Friday, July 27, 2012

On Alleged Misconceptions in Reformed Theology

The White Horse Inn (see: has provided access to the "Resurgence" website where Dr. Horton alleges 5 misconceptions about Reformed Theology (see:

I'm not sure that what Horton asserts as myths or misconceptions are in fact such when certain considerations are noted relative to each of the points he makes.

POINT #1.  First, (a) Horton first points out that “Calvin didn’t teach anything unique that you can’t find, for example, in Augustine or Luther." However, he made no mention to the Church Fathers before Augustine. Horton should have established if what Calvin taught were also the teachings of the Early Church during the 400 prior to Augustine. If not, then would not Calvin's teaching, thereby, be unique?
(b) It seems more is implied by the term "Calvinism", especially when the claim is made that "Calvinism is the Gospel" (a phrase coined by Spurgeon if I am correct). Unless Horton dares claim that the teachings of Calvinism are at every point in absolute agreement with the Bible, is this not putting man-made interpretations or traditions, at least, equal to if not above the authority of Biblical revelation?
(c) Calvinists seem to suggest that they alone teach "the doctrines of grace." Do the Reformed, especially Horton, really believe that Arminianism is not consistent with Biblical revelation for their teaching to be identified also as "doctrines of grace"? If not, it is Horton who entertains misconceptions about Arminianism.  If not, then how can one believe that Calvinists are being honest when they say that they believe Arminians are genuine believers?
Second, unfortunately, while affirming grace, it seems Calvinist teaching inspires an unconscious pleasure in affirming the sinfulness of believers, their state under grace as sinners (who are identified in the Scriptures as being under the law and slaves to sin) rather than as saints, and their powerlessness to overcome sin (e.g. the position Calvinists have taken on Rom 7), which effectively downplays the Biblical concept of grace (and, of course, Reformed are not the only ones to make that error).  Is it possible that any perceptions others may have that Reformed exhibit “puffed up pride” be the result of an unconscious pride in being humble on the part of the Calvinist?
Third, the perception that Reformed/Calvinists are "impatient, know-it-all, and harsh," is not entirely out of place with certain Calvinists, with the majority whom I have dealt with. In my experience, they have been quick to judge my character, insult my intellect (rather than gently correct my misunderstandings, if any), and make clear implications regarding the end of my spiritual destiny. Of course, this cannot be true in general but it is true in the majority of my discussions with Calvinists.
I'm not trying to suggest all Calvinists are arrogant but only that some have given the impression of holding up, if not Calvin, the teachings of Calvinism, at least, equal to, if not Christ, Biblical revelation.
POINT #2.  First, it seems that a denial of the allegation made that "men are robots" stems from Calvinists double-think. As Horton claims, it takes too much space here to discuss this issue, so let me just briefly say, if teachings like those suggested in the WCF 5:1-4 are not equivalent to the way a robot is programmed, it is not made clear how in Calvinist teaching men cannot be perceived as robots. Although there may be the admission that men have free will, their teachings, logically followed and “free will” properly defined, contradict such an admission.
Second, that "We exist for [God's] purposes" and Jesus "is the Lord and Savior of the world" does not seem to lend any escape from the allegation that "men are robots".
Third, the assertion that "grace is the work of the Triune God in freeing us", as far as Calvinistic doctrine is concerned, is misleading. Calvinism teaches that God determines every action of every creature, even sin, specifically and wholly; nothing happens and no man acts apart from God's decree. As such, this purported "freedom" is nothing but the inevitable movements of divine decree. Man is “free”, whether it is to righteousness or sin, ultimately to do only as God decreed he will do. How that “freedom” is explained by self-contradictory assertions is, from my perspective, double-think.  As such, Reformed affirmations of man’s possessing free-will are illusory.
In light of Calvinist theology teaching divine absolute, exhaustive, and minute control of all Creation, it is not to be wondered why non-Calvinists perceive Calvinists to teach that men are robots (in more than just "a sense").
POINT #3.  First, in my opinion, Calvinism, although affirming divine grace and love, effectively denies these essential saving attributes of God and, in addition, makes the Cross of Christ ancillary and not foundational to salvation. It does so by the Calvinistic teaching that salvation is first and foremost on the basis of divine decree in election and predestination.
Second, what contributes to the perception that Calvinism is "making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way", is the fact that it effectively teaches that it is not divine love but an arbitrary divine decision, which determines who is to be saved and who is to be damned.
The BCF, art.16, also reads: "He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves."
Again, double-think is the process that makes claim to the above propositions; for how can it be construed as "merciful" if it is solely by an "unchangeable counsel" that certain men are saved? And, how can it be construed as deserving that certain other men chosen for damnation if it is absolutely "without any consideration of their works"?  Furthermore, how can the sinner have "plunged themselves" when in both cases, their sinning and their damnation, have been decreed on the basis only of God's decision to do so?
POINT #4.  First, it can be legitimately argued that the reason why the apostle Paul "erupt[s] in praise" is because he understood the doctrines Horton mentions other than on the basis of Calvinistic presuppositions that were introduced more than 400 years after the formal inauguration of the Messianic community of Christ-followers.
Second, that “salvation belongs to the LORD” is not denied but enthusiastically affirmed. However, what is argued is whether or not Calvinism has properly represented the manner by which that "salvation belongs to the Lord", especially if Calvinists assert that in all points Calvinist teaching accurately reflects, without error, the message of the Gospel.
Regarding sections three to five under the 4th point, I will not question any Calvinist's piety. However, it is interesting that the assertion is made that "Reformed piety  [i.e. Calvinism] embraces the world" when Calvinists cannot agree whether or not God's grace and love extends genuinely to the all men.
In any case, I hope the Calvinists' affirmation of their own mission to the world affirms the reality that there are other communities and denominations of Christians (non-Calvinists, e.g. Pentecostals, Arminians, Charismatic, and, in my opinion, even Catholics) who affirm a piety that reaches out to embrace the whole world - specifically, all men without exception - for Christ's sake; this mission is not the sole province of the Calvinists assemblies.
POINT #5.  First, if election according to Calvinism is true" (a) there are those left in their sins to the effect that there is "no point to evangelism" as it will have no direct effect upon the hearing by the damned or the saved since it is by the divine decree considered "before the foundation of the world", which, apart from preaching, orders the giving or withholding of grace and faith, thereby rendering means superfluous and practically ineffectual and unnecessary. In other words, the elect believe to salvation not directly because they have believed the Gospel but because God has decreed to give them faith to believe; the non-elect are damned, not because they do not believe the Gospel but because God withholds faith to believe and hardens their heart. It is not the preaching that is effectual for the divinely desired results but an arbitrary divine act founded on an arbitrary divine decree.
Simply put, in Calvinism the basis of a sinner's faith is not the sacrifice of Christ to forgive but in God having elected them for salvation.
Second, such assertions Horton here makes has the appearsance of arrogance if it implies that only the Reformed are vanguards and exerted large influence for missions, ignoring the commendable efforts of non-Calvinists like the Pentecostals, attributed as being the fastest growing Christian community world-wide.
In addition, as commendable as the Calvinist missionary impetus is, they are shown not strangers to persecuting others if certain historical writings are trustworthy, see:
" thy light shall we see light." - Psalm 36:9

