Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part Three

220px-John_Calvin_2Up to this point we have looked at the first three chapters of Pastor Ronnie Rogers’s book, Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist. So far most of the material has focused primarily on the eternal perspective, subjects like predestination, predetermination, foreknowledge, and election. Now we begin to delve into the subject of sin entering the world, anthropology (the study of man), and the atonement; chapters I intend to cover are:

Chapter IV – Origin of Sin

Chapter V – Depravity of Man

Chapter VI – Atonement for Sin

Many important subjects to the debate, so a lot to cover, let me get started.

Note: For introductory remarks refer to my first post in this series of blog posts. Also, I am hoping to pick up the pace here and be a little less specific with each chapter, so this doesn’t become a year long thing; if there are any arguments you find in this book, or elsewhere, bring them up in the comments.

     Chapter IV: Origin of Sin

The subject of sin’s origin comes up quite often in debates I’ve had with Synergists, and usually the attempt is made to force a Calvinist into a corner, to admit that God is the author of sin.  After all, if God ordains all things–the argument goes–then he must’ve ordained sin as well.  But as I’ve brought up before, no Calvinist would/should ever say this (the Westminster Confession certainly doesn’t), so why is it so often leveled against the Calvinist?  And why is it fallacious to do so?

To the former, it is as with most arguments against Calvinism, a case cannot be made against Calvinism from the Scriptures (in context) therefore these arguments need to be brought in to try to appeal the emotions, without any real thought involved.  It is much like the culture we live in today, and how people decide their beliefs, but I digress.

To the latter, how does doing all of this free the Synergist from dealing with the problem of sin?  In either case you must come to grips with the fact that God created a world, fully knowing that sin would enter it, and therefore having some part in it.  Unless of course you believe in Open Theism (but I know Pastor Rogers does not subscribe to it).  If God does not take on knowledge, then that means He went forward with creating a world knowing every evil act that would ever occur, and did nothing to stop it, or change it. You see the problem with attempting to throw it on the lap of the Calvinist and act like it is only a question for them to answer?

“I affirm that Lucifer, Adam, and Eve possessed the ability to have exercised their free choice of either obeying God or disobeying Him” (16).

“I disaffirm that the origin of sin is due to God creating creatures to inevitably sin, withholding grace or ordering circumstances so that man had to sin…” (16).

Me too.  And every other Calvinist.  I’m sure Pastor Rogers is familiar with compatibilism (but perhaps not, because on page 17 Pastor Rogers gives an incorrect definition of compatibilism, at least as it regards free will and predestination).  I’ve already shown the examples of Gen 50:20 and Acts 2:23, so I would refer back to part 2.

The rest of the chapter is essentially null and void due to it being irrelevant (because Calvinists believe what Pastor Rogers accuses them of not beleiving) and a strawman (because Calvinists don’t believe half of what he accuses them of believing in this chapter).  So then, I end this part with a single question:

Is God always in control?  If not, then when?  If so, then how?  It is not difficult to understand why someone would become an Open Theist when calling God’s sovereignty into question, it is simply taking the Synergistic model that Pastor Rogers presents here to its logical end.  If God is not in control of all things, then He is not God, at least not the one presented in the Bible (Eph 1:11; Rom 8:28).

     Chapter V: Depravity of Man

“I affirm that man is dead in his sins (Ephesians 2:1), and that the fall of man corrupted every aspect of man, making him utterly incapable of turning to or relating to God in any meaningful way without God initiating and enabling him to do so” (21).

Sounds good right?  The Calvinist position would affirm that man is dead in his sins, and that the fall corrupted his nature, making him incapable of turning or relating to God without God initiating and quickening him to do so.  The difference is, Pastor Rogers will say that all men are enabled (see the first paragraph on page 21).  The question will come up again: Where is that in the Bible?  Answer: It isn’t.

At this point Pastor Rogers is going to make a statement that will come up numerous times throughout his book, I want to deal with it at this point, because it is crucial to his understanding of depravity, the atonement, and God’s electing grace.  Here is his statement:

“Moreover, no one can come to God without God drawing (John 6:44) and that God is drawing all men (John 12:32).  The same Greek word for draw, helkuo, is used in both verses.”

This phrase is actually repeated throughout Pastor Rogers’s book, so I think it should be dealt with at this point.  This is at the same time an attack on the doctrine of man’s depravity and God’s sovereign choice in the salvation He bestows.  Pastor Rogers recognizes that if John 6:44 were left to stand as is (as in the Calvinist understanding) then it would be a sure proof of man’s inability to come to Jesus without the Father first drawing (that is, calling, initiating, or electing) that person.  So then something must be done in order to make it appear that is not what Jesus is truly conveying.

