Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part Four

The Synod of Dort

The Synod of Dort

We’ve come now to the fourth installment in what is turning out to be a lengthy review. Still trying to move through this a bit quicker, so I did three chapters last time, and will do that again this time. The chapters covered in this review are:

Chapter VII: Love of God

Chapter VIII: God’s Love in Us

Chapter IX: Grace

Already it is apparent where these topics will lead us.  They are all important, but Chapter IX will probably be where most of the time is taken, because understanding grace, and how it is shown by God, is the point of this entire discussion.

Note: For introductory remarks refer back to the original post in this series.

     Chapter VII: Love of God

Does God love everyone equally?  I have heard some say that God loves the sinner and the saint in the same way.  But is that really what is presented in the Bible?  Does John 3:16 actually mean that God loves every human in the world equally?  These are the issues raised by Pastor Rogers in this section.

“I affirm that ‘God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) means people of the world and people in the world and not merely ‘people groups or nations'” (29).

Now seems like as good a time as ever to deal with John 3:16 (the term “world” will come up again in Chapter X, but I will refer back to this post).  It seems to be a favorite of the Calvinist opposition…for the life of me, I don’t know why.  It is a great verse, and I really believe opponents try to make the Calvinists appear as though they hate this verse and wish it would disappear.

The initial question going in is: why can it not ‘merely’ be people groups or nations?  I know he does not accept that answer, but why?  Does he have a verse that would disprove that interpretation, or is it a personal opinion?

Let’s look at John 3:16, and I will show you why 1) I believe Jesus is speaking about every nation or type of people group when He says ‘world’, and 2) it really doesn’t matter what world means, the point of the passage is that whosoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life… that is the focus.

So for the first objective, let’s look at the verse in its entirety:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” -John 3:16&18

Keep in mind that Jesus is talking to a Pharisee, a Jew; it’s easy to lose sight of the context here, because we are not a first century Jew worried about the ushering in of the Messiah, nor do we believe–as they did–that we are a chosen nation, and that they have salvation and no one else does.  This is the first crucial thing to understand about this passage.

Next, let’s look at another verse to parallel with John 3:16, because I believe it is a verse that speaks about other nations and people groups, and has a direct link to what Jesus is talking about in John 3.

In Romans 11:11-15, Paul is speaking about the falling away of the Jews (why they are not believing in the Christ), and he has this to say:

“…through their [the Jews] trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous…their trespass means riches for the world, and…their failure means riches for the Gentiles…Now I am speaking to you Gentiles…For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?”

Paul is making a distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles; when he talks about the rejection of the Jews and the ingrafting of the Gentiles (that is clear salvation talk), he says that reconciliation has come to “the world.”  All the world Paul?  Every single living human being?  Well, yes! In a sense.  Salvation is now coming to a different people group…the gentiles…the world.  It’s no wonder the Apostles have to continuously make the point that salvation is not just for a specific group of people, but for the whole world.  See the Great Commission now (Matthew 28:18-20; what does Jesus say? “All nations…”).  Salvation is coming to the world, but only those who believe will experience any benefit.

Because of Pastor Rogers’s presupposed notion that world can only mean one thing, he will not allow for varying interpretations of the same world.  Notice: all=every living human ever (2 Peter 3:9), world=every living human ever (John 3:16).  If the above reference doesn’t sway you, then attempt to deal with these verses by applying the same hermeneutical principle:

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” -Romans 5:18

This is a favorite of the universalist.  If you apply the idea that all can only mean one thing, with no contextual limitations, then how else do you read this?  Obviously Paul must be saying that ALL men are justified and thus saved…or is he?

Another:

“So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.'” -John 12:19

Everyone in the world!? That’s crazy…how did they all get there?  Or do you think maybe the Pharisees were saying something else; using a figure of speech maybe?