In particular, "The Council of Dort, led entirely by Reformed Calvinists, completely rejected all five Arminian articles. A persecution of Arminians even to death ensued. Of the Arminian defendants, John Wesley wrote, 'some were put to death, some banished, some imprisoned for life, all turned out of their employments, and made incapable of holding any office, either in Church or State.' Rome's wrath had previously fallen upon the Protestant Reformers at the Council of Trent. But, when the once-persecuted Reformed Protestant Church obtained political power themselves, they became the persecutors. They behaved precisely like Rome, killing and persecuting Christians who dared express a theology contrary to the new Protestant state Church. This behavior of the Calvinists was not an isolated incident. Calvin himself had people put to death in Geneva for having the gall to disagree with his theology." 
Further, it is noted that "The Reformers themselves...e.g., Luther, Beza, and especially Calvin, were as intolerant to dissentients as the Roman Catholic Church."

It seems that one of the reasons for the 2nd Great Awakening under Charles G. Finney was due to the Reformed churches Calvinistic teachings, which dulled the "evangelistic impulse" for a time.

These points are brought, not to impugn the Reformed Calvinistic tradition, but to show that along with the Calvinists' "evangelistic impulse" there may be the impulse to persecute and behave arrogantly towards non-Calvinists. Of course, this can be true of any Christian community.

My main concern is that Horton's assertions seem to imply the denial of non-Calvinist efforts at reaching the world of men for Christ.

Third, regarding Horton's "difficult[y] to imagine how Reformed faith and practice could be charged with killing community", see above.

The Calvinistic teaching, taking to its logical conclusion, can very well destroy the "faith and practice" of any Christian community, as demonstrated in the history of the Protestant persecution and revivals under Charles G. Finney as very briefly mentioned above.

