Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Whose (sic) afraid of R.T. Kendall?

Sean Gerety posted a comment to my recent paean to R. T. Kendall, in which he blasted my logic (among other things). I admit to admiring Kendall, but I plead innocent of defective logic, which (logic, that is) Gerety and his ilk aspire to honor. (A poor job of it, in my view.)

First I must call attention to Gerety's slander against David Ponter. Ponter is neither Amyraldian nor Arminian, and his theological views are certainly not closeted. The pursuit of logic is the pursuit of truth, and Gerety shows his defect on both points (logic and truth) by his careless or malicious chatter.

I shall make some response to some of Gerety's less odious comments. He writes:

While Calvin certainly said things that, at first blush, seem to support Kendall’s and your thesis, the fact is Calvin had much bigger fish to fry. Unambiguously expounding on the extent of Christ’s death certainly wasn't high on his list.

Yes, Calvin did indeed say things that support Kendall's thesis: quite a few things, in fact. The canard that the atonement wasn't on Calvin's agenda is nothing more than wishful thinking. Anyone who has read this blog at all, (or the mountain of material at Calvin and Calvinism, particularly the over 200 quotes from Calvin relevant to the subject of the atonement) will know that Gerety's statement is simply whistling in the dark.

It is true, of course, that Calvin did not devote a chapter of the Institutes to "the extent of the atonement," (though I would argue that chapters 12 through 17 of the second book of the Institutes would fill that function as well as any other "less ambiguous" treatment) but that does not mean that he was not aware of the theological question or express himself clearly on it. The reason Gerety sees Calvin's statements on the atonement as ambiguous is because he doesn't like the consequences of the unvarnished truth. What could be more unambiguous than Calvin's comment to Romans 5:18? Or how about this statement from the Institutes?

Luke goes still farther, showing that the salvation brought by Christ is common to the whole human race, inasmuch as Christ, the author of salvation, is descended from Adam, the common father of us all.

Institutes 2.13.3

Calvin's Argument against Marcion

This last quote is particularly interesting because it approaches our problem from a different angle. Calvin's discussion in 2.13.2, and 3 is addressed to those (Marcionites or their contemporaneous admirers) who denied that Christ came in the flesh. Calvin proved that Christ came in the flesh by arguing that Christ came as the savior of the whole human race. If Calvin meant "the elect of the whole human race," his argument would no longer be cogent against the Marcionites. (It would, in fact, give them support!)

Let me elaborate. Marcion believed that Christ came as God, but not God in the flesh. Christ was God Manifest, not God Incarnate. Christ was not born, had no childhood, and was in no sense incarnate. (See the article on the Marcionites in the Catholic Encyclopedia.) Tertullian says mockingly of the doctrine of Marcion: "Suddenly a Son, suddenly Sent, suddently Christ!" (loc cit.) Calvin said, "In ancient times, the reality of his human nature was impugned by the Manichees and Marcionites, the latter figuring to themselves a phantom instead of the body of Christ...." (Institutes 2.13.1) For Marcion, Christ was God descended to humanity, not God who took on human flesh.

Calvin argues against the doctrine of the Marcionites: Christ was indeed manifest in the flesh. "Wherefore, our Lord himself not contented with the name of man, frequently calls himself the Son of man, wishing to express more clearly that he was a man by true human descent." (Institutes 2.13.1)

And Calvin advances his case for Christ's true humanity by saying that Christ brought salvation to the whole human race! If Calvin really believed that Christ came to bring salvation only to the elect, then his argument against Marcion would have been ineffective and disingenuous. Why ineffective? Because the Marcionites could argue that the elect are the spiritual children of God, and that Christ need not come in human flesh, since he did not come to save all descended from Adam. Why disingenuous? Because in advancing his argument, Calvin would have to hide his secret definition for "whole human race" and "us all." I trust that we accept that Calvin was more honest than to hide or misrepresent his true beliefs in order to gain a debating point.

Predestinarianism proves limited atonement?

