Monthly Archives: February 2008
A reader with the pseudonym Edge7 left a comment in regard to the brief section on the Limited Atonement in this post. This assumes that verses like 1 Timothy 2:3, 5 and 1 John 2:2 confound the Calvinist position that the Atonement saves only the elect. These verses, combined with John 3:16, seem to indicate that Christ died for all men.
I had no intent to write at length about the Limited Atonement. My friend TurretinFan already has an excellent post here, but that post only mentions verses such as those above in passing. So I will add some thoughts about the above verses and their use of “all.” Specifically, I will talk about the contextual limitations of the word “all.” An appropriate subtitle for this piece could be, “When ‘all’ doesn’t mean ‘all.'”
“All” in the case of these verses refer to “all of the elect.” Can I prove that? No. But I have already provided a logical defense of the Limited Atonement, which I will repeat. And I can provide examples from the Bible where “all” doesn’t really mean “all,” but is instead defined by a contextual limitation. Taken together, along with my friend TurretinFan’s article, I believe that will provide a convincing case for the Limited Atonement.
First, a universal atonement is logically flawed. If Christ’s sacrifice paid for all of the sins of mankind, then no one is going to Hell, ever. But we know that this is not the case. Some may say that Christ’s atonement is universal in its scope but only effectual for believers. I might be inclined to agree with that idea. The problem is that, even with this view, the atonement is still limited. It still doesn’t cover the sins of unbelievers.
Another way to look at atonement is in light of the Unforgivable Sin. This is not recognizing the very work of God when you have enough knowledge to do so. Put another way, it is rejecting God’s grace–or unbelief in Christ. Perhaps the atonement is universal except for this one sin. But, you see, even then it is still limited. It still only covers the sins of people who believe in Christ.
Anyway you try to slice it, the atonement is limited.
What about the verses, such as those mentioned above, that seem to preach a universal atonement? According to Got Questions Ministries:
How can we understand the paradox that occurs because the Bible teaches God intends that only the elect will be saved, yet on the other hand the Bible also unequivocally declares that God freely and sincerely offers salvation to everyone who will believe? (Ezekiel 33:11; Isaiah 45:22; 55:1; Matthew 11:28; 23:37; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 22:17) The solution to this paradox is simply an acknowledgment of all that the Bible teaches. 1) The call of the Gospel is universal in the sense that anybody that hears it and believes in it will be saved. 2) Because they are dead in their trespasses and sin, no one will believe the Gospel and respond in faith unless God first makes those who are dead in their trespasses and sins alive (Ephesians 2:1-5). The Bible teaches that “whosoever believes” will have eternal life and then explains why some believe and some don’t.
Many people will further argue that “all” always means “all.” So it is necessary to look at some other uses of the word “all” in the gospels to see if “all” means “all,” always.
First, when the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he “took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Mt 4:8). So, the devil showed Jesus every kingdom in the entire world? Not even from the world’s tallest mountain could a person see every single kingdom in the entire world. So “all” in this case doesn’t mean “all.” No Christian should have a problem with that interpretation.
Second, we see in Mark 13:23 Jesus tells His disciples “I told you all things beforehand.” Is Jesus indeed referring to “all things,” such as expanding pi to the nth digit and the inner workings of a supercomputer? Or is He narrowing the context slightly, to the signs at the end of the age, of which He was just speaking? I think even the most hardcore biblical literalist will agree that Jesus limits “all things” to the end of the age.
In Luke 1:3, the historian notes to Theophilus that he has followed “all things closely for some time past.” Does “all things” in this verse mean that Luke is following every event that ever happened in the first century, or is the context limited again to things that Jesus has done? Again, even a biblical literalist can agree with my interpretation that “all things” means “all things related to Christ” in this passage.
It is my contention that the same contextual limitations have been placed on phrases like “all” and “the world” when they refer to salvation. In those verses, like the ones above, “all” doesn’t really mean “all,” it means “all of the elect” or “all of the believers.” The Atonement, which could have been universal if that was what God had intended, is limited only to the elect, both logically and biblically.
