Saturday, April 21, 2012

John Calvin—A man who didn’t invent the acronym TULIP (and I am not sure about his feelings on the "L")

                                           Limited Atonement 

Definition: Christ’s death actually paid for the sins of those whom He knew would ultimately be saved (i.e. the elect)

Did John Calvin teach this doctrine?

Yeah…I don’t know about this one.

Here are a couple excerpts from his commentaries: 

Commentary on Romans 5:18
"Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive him." 

Commentary on I Timothy 2:5
"This clause is of a similar import with the former; for, as there is one God, the Creator and Father of all, so he says that there is but one Mediator, through whom we have access to the Father; and that this Mediator was given, not only to one nation, or to a small number of persons of some particular rank, but to all; because the fruit of the sacrifice, by which he made atonement for sins, extends to all. More especially because a large portion of the world was at that time alienated from God, he expressly mentions the Mediator, through whom they that were afar off now approach. The universal term all must always be referred to classes: of men, and not to persons; as if he had said, that not only Jews, but Gentiles also, not only persons of humble rank, but princes also, were redeemed by the death of Christ. Since, therefore, he wishes the benefit of his death to be common to all, an insult is offered to him by those who, by their opinion, shut out any person from the hope of salvation." 

Commentary on I John 2:2
"Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ [63] suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world." 
So did Calvin believe in the doctrine of limited atonement? Based on his remarks of I John 2, I would say "YES". Yet if all I had was his comments on Romans 5:18, I would probably say "NO". 

My answer is this: In my opinion, Calvin was not clear on this issue, therefore, I will ask him someday in Heaven. 


The main issue is this:  For whom did Christ die?

There are two legitimate answers:

1) Everyone or those who 2) He chose to place His special love upon (i.e. the elect)

If your answer is everyone, then you are faced with two options: 
You believe in universalism. 
You believe in unlimited atonement.
Most readers will quickly say (and probably defiantly), “I am NOT A UNIVERSALIST! I do not believe everyone will be saved!”

Good. Neither do I.

So that means that you believe in the doctrine of unlimited atonement. 

What is the doctrine of unlimited atonement?
Definition: When Christ was judged on the Cross for sins, He paid for the sins of the entire human race—not just for the elect.
You might say, “I am fine with that” or even “scripture affirms this”.

Okay…..but realize this also means that…..
You are concluding that the Father poured His wrath on the Son for the sins of non-elect, who are the individuals that are going to willfully reject Him as Savior.
Your answer: Again….I am okay with that. This reveals the greatness and wideness of Jesus’ sacrifice and also emphasizes man’s culpability in rejecting Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross for them.

Fair enough… last thing though…..
You are concluding that the non-elect are judged only for the sin of unbelief, not all of the rest of their sins such as murder, rape and pedophilia (since those sins were paid for by Christ on the cross).
Well…I don’t know about that.

Please understand I am not trying to be a jerk or attack the individuals that believe in the doctrine of unlimited atonement. Many men whom I respect as Christian pastors, authors and theologians hold to this view. Furthermore, all of them would assert this is what the bible teaches (i.e. unlimited atonement).

Here is what I believe: I believe in the doctrine of limited atonement.

If I am being honest, I am able to argue more simply for the doctrine of limited atonement with theological arguments, rather than with some complex exegetical arguments.

At this point, someone will accuse me of placing a theological system above scripture. Or maybe they will accuse me of not allowing scripture to speak on its own terms.

They would appropriately ask, “What about 1 John 2:2?”
1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Doesn’t this verse say clearly….THE WHOLE WORLD?

I hear you.  Oh….and by the way, I admit that this text is the strongest argument for unlimited atonement.

