradiction” loosely. When a person claims that two propositions are contradictory, one is claiming a specific thing. The charge is that the law of non contradiction is violated, that is, A is non A at the same time and in the same relationship. I know of no such proposition of contradiction within the Reformed world view. Are there things within Christian doctrine which we cannot comprehend and yet are not contradictory? Of course. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is one essence and three persons. We do not say that there is one God and three Gods, for this would be contradictory. So likewise, if the Reformed believer would assert that God’s Sovereign Will is that all people would be saved and not all people would be saved, this would be contradictory. Yet, this is not our position. We assert that Scripture teaches that God has a sovereign will and a moral will, which is delineated for us in the response to question three. This is not a violation of the law of non-contradiction. Furthermore, if the authors assert that “exhaustive sovereignty” means that God effectually brings about every action, they have confused Calvinism with hyper Calvinism and our attacking a straw man.

9. The Bible says in 2 Thessalonians 2:10 that reprobates “perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” From your Calvinistic world view, how can it logically be said that a reprobate refuses to love and so be saved, when your God determines that the reprobates can’t love the truth, can’t be saved, and therefore doesn’t refuse God at all?

Response: Most of what I have seen in these questions are crass misrepresentations. It is plain to me that the authors of these questions don’t understand the basic of Reformed thought. First of all, the doctrine of total inability states that the unregenerate willfully and blatantly refuse the things of God by virtue of their fallen nature. God does not work unbelief and reprobation within their hearts, rather, he chooses not to visit them with the grace of regeneration, allowing them to do what they want which is based on their natural disposition. They hate God by nature, and God allows them to act according to their nature. In other words, unless God intervenes with regeneration, they refuse to love the truth and refuse salvation and are held accountable for such a refusal.

Some might press the issue further by stating that God would not be just to command of someone something they couldn’t do. So, if God commands unbelievers to repent and believe, and they do not have that ability, God is crude and less than holy. Yet, we know that God demands total conformity with the law. God commands everyone to be perfect as himself. Scripture also teaches that it is impossible for us to keep the law perfectly and that God holds us accountable for this. Yet, we don’t lay the charge of unjustness to God because of this. Luther, as he debated Erasmus on this very issue, made an important distinction between a possible inference and a necessary inference. It is not a necessary inference that we have the ability to do something if God commands us to do so; its simply a possible inference. Sproul rightly notes that “according to the laws of immediate inference, one can infer from the statement ‘If you are willing..’ nothing about who has the power so to will” (Willing to Believe, pg99). In conclusion, just because people can’t believe the gospel doesn’t mean that they cannot be held accountable for not believing.

10. You have said that nothing thwarts the will of God, and you also have said that a man’s will cannot be free or else God would not be absolutely sovereign. Doesn’t this mean that God determines (or is the cause of) evil and the evil acts of men for his sovereign pleasure?

Response: Again, this question rests upon a particular notion of freedom and sovereignty which are not held by Calvinist. We believe that man’s will is free, in that a person is not compelled to do something that they do not want. We do not believe that man’s will is morally neutral, meaning that choices are not made without a prior motive. Motive is crucial to moral responsibility. If a person chooses a bad thing without any prior motivation, what is the moral worth of that choice? Edwards has argued extensively that if such were the case that there would no moral worth, and thus no responsiblity. On this basis, God would be unjust to punish sinners who acted with no motive. Also, we do not believe that man is absolutely sovereign, as if God’s decrees are thwarted by man’s decree. Does God decree the sinful acts of men? Of course. But what do we mean by “decree” in this instance? Obviously, God does not effectually decree the sinful acts of humans, rather he permits them. Yet, if he permits people to sin and doesn’t hinder the exercise of their sin, this is tantamount to saying that God has determined to allow people to sin. It’s going to happen; its a part of his decree or determination. As Martin Luther rhetorically asked, “Do you suppose that He does not will what He foreknows, or that He does not foreknow what He wills?”

11. Question: “In Romans 9 where God says, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy’ why do you automatically assume that God does not want to have mercy on all but only have mercy on the select few when God clearly tells us in Romans 11:32 that, ‘God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all?” If you say that all means all classes of men, but not all men in every class, then why does it not mean all classes of men but not all men in every class in Romans 3:23 where it says, ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?” Does this mean some have not sinned? Perhaps, for instance, the Virgin Mary?

