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Posts Tagged ‘election’


During the sanctification debate that arose last year I read many articles and posts, as well as interacted with a number of people on the subject. There was plenty of heat, and some light. A problem quickly became evident to me.

I’ve long held that the more ardently you argue you position the more likely you are to become more extreme, and say extreme things. You tend to treat one doctrine at the expense of other doctrines. A similar debate, years ago, was the Lordship Salvation question among Dispensational teachers like MacArthur, Hodges and Ryrie. One of them unwisely postulated the “unbelieving believer” in advocating a “once saved always saved” viewpoint (this is NOT the same as the Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints).

In the midst of the sanctification debate among Reformed people I heard/read things like: God doesn’t love you more or less based on your obedience or lack thereof; that a Christian can’t please God, and similar statements.

When we champion on doctrine over another (in this case justification over all others) we flatten the teaching of Scripture, remove biblical tensions and end up having to ignore particular texts or pull a Thomas Jefferson and remove them.

Here ares some texts we have to reckon with:

17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. John 10

Wait! The Father loves the Son perfectly from all eternity. How, then, can Jesus say the Father loves Him because of His death and resurrection?

21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. … 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14

This is similar, but refers to Christians. We only love Him because He first loved us. But if we love Him, we’ll obey Him and He will love us. What? Doesn’t He already love us?

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12

Note the context, the love of the Father for His adopted sons. He disciplines us. Wouldn’t discipline imply He is less than pleased with our conduct, while loving us? Doesn’t this passage teach that God wants us to grow in personal righteousness and works to accomplish this in our lives? Are we to think that God’s responses to us are binary? Either love or hate, and not a love that can be also be angry with the beloved due to disobedience? Are we to think that justification trumps all, or can we have greater nuance that doesn’t deny justification but argues for a more dynamic relationship with God?

10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Ephesians 5

18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4

10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4

See also 1 Timothy 2:3; 1 Timothy 5:4; Hebrews 13:16, 21.

Are we to think that Paul lied and that God wasn’t pleased with that sacrifice or we can’t walk in a way that increasingly pleases God?

During the antinomian controversies of earlier centuries, the Puritans wrestled with these texts and issues. We would be unwise to ignore them. In his book Antinomianism (ebook), Mark Jones pays attention and helps us to recapture a way to understand God’s love for His people that is both steadfast and dynamic. This also helps us to remember and honor the reality of both imputed (justification) and imparted (sanctification) righteousness.

Before I go further let me affirm a statement Steve Brown made at the 1991 Ligonier Conference. My obedience or disobedience cannot add to or subtract from my salvation. I am not more or less justified on the basis of my obedience or disobedience.

The love we experience, and receive, in election and justification was called by Puritans like Samuel Rutherford the love of benevolence. Like all God’s love for creatures, this love is voluntary (He doesn’t have to love them in this way).

“According to this outward, voluntary love, there is a threefold distinction: (1) God’s universal love for all things, (2) God’s love for all human beings, both elect and reprobate, and (3) God’s special love for his people.” Mark Jones, pp. 83.

He notes that this 3rd is called the love of benevolence. It does not arise out of any good in us, but out of God’s own nature and counsel. It is unconditional, and the root of unconditional election and all the benefits of salvation that flow out of that unconditional election. There are no degrees to this love, and it is enjoyed to its fullest by all God’s people. We are completely justified, positionally holy and pleasing to the Father as a result of this love.

But there is another love they argued for in light of the texts we have above. That is the love of complacency, “God’s love of delight or friendship, whereby he rewards his people according to their holiness.” (pp. 84). This is not in place of His unconditional love, but seen in addition to it. God’s people experience both.

If God is our Father and we are His sons we can think of this like an earthly father and son. I love my sons, who were both adopted, unconditionally and conditionally. They will never stop being my sons, and I will love them and want the best for them no matter what they do. This is precisely why their sin breaks my heart. They are not my sons by degree. Neither is more my son than the other. But at times I delight in one more than the other, or delight in one son more at some times than others. When they are persisting in rebellion I am not pleased with them. I still love them! Because of this love I discipline them. When they are obedient I delight in them.

This is what Rutherford and Charnock, and therefore Jones, is trying to get at.