The truth of the matter is, as I see it, Calvinists’, in general, seem to practice their faith unconsciously in contradiction to Reformed teaching. For example, although only the elect are saved, nevertheless, they preach to all men as if all men are elect; or, although believing that sinners have no libertarian free will, they preach as if every sinner has the ability to repent, and as if their preaching is what will cause a sinner to repent (thank God for small favors).

Finally, I pray that we, as followers of Messiah Jesus, reform and are being reformed by the Word of God into accurate moral reflections of the divine image through the experiential knowledge, if not an accurate intellectual knowledge, that is grounded through faith solely on the grace demonstrated in the Cross of Christ. For I believe it is better to own both a deep conviction and lively practice that is faithful to God in the Spirit of the revelation of the Cross of Christ.

"...a workman that needeth
not to be ashamed." - 2 Timothy 2:15

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Swordfight: "all" in 1 Timothy 2:4

Is White Right?

Under discussion is a critique of Dr. James White’s comments made on his Blog (see here) regarding Dr. Roger Olson’s book with particular and sole reference to 1 Tim 2:4.

Preliminary Remarks

Before I engage White’s Blog to Dr. Olson’s interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4 in his book, Against Calvinism, allow me to say:

1.  The Bible is not some sort of Gnostic literature whereby only the initiated are able to comprehend it's meaning.

2.  Biblical revelation speaks plainly of things that pertain to salvation and everyone is given the ability to understand it.  I do not deny there are certain subjects “hard to understand.” Nevertheless, with respect to salvation, divine revelation is sufficient and plain.

3.  While, admittedly, I am no scholar, it should be observed that being a scholar is no guarantee of freedom from error.  Even “experts in the field” may arrive at wrong conclusions.

4.  White’s Blog and the section on 1 Tim 2:4 in his book (The Potters Freedom), seems to argue on the basis of what he sees is the logic of the text in context as opposed to what he consider is the logical absurdity of the opposing view (e.g., p.140 on an “Ephesian phone book”).  He does not appear to provide a thorough and in-depth exegesis.

My observations are not to prove that White’s conclusion is erred but only that there are valid and serious challenges even from an non-scholarly point of view.

The Text

"...rightly dividing the word of truth."  - 2 Timothy 2:15
"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgiving, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.  For this [reason] I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  Therefore, I want men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (NASB Updated Edition).

White’s Contention
White argues in his blog that the “context [of 1 Timothy 2:4] had specifically referred to kinds or groups of men.  Olson ignores this. It is actually absurd to think that Paul was exhorting Timothy to pray for “every person without limit” when he said that prayer should be made for ‘all men’.”  After making comparing verses 1 and 4 in the Greek, White continues, “If Paul expected Timothy to take ‘all men’ in verse one as meaning ‘every person without limit, then why did he immediately place a categorical limitation on his words?  That is, he defines ‘all men as classes or kinds of men by speaking of kings and those in authority. But if ‘all men already had the meaning Olson demands that it has, why would Paul do this since Timothy would already understand that Paul is saying that prayers should be made for every single human being on the face of the earth?  Indeed, are we to assume that not only where the prayer meetings in Ephesus to include, by name, every single individual in the city, but every single individual living on the planet at that time?  No wonder folks fell asleep during those meetings! Of course, this only shows the absurdity of the position Olson tells us we must adopt. And, it follows naturally, that if the ‘all men of verse one is to be taken categorically and not individually, then this is the immediate context of the use of ‘all men, in verse four as well” (emphasis mine).

My Statement of Disagreement

I take the plain meaning of 1 Tim 2:1,4,5-6 as it is translated in English to refer to all men, none excluded.  My reasons are as follows:

A Broad Look at 1 Tim 2:4

1.   If White’s interpretation that “all” in 1 Tim 2:4 refers to all classes, kinds, or groups of men, then how are we to understand the "all” in verse 2: “all in authority”?  If White is to be consistent, then “all” here cannot mean every individual who has governmental authority but those kinds, classes, or groups of authority, which obviously makes no sense.  However, if White states that “all” in verse 2 means all individual persons of authority, on what basis can he change the meaning of “all” here to mean something different from the same Greek word translated “all” in verse 4?

2.  If “kinds or groups of men” are meant, nevertheless, it can still be understood to refer to all men without limit within each group rendering White’s argument moot.  For example, as Mounce’s Dictionary, p.12, under “all”, states when “pas in the plural” is used, its stress is “not so much on each individual within the group as on the group as a whole.  For example, in 1 Cor. 15:22 Paul writes, ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’  His emphasis here is on two ‘all’ groups: the ‘all’ group that dies because of Adam’s sin (i.e., every single human being) and the ‘all’ group that lives in Christ (those who believe in him)” (emphasis his).  The point here is that in each group, no person is excluded.  Therefore, even if the emphasis is on classes, kinds, or groups in 1 Tim 2, nevertheless, every single person within that group is to be included; no one is excluded; no limitation is implied (see also Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol.17, p.41-44).

