The Shortcomings of Corporate Election – Thoughts on Brian Abasciano’s Article

•January 29, 2015 • Comments Off on The Shortcomings of Corporate Election – Thoughts on Brian Abasciano’s Article

In a response from a corporate election proponent (Leighton Flowers) I was told that I had not really dealt with this “scholarly” argument from Dr. Brian Abasciano from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Boston) that he had cited.  Initially I was going to simply read it, and familiarize myself, but the more I read, the more I thought: how about I just write down my thoughts on an article that purports to clear up misconceptions.  I then thought I would clean it up and present it in a more polished fashion, but that looked like a daunting prospect with such a busy schedule.  So I have left it as is for now, and I hope to extend on some comments in the future.  For now, this is my reference for all corporate election proponents.

I begin a bit mid-context in some parts, and in others my thoughts are somewhat disjointed; these were notes, so hopefully that will be excused.  Quotes from Dr. Abasciano’s article will be in white, and the numbers refer to the page.  Full article can be found here: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ashland_theological_journal/41-1_059.pdf

Brian Abasciano, “Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election,” Ashland Theological Journal (2009), pp. 59-90.

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60: Once these misconceptions are cleared away, it should be seen that corporate election is indeed the most biblical view of election, vindicating the Arminian approach to the doctrine, even if untraditionally.

This view favors an Arminian interpretation of Scripture; which I only want to point out because many who hold to it claim they are not Arminian, or that Arminianism is not the only other option besides Calvinism.  This is a production of a semi-pelagian, synergistic, and Roman Catholic theology.  It is not the soteriology of the Reformed or the Protestant Reformation.

60: Most simply, corporate election refers to the choice of a group, which entails the choice of its individual members by virtue of their membership in the group.

Right.  There’s no way around it—in its simplest form it is those who meet the boundary qualifications that are “elected” into the “elect” corporate group.  As he says: “Thus, individuals are not elected as individuals directly, but secondarily as members of the elect group.”  And again: “Individuals are elect as a consequence of their membership in the group.”  This should be interesting to see how he proves this.  This is—no matter how one words it—conditional election at its finest.

On speaking of the Calvinist position:

60-61: In other words, the group is chosen as a consequence of the fact that each individual in the group was individually chosen.

Not entirely accurate.  This tries to frame the question in reductionist terms to deal with the issue more easily.  Christ was chosen as the head of a determined group, therefore the best explanation would be: “In other words, the group of individuals (the church) was chosen in Christ (the head) from before the foundations of world.”  That is the meaning of Ephesians 1:4 in plain language.

61: Hence, the real question regarding the election of God’s covenant people is, which election is primary, that of the group or that of the individual?

This is a false dichotomy; and Dr. Abasciano should know it.  The group and the individuals are inseparable, therefore the chosen group, comprised of chosen individuals, is elected in Christ.  Let me paint this in less theological terms:

A mason chooses his cornerstone, and he selects the exact stones he will use for the rest of the structure based off of the cornerstone.  The mason knows what the structure will look like, he knows what bricks he wants based on his chosen cornerstone.  He lays out all of his stones, but they are still in disarray, until he places them together with the cornerstone.

Scripture is the measure of an analogy, however, so one should not take any particular piece of this too far; the point is that the structure (church; group) is inseparable from the individual bricks (Christians) that the mason must choose according to his predetermined plan.  There is no group without the individual—the structure is the bricks and the bricks are the structure.  Without the bricks there is no structure—just a cornerstone and an empty lot; and without the chosen cornerstone the bricks are in disarray, and remain individualized.  Thus the group of individuals is chosen in the corporate head.

As Dr. Abasciano would have it, we believe (and some may) that election is framed in the following manner: “chosen individuals that will then comprise a group.”  This is not being fair to the position.

61: [Corporate Election] refers to the election of a group as a consequence of the choice of an individual who represents the group, the corporate head and representative. That is, the group is elected as a consequence of its identification with this corporate representative.

Because of Dr. Abasciano’s false dichotomy he has now enabled himself to make these arguments as though Calvinist do not believe this simple truth: that Christ is the corporate head and representative of the church (ekklesia: “called out ones;” i.e. a group of individuals).

So he goes on:

61: The same may be said of individuals. They are chosen as a consequence of their identification with the people, and more fundamentally, with the individual corporate head.

Dr. Abasciano balks at the idea that his position is illogical; but really, think about what’s being said here:  The individual is chosen as a consequence of their choosing.  In what sense is the individual chosen?  Why not just drop the “chosen” when you speak of individuals, it comes off as an attempt to deflect the charge of ignoring specific scriptures (i.e. Romans 8:30)—but it won’t deflect the charge of logical inconsistency.

It is necessary to quote him in full here, because this is the locus of his argument in this section:

61: God chose the people of Israel in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel (Deut 4:37; 7:6-8).9 That is, by choosing Jacob/Israel, the corporate/covenant representative, God also chose his descendants as his covenant people. It is a matter of Old Testament covenant theology. The covenant representative on the one hand and the people/nation of Israel on the other hand are the focus of the divine covenantal election, and individuals are elect only as members of the elect people. Moreover, in principle, foreign individuals who were not originally members of the elect people could join the chosen people and become part of the elect, demonstrating again that the locus of election was the covenant community and that individuals found their election through membership in the elect people.

I’d like to notice firstly how he—by some sleight of hand—moves past the choice of the covenantal head, Abraham.  It is a well-known story that Abram grew up in the house of an idolater, in a land of idolatry, Ur.  No mention is made of his searching for God or walking in righteousness—God simply called him one day to a great calling (Genesis 11-12).  Dr. Abasciano can make all the arguments he would like for the corporate/covenantal/group nature of OT Israel, but he will need to reckon with God’s electing choice of the individual to represent the covenant people (and “it only happened once!” is not a very good answer).

Secondly, Dr. Abasciano conflates the nature of national Israel and spiritual Israel, and claims that words “election” or “chosen” need to be employed in the same way every time it is used.  We have the privilege of the full revelation of God in the Scriptures, which means we can look to Paul in Romans 9 when he responds to claims that God has failed in His promises to national Israel saying, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (v.6).  This is why those who were not descended from Israel could, in fact, join the physical people of God—and could also be a true, spiritual Israelite by virtue of a circumcised heart.  For Paul says again, “know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:7).

Because of his conflation, his conclusion is based on a false premise:

61: This notion of election is rooted in the Old Testament concept of corporate solidarity or representation, which views the individual as representing the community and identified with it and vice versa.

Dr. Abasciano has simply equivocated on the term election, and tried to refute one use of it in regard to the new covenant spiritual people by an entirely different use of it on the OT national Israel—that had the purpose of bringing forth the Messiah.

Dr. Abasciano then goes on to show that God limited His election of people further and further as time went on.  Not all of Abraham’s children, but those who came through Isaac, not all of Isaac’s but those who came from Jacob, so on and so forth until alas:

62: Finally, the Apostle Paul would argue, God limited his election even further to Christ as the head of the New Covenant (Gal. 3-4; see especially 3:16; cf. Rom. 3-4; 8), which is the fulfillment of the Old. Paradoxically, this also widened the election of God’s people because all who are in Christ by faith are chosen by virtue of their identification with Christ the corporate covenantal head, opening covenant membership to Gentiles as Gentiles.

The shift is subtle and undetectable if one does not recognize the differences in God’s national purposes for Israel and spiritual purposes for the Church.  All the while, Dr. Abasciano has still resisted comment on the personal, individual choice of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Jesus is not in discussion, because the choice of Him as corporate head is of a different nature than a fallen human) by His sovereign purposes.  A person does not “come into” the New Testament corporate people by a pledge, or outward circumcision, as they did the corporate body of national Israel; they come in by a renewed heart (regeneration) and God-given faith and repentance—this makes the incorporation into the covenant people of a different nature.  The corporate election arguments falls apart as simply as recognizing the distinctions in the make-up of the covenant people.

The OT covenant people (i.e. national Israel) had boundary conditions for admittance, which could be met by human exertion.  The NT covenant people (i.e. spiritual Israel) has boundary conditions for admittance, which can only be met by God’s gracious provision—“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9:16).  “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

62: Just as God’s Old Covenant people were chosen in Jacob/Israel, the Church was chosen in Christ (as Eph. 1:4 puts it). And as Ephesians 2 makes clear, Gentiles who believe in Christ are in him made to be part of the commonwealth of Israel, fellow citizens with the saints, members of God’s household, and possessors of the covenants of promise (2:11-22; note especially vv. 12, 19).

I think Dr. Abasciano shows the error in thought by his own words at this point, once the distinction is properly recognized.  And he further makes the position undesirable by offering this:

62: While this is not quite the traditional Arminian position, it fully supports Arminian theology because it is a conditional election. Most directly, such election is conditioned on being in Christ.

He moves on to the misunderstandings, and I would like to take these in turn.  But he first gives some introductory remarks:

63: [Corporate Election] is strongly supported by the fact that it was the standard biblical and Jewish conception of election with no evidence in the New Testament that its orientation had changed.

I think I’ve already sufficiently shown how it hasn’t changed, he has merely equivocated on the term
“election” and conflated its application.  Moreover, he has not demonstrated scripturally that man is capable of meeting the boundary conditions for admission into the “group” (i.e. faith and repentance) without the proactive work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8).  Obviously the topic of man’s condition cannot be fully dealt with in his article (or this one), but his position on depravity should be understood to underlie his entire argument.

63: Moreover, the explicit language of election unto salvation is always corporate in the New Testament, continuing the approach of the Old.

