September 22, 2018

My friend, the ecumenical Reformed Presbyterian (OPC) “Pilgrimsarbour” started discussing and defending three of the five points of the famous Calvinist acronym “TULIP”. After that it was off to the dog races (but an enjoyable dog race it has been . . .). His words will be in blue.

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Calvinism requires belief in things such as Total Depravity and Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace and Calvinists too often virtually equate the gospel with the five points of TULIP, or regard the five points as essential components of the gospel (if not identical), when in fact they have nothing directly to do with the biblical gospel.
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Even James White, the Reformed Baptist bishop and vociferous defender of historic Calvinism, (minus the infant baptism of Calvin and sacraments) observed (1-28-07): “is TULIP co-extensive with the gospel? No, TULIP refers to a portion of the gospel, not to its whole.” But the celebrated Calvinist icon Charles Spurgeon was a lot more sweeping in his analysis: “there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. . . . Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else” (more on that below).
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To the following points about the gospel which you raised, I cite a few relevant Scripture texts. Please keep in mind that this response is an abbreviation. I did not want to get into a full-blown argument citing the multiple texts involved in the issue. As it is, my answers are for the general readership here who necessarily are at different levels of knowledge regarding Reformed doctrine and are not meant to convey that I think you are unaware of these things.

1) Total Depravity (Radical Corruption). You say this is not part of the gospel. However, Paul was adamant regarding it: 

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were — by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-7 ESV).

Is Paul talking about something here that is not a part of the gospel? If so, why does he write it to Ephesus? Or, more simply, perhaps you and I have differing ideas of what “dead” means. 

Catholics agree that man can do nothing whatever to earn salvation; it is all God’s grace. We agree with you on sola gratia. And this is what Ephesians 2:1-7 teaches.

We believe in “total inability.” But total depravity is a position that goes far beyond this, and teaches things that are not only not part of the gospel, but not part of the Bible, either.

Total Depravity holds that (fallen) man can do no good thing whatsoever, even apart from the question of salvation. This isn’t biblical.
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2) Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption). The atonement, for the non-Reformed, is said to be efficacious for every human being who ever lived. Of course it is.

For the Reformed, it is God’s saving power granted to His people. 

It is that, too. Apples and oranges . . .

The one limits its power by saying that it only enables man to save himself as he appropriates what is offered; 

Not at all. The Arminian and Catholic positions hold that man cannot save himself (contra Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism), but because he has free will, he has to accept God’s entirely free, unmerited gift of salvation. According to your thinking, the prisoner who is pardoned by the governor “saves himself” by accepting the pardon, rather than the governor “saving” him by setting him free. The act of accepting the pardon is not the most essential part of the transaction, but it is necessary.

There is a distinction between “saving oneself” and “accepting the saving that someone else does.” We don’t say, e.g., that a drowning man “saves himself” when he grabs onto a life preserver that someone tosses him. In a sense he participates in his “salvation,” I agree, but the main person who “saved” him was his rescuer.

the other limits the objects of His saving power to His chosen ones, the Church, whom He actually saves. 

But that is nothing more than a truism; circular reasoning: God saves (by His power) those who are saved (the elect, the eschatologically saved). Of course! What Christian would doubt that?

Is Christ a real Saviour, or merely a potential Saviour? 

He is a real savior because He saves (another truism). He is a “potential savior” of those who are unsaved, but they can resist the free gift. All of God’s gifts have to be appropriated by man. We are not robots.

Christ died for His Church: 

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV).

Sure; but this assumes that the Church (the elect, as a Calvinist would see it) is all He died for. The text doesn’t say that. I could just as easily say “He died for John Calvin” or “He died for Martin Luther.” Saying one would not rule out the other. The elect are the ones who have appropriated God’s free gift of salvation. It doesn’t follow that He is not potentially the Savior of all men.

If Christ died for every human being in the whole world, why are any at all lost? 

Because they choose to be, just as the person who is committing suicide refuses the aid of the rescue worker sent to save him, and jumps off the ledge or slits his wrist or blows his brains out.

Were the ones who “accepted” Him inherently more intelligent, more moral, more humble in themselves than their neighbours were? Why is one saved and another not?

Ultimately, we can’t answer that with total satisfaction. But we are stuck with the biblical paradox:

1) God saves all who are saved;

2) Man has free will.

I don’t think we will ever totally comprehend it. But we know that God, in His merciful, loving nature would not be so unjust as to condemn a person eternally to hell, where he has no choice or say whatever in his eternal destiny. God gives everyone enough grace to be saved if they will simply accept it.

None of this is directly part of the gospel, in any event, since it deals with the mechanics of whois saved, and why, and etc., whereas the biblical gospel (i.e., good news; not — strictly speaking — good theology or right speculations and conclusions on all the jots and tittles) is the message that salvation flows from Jesus Christ and His death on the cross as our Savior and Redeemer.

3) Irresistible Grace (Effectual Calling). Merely means that the grace of regeneration is invincible. Although the sinner can and does resist God’s grace, that grace which enables him to embrace the saving work of Christ cannot be thwarted by those who are the objects of God’s electing favour. 

This is (logically reduced) merely another circular truism: “God’s grace isn’t thwarted by those who are saved.” Obviously not! But that’s not what is being disputed. It is, rather, whether anyone is able to resist God’s grace. To me, it is virtually self-evident from both the biblical data and experience and common sense, that they surely can do so.

We are quickened, we are saved, we are raised up in Him (Ephesians 2). It is effectual because it actually accomplishes that for which it was intended. 

In the case of the elect, of course. But the reprobate resist God’s grace that is able to save them, if only they would cease their foolish rebellion.

This is not the call to the ear, but to the heart. One can resist the grace as it comes to the ear, but one cannot resist the call to the heart which only the Holy Spirit can bring. The objects of His effectual calling are predestined, called, justified and glorified: 

30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30 ESV).

We agree with predestination of the saved (Catholic Thomists and Molinists differ on the details of that and how free will ties in: I am a Molinist: or more specifically, a Congruist).

Again, that is not the debate; the debate is whether those who are saved have resisted salvation with their free will, or if God predestined them to hell. All Catholics deny the latter (a corollary of limited atonement).

5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day” (Romans 11:5-8 ESV).

The hardening is not without their own free will. This is the language of providence: God is in control of all things, but it is not in such a way that we become robots and have no say in our own salvation or damnation.

I have a paper that delve into the questioning of “hardening” and how biblical language simultaneously asserts both free will and God’s providence: exactly as in the Catholic position: not the Reformed one that denies human free will. [see also a second paper on the same topic: a dialogue with a Calvinist]

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:11-12 ESV).

We don’t disagree with predestination of the elect, so this is neither here nor there in our debate.

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 ESV).

Ditto.

It would be sufficient for me now if I could get a Catholic to say that, at the very least, he understands, though does not agree with me, regarding from where these Reformed doctrines come when reading the Scriptures. 

I understand the entire rationale and have for many years, and I would even agree that the motivation of Reformed self-understanding is to uphold God’s majesty and sovereignty. I reject it on the basis of having false (i.e., unbiblical) premises, and based on the limitation of inability to accept biblical “both/and” paradox and mystery. The Calvinist solution leads to God’s mercy and justice being limited in ways that do violence to Scripture. I think the Catholic (and also Arminian) solutions are far more true to all of the Bible and what it teaches.

I would consider that a veritable coup!

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think I understand the doctrines as well as most Calvinists do. That won’t stop many Protestants from denying that I do, however, just as they do in the case of sola Scriptura.

I’m delighted to be able to discuss the issues without rancor. It’s a pleasure and a privilege, so hats off to you.

As to the gospel question (how this relates); again, it is not part of the biblical gospel, because irresistible grace is speculation upon the mechanics and “whys” of the question rather than what the gospel states: that God saves by His grace, and all who are saved are saved because of that (a thing Catholics agree with Protestants 100% on: if only the latter could figure that out).

I don’t mean to get into a big thing here either, but I just wanted to clarify one thing.

Total Depravity holds that (fallen) man can do no good thing whatsoever, even apart from the question of salvation. This isn’t biblical, as I think I have demonstrated in several papers.

I should have said “unregenerate man” there. My bad. I had in mind the guy who isn’t following the Lord; is not any sort of professed Christian; is not “justified” or “saved” (in the Protestant sense).

No. It does not mean this. But the emphasis is on the inclination of the fallen human heart which is inclined to evil continually (Gen. 6:5, cf. Romans 3:10-18; 7:18).

Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology, one-volume abridgement, edited by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988):

[Original sin is] the loss or absence of original righteousness and consequent entire moral depravity of our nature, including or manifesting itself in an aversion from all spiritual good and from God as well as an inclination to all evil. . . . it renders the soul spiritually dead, so that the natural or unrenewed man is entirely unable of himself to do anything good in the sight of God. (pp. 296-297)

this corruption is of such a nature that before regeneration fallen men are “utterly indisposed, disabled, and opposed to all good.” (p. 297)

By total depravity is not meant that all men are equally wicked, nor that any man is as thoroughly corrupt as it is possible for a man to be, nor that men are destitute of all moral virtues . . . the Scriptural doctrine of total depravity, which includes the entire absence of holiness . . . There is common to all men a total alienation of the soul from God so that no unrenewed man either understands or seeks after God . . . They are destitute of any principle of spiritual life . . . (pp. 298-299)

. . . a state of spiritual death implying the entire absence of any true holiness. (p. 300)

Hodge cites the example of Job, saying “I abhor myself” (Job 42:6), as an example of “the entire sinfulness of men” and “depravity” (p. 299) but neglects to mention what God Himself said of Job: “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8; cf. 1:1).

The Reformed understanding is that the good works he does perform are so riddled with error, pride and sin that they carry with them no efficacy for himself, nor are they genuinely pleasing to God. 

The unregenerate can perform no good works, or any spiritual good at all, according to Reformed teaching. Regenerate man, on the other hand, can certainly do things that please God.

This is not to say that a sinner’s good works are not relatively beneficial to others, perhaps in many respects, as following their natural consequences. But they avail him nothing in the end.

They are only “good” in a relative sense, not an essential, inherent sense, according to Calvinism. Luther’s view in The Bondage of the Will, was even more extreme than Calvin’s.

I’m glad you don’t call it “utter depravity,” which some Catholics I have spoken with do.

I refer to it by the standard terminology. “Utter lack of spiritual good” would be a literally accurate description of the Reformed view of the (acts and intentions of the) unregenerate, though.

Reformed theology knows nothing of an “utter depravity” in which every human being is a bad as is humanly possible.

I agree. But what is believed is untrue and unbiblical (nothing personal!).

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The following remarks were directed towards another questioner, on a specific point (I included it, as related material):

I don’t know anyone, including myself, who isn’t riddled with sin and pride. In a more sober and introspective moment, if you examine your life very carefully and ask God to help you in this, you’ll begin to see it in your own life as well. But it seems to me that you have a somewhat light view of sin, that it is not really all that bad. I have given the verses to indicate how heinous and pervasive sin is. You should take a look at Isaiah 6. Or better yet, take a look at the cross. I don’t think you’ll be able to maintain that sin is not a very, very big deal which infects everything we do. I don’t think Dave denies this, if I’m not mistaken, having spent many hours in (what I consider to be) fruitful discussion with him on related matters. 

I admit that “Total Depravity” as the T in the TULIP acrostic is problematic. That is why I prefer the term “Radical Corruption,” which more accurately, I think, states the case. “Total Depravity” is subject to all sorts of misunderstandings, as you have demonstrated here. Again, to be totally depraved means that there is no aspect of our being that is not subject to the taint of sin, so that even our best works have a mixture of good and bad in them. I don’t see how you can deny this. No one is perfect, is he? We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. The doctrine does not mean that every human being is as wicked as they possibly can be; it is not UTTER depravity. No. God’s restraining power prevents that, though we sometimes wish He would restrain more according to His purpose and plan. 

As far as pleasing God with good works, we have to adopt His definition of what good is: 

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God (Luke 18:19).

Now by the human definition of good, all kinds of human beings do all kinds of good things all of the time, relative to our own varying definitions of good. But that is not what the doctrine is speaking to. 

So often believers fall into the trap of comparing themselves with other people and think in terms of relative “goodness” when compared with them. But that is not the standard. The standard for goodness is God Himself, which is perfection. No one can attain it, hence our need for the active obedience of Christ, but I know Catholics don’t believe this, which I don’t care to take off onto another rabbit trail at this point.

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John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Beveridge online translation):

It cannot be doubted that when Adam lost his first estate he became alienated from God. Wherefore, although we grant that the image of God was not utterly effaced and destroyed in him, it was, however, so corrupted, that any thing which remains is fearful deformity . . . (I, 15:4)

Next comes the other point—viz. that this perversity in us never ceases, but constantly produces new fruits, in other words, those works of the flesh which we formerly described; just as a lighted furnace sends forth sparks and flames, or a fountain without ceasing pours out water. Hence, those who have defined original sin as the want of the original righteousness which we ought to have had, though they substantially comprehend the whole case, do not significantly enough express its power and energy. For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. Those who term it concupiscence use a word not very inappropriate, provided it were added (this, however, many will by no means concede), that everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence. (II, 1:8)

Here I only wished briefly to observe, that the whole man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is so deluged, as it were, that no part remains exempt from sin, and, therefore, everything which proceeds from him is imputed as sin. Thus Paul says, that all carnal thoughts and affections are enmity against God, and consequently death (Rom. 8:7). (II, 1:9)

But as those endued with the greatest talents were always impelled by the greatest ambitions (a stain which defiles all virtues and makes them lose all favour in the sight of God), so we cannot set any value on anything that seems praiseworthy in ungodly men. . . . The virtues which deceive us by an empty show may have their praise in civil society and the common intercourse of life, but before the judgment-seat of God they will be of no value to establish a claim of righteousness. (II, 3:4)

. . . the will, deprived of liberty, is led or dragged by necessity to evil . . . if the free will of God in doing good is not impeded, because he necessarily must do good; if the devil, who can do nothing but evil, nevertheless sins voluntarily; can it be said that man sins less voluntarily because he is under a necessity of sinning? (II, 3:5)

None of this can be substantiated from the Bible, which teaches that even unregenerate men are capable of doing “good.”

For Calvin, everything has to be black-and-white with no greys at all. Whatever the unregenerate man does, it has to be for a bad motivation. It cannot possibly be a spiritually good thing, or an act intrinsically good. It’s always soiled, corrupted, and perverted (my own motives have been characterized this way again and again — I think for this very reason: the false premise — by online anti-Catholic Calvinists: even to the extent of saying I was damned and that no one should even pray for me).

And that simply doesn’t line up with Scripture or the reality of the human experience or what we can verify even within our own lives before regeneration (and/or Christian commitment and discipleship) occurred.

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There are plenty of examples of Reformed Protestants equating the gospel with TULIP (or coming very close to doing that). In a few seconds on Google I could easily locate some. For example:

There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief.

The essential doctrines concerning salvation, which the Puritans and all good Christians cling to, are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. (C. Matthew McMahonA Puritan’s Mind“T.U.L.I.P.”; RPCGA denomination)

Here’s a classic equation of Calvinism (hence, TULIP) with the gospel, by the famous preacher and Calvinist icon Charles Spurgeon:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel…unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the Cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called. (Autobiography 1, p. 168)

James Montgomery Boice wrote:

the gospel is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace, . . . the gospel stands or falls with the doctrines of grace. (The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel, co-author Philip Graham Ryken, Crossway Books, 2002, p. 18)

Then on the same page he goes on to argue that the doctrines of grace are (y’all guessed it!) TULIP. Therefore, without TULIP there is no gospel. It is gutted. This is exactly what I have argued: Calvinism equates TULIP with the gospel: something the Bible doesn’t do (even if we grant that the five doctrines of TULIP are all true).

Richard J. Mouw:

I believe that TULIP, properly understood, captures something very central to the gospel. (p. 14)

TULIP captures some very important elements of the story of salvation’s plan. (p. 15) (Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004)

J. I. Packer:

But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel — that Christ is a redeemer who really does redeem. . . . The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations in order to assert the positive content of the gospel . . . (A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, Crossway Books, 1994, pp. 129-130)

It seems to me that one could argue, roughly, following Spurgeon:

1) Gospel = Calvinism.

2) The Gospel pronounces the Good News of salvation and is (propositionally) essential to man being saved.

3) Doctrinal Calvinism is, therefore, essential to man being saved.

4) Ergo, to be saved, one must believe in TULIP, a central tenet of Calvinist belief.

The guy from A Puritan’s Mind website wrote: “The essential doctrines concerning salvation, . . . are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.I.P.” He used the terminology “concerning salvation” rather than “gospel.”

Interestingly, McMahon’s views have been refuted by another five-point Calvinist, Reformed Baptist pastor Phillip M. Way. He wrote:

What I am setting out to accomplish is to reveal though an examination of the writings of C. Matthew McMahon that he has begun to teach that one must believe the doctrines of grace in order to be saved.

That is, in his own words, I will demonstrate that Matt has published a number of works that insist that if one is not holding to all five points of the doctrines of grace (TULIP), then that person is not saved, has believed a false gospel, is not a believer in Jesus Christ, and is not going to heaven when they die.

I will show that Matt has replaced the content of the gospel, which is the Person of Jesus Christ, with a formulation of systematic doctrine that he requires one to believe in order to be converted.

It is his view that a sinner must understand and embrace the five points in order to be saved. Trusting Christ is not enough. Simple child like faith is not enough. Jesus is not enough. In the view presented, one must be a Calvinist in order to be converted.

In love for and out of duty to Christ and His Church, and in Christian love for Matt, I offer the opportunity for Matt to recant this position and embrace the truth, namely that the content of the gospel in the Person of Jesus Christ and that one need not understand or embrace all Five Points of Calvinism in order to be saved. . . .

I stated in the thread on his article that I feared that he was indeed presenting the case that unless one embraced the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) in full then they could not be saved. And again, I was not alone in assessing this from the article. . . .

Matt, if you believe that a person must hear, understand, and embrace the doctrines of grace in toto in order to be saved or as proof of their salvation as they mature in Christ, then you have in fact denied the gospel of Jesus Christ. Coming to faith and maturity in Jesus Christ is not synonymous with embracing TULIP.

James Montgomery Boice wrote: “the gospel is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace, . . . the gospel stands or falls with the doctrines of grace.” Then he equates these doctrines with TULIP. So that amounts to saying that the gospel is a gospel of TULIP. To the extent that the gospel saves, then, one might say (as an outcome of this sort of thinking) that TULIP saves.

Again, this is very close to requiring TULIP for salvation: just a hair’s breadth away. J. I. Packer holds, in effect (following his own stated logic), “Calvinism [asserts TULIP] in order to assert the positive content of the gospel”.

These kinds of statements are very close (if not identical) to saying that TULIP is essential for salvation. I am willing to concede the general point, in charity to Calvinists as a whole, but at the same time I think one can see that there is a prominent motif (in many eminent, influential Calvinists) of closely aligning TULIP to the gospel, and hence, indirectly (but closely, given the nature and purpose of the gospel) to salvation itself.

