Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Formal Calvinism vs. Arminianism Debate, Second Rebuttal

This is the first "formal" debate in which I've participated (with rules and such). For readers who are on facebook, they may find both sides of the debate here. If others are interested, they may email me for a word document. The format, set by my opponent, will be as follows:

"Opening Statement period (~1,000 words each)

First Rebuttal period (really depends on the opening statement, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Second Rebuttal period (really depends on the first rebuttal statements, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Cross Examination - each side asks 10 questions (there is no limit to the response word count)

Closing Statement period (~2,000 maximum, otherwise below that number is fine)"

 Second Rebuttal

Side note

The image to which Robert linked purports that the conception of the “ordo salutis” within Calvinism includes the idea that reprobation is conditioned upon man’s will. While this is certainly within the realm of Reformed orthodoxy, I believe that God reprobative decree is unconditional. To draw a simple analogy: in the same way Calvinists believe that election is an unconditional decree unto the condition (faith) by which one is justified, I similarly believe that reprobation is an unconditional decree unto the condition (sin) by which one is condemned. However, as this is beyond the realm of this discussion, I will leave it at that.

Total Depravity

God is no respecter of persons – Robert and I superficially agree this is true, but we disagree, as will be shown, what it means to be a respecter of persons. Note that in the context of every passage Robert has cited, to be a “respecter of persons” is never linked with man’s will but is rather in reference to one whose judgment is biased by bribes or other such corruptions. Ironically, then, the fact that Calvinists believe election is unconditional automatically refutes the idea these passages imply that the unconditional election makes God a respecter of persons; in fact, as it is the Arminian who predicates election upon man’s faith, even if these passages were relevant to election – and they are not – it is the Arminian’s concept of election which is much more nearer to the idea God is a respecter of persons. As Robert offers no exegesis to substantiate this argument, his claims that “God graciously and lovingly enables [every] sinner to repent and believe” and references to “the autonomy of man” are without foundation.

Slavery and our sin nature – Robert’s first few paragraphs indicate a misunderstanding as to why one needs to be regenerated in order to respond to the gospel in a positive manner. For instance, while Strong’s explanation of the Arminian conception of fallen man’s will is helpful insofar as it reinforces that Arminians believe prevenient grace is sufficient to enable man to synergistically repent and believe, no explanation is provided as to how grace that leaves man’s nature hostile to the things of the spirit can enable man to produce fruit of the spirit (including faith).

Interestingly, Robert has agreed that “all men in Adam are fallen and thus inheritors of a nature incapable of submitting to God’s precepts” If this is the case, is it not self-evident that we need a new nature to submit to God’s precepts? And yet one is either a slave to God or to sin: there is no neutral ground. Robert also states that the idea an individual should be regenerated after faith “is a necessity because a spiritually dead person cannot respond...” I confess this baffles me completely. If anything, that shows regeneration must be logically prior to faith.

The examples Robert cites which allegedly show that fallen men can make righteous decisions are honestly woefully inadequate: Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13 do not say that the giving of the gift was good, but that the gifts given were themselves good (cf. James 1:17), Daniel 9:17-19 is a written prayer by one who is a regenerate, and Hebrews 12:9-10 simply says that we respect our fathers for disciplining us. Compliance with a commandment for a wrong reason (fear, selfishness, &c.) is sin, and for this reason only one who possesses faith can please God. The question becomes: is Robert contesting “without faith it is impossible to please God,” or is he saying one can displease God simultaneous to acting righteously? Either answer he gives is problematic.

One who has not been born of God belongs to the god of this world, unable to understand the necessity of the gospel (John 8:44-47).  They are by nature children of wrath, dead in sin and followers of the desires of the flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3). They do not seek God or do good (Romans 3:9-12). They cannot accept the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). They are hostile towards God, unable to please Him or submit to His law prior to indwellment (Romans 8:7-9). They cannot come to Christ unless they are first given to Christ by the Father through the drawing of the Spirit, in which case it is said that they necessarily come, indicating that such grace is effectual (John 6:37-44). How, then, can it be that faith is the precondition for regeneration? We are made alive while we were dead. Did Jesus, the prophets, or the apostles ask that we believe one possesses faith and – hence – the ability to please God, to seek, understand, and submit to Him and His word, do good... logically prior to regeneration? No. Rather, we are baptized into Christ (regenerated) and then raised with him through faith (cf. Ephesians 2:5-8 and Colossians 2:11-12).