I would like to see Dr. Abasciano show us how he comes to this, maybe he will later on in the article.  It would be interesting to see how he maintains this conclusion in light of Romans 8:30 or 2 Peter 1:10 (or numerous others).[1]

He says he has explained some of this in other articles, but since this was already a footnote to an article, I don’t really want to get stuck in the labyrinth of endless footnotes.  Perhaps at a later date I’ll look more into that article.

Now to the misconceptions:

63: Misconception #1: Corporate Election Excludes Individuals.

63: We have already invalidated this approach implicitly by the description of corporate election provided in the previous section.

This statement is actually false.  He hasn’t invalidated the “misconception” implicitly.  He needs to explicitly show how election (that is, God’s election) is, in any meaningful way, individual.

63: It is simply not true that the view excludes individuals; it includes individuals, but only insofar as they are part of the group.

Exactly.  “Insofar as they are part of the group” they are “elected.”  But they are not individually chosen by God—that’s the point.  That Dr. Abasciano keeps saying Dr. Thomas Schreiner has misunderstood his argument is incorrect.  Dr. Schreiner has rightly observed, “According to Abasciano, corporate election refers to God choosing a group, but the individual dimension refers to our choosing to be in the group God has chosen.” And again, “If the individual dimension of corporate election simply means that human beings believe in order to be saved, then there is no “election” in corporate election.”[2]  This has been my point; in what meaningful way are the individuals “elected” or “chosen,” other than they have chosen to join the elected group—and by virtue of their choice they become “elect” or “chosen.”  It is, simply put, playing with the language so that he may more easily deal with the clear teachings of Scripture—that individuals are elect.

63: It is true that corporate election does not refer to the election of each individual separately from Christ or the group, but this does not in any way nullify the election of each individual member of the group as a result of the group’s election.

Who says this?  Not Calvinists.  I’m comfortable using the exact language of the apostle: “even as He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world…” (Eph 1:4).

He may state that it does not nullify the election of the individual, but it does not make it so.  It does.  The rest of his paragraph at the bottom of page 63 is a mess of contradiction and ambiguity; but what else is he left with but to muddle words?

64: Misconception #2: Corporate Election Is Not the Election of People, but Merely the Election of an Empty Set.

Dr. Abasciano’s second misconception is broken down into 2 parts.  The first is:

64: Misconception #2a: The Corporate Head is the Group and Is Chosen First.

He explains:

64: Above all, God first chooses the corporate head/representative so that there is never an empty set.  Indeed, the corporate head is the foundation of the group and embodies the group in himself. To put it bluntly and in a way that undoubtedly rubs against individualistic sensibilities, the corporate head is the group, in accordance with the biblical principle of corporate solidarity. As 1 Cor. 12:12 puts it in relation to Christ, ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though being many, are one body, so also is Christ.’  Christ is both an individual and corporate figure… With the corporate head as the locus of election, there is never a time that the elect people is an empty set.

I don’t know too many people that would argue against the unity of the church, or that Christ is the corporate head and representative.  The problem is not whether Christ is “enough” to fulfill all things, the problem is that the inclusion/redemption of God’s people—or the inclusion of more than just Christ—was one of His stated missions for coming into creation (Matt 1:21; John 10:16; Eph 1:4; 1 Tim 1:15; etc.).  In that sense “God’s people” is an empty set, because if no one makes the choice to belong to the chosen group, then it remains an empty set that Christ purposed to save, but [potentially] couldn’t due to man’s free will.  I don’t believe in that potentiality; I believe that Christ came to save, and accomplished it.

He uses Jacob as his example for how this is not an empty set.

64-65: …God’s Old Testament people were chosen in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel. Jacob was chosen in the womb, and at the very same time his descendants were chosen; they were chosen in him.

He then cites Gen 25:23, and makes this conclusion:

65: Notice how Jacob is wholly identified with his people before they exist.  His election is their election; his destiny is their destiny.

This fails on a couple fronts.  1) Again, he fails to make the distinction between the manner of inclusion in the OT people (by the flesh; by birth) and NT people (conversion; by God’s action).  2) Like he did above, Dr. Abasciano conveniently skims over the fact that Jacob was chosen over Esau before they had been born; why?  Why were Jacob’s descendants to be blessed over Esau’s?  (Romans 9:11 tells us, but we’ll leave it for now).

65: Was Israel an empty set when Jacob was chosen?

Which Israel?  National or spiritual?  Children of flesh or children of promise?  Either way, no; and no potentiality existed that a nation would not exist, and that God did not know those who would belong to each.  The very fact that God gave the oracles, sacrifices, the temple, etc. to a particular nation speaks enough volumes for me.  Even if you want to make this election less personalized, the election was still made over all of the other nations on the earth, who perished with no knowledge of God.  And it all started with the election of one brother over another; one must reckon with it.

I’ll let Dr. Abasciano tell you:

65: the people Israel was chosen as a consequence of the man Israel’s election. When he was chosen, they were chosen.       

But, remember, he was chosen…individually.

At this point, I do want to acknowledge a valid observation of Dr. Abasciano: the collective understanding as opposed to the individual.  If one positive can be gleaned from his article, it is that Christianity was never meant to be a strictly individualized religious experience.  Western society in general has moved in that direction—and America is defined by its individualism.  The church is a group of individuals unified, as one body, by their corporate head.[3]  The move away from church participation, unity, and Scriptural faithfulness can be blamed in some part on the individualizing of religion.  That said, one’s personal salvation (faith and repentance) is a matter between the individual and God, which inaugurates them into the people of God.

The rest of this section can have arguments already made applied to it, so I move on.

66: Misconception #2b: The Significance of Ephesians 1:4

Ephesians 1:4 is a standard battleground for the Arminian/Synergist and Calvinist.  This is a long section of his article, and it’s really a tedious thing for me to go line by line in response, so let me say two things.  1) Some decent articles—with much more depth—on this subject can be found below.[4]  2)  Eph 1:4 is not the only verse that speaks of election, and it is not even the one I would use as my primary defense for the understanding of God’s individual, gracious election unto salvation.

There are a few statements that I think sufficiently undermine the rest of Dr. Abasciano’s point here, and so hopefully I can just highlight those.

66: It simply insists that the election of individuals comes to them as part of the elect people. Each individual member of the elect people is personally elect, but only as a consequence of his membership in the elect people, and ultimately, only as a consequence of his identification with the corporate head.

This is the point; and to this point Dr. Abasciano has continued to deny what he keeps plainly saying: incorporation into the head is a consequence of the individual’s choice to become elect.  The person is not elect in any meaningful way, other than he became chosen by his choice.  This must be kept in mind by any person who trudges their way through the rest of this section.

The Scriptures plainly teach the opposite, of course: Rom 8:29-30; 1 Thess 1:4-5; 2 Thess 2:13-14; Eph 2:1-10.

Another point that must be kept in mind is Dr. Abasciano’s rejection of the total inability of man; that man is not quite as dead, deaf, blind, unable, disobedient, rebellious, or lost as the Bible appears to indicate.

66: Election is conditional upon being in Christ by faith.

What is interesting about this line is that Dr. Abasciano does not shirk away from his position: he is an all out Arminian; however, the way I found this article was through a person who does not claim to be an Arminian, how he is able to maintain that is impossible to tell.

So far as pg. 68-69 is concerned, I find myself agreeing with most of what he says; the difference comes from his underlying presuppositions that guide him toward a salvation merited by the individual’s self-appointment into the covenant head.  I would challenge that it is God who places us in Christ; thus Dr. Abasciano is dealing with the wrong issue at this point.

I will need to take issue with one statement, however:

67: All of this is contingent on being in Christ, which is itself contingent on faith in Christ, a point underscored by the fact that some of the key blessings just mentioned are explicitly said to be by faith, namely sonship (and therefore heirship), righteousness/justification, the giving of the Spirit, and life/resurrection. (my emphasis added)

It is Dr. Abasciano’s understanding—as it is with all Synergists—that sonship (being in Christ) and all of its blessings are attained by a self-actuated faith.  This, of course, is not the Scriptural record.[5]

Because so much of Ephesians 1:4 revolved around differences in how to interpret the “in Christ” phraseology, it’s order, and so on—it would be best to take the whole of Scripture as a guide for understanding what it is to be chosen “in Christ.”  The corporate model has basically made it impersonal by focusing only on Christ’s election, and the impersonal “us” is then made elect by incorporation into Him.  The individual model recognizes that we are elect “in” (because of) “Christ.”  Based on nothing but His work, etc.

72: To sum it up succinctly, Calvinists tend to interpret Eph. 1:4 as saying that God chose us separately and individually to be put into Christ, to which Arminians quickly respond that what the text actually says is that God chose us in Christ.

This is categorically false.  Perhaps Dr. Abasciano can provide the scholars/theologians (and he might be able to find a few), but this is not the Calvinistic interpretation of the text.  It is instead that we (“us”) were chosen before the foundation of the world “in Christ.”  That is, in Him, by Him, because of Him, we are considered the children of God.  That preordained plan of God, to sacrifice the Son on the cross, included redemptive subjects (us); it was not a potentiality, it was a guarantee (Matt 1:21; John 17; Rev 5:9).  It is not that we are “put into Christ,” it is that we were chosen “in Him.”  This parsing of words confounds more than it clarifies.  I think you’ll find that verses utilizing the same phrase “in Him” are better understood when replaced with “through Him,” “because of Him,” or “based on His work/accomplishment”; i.e. Eph 2:22: “In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”  Col 1:17: “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Col 2:11: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…”

If it helps, consider a phrase that I might say to my wife: “I chose you in love.”  The object of my choice is my wife, and the basis/the foundation/the limits of my choice was “love.”  I could have replaced love with “duty,” but love was the chosen qualification, prerequisite, or standard.  So it is with Christ.  He is the chosen means of redeeming the people of God; and all thanks is due God for making such a choice in perfect savior.