The problem is, if left in its proper context, the verse leaves one with no other option.  For Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  The final italicized version is a portion that I think Pastor Rogers’s interpretation cannot deal with, especially by inserting John 12:32 into the mix.  John 12:32 says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Why is this a problem?  Let’s try to phrase the verse in the way Pastor Rogers would like for it to be read:  “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will draw all people to myself.  And I will raise him [or them] up on the last day.”  Kind of leaves you in a predicament, no?  Either, one, you’ll have to say that Christ is not referring to the same thing in both verses (despite the use of the same Greek word, which really means nothing; I use the same English word “everyone” for “everyone is created by God” and “everyone knows I hate math,” doesn’t mean I have the same intended meaning).  Or two, you might have to say that Christ raises everybody up on the last day.  Is Pastor Rogers’s meaning that all men are saved, I know the answer is no…but how you interpret Scripture matters.

One more thing, I do not like the method of interpreting passages like this.  Used to be that I would love to have prooftext battles to defend Calvinism.  The arguments would go from John 6:44 to 2 Peter 3:9 to Ephesians 1:4 to 1 Timothy 2:4, and that gets nowhere.  I have since become more in favor of treating texts within their proper context; so in this case I would want to go verse by verse through John 6, or Romans 9, or Ephesians 1 and 2…because my contention is that no Arminian or Synergist can be consistent with their interpretation of these passages, without introducing multiple outside references and philosophical arguments.

Finally, how should one understand Jesus’s later comments when speaking about why the people following him were still unbelieving and grumbling about his teaching?  When He says, “‘It is the Spirit who gives lifethe 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 believe.’…And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father‘” (vv. 63-65).  Do you really believe that John 12:32 is applicable here?

“I disaffirm that the technical meaning of being spiritually dead is adequately illustrated by using…dead people in a cemetery…in order to show that like them, the lost who are dead in sin cannot believe until they have been given life–regenerated.  This picture is actually contrary to the panoply of Scripture.  For example, Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess…and believe in your heart” which no physically dead graveyard man can do, but a spiritually dead man, by the grace of God, can do” (22).

Uh, what?  At this juncture I begin to think that Pastor Rogers is not really dealing with the argument that the Calvinist is presenting.  When he quotes Romans 10:9 and then says “no physically dead graveyard man can do…” I want to say, I know! That’s the point.  He continues, “…but a spiritually dead man, by the grace of God, can do.”  So then who is enabled by God’s grace?  All men, everywhere?  Or some men?  If only some, then why?  Did God choose them?  If all men, then the people who have never heard the message of the cross are enabled by God’s grace?  How does that make sense for Goliath?  The individuals in Isaiah 6:9-10?  The proverbial bushman in Africa?

What should I do with the following verses?  And remember physical death is not a good illustration for spiritual death:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me [Ezekiel], and He…set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones…they were very dry…He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them…I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will…put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’  …And as I prophesied…the bones came together, bone to its bone…But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath [the Spirit]; …say to the breath…Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” …and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost;…Therefore prophesy, and say to them…I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.'”  -Ezekiel 37:1-14 (read it, this is very much abridged)

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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—…” -Ephesians 2:1-5 (abridged)

“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life…” -Romans 6:13

But the point is not to quibble over what the best illustration for a dead person is, the point of the cemetery illustration is to show the true ability (or inability) of a dead man to do anything more than what is in his nature…to be dead-like.  I’ve seen several attempts to play semantical games in order to evade the fact that man is NOT able to do anything that God does not give him the ability to do.  Of course men are still able to “do” things that living people “do”…that is not the argument, and if Pastor Rogers believes that, then he is perpetuating a straw man.

One more point; Pastor Rogers’s problem is not even the issue of God’s regeneration, it is the extent to which He gives it.  Notice that Pastor Rogers recognizes that man is not able to do anything apart from God’s enablement, it is just that he believes this enablement is given to all men, equally.  So then the issue is not so much depravity as much as it is God’s freedom to save those whom He wishes.  But does the Scripture speak of this universal prevenient grace that enables all men equally?  I don’t think that is the case, and I still don’t think Pastor Rogers has proven it.

     Chapter VI: Atonement for Sin

The L of the TULIP is one of the most difficult doctrines for people to accept.  If Pastor Rogers was indeed a 4-pointer, then it was probably at this point that he hesitated.  The TULIP, however, is internally logical…with the L being just another logical outcome of the Unconditional Election of God and the Total Depravity of man.  So then it stands to reason that if someone were to be faltering on the L, then it is likely that they falter on the other points as well.

L historically represents Limited Atonement; that is, that Christ only died for His elect.  Amyraldism is the technical term for those who reject it but accept the TUI & P of Calvinism.

It isn’t hard to understand why people struggle with this one–even in Calvinist circles–because most people grow up hearing, “Christ died for all of your sins and if you believe in Him, He will save you” (or some version of this).  The L simply revises it, saying, “If you repent and place your faith in Christ, He will save you from your sins.”  Subtle. Sure. But important.