But Bishop James White would (I think) relegate such thinking to the despised category of “hyper-Calvinism.” In his article, “A Letter to a Hyper Calvinist” (8 February 2005) he wrote:

Hyper-Calvinism is an offense to God, and it is an offense to any serious Calvinist. Yes, yes, I know, there are disagreements over just what hyper-Calvinism involves. Some have attempted to paint me as a hyper simply because I hold to a strong view, a modified supralapsarian view, in fact. But you really don’t have a lot of question about a real hyper-Calvinist when you meet one (and you won’t meet them witnessing to Mormons or JW’s or preaching on the duty of men to repent and calling men to Christ): the really hard-core, nasty, graceless ones will call you an unbeliever if you dare say “good morning” to an Arminian. I.e., they ask you a simple question: “Can an Arminian be saved? Are Arminians Christians?” If you say, “Yes, Arminians can be saved” they will tell you, “then you are not saved, either.”

On a normally quiet e-mail list called TULIP a hyper showed up to start spitting at me when Chris Arnzen posted an announcement about the debate on Long Island with Bill Rutland. It is odd: many of my Reformed brethren have commented that, in personal conversation, in our online community, in other forums, I can be very patient in trying to help a non-Reformed believer come to understand the doctrines of grace. But I have zero patience with hypers. Call it a personal flaw (I have many of them), but I just can’t stand hypers—they should know better. Part of it, of course, is the fact that I am constantly having to refute those who oppose Calvinism by painting me as a hyper, but part of it is just the incredible attitude of a real hyper. The Arminian, 99% of the time, is simply ignorant of the issues. The hyper isn’t.

. . . they are still Christians, because perfection of knowledge and belief is NOT the standard of salvation: Christ is the standard of salvation, and the error you hypers make that will haunt you as you answer for it before God is that you demand of Christ that as Shepherd He only have perfect sheep—He cannot sanctify them and cause them to grow in His grace and knowledge—that passage means nothing in your system. You are like the Pharisees of old who were confident of their standing before God because of what they knew and did. Read Matthew 23 sometime, and look into your own heart.


In another post (6 June 2006), White opined:

I am not a hyper-Calvinist. R.C. Sproul is not a hyper-Calvinist. John Piper is not a hyper-Calvinist. To believe in all “five points” is not to be a hyper-Calvinist. To believe God’s choice of election is eternal in nature is not to be a hyper Calvinist. The term “hyper-Calvinism” has a meaning in and of itself, and it is irresponsible to think any one person, or group of people, has the right to redefine language itself so as to violate all standards of truth, honesty, and integrity. . . . If you believe God elected from eternity to glorify Himself by saving an undeserving people in Christ Jesus apart from any merit on their part, while revealing His justice and wrath in the just punishment of others who loved their sin and hated Him, and He did so freely, without any external compulsion, you are a hyper-Calvinist. Never mind that was the viewpoint of men like Spurgeon who wrote against hyper-Calvinism.

In “Hyper Calvinism Revisited” (21 February 2005), White makes more true criticisms (minus the anti-Catholic falsehoods):

I noted a while back the response of a hyper-Calvinist to the announcement of the topic of the tenth in the Great Debate Series on Long Island, “Can a Non-Christian Enter Heaven?” Despite my lengthy history of apologetic interaction with Rome, my consistent affirmation of the fact that Rome does not possess the gospel of Jesus Christ, and my defense of Reformed soteriology against the likes of Norman Geisler, George Bryson, and Dave Hunt, hyper-Calvinists have chosen to use this opportunity to make sure everyone understands: it is not enough for you to believe in the Five Points: unless you 1) confess you were not a Christian until you understood and believed all Five Points, and 2) are willing to condemn to the fires of hell itself every person who does not understand and believe all five points in totality, you are not a Christian either (evidently that makes seven points you must believe). So, the theme out of the hyper camp is that both the debaters June 9th, Bill Rutland, the Roman Catholic, and James White, the Calvinist, are unregenerate, lost men! You can believe all Five Points, but, if you don’t believe their “Extra Two,” you are as lost as a Roman Catholic who affirms every element of Rome’s false teaching.

I think this is excellent analysis, for the most part. But the difficulty that folks like White and Way (those who consider themselves more “balanced” and nuanced, informed Calvinists) will run into is interpreting the statements above from very prominent people like Packer, Mouw, Spurgeon, and Boice. These appear to me (at least at first examination) to be not far from the sort of equation of TULIP and the gospel and salvation that White and Way condemn in what they would regard as hyper-Calvinists.

In other words, the problem runs deep, and can’t be confined solely to fringe wackos: a phenomenon that every institution has to deal with. Packer, Mouw, Spurgeon, and Boice are more sophisticated and infinitely more irenic than the guys White is replying to above, but in many ways, several of their opinions regarding the place of TULIP are quite similar.

In fact, James White has serious internal logical difficulties of his own, that are not unlike the above. Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin demonstrated in his article, “Fatally Flawed Thinking” (This Rock, July 1993), that White’s position logically reduces to one in which any person who denied Limited Atonement could not be a Christian; hence, not saved. So we are back to the scenario of TULIP (one part of it, in this case), being essential to the nature of being a Christian, which in turn (for White), is being saved (and hence, at the same time, part of the gospel of salvation). It’s a subtle argument, but brilliant and well worth making the effort to understand (bracketed comments are his own: I believe they are “footnotes” added to the original article):

White declares this belief in his most popular anti-Catholic book, The Fatal Flaw: “[A]ll who hold to biblical authority . . . refuse to the Catholic system the name ‘Christian,’ for one cannot truly own Christ as Savior and Lord when one denies the complete efficacy and power of his atoning blood!”[James White, The Fatal Flaw (Southbridge, Massachusetts: Crowne Publications, 1990), 151. . . .

Catholics deny the complete efficacy and power of Christ’s blood, White argues, because they believe in purgatory, the sacrifice of the Mass, and indulgences. He says these are means of atonement outside of Christ’s atonement, and their existence implies Christ’s blood was not sufficient for us. This is what White identifies as Catholicism’s “fatal flaw.” “Here then is the fatal flaw of Romanism: The Church of Rome teaches a gospel that is devoid of the all-sufficient and finished work of Jesus Christ and therefore declares that there are ways of expiation, atonement, [and] forgiveness that are outside of and distinct from the atonement of Jesus Christ.”[White, 156.] . . .

To show the Mass, purgatory, and indulgences add to what Christ has done for us, he appeals to a particular Calvinist doctrine called “limited atonement.” . . . Since few Christians believe in the doctrine of limited atonement, the potential of White’s book is diminished. Only five-point Calvinists will accept one of its key premises, [In personal correspondence with me, White states he does not care that he has limited the potential of the book, saying, “It is not my desire to write a ‘popular’ book that would find a wide audience. . . . Instead, I desire simply to present God’s truth, even if that truth is not popular in my culture at this time in history.” He adds, “the Reformed understanding of the atonement is the only view that can properly address the Roman Catholic concept of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice.” This is an implicit admission his argument against the Mass will not work properly without limited atonement.] and only they are likely to accept fully its overall argument.

Furthermore, White’s use of limited atonement also limits the number who count as Christians. He wishes to exclude only Catholics and possibly Eastern Orthodox from the family of Christians, but his argument requires him to exclude many more people if he applies it consistently. It requires him to deny the name Christian to anyone who is not a five-point Calvinist.

White says Catholics are not Christians because “one cannot truly own Christ as Savior and Lord when one denies the complete efficacy and power of his atoning blood!” [White, 151.] By the complete efficacy and power of Christ’s blood White has in mind the standard Calvinist view that the atonement automatically saves all those for whom it is offered, so men do not need to add anything such as faith or love to it to be saved. . . . If men do need to add something, Christ’s blood does not have complete efficacy and power.

This is where limited atonement comes in. White reasons that if Christ’s atonement automatically saves those for whom it is offered, and if it is offered for all men, then all men receive final salvation. But the existence of hell indicates not everyone will be saved, so the atonement must not be for everyone. It must be limited, offered for some people, but not for all.

Most Protestants deny this and claim the atonement was made for everyone. Since most Protestants also believe some people will be lost, five-point Calvinists claim they must say the atonement is not sufficient in and of itself, that it does not automatically save those for whom it is offered, and if a person says the atonement does not automatically save those for whom it is offered, then, according to five-point Calvinism, he is denying the complete efficacy and power of Christ’s blood. [This is the standard charge five-point Calvinists make against those who disagree with them and yet believe in hell.]

White says such people “cannot truly own Christ as Savior and Lord” and therefore must be refused the name “Christian.” It turns out that anyone who denies limited atonement and believes in hell must not be a Christian. Almost all traditional Protestants [Everyone except five-point Calvinists.] deny limited atonement, so almost all traditional Protestants must not be Christians.

That White does not say that only five-point Calvinists are Christians shows he is employing a double-standard. He has failed to think through the implications of his argument. [In correspondence with me White tries to avoid the conclusion that Protestants who deny limited atonement are not Christians by arguing that they do not add such things as the Mass, purgatory, and indulgences to the atonement. This argument does not work because it does not matter what one adds to the atonement. If one adds anything then, according to five-point Calvinism, one is denying the complete efficacy and power of the atonement. If rejecting limited atonement means something must be added to Christ’s work, as five-point Calvinists claim, then those who reject limited atonement do not count as Christians on White’s definition. If his argument works against Catholics, it works against anyone who, in White’s sense, “denies the complete efficacy and power of his atoning blood,” Protestants included.]

White has other similar problems that are his own, as a Reformed Baptist, but not applicable to more orthodox Calvinists (who believe in infant baptism and true sacraments). In a paper of mine from 2003, I demonstrated that from his own extreme words (in our first postal debate of 1995), stating that sacraments are antithetical to grace (“If you feel a communion that replaces the grace of God with sacraments, mediators, and merit, can be properly called ‘Christian,’ then please go ahead and use the phrase”), it follows that Martin Luther and St. Augustine (both firm adherents of sacramentalism) are not Christians.

It also follows that John Calvin would not be, either. White follows the Anabaptist tradition in this regard, and both Luther and Calvin advocated capital punishment for Anabaptists. White could quite possibly have been executed in either Saxony or Geneva, for believing what he does about baptism, and would have been regarded as a seditious revolutionary heretic and danger even to civil society. Calvin and Luther held even more hostility towards Protestant “fanatics” and “enthusiasts” than they did towards the Catholic Church.

Calvinism proper is incoherent and self-contradictory enough. But Reformed Baptist Calvinism is an even more incoherent, inconsistent version of an already troubled, biblically-challenged view. So White’s own difficulties are multiplied (and, I would contend, are insurmountable).

The internal incoherence and inconsistency of Calvinism leads to absurd conclusions like this. Thus, Calvinism can be shown to be, in some respects, and/or in some circles, anti-[non-Calvinist] Protestant as well as (often) anti-Catholic.

Tremendous hostility and never-ending tension have existed between Calvinists and Arminians, for 400 years, with very strong charges being levied on both sides. The Synod of Dort (1618-1619) was, historically the origin of TULIP, and it decreed that the Arminians were heretics.

Calvinist Michael S. Horton wrote in his article, “Evangelical Arminians: Option or Oxymoron?”:

One can readily see how a shift from a God-centered message of human sinfulness and divine grace to a human-centered message of human potential and relative divine impotence could create a more secularized outlook. . . . the evangelicals who faced this challenge of Arminianism universally regarded it as a heretical departure from the Christian faith.

The orthodox Protestants were not over-reacting, therefore, when they regarded the Arminian denials as no different from the positions of Trent, which had declared the evangelicals “anathema.” It would have been bigoted for them, therefore, to regard Trent’s position as unorthodox if they were unwilling to say the same of a similar “Protestant” deviation.

***

(originally 4-6-10)

Photo credit: The Sermon of St Stephen (1514), by Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

September 22, 2018

A Calvinist stated: “I am having trouble distinguishing the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity from the determination of the Second Council of Orange.” [529 AD]

Particularly, he was referring to the following decrees:

CANON 7 If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

CANON 14 No mean wretch is freed from his sorrowful state, however great it may be, save the one who is anticipated by the mercy of God, as the Psalmist says, “Let thy compassion come speedily to meet us” (Ps. 79:8), and again, “My God in his steadfast love will meet me” (Ps. 59:10).

CANON 20 That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.

CANON 22 Concerning those things that belong to man. No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.It’s a huge difference. You are superimposing (as Protestants often do) onto Orange your own notions, which take things much further. 

It’s a huge difference. He was superimposing (as Protestants often do) onto Orange their own notions, which take things much further.

Catholics believe in sola gratia. Man can do no good except by God’s grace. Man cannot be saved except by God’s grace (not by works). That’s what Orange is teaching, and the Catholic Church has always believed this.

The Calvinist position is very different. It agrees with the above tenets (sola gratia or Grace Alone for salvation), but it also denies all ability to do good in an unregenerate man. The difference, bluntly and succinctly put, is the following:

1) Catholic: man can only do good by God’s grace. Even unregenerate men can do a measure of good by this grace, but cannot ever be saved in so doing.

2) Calvinist (not even all Protestants): the only man that can do the good that comes entirely by God’s grace is the regenerate man.

Notice, then, that the second category of thought is far more restrictive. For the Catholic, grace is more widely available, and good acts are not restricted to regenerate (or in Protestant thinking, “already-saved”) men. I established at length, from biblical argumentation, I think, that the Catholic position is harmonious with the entire biblical teaching, whereas Calvinism is not. We agree that the “natural man” cannot be saved or do any good but by God’s grace. But we deny that he is entirely unable to do what is spiritually good because he is not yet regenerated.

* * * * *

A person in my combox asked:

I have long had questions about why Calvinist’s are so quick to point to the Second Council of Orange in support of their teachings. It is my understanding that there are other teachings from this Council that completely contradict Calvinism,(not to mention Luther, Zwingli etc) e.g., issues of Free Will. Is there anything you can point to specifically in this Council to show this?

I replied:

Good question.

Calvinists think that human free will to do anything good was completely lost at the Fall (total depravity). Orange (from the year 529) and Trent and Catholicism hold that it was greatly impaired or weakened but not completely corrupted:

2nd Orange:

CANON 1 If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was “changed for the worse” through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius . . .

CANON 8 . . . free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man . . .

This one sounds more “Calvinist” though:

CANON 13 Concerning the restoration of free will. The freedom of will that was destroyed in the first man can be restored only by the grace of baptism, for what is lost can be returned only by the one who was able to give it. Hence the Truth itself declares: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

It would then become a matter of interpreting this canon in relation to the others (just as we do Scripture), and we would probably have to go back to the original language to resolve that.

We see the notion of merit for grace-produced works, which Protestants deny:

CANON 18 That grace is not preceded by merit. Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done.

Orange denies that human nature was totally corrupted (as Luther and Calvinists would say):

CANON 19 That a man can be saved only when God shows mercy. Human nature, even though it remained in that sound state in which it was created, could be no means save itself, without the assistance of the Creator; hence since man cannot safe- guard his salvation without the grace of God, which is a gift, how will he be able to restore what he has lost without the grace of God?

The following canons may perhaps refer in part to good works done by unregenerate man (contra Total Depravity):

CANON 23 Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.

CONCLUSION . . . The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God’s sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. . . .

Again, we see a great weakening of free will, but it isn’t totally wiped out. This was Augustine’s position as well (which is equally distorted by Calvinists).

Men contribute by cooperation, to their salvation, precisely as in Scripture and dogmatic Catholic teaching:

CONCLUSION According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. . . .

Predestination to hell (implied) or to evil is rejected:

CONCLUSION . . . We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, . . .

Nothing in these canons contradicts Catholic teaching at all, whereas several points contradict Calvinism.

See the web page with the canons (Protestant source).

The Catholic Encyclopedia article, “Councils of Orange” is very instructive as well, and states that the decrees were “drawn almost in their entirety from the works of St. Augustine and the “Sententiæ” of St. Prosper of Aquitaine . . . and these in turn were freely used by the Council of Trent in its condemnation of Luther.” Note the following points of the canons, that expressly contradict Calvinist Total Depravity. I have added the relevant canon excerpts in brackets:

Operation of grace before justification. It precedes every effort conducive to salvation. From it proceed:

(a) prayer (can. iii); [“If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah”]

(b) the desire of justification (iv); [“even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit”]

(c) the inception of faith (v); [“not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism”]

(d) every effort towards faith (vi); [“we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, . . . by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us . . . we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought”]

(e) every salutary act (vii); [“form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, . . . we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel”]

(f) every preparation to justification (viii, xii); [“ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves {with} the revelation of God” / “God loves us for what we shall be by his gift”]

(g) all merit (xviii). [“Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done”]

One can see the sadly common cynically selective citation and virtual intellectual dishonesty in a Calvinist treatment of the council, from the website Monergism.com. First it claims (I was so surprised that I almost fainted) that the council contradicts Catholic theology, and that the Catholic Church supposedly “abandoned” its decrees later on (which is sheer nonsense, but boilerplate anti-Catholic rhetoric):

The Council of Orange is one of the most important councils of the early Church and was often pointed to by the Reformers as evidence that Rome had abandoned the theology of its own Council Fathers and Church Doctors. All persons of faith should take the time to get to know it.

Having made this judgment that is contradicted again and again in the council, as we have seen above, the site decides to selectively cite the canons, to supposedly bolster its own “Reformed” opinion (a classic case of quoting out of context):

Below we focus on five (5) of the 25 Canons that have been influential to to the Reformed understanding of the work of Christ in salvation. These truths were hugely consequential in 16th century Reformation Theology and its apprehension of the doctrine’s of grace. . . . (Especially take note of Canon’s 6-7).

Thankfully, and to its credit, the site does make a link to all the canons. But this is classic anti-Catholic (usually Calvinist) Protestant methodology: highlight a few Bible verses (or conciliar canons), that, taken in isolation, appear to support one’s entire viewpoint. Then ignore all the counter-evidence from the same source (Bible or councils or Church fathers) that prove that there is not an equivalence of viewpoint at all. Assume that readers will uncritically swallow all of this without thinking critically for themselves and “presto”: you create more cookie-cutter anti-Catholic Calvinists, who are convinced that the early Church was far closer to Calvinism than to Catholicism.

We need to expose such nefarious methods, which are a disgrace to academic honesty and rigor, and the facts of history, at every turn. I’m happy to do my part!

I did find one Calvinist Protestant writer who (quite refreshingly) admitted that Orange was not completely in accord with Calvinism. He admits that it does not assert either double predestination, or a completely nullified human free will, and concedes that it does teach baptismal regeneration and a “merit of good works”:

Problems with the Synod of Orange- (1) The irresistibility of grace is not affirmed. (2) Predestination to evil is condemned. (3) The reception of grace is so bound to baptism that the sacramental quality of grace and the merit of good works are put in the foreground. “We also believe this to be according to the Catholic faith, that grace having been received in baptism, all who have been baptized, can and ought, by the aid and support of Christ, to perform those things which belong to the salvation of the soul, if they will labor faithfully” (in Latin known as ‘ex opera operato’) (emphasis mine). The sharp points of Augustine were blunted and therefore this would lead to a great deal of error during the Medieval period of the Church. (Charles R. Biggs, “Important Creeds and Councils of the Christian Church”)

Chris Jones, a Lutheran, writing on an Orthodox site, hit the nail on the head concerning this council, and how it is abused by Calvinists:

It seems to me that 2d Orange is perfectly consistent with the sensus patrum.

