Many believers wonder why it is that they can read their Bibles and see the clear teaching of Scripture, only to go to the voluminous writings of many in academia and find there a muddle of confusion and conflict. Of course, one can find those eagle-eyed men of God who combine a living faith with their academic study and in their works one can still find the certainty of truth of which Luke spoke (Luke 1:1-4), but their clarion voices are a rarity today, not the norm. The academy produces few Spurgeons today mainly because it most often approaches God’s Word as if that Word is merely a collection of human opinions, human writings, that are inconsistent with one another and hence cannot speak with authority and power.
On the other end of the spectrum you have those who enshrine their tradition as if it is, in fact, the Word of God, and cannot interact with the text on any level, cannot allow for meaningful and serious exegesis, etc., like Dave Hunt, and the many who have swallowed his anti-Calvinism hook, line, and sinker. Both extremes are unworthy of the truth of Scripture.
A few days ago I noted Steve Hays’ comments on Paul Owen’s “I’m a Calvinist but I will now attack the heart and soul of Reformed faith by providing eisegetical readings of Scripture passages that, though I know Calvin did not read them this way, I do, and think Calvin should have as well” blog entries. I likewise took half of the last Dividing Line to compare and contrast Calvin’s comments on John 6 with Owen’s anti-Calvinistic reading. It is instructive to examine how a man who clearly views himself as a leading scholar, a man of great self-professed intellect and training, deals with the refutations that have been offered of his errors. And to that I now turn.
In two previous posts, I have argued (against Calvinâ€™s exegesis, though not his theological system) that John 6:37 and 10:26-28 make better sense as covenantal statements than statements about the elect (in the sense of those secretly predestined to glory).
One would think that Calvin would have seen these texts with the clarity Owen possesses if, in fact, Owen has properly understood Calvin’s “system,” which a number of Presbyterians have affirmed Owen does not.
I have seen some Baptist responses on the web, and they are sadly lacking in any kind of depth or substance.
Please note that for Owen, if you disagree with him in this area, you are a Baptist (and that’s not a compliment, I assure you), even if you are, unlike him, a credentialed Presbyterian minister or a member of a Presbyterian church. Owen defines by scholarly fiat.
In particular, I am struck by the fact that Baptists of their ilk seem utterly incapable of thinking in biblical terms with respect to promises given to the people of God.
Or, we reject the idea that God’s promises to His people are conditional upon their actions; we likewise reject the eisegetical readings of Hebrews 8 and the like. Note that the response I offered on the Dividing Line is not even referenced let alone refuted.
They cannot distinguish between being the recipient of a promise, and actually receiving the true benefit(s) of the promise.
Or, they reject the idea that this is the nature of God’s promises to His people in Christ Jesus and find the over-riding insistence to see them as such as another evidence of tradition over-riding the text.
They have no meaningful category for understanding apostasy as the rejection of blessings actually possessed, and so must always think of apostasy in terms of revealing that one never did possess the blessings of the promise, because the promise was not directed at them to begin with.
I am reminded of those who say compatibilism does not provide a “meaningful” way of understanding the will. Let’s see if we follow this: for apostasy to be understood “meaningfully” the New Covenant must not be perfect in its promises and fulfillment in Christ. Apostates must truly be “in Christ,” must truly be the objects of God’s salvific work, to be “meaningfully” apostates. For apostasy to be real in a “meaningful” way then the apostate must have possessed the promises of God in Christ personally. How is this more “meaningful” than simply stating it the way John did?
They went out from us, but they were not [really] of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but [they went out], so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)
It seems from Owen’s viewpoint John himself was in error. They were really of us, or so he seems to be insisting! But no, they were not of us. We possess the promises of God in a fashion they do not. God has taken out our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. Such is not the case with the apostate. They are not regenerated. They are not united with Christ. They are not adopted. That is why they leave. It seems for Owen, having “meaningful apostasy” outweighs, as we saw in his mistreatment of John 6:38-39, having a perfect Savior. That is why Paul Owen is not a Calvinist, no matter how loudly he proclaims himself one. Calvin commented on 6:38, “He now testifies, that this is the design of the Father, that believers may find salvation secured in Christ; from which again it follows, that all who do not profit by the doctrine of the Gospel are reprobate.” To be more Calvinistic than Calvin’s own reading of the text belies Owen’s true intentions and beliefs.
This of course requires Baptist preachers and Baptist seminarians (who seem to be the masters of sound bites) to do exegetical gymnastics with Holy Writ, because they cannot accept Godâ€™s word at face value.
Calvin and the broad stream of Reformed exegetes since the Reformation, have read these texts consistently. Along comes young Paul Owen to put us back on the right path by identifying them all as “Baptists.” Who is taking the text at its face value, however? Surely it is not Owen! Owen is the one insisting upon a framework and context that would have left the listener in the synagogue of Capernaum in John 6 utterly lost as to what Christ was saying. It is Owen who is man-handling the text, picking phrases and ignoring the flow.
They do not understand that both under the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant, the community to whom Godâ€™s promises are sealed (originally in circumcision, now in baptism) is not identical to the number of the elect.
Or, they reject this assumption and demonstrate its error on the basis of the text itself, showing that the New Covenant differs from the old in the exact point here being used by Owen to attempt to overthrow the security of the promises of God in Christ (something Calvin did not do). We agree that baptism does not constitute a community that is identical with the number of the elect: that is why we do not believe baptism creates the New Covenant community. Disagree if you will, but Reformed Baptists are perfectly consistent here: the New Covenant is created by the salvific design of God, for it is, after all not only a better covenant with better promises and a better Mediator, but it is the covenant in the blood of Christ, and we know for whom, and why, Christ shed His blood.
But do not miss the reality of what Owen is saying here: his theological position on the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the “covenant signs” he connects thereto determines, without question, his theologically-driven reading of these key soteriological passages resulting in a reading that completely removes the central promises of God’s perfect work of salvation in Christ. Another excellent example of allowing external factors (in this case, a theological system) to over-ride the immediate exegesis of the text.