In a matter of weeks I will be engaging Bart Ehrman on whether textual variation precludes the possibility of inspiration. It will be a vitally important debate, one that I hope will be of tremendous benefit to the entire body of Christ. And though I have no reason to think Dr. Ehrman is spending a lot of time focusing upon my position, I surely am focusing upon his. Hence, I have extensive reading and studying to do over the next number of weeks. I trust our regular blog readers will keep this in mind, and pray for me as I prepare for this vital encounter. [By the way, there is still room for you to join us for the debate, and even the cruise!].
I will continue my response to David Allen on Tuesday of next week. I must admit I am grieved by this whole situation. I know there are some who live for “blog conflict” and the like. I am not one of them. When I engage in controversy I try to do it for the sake of the furtherance of the truth of the gospel and the edification of God’s people. I must admit, I am sick and tired of those who seem utterly intent upon promoting a narrow agenda, one-string banjo players who seem to have little else to do in life but to pluck their very limited number of notes.
In any case, this entire “he’s an X” “no, you’re a Y!” childishness makes me ill. Evidently, for a whole group of folks, the idea is this: hyper-Calvinism is dangerous (it is). Therefore, anyone with a higher Calvinism (one that seeks internal consistency in theology and exegesis, and does not find a lot of comfort in “antinomy” and “mystery”) than these folks is to be stigmatized as a “hyper-Calvinist,” even if they have shown, demonstrated, and proved their balance as a churchman, evangelist, preacher, theologian, or apologist. In the process, men of old who said and taught great things are harangued and attacked without the slightest effort to distinguish between the good and the bad in their writings and teachings. It is even to the point that if you interpret particular texts in a particular way, you are “hyper,” even when those using these terms are utterly incapable of even attempting to prove you have mishandled the texts. It is amazing, and it is sad.
It was mentioned in my chat channel yesterday that, ironically, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) addressed this sixty years ago. Evidently, they did not have to identify those who disagreed with Murray as “hyper-Calvinists” back then. Too bad their maturity is not possessed by all today. (Click here for the article).
I guess the best way to refute the false accusations against me is not by playing the “my expert defines it this way” game. It is by simply living a balanced Christian life, demonstrating that the accusations are vacuous, and those making them little more than troublers of the body of Christ. Let the reader mark them out now and ask a simple question: what will they have accomplished ten years from now? Let time attend to the witness chair.
In any case, I did wish to briefly comment on the abuse of the historical sources that David Allen utilized. He claims to have a huge Puritan library, and I don’t doubt that he does. He chided folks for not reading original sources. Yet, it seems to me that his presentation was massively dependent upon…secondary sources, in particular, as he himself stated, Tony Bryne and David Ponter. This comes out especially in his attempt to enlist Jonathan Edwards in the cause of denying particular redemption. It seems highly likely to me that Allen pulled the single citation he read on the topic directly from Tony Bryne’s blog, where it appeared back in May of this year. It is a single citation from The Freedom of the Will.
From these things it will inevitably follow, that however Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by his death; yet there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to such as he intended should actually be saved thereby. As appears by what has been now shown, God has the actual salvation or redemption of a certain number in his proper absolute design, and of a certain number only; and therefore such a design only can be prosecuted in any thing God does, in order to the salvation of men. God pursues a proper design of the salvation of the elect in giving Christ to die, and prosecutes such a design with respect to no other, most strictly speaking; for it is impossible, that God should prosecute any other design than only such as he has: he certainly does not, in the highest propriety and strictness of speech, pursue a design that he has not. And, indeed, such a particularity and limitation of redemption will as infallibly follow, from the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, as from that of the decree. For it is as impossible, in strictness of speech, that God should prosecute a design, or aim at a thing, which he at the same time most perfectly knows will not be accomplished, as that he should use endeavours for that which is beside his decree.
Please don’t ask me how anyone can read this and find universal atonement in it. I truly do not understand it, for it is clearly Edwards’ intention to emphasize the specific purpose of God in the salvation of the elect. But this is not the first time I’ve encountered folks who can read phrases like “a particularity and limitation of redemption” and think it is actually saying the opposite. Traditions die hard. I would direct anyone to read the conclusion of Edwards’ treatise (from which the above comes: in the eye-strain edition of Edwards’ works, it is page 88 of volume 1) and see if it was his intention to give aid and comfort to the viewpoints of David Allen.
I wrote to a published Edwards scholar and inquired as to his opinion. He responded that it is very obvious that Edwards held to particular redemption, and noted in passing two texts indicating this.
This is certain, that God did not intend to save those by the death of Christ, that he certainly knew from all eternity he should not save by his death. Wherefore, it is certain that if he intended to save any by the death of Christ, he intended to save those whom he certainly knew he should save by his death. This is all that was ever pleaded for. (Works of JE, Vol 13, Yale UP, 1994, 211).
“Now can we suppose that Christ came down from heaven and went through all this upon uncertainties, not knowing what purchase he should get, how great or how small? Did he die only upon probabilities, without absolute certainty who, or how many, or whether any should be redeemed by what he did and suffered?” (ibid, 212).
Now, Dr. Allen seemed to want to fault modern Calvinists for not reading original sources. He also assumed we would all be shocked at what he was saying. I found that more than a little condescending, to be perfectly honest with you. It seemed hard to avoid the conclusion that he was accusing Sproul and Piper and MacArthur and Dever of being either ignorant or dishonest…or both. And though he had the temerity of accusing me of being a hyper-Calvinist, he didn’t show the slightest familiarity with The Potter’s Freedom, let alone the arguments it presents regarding particular redemption. In any case, it seems to me that Allen pulled his assertion about Edwards (which he presented with great flair and showmanship) directly from Byrne, and that without examining the context. Which seems to be the very thing he was busily faulting the rest of us for doing.
Well, as always, such situations as this one give us an opportunity to grow and learn. As such, we should be thankful for them.