Posted in Uncategorized

Preaching Christ Crucified Means Preaching Him in All Areas of Life

What does it mean to preach Christ crucified? The apostle Paul tells his Corinthian audience he was determined to do nothing else (1Cor 2.2). As pastor and agitator of the masses Doug Wilson points out, Paul wasn’t talking about a truncated gospel of fundamentalist proportions. To preach the gospel requires more than a 3×5 index card, it requires the sweat and tears of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20.18-27).

Why? Well I’ll let ole Dougy explain that one. And as he does in your reading don’t hesitate to thank the Lord for giving us wisdom through sages such as these. Godly men unashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God (Rom 1.16).

The unbelieving world sins in everything it touches, and so the unbelieving world needs a Savior who can save and sanctify everything they touch. This would include banking, and war, and marketing, and sex, and child rearing, and recycling, and traffic control, and anything else that men might do. We have even figured out how to rebel against Heaven in how we use pronouns. That shows a certain measure of diligence.

—Doug Wilson , Getting Evangelicals Saved

Click the title. Read the article. God Bless!!

Posted in Abortion, Uncategorized

History of the Pro-Life Movement: We’ve been Victorious Before

The following conversation really took place. The time and the exact location are not given. What is known is that it occurred on a local news network in front of a live studio audience. With the cameras rolling and the host at his station we are privileged to get a brief glimpse into history that has been forgotten. Something we will learn (if we didn’t already know) is far too common amongst those who claim to know so much. Let’s listen in…

Then Director of Planned Parenthood offers the following accusation:

“What I don’t understand about you pro-lifers is where you’ve been all these years…Women have been suffering for centuries. The pro-life movement didn’t even exist until 1973. You’re just a bunch of extremists, opportunists, and Johnny-come-latelies.”

George Grant smiling gives the following rebuttal:

“Ah, but once again, there is where you are very wrong: The pro-life movement is not a recent phenomenon or innovation…It is two thousand years old. You see, the pro-life movement was inaugurated on a rugged old cross, on a hill called Calvary—it is best known as Christianity. Caring for the helpless, the deprived, and the unwanted is not simply what we do. It is what we are. Always has been. Always will be.”[1]

Our Current Dilemma

We live in a generation that has forgotten her past. Some of the blame we might be tempted to lay at the feet of our teachers, at those revisionists of the past. But the fault really ought to be laid at our feet. It is our responsibility to search into such things. To know…before we speak.

“There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after” (Eccl 1.11).[2]

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…hav[ing] forgotten the law of your God…” (Hos 4.6).

A short word on the above passages…

  • Eccl 1.11—The passage taken from the first chapter of Ecclesiastes would appear, I would imagine to most people, to be a no brainer. The writer (who I believe to be Solomon) is saying that people are quick to forget their past. History doesn’t repeat itself because it is cyclical, but because people are ignorant and repeat the same mistakes from the past not having learned from them. How in the world can you learn from the past, if you don’t know it? The problem that Ecclesiastes addresses is the vanity of mankind, which is rooted in sin.

Have you ever tried to catch the wind with your hand and hold it? That is a close equivalent to the vanity that the writer is referring to. The source of this vanity is the unwillingness on man’s part (male and female) to recognize their Creator and live for Him. And so, they chase after this and that to find fulfillment and unabating pleasure.  But nothing in this life ever satisfies but the Lord God who fashioned us for His purpose and pleasure. Being the rebel that we are, we ignore the lessons from the past, and continue in the folly of those who came before us.

  • Hosea 4:6—The passage from Hosea addresses a similar problem. The context—historically speaking—was during the time of “Hosea, son of Beeri” who ministered during the time “of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel” (Hos 1.1). The prophets of the Lord were kind of like His prosecuting attorney’s. They were the ones that God tasked with bringing charges of a sinful (sometimes criminal) nature having broken the edicts of the covenant between them and God.

The charge in Hosea 4 is rather simple. Verse 6 highlights the problem and its effects. God says, His people die or are destroyed for not remembering His law. Of course, those in leadership bear the greater brunt of the responsibility. Those who teach or are called to teach others are held to a higher standard. If they fail to call to remembrance what God has done in the past, what He has instructed His people to do, they will be severely punished. But this does not remove the blame from those under them.

To put it a little more plainly, teachers are accountable for not teaching. But this does not remove responsibility from the people. Both teachers and students are covenanted to God. if the teachers don’t teach God’s Law (Torah/instruction), then the people who are covenanted to God should do everything in their power to learn their past. They will be judged for not knowing God too—who He is, what He has done, and their heritage in Him.  Which is why we see them dying. They are dying for their own sin.

What does this have to do with the Pro-Life movement?

One of the things that Grant noticed as he traveled around the world advocating for the lives of unborn babies is that “People who had been valiant in the battle for life were generally unaware of the fact that the battle had been fought and won—several times—by Christian pro-life stalwarts generations, and even centuries ago.”[3] This coming from a person who has been on the front lines, so to speak, since the beginning of the Pro-Life movement after Roe v. Wade. Referring to the wisdom of “English author and lecturer, John H. Y. Briggs…” Grant points out that “historical awareness is essential for the health and well-being of any society; it enables us to know who we are, why we are here, and what we should do.”[4]

At the close of his introduction, Grant tells the reader from where he drew his knowledge on this issue. Starting with the Patristic period (era of the Church Fathers), through the fall of Rome, the time of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the Missionary movement of the 18th-19th centuries, to the time of the first World War (1914), till the present, Grant sought to meticulously draw from the well-spring of history on the Pro-Life movement. His treatment is by no means exhaustive (whose is?), but he does provide an ample bibliography for those keen to further build their knowledge through research.[5]

**I am well aware of the fact that this is a blog post. And so, timing is of the essence. Therefore, I have no intention of dealing with all the different periods mentioned above. If you want to know how the Pro-Life movement has been fought and won at various times and on various fronts, then get the book. At the end of this post I will give you a few other recommendations besides this one. They are all free on PDF (Available Here), or if you are like my wife preferring a physical book to an electronic version, then you may buy a hand held copy. I get nothing out of this. I don’t know Mr. Grant, but I do appreciate his work for the Kingdom of Christ. And having tasted his works on my own, I offer you a delectable portion of some much-needed food for thought.

We shall now turn our attention to a time in American history when the Pro-Life movement fought the battle for unborn babies and won. No, I didn’t type that wrong. Our history in the United States tells of a time when abortion was outlawed. When Pro-Lifers united across the country and for a few seasons legalized baby-killing was criminalized. Where the battle was started, fought and won, might surprise you. Let’s go ahead and look into our past…

Where it All Started…

“Like an avowed atheist who sees the devil at night, America awoke in a jolt to the horror of abortion…concern over the scandal of child-killing became…a moral crusade. It became a movement; an outcry against the insidious exploitation of women and children swept the nation,”[6] writes Grant.