I do not follow why Robert is confused as to why repentance, faith and perseverance would proceed from a change in “governing disposition.” That is natural, is it not? How could a regenerate nature lead one to “Luciferianism”? One’s fruits are borne in accordance to what sort of tree he is; because regeneration makes us a new tree such that our strongest desires tend towards the good, faith and other fruits of the Spirit flow from us. More disconcerting is why Robert is not similarly confused as to how an unregenerate nature can be led to Christianity.

Regeneration, adoption, and eternal life – Robert conflates several terms and functions. One such instance is Robert’s use of Titus 3:5-7. The passage itself clearly shows regeneration is unto justification (due to the fact regeneration effects saving faith) and justification is unto eternal life (cf. Romans 5:18). Regeneration, then, is the means of salvation (“He saved us…by…regeneration”). It is not salvation per se. The life to which rebirth refers is the new nature which makes a dead man alive, a deaf man hear, a blind man see, a hostile mind reconciled – in essence, a totally depraved individual able and willing to come to and follow Christ. Romans 1:16 is an allusion to justification, not regeneration, so I cannot understand why Robert brings it up in this context.

Another conflation Robert makes is that between regeneration and adoption. Paul Enns, who Robert uses as a source later, notes that adoption refers to the actual change in position one attains as a believer in Christ; it describes the rights and privileges one receives as well as the new position of the believer (Ephesians 1:6-7, Galatians 4:5-6). Adoption does not entail regeneration, as is evident when one compares the different functions of the different pneumatological actions. While adoption is logically posterior to faith and justification, this bears no relevance to whether or not regeneration is likewise posterior to faith and justification. John 1:12-13 says that believers were born of God and that believers are given the right to become children of God. A quick glance at the tense of each verb shows that adoption and regeneration cannot be synonymous. Furthermore, 1 John 5:1, which is syntactically parallel to 1 John 2:29, proves faith is logically dependent upon regeneration. As one does not practice righteousness prior to regeneration (although Robert may, to his own misfortune, contest this), so too one does not believe prior to rebirth. The whole of 1 John, in fact, is an excursus on the effects of regeneration (cf. 2:29, 3:6-9, 4:7, 5:1-4, 18).

Eisegesis – It is not my intention to come off as harsh, but I must note that Robert has sacrificed quality exegesis in favor of dubious proof texting. Examples:

- I would challenge Robert to exegete even one of the passages he claims indicate “it is God’s desirable will to save those that first come to him” (John 5:21, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, James 1:18). John 5:21 is a particularly questionable citation, given John writes Christ gives life to those whom He wishes.

- It is exasperating that, although regeneration and adoption are nowhere mentioned in the context of Romans 10:17, Robert cites it as a proof one “must believe in order to be regenerated.” Moreover, the very context of 1 Peter 1 is that regeneration is unto a hope which saves (1:3), not that faith is unto regeneration (faith is not even mentioned in 1:23).

- Galatians 3:26-27 says that those baptized into Christ have put on Christ. This is no different than Colossians 2:11-12, which I have noted above actually means that having crucified the old man in baptism (regeneration), we are raised with Christ through faith.

Unconditional Election

Christian determinism is indeed incompatible with fatalism as well as human autonomy. It seems Robert agrees with this, but I am unsure. In my opening post, I anticipated any objection to determinism on the ground that it is incompatible with the fact men are responsible, choose, and possess wills, so I will not cover that until it is addressed. To answer Robert’s questions, however – “Suppose I do not eat? Then I will die. Would that be the day God planned that I should die?” – I will note that I do not know the future. My responsibility is to follow God’s precepts, one of which is to take care of myself. As a man thinks, so he is, and whatever is not of faith is sin. If you act contrary to your beliefs with regards to whether or not you are taking care of your body, you are sinning. If you believe you will survive by not eating, fine. Let it not be said that I judge my brother. But I will say that I doubt you believe that, and I certainly don’t believe that.

