The Theological Bases
The other day, I posted a reply to Andrew, at “Entertaining Christianity.” He has since responded. We’ve chatted a bit privately, as well, but my time constraints tend to curtail things, occasionally.
Essentially, I think there’s a bit of miscommunication on his part about what, exactly, the problems were with his post. As I pointed out to him, that could very well be due to our rather different backgrounds, theologically speaking. From our conversation, I gathered that he was confused by what I meant by “omnibenevolence” in the context I used it in. As others have pointed out, “omnibenevolence” typically means, in certain circles, “unibenevolence”. Further, he seems to have mistaken my… directness… for personal commentary.
To deal with the second issue first, an “ad hominem” is a rejection of a claim on the basis of an irrevelant fact, or personal characteristic of the person making it; but especially, in lieu of an argument that refutes said claim. Contrast: I start a paragraph by pointing out an instance of self-refutation. Also known as, hypocrisy. I further argue that the Jews that Jesus castigates in the Gospels are, largely, those guilty of what? Hypocrisy. My conclusion is that the author is a hypocrite – which is what he was claiming the problem of others was, in his initial post – and used the words that Jesus applied to those who were hypocrites. Additionally, it was done to underscore the point that, contrary to the assertions made in that same initial post, Jesus was “not nice” NOT to the “overly religious” – but to the pervertedly religious – those who practiced a hypocritical religion made in their own image, not God’s. I also referred to 1st Timothy, and addressed his commentary on the Law. My conclusion refers back to one of the initial points that I raised – that when Paul says what the law is good for, he has already said that the Law can be, and is, abused when you are ignorant of it. In other words, when speaking of something you do not understand, it quickly becomes a fruitless discussion.
So, that being dealt with – there are a number of things that could be said about the remainder of Andrew’s rejoinder. It seems apparent that he is not Reformed, obviously. It also seems apparent that he is either not used to, or chooses not to, cite and exegete Scripture. He artificially limits himself to short posts – something to do with attention spans – but that doesn’t excuse one from the need to utilize Scripture.
That, of course, brings us to the point of the title of this post. To properly lay out a Christian response to the assertions of the unbelieving world, we must, as a matter of necessity, cover our theological bases. Bases must be 1) Laid out in a particular order 2) Be at the proper distance from one another. When you don’t do that, you have a seriously messed up baseball game! For another analogy that says something similar, see here. Before we get to what I meant about omnibenevolence, we need to lay out our doctrines, in at least a general way. Why do this? As I summarized in this post, “[t]o retain a proper balance, we have to be able to understand the interplay of the entirety of the doctrines we confess.” Earlier in that same post, I said the following;
What we believe is derived from the Scripture alone, and from the totality of Scripture. Such an organized, cohesive, and categorized system of belief is summarized in our confession of faith, then organized categorically in our systematic theology. The sum total of what we are to believe, as the “whole counsel of God”, is our “worldview.” It is the whole counsel of God which we present and preach – then likewise defend. Recall Van Til’s comment earlier – “defense and positive statement go hand in hand.” When we engage with an unbeliever, or even with a defective idea of Christianity, we first must understand the “totality picture” – the entire Christian worldview – and present it as a positive statement. I cannot stress this enough.
When I addressed Andrew’s post, I did so with an emphasis that considered it a “defective form of Christianity.” I believe that his emphasis on what I have already referred to as “unibenevolence” (which is often conflated with omnibenevolence, and expressed as such) makes his response on the subject of homosexuality defective. It is insufficient to speak “simply” of sin, in a general sense, without speaking of the Biblical basis for it. It is, furthermore, insufficient to speak of the Love of God in a reductionistic fashion. Additionally, engaging in the aforementioned reductionism results in a faulty theology proper. Even more problematic, however, is the recognition that most synergistic theological systems define theology proper in terms of what is necessarily true given a particular anthropology. He has asked me to explain why I don’t believe that God loves each and every person “equally.” Hence, a short doctrinal summary is in order.