Only by ripping verses like John 3:16 away from the rest of the teachings of Scripture could a person arrive at a universal atonement. When considered together with the rest of the passages that teach about the atonement, the contextual limitation of “all” becomes quite apparent.
Now I should note that there are several passages in which any theologian will tell you that “all things” means “all things, everywhere, and always.” For example, among other verses, John 3:35 says that “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” This would, indeed, mean everything in the world. However, this is made clear by other passages of Scripture, in both the Old and the New Testaments, that everything on this planet will be under the Lordship of the Son. We are not reading passages such as those in a vacuum, so why read passages like John 3:16 apart from everything else Scripture says about salvation?
I regret to announce that Josiah Cast is officially done and over with. I was going to do one more episode, where I answered Sean Hutton’s comment on my Catholic Mass article, however due to time constraints I am not going to be able to do that episode.
I enjoyed podcasting, so I will definitely bring Josiah Cast back in the near future. Right now, with returning to school, working, fatherhood, and other ministry commitments, it isn’t feasible to continue podcasting.
As for the response to Sean Hutton, I will craft a written response in the early portion of next week, after I finish dissecting Rook Hawkins’s “Which Jesus: A Legend with a Multiple Personality Disorder?” I plan to delve into Rook’s article about the apostle Paul after that.
My answer to “Which Jesus?” will be up a little later than expected. I had to do more background reading than I thought. It’s still a fairly easy article to tackle once the underlying presupposition is taken care of.
Read the entire article here.
I think that an obvious objection to predestination is that the election is, by its nature, unconditional. Most people take that to mean random or arbitrary. If that were so, then it logically leads to fatalism. You then end up with the following thought process:
Why go and preach the gospel as we are charged to do if God has already picked us out? Too many scriptural contradictions my friend. GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF CONFUSION. How many times must I point that out?
But predestination is anything but random or arbitrary. Glenn Miller has an excellent article that addresses the same topic here from a neutral perspective. I will use one of Miller’s quotes that come from a Calvinist perspective to illustrate the point that, according to Reformed theology, this predestination is anything but arbitrary. “Particular election is thus and so far not absolute, as though it were arbitrary: it rather has its moral ground (inconceivable of course to man) in God’s essentiality,” quotes Miller. Cross referencing this:
Although no cause outside God can be given on man’s side, as we warned you earlier, why this man rather than that is elect or reprobate, as Isaac rather than Ishmael, Jacob than Esau, since in themselves they were both equals and equally unworthy of election: still we must not think that on His side God had no reasons or causes for doing– – since the divine will always conspires with His wisdom and does nothing without reason or rashly; although these reasons and causes have not been revealed to us, and accordingly they neither ought to nor can be probed by us apart from His will.-And it is this also which the chief doctors of the Reformed Church are often repelling from themselves, when they are reproached with setting up here some absolute will of God. Firstly they say it is not absolute, because it includes means by which the appointed end is achieved ; next because God also does not lack just reasons for having acted thus or thus, although these are hidden from us. Thus CALVINUS says (De occults Dei proved. P-1013 statim in initio) : ” Although for me God’s will is the supreme cause, yet I everywhere teach, that where in His counsels and works no cause is apparent, it is yet hidden with Him, so that He has decreed nothing save justly and wisely. Therefore the triflings of the Scholastics on absolute power I not only repudiate but also detest, because they separate His righteousness from His rule.”
This will or this decree of His we never sever from righteousness and true right reason, and as always most orderly, although we believe it to be inscrutable even for the very angels ; and accordingly we admire and adore it and refuse to recognise any other absolute will in God. (Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics: Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources, Baker: 1950, p. 165)
This is very, very far from a cold, detached, arbitrary election of individuals…In the Reformed system–according to their classic documents–this decree of God in eternity past is characterized by reason, wisdom, justice, righteousness, non-rashness, and ‘gratuitous love towards us’…
What this means for our study is this: the Reformed doctrine of ‘unconditional election’ is NOT even close to being the same as ‘unCAUSED election’ or ‘ARBITRARY election’ . It affirms only that the causes/reasons are not grounded in the deeds of humans in time. There ARE reasons and causes, and these are wise, just, righteous–and unrevealed.