Yet D.A. Carson’s commentary on this verse is compelling and (in my opinion) the clearest explanation I have ever read,
“As far as I can see, a text such as 1 John 2:2 states something about the potential breadth of the Atonement. As I understand the historical context, the proto-gnostic opponents John was facing though of themselves as an ontological elite who enjoyed the inside track with God because of the special insight they had received. [Footnote 2: I have defended this as the background, at some length, in my forthcoming commentary on the Johannine Epistles in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC).] But when Jesus Christ died, John rejoins, it was not for the sake of, say, the Jews only or, now, of some group, gnostic or otherwise, that sets itself up as intrinsically superior. Far from it. It was not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. The context, then, understands this to mean something like “potentially for all without distinction” rather than “effectively for all without exception” – for in the latter case all without exception must surely be saved, and John does not suppose that that will take place.”
In other words, the context of I John helps tip the scale back on the side of “limited atonement”.

Final Thoughts:

1.     This is NOT an issue to separate on or argue about.

Notice I didn’t say this issue wasn’t important, rather I said it is not a primary issue (or even secondary in importance). The Bible says relatively little about the extent of the atonement, therefore, I believe it is unwise and possibly harmful to “walk where Angels dare to tread” as the maxim goes.

2.     Practically, no matter what view of the atonement you hold to, it is ultimately irrelevant in regards to evangelism, church membership and Christian fellowship. 

Deut. 29:29 is to be invoked here:
Deuteronomy 29:29 "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
This verse helps us understand the difference between the secret will of God and the revealed will of God.

The revealed will of God (i.e. the will that is revealed in scripture and that all people must obey) is that we are commanded to evangelize indiscriminately to everyone in the world.

So is the person you are witnessing to one of the elect? Who knows?

The identity of the elect is located in the secret will of God. Therefore, that since knowledge belongs to God, it is simply a doctrine we affirm and leave it to Him.

3.      God really does love the world (i.e. every single person).

Some people conclude that if limited atonement is correct, then God doesn’t really love the world (i.e. every person in the world), rather He loves only the elect.

In other words, if the "world" means the elect in every nation as it does in I John 2:2, then does the "world" mean the same thing in John 3:16?

My answer is no. The world (in John 3:16) refers to a general love as Creator towards His creation.

It is important to understand that this love is different than His special love to His chosen. For example, I love my children in a different way than I love my enemies, but I still love them. 

The primary way that God loves the non-elect is by bestowing His common grace (i.e. government, conscience and the withholding of divine judgment) on those who will reject Him. 

Furthermore, I would also argue that God loves the non-elect through the universal reconciliation initiated by Christ's death on the cross (Col. 1:20). 

In other words, regenerated Christians function as lights in the world, which gives "pockets of kingdom comfort" that is often enjoyed by unbelievers (i.e. the impact of William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery). 

At the end of the day, I am much more staunch on the T, U, I and P (though TUIP just doesn't have the same ring to it). 

***Next blog post I will deal with the "I" of TULIP.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

John Calvin—A man who didn’t invent the acronym TULIP (but I think he would have liked it)


                        Unconditional Election

Definition: God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual. He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual.
Did John Calvin teach this doctrine?

Ummm…yeah, definitely.

Calvin asserts,
“Do they ask how it happens that of two men indistinguishable in merit, God in his election passes over one but takes the other? I, in turn, ask: “Do they think that there is anything in him who is taken that disposes God to him?” If they admit that there is nothing, as they must, it will follow that God does not consider the man but seeks from His own goodness the reason to do him good. The fact that God therefore chooses one man but rejects another arises not out of regard to the man but solely from His mercy, which ought to be free to manifest and express itself where and when He pleases.” (Institutes, pgs. 958-959)


Do I affirm the "U"? Absolutely.

Is it because I am a fan of John Calvin? No (though I am a fan).
Is it because I was taught this growing up? Definitely not (I was not taught this in my Baptist church).
Is it because I don’t believe in the concept of “free will”? No (I believe in it….I chose to write this blog post, didn’t I?)
Is it because I embrace some sort of fatalism (i.e. the doctrine that all events are predetermined by fate and are therefore unalterable)? No (I reject the of concept of fatalism because it assumes either a non-personal deity or NO deity).
The reason I believe in the doctrine of unconditional election is because the Bible teaches it.
Romans 9:10-16 And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call- 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
Romans 8:29 For 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.

