Saturday, May 27, 2006

About Calvinism Part 7

About Calvinism Part 7
Category: Tartan Talk :
Author: tartanarmy (2:48 am)
That's all well and good, but I'm a Baptist and haven't heard much of this before. Is Calvinism Baptist?

Calvinism as a system is neither originally nor exclusively Baptist, but then neither are such "Baptist" doctrines as the priesthood of believers, local church autonomy, and baptism by immersion. Nevertheless, an overview of Baptist history demonstrates that Calvinism has a strong place in the tradition.

Tom Nettles, in a book titled By His Grace and For His Glory, examines the writings of the most prominent people in Baptist history and finds that most of the Baptist leadership has been Calvinistic.

Names include Henry Jessey, John Spilsbery, John Bunyan (author of The Pilgrim's Progress), Benjamin Keach, Andrew Fuller, William Carey (the father of Baptist missions), Luther Rice, Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, John Gill, Isaac Backus, Jesse Fuller, Basil Manly Sr. and Jr., J. P. Boyce (founder of Southern Seminary), John Broadus, C. H. Spurgeon, and E. Y. Mullins. A diverse number of leading Baptists today are Calvinists, such as John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Millard Erickson, Don Whitney, Bruce Ware, Timothy George, Don Hustad, Ronald Nash, John Piper, Mark Dever, and Wayne Grudem.

While it is a bit of an oversimplification, it may be said that the Baptist churches from the 1600s to the 1800s fell into two major camps. The first, General Baptists, opposed Calvinism. The second, Particular Baptists, were strongly Calvinistic.

In England, the Particular Baptists became most numerous but eventually joined with the General Baptists. Late in the nineteenth century, the resulting Baptist Union fell into heresy, prompting C. H. Spurgeon to withdraw his church from the union. Today it is one of the only Baptist churches in England that remains evangelical.

In America, the first major Baptist associations, in Philadelphia and Charleston, adopted the Particular Baptists' Second London Confession. Many portions of this confession were drawn almost word for word from the Puritans' Westminster Confession, considered by many to be the most eloquent Calvinistic expression of faith.

Many of the General Baptist churches turned Particular or died out, and the more Calvinistic churches became so common they were known as Regular Baptist churches. From the revivals of the eighteenth century came Separate Baptists and Free Will Baptists, who rejected Calvinism.

The larger Southern and Northern Baptist Conventions more or less maintained their Calvinistic stances into the early twentieth century. The SBC's first confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles drafted for Southern Seminary in 1858, reflected the Calvinism of Charleston's confession and was the consensus view among Southern Baptists at that time. Today, very few Baptist churches are openly Calvinistic, although the Southern Baptists maintain a strong belief in eternal security, which is essentially the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Does Omnibenevolence Mean Uni-benevolence?

Does Omnibenevolence Mean Uni-benevolence?
Category: Tartan Talk :
Author: tartanarmy (1:58 am)
Does Omnibenevolence Mean Unibenevolence?

Great post from Dr James White at his Blog recently..

James White, I'm not reformed in my theology, but I did want to ask you a sincere question. How do you reconcile God not being omnibenevolent with simplicity.

When you claim that God only wants some people to be saved, you are really claiming that God is only partially loving. By doing this, you are destroying God's simplicity and really saying that God has parts. But you cannot have an actual infinite number of parts, thereby reducing God to a finite being. Whatever God is, He is wholly and completely.

If God is love, then He loves infinitely, wholly, and completely, but in your theology, you destroy the metaphysical attributes of God by really implying God is only partially loving. You might reply by claiming that God has more power than He uses, but this is a category mistake. Omnipotence is a metaphysical attribute, not a moral attribute. How do you reconcile this situation?

John Frame wrote a response to open theism titled No Other God. Chapter Four of this work is titled, "Is Love God's Most Important Attribute?"