The spark that fanned the flame that enveloped the nation was started in the New York Times. That is not a typo. I know, I know, unbelievable right?!? The New York Times is where the Pro-Life movement began in the United States of American in the 19th century. For the kids of today that are confused by century references that means the 1800’s. Specifically, 1871. That is the date that ought to be remembered in history, but time has eroded all knowledge of it. And boy, oh boy! are the Pro-Choicer’s of today glad!

Augustus St. Clair…

An investigative reporter for the New York Times named Augustus St. Clair “on July 1871…was given an extremely dangerous undercover investigative assignment…he was to infiltrate and ultimately expose the city’s prosperous and profligate medical malpractice industry—the common euphemism for the abortion trade.”[7]

Grant retells how Mr. St. Clair “and a ‘lady friend’ visited a number of the most heavily trafficked clinics in New York, posing as a couple facing a crisis pregnancy. [And] they were shocked with what they saw.”[8]  Bear in mind what shocked them was not that they were dark and dingy rat-holes. Dirty, rusted metal coat hangers were not drying on the line dripping bloody remnants of the last back alley “surgeries.” Actually, quite the opposite.

What shocked Mr. St. Clair and his friend was the high-end elegance that these facilities garnered. Not only that, it was also what Grant describes as

“the smug complacency of the poisonous proprietors—men and women who had made quite an opulent living out of dying—contrasted so sharply with the dispiritedness of their patients. It was that the frank and forthright commerce of the death merchants—advertised openly in all the magazines, newspapers, digests of the day—contrasted so sharply with the secretive shame of their customers. It was that the dens of iniquity were simultaneously dens of inequity.”[9]

Snowball that started an Avalanche…

To say that Augustus St. Clair’s indignation had been stirred by what he saw would be somewhat of an understatement. In August of that same year, just one month after getting the assignment, he “wrote a hard-hitting three-column article which the Times published…entitled ‘The Evil of the Age….”[10] In the opening of this article, published in the New York Times mind you, was a polished, yet scathing reality check for the readers. St. Clair put a spot light on what he called “the murder…of thousands of human beings…” not to mention the “thousands upon thousands more of adults [being] irremediably robbed in constitution, health, and happiness.”[11]

Personally, I find the honest tenacity of St. Clair’s position refreshing and enlightening. We are often told today that the best way to address abortion is by making it about science or philosophy or proper education, but St. Clair put a spotlight on it by calling it what it is…MURDER!  He didn’t hem and haw around the subject like so many Pro-Lifer’s do today. He wasn’t ashamed he was outraged by the barbarism of it; especially, the way those of the movement try to put a false veneer of beauty on it. He ripped the lying shroud right off of the Pro-Choice movement. And the result, while it may seem surprising to our modern ears, is nonetheless exciting.

Once St. Clair started his snowball roll at the top of “Press Hill” others joined the fray and it grew and grew and grew. Eventually,

“…a number of courageous journalists, following St. Clair’s lead in the Times, began to expose the awful practices of heretofore respectable and upstanding physicians, who traded on the misfortunes of others. Before long, the dam of self-interest broke and a flood of articles began to appear in several other New York papers—the Tribune, the Herald, and the Police Gazette. Soon, all around the country, the same newspapers, magazines, and digests that had previously accepted advertising from abortionists began to throw the searchlight of truth on their detestable deeds of darkness….”[12]

Even the Medical Community Jumped on Board…

Grant points out that

“the Journal of the American Medical Association, published a scathing critique of abortion’s death ethic noting that from the moment of conception: The unborn child is human, and at all periods differs in degree and not in kind from the infant and the adult. Therefore, we must regard it as a human being with an inalienable right to life, and that its destruction is homicide.”[13]

The Politicians Finally answer the Call…

Yes, if there is one way to get a politician on your side, it is to make your voice heard. There is a reason that a kid screaming will often kid their way. But this issue is about saving the babies, so that they can scream!

Grant explains, “Even reticent politicians and barristers began to take notice and take action. Tougher restrictive legislation, more efficient local enforcement, and strict sentencing guidelines were put into place all around the country, and the prosperous physical-killers were driven to desperate resources. Eventually every state in the Union passed laws making their morbid arts illegal. Many went so far as to affirm that the abortion of ‘any woman pregnant with child is an assault with intent to murder.’”[14]

The Chief Instigators of the Movement…

Without reading the book and looking into the history of the movement I can see where the reader might assume that it was the journalists, politicians, and some courageous members of the medical community that led to the national illegalization of abortion. That would be incorrect. Earlier I had stated that St. Clair is the one who started the snowball’s descent down “Press Hill” that sparked national concern. This is true, but before St. Clair formed the snowball someone else had caused it to snow. Or, to switch metaphors, someone else had dug away earth and laid the right foundation for St. Clair to build upon. The fact of the matter is that “it was the church that led the pro-life movement toward a consummate victory.”[15]

How so? The same way the road to victory is always paved over sin, hell and the grave by preaching and teaching the Holy Word of God. Immediately, when the dust had settled after the Civil War ministers and churches of all stripes began preaching, teaching and writing against this atrocity that had festered into the soul of American soil.[16] We shouldn’t be surprised that abortion found a foothold in this nation. For far too long we had festered another form of hate on fellow man—chattel slavery.

Assuming that the evil was vanquished, the light of the gospel was shown on another area. What may be surprising to the youth of our nation (I know of many adults who do not realize it), is that the principles, laws, and convictions that originally settled in the footer of which would become this great precipice the United States of America was the conviction that the God of the Bible is Creator and that His law is the final governing Word on right versus wrong. Life is precious because God gave/gives it. And only the Giver has the sovereign right to take it.

With such reminders,

“In less than two decades, the church was able to marshal hostile journalists, ambivalent physicians, reticent politicians, and even radical feminists to the cause of exploited mothers and their helpless unborn. They succeeded overwhelmingly. And they restored the foundations of a glorious legacy of freedom and justice that had always been at the heart of the remarkable American experiment.”[17]

Closing Remarks…

For those interested I offer a brief appendix and the promised link and references to the book cited above, as well as a couple others. I hope you enjoyed this brief history of the Pro-Life movement here in the United States. The victory has been won before. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. But we must be resolute in defining what the practice of abortion truly is (MURDER). Understand the root that drives it (Sin of Pride). And then, give the only remedy that will heal the wounds that have scarred our land (the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Appendix

Who is George Grant?

I have no intention of giving a bio of the man, that is something you may research for yourself. I will however, tell you what he has done (and still continues to do). He has written many books for the Pro-Life movement. In particular, he has written some works specifically geared toward pulling back the shroud that enshrines Planned Parenthood and their notorious founder Margret Sanger.

