Theology Drives Apologetic

What we believe drives what we’re defending, obviously. When someone defending another position that claims to be Christian interacts with us, how are we to respond? Many times, that will tell unbelievers as much about us as our interaction with them does. Wes Widner, featured recently due to his citation of Open Theist Gregory Boyd, has criticized Dr. James White in the recent past, quite vehemently.

Most notably for: “misrepresenting and slandering” William Lane Craig, Norm Geisler, etc.

When pressed to give examples on The Dividing Line, Wes was unable to give any concrete examples. In other conversations since, Wes has insisted that Calvinists believe in “Causal Determinism” (ie: Fatalism), that their “theology posits a malignant and capricious God who kills and tortures people for his own pleasure through no fault of their own”, and other such typically presented arguments.

While all of that is background for you – and I link to his website earlier in this post – my concern this time is to share with you, if it might be helpful, a conversation I had with Wes last Sunday between services. I found it to be highly illustrative of the difference in apologetic methodologies, and indicative of the theological foundations held by each group. This isn’t to say that I believe Wes to be an exemplar of the Molinistic/Evidentialist camp. In fact, I don’t. I think he does a poor job even within that framework. The largest reason I think so is because I have not seen him keep the chief aim of the apologist in mind – to defend the faith with gentleness and reverence.

That being said, I’m going to post a (slightly edited for format) reproduction of our twitter conversation. His portions will be blockquoted, mine will be in bold, with additional comments in normal text. It began out of a discussion I was having with someone else concerning anabaptism and the Caners, and referenced Wes. He replies:

Right, because it’s far more intellectually honest to discount an entire school because of a prior dislike for it’s president.

One thing I’ve noticed is his propensity toward the phrase “intellectual honesty“. While I’m not positive that he’s referencing it in this sense – notice the first part of the definition. “One’s personal beliefs do not interfere with the pursuit of truth.” That seems to be a textbook endorsement of neutrality in the academy, doesn’t it? As I’m sure you know, we don’t believe any sort of neutrality can be possible, let alone be practiced consistently.

Liberty, as well as it’s dean, has a historical precendent of shooting it’s mouth off. It’s not just Ergun.

That may be, but it still, in itself, doesn’t have a bearing on the truthfulness of their academic work.

Who said it did? You were the one who was suggesting that, not me. The ideological position espoused is what is bankrupt.

Just a note: the context here is that of the insistence by the Caner brothers that the European Anabaptists are the spiritual ancestors of American Baptists. As I taught in my history class, and as others have noted, the heritage of Baptists comes from several streams – but the Anabaptist stream is tertiary, at most.

Which theological position that they hold are you claiming is bankrupt?

1) Adherence to the ahistorical “anabaptist” connection 2) Insistence on LFW 3) Legalistic pietism 4) Finneyist Altar Call – etc

I think #1 is quite valid, its really sad how others have twisted history just because they don’t want to accept them as valid.

This is something I would like Wes to document, myself. Who has twisted history, and how? Nettles did an excellent job of demonstrating the roots of Baptist theology and culture in his book “By His Grace and For His Glory”. We got off of this topic as the conversation went on, but I’d like to hear about that later.

I disagree, due to my study of history – as do many, many others in the SBC – including those who founded the denom. It’s novel.

#2, are you seriously going 2 argue against LFW? Wouldn’t it require LFW to argue AGAINST LFW? Otherwise, God is schizophrenic.

This argument is just silly. It’s also presuppositional – although it uses the wrong presups 🙂 To argue against free will, he assumes, you must have free will. Why? Oh, well, if you assume man starts with self to acquire knowledge or truth, that might be the case – from that point of view – but that doesn’t mean Scripture assents. What does Scripture say?

“who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” ~John 1:13

I very rarely hear any sort of response to that. Have you?

“The king’s heart is {like} channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” – Prov 21:1

So, if even a king (who are notoriously strong-willed) is like water in the hands of God – what about us?