First, understand that I am Reformed. That incorporates a number of things. First, I am Confessional. This means that I subscribe to a confessional statement – much more detailed than a creed might be. Specifically, I subscribe to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (or, henceforth, the LBCF). Confessions are not authoritatively *above* Scripture, but subservient to it. For instance, the LBCF states, in its first article, that “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.” Note, especially, that I linked a version which includes the Scripture proofs which the authors consider to be the basis for this statement. Frequent exegesis of these texts by Particular Baptists can be found by the discerning reader, and are commended highly to you. The confessions are to be considered as summarizations of the collective teaching of Scripture. More to the immediate point, however, there are several articles of my confession which bear on this subject.
From the second chapter, we find that God is “without parts”, second, that He is “in every way infinite”, and third, that He is “most loving.” When all that is said in that section is considered, it is saying that God is “infinitely loving.” In the third chapter, we read that “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass.” We also read that “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice.” There is additional discussion in that chapter, of course, but the heart of the matter is that some are chosen – the elect of God – while others are passed over – reprobated. In the 5th chapter, we read the following: “As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of his church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof.” In other words, God has a special grace that includes salvation, while He has a providential, or common grace, that applies to all. He makes the rain to fall on the unjust, as well as the just – but all good things that come about on this earth, since the Fall, are for the sake of His glory, and for the sake of His elect people, despite their general effect for all men. On the other hand, the special grace of God is bestowed only upon the beloved – those whom He has chosen, from eternity, to save out of this fallen world.
However, let’s return to Chapter 3 momentarily. Not only are His people elected, and those who are not His people reprobated, but “As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”
In other words, those who were predestined were also called. Those whom He called, He also justified. Those whom He justified, He also glorified. Sound familiar? If it does, that’s because it is an almost direct citation of Romans 8:30.
“and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
Further, however, the confession also mentions that “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” To be Reformed is also to be Covenantal. It continues in the next article and affirms that “it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” Notice several things. First, note that it says “it pleased the Lord.” Earlier, we noted that “God hath decreed … all things, whatsoever comes to pass.” In the previous article, it notes that “he hath most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth.” Compare; God has dominion over all creatures as He pleases – He pleases to make a covenant of grace. Notice Dan 4:35 cited – but if I might, I would also refer you to Psalm 115:3 – “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Also see Psalm 135:6. However, not only will He do whatever He pleases – whatever He pleases will always be accomplished. See Isa 46:10-11! That covenant is not only given – it is accomplished. As Chapter 8 begins, it says “It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.” So, the question is before us: If this covenant, of which He is the mediator, is the good pleasure of God – can it ever fail to accomplish its purpose? Of course not! This, however, causes a problem for particular views. If all those who were elected are also those called – and those called are justified – and all those who are justified are also glorified – then are not all who are elected those who will be glorified together with Christ as His bride? In other words, everyone justified – everyone for whom Christ suffered and died – were chosen by God, called to Him, propitiated for, and gathered to Him in eternal life. Right? So – what does that mean, practically? It means that those for whom Christ died – the “beloved” so often spoken of by John, the “elect,” the “bride,” is identical to those who will be with Him in eternity. If that is true, then Christ did not die for all men, without exception. Why do I point that out? Because of this quotation, from this post: “The specific sins do not send us to Hell. We send ourselves by denying God’s love.” Now, what theological position would someone have to hold to, in order to say this? The position of “unlimited atonement.” Further, he says that “He loves you. You personally. You specifically. He thinks about you all the time. He loves you just as much as He does Billy Graham, Paul, Peter, any pastor or priest, Muslim or Hindi, or anyone else. God does not hate you. God wants to be with you.”
Now, while I appreciate the sentiment, if not the truthfulness of it – it directly follows this statement: “I am sorry. On behalf of all those who have bludgeoned gays with hate in order to puff themselves up with bigotry. They have lied about God; about who He is an how He loves.”
If believing that God does not love everyone “equally” (which He doesn’t), that we don’t go to Hell for merely “denying God’s love” – does that mean that we “bludgeon gays with hate in order to puff” ourselves “up with bigotry”? Are we lying about God – who He is, and how He loves? Or are you, Andrew, however unknowingly? Just because Fred Phelps abused Calvinism (the third hallmark of being Reformed) does not mean that the thing abused is wrong, of itself. Fred Phelps was a nut. Nobody is disputing that. He didn’t speak the truth in love, and his twisting of doctrine was appalling. However, the fact that he was a hateful and deceitful man, who beget a hateful, deceitful cult does not mean that God does not hate sinners, or sin itself. See Psalm 5:5, 11:5, and Proverbs 6:16-19. We have to account for the whole counsel of God.