Sanger was about as hateful a woman as you could get. She was a eugenicist that believed, very similar to the Nazi party, that the best way to make sure life went forward properly in the best possible way was to control the breeding of the human population. She was akin to the modern-day fanatics that believe the earth is going to die within a generation or so if we don’t get a hold of an exploding human population. She was also a notorious racist, hater of the lower class in society, and those of religious faith. In particular, she was an ardent opponent of Christianity, and her lifestyle promoted everything that was contrary to biblical teaching. Though she is well known for promoting contraception, what she really favored was the killing of the offspring in the womb using any means necessary. The popular Plan-B pill or morning after pill, as it is sometimes called was one of her chief desires to create.

Here are a couple more works written by George Grant. The first is a biographical analysis of the famed feminist Margret Sanger who I lovingly spoke of above. The second was written on the legacy she left in her wake—Planned Parenthood. The third title is the one that I have used for this post.

    • Grant, George. Killer Angel: A Biography of Planned Parenthood’s Founder Margaret Sanger. Franklin, TN: Ars Vitae Press & The Reformed Library. 1995.
    • __________. Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood. 2nd Edition. Franklin, TN: Adroit Press. 1992.
    • __________. Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers. 1991.

I would highly recommend that you read all three ( Again, Available Here)if you are at all interested in learning the history of the Pro-Life movement from a purely Christian perspective. Which I believe is the only consistent and effective way to address the murder of babies in the womb; as, it is gospel-centered and unabashedly unashamed of identifying sin and the only remedy found in the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord.


ENDNOTES:

[1] George Grant, Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1991), 1-2.  Italics in original.

[2] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[3] Ibid, 2-3.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 4.

[6] Ibid., 95.

[7] Ibid., 91. Italics in original.

[8] Ibid., 91.

[9] Ibid., 92.

[10] Ibid., 92.

[11] Ibid., 92. Quoted in Marvin Olasky, the Press and Abortion, 1838-1988 (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1988), 26.

[12] Ibid., 95. Italics in original.

[13] Ibid., 96. Quoted in James Macaulay, Current Heroes: Examples of Faith for our Time (New York: American Tract Society, 1879), 42. Italics in original.

[14] Ibid., 96.

[15] Ibid., 97.

[16] Cf. pp. 97-100.

[17] Ibid., 100.

Posted in Abortion

Debating Abortion: Why it’s Done and What’s the Appropriate Response?

Why is there a debate on abortion? Have you ever sat back and really chewed on the reasons behind the debate? I was born in the late 70’s, and so as long as I can remember (at least when I started to care about such things) the debate on this issue has been the norm.

Some will say that the issue is about “women’s rights,” or “reproductive rights.” Some will claim that it is a scientific question of when life begins. Others will attempt to identify the debate on philosophical grounds, specifically in terms of person-hood. But do any of those really get to the heart of the matter? Is there a heart in the matter?

What I find at the same time amusing and disturbing is the reluctance for a great number of people on either side of the debate (Pro-choice; Pro-life) to see it as a religious issue. The general attitude seems to be “that must be avoided at all costs!” There will be those of the unbelieving sect that will sneer at the very audacity of daring to bring religion into the debate. Similarly, those of the believing sect will either tsk, tsk, tsk at the notion, or they will cower in fear of appearing too confrontational to others.

A couple of things might be said to both sides on this particular point…

First, a debate by definition is an argument of opposing sides. The argument is by its nature confrontational. To debate the position of another is to attack that position you are arguing against. In the same breath, you are also defending the position that you hold in a debate against the one who is attacking your position by arguing against it. DEBATES are CONFRONTATIONAL. And so, I wonder what is the root cause of the professed believers in shying away from dealing with the religious nature of the debate?

Secondly, religion by definition is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”[1] Therefore, there is no question that the debate over abortion is religious in nature. All people are religious, although they may differ in the object of their faith-commitment. If you happen to be one that prefers to leave religion out of the discussion, you may not like to hear that, but truth that is psychologically disturbing to the recipient is nonetheless truth.

Why the Debate?

Back to the original question I proposed at the beginning of this post: Why is there a debate on abortion? What is at stake? What is the heart of the issue? The answer is PRIDE.

Prides says, “To everybody else go and die, I am going to do it my way!” Pride is by nature autonomous. Pride recognizes no other authority but self. Pride is the blessed root of selfishness. Pride cares little for the affairs of others, but only that which is precious to itself.

Again, I find it amusing and disturbing that pride is the reason not only for abortion, but the reluctance to see the debate as religiously oriented. Pride is also the reason why so many go to such great lengths at avoiding the debate. As if a strong confrontation of ideas is wrong?

Christian Commitment…

I should add at this point that the Christian is commanded by Christ to be Christlike. Which means “gentle as doves and wise as serpents.” Which looks like speaking the truth in love, but with love of God as the ultimate commitment that cannot be subverted in the slightest. Which means being gentle and firm at the same time; patient and insistent; kind but unabashedly bold for the truth.

The Underlying Issue…

Now I will grant that the reason the one side (Pro-choice) wants it to remain outside the purview of a confrontation is because they do not want to hear opposition. They don’t want to be told they are wrong. They don’t want to be told that there are consequences for choosing to “off” their offspring. They don’t want it to be an issue of right or wrong, because “choice” sounds so much more intelligent and sophisticated. Most of all they don’t want to be told that what they are really doing is sinning. Sinning against the child in the womb, against the father who is also responsible for the child, against the society that feels the effects of their “choice,” but most of all they don’t want to be told they are sinning against a Holy God in heaven that will hold them accountable for their “choice.”

At root, pride is found nestled, deeply embedded in the hearts/minds of those on that side of the fence. Sadly, they are not the only ones. For in an effort to “keep-face” with the world; To not come off as a bigot before the multitudes; To not be hated by those who they may encounter on a daily basis, or break bread with during those special times of the year, Pro-lifer’s will avoid bringing religion—specifically, the Christian faith—into the discussion.

Speaking specifically to those who bear the cross of Christ

For the Christian to effectively address the issue of abortion they must understand that it is a gospel issue. How so?

First and foremost, in recognizing that abortion is not about “women’s rights,” or “reproductive rights,” or about “scientific evidences,” or “philosophical meanderings.” Abortion is about fallen human beings that in an effort to preserve their way of life and guard the convictions of their own hearts, sacrifice their children on the altar of convenience.  One glaring example of this that comes to mind is that of actress Michelle Williams who thanked her ability to kill a child to promote her career. (Read Here).

Secondly, by defining abortion for what it truly is…MURDER! When we properly define it for what it is, then we are able to rightly identify the class it fits within…SIN! Again, I am often amazed at the way people refuse to define terms. Abortion is the murder of an unborn, but living, child. To call it a fetus does not change this fact, for from the Latin fetus means young one, babe or offspring.