72: Misconception # 3: The Concept of a Primarily Corporate Election Is Illogical.     

Assuming his [Dr. Schreiner] own view, he cannot see that being elected as part of a group that is chosen to receive some benefit is still being chosen for that benefit, but he essentially, insists that one is chosen for a benefit only if that same choice also elects one to join the group.

This is, as rightly observed, illogical.  Dr. Abasciano’s insistence that it is not does not make it logical.  His sentences turn into contradictions very easily.  That said, I don’t think that the illogical nature is dealt with properly by Dr. Abasciano.  It is not illogical for a group to be elected without its individual members being so; it is illogical to say that a group is elected, and then by virtue of membership the individual is also elect.  This is not so; it is still the case that the group is elected, and the individual made the election to join the elected group.

What Dr. Abasciano continues to miss is the distinction between fleshly entrance into a “chosen people” and spiritual entrance into a “chosen people.”

75: But when we examine the evidence for which type of election is found in the Bible with respect to the election of God’s people unto eternal salvation, it is a primarily corporate election that is found.

This is simply not the case, as has been shown several times.  Especially in Romans 8:29-30 and 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”  I’m interested to see how the corporate election proponent depersonalizes this verse, and turns “brothers” (a group of men being written to) into a faceless, corporate entity that must confirm its calling and election.

75: Misconception #4: Corporate Election Empties Divine Election of Meaning and Makes Human Choice Decisive.

This misconception comes closer to the objection I’ve made several times: that there is no meaningful election of individuals at all, so they might as well drop the term.  His first two points do nothing meaningful to address the issue.

75: Third, [this] reasoning foists a predetermined hermeneutical conviction on the’ idea of election and what it has to be or involve, and then judges the corporate view by it rather than a more objective approach of trying to determine the biblical view and then assessing its implications.

Again, nothing substantial here; this is one of 4 sentences in this paragraph, and no evaluation is given.  The meaning of election is given meaning by the Bible and by common usage.  To elect something is to choose it.  The meaning of church in Greek has that idea of a called out group of individuals.  At this point the attempts appear futile, and he is merely trying to disallow common usage to make his point, and confound the reader.

76:  He [Dr. Schreiner] believes that human choice cannot play a decisive role in salvation, and then denies validity to a view that he perceives as giving such a role to human choice. But this is more of an argument from theological presupposition than from the text of Scripture.

How does Dr. Abasciano figure?  It’s a childish tactic to try to boil down a person’s belief into “theological presupposition” rather than “Scriptural” just because you don’t care to take the time to deal with his theological conviction about the depravity of man; a position easily established from Scripture.  One I think even a new Christian could easily defend, because they [should] know the wickedness of their own heart; and the gracious work of God to pull them out of it.

76: My plea would be for us to draw our view of election from Scripture rather than deciding what its implications must be and then using our assessment of a view’s implications to decide if Scripture can teach such a view. Perhaps we are wrong in our presuppositions.

Ditto to Dr. Abasciano.  He might benefit from taking his own advice.

I don’t know how scholarship is done in the field of theology (my experience is in history), but Dr. Abasciano has really left the realm of objective scholarship and moved into opinion and pedantry.

76: That he gives us a genuine choice in whether we will receive the salvation that he offers in the gospel is entirely in his control and at his discretion.

Here is a good example of Dr. Abasciano needing to heed his own advice; because he has yet to establish this point, and would truly have a difficult time doing it.  Oh, I’m sure there are verses he’d like to use, but the whole of Scripture speaks of a God who orchestrates to His ends, guiding history the way He has ordained, and knowing the end from the beginning (because he decreed it, not because he takes in knowledge of the choices of free will creatures).

The end of this section really devolves into caricature, painting Calvinists as those who do not believe in the responsibility of the creature, and his position as upholding the sovereignty of God (whatever that is) and man’s responsibility.

It is sophism at this point.  And I’m sorry, I’m not too convinced by football/baseball team examples.

77: One of the wonderful theological advantages of corporate election is that it comports with the Bible’s teaching that God loves all, calls all to believe and be saved, and genuinely desires all to be saved (e.g., John 3: 16; Acts 17:30- 31; 1 Tim. 2:4).

No.  It doesn’t.  It comports with man’s reasoning.  It takes away the objection, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”  This objection does not comport with the watering down of God’s gracious, sovereign right to grant salvation to those whom He freely wishes.

[Each of those verses has long been explained by Reformed.  There is no need to do so now.]

But in case you wondered which view was the right one:

77: Thankfully, on that score, the corporate view is the most strongly supported view.

I suppose that settles it.

On to his last misconception.

77: Misconception # 5: Election Unto Spiritual Salvation in the Old Testament Was Individualistic.

This is another that attempts to deal with the problem I raised earlier.

He still confuses the individual and corporate distinction between the individual heart and the corporate nation.

78: He points to the individual election of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But ironically, these very examples are corporate in nature and support the concept of a primarily corporate election visa-vis the covenant people of God. Each of these individuals was chosen as the corporate head and representative of the covenant and his covenant descendants.

I raised the individual nature of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s selection earlier; but Dr. Abasciano’s sidestepping of the issue is very apparent in what he says—or doesn’t say—right here.  Besides dealing with the individual aspect of Abraham’s election, or even the “individual” election of a nation, he changes the issue initially raised.

78: All agree that the Old Testament contains instances of individual divine election unto service. But the question we are dealing with is election unto salvation, the election of the covenant people of God, which establishes people as belonging to God and, at least ideally, as beneficiaries of his salvation.

Ah.  This is how it’s done.

Huge problems with this approach.  1) How is salvation conferred in the OT?  Was it necessary to be among God’s people to receive his revelation, worship, prophets, etc.  All of the things necessary to hear the word of God and be saved?  If so, then salvific election is a direct corollary to election unto “service,” or Israel’s election.  2) The choice of Abraham is undeniably salvific in nature.  Again, Abraham was taken—nay elected—out of a land of idolatry and was given a promise and God covenanted with him.  It would be silly to think that God called Abraham out of Ur, made a covenant with him, made him the father of the faithful, blessed him above others, but had no salvific purpose.  3) Even if not salvific, how does this actually deal with the problem, that God selected Abram rather than any other to make a blessing (Gen 12:3) and a great nation?  4) You must then deal with the promise, blessing, and salvation given to Isaac and Jacob and not Ishmael or Esau.  Before they were yet born…so that God’s purpose according to election might stand…need I go on?

The rest of this section is a response to varying views among Calvinists or individual election proponents, and I don’t really care to deal with positions that might not be mine.

What is important, is that Dr. Abasciano did not deal with the distinction I made earlier about the nature in Spiritual and national Israel.  There most certainly is a distinction, and the NT makes it clear.  Incorporation into one is not equal to incorporation into the other; and the means by which one is joined to the invisible church is not the same as the visible church; it is an act of a gracious God that saves wretches from their mire and filth.  Anything less has not dealt faithfully with the Scripture.

Conclusion

My concluding thought is this: Dr. Abasciano—as with any corporate proponent—really does not offer a cohesive, logical, or consistent interpretation of election in the NT (or OT).  If you need the OT example, look no further than Paul in Romans 11:2-6, and think about it before you read all of the Synergist responses (the Scriptures speak plainly of a spiritual people chosen and retained by God’s grace alone—in Christ):

“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?  “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”  But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

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[1] It should be noted that Dr. Schreiner, in his response to Dr. Abasciano, brings up Romans 8:30 in light of individual election.  Dr. Abasciano does not reckon with it in any of his articles to this point.

[2] Thomas R. Shreiner, “Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (June, 2006), 376.

[3] I would want to push this further than this current response warrants; I think the corporate nature of Israel, and the emphasis over individualism, makes a great argument for infant/household baptisms.  See J.V. Fesko, Water, Word, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), specifically chapter 14.

[4] http://www.monergism.com/calvin-ephesians-14-5; http://vintage.aomin.org/JWDB5.html; http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-2/JETS_49-2_373-386_Schreiner.pdf; for starters.

[5] See John 1:12-13; 3:3-8; Romans 6:17-18; 1 Cor 1;28-31 (I highlight this one especially because of the use of “in Christ”, and the manner in which we are placed “in Christ); Eph 2:1-10; 1 Peter 1:3-5; et al.  More can easily be provided and expounded upon.

Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com (#5)

•January 20, 2015 • 3 Comments

This is the fifth post in a series of observations about Leighton Flowers’s post on SBCToday.com, The Five Points that Led Me Out of Calvinism.  

Find the Introduction Here, Part #2 Here, Part #3 Here, and Part #4 Here.

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It appears I’ve ruffled some feathers at SBCToday.com.  And, as they would have it, I am extremely threatened by them.  I guess I am threatened by error; so sure.  The lack of meaningful response to anything I have written is duly noted, but I feel I’ve been more than cordial in my treatment of Mr. Flowers’s posts—something not reciprocated by those on the SBCToday comment board.  While they are busy accusing Calvin of the worst crimes, including pride and hatefulness, they never cease to spew their own.  Never mind all that though…

Moving on to Flowers’s last point:

 

Point #5: I came to understand that sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God that would be compromised by the existence of free moral creatures.  

This is no new argument, but it is worth considering.  He starts with a quote from AW Tozer:

God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.

It will be necessary for Flowers—as it was for Tozer—to show how this is the case from Scripture.  Not only that, but no one denies a will given to the creature, the point is: what state is that will now in after the fall?  Taking us back to the problem with most of Flowers’s points.