The point is, we all do this all the time. Everyone knows that we use figures of speech to convey things, all people do it.  So, with that, you can say that you reject that interpretation, but unless you can prove otherwise there is no reason to think that is what Jesus is saying in John 3:16…and it fits much more consistently with the rest of the Bible…

Now the second objective: to show that it really doesn’t matter who the world is in this passage, it is not Jesus’s main point.  This is pretty simple.  So what if God loves the whole world but only some receive Christ?  They still go to hell don’t they?  Is God now unloving?  No.  He is just, and good, and…loving.  No matter the end state of man, God will always be those things.  The point to take from Jesus’s words is that you must believe in Him!  If you don’t, then you are “condemned already.”  We already know that God makes his love fall on the just and the unjust in certain ways (Matt 5:45), how does this disprove the Calvinistic doctrine of God’s electing grace and man’s total inability apart from it?

“Calvinism makes Jesus appear to offer a real chance to repent, but actually, He knows they cannot because they were not elected to be given the opportunity to repent.  To say, as some Calvinists do, that Jesus gave a ‘good faith offer’ because He, as the man Jesus, did not know everything and therefore He did not know they were not elect is to miss the point” (31).

First, I want to highlight the word “some” in this passage.  Because that is exactly right.  I wouldn’t; and neither would any historic Calvinist.  The issue I see often with Pastor Rogers’s book is that he does not really talk directly to historic Calvinism, but picks and chooses what certain people may have said to him at some point, in this way the whole system can be “refuted” more easily.

Second, this is a logical fallacy.  Jesus knowing that these people would not repent does not mean they were not given a real chance.  This is why speaking in historical categories would be helpful, because the Calvinist position is not that man is not given a real chance to repent, but rather that he is given a real chance, he just won’t…not without the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 12:10, Luke 17:5Acts 11:18; these people understood where repentance (and faith) truly originated, it was a gift).  Here again is where I think the Synergist falls flat on his face in regards to consistency.  I should hope that all Christians (Synergist or Monergist) pray to God for repentance and faith from God.  If so, then you can see why a Synergist must abandon consistency in order to remain Orthodox.

Note: On page 31, Pastor Rogers provides an “answer” to the rejection of his earlier argument (using Tyre and Sidon as an example of man’s real ability to repent and believe apart from God); it is worth a read, if for nothing else because it fails to answer the actual objection.  He does not deal with the rebuttal to his assertion (it can be found in the final full paragraph of said page).  The fact is that Jesus apparently knew that those towns would have repented long ago, however he comes to a town that he knew wouldn’t…so does this make God unloving?  For not trying to save the maximum amount of people that He could have?  …And He knew it too…that is a disquieting reality…   Again God is able to save all men if He wishes, why doesn’t He?

Later in this chapter Pastor Rogers introduces a hypothetical like I did in an earlier post, when speaking about the atonement.  He says,

“…some Calvinists contend that it is consistent with Calvinism to tell the non-elect that God loves them, and if you will believe you can be saved…the question for the lost to then ask the Calvinist is, ‘Does God love me enough to have paid the penalty for my sin through the death of Christ on the cross and offer me a real chance to be saved like He does with others?’  Invariably, the answer must be a soul shattering NO! This is a disquieting reality” (33).

Now let me pretend that an unbeliever were to ask me this question, for argument’s sake.  I would say to this individual, “If you do not repent of your sins and place your faith in Christ then you remain an enemy of God (James 4:4), and Jesus’s death will have no effect for you.  God offers you a real chance at this very moment (2 Cor 6:2), to repent from your sins and be saved like any other person who has repented and believed in Jesus Christ.”  Does this satisfactorily answer the hypothetical?  It should.  But I doubt it would, even though I believe it to be thoroughly Biblical (and we all aspire to be Biblicists right?).

“Therefore, God’s love, according to Calvinism, which could indeed deliver everyone, sits either actively or passively by while people perish in an eternal fire” (33).

