Free Will Synergism vs. Free Grace Monergism

I originally posted this link back in February 2011.  In light of the recent debate about soteriology in the SBC I thought I would repost it today.

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Here is a link to a nice short summary of the difference between the synergistic view and the monergistic view of salvation.  Scripture references are included.  If you are unfamiliar with the difference between the two take five minutes and read this and you will have a better understanding when done.  It is my hope that it may even inspire you to do some more research into the subject.

A Primer on Limited (or Definite) Atonement by Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor has posted a primer on Limited Atonement on his blog.  In it he summarizes the arguments of John Owen from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,  Lorraine Boettner in The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, and John Piper from his Desiring God website.  If you have ever wondered about this doctrine this post will help you get a better understanding of it.

Take the time to read it and let me know what you think.

Is Matthew 1:21 A Valid “Proof text” For The Reformed Believer Or Not?

One of the verses that I often cite when explaining my transition to a reformed theological position is Matthew 1:21.  The context of his verse is an angel telling Joseph that Mary has not been unfaithful to him and that the child she is carrying is of the Holy Spirit.  The angel tells Joseph what to name the child and for what reason the Holy Spirit has supernaturally impregnated her.  See for yourself:

Matthew 1:18-25 (18) Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  (19)  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  (20)  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  (21)  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  (22)  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  (23)  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).  (24)  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,  (25)  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Verse 21 conveys a very specific message.  It says that “He will save His people”.  Note that it does not say that” He will make them savable” or “He will make salvation possible”.  I need to make this distinction because of an article recently posted over at Society of Evangelical Arminians under the title of “Matthew 1:21:  How Calvinists Blind Side A Text“.  As you can imagine, the title caught my eye so I read it.  It is a short article but it gives a good understanding of what the Arminian postition is.  The Article starts with the following paragraph:

One of the more inane prooftexts for Calvinism is Matt 1:21, “…for he will save his people from their sins.” Calvinists argue that this is a statement of definiteness, that it does not say that Jesus will merely provide the opportunity of salvation for “his people,” but instead, that Jesus will definitely save his people. They claim that this flies in the face of Arminian assertions that through Jesus, God provides a way for everyone to be saved.

The quick Arminian retort is simple: “What!? Do you Calvinists think that Arminians deny that Jesus will definitely save his people??? Of course, we Arminians affirm that Jesus will definitely save his people, just as the text says.”

The author correctly and briefly begins by stating the Calvinist position on this verse.  (For those who might be wondering the word inane means:  lacking significance, meaning, or point, i.e. silly).  He also addresses a common objection Calvinists present to Arminianism:  that in Arminian theology Christ’s death only makes salvation possible, it does not directly save anyone.

In my own personal experience, which includes believing in this way myself and then, once I accepted Reformed Theology,  discussing this topic with others who still hold this view, most will say the same thing the author does.  They will quickly and easily affirm that Jesus’ death will save His people.  But, when questioned on specifics of how, most actually come to the position that Jesus’ death only makes salvation possible.  At which point most who believe this way no longer want to continue the discussion because they see the hole in their theology but are unwilling to address it.

The author continues

The ultimate question is a matter of defining “his people.” Indeed, in Matthew’s Gospel, the issue which is pounded is whether “his people” consists of Abraham’s descendants only, or whether “his people” is actually the community of faith, consisting of both Jew and Gentile believers; obviously, Matthew favours the latter position.

I agree with him here that the ultimate question is who makes up His people.  This brings us to the point of Election.  Who gets to define who His people are?  Do we or does He?  It is my contention that only God, as Creator, has that right.  The Creator is always greater than the creation.

If you say that His people are defined by us, then that brings up several questions that must be answered.  How can God be truly sovereign if we have the power to decide who make up His people?  Why would Jesus choose to bear, on the cross,  the sins of those whom He knew would never choose Him?  If Jesus did bear, on the cross, the sins of those who would not choose Him then on what basis does God punish them (because the penalty has already been paid by Jesus)?

