Thank you for your letter. I confess it would be a bit easier for me to respond in detail if your original post, and the comments to which you make reference, were still available, but I will do the best I can in the absence of this material.
I have noted your comments upon reading materials written by Paul Owen, Kevin Johnson, and Tim Enloe. As you know, my history with these men is long. I am without a doubt their favorite target of insult, put-down, and caricature (Doug Wilson might wish to argue that point at least with reference to Mr. Johnson). For years Owen could not write an article or utter a peep in public without taking a shot at me, and Tim Enloe has sunk to saying outrageous things about me and his caricature of my beliefs in such contexts as the Envoy forums, a haven of the most conservative Roman Catholics such as Art Sippo. So it is fairly easy, upon seeing you joining in (both in your comments, and in your own blog), to take your words at face value. I am uncertain how I could have done otherwise. It would be impossible to privately write to each person who you find writing consistently in such a context, who likewise engages in a caricature of your position (your comments currently on the rC website join in the misrepresentation of myself as some kind of individualistic anabaptist, showing a tremendous ignorance of my deeply held churchmanship, my role as an elder in an LBCF church, and my published work which includes sufficient testimony to the breadth of my ecclesiology to convince anyone with an open mind that the constant drumbeat of those in your circles is without merit), and ask them, “Do you really mean what you are saying?”
I appreciate your apology for what you have identified as your “rant” of 1/3/07. I am thankful I was not the only target, though, I must ask, what other Reformed Baptist apologetics ministries were you referring to? I guess I am asking too much of a “rant” to ask where the comments about me ended and those about others began because, of course, I could not see how the entire post was not about me and my “kind.” And please realize, sir, that if someone had posted that in my chat channel, for example, I would have assumed it was written by Timothy Enloe. I have entire files of rants just like it, and he means each and every one. So, in light of my having seen your name attached to his, Johnson, Owen, etc., it would be hard to not assume a pattern of consistency based upon similar beliefs and attitudes.
You say you realized the rant was wrong. This seems to have happened after I linked to it, and was related to certain comments posted there. Was the rant “wrong” because it misrepresented me? It seems that what you said, and even the way you said it, is quite consistent with the type of criticism that marks the rC movement as a whole of myself and others like me. Or did the “wrongness” exist in the style, but not the substance?
I believe TULIP represents the spectrum of gospel truth most reprehensible to the natural man. I believe TULIP rips the lips off of man’s self-righteousness. It casts man fully upon the mercy of God and leaves no ground for boasting. I believe TULIP then is vital to maintaining gospel balance against the ever-present drag of remaining sin that leads us to constantly find ways of robbing God of his glory and putting ourselves back in some semblance of control.
Likewise, I see Rome’s gospel as a glory-stealing, man-exalting, Christ-blaspheming falsehood that can only damn, never save. I see transubstantiation and the concept of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice as gross falsehoods that fall squarely under the anathema of God. I see purgatory as a denial of the finished work of Christ; the sacramental priesthood an unbiblical mechanism of unrighteous control at best, and a gross blasphemy against the singular high priesthood of the Lord Jesus at worst. I see the Marian dogmas as a transparent scheme to distract from the singular glory of Christ. I see the Papacy as a vile imposture with enough martyr’s blood on its hands to testify to its gross iniquity for all time.
So you can see why, if the TULIP discussion is “Reformed,” and the preceding paragraph is “Catholic,” I find the title of the rC website so utterly oxymoronic. And I admit I find those who play games with these eternally important issues, most troubling.
So is TULIP co-extensive with the gospel? No, TULIP refers to a portion of the gospel, not to its whole. But is TULIP therefore irrelevant? Surely not. Sacrificable? No, it is not. Not if we wish to honor the Spirit of God who revealed these truths in Scripture. Of course, part of the problem is I believe many today claim to believe these truths but at the same time never miss an opportunity to cut the ground out from underneath them, leaving us with nothing more than man’s opinions and predilections.
