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.


a helmet said...

Good posts here. There seem to be nearly as many different opinios about the truth of the atonement, as there are calvinstic chiefs. Probably to every doctrinal issue explained and aptly defined by one reformed scholar there is another one at hand that direclty contradicts him.

Steve said...

Quite right ... though, to be fair, this could probably be said for any element of Christian doctrine. :-)

Steve said...

Wait ... you're saying that we can know that Kendall's analysis of Calvin's doctrine of faith is wrong because he has said something positive about ___________??

And, if we apply the same reasoning to your comment, Anonymous, we know that what you say is false because your works show you to be a speaker of evil.

I'm going to delete your comment just because I don't allow kooks here.

Eric Glover said...

Hello and good day! I just want to say thank you for your contribution to this vast ocean of vigorous theological discussion. You have a well written, educated approach and more people in the evangelical community should be as committed and passionate as you in knowing and loving God and his precious word. So, thank you for your contribution.

First, I want to say that I completely agree that Calvin codified a myriad of ruminations regarding the Atonement within his voluminous writings.

Even though I do firmly hold to Particular Redemption and to the idea that impetration and application are inseparable in the sovereign purposes of God in his sovereign choice of the elect to salvation, I just want to say that I don’t believe proving or disproving Calvin’s stance on this would change what I humbly believe the Bible teaches. Of course, this discussion is for another time.

I do want to interact with a statement you made in your post. You said, "Some of my readers will have already spotted the problem in Gerety's proof texts: they are all irrelevant to the question." Respectfully, I do not believe they are irrelevant at all since Gerety's proof texts help support and work hand in hand with the reformed premise that "necessary application" is a benefit included in impetration and all of these statements by Calvin, in my opinion, comfortably support this premise. Arguing that Calvin makes statements in line with scripture that seem to broaden the extent doesn't negate the argument that Calvin embraced the former premise in his writings. If he did indeed support this premise, then I think it is reasonable to postulate that Calvin rightly taught that all men where the intended beneficiaries of the cross in some sense but that all men were not intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way. I often times struggle with even wanting to have my theology labeled after another human as it can at times feel so restricted and in need of clarification. I do not consider myself a believer in LA because of logical deduction (though reason and logic are a part of everyone’s hermeneutical approach. I believe it because scripture interprets scripture and I see the fruition of this doctrine within the pages of God’s word.

I do want to be very careful to remain prayerfully open to the Holy Spirits illuminatory guidance as I search the scriptures daily. Humility and unity in the Gospel of Christ is so important.

Last, on a side note, I know full five pointers are often accused of being "hyper-Calvinists"; however, I actually detest that label very much and believe we should be laboring endlessly for the cause of Christ in furthering the Gospel in a lost and dying world. Faith and Repentance for the remission of sins should be preached endlessly without distinction to all people.


Steve said...

Thanks for your kind words, Eric, and for taking the time to respond on the blog.

I agree whole-heartedly that the scriptures, and not Calvin, are the only standards for true doctrine. But Calvin was certainly one of the best expositors of the word of God that the church has ever had. So I make no apology for taking the time to understand his writings. This is especially important when, as I believe, he is being misunderstood in some important respects.

Regarding Gerety's citations of Calvin, they prove 1) that Calvin did not hold to universal salvation, which I agree with; 2)that there is a doctrine of election, which I agree with; and 3) that the benefits of Christ's redemption are given only to the elect, which I agree with. Having proved only propositions that I agree with, I don't see how Gerety's quotes are in any way proof against my thesis. In fact, I think it shows a misunderstanding of my thesis to propose those quotes from Calvin as proof against something I've said. So I must respectfully disagree with you, Eric.

Regarding labels, I find them convenient and sometimes historically important. In particular, the label "hyper-calvinist" has a meaning, though that meaning is often distorted by both Arminians and Calvinists.

Thanks again for your kindness, Eric, and the Christian tone of your comment.