In conclusion, Matthew 1:21 is a Calvinist proof text.  The author of the post has missed the point of what is being proven though.  It proves that there is a definite group of people who are known as His people.  We must then move on to find out who these people are and how they become and stay His people.

Do you agree with my assessment?  If not, why?  What is your understanding?

The Atonement: Universal or Particular (Limited)?

Also posted at Exploring Theology.

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This is one of the “hot button” issues in the debate between reformed and non-reformed believers.

Reformed (Calvinistic) brothers believe in a particular (or limited) atonement. They say Jesus died on the cross to save only the Elect.  That He accomplished His intended task which was to save the Elect.  They cite verses like Matthew 1:21 to make this point.  It says “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [emphasis added] This position says that only the Elect will have the opportunity to be saved and that all the Elect will be saved because this was the intention from the beginning.

Non-reformed (Arminian) brothers believe in a universal atonement.  They say that Jesus died for every and all men but that the atonement is only effectual on those who knowingly and willingly accept it.  This position basically says that everybody will have an opportunity to accept the call to salvation but only some will do so.  They cite verses like John 3:16 to make this point.  It says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [emphasis added]  This position says that people must agree to accept the gift of the atonement before it is applied to them.  Basically it says that Jesus died only to make salvation possible for all people.

This was a very brief description of the two alternatives.  Much longer posts could be written about both positions but that is not my purpose here.  I have a simple purpose:  to get you to share what your position you hold and why.  So here is the question:  DID JESUS DIE TO SAVE HIS PEOPLE OR TO MAKE SALVATION POSSIBLE FOR ALL PEOPLE?  DO YOU BELIEVE IN UNIVERSAL OR PARTICULAR ATONEMENT?  WHY?  PLEASE GIVE YOUR REASONS (WHATEVER THEY MAY BE).

Differences In How Calvinists And Arminians Interpret The Bible

Billy over at Classical Arminianism posted a great article today discussing how Calvinists and Arminians approach the interpretation of the Bible in different ways.  I agree completely with the points he makes.  Take a moment to read the post…it is worth it.

Human Inability From An Arminian Perspective

I am reading some posts from a new Arminian Website called The Society of Evangelical Arminians.  Keith Schooley has posted a 2 part series entitled “Why I Am An Arminian”.  Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2.  The site looks interesting so I have added it to my RSS reader.  The articles have also been interesting.  I am going to comment on some parts of the article as time permits.

In Part 1,  Schooley gives gives a positive presentation for he is an Arminian.  He does a good job of bringing in the Scripture as the basis for his belief.  I don’t agree with his interpretation but it is good to see that he is willing to base everything on what he understands the Bible teaches.  In Part 2 he discusses some objections Calvinists have to Arminianism.  He covers all the main bases.  It is from Part 2 that the inspiration for this post comes.

In discussing human inability, Schooley says

It is stipulated that unregenerate persons are unable to do anything to please God, merit salvation, or even come to the Lord without God first drawing them (Jn. 6.44, 65). Yet Jesus announces his intention to “draw all men” to himself (Jn. 12.32). Although unredeemed humanity is pictured in scripture as being spiritually dead and blind, completely unable to come to the Lord, there is no indication in scripture that those who are actually confronted with the Gospel are unable to receive it. The Gospel itself is viewed in the New Testament as bringing with it the power of salvation (e.g., Rom. 1.16, 10.14-15; Eph. 1.13; 2 Tim. 1.10). The best means of understanding God’s work in enabling people to believe (what Arminians have termed, “prevenient grace”) would be to view the Gospel itself as being invested with the power to respond with saving faith.

I have added the bold and italics to the quote so it would be easier to see what statement I am discussing.  I would agree with the first part of his comment.  The unregenerate are pictured in scripture as “being spiritually dead and blind” and “completely unable to come to the Lord“.  I don’t think you can read the scripture and not get understand this to be the case.  Arminians and Calvinists both understand this is the condition of fallen man.  So far so good….