“God’s benevolent love is logically prior to his complacent love. It could hardly be otherwise, because God’s love of benevolence is the fountain of election and all blessings the elect receive. The love of complacency delights in the good that is in his elect- but that good is only there because of his benevolent love.” Mark Jones (pp. 85)

This threefold distinction is similar to the discussion of the degrees of sin. We can affirm one aspect of the truth over and at the expense of the others. The wages of sin is death, yet we see in the OT that some sins were punished more severely than others, for good reason. All sin is rebellion, but some are a greater attack on the image of God in others (murder, sexual sin) while others involve property rights. If we think all sin is equal then there should be no difference in our response between stealing a candy bar and brutally murdering a person. We have to honor the Scriptures in both cases, love and sin. This means making proper distinctions.

“The threefold distinction in God’s love for his people means that justice can be done not only to texts that speak of God’s election of his people (Eph. 1:4-5) and his justifying acts (Rom. 4:5), but also to texts that speak of love in the context of ongoing communion with God and Christ (John 12:21-23; John 15:10; Jude 21). … The twofold love of benevolence and complacency is only possible in Christ and our threefold union with the Mediator.” Mark Jones (pp. 86)

It is right to emphasis the love of benevolence. We rightly tell people that God’s love is unconditional. We don’t want them to live in an ungodly fear, and uncertainty with regard to their status before God. I need to often remind my children I love them, even when I’m not delighting in them (in other words, when I’m angry with them). But the person who treats their children in the same way with no regard to their behavior will raise a psychopath. God is bringing us to a healthy maturity in Christ, not one that thinks nothing of our behavior. Growing in Christian maturity (sanctification and discipleship) is similar to maturing as a person. We need to experience both kinds of love, as well as understand them to properly interpret our experience.

This reflects even the Father’s love for the Son. We referenced John 10 above, and how the Father loves the Son because of His atoning death for the flock. Thomas Goodwin references John 15:10 to understand this. The Son was to remain in the Father’s love by obeying the Father’s command or charge (Jn. 14:18). The Father promises the sheep to the Son on the condition of His death on their behalf.

“Again, this love has to do with the ad extra will of God with respect to the God-man in his role as Mediator. God delights in his Son, not only necessarily, because he is his Son, but also voluntarily, because Christ obeys the Father perfectly and this brings delight to the Father.” Mark Jones (pp. 88)

In other words, we see this as we see this passage in Luke. Jesus’ favor with God was not static, but growing.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2

Our theology, however true it is, should not be imposed on Scripture to flatten it out, but arise from Scripture to honor its tensions. The recent sanctification debates, in my opinion, have revealed how some teachers flatten the teaching of Scripture with a justification-centered interpretative method which results in a form of antinomianism whether they realize it not.

“I’ve never met an antinomian who called himself an antinomian.” R.C. Sproul (Lectures on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Sanctification, part 2)

A healthy theology which helps us engage in healthy discipleship is one that holds our particular doctrines in a biblical tension, and which makes proper biblical distinctions. In the sanctification debate there are two ditches we can fall into, one on either side. The gospel (not the reductionistic version that emphasized only justification) keeps us from falling into the ditch on either side of the road. Unconditionally loved by the Father and declared righteous because of Christ’s righteousness, we seek to obey and please the Father our of filial love and experience the Father’s joy and delight as we grow in Christ likeness, or His loving discipline as we cling to our sin.

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Publishing is an odd thing. Some topics are flooded with titles and other topics are almost impossible to find. When a book like Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is published you have to take notice because books on this subject are exceedingly rare in this day and age. Think perhaps for any other title on this subject published in the last 50 years? You can think of plenty on the subject of legalism, but its mirror image antinomianism is quite rare.

Mark Jones doesn’t quite lay out the book as some people might hope. That can breed some minor frustration. For instance, he really doesn’t try to define antinomianism, or better the types of antinomianism until the end of the book.

“Antinomianism must not be confused with the etymological meaning of antinomian (i.e., “against the law”). There is some overlap, of course, but the historical debates focused on more specific areas of the Christian life.”

This is not a systematic theology, but a volume on  historical theology. The primary focus on his research is the antinomian movements in Puritan England and in 1640’s New England. The reason is two-fold. First, these were disputes among people laying claim to the Reformed heritage. Second, there is a revived dispute among those laying claim to the Reformed heritage in our day. Most people I would consider to have an antinomian theology deny having such a view, usually based on the etymological meaning of the term. But when you look at the strains of antinomianism you can begin to see more clearly that some who claim they aren’t really are.

Jones works through a variety of topics in which historically antinomians have departed from mainline Reformed thinking and formulations. Jones’ main point though is not that antinomians’ error comes primarily with regard to the law but their Christology. This is similar to how Sinclair Ferguson addressed these twin errors of legalism & antinomianism in lecturing on the Marrow Controversy. The answer to both errors is the gospel in its fulness.