Again, right back at you Mr. Synergist.  The only difference is, I believe that God does all things to His glory (both in salvation and reprobation), that He actually has purpose…you believe He is not actually capable because man has overriding free will, and God just sits idly by while man’s free will rules all.

After this, Pastor Rogers continues on with examples of how God’s love ought to operate, and if He does not operate in this way He is unloving.  So he gives numerous human examples, that do not take into full account the sinfulness of mankind.  But I leave it to your reading pleasure (Pg. 34).  Also, he continues to say that saying, “man deserves hell” is not the issue…he still has yet to show that.  It absolutely is the issue.  God’s love does not override his justice.  Since when did the attribute of love become God’s only attribute?  I don’t care how many references to 1 John 4:8 are made, it just is not so.

Let me conclude this section by saying a few things:

1) Pastor Rogers spends much of this chapter painting false representations of the Calvinist argument.  Calvinist do believe in a real offer of salvation, just like Pastor Rogers does.  I think that it has been shown many times that taking Pastor Rogers’s arguments to their logical end do not really solve the problems he believes he solves.  Either I can say that, or he needs to stop taking Calvinist arguments to the logical end he wants in order to make it appear disquieting…

2) Pastor Rogers defines love as he sees fit.  That goes for words like mercy, compassion, and justice.  Unfortunately he does not really let the Bible do the defining for him.  Romans 9:15 is very clear about who God will show mercy on.  Ephesians 2:1-10 is very clear about who initiates salvation.  Romans 3:10ff is very clear about the nature of man, and His need for a God’s grace.  It would be more beneficial for Pastor Rogers to actually work through these chapters and verses thoroughly (Chapter XIX deals with Romans 9 at some length, but we shall see if that sufficiently does so…).

     Chapter VIII: God’s Love in Us

This is a slightly confusing chapter, and so I think my comments will be brief.  Pastor Rogers is basically saying that we, as Christians, have an obligation to be loving to our unbelieving neighbors.  He then goes on to say,

“How is it loving or compassionate, by an standard that we know, to tell all people to believe on the Lord Jesus for deliverance from…eternal death and torment in hell, when the truth is that, according to Calvinism, only those God selects can and will receive help–even if we do not tell them?” (38).

Firstly, this question is attempting to paint Calvinism in a negative light.  It is attempting to paint the Calvinist as a hyper-Calvinist.  Essentially Pastor Rogers is trying to ask us, “why bother with evangelism?”  But then he tries to answer it for us, with a bias slant.

Secondly, at this point in the book, it is becoming very apparent that Pastor Rogers is wanting to appeal to the emotions to such a degree that our emotions then dictate our theology (something a self-proclaimed Biblicist would not want to do, so why do it?).

This objection assumes that we–as Calvinists–somehow know who the elect are.  As if God does not appoint means for us, such as evangelism, preaching, etc.  We tell them, because 1) we do not know the elect, and 2) because God is sovereign in both the decrees and the means that He appoints (it is the Synergist’s assumption that we believe God decrees all things, and then steps back, like a deistic god, and watches it all play out…the truth is, Calvinists believe He is sovereign in His decrees and in the means).

“…the stealthy dreadful Calvinistic truth is that ‘whosever will’ really means ‘selected few’ and therefore the seemingly loving offer to the rest is actually horridly disheartening news because God through eternal selection decided that they could not receive what seems to be lovingly offered.  This is a disquieting reality” (38).

Statements such as this make it hard for me to believe that Pastor Rogers was truly a Calvinist previously (not that he is lying, but that he did not truly understand it).  This assumes that man is begging to be saved, but that they may not be elect, and therefore can’t partake in some wonderful thing that they wanted.  This is NOT CALVINISM…it is a straw man (that term has now cropped up about 10 times, and it could easily be attributed to most of the book).  The Bible does not portray man as some neutral being, or even some being that is inclined toward good; no! instead they are rebels, hard-hearted, evil, slaves to unrighteousness, blind, lost, haters of God…need I go on?  Pastor Rogers paints man as though he were deserving of God’s mercy…this is a disquieting reality…

Additionally, Pastor Rogers pretends that the Gospel only has a single purpose, namely, to make real offers to save people.  But I think it can be substantially proven that it also serves the purpose of leaving man with absolutely no excuse in the judgment (Isa 6:9-10; Rom 2:4-5; Rom 12:19-21; Heb 10:26-27).

