Saturday, July 31, 2010

John Bugay, John Henry Newman, Subordinationism and the Development of Doctrine

John Bugay, in his new thread, “Catholic Nick, Meet Cardinal Newman” (at Beggars All), touches on two issues that I have spent considerable time researching: Subordinationism and the Development of Doctrine.

I posted the following in the combox of John’s above mentioned thread:

Hello John,

Though this thread appears to have to be heading down a different path, I did want to share a few of my thoughts concerning the following that you wrote:

>>But I definitely think that the whole church -- and I include those individual Roman Catholics who have genuinely trusted in Christ and are part of the "one true church" -- needs to revisit the "church history" department and rethink a lot of things.>>

Me: Agreed. Your selections from Newman are an excellent starting point, for Newman realized before most that the view of the early Church, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology, held by so many through the centuries up to his day, was seriously flawed. One modern patristic scholar summarizes the pre-Nicene CFs with flawless accuracy and clarity:

“Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology.” (R.P.C Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy, New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989, p. 153.)

I have provided a considerable amount of documentation for Dr. Hansen’s assessment in a number of threads under the labels: Subordinationism, and Development of Doctrine.

With such knowledge in place, I think the next question that needs to be asked is: if the Scriptures are “clear” on “the essentials”, why did it take so long (300+ years) to achieve “orthodoxy”?

Grace and peace,


Thursday, July 22, 2010

R.C. Sproul: “If we grant that God can save men by violating their wills, why then does he not violate everybody’s will...”

As I related in the PREVIOUS THEAD, a number of Calvinist bloggers have leveled numerous charges my direction for comments I made in the Beggars All thread, Answering the charge of “rape” against the doctrine of God’s effectual grace -Part 1. If one takes the time to read through all the posts made in both of the above threads, I cannot help but believe that many will come to the conclusion that much of the ‘heat’ I took was an overreaction (and for some of the posters, a gross overreaction).

In my last thread, I provided a quote from a novel written by the very popular Reformed apologist/theologian R.C. Sproul, that used much ‘stronger’ terminology than I would use to describe the “irresistible call” of God (i.e. regeneration prior to faith), which is a crucial element of Reformed soteriology. I got the impression from some Reformed posters that this was an anomaly within the Reformed tradition, which should be quickly ‘brushed under the rug’—basically ignored and/or forgotten. But, I remained unconvinced, and pulled Dr. Sproul’s, Chosen By God (a theological work, not a novel), down from the shelf last night and reread the first 102 pages (1986 edition), before falling asleep. I would like to share a few selections from the book (note: bold emphasis in the quotes mine; all the selections are from the 1986 edition):

When we consider the relationship of a sovereign God to a fallen world we are faced with basically four options:

1. God could decide to provide no opportunity for anyone to be saved.

2. God could provide an opportunity for all to be saved.

3. God could intervene directly and insure the salvation of all people.

4. God could intervene directly and insure the salvation of some people.

All Christians immediately rule out the first option. Most Christians rule out the third. We face the problem that God saves some and not all. The Calvinist view of predestination teaches that God actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to make absolutely sure that they are saved. Of course the rest are invited to Christ and given an “opportunity” to be save if they want to. But Calvinism assumes that without the intervention of God no one will ever want Christ. Left to themselves, no one will ever choose Christ.

This is precisely the point of dispute. Non-Reformed views of predestination assume that every fallen person is left with the capacity to choose Christ. Man is not viewed as being so fallen that it requires the direct intervention of God to the degree that Calvinism asserts. The non-Reformed views all leave it in man’s power to cast the deciding ballot for man’s ultimate destiny.
(Pages 33, 34.)

I think it is important to point out that the vast majority of non-Reformed Christians DO NOT adopt a Pelagian view of fallen man, but rather, firmly maintain that unregenerate individuals need the grace of God—the drawing/prompting of the Holy Spirit (i.e. prevenient grace)—prior to regeneration in order to accept/turn to God, but that this grace can be rejected.