3.   Within the context, Paul mentions only one or two classes or kinds of men, “kings and all who are in authority.” Unless one wants to place a “categorical limitation” to Paul’s reference in vs. 2 and 4 to “kings and all those in authority” as the only objects of prayer (v.1) and salvation (in the parallel v.4), Paul intends to include all men without limit or exception.

White seems to suggest that prayer should not be for individuals but for classes and kinds, limiting for whom prayer ought to be made as individuals.  For example, White seems to say that the apostle invites us to pray not for Congresswoman Pelosi but for all Congress men and women in general, something like, “Dear Lord, please save our U.S. congressional leaders (of course, only those whom you have chosen and in your predetermined time).” I agree we may not, for all practical purposes, be able to pray for each of them by name in one prayer meeting, let alone every living person on earth by name. However, what is to stop us from praying for as many individuals as practically possible by name and to include all men in general?

If classes or kinds of men and not all men individually are meant in verse 1, then are our prayers to be rendered under such a "categorical limitation", for only all classes or kinds of men and not “on behalf of all men” as individuals? That seems to be what White suggests when he asks, “Indeed, are we to assume that not only where (sic) the prayer meetings in Ephesus to include, by name, every single individual in the city, but every single individual living on the planet at that time?"

Obviously there are limitations to how far we can practically exercise prayers for all men. Nevertheless, the intended universal nature of the apostle’s injunction cannot be minimized to assume the exclusion of any individual and, thereby, understand its practice in a way that assumes limitations on the objects of prayer. Whether the apostle had or had not on his mind every person in the known world of his time who existed, excluding or including those beyond the borders of the known world, is irrelevant. The fact is that his injunction to pray was meant to exclude no one. As the RSV translates, “prayers…be made for everyone.”

4.  White asks if Paul meant “every person without limit, then why did he immediately place a categorical limitation on his words?  That is, he defines ‘all men’ as classes or kinds of men by speaking of kings and those in authority”.  If that’s the case, Paul must be placing a “categorical limitation” on the phrase “all” (same Greek word as in v.4) who are in authority” (v.2); he must then be referring to kinds, groups, and classes of authority.  If not, White is arbitrarily defining “all” according to and in support of his theological presuppositions.  Otherwise, why would “all” in v.2 be defined differently from “all” in v.4 and 6, and the parallel, v.1?

Paul is not making a “categorical limitation” but is simply and appropriately listing examples – specifically kings and, in general, those in authority – of those for whom the Church ought to especially pray given the political climate at his time (cf. IVP Bible Background Commentary, p.610).  As Martin Glynn, a member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians noted, “Paul is talking about authority in terms of saving a larger number of persons by converting leaders. So, if we pray for the emperor to be saved, and then he is, it will allow the gospel to spread easier.” 

Engaging the Context of 1 Timothy 2:1-6

1.  In 1 Tim 4:10, we read of Paul’s affirmation of God as the “Savior of all men, especially believers.”  He is not limiting God’s role as Savior of “all men” by inserting, “especially believers”.  He is merely noting the fact Christ died for all men (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2) in order that they might obtain salvation but the effects of His saving work are applied only on the condition of “whosoever believes”.

2.   1 Tim 1:15 – “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”  Cf. 1 Tim 4:10; Rom 3:10-23; 5:12, “all [men] sinned”; 2 Cor 5:14-15.

3.  Again, in 1 Tim 1:15, “sinners” cannot refer only to certain classes or kinds of men or have a “categorical limit”.  If all men are affirmed as sinners or all men in every group and kind are sinners, then all men “without limit” are contemplated as those for whom Christ came into the world to save, whether it is every individual or every individual within every group and kind.  That only believers are effected is besides the point here made, which is that Christ died for all men as sinners (cp. 2:4,6; 4:10).  The atonement rendered by Christ has universal intention.

4.  In 2:5-6, Paul reaffirms Jesus’ role as the Savior of all men as sinners.  In verse 5, he asserts Christ as mediator between “God and men” (RSV: “between God and humankind”), and that mediation is between God and men as sinners, or “all men” for “all have sinned”.  No “categorical limitation” is suggested; no individuals are excluded.  In verse 6, Christ is viewed as the “ransom for all”, namely men as sinners (v.5), that is, all men without limit (if all men without limit are sinners).  Of course, the word “men” is omitted from v.6, however, it is assumed that “all” refers to “men” mentioned in v.5.