“Discussions and writings on holiness often lack a strong Christological basis and center.”

Part of me is tempted to expand more fully on some of the topics that Jones works through. I may “think” through a few here. But for now I will be content to lay them out very briefly.

Jones begins with the imitation of Christ. Peter notes that Christ, in addition to being our Savior, is an example to us. Much of what is written in the gospels is there for our imitation. Jesus models for us how to live by faith as fully human. Jesus lived in the power of the Spirit as an example to us as well (here Jones is similar to Sinclair Ferguson in his series Who is the Holy Spirit?). The way of holiness, Jones notes, is that is pursued by faith and in the power of the Spirit. Many of the antinomians, as Jones and Packer in his brief but excellent forward assert, limited our activity in sanctification. They essentially make sanctification monergistic like justification is. As a result they talk about Christ not only obeying for us, but in us. They sound like some hyper-Calvinists I’ve talked with who limit the use of our will. Both groups don’t have much room for Philippians 2:12-13 in their theology. There we see God works so I will will and work resulting in obedience. Both God and I will and work: synergism! In other words, Christ does not act immediately but mediately. Jones is careful to guard the difference between Christ’s impretration (redemption accomplished) and impartation (redemption applied). We see here, and elsewhere that antinomians tend to conflate justification and sanctification.

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has a strange history. Many, not all, of the Founders of the SBC would have self-identified as Calvinists, or Particular Baptists. J.L. Dagg’s Systematic Theology is one example. Tom Nettles traces the history in By His Grace and For His Glory. Over the years, Arminianism took root in the SBC. There has been a resurgence of Calvinism that parallels the resurgence of Calvinism prompted, in large part, by the ministries of men like J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul. Men like Tom Nettles and Tom Ascol formed the Founders’ Conference. Let’s just say there has been some push back from the SBC at large.

The latest has emerged in a series of Affirmations and Denials in A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. As I read the document, my thought was that they gutted the gospel in an attempt, in their minds, to save the gospel from those pernicious Calvinists. The affirmations and denials, in their own words, ultimately cause problems in understanding the gospel. This is an exercise in theological over-reaction. They fulfilled one of the CavCorollaries: in theological disputation we tend to move to greater extremes.

We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.

I would take issue with the phrase “select few”. I believe there will be a numberless multitude according to Revelation. They don’t affirm what Scripture means when it talks about election, chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Eph. 1). But early on, you can see they are asserting a particular view of free will. They don’t seem to realize that Calvinists hold to free will (there is a whole chapter on it in the Westminster Confession of Faith). The difference is that they don’t really see much of an effect from Adam’s sin to the will of man.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

Here is a denial of what we find in Romans 5- the imputation of Adam’s sin to all. Paul teaches that all sinned in Adam. He stresses the “one man’s trespass” in contrast to the “one man’s obedience”. You see, if you deny the imputation of Adam’s sin, you lose the basis for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. You … gut the gospel. Paul is teaching covenant theology here as the basis for the fall of humanity and salvation in Christ.

We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.

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The other day I was reading John 6 for my personal devotions. I’ve had quite a few conversations about the free offer of the gospel. Often, I find people putting logic over revelation in the discussion. They think the logical conclusion of what is commonly called Calvinism is that the gospel is not offered freely to all. I’m not interested in recapping the arguments. Sometimes people mean something different from what has commonly and historically been meant. They apply that “devilish reason” (as Luther called it) to it and come away thinking it means God is confused and willing the salvation of reprobate.

Back to John 6. Beginning in verse 22 Jesus is addressing the crowd that has found him in a synagogue. So, we have the same discourse and the same audience for the comments we find that some would find in direct conflict.

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

He’s been encouraging them to seek the bread that leads to eternal life. He is saying these things precisely because they are seeking him for another miracle like the feeding of the 5,000. They want food, not life. They ask what work they should be doing. He tells them to believe in him, the one God has sent. Jesus tells an audience, that is not seeking eternal life, that has no interest in the gospel, to believe in him.

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Some pastoral questions have brought the disagreement between Van Til and Gordon Clark to mind.  It isn’t so much the views of those men, but some problems I see emerging when reason is elevated above revelation.