On the next page, Dr. Sproul continues with:

The nasty problem for the Calvinist is seen in the relationship of options three and four. If God can and does choose to insure the salvation of some, why then does he not insure the salvation for all? (Page 35.)

“Does God have the power to insure the salvation of everyone?” Certainly it is within God’s power to change the heart of every impenitent sinner and bring that sinner to himself. (Page 35.)

The non-Reformed thinker usually responds by saying that for God to impose his power on unwilling people is to violate man’s freedom. To violate man’s freedom is sin. Since God cannot sin, he cannot unilaterally impose his saving grace on unwilling sinners. To force a sinner to be willing when the sinner is not willing is to violate the sinner. The idea is that by offering the grace of the gospel God does everything he can to help the sinner get saved. He has the raw power to coerce men but the use of such power would be foreign to God’s righteousness.

That does not bring much comfort to the sinner in hell. The sinner in hell must be asking, “God, if you really loved me, why didn’t you coerce me to believe? I would rather have had my free will violated than to be here in the eternal place of torment.”
(Pages 35, 36.)

The question remains. Why does God only save some? If we grant that God can save men by violating their wills, then why does he not violate everybody’s will and bring them all to salvation? (I am using the word violate here not because I really think there is any wrongful violation but because the non-Calvinist insists on the term.) (Page 36.)

Dr. Sproul cannot be any clearer on this issue: in the context of dialogue between Calvinists and non-Calvinists it is appropriate describe the “irresistible call” of God as “violating their [the unregenerate] wills”.

On the issue of terminology, Dr. Sproul and I are in total agreement. And for the record, if the Calvinist position is truly the ‘Biblical one’, and I have not yet been regenerated (I believe that I have been, by the grace of God), I am pleading with Him that He “violate” my will!!! (I suspect that every God fearing, non-Reformed, individual would echo my sentiment on this issue.)

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

R.C. Sproul and “the holy rape of the soul”

At the request of Ken Temple, I became involved in his Beggars All thread, Answering the charge of “rape” against the doctrine of God’s effectual grace -Part 1. In his opening post, Ken wrote:

The very Biblical and Reformed teaching of God’s effectual grace, where He internally calls, draws, and changes the sinner, is anything but rape. God’s effectual calling is sweet love, grace, and joy. Many Christians from an Arminian theological perspective also call it, “rape” or “spiritual rape”.

In my first post to Ken, I responded with:

I personally do not like the term “rape” for the Reformed position concerning regeneration (i.e being born again) prior to belief. Yet with that said, I think I understand why non-Reformed folk invoke the term, for despite protestations, when one breaks down Reformed soteriology, one is left with the fact that regeneration occurs against the will of the unregenerate sinner—the sinner has NO CHOICE in the matter; as such, there is some truth to the claim that it is “a forced love”.

My assessment must have ‘hit-a-nerve’, for a number of the responses (not all) directed at me were openly bitter and hostile (with one poster even resorting to dishonesty to further his rather dark agenda).

Anyway, it is what it is…

With that said, I would now like to get to the primary reason why I have started this thread. Prior to this morning, I had thought (with Ken it seems), that within the Christian paradigm it was only non-Reformed folk who employed the terms/phrases “rape” and “spiritual rape” to depict the Reformed understanding of the “effectual/irresistible call”; however, I was wrong about this, for this morning I came across the following:

God does not violate our wills?

Moral Necessity writes: Remember that God does not violate our wills, and force them to go in a direction opposite to them, hence we are responsible for our choices. Our wills are governed by our nature. But, he has now imparted his Spirit within our nature or persons, and he does both impose and withdraw his Spirit, in varying degrees of activity, within ourselves.

Yea, the part about God does not violate our wills. Dr James White says that God ordains the means and well as the ends. Or, he works in us to change our wills (as I understand it). Isn't that almost the same as violating our wills?

"Jonathan Edwards has sometimes been quoted—notably by R. C. Sproul—as referring to the irresistible call of God as the "holy rape of the soul," but the phrase does not appear in Edwards' Works. Instead, the phrase seems to have been coined by Puritan scholar Perry Miller, and most Calvinists distance themselves from it."