Third and finally, admitting that there is only one solution to sin—the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person who takes the life of their own offspring is in bondage to sin. Who can set them free from that sin? Who can lift them from the muck and mire, pulling out their prideful roots that have embedded their hearts/minds, if not Christ? There is no one else. Christ alone atones for sin. Christ alone gives victory over sin. The work of Christ alone breaks up hardened hearts, giving them a heart of flesh.

Brief Worldview Analysis…

The fact is, if you are trying to change a person’s position which would need to go against their base convictions of reality, you cannot do it. Facts and evidences will not change a person’s heart. That person will stick to their guns. They will hold tight to their presupposition, for to give up that one many others would have to follow.

Which is why you will hear various “buts” to escape the obvious, logical conclusion that the thing growing inside of a woman during her pregnancy is not a thing at all. It is a human being, a person, a little babe that is young and small, but growing onward toward maturity. The issue scientifically is not that its just a lump of cells, a mutation, an alien, or an intruder, but the offspring of a union between a man and a woman.

The issue is not intellectual, scientific, or philosophical but the condition of the human heart. Of course, all of those things have a bearing in the discussion, but a person’s intellect, interpretation of scientific facts, and the philosophical conclusions they draw are driven by the object that holds their faith (i.e., faith-commitment).

A couple possible objections…

“Yes, but if I’m offensive to the person(s) I am speaking to they will shut their ears. They will refuse to listen, and I will lose my opportunity to present the gospel.”

  • If you know anything about the Lord Jesus, you will see that he never subverted from the truth in order to be inoffensive. In fact, a consistent reading of the gospels will show that Jesus was at times very offensive, and He never apologized for it. Better to smack the person that needs smacked in order to wake them up, then to butter them with kisses and let them die. He told the truth graciously, which meant the things I said above, and when people left Him because they were offended, He let them. And, when they got angry at his message, he told them that they would die in their sins (verbally shaking the dust off his sandals, if you get the reference).

“Yes, but the Christian should be more about saving lost souls and preaching the gospel, not getting into debates over cultural mores and/or societal and political habits.”

  • The Great Commission (see Matt 28.18-20) says two things that every Christian should know. First, that we are to preach the gospel of God, who is defined by the Lord as (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), baptizing all people in His Name. Second, that we are to teach all nations (i.e., all peoples) “to obey all that He has commanded.” What do you suppose were the commandments to which He was referring?
  • If you think that New Testament Christian’s Scripture was the New Testament, then you are grossly mistaken. Their Scripture was what we call the Old Testament (Tanakh and/or Torah). The commandments to which Christ referred were His holy law that He gave to Moses long ago. The gospel is about saving people from their sin, but sin is that which we think, speak and do. Therefore, saving people from sin also speaks of justice and righteousness and holiness. Which are the means by which we are instructed to love God and love our neighbor.
  • Thus, the Christian is called to address the societal/political habits of the people by calling them what they are when they stray from God’s holy instruction (sinful behaviors); thereby, pointing them to repentance and a change of heart regarding them. Which in turn does what? Changes the society/political habits of the people because the surrounding culture (i.e., cultus) has had a change of heart.

Forthcoming…

For those unfamiliar with the historic anti-abortion movement, next week I will give you (the reader) some background information and a book recommendation that I believe you will find helpful. If you’d like to hook up with an excellent Christian ministry that is on the front lines of this fight for the lives of unborn babies, then I graciously turn you to End Abortion Now’s website

Have a blessed weekend.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster), 1052, “religion,” s.v., def. 4.

Posted in Beliefs

Parables: Truth Hidden in the Open, Part III

 “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matt 13.11-13).[1]

What do you see when you read this text? What do you hear in your heart (i.e., your mind’s eye)? Look at the words. Observe. If you don’t take time to observe what is written, then you will struggle coming to the right conclusion.

A Brief look at Matt 13:11-13…

Jesus’ intent seems pretty clear here. “To you it has been given to knowbut to them it has not been givenThis is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

Jesus has made the purposeful decision to reveal the truth to those of His choosing, but to withhold that same knowledge of the truth from others. He speaks openly, but it is veiled unless further aide is given by God.

Considering the Alternative

Let’s suppose for a moment that Jesus taught in parables to make the truth more accessible to those in Israel. Let’s ignore for the time being what Jesus said was His reason for speaking this way, and for the sake of argument assume that He spoke plainly to the people because He wanted all people to embrace the gospel of the kingdom.  What then?

The Problem with those in the Know…

One of the issues that we encounter in the gospels is that those who were in the know—the leaders of Israel—had a difficult time ascertaining the meaning of Jesus’ message. I bring these individuals up first because if anyone should “know” what Jesus was saying—what He was teaching from Scripture—it was them. I mean, they studied God’s Word vocationally. They were the esteemed teachers in Israel. Surely, they’d be able to make sense of Jesus’ preaching/teaching. However, as you will see, something they liked to bother him about, was speaking more plainly.

 Here are two examples:

  • At the feast of dedication— “So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10.24; see also v. 6).
  • At His mock trial— “If you are the Christ, tell us…Are you the Son of God, then?” (Luke 22.67a, 70).

But when Jesus spoke plainly what was the response? Depends on His audience, right? To the types mentioned above it was unbelief. Not only did they not believe Him when He told them, but their response was one of outrage.

  • Responding to those at the feast, he said, “I told you, and you do not believe…I and the Father are one. The Jews picked up stones again to stone him” (John 10.25, 30-31).
  • Responding to his accusers at the pseudo-trial, he said, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer” (Luke 22.67b-68).

The Problem is not unique…

What’s interesting is that even when Jesus spoke plainly to His own, there were times when they did not comprehend his meaning. After Peter rightly identifies Jesus’ as “…the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16.16), the Lord begins telling His disciples what is necessary for Him to endure: “…that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt 16.21). Immediately, Peter begins to rebuke Jesus. He says to him, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matt 16.22). Of course, from this we get the popularly known retort of Christ: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man!” (Matt 16.23).

What we find, and perhaps it was because of how harshly Jesus told Peter to shut up, is that when the Lord broached this subject again, the disciples were confused by it but would only discuss it amongst themselves (e.g. Mark 9.32; Luke 18.31-34)

Which means what? No not the retort, but the source of the confusion on Peter’s (and the disciples) part. Simply this, in order to understand the truth of God, you need God to reveal it to you.

Natural hindrances aside…

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not denying our natural incapacity to see things as they truly are. We all have blinders of various forms (e.g., traditions, theological convictions, emotional biases, etc.) that we will struggle with from time-to-time (or at least ought to). However, the point that I am making, and I think it is clear from biblical testimony that I am correct, is that without God opening our eyes to the truth we will fail to see.