Ultimately, predestination is rooted in God’s love, which I stated in the previous article on this topic. Remember, we love because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
This leads us to speculate on what the reasons for election might possibly be. First, I believe that they are not grounded in what the elect person himself does or does not do. But, that doesn’t eliminate the intriguing possibility that it may be grounded in what others do. For example, God may choose someone on the basis of that person encountering a believer’s evangelism. He may also choose someone on the basis of the prayers of others.
Why evangelize? The reasons for election, as well as the elect themselves, are unrevealed to us. God may choose someone on the basis of your act of evangelism toward that person. I think that this is a reasonable proposition and a very good reason to continue efforts at evangelism.
Lately, readers have probably noticed that I’m doing less with refuting heresy and more with Christian understandings of things like Hell and predestination. I’ve been spending more time studying historic Christianity and its creeds rather than the vitriol that drips from the mouths of the evangelistic atheist sorts. Not that I’ve waned in my vigiliance of what the other side is saying; far from it–I’m currently working my way through the so-called Four Horsemen: Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris. I’ve been reading God is Not Great, and next on my plate is Letter to a Christian Nation. Soon, I hope to get to The God Delusion and Breaking the Spell, but I’ll probably read The End of Faith first.
Not that he’s one of the Four Horseman, but since Bart Ehrman is often cited, I’ve been reading Misquoting Jesus, too.
I feel that it is prudent for me to study more historic Christianity to strengthen my faith, especially in light of all the atheistic nonsense I read. It would be nice to live a life unafraid of God’s judgment, but I know that said judgment will be reality, and I also know that my sins can only be covered by the blood of Christ, whom I have complete faith in. Therefore, having been chosen by God to do the work of this apologetics ministry, I feel it wise stewardship of my time to bathe myself more in the words of those who did the work before me, and whose works will survive long after my own are forgotten.
Therefore, I’m balancing my reading list a little bit more. This means that refutations may not come as quickly as they used to, since I’m still a full-time father and BK manager. I’m starting school in the fall, God willing, which will slow my apologetics work down even more. But I plan to keep up the good work of this ministry, for God’s glory alone.
Rook Hawkins, co-founder and ancient texts expert of the Rational Response Squad, has been writing a lot of stuff lately that I wish I had the time to respond to. Unfortunately, I have to take the time to pick and choose the projects that mean the most to me. Rook has written two pieces, “Which Jesus: A Legend with Multiple Personality Disorder” and “On Paul and Identity” that are very long winded and I haven’t enough time on my hands to respond in full.
Fortunately, Frank Walton has responded to the second article as only Frank Walton can, complete with sarcasm and name calling, here. I’ve said in the past that I don’t endorse the sarcasm and the name calling, and I hope that by linking to Walton’s piece that I don’t send the message that now I’m condoning such behavior. I’m not. But the points in Frank’s article really show that Rook has no idea what he’s talking about in regard to the apostle Paul. I feel that it is important that these claims are answered, and Frank’s article does a good job of addressing Rook’s outrageous claims.
It’s interesting to note that Rook’s arguments in this “new” piece have been set forth already, which is why Frank’s response is from July of 2007. Rook had created a series of four YouTube videos that allegedly “exposed” Paul as a proto-Gnostic and used the apostle’s letters to build the case that Jesus never existed. This “new” article is a summary of those videos.
As for the “Which Jesus?”, I will respond to that later this week, hopefully by Friday.
Read the entire article here.
When I first started studying Calvinism, I thought that the most controversial element of the TULIP was the “L”–Limited Atonement. This is summed up in the Westminster Confession of Faith III.6:
Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. (emphasis added)
But I’ve found that everyone believes in the Limited Atonement, whether they think they do or not. A Universal Atonement is not just logically impossible, but outright cruel. Think about it like this: if Christ died in atonement for the sins of all of mankind, then why does God still send people to Hell? To what point and purpose must some people pay for their sins twice, once vicariously through Christ and then again for all eternity in Hell?