“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. ” – Rom 8:5

So, what does a natural man desire, seek, think about? The things of God?

Yes. As has every participant and heir to the reformation. The champion of LFW was Rome, not the Reformation. Luther to today

#3 and #4 I might give you, haven’t looked into those much.

Unfortunately you are right, detraction from the doctrine of LFW is a blight unique to most of the reformers. Truly sad.

I_chooseyou

This is simply an amazing statement. As a student of the Reformation, I find this comment to be absolutely staggering in it’s implications. When we speak of the Reformation, we speak of the doctrines of the Reformation. It was not an ecclesiastical difference of opinion. It was a doctrinal issue. The doctrine of the Reformers was what was so subversive to Rome’s authority. Intentionally subversive. The Scripture is always subversive to the claimed sovereignty of man – and the Reformation’s practice was to take the doctrines of Rome to the Scriptures. A central doctrine of Rome, and a central topic of the Reformation, was the freedom of man.

I’m a compatiblist, as are all Calvinists. It is distinguished from determinism as it says there is a real will. It is not free. As I’m sure you know, I believe precisely the opposite – as that was the foundation OF the Ref. Luther said as much to Erasmus.

lol! I’ve studied Calv. from a hist. perspective & there r still many who disagree with compat. due 2 its logical incoherence. I highly recommend Ken Keathley’s paper which describes how compatabalism fails logically http://bit.ly/1YGRnp A non-free will is an oxymoron. A contradiction in terms. Limited free wills, however, don’t pose a logically incoherent concept

Notice that he changes the discussion from “libertarian free will” to “limited free will”. I didn’t say anything about “limited free will”. All parties in the discussion believe in limits of some sort. The question is, what limits it?

I’ve read it, actually, and didn’t find it convincing. No one says the will has no freedom. But, cf: Rom 6 – we are all slaves.

It was Luther’s foundation, not the reformation’s foundation. Luther was a fool on this point..

As Luther stated, Erasmus cut to the heart of the issue – and this is what Wes objects to! The very heart of the Reformation, according to the Reformers themselves!

As has been noted quite frequently by the contributors to this blog, and by other Reformed brethren, this view of man that is held will determine the entire theology and apologetic of that man. This is what I aim to demonstrate.

Once again, I disagree. Slavery to sin is why salvation is of grace, not works. That’s the central linchpin of the debate.

Don’t you see how circular and self-contradictory that statement is when used in the Calvinistic sense?

(Referring to the statement of mine that “noone says the will has no freedom”)

Even a slave has freedoms – given to him by his master. We are slaves to sin – free only to sin. Then we are slaves of Christ.

Salvation and slavery do not automatically entail a negation of the will or it’s ability to choose Christ.

Sure it does. As Edwards argued in Freedom of the Will, desire drives the will. Slavery to sinful nature results in sinful acts. What makes us free to turn to Christ? Are we not numbered among those whom it is said “there is none who seeks after God”? How?

Just as we are free to sin, we are also free not to sin by turning to Christ. Anything less makes us robots and God a monster

Freedom Fighters
Notice the false dichotomy there. We are free to sin or not sin – or – we are robots, God is a monster. I’m sure this is a common refrain by now – but – by what standard, Wes?

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. ” – Notice that word “makes”? It is the sovereign work of God in us.

I think u have 2 do some calisthenics 2 harmonize tht interpretation of that verse w/ th rest that call us 2 repent and believe

Now, notice something here. This gives a serious argument against his claims of being an informed Calvinist previously, if you ask me. Does he not know the consistent position of the Reformers? Both repentance AND faith are *gifts* of God.

Not at all. Repentance is a gift of God, as is faith. Acts 5:31, Phil. 1:29. God gives all good and gracious gifts. Jam. 1:17. As Augustine says, “Command what you will – and grant what you will” – that quote there was what prompted Pelagius’ attacks.

Very true, but God does not manipulate us as puppets to either accept or exorcise those gifts.