The next part of the statement is where the I have to disagree with Schooley.  He says that “there is no indication in scripture that those who are actually confronted with the Gospel are unable to receive it.”  This seems to be a contradiction in the same sentence.  Am I reading it wrong?  First he says the Bible portrays the unregenerate as spiritually dead and blind and then turns around and says that if these same unregenerate people are confronted with the Gospel that should be able to receive it.  This is a contradiction.  People cannot be unable to respond and able to respond at the same time.

He does bring into the discussion the concept of prevenient grace which means that God has to do something to allow the unregenerate person accept the Gospel.  I agree with the concept.  I just call it Irresistible Grace instead of prevenient grace.  I know there are some differences between the two but they are essentially the same concept and action that God does.  We see it differently depending on our theological persuasion.

What do you think?  Am I on target or way off base on this one?

Calvinism On The Sly?

The fact of the matter is, Calvinistic Pastors are infiltrating unsuspecting Arminian or Semi-Arminian churches. They know that there is every likelihood that the typical church holds to unlimited atonement and would be shocked to hear of someone believing otherwise. Yet they don’t divulge the fact that they believe in limited atonement when talking things over with the pulpit committee.

This is not ethical.

This comment was made by Rev. James M. Leonard in the comment section of his post entitled Churches Beware! Calvinism on the Sly! His blog is Arminian Baptist.  In the post, Rev. Leonard makes the case that Pastors who hold the reformed position are being dishonest about their beliefs and trying to secretly teach them to the congregations who hired them.  In some cases this may be happening (probably very few cases actually) but you can’t say that it is happening in all cases.  He cites an example of a church where he was employed as interim music director and their new pastor.

The average Southern Baptist Church has less that 100 in membership.  There is usually only one elder (the Pastor).  There is usually not any other member who has any theological training.  The search committee, which comes from the leadership and congregation, will not know what questions to ask to determine what the Pastor believes and will teach.  If they have some questions, from some outside source, to ask the prospective Pastor they will most likely not understand the answers he will give them.  This may be a more damaging alternative than not asking any theological questions at all.

Rev. Leonard says that churches should protect themselves by asking various questions to the prospective Pastors during the interview process.  I agree with this.  He also says that churches should require a covenant from the Pastor that he will not teach anything contrary to what the congregation believes.  Here are his own words:

Moreover, congregations should protect themselves by requiring a new pastor to enter into a covenantal agreement that would require a resignation if the pastor’s theology were to change significantly during the course of the pastorate. This should apply to any theological issue, not just Calvinism and Arminianism.

This sounds good on the surface but upon further examination there are several problems with this proposal.  First, God is the head of the church and He chooses to lead through the Pastor not the congregation.  So it is the Pastor, being submissive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who decides what is to be taught and when and how in the church.  The congregation’s job is to test what the Pastor is teaching by the Word of God.  If the Pastor is teaching something that is contrary to God’s Word, then they, through the other church leaders, are to call him back into a correct relationship to God and God’s Word in his teaching.

Second, we must remember that Pastor’s are human and can be in error in some area as to what the Bible teaches.  If that is the case and the Pastor becomes convinced that his prior understanding of some doctrine or topic was in error then he is compelled to change his thinking and teach from his new understanding.  This suggestion would require the Pastor to resign in a case like this.

Lastly, who is to be the decision makers as to what a significant change is?  In most SBC churches, the congregation is not learned in theological issues, let alone, what would qualify as a significant change.  With this being the case, we could be on a very slippery slope.

Now, having said all that I want to say that, in general, I agree with the premise of Rev. Leonard’s post.  Pastors should not be teaching something secretly.  If they have to teach something secretly then there are larger issues in that church that need to be addressed.  Also, it calls into questions the Pastor’s integrity and motives.  This is not a position any Pastor wants to find himself.  Ultimately, the Pastor must be faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to his understanding of the doctrines of the Bible.  If he does that, God will be glorified and the kingdom will be expanded.

