Friday, May 31, 2013

Matthew 11:21-23 - why were the People of Sodom Lost?

Steve recently asked: "I've been thinking about Matthew 11:21-23 as a non-Calvinist. If God knew the people in Tyre and Sidon (or other places) would repent under certain circumstances, why did not God bring about those circumstances? E.g. do the mighty works there."

The passage states: 21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Christ is rebuking Bethsaida and Chorazin for their stubborn unrepentance in light of His mighty works and witness among them.  So the question amounts to, why did the Father send Christ to the Jews knowing the people of Sodom would have repented had Christ been sent there?  One of my professors once said  he thought God sent Christ when He did because the Roman roads and Koine Greek helped quickly spread the gospel.  I don't know; if He waited until now, it could have been posted on youtube.  In any event, the point is we shouldn't just look at Capernaum vs. Sodom but rather Christ's whole ministry vs. what it would have been like at an earlier time.  And while we will not know the full reason in this life, we can trust God's reasons were good.

More generally, God gives everyone sufficient grace for salvation but that doesn't mean He gives all people the same amount of grace.  Consider Arminius' claim that God doesn't use all means possible to save:  The form of vocation is placed in the very administration of the word and of the Holy Spirit. God hath instituted this administration so, as He knows to be suitable and becoming to himself, and to his justice tempered with mercy in Christ; always reserving to himself the full and free power of not employing, for the conversion of men, all the methods which are possible to himself according to the treasures of his wisdom and power, and of bestowing unequal grace on those who are [in every respect,] equals, and equal grace on those who are unequal, nay, of employing greater grace on those who are more wicked. (Romans 9:21-26; 10:17-21; 11:25, 29-33; Ezekiel 3:6; Matthew 11:21, 23) (Public Disputation 16.7)

Consider also, God sometimes lets the horrendously wicked live long lives and end up repenting, while the less wicked die young and unrepentant.  Some unbelievers live all their lives in Churches while others are born in Muslim or other countries with little to no access to the Gospel).  Despite what some might have you believe, Arminians don't believe God is a Care Bear sitting on a cloud in the sky.  Grace is not a given - it truly is amazing.  

Some try to avoid the force of this verse by saying Christ was exaggerating.  They say it's not that the people of Sodom  really would have repented; Christ is just saying how bad the people of Capernaum were.  Unfortunately, some folks who I respect a lot, William Lane Craig and Max Andrews (link), take this approach, and it just so happens to support their theory of trans-world damnation. I disagree because unintentional exaggerations seems like careless mistakes and intentional exaggeration seems like lies. Neither seem worthy of our Lord to me.  No, the rebuke only works if the charge is true: the people of Sodom would have repented and the people of Capernaum did not. 

Other Molinists like Thomas Flint hold to unconditionally elects or something like it. (see Flint. Divine Providence.  Especially Chapter 5, the section on the Principle of Predilection starting on page 117)  Max Andrews seems to think any Molinist that takes Matthew 11 at face value ends up stuck with this view.  But there's a huge difference between God wanting to save everyone but still choosing when and where to send Christ while knowing who would and wouldn't be saved and God choosing not to save everyone.  If the Father had sent Christ to Sodom, it's true they would have repented; but probably others would have been lost.  If unconditional election is true, God could have elected both the people of Sodom and the people of Capernaum and simply didn't want to save them.

God still loved the people of Sodom and He wanted them to repent and enabled them to do so.  They rejected and resisted His grace.  That's why they are lost. So one can agree with all four of Max's points and still take Matthew 11 at face value.

Max says: "( 1) God genuinely desires that all men come to repentance and be saved (Ez. 33.10-11, 1 Tim. 2.3-4; 2 Pt. 3.9), 2) God judges based on revelation (Rom. 1-2), 3) God determines the time and place of man so they may seek God (Acts 17.26-28), and 4) that humans are damned because of their sin)" 

Sure God loved and wanted to save the people of Sodom as He loves and wants to save all men.  Lack of love is not why the Father sent Christ when and where He did.  Sure God judges the people of Sodom based on revelation and He set the time and place for them to seek the Lord.  He gave them sufficient grace and revelation for salvation.  They chose to reject Him and the grace and revelation He gave them and that's why they are damned.  They are not damned because God didn't love them, want to save them, send His Son to die for them, reveal Himself to them, provide sufficient grace for them or the like.   

