Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part Six

PuritanGalleryI promise, we’re nearing the end here. I want to save Pastor Rogers’s handling of Romans 9 for last, because it is one of the only full length chapters that Pastor Rogers actually tries to deal with, and so I think it warrants a full [blog] length response.

For Part Six, though, the chapters that will be taken into consideration are the following:

Chapter XV: Time (Age) of Accountabiliy: Fact or Fiction

Chapter XVI: The Lamb’s Book of Life: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

Chapter XVII: Free Will of Man: Libertarian or Compatibilism

Chapter XVIII: Origin of Sin and the Offer of Salvation: THE CONNECTION

Much of this, you will notice, has been dealt with already.  Like I’ve said, much of the book is repetitious (partly because this is a compiling of his various blog posts on the subject), but I’ll try to hit the main points.

 

     Chapter XV: Time (Age) of Accountability: Fact or Fiction

“…explanations concerning children who die before accepting or rejecting Christ and where they spend eternity are developed either out of scriptural inferences, logic and/or tradition” (80).

I’ll agree.

Pastor Rogers goes on to develop the three ideas of infant salvation: ecclesiastical, gracious, and humanitarian.  Quickly:

Ecclesiastical: Infant Baptism affords the rights of the church to the child.  This mainly conceerns those churches that hold to a degree of baptismal regeneration (i.e. Roman Catholics).

Gracious: That ‘elect’ infants are saved.  Because salvation is seen as the choice of God, and because God has mercy on whom He will, then only those that are elect will be saved…including infants.

Humanitarian (PR’s position): “This position would simply say that those who die prior to the “age of accoutnability” are covered based upon the sufficient sacrifice of Christ and the rich grace of God…I affirm that all children who die before reaching the age of accountability go to heaven” (81).

Let me begin by saying: I knew this would happen.  Inevitably–because of the heavy reliance upon emotions to deal with hard scripture passages and doctrines like election–the topic of infant death is often brought up to corner a Calvinist.  After all, no one wants to come out and say “not all babies are saved!” or “your grandmother may be in hell.”  It ain’t PC, it ain’t accepted by the culture, and it doesn’t fit the man-made constructions of God’s love.  Emotion is a heavy swayer of public opinion, but it’s demagoguery and sophistry, not exegesis.

The first thought that comes to my mind when Pastor Rogers says something like he just did is, “so abortion is the greatest heaven filling device known to man?”  We can appeal to emotions too…and logic.  I’m not about to say that not all infants are saved…as most Calvinists won’t.  They’ll just be careful not to say definitively, “all babies that die before a certain point, are saved.”  It’s not a hateful thing, it is just following the point that Pastor Rogers made above, that explanations are based on “inference, logic, and tradition.”

My “inference” would be that all infants who are children of believers, that die before a certain time, are saved.  But I am a paedobaptist.  This would sufficiently cover all of the verses that Pastor Rogers appeals to for his conclusions.  His appeal to verses that requiring a “giving an account” or choosing between good and evil are not so much passages for inferring that all infants are saved, but that those who are able to give an account for their own actions will (but we cannot deny original sin either).

All and all, I do not have too much to disagree with Pastor Rogers on in this chapter; but one question does come to my mind:

Who determines when a child is able to make moral choices?  He references Augustus Strong, and says that “the age of possible conversion begins with the first moment of moral consciousness” (83); when does that first moment of moral consciousness take place?  Do we not begin to tell our children right and wrong (either verbally or physically) pretty much as soon as they are out of the womb?  This sort of assumes that children are a neutral moral agent prior to a certain age; something that Pelagius would have affirmed for sure…but not David (Psalm 51:5).

Two concluding remarks here:

1) Assumptions about the salvation of all infants is not really the best determiner for explicit passages on the salvation of grown men (which really is not much different; we can do nothing in and of ourselves unless God has mercy, much like an infant).  It would be more worthwhile to try and deal with actual passages of Scripture.