2d Orange affirms, along with St Augustine, the primacy of grace; but it is hardly the bedrock of monergism that the Reformed try to make of it. The canons of 2d Orange make it clear that, in the economy of salvation, God’s grace must come first, and apart from grace fallen man is powerless even to begin the process of salvation. But 2d Orange is equally clear that grace, once given, does not preclude, but rather requires, the believer’s cooperation. Read the concluding statement (following the canons themselves) of the council’s decrees to see how definitively it teaches the necessity for cooperation, post-baptism.

The relationship among prevenient grace, human cooperation, and post-baptismal grace envisaged by 2d Orange is, in my view, pretty much identical with the teaching on the same subject in the Orthodox Confession of Dositheos. It is true that 2d Orange has never been explicitly recognized in the East as an orthodox council; but there is nothing in its decrees with which an Orthodox should disagree. (comment of 19 March 2007)

Protestant historian Philip Schaff, in his famous History of the Church (vol. 3, § 160. Victory of Semi-Augustinianism. Council of Orange, A.D. 529.), honestly treats (as always) aspects of the council that contradict Protestant (and especially Calvinist Protestant) tenets:

These transactions terminated at length in the triumph of a moderate Augustinianism, or of what might be called Semi-Augustinianism, in distinction from Semi-Pelagianism. At the synod of Orange (Arausio) in the year 529, at which Caesarius of Arles was leader, the Semi-Pelagian system, yet without mention of its adherents, was condemned in twenty-five chapters or canons, and the Augustinian doctrine of sin and grace was approved, without the doctrine of absolute or particularistic predestination. . . . it will suffice to give extracts containing in a positive form the most important propositions. . . .

13. The free will weakened in Adam, can only be restored through the grace of baptism.

[footnote: Arbitrium voluntatis in primo homine in infirmatum (not “amissum”). ] . . .18. Unmerited grace precedes meritorious works.

[footnote: There are then meritorious works. “Debetur merces bonis operibus, si fiant, sed gratia quae non debetur praecedit, ut fiant” Chap. 18 taken from Augustine’s Opus imperf. c. Jul. i. c. 133 and from the Sentences of Prosper Aquitanus, n. 297. But, on the other hand, Augustine also says: “Merita nostra sunt Dei munera.”] . . .23. When man sins, he does his own will; when he does good, he executes the will of God, yet voluntarily. . . .

To these chapters the synod added a Creed of anthropology and soteriology, which, in opposition to Semi-Pelagianism, contains the following five propositions:

  1. Through the fall free will has been so weakened, that without prevenient grace no one can love God, believe on Him, or do good for God’s sake, as he ought (sicut oportuit, implying that he may in a certain measure).
  2. Through the grace of God all may, by the co-operation of God, perform what is necessary for their soul’s salvation.
  3. It is by no means our faith, that any have been predestinated by God to sin (ad malum), but rather: if there are people who believe so vile a thing, we condemn them with utter abhorrence (cum omni detestatione)

*

At the close of this period Gregory the Great represents the moderated Augustinian system, with the gratia praeveniens, but without the gratia irresistibilis and without a particularistic decretum absolutum. Through him this milder Augustinianism exerted great influence upon the mediaeeval theology. Yet the strict Augustinianism always had its adherents, in such men as Bede, Alcuin, and Isidore of Seville, who taught a gemina praedestinatio, sive electorum ad salutem, sive reproborum ad mortem; it became prominent again in the Gottschalk controversy in the ninth century, was repressed by scholasticism and the prevailing legalism; was advocated by the precursors of the Reformation, especially by Wiclif and Huss; and in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, it gained a massive acknowledgment and an independent development in Calvinism, which, in fact, partially recast it, and gave it its most consistent form.

* * * * *

Yet more exchanges with the same person, and more arguments favoring my Catholic position:

From Calvinist Joel Beeke:

Total Depravity is not absolute depravity. Calvinists have always taken pains to state that total depravity does not mean men are animals or devils, or that they are as depraved as they could be or will be. This world is not hell. Total depravity does not mean that an unbeliever is wholly evil in everything he does, but rather that nothing he does is ever wholly good. Man is not so far fallen that he has lost all awareness of God or conscience; by God’s common goodness, he is still capable of showing domestic affection, doing civic good, and performing his duties as a citizen. He is capable of great heroism, of great physical courage, and of great acts of self-denial. Yet he is a corrupt sinner in every aspect of his nature, and as such, he is utterly incapable of performing any spiritual good in the eyes of God.

The discussion turns to a large extent on the various definitions one may give of a good act. I meant (as explained at length in my papers) exactly what you clarify, in the attempt to show that I was misrepresenting Calvinism. My quick definition of total depravity in this thread was: 

. . . the only man that can do the good that comes entirely by God’s grace is the regenerate man.

This is precisely, exactly harmonious with what your impeccable (?) Calvinist source (Joel Beeke) says:

nothing he [Dave: the unbeliever or unregenerate man] does is ever wholly good . . . he is a corrupt sinner in every aspect of his nature, and as such, he is utterly incapable of performing any spiritual good in the eyes of God.

This leads to manifest absurdities. If an unregenerate man saves a child from being hit by a car, according to Total Depravity the act can be neither “wholly good” nor “spiritually good.” It’s good in some remote, multiply qualified sense, so we are told, but it lacks the purity and unmixed nature of the same act performed by a regenerate person. Moreover, according to John Calvin (cited below), “everything which proceeds from him [unregenerate man] is imputed as sin”. Such a man is utterly incapable of “charity towards [his] neighbour” and indeed, is “incapable of one righteous desire”.

Therefore, it follows inexorably by the internal logic of the position, that even an act of this extraordinarily charitable nature is still “imputed as sin” — which is an outrageous assertion indeed.

According to the Bible and Catholicism, and most of Protestantism, and Orthodoxy, on the other hand, if a thing is good, it is good, and ultimately flows from God’s grace. Men (even unregenerate ones) can do these good acts by God’s grace. At the same time, there are subjective differences in motive, degrees of consent of the will and so forth (which in terms of sin we differentiate by “venial” and “mortal”), but a good act, insofar as “good” is objectively defined) is a good act.

The Calvinist and early Lutheran perspective in these matters is a great distortion brought on by the categories of medieval nominalism, which was a corruption of Scholasticism. The objective aspects of ethics and right and wrong and righteousness were minimized and subjectivism became primary (thus motive in a good act, for Luther, was everything; unless an act was performed with utterly pure motives it was evil).

You say: “It is not a Calvinist belief that the unregenerate can do no good whatsoever, but that this good is in no way effective for salvation.”

Why are you telling me this, since in my paper on total depravity, that you seem to have read, I start with (which means I accept, as the opinion of those I am criticizing!) a definition from Presbyterian Charles Hodge, which prominently includes this aspect in it:

By total depravity, is not meant that all men are equally wicked; nor that any man is as thoroughly corrupt as it is possible for a man to be; nor that men are destitute of all moral virtues. The Scriptures recognize the fact, which experience abundantly confirms, that men, to a greater or less degree, are honest in dealings, kind in their feelings, and beneficent in their conduct. Even the heathen, the Apostle teaches us, do by nature the things of the law. They are more or less under the dominion of conscience, which approves or disapproves their moral conduct. All this is perfectly consistent with the Scriptural doctrine of total depravity,

So why is it that you assume that I somehow don’t understand this? I find it very odd. The doctrine is what it is, and I have given a correct definition of it and have, as far as I am concerned, shown with many examples how it is plainly, flatly contrary to Holy Scripture. Here are some definitions from John Calvin, lest anyone fail to grasp the hideousness and bizarre extremity of exactly what is meant by “total depravity” in the Calvinist mindset:

Hence, even infants bringing their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence it follows, that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt. Next comes the other point—viz. that this perversity in us never ceases, but constantly produces new fruits, in other words, those works of the flesh which we formerly described; just as a lighted furnace sends forth sparks and flames, or a fountain without ceasing pours out water. Hence, those who have defined original sin as the want of the original righteousness which we ought to have had, though they substantially comprehend the whole case, do not significantly enough express its power and energy. For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. Those who term it concupiscence use a word not very inappropriate, provided it were added (this, however, many will by no means concede), that everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence. (Institutes of the Christian ReligionBook II, Ch. 1, sec. 8)

Here I only wished briefly to observe, that the whole man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is so deluged, as it were, that no part remains exempt from sin, and, therefore, everything which proceeds from him is imputed as sin. (Inst., II, 1, 9)

Man, when he withdrew his allegiance to God, was deprived of the spiritual gifts by which he had been raised to the hope of eternal salvation. Hence it follows, that he is now an exile from the kingdom of God, so that all things which pertain to the blessed life of the soul are extinguished in him until he recover them by the grace of regeneration. Among these are faith, love to God, charity towards our neighbour, the study of righteousness and holiness. . . . For although there is still some residue of intelligence and judgment as well as will, we cannot call a mind sound and entire which is both weak and immersed in darkness. As to the will, its depravity is but too well known. Therefore, since reason, by which man discerns between good and evil, and by which he understands and judges, is a natural gift, it could not be entirely destroyed; but being partly weakened and partly corrupted, a shapeless ruin is all that remains. . . . in the perverted and degenerate nature of man there are still some sparks which show that he is a rational animal, and differs from the brutes, inasmuch as he is endued with intelligence, and yet, that this light is so smothered by clouds of darkness that it cannot shine forth to any good effect. In like manner, the will, because inseparable from the nature of man, did not perish, but was so enslaved by depraved lusts as to be incapable of one righteous desire. (Inst., II, 2, 12)

But as, in consequence of the corruption of nature, all our faculties are so vitiated and corrupted, that a perpetual disorder and excess is apparent in all our actions, and as the appetites cannot be separated from this excess, we maintain that therefore they are vicious; or, to give the substance in fewer words, we hold that all human desires are evil, and we charge them with sin not in as far as they are natural, but because they are inordinate, and inordinate because nothing pure and upright can proceed from a corrupt and polluted nature. (Inst., III, 3, 12)

***

(originally 1-5-09)

Photo credit: Detail (John Calvin) from the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland, sculpted in 1909 by Paul Landowski and Henri Bouchard. Photograph by Eisjen Schaaf (4-4-12) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

***

September 21, 2018

*****

The paper above dealt with Romans 3 and also Romans 2. The former was dealt with at great length, including an examination of the OT texts that Paul cited. The treatment of Romans 2 was shorter, and so I shall cite it here:

Paul doesn’t teach, in context, that absolutely all unregenerated men know that God exist but deny Him anyway, for in the very next chapter (and the chapter right before our text under consideration): Romans 2, he talks about “righteous” people who can do “good” and who are capable of “well-doing” even without the Law, let alone the gospel of Jesus Christ:

6: For he will render to every man according to his works:
7: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

10 . . . glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

13: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
14: When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
15: They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them
16: on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

26: So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
27: Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

How fascinating. All of this is about Gentiles who don’t even have the law. They haven’t heard the gospel at all. The New Testament has not yet been out together. They (obviously) don’t yet have the benefit of Romans itself. Paul never says that they have heard the gospel. James White would probably say they are unregenerate, since he seems to think (from what I can tell) that one must hear the gospel and accept it in order to be regenerated and justified. These people have not that advantage at all. Therefore, according to White, they could not possibly be capable of any spiritually good thing. Yet look at all the words Paul uses to describe them:

. . . by patience in well-doing . . . [receive] eternal life; . . . every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. . . . do by nature what the law requires, . . . what the law requires is written on their hearts, . . . a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, . . . those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law . . .”

Needless to say, this doesn’t fit very well at all with White’s [Calvinist] theology.

Romans 2 and 3 are the immediate context of Romans 1. One discovers that they do not teach Calvinist theology at all, when closely examined (nor does the famous Romans 9, for that matter). Nuances and qualifications are present that mitigate against the Calvinist application of descriptions to all men whatsoever. Calvinists usually choose to ignore or rationalize away passages that don’t fit into their man-made schema.

Once we approach Romans 1 (actually Romans 1:18-32 and the conclusion of this “unit of thought”: up through 2:10), we have to determine if it, too, makes such qualifications (thus undercutting the Calvinist “co-opting” of the passage) or if it teaches that all men fall prey to the characteristics described therein. Here is the entire passage (RSV):

[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.
[19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
[20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;

[21] for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.
[22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
[23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
[24] Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
[25] because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
[26] For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
[27] and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
[28] And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.
[29] They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips,
[30] slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
[31] foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
[32] Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them
[1] Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
[2] We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things.
[3] Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?
[4] Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
[5] But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
[6] For he will render to every man according to his works:
[7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
[8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.
[9] There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
[10] but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

John Calvin, in his Commentaries (verse 18 of this passage), wrote (emphases added):

And he brings, as the first proof of condemnation, the fact, — that though the structure of the world, and the most beautiful arrangement of the elements, ought to have induced man to glorify God, yet no one discharged his proper duty: it hence appears that all were guilty of sacrilege, and of wicked and abominable ingratitude.

. . . And then, all the impiety of men is to be taken, by a figure in language, as meaning “the impiety of all men,” or, the impiety of which all men are guilty.

Calvin provides a remarkable example of eisegesis (reading into Scripture something that isn’t there) and of illogical thinking, in the last sentence. To illustrate the logical sleight-of-hand, suppose we use a similar example, following the language of the RSV, which Calvin, in effect, modifies in the following fashion:

Real Bible

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

Calvin’s Calvinist Tradition of Men Eisegeted Version

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against ungodliness and wickedness of all men, all of whom by their wickedness suppress the truth.

See how the meaning changes? Now, for our analogy, picture four young siblings who were left alone for a minute in one of their rooms. Their father comes back, only to find a fairly expensive lamp broken. In fact, it was broken by two of them, when they were wrestling and bumped into the lamp. When asked who did the dirty deed, all denied having done it. Thus, two of them were lying and two were telling the truth. Let’s do an analogy to the above passage:

The wrath of the father is revealed against all lamp-breaking and mischievousness of [the particular] children who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

The wrath of the father is revealed against lamp-breaking and mischievousness of all his children who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

The first is a true statement with regard to these children: two of whom were guilty and two of whom were not. The second is a falsehood because it presupposes that all four children were guilty, when in fact, only two were. I know how Calvinists think and reason. They will immediately object that I have smuggled in a false view that not all men are fallen (as exemplified by the two innocent children). But that was not the intention of the analogy.

Besides the fact that Catholics and Arminian Protestants agree with Calvinists that all men are fallen (as far as that goes) and that no one is “innocent” (with the lone exception among creatures, of Mary, and that by a special supernatural act of prevention from God, lest she inevitably be fallen too), the goal of the analogy was to illustrate how changing the syntactical structure or grammar of a passage can massively change its meaning.

Calvin is clearly engaging in circular reasoning and eisegesis. He came to Romans 1 with his theology already in place, and he read into it to make it teach accordingly. But what he does is not in the text itself. Why this is can be examined in several other ways. I shall contend in due course that it is impossible to interpret this passage in its entirety (i.e., the cited portion above) in accordance with the Calvinist view that it applies to all men. And it’s not all that difficult to prove this, in context.

Remember, as we go through this exposition, that for Calvin and Calvinists, the passage is referring to the mass of unregenerate, fallen men: the entire human race, since we are all guilty and fallen. The latter clause is denied by virtually no Christian communion (with a few exceptions; e.g., Zwingli, and the Church[es] of Christ denomination). But being fallen and doing particular sinful acts of wickedness are two different things.

The first argument one could put forth is so elegantly simple (though a bit subtle) that it could easily be overlooked (and Calvinists, with their logically circular presuppositional epistemology, are notorious for doing just that):

1) If Paul is referring to fallen man en masse, then he must be referring to all men after Adam and Eve (including the fallen Adam and Eve), since they all would be in this totally depraved, fallen state after the first human couple.

2) In other words, the passage cannot describe post-Adam and Eve man as having been in one state and then having descended into the fallen state (i.e., the totally depraved state of Calvinism’s fancy), because that was already a fait accompli. That sad progression of events had already occurred.

The task remains, then, to determine whether the passage suggests any progression, which is impossible by the nature of things, if it is supposed that it is referring to fallen man throughout, or whether it is discussing something other than man’s fallenness (i.e., particular acts of wickedness and tendencies of many men, but not all men, as fallen, depraved creatures).

I agree with the Calvinist that all men indeed know that God exists (though this knowledge is sometimes very buried in subconscious layers). I have argued this in many papers. That is indeed a statement that can apply to all men, without exception. Verse 20 is such a generalized statement, and can be properly interpreted in this way, I think. With verse 21, however, Paul starts discussing actual, particular acts:

for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.

Now, is this true of absolutely all men (fallen man)? It seems to me that if this is about fallen man per se, then it couldn’t be about post-Adam and Eve man, because we see a progression into fallenness. “Senseless minds” being “darkened” sounds exactly like the depravity that the Calvinist asserts of all fallen men. So it is a vicious logical circle, because this text is talking about human beings who would already have fallen, as descendants of Adam and Eve. Therefore they can’t fall again. If one falls into a pit that one can’t possibly get out of, then likewise it is impossible to again fall into it. One is already there, and for good.

How do we know that? It’s rather simple:

1) Verse 23 says that they worshiped images (idolatry). Adam and Eve didn’t do this.

2) Verses 26 and 27 describe homosexual acts. That doesn’t apply to Adam and Eve, either, and in fact, was impossible because it requires two men or two women!

3) v. 28: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.” This also reads (for a Calvinist) like a description of total depravity. Calvin seems to strongly imply this in his commentary:

There is an evident comparison to be observed in these words, by which is strikingly set forth the just relation between sin and punishment. As they chose not to continue in the knowledge of God, which alone guides our minds to true wisdom, the Lord gave them a perverted mind, which can choose nothing that is right.

It is the inability to choose anything that is right which is precisely the hallmark of unregenerate, fallen man. They already had this characteristic, as part of the fallen human race. Therefore, it makes no sense for the text to describe post-fallen man as falling. Ergo: the text must not be referring to fallen man en masse (as if all men do these things), but to examples of widespread wickedness and actual sin, not original. Again, it is very simple, yet somewhat subtle as well.

Therefore, the passage cannot be about fallen man because it gives illustrations of “falling” that make no sense if the passage is supposedly about fallen man. If these people are already fallen, they can’t be described as falling again. Calvin (still for v. 28) qualifies slightly, so as to make sense of the text and achieve some semblance of logical non-circularity:

As he had hitherto referred only to one instance of abomination, which prevailed indeed among many, but was not common to all, he begins here to enumerate vices from which none could be found free: for though every vice, as it has been said, did not appear in each individual, yet all were guilty of some vices, so that every one might separately be accused of manifest depravity.