This is one of the dangers of “Christian rationalism”.  The mind subtly usurps the authority of Scripture, or special revelation.  They wouldn’t admit to this (I think), but you see it when there is the denial of various doctrines because it does not make sense in light of other doctrines.  They have a hard time reasoning these apparently opposite doctrines that are found in Scripture.  Rather than submit their minds before Scripture, they make the Scriptures submit to their “rational” theology.

There are 2 doctrines in particular that have been problematic for many who espouse Clark’s views.  They affirm the doctrine of election or predestination.  This is the problem, so to speak.  They have a difficult time with both common grace and the free offer of the gospel.  These don’t doctrines don’t make “sense” in light of election, but our minds are not the measure of truth.  Our theology is not to settle for “reasonable” but to reflect revelation.

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I have been a Christian who holds to the theology expressed in the 5-Points of Calvinism (a response to the Arminians) for approximately 20 years.  It was a view that grew out of my reading of Scripture, but the puzzle became clear when I read R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God.

You can imagine that I’ve heard a few objections, theological and philosophical over the years.  There are also practical objections that are common raised as well.  One of them is that the Reformed doctrine of election undermines personal holiness or righteousness.  It is an important objection, though I think an unfounded objection.  Sure, there are people who are confessionally Calvinists but who are either in great obedience or are counterfeit Christians.  Rightly understood, the biblical texts regarding election point us in a very different direction.

Let’s start in Genesis 18.  God is speaking of Abraham.

19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (NIV, 1984)

The Hebrew for chosen here is ‘yada’ which means to know.  It can mean to know intimately.  As such it is often used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse.  It can also mean to discriminate or distinguish.  This is the meaning the majority of modern translators use.  God knew Abraham and chose him.

Here we see one of the purposes tied with the great promises of Genesis 12.  He was to direct his children in the “way of the Lord”, a way that means doing what is righteous and just.  Abraham was not chosen because he was righteous and just, but so that God would make him righteous and just.

In order to be a blessing to the nations, Israel had to be righteous and just.  To be righteous is to live in conformity to the law (which is a reflection of God’s character).  It is about our actions with respect to the law.  To be just is to act toward others with respect to their actions with respect the law.  I give them what they deserve.  Just people protect the oppressed and bring the oppressors to account for how they exploit others.  Our sin and injustice curses others.

Righteous and just communities are formed by families that are righteous and just.  Those families are not accidental, but have parents (particularly fathers) who instruct their children in God’s ways.  This is the point of Deuteronomy 6:6-7.  Godliness usually begins in the home.  Proverbs was written to instruct children in godly living- which starts in that commitment of faith the book calls them to in the early chapters.

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The second neglected aspect of discipleship John Stott addresses in The Radical Disciple is Christlikeness.  This, in my mind, is the very goal of discipleship.  So I guess that if there is actually neglected, we don’t even have discipleship.  That is a radical concept.

Stott lays out 3 texts that are foundational to this concept of Christlikeness.  The first is from Romans 8.

28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (ESV)

Here the process of becoming conformed to the likeness of Christ (instead of the world) is largely passive on our part.  It is God who is working all things in our lives (including our sin) for this purpose.  His love resulted in election with this purpose of being conformed into the image of Jesus.  God’s goal, as C.S. Lewis put it, is perfection and He will not rest until He is done.  It will often be an arduous process for us.

Paul returns to the process in Romans 12.  Again, we are the objects of transformation.  This time it is not through our circumstances (God’s providential working in our lives), but the renewal of the mind.  This won’t happen unless we actually read the Scriptures, but God is at work when we do to transform us so we are no longer conformed to the likeness of the world.

From Romans we see, in part, that God is ultimately in control of the process not us.  One of the strengths of the Puritan’s theology was providence, and seeing sanctification as taking place (in part) through those providentially arranged circumstances.  Instead of avoiding hardship, they wanted to be shaped by it through the gospel.

Where Stott errs is in limiting this text (Romans 8) to the past.  Our election takes place in the past, but God is working now to conform us to the image of Jesus.  That is a small problem, not a big one.

The second is 2 Corinthians 3:18.

6But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)

One again we are passive.  At conversion, God removes the veil that covers our faces when we read the Old Covenant.  Interesting, the problem is not the Old Covenant but the veil which is removed.  Now we are being transformed from glory to glory.  When?  When we we behold the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus (4:6).  Once again Scripture is central to our sanctification, for it is there that we behold Jesus (not in some mystical experience).  After all, Paul was talking about reading the Old Covenant to see the glory of God.  But we do see the present work of God to remake us in the image of Jesus.

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