Open theists, and Arminians in general, present the idea that omnibenevolence is the central aspect of God's character, and hence, all other aspects of God's being, whether attributes referring to His being (omnipresence, for example), or moral attributes (holiness) are to be subsumed under this over-arching attribute of "love." Of course, it is very difficult to prove this kind of assertion on any fair reading of the text of Scripture.

Surely you can find great praise of God's love, of God's grace, God's mercy (those three, while related, are not necessarily identical in all instances and at all times) in the Scriptures. But, any fair reading will also show you that God's holiness, God's Lordship, God's kingship, the demonstration of God's power, the vindication of God's righteousness and judgment, the demonstration of His wrath, are all equally lauded and acknowledged truths. Of course, a lot of that comes from the dread Old Testament, and given that many in evangelicalism today are canonically challenged, it is easy to see how those themes fade into obscurity in their every-day theology. Frame comments,

Theologians are wrong when they think that the centrality of their favorite attribute excludes the centrality of others. These writers are (as often among theologians) right in what they assert, but wrong in what they deny. Ritschl is right to say that love is God's essence, but wrong to deny that holiness is.

And that kind of error is sometimes linked to other theological errors. Often when a theologian makes God's love central, in contrast to other attributes, he intends, contrary to Scripture, to cast doubt on the reality or intensity of God's wrath and judgment. (p. 52)

In response to the question quoted above, who denied God's omnibenevolence? Evidently, our writer assumes omnibenevolence must mean unibenevolence: that is, that if God is all-loving, then He will not possess the capacity His creatures rightly possess: discrimination in the matter of love. We are not only not unibenevolent, as image bearers of God we, like Him, are able to possess, and express, different kinds of love.

I do not love my cat as I love my children (and I think anyone who does is simply wacked). I have and properly express all different kinds of "love," from loving my wireless laser mouse to loving my Tablet PC to loving my Felt F65 road bike---but none of those kinds of love come close to my love for God's truth, God's people, my family, my friends. If faced with a choice, I am going to choose based upon discrimination in my love. I am going to save the mother of my children before I save a stranger.

I am called to love my wife as Christ loved the church. And my ability to do this is clearly reflected in God's own actions. The love He showed Israel he did not show the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, or the Babylonians. This is a simple biblical fact. All the "God loves you!" smiley face t-shirts do not change revelational reality.

Hence, I reject the assertion that omnibenevolence equals unibenevolence, i.e., having one equal, undifferentiated, indiscriminate warm fuzzy. There is no biblical basis for thinking otherwise.

Now, our writer expresses a very common human failing in these words: "When you claim that God only wants some people to be saved, you are really claiming that God is only partially loving." Notice the unstated assumption: love = extension of redemptive grace. What is the only logical conclusion to be derived from such thinking?

1) God's love demands God's failure; i.e., God will be unhappy and unfulfilled throughout eternity because He tried, but failed, to save those He loved (more than one theologian has held this position);
2) universalism. God will conquer all in the end, all will be saved. But in neither case can God show redemptive, saving love to undeserving sinners while, at the same time, expressing His just wrath and anger against the rest. By insisting upon this concept, our writer robs God of His freedom, let alone His ability to freely chose to love redemptively.

The false dilemma is clearly seen: by denying the difference between the love God shows to all of creation in providence in the merciful suspension of His immediate and just judgment upon all sinners, and the special redemptive love He freely bestows on vessels of mercy, our writer creates a false unibenevolence and on that basis says God is only "partially loving." That makes as much sense as noting that I love my wife in a way I do not love a woman in Bosnia and saying I am "partially loving" as a result.

I am not supposed to love the woman in Bosnia in that way, and God is under no compulsion whatsoever to love redemptively (which involves the extension of mercy and grace). To say otherwise is to say that redemption can be demanded of God, that grace is not free, but can be demanded at His hand. That is, in essence, the sum of this kind of objection.

And so we see that the rest of the objection bears no weight and has no merit for it is based upon a misuse of terms.

Monday, May 01, 2006

About Calvinism Part 6

About Calvinism Part 6
Category: Tartan Talk :
Author: tartanarmy (2:38 pm)
All right, then. I'm a Christian, and I want to know: is Calvinism orthodox?