In my first rebuttal, I demonstrated several problem with conditioning God’s knowledge on man’s will in general (such would falsify the idea God is eternally omniscient) and conditioning election on faith in particular (election and predestination are unto God’s call, so to elect upon a “foreseen” faith implies God would have to foresee a faith produced by man apart from God’s call; this is impossible). I will be very interested to see Robert’s response to this as well as whether or not he will, after rereading Proverbs 16:4 in light of Romans 9:18-23, adjust his interpretations accordingly. As I believe that my remarks in my first rebuttal satisfactorily prove determinism and unconditional election, the remainder of my response will be clarification.

The Scriptural usage of “foreknowledge” is not synonymous with “prescience” but choice (cf. Amos 3:2, Acts 2:23, Romans 11:2, &c.). To say God predestines “those whom He [foresees]” implies universalism, as God “foresees” all persons. Then again, to say those whom God foresees are those who will believe is without contextual foundation, rather like Robert’s citation of Mark 9:36-37 as a passage relevant to the topic. It is not.

I thought that the charge that “if determinism is true, God is the author of sin” might surface, which is why I spent most of my free space in my opening post as ground upon which I could build a more comprehensive rebuttal of this. Firstly, I agree that God hates sin and does not sin. Neither implies that God cannot use secondary causes to effect sin (e.g. 1 Kings 22:19-23), as the result of sin is a world in which God’s glory is maximally exhibited (e.g. Genesis 50:20). Secondly, God is not the immediate cause of sin – we are. This is, in part, why God is not responsible (we might also note that God cannot be responsible to anyone and that His commands to us are not necessarily applicable to Himself). God is the author of sin in the same sense He is the author of Scripture or author of life: it is not as though He physically wrote Scripture or actually lives our life. He is the ultimate cause. Finally, I must disagree that Scripture is silent as to the origin of sin. Robert left out that the word in Isaiah 45:7 translated as “evil” can be and is (some 50 times, according to Gordon Clark) translated as “wickedness” (e.g. Genesis 6:5). Surely Robert would not contest that God creates moral peace; why would he arbitrarily disallow the parallel Isaiah is obviously constructing?

While it may be beyond the purpose of this debate, I feel that I should explain why God predestines sin should occur. All of God’s actions stem from His desire to manifest His glory (cf. Ephesians 3:8-10, 20-21, Romans 9:23, &c.). Romans 9:15 functions as an argument for the righteousness of God because God’s unconditioned distribution of mercy and compassion manifest His glory, honor, and name (cf. Exodus 33:18-19). Without sin, we could not fully know God’s excellence (His holy wrath, justice, compassion, mercy, grace, power, wisdom &c.), so God’s glory could not be maximally manifested. Sin, then, is not decreed arbitrarily. It is decreed because God is who He is: righteous, unswervingly allegiant in upholding that which is infinitely worthy – His glory. This provides an answer to Robert’s later question, paraphrased as follows: “why did Christ elect me rather than Joe reprobate?” The answer is simply that God has decreed all things to His glory. Robert can contend – but not substantiate – that a counter-factual world would more greatly manifest God’s glory.

Limited Atonement

When MacArthur writes “any believer who does not believe in universal salvation,” he is simply saying that both Arminians and Calvinists recognize the atonement is limited in application. Neither MacArthur nor I assert that Arminians are universalists. The difference is that Arminians limit the power of the atonement while Calvinists limit the scope or intention of the atonement. Despite what Mr. Schniewind writes, if Christ’s sacrifice does not effect faith by grace, then salvation hinges on man’s will, and God’s power is necessarily limited.

Robert writes that Christ did not fail on the cross, yet believes that God intends to save all men without exception. If Christ did not achieve what the Father desires to achieve – if universalism is false – in what sense did Christ not fail to accomplish the will of the Father (John 6:38)? In this sense, the logical extension of Arminianism is universalism. God gets what He wants. If God wants to save all men without exception, all men without salvation will be saved. This was covered in my first rebuttal as well as 1 John 2:2, so I will move on to other arguments.

Robert writes that one must believe to be saved. This is true, if by this Robert means justification is logically dependent upon faith. I do not see the relevance to the disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians, however. I also do not find relevant the fact that elect persons are referred to as lost prior to faith. Moreover, I have not used the argument that Ephesians 5 and John 10 prove that because a particular group of people are referenced as beneficiaries of Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s sacrifice must be particular. That is fallacious reasoning.