“Some seem to believe that for God to be considered ‘sovereign’ then men cannot have a free or autonomous will.  Should sovereignty be interpreted and understood as the necessity of God to ‘play both sides of the chess board’ in order to ensure His victory?”

Flowers needs to define free and autonomous.  Is it free and autonomous at all times?  In all situations?  Is the will affected by nature, circumstances, temptations, the fall, regeneration?  Is there anything in history that is known to God, but not decreed?  If so, does God take on knowledge as he sees things unfold in the future?  These are all questions worthy of consideration, and desperately needing an answer.

“I’m saying that the revelation of God’s holiness, His unwillingness to even tempt men to sin (James 1:13), His absolute perfect nature and separateness from sin (Is. 48:17), certainly appears to suggest that our finite, linear, logical constructs should not be used to contain Him (Is. 55:9).”

This is all fine and good.  After all, I’m a compatibilist.  It is not for me to reckon how man’s accountability and God’s sovereign decrees are reconciled, I can only admit that both are Scriptural, and be content to leave it at that.  I’d actually charge the person who rejects compatibilism with attempting to fit God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability into a logical or linear construct—so that it can make sense in their mind.

For example: if man is accountable then God must not decree all things, because to decree all things would make Him the author of sin.

This is what leads many people to reject the Biblical account of God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s will as compatible.

“One point that really helped me to understand the apparent contradiction of this debate was realizing the divine attribute of sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God.” (his emphasis)

Here, I think, Flowers misses the mark.  He goes on:

“What the Calvinist fails to see is that sovereignty means ‘complete rule or dominion over creation.’  For God to be in control over creation there has to be something created in which to control.  He cannot display His power over creatures unless the creatures exist.  Therefore, before creation the concept of sovereignty was not an attribute that could be used to describe God. An eternal attribute is something God possesses that is not contingent upon something else.”

Flowers may want to tread lightly here, before he rejects—out of hand—the proper definition of sovereignty.  The first question I asked upon reading this was: where does he get this definition of sovereignty?  The Bible certainly never speaks of God’s sovereignty in this manner.  The problem for the Flowers is evident: he is forced to change the definition in order to fit his new system.  No longer is Sovereignty an eternal attribute of God, meaning “absolute rule, dominion, power, kingship, authority, etc.”; it is now a role taken on by His interaction with creation.  The issue is the conflation of what has historical been understood as the Providence of God with the Sovereignty of God.  A.W. Pink has correctly defined the Sovereignty of God (see previous link), and I’m content to leave it with him:

What do we mean by [the sovereignty of God]? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

And he says elsewhere:

The Sovereignty Of God may be defined as the exercise of His supremacy (see preceding chapter). Infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth; subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent. God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him. So His own Word expressly declares: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10); “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand” (Dan. 4:35). Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things “after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).

As James White has rightly observed: Sovereignty is not something God does, it’s something God is.  Flowers may want to challenge that understanding, but he must demonstrate it Biblically—and refute the Biblical definition given.  God does not suddenly become sovereign once He chooses to create; his very choice to create is a demonstration of His sovereignty.

“The eternal attribute of God is His omnipotence, which refers to His eternally limitless power. Sovereignty is a temporal characteristic, not an eternal one, thus we can say God is all powerful, not because He is sovereign, but He is sovereign because He is all powerful, or at least He is as sovereign as He so chooses to be in relation to this temporal world.”

Splitting hairs here a bit.  It really matters not what word is used so long as the definition is understood.  This sentence really doesn’t make any sense: “God is all powerful, not because He is sovereign, but He is sovereign because He is all powerful.”  It might be better written as “God is sovereign and omnipotent.”

“If our all-powerful God chose to refrain from meticulously ruling over every aspect of that which He creates, that in no way denies His eternal attribute of omnipotence, but indeed affirms it. It is the Calvinist who denies the eternal attribute of omnipotence by presuming the all-powerful God cannot refrain from meticulous deterministic rule over His creation (i.e. sovereignty). In short, the Calvinist denies God’s eternal attribute of omnipotence in his effort to protect the temporal attribute of sovereignty.

Once again, Flowers must demonstrate this Biblically.  Where does the Bible speak of God giving up his sovereign direction of events?  I don’t want to call Flowers a deist, but one should recognize how far this can go.  He must also reckon with verses that directly contradict his understanding: Gen 50:20; 1 Sam 2:25Psa 139:16; Prov 16:4; Isa 10:5-19; 46:10; Matt 10:29-30; Acts 4:27-28Rom 9:19-24; Eph 1:11.  If the Calvinist denies what Flowers says they do, then it must be said, “the Synergist denies God’s supremacy, sovereignty, freedom, foreknowledge, and foreordination in his effort to protect the libertarian free will of the creature.”  Man’s will is elevated, God’s will is downplayed.  Trust me, recognizing God’s right to do as He pleases is sometimes a tough pill to swallow; it is tough even for those who confess it; but it is also the basis for our comfort, confidence, and hope that God is able and willing to work all things together for good for those who love Him (Rom 8:28).

 “The Omnipotent God has not yet taken full sovereign control over everything on earth as it is in heaven. Is not that His prerogative? Passages throughout the bible teach that there are ‘authorities’ and ‘powers’ which are yet to be destroyed, and that have been given dominion over God’s creation.”

Sadly, when Synergists head down a certain road, and it becomes all-important to defeat Calvinism, they tend to say some dangerous things.  His [mis]definition of sovereignty has already been addressed, but this is a comment that I would hope Mr. Flowers would want to qualify.  In a sense Flowers has a point; Christ has not yet subjugated all to a final judgement (well, already-not-yet); and God has permitted evil forces to continue for His “sovereign” purposes.  However, what is the implication of this statement?  Is the idea that God is now, somehow, completely hands-off?  Does He not still exercise dominion and sovereignty over all things that take place?  He allows free reign of evil forces, unhindered, and outside of His sovereign, omnipotent, immutable decree?  This needs clarification.

What he says has a tinge of truth, but what he implies by the way he’s been arguing has unsavory consequences on a person’s thoughts about God’s sovereignty and control of events.

He now goes on to list the passages that show how authority is still being given to temporal powers, including: Isa 24:21; Eph 6:12; Col 2:20; 1 Cor 15:24.  But again, we must not understand these as though God has no present control or decreetive purpose in what comes to pass.  To say that takes these verses much too far.

“Much more could be said, but in short we must refrain from bringing unbiblical conclusions based upon our finite perceptions of God’s nature.”

Much more could be said, and one really wishes he had spent more time to say it.  One especially wishes he had taken the time to show us the Scripture that led him his conclusions.  His hope may have not been to “convert” the Calvinists reading, but he certainly didn’t try.  [Side note: I for one hate the “I’m never going to change your mind, you’re never going to change mine, so why bother” mentality; to me it downplays the ability of the Spirit to convict and enable people to have a greater understanding of Biblical truth].  And laying the charge of “unbiblical” is never good when your “reasons” never really included much Scripture.  Also, appealing to our “finite perceptions” is no excuse for not submitting to what is clearly revealed to us in Scripture.

Flowers then says some things I agree with, before getting to the proof texts commonly used, namely: 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Tim 2:4; John 3:16; 1 John 2:2.  These texts have been answered several times over, so it’s not really my objective to evaluate them one by one (maybe in the future).  Because he sort of carpet-bombs the end of this post, and just lays down a bunch of verses that he assumes a Synergist meaning to, I have chosen to remain on the original subject: sovereignty.  So I really just want to respond to one more thing he says before concluding this:

“No man will stand before the Father and be able to give the excuse, ‘I was born unloved by my Creator.  I was born unchosen and without the hope of salvation.  I was born unable to see, hear or understand God’s revelation of Himself.'”

Oy!  This is another one of those statements that just makes me wonder how I can believe this guy was a “former Calvinist.”  I just don’t think I could ever reject Calvinism and then make arguments like this; I should hope they’d be a bit more fair and understanding.

One more time: The reason men won’t come to Christ is not because God won’t enable/allow them, it’s because of their sin. But they won’t come unless God enables them, because of their sin.

Or as Piper (I think) once put it: if we find ourselves in hell we have no one to thank but ourselves; if we find ourselves in heaven we have no one to thank but God.

That Flowers would make such a cavalier statement is telling, unfortunately.  It truly belittles the Scriptural account of man’s sin and God’s gracious provision.  Even if Flowers decides to remain in the Synergist camp, hopefully he will take more care to understand the position he once held to, and not paint it in the most objectionable light in order to defeat it.

 

Conclusion

It was Mr. Flowers’s stated objective to help all—even the Calvinists—reading his blog to REALLY understand why he ended up abandoning his Calvinist position.  But, as I have said several times, he has failed to REALLY help us understand for two simple reasons:

1) He provided no convincing case that his Calvinism was ever really grounded in a Reformed church or based on a all-encompassing worldview conviction.  Reformed theology and ecclesiology is based on more than 5 points, and it is best fostered by a church that integrates the doctrines of grace into the practice and life of the local church.  Moreover, the doctrines of grace are not a social club or academic affiliation, they are not rooted in a “brotherhood of ministers.”  Flowers’s account of his move from the Reformed doctrines to a Synergistic semi-pelagianism seems to focus more attention on the friends or influence he might lose, rather than his views of the Scripture, man’s condition, and God’s sovereignty.  One would like to see that those things were very difficult to change his mind on, because they ought to have undergirded his entire worldview and his Christian walk.