It makes no sense. Aside from that, only John 3:16 stands in support of a Universal Atonement. In nearly all other cases where the Atonement is mentioned in Scripture, the word “many” rather than “all” refers to those effectually called and saved. Looking back at the Old Testament, both Daniel and Isaiah confirm this idea of an elect people, or “the many” (cf. Dan 9:27 and Is 53:11-12) Scripture teaches, therefore, that only those who die in Christ are effectually saved by the Atonement. Even non-Calvinist writers agree on this point.
The most controversial element of Calvinism is the doctrine of predestination, which the Confession says “is to be handled with special prudence and care” (III.8). I found out why last night as I attempted to explain this doctrine to a friend over an Instant Message. He was aghast that I believed in this doctrine, since (in his opinion) it takes away free will.
First, before I delve into some of the finer points of the misunderstood doctrine of predestination, I must affirm that, to my surprise, Calvinism does teach that mankind has free will. I say “to my surprise” because I resisted Calvinism for so long for the sinful allure of open theism because of the question of free will. I made the mistake of checking what the critics said of Calvinism instead of looking at Calvinist authors like R.C. Sproul wrote on the subject. The Westminster Confession devotes an entire chapter to the free will of man.
In summary, the Confession states that God has placed a free will that is neither good nor evil within man. Pre-Fall, that will was good and pleasing to God, but mutable so that man could fall from his state of grace. Post-Fall, the will of man is dead in sin and unable to will and do any spiritual good. That means that man is unable to save himself apart from the drawing of the Father to Christ. Upon salvation, God regenerates the sinner and endows him with complete freedom to will and do spiritual good–but not perfectly, so he is still able to will and do evil.
Knowing that Calvinism affirmed the free will of man made it a lot easier for me to call myself a Calvinist, rather than just a reluctant Calvinist. While waiting in the long line for the most recent Harry Potter book, I had the incredible fortune to read portions of Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, which helped me see that predestination is the ultimate expression of God’s love and grace, not the expression of tyranny that many critics of Calvinism make it out to be. Read the rest of this entry
I would have to say that talking to people about Hell is one of the worst ways to evangelize people. We live in a society that is very, very uncomfortable with the idea of judgment and even less comfortable with the idea of having to serve a sentence. The “sentence” in this case is eternity and the crime is living life the way that you always do (Rom 3:23).
Therefore, people have invented a comfortable reality for themselves where God doesn’t exist. For those that simply can’t fathom the universe without a creator, they have watered down the judgment aspect of God and favor only the loving aspects of God. To them, a God who would consign someone to Hell for eternity is cruel. Either way, the person who ascribes to these worldviews can live life the way they choose, since God either encourages and loves them as-is or doesn’t exist.
The problem is that God does exist, and as Creator and Lawgiver, has set forth certain rules and regulations for how we must live. Living any other way is rebellion, which is sin.
We often overlook the holiness of God. God is pure and holy, and cannot stand the sight of sin. Read the Law of Moses: the penalty for even minor sins is death. Paul echoes the sentiment that sin equals death in his letter to the Romans (6:23a). The message is clear–God cannot be near sin, and cannot simply overlook sin. Fortunately, as the rest of the passage in Romans 6:23 states, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
By placing our faith in Christ, we need not fear the holy judgment of God. But that God judges at all seems to make many people uncomfortable, to the point of physical illness. Here is a story that I found on Atheist Revolution from a reader named Angela:
My family recently moved to a rural community near Tulsa, OK. My 11 year old daughter previously lived in Morocco for seven years with her loving, muslim relatives. Everything was going very well at her new school until a couple of weeks ago. During recess, her two very, sweet friends tried to save her soul. They informed her that the “rapture” was coming in five years and everyone that wasn’t a christian were going to hell.
My daughter came home from school in tears, telling me she was afraid her family in Morocco were all going to hell. She became violently ill and spent two days in bed without eating or drinking. I took her to a local Unitarian church in Tulsa last Sunday hoping to surround her with some open minded people. She loved it. In fact, there was a female speaker from the local Islam society explaining her religion to the congregation.