Notice again the false dichotomy. “Forced” is the only option to “completely free to choose”. What happened to “limited free wills” here?

Who said anything about that? The regenerated heart responds in accordance with the gifts given. As a sinful heart does also. There is no mention of “puppets” – a regenerated heart responds as it has been changed to do. Natural hearts respond sinfully.

I don’t see anywhere n Scripture where a heart is regenerated prior 2 salvation. Such a concept is wholly illogical & unbiblical

What this points out is an interesting dynamic. Wes claims to be a former Calvinist. Was he not taught the basis of our beliefs concerning regeneration?

Eze. 36 – Notice the “I wills” all throughout. In John 3, who births us? Who grants life? Notice – born again comes first.

You are only removing the strings by a degree, wireless puppets are still puppets.

Master-of-Puppets-Posters
While I’m not quite sure what sense this makes – what is he arguing against? Scripture. I left the commentary very brief.

We don’t come to God with hands full – we come to God with empty hands. God must remove the heart of stone – then the new heart

Who makes the offer and whose responsibility is it to accept that offer?

Notice the refrain of “offer, accept”. While this language is perfectly valid, it’s also very liable to abuse. Is the “responsibility” to accept, or is the responsibility to repent and believe? This might be an interesting topic to discuss further.

Well, the offer is to repent and believe in Christ – and thus be saved. We command all men, everywhere, to repent and believe. Per Acts 17. Now, not all men will. Not all men are given the gifts of faith and repentance. Therefore, not all men are saved. Sure, we are His when He regenerates us. The response – repent and believe – is that which He enables us to do. His sheep hear.

That happens after we accept Christ, not before.

Very true, and thats simply because not all men ask/repent.

Who says it happens after? A stone-dead heart responds with love? Why is that? 🙂 What desires does a stone-dead heart have? You see, it’s not that we’re puppets. We are slaves to sin. When the Son frees us – we are free indeed – and respond in kind. Apart from that, all men are dead in sin, without hope in this world. We, however, have a blessed hope of His glorious appearing

I reject the premise that we are “stone dead”. Sorry, but spiritual death does not entail total depravity.He did, at the cross. Thank God for the cross and the Holy Spirit who draws all men to himself 🙂 Christ is the hope of the world. For ALL men.

Notice the rapid-fire proof-texting here. He manages to sneak in one of the Big Three here, though 🙂 I’d like to know if he’s ever read Dr. White’s response to the Big Three, in The Potter’s Freedom.

Well, sir – if even our righteousness is filthy rags – if there is noone who does good, if there is noone who seeks for God? What else can we call it? As to the second – did Christ die for goats? Was he the Good Goatherd? Is He the door to the Goats?

Faith is not a work under the law. “As children of wrath” we are supposed to place our faith in Christ. Prior to regeneration

Note the presuppositional commitment there.

Where does Scripture say that? As for faith, of course it’s an act of grace, not of works. That’s my point – or else its works. If it really is prior to regeneration, it really is of works, as it’s not of God, but man. Since it isn’t, Soli Deo Gloria.

Salvation is an act of grace, faith is as well but its not confined to a particular set of individuals.

Wait, what? Faith is not confined to a particular set of individuals? Do all have faith? 2 Thess. 3:2 says otherwise!

That is why faith is the antithesis of works in Eph 2. If it’s not individual, why does John 3:16 say “everyone who believes”?

Nope, faith is not a work and to claim it is is 2 do violence 2 all th texts which call us 2 repent & place our faith in Christ

I’m not sure why he even said this, frankly.

I know it isn’t. Therefore, if it is of God, it cannot be of man – and is a gift OF God. Since it is, we can say it’s all God. On the other hand, your position entails that man can do good on his own. Scripturally, God works, man responds – not backwards

Faith is not a work, it is a gift, but it’s given to all men. All men have faith in something. It’s a gift in the same sense that we have a LFW as a gift from God, we can either use it in accordance with God’s wishes or not. Not at all, you are fundamentally misunderstanding my position and it’s implications.