2) Flowers’s attempt to help us understand his move away from Calvinism is even further diminished by his lack of Scriptural exegesis.  It is one thing to proof-text and assume a Synergistic meaning into things, and then expect others to come to that conclusion; it’s another to actually look at the verse in context and to thoughtfully consider the implications of your interpretation.   I can as easily cite Romans 9:11 as the Synergist can cite John 3:16—and we can both just assume our interpretation; and this is often what the discussion is boiled down to; but I don’t think it’s a faithful way to handle the Scriptures.  I’m not interested in tricking people into the Calvinist position by showing them prooftexts out of context; I want them to honestly assess the Scriptures, to consider them, to pray, and to continue asking questions.  I think we need to see more analysis and willingness to explain context, writers, audience, etc.  Flowers cites passages, but he gives no meaningful analysis.  In fact, most of his assertions are backed up with nothing more than an exclamation point.  This does not help anyone REALLY understand.

I do hope I let Mr. Flowers speak for himself, and gave each of his points due consideration.  I’m more than willing to hear the thoughts of those who disagree; but I would please ask for Biblical analysis for the assertions you make.  I will try to respond in kind.

SDG,

Jon

 

Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com (#4)

•January 16, 2015 • 2 Comments

This is the fourth post in a series of observations about Leighton Flowers’s post on SBCToday.com, The Five Points that Led Me Out of Calvinism.  

Find the Introduction Here, Part #2 Here, and Part #3 Here.

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I’ve decided to split up Mr. Flowers’s last two points.  Each are important topics, the 4th having to do with Irresistible Grace, and the 5th with the sovereignty of God.  If the 5th point wasn’t such a massive one (not that his response is massive, but the topic is), I think I could do both, but I wanted to write on God’s sovereignty in more depth.

So on to Point #4:

 

Point #4: I accepted the fact that a gift doesn’t have to be irresistibly applied in order for the giver to get full credit for giving it.

“According to Calvinism, God does not merely enable people to believe (as the scriptures say), but He has to actually change their very nature so as to certainly make them believe.”

Right.  Well, God changes the heart and draws them in love, sure.

“As a Calvinist I remember shaming other Christians for ‘stealing God’s glory’ by suggesting they played any role in their salvation. I insisted they would be “boasting” to believe that they chose to come to Christ unless they first admitted that God irresistibly changed their nature to make them want to come.”

Think I addressed this in the last post, so I will defer to that discussion.  As for shaming them, I don’t know if that’s necessary, a Christian just ought to desire to give God all of the credit—and none to their own libertarian free will (i.e. their right choices…that others didn’t make).

“I recall a wise elder from my home church challenging me on this point by asking, ‘Why do you believe God’s choice of you for no apparent reason is less boast worthy than his choice of me for being a weak beggar?’ I honestly did not know what he meant at the time, but I do now.”

At this point we are still ignoring the crux of the problem, namely, man’s state in sin.  This point, so far, is not much different than the last.  Mr. Flowers has disregarded the main point of the argument, and made it seem as though being a “weak beggar” isn’t praiseworthy.  The problem is, no where in Scripture does it give the indication that man can, wants, or will come as a weak beggar unless God—by His gracious will (election)—brings them under a conviction of their sin, by the Holy Spirit, and makes them recognize their absolute need for a perfect Savior that has fully paid for their [particular] sins.

“I used to think the idea that God chose to save me before I was born and done anything good or bad was humbling, but it is not near as humbling as the reality that God would chose [sic] to save me in the middle of my worse [sic] sin, my brokenness, my humiliation and my shame.  Like the prodigal who returned home from the pigsty of his life, broken and humiliated, seeking to beg for handouts, deserving nothing but punishment, receives instead the gracious love of a father, I too felt the choice of a Father to forgive me right then and there in the middle of my filth.”

I think Flowers has a bit of a misunderstanding regarding Calvinism, despite whatever “formerness” he may claim.  I really want to ask him who put him in the circumstances that led him to his realization that he needed forgiveness?  What brought the thoughts before his attention?  What led him to know he deserved punishment?  It’s a bit naive to think that he was walking in sinfulness, rebelling against God, following the whims of his fallen will, and then one day—apart from the providence, direction, and proactive work of God—he randomly came upon the thought, “hey…I need Jesus!”  But hey, I’ll leave that consideration up to the reader; but be aware that a cursory reading of the Old Testament will quickly reveal that God orchestrates things to His purpose; that includes bringing people to a sense of their wickedness and a need for forgiveness, or leaving them in their sin.

Here’s a quick example, for your careful reflection (emphasis added):

Now Eli…kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.  And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people.  No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad.  If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death” (1 Samuel 2:22-25).

And there’s many more like it.  Only by recognizing the condition of man and the sovereignty of God does the Calvinistic system—or these difficult passages—even begin to make sense.  Unfortunately, Flowers has shown no due consideration for the Scripture’s testimony concerning man’s condition, and he leaves the issue of God’s sovereignty to the end, but we’ll get to that in the next point.

“It was not some theological concept of God picking me for no apparent reason out of the mass of humanity at some distant inexplicable time before time was.”

This just kills me, that he can be so dismissive of the Calvinistic concept of God’s perfect decrees, when he claims to have once been a lover of the doctrines of grace.  Theological concept?  How about “Biblical concept”?  We already touched on the verses that clearly speak to it.  Should there have been a reason?  Does that not make God a respecter of persons?  Not to mention how he has carefully avoided any discussion of Romans 9:11 in this particular place.  It’s okay to denigrate the position so long as you paint it as “Calvinism”; but I’d like for him to quote Romans, Eph 1:4 & 8-10, 2 Tim 1:9, or 1 Thess 1:4-5, then immediately follow it with the words he’s been using here.

“Why can’t we give God all the glory for enabling mankind to respond to His gracious truth?  Why must he irresistibly cause our acceptance of that truth in order for Him to get full glory for giving it?”

Simple.  Because the Scriptures never speak of this general “enablement,” that spreads out God’s grace peanut-butter style, but never actually accomplishes anything without man’s 2 cents—i.e. self-humilation, self-manufactured faith, or repentance.  God must give us a new heart, that new heart will be alive to God, and desire to know Him.

“It in no way robs God of glory by suggesting He does not irresistibly determine men’s choice to accept or reject the gospel appeal.”

Forget the way he paints this in a negative tone; I think the Scriptures speak plainly enough for themselves; and notice to whom thanks is given:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…” (Rom 6:16-18).

“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 2:13-14).

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37&39).

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (Eph 2:4-5).

Here are more to consider: Deut 30:6Psa 115:1; Ez 36:26-27 (and really the whole section); Rom 8:29-30; Eph 1:6 & 12; 1 Thess 1:4-5.  These are not meant to be read as proof text, but in their context, with the full understanding of the argument or point being made.

The conclusions ought to be simple; it’s sad that there are those so opposed to it that they must find emotional, philosophical, or deceptive arguments to work around it.

“In fact, it seems to lesson His glory by making Him appear disingenuous in that appeal sent to all people.  Should not God get the glory even for the provision of those who reject Him?”

It would’ve been good for Mr. Flowers to elaborate at this point, because it is merely an assertion with no argument—and no Scripture.  Not many a Calvinist would say the offer is not genuine.  This is, again, the Synergist framing the Calvinist position in their Synergistic box and claiming that we use double-speak when we say God freely offers the gospel to all those who hear it.  But this is another misunderstanding of Calvinism, that Flowers should know.  I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again…

The reason men won’t come to Christ is not because God won’t enable/allow them, it’s because of their sin. But they won’t come unless God enables them, because of their sin.

The Synergist always tries to place the blame on God, rather than where it rightly belongs: the sinner.  The gift is free, and freely offered, but men are dead, blind, lost, rebellious, disobedient—only the Calvinist position remains true to the Scriptural account of man’s condition and God’s grace.

Mr. Flowers ends with a Lewis quote, and I agree with it.  I don’t agree with it in the way he’s trying to use it, but I think I’ve said enough to deal with this point.  Again, Mr. Flowers does not adequately deal with man’s condition, or the Biblical record, therefore we are left wanting to REALLY understand why he left the Calvinist position.

SDG,

Jon

Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com (#3)

•January 14, 2015 • Comments Off on Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com (#3)

This is the third post in a series of observations about Leighton Flowers’s post on SBCToday.com, The Five Points that Led Me Out of Calvinism.  

Find the Introduction Here and Part #2 Here.

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In the last post I looked at Mr. Flowers’s first two points that led him out of Calvinism.  In his effort to help us to REALLY understand why he left, we haven’t seen anything too convincing or helpful to this point.  Hopefully his next point will offer a bit more (I’ve changed my mind on how many to deal with in this post, as this one took a bit more evaluation).  It is:

 

Point #3: I realized that the decision to humble yourself and repent in faith is not meritorious. Even repentant believers deserve eternal punishment.

I think you may find some Calvinists who feel that “faith” or “repentance” is a “work” in the same sense as Sabbath keeping or ritual sacrifice in the OT—but its not that common.  When Paul makes the statement, “for we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28), he clearly makes the distinction.  That said, faith and repentance, if not graciously imparted, becomes a grounds for boasting if it is thought that the person exercising faith and repentance merely expresses it by their libertarian will—something no Calvinist believes, because we believe in the depravity of man.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)

In Paul’s discussion here, there is no mention of works of the law, only a distinction between “trespasses,” “sin,” “disobedience,” (v.1-2) and “good works” (v. 10) that we are predestined to perform by the enabling grace of God (v.4 & 10).  To say that faith does not merit/earn justification is really to flip this verse on its head; prior to the God’s action to regenerate us, we are considered the “sons of disobedience.”  Conversely, because of God’s action, we become the sons of obedience, as Paul calls it in another place: “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26).  This is important to keep in mind as we go through this point.

“Calvinists are notorious for asking the unsuspecting believer, ‘Why did you believe in Christ and someone else does not; are you smarter, or more praiseworthy in some way?’ I asked this question more times than I can remember as a young Calvinist. What I (and likely the target of my inquiry) did not understand is that the question itself is a fallacy known as ‘Begging the Question.'”