2) Calvinists have always been careful to not assume too much into, or from, the scriptures.  The Westminster Confession has this to say about infant mortality and salvation:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word (X:III).

It is carefully worded, because no one knows who the elect or nonelect are.  But again, it does not assume too much, nor does it say that infants are not saved.  Simple answer: We just don’t know.  And we need to stop pretending that we have the right to know everything.

“I disaffirm that Calvinism offers any true comfort for those who have lost small children since the only thing that determines whether or not a child, or anyone, goes to heaven is God’s unconditional elective purpose, and no one knows whether God elected to regenerate any, all, or no babies who die to go to heaven” (85).

A very revealing statement indeed.  It bothers Pastor Rogers that God would be in ultimate control of all salvation, not man and his libertarian free will.

Here is the “true comfort” that a Calvinist can provide: Let the judge of all the earth do right!  His purposes are not ours, His plans are not ours, His glory is first…not ours.  We must humble ourselves before Him, not attempt to make Him more palatable to our tastes.

I don’t think the Synergist (such as Pastor Rogers) can offer any “true comfort” that God is in control and that He will turn all things to good…

 

     Chapter XVI: The Lamb’s Book of Life: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

Revelation 13:8: “and all who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”

“I disaffirm that ‘the book of life is synonymous with the list of those who are elect and predestined for eternal life'” (86).

The passage states that all those whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life prior to the foundation of the world will worship the beast.  The first thought reading the passage and then reading Pastor Rogers’s words is how else one would take the words “written before the foundation of the world…”?  Who wrote it?  Before the foundation of the world?  Is the argument that God looked into the future and foresaw who would respond (thus making it man’s determination and work) and then wrote down the name before creating?

 [Note: Something that may not have been addressed to this point is the strange way in which Pastor Rogers believes that the fabric of time determines the actions of God.  Unless he admits to Open Theism he must say that God foreknows exactly what a man will do, and he cannot do otherwise, or else God would not know it…ergo Open Theism.  But let’s see what his reasoning is.]

He breaks down his response into 5 parts: What does the text say?  What do Calvinists say?  What does the text not say?  Why the double-talk?  What about straw men?

What does the text say?  He gives a brief overview of what the text says (duh).  And concludes saying this: “None of the occurrences [of the phrase ‘the book of life’] explicate what determines whether one is excluded or included in the book.”  Okay, I suppose.  Perhaps it is more reasonable to say that the determiner that Pastor Rogers is looking for is not there, but a plain reading of the text suggests something else…and it is a ‘disquieting reality’ for him.

What do Calvinists say?  I think it’s rather obvious what the Calvinist believes at this point.  I have no disagreement with what Pastor Rogers says here, largely due to the fact that he quotes MacArthur and Piper (Calvinists).

What does the text not say?  “Neither 13:8 nor any other references to the book state the deciding factor of how names came to be in the book” (88).  This is a telling statement, because Pastor Rogers is about to/already has assert[ed] the “deciding factor” into the text.  Earlier he says, “I…afirm those in the book are there because of exercising grace-enabled faith unto salvation and could have done otherwise, and those not in the book could have been there by exercising grace-enabled faith” (86).  That is a mouth full…that is not in the passage.  So either Pastor Rogers believes there is reference to a deciding factor or not, in any case he must defend what he just said.  He’s about to level the charge of ‘double-talk’ at the Calvinist…I am tempted to do the same.  “One must let the passage say what it says and no more, and then look elsewhere to establish the determiner for names being placed in or excluded from the book” (88)…yep.

Pastor Rogers then references 2 Thess 2:9-10 and specifically where Paul says that the reason these people perish is because “they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”  All Calvinists confirm and say amen…unless you want me to object and say, “No God makes them sin and not believe!”  But I will not.  “Now by any simple reading of this passage, their demise is not because they were not written in the book, but rather they were not written in the book because they refused to believe the turth of the gospel unto salvation” (89).  Is that truly the simple reading?  I thought Revelations said, “…and all who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb.”  It seems rather to me that all who are on the earth worshipping the beast are those who were not written into the book of life.  I believe the Calvinist position is much more tenable than the position PR is attempting to take here.