4) V. 29: “Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips,” This has to be after Adam and Eve, since the first murder was Cain killing Abel, after the fall.

5) V. 30: “disobedient to parents”. Adam and Eve had no parents.

A second argument proceeds as follows:

1) Assume for the sake of argument that Romans is about fallen man en masse.

2) The Calvinist argument will contend that Paul switches back to talking to the Roman Christians in Romans 2 (at some point in that chapter).

3) But the phrase “O Man” of 2:1 implies a continuation of the generalizations about sinful man, as seen in the use of “men” (1:18) and the general “they” and “them” (referring back to this [fallen or example of a wicked] “man”) throughout Romans 1.

4) 2:2 and 2:3 speak of judgment of the same “O Man” (2:3). So these two verses are still talking about fallen, unregenerate man.

5) Yet 2:4 states: “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

6) According to Calvinism, the unregenerate, totally depraved man, who is spoken of as being judged in 2:2-3 is never intended by God to repent unto salvation, because of their belief in Limited Atonement: Jesus died only for the elect, and only they have been chosen by God from the foundation of the world. The others are inexorably damned by God’s foreordained choice of not electing them to salvation. Therefore, 2:4 would be a contradiction to what came immediately before and after. “Repentance” should not be applied to these unregenerate, wicked men at all. It is meaningless in the Calvinist paradigm. It’s another “Catholic verse”!

7) V. 5 reiterates that the non-elect, unregenerate man was being discussed in 2:1-4: “But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”

8) Paul then goes on to explain that people are judged in the end by their works (I have found no less than 50 such passages, to the exclusion of “faith alone”), so that the ones described earlier who committed all these evil deeds, are obviously among the damned, according to the thrust of the entire passage here considered. So, why, then, “repentance” used in reference to them, in verse 2:4, when this is a meaningless concept for the damned, according to Calvinism and Limited Atonement?

9) Therefore, we conclude the contrary: that the passage is not about fallen man or unregenerate man alone, but about a generalized catalogue of human sins, with the “moral” being that those who commit such sins and do not cease will tend to be the ones who are damned in the end.

A third argument is a lexical one concerning the Greek word ago (lead) from Romans 2:4: “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” This is Strong’s word #71. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon describes it in this particular usage: “to lead, guide, direct: Jn x. 16.” God is leading the person to repent and be saved. According to Calvinism, such leading is inexorable. That is the “U” in TULIP: unconditional election. If God wants to lead someone, they will be saved, and if God wants to pass over the next person, they will be damned. That’s all there is to it. The Amplified Bible brings out the shades of meaning inherent in this passage:

Or are you [so blind as to] trifle with and presume upon and despise and underestimate the wealth of His kindness and forbearance and long-suffering patience? Are you unmindful or actually ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repent (to change your mind and inner man to accept God’s will)?

So here is the Apostle Paul speaking hypothetically to the damned, fallen “man” and bringing up the notion of being led to repentance. Why, if there is no chance whatsoever of this person being saved? It doesn’t fit. It’s a square peg in a round hole. The Calvinist God doesn’t “talk” like this to the damned. In the very next verse Paul goes right back to saying they will be damned. But Thayer compares the use here of ago, to John 10:16:

And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring (ago) them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.

This is more like Calvinism! God “brings” them and they come; no doubt about it. Calvinists love John 10:14, too, because this is talking about the elect: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.” But Romans 2:4 is just stuck in the middle of all this fallen man gloom and doom. God is unable to lead these sinners by His kindness, to repentance. It makes no sense: not within the tradition-of-men paradigm of Calvinism. Therefore, the Calvinist interpretation of this passage, as exemplified by John Calvin’s exegesis (if one can give it that worthy title), is implausible and incoherent, on the three grounds I have laid out.

The triumphant Romans 8:14 is another use of ago:

Romans 8:14-16 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (cf. also Heb 2:10: “bringing”)

Election! Catholics don’t deny election itself, or even predestination of the elect; we only deny predestination of the damned, and the notion that any human cooperation whatsoever (derisively called synergism by Calvinists) is somehow Pelagian and a detraction from the glory of God.

The entire passage thus considered doesn’t coherently fit into a Calvinist paradigm at all, but it is perfectly consistent with a scenario not dealing with fallen man en masse, but rather, the sins of men that we can observe, with the final damnation of those who do not repent (back to 2:4 again!). God hasn’t predestined anyone to damnation. It is their choice. God gives grace enough for any man to be saved a million times over. But some reject this grace, just as the fallen angels did, even though they were with God, and so they are damned.

I think these arguments are not absolutely airtight (I already have in my mind some possible ways they could be defeated), but I think I am onto something fruitful, which could be refined and developed with more thought and study. It’s a preliminary argument, as far as I am concerned. But it has great potential, in my opinion.

***

(originally 4-10-08)

Photo credit: John Calvin at Fifty-Three Years Old (1562), engraving by René Boyvin (1525?-1598?) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

September 12, 2018

I think an orthodox “Reformation” Calvinist would agree with the definition of Total Depravity in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (edited by F. L. Cross, rev. 1983, 1387) — with which I also agree:

[T]he extreme wretchedness of man’s condition as the result of the Fall. It emphasizes the belief that this result was not a mere loss or deprivation of a supernatural endowment possessed by unfallen man, but a radical corruption or deprivation of his whole nature, so that apart from Christ he can do nothing whatever pleasing to God. Even his reason has been radically vitiated, so that acc. to Calvinism, all natural knowledge of God (such as obtains in the system of St. Thomas Aquinas is held to be impossible.

For the purpose of clarifying differences between Protestant and Catholic conceptions of the Fall, I shall cite Louis Bouyer, former Lutheran, and author of a penetrating analysis of Protestantism as a system of belief, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (New York: Meridian Books, 1955, translated by A. V. Littledale):

Even the idea of the Word of God creating what he says by the act of saying it . . . would be enough to show that God makes just whom he ‘declares just’, even if he were not so beforehand, by the very fact of his declaration, so the opposition set up is without meaning . . . .

The God of Calvinism and Barthism, it seems, keeps all his greatness only if his creatures return to nothingness. The God of the Bible, on the contrary, shows his greatness in snatching them from it, not only, as St. John says, ‘that we are called, but really are, the sons of God.’ (Jn 3:1) . . .

It was apparently impossible for Protestant theology [i.e., in its initial and original Calvinist form] . . . to agree that God could put something in man that became in fact his own, and that at the same time the gift remained the possession of the giver . . . it would seem as if man could only belong to him in ceasing to have a distinct existence, in being annihilated . . .

If the grace of God is such, only on condition that it gives nothing real; if man who believes, by saving faith, is in no way changed from what he was before believing . . .; if God can only be affirmed by silencing his creature, if he acts only in annihilating it . . .- what is condemned is not man’s presumptuous way to God, but God’s way of mercy to man.

This, and this alone, is the ultimate reproach which the Church levels at the Protestant system . . . The Word of God categorically proclaims a grace that is a real gift; a justification by faith that makes man really just . . . he is the living God who gives life . . .

For both Erasmus and Luther, to say that God and man act together in justification must mean that their joint action is analogous to that of two men drawing the same load. Consequently, the more one does, the less the other; whence, for Luther, realising anew that grace does everything in salvation, it follows of necessity that man does nothing . . .

On the other hand, for St. Bernard and the whole authentic tradition, in one sense God does all, and in another man must do all, for he has to make everything his own; but he cannot – he can do absolutely nothing valid for salvation, except in complete dependence on grace. This view, we must say, must have appeared absolutely unimaginable to both Erasmus and Luther. It is so, in fact, so long as one cannot conceive a world other than that of nominalism, as was the case for them both . . .

The true theological position, wholly consonant with revelation, is that man is himself only as he recognises his radical dependence on the Creator; but this does not mean that creation is a fiction, legal or otherwise, but the most authentic of all realities. Man saved is therefore man restored by faith to the consciousness of that absolute dependence, and so recovering his life at the very source. It may seem strange, but it is undeniable that in the whole course of this unhappy controversy [i.e., Luther vs. Erasmus] this view does not seem to have occurred to either of the protagonists. There lies the whole tragedy of Protestantism. (pp. 148, 151-152, 156-157)

Ludwig Ott wrote, concerning the Fall, in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1974 [orig. 1952], translated by Patrick Lynch):

    The Reformers . . . admitted the reality of original sin, but misunderstood its essence its operation, since they regarded it as identical with concupiscence which corrupts completely human nature . . .
    • Original Sin does not consist, as the Reformers . . . taught, in ‘The habitual concupiscence, which remains, even in the baptised, a true and proper sin, but is no longer reckoned for punishment.’ The Council of Trent teaches that through Baptism everything is taken away which is a true and proper sin, and that the concupiscence which remains behind after Baptism for the moral proving is called sin in an improper sense only. That sin remains in man, even if it is not reckoned for punishment, is irreconcilable with the Pauline teaching of Justification as an inner transformation and renewal . . .
    • The wounding of nature must not be conceived, with the Reformers and the Jansenists, as the complete corruption of human nature. In the condition of Original Sin, man possesses the ability of knowing natural religious truths and of performing natural morally good actions . . . Man, with his natural power of cognition, can with certainty know the existence of God. The Council of Trent teaches that free will was not lost or extinguished by the fall of Adam. (pp. 108, 110, 112-113)

In other words, in Catholic theology man is not “totally depraved,” does not have an essential “sin nature,” and possesses a free will.

The contrasting classic (i.e., Calvinist) Protestant, evangelical viewpoint on the Fall is observed in the writing of Charles Hodge, the Presbyterian theologian, in his Systematic Theology:

The Semi-Pelagian [note how he falsely and inaccurately describes the Catholic view] doctrine . . . admits the powers of man to have been weakened by the fall of the race, but denies that he lost all ability to perform what is spiritually good . . . The Augustinian or Protestant doctrine [St. Augustine was more Protestant than Catholic???] . . . teaches that such is the nature of inherent, hereditary depravity that men since the fall are utterly unable to turn themselves unto God or to do anything truly good in his sight . . .

This want of power of spiritual discernment arises from the corruption of our whole nature, by which the reason or understanding is blinded, and the taste and feelings are perverted. As this state of mind is innate, as it is a state or condition of our nature, it lies below the will and is beyond its power, controlling both our affections and our volitions. (abridged version, edited by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988, 308, emphasis added)

I think all these excerpts are consistent with each other, and accurately summarize the classic Protestant “Reformed” position (as seen in Calvin’s Institutes and Luther’s Bondage of the Will) on the Fall: viz., that it is a corruption of man’s entire nature, including reason, leaving him with a “sin nature”.

Related Reading:

Biblical Evidence for Original Sin [6-26-02]

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(originally 1996)

Photo credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (1791), by Benjamin West (1738-1820) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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February 12, 2018

It’s possible for Catholics and Calvinists to dialogue and to even be friends!

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This is drawn from statements made by my Reformed, Presbyterian (OPC) friend Tim Roof (words in blue throughout). Tim’s a great guy, who was charitable and fair to me on one notorious anti-Catholic web page, when virtually everyone else was slanderous and hostile. He requested that I make some sort of answer. As a sort of preamble, I was asked by a Catholic in the discussion what I thought of the Reformed opinions on predestination, etc. I wrote:

I think there are insuperable difficulties in the Calvinist position, including things having to do with God’s very nature.

But on the other hand, the problem of evil and existence of hell do raise very difficult questions for every Christian position, even if one accepts free will. Why did God allow the fall? Why did He ever allow evil to get off the ground, knowing what was to happen? Etc. No position, in my opinion, offers completely satisfying answers. It is ultimately beyond our understanding.

We can only say (and this is how I have argued) that He knew what would happen and thought that free will was better than all-good robots who couldn’t choose otherwise. But emotionally and at a gut level it is still very difficult to comprehend.

In the end we must all exercise much faith.

* * * * *

As far as pleasing God with good works, we have to adopt His definition of what good is:

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God (Luke 18:19).

Now by the human definition of good, all kinds of human beings do all kinds of good things all of the time, relative to our own varying definitions of good. But that is not what the doctrine is speaking to. 

So often believers fall into the trap of comparing themselves with other people and think in terms of relative “goodness” when compared with them. But that is not the standard. The standard for goodness is God Himself, which is perfection. 

This is classic fallacious Calvinist doctrine. The reasoning is that “only God is good; therefore nothing [unregenerate] man does is good.” It’s the old, tiresome “either/or” mentality again. God is absolutely, perfectly good, so man must be a worm, with absolutely nothing good in him, due to this rebellion in the fall.

The trouble is that this is a basic misunderstanding of Hebrew idiom and how comparisons were made. Jesus was saying that only God is perfectly good. He was not trying to imply that there were no good men. He couldn’t, because that contradicts Bible teaching. Jesus also said “The good person brings good things out of a good treasure” (Mt 12:35; cf. 5:45, 7:17-20, 22:10). He was merely drawing a contrast between our righteousness and God’s, but He doesn’t deny that we can be “good” in a lesser sense.

The Calvinist reads this and interprets: “God is [completely] good, therefore man is [completely] bad.” But Catholics reason from it: “God is perfectly good; therefore, man is good by His grace.” Calvinists see in that works-salvation. But we’re not denying that man can’t save himself; only that he is destitute of any truly good thing whatever before he is regenerated (total depravity).

I explored this at great length in my paper, Total Depravity: Reply to James White: Calvinism and Romans 3:10-11 (“None is Righteous . . . No One Seeks For God”) ; also to a lesser extent in my piece, “All Have Sinned . . . ” (Mary?). I need not reiterate all that. Let me just highlight a few points presently, citing the former paper:

Paul doesn’t teach, in context [Romans 1], that absolutely all unregenerated men know that God exist but deny Him anyway, for in the very next chapter (and the chapter right before our text under consideration): Romans 2, he talks about “righteous” people who can do “good” and who are capable of “well-doing” even without the Law, let alone the gospel of Jesus Christ:

6: For he will render to every man according to his works:
7: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

10 . . . glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

13: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
14: When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
15: They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them
16: on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

26: So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
27: Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

How fascinating. All of this is about Gentiles who don’t even have the law. They haven’t heard the gospel at all. The New Testament has not yet been out together. They (obviously) don’t yet have the benefit of Romans itself. Paul never says that they have heard the gospel. . . .

And Like Psalm 14, we see other proximate Psalms refer to the “righteous” or “godly” (e.g., 52:1, 6, 9; 55:22; 58:10-11). David himself eagerly seeks God in Psalms 51, 52:8-9, 54-57, 61-63, etc. Obviously, then, it is not the case that “no one” whatsoever seeks God. It is Hebrew hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point. And this is, remember, poetic language in the first place. Therefore, it is fairly clear that there — far from “none” — plenty of righteous people to go around.

How about those who “seek God”? Can “none” of those be found, either, according to White’s and Calvinism’s literalistic interpretations? How about King Jehoshaphat? Here is a very interesting case study indeed. He was subjected to the wrath of God, yet it is stated that he had some “good” and sought God:

2: But Jehu the son of Hana’ni the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehosh’aphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the LORD.
3: Nevertheless some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Ashe’rahs out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.” (2 Chronicles 19:2-3)

Not only the king, but many people in Judah also sought the Lord:

3: Then Jehosh’aphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
4: And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. (2 Chronicles 20:3-4)

How can this be? Was he (and all these multitudes who “came to seek the Lord”), therefore, regenerate? The text doesn’t say. He hadn’t heard the gospel, though; that’s for sure. Nor had the people of Judah. According to White (and Calvinism as a whole?) no one can do any “spiritual good” (as opposed to a merely natural good or natural moral virtue) whatsoever unless they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Were all these people “good men and women”? Did they seek God or not? And how can this be if the passages in Psalms 14 and 53 says that no one does so; “no, not one”?

[much more along these lines in this paper]

 

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They are totally unable to save themselves, yes.

Catholics completely agree with this. It is not at issue.

No man wants God’s true salvation plan, nor do they seek it; they pursue evil continually and do not fear God

This is not what the Bible shows, as I showed at great length in one of my papers, cited above. Paul casually assumes that at least some Gentiles “who have not the law do by nature what the law requires” (Rom 2:14). The law is even lower in the scheme of things than the gospel, but Paul says that some men are able to fulfil it (i.e., be righteous). He again assumed that it was possible for people to “seek God” in his sermon on Mars Hill to the pagan Greeks (Acts 17:27; cf. James in Acts 15:17). 

Romans 3:9-18 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. 13 Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. 14 Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known. 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:11-18)

I dealt with this in the old paper. It can’t possibly be taken in an absolutely literal sense, or the Bible would contradict itself. Elsewhere I wrote:

We find examples of a non-literal intent elsewhere in Romans. . . . Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved,” (11:26), but we know that many will not be saved. And in 15:14, Paul describes members of the Roman church as “….filled with all knowledge….” (cf. 1 Cor 1:5 in KJV), which clearly cannot be taken literally. . . .

One might also note 1 Corinthians 15:22: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” [NIV]. As far as physical death is concerned (the context of 1 Cor 15), not “all” people have died (e.g., Enoch: Gen 5:24; cf. Heb 11:5, Elijah: 2 Kings 2:11). Likewise, “all” will not be made spiritually alive by Christ, as some will choose to suffer eternal spiritual death in hell.

And in the paper on total depravity, I observed, regarding Romans 3:

St. Paul appears to be citing Psalm 14:1-3:

1: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good.

2: The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.

3: They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.

Now, does the context in the earlier passage suggest that what is meant is “absolutely every person, without exception”? No. We’ve already seen the latitude of the notion “all” in the Hebrew understanding. Context supports a less literal interpretation. In the immediately preceding Psalm, David proclaims “I have trusted in thy steadfast love” (13:5), which certainly is “seeking” after God. Indeed, the very next Psalm is entirely devoted to “good people”:

1: O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?

2: He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart;

3: who does not slander with his tongue, and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;

4: in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

5: who does not put out his money at interest, and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved(complete)

Even two verses after our cited passage in Psalms David writes that “God is with the generation of the righteous” (14:5). In the very next verse (14:4) David refers to “the evildoers who eat up my people”. Now, if he is contrasting the evildoers with His people, then obviously, he is not meaning to imply that everyone is evil, and there are no righteous. So obviously his lament in 14:2-3 is an indignant hyperbole and not intended as a literal utterance. Such remarks are common to Jewish poetic idiom. The anonymous psalmist in 112:5 refers to a good man (Heb. tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly (11:23, 12:2, 13:22, 14:14,19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Ps 14:2-3.

And references to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9, 22:19, Ps 5:12, 32:11, 34:15, 37:16,32, Mt 9:13, 13:17, 25:37,46, Rom 5:19, Heb 11:4, Jas 5;16, 1 Pet 3:12, 4:18, etc., etc.).

There are many biblical counter-examples to this Calvinist mythology. The Bible states that King Uzziah did truly good things:

2 Chronicles 26:4-5 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amazi’ah had done. [5] He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechari’ah, who instructed him in the fear of God; and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.