Gerety goes on to bring his proof of Calvin's bona fides on "L" (the emphasis in the following quotes were supplied by Gerety):

That said, Calvin was by no means unclear:

Through Isaiah he still more openly shows how he directs the promises of salvation specifically to the elect: for he proclaims that they alone, not the whole human race without distinction, are to become his disciples (Isa. 8:16). Hence it is clear that the doctrine of salvation, which is said to be reserved solely and individually for the sons of the church, is falsely debased when presented as effectually profitable to all. Inst. III.xxii.10

Whence it comes about that the whole world does not belong to its Creator except that grace rescues from God’s curse and wrath and eternal death a limited number who would otherwise perish. But the world itself is left to its own destruction, to which it has been destined. Meanwhile, although Christ interposes himself as mediator, he claims for himself, in common with the Father, the right to choose. ‘I am not speaking’, he says, ‘of all; I know whom I have chosen’ (John 13: 18). If anyone ask whence he has chosen them, he replies in another passage: ‘From the world’ (John 15:19), which he excludes from his prayers when he commends his disciples to the Father (John 17:9). This we must believe: when he declares that he knows whom he has chosen, he denotes in the human genus a particular species, distinguished not by the quality of its virtues but by heavenly decree. Inst. III.xxii.7.

Hence we read everywhere that Christ diffuses life into none but the members of his own body. And he that will not confess that it is a special gift and a special mercy to be engrafted into the body of Christ, has never read with spiritual attention Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Hereupon follows also a third important fact, that the virtue and benefits of Christ are extended unto, and belong to, none but the children of God. A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God

Some of my readers will have already spotted the problem in Gerety's proof texts: they are all irrelevant to the question. I deny none of those statements from Calvin. My readers might also note that the statements Gerety adduces as proof all relate to the application of the benefits of Christ's death. The application is not in dispute; the benefits (the saving benefits) of Christ's death are applied to the elect alone. But Christ's death was sufficient for all (intentionally so), offered for all, and is offered to all.

I have dealt with Gerety's error in the past. Gerety believes that proof of Calvin's predestinarianism also proves limited atonement. Such is simply not the case. In the first article of my series on Calvin's view of the atonement, I answer those who think they've carried their burden on "L" by proving "U". Again, Gerety simply wishes his problems away.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nicole on Calvin's "wasted blood" passages

Roger Nicole's fourth rebuttal to the moderate Calvinists treats Calvin's "wasted blood" passages. This is an important point, which Nicole skims over. There are many such passages in Calvin's corpus, and there ought to be some thought given to the answer. Nicole hasn't done it.

Cause to pause and ponder

Nicole refers to four scripture passages as giving the advocate of definite atonement "reason to pause and ponder:" Romans 14:15, 1Corinthians 8:11, Hebrews 10:29, and 2Peter 2:1. Here's what Calvin said on Romans 14:15:

The next thing is, — that when the weak conscience is wounded, the price of Christ’s blood is wasted; for the most abject brother has been redeemed by the blood of Christ: it is then a heinous crime to destroy him by gratifying the stomach; and we must be basely given up to our own lusts, if we prefer meat, a worthless thing, to Christ.

Calvin, Comm. Romans 14:15, emphasis added.

Nicole replies to the scripture problem, but ignores Calvin:

To this we reply that in the context of the problem of weaker brothers, Paul affirms that they will not perish but God will make them to stand (Rom 14:4). Thus Paul’s statements do not so much represent an expression of doubt as to God’s perseverance with his own for whom Christ died, as a castigation of the selfishness of so-called “strong” Christians who would give priority to their own exercise of Christian liberty over the spiritual eternal interests of their weaker brothers.

Nicole, at 214.

That's all Nicole says on the Romans passage. The reader will notice that Nicole's short paragraph does nothing to analyze Calvin's use of the phrase "the price of Christ's blood is wasted." Whatever Nicole may think of the scripture in question, he ought to be analyzing Calvin's language, since Calvin's language is the subject of his article.

Regarding Hebrews 10 and 2 Peter, Nicole admits that the passages relate to those who will ultimately be lost, and gives a brief argument for the language being seen as not supporting universal atonement.

The solution may be found in viewing the description of Hebrews and 2 Peter as expressing what the apostates at one time professed to have rather than what they had in fact.

This is in any case what Calvin has opted for, as is apparent when he calls the offenders of Heb 10:29 "hypocrites...usurping a place among the faithful."