I really think that he doesn’t get what I’m saying. By his position – where he says that men dead in sin, without hope, without God, unable to subject itself to the law of God, unable to come to Christ unless the Father draws – CAN come – is not misunderstanding. While I’m not sure if he sees the inconsistency here, it is present.

2 Thess 3:2. False faith is dead faith. We’re talking about true faith, in Christ. Not all men have such faith – and such faith is the gift. False faith – dead faith – is not a good and perfect gift – thus it does not come from the Father of lights. I disagree, and we cannot find the depiction of LFW in Scripture. We can find choice – but only within bounds. Not the same. Not precisely. When you insist that faith is something all men have, you aren’t taking 2Th 3:2 into account. Or James 2.

Not at all, I wholly accept those passages, jut not with the hermanutical baggage you are placing on them.

“Yeah, me too – except not.” What? “I like those verses – except for what they say, that I just contradicted.” Eh? Faith is not something all men have, period. Faith without works *to follow* is dead. Yet, his insistence is that faith in God – (which is a gift of God) precedes the work of God in regenerating – so that they may believe! A man can receive nothing – unless it has been given to him by the Father. (John 3:27)

Why does a dead heart receive life? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3)

Further, notice how often I’ve referred to Scripture in this discussion. Can you exegete similarly to buttress your position?

Oh dear Lord, not that arg. again. If u are going there then I’ll go ahead and concede that “yours is bigger than mine”. Happy?

Isn’t that amazing? How often has he even tried to exegete Scripture so far? Has he even tried? He’s cited small portions of several verses – but almost entirely out of context – ie: The Big Three references.

Well, then let me suggest something to you. Exegete those passages on your blog, and show us how you can get LFW from them.

I’m not sure what part of James 2 you think needs to be addressed from the position of limited free will..

What? I’m asking you to “search the Scriptures diligently to see if these things are so”. Is this onerous? I rejoice in that. I’ve done so, multiple times, on my own modest blog – and I’d like to challenge you to do so as well. Can your position do so?

I’ve written much on the subject on my blog. I’m more than willing to continue, though, especially considering my intense dislike for the reformed position/interpretation which generally makes God out to be a callous monster as far as I can tell.

Here we have it – “as far as I can tell”. I repeatedly point out that there are two standards. “I” and “God”. From Wes’ self-authoritative standards, a God who ascends His own throne is a callous monster.

I’m headed to evening service, but I hope to see something on that subject from you soon! God bless. I really appreciate the conversation – and have a good rest of the Lord’s Day. I might use the convo as a teaching aid on CH.

be my guest, thanks for the chat! 🙂

Well, I was talking about an exegetical defense, not so much a philosophical, as much value as those have on a Biblical basis.

Oh, I’m afraid I wont be able to help you then b/c I reject the notion that there is a difference b/t the two. I know it’s a popular refrain from the ref. comm. to claim the biblical high ground, but its really not intellectually honest

Very interesting comment. Philosophy is synonymous with Scripture. There is no difference between the two – and “intellectual honesty” demands that there be no difference noted. Once again, I raise the point of neutrality. What is your highest authority? Neutrality is not, cannot, be possible. One last quote for you.

“Men will allow God to be everywhere but on his throne. They will allow him to be in his workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow his bounties. they will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth. And we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust.”

— Charles Spurgeon

RazorsKiss

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2 Comments

C.L. Bolt

I’ve never interacted with Wes and I did not read this whole post, but from what little I have read in the past he has some really odd arguments regarding sovereignty and freedom. For example he once argued to the effect that God cannot be in control of everything because then he would be disagreeing with Himself since people disagree. While “Wes claims to be a former Calvinist” I am pretty doubtful that he ever picked up on some of the most basic tenets of that position.

His claim that there is no difference between exegesis and philosophy is also strange to me. I have not heard this claim from the classical or evidentialist camp before and I wonder where he is getting it from.

Tammi Novak

If only I had a dime for each time I came here… Amazing read!


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