Yet he went astray: “when he was strong he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was false to the LORD his God” (2 Chron 26:16), and died out of favor with God; he seems to likely have been lost:

2 Chronicles 26:20-21 And Azari’ah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the LORD had smitten him. [21] And King Uzzi’ah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper dwelt in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.

This is, of course, not possible in the Calvinist schema. If he was not regenerated and saved, he had to be (in this flawed thinking) completely evil and incapable of good. But the Bible says that he at one time “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” and ” sought the LORD.” But he died unrepentant. One must, therefore, make a choice: the inspired revelation in the Bible or the very fallible mere tradition of men: Calvinism. I choose the Bible. It’s clear, and it decisively refutes Calvinism. I gave another fascinating narrative example in my paper on total depravity: that of King Asa

Many of the people of Judah in the reign of King Asa, determined that anyone who didn’t seek God would be put to death! So what did they do: commit mass suicide, like the Jonestown cult, because no one is righteous, and no one did or could seek God?:

12: And they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul;
13: and that whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13)

The case of King Asa himself presents yet another difficulty for Calvinists and their sometimes unbiblical doctrines. We see his initial zeal for God in the above passage. We are informed that “all Judah” (huh? all? everybody?) “had sought him [God] with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest round about” (2 Chron 15:15). He destroyed idols (15:16) but not the ones in the high places (15:17a), “nevertheless the heart of Asa was blameless all his days” (15:17b). “Blameless”? “All” his days? Huh? How can this be? The Bible says here he was blameless “all his days” yet in the next chapter it proceeds to deny this very thing:

7: At that time Hana’ni the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you.
8: Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand.
9: For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars.”
10: Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in the stocks, in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time.
11: The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.
12: In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe; yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians. (2 Chronicles 16:7-12)

Does it sound like this guy was regenerated and saved? Not much . . . so how could he be “blameless all his days”? Even when it is said that “he did not seek the LORD,” it seems apparent that the writer is assuming that it is possible to do so (or else why would it be necessary to point out that one man didn’t, when no one  could do so?). No one says that someone didn’t do something that was impossible from the outset. We don’t say, for example, that “Sam didn’t swim from San Francisco to Hawaii.”

How does one harmoniously interpret all this? It’s really rather simple. I’ve already provided the only sensible answer: always interpret Scripture in context, and understand Hebrew idiom; especially hyperbole, used constantly in Hebrew poetry. Paul was citing Psalms; that is poetry. It cannot always be taken literally. But when we look at narratives like the two books of Chronicles, then we see that there are exceptions to the rule. And we see that Paul doesn’t even follow his own supposedly all-inclusive, universal statements.

In fact, there is no contradiction here at all. The contradiction lies in the erroneous interpretation of Calvinism, and the superimposing onto Scripture doctrines that are foreign to it.

 And what of Ezekiel 3:20?:

Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. (cf. 3:21-26; 18:24, 26; 33:18; 2 Pet 2:20-22)

The false Calvinist system forces folks to play all sorts of special pleading games with the Bible. I love Calvinists; they’re some of my favorite Christians; they have a lot of things going for them, but I can’t agree with these false, literally anti-biblical elements of their doctrines and teachings. In my older paper, I noted that the word “righteous” appeared 346 times in the prophets and writings alone. Then I observed:

But the Calvinist will find a few verses of hyperbole and typical Hebrew hyper-exaggerated contrast and conclude that the overwhelming consensus of the other instances must all be interpreted in light of the few: wrongly regarded as literal. They don’t even abide by one of their own supposedly important hermeneutical principles: interpret less clear biblical passages in light of more clear related cross-references.

Perhaps you think St. Paul is speaking hyperbolically? For my own part, I am going to take St. Paul’s descriptions and admonitions very seriously and literally.

I think I have shown the many considerations involved in interpreting these Pauline statements about the universality of sin and rebellion. They have to be qualified in a sensible manner, according to cross-referencing and Hebrew idiom.

The free gift of grace we receive is freely accepted by us. No one forces us to take it. 

And it is also freely rejected by those who don’t want God and His grace. Calvinists deny this by asserting that those who are saved are saved because of a grace that they can’t resist, whereas those who are unfortunate enough to not be among those whom God has chosen to save, cannot possibly freely choose to reject God, since they could not have done otherwise, in any event. If some are irresistibly chosen, apart from their will, then others are, by logical necessity, irresistibly lost, also apart from their will. But this is not what the Bible teaches (a small problem, perhaps, but one at least worth worth pondering, I submit).

He gives us the gift of replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh so that we will want toaccept His free gift of eternal salvation in Christ.

We agree with this, but we deny that it is impossible for either the damned or the saved to do otherwise.

Why doesn’t your concept of the love of God preclude anyone from going to Hell? 

Why doesn’t your concept of the love of a father for his son or daughter God preclude them from going astray and possibly forsaking the Christian faith? Obviously, they have free will, and can decide to spurn even a very good Christian upbringing. So it is also with God and is children (even the extent of hell existing, since it is the place where a man can remove himself from God forever). God can love us and at the same time allow us to reject Him without ceasing to love us. Just because He judges sinners and the reprobate doesn’t require a cessation of love. That simply doesn’t follow. When an earthly judge sentences a man to hanging, he doesn’t necessarily have to hate the man. Chances are he pities him, which is as much an aspect of love as anything else. Why should we think that God has less mercy and pity in Him than even a virtuous pagan does? This is one of the things we find so objectionable and incomprehensible about Calvinism.

In fact, why is there a Hell at all?

Because God gave men the free will to either accept Him and be saved entirely by His grace or to reject Him and suffer the eternal consequences. It was originally for the devil and his fallen angels, but it seems that many human beings would rather go there than follow God’s commands and accept His free offer of grace and salvation and be with Him forever.

If you answer “people choose to go to Hell,” that still does not answer why God will still be putting some people there.

Sure it does. Both things are simultaneously true. The damned have made their fatal choice. God simply calls a spade a spade and makes it irrevocable by his judgment. Their time to repent has run out, and so God judges them. And His judgment is just. But justice is not antithetical to love. They are not opposite characteristics. They are complementaries.

Is it a loving thing for God to do that He sends people to Hell?

It’s not a function of love, but of justice. But in a sense He loves men so much that He honors their free will even to the extent that they choose to deny Him. God allowed men to utterly reject Him in His Passion and Crucifixion: all the while asking the Father to forgive them in their ignorance. He kept loving them. What sense does it make to believe that God stops loving men who choose to reject Him and therefore end up in hell?

I’ve gotta think that most people in Hell really don’t want to be there and won’t think that God loves them and that’s why He put them there.

I think they do want to go there: at least at first. Even during this life we hear jokes about parties in hell, and all the fun and the best rock and roll and women, etc. being present there rather than in heaven. Sure, they are deceived, but they don’t want God, and hell is the utter absence of God and all that flows from Him. No doubt they will regret their choice of going there after not too long of a time (“time” used loosely). But will they think God “sent” them there because of a lack of love? They might (since a distorted self-image and notion of God ties into all this), but I think part of the “hell” (no pun intended) will be to realize for eternity that God did indeed offer them a free gift of salvation, and they refused to accept it.

They will be made aware of this (if they didn’t already know, down deep) at the judgment. Bitter regret is no fun at all. I’ve had some experiences of that sort and I would rather go through almost anything else. It’s extremely hard to take. And that will be part of the horrific experience of hell: “I never had to end up here at all, but I chose to reject every overture that God and Christians made, to urge and help me to change my evil ways.”

Your concept of the love of God must honestly address the concept of Hell.

I think I have.

Do you think God has an equal love for Hitler as He does for Saint Paul, for example? 

He does in the sense that He wanted the best for Hitler, just as for anyone and everyone else (the essence of love). Love is a matter of the will: wanting the best for another person. This is why we proclaim the gospel and desire to see men saved. Its certainly my motivation in devoting my life to Christian service by way of apologetics and evangelism. That’s not to say that no distinctions whatever can be made, as if I love some guy in the wilds of Mongolia as much as my daughter or something. No. God loves all men. What does the Bible say?:

John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

John 15:12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Compare the above two passages with the following three:

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46] For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [47] And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? [48] You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Luke 6:27 But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you

Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.

Romans 2:11 For God shows no partiality. (cf. Gal 2:6)

Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Ephesians 2:3-5 Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Ephesians 6:9 . . . there is no partiality with him. (cf. Col 3:25)

1 Timothy 2:3-6 . . . God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, . . .

1 John 4:8, 11 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. . . . Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (cf. 4:16)

Note how in the following passage (as in Rom 5:8 and Eph 2:3-5 above) God loved the sinners who did not love Him back or decide to follow Him and do His will (by tanalogy, many of those who would end up in hell):

Matthew 23:37-38 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! [38] Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.

God loves and is merciful, but He is also just. The two are not opposites. They exist side-by-side.

Why or why not? Was Paul just luckier than old Adolf? Did he make better decisions? Did Paul hate Jesus Christ less than Adolf did before Paul had his conversion experience? Why was Paul converted and Der Führer was not?

You had fun with your questions (I’ve already provided my answer and rationale, with Scripture), now let me try a few of my own:

Why did Jesus love the rebels of Jerusalem Who rejected Him? Why did He mention this desire and love with an analogy of a mother hen and her chicks, even in the midst of a jeremiad against Pharisaical hypocrisy? How does this square with the Calvinist notion that God loved and died for the elect only and not also the ones who are lost in the end? How can Asa do such good things (as the Bible clearly states) and yet die unrepentant as a leper? You tell me. I’d love to hear your replies (and any other Calvinist’s replies, who wants to give it a shot) to all my arguments.

No, we must let God speak to this matter of the nature of His love for His creation and understand that there are different degrees of love, just as He designed differing kinds and degrees of love for human beings. 

I have let God speak by citing His inspired word. I didn’t see you citing much of it in this regard (perhaps it is yet to come).

God wants me to love my wife as Christ loved the Church, right? He doesn’t want me to love my neighbour’s wife as Christ loved the Church, does He? Yet, I am to love her, am I not?

I agree that there is this sort of distinction. Familial and marital love will obviously be greater in the sense of affinity, affection, specific commitment, etc. Eros or romantic love is obviously appropriate only with one’s spouse. None of these truisms demonstrate that God doesn’t love all men or that He doesn’t want them to be saved. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that He does. That is good enough for me. I see what God is like, especially, in observing Jesus and getting to know Him the longer I walk as His disciple.

Hitler has no power or ability to send his own spirit to Hell; Christ as judge must perform the actual act of sending him there, yes?

Sinners certainly do have the power to resist God’s grace (which means hell in the end). Scripture teaches this:

Mark 7:9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!

Acts 7:51-52 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. [52] Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,

Galatians 1:6-7 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel — [7] not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

1 Timothy 1:19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith,

Titus 1:14 instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth.

Hebrews 10:29 How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled;

Jude 1:4 For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Do we say of the convicted criminal, “he is in jail because of the jury [or the judge]”? We could say that (it is true in terms of verdict and sentencing), but we are much more likely to say he is there because of the crime he committed. We place the blame and the cause back on him, not on the ones who were executing justice and protecting society. Likewise, by analogy, we can say that people choose to go to hell, and they are there through their own fault and choice. There is nothing inconsistent with saying that while at the same time asserting that there was such a thing as sentencing and legal justice, too.

Was it a loving act of God toward Hitler to send his spirit to Hell?

It was an act of a just God Who is also a loving God and does not cease to be so in exercising His just wrath and punishment and judgment, just as Jesus did not cease to be loving when He cleared the temple or excoriated the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. It’s a false dichotomy. We reject the premise, that somehow the justice of God contradicts His lovingkindness. That is what this whole line of questioning is trying to imply: as if it is supposedly a dilemma for the non-Calvinist.

Before the foundation of the earth, God looked down the corridors of time and knew who would choose Him and who would not, according to your point of view, correct? So God knew that, for example, John Smith would choose Him but John Doe would not, though He loved them exactly the same?

Yes; God knowing everything and being outside of time.

Was it loving of God toward John Doe to create John Doe although He knew before the foundation of the earth that John Doe would not accept Him and would end up in Hell? If so, why?

Yes, because it is better to exist than never to have existed, and because God gave him a chance to be saved, had he so chosen. The lack of love is entailed by the Calvinist position, which requires God to create the damned from all eternity, knowing that He was predestining them to hell from all eternity and that no choice of theirs could possibly overcome that decision.

If God knew ahead of time that John Doe would be in Hell but created him anyway, how does God “respect his freedom” in John Doe’s decision to accept or reject Him?

This confuses foreknowledge and predestination. God can know what men will do and what they choose, without necessarily causing it. The example I always use is the sun coming up tomorrow. I “know” that it will happen. At the same time I didn’t cause that act to happen, just because I knew about it. Likewise, God can know that John Doe will reject Him, without causing that.

How does God’s decision to create a person who He knows will end up in Hell differ to any degree from the Reformed understanding that God determines who will be in Heaven and who will be in Hell?

Because Calvinism (having denied human free will to choose damnation or accept God’s free grace of salvation) makes the decision wholly God’s, whereas the biblical view makes it a decision of the person who has decided to reject God. He could have been saved; God offers all men sufficient grace to be saved. But they have free will and God chooses to not override that (so that we don’t become, in effect, robots). For the Calvinist, then, the ultimate cause of why a man ends up in hell, is God’s choice to send him there from all eternity. But for the non-Calvinist Christian, the ultimate cause is the man’s rejection of God’s free grace.

To put it another way, if God does not intervene in the life of John Doe that he might be saved, is He not then determining what will happen to John Doe? 

In the Calvinist system, this follows. But since we reject certain premises therein, it is not a difficulty for us.

Aren’t God’s knowing and His determining essentially the same thing since He has the power, as God, to intervene in the lives of people that they may be saved or not?

No. Foreknowledge is distinct from predestination. The latter necessarily involves direct cause whereas the former does not.

In what ways did God “respect” Saul’s freedom to choose Him or not?

Paul wasn’t forced at swordpoint to go into Damascus or consort with Ananias. He chose to, and that opened up the doors to regeneration (by baptism). He could have refused to cooperate. So by that reasoning his freedom of choice was still intact.

* * *

Christ died for His Church:

Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Of course He did, because He died for all men:

John 4:42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John 12:32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.

Acts 17:22-31 So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op’agus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. [23] For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, `To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. [24] The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, [25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. [26] And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, [27] that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, [28] for `In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.’ [29] Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. [30] The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Romans 5:18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.

Romans 11:32 For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.

Ephesians 3:8-9 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, [9] and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.

1 John 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.

Saying that Christ died for the Church (as Paul does in Ephesians) is not at all contradictory to saying that He died for all men, or for the world. But to maintain that He died only for the Church or only for the elect (Limited Atonement) does indeed contradict the passages above. Therefore, on the principles Scripture aids in interpreting itself through cross-referencing, and that inspired Scripture does not contradict itself, Limited Atonement is disproven from Holy Scripture. Another tradition of men has gone by the wayside . . .

* * *

I can’t imagine the mechanism by which we are able to send ourselves to hell after we die. You must know something I don’t.

You miss the point. We don’t send ourselves in the way that a judge passes sentence and a guy is carted off to jail against his will. We send ourselves in the sense of having made the choice to reject God, which in turn consigns us to hell by default, so to speak. We set the wheels in motion that lead to the end result of hellfire for eternity.

I don’t disagree with you that we are responsible for our behaviour and that our sins send us to hell. How you can remove God entirely from the equation, though, is a mystery to me.

The Catholic position (and indeed any non-Calvinist Christian position on these matters) does not require moving God out of the equation. God passes sentence and judges. But He judges based on how a person has behaved and whether the person accepted His free gift of salvation or not. That is the criterion. But the criteria in Scriptural accounts overwhelmingly emphasize the works that a person did or didn’t do. I collected 50 such passages. This strongly suggests that the person’s free will decisions led him or her to hell, in that terrible event that they are damned, not God’s choice from eternity, so that they were essentially created from the beginning to wind up in hell (a notion that is perfectly senseless and outrageous to me and always has been).

I have explained over and over again that no one attains heaven who does not want to be there. 

Nor does anyone attain hell who did not choose to go there and to reject God. They may very well be deluded about what it is like (a large part of the devil’s job is to foster that very illusion and self-deception). But it is their choice.

God draws, He inclines their wills toward Him, those whose wills are inclined to evil. We are not conceived and born in a “neutral” state. We are conceived and born in sin, that is, we have a sin nature from the start, prone toward transgressing God’s laws. Something has to happen for that to change. 

Exactly. I and Catholics agree 100% with this.

Only the non-elect will never come to Him in faith to receive His precious gift of salvation.

That’s right. The difference lies in why this is. In some senses it is a deep unexplainable mystery for every Christian position, as I stated at the top. But the non-Calvinist at least doesn’t fall into the serious error of implicating God and making Him the primary cause of a person going to hell, since (by the same premises) he could not have done otherwise because God didn’t ever give Him the grace to act in a different fashion had he chosen to do so.

I think I have exhausted this topic, at least for myself.

Not till you reply to all this! :-) I eagerly look forward to those replies. If you truly have a more compelling biblical case, then surely you will find it easy to shoot down everything I have offered. Be my guest! I don’t think you or any other Calvinist can do so. That’s how confident I am in the Catholic position. It can withstand everything thrown against it because it is ultra-biblical, thoroughly biblical, exhaustively biblical, and doesn’t ignore large portions of the Bible, as Calvinism is forced to do, being untrue, in terms of TULIP.

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[more in comments]

For the Calvinist, then, the ultimate cause of why a man ends up in hell, is God’s choice to send him there from all eternity.
*

No. That is a caricature. It is man’s sin that causes him to go to hell. From the moment of conception we are all on our way to hell because of having inherited Adam’s sin nature. We, all of us, are separated from God and need to be reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ alone. Unless God intervenes and saves us, we should all end up in hell. Even the elect, though their ultimate salvation is secure, are just as lost as the others until God does His salvific work in their hearts in time and history.

I would argue that all men are predestined to hell from the beginning–except those for whom God intervened and predestined to glory.

Think of two groups (types) of people: one group receives justice, the other group receives mercy. No group (or individual) receives injustice.

It still goes back to God, because if all men are to be damned, but for His grace (which we totally agree with), and He positively ordains the predestination of damned persons just as He positively ordains the predestination of the elect (double predestination), then He treated the damned unfairly and unjustly, since they were just as guilty of sin and rebellion as the elect.

This casts doubt on God’s justice, mercy, and love. Therefore, we must reject it. And indeed, the vast majority of Christians in history have done just that.

If in this life we have a court case scenario in which two persons were equally guilty and one gets sentenced to jail for life without parole and the other gets a paid vacation to an island paradise, there isn’t a soul in the world who would say that the sentence was grossly unjust, and indeed, as ridiculous as it was unjust.

Yet Calvinists want to view God in precisely this fashion. He chooses from two groups of people: both equally guilty and worthy of condemnation: picking out some to be saved and positively damning the others, from eternity.

Now, I freely admit that it is a deep mystery — ultimately — why some are saved and some aren’t, in any Christian system (it’s arguably the deepest mystery in Christianity), but in the Catholic system we don’t have God predestining people to hell, even before the fall (supralapsarianism, which, I argue, was Calvin’s position) or after (infralapsarianism).