Would not we say that the "holy rape of the soul" violates our will?Or maybe you do not agree with that statement.

I am not dogmatically making a statement here, but would like to discuss it. (Post by pm at THE PURITAN BOARD)

After reading the above, I wondered if R.C. Sproul himself had actually used the phrase, “holy rape of the soul”—the following Google searches revealed that he did:

Unlike the Arminians who use such terms/phrases in a negative sense, Dr. Sproul does so in a positive sense.

For the record, as I clearly stated more than once in the BA thread linked to above, I personally DO NOT ENDORSE such terms/phrases—whether they are used in a negative or positive sense. But I do wonder if there are any readers out there who support Dr. Sproul’s positive use of the phrase, “holy rape of the soul”, to describe the Reformed teaching of the “effectual/irresistible call”.

Grace and peace,


Friday, July 16, 2010

“The Seal of the Prophets”: is there a dispensational understanding?

While reading some commentaries on the OT book Malachi, I came across the following:

The Jews referred to Malachi as the tam hanne-bî’îm, “the seal of the Prophets,” and as ’ahārôn šebāhem, “the last among them.” (Pieter A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi, p. 153.)

This brought back to mind something Tertullian wrote:

And (then) “righteousness eternal” was manifested, and “an Holy One of holy ones was anointed” — that is, Christ — and “sealed was vision and prophet,” and “sins” were remitted, which, through faith in the name of Christ, are washed away for all who believe on Him. But what does he mean by saying that “vision and prophecy are sealed?” That all prophets ever announced of Him that He was to come and had to suffer. Therefore, since the prophecy was fulfilled through His advent, for that reason he said that “vision and prophecy were sealed;” inasmuch as He is the signet of all prophets*, fulfilling all things which in days bygone they had announced of Him. (An Answer to the Jews, VIII – ANF 3.160)

[*The Latin here reads: signaculum ominium prophetarum (Migne PL 2.615), and can legitimated be translated as, “the seal of all prophets”.]

Prophecy did not end with Malachi, nor with the ascension of Jesus—which suggests to me that the phrase “the seal of the prophets” is not to be understand in the sense of cessation and/or finality.

[I am entertaining the thought of starting a thread on the “two witnesses” (also called the “two prophets”) of Revelation 11:1-12. But if any are inclined to do so, please feel free to begin the discussion in this thread.]

Grace and peace,


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Alister McGrath vs. Christopher Hitchens: The Center vs. the Fringe – Pt.1

Back on October 11, 2007, one of my favorite Evangelical theologians debated the controversial atheist, Christopher Hitchens. The following video is the first in a series available via YouTube—ENJOY!!!


Grace and peace,


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Philippians 2:6-11: is this passage “clear in teaching the Deity of Christ”?

Our Reformed brother in Christ, Ken Temple, recently responded to some reflections I made in the combox of the The Beggars All thread – No one can change the Words of God, with the following:

Philippians 2 is clear in teaching the Deity of Christ. It is amazing to me that one who claims to be a Christian would imbibe interpretations that seek to overcome the teaching of the Deity of Christ. Isn't that your Jehovah's Witness background coming through and effecting you?

What “is amazing to me” is the penchant of many Reformed folk to enlist ad hominem tactics when addressing those who differ with their interpretation(s). Rather than defending his rather bold assertion that the scholars I invoked who differ with his understanding of the famous Qur’anic passage (4.157 -which was being discussed in the thread linked to above), are “just playing with words and getting the opposite meaning of what is clear; kind of like the homosexuals arguing that the bible really doesn't not condemn homosexuality, when it fact it does”, Ken instead makes sweeping ad hominem charges—I say “sweeping” because there are a considerable number of NT scholars (conservative, moderate, and liberal) who agree with my assessment that the Phi. 2:6-11 is anything but “clear”, but rather, is a very “complex” passage that has a, “number and variety of interpretations”, including the phrase “in [the] form of God” (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ). For instance, one Evangelical scholar (who affirms the Deity of Christ) wrote:

What did Paul mean when he wrote that Christ Jesus always existed ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ? If the number and variety of interpretations given to the expression have any meaning it must be because it is of crucial importance for understanding the whole of the Christ-hymn, of fundamental significance for determining the Christology of the entire passage. The difficulty of this phrase in proverbial, stemming not so much from the fact that the word μορφή (“form”) appears only three times in the New Testament—twice in our “hymn” and once in the longer ending of Mark (16:12)—nor from the paucity of its use in the Greek Bible, nor from an ignorance of its meaning in Greek literature as a whole, but from an inability to know with certainty what Paul meant when he used this word to say that Christ Jesus existed “in the form of God” (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ), and thus from a sense of helplessness or inadequacy as to how to translate it here in 2:6-7. [Gerald F. Hawthorne, “In the Form of God and Equal with God (Philippians 2:6)”, in Where Christology Began: Essays on Philippians 2, ed. Martin and Dodd, pp. 97, 98.]

I first became cognizant of the incredible diversity of interpretations concerning Phil. 2:6-11 way back in the 1980s as I dialogued with friends of mine who had also left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but still retained an ‘Arianian’ understanding of God and Jesus Christ. Books like James D.G. Dunn’s, Christology in the Making, exposed to English readers the complexity that lies behind so many of the ‘traditional’ Christological verses, including Phil. 2:6-11.

Perhaps the most solid, and scholarly, defense for the ‘orthodox’ understanding of Phil. 2:6-11 in English, came back in 1967 when Ralph P. Martin released his famous book, Carmen Christi (I own the revised 1983 edition). And yet, Martin’s very first words in the preface of the book should be noted:

There are certain passages of scripture which both provoke and baffle study. Philippians ii. 5-11 is one such section, as all who have tried their hand at its interpretation know full well. (Page vii, 1983 ed.)

So, in ending, while I can understand Ken’s sense of frustration with the comments I made concerning Phi. 2:6-11, I sincerely hope that he can appreciate the fact that I was merely trying to be accurate and honest in my assessments.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pastor King and the “log that is in your own eye”…

I took a hiatus of sorts from the internet during most the month of June (with the exception/s of a few very brief ‘peeks’), and as such, have been playing a bit of ‘catch-up’ this last week; this evening I read the following:

The common complaint of the Romanist is...

Context, context, context!

But notice, the Romanist, while complaining about "context" never takes it upon himself to demonstrate what the context is. Instead, he simply offers what he believes is a conflicting testimony to cover for his lack of explanation/understanding of the context of all the testimonies that are clearly against the view of the modern day Roman communion. In other words, he has not even made the attempt to weigh the conflicting testimonies against his claims in their context. (LINK)

Me: Sure wish that Pastor King would apply his criticisms of the “Romanist” to some of his own assessments—I see a classic ‘double-standard’ at work here—King, for instance, maintains that Ratzinger denies the material sufficiency of Scripture, even though he affirmed in his writings “a Catholic idea of sola Sciptura”, and this is from the very work that Pastor King had cited in his denial! (See this THIS THREAD for documentation of Ratzinger’s view.)

In the meantime, we are quite content to permit the Romanist to rant in protest, because we do not fear the evidence.

Me: Indeed.

Now, notice, what brings the Romanist out of the wood work the quickest to complain? Is it claims made that the Gospel has been corrupted and distorted? Is it that the deity of Christ is being challenged, or the virgin birth of the only Savior of sinners? No, what causes the Romanist to rant in protest, with all rhetorical flare and verbal violence, is anything that disputes and/or calls into question the beliefs and/or dogmas that are peculiar to the communion of Rome.

Me: Hmmm…what about the “rhetorical flare and verbal violence” concerning “anything that disputes and/or calls into question the beliefs and/or dogmas that are peculiar to” those who embrace the theology of Geneva (i.e. Genevanists)???

And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 – NASB)

Grace and peace,