Steve Gregg Says You Must Be Trained To Believe Calvinism Is True

James Whites and Steve Gregg are doing a 5 day (about 1 hour per day) debate on the subject of Calvinism.  Each days discussions are being simulcast on Gregg’s radio program called The Narrow Path and White’s webcast known as The Dividing Line.  At this point they have completed the first and second day.  You can check their respective archives to listen to the first two days.

During his first segment on the first day Steve Gregg made a comment that really caught my attention.  If you are listening for it, it happens about 7 or 8 minutes into the program.  I have tried to transcribe it here accurately.  If I don’t have it exact I a sure I have it very close.  Gregg said:

Until somebody trains you to believe that Calvinism is true, I believe that if you simply read the bible you get the impression that God operates in a certain way in His creation and redemption and that man operates a certain way in creation and redemption.

Does anything about that statement jump out at you?  Or, was it just me?  When he said this my first thought was “that was me, that was my experience“.  I did not become a Calvinist until I began to study theology.  I have not had any formal training.  My education has come from reading various books, both pro and con, on the topic.

Gregg was obviously trying to make a point against reformed theology.  He was implying that if you simply read the bible you come to one conclusion and then you can be led astray by various teachers who have an agenda of converting people to Calvinism.  But I have a different take on his comment.  I think what Gregg said is true for the vast majority of Christians.  It was in my case.

The vast majority of Christians do not have any desire to study theology.  Unfortunately, many also do not have a desire to read their Bible but that is another topic that we may discuss at a later time.  As a result, when they do read their Bible, they are not reading it in the proper context.  Many do not understand that they need to know how to read the Bible.  They may be under the illusion that they can just pick it up and read it and God will magically give then discernment into the meaning of what they have read.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God can do that if He chooses to and He may choose to but we can’t presume on His grace like that.

To read the Bible correctly, you have to know several things.  First you have to know who the author is and who he is writing to.  For example, the Book of Matthew makes a lot more sense when you realize that Matthew is writing to the Jewish people.  Second, you have to know what kind of writing you are reading.  Are you reading a historical narrative, a parable, poetry, prophecy, or an epistle?  Knowing this helps you to understand how to read what you are reading.  Third, once you know the type of writing, you can look into the text to find the purpose for what the author has written.  Lastly, you may want to try to have some understanding of the culture in which the intended readers lived.  That way you can know how they would interpret what they were reading.  As you can see, reading the Bible can be a lot of work…..but it is worth it.

To get all of this information you will need to study or be “trained” as Gregg says.  As you begin to study, you will grow in your understanding of the Bible and its doctrines.  You may see that it actually says things different than what you had thought it did or were taught that it said.  That is what happened to me.  As I began to read the texts and study what they actually mean it changed my whole theology.  It also gave me a desire to study more.  I hope that is what it will do for you.

So, is what Gregg said true?  Do you have to be trained to believe that Calvinism is true?  The answer is yes and no.  People can study the same information and still interpret it differently.  That happens all the time.  In my opinion, when I began to be “trained” I could not come to any other conclusion than Calvinism was true.  I would never have come to that conclusion if I had not started my “training”.  Ultimately though, if you are studying with sincerity, God will bless your efforts and you will grow in your knowledge and obedience of Him.

If you have not started your “training” I urge you to do so.  If you need help getting started, let me know and I will do my best to point you in the right direction or at least the direction I took.

IS GOD REALLY SOVEREIGN?

The question of God’s sovereignty is at the heart of all theology. The importance, or lack thereof, we place on it will influence every aspect of our theology. In most cases it seems that people make either God’s sovereignty or God’s love in the primary position of their theology. Calvinists will usually make God’s sovereignty primary while Arminians usually make God’s love primary.

Billy over at Classical Arminianism wrote a post answering this question. It is a good explanation of how classical Arminians look at the issue. I don’t agree with most of Billy’s conclusions but I respect his perspective and his passion for what he believes. I have no problem calling him a brother in Christ.

Read Billy’s post and let me know what you think.

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