He then goes on to cite Acts 13:38-41, emphasizing the words “…forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is free from all things…Therefore take heed…may not come upon you” (90).  It is extremely interesting to me that Pastor Rogers quotes the words “FOR I AM ACCOMPLISHING A WORK IN YOUR DAYS, A WORK WHICH YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE, THOUGH SOMEONE SHOULD DESCRIBE IT TO YOU,” but he does not deal with them.  If he were forced to deal with them, he would have to explain how God could possibly know that these individuals would never believe (Oh I know that he believes God to be omnipotent, but the point is that God would never say such a thing to a libertarian free-willed being, who has a real chance to believe).

The real reason that no one knows the determining factor for their name being written in the book of life is because it is not given us to know why God has mercy on some and not others.  The point is that it is all of the grace and mercy of God [alone], not us.  But that is what Pastor Rogers must assume.

Why the double-talk?  The section is really just a rehashing of what he has already accused Calvinists of previously in the book.  Pastor Rogers, recognizing Calvinism to be a system heavy on logic (because we believe God to be logical), demands that a Calvinist be able to reconcile every thing that a mind can’t handle.  And that no mind should.  John Piper once said something profound: it is better our minds be broken, than that the Scriptures be broken.  The simple fact is this: Calvinists are often accused of putting God in a box, a theological system, when in reality it is the opponents who do it.  It is hard to accept the God of the Calvinist theology, He is difficult because He is not like us; the natural man hates the things that God is, the fact that God has all freedom, and we operate under His rule.  The synergist has made God comfortable, it is no wonder that emotions are such a heavy part of the defense, because natural man appeals to the emotions for truth; the Spiritual man appeals to the Scriptures [alone] for truth.  Think about it…

What about straw men?  In this part Pastor Rogers defends having faith prior to regneration against those who would call it a ‘works-based salvation’, because–he argues–faith is not a work.  I’m not really sure what Pastor Rogers thinks the argument is.  Of course faith is not a work of the law, but it is a work of man (there is no way to get around that).  The point is, either man has some say in his salvation because of some inherent worth or ‘work’ or response, etc.  Or God is free to dispense His mercy and grace to whom He wishes.  “Faith is a gift from God, but not in the sense that God only gave the gift to some” (95).  It is statements such as this that I wish Pastor Rogers would give his verse or defense of this assertion (but of course I don’t expect one, because there isn’t one).  What is the opposite of this statement?  God gives faith equally to all?  Did He give faith in the same degree to the Egyptian army He drowned in the Red Sea as He did to the Israelites?  If all are given an equal measure of faith, then the necesary conclusion is that WE must do the right thing, WE must have the proper feelings, faith, convictions, repentance, works, education, etc. in order to merit salvation.

This is a disquieting reality.  Much worse–or maybe because–it is not a Biblical reality.

 

     Chapter XVII: Free Will of Man: Libertarian or Compatibilism

The issue with this chapter is that I do not accept the definition of Compatibilism verse Libertarian free will.  The compatibilist view is not that man is dead in a sin, and by nature opposed to God, and can only respond if granted by the Father.  All those things, I accept.  But it is not the definition of compatibilism.

Compatibilism is the belief that man’s will works in harmony with God’s sovereign decree.

Libertarian free will is that man is completely free, God’s sovereignty is responsive to man’s free will, and man ultimately holds the reigns.  God can be thwarted, caught off guard, and out of control.  To be blunt…

There really is not much to deal with in the chapter due to a misconception at the outset.  I have already provided several passages that confirm a compatabilist interpretation (i.e. Genesis 50:20 & Acts 2:23).

Libertarian free will cannot be justified from an orthodox standpoint; this is why Open Theism is always the logical end of Arminianism and Synergism.  But as I’ve said before, and will again: A synergist must be inconsistent in order to remain orthodox.