Evidence on the way to Emmaus…

There seems to be no better instance of this fact than Jesus’ encounters with His disciple’s post-resurrection. Specifically, I am reminded of the road to Emmaus. Here we are told of two of Jesus’ disciples (perhaps husband and wife as some suggest?) that, in the words of the Lord, were “…slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24.25).  In spite of the fact that all of them had been instructed in the Word of God throughout their lives, and under the special tutelage of Christ Jesus Himself, it was not until the Lord began to “open the Scriptures” to them that they began to see the truth (Luke 24.32).

As I said, God must open our eyes before we can see. Likewise, God must open our ears before we can hear (cf. Deut 29.4). Exactly what we find in Jesus’ statement to His disciples in private as He prepared to explain to them the meaning of His parable(s):

“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…” For “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, [yet] to them it has not been given” (Matt 13.13, 11 respectively).

Answering a Common Objection

But to argue that God must first reveal the truth to us, before we understand sounds wrong to the average person. It strikes against our sensibilities. It seems to go against common sense. Surely, if Christ taught the truth, then the people were capable of responding to it. “Why, would the all-loving Jesus keep things veiled to some, but reveal it to others?”

The reasoning goes…

When he says “he who has ears, let him hear” the logical way to take that statement is at face value. Generally, we all have ears, therefore we are all capable of hearing—i.e. comprehending/understanding, as well as, listening and obeying. And so, we find statements like these by the learned:

“…Jesus seems to say that He uses parables to conceal the truth from the people…However, to believe that Jesus deliberately withheld saving truth from people is to attribute malice to Him, and this is not compatible with His character as it is portrayed consistently in the New Testament.”[2]

I’d originally cited this in my first post (HERE). The theologians that wrote these comments are of the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition; denominationally, the Church of the Nazarene. That being said, they do present a popular perspective within Evangelical culture.

Even though Jesus says “this is why I speak in parables” the authors are not convinced. This evidenced by the use of the phrase “seems to say.” Basic grammar mitigates against this slight of hand.

A little grammatical aide…

“This is…” provides the reason why Jesus “speak(s) in parables.” It offers the reason, the state of being—i.e., the grounds for why things are the way they are. Similarly, I might say “This is a baseball,” or “This is the reason he can’t run; his leg is broken.” I am telling you the what and the why.

  • What is this object?” Answer: A baseball.
  • Why can’t he run? Answer: his leg is broken.

Jesus is telling his disciples that He gives to whomever He so chooses to give what He gives. It is His to give, not ours to demand.

Both Harvey Blaney and Carl Hanson believe if Jesus “deliberately withheld saving truth from the people” He’d be acting maliciously. Though common enough, it is a bold claim. Granted from their point of view to make distinctions between who shall and who shall not have the truth is out of character for Jesus. While I empathize with this position (it is one that I formerly held), our answer must be derived from Scripture and not an emotive or psychologically disturbed response.

Feelings are not the standard…

It does not matter if I view something as unfair, who I am to argue against God? It does not matter if some are given more and I am given less, will not the judge of the earth do what is right? Fear before God is what garners true wisdom and knowledge. Humility before the Lord is required, but who is truly humble before God? Who truly fears Him? Scripture says, “No…not…one…” (Rom 3.10-11), it is truly a miracle of Sovereign grace that any of us look at the Triune Creator God in this light.

Remember that before Jesus sends out his disciples—the twelve and the seventy (Luke 9; 10)—he gives them the condition for how they are to respond to their audiences. Those that receive the gospel message of the kingdom are to be given the healing peace of the Lord, but those who refuse are to be given the dust off their feet. Only those that had “ears to hear” were blessed, but the others were condemned.

Returning to Luke 10[3]

The Lord claims that the “hearers” who received the message with joy, heard as an act of Sovereign grace. Where? When He says,

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10.22).

I’m sure that someone will try to argue that Jesus’ statement here does not mean what it “seems to say.” However, if we would only look back a little earlier in the text, we will see that it does mean what it says. For the ones who reject the gospel and receive the sign of dust to which they shall return (symbolic of the judgment of death/condemnation, of that which the serpent and his offspring eat), Jesus says the following:

“I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day [Day of Judgment] for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. ‘The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me’” (Luke 10.12-16).

We are told at least two things in this declaration by the Lord for those who rejected the gospel as presented by His disciples:

  • First, and this is the one most readily recognized, is that our sin is defined in degrees. The more light we have been given of the truth, the more we will be held accountable for. Sodom, Tyre and Sidon did not have the same witness of God as Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, therefore, their judgment (punishment) will be lighter than those who entertained the Son of God and His representatives in their midst.
  • Second, and this is the one glazed over either purposely or due to a blind-spot, is that those cities of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon would have repented if they’d been given the same amount of light, but they weren’t. Why weren’t they? If it is out of character for Jesus as the Son of God to withhold information necessary for salvation, then why didn’t God in the past reveal the truth to those cities who “would have repented long ago…in sackcloth and ashes?” Well…how do you go about answering that question? Do you turn the words of the Lord, or do you turn to your own rational reasoning?

Jesus has already given the reason in Luke 10:21, just as he did for speaking in parables in the Matthew 13 passage cited at the beginning of this post. It was (it is) God’s “gracious will” to hide these things from some and give it to others.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to throw them my way. This is the end of my discussion on this particular matter, but for those interested I offer a little extra.

APPENDIX: Psalm 78

A Brief look…

Psalm 78 provides some (not all) of the reasoning behind Jesus speaking in parables (cf. Matt 13.34-35). If you read this particular Psalm in its entirety you will come away with seeing two types of people being discussed. Those who “hear” the Word of God and those who refuse to “listen.” The obedient have been taught these things from their youth (v. 3) and have made a commitment to teach them to their children (v. 4), in honor of the commandment (vv. 5-7). This in order to prevent them from following in the footsteps of rebellious ancestors (v. 8).

The rebellious “…did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law” (Psa 78.10). This was due to a willful spirit that “…forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them” (Psa 78.11). The writer of this Psalm, says they “tested” and “spoke against God” (Psa 78.18, 19). A habit the rebellious and hardhearted and stiff-necked continued to do; something that the Lord continually judged them for. As their history attests: “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel” (Psa 78.40-41).

I won’t go through the whole Psalm (read it if you will), but this dividing line that the psalmist highlights between those who had “ears to hear” and those who did not is seen throughout Israel’s whole history. At the foot of Mount Sinai, every turn in the desert, the first generations unwillingness to trust in God to give them the promise land, the years of failed conquest after Joshua’s passing, the period of judges, even the period of kings reveal this truth.

Only the hearers entered God’s rest when others could not (cf. Heb 4.1-11). Only the hearers refused to bow the knee to Baal (cf. 1Kgs 19.18). Only the hearers were willing to embrace what God had spoken as true and trustworthy and worthy of applying to life. They remembered, they revered, they embraced in faith. Thus, the opening of this psalm reveals the distinction of who has “ears to hear”:

“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!” (Psa 78.1; italics added).


ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] Blaney, Harvey J. S. and Carl Hanson, Exploring the New Testament, Ralph Earle, ed. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, [1955], 1961), 101.

[3] Why this text? Why not stick with Matthew’s gospel since I used it as a stepping stone for the content discussed in this post. For starters, I am of the firm conviction that the Bible in its entirety is an exemplar model of continuity. The document flows from beginning to end with the same intent and overarching message of God, mankind, and the Lord’s dealing with us. Secondly, the manner in which “seeing” and “hearing” are used in the Bible is more often than not synonymous. Seeing can be both physical and abstract. The same is true of hearing. More is intended with the use of those words than the mere physical activity that we often attribute to them.

For example, “seeing the kingdom of God” as recorded in John 3 is not merely seeing a visible manifestation of the kingdom (cf. Luke 17.20-21), but being able to comprehend and understand the inner workings of the kingdom; which, according to the apostle Paul is not a mere physical activity such as eating and drinking, but a manifestation of the Spirit’s power (cf. Rom 14.17). In what way? In obedience to the King of glory. A desire that is not common to mankind, but a manifestation of the Spirit’s inner working—His regenerative effort—on that which was once fallen, hardhearted and stiff-necked. The same then can be said of “hearing” which is more than a physical activity, but a volition of the will of man revealed through acts of obedience. Therefore, to respond positively to the gospel through correct “seeing and hearing” is seen in the Luke 10 passage where Christ’s representatives were sent to preach the good news. Those who had “ears to hear” embraced the apostolic message, evidenced via miracles of healing, gifted in peace with their God. Those who did not, as we see in the discussion above, received condemnation.

Posted in John Calvin

Did John Calvin Believe in an “Unlimited Atonement?”

Sometimes in our zeal to prove our case we can over emphasis a point, take things out of context, and make erroneous assumptions. Such is the case with the following statement by Haden Clark: “However, if you have followed my writing, you’ll know that I am not a Calvinist and believe in an unlimited atonement, as even John Calvin did!” (If Jesus died for…, 2nd line; italics mine).

I try to read as often as I can, but no one person can read everything. Yet, as I pondered Clark’s claim, I found myself asking, “Where have I heard something similar before?” So, I began looking through some of the books in my library and low and behold I find the following statements by Norman Geisler in his book entitled Chosen But Free:

“An extreme Calvinist is defined here as someone who is more Calvinistic that John Calvin (1509-1564), the founder of Calvinism. Since it can be argued that John Calvin did not believe in limited atonement (that Christ died only for the elect; see appendix 2), then it would follow that those who do are extreme Calvinists.”[i]

Then in Appendix 2, which you can see Geisler referenced, he said the following:

“At first blush, it may seem absurd to ask whether John Calvin was a Calvinist. But he was not the first in the history of thought to have his views be distorted by his disciples…If Five-Point Calvinism (T-U-L-I-P) …is taken as the definition of ‘Calvinism’ in this question [i.e., Was Calvin a Calvinist?], then it seem clear that Calvin was not a Calvinist, at least on one crucial point: limited atonement.”[ii]

Geisler then lists a number of texts with Calvin’s statements/reflections on them to buttress the position that he has laid out in his book (one of many). Namely, that Calvin didn’t believe in a “Limited Atonement.”

I’m not saying that Mr. Clark got his information from Norman Geisler. More than likely he received this teaching from Dr. David Allen who has written extensively on the subject of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Allen, like Geisler, rejects the concept of a limited atonement. And both men have held the opinion that there is a distinction between Calvinist: “extreme Calvinists,” and “moderate Calvinists.”

What I would like to do is this post is entertain the claim provided by Clark, by those he has evidently learned from. In other words, my aim is to weigh the proposal provided by Clark, rather than interacting with his article cited above. Did Calvin believe in an “Unlimited Atonement?”


**NOTE TO READER: My wife asked that I put this disclaimer in this post. My last few posts have been quite lengthy. I do not expect anyone to read them in one sitting. They have various headings to provide breaks to the busy reader. If you can’t finish in one sitting, that’s fine. Come back and read some more later. If these last few posts aren’t your cup of tea, I understand that as well. Obviously, you are free to read them or not. The material is lengthy on purpose since I’m trying to be fair and thorough with those I’m interacting with. Also, I should add this qualifier as well: “I have no ill intent towards those I am critically examining, but I am attempting to weigh and offer a counterargument to what they have presented.” Like it or not that is part of the learning process. Something that has been unfortunately vilified in our day. Thank you in advance for your readership. I hope something I have written will be to some extent beneficial and enjoyable to you. God bless!”


The Popular Acronym that Causes Spastic Fits: T. U. L. I. P.

Calvinism or Reformed Theology is popularly known by the designation “TULIP.” The marrying of the two terms “Calvinism” and “TULIP” came about as the result of an ecclesiastical court hearing known as the Synod of Dort. This occurred early in the 17th century when students of the late Jacob Arminius (A.K.A. the Remonstrants) formed a protest against certain doctrines of Reformed theology specifically pertaining to the subject of “the salvation of man” (i.e., soteriology).

For now, all you need as the reader is a brief explanation of what the acronym “TULIP” stands for. After which we shall look to see what John Calvin actually said regarding the subject of the “atonement of Christ.” The place that we are going to turn is found in his magnum opus—the Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is the definitive work of Calvin, but it is by no means “all” of what he said about the Christian faith. For the French Reformer was a prolific writer and continual speaker during his days of the 16th century.

T—for Total Depravity. This speaks of the corrupting and encompassing nature of sin’s curse upon humanity. Another way you might express this doctrine pertaining to “original sin” is radical corruption. From the vantage point of people, humans are capable of doing many good, perhaps even righteous things. However, from God’s vantage point revealed in the Holy Bible, humanity only has a veneer of righteous goodness, but lacking the Holiness of God fails to do what is good in God’s sight.

U—for Unconditional Election. This speaks of God’s response to a certain sect of Adam’s race. The two terms are sometimes misunderstood. Unconditional does not mean that there is “no condition” whatsoever, but that there is no condition in fallen man that God would elect them. Election speaks of God’s specific act in eternity (i.e., pre-history) wherein He has chosen a specific person(s) to put His love upon in a redemptive sense. This doctrine stresses both the personal and corporate choosing (i.e., adopting) of the Sovereign Creator.

L—for Limited Atonement. This also speaks of God’s response to a certain sect of Adam’s race. But this time the emphasis is on the means God has provided for this adoption process to be possible. Atonement, means covering. It speaks of substitution. Of paying a ransom payment. Of providing redemption. Here God’s provision for a particular sect is found in the life of Jesus Christ. Again, personal and corporate aspects may be seen in this doctrine, sense: 1) Jesus died for specific individuals, 2) Jesus died for His church (congregation, assembly) identified metaphorically as His bride or body.