You may ask, "But isn’t the doctrine of Unconditional election unfair?" No.

Here is the primary reason that this doctrine is fair

Every individual has sinned against their Creator and therefore, all people deserve spiritual death.

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In other words, if God’s only goal was being “fair”, then everyone would receive what they deserve, which is eternal separation from God.

Fortunately, God is not only just, but also merciful. Mercy is withholding punishment or not getting what you deserve.
Ephesians 2:4-5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). 
Yet someone might say, “That seems great if you are one of the "elect". But who (or what) gives God the right to make such a choice “to choose one and not another”?”

Well, according to the Bible, this is not a question that the creature (or creation) gets to ask the Creator.
Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?
In other words, God has the right to do what He wants because He is the Potter and we are the clay.

Two final thoughts:

—What do have to do to receive this undeserved mercy?

Nothing. Just repent of your sins and believe (trust) in Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;

—Unconditional election is a mysterious, yet comforting doctrine.

This doctrine assures us that our evangelism endeavors will be successful.
It assures us that our salvation is secure.
It is a doctrine that simultaneously humbles the Christian and elevates the mercy of God.
It is the doctrine that makes the words of Amazing Grace….well, possible and amazing.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

***Next blog post I will deal with the "L" of TULIP. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

John Calvin—A man who didn’t invent the acronym TULIP (but I think he would have liked it)

Many individuals (both Christian and non-Christian) connect John Calvin (or his followers) to the invention of the acronym TULIP.

Yet the truth is its origin should be placed on the followers of Jacob Arminius, who presented the five Remonstrances (which were constructed to oppose the teachings of Calvin’s followers and the Dutch church), at the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619 (roughly 8-9 years after Jacob Arminius died and 54 years after Calvin died).

Then, because of the challenge of the followers of Arminius, the followers of Calvin responded to their “five points”, which began the “germinating process” (pun intended) of the infamous TULIP.

If this is true, then when and where did the actual acronym TULIP originate? It is hard to say.

Richard A. Muller states,
“As far as we know, both the acrostic and the associated usage of “five points of Calvinism” are of Anglo-American origin and do not date back before the nineteenth century. It is remarkable how quickly bad ideas catch on. When, therefore, the question of Calvin’s relationship to Calvinism is reduced to this popular floral meditation —did Calvin teach TULIP? —any answer will be grounded on a misrepresentation. Calvin himself, certainly never thought of this model, but neither did later so-called Calvinists. Or, to make the point in another way, Calvin and his fellow Reformers held to doctrines that stand in clear continuity with the Canons of Dort, but neither Calvin nor his fellow Reformers, nor the authors of the Canons, would have reduced their confessional position to TULIP.”
Interesting. So I guess the question I want to address is, “Did Calvin teach or (adhere) to the ‘T’ in TULIP (since he didn’t invent it)?”

                                          Total Depravity

Definition: Sin has affected all parts of man. The heart, emotions, will, mind, and body are all affected by sin. We are completely sinful. We are not as sinful as we could be, but we are completely affected by sin.

Did Calvin believe and teach this doctrine? Yes.

Calvin states:
“To be sure, a little while before he (the apostle Paul) had painted a picture of human nature that showed us as having a corrupt and perverted nature in every part.”
He continues,
“Indeed, apostasy from God proves defect of understanding, for to seek him is the first degree of wisdom. This defect, therefore, is necessarily found in all who have forsaken God. He (Paul) adds that all have fallen away and have, as it were, become corrupt, that there is no one who does good……If these are hereditary endowments of the human nature, it is futile to seek anything good in our nature.”


Do I affirm the "T"? Absolutely. I would also add that I believe in another “T”, Total Inability. The scriptures are clear that man is totally unable to respond to God or the gospel without divine assistance.
Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Spiritually dead. That sounds pretty hopeless, huh.

So how do we come to God? The Spirit of God must breathe life into us (John 3:8).  All of God. Nothing of me.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
I am so thankful to God for raising me from my spiritual deadness and giving me salvation.