Let me start by saying that I would challenge anyone to find me one example in the New Testament where either Jesus or an apostle promised that Jesus had already died for their sins if they will just believe in it.  I don’t believe the model can be found.

“I affirm that Christ’s sacrifice paid the penalty for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2, 4:14)” (25).

I could start this by evaluating the verses he uses; but we know where that goes.  No “world” means this!  No “world” means that!  But I’m more interested in exactly what Pastor Rogers believes at this point.

Did Christ pay the full penalty for every single person ever on earth?

What about those in hell?  If they have been paid for, then why are the paying for it in hell?  If they haven’t, why not…did Christ not sufficiently pay for them?  Was their unbelief not covered in Jesus’s death?

I really only have one question for Pastor Rogers: If Christ died for all the sins of every single person ever, then why are all not saved?

Obviously the answer would be: Because not all believe?

To which one must wonder: So is unbelief not one of the sins that Christ died for?

This is the issue in Pastor Rogers’s next statement (a statement that has dangerous implications if taken to a logical end; but of course an orthodox Synergist is reliant upon not being consistent with his beliefs in order to maintain orthodoxy…much like an atheist must be inconsistent in order to maintain an objective morality):

“Christ’s death is not only sufficient to pay the penalty for all sin; it did in fact pay the penalty for all sin” (25).

What does it mean that Christ dies for every single person if only the believing ones partake in any of its blessing?  If it can be proven that God unconditional elects/saves His people, then Christ’s blood is only useful to those that believe.  Ergo, only the elect are actually paid for by Christ’s blood.

“…the Holy Spirit, whose desire is one with the Father and the Son, convicts everyone of sin thereby allowing every person to have a real chance to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ” (25).

Verse? Passage? No.

Beware the sound of one hand clapping… Beware of traditionalism.

“…[the Calvinist] cannot look into the eyes of any and every individual and say God loves you and Christ died for you; God wants you to be saved, and you can by the grace of God be saved if you will only trust Christ” (26).

I don’t agree with the latter part, but the former is the reason I made the challenge at the start of this section.  Prove to me that a Prophet, Apostle, or Jesus ever used such words…and I will lay down my argument.  Until then, this is merely an emotive charge and has no weight or scriptural support.

If I were an unbeliever and someone walked up to me and said “Christ died for you, He paid for your sins!” I might say, “great! now leave me alone,” then go on living as I had before.  Again, if you said “but you have to believe in it”…I might answer “why? is that not one of my sins He died for?”  Now you will need to explain why you just told me he died for me and paid for all my sins.  It’s a good thing most unbelievers are not cognizant of theological issues such as this, but the Calvinist has an answer…does the Synergist?

I want to end this section by showing a passage that truly bothers me:

“…one cannot be a Calvinist unless he believes that the Scripture teaches the Calvinists’ claims that God does not love everyone enough to actually offer forgiveness, Christ did not die to pay the penalty for everyone’s sins, God did not provide grace for everyone to exercise faith in Christ and be saved, people are in hell because it pleased God to not offer what would surely have delivered them from that torment, and selective irresistible grace results in regeneration prior to faith.  This is a disquieting reality” (26).

There are–hyperbolically speaking–about 50 ‘disquieting’ realities loaded into this paragraph, let me name a few and leave it until next time:

1) It’s a straw man of the Calvinist position; because we don’t believe that the reason man is in hell is because God made it so.  Man is in hell because of his choice of sin over God.  It’s the old cliche, “If we end up in heaven we have no one to thank but God; if we end up in hell, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”

2) It fundamentally rejects the true, rebellious, sinful nature of man.  As if God owed man the offer of forgiveness; as if Christ owed a sacrifice for all men; as if God owes grace enough for everyone to be saved; as if God is the reason man is in hell.

3) It pits God as the enemy; so if God were to withhold grace, if He were to not save all men, if He were to “show mercy to whom He would show mercy and compassion to those whom He would show compassion,” then He is an evil God?

4) It makes sure that we get all of the glory; Christ owes us all His blood and death!  We deserve salvation!  My faith precedes regeneration, because I am the author and finisher of my faith!  This is exactly what Ephesians 2:9-10 warns against; so that we would have NOTHING to boast in regarding our salvation, “it is by grace you are saved, through faith; and this not of yourself it is the gift of God.”

This is a flip of the Biblical story.  Man becomes the most glorious thing.  He is most worthy of praise and salvation.  And if God does not distribute His mercy as we see fit, then we will determine how He ought.

I guess I just have a different view of God’s sovereignty, glory, and power and Man’s depravity, rebellion, unworthiness, and need.

SDG,

Jon

See the author’s response to my review: here.

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~ by TSL on February 19, 2013.

One Response to “Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part Three”

  1. […] I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, & […]

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