Immediately you might say, however, what about John 3:16? Or 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, and Matthew 23:37 (also known as “The Big Three”)? Well, let me ask you, brother – have you read any reformed exegetes who treat those texts? For instance – have you ever noticed that John 3:16 has the interesting little clause “that whosoever believes in Him.” As James White comments:
The phrase “whoever believes” in verse 15 is hina pas ho pisteuwn, which is directly parallel to the same phrase in verse 16 [in fact, the parallel of the first part of the phrase led, in later manuscripts, and in fact in the Majority Text type, to the harmonization of verse 15 with 16, resulting in the expansion of the original. The NASB, however, reflects the more accurate textual reading, “so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” or “so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.”]. The English term “whoever” is meant to communicate “all without distinction in a particular group,” specifically, “those who believe.” Pas means “all” and ho pisteuwn is “the one(s) believing,” hence, “every one believing,” leading to “whoever believes.” It should be remembered that there is no specific word for “whoever” in the Greek text: this comes from the joining of “all” with “the one believing,” i.e., “every one believing.” The point is that all the ones believing have eternal life. There is no such thing as a believing person who will not receive the promised benefit, hence, “whosoever.” This is a common form in John’s writings.
Well, you say, that’s all very well – but there’s all sorts of “all” passages! In reply, I would ask you to exegete the texts, and demonstrate that the “all” you are thinking of is the “all” that is in the text. I can pretty much guarantee to you that this will not be the case. It is common for folks to claim that this is so – but I have never seen an even remotely successful exegetical argument made to support this contention.
As I mentioned, I am a Calvinist. I believe that all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. I further believe that the Scripture teaches that all men are hostile to God; “all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.” Further, that “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.” We have to be regenerated by the power of God; given the gifts of faith and repentance by the power of the Spirit, and only thereby may we believe the Word preached, and repent of our sins. All who do so repent and believe are those who were predestined – “Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.” Further, as we already mentioned, that Christ died for His people, and His people alone. God does not decree His own eternal frustration, nor can He fail in the accomplishment of His will – which the Scripture clearly teaches is that all the Father has given the Son might be justified, and raised on the last day. (John 6:37-45) Also, I believe that all those who are given by the Father are regenerated by the power of the Spirit of God. That Salvation is a trinitarian work, and begins with the Spirit replacing our stony hearts with a heart of flesh. (Eze 36:26) Along with that new heart, new ears, and new eyes – ears that can hear, and eyes that can see, are the gifts of faith, and of repentance. Those who are His will, by the power of God, be His – because He does as He pleases, and His will is always accomplished. Finally, I believe that all who are given to the Son cannot be snatched from His hand. As inevitably and as perfectly as God always accomplishes His will, there is nothing that anyone can ever do to make us lose that salvation – because salvation is of the Lord. (Jonah 2:9) We belong to Him, and no power on earth or in heaven can change that.
In closing – please note something important. Even in this somewhat extended post, I did not engage in in-depth exegesis. If that is what you want, I can provide it, over time. However, I thought that it might be more helpful, for you (and for others who read this) to see that why we believe something is far more involved than a single proof text. In fact, our entire system of belief is involved in why we believe anything in particular. Our consistency in belief is also tied up with that, as well. The “hypocrite” comment was to point out the inconsistency I saw present in your post, Andrew – which I hope is far clearer now – and clearly seen not as ad hominem, but as a reductio ad absurdum. I also hope that this is a relatively comprehensive answer to your question. I don’t being God loves everyone equally, because that would 1) Be directly contrary to the teaching of Scripture. Just for one example, out of the various that are shown above – God a) Does what He pleases b) Pleases to covenant with a particular people c) Fulfills that covenant – and does not, cannot fail to do so. 2) Is directly contrary to what I believe, as a whole, about who and what God is. That idea does not, and cannot, fit in my system of theology, as exegeted from Scripture, and arranged systematically. 3) Be assuming something of God that would make Him even less than we are. I don’t love my wife the same as my children, and not the same way that I do strangers. I could, actually, multiply reasons, but I think you get the picture.
For our typical readers – you also know that the reductio above was a TAG. If the position cannot support its own claims, it fails by the IoC. I also hope that was useful to you, as well!
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