Pastor Rogers expects at least half of the answer I’ve given above (that we don’t know who the elect is), but he does not address my other point (nor does he answer the first).  Simply saying “this answer does not sufficiently resolve the dilemma” honestly means nothing to me, you must prove why it is that that answer is not sufficient.  He does not do so.  And bluntly speaking, just because he says these things does not do away with the countless Scriptures that speak to the contrary.

To finish this chapter, Pastor Rogers presents two scenarios that purport to show how God would never show a callous love toward unbelievers.  He says this:

“…while I love my wife differently than my two daughters, I would never contemplate sitting idly by while they perished in the icy waters of the ocean and call that love albeit a different kind…again, while it is true that I love my children differently than I love another man’s children, I would not sit idly by and let his children be run over by a car, when I could have delivered them, and then try to convince the father of those children how much I love them even if in a different way than I love my children” (39).

These two pictures really do another fine job of appealing to the emotions, and I’ve seen this from others (i.e. Norman Geisler).  The problem–once again–is that the analogy is not Scriptural, it is not a sufficient picture of man’s rebellion and God’s grace.  We are not talking about the human relationship of a father to his daughters, two daughters who are not in rebellion against their father.  We are not talking about two children who innocently stumbled in front of an on-coming car.  Let me try to paint the picture more in line with Scripture (and I understand the examples will seem unrealistic, but then that is the point…it does not fit in any picture given in the Bible).

To the first example, imagine his two children were two convicted murderers (a one of them actually killed one of his children; i.e. Jesus), and when he jumped in to get them they shot at him, kicked him, resisted his attempts.  Now if he leaves them, is he unjust? Unloving?  If he saves them, it was out of the pure graciousness of his heart…  But even that analogy falls short (because Pastor Rogers is not infinitely holy and above those convicts; but God is).

To the second, imagine the child who ran into the street was a 20-year old boy who had just set fire to your house and beat your wife.  Now a car is about to hit him, and he is continuing to resist your attempts to save him, would you be unloving to do so?  (Again…it falls short, because Pastor Rogers is not able to guarantee the “salvation” of that kid like God is able to do, despite man’s rebellion).  Is the picture clearer now?  Not quite as simple as pretending that you’re addressing the issue by giving two examples that do not come anywhere close to dealing with the true theology of it…

     Chapter IX: Grace

“I affirm that the grace of God can be and is at times resisted, and this includes but is not limited to the genuine offer of salvation and/or resisting the Holy Spirit…I am rejecting the Calvinist and compatibilist answer that a person refuses because, as a sinner, that is all that he can do.  It seems crystal clear in reading the passage without Calvinist spectacles [the man who does not recognize his tradition is enslaved to them…] on that the context and language clearly imply that they ‘should not have refused’ and therefore could have believed which entails the idea of contrary choice, exactly what Calvinism denies” (41).

Where to begin?  This is simply another misunderstanding on the part of Pastor Rogers.  Calvinists have and always will believe that a person can resist the offer of God.  But just for documentation sake, check out the Westminster Confession of Faith on the topic of Effectual Calling (or Irresistible Grace, as PR is challenging here): http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/

And notice how every statement is followed by Scriptural proofs; as opposed to Pastor Rogers’s response, which is devoid of it.  Such as statements like this, “…I affirm that the ability of man to accept or to resist God’s genuine offer of salvation is a part of God’s plan and redounds to His glory…” (41).  Okay.  But where can one even begin to defend the idea?  Prevenient grace is an assumed doctrine in PR’s theology, but it is never give a Scriptural leg to stand on.