I would like to address the comments left on your blog, but, since they are gone, I cannot. I have seen men in your circle of influence, such as Paul Owen, so grossly misrepresent me (without quoting me, of course), and come up with such wildly imaginative re-phrasings of what I said, that I confess I am slow to accept even your distillation of what you think they meant. I have documented so many instances of where rC folks have simply refused to hear what was being said by way of disagreement and criticism that I would be foolish to not withhold judgment until I am able to actually see what was written. I do not know the identity of those to whom you refer; I have no “representatives” posting for me on the internet. And as I mentioned, I am so accustomed to having my words interpreted as “rude” and “ignorant” and “condemnatory” that once again, I cannot accept your interpretation of their motives at face value.
I would question your assertion that Calvinism is a “system of thought only fully realized in the 17th century.” If by that you mean codified, in a sense, widely published, etc., well, few systems of theology had any opportunity to reach that level prior to Gutenberg. Be that as it may, I am thankful for your words regarding John 6, at least in the sense that it would be nice if Owen would admit he over-stated his thesis. If he had written, “Calvinists tend to concentrate only on the soteriological import of a portion of John 6 but I believe there is more to be seen,” I truly doubt, in light of my current studies, that I would have said a word. But Paul Owen has a long, long track record of saying, “I’m a Calvinist” followed by “and here is why all other Calvinists other than me are completely wrong in their exegesis.”
You recently posted an entry about how you feel badly you were drawn into debate on your blog, how you’ve removed polemic materials, etc. But that same article in essence identifies anyone who would stand against Roman falsehood as a schismatic. It is hard to avoid the impression that these words were meant to refer to me:
Why are we entertaining the battles of men who have already declared the Church to be nothing other than “the will of the people?” Why do we see the need to refute the ex cathedra declarations of self appointed pontiffs? What good can possibly come of quarrelling with those who have already unbaptized us, along with the majority of Christendom? Surely such men are to be admonished to repent, not entertained. We should be reminding such men of the seriousness of the words of the Apostle, “If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him.” We should not be slinging mud inside the Temple at those who are doing everything they can to place themselves on the outside.
If they are not aimed at me, who are they aimed at? If they are, where have I ever declared the Church to be nothing other than “the will of the people”? Opponents of mine like St. Worm call me the Pope of Phoenix (which serious minded folks can only find humorous), so again, context would lead your readers to identify “self appointed pontiffs” with yours truly once again. And as to “unbaptizing” someone, have I not been consistent in my stance here, even in public debate with Douglas Wilson? How many others do you know who have been willing to engage in that level of dialogue and study?
I have a friend going to Gordon Conwell, and I have often chided him with warnings, light-heartedly, though, with some level of seriousness, about attending the school that produced Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Gerry Matatics, Steve Wood, Marcus Grodi, Bill Bales, and Robert Price. I do have to wonder. Did your opinions of me change before, or after, beginning your time at GC?
In any case, I am thankful for your letter. I continue to respond to the claims of men like Paul Owen because I see him as a false teacher, a man intent upon doing great and grave damage to the cause of Christ in apologetics. He has much to answer for already in the field of Mormon evangelism, and he seems intent upon continuing his campaign, though, of course, his movement farther and farther away from evangelicalism is diminishing the “volume” of his voice therein. But I continue to respond to these issues because I am convinced that doing God-honoring apologetics in a culture that hates God and hates truth is ever more the duty of every Christian. It cannot be separated from evangelism, it is a necessary element of evangelism in an anti-Christian culture. And given the rise of the threat of Islam in our generation, I have been again convinced of the importance of these topics. In reading and listening to the pre-existing apologetic materials relating to Islam I am struck by the very same inconsistency that exists in apologetically minded Arminians: their theology cuts the ground out from under a solid apologetic, so that they are left arguing “greater probabilities” rather than making a bold and firm defense of the certainty that Jesus is Lord, He is risen, and God commands all men everywhere to repent. I will be honest with you: I don’t see the folks from your side out on the front lines next to me. I see them sniping at us from behind. These men could not hold their own against Islam, for example, because they have no firm foundation left upon which to stand. That speaks volumes to me.
Thank you again for your letter. I hope my response has clarified for you, and others, some elements of why I feel these issues must be addressed.