We will be attending every Sunday because she loved it so much. My problem is that I don’t. The people were very sweet but the chairs in the worship room were uncomfortable and I can’t stand the boring hymns everyone sang.
I believe in evolution and really feel uncomfortable in the belief of an all-knowing God. She wants to go to church so she can be “normal” like everyone else. We’re stuck between church and social rejection.
Pay attention to the boldfaced portions of this letter; I believe that it shows the real problem that the author has with Hell–God’s judgment. That thought terrifies her to her very core.
But it need not terrify anyone. This judgment is reserved only for the folks that do not place their faith in Christ, as John 3:17 states: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
If you are like this girl, and spend two days in bed without food or water because you believe that you’re going to Hell, repent and place your faith in Jesus. That would be the first step. The next step is to get your hands on a Bible (BibleGateway has several versions online for free; E-sword is the best free Bible study software around) and study it. Join a Bible study group; there is very likely one at your local church. Speaking of church, you should attend one regularly. Find one that you feel comfortable at.
Since placing my faith in Jesus, I have never looked back nor regretted the decision. My only desire is to serve Him better and to lift myself up as a Christian example to all. I fall far short of where I want to be, but I work hard each day to make my life my witness to Him. I firmly believe that giving your life to God will be the greatest thing that you can ever do, and the best decision you can make.
Hell isn’t the best way to evangelize. In fact, I think that mentioning it in evangelism is just counterproductive. I think that the best way to evangelize is to live a life that is exemplary of Christ. In other words, as St. Francis of Assisi put it: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
I still believe in the Bible when it tells me that only a fool says that there is no God (Ps 14:1). Regular readers know that I am no defender of atheism. Unfortunately, a post by a religious Jew has recently come to my attention as part of my series on refuting Kelly O’Connor of the Rational Response Squad that so badly mischaracterizes atheists that I actually am jumping to their defense in this post.
Religion is defined by its beliefs; atheism is a lack of belief in God. Already I see the difference between religion and atheism, and why atheism cannot be a religion by definition. I was skeptical reading this post from the Jewish Philosopher simply because I didn’t feel the subject matter couldn’t sustain a blog post.
Before I consider Kelly’s post, I wanted to briefly touch on a few things in Stein’s post. First, I don’t believe that atheism is an extension of determinism. I believe that its roots lay in metaphysical naturalism. To the atheist, all that we see is all that there is. Stein later will assert that determinism has been refuted by quantum mechanics and that atheists seem to hardly notice. This just isn’t true. To my knowledge, atheists don’t believe in determinism in the first place (often criticizing my own Calvinistic theology as deterministic or fatalistic). This leads me to conclude that atheists lean more to the secular existentialist camp.
Second, his research that he lists in four points is flawed. In his first point, he is wrong that atheists cannot define “god.” They define “god” as an all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural being about whom myths and legends are composed. While Christians and Jews would not include YHWH in such a definition, the atheists do and therefore do not believe in Him. As I’ve heard it put, “Atheists and theists are the same in their lack of belief in gods, atheists just go one God further.”
Stein is wrong in his assertion that atheists don’t seem bothered by an intelligent creator. They emphatically deny such a being, insisting that the Big Bang is all that was necessary to set the universe in motion. This is partially deterministic, but they don’t ascribe to the philosophy that there is only ever one possible future. Many believe in human free will, which is why secular existentialism is so attractive to them.
I agree with Stein that atheists are bothered by a personal god who would judge their actions. Read the rest of this entry
I find it extremely ironic that Kelly O’Connor of the Rational Response Squad takes offense to a Christian making a statement against her philosophical beliefs, but then goes on to write that atheists are under no obligation to respect the beliefs of others.