In my Molinist Catholic position (fully permitted by the Church), I believe that God takes into consideration how a person will respond to His grace in all conceivable scenarios, by His Middle Knowledge. He still elects the saved, but it is not without this consideration, so that free will still plays a role, too, and is not wiped out, as in Calvinism.

Our wills became enslaved to sin and hence were no longer free. God removes the sinner’s heart of stone and gives him a heart of flesh that he will be inclined toward God freely of his own renewed will. This is what that doctrine teaches.

Note that some opponents of Reformed doctrine teach that Calvinists claim that our will has been “extinguished,” “snuffed out” or “destroyed.” We do not believe or teach that. That is a misrepresentation.

Also, it is rigourously believed by non-Reformed folks that we teach that God “forces” us against our wills into heaven. That is not what we teach or believe. God renews us through the grace of regeneration, which He is not obligated by Himself nor by anyone nor by anything else to extend to anyone at all (and yet does to His chosen ones, the elect, His Church) to the place where we want spiritually to belong to, to worship and adore, and to serve, Him.

Catholics accept the predestination of the elect. It’s a dogma; not optional. I object to the fate of the damned being predetermined from all eternity, so that they have no choice in the matter. How can they choose to be saved if God has decreed that they are damned, and if Jesus didn’t even die for them in the first place? They can’t.

If I as a father somehow had a way of knowing that a son of mine would be absolutely miserable his whole life and would (without question) go to hell for eternity, to be tormented forever, I would, out of love, decide not to participate in the procreation of such a child.

Yet this is the Calvinist God. I don’t see a God like that in the Bible, and the Bible is an inspired standard of truth: not the speculations of Calvin and his followers, where they go against received tradition.

All of this is the straightforward logical reduction of the Calvinist position. Calvinists themselves know that this is a very difficult position to defend (Calvin himself noted it), and no doubt it causes them distress, too, intellectually, but there is no way out of it. All five tenets of TULIP stand and fall together, and the logic cannot be avoided once those premises are adopted.

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(originally 4-14-10)

Photo credit: Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

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April 4, 2017

ChurchDoor

Photograph by “MemoryCatcher” (6-14-13) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]

*****

Erik is a thoughtful, amiable Calvinist who commented under my blog paper, Total Depravity (“None is Righteous”): Reply to James White. His words will be in blue.

*****

I honestly cannot comprehend your intentions here.

That’s extraordinary, since I laid them out in the most painstaking detail. No one could possibly misunderstand my intent. But somehow you manage to do so. Strong presuppositions cause that to happen.

Are you saying there are some who, apart from God, seek after him and find him?

No. Again, how are the following words of mine in the post so difficult to grasp?:

I wholeheartedly agree that the unregenerate man is utterly unable to save himself or do the slightest thing to turn to God and be justified or regenerated, but (and always but) for God’s grace. The Council of Trent (surprise! for many who have been told otherwise by anti-Catholics!!!!) teaches all of this: [documentation then provided]

You denied any Pelagianistic tendencies!

Indeed. Catholics aren’t Pelagian. Nor are Arminians (who haven’t gone liberal).

Are you saying that the unregenerate can actually have pure motives in their deeds?

I wasn’t arguing about “absolutely pure” (I know that is what Calvinists hone in on), but rather, “good deeds” and “good / righteous men.”

(Have you even glanced sidewise for an instant and ruminated on the motives of earthly do-gooders of our day and age? On the unbelievable destruction brought down on the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable by worldly social justice and social ministry?)

Yeah; that’s why I am a political conservative and an orthodox Catholic.

Those whom Scripture describes as seeking after God…are there any instances where they are said to have done so on their own, in their own strength?

That wasn’t my argument anyway, so it is a red herring. I say that they could do good things, before regeneration, by God’s grace. I deny total depravity, as described by Charles Hodge:

. . . entire inability of the natural man to what is spiritually good. . . . the entire absence of holiness; . . . a total alienation of the soul from God so that no unrenewed man either understands or seeks after God; . . . The apostasy from God is total or complete. . . . They are destitute of any principle of spiritual life.

Are there any who do so and then are described as eternally lost? (Not just sick or in trouble within the span of their lifetime.)

In my paper, I gave examples of strongly implied, or at least plausible damnation: of Kings Uzziah, Jehoshaphat, and Asa. And they were all described as doing good things or being good to some extent. At this point, I wonder if you even read my paper. You keep asking things that it plainly dealt with.

The New Testament is much more clear about it:

Hebrews 3:12-14 (RSV) Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy . . .

2 Peter 2:15, 20-21 Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam, . . . For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

Romans 2 is problematic for everyone. If they are saved, they are saved not only apart from the gospel but apart from the church, not exactly something a Catholic would admit to before the last century or so. Calvinists are allowed to speculate on the possibility of postmortem evangelism and the like. So perhaps these enlightened pagans are elect in the final analysis. At any rate, this passage shouldn’t be used in the debate (if you ask me).

Of course you wouldn’t want to use it because it doesn’t exactly support Calvinist TULIP.

You are incorrect (off by 1500 years or so) about the latitude of Catholic views on salvation outside the Church. Fr. William Most has shown that there were simultaneous restrictive texts of the fathers about salvation outside the Church, and more open, broad texts (thus the latter tradition does exist).

In my book of St. Augustine quotations, I have four citations from two of his works about baptism of desire.

In my book of Eastern fathers’ quotations I have one from St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. c. 390).

St. Thomas Aquinas had an extensively developed line of thought about this sort of thing as well:

Salvation Outside the Church?: Alleged Catholic Magisterial Contradictions & St. Thomas Aquinas’ Views

Lastly, the Council of Trent expressly sanctioned baptism of desire.

God is love…and the source of all love. No one else is a source. No one seeks unless they are drawn. You cannot simply deny Pelagianistic tenets. You must somehow argue FOR Sola Gratia being compatible with your take on passages concerning apparent works righteousness.

I agree with all this, and nothing in my paper denies it. I suggest you go read it again and try to take off your Calvinist glasses and strong “filter” for a half hour. :-)

March 7, 2017

Calvinism and Romans 3:10-11 (“None is Righteous . . . No One Seeks For God”)

JamesWhite4

Photo of James White in the You Tube video, “Dr. James White Can’t Respond To Our Documentary” (3-11-15) [standard You Tube license]

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(4-15-07)

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See James White’s article, C. Gordon Olson and the Many “Mistranslated” Texts on Calvinism (4-15-07)

Before I begin, I would like to make it very clear that I am not advocating or defending Pelagianism (the doctrine that man can do anything whatsoever to save himself, or “works-salvation.” I am not denying sola gratia (“Grace alone”) in the slightest, nor original sin, nor the universality of actual sin and thus universal need for salvation. I will be accused in some circles (mark my words) of denying one or more of these things, so I want to stress that it is not true. If anyone thinks that I am upholding any of these falsehoods and heresies in the following argument, they will have understood neither my meaning nor my intent.

What I am opposing is the Calvinist understanding that of total depravity, as defined by Charles Hodge, in his Systematic Theology (my bolding):

The fifth form of doctrine to which the Protestant faith stands opposed, is that which admits a moral deterioration of our nature, which deserves the displeasure of God, and which is therefore truly sin, and yet denies that the evil is so great as to amount to spiritual death, and to involve the entire inability of the natural man to what is spiritually good.

. . . The whole human race, by their apostasy from God, are totally depraved. By total depravity, is not meant that all men are equally wicked; nor that any man is as thoroughly corrupt as it is possible for a man to be; nor that men are destitute of all moral virtues. The Scriptures recognize the fact, which experience abundantly confirms, that men, to a greater or less degree, are honest in dealings, kind in their feelings, and beneficent in their conduct. Even the heathen, the Apostle teaches us, do by nature the things of the law. They are more or less under the dominion of conscience, which approves or disapproves their moral conduct. All this is perfectly consistent with the Scriptural doctrine of total depravity, which includes the entire absence of holiness; the want of due apprehensions of the divine perfections, and of our relation to God as our Creator, Preserver, Benefactor, Governor, and Redeemer. There is common to all men a total alienation of the soul from God so that no unrenewed man either understands or seeks after God; no such man ever makes God his portion, or God’s glory the end of his being. The apostasy from God is total or complete. All men worship and serve the creature rather than, and more than the Creator. They are all therefore declared in Scripture to be spiritually dead. They are destitute of any principle of spiritual life.


I wholeheartedly agree that the unregenerate man is utterly unable to save himself or do the slightest thing to turn to God and be justified or regenerated, but (and always but) for God’s grace. The Council of Trent (surprise! for many who have been told otherwise by anti-Catholics!!!!) teaches all of this:

Decree on Justification

CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

CANON X.-If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.

CHAPTER V.

On the necessity, in adults, of preparation for Justification, and whence it proceeds.

The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.

CHAPTER VIII.

In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously.

And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.

What I deny, on the other hand, is the Calvinist notion of Total Depravity such that (as Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge put it, fallen, unregenerate man has “lost all ability to perform what is spiritually good” (Systematic Theology, abridged version, edited by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988, 308). And I shall back up my contention with plenty of Scripture, as I always seek to do in such discussions.

White (words in blue throughout) begins his counter-reply to one C. Gordon Olson with the usual caricatured blast at the soteriology of non-Calvinist Protestants:

. . . one who wishes to defend a man-centered gospel rather than the gospel of the free and powerful grace of God. . . all such writings, whether those of Olson or Hunt or Geisler or Bryson or whoever . . .

People like Protestant apologist and theologian Norman Geisler (not just we lowly pagan, Pelagian, ignorant, unregenerate, idolatrous Catholics; indeed, any non-Calvinist whatsoever) , therefore, supposedly deny sola gratia and assert a “man-centered” Pelagianism. White would not be White without misrepresenting and deriding his opponents. Further on in the article he describes Olson’s views as a “‘rehabilitated Pelagian’ viewpoint”.

I don’t know the works or exhaustive soteriology of all these men, and some may have perhaps fallen into one or more of these serious errors (Dave Hunt is a fool and abysmally ignorant in many areas), but I know that Norman Geisler has not, and I highly suspect that Olson and Bryson have not, either. If White disagrees, I’d like to see him prove it with some hard evidence; not just polemics. If he does so, I’d be the first to agree with him. But I know Catholic teaching and my own (I adhere to all the teachings of the Catholic Church) and we do not deny sola gratia at all (nor assert the converse: Pelagianism).

White refers to “Paul’s apologetic for the universal sinfulness of man”. I don’t deny this, so it is not at issue. Again, I deny that unregenerate man can do no “spiritually good” thing whatsoever (in a context apart from salvation or justification). My argument will be from the nature of biblical poetic language and Hebrew idiom. I will not be making the same argument that Olson makes (in fact, I disagree with it). Mine is a different approach altogether. First, let’s look at the passage in question (specifically Romans 3:10-11), in its overall context (I use RSV):

Romans 3:9-24 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin,
10: as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
11: no one understands, no one seeks for God.
12: All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.”
13: “Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14: “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15: “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16: in their paths are ruin and misery,
17: and the way of peace they do not know.”
18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
20: For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it,
22: the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;
23: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24: they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,

White comments as follows:

Consider: Is Paul saying “there is none really righteous (but some who are sorta-righteous)” in verse 10? Is he saying there is none who understand really well, but some who sorta understand, just enough,” in verse 11? And since he latches on to the present participle, how about verse 12? “There is none who regularly does good (but there are some who do good once in a while in and of themselves)”? Have all turned aside, or just most? Have they become useless, or just mainly useless? You truly have to wonder if Paul’s point is going to be sacrificed on the altar of the defense of human autonomy. How much plainer can Paul put it? The conclusion of his series of citations is not “Mankind is really sinful…though…not so bad as to be unable to do some good, have some fear, do a little seeking, etc.”

White argues that Olson’s argument from the word ekzeteo (“seeks”) neglects context (he uses the word “context” twice). What I will be doing is examining the context of the original citation that St. Paul makes, and also related cross-referenced materials, in order to better understand his intended meaning, within the framework of Hebrew idiom and frequent hyperbole. Bishop White notes in passing:

Paul has already said, that men know God exist, and yet, in their ungodliness, suppress that knowledge of Him, refusing to acknowledge Him as the Creator.

He is referring to Romans 1:18-21, 25, 28. Yet Paul doesn’t teach, in context, that absolutely all unregenerated men know that God exist but deny Him anyway, for in the very next chapter (and the chapter right before our text under consideration): Romans 2, he talks about “righteous” people who can do “good” and who are capable of “well-doing” even without the Law, let alone the gospel of Jesus Christ:

Romans 2

6: For he will render to every man according to his works:
7: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

10 . . . glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

13: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
14: When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
15: They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them
16: on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

26: So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
27: Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

How fascinating. All of this is about Gentiles who don’t even have the law. They haven’t heard the gospel at all. The New Testament has not yet been out together. They (obviously) don’t yet have the benefit of Romans itself. Paul never says that they have heard the gospel. James White would probably say they are unregenerate, since he seems to think (from what I can tell) that one must hear the gospel and accept it in order to be regenerated and justified. These people have not that advantage at all. Therefore, according to White, they could not possibly be capable of any spiritually good thing. Yet look at all the words Paul uses to describe them:

. . . by patience in well-doing . . . [receive] eternal life; . . . every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. . . . do by nature what the law requires, . . . what the law requires is written on their hearts, . . . a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, . . . those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law . . .”

Needless to say, this doesn’t fit very well at all with White’s theology. He already has far more explaining to do than Mr. Olson, who is merely guilty of an arguably weak linguistic argument. Here is tons of data from Paul that runs contrary to White’s theology. If white claims it does not (I’m always open to clarification or correction), then surely he can explain to us how it all fits in perfectly well with his outlook. I’d love to see it. From what I know of the doctrine of Total Depravity, it does not. I do agree with the following statement that Olson made, cited by White:

Although Paul expands the application of David’s words somewhat, he is giving a generalized statement about the human race as a whole, extending to both Jews and Gentiles, but not intended to be all-inclusive.

Olson tried to apply this primarily to the atheist. I don’t think that is plausible (I agree with White’s negative appraisal of that opinion). I contend that the exegetical key here lies, rather, in the way the Hebrews used hyperbole and words like “all”; how they understood them, and how exaggeration and contrast were very common motifs in Hebrew poetic expression. White exclaims:

Paul expands the application, not just “somewhat,” but, in this text, universally. How can anyone read the catena of passages in 3:10-18 and yet come to the conclusion this is not intended to be “all-inclusive” when the conclusion says just the opposite? Does not Paul conclude that his words function “so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God”? How do you get “not intended to be all-inclusive” from “every mouth/all the world”?

White also maintains:

“But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deu. 4:29). Since the Bible commands us to seek, then, obviously, we can do so! Just like how the Bible commands us to love God perfectly, and our neighbor as ourselves! We can do it! And to walk blamelessly, and…oh, wait. . . . such commands would be used of God to 1) direct and guide the regenerate soul, . . .

Note, then, that White has concluded that any instance of “seeking” of God must occur in the regenerate soul. This is crucial to understand as we pursue this line of thought shortly, in an in-depth examination of related passages. White has to explain, for example, how all these Gentiles Paul refers to in Romans 2 were blessed with regeneration without hearing the gospel message.

They obviously had to be regenerated, according to him, in order to do all the good things Paul described them as doing, and indeed, to even achieve salvation, as Paul says that they do. They’re justified, they are moral and “righteous”; they are internally transformed (“written on their hearts” / “conscience” etc.), and saved (“eternal life”). That definitely involves “spiritual good.” They do good works, and God uses these (so the text says, not the Catholic Church or Dave Armstrong) as a prime consideration in granting them salvation.

White would have to assume (because of his predispositions) that they, therefore, must have both heard the gospel and have received regeneration. But nothing in the text itself suggests to the slightest degree that the former is the case, and the latter can only be deduced (I think it could rightly be, since they are referred to as being “justified” and saved, but White is no fan of deduction; he favors direct statements).

Perhaps this is an instance of the difficulties of White’s own “over-arching tradition” (the notion he ascribes to Olson)? White’s view of the state of those who haven’t heard the gospel (such as these folks in Romans 2) is seen by his approving citation of Charles Spurgeon, in his post “What I Believe About Regeneration” (3-18-06):

The instrumentality through which this singular change has been wrought in us is clearly stated, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” Men are not usually saved without the immediate agency of the gospel. Some have said that the Spirit of God always works through the truth, and that the truth is sure to work conviction. The truth, however, is preached, and faithfully preached, to tens of thousands, to whom it conveys not a blessing at all, but is the savor of death unto death. Others have said that the Spirit of God regenerates men apart from the Word of God but this is not told us in Scripture, and is not therefore to be received. But evermore the Word and the Spirit are put together. Scripture does not talk of the Word of God as a dead letter; it says, “The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” On the other hand, Scripture does not speak of the Holy Spirit as though the Word would work apart from him, but the two are put together, and “ what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” My dear brethren and sisters, you who have been begotten again unto a lively hope, was it not through the hearing of the Word, or the reading of it, or the remembrance of some hallowed text which you had almost forgotten? You know it was. Good McCheyne used to say, “Depend on it, it is God’s Word that saves souls, and not our comment upon God’s Word;” and so I believe it is. It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.

So now both Bishop White and also the well-known Calvinist preacher Spurgeon are in direct contradiction to St. Paul and Holy Scripture. For where does it say in Romans 2 that these people, who are referred to as saved, heard the gospel? It doesn’t. But some there are clearly saved without the benefit of the gospel, despite Spurgeon’s false claim that “this is not told us in Scripture, and is not therefore to be received.” And to make sure that everyone knows he agrees with Spurgeon to the letter, White adds:

Let it be known I believe and profess the confessional statement quoted above; let it be known I object to not a word in Spurgeon’s exposition. If you encounter someone confused by others about my views, correct them. If you encounter one who claims to know my heart better than I do and who refuses to accept this confession of faith, dismiss him as the addled ranter he is.

Now let’s get to the heart of the discussion, and my own argument, having noted some of White’s (and Spurgeon’s) unbiblical and false premises. First let us briefly look at how the word “all” was regarded by the ancient Hebrews. In a related paper on the exegesis of Romans 3:23, I wrote:

. . . the word “all” (pas in Greek) can indeed have different meanings (as it does in English), . . . It matters not if it means literally “every single one” in some places, if it can mean something less than “absolutely every” elsewhere in Scripture. . . .We find examples of a non-literal intent elsewhere in Romans. . . . Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved,” (11:26), but we know that many will not be saved. And in 15:14, Paul describes members of the Roman church as “….filled with all knowledge….” (cf. 1 Cor 1:5 in KJV), which clearly cannot be taken literally. Examples could be multiplied indefinitely, and are as accessible as the nearest Strong’s Concordance.. . .