* * *

Calvin's silence on the relationship of these four texts [Romans 14:15, 1 Corinthians 8:11, Hebrews 10:29, and 2 Peter 2:1 - slc] to the extent of the atonement should not, in all fairness, be construed as an endorsement of universal atonement, not any more than his silence in his commentaries on the relation of these texts to the doctrine of perseverance provides a substantial basis for affirming that Calvin did not believe in perseverance. Other passages prove beyond dispute that he did believe in it!

Again, Nicole focuses mostly on an analysis of the scripture, and mostly avoids analyzing Calvin. Here are relevant statements from Calvin's commentaries on the passages in question:

There is, however, still greater force in what follows — that even those that are ignorant or weak have been redeemed with the blood of Christ; for nothing were more unseemly than this, that while Christ did not hesitate to die, in order that the weak might not perish, we, on the other hand, reckon as nothing the salvation of those who have been redeemed with so great a price. A memorable saying, by which we are taught how precious the salvation of our brethren ought to be in our esteem, and not merely that of all, but of each individual in particular, inasmuch as the blood of Christ was poured out for each individual!

12. When ye sin so against the brethren, etc. For if the soul of every one that is weak is the price of Christ’s blood, that man who, for the sake of a very small portion of meat, hurries back again to death the brother who has been redeemed by Christ, shows how contemptible the blood of Christ is in his view. Hence contempt of this kind is an open insult to Christ.

Calvin, Comm. 1 Corinthians 8: 11, 12.

The blood of the covenant, etc. He enhances ingratitude by a comparison with the benefits. It is the greatest indignity to count the blood of Christ unholy, by which our holiness is effected; this is done by those who depart from the faith. For our faith looks not on the naked doctrine, but on the blood by which our salvation has been ratified. He calls it the blood of the covenant, because then only were the promises made sure to us when this pledge was added. But he points out the manner of this confirmation by saying that we are sanctified; for the blood shed would avail us nothing, except we were sprinkled with it by the Holy Spirit; and hence come our expiation and sanctification. The apostle at the same time alludes to the ancient rite of sprinkling, which availed not to real sanctification, but was only its shadow or image.

Calvin, Comm. Hebrews 10:29. Emphasis added.

Even denying the Lord that bought them. Though Christ may be denied in various ways, yet Peter, as I think, refers here to what is expressed by Jude, that is, when the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness; for Christ redeemed us, that he might have a people separated from all the pollutions of the world, and devoted to holiness and innocency. They, then, who throw off the bridle, and give themselves up to all kinds of licentiousness, are not unjustly said to deny Christ by whom they have been redeemed. Hence, that the doctrine of the gospel may remain whole and complete among us, let this be fixed in our minds, that we have been redeemed by Christ, that he may be the Lord of our life and of our death, and that our main object ought to be, to live to him and to die to him. He then says, that their swift destruction was at hand, lest others should be ensnared by them.

Calvin, Comm. 2Peter 2:1. Emphasis added.

Nicole glosses over these comments without giving us much analysis. But consider the import of the argument. Strict limited atonement insists that all for whom Christ died are certain of eternal salvation. The shedding of Christ's blood must be efficacious, the argument goes, for all for whom it is offered. Contrast that with Calvin's statements: Christ's blood "wasted," (Rom. 14:15); brothers who have been redeemed being hurried back to death (1Cor. 8:12); Christ's blood availing nothing apart from application (Hebrews 10:29); and apostates denying Christ by whom they have been redeemed (2Pet. 2:1). In at least the Hebrews passage, Nicole admits that we are speaking of those who will ultimately be lost. Nicole has failed to give a cogent analysis or argument for understanding Calvin's language in a way that is consistent with strict limited atonement.

It would be well to note here the distinction that Calvin made in the Hebrews passage between the shedding of Christ's blood for men and the application of it to them. This distinction helps us in analyzing Calvin's thinking on the subject of the atonement.

Calvin's MANY references to "wasted blood," "redemption voided," and "redeemed souls perishing"

It is also important to note here that Nicole has barely scratched the surface of the problem. There are many statements of this type throughout Calvin's corpus. I encourage my readers to look at the Calvin and Calvinism blog (scroll down to the section under Part II., entitled "Redeemed Souls Perishing and Redemption Voided." There are fifty-four(!) quotations from Calvin's sermons, Commentaries, and Tracts that indicate that Calvin thought that Christ died for some whose souls will be eternally lost.