I—for Irresistible Grace. Once more we see that this too speaks of God’s response to a certain sect of Adam’s race. However, this time it is the active role of the Holy Spirit in history, wherein He applies the blood of the Lamb upon those for whom Jesus died on the cross that is being emphasized.  Irresistible, may be better understood as effectual grace. That is to say, the “effect” that God has purposed has come to fruition through the Holy Spirit’s regenerative effort, raising the spiritually dead to spiritual life.

P—for Persevering Grace. This doctrine shows the intent of God for those whom He has called to be conformed into the image of the Son—Jesus Christ. This doctrine highlights not only that those who are saved will continue in this blessed state, but the reason for this state’s continuity is because of God’s preserving power. His promise endures and the work He has started in His people will reach its intended end. This doctrine does not teach a sinless-state in this life, nor does it teach that the Christian will never face doubts or temporarily fall, but that they will not continue in that condition. Persevering, they will finish the race (or life) that they started in Christ.

Summary…

These five doctrines, which have been the defining light of the Reformed faith, emphasize one truth—God Saves. They do not touch all of what Reformed theology (or what is nicknamed Calvinism) believes and/or teaches, but these five truths are how it is popularly known. Primarily, because if you do not embrace these truths you seek to smash them. Ironic really, when the defining mark of the Christian faith that separates it from the rest of all other religious systems of thought is that God does for Man what Man cannot do for Himself (or herself).

Does the Argument Stand?

Now it is being argued by those mentioned in the opening that John Calvin may have believed in all the letters in the acronym except for the “L.” That nefarious doctrine he did not believe in. Does the argument stand? Did Calvin believe in an “unlimited atonement?”

From a Logical Standpoint…

Geisler in “Chosen but Free” refers to a variety of instances in Calvin’s writings where he insists proves his argument. He, and others like him, admit that Calvin was at least a four-pointer if nothing else: “Whatever Calvin may have said…he certainly denied limited atonement…For Calvin, the Atonement is universal in extent and limited only in its application, namely, to those who believe.”[iii] An interesting consideration to be sure, since Geisler realizes that all five-points logically stand or fall, if rightly understood: “That is, they are an interdependent unity. If one point is accepted, then logically all should be embraced. Likewise, if one is rejected, then logically all should be.”[iv]

Rightly stated. For if it is true that man has been so radically corrupted due to the curse of sin introduced through Adam’s rebellion, the logical question ensues: “Who would dare turn to God?” In systematic fashion then we find that man’s spiritual inability leads to the necessity of God’s elective activity. For if one were looking for a condition where the fallen sinner might seek for God, attempting to do good by drawing near to the Father in heaven, we would be found waiting a long time indeed. Thus, God elects according to His desire not man’s. Leaving, then the only logical conclusion—Christ offered His life for a specific people, the sheep of His pasture, making atonement for them.

From a Historical Standpoint…

The argument presented against Limited Atonement in favor of Unlimited Atonement makes little sense in Reformed Theology. The concept of Unlimited Atonement is sourced from outside, based on presuppositions not held by Reformed thinkers. To then attempt to argue that though Calvin’s predecessors may have held to such things, “Surely he would not!” is nothing short of ridiculous. The truth of the matter is that if Calvin were alive today, he would not doubt offer some corrective words to individuals like Geisler, Allen and even Clark.

Why would I say that? Because there does not seem sufficient evidence in the man’s writings to justify the claim. The ironic thing is that Calvin had an opportunity during his own lifetime to rebut the position now being debated: Is Christ’s atonement limited?  And yet, when contemporaries of his “formulated the view [of a limited-atonement] during his life-time”[v] we have no evidence he ever challenged them.

Is it possible that he wrote private letters to them rebuking them behind closed doors for promoting a teaching that he did not believe? Sure…”anything is possible” as the kids like to say, but it is highly unlikely. If you’ve read much of what Calvin wrote it will not be long before you come upon a section where he is quick to correct those whose teaching he views as deviating from the pure Word of God.

From a Theological Standpoint—the Institutes…

HAIL & FIRE REPRINTS: “Institutes of the Christian Religion,
pic provided by Hail and Fire

For the most part Geisler cited a few excerpts from Calvin’s Commentaries, and the Institutes. Since the Institutes lay the ground work for understanding how Calvin would have interpreted the Bible, we will only focus on the material provided in them. Particularly book 3: “The mode of obtaining the grace of Christ. The benefits it confers, and the effects resulting from it” (p. 460, 462).[vi]

To aid the reader I will provide some key point from Calvin as a synopsis of the subject matter in the Institutes third chapter. Please note it is not on the nature of the “atonement,” but on the operation of the Spirit in applying the atonement on the “elect.” Thereby, a discussion on the nature of God’s election (choosing activity in history):

“The two former Books treated of God the Creator and Redeemer. This Book, which contains a full exposition of the Third Part of the Apostles’ Creed, treats of the mode of procuring the grace of Christ, the benefits which we derive and the effects which follow from it, or of the operations of the Holy Spirit in regard to our salvation…

I. As it is by the secret and special operation of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy Christ and all his benefits, the First chapter treats of this operation, which is the foundation of faith, new life, and all holy exercises…

VI. As all do not indiscriminately embrace the fellowship of Christ offered in the Gospel, but those only whom the Lord favours with the effectual and special grace of his Spirit, lest any should impugn this arrangement, Chapters Twenty-First to Twenty-Fourth are occupied with a necessary and apposite discussion on the subject of Election” (p. 461).

Referring to 3.1.1 of the Institutes

Geisler writes, “Christ suffered and provided salvation for the whole human race.”[vii]

The question we will seek to answer in this section is what Calvin actually meant by “the human race.” It is noteworthy to realize that Calvin’s subject matter is on the operation of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers, NOT the “atonement.”

Thus, Calvin writes,

“We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy” (3.1.1; opening sentence; italics added).

Notice that the concern is on how “we” Christians came to be possessors of the blessings that come through Christ Jesus. Not for personal or private use (gain), but “to enrich the poor and needy.” Who is poor and needy? Only those that recognize their sin and need of a Lord and Savior found only in Jesus Christ.

On this Calvin explains,

“And although it is true that we obtain this by faith, yet since we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and inquire into the secret efficacy of the Spirit, to which it is owing that that we enjoy Christ and all his blessings” (3.1.1; italics added).

Which means what precisely? That faith is the means to which we come to Christ, but since the normal response is not to embrace the gospel we ought to look “higher”—into the counsel of God revealed in Scripture—inquiring into the effectual work of the Holy Spirit that enables those who believe (in a continual sense) in the gospel of Christ. Calvin puts the emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s inner, secret work as the true foundational reason why people become believers.