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged Ed.) states: “Pas can have different meanings according to its different uses . . . in many verses, pas is used in the NT simply to denote a great number, e.g., “all Jerusalem” in Mt 2:3 and “all the sick” in 4:24. “(pp. 796-7)

See also Mt 3:5; 21:10; 27:25; Mk 2:13; 9:15, etc., etc., esp. in KJV.Likewise, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament gives “of every kind” as a possible meaning in some contexts (p. 491, word #3956). And Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Wordstells us it can mean “every kind or variety.” (v.1, p. 46, under “All”).

. . . One might also note 1 Corinthians 15:22: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” {NIV}. As far as physical death is concerned (the context of 1 Cor 15), not “all” people have died (e.g., Enoch: Gen 5:24; cf. Heb 11:5; Elijah: 2 Kings 2:11). Likewise, “all” will not be made spiritually alive by Christ, as some will choose to suffer eternal spiritual death in hell.

So much for an overly-literal (or rationalistic) interpretation of “all” as necessarily meaning “without exception.”

St. Paul appears to be citing Psalm 14:1-3:

1: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good.
2: The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.
3: They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.

Now, does the context in the earlier passage suggest that what is meant is “absolutely every person, without exception”? No. We’ve already seen the latitude of the notion “all” in the Hebrew understanding. Context supports a less literal interpretation.

In the immediately preceding Psalm 13, David proclaims “I have trusted in thy steadfast love” (13:5), which certainly is “seeking” after God. Indeed, the very next Psalm is entirely devoted to “good people”:

1: O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?
2: He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart;
3: who does not slander with his tongue, and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
4: in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5: who does not put out his money at interest, and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.

(complete)

Even two verses after our cited passage in Psalms David writes that “God is with the generation of the righteous” (14:5). In the very next verse (14:4) David refers to “the evildoers who eat up my people”. Now, if he is contrasting the evildoers with His people, then obviously, he is not meaning to imply that everyone is evil, and there are no righteous. So obviously his lament in 14:2-3 is an indignant hyperbole and not intended as a literal utterance. Such remarks are common to Jewish poetic idiom. The anonymous psalmist in 112:5 refers to a good man (Heb. tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly (11:23; 12:2; 13:22; 14:14,19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Ps 14:2-3.

And references to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9; 22:19; Ps 5:12; 32:11; 34:15; 37:16, 32; Mt 9:13; 13:17; 25:37, 46; Rom 5:19; Heb 11:4; Jas 5:16; 1 Pet 3:12; 4:18, etc., etc.).

We see Jewish idiom and hyperbole in other similar passages. For example, Jesus says: “No one is good but God alone”(Lk 18:19; cf. Mt 19:17). Yet He also said: “The good person brings good things out of a good treasure….” (Mt 12:35; cf. 5:45; 7:17-20; 22:10).

Furthermore, in each instance in Matthew and Luke above of the English “good” the Greek word used is agatho.

Is this a contradiction? Of course not. Jesus is merely drawing a contrast between our righteousness and God’s, but He doesn’t deny that we can be “good” in a lesser sense.

Psalm 53:1-3 is very similar (perhaps the very same writing originally, or close parallel):

1: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none that does good.
2: God looks down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any that are wise, that seek after God.
3: They have all fallen away; they are all alike depraved; there is none that does good, no, not one.

All the same elements are present: it starts with a reference to atheists or agnostics, then moves on to ostensibly “universal” language, which is seen to admit of exceptions once context is considered. Like Psalm 14, there is the following contrast in the next verse:

Psalm 53:4 Have those who work evil no understanding, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?

And Like Psalm 14, we see other proximate Psalms refer to the “righteous” or “godly” (e.g., 52:1, 6, 9; 55:22; 58:10-11). David himself eagerly seeks God in Psalms 51, 52:8-9; 54-57; 61-63, etc. Obviously, then, it is not the case that “no one” whatsoever seeks God. It is Hebrew hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point. And this is, remember, poetic language in the first place. Therefore, it is fairly clear that there — far from “none” — plenty of righteous people to go around.

How about those who “seek God”? Can “none” of those be found, either, according to White’s and Calvinism’s literalistic interpretations? How about King Jehoshaphat? Here is a very interesting case study indeed. He was subjected to the wrath of God, yet it is stated that he had some “good” and sought God:

2 Chronicles 19:2-3 But Jehu the son of Hana’ni the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehosh’aphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the LORD. [3] Nevertheless some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Ashe’rahs out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.”

Not only the king, but many people in Judah also sought the Lord:

2 Chronicles 20:3-4 Then Jehosh’aphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. [4] And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.

How can this be? Was he (and all these multitudes who “came to seek the Lord”), therefore, regenerate? The text doesn’t say. He hadn’t heard the gospel, though; that’s for sure. Nor had the people of Judah. According to White (and Calvinism as a whole?) no one can do any “spiritual good” (as opposed to a merely natural good or natural moral virtue) whatsoever unless they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Were all these people “good men and women”? Did they seek God or not? And how can this be if the passages in Psalms 14 and 53 says that no one does so; “no, not one”?

Was Jehoshaphat himself a “good” man? Various passages state that he was (2 Chronicles 19:4-7, 9; 20:3, 6-7, 12, 18-21). His reign is described as a good, righteous reign, by and large, but not totally:

2 Chronicles 20:32-37 He walked in the way of Asa his father and did not turn aside from it; he did what was right in the sight of the LORD.
33: The high places, however, were not taken away; the people had not yet set their hearts upon the God of their fathers.
34: Now the rest of the acts of Jehosh’aphat, from first to last, are written in the chronicles of Jehu the son of Hana’ni, which are recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel.
35: After this Jehosh’aphat king of Judah joined with Ahazi’ah king of Israel, who did wickedly.
36: He joined him in building ships to go to Tarshish, and they built the ships in E’zion-ge’ber.
37: Then Elie’zer the son of Do-dav’ahu of Mare’shah prophesied against Jehosh’aphat, saying, “Because you have joined with Ahazi’ah, the LORD will destroy what you have made.” And the ships were wrecked and were not able to go to Tarshish.

So was King Jehoshaphat regenerated and saved in the end? Well, we don’t know. If he wasn’t, then how could he do any spiritual good at all, according to White’s and strict Calvinist theology? The Bible clearly teaches that he did much good; indeed, that he “did what was right in the sight of the LORD.” Yet he didn’t destroy the high places, which were idols. And the last thing said about him was that he was prophesied against for joining with wicked King Ahaziah of Israel.

If he was damned in the end, then how does White account for the spiritual good that couldn’t be done but for being regenerated (which state, in turn, cannot be lost, in Calvinist theology)? On the other hand, if he was saved, it is only speculation, and he was so without benefit of hearing the gospel, the thing that White and Spurgeon say is necessary.

How about King Uzziah? The Bible says he sought God too:

2 Chronicles 26:3-5 Uzzi’ah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoli’ah of Jerusalem.
4: And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amazi’ah had done.
5: He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechari’ah, who instructed him in the fear of God; and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.

But Uzziah met an even more tragic end than Jehoshaphat:

2 Chronicles 26:16-21 But when he was strong he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was false to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.
17: But Azari’ah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor;
18: and they withstood King Uzzi’ah, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzzi’ah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary; for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.”
19: Then Uzzi’ah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests leprosy broke out on his forehead, in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense.
20: And Azari’ah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the LORD had smitten him.
21: And King Uzzi’ah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper dwelt in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.

Now White and his fellow Calvinists are in one Hades of a bind. First, if supposedly no one whatsoever seeks God, how does one explain that the Bible says that King Uzziah did? Secondly, if it is maintained that only a regenerate person can seek God, so that, therefore Uzziah must have been regenerated, then how is his spiritual demise explained? For Calvinists also hold that one can never lose regeneration or salvation, precisely because God gives it unconditionally (the “U” in TULIP) and His grace is irresistible (the “I” in TULIP) and that the elect always persevere and cannot fall away (the “P” in TULIP). No one can do ant spiritual good unless regenerated because of the “T”: Total Depravity. If Uzziah was saved in the end, again there is no text whatsoever that would indicate such a thing.

2 Chronicles 30:19 also refers to those who can potentially “seek God.” The Apostle Paul casually assumed that it is possible for people to “seek God” in his sermon on Mars Hill to the pagan Greeks (Acts 17:27; cf. James in Acts 15:17). King David in another Psalm refers to “you who seek God (69:32). The Bible also refers in many places to those who “seek the LORD”:

Deuteronomy 4:29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.

1 Chronicles 16:10-11  Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his presence continually!

1 Chronicles 22:19 Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God.

2 Chronicles 11:16 And those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD, the God of their fathers.

Psalm 34:10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Psalm 105:3-4 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his presence continually!

Proverbs 28:5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it completely. (cf. Is 51:1; 55:6; Hos 3:5; Amos 5:6)

 

 

Zephaniah 2:3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the wrath of the LORD.

[another ultra-vicious Calvinist circle: how can one “seek righteousness”, when it is only possible after regeneration, which is a free gift of God, by His decision alone? But in the Catholic view, enough good remains in man even before he is regenerated and justified, to seek to do good (even “spiritual good”), even though no one can begin or seek justification, regeneration, or salvation, because of the doctrine of sola gratia. It’s the Calvinist Total Depravity that is the false doctrine]

Zechariah 8:21-22 the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, `Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the LORD. (cf. Jer 50:4)

In fact, many of the people of Judah in the reign of King Asa, determined that anyone who didn’t seek God would be put to death! So what did they do: commit mass suicide, like the Jonestown cult, because no one is righteous, and no one did or could seek God?:

2 Chronicles 15:12-13 And they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers,with all their heart and with all their soul; [13] and that whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.

The case of King Asa himself presents yet another difficulty for Calvinists and their sometimes unbiblical doctrines. We see his initial zeal for God in the above passage. We are informed that “all Judah” (huh? all? everybody?) “had sought him [God] with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest round about” (2 Chr 15:15). He destroyed idols (15:16) but not the ones in the high places (15:17a), “nevertheless the heart of Asa was blameless all his days” (15:17b). “Blameless”? “All” his days? Huh? How can this be? The Bible says here he was blameless “all his days” yet in the next chapter it proceeds to deny this very thing:

2 Chronicles 16:7-12 At that time Hana’ni the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you.
8: Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand.
9: For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars.”
10: Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in the stocks, in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time.
11: The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.
12: In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe; yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.

 

Does it sound like this guy was regenerated and saved? Not much . . . so how could he be “blameless all his days”? Even when it is said that “he did not seek the LORD,” it seems apparent that the writer is assuming that it is possible to do so (or else why would it be necessary to point out that one man didn’t, when no one could do so?). No one says that someone didn’t do something that was impossible from the outset. We don’t say, for example, that “Sam didn’t swim from San Francisco to Hawaii.”

How does one harmoniously interpret all this? It’s really rather simple. I’ve already provided the only sensible answer: always interpret Scripture in context, and understand Hebrew idiom; especially hyperbole, used constantly in Hebrew poetry. Paul was citing Psalms; that is poetry. It cannot always be taken literally. But when we look at narratives like the two books of Chronicles, then we see that there are exceptions to the rule. And we see that Paul doesn’t even follow his own supposedly all-inclusive, universal statements.

In fact, there is no contradiction here at all. The contradiction lies in the erroneous interpretation of Calvinism, and the superimposing onto Scripture doctrines that are foreign to it. Calvinism, in its errors, is nothing if not that sadly mistaken process of eisegeting Scripture, and forcing the mere traditions and false doctrines of men onto it. We have seen abundant testimony of that. John Calvin himself was an absolute master of sophistical eisegesis (as well as historical revisionism of the beliefs of Church Fathers and the early Church, and anachronistic interpretation of same).

His followers have proven themselves to be his disciples indeed, in these ways, and many others (such as anti-Catholicism, anti-sacramentalism, etc.). Not all Calvinists are anti-Catholic and anti-sacramental, but many are, and this is because Calvin himself was. But all Calvinists, by definition, believe in TULIP, and we have seen above some of the many biblical difficulties (by no means exhaustive) of that set of related doctrines.

ADDENDUM: Additional Relevant Bible Passages

Ezekiel 3:20 Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.

Ezekiel 18:21-26 “But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
22: None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live.
23: Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
24: But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.
25: “Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?
26: When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die.

Ezekiel 33:12-13, 18 And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses; and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness; and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins.
13: Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that he has committed he shall die.

18: When the righteous turns from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, he shall die for it.

Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 27:28 At two things my heart is grieved, and because of a third anger comes over me: a warrior in want through poverty, and intelligent men who are treated contemptuously; a man who turns back from righteousness to sin — the Lord will prepare him for the sword!

2 Peter 1:5-9 For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
6: and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
7: and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
8: For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9: For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.
21: For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
22: It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.

 

The word “righteous” appears in the book of Proverbs 68 times, and “righteousness” 19 times, but “there is none that does good, no, not one” (Ps 14:3; cf. 53:3)?

Likewise, in Psalms, “righteous” appears 65 times, and “righteousness” 47 times.

Isaiah has one or other of these words 55 times, Ezekiel: 32, Jeremiah: 13, Job:16, Ecclesiastes: 10, Daniel: 7, Amos: 5, Habakkuk: 3, Hosea: 2, Lamentations: 1, Malachi: 2, Zechariah: 1, etc.

That’s a total of 346 times in the prophets and the “writings”, not even counting the narratives and the Pentateuch, or the deuterocanonical books (where there are quite a few also).

But the Calvinist will find a few verses of hyperbole and typical Hebrew hyper-exaggerated contrast and conclude that the overwhelming consensus of the other instances must all be interpreted in light of the few: wrongly regarded as literal. They don’t even abide by one of their own supposedly important hermeneutical principles: interpret less clear biblical passages in light of more clear related cross-references

 

December 12, 2016

Noh'sFlood
Noah’s Ark Cycle: 3. The Flood (1588), by Kaspar Memberger the Elder (c. 1555-1618) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
*****
(10-12-12)

***

[my Bible citations: RSV]
****

 

Of how little value it is in the sight of God, in regard to all the parts of life, Paul shows, when he says, that we are not “sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves,” (2 Cor. 3:5). He is not speaking of the will or affection; he denies us the power of thinking aright how any thing cam be duly performed. Is it, indeed, true, that all thought, intelligence, discernment, and industry, are so defective, that, in the sight of the Lord, we cannot think or aim at any thing that is right? To us, who can scarcely bear to part with acuteness of intellect (in our estimation a most precious endowment), it seems hard to admit this, whereas it is regarded as most just by the Holy Spirit, who “knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity,” (Ps. 94:11), and distinctly declares, that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). If every thing which our mind conceives, meditates plans, and resolves, is always evil, how can it ever think of doing what is pleasing to God, to whom righteousness and holiness alone are acceptable? (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, 2:25)

. . . such is the depravity of his nature, that he cannot move and act except in the direction of evil. (II, 3:5)

Calvin interprets these passages in hyper-literalistic fashion. The language of the Psalms is often proverbial (in other words, it makes general observations, which admit of exceptions: sometimes very many). Elsewhere, Scripture indicates that things are not nearly so dire and hopeless as Calvin makes out, regarding “the thoughts of men”:

Proverbs 12:5 The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are treacherous.

Proverbs 15:26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, the words of the pure are pleasing to him.

Using Genesis 6:5 as a pretext for asserting universal evil thoughts of all men is rather silly, as plainly seen in the passage’s context. Three verses later it is shown that the statement was not an absolute universal: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” Likewise, Genesis 6:9 asserts: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.”

God adds seven more people (Noah’s wife and his three sons and their wives: see 6:10; 7:7) to His roster of exceptions to Calvin’s alleged universal state of mankind in Genesis 7:1: “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.”

Moreover, the following two verses clearly prove that the language cannot be interpreted literally, since if so, the second would contradict the first (and the second is one of Calvin’s “prooftexts” for total depravity):

Genesis 8:20-21 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. [21] And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

The same dynamic applies to other passages classically used by Calvinists and other Protestants in order to claim that everyone was absolutely evil and could do no good. Context shows that the passages utilized were never intended in the first place to teach such things.

But as I study brevity, I will be satisfied with a single passage, one, however, in which as in a bright mirror, we may behold a complete image of our nature. The Apostle, when he would humble man’s pride, uses these words: “There is none righteous no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Rom. 3:10–18). Thus he thunders not against certain individuals, but against the whole posterity of Adam—not against the depraved manners of any single age, but the perpetual corruption of nature. His object in the passage is not merely to upbraid men in order that they may repent, but to teach that all are overwhelmed with inevitable calamity, and can be delivered from it only by the mercy of God. As this could not be proved without previously proving the overthrow and destruction of nature, he produced those passages to show that its ruin is complete. (II, 3:2)

This is a prime example of what I just described. Romans 3 is often cited by Calvinists, following Calvin (above). It’s one of their favorite prooftexts. Romans 3:10-12 is itself a citation that St. Paul took from the Psalms:

Psalm 14:1-3 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. [2] The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. [3] They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.

The very next Psalm is (amazingly enough) entirely devoted to “good people”:

Psalm 15:1-5 O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? [2] He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart; [3] who does not slander with his tongue, and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; [4] in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; [5] who does not put out his money at interest, and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.

Even two verses after Psalms 14:3, King David writes that “God is with the generation of the righteous” (14:5). In the very next verse (14:4) David refers to “the evildoers who eat up my people.” Now, if he is contrasting the evildoers with His people, then obviously, he can’t possibly be implying that everyone is evil, so that there are no righteous folks at all to be found.

The anonymous psalmist in 112:5 refers to a good man (Hebrew, tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly (11:23, 12:2, 13:22, 14:14, 19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Psalm 14:2-3. References to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9; 22:19; Ps 5:12; 32:11; 34:15; 37:16, 32; Mt 9:13; 13:17; 25:37, 46; Rom 5:19; Heb 11:4; Jas 5;16; 1 Pet 3:12; 4:18; etc., etc.).

Jewish idiom and hyperbole of this sort appears in many other similar passages. For example, Jesus says:

Luke 18:19 No one is good but God alone. (cf. Mt 19:17)

Yet He also said:

Matthew 12:35 The good person brings good things out of a good treasure. . . . (cf. 5:45; 7:17-20; 22:10)

Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between our righteousness and God’s, but He doesn’t deny that we can be “good” in a lesser sense. Psalm 53:1-3 provides a similar example, almost identical to Psalm 14. Again, we see other proximate Psalms refer to the “righteous” or “godly” (e.g., 52:1, 6, 9; 53:4; 55:22; 58:10-11).

Romans 3:11 states, “no one seeks for God,” and in Psalms 14:2, God looks “to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.” This is again hyperbolic language, and we know this because many passages teach us that many men did seek after God (e.g., Deut 4:29; 1 Chr 16:10-11; 22:19; 2 Chr 11:16; 15:12-13; 30:19; Ps 34:10; 69:32; Prov 28:5; Is 51:1; 55:6; Jer 50:4; Hos 3:5; Amos 5:6; Zeph 2:3; Zech 8:21-22; Acts 17:27).

Quite obviously, then, it is not the case that “no one” whatsoever seeks God. Passages that seem to be utterly sweeping need to be understood in terms of literary genre, immediate context, and in light of other relevant and related Bible verses.