Finally, it is shocking to hear Nicole say that Calvin was "silent" on the question of the extent of the atonement in these passages. In these passages Calvin did not treat the "extent of the atonement" in a discourse, but he certainly was not silent. And when considering the mountain of evidence in favor of universal atonement in Calvin's corpus, it is negligent (at best) to say that Calvin was silent on the subject.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Two Wills in Calvin's Institutes

Just a quick one today; I'll have another entry in my critique of Roger Nicole shortly (later this week, D.V.).

D.V.: it means "God willing." But there are two senses of God's will. This is much disputed by some, who seem unable (or unwilling) to speak of God having a will apart from his decree. (There are some on the other side, of course, who are unwilling to speak of God's decree.)

Calvin, as you should know, spoke of both God's revealed will and his will of decree. Here's a quote I came across today. I've probably referred to this quote in this space before ... but, if such be the case, it bears repeating:

Why, then, they ask, should the thief be punished for robbing him whom the Lord chose to chastise with poverty? Why should the murderer be punished for slaying him whose life the Lord had terminated? If all such persons serve the will of God, why should they be punished? I deny that they serve the will of God. For we cannot say that he who is carried away by a wicked mind performs service on the order of God, when he is only following his own malignant desires. He obeys God, who, being instructed in his will, hastens in the direction in which God calls him. But how are we so instructed unless by his word? The will declared by his word is, therefore, that which we must keep in view in acting, God requires of us nothing but what he enjoins. If we design anything contrary to his precept, it is not obedience, but contumacy and transgression. But if he did not will it, we could not do it. I admit this. But do we act wickedly for the purpose of yielding obedience to him? This, assuredly, he does not command. Nay, rather we rush on, not thinking of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good purposes.

Calvin, Institutes 1.17.5

The reader with even the slightest sense will recognize that Calvin speaks both of God's will as revealed in the scripture, which disobedient men refuse to do, and God's will of providence, which, if He did not will it, they could not do it.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Influence of R. T. Kendall

I was talking with a friend of mine recently (the unnamed one), and we discussed the rise of moderate Calvinism among modern evangelical theologians. I'm not speaking of the 4-point Calvinists (who tend to reject limited atonement outright), the dispensationalists, or nearly Arminian fundamentalists, but the Calvinist scholars who actually influence the community of TULIP Calvinists. I asked my friend if he didn't think R. T. Kendall was one of the first of his kind in the late 20th century.

My friend said that Kendall may not be the first, but was certainly early, and has been very influential. He said that there is a great irony here, because without the vociferous (and seemingly endless) criticism that Kendall has received, he would not have been influential at all.

This is probably true, but I find it most telling that Kendall seems to inspire a constant impulse to refute him.

This, to me, speaks of the power of his thesis. The power of Kendall's argument comes not from his historical analysis (which some have criticized ... though I have no strong quarrel with Kendall on this point ... though I'm no historian), but from his analysis of the issues involved in the question of Calvin's theology. The question, of course is this: did Calvin teach limited atonement? Kendall answers that question not by directing us to statements about the atonement itself, but by looking at Calvin's doctrine of faith and the subsequent development of the doctrine of faith and assurance in English Calvinism.

Kendall's thesis is, in my view and as I have said before, devastating. And that is what (in a way) engenders the constant desire to refute him. He strongly shows that Calvin could not have taught limited atonement ("limited atonement" meaning "Christ did not die for some men") while teaching the doctrine of faith that he did. But what has not been analyzed (though Nicole does mention it) in these critiques (as far as my limited historical knowledge permits me to make this statement) is the question of Calvin's doctrine of faith. The analysis of Kendall tends to be about Calvin's doctrine of the atonement, while very little is said about Calvin's doctrine of faith. Do today's evangelical churches and seminaries hold Calvin's doctrine of faith?

One corollary of Kendall's thesis is that insofar as modern Calvinism holds to certain forms of limited atonement, they cannot teach Calvin's doctrine of faith. This ought to rock us to our core. But the question seems to be ignored by diversion to the more controverted question of Calvin's doctrine of the atonement. But I believe it is Kendall's strong argument that puts the burr under the saddle of his critics -- or at least it ought to be.