Here’s the issue with Flowers’s argument: 1) it’s not a fallacy if the person asking the question (P1) assumes that the person being asked (P2) holds to a Biblical worldview.  That is, P1 assumes that P2 does not believe man’s will is so autonomously free from outside influences, the effects of sin, or God’s sovereignty that he makes choices based on no conditions, circumstances, contexts, presuppositions, etc.  If P2 believes that, then we need to back up and discuss that first.  2) The question itself is not really “begging the question” in the first place; there really is no conclusion being assumed by the premise.  If someone asked you, “Why do you like guacomole?  Is it tasty or something?”  Your response likely won’t be, “that’s circular reasoning! You’ve assumed that I make choices based on experience or facts!”  But that’s pretty much what Flowers does here to obfuscate the reader from any sensible understanding of man’s condition and God’s grace in salvation.  You’ll see what I mean.

“For instance, if the issue being disputed was whether or not you cheat on your taxes and I began the discussion by asking you, ‘Have you stopped cheating on your taxes yet?’ I would be begging the question.”

Hate to nitpick, but this—for those interested—is a loaded question, not begging the question.  If this is the fallacy he’s talking about, it would fit closer with the question he is trying to undermine.  But again, point 1 above still holds true, namely: we assume that P2 has a Biblical view of God and man.

“…in the case of the Calvinist asking ‘Why did you make this choice,’ he/she is presuming a deterministic response is necessary thus beginning the discussion with a circular and often confounding game of question begging.”

No.  We are presuming a Christian worldview.  Only with Flowers’s explanation does anything really get confounding…

“The inquiry as to what determines the choice of a free will presumes something other than the free function of the agent’s will makes the determination, thus denying the very mystery of what makes the will free and not determined.”

Again, this has several problems.  1) Man’s will is not free in the sense of libertarian free will (i.e. it is not free from the effects of sin and a depraved mind; it is not free from the influences of satan; it is not free from the sovereign purposes of God; it is not free from temporal circumstances or experience).  2)  This gets back to what I was saying about us assuming they have a worldview grounded in the Biblical account of man’s nature and man’s will.  Verses like Rom 8:5-8 only make sense in a theology that properly accounts for how man’s will is affected by the fall:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

As I said in the last post, they must downplay the sinful condition of man.

“The cause of a choice is the chooser.  The cause of a determination is the determiner. It is not an undetermined determination, or an unchosen choice, as some attempt to frame it. If someone has an issue with this simply apply the same principle to the question, ‘Why did God choose to create mankind?’  He is obviously all self-sustaining and self-sufficient. He does not need us to exist. Therefore, certainly no one would suggest God was not free to refrain from creating humanity. So, what determined God’s choice to create if not the mysterious function of His free will?”

I hesitated to respond to this smoke screen; I’m not a big fan of those who can’t sustain an argument by using Biblical language.  But 1) we are not God.  We are not the first cause.  2) God chooses according to His nature.  His nature is good, perfect, holy, etc.  Whatever His reasons were, they were according to His nature.  Our nature is evil, disobedient, sinful, etc.  It’s the opposite; and we choose according to our nature just as He does.  3) I’ll say it again, they must downplay man’s condition.

“Why not appeal to mystery BEFORE drawing conclusions that could in any way impugn the holiness of God by suggesting He had something to do with determining the nature, desire and thus evil choices of His creatures?”

Only when they have fit the Calvinist system within their Synergistic box does this sentence even make sense.  Perhaps the questions to ask a Synergist at this point is: how does God know the future?  Why did God allow sin in the world (hint: “free will” doesn’t answer the question)?  What is the purpose of sin and evil?  Is it purposeless?  Does it happen outside of God’s plans?

Or more to the point.  How do you make sense of Biblical passages like Gen 50:20; Prov 16:33Isaiah 10:5-19; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Eph 1:11?  God is not the author of sin, this is true.  But He is in control, He does ordain all that comes to pass.  Holding the two together might be a mystery, but knowing that both are true is not; it’s revealed to us—you must deal with it.

“What also must be noted is that the decision to trust in Christ for our salvation is not a meritorious work.  Asking for forgiveness does not merit being forgiven.”

Touched on this earlier.  The question is really not “what does forgiveness merit?” but, “how does one come to a position of asking for forgiveness?”  That Flowers would paint it this way shows a lack of accuracy for the position he is attempting to debunk.

When speaking of forgiveness, or repentance, the Scriptures speak of it as something received graciously from God, like faith.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…” (2 Tim 2:24-25).  Also, “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).  So the rest of Flowers’s example (“Did the prodigal son earn, merit or in any way deserve the reception of his father on the basis that he humbly returned home?  Of course not. He deserved to be punished, not rewarded“) really doesn’t address the right question; it isn’t whether his asking for forgiveness merited reception, it’s how he came to the position of wanting to ask for forgiveness.

“Humiliation and brokenness is not considered ‘better’ or ‘praiseworthy’ and it certainly is not inherently valuable.  The only thing that makes this quality ‘desirable’ is that God has chosen to grace those who humble themselves, something He is in no way obligated to do.  God gives grace to the humble not because a humble response deserves salvation, but because He is gracious.”

Addressed this already.  But again, he’s missing the point.  When he says, “God has chosen to grace those who humble themselves,” he has neglected the entire problem of man’s fallen condition.  And most of these guys don’t go this far, they typically admit to some sort of prevenient grace that enables a person to “humble themselves”—but that is another unbiblical position that would require a much longer blog post.

For now, this should suffice.  I may try to lump the last two points into one, but I never know until I start writing.

SDG,

Jon

Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com (#2)

•January 9, 2015 • 3 Comments

This is the second post in a series of observations about Leighton Flowers’s post on SBCToday.com, The Five Points that Led Me Out of Calvinism.  

Find the Introduction Here.

———————————————————————

So last time I looked briefly at Mr. Flowers’s introduction to his 5 points that led him out of Calvinism.  What we saw was a person who seemed to be pretty involved, but shows no indication that it was the basis for his whole worldview, but more of a club to which he belonged.  His greatest concerns for leaving were losing position, friends, and/or respect; not the things most Calvinists might think would be their chief concern, such as the shift in perception of God’s holiness, sovereignty, character and man’s state in sin (along with all of the beliefs affected by that shift; i.e. evangelism, apologetics, ecclesiology).

Now we turn to his actual points.  My plan is to take the first two in this post, points 3 and 4 in the next, and point 5 in the last.  His first two points are:

Point #1: I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation.   

Point #2: I came to understand the distinction between the doctrine of Original Sin (depravity) and the Calvinistic concept of “Total Inability.”  

To the first…

Point #1: I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation.

In this first point, Flowers tries to do what most non-Calvinists do—distance themselves from an Arminian soteriology.  It’s understandable, and proper for the most part; after all, most of them do not believe that man can fall out of a state of grace (how they maintain that is in question, but that’s off point for now).  So Flowers makes this distinction:

“I had so saturated myself with Calvinistic preachers and authors that the only thing I knew of the opposing views was what they told me. Thus, I had been led to believe the only real alternative to Calvinism was this strange concept of God ‘looking through the corridors of time to elect those He foresees would choose Him.'”

Couple things.

1) This reveals a bit of his lack of objectivity that he preached about in the introduction.  By the word “saturate,” I take to mean that he was well-immersed in the preaching and writings of “Reformed” theologians, and I don’t mean just the ones who write a monthly, 120-page booklet to keep their names known in the Young, Restless, and Reformed camp.  How much did he read of theologians on the topic of God’s foreknowledge and fore-ordination?  I can’t know how much reading he does, or how much he ‘saturated’ himself, but based on his comments, there’s no indication that he heavily dealt with the issue from both sides; especially because his statement comes off a bit flippantly, as if this is the only argument Calvinists know and have ever dealt with.  Note, not even the five Remonstrances of the Arminians spells out predestination/election that way:

“God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end.” (Article 1)

Flowers might be surprised to find how close his position of corporate election (which he espouses later) is to the position of many an Arminian.  The point is, the “corridors of time” is not the only position ever handled, and his inability to locate anyone who discussed it is disconcerting—and unfortunate.

2) Flowers is ignoring (or not wanting to go into) some of the nuances in the discussion.  “God looking through the corridors of time…” is simply a way for many non-Calvinists to deal with what the Scriptures clearly teach, that individuals are elected to salvation: For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (Rom 8:29-30).  Arminius, and others, were looking for a way to understand the implication of verses such as Rom 8:29-30—including appeals to Molinism.  Corporate election cannot account for the way the Scriptures speak of electing, calling, and regenerating individuals to belong to the corporate body (Matt 24:31; Rom 9:11; 11:4-6; Eph 1:4-14; 2:1-10; 2 Tim 2:10; 2 Peter 1:10).  Moreover, corporate election’s idea that God has set the boundaries in Christ, for all those who meet the boundary conditions, cannot be supported from the Scriptures—let alone explain verses like John 6:44-65 or Eph 2:8-10.

“In my experience, very few Calvinists give this view the attention it deserves because it requires a shift in perspective that, if recognized, would undermine their entire premise.”

It may have been his experience, but all this says to me is that he did not take the time to give the Calvinist position the time it deserved.  Moreover, he should recognize that he’s not really saying anything here; the same could be said to the corporate election proponent (or any opposing worldview): considering Calvinism would undermine their entire premise and require a perspective change.