 

     Chapter XVIII: Origin of Sin and the Offer of Salvation: THE CONNECTION

Pastor Rogers splits this chapter into two parts: ‘Calvinism’s view of the origin of sin and God’s offer of salvation’, and ‘Non-Calvinism’s view of the origin of sin and God’s offer of salvation.’

Taking the Calvinist position that a man chooses according to his desires, he draws a false correlation to the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden.

“…if man choose according to his greatest desire, and man chose to sin, then sin must have been his greatest desire” (107).

There is a huge thing missing from PR’s description of the Calvinist view and that is Total Depravity (post-fall).  Non-Calvinists do this all the time; they try to use Adam and Eve as the proof about such and such claim of Calvinism.  No matter how many times it is proven to be fallacious to look to two individuals who were not born enslaved, blind, depraved, or lost in sin (as we are), they try to draw theological conclusions that are contrary to what the rest of the Bible clearly lays out.

But I am more interested in the second part of this chapter (Non-Calvinism’s view…), because we have dealt with this already, and shown that a Synergist tries to paint Calvinism in a negative light while never truly giving a positive view of their own (only to say that man was given free will, which I’ve already said, does not solve the problem).

So what is the Non-Calvinist view?

“Man being a free moral agent, with the ability to choose to sin or not to sin, is the efficient cause of sin, which avoids the intrinsic problems of Calvinism with regard to the origin of sin or God desiring people to be in hell” (115).

How?  Let’s work through a logical progression here (and I’ll answer in the way that Pastor Rogers would most likely answer):

Are you an Open Theist?  PR: No.

So then God know all future events?  PR: Yes.

Can man do otherwise than what God foreknows?  PR: No.  [If man did it, then it was always foreknown; man cannot do otherwise].

So did God create human beings knowing full well that some would spend eternity in heaven, and in hell?  PR: Yes.

Does God have a purpose in all of this?  PR: [At this point I don’t think Pastor Rogers can provide a rationale for saying Yes…but I should hope he would]

How does it solve the problem you’re posing for the Calvinist?  How does an omnipotent, omniscient God, who allows some/many to go to hell, not have some kind of purpose in what He did and why He created those humans in the first place?

To be completely emotive, as Pastor Rogers has done throughout this book, I could as easily throw it back on him.  That’s a disquieting reality that God would create a human He knows full well will spend eternity in hell!  That’s a disquieting reality that He doesn’t even have a purpose in it (such as His own glory), He just let’s it happen because He doesn’t care!

The game is futile, especially when it is devoid of Scripture.  But the Scriptures speak differently, and show us the reasoning behind why God does what He does:

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for gloryeven us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” -Romans 9:21-24 (emphasis mine)

I know it isn’t the popular answer, but it is the Biblical one.

But lest one say I did not read Pastor Rogers explanation of the dilemma I’ve set him in.  Let him speak for himself:

“If one asks if God knew we would sin with free will, why did He not create man without free will?  The answer is that man without a true free will is not man. The ability to choose contrariwise to whatever choice man made is an essential component of being created in the image of God” (116).

Once more, you may search far and wide for the verse that he pulls this from, but you will not find it.  It is a mere assertion.  In fact with all of the assertions he makes on Page 116, only one verse is mentioned (and it says nothing to this; Rom 7:15-16).

My point in this final section is not so much to rebut every single disquieting reality or objection he raises, but to make a simple request:  No matter who you read, no matter how much you like them, no matter how plausible the argument sounds, continue to ask this question, “Is it in the Bible?”  I am not even asking that you provide chapter and verse (because many doctrines are gleaned from inference), but that you provide some sort of Biblical exegesis to defend your positions.  I believe I can do this with a positive presentation of Calvinism, I do not think a Synergist can.

At least, it hasn’t been done in this book unfortunately.

SDG,

Jon

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

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~ by TSL on March 7, 2013.

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

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

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