***Next blog post I will deal with the "U" of TULIP. 

John Calvin—A man committed to promoting Christian unity

One of the reasons I love to read biographies is the joy of finding new information. The new information about John Calvin is that he really cared about Christian unity. 

Here is a quote from Calvin’s latest biographer: 
“It had been an extraordinary gamble to come to Zurich, and Calvin had risked humiliation in his bid to succeed where Bucer and others had failed. He wanted to move the Swiss, and in particular Zurich, out of their isolation and make them part of the wider Reformation movement. The only way to bring this about, he had recognized, was to be flexible for the sake of unity. What the events of the 1540’s clearly demonstrate is that Calvin never regarded his theological formations as non-negotiable.”
It is shocking to see the words Calvin, flexible and unity in the same sentence.

I probably need to back up and set the context of why Calvin was travelling to Zurich.

The Protestant Reformation had central areas of influence. Zwingli and Bullinger were based in Zurich, Luther and Melanchthon had their headquarters in Wittenburg and Calvin (and later Theodore Beza) were in Geneva. 

Yet these groups were never unified. What was the main issue? The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Luther held to a transubstantiation view, which meant the cup and bread transformed into the actual presence of Christ in the elements. Zwingli held to the memorial view, which understood the elements to be “symbols”. Finally, Calvin held to a middle position, which he described as ‘the real presence of Christ’ in the elements.

Any Reformation history buff knows that Luther and Zwingli hated each other during their lifetimes. This rift carried on past their deaths. Their disciples (Melanchthon and Bullinger) were more civil to each other, but unfortunately, personal and theological suspicion never abated between the two reformers.

Yet Calvin certainly tried to bring them together. He was fairly close to both men (Melanchthon and Bullinger), but in the end Calvin was unsuccessful in cementing the Protestant Reformation.

What can we learn from Calvin?

First, he cared about the well-being of other Christians.

The influence and compassion of Calvin was seen best through his writings. He was always writing theological treatises, commentaries, and countless letters of encouragement to other pastors, French refugees, nobility, widowed women and Christians in their spiritual infancy.

I have often wondered what Calvin would have thought about 21st century social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter. I am not sure of his feelings regarding Twitter, but I would like to believe that he would have seen some spiritual benefit to Facebook.

For me, Facebook is many things. It is way to reconnect with old friends. It is a way to see photos and thoughts of others. At its best, Facebook is a wonderful way to encourage others in the faith. But does this replace “facetime”? No…and it never should. God created us to be relational beings, who engage each other in a personal way. Are cyber-world friendship wrong or unhealthy? No, but I would cautiously assert they are secondary in value to friendships that are geographically "face to face".

Second, He made personal sacrifices to promote unity.

What are the personal sacrifices a Christian must make? Well, typically it is in the area of time. Time is required for a “face to face” (since travel is often involved). Time is required in waiting for a response. Time is required to shelf issues if God has not brought clarity. The easiest response is to say, “Forget you! You are not worth my time!” But Christian maturity is always shown by the desire to be patient, to wait on God, to allow time to pass so there is confidence that a decision was not made rashly.

Third, He never elevated unity over doctrine.

It is would be wrong to take the above quotation to mean that Calvin was willing to lay aside doctrinal clarity for the sake of Christian unity. Believe me, he wouldn’t. Yet on the secondary issues (granted, issues Calvin considered secondary), the Genevan reformer was willing to consider revision for the sake of Christian unity.

Calvin, at this point, is a wonderful example of living the biblical mandate to ‘be diligent to preserve the unity of the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:3).

Someone may read this blog post and ask, “What is the big deal about doctrinal purity?” Isn’t love the ultimate goal?

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that love is the glue of all Christian unity (Col. 2:2). But no, in the sense that love can be embraced outside the boundaries of doctrine. For example, let’s look at the classic verse of John 14:23:
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.
What we learn here is that truly loving God requires that we keep His Word. Hence, Christian unity is based on loving God, which must be grounded and expressed through His infallible truth. 

May we work hard to promote unity and charity among Christians, yet at the same time, upholding the priority of God's truth, which is embraced through the lens of love.