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Misrepresenting Calvinism

I was recently told that I was misrepresenting Calvinism when I said they interpret Romans 9 to mean God hated Esau before he was born or did anything evil.  However, this is exactly what Calvin said:

11. We come now to the reprobate, to whom the Apostle at the same time refers (Rom. 9:13). For as Jacob, who as yet had merited nothing by good works, is assumed into favor; so Esau, while as yet unpolluted by any crime, is hated. If we turn our view to works, we do injustice to the Apostle, as if he had failed to see the very thing which is clear to us. Moreover, there is complete proof of his not having seen it, since he expressly insists that when as yet they had done neither good nor evil, the one was elected, the other rejected, in order to prove that the foundation of divine predestination is not in works. Then after starting the objection, Is God unjust? instead of employing what would have been the surest and plainest defense of his justice—viz. that God had recompensed Esau according to his wickedness, he is contented with a different solution—viz. that the reprobate are expressly raised up, in order that the glory of God may thereby be displayed. At last, he concludes that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom. 9:18). You see how he refers both to the mere pleasure of God. Therefore, if we cannot assign any reason for his bestowing mercy on his people, but just that it so pleases him, neither can we have any reason for his reprobating others but his will. When God is said to visit in mercy or harden whom he will, men are reminded that they are not to seek for any cause beyond his will.  (Calvin's Institutes 3.23.11)

Further, it's taught in contemporary Calvinism as well:

God’s passing some by was not conditioned by their unbelief.  God did not foresee which ones by their own will would not accept Christ, and on that basis reject them.  Just as election is unconditional (God did not choose anybody because he foresaw that they would believe in Jesus), so also is preterition unconditional.  It is no more based on God’s foreknowledge of what an independent human being would do with Jesus than is election.  As the reason for election is found in God alone – and never in man – so also is the reason for preterition found in God alone and not in man.

The only reason given for the election of Jacob and the passing by of Esau is: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13).  The reason was in God and not in the foreknowledge of the good or bad that either one would do. Edwin H. Palmer.  Five Points of Calvinism, The: A Study Guide.  Baker Books, Apr 1, 2010 page 129

Now this charge of misrepresentation is not limited to "internet Calvinists".  Take for example, James White's accusing Norm Geisler of misrepresentation:

James White: On page 83 [of Geisler's Chosen but Free] an endnote appears that challenges Piper on the issue of the rejection of Esau. It is a classic example of out-of-context citation that should not appear in a work by a scholar of the rank of Norman Geisler. Here is what it says:

Geisler Quoted by White: John Piper, widely held by extreme Calvinists to have the best treatment on Romans 9, makes this mistake. Piper claims that “the divine decision to ‘hate’ Esau was made ‘before they were born or had done anything good or evil (9:11).’ But, as shown on the previous page, the reference here is not to something said in Genesis about the individuals Jacob and Esau before they were born.

James White: One might thing that this is being taken from the section of Piper’s work specifically on the topic of Jacob and Esau. It is not. Instead, this short snippet is a partial sentence from a summary of a completely different topic, as we will show by providing the full (and useful) quotation:

James White Quoting John Piper: In sum then I have tried to demonstrate with three arguments that the phrase, “whom He wills he hardens”, describes God’s freedom to choose the recipients of his hardening apart from any ground in their willing or acting. First, the parallel between 18a and 18b shows that the freedom of God to harden is parallel to his freedom to show mercy, which according to 9:16 has no ground in a person’s willing or running. Second, the correspondence between the pairs, mercy/hardening (9:18) and love/hate (9:13), shows that Paul does not intend for us to view the hardening as a “divine reaction” to sin, since the divine decision to “hate” Esau was made ‘before they were born or had done anything good or evil (9:11).’ Third, Paul’s selection and adaption of Ex 9:16, which summarizes the theme of Ex 4-14, shows that he understands God’s activity to be grounded in his own purposes, not in the plans or actions of men.

James White: Does CBF attempt to respond to the actual argumentation Piper provides regarding 9:13? No. Does it attempt to respond to even this summary of Piper’s argument which, if true, is utterly devastating to Geisler’s entire thesis? No. Unfortunately, Piper is misrepresented yet again within just a few pages…(James White. The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and the Rebuttal of Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free. (2nd edition) Calvary Chapel Press. 2007. page 218)

James White claims Geisler misrepresented Piper and took him out of context, but Geisler quotes Piper accurately and conveys his idea correctly.  One searches in vain to find the out of context quotation.