Robert again abuses the meaning of “respecter of persons” when he writes: “Christ died for [sin], not for particular persons because God is not a respecter of persons!” Christ didn’t die for particular persons? That is certainly not the message in Romans 8:32, Matthew 1:21, and Galatians 2:20. Robert further misunderstands MacArthur’s explanation that Christ’s atonement is without distinction. MacArthur means that Christ has redeemed men from every tribe, tongue, nation, people. &c. (Revelation 5:9). Christ didn’t only die for a single group of men – He died for men without distinction. Such does not imply He died for all men without exception.

God’s intention is not to save all men without exception, however, because if it were, all men would be saved. This is something I have covered several times and, I imagine, I will probably have to repeat several more times. Christ indeed died for all – that is not the question. The question is: to whom does all refer? Did Christ die for all [men without exception] or all [those whom God has elected]? Robert says 2 Corinthians 5:15 teaches the former. Well, let’s look at the context and compare 2 Corinthians 5:14 with Romans 6:8. Everyone for whom Christ died themselves died with Christ, and as such will be raised with Him. This cannot refer to reprobates, and this is evidence that the “everyone” for whom Christ died are elect. The other passages Robert cites have semantic domains which Robert similarly neglects. In John 1:29, Robert assumes “world” means all men without exception. Try to replace “world” with “all men without exception” in 6:33, for example, and Robert would be left with universalism. John 12:32 is a reference to both Jews and Greeks (cf. 12:20-22). 1 Timothy 2:6 would imply universalism if “all” meant “all without exception” rather than “all without distinction” (also see 2:1-2). Hebrew 2:9 refers to those who have been adopted by God (cf. 2:10-14), and this passage would also imply universalism if “everyone” meant “everyone without exception” rather than “everyone God has elected.” A point Robert misses is that we should preach the gospel to all because we don’t know who God has chosen to save. Evangelism is not mutually exclusive with TULIP. That is the point of Romans 10 (which, one should note, follows the ever-relevant Romans 9). The relevance of 1 Timothy 1:16 and 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 are not immediately apparent. That all without exception are commanded to believe (as in Proverbs 1:22-23) does not imply God wills all without exception actually believe. This is a conflation of God’s precepts and His will.

The mistakes Robert makes are too numerous to be given further credence. I am content to see what Robert has to say in reply to this and the positive evidence provided in my first rebuttal.

Irresistible Grace

Is salvation synergistic or monergistic? That is the essential difference between Arminianism and Calvinism, and the doctrine of “Effectual or Irresistible Grace” best exemplifies this disagreement. Are our desires determined or autonomous? Robert and I agree that the gospel should be preached to all men without exception (due to the fact that only God knows the identity of the elect), that grace must be received, that grace is not obligated, that we are saved by grace apart from works, and that any grace bestowed upon mankind stems from Christ’s work on the cross. This is all encouraging. We differ, however, on the scope and accomplishment of the inner call and the means by which grace is received. Effectual grace, like the most of TULIP, implies the truth of the other doctrines: if God’s grace is indeed effectual, then, as universalism is false, the scope of God’s grace is necessarily limited. This is relevant to both election and the atonement. The reason grace must be effectual and the purpose of this grace is respectively relevant to total depravity and perseverance. The importance of this doctrine in this debate cannot be overstated.

Revelation 3:2 and 3:20 (I believe Robert meant to cite the latter) are both addressed to churches, not all men without exception. I find it surprising that Robert only cites this passage against effectual grace, but perhaps this is due to space constraints. After all, while I believe the comments I made regarding John 6:37-45 are sufficient in way of positive evidence of the doctrine, I didn’t feel that I would be able to do justice to any further citations. I will add several others now.

It has already been shown that God does as He pleases (e.g. Psalm 115:3). If God is pleased to save men, He will do so. No one can thwart God’s will (Isaiah 14:27) or resist it (Romans 9:19). When it is said that God desires all men without exception to be saved but that universalism is false, the obvious contradiction is the result of a faulty premise. The absurdity of believing this is further compounded by the idea God kills wicked men He allegedly desires to save, for this suggests God acts such that His desires cannot be fulfilled, a suggestion which is the opposed to the whole of Scripture. God is not schizophrenic.

