Friday, July 06, 2007

More Thoughts on the Theology of My T-Shirt

Here are a few more scattered thoughts on the "theology of my t-shirt" posting below.

In recent decades evangelicals have flirted with the attractions of openness theology (e.g., Sanders, Pinnock, and Boyd), the so-called "new perspective" on Paul with its challenge to the heart of the Reformation, and very sophisticated arguments in favor of Arminianism (e.g., Witherington).

My problem with Arminianism is that it denies that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. As an authoritative interpreter of the movement from within, J.K. Grider, argued in Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:

Many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism, which teaches instead that Christ suffered for us. Arminians teach that what Christ did he did for every person; therefore what he did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition.
Arminianism teaches that Christ suffered for everyone so that the Father could forgive those who repent and believe; his death is such that all will see that forgiveness is costly and will strive to cease from anarchy in the world God governs."

Such a view was later to be known as the "governmental theory of the atonement" and had its fullest expression in Arminius' student, lawyer-theologian Hugo Grotius. A good (i.e., well-taught and consistent) Arminian would actually have theological problems with Billy Graham campaigns, as Grider himself admits, because "workers are often taught to counsel people that Christ paid the penalty for their sins." Such notions are anathema to the true Arminian.

Dealing with these issues in a forthright way, evangelical theogian J.I. Packer wrote a powerful introduction to the 1958 reprint of John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

"Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind - election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit - as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, all who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that man's salvation is secured by any of them.

The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God's gift of salvation, the other as man's own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it.

Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the 'five points', as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the areas in which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance."

For those struggling with the issue, I commend both Owen's masterful polemic (in the best sense of the term) and Packer's introduction to it.

Owen leads the reader down a primrose path. For what and for whom did Jesus die? If for all the sins of all people, then he must have died for the sin of unbelief? In which case, all people must be saved. If not, then perhaps he died for all of the sins of some of the people (i.e., the elect)? Arminianism has Jesus dying in order to make salvation merely a possibility. In fact, to them he did not necessarily save anyone.

Packer opines, "It is safe to say that no comparable exposition of the work of redemption as planned and executed by the Triune Jehovah has ever been done since Owen published his. None has been needed....[N]obody has a right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness, or particularity, of atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen's proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text. And nobody has done that yet."

For Reformed thinkers, Jesus did die for our sins. As Karl Barth put it, hyper (υπερ) is the most important word in the Greek New Testament since Christ died "for" our sin. And, as a Baptist, I count it an honor that proponents of Reformed theology among Baptists have included notables such as Spurgeon, Boyce, Broadus, Manly, Mell, Howell, Johnson, Mallary, B.H. Carroll, with more recent advocates such as Ascol, Mohler, and Piper. And, from the non-baptist ranks can be named folks like MacArthur, Packer, and Sproul.

Against those who argue that a belief in the sovereignty of God will kill evangelism, it should be noted that until recently, much evangelism and lasting revival (other than Wesley) was associated with Reformed ministries (e.g., Edwards, Whitfield, Spurgeon, 19th Century Southern Baptists, etc.). In fact, if you move beyond the level of mere tracts (e.g., the Four Spiritual Laws) to systematic training programs, one of the most effective tools for decades has been Evangelism Explosion by the Reformed pastor, James Kennedy!

In the final analysis, we do have "free will." We can "choose" to exalt the sovereignty of God's will or argue for the sovereignty of the human will.

Being just a plain and simple Baptist preacher . . . I pick God.

1 comment:

nemesis said...

People have misconstrued "free will" badly. They take it to mean fatalism, but if you go back to Luther's "Bondage of the Will," he clearly defines the free will spoken of in that book to mean "the ability for unaided man to come into a saving knowledge of the holy God."

Anyway, the problem Arminians have if God doesn't elect people is huge. It is up to one human to convince another human that he needs Jesus Christ, and if you die knowing that you possibly could have worked harder to save the other human, then it's because of you that someone went to hell. The only other alternative to a sovereign God who chooses whom his adopted children are is a God who lets people try and convince other people. The choices are either the monergism of the Holy Spirit or the influential act of human beings. Personally, I choose what is not only more Biblical, which is truly the only determining factor, but which is more rational - namely that I can live a joyful life toward God, doing His duty for my life without having to try my hardest to make people become Christians.

Bottom line:
Arminianism = autonomy
Calvinism = Theonomy