Unfortunately, Flowers’s first point suffers from a lack of any useful detail.  I understand that he merely wants us to understand the points that led him out of Calvinism.  But as he said, he wants us to REALLY understand.  This does not help.  It essentially tells us “it was the corporate view…go look it up.”  I want to understand why the corporate election model was convincing enough to undermine his entire epistemology/soteriology/worldview.  And how does he deal with the verses that flatly contradict his corporate understanding of election?  He gives us no way to know.  I suppose the remaining points reveal some more concerning this, but not enough.

 

Point #2: I came to understand the distinction between the doctrine of Original Sin (depravity) and the Calvinistic concept of “Total Inability.”  

The saying, “it [TULIP] all hangs on the T,” has some truth to it (though other things obviously have equal importance).  So it’s good to see that he recognizes that in the order of his points.

“Calvinists teach that ‘the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel,’ but I learned that is the condition of a judicially hardened man, not a natural condition from birth (Acts 28:27-28; John 12:39-41; Mark 4:11-12; Rom. 11).”

An interesting argument.  And probably not one used too often.  Not because it’s original or insightful, but because most would (should) recognize the difficultly of supporting it Scripturally.  Essentially the idea here is that every verse used of those deaf, blind, dead, or lost only apply to the hardened Jews—or to those who make themselves deaf, blind, dead, or lost.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really remain faithful to the Scripture.  For instance:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:1-3; emphasis mine)

And of course the rest of the verses fall apart if we apply his model to them.  “But God…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (v.4-5; emphasis mine).  It completely undermines the necessity of God’s regenerative act if we apply Flowers’s model to Ephesians here.

And maybe the most obvious—Romans 3:9-12ff—is not even given a passing mention:

“What then? Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not oneno one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.'” (emphasis mine)

‘All’ means ‘all’ right?  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (v.23)  It’s unfortunate that Mr. Flowers bought this stuff hook, line, and sinker without giving much thought to what he was saying.  More could be said, but the reader can look these up for starters, and deal with them faithfully: Gen 6:5; Rom 5:12-21 (especially 12); Rom 8:7; Col 1:21; Titus 1:15.

“At the time while Christ was on earth the Israelites, in John 6 for example, were being hardened or blinded from hearing the truth.  Only a select few Israelites, a remnant were given by the Father to the Son in order for God’s purpose in the election of Israel to be fulfilled.”

This seems to be a way to dismiss John 6:44 without actually having to deal with it.  It would be better for Flowers to show the verse, but it might reveal that what he’s saying doesn’t really make much sense in his system.  The argument of John 6 makes no mention of what he’s trying to espouse, and uses the word no one in reference to those who can come to the Father.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

There is no mention of a Jew-only hardening here, only the general statement that no one can unless drawn by the Father.  It is a typical tactic of non-Calvinist for problem passages to divert attention to another book, chapter, verse with a different context, audience, and point, and impose it on verses that give them trouble (I’ve seen John 12:32 applied to this passage as well).  In this case Flowers imposes Romans 11 on John 6, to get around what is clearly being said.

And when those in Jesus’s audience began to grumble at his teaching, His response was:

“Do you take offense at this?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believeThis is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (6:61-65)

The use of Romans 11, then, fails, mainly because of the unwarranted application to Jesus’s words.  It also fails within the chapter itself, and in the context of Romans, but I’m not too interested in dealing with his use of Romans 11 because at this point he is no longer dealing with the “total inability” issue, and has predicated his entire argument on a false foundation.  The burden lies with Mr. Flowers to show how the argument he’s made from Romans 11 can be used for the verses given above that actually speak to man’s condition.

To finish this section he concludes his points, but again they have little to do with the original point, which makes any Calvinist reading it justified in wondering: what happened to the inability argument?  So while he starts with the T in TULIP, he does nothing that makes one think he made a good decision in rejecting it.  I understand what he’s attempting to do with the Romans 11 argument, however a more poignant argument could be made by telling us how he came to understand actual “inability” passages differently (not many Calvinists use Romans 11 as an inability passage; while it can certainly be gleaned from those passages, it’s not commonly used).  Then we might REALLY understand.

He finishes by saying:

“When the scriptures spoke of Jesus hiding the truth in parables, or only revealing Himself to a select few, or cutting off large numbers of people from seeing, hearing and understanding the truth; I immediately presumed that those were passages supporting the “T” of my T.U.L.I.P. when in reality they are supporting the doctrine of Israel’s judicial hardening.”

He has not established this point contextually, within the passages mentioned above.  The alls, anyone, and no one are universal; there’s no way to get around it in Romans 3.  It’s always humorous to me when these individuals apply those terms to the whole world in the atonement’s application and salvation’s availability, but then limit it when it might debunk their system at the start.

Remember, they must change the condition of man’s heart, downplay their wretchedness, play with the doctrine of original sin, and ignore certain universal passages in order to make the rest work.  This is why it’s dangerous.  It all hangs on the T…

SDG,

Jon

Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com

•January 7, 2015 • Comments Off on Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com

SBCToday.com has become a fascinating site for me.  In many ways it’s like the Fox News of the SBC world: always on the watch for the Calvinists lurking around each corner, ready to destroy all that is good in the convention.  An honest observer might be tempted to think SBCToday stands for “Scared by Calvinists Today,” with the almost-once-a-day post about Calvinism.  One begins to wonder if they would have anything to talk about if Calvinists were wiped off the earth.  Apparently their ilk would be at a loss for conference topics.

Most of the posts—that have Calvinism as their subject—are rehashed pablum.  The same one-liners.  The same outlandish remarks about the evil God of Calvinism.  The same tired appeals to the “whosoever” of John 3:16.  The same philosophical casuistry.  Et cetera.  Et cetera.  Not much is worth responding to in any depth, because none of the posts are really of any depth (it’s not as though I haven’t written about most arguments against Calvinism anyway, so it isn’t really a great interest of mine to write the same things over and over.  My several posts on a book I reviewed covered most of them: Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist).  However, a recent series of posts has caught my attention, entitled The Five Points That Led Me Out of Calvinism, by Leighton Flowers.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the fact that I actually believe he may have been a former, professing Calvinist—something I don’t believe about most of the other professors.  Or perhaps it’s the reasonable tone he takes in discussing the topic—a rare find on SBCToday.

Whatever it was, it made me want to respond.  So that’s what I plan to do in the next few posts.  Admittedly, there probably won’t be anything new or profound, but hey, it’s good to be challenged and to think over one’s theology every once in a while.  The slight difference in his argumentation makes it worth consideration.

The five points will be the subject of the remaining posts.  But it’s the introduction to his articles that I wanted to write about first, because he does discuss his past experiences with the “Reformed” movement, and it sets up the reader for how to approach the opposition (Calvinism).

 

The Introduction

My first thought upon reading the introduction was: even if Flowers was indeed a former Calvinist, why is that relevant?  When I—or most others—make a case for Calvinism, I rarely appeal to how I was once an ardent synergist, who attended a synergist church, who believed it was my decision and prayer that finalized my salvation.  I just try to make the argument from Scripture.  I get that people may have asked why, but that’s the point.  This is what SBCToday wants—and those writing about Calvinism on their site often state their “formerness”; it’s like the EWTN show “The Journey Home.”  For some reason people feel like it legitimizes their position every time a person moves away from the dark side; their side must be the truth, and the arguments must be so compelling, if it can bring people out of Calvinism.  Maybe it will provide examples or anecdotes to tell that confirm their Calvinism horror stories.

That said, I always try to recognize someone’s legitimate concerns and their willingness to engage the other side with respect—and Flowers, I feel, does that.  So I appreciate his candor and care:

“I do not claim to be an expert in the field nor do I begrudge those who disagree with my perspective. I simply desire to rightly interpret the Word of God.”

And I believe that he truly struggled with it, out of a concern for upholding God’s Word.  I believe it would have been a difficult move.

“For me it [leaving Calvinism] was a painstaking three-year journey after I engaged in an in-depth study of the subject.”

“Even after being presented with several convincing arguments against my long held beliefs, I subconsciously felt I had too much too lose to leave my Calvinism.  My reputation, my friends, my ministry connections–all gone if I recant my views on this!”

Moreover, his warning is a good one: you ought to hear out the other side with respect, and try to understand their position, as you would want them to do for your position.  “If someone disagreed with me, my presumption was that they must not really understand my perspective.  So, instead of attempting to listen and objectively evaluate their arguments, I focused on restating my case more clearly, confidently, and dogmatically.”  And he fulfills his own warning, because it would appear that he did not “objectively” or “carefully” evaluate his first soteriological position (Calvinism) before owning it; a danger far too common in the Young, Restless, and Reformed.  Friendship, tradition, upbringing, or culture are not good reasons to dogmatically hold a theological/ideological position; it should always be evaluated, tested, and measured by the Scriptures and plain reason.  If your beliefs stand on friendships, culture, etc. then those same things can lead you away from it.

Perhaps my greatest concern/criticism of his introduction is its lack of any convincing detail.  Several recent articles (and this one) have spoken about talking past each other, but this articles is really just one example.  If his goal was to show his former Calvinism, it would have been more convincing if I felt he was actually grounded in a “Reformed” church.

If we mean “Reformed” simply as a soteriology (i.e. Calvinism), then I understand.  But historically “Reformed” means a bit more than just the T.U.L.I.P.  It’s certainly not less than that, but it is most definitely more.  The WCF didn’t write five chapters and call it enough.  So when he lists the names John MacArthur, John Piper, Matt Chandler, RC Sproul, J.I. Packer, and Louie Giglio, I raise an eyebrow when he uses the word “Reformed” shortly thereafter.  All great men, all Calvinist (in the TULIP sense), but I’d probably consider 1 (Sproul) a “Reformed” theologian (and it has nothing to do with baptism).