Romans 8:32 indicates those for whom Christ died will be freely given all things. Would this not include gracing us with a sufficient desire to believe according to which we actually would believe? In John 10, Jesus says that He will call His sheep and they will follow Him rather than strangers (in anticipation of the objection that “one is a sheep by faith,” note that Jesus says the opposite in 10:26: the protesting Jews, for instance, did not believe because they were not sheep, not vice versa). Finally, there are a multitude of passages in which it is impossible to believe the call of God refers to an inward working of the Spirit which is possible to be rejected: the “golden chain of redemption” is broken if, in Romans 8:29-30, God’s calling is not effectual. 1 Corinthians 1:24 states that Christ is the power of salvation for the called, which is nonsensical is everyone is called. One can only conclude, then, that God’s salvific grace is particular to those whom He is pleased to save.

Perseverance of the Saints

Robert, citing Paul Enns, includes two passages in his explanation of perseverance from the Arminians point of view: Hebrews 6:4-6 and 2 Peter 2:20-22. I will examine each of these passages in some depth and then offer positive evidence of my own in addition to that contained in my first rebuttal.

Hebrews 6:4-6 – for some time now, I have been at a loss to understand why so many find this passage to be an insurmountable objection to “perseverance of the saints.” If anything, it is quite the opposite! I will, for convenience sake, reproduce what I believe the passage states in my own words: “It is impossible for those who have been regenerated, if they temporarily fall away, to again be brought back to initial repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Firstly, it is an unwarranted assumption that “falling away” denotes a forfeiture of salvation (cf. Matthew 26:31). Secondly, a motif throughout Hebrews is that Christ's sacrifice was once and for all. It is never repeated: “by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (10:14), having “obtained eternal redemption” (9:12). The problem in Hebrews 6:4-6 is that some people think that they can sin so much or so badly that, having fallen away, they believe that they must repeat the conversion process unto the application of Christ’s sacrifice which had brought them to salvation in the first place. The author chastises those who believe this, as such would imply the first application of Christ's sacrifice did not cover some sins. The reality, that Christ’s one sacrifice is ever sufficient, means that when one tries to repeat the conversion process, they are in essence crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. No matter how badly we sin, then, Christ's sacrifice covers it. That's precisely why we're eternally secure (cf. 6:13-19), and that’s why the only thing left to do is press on to the mature things; continually worrying about past sins can only mire us in despair and sin.

A more interesting thought is that if Robert’s interpretation is true, a Christian who apostatizes must not have the capacity to come to be saved anymore. Does this mean apostates do not possess free will?

2 Peter 2:20-22 – Unfortunately, as Robert provided no exegesis of either of these passages, I must guess as to his reasons for believing they imply perseverance of the saints is a false doctrine. I will explain what I believe this passage means, and if Robert believes I have left out an important detail, I hope he will ask during the cross-examination.

In 2 Peter 2:20-22, Peter writes that false prophets have escaped some temporal corruptions but return to it, inevitably, because theirs is a faith which fails the test. They are like the rocky soil who believe superficially, but have no real root in Christ (Mark 4:16-17). Surrounding themselves with good things, they are blessed with knowledge and can even avoid some sins (note that Calvinists do not believe fallen men are “utterly” depraved). Eventually, however, their true nature shows itself, and they no more see fit to acknowledge God in any sense (Romans 1:28-32); their washing was outward, not inward. It is for Robert to show that these false prophets were true believers (a contradiction in terms).

The following is the rest of the paragraph Paul Enns writes which Robert omits: “The clear emphasis of Scripture, however, is that the believer has eternal life as a present possession (John 3:16; 1 John 5:11-13) and is kept secure by Christ (John 10:28) because of what He has done (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).” When Christ says His sheep will never perish and that His sheep will not follow the voice of a stranger, what more is there to say? Of course, this is not to say antinomianism is true; rather, perseverance is the evidence one is saved (Hebrews 3:6, 14). It must be the case that those who leave us were never really of us (1 John 2:18-19). God will finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate us from the love of God, as He who gave His own Son for us will obviously give us all things, including grace which is sufficient for us to will to persevere (Romans 8:32-39). Our inheritance, then, is truly one which cannot perish, be defiled, or fade away (1 Peter 1:4).

Let us be thankful for the gospel, the good news that salvation is truly of the Lord.

(Word count: 4,298)

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