The Bible is God’s inspired and infallible Word. It is completely self-consistent and always harmonious with itself. But Calvin’s prior theological system that he brings to Scripture would cause it to massively self-contradict. Since we believe in faith that this isn’t possible, false tenets of Calvin’s system need to be discarded, in cases where it causes this unworthy result.

The above illustrative example shows how Calvin’s exegetical reasoning fails, and does violence to Holy Scripture, rightly understood. Once again, the Catholic understanding is demonstrated to be far more in line with the Bible.

*****

See also the excellent discussion thread underneath the original posting of this paper.

January 7, 2014

Augustine6
Portrait of St. Augustine (c. 1480) by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

(1-7-14)

***

This topic came up as I defended a humorous meme about Calvinism. Dr. Glenn Peoples [words in blue below], a Protestant, brought up the topic on his Facebook page, claiming (based entirely on the meme) that I didn’t understand the view being critiqued” and  “Know your theology or look silly when joking about it.” The entire unfortunate exchange with him and a Reformed Baptist named William Tanksley, Jr. [words in green] was recorded in a lengthy blog piece (unedited, as Glenn’s page was: deleting several remarks of mine).

The upshot of virtually all of the criticisms aimed at yours truly during that exchange was that I had no idea what I was talking about: particularly, that I didn’t understand that St. Augustine’s view was not contrary to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity at all. Here are the remarks along those lines:

. . . he should at least understand what he’s talking about, and in the second place he’s making fun of Augustine!

Fantastic quotemine of Augustine, based on a pathetic parody of Calvinism, as though “total depravity” meant “maximum evil”. As Augustine and Calvin agreed, evil has no maximum — it is a privation, not a positive. . . . Calvinism doesn’t teach that man has an utterly evil nature in the sense that Augustine is teaching against. The Eastern Orthodox attack Augustine with exactly the same misunderstanding that you attempt to play against Calvin. 


Now you’re pressing me to tell you everyone who’s corrected you … Well, everyone who’s taught Calvinism that I’ve ever read. Everyone you’ve debated with against whom you chose to open, as you did here, by claiming that Augustine was contradicting Calvin on the concept of Total Depravity by saying that there’s no such thing as utter evil.


. . . you teach people about Calvinism using absurdities that only someone completely uneducated in Calvinism could believe. You wouldn’t last one minute in a debate if you’d brought those out; therefore you know enough not to do that.



. . . now that you have brought up total depravity, all of those quotes are entirely compatible with it.


I produced several Augustine quotes which I claim to be related to this topic, from my own book, The Quotable Augustine

. . . let them cease to say and to teach that there are two kinds of souls, one of which has nothing of evil, the other nothing of good . . . (Soul.c.M, 14)

. . . every nature, as far as it is nature, is good; since in one and the same thing in which I found something to praise, and he found something to blame, if the good things are taken away, no nature will remain; but if the disagreeable things are taken away, the nature will remain unimpaired. (C.Fund.M, 33, 36)

. . . enough has been said to show that corruption does harm only as displacing the natural condition; and so, that corruption is not nature, but against nature. And if corruption is the only evil to be found anywhere, and if corruption is not nature, no nature is evil. (C.Fund.M, 35, 39)

. . . God’s image has not been so completely erased in the soul of man by the stain of earthly affections, as to have left remaining there not even the merest lineaments of it . . . what was impressed on their hearts when they were created in the image of God has not been wholly blotted out . . . this writing in the heart is effected by renovation, although it had not been completely blotted out by the old nature. . . . the law of God, which had not been wholly blotted out there by unrighteousness . . . (Sp.L, 48)

. . . no one is evil by nature, but whoever is evil is evil by vice . . . (City xiv, 6)

. . . evil cannot exist without good, because the natures in which evil exists, in so far as they are natures, are good. (City xiv, 11)

. . . there is, owing to the defects that have entered our nature, not to the constitution of our nature, a certain necessary tendency to sin . . . (Nat., 79 [LXVI] )

And in the same way, just as an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit, so an evil will cannot produce good works. But from the nature of man, which is good, may spring either a good or an evil will. And certainly there was at first no source from which an evil will could spring, except the nature of angel or of man, which was good. (Ench., 15)


Sources: 

392 / 393 Soul.c.M Of Two Souls, Against the Manichees (De duabus animabus contra Manichaeos) [tr. Albert H. Newman; NPNF 1-4]

397 C.Fund.M Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus (Contra epistulam quam vocant fundamenti) [tr. Richard Stothert; NPNF 1-4] 


412 Sp.L On the Spirit and the Letter (De spiritu et littera) [tr. Peter Holmes and Robert E. Wallis, rev. Benjamin B. Warfield; NPNF 1-5] 

414 / 415 Nat. On Nature and Grace (De natura et gratia) [tr. Peter Holmes and Robert E. Wallis, rev. Benjamin B. Warfield; NPNF 1-5]

413-427 City City of God (De civitate Dei) [tr. Marcus Dods; NPNF 1-2] 

421-422 Ench. Enchiridion: Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love (Enchiridion ad Laurentium) [tr. J. F. Shaw; NPNF 1-3] 

Now, the key in the quotations above is the notion of “an evil soul,” or as Augustine puts it in the first selection, there are not “two kinds of souls, one of which has nothing of evil, the other nothing of good.”  He says, every nature . . . is good”; and: “no nature is evil”; and: “no one is evil by nature”; and: “the nature of man, which is good.”

These notions I take to be contrary to Calvinist total depravity. Are they? My friends above say no. Well, we shall see, by consulting Calvin and Calvinists. My claim is not that Calvinists claim that unregenerate, fallen man can do no outwardly good acts whatsoever. They deny that, and it is the caricature of total depravity, made by those who don’t study it, and what Calvinists themselves teach about it.

What Calvinism does teach is precisely what Augustine denied above: that there is such a thing as an entirely “evil nature”. Calvinists sort of play this both ways. They readily agree that the unsaved man can do good things. Hence, John Piper, prominent reformed Baptist pastor and author, stated in 1998:

Of course totally depraved men can be very religious and very philanthropic. They can pray and give alms and fast, as Jesus said (Matthew 6:1-18).


The Calvinist retorts to unfortunate, inadequately informed critiques: “see! We say that fallen man can do good stuff. He’s not absolutely evil, as you guys falsely claim that we teach!” But Piper on the other hand, also says this:

In his total rebellion everything man does is sin.
 
In Romans 14:23 Paul says, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” Therefore, if all men are in total rebellion, everything they do is the product of rebellion and cannot be an honor to God, but only part of their sinful rebellion. If a king teaches his subjects how to fight well and then those subjects rebel against their king and use the very skill he taught them to resist him, then even those skills become evil. Thus man does many things which he can only do because he is created in the image of God and which in the service of God could be praised. But in the service of man’s self-justifying rebellion, these very things are sinful.


Got that? This is the doctrine, originally taught by both Luther and Calvin, that even when fallen, unregenerate, unjustified man does things that “could be praised” if a Christian had done them, nevertheless they remain evil in essence. Everything such a man does is of this nature.  Outwardly it appears good, but in reality and in God’s eyes, it’s really evil and wicked. Piper clarifies this understanding:

. . . we will have to say that it is good that most unbelievers do not kill and that some unbelievers perform acts of benevolence. What we mean when we call such actions good is that they more or less conform to the external pattern of life that God has commanded in Scripture. However, such outward conformity to the revealed will of God is not righteousness in relation to God. . . . Therefore even these “good” acts are part of our rebellion and are not “good” in the sense that really counts in the end — in relation to God.


Calvinism thus requires a sort of Orwellian “doublethink”: things can be good and bad at the same time, and outwardly good but inwardly or at bottom, or essentially evil. Piper thus summarizes: “total depravity means that our rebellion against God is total, everything we do in this rebellion is sin, . . .”.

St. Augustine contradicts this, because he denies that man is evil by nature, and can do no good whatsoever (in essence) in fallen state (“what was impressed on their hearts when they were created in the image of God has not been wholly blotted out”). Some good remains, whereas Calvin and Calvinism expressly deny this. It’s the difference between original sin and the fall in Arminian / Catholic vs. Calvinist thinking.

Did Calvin himself teach this evil human nature / total depravity? Was human nature for him, deprived of all good whatsoever, and evil in essence, or does it remain good to some extent, as in Augustine? It is the former:

Original sin, then, may be defined a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh. . . . their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. . . . For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, ch. 1, 8)

. . . such is the depravity of his nature, that he cannot move and act except in the direction of evil. If this is true, the thing not obscurely expressed is, that he is under a necessity of sinning.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, ch. 3, 5)


Thomas Gregory, in “The Presbyterian Doctrine of Total Depravity,” posted at R. C. Sproul’s website, states about the latter passage that it is “the most loathsome element in our understanding of total depravity ” and continues:
 

The simple truth of this “grand point of distinction” is that our whole nature, in part and functions, is set in its own way, and as such loves to sin against God, and therefore must sin against God.


Calvinist confessions agree. The Belgic Confession (article XIV) states that man “willfully subjected himself to sin” and thereby “separated himself from God” and “corrupted his whole nature.” The Westminster Confession (Ch. VI, sec. 6 [6.036]) describes fallen man as “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.” The Second Helvetic Confession (chap. VIII [5.037]), claimed that man is “immersed in perverse desires and adverse to all good.”

No one need take my word alone, that St. Augustine’s view of original sin and the fall and his view of the notions involved in “total depravity” were different from Calvin’s.  In his article, “The Doctrines of Grace in Calvin and Augustine” (Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 52, 1980, pp. 84-96) Larry D. Sharp makes it clear that he himself prefers Calvin’s view. He states that it is different from Augustine’s, and goes further than that of the great Church father:

Outside the Bible Augustine was Calvin’s greatest source. The Institutes and Calvin’s other major writings are virtually flooded with quotations of the widely respected church father. Calvin even claimed to be merely restating Augustine on some points, and some Reformed interpreters of Augustine have practically made him out to be an early Calvinist. 

The affinities between the two men are not merely legendary. Both argued vigorously that salvation is totally a gift of God’s grace. Both tried to be faithful Paulinists. Nevertheless, these similarities have led to many unwarranted assumptions concerning the so-called “Augustine- Calvinistic tradition.” My thesis is that Calvin goes considerably beyond Augustine in some crucial areas and that these differences are not now generally recognized. . . . 

To the extent that Augustine makes original sin to be a privation of the good or an absence of the qualities of original righteousness, we may say that there is still here a trace of his earlier Neoplatonism. 

The effect of Adam’s sin is that man is now in a condition of sickness and weakness or a privation of health and strength. If it were possible for a person to be self-sufficient for fulfilling the law and for perfecting righteousness, then that person would be saved apart from instruction and faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. But, due to original sin, men are left darkened and weakened and in need of light and healing. Adam’s sin then is a “wound,” a “hurt,” an “injury” which must be healed.! And so salvation is God’s healing by grace the “sickness” of sin; he takes the element of health remaining and making it better and he takes what is weak and makes it stronger. 

Calvin followed Augustine in affirming the heart of the doctrine of original sin: that Adam’s death in sin meant the death in sin of us all and that this state is passed down to all persons, even newborn infants. But for Calvin the essence of this sin is not mere self-love as in Augustine, but pride and rebellion and outright disobedience. Original sin is not merely a privation or an emptiness of original righteousness, but rather a blatant perversity which is always actively producing the works of the flesh. The effect of Adam’s sin is not only a wound and a sickness, as in Augustine, but is a total depravity and corruption. To describe sin as a lack of health and light and righteousness is to Calvin not to have “expressed effectively enough its power and energy.” The result of Adam’s sin is more properly called the ruin of man than the illness of man. . . .

It is clearly a mistake to try to read Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity into Augustine as some have done. Calvin was not influenced, as Augustine was, by traces of Greek philosophy, and thus he better captured the biblical teaching on the utter ruin of man after the Fall and of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, while acceptable as far as it goes, is faulted for the very reason that it does not go far enough. By removing any semblance of real righteousness from the nature of man, Calvin did go far enough and his doctrine of original sin is, in my judgement, to be preferred. 


It’s all summed up in the title of N. Vorster’s paper: “Calvin’s Modification of Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin”. He writes:

Calvin’s emphasis on original sin as a corruption of the mind and the will is not in the same intellectual tradition as the Augustinian one (Pitkin, 1999:360). Augustine understands sin as concupiscence. The fallen will lacks the power to achieve the good that the intellect knows. Calvin, however, intensifies the problem of sin by stating that the mind itself no longer knows the good to be done. This dissimilar understanding of sin is largely due to a different understanding of the essence of human nature. . . .

. . . in contrast to Augustine [who] locates the effects of sin in man’s loss of control of his physical desires, Calvin locates the crippling effects of the corruption of the image in the soul. According to Calvin the taint of sin resides in the flesh and the spirit. The flesh – which must not be equated with the human body – designates in Calvin’s thought the whole human being in the condition of sinfulness.


In The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907): “Teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo,” the author (citing Protestant scholar Cunningham) observes the differences between Calvin’s and Augustine’s conceptions of original sin:

W. Cunningham (Saint Austin, p. 82 sqq.) has very frankly called attention to the complete doctrinal opposition on fundamental points which exists between the Doctor of Hippo and the French Reformers. In the first place, as regards the state of human nature, which is, according to Calvin, totally depraved, for Catholics it is very difficult to grasp the Protestant conception of original sin which, for Calvin and Luther, is not, as for us, the moral degradation and the stain imprinted on the soul of every son of Adam by the fault of the father which is imputable to each member of the family. It is not the deprivation of grace and of all other super-natural gifts; it is not even concupiscence, understood in the ordinary sense of the word, as the struggle of base and selfish instincts against the virtuous tendencies of the soul; it is a profound and complete subversion of human nature’ it is the physical alteration of the very substance of our soul. Our faculties, understanding, and will, if not entirely destroyed, are at least mutilated, powerless, and chained to evil.

For the Reformers, original sin is not a sin, it is the sin, and the permanent sin, living in us and causing a continual stream of new sins to spring from our nature, which is radically corrupt and evil. For, as our being is evil, every act of ours is equally evil. Thus, the Protestant theologians do not ordinarily speak of the sins of mankind, but only of the sin, which makes us what we are and defiles everything. Hence arose the paradox of Luther: that even in an act of perfect charity a man sins mortally, because he acts with a vitiated nature. Hence that other paradox: that this sin can never be effaced, but remains entire, even after justification, although it will not be any longer imputed; to efface it, it would be necessary to modify physically this human being which is sin. Calvin, without going so far as Luther, has nevertheless insisted on this total corruption. . . .  “Now,” says Cunningham, “this doctrine, whatever there may be to be said for it, is not the doctrine of Saint Austin. He held that sin is the defect of a good nature which retains elements of goodness, even in its most diseased and corrupted state, and he gives no countenance, whatever to this modern opinion of total depravity.”


Lastly, in Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (general editor Allan D. Fitzgerald, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.,  1999), the single best one-volume source on St. Augustine, the article on Calvin backs up my position. The author of the article is David J. Marshall:

There is, however, one teaching of Augustine that is fundamentally philosophical, and concerning which Calvin has grave hesitations, apparently on the grounds that it is philosophical. It is the teaching that evil is not a reality, but only a privation of good (conf. 7.12), a teaching that Augustine defends repeatedly, especially after his second conversion (cf. civ. Dei, passim) . . . The fact that Calvin made such sparing use of Augustine’s voluminous anti-Manichean literature is presumably to be traced to Calvin’s hesitations concerning the grand principle that dominated it: malum est privatio boni [“evil is the privation of good”].

In De natura boni, one of the rare works of Augustine to which Calvin does not make a single reference, Augustine spells out his argument against the Manichaeans, which is simplicity itself: God is good, and as nothing exists except God and the things that God has made, everything is good. What may properly be called evil is found, not in the physical world, but in the hearts of human beings, and it consists of the fact that their heart is not always there.

The mildness with which Calvin rejects the teaching suggests that he did not think it worthy of serious refutation: “I shall not assert with Augustine that in sin, or evil, there is nothing positive, though I cheerfully embrace the position as having truly been held by him. . . .” (De aeterna Dei praedestinatione, 1552, CR 8:353). Plato did not hold creatio ex nihilo, but viewed matter as uncreated and essentially foreign to the divine. In this context, therefore, Calvin’s position is closer to Plato’s than to Augustine’s.

(p. 119; section: “Where Augustine Goes Beyond Calvin”)


Marshall’s analysis contradicts the assertions of William Tanksley, Jr. above: “As Augustine and Calvin agreed, evil has no maximum — it is a privation, not a positive.” Calvin states: “I shall not assert with Augustine that in sin, or evil, there is nothing positive.” I guess Marshall, too, would “teach people about Calvinism using absurdities that only someone completely uneducated in Calvinism could believe” and “wouldn’t last one minute in a debate”. I’m proud to be in William’s doghouse with the Augustine scholar.


*****

November 24, 2011

 + Biblical Evidence for the Indefectibility of the Church (from the Psalms)
FrancisdeSales2
Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622), statue de l’église Saint-Germain de Paris, Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac, Dordogne, France. Photo by Père Igor (9-19-10) [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license]
(11-24-11)
***


Psalm 14:2-3 (RSV)

The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. [3] They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one. [cf. Ps 53:1-3; 143:2; Is 64:6-7; Rom 3:10-12]
Who knows not the complaint of David . . . — and who knows not on the other hand that there were many good people in his day? [see Ps 7:10; 11:2, 5, 7; 15:2-5; 18:23, 25-26; 24:4; 31:18; 32:11; 33:1; 34:17, 21; 36:10; 37:14, 16,  18, 21, 25, 28-32, 37, 39; 52:6; 55:22; 58:10-11; 64:4, 10; 68:3; 73:1; 75:10; 84:11; 92:12; 94:15; 97:11; 101:6; 107:42; 111:1; 112:2, 4-9; 118:20; 119:1, 10; 125:3-4; 140:13; 141:5; 142:7: “upright,” “good,” “righteous,” “blameless,” “pure”] These forms of speech are frequent, but we must not draw a particular conclusion about each individual. Further, — such things do not prove that faith had failed in the Church, nor that the Church was dead: for it does not follow that if a body is everywhere diseased it is therefore dead. Thus, without doubt, are to be understood all similar things which are found in the threats and rebukes of the Prophets.

(The Catholic Controversy, 61-62)

I added the additional scriptural proofs in brackets and blue color, to bolster what St. Francis assumed as self-evident. Likewise, Isaiah states: “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment . . . There is no one that calls upon thy name,” (Is 64:6-7), yet makes frequent reference to the righteous, just as in the Psalms (1:17; 3:10; 26:7; 33:15; 38:3; 51:7; 56:1; 57:1-2, 12; 64:5). Isaiah 64:6-7 is typical Hebrew hyperbole. But Protestants, and especially Calvinists with their unbiblical notion of total depravity (not understanding the literary genre) interpret it and similar passages literally. In context, clearly it is not intended to be so. In the passage immediately before (Is 64:5), the prophet states: “Thou meetest him that joyfully works righteousness.”

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