Yes, Calvinism is orthodox in that it upholds the theology and Christology of the ecumenical councils universally recognized throughout Christendom.

First of all, Calvinism affirms the basic concept of God. God is deeply personal, as shown by His love for His creation, His hatred of sin, His conscious acts of decreeing and permitting, and the fact that He has a will. God's most essential attributes, including His omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, love, mercy, faithfulness, grace, justice, and holiness, as well as His revelatory nature and involvement in worldly affairs, are all very obvious in the Calvinistic view. God is also shown to transcend space and time by decreeing His plan of salvation before the beginning of creation.

Second, Calvinism upholds the doctrine of the Trinity. God the Father is the One Who chooses the elect and ordains the means for their salvation; it is He Who creates mankind and pours out His wrath on the Son He loves. God the Son is the only fitting sacrifice for sin, and it is His infinite, perfect righteousness which is imputed to all believers to make them acceptable to God. God the Holy Spirit changes the human heart and empowers the believer to act righteously. All these are divine prerogatives exercised by the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, who are one God.

Third, Calvinism is in harmony with the historic understanding of the nature of Christ. Christ is fully God, and only as God could Jesus provide a sufficient atonement; He is also fully man, and only as a human could Jesus suffer and die. Only as both could Jesus be a mediator between God and His creatures. Nothing in Calvinism suggests a mixture of these two natures, or a division of Jesus' person. There is no distinction between Jesus' historical life and His identity as the divine Messiah whom Christians worship. Calvinistic creeds have always been very strong in affirming Christ's resurrection and His offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, as Christ continues to speak through the gospel, offer intercession to God for His people, and reign over His kingdom.

I'm also an evangelical Christian, and I have some concerns. Is Calvinism evangelical?

Yes, Calvinism is evangelical in that it upholds the necessity of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone (sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola Scriptura, soli Deo gloria).

Calvinism stresses God's grace more than any other major system, hence the term "doctrines of grace" to describe the Calvinistic distinctives. Calvinism leaves no room for good works to have any part in salvation, except as the inevitable result of the Spirit's influence in the life of the believer. Salvation itself is accomplished only through the work of God. The seed of regeneration is the preaching of the gospel of Christ, and so there is no other name in which one can believe and come to salvation. It is from the writings of Calvinists that we find many of the early descriptions of the Bible as infallible, and Calvinists consider their beliefs based on biblical revelation as opposed to any other authority. Finally, Calvinists are adamant that election not be seen as elevating one group of people above the rest; rather, the elect are "by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery."

The Synod of Dort made a special exhortation to this effect: that Calvinists "conduct themselves piously and religiously in handling this doctrine, both in the universities and churches; to direct it, as well in discourse as in writing, to the glory of the Divine name, to holiness of life, and to the consolation of afflicted souls; to regulate, by the Scripture, according to the analogy of faith, not only their sentiments, but also their language, and to abstain from all those phrases which exceed the limits necessary to be observed in ascertaining the genuine sense of the Holy Spirit, and may furnish insolent sophists with a just pretext for violently assailing, or even vilifying, the doctrine of the Reformed Churches."

Furthermore, quite a number of evangelicals have been Calvinists. Famous evangelicals of the past include John Owen, Matthew Henry, Stephen Charnock, Matthew Poole, Jonathan Edwards, B. B. Warfield, Grace Livingston Hill, Andrew Murray, Gordon H. Clark, J. Gresham Machen, J. Barton Payne, and G. E. Ladd. Many of these evangelicals, especially those from Princeton, were instrumental in defending the other major defining evangelical doctrine, biblical inerrancy. Present-day evangelicals include James M. Boice, Michael Horton, Erwin Lutzer, Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz ("Bruce & Stan"), Jerry Bridges, Robert Coleman, Kent Hughes, Philip Graham Ryken, R. C. Sproul, and D. James Kennedy.