He tells us:

“I grew very convinced in my Calvinism over the next decade of life even helping to start a new ‘Reformed’ Baptist Church that split off from my home church…Later I served on staff at the new Reformed Church and then began working for the Texas Baptist state convention.”

But at this point, I don’t know what he means by Reformed, and I can’t find any record or mention of the church online.  Also, his autobiography makes no mention of being discipled in a Reformed church, he speaks of no appreciation for his time in a Reformed church, and there is no detail about his leadership responsibilities.  All of his mentions make it appear he was in a large social club, a “brotherhood of ministers,” as he calls it.  By his post—and I want to say this as nicely as I can—he appears to be someone who wants to make a name, to always have a leadership role.  And with all of his talk of “objectively” evaluating his position, I’m not sure he ever really took the time to “objectively” evaluate the Calvinism he held to.  Calvinism seems to be the group he fell into, as it appears he still does not really understand the Calvinist position throughout his points (especially the issues of depravity and God’s sovereignty).

But who cares, right?  Well the issue of rushing people into leadership is rather endemic throughout American Christianity.  If a person can speak well, write well, or reason well, then he has all of the qualifications for leadership; forget discipleship, holiness, conviction of belief, Titus 1:5-9 (especially 9).  I’m not saying Flowers wasn’t concerned for these things (because he says he was discipled by Chandler), I’m saying it does not appear he was ever truly rooted in a Reformed church that ought to accompany a Calvinistic soteriology—thus his Calvinism was doomed to be lopsided from the start.  Neither his introduction, nor his 5 points, make it clear that he was ever truly grounded in a Reformed perspective.  And based on his story it appears he hopped all over the place in leadership without that grounding:

+ Ministry position with GRACE at Hardin-Simmons University.

+ Starting a “Reformed” Baptist Church.

+ Working on its staff.

+ Working at the Texas Baptist state convention.

+ Member of “The Founders”

The lack of grounding becomes somewhat apparent in his reading of C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer.  While both are geniuses in their own right, I would hardly consider them theological heavyweights.  In fact, there is much in Lewis that scares me (i.e. his undermining of the Scriptures in the imprecatory Psalms; Reflections on the Psalms).

Furthermore, the things he feared losing for giving up his Calvinism tend to reveal where his Calvinism was grounded.  “My reputation, my friends, my ministry connections–all gone if I recant my views on this!”  Again, he never seems to have been convinced of his theological beliefs from the truth of Scriptures—or worried that changing his views might fundamentally change his understanding of God’s glory, holiness, sovereignty, etc.—these seem to be the things I’d be worried about, not so much what people might think of me for trying to honestly deal with the Scriptures.

More could be said on his introduction, but as he says, “my goal…is that you [Calvinists] simply understand the reasons I left Calvinism…and I mean REALLY understand.”  I read his post to REALLY understand, the problem is I don’t think he REALLY helped me to understand.

The brevity, ambiguity, and lack of Scripture proof have made it difficult for me to be even slightly convinced that he made the right decision.  But that’s for the next few posts…

Here’s a preview of his 5 Points that led him out of Calvinism:

Point #1: I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation.  

Point #2: I came to understand the distinction between the doctrine of Original Sin (depravity) and the Calvinistic concept of “Total Inability.”

Point #3: I realized that the decision to humble yourself and repent in faith is not meritorious. Even repentant believers deserve eternal punishment.

Point #4: I accepted the fact that a gift doesn’t have to be irresistibly applied in order for the giver to get full credit for giving it.

Point #5: I came to understand that sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God that would be compromised by the existence of free moral creatures.

 

SDG,

Jon

If I Have Gay Children: 4 Biblical Promises from a Christian Parent

•October 4, 2014 • Comments Off on If I Have Gay Children: 4 Biblical Promises from a Christian Parent

J

I’ll admit, the title agrees to a misconception.  To me, it is rather like naming it, “If My Child is a Sinner: 4 Biblical Promises from a Christian Parent.”  But in the spirit of some recent trending blogs (4 Promises from a Christian Pastor/Parent and A Rabbi’s 8 Promises), I want to address homosexuality specifically, and from a viewpoint glaringly absent from the others: the Biblical one.

So here are my 4 promises to my child from a Bible-believing, Christian parent:

 

1) I will raise them in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

By this is meant fearing God, hating sin, and treating the Scriptures with respect and as having authority over their lives.

Both articles cited above list as one of their promises: “If I have gay children, most likely; I have gay children.”  The promise, I gather, is that if they are going to be gay, they likely already are (hard to understand how it’s worded as a promise, or how the semicolon functions in this sentence, but I digress).  The conclusion being, “well, if they are that way, God made them that way, and we can’t (no, we shouldn’t) do anything to change it!”  What it really amounts to is: “I’m not going to fulfill my role as a parent to guide, correct, or teach my child…they are just going to do what they want to do.”

Let’s try it on other things that most self-professed Christians believe are still sins:  “God made me a thief;” “God made me a murderer;” “God made me a liar;” “God made me a pedophile;” “God made me love animals [bestiality];” “God made me love only myself.”  Not working the same, is it?  And yet the standard seems a bit double.  Why are these things wrong (ultimately)?  Is it because laws made them that way?  Society?  Or is it because God has declared these things evil?  It’s truly no wonder that those who tend to support homosexuality (or all letters of LGBT) have little regard for the Scriptures, and could really care less how they are directed to live.  We are all broken by the effects of the fall, we are all in need of forgiveness.  This is something these individuals never seem to understand, nor want to understand.

So then…

I promise to raise my child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  To fear God because He is holy.  To love God by obeying His commands.  To honor Him and do what pleases Him.  To trust in Jesus, because my child is born a sinner and needs a Savior.  And to instruct my child in the way that the Scriptures declare is best for him/her, because to truly love my child is to have their best interests at heart, even if that means not giving them everything they want.

 

2) I will love them.

The rest of these promises really flow from the first.

Love is defined Biblically, and it shows itself in action.  It is not some abstract emotion or theory attached to nothingness.  “God is love…In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:8-10).  God’s love is shown in action, and that action was sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  God does not simply declare a “love for the world,” He shows it.  

Here’s the point regarding child-rearing.  We do not simply say we “love them,” then show it by not caring anything for the decisions or actions they make or taking a hands-off approach; no, we give them direction, we speak truth to them, and we correct them when what they do might lead to their ruin (in this life or the next).  God defines love, and he tells us that to love our children is to instruct them in the ways that show love for God (Eph 6:4).

Furthermore, we are directed not only to love, but to speak truth.  “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15), and again, “…let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).  We love by speaking truth, even when it’s unpleasant.

 

3) I will not condone their sin [or any sin].

Again, if I love them and I am honest with them, then they will know that their homosexual desires (especially if acted on) are sinful, and an affront to God.  But if I raised them as I said I would, they would already know this, and they would know well enough that I will not allow for them to flaunt it around the rest of the family.  The same could be said if they were a heretic, promiscuous, atheistic, or a Mormon; I would allow them into my home and I would love them, but I would tell them their error/unbelief, plead with them, pray for them, and disallow them from spreading the error to the rest of my household.

 

4) I will pray for them.

Because I want to make this point by appealing to the opposite, I think it’s worth reading this “pastor’s” (the one cited in the first article above) words in full:

I won’t pray that God will heal or change or fix them. I will pray for God to protect them; from the ignorance and hatred and violence that the world will throw at them, simply because of who they are. I’ll pray that He shields them from those who will despise them and wish them harm; who will curse them to Hell and put them through Hell, without ever knowing them at all. I’ll pray that they enjoy life; that they laugh, and dream, and feel, and forgive, and that they love God and humanity.

Above all, I’ll pray to God that my children won’t allow the unGodly treatment they might receive from some of His misguided children, to keep them from pursuing Him.

In other words, he won’t be praying for their soul, their conversion, their holiness, their sanctification, their love for God, their desire to know Christ, their respect for the Scriptures, their respect for the authorities over them, or their love for the church.  I promise that I will pray for my child in these ways.  And if they are homosexual (or a liar, or a fornicator, or an adulterer, or disrespectful to their mother), I will pray for their repentance and faith.

And notice that if you are honest with the child; if you tell that child they are a sinner in need of Christ; if you tell them that sin is real and that we need to know what honors God and what doesn’t; then you are likely the “unGodly” one he references.  Has there been hatred toward homosexuals?  Sure.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t legitimate concerns or that the position isn’t a transgression against God (just as there are people who wrongfully hate Jews, and have persecuted them; that doesn’t make the Gospel call to repentance and faith illegitimate).

I pray my children knows what sin is, that they have a deep conviction of its heinousness and their dire need for Christ.  I pray that they come to Christ, and that they desire to please Him by daily putting to death their sinful desires.

I WILL pray that God heals, changes, and fixes my children.  That is what Christ came to do…to fix the broken.

“For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” -Matthew 9:13

 

Conclusion

The post by the Methodist “pastor” is probably the most concerning one, especially since it ends with the predictable, “I really couldn’t care less [what you think]” line (an ABSOLUTELY unChristian thing for anyone to say), that essentially rules out any real discussion on the issue (or correction).  Thought is not at a premium in our society, emotions are, and it forms/informs the whole argument for this “pastor.”  It is most dangerous because this man purports to be a Christian—and what’s more, a pastor—all while protecting sin under the cloak of religiosity.  Moreover, the tenor of the article makes it seem that the opposite—to be against homosexuality—precludes one from praying, caring for, respecting, or loving their child.  These types of articles are not only misguided, they are wicked, and they need to be called such.

Careful you don’t idolize your kids.  God is above them and their feelings, He entrusted them to you, you’d (we’d) do well to consider what that means for your (our) parenting.

SDG,

Jon

 
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