John Piper corrects the misunderstanding of Pastor Rogers, saying, “The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible.”

The idea is to create a logical conundrum devoid of Scripture in order to force the Calvinist into a corner.  I.e. People can resist God’s offer ergo they had the ability to choose it.  But is that what the Scripture presents?  Instead, as has been seen, a real offer is presented, and then rejected, but why?  “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” -John 6:65; or, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” -Matthew 13:11.

“…I affirm the biblical doctrines of grace.  Calvinists refer to their beliefs as ‘The Doctrines of Grace’, which is fine…the doctrines of any Biblicist are all ‘doctrines of Grace.’  There are simply are no other kinds” (42).

A Roman Catholic would consider himself a Biblicist, do you believe the ‘doctrines of Grace’ are of the same kind?  Mormons consider themselves Biblicist and believe in grace, would you consider them ‘no other kind?’  How about JWs?  Okay.  So then there can be a distinction made.  For the Reformers were not breaking from the Roman Catholic church over the neccesity of grace…but the sufficiency of it!  That is what Calvinism preaches, through and through.  That God’s grace…alone (sola gratia)…is the initiator, continuer, and finisher of our faith!  I do not believe that Pastor Rogers’s theology allows that same type of understanding.  And truth be told, I don’t know that I could successfully take a stand with him against a witty Roman Catholic who knew the intricacies of our theologies.  He would divide and conquer.  Because we do not believe the same things in some respects.  That is why I write things like this…and why the Reformers called Arminianism (or any form of semi-Pelagianism) a false doctrine, and rejected it.

Let me respond to the rest of this chapter of Pastor Rogers by giving a hypothetical situation (because honestly, all the chapters begin to take a similar path.  “I affirm…I disaffirm…because it hurts people’s feelings, or isn’t my definition of love, etc.  Not trying to be rude, but it is an honest critique of his position, and the fundamental reason I reject it is because it is not reliant on the Scriptures for its proof, but instead it relies on man’s emotions and interprets scripture by emotions.  Not a good hermeneutical practice for such a good preacher).

So here is the hypothetical:

Two people sit in the same pew, at the same church, and hear the same preacher preach the same message of the Gospel.  One responds in repentance and faith, the other refuses to accept it and rejects it.

Question 1: Why did the one person reject this real offer of the Gospel?  Was it because God withheld something from them that they deserved?  Did they even deserve to hear the message?

Question 2: Why did the other respond in faith and repentance?  Is it because they were more receptive?  More humble?  Smarter?  Better?  Truth be told, in Pastor Rogers’s theology, this must be the case.  God is acting in the same way in both of their lives, but the determining factor is US, in the end (an obvious contradiction of Eph 2:8-10).

Question 3: Do you really believe the reason you are a saved child of God is because of how intellectual, humble, or receptive you were to the Gospel?  I would say, please repent of this attitude.

The reason Calvinism is often called the “Doctrines of Grace,” is because it is ALL of grace; from first to last!  God predestines (by His grace), sends His son to die (by His grace), offers the gospel (by His grace), convicts by the Spirit (by His grace), grants repentance and faith (by His grace), transforms a wicked rebel into a saint (by His grace), sanctifies (by His grace), carries us through death (by His grace), glorifies us in heaven (by His grace), and allows us to praise and worship Him eternally (…you guessed it…by His grace).

The reformation is defined best in this way:

Scripture alone portrays salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, by the work of Christ alone, to the glory of God…alone.

Sadly, I do not believe Pastor Rogers’s theology can carry us through that sentence in any meaningful way.  This is, no joke, a disquieting reality!

SDG,

Jon

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

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~ by TSL on February 23, 2013.

2 Responses to “Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part Four”

  1. […] have dealt with this issue in part already, so I will direct the reader to that post (under Chapter VII: Love of God; first couple […]

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

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