Response: We do not assume this automatically, as if we simply sought to pour in our own meaning into the text. Our belief rests upon the context of Romans 9 that clearly teaches that mercy is neither obligated to all, nor is it extended to all. Paul gives the example of Jacob and Esau, though both were rotten to the core and both deserving of justice, God chose Jacob to be the object of his mercy according to his own sovereign plan and left Esau as he was. This choice was not dependent upon Jacob, but solely on God. God could have had mercy on Esau, but he didn’t choose to. In verse 15, Paul raises the objection that many non-reformed raise, “God must be unfair!” Paul’s reference from Exodus proves the above question faulty, “I will have mercy upon whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion upon whom I have compassion.” If God wanted to have mercy upon all, he would have mercy upon all. Some might respond, “Well, he will only have mercy upon those who choose to accept mercy.” To this I ask the question, “So then it does depend upon the man who wills or the man who runs, and not on God who gives mercy?” (see verse16) Once someone says mercy is dependent upon the person who is to receive it, it ceases to be mercy. Also, if it were the case that Paul wanted to communicate that mercy is dependent upon the acceptance of the individual, why does Paul go on to defend this “false notion” that God’s mercy doesn’t depend on man’s will? Paul raises the objection to this teaching, “You will say to me then, ‘Why do you still find fault? For who resists His Will?” If Paul were an adherent to Arminian theology, he could have simply corrected this , “No, your misunderstanding me, his mercy is extended to all, and its up to each individual to appropriated it. People resist His will all the time.” But Paul does not answer this objection like an Arminian, instead he progresses to teach that which aligns classic Reformed Theology.

Paul then proceeds to use the illustration of a potter, and how the potter has a right to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use. No person can raise the objection “Why did you make me this way?” For God has the right to pass over some with his mercy, thus demonstrating his wrath, and to bestow his mercy upon those whom he chose beforehand for glory.

Secondly, in chapter 9:23-27 we see some clarification to the Romans 11:32, which states that God “might have mercy on all.” Paul had just pointed out that God is not obligated to give mercy to all, nor does he give it to all. With this in mind, speaking about those who have received mercy, Paul states that God has been gracious to some who are Jews and others who are Gentiles. This forms the backdrop to understand Romans 11:32, for this passage appears after a long discussion on how Jews and Gentile are saved. Notice 9:27 and 11:2-7. In these passages, there are references to the remnant of Jews which are the objects of God’s mercy, in contrast those the majority of Jews which perish apart from Christ. Now in 11:25, it states that when the fullness of the Gentiles come in, then “all Israel will be saved.” Here is a crucial question for our understanding of the passage which states, “that he might have mercy on all.”: In order for all Israel to be saved, doesn’t God need to extend mercy to all of Israel? But, does Paul mean that every Jew will be saved? No he doesn’t. Nor does the “all” used here mean every individual in the world. He is referring to all of the remnant, not all Jews. In other words, all of the elect. Likewise, Paul also refers to the fullness of the Gentiles, that is all the Gentiles whom God has chosen beforehand (11:25;9:24). So, using the language of Paul, all of the Gentiles will be saved. This doesn’t mean that every Gentile will be saved, no more than “all Israel” means every Jew. Therefore, when we read Romans 11:32, the “all” doesn’t mean every human individual, but rather all the remnant of both the Jews and Gentiles.

Some might press the point that Paul says that God has shut up all in disobedience, meaning that God has shut up every human being in disobedience, thus the all, when referring to mercy, must mean every human being. I believe the context points to the fact that God has shut up all of the remnant of both the Jews and Gentiles so that he might demonstrate his mercy towards them. Some might point out my folly by showing that my interpretation must mean that there are human beings, like Mary, who are not sinners. But this is an argument from silence. Just because Paul states that the remnant of both the Jews and Gentiles have been shut up in disobedience, doesn’t mean that every individual is not also a sinner . We know that one gospel writer only records one angel as being at the tomb, but does that necessarily mean that there could not have been two, as another gospel writer clarifies. In the same way, Romans 3 clarifies for us what Paul didn’t in Romans 11:32.