My guess is that Calvinist simply do not like it when non-Calvinists point out God's treatment of the non-elect and it's easier to cry misrepresentation than face the distasteful parts of Calvinism.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I pray the Pope will not meet Atheists there!

Pope Francis recently said:  “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the blood of Christ. All of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” he declared. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”

“And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace,” Francis continued. “If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter. We need that so much.”

“We must meet one another doing good,” the Pope asserted. “‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good. We will meet one another there.”

The Pope is of course equivocating two vital terms ("Sons of God" and "meeting there") to teach universalism or at least an extremely wide inclusivism.  The Bible names us God's sons in at least two ways: 1) via creation and 2) via adoption (contrast Acts 17:28-30 with Romans 8:14).  Likewise, the Pope's saying "meeting there" at one point means agreement about charitable works and at another point it means heaven.  (In this posts' title, I am using there in a third way - I mean hell.)  So by a play on words, conservative Catholics can take the Pope's words to mean Christ died for everyone, God created everyone and we can work along side atheists for good and liberal Catholics can take the Pope's words to teach all paths lead to heaven.

For James White to link the Pope's comments here with Arminianism is basically to teach it's OK to take Arminianism out of context.  (link)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Discussion of Texts used to support Unconditional Election

Last night I discussed unconditional election with a few friendly Calvinists.  For the most part, they picked the texts we discussed in their making a case for unconditional election (i.e. we didn’t discuss 1 Timothy 2:4-6 or the like).

While rehashing the whole discussion isn’t possible I wanted to at least summarize the major points of disagreement on each text we discussed at length.

Matthew 11:20-30
20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” 25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
  • On verses 21-23, I argued that given Christ’s work, the people of Tyre and Sidon really could have repented, so the grace given was sufficient to enable repentance. They disagreed arguing that Christ was exaggerating in verses 21 to 23. 
  • On verse 25, the Calvinists argued the Father’s hiding the Gospel explained why the Jews had been rejecting Christ (and John the Baptist) in the past. I disagreed, arguing that the hiding of the Gospel was a punishment for their past rejections and God was removing the light He previously gave them. More generally, Christ was repurposing His ministry away from the Jewish leadership that was rejecting Him and towards those struggling under the law (verse 28). 
  • On verse 26, we disagreed that “or so it seemed good in Your sight” refers to a condition for God’s choice (i.e. God choosing to do something because He saw something good about what He was choosing). 
  • On verse 28, I argued laboring and being heavy laden (i.e. struggling under the law) is a preparatory step to receiving the Gospel and those who do will not have the Gospel hidden from them. The Calvinists disagreed.

Acts 13:48
46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
  • On verse 48, I argued that the appointing was God arranging the hearts of the people right there on the spot. They disagreed arguing that the appointing is related to predestination from eternity past. 
  • I argued that if appoint refers to predestination, then all elect persons were saved right then and there and anyone who didn’t believe on the spot never would because they are not among the predestined. They disagreed arguing there is an implied “as many as had been appointed to eternal life [for that time] believed. 
  • I argued that verse 46 parallels verse 48, and that’s evidence that the appointing happened on the spot rather than in eternity past. They disagreed.

Romans 8:28-30
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

  • On verse 28, I argued that loving God is a condition for God’s promise that all things will work for your good. They disagreed, arguing that loving God is a condition of the people for who all things work out for good.
  • On verse 29, they argued that foreknew means chose. I disagreed arguing it means foreknowledge and that foreknowledge is within the semantic range of the term. 
  • I argued that if foreknow means chose, then this passage and 1 Peter 1:2 have the redundancy of “whom He predestined, He predestined” or “chosen according to the choice of God”. They disagreed arguing that since in 1 Peter 1:2, proginōskō is in a noun form rather than a verb form, we shouldn’t draw a parallel between the two and Romans 8:29 is saying those whom God chose He predestined.

Romans 9 10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”
  • The Calvinists argued God’s election of Jacob was unconditional. I disagreed, arguing God chose Jacob because he was younger and didn’t have the natural birthright and to use Jacob/Esau as an object lesson that salvation is based on God’s grace rather than works or nationality.
  • The Calvinist argued that grace must be unconditional. I argued that grace may be conditional, only it must be unmerited.
  • I argued that faith does not merit salvation and even believers would end up in hell, were it not for God’s choice to have mercy on the believer. The Calvinists disagreed, saying faith merits salvation but it’s OK that it does, since God gives us faith.