Geisler, who believes in a universal atonement, reads into Calvin’s statement in this same section his own presuppositional framework (i.e., biases). But when Calvin insinuates that all are initially without Christ and remain “separated from him, nothing he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race” (3.1.1) is limited by Calvin’s own assumptions derived from studying Scripture. This is perhaps best seen when one compares what Geisler added before “human race” in his heading for this section, the word “whole.”

“Yes, but didn’t you see what Calvin said? That Christ suffered to provide salvation for the ‘human race,’” you proclaim, as in the “whole” of humanity as Geisler insinuates. I can perceive why someone would understand it that way if they’ve never read the rest of what Calvin wrote. Or, if they’d never given consideration to Calvin’s own worldview. I can discern the reasoning behind it, but “human race” in Calvin’s thinking does not appear to mean “all people,” or “everyone.” Instead, “human race” in the context of this work means “all kinds of people” or the “human race in general” but not specific to all.

As seen in his closing of this particular section:

“The whole comes to this that the Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually binds us to himself” (3.1.1).

Salvation is the result of God’s work, the Father choosing, the Son sacrificing, and the Holy Spirit quickening the reprobate to salvation. Something that He does not do for the entire human race.

Referring to 3.24.17 of the Institutes

Geisler writes, “Salvation is limited in its effect, not in its offer.”[viii]

Of course, salvation is limited in its effect if Christ only died for the elect. The reason why we offer the gospel to all, is not because we expect all to believe, but in the hope that some might. We do not know who will be saved.

If I tell you that you are a sinner, how do you respond? Do you believe it or deny it? If you believe it, then what if I told you that Christ died upon the cross for sinners so that they might have life through Him? Do you embrace it or reject it? If you embrace it, then what if I tell you your effort in this life is not what saves you—it doesn’t matter how good you are—but only what God has done? Do you say, “Yes…Jesus save me, because I cannot save myself?” Or do you say, “Yes, Jesus died for me, but I must also make myself better?” How people respond to the gospel, I do not know. Some enjoy it, some are enraged by it. I will leave such matters in the hand of the God who formed me, and entrust that His power is sufficient to save regardless of the rebel confronted by it. Knowing that it is only through a heart transplant—something that the Holy Spirit alone can do—and nothing else.

As I read through Book 3 in Calvin’s Institutes, I kept wondering whether or not Geisler put forth much effort in understanding what was written. (I also wondered whether Clark read Calvin as a primary source or merely depended upon secondary sources?) Geisler is right in the quotation I provided above, but the conclusion he draws from it—Christ died for all people without distinction—is not drawn from Calvin’s work, but comes from Geisler’s own understanding of things.

Earlier in the work referenced by Geisler we find Calvin making statements that seemingly offer support. But the reader must be aware that all these comments by Calvin are situated in his understanding of the doctrine of election (what would later in history be called—Unconditional Election at the Synod of Dort).

On the universal calling Calvin writes,

“for there is a universal call, by which God, through external preaching of the word, invites all men alike, even those for whom he designs the call to be a savour of death, and the ground of severer condemnation. Besides this there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. Sometimes, however, he communicates it also to those whom he enlightens only for a time, and whom afterwards, in just punishment for their ingratitude, he abandons and smites with greater blindness” (3.24.8).

 “The former call is common to the wicked, the latter brings with it the spirit of regeneration, which is the earnest and seal of the future inheritance by which our hearts are sealed unto the day of the Lord (Eph 1.13, 14)” (3.24.9).

 “For the elect are brought by calling into the fold of Christ not from the very womb, nor all at the same time, but according as God sees it meet to dispense his grace” (3.24.10).

“Therefore, since by the Gospel the mercy of God is offered to both, it is faith, in other words, the illumination of God, which distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked; the former feeling the efficacy of the Gospel, the latter obtaining no benefit from it. Illumination itself has eternal election for its rule” (3.24.17).

Herein is spoken the general call that goes out to all, but is only effectual to those who have been given the Holy Spirit. Only those given the seal of Christ’s name engrained upon their hearts by the Spirit’s quickening work do we find salvation—i.e., eternal life—granted. This quickening is sometimes referred to as a heart change (heart of stone removed; heart of flesh given), but in this case is referenced as the light shown in the darkness by which a person might see (discern, comprehend, and understand) the truth of reality as a whole.

Are we to then believe that Christ, the good Shepherd, when he said “the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10.11; NASB), meant all without qualification? Does He not also provide the qualification for who the “sheep” are? Yes, He does:

  • “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10.26-30; NASB; cf. Isa 43.13).

Closing Remarks…

Now to be fair Mr. Clark is not Norman Geisler, or David Allen for that matter.[ix] He cannot answer for what others have said, even if he endorses what they have written (He does with Allen, with Geisler I’m not sure?). But their views appear to be similar.

Clark thinks Calvin believed in an atonement that was for “all.” Easy to make a claim, quite another to provide contextually consistent information that backs it up. If he would like to do so, so that, we his readers could weigh the information, then I would be more than happy to make the effort. In any event, I thank him for opportunity to reflect on this matter myself.

There is one key point I would like to leave my readers with. It does not matter what people (that others hold dear) might say, if their own testimonies cannot be validated with a consistent rendering of the Word of God. God’s Word carries the final authority on such matters, and the moment we deviate from that in order to push our own agenda any authority that we might have formerly possessed as a Christian, a minister, a philosopher, or an apologist goes right out the door.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ died for specific people: Those He lovingly called (his) sheep, those given to Him by the Father, raised to new life by the Spirit through the application of His atoning work on the cross.


ENDNOTES:

[i] Norman Geisler, Chosen but Free: A Balanced view of Divine Election, 2nd edition (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001), 56. Italics added.

You may be wondering, “Why I added them?” Here’s my reasoning. Geisler is right to say that something “can be argued.” Arguments are like opinions…everybody has them. Therefore, anyone can “argue their case,” but the real question is “can they establish them?” If you understand Calvin’s own thoughts pertaining to the subject in question, you will find that Geisler does not have a leg to stand on. He, like many before him, was spouting his own opinion.

[ii] Ibid., 160.

[iii] Ibid., 166.

[iv] Ibid. 57.

[v] Roger Nicole, “John Calvin’s View of the Extent of the Atonement,” Westminster Theological Journal, 47:2 (Fall 1985), 198.

[vi] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Henry Beveridge, Reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993).

[vii] Geisler, Chosen but Free, 161.

[viii] Ibid., 162.

[ix] Norman Geisler I’ve read, Mr. Clark I’ve read, but Dr. Allen I haven’t read much of his work, so I will leave it to another to attribute the claim (for or against).

Image by <a href="http://Image by katalin csák from Pixabay“>Katalin Csak