The proof is in the pudding. First, Kelly acts offended at this statement from Rev. Marty Fields:
They [atheists] keep writing books, one right after the other, rehashing the same old tired arguments that you heard in your freshman philosophy class. Atheists taking issue with those who believe in God is — of course — nothing new. The only difference is that now — with each new offering — they appear to be getting angrier. … and more desperate. (source)
Kelly responds with the following:
Marty Fields, who will not be addressed as “Reverend” here as I have no reverence for him or his ilk, wrote an op-ed entitled “Angry Atheists”. He starts out by accusing atheists of being philosophical dilettantes, using the “same old tired arguments that you heard in your freshman philosophy class.” Ironic, coming from a proponent of a religion that hasn’t come up with a new argument in 2000 years. I think that tops freshman year philosophy, eh? (source)
I’d say that sounds defensive. Now the irony:
In debates, Hitchens is respectful of his opponent, just as the example that he cited between Russell and Copleston. He has no obligation to be respectful of their beliefs or opinions, though, and neither do any of us. [emphasis added]
Yet, above, she seems to be angry for Fields not pulling punches when he talks about atheism.
Now the obvious objection here is that Kelly has a point, that Fields doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that is why she is so angry. Let’s examine Fields’s article, “Angry Atheists,” and see if he knows his stuff.
Contrary to what Kelly states in her article, Fields neither labels The End of Faith as the least offensive of the Four Horsemen’s books nor does he attack Christopher Hitchens personally. He lists the books in their order of publication. He labels Hitchens’s book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, as “both the most visceral and the angriest of all.” However, he doesn’t label Hitchens as such, nor does he make any character assessments.
I agree that atheism is declining in influence, mostly due to the anger and bitterness that is so evident within their attitudes and words. However, it is misleading to state that without considering Kelly’s rebuttal: “Atheism is increasing worldwide, a fact easily proven by population studies and surveys.” This is very true. Atheism, once representing 10% of the population, now represents 11% of the population–and I only see that number growing in the coming years. In five to ten years, they may represent 20-30% of the population–or more.
I also agree that atheists are starting to attack religious belief itself, and trying to make belief in God an object of ridicule. They’re trying to make it a taboo. Sort of like finding out someone’s super dirty secret and not being able to say that you really think that it’s wrong and that the secret holder should be ashamed. They try to make religious belief into that super dirty secret and relentlessly try to shame people who adhere to religious beliefs. The Rational Response Squad itself tries to classify theism as a mental disease or defect.
“Why am I here?” “Am I significant and valuable?” “Does life have meaning?” These are some of the questions that Fields proposes and says that the New Atheists (like the Four Horsemen) either ignore or assume that their idealistic naturalism can answer. Kelly, in top New Atheist form, also glosses over these questions. She doesn’t even point us to a resource that attempts to answer these important questions. She’s busy being angry.
I don’t think that she’s upset about Fields’s lack of knowledge on the subject of atheism. I don’t think that she’s upset that Fields believes that Jesus is the answer to all of the questions above. I think that so much of the article was right on target that Kelly has to retreat into defensive mode in order to continue to delude herself into believing two things: 1) that there is no God; and 2) that God isn’t calling her to repentance.
Instead of responding to theists, she should try responding in prayer to the One we speak for.
Tomorrow, I’ll consider part 2 of Kelly’s post, “Damn Right I’m Angry.” So far, I see no death blows being dealt to Christianity as the hype claimed. Maybe those are in part 2?
In my newest edition of the Rational Responders Newsletter, they tell us Kelly O’Connor, always ready with the atheist response, has written “the most destructive blow dealt to Christians so far” in her recent post, “Damn Right I’m Angry,” part 1 and part 2. Kelly addresses two writers, Marty Fields and Jacob Stein, who have the audacity to call atheists angry and bitter. So I will be taking a closer look at her posts here on the blog, and see how devastating the blow that she dealt really is.
Meanwhile, over on the blog of the inimitable Rook Hawkins, he has written a marvelously long post entitled “Which Jesus: A Legend with a Multiple Personality Disorder.” The thesis? In order to believe in a historical Jesus, Christians have to pick and choose which gospel verses to believe while totally ignoring most of the rest. Once I’m done looking at Kelly’s post, I’ll take a crack at Rook’s post. We’ll see if our young ancient texts expert is simply misguided or if he’s on to something.