5.  In 2 Tim 2:24, the Church is exhorted to “be gentle to all (same Greek word use in 1 Tim 2:4)”, by implication, men whether believer or unbeliever.  Are we to be gentle only to certain groups, classes, or kinds of men (e.g. kings and those in authority) or all men without exception?

Challenges from Theological Study Resources

White also attempts to support his argument on the basis of the Greek language.  However, looking to theological study resources to determine the validity of White’s argument, I find it unconvincing.

If his argument and conclusions are correct, why are there so many competent scholars who challenge his interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4 as “all men without limit”, that is, the human race, rather than "all classes of men"?  I would think that many scholars, especially of the Calvinistic persuasion, would agree with White’s assessment of the text.  However, such is not the case, for example:

1.   “…God wants all men to know the truth and that Christ gave his life for all mankind” (J.N.D Kelly, Black’s NT Commentary, p.60; emphasis his).

2.   God “is willing that all should be saved by believing…Our prayers ought to include all, as God’s grace includes all” (Jamieson, Faussett, Brown, A Commentary, vol.3, part 3, p.484; his emphasis).

3.   “We must also pray for all men, for the world of mankind in general” because “God will have all men to be saved…he has a good will to the salvation of all” (Matthew Henry Commentary, vol.6, p.811f; emphasis his).

4.   “This statement is in accord with John 3:16 and with the declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:14,15 that Christ died for all.  Salvation has been provided for all…” (Ralph Earle, Expositors Bible Commentary, vol.11, p.358).

5.   “This passage cannot mean, as many have supposed, that God wills that all kinds of men should be saved, or that some sinners of every rank and class may be saved…” (Barnes’ Notes on the NT, 1 vol., p.1134).

6.   “From hence our Savior’s commission and command is universal…he excludes no people, no person…” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary, vol.3, p.777).

7.    “The scope of the prayer is universal including all kinds of sinners (and saints)” (Robertson Word Pictures, vol.4, p.567).

8.   “Prayer to God for all is acceptable to him, because he wills the salvation of all…willeth, marking a determinate purpose” (Vincent Word Studies, 4:218).

9.   “The universality of the grace is grounded in the unity of God…One divine purpose for all implies one God who purposes…As the one God, so the one mediator implies the extension of the saving purpose to all” (Ibid,. vs.5, p.218).

10.   “The literal Greek is, ‘who willeth all men’...marks a determinate purpose…It is possible for all men to be saved, because over them are not many Gods…but one only” (Wuest Word Studies, p. 40f).

11.   Finally, to my knowledge, no Bible versions support White’s interpretation, e.g., NRSV, NASB, NIV, NET, TEV, CSB, ESV, NEB, Tyndale, Moffat, Fenton, Lamsa, Cassirer, Schonfield, etc.

None of the above Bibles or theological resources suggest there is a “categorical limitation on [Paul’s] words” that would require a meaning that does not apply universally to mankind.  However, they do affirm that “all men” means exactly how it reads, “all men”, that is, “all men without limit”; none excluded.  Furthermore, “all men” is meant whether or not one understands the text to speak of all men as individuals or as individuals within kinds, groups, or classes.

Challenges from the Church Fathers

The Church Fathers also challenge White when they contemplate Biblical revelation as demonstrating God’s intent in salvation to be for “all men without limit” as follows:

1.   “For God is a lover of mankind ‘and will have all men to be saved…’.” (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.1, p.80).

2.   “…the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all…in order that by His stripes the human race might be healed…” (Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, ibid., p.247).

3.   “He destroys no one but grants salvation to all” (Clement of Alexandria, Fathers, vol.2, p. 575).

4.   “…the blood of Christ…has set the grace of repentance before the whole world” (Clement of Rome, ibid., vol.1, p.7).

Although more might be said, I must end here with a couple of brief comments.

Concluding Remarks

White’s comments regarding the mediation of Christ seems (a) based upon his own eisegetical presuppositions; (b) to betray an erroneous understanding of the Biblical view regarding Jesus’ mediation; and (c) a misunderstanding of the Arminian view of the atonement.

Dr. Olson’s “simplistic interpretation” of the text might be simply because he follows the plain meaning of the text, which seems to require no interpretive gymnastics to understand it.

Appendix: Further Resources

"O Lord, teach me..."  - Psalm 119:11